I Am Not OK

Posted on March 17, 2018, in Our Blog by Seattle Hoo.

That's a message somebody sent the HOOS Place Twitter.  Simple, direct, succinct, and completely descriptive.  I am not ok.

I am not ok.

I can't even think of anything else to say.  I think I said it all last night, yelled it out in one long rant walking down Pike Street with my girlfriend on our way to Zig Zag Cafe to get drunk.  Not drunk, really - we don't do that.  But tipsy.  Yeah, definitely tipsy.  On our way there I tried to explain why I felt the way I did, like I just got shot in the gut.  No, like I just gave myself an abdominal tattoo with a samurai sword and was sitting there with my guts hanging out.  It is the emotional equivalent of that.  Why I might not be able to recover from this.  Why I don't know if I can watch another college basketball game again.

Because this is so Virginia.  Our basketball program, our football program, they get right up to the heights, up to the last handhold and are about to put a foot on the top of the world, and 

For over thirty years, we have been known for the biggest upset in college basketball history, an upset loss so epic that it comes up whenever people talk about the biggest upset in SPORTS history.  And nobody saw that one.

This one eclipses that.  This is the most epic upset in American sports history.

This is, as I said to my girlfriend while waiting for the bartender to make me the most perfectly-named cocktail of my life -

Sayonara looked perfect for what I wanted, but then it hit my eye and it was just too perfect to be anything else but God mocking me and offering me what I wanted at the same time.

"The worst thing that could happen to a college basketball team.  No, literally the worst thing that could happen to a college basketball team - except the plane crashing."

I mean, could anything worse happen on the court?  "I would rather never get to the tournament than this."

This is the third time UVA has been a #1 seed.  This is the third time that at some point UVA fans said, "If any one seed is going to lose to a 16, it'll be us."  We all felt it in the Coastal Carolina game.  That game felt like a setup. It was an athletic team full of JUCOs with size and coached by a veteran coach who had won NCAA Tournament games, Cliff Ellis.  I mean, when I was starting out as a youth coach I read this guy's book.

But no, that wasn't the setup; THIS was the setup.  We should have known it right away. No, not by the Committee; by God.  I mean, of all the crappy little teams in America that could have been our 16 seed, we get the one coached by the son of one of our former assistants, who was supposed to be the next head coach but didn't feel like waiting around for his boss's vanity tour to end and took another job.  The kid basically grew up around UVA basketball.  Oh, and their best player? Lester Lyles' kid.  I mean, really?  It was a setup.

Like Chaminade was a setup. The trip to Japan before it. The big game with Houston. Ralph having the flu.  And Chaminade's center - Chaminade out in fucking Hawaii - was from Ralph's high school district and had played against him many times, always doing well.  Really?  A setup.

A divine setup.

You know what we are?  Losers.  We are good losers.  The best. Hey, losers are important.  Without losers there are no winners.  Without the losers there are no inspirational sports movies.  We should change our name to Coyotes and buy the rights to Wile E. Coyote from Warner Brothers, because he is our perfect mascot.

We are Wile E. Coyote.  So smart. So sure of ourselves. So we plot and we plan, and we are so convinced that THIS time we are going to get it right - and we just end up face planted in the middle of the road over and over again.

Why?  Why does God hate us?  We expect our players to be students and to graduate.  When they steal or cheat on a test, we kick them out of school.  When they don't go to class we suspend them.  Our players don't break opponents' noses or trip them or borrow thousands of dollars to buy jewelry.  We don't set up elaborate schemes to keep our players eilgible, then throw the academic reputation of our school under the bus to avoid punishment when it comes to light. We don't hire strippers for our recruits or get shoe companies and agents to pay them a hundred thousand bucks to come to our school.  Yet we get Chaminade and the Retrievers and Jimmy Valvano - a cheating coach who didn't graduate a single player at NC State - gets 1983.

And I don't feel like we think we're better than everybody else.  I think we just think we're better than the people who do all those things - because they do those things and we don't.  I admire John Beilein's program.  I admire Mike Brey's program and the way Notre Dame appears to require its players to be students.  Those are just two examples.  I don't feel like we do it all to feel superior to others - I think we do it because it's right and we as a community feel an obligation to do what is right and live up to something.

So why does God hate us and mock us?  I can't even watch anymore basketball because I am rock solid drop dead certain that Duke is going to win it all.  Or if not Duke, then whatever cheating bastard school is still alive.  This tournament is going to be won by a team that mocks us in some way.  The winner of this tournament is going to rub acid-soaked salt into our wounds.  I know it like I know that Tony Bennett will be out recruiting today or tomorrow or Monday at the latest.

We are the object lesson that karma is bullshit and we do NOT get what we deserve in this world.  Because if we got what we deserve in this world, Tony Bennett would be the champion and Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins would not have THIS end to their college careers.  Kyle Guy would not have been photographed bawling his eyes out.  Other coaches would be on their way to prison or getting fired - not just Rick Pitino.  Things would be very different.

I am so very angry. I am angry for what I know is going to come.  Tony Bennett does not deserve to be treated the way he is and will be treated.  Our players do not deserve how they are going to be treated.  I don't think that I can bear to go near any media because of what I know I will read or hear. I don't even have to because I can see it and hear it now.  The pleasures of a vivid imagination.

What hurts the most is the certainty that it will all happen again. Somehow I will be convinced to get my hopes up again, and God will imagine some new sporting hell to cast Virginia fans into.  Will it be these players and this coach again?  Or will it be long after they have moved on with their lives and only we, the fans, remain to be tormented by it?  What new, imaginative set of circumstances will it be next time?

I don't even know how we recover from this.  The program already had major issues looming.  Two straight recruiting classes without getting first, second or even third choice recruits, and now 2019 was heading the same way even before this.  How to expect any high school player to want to come and be part of this?  They all are going to hear and read everything people say, all those things you know are going to be everywhere, and what person in his right mind would want to go be one of the people being talked about like that?  Do you know what a recruit's life will be like from the moment he opens his mouth and says, "I want to go to Virginia"?  What do you think EVERYBODY around him is going to say?  "Are you crazy? Why would you want to go play that ugly brand of basketball and choke in March?"  Even if all the players we have stay the course, you have to admit that the likelihood is that we are about to witness a gradual slide down to the bottom tier of the ACC as these players cycle out and are not replaced by ACC-calibre players.  How to prevent that?  I honestly don't know.

Thoughts are running out of order.  It's all suspended in a miasma of disbelief.  The impulse to rationalize it mocks me.  Maybe, maybe it has to be this way for our own good.  We have too much:  Beautiful Grounds amidst some of the most gorgeous countryside in the nation, great academics and cultural studies, a vibrant community - it would be too much if we were to have athletic dominance, too. We would lose any humility.  Maybe if Tony were to get that ring it would twist his soul the way the Ring did to Gollum; instead of Aragorn he would become Sauron, arrogant and evil like the Dark Lord down in Durham and we would lose our souls like those who excuse cheating and mock the people who care.  Maybe the Ring would turn us into what we despise.  We need THIS to remind us who we are.

Ah, horseshit.

Last night while it was going down, I swore I was done with sports if we lost.  Swore I was going to just take down the site.  Can't take anymore.  Just can't handle anymore heartache, any more of the nightmare where you don't wake up before you hit the ground - you wake up in the hospital. I think this one was the one that crushed my capacity to hope.  I'm 52 with high blood pressure and a tumultuous relationship with my penis (if Isaiah Wilkins can share his vulnerability with the world, so can I), how many more chances will there be?  That's it, I'm done, peace out, I have a life to enjoy.

But then I thought about Tony going out to face the press, about those players, how they must feel, and my conscience did its ruthless, vicious, mean-hearted, vindictive thing: it reminded me that I've sworn that I love these guys.  "I love this team," I've said many times.  And I do.  Man, each one of them and as a team. I admire Tony, believe he should be doing something way more important than coaching a sports team.  He should be President.  And Isaiah and Devon, I admire them.  I learn from them and they inspire me to try and be something better than I know in my heart I am.  Nigel, man, I love that he wanted to come home, that he dreamed of playing for UVA, that he wanted to help win a championship.  I love the spirit and attitude he brought and believe he could have done so much more if he had been used correctly. And Jack Salt, who makes me wonder how such a nice guy can morph into "If He Dies He Dies" once he steps onto a basketball court then become the nicest guy in the world again once the game is over.  And Ty and Kyle and Mamadi and Jay and Dre who brought so much hope and expectation with them, who all blend confidence and humility and are truly dedicated to following in the footsteps of the men who have come through before them.  And Marco and Frankie who may not be top 100 AAU super stars but who are awesome teammates and young men and are going to make a lot of plays for us during their time here.  And Kihei and Kody who we don't even really know yet but whom I know are awesome young men.  They all inspire me and I learn from them and am so proud and glad to be able to root for them.

"How the fuck can you abandon those guys like that, you craven little fucking coward?" my conscience yelled in my face, following it with a vicious punch to the side of the head.  "Is that what your love means?"  I guess my first ex-wife and son would say, "Yes, that is exactly what it means."  But whatever I've been in the past and whatever I might be, I look at Tony Bennett and all those young men he has brought into our community and my life and they make me want to be what I should be: a truly decent person who always wants to do the right thing even if it comes with a bitter price, who is steadfast toward the people in his life even when they let him down or being seen with them subjects him to ridicule, who is proud of them even when they have failed and the world mocks them.

That's how I know I'll be back: because I know that they have no choice but to come back, and who am I if I am not there with them to undertake the effort by their side?

Not a person I want to be.

So Goddammit, I'm going to get this out of my system with this essay and an essay on what Tony did wrong and what it means for the future and a video that just really captures how I feel about this season, then I'm going to step back for a while and work on my novel and political blogging, and when I come back, I think I am going to scale back a bit, because I can't just devote all of my time for six months out of the year to basketball. I think I will ditch the data charting and just write and make videos.  I don't want to argue, I want to create.  The parts of this that I love are the making of the videos and the detailed watching of the games and the writing.  I want to help people understand and enjoy the games, not win arguments.  I'm just so tired of the arguing and the battle. Honestly, fuck the world and what they say, and if we don't get the good recruits because of what people say, then we'll take the kids who are smart enough to recognize what Tony and UVA can do for them and we'll go to war with them and do the best we can.  Fuck ESPN and the media; fuck the AAU idiots; fuck Carolina fans and Duke fans and Louisville fans and all the other fans who want to talk shit about us.  They can all enjoy what their cheating and self-centeredness gets them.  We'll just do this our way and enjoy the purity of the effort and the clean spirits of these young Wahoos.

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NCAA Tournament, (n) UMBC (March 16, 2018)