NBA loss is this NCAA fan’s gain

Ben Morrow
Sports Columnist


I don’t mourn the NBA lockout. I realize that pro hoops were just becoming watchable again, and now we might not have a season. I also realize there were a bundle of storylines coming off last season that fans were ready to jump back into.

LeBron, D-Wade and the Miami Heat. The Celtics and their quest for one more ring before breaking up the elderly threesome of Pierce, Allen and Garnett. Dirk, Mark Cuban and the Mavs. Kobe and the Lakers. What’s going to happen with Chris Paul, Deron Williams or other potential free agents? Which team will be the next one to stockpile talent and make a Miami-like run? And on and on.

Not this year. It now looks as if the NBA will be replacing the daytime drama of highlight reels and free agent rumors for the second rate soap opera “As the (Hoops) World Burns.”

Oh well.

Like you, I don’t understand why multimillionaires and multibillionaires can’t decide how to properly split the annual revenue from $25,000 courtside seats and $9 beers. Most fans become angry while listening to the bluebloods and the athletes arguing over a “fair” split of obscene profits in the middle of such a rotten economy. The NBA has the opportunity to ruin the momentum it had just started to gain back.

That’s their loss.

I don’t care which side is right and which side is wrong. I’ve got college basketball.

I have been chomping at the bit to get into the college basketball season, and now it’s here in full force. The lack of NBA games, at least for part of the season, will mean that NCAA games will have to fill the void. To me, that’s a good thing. This season promises to be full of great matchups and compelling stories on the collegiate level. It comes without the headaches of collective bargaining because, let’s face it, universities make all the dollars while college players work for free. But that’s another column … or three.

For me, college hoops is simply the best. What other sport can be played on the deck of an aircraft carrier? The sight of kids playing a kids’ game in an electrifyingly fraternal environment is simply unmatched.

Watching Coach K embracing Bob Knight after breaking Knight’s all-time record for wins on Tuesday was a special moment. I think this season has more special moments coming. I hope one of them is watching former Racer coach Billy Kennedy taking his place on the Texas A&M sidelines and leading his Aggies to a successful season. Personally, I’m ready to pick my spot in the Stampede at the RSEC (um, I mean – ahem – the CFSB Center) and scream my head off for my Racers until March.

NBA? What NBA?

On a national level, the Association was unable to grab several of last year’s talented freshmen. UConn’s Jeremy Lamb, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes all return for their sophomore seasons with the opportunity to reach the national championship and vie for Player of the Year honors. Last year’s great freshman class largely stuck around to play with this year’s talented crop of newbies.

This offers the possibility of an overall level of play we haven’t seen in years. Maybe this season will allow us to hearken back to days when NCAA basketball was more than a battle of AAU freshmen auditioning for the NBA. This year we might see the real molding of some very good teams.

As we peruse the schedule, several great matchups loom on the horizon: UK/UNC, UK/Louisville, Ohio State/Duke, Florida/Syracuse, Wisconsin/UNC, UNC/Duke, UConn/Syracuse – or any other Big East matchup for that matter. Florida and Vanderbilt, along with Cal’s Cats, should make SEC play fun to watch as well.

Then comes March Madness.

Kentucky fans have as good a reason as ever to be excited about their team. This year’s freshmen crop is as good as any in recent memory, and they will team up with returning players Terrance Jones, Doron Lamb and Darius Miller to take on all challengers. Mark it down: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should be the Freshman of the Year. The Dec. 3 game against North Carolina at Rupp looks to be the game of the year. If the Cats can mature quickly, if they can share the ball and if Terrance Jones can keep his head in the game and realize his potential, Calipari might finally get his first championship.

Louisville has the opportunity to be a top 15 program this year as well. Kentucky would do well to not look past the New Year’s Eve matchup with the Cardinals. Coach Cal wins at Rupp, but that streak has got to end at some point. Rick Pitino has won a few there himself.

More close to home, Murray State looks just plain good. (They’re even hitting their free throws!) Isaiah Canaan and Ivan Aska will lead an electrifying group. Brandon Garrett looks like he’s ready to come in and be an X-factor. I like Coach Prohm at the helm already. We’ve even got key games against Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech airing on ESPNU. In short, I’m truly excited to see how well this high-octane offense can run through the OVC this year.

So don’t let the NBA get you down, basketball fans. Your hoop dreams don’t have to rise and fall on the progress of a collective bargaining agreement. There’s more than enough basketball on the collegiate level to get excited about this year, and you don’t even have to wait until March.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have typed long enough. I’ve got some hoops to watch.

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