Monday, March 22, 2010
You Can Go Home Again
The statline at the end of the first half, was gruesome. Gauchos: 7-28 shooting.
Seven blocked shots.
Actually, I counted 10 myself, from my courtside seat. But when you make the NCAA Tournament like clockwork every 8-12 years, no need to quibble.
Ohio State was superior. Smothering. Totally out of our league in every way.
Still, I was proud of the fellas. Proud to see the ol’ UCSB name and logo in the Big Dance brackets once again. And I am glad I got off my ass to get up to Milwaukee to see them in person.
First, some thanks. In no particular order: Lucas Lenoble of Marquette’s Sports Information Department. I appreciated the chance to be a (mostly) non-working media moocher on Friday. Jim Reichart of Midwest Airlines. A smooth flight each way non-stop from DCA-to-MKE. Still a great airline. Eric Gitter, my chauffeur. Sorry about the late nite beers at Leff’s Luckytown which prevented any chance of a decent rest before your Taylor Made demo day in the snow. Yes, snow! And of course, Bob (really, Deb) Madden for the bed and the ride to the airport.
Okay, on to the Milwaukee subregional. Did I mention Ohio State worked our ass? I did? Oh. Well, at least this Gaucho team - that won the a. Coach of the Year b. Player of the Year and c. Big West Conference tournament and regular season – returns ALL of their key players for 2011.
I might well be making a sub-regional trip again next March.
You see, the last time the Gauchos were in the Dance was 2002, and they played hard but lost to Arizona.
Prior to that, it was 1990. I was a senior. Writing for the school paper, I travelled to a Knoxville sub-regional that included…
a. Steve Smith and Michigan State
b. Popeye Jones and Murray State that almost pulled a 1-16 shocker vs. MSU
c. Shaq, Stanley Roberts, and Chris Jackson of LSU.
d. Rollie Massimino and Villanova.
The Gauchos rolled Houston, and then took Michigan State to the bitter end before losing. And THAT, my friends, concludes “Great Tournament Moments in UC Santa Barbara History.”
Once upon a time, long long ago, the “Big West” conference was part of “Big Monday” on ESPN where they went from Big East, to Big Ten, to Big West with a weekly triple header. Because UNLV was good (sometimes, great) and because UCSB’s 6,000 seat home gym (a big bleachered box, really) was so ear-splitting loud (aka: “The Thunderdome”) we often made that ESPN triple header.
You can’t buy recruiting power like that.
Somewhere along the way, however, ESPN exploded into Big Monday, Super Tuesday, Whopping Wednesday, Thrilling Thursday and basically only took a rest from college hoops on Friday for the NBA.
Then the WAC and Mountain West came and raided some good schools and rivals outside of California. (Fresno, New Mexico State, UNLV, Utah State).
So the Gauchos under Bob Williams – a very good coach and pleasant professional in his 12th year – are operating on the fringes of the college basketball universe.
Sadly, I’m not sure we can ever get back to the days when the program could stop a juggernaut like UNLV. (You know, we WERE the last team to beat the Runnin’ Rebs before they went 13 months without losing a game. It was us at home in February of 1990, then Duke in the Final Four in March of 1991.)
As I watched the boys struggle to even breathe against a much larger Ohio State team, I started to wonder how we rate against programs like Butler, Gonzaga, and St. Mary’s. I wonder, how can Cornell be such giant killers, and we looked like a just very good rec league team?
I talked to some good friends who are still in the Gaucho family. Notably SID Bill Mahoney and associate AD Tom Hastings. They generally agreed. The conference needs to do something. Get big, get small, change names, re-organize, something. More national TV opportunities would be nice, but how do you get them these days?
Unfortunately, there are more programs on the verge of doing what Gonzaga did, in becoming essentially a “Major Mid-Major”.
I still believe UCSB is a relatively easy sell to a recruit. Beachside campus. Good academics. Pretty girls. Sunshine. More than adequate facilities. Rockin’ home gym when the team is good.
Well, either way, I’m proud of the program regardless. The “glory days” of 1988 and 1990 are indeed long gone. UNLV is not coming back as the national power and conference arch rival that helped fuel the program.
But the team scrapped its ass off against the Buckeyes. Sure, Jon Diebler made something like 39 three-pointers against us, and I am convinced that dude Dallas Lauderdale is older than Greg Oden was when he played in Columbus. I’m guessing 31.
It was good to get out of the house, to support the school I very much loved, and to see some really good basketball from the second row. And to see friends I hadn’t seen in over a decade, to know that they are still thriving in the athletic department, and to remember great times and stories from yesteryear was simply priceless.
I admitted to Mahoney that part of me was hesitant about showing up. Why? Well, it sort of smacked of front running, in my own mind. I have only been back to campus once in 20 years after graduation. I have not spoken with hardly anybody since then.
I am an East Coast guy, plain and simple. What idiot would go to school in Santa Barbara, California, get a great broadcasting job after college and spend 3 more years there - and THEN go back to the friggin' East Coast?
Me. I'm that idiot. What can I say. I think it's a disorder.
I said I could understand if those in the program who have remained would view me as somebody who had snubbed his alma mater. It’s not true. It’s just geography and well, life. They are on one side of the continent, I am on the other. And I don’t have much business reason to get up from LA to Santa Barbara.
Yet I was the only Gaucho media luminary to post. Jim Rome wasn’t there. Josh Elliot of ESPN wasn’t there. So, ha!
Luckily, if I was seen as an east coast interloper who had rejected his Gaucho heritage, I didn’t feel it at all. In fact, I said I was going to organize a 20th Reunion back in Santa Barbara. Right now, June will mark the official 20th anniversary of my cap and gown, so I better get crackin!
Facebook, here I come!
Beers and wings with the fellas, between afternoon and evening sessions.
Me and Sports Information Director Bill Mahoney.
Me and longtime UCSB basketball beat writer Mark Patton of the Santa Barbara News Press.