It was 1981 and I was 14 years old with a subscription to Inside Sports. At least I think it was I.S. Might have been Sport magazine, but I’m sticking with I.S. The name of the magazine was unimportant, you see, because it was the title of the article that grabbed me like a certain Hoya used to grab defensive boards — with the ferocity of a bulldog on a T-bone.
The Wooing of Patrick Ewing.
I had never heard of Ewing at that point, but I pored over every word of that piece as if it were a Shakespearean tragedy assigned by my 8th grade English teacher. (Except for the fact that I skipped the Shakespeare assignment. Was too busy reading the Ewing article.)
I.S. told the tale of a high school superstar that brought grown men to their knees, kissing the feet of this 7-foot man-child and begging him to say "yes" to them. They came from near and far to worship at Ewing’s Cambridge (Mass.) altar, knowingfull well that bringing the Bill Russell clone home with them meant granting themselves tenure at their universities, at least for the next four years.
Though living in suburban Cleveland and being bound by birthright to Ohio State, I became a Georgetown fan that day. For four years, I soaked up every second of "Hoya Paranoia" because I felt I had some sort of special bond with Ewing. I knew more about him than any of my buddies did, and when we’d talk hoops, especially when the Hoyas were rolling to three NCAA title games in his four years, I’d quote stuff from The Wooing of Patrick Ewing. And they’d be impressed.
Those were the days in which Ewing was the face of Georgetown, the same way Chris Mullin was the face of St. John’s. And James Worthy and Sam Perkins (Michael Jordan was an underclassman) were the faces of North Carolina. Those were days when schools were first identified by superstar players, not by their coaches.
Those days are gone.
My little trip down memory lane began Thursday, the first of March. It was then that I realized "March Madness" was upon us and it was then that it occurred to me that ... I didn’t care. Not one bit.
And then it really hit me: I hadn’t cared all season long. Why? Because LeBron should’ve been a senior this year. And because Dwight Howard should be a junior. And because college basketball is missing out on the Ewings and Mullins and Mark Aguirres of this era.
And before you say "Greg Oden" or "Kevin Durant," don’t bother. Single-season rent-a-players don’t count. They exist only because the NBA says they must. You and I both know that big talents like Oden and Durant this year, and O.J. Mayo next year, are one-year wonders at the collegiate level because eight-figure contracts await them the moment the final horn blows on their freshman seasons.
Which leaves college basketball with what? The guys who are left over. The second-tier talents who aren’t good enough to skip college or pull a "one and done." And how do you get excited about them?
College basketball loses now that fans in Ohio, for example, have no chance to watch a guy like Oden grow from freshman phenom to senior All-American and multiple national champion. College basketball loses when the amazing Durant ends up playing 21 minutes a night in Atlanta or somewhere next year, instead of putting up 33 and 15 a night for Texas.
College basketball is like Hollywood: It needs its stars.
NOTE: A tip of the hat to alert reader Jim, who pointed out that my edicts from the throne last week mirrored, unbeknownst to me, a royal column penned monthly by Philly sports columnist Bill Conlin. Thanks to Jim for the heads up ... and to Bill for the professionalism.
Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.