New England Regains College Hoops Stardom
It has been six months since we've heard a baseball broadcast and nine months have passed between Cam Neely's last slapshot and today, but the voice of Dick Vitale on an overdose of amphetamines is still heard round the college basketball world.
In the midst of a baseball strike and hockey lockout, college hoops has come through, adding an extra dose of sunshine to bleak winter days. The proverbial knight in shining armor has come wearing the maroon and white of UMass and the blue and white of UConn.
Two New England teams, two state schools forty-one miles apart atop the national poll, have brought basketball back from the Wild West and Tobacco Road to its birthplace. Nothing could be finer for a fan born and raised in Connecticut and living in Massachusetts.
In a state that boasts the Hartford Whalers and the Hartford Hellcats as its only two professional teams, UConn's success has proved a welcome addition in the land of steady habits.
Only thirty minutes of back-country road separate my home from Storrs, Connecticut and Gampel Pavilion home of the Huskies. The players occasionally shop at the local mall. Coach Jim Calhoun makes his summertime rounds on a nearby golf course. Husky mania has, quite literally, been very near and dear.
Even with his single-digit GPA, I can also take pride in the play of the Minuteman's and Hartford Public's Marcus Camby. Besides, inundated with local news coverage, how can I not admire Coach Calipari and his cagers?
Although the Huskies may be number two in the tabulation of the Associated Press and USA Today, they have always ranked first in media coverage. Followed by a press core that often numbers in the hundreds, Huskymania is pervasive and there should be no doubt where loyalties lie.
UConn has something for everyone, even the Massachusetts sports fan. Coach Calhoun has a Boston accent that would make any Southie proud and he honed his craft with the Huskies of Northeastern. There is also the Bob Cousy-like presence of Israeli Iceman Doron Sheffer. The Neely-esque instant offense of Brian Fair. And the precocious all-around talent of sophomore Ray Allen brings second-year Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe to mind.
If Penn State has proven anything with its perfect football season, the difference between number one and number two is often indistinguishable, no matter how many votes separate them.
Beyond partisan loyalties, the fact remains that big time basketball is back in New England.
It is only January, but I can hear Dicky V in the background now. "It's a Big East-Atlantic 10 final in the Kingdome! UConn and UMass, baby! Slam dunk for Dr. Naismith! Can you believe it, baby!"