Saturday, December 11, 2010

New Frontiers

Before turning in last night, I caught the NCAA tournament semifinal between Michigan and Akron and, before that, the second half of the Bulls' huge win at home over the Lakers. Michigan played well and showed that their upset win over Maryland was not a fluke, but Akron is tremendous. I'd not seen them play before, but as much as I've been impressed by what Coach Cirovkski's done for the Terps in making them a strong, well-organized competitive unit, Caleb Porter's Zips are not just good, they are extremely entertaining. Akron's passing is crisp and precise, while their style is breathtaking and each of the players on the field appears to reflect an institutional emphasis on creativity and independence rather than organization and responsibility.

I would not have expected to see the same level of ingenuity and flourish in a Tom Thibodeau coached team. But that's what the Bulls offer their fans these days. Back to back games at the United Center and Derrick Rose has exploded his ceiling. He is, so people say, kind of good. The three-point jump shot he drilled with the shot clock expiring against the Lakers is not the most important shot he's nailed this season -- it would be tough to surpass the three pointer at the end of regulation that allowed the Bulls to pull out a win against Houston last week -- but the ease of the extreme elevation to get himself free to even attempt the shot coupled with the circumstances (closing out Kobe's juggernaut), make it the most memorable.

I grew up idolizing John Paxson. MJ, Scottie, and Horace Grant all had skills and physical gifts that I could not fathom and I could, at best, only identify with the unimposing guy on the wing who converted seemingly every open shot afforded to him. Paxson's run as a general manager has been, the conventional wisdom goes, rocky and he has been bailed out by turns of good fortune (like pulling a lottery spot that brought Rose home). We're only 22 games into a 62 game season and another first-round playoff exit may be the ultimate result of an otherwise promising year, but it is hard to fault the team that Pax has pulled together. It may be that Carlos Boozer's early season injury has worked, unintentionally, to improve the team as the returning nucleus of Rose, Noah, Deng, Taj Gibson, and James Johnson was given time to gel with a series of role players (Omer Asik, Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, and C.J. Watson) into a good NBA team.

My daughter is, unfortunately, unimpressed. Although she will use virtually any excuse to delay bedtime, watching the Bulls with Daddy has sent her to sleep each of the last two nights as her preferred alternative. She may enjoy soccer games, but basketball bores her. I spent most of Friday night at Comcast for Maryland's game against UMBC chasing her up and down the stairs as she eventually found a crevice in the wall to be far more interesting than anything occurring on the court (which does not bode well for tomorrow's Georgetown game at the Verizon Center).

On the way out of Comcast, we stopped by the women's gymnastics team's intrasquad scrimmage. After spazzing out throughout the basketball game, sequined outfits commanded every ounce of her attention. The team signed autographs and chatted with young gymnasts who had come out to see the squad and, I fear, I've entirely lost the battle for basketball -- if gymnastics is in the same building, it will be what she'll clamor for.

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