Sunday, February 28, 2010

The week in basketball: From the NBA to community colleges

Friday night Jason Kidd - whose name is often preceded by the words savvy veteran - pulled off a bizarre trick that helped the Mavericks rally from a large deficit to defeat the Hawks. Trailing by 2 in the final two minutes, Kidd drove up the left side of the court, where Atlanta coach Mike Woodson was standing on the court barking out instructions. Inexplicably Woodson had wandered inside the sideline, apparently oblivious to the geography of the court. By the time Kidd neared him, Woodson seemed to have gotten back behind the line, but Kidd reached out for him and ended up drawing a technical on the Hawks coach. Kidd's play was as smart as Woodson's actions were stupid. For a brief time it appeared Woodson wanted to challenge Kidd to a fight, which would have been a sadder sight than Woodson scrambling off the court. Regardless, Dallas eventually forced overtime, where it won its sixth straight game.

* This is more about writing than basketball, but he's a huge hoops fan so it qualifies. Greg Downs plays basketball on Wednesday nights with me. He runs nonstop like Havlicek, bangs down low, is a smart player and possesses a nice little jumper from the free throw line. But he's also one of the more accomplished short story writers anywhere. His 2006 collection, Spit Baths, won the prestigious Flannery O'Connor Award. The stories are set in the South. The collection's been called "masterful" by the Philadelphia Inquirer, and "one of the most entertaining books of short stories in a long time" by the Lexington Herald-Leader. You can buy the book here. Greg is also one of the world's biggest Kentucky basketball fans, so he might be in a bit of mourning today after Tennessee knocked off the country's No. 2 team.

* Saturday afternoon I watched the lowly New Jersey Nets defeat the Celtics, in Boston, before a Beantown crowd that looked like it'd seen the ghosts of Todd Day and Dino Radja running around on the parquet. It was beautiful. Watching Garnett, Allen, Rondo and the rest stumble and fumble around warms my heart. It's beginning to feel similar to the end of the Big Three era in the early 1990s, when Bird, McHale, Parish and DJ fossilized as the Bad Boys and Jordan took over the East. They still have their 17 banners and their vast reserves of arrogance, but with any luck, the franchise might be at the start of another decade of darkness. If only Red was around to see them stumble.

* Saturday night my uncle's Minnesota West women's basketball team lost in the state tournament semifinals, 69-64, to Minneapolis. It was a hard-fought game that saw the Lady Jays hold a six-point lead late in the game before foul trouble doomed their hopes for a trip to the state finals. Minnesota West basketball has always been a huge affair for the Fury clan, as numerous family members played there and we've all followed along for nearly 30 years as my uncle, Mike Fury, has coached the Worthington women. I remember going to WCC games even before he became coach, when my aunt played there. And when we'd go to Mike's games when I was a kid, I couldn't wait for the end of the men's game so I could run out onto the court to shoot baskets. My parents and aunts and uncles and cousins and grandpa attended nearly every home game and many of the road games. I was lucky enough to play on the men's team for two years and I remain a devoted follower of the program.

Community college hoops doesn't attract the attention of its four-year counterparts, but countless Division I, II and III teams sport rosters with players who transferred from those two-year schools. To many people, community college hoops is way off their basketball radar. For us it's always been near the center of our athletic universe. And the victories are just as satisfying and the defeats just as devastating as they are at any school that draws 20,000 fans. Tonight my cousin, who, of course, played at Worthington, texted me with updates in the second half. She sent one that said the Lady Jays were ahead by six with five minutes left in the game. It was another 25 minutes or so before another one arrived, and I knew that gap meant something bad had probably happened in the game. Confirmation arrived a few minutes later.

Mike's teams won state titles in 1984 and 1992. This year's team had a good shot of becoming his third state champion. Instead it goes down as another tough loss, like the one in the 1985 state semifinals and one in the 1997 finals. Coach Fury is nearing 60 years of age and 30 years in college coaching. I don't know how much longer he'll be on the sideline. But for however long it is, the Lady Jays will have one of the best coaches anywhere leading them, regardless of whether it's a two-year school or a four-year university.


Lady Jays said...

The blog was read and very much appreciated by the entire Lady Jay squad. The coach's only complaint was the mention of his age, but I think he will get over it. Thanks!!

Shawn Fury said...

Nearing 60 could mean anything. Could be 51. Good luck today.