Friday, April 2, 2021

We've All Been There, Tom

With all due respect to the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, the best game TigerBlog has seen this week was between Hickory High School and South Bend Central High School. 

Yes. "Hoosiers" was on again. TigerBlog isn't sure how many times he's seen it, but he'll go with "a lot."

He turned it on at the exact moment that Ollie made his second foul shot. Of course he stayed with it until the end. There was no chance he wouldn't.

Again, the championship game was a showcase of Norman Dale's strengths and weaknesses as a head coach. For starters, Hickory was down 8-0 in the final before the players pointed out that they should run the offense through Jimmy. 

Second, he got really lucky that 34 on South Bend Central took that shot with a little over a minute left up by four with no shot clock and really lucky that nobody fouled 34 when he finally did trap in a tie game with 20 seconds left. 

Lastly, would you have used Jimmy as a decoy at the end? And if you were, would you have let Merle take the last shot and not Buddy, Everett or Rade? 

On the other hand, Dale evolved as a coach from one who would not listen to a word that his players had to say to one who made the two biggest adjustments of his career on the advice of his players. And, more than anything else, he was one of the greatest motivators who ever coached a team anywhere.

The movie was on HBO Tuesday night. TB switched from the end of the Gonzaga-USC game to "Hoosiers" right when Ollie put up his foul shots. The movie ended about 30 seconds before tip-off of the UCLA-Michigan game.

This got TB to wonder if this was a coincidence or not. Or was there someone at HBO who said "you know what? If we put 'Hoosiers' on, we'll get all the people who don't want to watch the studio show between games." 

That person should get a raise.

For the men's tournament, is Gonzaga the Hickory of the Final Four? Here are the enrollments of the four schools: Houston 38,600; UCLA 31,500; Baylor 14,400; Gonzaga 5,240.

Can you be the No. 1 seed with a perfect record and the prohibitive favorite while also being the sentimental underdog choice? Has this ever happened before?

On the women's side,  the Final Four is UConn-Arizona and Stanford-South Carolina. TB will root for UConn (alma mater of Princeton head women's coach Carla Berube) and Stanford (alma mater of former assistant coach Milena Flores and also with former Penn colleague Wilder Treadway as the Cardinal women's basketball contact).

Meanwhile, speaking of basketball coaches, North Carolina's Roy Williams announced his retirement yesterday. Or was it an April Fools' Joke? 

No, it seems to have turned out to be real.

Williams is most connected with the Tar Heels, where he was also a player and then an assistant coach under Dean Smith, but he did also coach at Kansas from 1988-2003. In fact, he had a higher winning percentage with the Jayhawks (418-101, .805) than he did with the Tar Heels (485-163, .748).

And when TB thinks about Williams, he thinks first and foremost about when Princeton played Kansas twice when he was the Kansas coach. 

The second of those games was in the 2001-02 season and was in Jadwin Gym. The Jawhawks had four future NBA players - Nick Collison, Wayne Simien, Kirk Hinrich and Drew Gooden - as well as current Missouri Southern head coach Jeff Boschee, but the Tigers played them fairly close until the last few minutes. 

Princeton had four players in double figures in that game - Will Venable, Judson Wallace, Andre Logan and Mike Bechtold.

The game at Kansas two years earlier is the one that TB has always thought of when he thinks of Williams, though. 

TB and then-radio play-by-play man Tom McCarthy flew out to Kansas on the day of the game. It was that day, to be exact, when their flight was so early that they were able to go from Newark to Kansas City, rent a car, drive an hour to Lawrence and get to the team hotel early enough that the breakfast buffet was still being served.

Anyway, shortly after that, TB and McCarthy went over to Allen Field House for a pregame interview with Williams. When McCarthy pushed "play" on his recorder (an old-fashioned, actual tape recorder), nothing happened. 

That's when he figured the batteries were dead. He became a bit flustered and apologetic, realizing that he was keeping one of college basketball's most successful coaches waiting.

And that's when Williams put his arm around Tom and said in his famous drawl - "Don't worry. We've all been there Tom."

And since then, TB has always thought of that moment when he's seen Williams on TV.

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