Sunday, January 23, 2011

Go Dukes!

I thought I'd take a little time this morning to focus on what's occupying a large amount of my time these days--basketball.  No, I'm not playing.  I'm not coordinated enough to dribble and walk, much less incorporate all the other stuff.  But Karma has bitten me in the butt once again, it seems.  Just a few short weeks ago, in the thick of college football season, I ranted a few times about the insanity that seems to possess people when rooting for their teams.  "It's just a game!  I can understand rooting for one's team or alma mater, but for the love of all that is holy, worry about something of consequence!"  Well, here we are, well into the CAA basketball schedule, and MY brain is full of stats all of a sudden.  Never in my life have I been able to rattle off standings, records, and  random trivia, and I'm wondering if I should be worried!

Andrew talks to Duke Dog  from our seats in 2006.

Andrew hugging Duke Dog in 2010.
Maybe a little history would be appropriate here.  We have been attending JMU Men's Basketball games since Andrew was a mere bun in the proverbial oven.  Andrew knows his way around the Convocation Center better than some of the people that work there.  He even has a game night routine--he takes a small backpack of toys to occupy himself with (Lion goes, too, of course.), he pays attention for about one third of the game (enough to understand the basic rules, never mind the finer points), he screams his head off for the audience participation moments, in a noble effort to win t-shirts and pizza, and half-time can not pass without his walk with his daddy around the concourse, a trip that inevitably ends with the purchase of popcorn, cotton candy, or a blow pop.  He has had his picture taken with Duke Dog so many times, I'm starting to think they're related.  He knows the words to the Fight Song by heart (and sings them in the bathtub when he thinks no one is listening) and flirts sheepishly with the many college girls who think he is cute.  And no game is complete without a trip down on the floor to run around after the game.

Andrew found Duke Dog on the bench! (2006)

Through it all, though, we've been supporting a losing team.  We've been through multiple coaches until finally finding one that works.  We've watched the heartbreak of the many players who have stepped out onto the court, and still we went and supported them.  And it was easy not to get too wrapped up in it--we were used to losing, so it wasn't terribly painful. 

Now, though, things are different.  The Dukes have a great coach in Matt Brady.  I don't know the technicalities, but it's clear that he coaches with heart, that he is invested personally and not just professionally.  He's a nice guy to boot, and he'll stop and thank us for coming out even when a game hasn't gone his way.  The players are a classy bunch of kids--they stop to show appreciation for their supporters after every game, they work as a team, and it's clear from where we are that they're a team with heart. 

Andrew and me with Alioune Diouf and Denzel Bowles.

And the team is winning!  After yesterday's game, the Dukes are 15-5, not as good a record as they had going into this week, but still good!  And not to start sounding like a sports article, because that wasn't the intent here, but yesterday's game was the first ESPN appearance at home since 1994, which is exciting!  Things have been going so well, and I've gotten so used to having my team win, that the losses have become painful.  So painful that I cursed at the television during Wednesday night's loss to ODU.  So painful that I held my breath during the last two minutes of yesterday's very close game (and loss) to George Mason. 

What strikes me the most, though, is that I am happy that Andrew has these guys as role models.  He's not involved in sports yet, and if he's anything like his parents, basketball is probably not in his future.  But these guys play good, clean basketball.  They hold their tempers in check (much better than I would), and they are clearly demonstrating what it means to be a team.  They have their stars, certainly--what team doesn't?  But those same stars are the first ones to their feet when kids who don't get much playing time get substituted in, like the night that all twelve players who were dressed scored at least two points.  Watching those guys root for their teammates, wanting them to share their glory, was truly something special.  Having the team acknowledge the crowd as a valuable contributor continues to be refreshing and touching at each game.  And it's indicative of the heart of these guys that after yesterday's breath-holding loss that my saying, "Good game!" inspired a hug from the player.  

All of that being said, I truly hope this team continues to play well and to win.  I'm enjoying the ride and the glory and the anticipation of the next games (three coming up this week!).  But if, for some reason, things should turn south, I'll still be there on my feet, screaming myself hoarse and clapping until my hands hurt.  These guys deserve to win, but no matter what, they have earned my support.  Go Dukes! 

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