Note: Chuck Klosterman is in Atlanta covering the Final Four for Page 2. Check back all weekend for more updates.
LAST UPDATED: 10:02 P.M.
THURSDAY: Final four prep
Friday, 11:02 a.m.
ATLANTA -- Much to the chagrin of Allen Iverson, today we will be talking about practice. "Oh, come on man. Practice? We talkin' about practice?" Indeed. Georgetown will take the floor at noon. UCLA follows at 1 p.m., Ohio State works out at 2:10, and then Florida at 3:10. These will not be real practices, of course, because they are short and open to the public and basically just media constructions. However, I will still send little reports from all four of these nonevents, if only to make comments about Greg Oden's beard and validate ESPN's long-standing dedication to coverage of the three-man weave.
Speaking of Oden: Last night, I received dozens of e-mails from Buckeye fans who wanted to inform me that OSU does not use semesters (they are on the quarter system). Chuck Klosterman regrets the error. However, I was stunned by how many of these e-mailers assumed I was attacking Oden for taking a class on the history of rock 'n roll. Why would I possibly criticize him for doing this? I listen to Wilco albums for a living. When I was in college, I took a three-credit class titled, "Great Plays Of the 1950s and '60s That Did Not Win the Pulitzer Prize." The class was filled with hot girls who cut themselves, and we talked a lot about "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe." I guess my core point is this: Ultimately, all education is equal, except for math and science (which is hard).
Frankly, Oden is my favorite player in this entire tournament. I love his stoicism. I realize members of the media are supposed to love "raw emotion," but I always find that undignified. At this very moment, I assume Joakim Noah is moshing around his hotel room and eating handfuls of glass and yelling at "The View" and hitting a tennis ball between his legs; he is a citizen of the world, but he's also something of a lunatic. I prefer the expressionless Mr. Oden, a person who's likely sitting beneath a singular table lamp, silently reading Chuck Eddy's analysis of the British invasion while peeling a tangerine. I always want my post players to be intimidating-yet-wooden.
As such, I am an Oden superfan.
That said, it will be (kind of) hilarious if the Bucks end up playing Florida in another national championship game and (once again) get buried alive (kind of like those two unimportant characters on this week's "Lost"). Are you aware that Columbus claims to have the best library system in the United States? How arrogant.
More in 90 minutes ...
Friday, 12:43 p.m.
Breaking news: Georgetown does NOT run the three-man weave (or at least not the weaving part). The Hoyas run a drill that resembles the three-man weave, but the guy who makes the initial pass is no longer required to run behind the man he threw the ball to (in other words, the point guard always stays in the middle of the floor). This actually seems more realistic than the alternative.
Here on the sideline, I am seated directly behind John Thompson as he watches his son run practice. The elder Thompson is wearing a black hat, a black shirt, white pants, white Nikes, and no socks. He is unspeakably massive and swears a lot. I wonder if JT3 is mildly annoyed that he didn't end up being a taller dude? Genetics are a cruel mistress.
Considering that this is (mostly) just a way for the players to grow acquainted with the Georgia Dome's aesthetics, the Hoyas are taking all this with relative seriousness. The most interesting kid to follow is Doc Rivers' kid, Jeremiah, who appears shorter (and way more athletic) than I anticipated. Roy Hibbert can sometimes seem mechanical during games, but he appears relaxed and pretty fluid during these drills. If he does not declare himself eligible for the NBA draft this spring (and -- for a variety of reasons -- I don't think he will), he'll probably average 25 and 13 in the Big East next year.
[Sidebar: Writer John Feinstein just walked up to Thompson and introduced himself. Thompson barely nodded at him. Have these people never met before? That seems unfathomable to me.]
By now, everyone on the floor is just shooting random jumpers and free throws; I don't think anything meaningful is going to happen over these final 15 minutes. But here's something to think about: During the '80s, Georgetown had dominant teams despite the fact they never recruited legitimate jump shooters (Reggie Williams being a notable exception, but still). Very often, it didn't feel like the Hoyas' offensive started until they took a shot and missed. Could such a style still work today? Would it be possible to have a world-class team solely built around defense and athleticism? I suspect that era is over forever. This, I think, is a positive evolution.
Friday, 1:44 p.m.
So check this out: UCLA decided to bring its cheerleaders, mascot and pep band to practice. To say these guys are "loose" would be like saying spinal taps are "discomforting." Interesting, more than half of the Bruins players are wearing long-sleeve shirts underneath their tank tops; they seem to be reacting to the Georgia Dome air conditioning in a manner reminiscent of how the old Los Angeles Rams used to react when playing the Minnesota Vikings in playoff games at Metropolitan Stadium.
Without question, Lorenzo Mata is the most physically imposing mammal on the floor. It always looks like he is on the cusp of ripping down the shot clock and hauling it to a tattoo parlor. Meanwhile, Arron Afflalo has the cocksure posture of a man who knows that he is widely recognized as sporadically awesome. He also has the longest shorts and is very nice to the team manager.
On the other end of the court, the Bruins' cheerleaders are looking skyward and appear to be discussing the architecture of the Dome. Is it possible to be ridiculously happy yet hopelessly bored? This is how I would describe them. They're also a little cold, because they all keep rubbing their arms and shivering. What in the hell is going on? Is it 4,000 degrees in Southern California?
Judging from this 50-minute encounter, it looks like playing basketball at UCLA would be just about the greatest experience any human could possibly have. They are concluding practice with a playful half-court shooting contest, and I envy their joy. If being cool is the conduit to athletic success, these guys are going to be unstoppable. However, I kind of suspect the opposite is true; I kind of think they are going to lose, and John Wooden will be troubled by the way they all put their socks on in unique, anarchistic ways. Don't these kids get HBO? Here is a fragment of absolute truth: The key to future happiness is experiencing hardship in the present tense. This applies to everything. Tomorrow never knows, except when it does.
Friday, 3:12 p.m.
Ohio State should have lost to both Xavier and Tennessee. This being the case, I suspect the Buckeyes will win this tournament. I am cognizant of the inherent logical flaws of that argument, but I'm sure anyone who watches college basketball year-to-year knows why I might say this: Every good team experiences at least one game when it should get beat. Avoiding that loss is the key to going all the way. OSU has done that twice. This will be significant.
Throughout March, I was struck by how strange it was that so many games were razor close, yet still won by the favorite in almost every instance (the exception being Wisconsin). I still can't figure out why that happened so regularly. If a game becomes essentially even with less than 90 seconds to play, the contest usually becomes a toss-up (if anything, the underdog has the advantage, particularly on a neutral floor where the crowd will always embrace the weaker sister). I'd really like to get those Freakonomics dudes to look into the trajectory of this particular tournament; the consistency of the outcomes could not have been arbitrary.
The Buckeyes are practicing even less aggressively than the Bruins did (and -- like UCLA -- they inexplicably brought their band to the arena). They're really having little more than a casual shoot-around, almost like an NBA team. Still, they seem focused and (maybe) even nervous. It is also apparent that OSU possesses the country's highest population of ballboys.
Meanwhile, Florida fans are getting on Oden's case and yelling things like, "If yer not a Gator, yer Gator bait!" Brilliant insights there. Watch out for those butterfly ballots, Jerome.
UNRELATED TO OHIO: Two updates, via the World Wide Intraweb:
1) I now realize I spelled "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" incorrectly in an earlier post. I also realize this did not exactly enhance my point about the value of education.
2) According to a few e-mailers, John Thompson and John Feinstein have had a running feud for 20 years. This (allegedly) stems from the fact that Thompson restricted locker room access to Feinstein when he was a young reporter, and then augmented by Georgetown's unwillingness to participate in an annual charity basketball game Feinstein organizes every December. I have no idea if any of this true, but it doesn't sound completely crazy.
Friday, 3:40 p.m.
OK, so it appears Florida brought its band, too. As it turns out, Georgetown is strange for not bringing a band to basketball practice. Ah, the pageantry.
The Gators were actually two minutes late for their 3:10 practice, and Noah came out of the locker room with his shoes untied. I initially wondered if this might indicate a degree of lackadaisical disinterest, but then they started practicing. For real. Of the four teams, Florida is the only university that seemed legitimately intense at this lazy, public practice. Billy Donovan is wearing a black tracksuit and chewing gum; his arms are crossed, and he's scowling at random kids with extreme prejudice. He looks like some kind of human ocelot.
Florida has the best team in the nation, which usually means it is destined to lose. All the most impressive college hoop teams seems to lose: the '85 Hoyas, the Drexler-Olajuwon Houston Cougars, the North Carolina squad that was upset by Dan Dakich and Indiana (this was when Jordan was a junior), the UNLV war machine that was knocked off by Duke, etc. Watching Florida work out, I don't see any weaknesses; they have guys I've never seen play who look incredible. They are doomed.
Donovan is laughing now; I'm not sure what is supposed to be funny, but I think it involves Al Horford. I used to think Donovan ran a dirty program; this was mostly because of his suits and his haircut. Now I simply think he knows what he's doing in a very, very obsessive context. I hope he jumps to Kentucky. Florida already has a topflight football team -- I don't think any college should have more than one dominant sport. It only serves to make frat boys drunk with power.
Friday, 9:25 p.m.
Atlanta remains overcast this evening, its downtown streets filled with Gators and Gator Bait alike (the latter species appearing less drunk and wearing fewer belly shirts). All the wide-eyed optimistic teens are heading down to Olympic Park to see a free outdoor show by Panic! At the Disco. I momentarily considered going to this event, as I tend to think Panic! At the Disco has at least one nice single and some even nicer suits (although they probably need to generate some different songwriting influences for their second album, lest they create a Panic! At the Office of Pete Wentz's Accountant). Tomorrow the Olympic Park venue is hosting another ludicrous concert which may, in fact, involve Ludacris.
With all this tangential activity built around an otherwise unconnected sporting event, it would be easy to make the argument that sports have become too popular in America, and that these arbitrary, transitory games have too much influence on society. I've heard people make this particular point for all of my 35 years on earth. However, I am starting to wonder if things aren't actually moving in the opposite direction; for the first time in my life, I am getting the impression that sports are losing their emotive grasp on this country. And the irony is that this is happening because of television.
Right now, I am in a city filled with sportswriters, and it's less than 48 hours before the Opening Day of Major League Baseball. Yet no one here seems to be talking about this. No one. This morning, I read that last Sunday's Phoenix Suns-Sacramento Kings game on ABC game drew a rating of 1.0, which places it only slightly above most privately-owned piranha aquariums. Because sports are on TV constantly, sports seem hyper-popular ... but because they're on TV constantly, we all barely notice. It is amazing to think that just 40 years ago there had never been a college basketball game broadcast during prime time. Just 25 years ago, CBS was still showing the NBA Finals on tape delay. This afternoon, I watched five different arguments about whether or not Kevin Durant should (or should not) leave college early. Five. In two hours. For no reason, beyond the fact that these people had to talk about something, because that is what they do.
Though the process had been more gradual, cable television has devalued society's relationship with sports in the same way MTV changed rock music: It has simultaneously made it more normative and less meaningful. We consume sports more than ever before, but that consumption has everything to do with technology and nothing to do with the intensity (or the value) of our intentions. We are killing off the very motive that perpetuates the desire to kill ... but not in a good way.
Is there anything about the world that is actually getting better? If the answer to that question is "yes," I am not seeing it.
IN OTHER NEWS, here is my All-Time Final Four "Goofball Squad" team (not the best players, certainly, but merely the ones I most enjoy remembering) ...
F - Michael Graham, Georgetown (1984): Bald sociopath. I once had a lucid dream where he tried to kill me with a jackhammer. Eerily realistic.
F - Benny Anders, Houston (1983): The best pure dunker from Phi Slama Jama (and maybe the best game dunker I've ever seen). I also recall that he got himself into some minor political trouble for making a radically misogynistic remark about women's basketball, something along of the lines of (and I'm paraphrasing from memory here), "The problem with girls is that they can't go to the rack and do it."
C - Moses Scurry, UNLV (1990): This dude screamed like a 16th-century torture victim. An Eric Clapton beard, plenty of anger, and absolutely no game outside the paint.
G - Dave Sieger, Oklahoma (1988): That white kid who did not miss during the first half of the Sooners' ill-fated title game vs. Kansas. Mookie would feed him the rock and Sieger would drain it off its blood. Classic.
G - Miles Simon, Arizona (1997): He had a stellar game against Kentucky, along with some strangely memorable eyebrows. My girlfriend really liked this man's eyebrows; she claimed it made him seem "kind." He also went 14 of 17 from the line. Never sleep on the 'brows, bros.
Chuck Klosterman is the author of "Fargo Rock City," the essay collection "Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs," "Killing Yourself to Live: 85 Percent of a True Story" and the anthology "Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas." He can (sometimes) be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org