Advertisements

Meanwhile, On the Prairie Sports Pages

As much as we hate to see another summer pass, one of the compensations of autumn is that it soon brings basketball season. That’s a big deal here in hoops crazy Kansas, where all the universities and colleges and the big city and small town high schools and all the local playgrounds pride themselves on how well they play the beautiful game.
The big political story of the moment in is the ongoing argument about whether President Donald Trump or former Vice President and still front-running Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden should be hanged for treason because of the Ukrainian thing, but what caught our eye is the news that the University of Kansas Jayhawks are under scrutiny from the National Collegiate Athletic Association. On a calm and temperate autumn evening here in Wichita there’s a palpable feel of both the dismay and schadenfreude around here.
For those of you not who are blessed to be living in here in the heart of God’s country, we should explain that basketball exposes some class divisions around here. We grew up in the golden age of Wichita’s City League, when it was producing future professional stars, but these days the suburban leagues are holding their own in non-conference games, the small towns still continue to impress and come up with the occasional division one star and professional player, and for the most part it’s a friendly rivalry. The junior colleges in the Jayhawk League of community colleges produce a surprising number of professional players who couldn’t pass the pathetic minimum test scores for a division one are the big sporting attraction in a number of small Kansas towns, but that’s also mostly a friendly rivalry.
At the D-1 level of this hoops crazy state it’s more of a blood sport. The Kansas State University Wildcats have won numerous conference championships and often been top-20 teams, with a couple of Final Fours thrown in, and we don’t think that there are more than 40 states who can claim a college with a more impressive record. Our most beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers also have a lot of conference titles and top-20 rankings and a couple Final Fours to brag about, and given our coach’s coach-of-the-year-award-winning record there’s hope that they’ll be back in the top 20 and the tourney next March, when we hope Spring will arrive.
There’s no denying, though, damn it, that the KU Jayhawks sit atop the state’s basketball  hierarchy. They’ve been playing the game so long that basketball inventor James Naismith was once the coach, and over more than a century they’ve won a couple of contested and a few more un-contested national championships. They won 14 Big XII championships in a row before falling just short in the injury-riddled last year, routinely send players to stardom in the National Basketball Association, and along with Duke and North Carolina and Kentucky they’re one of the most blue-blooded of the sport’s perennial dynasties. Such a consistent record of excellence does demand some respect, of course, but to a Wildcat or ‘Shocker fan those Jayhawk fans can be damned annoying.
One wonders how they do it year after year, and we won’t be surprised if this latest NCAA probe provides some embarrassing explanation. KU’s basketball team and our still-beloved and similarly blue-blooded University of Oklahoma Sooners football team have occasionally been caught breaking rules. So have all the other blue bloods in the college football and basketball rackets over the past century or so, as well as both major party players in the political racket.
Perhaps there’s some perfectly reasonable explanation for everything, as there occasionally is in both the sporting and political realms, but we’re not bettors and will wait and see. In the meantime we’ll be rooting for the Wildcats and especially the Shockers, and wishing no malice against the Jayhawks, and hoping that it all the rest of everything ends with the the best team winning. Here’s also hoping that the ‘Shocks have a good run.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Politics, Hoops, and the Politics of Hoops

March madness has descended over the globe, and we don’t mean the mess in Ukraine and the South China Sea and all over the Middle East and at the Federal Reserve Board or any of the rest of the world’s reigning insanity. We’re talking about the excitement attending the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s championship basketball tournament, a matter that is arguably of less importance but generates far more wagers and press coverage. At least the president’s priorities are in order, as he has once again found time in his presumably busy schedule to fill out his brackets.
The presidential picks have become a much-ballyhooed annual event over the past five years, and are always presented with appropriate pomp and circumstance on the almighty ESPN cable network. So far the president’s picks haven’t proved more prescient than any other office-bound amateur’s, but ESPN takes them seriously enough to have come up with some fancy “Barack-etology” graphics and a nauseatingly fawning program featuring the president himself, and the rest of the media are obliged to take note. No one ever notes that the president seems to be watching an awful lot of college basketball while the world comes apart at the seams and the economy continues to sputter, so the White House can assume with some confidence that enhancing the president’s basketball-watching regular guy image compensates for any damage to done to his reputation as a serious statesman.
Our main interest in the story was that the president did not predict our beloved Wichita State University Wheatshockers squad would prevail, despite their thus-far- unblemished record and number one seeding, but this did not surprise us. The ‘Shockers are lightly regarded by many experts because they play in the lightly-regarded Missouri Valley Conference rather than one of those fancy-schmantzy football-playing conferences, and their impeccable underdog credentials are offset by their undeniable political incorrectness. Our boys play in the Charles Koch Arena, named for the local half of the billionaire businessmen brothers who are the Democratic party’s favorite boogeymen, the defensive-minded coach makes his recruiting trips on corporate jets loaned by the local corporate jet-makers, another popular whipping post of the progressive movement, and the team is whole-heartedly embraced by the God-and-gun-clutching denizens of this old-fashioned town smack dab in the middle of that vexing red splotch on the electoral map. There’s no political point in the president pandering to Wichita or anywhere in Kansas except perhaps Lawrence and the more, ahem, “urban” portions of Kansas City, Kansas, so most ‘Shocker fans were not expecting his endorsement.
The president apparently prefers the Spartans of Michigan State University, which is also unsurprising. Michigan is a bluer state than Kansas, although the unions have recently been on the run there and it seems in danger of growing purple, and the Spartans are  a good team who also play in one of those fancy-schmantzy football-playing conferences. Just as the pridefully egalitarian types tend to insist on Ivy League credentials for high public office, they also tend to be downright elitist in their basketball prognasticating. While perusing the comment boards on the latest college basketball news the other day we saw a posting by a fellow we happen to know who was dismissing our beloved ‘Shockers as the equivalent of Cowley County Community College, and we found it amusing because we happen to know him as a self-professed Marxist professor of some sort at at some prestigious College Back East. He went to the University of Kansas, where James friggin’ Naismith himself once coached and Wilt Chamberlain once roamed the lanes and there are more storied basketball stories than you can bear to hear to a KU alum recount, and we think it a hoot that our friend learned both his Marxism and his basketball snobbery there.
As is our strict policy here, we offer no predictions regarding the outcome of anything. Such prudence ensures that we’ll have a better track record than the president, whose picks from the Baltics to the brackets have proved questionable, and we don’t claim his expertise in these matters. We certainly can’t say we have the spare time to devote to scouting every team in the field that the president apparently enjoys. Even so, we’ll admit to a faint hope that a politically incorrect underdog from that God-and-gun-clinging red splotch in the middle of the U.S.A. will do well.

— Bud Norman