Opinion

Basketball season dawns anew | Rudi Alcott

For me, as a product of Indiana, there is no truer sport than high school and college basketball. They embody what I think sports are all about. A combination of true grit, determination, absolute confidence in yourself and your teammates and the ability to deal with an immense amount of pressure. These are not bad traits to develop to take into the business world we call the Great Recession.

It wasn’t always that clear to me, though. As a young kid I grew up in the hardscrabble high desert plains (elevation 5,682 feet) of the Western Slope of Colorado. Population 6. OK, not really. The actual population was 7, but someone was always sick, so if felt like 6. At a stringy 5-feet-10-inches tall and growing, I played center. Actually I just stood there, they lobbed me the ball and I threw it in the basket. I then panted down to the other end, stood there, tried to play as little defense as possible and the game was afoot.

This was a good existence until the economy took my family to Indiana at the end of my 8th-grade year. I found myself in Leesburg, Ind. Human population 200, bovine 10,000. My 9th-grade year started out at the Warsaw Freshman High. Just a school for freshmen? Yes, commonplace out here, but unheard of in Indiana. Population 2,000. From 6 to 2,000. There were more people in this class than in the entire town I moved from. Needless to say, the culture shock was off the charts. I lasted three months, which I still consider pretty good.

My older brother moved to Syracuse, Ind., about 20 miles up the cow trails, and I went with him. I enrolled second semester at Wawasee High School, population roughly 900. Still quite large by my standards but more manageable. I arrived for basketball practice at the auxiliary gym. Yes, this school had two gyms. Amazing. I don’t think there were two gyms in the entire county in Colorado.

Anyhow, coach says, “Alcott, what position do you play?” With chest slightly puffed out, I announced center. He smirked a bit and motioned for me to turn around. Welcome to Indiana basketball, Alcott. I went from the tallest on the team to the third tallest guard. He insisted I take the point. I hadn’t dribbled the ball, I think ever, and now I was going to be the primary ball handler? Nope, wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t. I averaged .666 points per game, a number to this day I find quite ironic as this game, in this state, was Hell. As you might have guessed, I didn’t make the team past my freshman year, but the bug was planted.

I went on to be a fairly accomplished athletic trainer and majored for the rest of my high school years in it. I fell just a couple of points shy of the highest athletic award my school offered, likely because of the disaster during freshman ball. Presumably they took away a couple of points for that debacle. Because I was a high-ranking trainer, I usually got my choice of sports to cover. I chose varsity boys and girls basketball every year. Boys because of the crowds and girls because of, well, duh.

There was nothing quite like a Friday or Saturday night. Our gym sat around 2,300 or so, which was fairly small. We were after all, a small hick town. You had to arrive by halftime of the junior varsity game to get a seat. The atmosphere was electric.

When our archrival Warsaw came to town, you could feel the tension in the air as the ball was in play. Warsaw was very good during my years in high school. They had an Indiana Mr. Basketball leading their team my sophomore year and a guard that went on to star in the movie “Hoosiers.” He played the malcontent player. Go figure. Life imitates art. You would expect nothing less from a Warsaw player. They went on to win the state title. This was the state title. There was no class system back then, so there was only one winner. True Hoosier movie stuff here. They were the best, without question. This just led us to hate them even more, especially since they were in our division.

Next came the powerhouse, Concord High School, also in our division, with a little forward/center you might have heard of named Shawn Kemp of the Sonics fame. Actually this wasn’t even fair. He was a man among boys. We developed a fairly good game plan, though. We would bring up a bunch of JV guys whose sole job was to just foul him. Your goal was to foul out. I could have done that. The plan was brilliant. Didn’t work, but it was brilliant.

Still to this day, basketball runs the state. It creates job, fuels an economy and makes dreams come true. Other states have this. Texas is known for football, but everyone with a passing interest in sports knows Indiana is about basketball. Make no mistake, basketball is a way of life. Every barn you pass has a rim and a homemade backboard. Your religion is basketball. You bleed cream and crimson for Indiana University and are taught Purdue is actually an agricultural school where you major in cow manure, and that it was named incorrectly. It is really Purdon’t or Purdonot, if you want to be grammatically correct. This is not something you see in a movie. It is real. After all, basketball is played during a time of year when there is nothing else to do. Zero is considered a heat wave. A good day is when you don’t have to go outside and plug your car in so it doesn’t freeze. Seriously.

November starts the season. Thankfully, I still get to watch the games. The Big Ten Network or Big 11 or Big 12 or whatever they call themselves now — look, this is about basketball, not math, just go with it — broadcasts all of the IU games, including exhibition, and I watch every one of them. IU has been down lately. Actually, zombies are more alive than they have been the last three years, but they still sell out every game. Now that’s a true fan. That other hack team, Pur, something or another — my keyboard froze up typing those letters — has actually been fairly good. I still haven’t come to grips with that. Probably never will.

A new season, which started on 11/11/11, brings with it new hopes, new dreams and new words I get to invent to yell at the pathetic referees. Gomer Pyle gets it right every year for the start of the Indy 500: Back home again in Indiana…the new-mown hay sends all its fragrance through the fields I used to roam…oh how I love my Indiana home.

 

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