Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Playing the Game

Some time ago, I tried to buy some additional time at a Georgetown game by walking my eldest around the loggia. We happened past Alonzo Mourning signing copies of his autobiography "Resilience: Faith, Focus, Triumph." I did not follow Mourning's career, but there was no one around so I picked up a copy and put it on the shelf.

I finally read the book last month; it basically confirms everything that I've loved about Georgetown's basketball program. The story of a kid in foster care in the Tidewater growing up to be a member of the board of directors of an elite private university is likely to be interesting regardless of the vehicle for ascendance. But because the last basketball book I read was George Dohrmann's fantastic (albeit horrifically depressing) "Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine," Mourning's tale is affirmation of the value of collegiate athletics.

As the mirror image to Dohrmann's exposure of Tim Floyd to be everything we thought he was, Mourning exalts John Thompson II as everything we hoped he might be. I may live in a town where a head coach was allowed to temporarily dismiss a woeful educational record with vacuous claims about the professional careers of a minority of his players, but the long shadow of JT's program meant that folks up here always understood that -- national championship notwithstanding -- it didn't have to be this way.

So it surprises me that in terms of the concocted conflict between the men's basketball programs of Georgetown and Maryland, I'm fully on board with Kevin Anderson's approach of overt confrontation. Is there likely to be a Georgetown-Maryland basketball game played anytime soon? No, of course not. Egos have been bruised and the Hoyas have been backed into a corner.

There will certainly be collateral damage. The refusal to schedule games across all sports after this season is a blow to the intense rivalry between the men's and women's lacrosse teams (although the lady Hoyas haven't taken a game since 2006, so perhaps they will welcome the respite). It is also a blow to the budding rivalries between the women's soccer programs -- after Georgetown's women's soccer team knocked off the number one team in the country in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament -- and women's basketball programs -- after Georgetown's women's basketball team blistered the Terps in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament.

But there's a deeper point here. Some teams announce their return to prominence with t-shirts that read "Respect Is Back/ Fear Is Next"; others call out the local powerhouse and demand a reckoning.

Maryland will get blown off. And critics will find another reason to take shots at Kevin Anderson. But in the interim, Maryland's going to be a major impediment to Georgetown's concerted efforts over the last several years to lock up elite local talent. When Queen Anne's County High's Damonte Dodd decided to become a Terp, he turned away from an unparalleled tradition of excellence in developing big men:
Former Georgetown great and NBA veteran Dikembe Mutombo was in regular contact with Dodd, according to [Queen Anne's head coach Dale] Becraft.

"Mutombo had his cell number, and called him from time to time," Becraft said. "Damonte, I know, enjoyed that, too."

And why?
"I always liked Maryland," said Dodd, who attended the Terps' 75-70 victory over Miami on Tuesday night. "And visiting them, I liked how they stuck together as a team, and how the coaches wanted players to be successful, whether in the NBA or getting a degree."
New day.

The gauntlet has been thrown down -- Maryland wants to test itself against the biggest kid on the block and Georgetown prefers derbies with American University and Howard.

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