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Opinions on College Basketball Column...

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by shark08, Aug 7, 2006.

  1. shark08

    shark08 New Member

    Hey guys. I've been navigating and reading (soaking in actually) all of the information on this board, and as a young sports writer I'd like to thank all of you for the professional incite on the field and situations that arise on a daily basis.

    Anyway, I am a recent college grad (May 2005) and hooked on with a wire service as my first gig in the field. After only three months on the job, I became the company's columnist for college basketball -- a position I felt was given to me without the proper resources to compete but I've been building sources, staff lists, collegiate phone directories ever since.

    I thought I'd post some of my columns on here to get the opinion of the best in the business. Constructive criticism and ways to improve my writing are always welcome along with just general comments.

    Thanks to however has the time to read my pieces and offer some advice.

    Thanks again.

    The Main Line's Mission To March

    Not many of the 10,300 total students at Villanova remember forward Ed Pinckney. They were in diapers or an apple in their parents' eye when the eighth-seeded Wildcats made 22-of-28 field goal attempts to shock defending national champion Georgetown in the 1985 title game.

    Twenty-one years later, the largest Catholic university in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania continues to be shaped by its religious heritage and breathtaking campus.

    St. Thomas of Villanova Church reflects the school's Catholic identity. Outdoor cramming in Kennedy Plaza signifies the beginning of Spring. The "Oreo" is the student's universal meeting place. The Grotto welcomes in-coming freshman to the best four years of their lives.

    An 18-year-old heads to college to grow as an individual, create life-long friendships and prepare for the ever-changing world ahead. They also travel sometimes thousands of miles away from the safety and security of home in search of a story.

    Students in Austin understand. Undergraduates in Chapel Hill celebrated last April on Franklin Street. Seniors along the Southern California coast know the feeling.

    College just isn't complete without a championship.

    Michigan alumni still recall Chris Webber's timeout. The Longhorn student body still relishes in Vince Young's solo act of heroism.

    A championship defeat scars. It effects test-taking skills and the ability to enjoy Friday night's toga party.

    A title is sacred. College athletics are the only in sports where the fans truly can claim part of the prize. They go to class with the team. They party with the team. Some individuals even date members of the team.

    That is why this season is so special. Villanova is so close.

    And while it is important to discuss strategy with head coach Jay Wright and dissect Allan Ray's jump shot, it is even more important to delve in-depth into the pulse of a campus.

    The story has a beginning and a middle with the hope of a fairy-tale end. The title has been etched in passion from the season's opening tip: The Main Line's Mission to March.

    It all started when Villanova, untested and undefeated, walked into a sold-out Pavilion on December 3rd for a non-conference bout with the methodical, physical Oklahoma Sooners led by the frontcourt duo of Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray. Philadelphia's version of Cameron Indoor Stadium shook. The Wildcats received 10 major points from Jason Fraser and took home a convincing 85-74 victory.

    After the game, while Wright mentioned the effort of Fraser and big-game ability of Ray and Randy Foye, he couldn't stop singing the praises of the atmosphere created by the student body.

    "This is as good a college basketball atmosphere as you are going to find in the country. It starts with the students and this is a very difficult place to play. Our guys love to play here and we feel like we have an advantage in here. It's hot, there are people on top of you and they're loud," said Wright. "It's just a great place to play college basketball. I've always thought its one of the best. I don't know if there's anywhere in the country with a wall of human beings like that behind one basket that can create that noise. We love it."

  2. shark08

    shark08 New Member

    Many miles to the north in Killington, Vermont, a group of Villanova students demonstrated that the passion does not die outside the city's limits.

    "We were in our hotel watching the game, and even though we were 400 miles from home, we were so into it," junior Chris Saveri said. "It felt like our own student section."

    In-between skiing and snowboarding, the Wildcat faithful still had time for hoops. Instead of hitting the slopes, they watched their classmates hit the boards and win the first big test of the season.

    The Wildcats continued to win -- including a trap game at Bucknell, three straight Big Five contests and a national-television bout at Louisville -- before suffering their first loss of the season against West Virginia.

    Even after a second loss in three games at Texas, the team and its fans were still confident.

    After the setback in Austin, Villanova won eight straight games to set up the much-anticipated clash with top-ranked Connecticut. The hype leading up to the contest was one that students live for.

    The festivities started well before the 7 p.m. (et) tip-off, as the parking lots flooded with fans several hours in advance.

    "We tailgated for four hours before the game, and stayed in the lot for another hour afterward. The atmosphere that day for that game was a once in a lifetime experience," said Saveri.

    United they stood, making their way into the Wachovia Center for an unforgettable evening.

    "It's nice to see how united all the Villanova fans can be," said junior Emilie Galligan. "Between the tailgating and the cheering, I hope the basketball team knows it has major support on this campus."

    If the team didn't know before, it found out on that February 13th evening. A crowd of 20,859, the largest to watch a college basketball game in Keystone State history, filled the arena to witness the Wildcats' official entrance on the national stage.

    Beating the talented, balanced Huskies seemed too daunting a task after a 13-0 sprint to start the second half gave UConn a 45-33 lead. However, Ray started finding his stroke and the comeback was complete after Mike Nardi -- who had missed the previous two games with tonsillitis -- drained a three from the right wing to send the crowd into a frenzy.

    "Nothing compared to Nardi’s three-pointer that gave us the lead," chimed Saveri. "I have never heard a sports arena so loud in my life."

    The celebration was even louder.

    When the final horn sounded, capping Villanova's first victory over a top-ranked squad since beating UConn on February 18, 1995, the Wachovia Center's floodgates opened. Students hugged students. Players embraced players. Sorority girls made a mad dash to share a moment with Wright.

    "It's at the basketball games where I have some of my most unforgettable memories," said junior Mike Mainardi. "None is more memorable then storming the court after the UConn game."

    Another memory reflects on the Wildcats' team-first philosophy. With the club's February 23rd game at Cincinnati tied at 72-72 in the closing seconds, the ball went inside to Dante Cunningham, the lanky freshman forward who averages 2.2 points per game. Cunningham delivered with the game-winning layup, a moment that sticks in junior Jane Chalet's mind.

    "This year's team is all about working together and winning games through teamwork, which is what makes us so unique and so strong," said Chalet. "Cunningham's layup was just an example of that."

    The story is not complete.

    Nothing would be more special than a repeat of 21 years ago, when Villanova's Cinderella ride never struck midnight. Now, Pinckney is an assistant coach on the Wildcats' staff and every student will surely remember him if he climbs that ladder on the first Monday in April to help cut down the nets.

    A line from Saveri would fittingly close the final championship chapter.

    "It will stick with us for the rest of our lives."
  3. shark08

    shark08 New Member

    Here is another opinion column I wrote prior to the NBA Draft...

    To play the game, one must understand the "game"

    Many of these kids started with nothing. Basketball was their escape from drugs, violence, life. An orange ball and a pair of Nikes were their ticket out.

    When nothing quickly becomes a whole lot of something, judgment is clouded.

    Hours spent in the weight room and on the playground send basketball's next rising star into a revolving line at the nearest meat market. Take a number and wait your turn.

    When the number is called, be prepared for a thorough inspection. Ability to jump through the roof? Check. Inside-outside skill set essential for a well- rounded offensive game? Needs work. Court Awareness? Will improve with time. Life skills? As high as can be expected for a 19-year-old kid.

    Basketball experts everywhere will spend the next several days dissecting a player's body fat, vertical jump and ability to catch and square to the hoop in one fluent motion.

    However, most NBA failures don't fall into obscurity because of a lack of talent. Rather, the problems lie with a lack of discipline. Lack of focus. Lack of accountability.

    In simple terms, they are grown men living an existence without consequence. That mentality lands even the most physically gifted athletes at the end of life's bench -- a view that isn't pretty when staring up at success with failure's splinters riding up one's gym shorts.

    So, when Toronto's brass is placed squarely on the clock with the draft's first selection, it should consider a player's ability to not just play under the bright lights of the Air Canada Centre but also the bright lights of Canadian nightlife.

    An organization should consider a player's values -- ranging from his upbringing to his time spent in college under the watchful eyes of a coaching mentor. A young man who spent the prom in Juvenile Hall may be a risk. A player that learned the game of life from North Carolina head coach Roy Williams should have an edge over another who soaked in Bob Huggins' wisdom.

    "Family values in the household are extremely important," said Gerald Cimmet, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, educator, speaker and performance enhancement coach with over 25 years experience. "There can be fine values even in the poorest neighborhoods as there can be shallow values in the richest."

    However, Cimmet admits that the lure of financial well-being is significantly greater among players who grew up in low-income neighborhoods.

    "These players might think, 'I'm likely to be nobody and I can't do anything else, so why not take the money.' This could be more pronounced in the poorer neighborhoods, but the idea of a dream of fame and success coming true is very powerful and affects everyone's judgment regardless of neighborhood," said Cimmet.

  4. shark08

    shark08 New Member

    The trip down a very slippery slope begins with that dream. While a dream's foundation -- ambition, desire, hope -- is positive, not all chances at success are created equal.

    The ping pong balls signifying an NBA team's chances at the top pick demonstrate the volatile nature of the sport. It is a lottery, where some make it big and others watch life pass them by while expressing eternal, yet false hope.

    "In poorer neighborhoods, the children's role models tend to be in sports and music, while in other neighborhoods there is likely to be a more diverse group of role models that could include teachers, lawyers and doctors," said Cimmet. "The thinking for the first group is more likely to be, 'Life's a risk anyway, so why not go for it.' It's a gambling philosophy."

    So many times players get sold into the illusion that every hand will be a royal flush, when in reality the odds are stacked highly in favor of the house.

    "From the age of five to 20, the idea of a glamorous life greatly outweighs stark reality-based thinking," said Cimmet.

    That's the scary thing. If the player is caught up in the mirage of luxury, who is there to reel him back in with sensible discourse?

    The parents? Sadly, some see their child as a tool to wealth. Even the most loving parents get caught up in the possibility of early retirement after 19 years of labor just to put food on the table.

    The agents? Their minds are clouded with big money and big marketing ideas. Their vested interest is in the player, not the person.

    The team? It is looking for a player to fill seats, increase profits and take the organization to the promised land. It views the player as a commodity until the shots stop falling. It then turns its attention and financial resources to the next rising star.

    Never in the structure of a team game can an individual feel so alone.

    To cut down on young adults entering a world they are not prepared for, the NBA changed the age limit for players to enter the draft in last year's Collective Bargaining Agreement. Now, a player must be at least 19 years old to declare for the draft or be at least two years out of high school. The new limit has eliminated high school basketball players from throwing their hats into the ring.

    "It buys another year or two and makes an assumption that the slightly older athlete will be more mature," said Cimmet. "It might help a little, for some 17 and 18 year olds think more maturely at 19 and 20."

    While the league helped its overall product with the higher age limit, it more importantly helped today's young athlete. It also gave an indirect order to colleges nationwide.


    In the context of the basketball ladder, the two entities that make millions off the success of athletes should now know where they stand. Colleges need to take more responsibility for their athletes, while the NBA must hold each individual player to not just a talent evaluation, but a psychological litmus test.

    Sadly, even this article has left the most important piece to the puzzle for last.

    Tim Duncan and Matt Leinart are two prime examples of four-year student athletes who didn't rush fame. Duncan learned how to use a lanky frame to his advantage, developed a mid-range game and grasped the idiosyncrasies of basketball. Today, the Spurs forward is the most intelligent player on the court.

    Leinart could have leaped to the NFL after a junior campaign that included a Heisman Trophy and a national championship. However, he wanted to experience his senior year of college. He had the rest of his life to play pro football.

    The Southern California signal-caller didn't win either coveted prize last season, but put up phenomenal numbers and spent another season with his teammates and friends. He picked up ballroom dancing then used the dance moves on a litany of So-Cal coeds.

    Both are reasons why students shouldn't trade in school for a career in sports so quickly. Granted Duncan and Leinart were in better financial situations than many collegiate hoop stars, but that is all the more reason for an athlete from an impoverished area to use his talents to earn a degree.

    Life on the road in the NBA is an entirely different animal than a Friday night at Party U. Kegs of cheap beer and the smell of cheap drugs are replaced with Cristal and Crystal -- just one of many illegal drugs that have got various young players into trouble over the years.

    Before stepping foot into the arena, players need to understand all it encompasses. They should ask themselves if they can survive in it.

    If the answer is truly "yes," then the decision to forego the collegiate experience is a profitable one in the long term.

    However, if the answer is "no," then schedule classes and suit up for meaningful games at the Carrier Dome.

    Good luck Kyle Lowry. Best wishes Adam Morrison. Farewell Cedric Simmons.

    For every undergraduate who opted for cash over college, the game is waiting. So is the "game."

    Longevity in the league will be determined by success in both.
  5. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    One word came to my mind -- overwrought.

    This might have been fine if you were writing a college paper about Villanova fans if the professor had no idea about college basketball. Even at that, there are too many cliche words... the heroes at Texas particularly struck my eyes. Firemen working at Ground Zero are heroes - Villanova basketball players or Texas football players just happen to be really, really good at a game a lot of us played as kids.

    Most of the thing sounds like it could have been written by somebody in the Villanova PR staff.

    Other thoughts - Why does it mean so much? Why aren't you rooting for laundry, in the words of Seinfeld?

    The guys are rooting for Villanova while they are skiing - why weren't they at the game.

    For an exercise - take the first article, figure out how many words it is (use a word count) and cut it in half. Limit yourself to half of the words. Work on that. Finish the half, revise it, and put it away for three days. Then look at both stories, and see which is better. If it's not the reduced version, inquire about a sales job or join the Coast Guard.
  6. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest


    I'm going to echo Gold's suggestion that as an exercise, these be cut in half. Having done so, I'll happily give you a very careful line edit. Right now they're too long to diagram successfully.

    As to whether or not they're overwrought, it seems to me you're overwriting because you're underthinking. The points you're trying to make here (that the amorality of money and fame are bad, and the modest improvement of character is good, etc.) are largely generic, and worn so thin as to be perfectly transparent, especially in sports writing. You're trying to resuscitate some exhausted ideas by blowing hot air into them.

    Which, of course, we've all done. It is a particular stumbling block for younger writers, for whom even the most ancient ideas, once (re)discovered, seem entirely new. This is largely unavoidable, and should be no cause for upset or shame. It should be a cause for great shame and upset in older writers, of course, but more often than not simply lands them a box on "Around the Horn."

    It's pretty clear that you write a clean line. You've got few worries on that account. Simply dial down the superlatives. Remember, however, that the words are just the little handmaidens to the ideas. The point of genuinely good writing isn't merely to stitch one beautiful word to the next to the next, but rather to convey to the reader a series of ideas.

    If that idea happens to be "athlete up by his bootstraps to fame and fortune," you're really going to have to work hard to tell that story in way that hasn't been thought of before. Consider every angle, and make your pieces specific, and detailed, when writing these old chestnuts.

    The challenge is always to find a new angle of attack on the six stories we all tell again and again and again.

    Thanks for posting, Shark, I look forward to seeing your cuts.
  7. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    good point,
  8. GuessWho

    GuessWho Active Member

    He's probably more correct than he knows.
  9. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Worshop Goers,

    Re rewrite. I'd suggest a variation on Mr macg's suggestion. I'd say look at your word count first, divide by two, establish a number. Then read your story. Read it again. Then don't look at it and write to the word count. And write it like you're not trying to impress me.

    YHS, etc
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