Friday, October 16, 2009

TB-Baltimore Chimes In

TigerBlog has offered anyone who ever worked in TigerBlog HQ the opportunity to contribute. Today, TigerBlog-Baltimore (a.k.a. David Rosenfeld, who worked here as an intern in the mid-’90s and then again for five more years before leaving in 2008 to work in communications at the Gilman School). TB-Baltimore's favorite sport at Princeton was men's basketball, and he was the contact during his second stint here at HQ. After receiving a present in the mail, TB-Baltimore offers up these thoughts:

Tonight is Midnight Madness, which has become the traditional beginning of the Division I college basketball season at many schools. (Okay, it’s not at midnight anymore, but it’s still the same idea.)

Fans show up early; marketing and promotion staffs entertain them with contests, games and prizes. Eventually, out come the teams, men and women, to thunderous applause.

Some schools play short intrasquad scrimmages. Almost all have dunk contests with the men’s team. The coaches give motivational speeches to the crowd, urging for their support throughout the season.

As an aside, the Midnight Madness tradition began with TB-Baltimore's favorite college basketball team, the University of Maryland Terrapins (Fear the Turtle). Coach Lefty Driesell decided that his team should do a midnight mile run on the first day of practice in 1970. Two years later, one of his players asked Driesell if the team could have a midnight intrasquad scrimmage instead, and 8,000 people showed up. Maryland does Midnight Madness up pretty big; one of the highlights every year is the “Gary Williams Lookalike Contest,” when four or five students dress up like the head coach and imitate his well-known sideline mannerisms, all while the real Williams watches and “judges” the winner.

Princeton's experience with Midnight Madness is much tamer, but the unmistakable sounds of a new basketball season's approach will be obvious in Jadwin Gym as practices begin. As for an old season of Ivy League basketball, well, one is about to become a bit more famous.

"Outside the Limelight: Basketball in the Ivy League," written by Washington Post sportswriter Kathy Orton, will be released November 15.

Orton spent the 2005-06 season covering Ivy League basketball, coast-to-coast, and the result is a 240-page book in the vein of John Feinstein’s book on the Patriot League "The Last Amateurs." Feinstein, who sort of invented this genre with Season on the Brink and became very famous from it, is a colleague of Orton’s at the Post and wrote the foreword for Orton’s book.

The author was nice enough to send TB-Baltimore an advance copy, and it brought back lots of memories, both good and bad. Orton was there for Princeton’s 21-point performance against Monmouth, the lowest of low points, and for the season finale against Penn, when the Tigers won in overtime thanks to Justin Conway’s layup in the final seconds. It was a season of redemption for Princeton, which was 2-11 out of conference but finished 10-4 and in second place in the league.

TB-Baltimore also remembers specific times when Orton was around the Tigers, sitting on the floor for three hours during practice in a rec gym at Berkeley or during one her many one-on-one interviews with Scott Greenman, then the team’s senior captain and now an assistant coach. To his credit, then head coach Joe Scott was great about giving Orton that kind of access to the team, as were the rest of the league’s coaches.

Reading the book, TB-Baltimore tried to look at from the standpoint of an outsider. If you didn’t know anything about Ivy League basketball, what would be interesting about it? Two things stand out. One is the difficult Friday-Saturday night league schedule; the other is the lack of a postseason tournament. Nothing is easy when you play on back-to-back nights, sometimes with a four-hour bus ride between cities, and there’s no chance to make up for a disappointing finish with a miracle tournament run.

Some things about Ivy basketball are the same as every other league. The players practice and compete hard. They play on a high level, even against the highest-ranked teams in the country.

Some things are very different about Ivy basketball. Nobody’s on scholarship, no tutors travel with the team and no charter flights bring teams home after the games.

But the biggest difference between the Ivy League and any other league? It’s the hardest and most pressure-filled regular season in college basketball, and that’s what makes Ivy basketball interesting and Orton’s book worth reading.

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