NEW ORLEANS -- Most of the holidays on our calendar commemorate real-life events: revolutions, births, deaths, etc. People knew at the time that history was being made, and they set aside a date so that future generations would always remember. Some are tied to celestial events, and others are prefabricated celebrations for which folks simply agreed on a date -- Mother's Day, Secretaries' Day and Arbor Day, for example.
So Thanksgiving is pretty fascinating, if you ask me. When early American settlers first set aside a feast day to thank God for their harvest, they probably had no idea that they were creating a holiday. It wasn't until later when a calendar date was set (fourth Thursday in November), and when the ground rules were laid. Then secular pressure took the Lord out of Thanksgiving, and other things crept in: uncomfortable family gatherings, overeating, those weird hand tracings that are supposed to look like turkeys, and American-style football. Lots
of American-style football.
II choose to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving
instead. It's far less confusing, it's on a Monday, and you can have your big meal at any point over the course of the three-day weekend. Most importantly, it doesn't happen during basketball season.
In a perfect Mid-Majority world, there would be nothing more American than the USA Thanksgiving Tournament. The University of South Alabama hosted its second annual four-team basketball classic on Wednesday and Thursday, and somehow decided to hold the two Thanksgiving Day games at 2 and 4 p.m.. There were more people at the local Applebee's than came to the first game between Alcorn State and Utah Valley, but a few hundred hoops diehards were there to see the home team play Georgia State in the faux championship game.
The Mitchell Center
is arguably the crown jewel of the South Alabama campus, an acreage dominated by beige Lego architecture and strung together by a looping, tangled series of service roads. It's a modern arena that's only a decade old; it has over 10,000 seats, full balconies, integrated office space, a cool Waterman globe out front, and a booming sound system that's state of the art.
And because the Jaguars play in the Sun Belt, a conference closer to the Red Line than most, they dim the lights and put on a light show during the pregame starting lineup announcement.
It was our fourth game of the year with Georgia State, the CAA squad that starts five seniors but can't seem to execute a halfcourt set. The Panthers relied on transition baskets to stay close, while the homestanding Jaguars continued to work out their early-season nametag issues. It's a team that's had a lot of turnover since its Sun Belt tourney run out of a No. 6 seed led to a championship game loss to Western Kentucky
in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
On this Thanksgiving Day, South Alabama's defense was able to shut Georgia State's running game down at the end, and the Jags prevailed 70-66 to win the USA Thanksgiving Tournament trophy, which probably doesn't have an inscription that states that both of the two rounds featured prearranged matchups. Despite that, the Georgia State players appeared distraught as they witnessed the awards presentation.
One of Team USA's stars-in-waiting this year is 6-7 forward Gary Redus II, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer
to ice Thursday's game. He's the son of former major league baseball player Gary I
. Redus the younger was a Centenary Gentleman last year, but he was allowed to switch schools immediately after Centenary announced its reclassification to Division III
this past summer.
The school that plays in the Buckminster Fuller-esque Gold Dome isn't the only Louisiana school that's had trouble keeping its athletics competitive at the Division I level. The University of New Orleans, South Alabama's immediate Sun Belt neighbor to the west, contemplated its own move to Division III
before local businessmen came forward and donated necessary funds. The present at UNO is assured, but the future is still uncertain.
This was my first trip to the Gulf region in three years. I hadn't visited southern Louisiana or the low tails of Mississippi or Alabama since late 2005. Back then, the area was still devastated from Katrina, and struggling to get to a point where folks could even start using
the word "recover." I remember seeing hundreds of tall trees snapped in half like toothpicks, broken bridges and washed-out roads submerged in grey-brown water, and trash strewn everywhere.
You have to look a little closer to see the scars now. If you knew nothing about Katrina and had no frame of reference for her terrible aftermath, it's probably even possible to get through a visit to New Orleans or Biloxi or Mobile without thinking at all about it. In 20 or 30 or 60 years, folks might not remember at all. (Which is a perfect opportunity to enact a holiday.)
The reminders are much more subtle now, and most require reverse explanation. The collapse of college athletics in parts of Louisiana is a byproduct of an education system strained by the state's rebuilding and recovery costs. Other hints abound, too: Interstate 10 heading westbound into New Orleans comes over a bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, and there are two lanes with a strange yellow line to the left.
It's a slim evacuation lane heading the other way, just in case the water ever rises again. Choice Bally Pic of the Moment:
When we got back to Louisiana on Tuesday, Johnny Law was waiting for us.
It turns out that Bally has some outstanding warrants from Mardi Gras in 2003, which predate my adoption of him. Something about indecent exposure, excessive drunkenness, and multiple incidents involving public urination. The Louisiana state police were tipped off to our location thanks to this website, and an officer dropped a serious pork-bomb on Bally when we arrived at Prather Coliseum in Natchitoches.
I can't express in words the humiliation that our little orange pal was put through. This picture will have to do.
And then, the officer read Bally his Miranda rights along with the list of charges, and the cuffs snapped shut.
Special thanks to Northwestern State announcer Patrick Netherton (who also happens to be the founder of the Bally Fan Club on Facebook
), who bailed Bally out of the clink and allowed us to keep things moving. He also took these pictures with his cameraphone... I was simply too distraught to be useful, as I was running around screaming about the civil rights of basketballs that are guaranteed by the 39th Amendment.Kyle's Basketball Travel Tip:
If it is possible in any way for you to do so, travel on the day after Thanksgiving. If the Sunday following T-Day is the busiest and most hellish travel day of the year, Thanksgiving Friday is definitely the most pleasant. Witness, if you will, Terminal B of New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport this morning, at 8 a.m. Central time.
It took only 18 minutes to get from the off-site rental car counter to the gate. That has got
to be some kind of record.
We've enjoyed our time in the Deep South, as we always do. We've enjoyed the warmth of the soft Delta air, the kindly folks and their easy hellos, and the always-welcoming Waffle House grill. But we've have worn out Interstate 10 in both directions during these past 11 days, and it's time to move on. Bally and I are off to Nashville, which we will use as our base of operations for the next two weeks. In the next seven days, we'll be hitting Indiana, Morehead State, Belmont, Tennessee Tech, Miami (Oh.) and IUPUI. This is always the time of the season when it's time to get serious.
And it's also time to learn some valuable lessons about honesty and full disclosure. On the Southwest flight from MSY to BNA, in a Boeing 737 that was only a quarter full, Bally didn't get his customary seat next to me. Bally got to ride in a different
kind of carriage.