Game 015: at Drexel 66, Quinnipiac 59 Saturday, December 11, 2004 Daskalakis Athletic Center - Philadelphia, PA
Long before Hollywood gave actor/writer/director Richard Linklater large sums of money to remake The Bad News Bears, before he crafted the feel-good blockbuster School Of Rock, he made a tiny little movie called Slacker. I love that first scene. Linklater's character gets off a Greyhound and jumps into a cab at the bus station. He tells the driver, "Man, I just had the weirdest dream."
"You know in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy meets the Scarecrow?" he continues as the cabbie keeps staring at the road ahead. "And they think about going in all those directions and they end up going in that one direction? All those other directions, just because they thought of them, became separate realities. I mean, they just went on from there and lived the rest of their lives... you know, entirely different movies, but we'll never see them because we're kind of trapped in this one-reality restriction type of thing."
I thought about Slacker the other afternoon as the Official Wife Of The Mid-Majority™ and I attempted to find a place to sit at Drexel's 2,000-seat Daskalakis Athletic Center. We were kicked out of our first-choice bleacher seats behind the Dragon bench, you see - a plump gentleman in a t-shirt that read "The Day The Vet Exploded" looked down his nose at us and said, "This is a re-suhved section." (I wanted to respond, "If people actually showed up to watch this team, maybe that would actually mean something," but that'll just have to remain one of those yellow brick roads not taken.)
So we simply moved back about five rows, where it was less populated. But not altogether empty, mind you - directly to our front and right, there was a middle-aged bespectacled man sitting alone with a thick pile of stuffed file folders beside him, all edge-labeled in a looping scrawl - "Ivy", "Patriot", "NEC", "A-10". Despite the fact that the "DAC Pack" student section was all the way on the other side of the floor, he wore one of the club's yellow t-shirts. And after the opening tip, he stood up until the Dragons made their first basket, even though the DAC gave up doing that years ago due to apathy and general disorganization.
I've seen this guy before at Drexel games over these past seven seasons, but I'd never sat close to him, for the same general reasons why I don't actively seek out seats next to drunk people while I'm riding the subway. I looked on, glancing over his shoulder as he assiduously tallied the running scoring total on a Xeroxed scoresheet. Not in sympathy or sadness, mind you, but clutched in the white-knuckled grip of fear.
Because I realized that there's an "entirely different movie" in which that's me sitting there.
As you know from reading this blog, I am a college basketball geek of the highest order (or lowest, if you please). I've been to basketball games by my lonesome, lots of them. In fact, nine of the previous 14 missions in the 100 Games Project have been of the solo variety. And I will admit that somewhere in a Rubbermaid container in some garage somewhere, there are a few faded scoresheets with my distinctive and incriminating handwriting on them.
Keeping score of a basketball game is a lonely, monotonous, dreary task. While baseball scoring allows for personal preferences and a modicum of artistic expression, the standard hoops scorebook contains page after page of dull grids suggesting nothing but menial labor. It's all crossing off twos and threes after baskets, circling numbers for the fouls. It's also not a fun thing to do while you're on a date - you need both hands, one for the pen and one to steady the paper. And once the final buzzer sounds, a finished scoresheet is less an accurate description of a basketball game than a prisoner's calendar.
But still, the man kept scoring - and it was clear that the task was a joyless one. His loneliness would bubble to the surface in awkward bursts of random unsolicited information. "70-57," he swung around and told me matter-of-factly. "70-57. That was the score of the women's game. We had to wait for an hour 'cause this game is on Comcast."
The opposition for the regionally-televised contest was provided by the lowly Quinnipiac Bobcats of the Northeast Conference, a team we last encountered less than a month ago as they were getting their brains beat in by Penn. Quinnipiac and Drexel met last year at the DAC, so I don't know if there is a coaches' agreement to play home-and-home... but I'm skeptical about the idea that the Dragons are heavy into the business end of the guarantee-game racket.
The odd man also told me that Drexel was missing its heart and soul, 6-6 round-mounda' Sean Brooks, but I already knew that. He's out for a month due to a severe foot injury. That didn't stop the Dragons from beating St. Joseph's the previous weekend at the Philly Big Five Classic, but their luck ran out last Wednesday at the home of their longtime rivals Delaware. They have a big date with Syracuse next weekend, and they opted to use this contest as a tune-up "laboratory game," testing out various set plays and looks with a tight seven-man rotation.
After an initial 13-2 burst by Drexel in the game's first four minutes, most of the opening half was a low-foul, low-score scrimmage. Once Drexel was seemingly clear on the scoreboard, Bruiser broke out the test tubes. They tried a twin-towers thing with Chaz Crawford and Matt Stevenson. Then they tested a four-guard lineup with 6-7 Danny Hinds as the center. They ran a drive-and-dish play off the right side of the key about five times in a row until they got it right. Ahh, the joys of live sparring partners.
But the Dragons did not play well enough to blow the Bobcats out, which is what a team should generally do before they allow themselves the luxury of trying out new and exciting things. Despite shooting 28% (20-for-72) for the game, the Bobcats hung around, mostly due to their distinct rebounding advantage (49-43). When the Dragons stepped on the gas and got serious with twelve minutes to go in the game, Rob Monroe hit a troika of threes to keep the difference in single digits. They could never truly put this one away.
As mentioned last time, Monroe is Quinnipiac's unquestioned floor leader. He dropped 32 on both conference foes Robert Morris and long-distance Ivy pals Cornell last week, and he's one of the streakiest hot-and-cold shooters I've seen in recent years. Against Drexel, he went 5-for-17, and three of those made baskets were the consecutive treys during the second-half Bobcat rally. I think I'm going to nickname him "The Faucet." But to say that he models himself after Allen "The Answer" Iverson is not some bad blogger's flight-of-fancy - he wears number 3, he's a point guard who shoots a ton, and (I finally noticed it at this game) he has "Hold My Own" tattooed on his shoulder, just like Allen. I'm not making that up, he really does.
And so the final seven-point margin stands as testament that Drexel did not properly clean up their toxic lab spills, and now they have to spend finals week having nightmares about all the mean things Syracuse is going to do to them at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. Knock-knock. Who's there? Hakeem Warrick.
So the game wasn't all that exciting, but the most special moment of the afternoon occurred early in the second half, when the Drexel Dragon sat down next to the Official Wife and offered the kind of friendship that only a guy in a big animal suit can. The Official Wife had never had a Mascot Moment before, and she was as excited as all Christmas. I know from years of experience that this is the type of thing that never happens when you're sitting by yourself, I think they teach them in mascot school to avoid the loners because of the low fun quotient involved.
Yes, I'm sickeningly fortunate to have an Official Wife who lovingly tolerates my hoops-geek tendencies, one who doesn't mind that I'm going to 100 games this season or that I run the 58th-most popular college basketball blog on the Internet, one who likes to come out to the gym with me every so often. That I have to stifle my urge to provide X-and-O commentary during the games is a true blessing, it keeps me from falling too deeply into my own head. So thank you, one-reality restriction type of thing.
The line between fan and fanatic is blurry and offers tricky navigation. Obsession by its very nature is a dark and lonely road to walk, one that demands attention and focus to the point of alienation. And college basketball is one of the stranger worlds to lose oneself in: every year the shorts get longer and the arena music becomes more abrasive, but the players never age. As the years tick by, it's a thornier and thornier question... do you gain pleasure from The Game itself, or does it just makes you feel young again? (Hell, Slacker is a 13-year-old movie, and it came out when I was in college myself... you've got to be outdated yourself to properly make outdated movie references.)
And it's not as hard as one would think to tipple over into the abyss. You may find yourself ordering the Full Court package so you can see hundreds of extra games. And you may find yourself reciting the names of all the coaches in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference... and you may find yourself sitting on your couch with a pad in your lap scoring a late-night West Coast Conference game on ESPN. And you may ask yourself, well? How did I get here?
Okay, I'll admit it. I did that a few times, years ago, the scoring at home thing. Yeah, like you haven't.