Jackson State at Prairie View A&M (SWAC)
Baby Dome - Prairie View, TX
8:30 PM EST
Last Monday was Laundry Day, the regular weekly laundromat trip an endless road trip like this requires. I stopped off at a faded old strip-mall laundromat in Gastonia, N.C., just west of Charlotte, before driving up into the mountains to Appalachian State. It was late afternoon, and the high school across the street was just getting out... after I loaded up the double-load washer, I watched as the kids spilled out into the parking lot.
This wasn't like the high school I went to. There was a Hispanic boy with low-slung pants, smiling and fist-bumping with a couple of corn-rowed kids in oversized T-shirts, one idly dribbling a basketball. I saw an Asian girl lean into a cellphone held by a black girl, and heard them both giggling together at something funny that was in the voicemail. There was a dark-skinned boy with wide eyes, whom I guessed to be of Indian descent, waiting for a ride; a skinny white kid wearing black "emo" fashion walked by and exchanged hellos.
The setup was so effortless, so straight out of multi-culti central casting, that it appeared scripted by some focus group-conscious committee that didn't want to offend anyone by exclusion. But this was no new Disney Channel show, and this was no dream
. I figured they couldn't fully grasp or appreciate the small window of recent history in which the above setting is even possible. It's just the way things are for them. But those kids all have the day off today, a holiday intended to honor the memory of someone who dared back in 1963 to imagine that such a scene could occur.
Anyway, basketball. Tonight on the outskirts of Houston, a battle in the Southwestern Athletic Conference -- a league full of schools that are unfortunate relics of a less enlightened time, but that now serve important roles in fostering a strong sense of cultural identity. The biggest wins among historically black Division I colleges so far belong to Morgan State of the MEAC, but the most impressive team on paper among them is the Jackson State Tigers, off to a 4-1 start in the SWAC. Aside from a league-opening loss at Alabama State
, JSU has torn through its competition, winning its games by an average of nine points and forcing a lot of turnovers (17.6 topg). The Tigers are led by a strong front line of Grant Maxey
and Jeremy Caldwell
, a pair that combines for 27.4 ppg and 13 rpg.
Their opponents represent a possible feel-good story in progress. Prairie View A&M has but a single NCAA appearance in its history, and that only happened because the Panthers caught fire over a magical weekend back in 1998, taking a 6-10 record and a No. 7 seed in the league tournament all the way to the Big Dance with three upset wins in three days (a 110-52 loss to Kansas followed shortly thereafter). PVAM hasn't won more than eight games since 2002-03, but has already hit that mark with an 8-9 overall record, which includes a perfect 4-0 start in the SWAC (the last victim being Grambling in a 12-point decision Saturday
). They're doing it with uncharacteristically hot shooting, leading the conference in field goals at 49.3 percent. A Panthers championship wouldn't do anything for the ongoing civil rights movement, but it would be further proof that anything is possible.Basketball State Preview/Box