Congratulations to the UConn Huskies for winning the 2014 National Championship last night in beautiful North Texas, Texas. Congratulations to senior point guard Shabazz Napier — the product of Roxbury, MA and Charlestown High School — for being THAT guy, and taking over March Madness in a way that only a select few before him ever have. Congratulations to Ryan Boatwright, Neils Giffey and the rest of the Huskies’ roster. Congratulations to Kevin Ollie for finding so much success so soon into his coaching career, and just in general, for giving the world a reason feel good about college basketball. So often in this game, coaches are part of the problem, but two years in, Ollie certainly looks like he’s part of the solution. (If not also on a fast track back to the NBA.)
It just felt like college. I think that’s the greatest compliment you can pay this UConn team. The entire championship run — from the comeback against St. Joes right on through last night’s wire-to-wire victory over Kentucky — felt like college. Fun. Unpredictable. Eye Opening. Inspiring. That’s what this is about.
Of course, these days, that’s not all it’s about. The college game is also about corruption and controversy. Cheering on big time college sports is second only to the NFL on the “should I feel guilty for loving this so much?” scale. And it’s only going to get worse from here. Rage against the NCAA Machine has reached its tipping point. The fight is getting fiercer. Thankfully, that fight is moving things in the right direction, but it will probably get worse before it gets better.
It wasn’t long after UConn’s championship win that we were reminded that the Revolution is in progress — and that it will be televised.
“You’re looking at the Hungry Huskies,” Napier told Jim Nantz, in front of a national audience. “This is what happens when you ban us!”
Napier was referring to the NCAA banning UConn from last year’s tournament for academic violations. And while it’s no surprise that the senior was angry about what had happened, the fact that he felt inclined and comfortable enough to use that stage to flash the NCAA his middle finger is very indicative of the approach and attitude that’s currently running through college sports. These athletes have been used, manipulated and given the short end of the stick far too often for far too long, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Just wait until next winter when the new college football playoff system takes the country by storm and makes that product an even bigger moneymaker than it already is. Watch as college fantasy sports continue to gain in popularity. The machine is already too big, and its still expanding, and there are too many people who stand to gain from seeing it burst. The Northwestern case is just the beginning. This story is one giant ticking time bomb.
But once in a while, through that ugly forest of scandal and corruption, a happy little Bob Ross tree pops out of the picture. And yes, I’m calling this UConn team one of those happy little trees. And no, I’m not naïve. I’m not suggesting that everything is perfect at Storrs. Look hard enough and you can find dirt anywhere.
But no doubt they’re a lot cleaner than Kentucky, and their coach, and their program and the way they manipulate the system. In that sense, you can argue that UConn’s win was a victory against the system. For the Revolution.
At the very least, it was a lot more enjoyable to watch Kevin Ollie on that stage than it would’ve been getting blinded by the grease in John Calipari’s hair. At the end of the night, it really did feel like a win for the good guys.
So, congratulations to Kevin Ollie, Shabazz Napier and all the Hungry Huskies on a great win and an amazing season.
Now . . . who wants to buy a t-shirt?!
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