March 6, 2008 10:21 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
NASHVILLE -- There's a little Fighting Camel in all of us -- that piece of our soul that's tragically misunderstood, a little out of place. It's the part of you that's told you'll never make it, never achieve your dreams. Silly camel, you aren't supposed to fight for or win anything... you're supposed to live your preassigned role of giving dudes rides across the desert, and you're going to like it. And too bad if you want a drink, you're not getting one.
Last night, that children's storybook that has never been written nearly came to fresh, vivacious life here at the Atlantic Sun tournament.
No. 8 seed Campbell came tantalizingly close to sipping the fresh, delicious waters of victory. Against No. 1 seed Belmont, the two-time champions of the A-Sun Conference, they were dropped into an early hole by a 14-1 run, but didn't give up. Struggling to score against one of the top-shooting teams in the nation for the entire first half, all seemed quickly lost.
But Campbell used the first ten minutes of the second half to mount a stirring comeback -- filled with driving layups and two-point dunk shots, many by rising star sophomore Kyle Vejraska. The Fighting Camels didn't look like a team that had slumped to seven straight losses to close the regular season -- they cut the lead to four at 51-47 with 11:43 to go, spurred on by some of the intangibles that make neutral-site conference tournaments so special.
Belmont may be a school noted for its music program, and that girl from American Idollast year went there, but on this night the Campbell pep band wiped the floor with them. I don't know if Belmont sent the first-round B-team or what, but the Camels' band was tight, bright, brassy and punchy. And they had the better, um, visual accompaniment.
They're sweet girls, they really are -- full of boundless energy, leaping out onto the floor at every other media timeout, cheering just as loud when the team's down by five of 25. I've been going to these A-Sun tournaments for a few years now, and I've long held that Campbell's cheer squad is superior to all others in the conference. I always feel so inspired to do something to help them... but in a totally wholesome, non-creepy, All-American way. I mean, if they're holding a bake sale to buy new uniforms or something, I'll bake them some cookies and brownies. I would so do that.
But Belmont proved that it was better at basketball, which in the end is the final arbiter of success in March. With a final push, the Bruins won 75-66, and the house lights on Campbell's side of the arena were oddly and symbolically darkened, leaving the band and cheerleaders to fumble around for their cellphones and other belongings. The loss ended Campbell's season at 10-20 overall, 5-11 in the A-Sun, putting a halt to a general upward trend for the program these last few years. Why, just last season, this team upset No. 3 Jacksonville as a No. 6. There's always next year, and another chance.
So fight on, Fighting Camels, don't let them tell you what you can and can't do.
(Tomorrow, an EXCLUSIVE all-access behind-the-scenes backstage pass to the A-Sun tournament! That's what we in the industry call a "tease!" Don't miss it!)
Harvard. Last summer, the Crimson brought on Tommy Amaker after he'd been let go by Michigan. While there was a thrilling grudge-match nonconference win over the Wolverines this season, the rest of it hasn't gone so well. With two games to play, Harvard is 8-20 overall. Should the Crimson be swept at home this weekend by Brown and Yale, the team would finish at 3-11, its worst league record since 2003-04.
Now comes word that Amaker's staff will be internally investigated for possible recruiting violations in regards to personal contact with potential players after a New York Times story last weekend that detailed aggressive tactics by Amaker and his assistants.
I don't know about you, but it's really difficult to be worked into a lather about the ethics of college recruiting. The guidelines are more complicated than the tax code, cheats will (and do) find ways to get around the restrictions anyway, and the rules are applied arbitrarily with a bent towards making embarrassing examples of targets. But in this particular case, why? The Ivy's P and P powers are down, the race is wide open, and Harvard spends as much as some WAC schools do on athletics. Why the hell cheat?
H to the Beeeee...
How 'Bout™ these last few regular seasons, still ragin' full-on? Temple grabbed an important 90-85 win over Duquesne in the A-14 to become the league's second 10-game winner -- it was the Owls' fourth win in five games. But right behind at nine is UMass, which put a 100-63 thumpin' on La Salle in last night's G!O!T!N!. Temple gets La Salle next to close out the regular season, with tiebreaker hell looming.
How 'Bout™ some more award winners? Courtney Lee won Sun Belt Player of the Year honors, while South Alabama's Ronnie Arrow was named the league's best coach. In the Missouri Valley, Drake's Adam Emmenecker was named the MVP's POY, an award named after Larry Bird. Totally fitting.
Robert Morris, which opens the NEC tournament tonight as the No. 1 seed, swept the league's awards as Tony Lee was named top player and Mike Rice top coach. Davidson also swept the SoCon's top line with Stephen Curry and Bob McKillop. The Atlantic Sun named Gardner-Webb's Thomas Sander its POY, while in the Big Sky, Jeremiah Dominguez of Portland State won top honors. A Gonzaga player has won WCC POY eight straight years, this time it was Jeremy Pargo.
How 'Bout™ some respect for two men who played important roles in mid-major basketball these past few decades. Mike Gilleran is stepping down after 24 years as WCC commissioner. Elsewhere, Perry Watson called it quits as Detroit head coach after an extended medical leave. It was a controversial career, sure, but he led the Titans to NCAA wins in 1999 and 2000 and helped put the Horizon League on the map. It's simply time for the next generation to take over.
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