February 27, 2009 11:55 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
INDIANAPOLIS -- Though nobody has time to read them anymore, and the economy's so bad that folks are burning them for heat, writers aren't really considered "writers" until there's a stack of dead tree scrapings covered with their scribblings available for general purchase. Especially since writing has moved increasingly online, and into real-time, being able to string 80,000 words together is more a test and a feat of mental strength than a profitable exercise. It's the ultimate marathon experience for people who sit around a lot.
A standard greeting colleagues have offered this season is, "How's the book coming?" or "Can't wait to see that book!" It's been a project with its ups and downs, dating back to the smug initial announcement last May and winding through a summer during which is became obvious that my publisher was careening towards Chapter 11. Even though I had a restrictive contract, I vowed that I would continue the effort, to chronicle the seasons of three squads as they attempted to return to the NCAA Tournament after at least a year away. I was granted locker-room access and everything I needed to tell the stories correctly.
The "November" section was going to be hopeful and promising: everyone starts 0-0, the beautiful season, etc. etc. Each of the three teams had some early success, building momentum and announcing their intention to build something special. Each fell off in "December," which I initially saw as an easy way to build dramatic tension. Sure, they were being blown out by 30 on national television now, but could they turn it around after Christmas break? Stay tuned, keep reading!
Unfortunately, "January" turned out to be even worse. Season-ending injuries, player departures, team dissension, coaches being tuned out. The losses mounted, and people were less willing to spend a lot of time talking to somebody who was chronicling The Worst Season Ever. The realization set in: this book was dead and getting deader.
On January 16, ESPN.com published this feature story I wrote, about the Samaritan's Feet charity that aims to put shoes on millions of impoverished children around the world. It was the beginning of a whirlwind weekend. Two days later, on a Sunday, I was in Columbus, Oh. mulling another uninspiring performance by one of my book teams when I received a return call from Emmanuel "Manny" Ohonme, the founder and CEO of the organization. He wanted to know if I would be willing to help with a project.
Mr. Ohonme had been talking to the other principals of the charity, and they all really liked my article -- they felt that it hit on certain aspects and details of the mission that others of the many features on Samaritan's Feet had missed. He told me that he'd been looking for somebody to assist him with an autobiography and history of the organization. Folks were asking him if he had written a book... after all, everybody does need one these days. So he asked me if I'd be interested. I told him I was working on a book already, but that switching projects would be like being moved from a last-place team to an inevitable pennant-winner.
Another two days later, I was fired by ESPN for writing this. The Samaritan's Feet article was the last feature I ever wrote for them.
Samaritan's Feet is headquartered in Charlotte, and it just so happened that my donors voted overwhelmingly to send me to the Butler-Davidson BracketBuster game just a half-hour north. During halftime of that game, Mr. Ohonme appeared at halftime (with a giant sneaker!) to thank the Davidson crowd for raising over 10,500 pairs of shoes for his and Wildcat senior Andrew Lovedale's native Nigeria. After the game, Manny and I spoke for two hours, then sealed the deal with a handshake. As part of the summerlong journey of writing this book, I'll be going to South Africa and Nigeria in late May with Mr. Ohonme and several basketball coaches to experience the process for myself, and to place shoes on the feet of children.
This is a humble man who received his first pair of shoes from an American stranger in his home country of Nigeria, went on to take a full basketball scholarship at North Dakota, and later let go of a high-paying executive career to create and build SF. I'm honored to have the opportunity to have my name appear below "as told to" on the cover of this amazing story. It will be available in October in time for next basketball season.
I don't go into my personal religious beliefs much at all on this site, because I don't believe a goofy mid-major basketball blog is the place for them. But you have to admit, the path from there to here is a beautiful and intricate one which couldn't have been scripted more perfectly. I'll just leave it at that.
For the record, the three teams were Southern Illinois, Miami (Oh.) and Northwestern State. It would not have been a very uplifting book, and you're spared from having to read it.
Let's look at some more one-seed races. These are all the tourneys that begin a week from today, on Fri., Mar.6.
America East: With Ring-a-Ding Binghamton's blowout win over UMBC in last night's G!O!T!N!, the Bearcats are in the gate at 13-3 and closed the slate on an eight-game surge. They'll be the top seed in next week's tourney in Albany and will win the regular-season title outright if Vermont (12-3) falters at Maine on Sunday. Boston University (10-5), a team with a strong backcourt and its ever-present defense, is a dark horse at No. 3. Hartford, which made it all the way to the title game last season, went 2-13 and will join Maine in "Pillowfight Friday," a/k/a the 8/9 game that traditionally kicks off the event.
Colonial: One more round of regular-season games this weekend, and nearly every possible standings permutation is still in play. VCU is one of the few teams with destiny in its hands, leading the league by a game at 12-4. The Rams can clinch the No. 1 seed for the second straight year by dropping 8-9 Georgia State at home, but a loss opens up a worm-can. Of the pair of 12-5 squads, VCU holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over George Mason but that Litos Cup loss on ESPNU to Northeastern on Jan. 27 could prove the difference if the Huskies beat Old Dominion at home and the Rams lose.
Metro Atlantic: Siena (15-1) clinched the No. 1 seed for its own party long ago, and will get the home-court advantage (the event was going to be in Albany anyway), the right to wear their snappy white togs, and the opportunity to play the weakest possible opponents all the way through. Tonight, No. 2 Niagara (12-4) will get its final chance to throw a scare into the league leaders, hosting the Saints up in the upper lefthand corner of New York State. Rider is a dangerous No. 3 seed, having beaten both the leaders on its home floor.
Southern: I suppose the biggest surprise of the SoCon is that we're headed into the final weekend of the regular season, and Davidson (16-2) still hasn't clinched the South Division. With two games remaining (Georgia Southern at home, Elon on the road), the Wildcats are two games up on The Citadel (14-4) and would run into tiebreaker trouble should the Bulldogs somehow pull into a tie. It's still a viable possibility that Charleston (14-5) catch The Cit for South-2 and the valuable bye that goes with it. A Cougar win and two Citadel losses would aim Charleston straight towards North-1, a reeling 11-8 Chattanooga team CofC knocked around on its own floor Monday.
West Coast: Here's a shock: Gonzaga is the regular-season champion of the WCC. When the league full of tiny Jesuit and Catholic schools arrives in Lost Wages next week (which we hope becomes a sweet and funny documentary film for 2010 awards release), the Zags will be the top seed for the sixth straight time. Opponents will hope that their 4-2 record on neutral courts -- accounting for two-fifths of their losses -- will come into play, and there are a lot of fascinating storylines below. Saint Mary's and Portland are at 9-4 each, still jostling over the No. 2 seed; the Pilots, away from the Dance since 1996, are at Santa Clara while SMC is at 2-11 Loyola Marymount. If there's a tiebreaker needed, it would come down to record against the fourth-place team, which could be either San Diego or Santa Clara.
U'useless Stat of the Day
With a Horizon League doubleheader on Saturday -- Cleveland State at Butler in the afternoon followed by Green Bay at Wright State in the evening -- we well close the 2008-09 regular season with 83 games attended. The 100 figure, which made us sorta famous once, has lost its luster over the years and has become more a been-there-done-that thing. But we'll reach it for the fourth time in five years at the Southland quarterfinals in Katy, Tex. two weeks from now (it'll be the third game of the four) -- and as a few aspirants have found out, it's not as easy as it looks.
There will be a special five-segment feature here on the site next week we call Mid-Majority D.I.Y., which will guide you through the steps of rolling your very own Mid-Majority website. It'll cover each of the five crucial elements in doing something like this -- scheduling, travel planning, packing, food, and of course, truck stops -- complete with all the lessons and mistakes of the past five years. It's going to be great fun.
In the meantime, here are the regular-season totals for each of the site's five seasons, and the eventual final tally.
|Season 1 (2004-05)||70||100|
|Season 2 (2005-06)||54||93|
|Season 3 (2006-07)||87||116|
|Season 4 (2007-08)||83||117|
|Season 5 (2008-09)||83||???|
|Hickory Picket Fences||27629|
|The Hopping Cats||21526|
|Under a Blood Red Line||10379|
|Jen Folds Five||6895|