Thursday, March 29, 2012

Then and Now: A Thursday Tale of Gainer's Grand Final Four

It's the Final Four.  It's MY Final Four.  Literally.  My favorite 3 college basketball teams are in it.

From top left: John Wall, Scott Padgett, Rajon Rondo, Patrick Patterson, Tayshaun Prince

Since 2nd grade when I lived in Kentucky for less than a year, I fell in love with the Blue.  My memories lie in the Tubby Smith era which started with my first favorite college basketball player Scott Padgett who just shot lights out.  He was the really white Dirk before Dirk!  They lie in my least favorite player Saul Smith who was a joke.  They peaked with my all-time favorite UK player Tayshaun Prince.  They rode with Rajon Rondo until I finally got to a game in Rupp Arena for the first time in 2007 in the blow out of Auburn in the SEC Opener (Tubby's final season).  I wanted to throw up during the tenure of Billy Gillepsie and the problems he faced personally but that ended, thank goodness.  My brother and I, as far back as we can remember, have always had one bracket where we picked Kentucky to go all the way.  Funny thing is, after they won that championship in 1998, our brackets began to suck every year since then.  I held on because of my main man Patrick Patterson who I saw play at the University of Charleston (WV) as a senior in high school from Huntington High (teammate of OJ Mayo).  Now, I live and die by freshmen.  I loved John Wall, the dance, the fun that is the excitement of Coach Calipari's incredible recruiting efforts.

From top left: Matt Terwilliger, Mike Conley, Jr., Jon Diebler, Greg Oden, Evan Turner

In that time, I had moved to Ohio (2001) and casually followed the Buckeyes.  I played basketball through my junior year (my one glorious Varsity season) and vividly remember a scrimmage at Troy.  A future Buckeye was a senior on that team, Matt Terwilliger.  He was approximately 6'8" and 250lbs.  On one possession, he got an outlet pass and as I ran right next to him trying to stop the ball, he just threw it down.  I felt molested yet in awe of this huge man.  That same year our BHS team took in an Ohio State game vs Texas Tech (BOB KNIGHT!) where they lost in their first game of 2004.  My senior year is when I started watching the Buckeyes because of Matt and BOB KNIGHT and it happened to be the first season of Thad Matta's coaching tenure.  I also didn't play basketball that year so I had plenty of time to watch!  I rode the the wave with the championship runner-up squad featuring the hot shot Daequan Cook, the speedy Mike Conley, and the impenetrable monster that was Greg Oden through the early departed Evan Turner and the seniors of much loved David Lighty and white chocolate Jon Diebler.  Now I have seen the fat and skinny Jared Sullinger, the streaky Will Buford, the defensive prowess of Aaron Craft, and the emergence of Deshaun Thomas.

From top left: Chane Behanan, Samardo Samuels, Peyton Siva, Edgar Sosa, and my autographed Pitino pic

A funny thing happened after finishing my undergraduate education, I got accepted into grad school and headed to Louisville, Kentucky.  I kind of chuckled seeing all the Cardinal red and wondered if I could cheer for this team.  I got to see a game in the final season of Freedom Hall in January 2010 when Louisville lost to then #4 ranked Villanova in the now famous white outs when Head Coach Rick Pitino dons the full white suit.  I then interned (unpaid of course) that summer transitioning all the season ticket holders out of Freedom Hall into the new KFC Yum! Center.  Coach Pitino even signed a picture for me as gratitude.  Say no more. I was a house divided.  I have seen the maturation of Peyton Siva, the frustration that was Edgar Sosa, the oddity of Samardo Samuels leaving, and the disappointment of losing in the first round against Morehead State?!?  I survived the scandal that was Rick Pitino's personal life and saw the grand opening of a grand new arena.  Now, it's the fun nature of Russ Smith, the shooting of Kyle Kuric, the defensive stalwart that is Gorgui Dieng, and the future superstar of Chane Behanan.

Saturday night, a little after 6pm, will be all out fun for me.  I like my chances that 2 of the 4 will play in the finals.  But before then, I have to sit through the intense UK UofL rivalry game.  Then I must will OSU to beat the "no-one-cares-about-us" Kansas team.  Come Monday night, I hope I'm cheering because one of these three is cutting down the nets.  No matter the outcome, I will cherish this Final Four of 2012 because the odds of all 3 being in the title hunt may never happen again even for these storied programs.