Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Checking in with the Hoyas: The Longest Minute in Sports

I caught the last 55.1 seconds of the Georgetown-Temple game this evening, which is to say I caught a decent portion of the action. Don't get me wrong. I adore basketball but the last minute of a close game always seems endless. Georgetown won 46-45 as part of ESPN's College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.

Before tennis took over, basketball was my game. I love watching and I love playing, though I haven't played in years. I would not say I was ever very good at playing but I can watch with the best of them. Just as I know the exact moment that I became a tennis fan, I also know the exact moment when college basketball became my sport of choice.

For Christmas one year, my father got us two tickets to the Georgetown-Syracuse basketball game at the old Capitol Center in Landover, Maryland. The game was sensational. The crowd was on its feet for the entire last minute - even my usually unimpressed father. The Georgetown Hoyas won it with a last-second bank shot and the electric surge that went through the crowd was unlike anything I'd ever felt before. I was hooked.

Georgetown was quite a team in the '80s. Led by their enormous head coach, John Thompson, Jr., and the only slightly taller Patrick Ewing at center, the team made the national finals three out of four years. They won the title one year. The two championship games they lost are considered two of the greatest games in NCAA history. The Hoyas never reached the Final Four again during Thompson's reign but he had plenty of exciting teams through the years. The team we saw that day was one that Thompson himself referred to as Reggie and the Miracles. The team's star was Reggie Williams, a silky smooth small forward who was a fantastic college player but he never quite found his way in the pros. 1986-87 was his senior year and he was supported by a rag-tag bunch of freshmen and sophomores. No player was over 6-8 so no true center. In truth, few of them even qualified as forwards. But they were relentless, particularly on defense. They had a three-freshman platoon at point guard assigned to harass the opposing point man for 40 minutes with 15 fouls to give. Exciting, comeback victories were the norm. They won the conference and the conference tournament but fell short of the Final Four, losing to Rick Pitino's Providence Friars in the regional final.

They have, for the most part, been my favorite team ever since. I had a crisis of faith earlier this decade as the University of Maryland rose to national prominence. I've always liked both teams but have rarely had to choose as they don't play each other very often. But they did play in the NCAA tournament in 2001 and I had to make the choice. I rooted for the Terps because I thought they had the better chance to make it to the Final Four, which they did. But all else being equal, if I had to choose between a championship for the Hoyas and one for the Terps, I'd pick the Hoyas.

The team is now coached by Big John's son, John Thompson III. He learned defense from his father and offense from the legendary Pete Carrill at Princeton. That's a potent combination for a college coach and as long as he sticks around, the Hoyas should be strong. They're off to a good start: 2-0 with tonight's win, ranked #19 in the nation.

I still haven't had my annual Hoosiers viewing yet. I've gotta get on that.

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