About a week and a half ago, I walked out of the Palestra for what I assumed would be the last time this season. Penn had just defeated Yale to stay in the hunt for the Ivy League title, and though it was a long shot that they'd go on to beat Princeton and Harvard to earn the NCAA bid, I left feeling pretty pleased with the team's achievements this season even if they didn't go on to defy the odds. If you've been to games in small, old gyms like the Palestra, you know the feeling of getting warmer and warmer as the game goes on, and then feeling the relief of that cold night air, especially when the exhilaration of a win propels you across campus.
On Wednesday, I walked out of the Palestra again, this time into air so warm I didn't even think about putting on the sweater I'd brought. It reminded me of last August, when I went to the Palestra for an NBA "summer league" game (remember those?). The gym was pretty much the only familiar thing about that experience (and due to the new video boards that had been installed just days before, even that didn't feel very familiar). There was a DJ, there were groupies, there were agents and runners and various hangers-on. And the "basketball," well ... being at the Palestra is always better than not being there, but I left at halftime.
I wasn't sure what to expect when Penn announced that they'd be playing in the CBI, having never attended a game in one of these "other" post-season tournaments. After the painful loss that knocked Penn out of contention for the Ivy title, (at the hands of our rivals, no less - ugh) I'd been coming to terms with the end of the season, shifting focus to the other conferences and other tournaments.
There was no way I was passing up the chance to see the team play again, though. So on Wednesday I dashed out of work and caught the last possible train I could from Union Station in Washington up to 30th Street in Philadelphia, and hurried over to the Palestra.
My train was a bit delayed, so I was keeping up on the pregame goings-on via Twitter. Jack-of-all-writing-trades @DaveZeitlin said that there was "kind of a weird vibe" in the arena, and I wondered what he meant. When I finally got there, I experienced it too. It wasn't a weird vibe the way the August summer league game was a weird vibe. Ultimately, the best way I can think of to describe it is uncanny.
Freud's essay The Uncanny is probably the best-known work on this concept, but in it he acknowledges that he's building on the work of others, most notably a 1906 work by German psychiatrist Ernst Jensch. In his On the Psychology of the Uncanny, Jensch describes it as the feeling of unease or discomfort that arises when a person encounters something unfamiliar in the world. Jensch's example is a story by the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, The Sandman, that involves a doll so lifelike that a man falls in love with it, and then is driven over the edge when he sees it in pieces on the floor, its creators squabbling over whose components made it the most lifelike. (I actually love Hoffmann, though appreciating German literature certainly can require something of a tolerance for what Freud calls "feelings of repulsion and distress" in one's extracurricular reading.)
Freud tries to refine this definition of the uncanny, and concludes that its power is not to induce distress by making the viewer confront the unfamiliar thing itself; rather, it makes the viewer uncertain whether he is seeing the familiar or the unfamiliar, calling into question his ability to distinguish between the two. Am I seeing something heimlich (familiar, secret, literally home-like) or unheimlich? (Freud then takes this concept down some his favorite paths involving childhood fears, repression, Oedipal complexes, etc., but let's not go there.)
When I finally made it to the game, about halfway through the first half, Penn had a modest lead over Quinnipiac, and I had a few moments to take in the scene. I was in my usual seat, and some of my fellow season-ticket holders were there too, so there were some familiar faces. Ed Rendell was two rows down, chatting up the usual parade of passersby. Also there was the guy in the purple sweater immediately in front of me who I know only as the "you turkey" guy (it's his favorite "epithet" for the refs). However, instead of the nice former Penn hoops player Carl Robbins (whose son, Greg, plays for Richmond) sitting next to me, there was a woman who spent practically the whole rest of the half yelling at various Penn players not to shoot. Not sure how your team wins if they don't shoot, but whatever.
The floor had those weird labels on it, of course.
The visiting team's fan section was in the usual spot, and there were some Quinnipiac fans who had made the trip. But wait, what does that lady's shirt say?
And what's up with that member of the Red & Blue crew holding up the Rob Belcore big head?
The uncanny affected my experience of the game itself, too. When the PA announcer told everyone that Zack Rosen had set a Penn single-season assist record, my immediate reaction was something bordering on sadness, as I couldn't help but think about how such an incredible player hadn't been able to reach his goal of an Ivy championship. When Miles Cartwright brought the ball up the floor, I thought about next season, and how unavoidably different the team will look with Cartwright, not Rosen, running point. On Twitter, Dave Zeitlin praised the current sophomore class for its production in the game, obviously with an eye towards the fact that they'll be carrying the load next year.
By the second half, though, I adjusted. Zack Rosen scored off a runner in the lane, sharks-and-minnows style, and that familiar feeling of "wow, how did he do that?" brought me back. That feeling is probably the thing I'll remember most from this season. However, it's not over yet. I'll be back at the Palestra on Monday when Butler comes to town, and my excitement will be unreserved.
at PENNSYLVANIA 74, QUINNIPIAC 63 03/14/2012
QUINNIPIAC 18-14 (10-8) -- J. Johnson 5-14 3-3 16; Z. Hearst 6-8 0-0 12; E. Conti 6-9 0-0 14; I. Azotam 5-12 2-5 12; J. Jackson 1-4 1-2 3; N. Gause 1-5 0-0 2; O. Drame 1-2 0-0 2; A. Jackson 0-0 0-0 0; M. Barnett 1-1 0-0 2; T. Bobb-Jones 0-1 0-0 0; K. Tarca 0-1 0-0 0; T. Wood-Smith 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 26-58 6-10 63. PENNSYLVANIA 20-12 (11-3) -- Z. Rosen 6-14 2-4 16; M. Cartwright 7-11 4-4 23; R. Belcore 4-9 3-4 14; F. Dougherty 4-7 0-0 8; H. Brooks 1-8 0-1 2; M. Kukoc 3-7 0-0 8; S. Rennard 1-3 0-0 3; C. Crocker 0-1 0-0 0; K. Cairns 0-0 0-0 0; S. Esprit 0-0 0-0 0; C. Gunter 0-0 0-0 0; D. Jok 0-0 0-0 0; P. Lucas-Perry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 9-13 74.
Three-point goals: QUIN 5-17 (J. Johnson 3-7; K. Tarca 0-1; E. Conti 2-3; N. Gause 0-4; Z. Hearst 0-2), PENN 13-27 (R. Belcore 3-5; Z. Rosen 2-7; M. Cartwright 5-6; M. Kukoc 2-5; S. Rennard 1-3; C. Crocker 0-1); Rebounds: QUIN 35 (Z. Hearst 12), PENN 28 (M. Cartwright 9); Assists: QUIN 9 (J. Johnson 4), PENN 19 (Z. Rosen 9); Total Fouls -- QUIN 12, PENN 11; Fouled Out: QUIN-None; PENN-None.