Monday, April 04, 2005
Heres a score from the Final Four, and it might be the biggest upset of March Madness.
Love wins over gold.
Being here, North Carolina forward Marvin Williams said, is priceless.
This tournament is not all about the money. Although it often seems that way.
Want to talk about the madness?
Over the life of its current television deal, the NCAA will rake in $6 billion. So cherished is a trip to the Final Four, Louisville pays coach Rick Pitino an outrageous annual salary of $2 million. Outside a dome containing more than 45,000 seats for hoops, scalpers demanded in excess of $500 Saturday for one ticket to the semifinal games.
Isnt life rich? But none of those entrepreneurs owns anything nearly as valuable as what Illinois guard Luther Head earned the hard way.
Redemption, salvation and an education on how to walk like a man.
Head scored 20 points, leading the top-ranked Illini to a 72-57 victory against Louisville. The senior would not have been on the floor at all, however, had he not scored a second chance from coach Bruce Weber.
What is education? Its helping kids change, adjust, grow, Weber said.
A year ago, after twice being suspended for embarrassing incidents ranging from multiple traffic tickets to accusations of participating in a late-night burglary, Head approached Weber and offered to quit the team.
What do you want me to do? Head asked.
Change, Weber replied.
Imagine that. Maybe there really are more important things to be learned from college hoops than the final score.
Head now has a shot at both a national title and a diploma.
Hes changed, hes grown up, Weber said.
College is all about finding the space to mature before life gets complicated by the grind of 9 oclock to 5 p.m., with decisions dictated by earning a paycheck.
Which is precisely why basketball would be smart to mandate all players be at least 20 years old before turning pro.
NBA commissioner David Stern is pushing for a new minimum age requirement. His league and the NCAA would both be in a better place by adopting a rule that would keep teenage phenoms in school, rather than chaining young basketball heroes in diamond bling and oversized expectations.
For every LeBron James, theres going to be five or six situations where players dont develop, and I think personally 90 percent of the young guys who come out are costing themselves $30-$40 million in the long run. They sit on I.R. (injured reserve), they dont play, they dont improve, said Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who once mistakenly believed his dream job was with the Boston Celtics, only to discover it isnt easy being green.
Does basketball have the guts to put education ahead of money?
Billy Hunter, union leader for the NBA players, has squeezed my elbow until it ached, sternly lecturing that Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant did not need college to become all-stars.
Jim Haney, spokesman for concerned college coaches, insists a minimum age requirement will only encourage starry-eyed parents to force kids capable of dunking in middle school to repeat the eighth grade, rationalizing it could mean a big NBA payoff down the line.
I think the NBA is getting killed by the youth, even though the young players are great, Pitino said.
No disrespect, but the best basketball lessons are not taught by a coach stomping his Italian loafer on the court. The college game of today misses the education players can only gain from being schooled by the jaw-dropping talent James took directly to the NBA.
Williams, who would have been drafted in the first round straight out of high school, is richer for enrolling last summer at North Carolina.
This is as good as it gets, said Williams, an 18-year-old with a chance to play for the national title, thanks to the Tar Heels 87-71 victory against Michigan State. I never wanted to experience just money. I wanted to play basketball because I love it. Not for a job. Not yet.
Rather than padding its bankroll, maybe basketball in this country needs to worry about growing the game, especially after getting a bitter dose of humility at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Pitino walked away from the NBA. Guess what. Hes happier now.
Pat Riley said it best. The NBAs about winning and misery, Pitino said. Thats the great thing with college basketball. There are so many rewards outside the actual win.
And heres your proof.
After losing to Illinois, Pitino sought out Cardinals star Francisco Garcia, to console him after the player struggled with atrocious shooting on the worst possible night. In a locker room heavy with regret, Louisvilles coach declared any player who was disappointed with going to the Final Four does not know the score.
The lessons do not end at the final buzzer.