La Salle Alum Suddenly Thinks College Basketball Isn’t Boring

Go Explorers!

Look, I admit it. I was dead wrong about college basketball. And to all my friends to whom I whined about college sports not being real sports, I apologize. I’m coming clean.

For years, if we’re being completely honest, I talked so much trash on college sports. A lot of it was on college football, because:

a) how can you get behind a sport where they put little stickers on their helmets for doing a good thing?

b) for all the money and injuries that college football generates, it seems just a little ludicrous that these athletes aren’t paid, and

c) there’s that hive-mind zealotry that can come out in really ugly ways.

But yes, I’ve talked lots of crap on college basketball, too: “How are you supposed to remember the names if they are always graduating?” “If I want to watch a bunch of short guys who can’t jump play zone defense, I’ll go to the gym,” “Is it really college basketball if they leave early to enter the NBA draft?” or “I’ll wait until they’re pros and playing against real competition and can’t pad their stats against Towson.”

Every year around bracket time, I do the whole, “Why don’t I just give my $20 directly to whoever wins this thing?”

And I was similarly disinterested at the beginning of this year’s March Madness. Right up until my dear old alma mater won their play-in game. I’m a La Salle Explorer (class of ’95) and now, like a bolt of lightning, I totally get it. When you’ve got skin in the game, college basketball isn’t just a game with an inordinately long shot clock and inexplicably halves but no quarters—it’s, y’know,  fun. It probably speaks to the program’s lackluster years between Lionel Simmons’ last year at 20th and Olney and today that it’s taken me this long to catch the fever, as it were, and understand the whole Big 5 thing in the process. (The star when I was matriculating, Kareem Townes, was not known for his shooting touch. He sadly ran into trouble with the law later on.)

Call me a bandwagon jumper, call me a fair-weather fan. Not that I’m not La Salle proud—I go back to campus and do mock interview with the comm department, and I keep an eye on the goings-on at The Collegian (btw, help them get to Los Angeles to cover the Sweet 16, will ya?), but the end of the Ole Miss game that I streamed on my laptop might be the only actual La Salle basketball I’ve ever witnessed (games were played at the Palestra, a.k.a. way too far away, when I was in college).

But screw it—this is my team, and the team of all my English/comm/theater friends—the ones who never gave a crap about basketball either, but who are reposting memes all the same. To hear Tyrone Garland talk about the Southwest Philly Floater (never mind that it sounds like a problem for a plumber or coroner) on national television, it all made sense in a way that pro sports generally don’t. Chase Utley may live in South Jersey, but he’s really just some guy from California. Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren and Jerrell Wright and Tyrone Garland don’t just go to school where I did; they’re from Philly (which, while not the case for the entire team, seems like unusually high hometown representation, even for the Big 5).

Win or lose on Thursday against Wichita State, this Explorers team has changed the local basketball landscape. We’ve come to expect Villanova, Temple and Saint Joe’s to be competitive in Division I, and Penn to be competitive in the Ivy League. La Salle had become the forgotten member, the ugly duckling, the red-headed stepchild of the Big 5. That they’re changing that with a handful of easy-to-like local talents has made the ride all the more satisfying—and likely reawakened/created a whole new crop of fans in the process. Take me, for instance: I’ll never say college basketball is boring again.