To the baseball fan, a long winter of hot stove leagues and hibernation is rendered tolerable by that most optimistic of sporting phrases, those two words that warm the soul like sunshine on the coldest of January mornings: "Opening Day."
The football fan can summon the bracing chill of September within the oppressively humid clutch of summer, simply by uttering a simple word - a forceful and powerful word that can cut to the reptilian brain even after a lifetime of helmet-on-helmet collisions: "Kickoff."
But those of us who hold the great game of college basketball in our hearts, those of us who spend our autumns dreaming of winters full of hoops heroics in toasty gymnasiums, we have a far less romantic phrase heralding the return of our beloved game.
"Coaches vs. Cancer."
With no apologies whatsoever to the NBA's marketing department
, today marks the start of the real Basketball New Year. While many Division I squads are still in exhibition mode, racking up triple-digit scores on NAIA teams and ramshackle bunches of ex-D-Leaguers sponsored by video game companies
, there are eight games being contested today that actually count.
While it may seem sometimes that it's been around forever, Coaches vs. Cancer began in 1995 as a four-team, one-game-each invitational for Philly teams called the Atlantic City Shootout. The games were played in the somewhat seedy A.C. Convention Center for the first two years. The event went up the road to the Meadowlands for 1997, and settled into its current home at Madison Square Garden in 1998. From 1997 through 2001, four invited teams would play a semifinal round, a championship and a consolation. But for the past few years, teams would show up, play one game, then go back home.
Despite legal wranglings
that held up the final schedule until late summer, the 2004 CvC has grown to become a 16-team spiderweb of a bracket. The first round games will be played today and tomorrow, with four-team pods stationed at Syracuse, Berkeley, Birmingham and Memphis. The four bracket winners will converge on the World's Most Famous Arena next weekend for the semifinals, to be shown live on ESPN.
While many fans of "big time" college hoops fans might be disappointed that the NCAA's "two-in-four" rule
has kept invited top-tier schools like Kentucky
out of this year's event, mid-major freaks like myself are no doubt thrilled by the diversity of the tournament. "Sixteen teams, sixteen different conferences," the official website
boasts. Look! There's Bucknell
from the Patriot League and Belmont
from the Atlantic Sun and Fairfield
from the Metro-Atlantic. Over there, there's brave little Savannah State
and the mighty IUPUI-Fort Wayne
Mastodons from the, ummm, "independent" conference. And who the %$#* is Northern Colorado?
In all fairness, the Bears of Northern Colorado
are a "provisional" Division I team, in the second year of a four-year reclassification process that will eventually make them eligible for March Madness... in 2008. They're in the same boat as Longwood, UC-Davis, Utah Valley State, South Dakota State and North Dakota State - but "the other UNC" has decided to take the initiative and is preparing for life in the big time by scheduling a raft full of D-1 opponents. One of the news stories on their website is entitled "Mens' Basketball Faces Murderous Schedule In 2004-05"
- a rare case of hyberbole as understatement. They get Syracuse
all up in their collective grill today, and will likely be helping to make the phrase "with the points" fashionable again for some time to come.
I attended my first CvC last year at the Garden, and it was quickly apparent that the Gonzaga
- St. Joseph's
game would be, by far, the best game I'd see all year (and it was).
But I was struck by the fact that other than the huge oversized logo at center court, there was very little about the event that went towards the organization's stated goal of "leverag(ing) the strength, community leadership and celebrity of our country's basketball coaches to raise awareness and in turn, reduce cancer risk through education programs while raising funds for the fight against cancer." No booths, no pamphlets, no in-game presentations - just a thirty-second ACS spot up on the Jumbotron at halftime.
So just in case you can't see the true raison d'etre
behind all the early-season excitement and Dickie V's shiny scalp, I'm pretty sure this is supposed to be a charity event. This isn't supposed to be about forecasting Tournament seeds or selling the Official Performance Machines Of The NCAA, it's supposed to be about Coaches
And what a fight it is. Featuring a potent blend of youthful firepower and grizzled veteran leadership, the Coaches step onto the floor armed with grit, poise and determination. The team comes loaded with NBA experience that their opposition just can't match up with. If anyone is going to give Cancer the whooping it deserves, it's these guys.G
- Steve Alford
- Ricky Blanton
, Nicholls StateF
- Jeff Lebo
- Dave Henderson
- Jeff Ruland
- Mike Krzyzewski
From the opening tip, it's evident that this will be a hard-fought, fiercely competitive battle. Back and forth they go. The Coaches show no mercy, finding and exploiting every slight crack in the opposition's armor. The enemy seems resilient and coldly unwavering. But in the end, as in all battles, there is both victor and vanquished.
Final score: Coaches 65, Cancer 63 (OT)