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GURGLE, GURGLE...

...If someone chokes completely, do they make a sound?

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The U of M Tigers sure picked a hell of a time to have their "stinker," as they lost in humiliating fashion last night to UCLA in the Elite Eight round of the NCAA basketball tournament, 50-45. ESPN called it "winning ugly" for UCLA, so I suspect that losing ugly is, well, not much of a thing of beauty, either...

The Tigers scored nary a three in the first half, going 0 for 10. Yikes! And yet here they were, in this one, in with a chance 'til nearly the end. A noble struggle, this, sorta like a blind date that you know is going all wrong from the moment you sit down, and yet politeness and protocol demand you get through the evening. We were just all thumbs, from start to finish...

Although there really was absolutely, positively nothing Coach Cal could do about all this. He coached an amazing game, protecting the foul-challenged guys perfectly. So they could come back and take charge. Which they didn't. The kids simply choked. Bigtime. Joey Dorsey played like last year. Rodney Carney played like he'd never played basketball before. Shawne Williams took a long nap. And when UCLA tried its best to hand the game back to Memphis on a platter, we said, "No, thank you." Instead, the Tigers collectively threw up.

Darius Washington tried to ignite, but we saw tonight, methinks, how a guy who is so much of me-fer can't be a leader. Andre Allen was in over his head. Dozier and Cooper played like the freshmen they are. And the whole thing blew up in their and our face.

This was not like other bad losses where the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. We just choked. Probably because, in Oakland, it was virtually a UCLA home game....

And if this wasn't faux-college basketball, there would be lessons to be learned, foundations to be built upon. In the old days, coaches/communities would build on failure, and move on . That's the way it used to be, but now? Washington and Williams will be outta here, soon, the Tigers will be preseason top 10, yes, but there is no continuity, never a sense that all this hoopla, in today's world, amounts to a hill of beans. It's like transitory trailer-trash sex. There is never a tomorrow in college basketball, any more. Think John Wooden's record (and influence) can ever be matched? Think again....

Indeed, collegiate basketball today is a metaphor for Operation Iraqi Freedom. What you see is what you (do not) get. Oh, yes, everybody gets excited and screams and shouts about the phenomenal phinishes. But it's bread and circuses, my friends. Bread and circuses, no more, no less. Whoever wins today is utterly meaningless. There is no continuity to this thing that masquerades as "tradition." No there there.

Case in point: my grandson. I stayed home tonight, babysitting with him (age 9), as we watched the U of M/UCLA game. Know what? He's a super-devout Grizzly fan. Know why? Continuity. Half of his life Pau Gasol and Shane Battier have been Grizzlies; he worships the ground they walk on. Half of his admittedly short life, NOBODY has been consistently a U of M'er, with the exception of Rodney Carney, who, btw, is the only Tiger whose name he knows. Almost to prove a point, JD fell asleep during the early part of the second half. At one of the "great moments" of Tiger basketball history, this exemplar of the pre-teen future of this "franchise" nodded off. This is not, I suspect, a very good sign...

Tomorrow afternoon, the Grizzlies play Charlotte, in what will probably be a Griz clobber-fest at the FedEx Forum. My grandson (and all his grade-school basketball team buddies) will be on the edge of their seats watching on tv -- actually, he and two of his buddies will be there with me -- cheering on the players they know and love, as if the Tigers never existed. Which as far as the next, next generation is concerned, they don't.

Respectfully: The U of M can't capture the imagination because (a) the college game is so clearly weaker than it was before the NBA started plundering the LeBron Jameses and Amare Stoudamires of the world, and (b) the good players simply don't stick around at that Division One level long enough for the nine-ten-year-olds to even notice, and (c) those same nine-ten year olds actually know the difference between the standards of college and pro ball. And they vote with their (limited) attention spans, and whatever influence they have over their parents...

I took my grandson (9 years old, remember) to the Griz/76ers game a few weeks ago -- remember? -- when Allen Iverson twisted his ankle just before halftime, and was out for a few weeks. My grandson was pissed that A-I got hurt; he knows every single stat about him, admires Iverson as the best of the best, and was especially upset that the Grizzlies choked and lost that game, even though Iverson was hurt.

My point? This very same grandson doesn't know Joey Dorsey from Tommy Dorsey. Darius Washington he knows a little, but Shawne Williams is a mere phantom. As of course, he is for the U of M program. When Williams is an NBA draft pick next June, and gone from Memphis as quickly as if he'd never been here, he will be recorded as a transient phenomenon. Hell, Bo Outlaw will have made as big an impact upon my grandson JD as Shawne Williams ever did....

All this is by way of saying that college basketball, with all its splendors, its emotional grips, its March TV dominance, is a sport heading towards the dustbin of history. Trust me: nine-year-olds in Memphis aren't crying in their beers tonight over the Tiger loss. They're getting pumped up for tomorrow's Grizzly game.

Enough philosophy. The world is changing, in so many ways, and we should all be paying the utmost attention. Even in the world of sports, where artificial hype can carry things a long way. When a 9-yr-old basketball-mad kid in Memphis sleeps through an Elite Eight matchup involving a team he's supposed to "love," things are not what they appear. Caveat emptor, college basketball fans...

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