Game 111: at Boston College 80, Texas Southern 53 Sunday, December 18, 2005
Silvio O. Conte Forum - Chestnut Hill, MA
When it comes down to it, there's only one difference between a mid-major squad and a team of power conference prima donnas - our boys end their seasons a few days or weeks before they do. Yes, just about everybody loses in the end - of all the teams in Division I, only one gets to end their season with a victory, and they're the National Champions. Everybody else goes down sometime in the Tournament, or wins the NIT, or is eliminated early on in their conference tournament.
That's why the story of Texas Southern
is so odd. The Tigers ended 2004-05 on a six-game winning streak after leading the SWAC in field-goal percentage and field-goal percentage defense, but were barred from the tourney for using an ineligible player. So some of those wins were wiped out by the league's administrators, and it wasn't like their 11-15 on-court record was hardly good enough to warrant any postseason consideration. So they went home.
The fallout and frustration from Texas Southern's star-crossed season became clear when the Blue Ribbon
Basketball Yearbook came out. Coach Ronnie Courtney was the only coach in the land that refused to talk to Chris Dortch's crew, and they were left with nothing more than a quote from a staff member.
"He just said he didn't want to talk to [media]," Texas Southern sports information director Rodney Bush said.
On a cold, crisp Sunday afternoon at Boston's Boston College
, I attempted to go where Blue Ribbon could not - a national interview with the coach that said no to the "Bible of College Basketball," an opportunity to let him tell the story of a star-crossed season to a ESPN.com audience. After several minutes of explaining and schmoozing with Mr. Bush before tip-off, I received a promise that I'd get some time with the Tiger coach after the game.
Sitting across from the benches, I watched Texas Southern's sideline-pacer do his job. Courtney is a great linebacker of a man - a scowling, glaring coach whose underperforming players wilted underneath a disapproving, withering stare. I don't know if the anger came from his team's sloppy play or 2-8 record, or if it was lingering frustration with last year's season-ending train wreck, or if the wear and tear of the preseason money games had anything to do with it. But I planned to ask him about it later.
The Tigers hung in for about ten minutes before falling away, finally losing by 28 points. "Just need five or ten minutes of his time," I reminded Bush as he moved towards the locker room after the buzzer.
"I don't know about ten," came the reply. "But I can definitely get you five."
Standing in the hallway outside the visitor's locker room, I watched Sunday afternoon slip by. The arena crew filed out, submitting their timesheets. Security officers repeatedly asked me what I was still doing there. I had plenty of time to rehearse my questions for the elusive coach."How did it feel to have ended 2004-05 on a hot streak second only to the one North Carolina ended the year with, and have your postseason dreams taken away from you?"
"You coached Daniel Ewing and T.J. Ford in high school, so nobody can say you don't know how to coach. Tell me about the challenges of coaching in the SWAC."
"What about your trip two weeks ago when you played at Connecticut on Friday night, and then at UTEP on Saturday? Does playing non-conference money games all over the map help toughen your squad for the SWAC season, or does it wear you down?"
After 30 minutes of waiting, Bush emerged from the locker room. He had completely changed his demeanor - he was short, abrupt, on edge. Texas Southern's SID appeared to be freaking out.
"Turns out we have to leave," said Bush, quickly shaking my hand before moving along. "Thanks."
It was clear: Coach Courtney had found a back way to sneak out through. Five minutes later, I saw Bush out on the floor, talking to the Texas Southern athletic director.
"Hey Rodney," I called out, catching his attention from 50 feet away. "Coach blew me off, didn't he?"
Bush wheeled around and came clean. "He didn't feel up to talking to you," he said, his eyes still bulging and bugged.
The Southwestern Athletic Conference is often seen as little more than a a joke, a perpetual play-in league whose members live to collect money-game checks. But any true basketball fan who has seen SWAC teams play each other knows that it's a conference that offers close, exciting games and an aesthetically-pleasing, artistic, free-jazz approach to basketball. I wish, wish, wish the SWAC would work towards shedding its loser's tag in hoops, but it's hard to help when certain people within the conference refuse to take advantage.
Leaving the Conte Forum that evening, I felt for Rodney Bush. It must be tough being a sports information director in the SWAC, especially one that has to be quoted in stories like this because his coach won't play nice with the national media. Although it had turned out to be one of the least productive and most frustrating days of my journalism career, I wouldn't have traded places with him for a second.