Story of a Late Blooming NBA Fan May 10, 2011Posted by Matt in basketball.
Tags: fandom, Memphis Grizzlies, NBA, Oklahoma City Thunder, playoffs
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Growing up in Arkansas, I never had more than a passing interest when it came to NBA basketball. We didn’t have a team anywhere near us and with the stellar Nolan Richardson-led Razorback teams of the 80’s and 90’s, there was no reason for my close interest to extend beyond the college game. Sure, I watched the greats: Bird and Magic and Jordan, but outside of their heroic feats, it truly did not matter to me.
In 2001 the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver to Memphis, but by that time my apathy for the NBA was firmly set and, though they were relatively close to my central Arkansas hometown, it mattered little. A few years later, in 2004, circumstances changed and we found ourselves moving to the Memphis area and my interest was initially piqued, particularly since the team was winning at that time, so I began to occasionally watch with a cursory interest, but never truly jumped on the bandwagon. Soon their fortunes fell and the team became a veritable laughingstock of the league, where wins were few and far between and fans were hard to find. Thus, in keeping with my bandwagon jumping, my interest drifted to the University of Memphis basketball team with little care for the Grizzlies.
It was probably about two years ago that my NBA fanhood first began to really blossom. My friend Chance, a former University of Memphis football player and sports fanatic, and I began getting together, either at each other’s homes or out at places like Buffalo Wild Wings, during the NBA playoffs to watch games and visit with each other. There we would sit with beers in hand and he would talk of the game with such a deep affection, explaining the intricacies of the teams and the superb nature of their athleticism, that I could not help but become a fan.
Last season the Grizzlies fielded a decent team, one that actually made a run at the playoffs before falling short in the final weeks, finishing a respectable 40-42, and despite their failure to advance, I was hooked. This season promised even more from the team and I quickly became a regular spectator of their televised games – which was most of them. The lineup was young and talented, with the dual attack of Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay set to carry the majority of the load, who were joined by good players like Marc Gasol, OJ Mayo, and Mike Conley, all of whom were loaded with potential.
As the season wore on, the young Grizzlies exhibited the traits you might expect from a small market team, with numerous ups and downs, but generally staying right at or slightly above the .500 mark. But, as in all sports, things can often take a turn for the unexpected and in February, Rudy Gay was diagnosed with a season-ending shoulder injury. All of a sudden, the promise thusfar exhibited seemed for naught and it looked like the Grizz were destined for yet another season of futility.
That was when something amazing and unexpected happened. The team came together, the people of Memphis rallied around them, and somehow they started to win. Players began to emerge like the aforementioned Mike Conley and defensive specialist Tony Allen to pick up the slack. They were playing like a team possessed, working together with little ego while pushing for a long-elusive playoff spot.
And earn a playoff spot they did, solidifying their number 8 seed and a first round date with the star-laden, top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. In the history of their franchise, the Grizzlies had never won a playoff game. The franchise came into the series having made it to the postseason only three times in their 16 year history with an overall playoff record of 0-12, but hopes were high that they might win one game and break the drought. Little did we know what the scrappy Grizzly team had in mind and soon a hope for one win turned into a series victory, as the Grizzlies defeated the Spurs in six games and advanced for the first time in franchise history.
The second round produced another challenge, though, this one being the young and dynamic Oklahoma City Thunder, led by top NBA scorer Kevin Durant and the dynamic Russell Westbrook. But again, hopes were high here in the Bluff City. The games have been unbelievable, with the frenzied crowds creating a college basketball-like atmosphere instead of the normally subdued NBA. The series opened in OKC, where the Grizzlies pulled out all the stops in game one and came away with the victory. Their celebration was quickly ended, though, as the Thunder roared back in game 2 to even the series. Game three moved the teams back to Memphis where the Grizz excelled on their homecourt and again came away victorious, giving them a 2-1 edge in the 7 game series.
Last night was game four and let me tell you it was incredible. Both teams hit the court hard, neither wanting to be denied. The Grizz quickly built a large 1st half lead, which the Thunder summarily cut down and took their own rather large lead. But the Grizzlies would not be denied, and soon the game was sent into overtime. By this time, it was well past 11:00, probably more like around 11:30, and I was beginning to get a little worried about the time, I mean, I had to go to work the next day. But the basketball gods had it in for us working people of Memphis last night and soon one overtime gave way to another, which then begat a third. By the third overtime, two of Memphis’s starters and top ball-handlers had fouled out and the exhausted team was barely surviving by making one miraculous shot after another (I still don’t know how Vasquez made that one crazy three pointer). OKC’s stars took over and by the end of the third overtime, the Thunder were victorious by a score of 133-123. It was an amazing game, but, man, am I paying for it this morning at work.
With the Mississippi River getting dangerously high downtown, the Grizzlies give this troubled city a reason to believe and for that we should all be grateful.
And Wednesday night we’ll do it all over again. Go Grizz!
A Roundball Weekend March 28, 2011Posted by Matt in basketball.
Tags: Cuonzo Martin, March Madness, Memphis Grizzlies, my bracket is garbage, NBA 2K11
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This weekend my NCAA Tournament bracket did not merely get blown to pieces, it got a-bombed into oblivion.
Then again, I would guess that everyone else (unless you are crazy of have some sort of dark, supernatural foresight) did as well.
All four of my Final Four picks (Kansas, Ohio St, UConn, and Wisconsin) made it to the Sweet Sixteen, but after a wild four days, only one of them remains – UConn – and I had them losing the National Championship game to Kansas. I am entered in Mark Elrod’s Tournament Challenge and though my bracket (Unfrozen Caveman Vitale) is still in the top 10, my chances to win were thrown out the window over the weekend. Oh well, such is life. Go VCU!
In other exciting news, Mike Anderson was officially presented as the new coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks over the weekend and all of the Hog faithful, including yours truly, rejoiced!
Tennessee also announced their new coach, the young and relatively unknown Cuonzo Martin. Check out #thingsIwouldhavethoughtCuonzoMartinwas on Twitter for a good laugh.
On the pro side, our Memphis Grizzlies are planted in the 8th playoff spot and hopefully they will sew that up in the next two weeks. Everybody loves to win and it’s been far too long since they have done this well. Now, if only they could pull of moves like I did in NBA 2K11 on the PS3, – trading Mike Conley straight up for Derrick Rose. Now, that would be a team!
Thoughts on the weekend of basketball?
40 Minutes of Hell, The Return March 23, 2011Posted by Matt in basketball, Razorbacks.
Tags: Arkansas Razorbacks, basketball, Mike Anderson, Nolan Richardson
Once upon a time, basketball was king in my home state of Arkansas. We cheered on the May-Day-Big O combination to the Final Four and Corliss-Scotty Thurman squad to a National Title (and another title game berth). But, since those glory days, Razorback basketball has fallen on hard times and season after season of mediocrity have taken their toll on the Hog faithful. Today, though, things are again looking up for the hog-snouted fans across this great nation.
According to ESPN, former Arkansas assistant coach and current Missouri head coach Mike Anderson is likely to accept an offer from the state’s flagship university and make a triumphant coaching return to the northwest corner of the Natural State. I for one couldn’t be happier. Bringing back Anderson (along with a little help from Nolan Richardson) will be the best thing the school can do to reenergize the fan base.
I wonder if they need another assistant coach? I heard UCA has someone that might be perfect for the job.
In the meantime, let’s relive the glory days…
2011 Tournament Picks March 15, 2011Posted by Matt in basketball, NCAA Tournament.
Tags: Bracketology, Final Four picks, NCAA Tournament, upsets
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Though generally a fan of college basketball, I must admit that I have not watched a great deal of it this season. This dearth of amateur roundball may be due to the struggles and failures of my now-coachless team or it may be because I find myself more interested in the NBA now than ever before, but regardless of why, I have not closely followed this season. Despite my distinct lack of first-hand knowledge I have again participated in the same activity as millions of Americans, one that I myself have done for more than 20 years – filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket.
Though I never do particularly well, it is always fun to prognosticate and cheer on unknown underdogs to victory. I’m not going to print my entire bracket on this short blog entry, but I will tell you a few of my picks.
First Round Upsets:
Memphis (12) over Arizona (5)
Missouri (11) over Cincinnati (6)
Richmond (12) over Vanderbilt (5)
Gonzaga (11) over St. John’s (6)
What about you? Who did you pick?
Lookin’ For a Miracle March 25, 2010Posted by Matt in basketball.
Tags: Cornell Big Red, Kentucky
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Go Big Red!
Come on, how can you not pull for a school with elite-level academics that doesn’t even offer athletic scholarships? Especially against cheater du jour John Calipari!
A Few Notes on March Madness March 15, 2010Posted by Matt in basketball.
Tags: arkansas, Kentucky hatred, Mike Anderson, NCAA Tournament, upsets
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I love the NCAA Tournament, even in years when I haven’t paid close attention to the college game, I’m still an avid follower of the brackets. I guess it’s because I love the David vs. Goliath stories of big upsets by little schools. So, as you might guess, my favorite time is the first weekend, when the field of 64 is whittled down to 16 and you get the chance to see all of the schools you probably miss during the regular season. So, bring on the Big Dance, perhaps the most exciting sporting event in America. Below are a few things that struck me after seeing the teams that made the field yesterday.
I have a few upset teams that I’m eyeing so far, namely, St. Mary’s, Siena, and UTEP, but those could change between now and when I actually fill out a bracket.
I don’t have a favorite squad in this year’s tournament, given that Arkansas was a triumphant failure and Memphis was relegated to the NIT, but I do have an un-favorite: Kentucky. If there is one team and coach that I want to see lose and lose badly, it is UK and John Calipari. I mean, I will even root for Texas if they advance to the second round. It’s that bad.
It is a really sad day for Arkansas basketball when you realize that the only team in the state to make the tournament is not UA, UALR, or even Arkansas State. It’s UAPB, in the play-in game. Ouch.
I will be watching Missouri again this season and hoping, probably against all common sense, that maybe, just maybe, Arkansas can bring Mike Anderson back into the fold as head coach. Then perhaps they could even bring Nolan back as a special consultant and it’ll be like old times again…
I’m still in the process of working on my bracket, but I’ll be sure and post some picks once I have them complete. What about you? Have you filled out a bracket yet?
I Miss Nolan March 11, 2010Posted by Matt in basketball, Razorbacks.
Tags: Arkansas Razorbacks, basketball, Nolan Richardson, nostalgia
With post-season college basketball starting this week, I can’t help but reminisce a bit about how things used to be back in the days when my Arkansas Razorbacks were a relevant force in the roundball world. I know that seems hard to believe today, but for a brief period of time during my formative teenage years, from 1990-1995, the Hogs were one of the preeminent programs in the NCAA, one of the true elites. Over that six year span, they went to four Elite Eights, three Final Fours, and won a National Championship. We got to watch some of the best players in the game in the May-Day combination, the Big O, “Big Nasty” Corliss Williamson, and the great Scotty Thurman. We got to pay witness to Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell” defense that tore apart the opposition. It was a great, great time to be among the Hog faithful and I truly miss caring about basketball.
Today I picked up the book “40 Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson” from the library and, though I have yet to turn a page, I’m already feeling a little nostalgic.
Return of the Roundball November 17, 2009Posted by Matt in basketball.
Tags: Arkansas Razorbacks, college basketball, John Pelfrey, Josh Pastner, Memphis Tigers
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I’ve been a college basketball fan ever since those hallowed days of yore, when Nolan prowled the courtside of Barnhill Arena and the May-Day combination teamed with the Big O to lead the Razorbacks to a Final Four in 1990. Later, we watched the Hogs bring home the 1994 National Championship and reach the final game again the following year. Since that time, Nolan left and was replaced by Stan Heath, who was in turn replaced by current coach John Pelphrey. Pelphrey has his work cut out for him this season, especially since five players are currently suspended from the team indefinitely. Tonight, the shorthanded Hogs, who only have six scholarship players, face #20 Louisville with coach Rick Pitino. On the bright side, in their season-opening trouncing of Alcorn State, Rotnei Clarke scored 39 points and hit a record 13 three pointers. The feat brings back memories of that magical national championship year when Al Dilliard put down 12 threes against Delaware State. Louisville will certainly be tougher than Alcorn State, but here’s to hoping for a miracle.
The second game I have a vested interest in is probably the biggest of the night, Memphis vs. #1 Kansas. In case you have forgotten, Kansas defeated the Tigers in the 2008 National Championship game (a game that was summarily stripped from the record books because Memphis was led by a cheater – curse you, Calipari!). This time around, though, Kansas is ranked at the top of the poll and Memphis is starting over from ground zero. Kansas is the definite favorite and should win this one, but we’ve got hope that our new coach Josh Pastner can lead the Tigers to a respectable finish. Then again, even if this season is rough one for us in the Bluff City, we currently have the #1 ranked recruiting class for next year, so there’s no reason to be down.
So, go Razorbacks and go Tigers! Let’s make this a season to remember!
His Butt Hurts November 3, 2009Posted by Matt in basketball, Memphis.
Tags: Allen Iverson, Chris Vernon Show, Memphis Grizzlies, My Butt Hurts
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I’ve never been much of a fan of NBA basketball, but after I moved to Memphis 5+ years ago, I developed a passing interest for professional basketball due to the presence of a local team, the Memphis Grizzlies, who since that time have devolved into the worst franchise in the league. In an effort to boost sagging attendance and maybe improve the team, the Grizzlies brought in past All Star Allen Iverson, who at 34 years old is far past his great years. At the same time, he has long been known as a ball-hogging sort of player who gives the impression that he is entitled to a massive amount of shots in each game. According to the team, the purpose of bringing Iverson in was to provide a mentor for young players and to give them a scoring threat off the bench. A.I. missed all of the preseason and the first three games of the regular season with a hamstring injury, but this week he finally made his long-awaited debut…off the bench. As would be expected, his postgame quote was awesome:
I had no problems (with my hamstring) I had a problem with my butt sitting on that bench so long.
Today I was listening to Chris Vernon’s sports talk radio show, which, by the way, is hilarious on an almost daily basis, and they wrote a rap song dedicated to A.I.’s great quote. Check out “My Butt Hurts.”
Say It Ain’t So, Cal! March 30, 2009Posted by Matt in basketball, Memphis.
Tags: basketball, coach, John Calipari, Kentucky Wildcats, Memphis Tigers, NCAA
Our local Memphis paper, the Commerical Appeal, reports today that Tiger coach John Calipari has been given permission to speak with officials at the university of Kentucky about their open head coaching position. Calipari is the winningest coach in Memphis history with a record of 253-68 since taking the reins in 2000, he’s won 5 conference championships and advanced to the national championship game in 2008. His recruiting class for next year has been ranked as one of the, if not the, best in the country.
In Memphis, Cal is a highly venerated leader who has led the team nearly to the very pinnacle of success and has turned the program into a perennial national powerhouse. His departure would be a terrible blow to the team and to a city that needs all of the bright spots it can get.
Kentucky and the SEC, though, offer a challenge and a level of exposure that a second rate conference like Conference USA just cannot compete with. The Wildcats are a storied program with a history matched by few others in the nation.
And, who knows, maybe he really has a thing for his cousin…