GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Just a reminder that there's a chat
today at 4 pm over at ESPN, so come on by.
Mediocrity is a touchy subject around here, generally because the word mediocre
shares the same Latin root as mid-major
, which confuses people into thinking that basketball at our level is just, you know, meh. (That's what the Atlantic 14 would have you believe, anyway.) We've spent the last five years hijacking the word, removing it from the tyranny of wins and losses, and recasting it as "to have less" -- mostly because the hyphenate was already in general use, and this route was easier than creating and selling a new word. Besides, we still haven't thought of a good replacement yet.
But there has to be a word or phrase out there somewhere that adequately captures "to have less" and "to give great effort." Struggling
suggests a ceiling, the yuppies ruined upwardly mobile...
is the best we can do with our incomplete, patchwork language.
You can find plenty of disadvantaged complacency at our level. Part of the frustration of loving the MEAC and SWAC, or sizable portions of other low-RPI conferences, is that many in these places truly don't care about moving beyond their station. Teams show up and play out their strings, pick up their guarantee checks, and move like ghosts through Nietzschean basketball landscapes. It's hard to assign value to something that doesn't assign any value to itself.
There's nothing about a lack of imagination or endeavor that deserves praise. When presented with true mediocrity, and you know it when you see it, it's often a challenge how to respond. Ignore? Mock? Attempt to instill a sense of self-worth?
But there's a special place in hell for the brand of mediocrity that demands attention and love for just showing up. The reason I hate
NCAA mascot J.J. Jumper
so much is that he will dance more spasmodically, pander and preen when the audience inevitably finds him detestable. There are no efforts to improve the act, become better
, question the approach -- all mortal insults to endeavor. Last night at Furman, watching a stock 1970's character named Fro Bro
attempt to work a stunned crowd with bits stolen directly from J.J. Jumper (the fake ref gag, the broken jukebox), I felt that same burning, uncontrollable hate rage in my soul.
Which makes those instances of true endeavor found here so profound and satisfying. Often they're hidden. Take, for example, the events last night in Cheney, Wash.. With a foot of snow on the ground outside
, Eastern Washington made sure that its game
with visiting UMKC went off as planned, even though it would be easier to just cancel what many would consider a meaningless early season tilt.
And a few hours earlier, North Florida (which we profiled
this week) came into that game with Furman having lost its first 45 Division I roadies, more for lack of talent and skill than effort. Despite a "curse" that weighed heavy on their shoulders, despite an opponent that spent the last four minutes attempting to open their greatest weakness (foul shooting), despite Fro Bro, the team held onto its lead and won 77-66
The players hopped around the bench like idiots, and their coach clenched his fists and roared, "The streak is over!" before carefully cradling the boxscore printout so it wouldn't get folded -- he was going to frame it and put it up in his office. The last time I had seen any team so happy to win a game was nine months ago at the NCAA Tournament.
A lot of fans find it easy to make fun of teams like North Florida, which is the equivalent of frying a bug with broken legs through a magnifying glass. I think these people are failing to make the important distinction between those that struggle and those that don't care, or those that think their very presence affords them automatic respect. Last night, I was reminded once again that there's a line between those you make fun of, and those you don't.U'useless Stat of the Day
In a Sun Belt game last night, Louisiana-Lafayette blocked 15 shots against North Texas
. While there have been more
blocks put up by one team in one game, this is the highest total of any team below the Red Line so far this season. Five of those stuffs were served up by 6-8 junior Tyren Johnson
, who has doubled his block total over last season at 2.1 bpg.
The king of blocks from our region, though, is 6-8 Tony Gaffney
of UMass. He's second nationally behind Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado
with a whopping 5.4 blocks per contest. America East fans remember him as an underutilized Boston University Terrier, but he's found a defined role in Amherst. This year, he's been Mr. Spaldingburger, coming within a block of a big man's triple-double against Boston College back on Dec. 6
. He's also been two away from double figures in points, rebounds and blocks twice so far. Not bad for somebody for whom the stuff wasn't as big a weapon last year -- he had 60 last season.
No discussion of mid-major blocks is complete without the king of SWAC swats, Mickell Gladness formerly of Alabama A&M. Remember him? He once stuffed 16 shots in a game against Texas Southern, establishing an NCAA record and getting a few seconds' worth
of NBA interest. So what's he doing now? Wearing this uniform
for Matrixx Magixx in Holland, playing games cheered by this mascot
and having this much fun
. Not surprisingly, he's leading
the team in blocks at 1.3 bpg.