Right now, I don't give a shite about North Carolina
but my two teams from the start were Marquette and Kansas
by Stewart Mandel
Farewell, four-year plans: Freshmen lead Syracuse to first national title
NEW ORLEANS -- You know, this new era of college basketball might not be so bad after all.
There were times during this often tumultuous, sometimes disturbing season when it was easy to think otherwise.
But then came Monday night.
There will be plenty of opportunities to discuss the St. Bonaventures and the Georgias, to bemoan lousy graduation rates and decry how a coach can get fired by his own players.
This night was about two historic, awe-inspiring performances, the kind that reminded even the most cynical of spectators why they got hooked on this crazy sport in the first place.
Thanks, Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara.
Freshmen weren’t supposed to do this, said everyone but the freshmen, not against Kansas’ pair of all-everything seniors, not against anyone.
Freshmen weren’t supposed to hit six of their first eight 3-pointers in the national championship game, like McNamara did, or deliver gravity-defying passes like Anthony’s no-look, fast-break dish to Josh Pace that put the Orangemen up 32-17.
And freshmen certainly weren’t supposed to almost single-handedly carry their team to the national championship.
"We made history," a jubilant Anthony said after collecting 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in Syracuse’s 81-78 title-clinching victory. "We shocked the world. We showed that freshmen can ball it like everyone else."
"This," said McNamara, "is going to cause a lot of chaos."
Farewell, four-year plans. Adios, sermons about senior leadership.
Welcome to 21st-century college basketball: Put the most talented player in the country on the court, and the national title can be yours.
"I think any coach that can get a Carmelo Anthony will take them, I don’t care what they say," said Jim Boeheim. "That’s college basketball right now. Until they establish an [NBA] age [limit] or something, you just have to adjust to it."
There’s one of two ways to react to this dubious landmark.
We could, as we’ve been doing for several years now, feign outrage over how this came to be, how the NBA has so purged colleges of their best talent that we’re forced to celebrate someone like Anthony gracing us for one year.
Or we can stop and think about what we witnessed Monday night.
The past few national championship games haven’t been candidates for Masterpiece Theater. To a degree, neither was this one, thanks to Syracuse’s cold second half and Kansas’ atrocious free-throw shooting.
But Anthony's and McNamara’s first halves were nothing short of awesome. Under pressure-filled circumstances, they were, to borrow an oft-used basketball standard, Jordan-esque.
Be it Joe Montana throwing the Super Bowl-winning touchdown or an Olympic figure skater nailing a jump to win the gold, sports fans relish excellence.
Whether it’s the work of a 37-year-old or a 17-year-old, freshman or senior, is, in the end, irrelevant.
"From the beginning of the year, we never talked about [Anthony] being the best freshman in the country," said Boeheim. "We talked about him being the best player in the country. I think he proved that tonight."
Unfortunately for college fans, Anthony probably will carry that designation for only one year.
But what a momentous year it was.
There have been numerous one-and-done players over the past decade, but none who made anywhere near as big an impact. The significance is being felt across the sport, where coaches everywhere probably are rethinking their stance on recruiting such "rent-a-players." And future blue-chippers, seeing how much Anthony has benefited, probably are rethinking that preps-to-the-pros jump.
"I don’t regret coming to college," said Anthony, a freshly cut piece of net hanging around his neck. "I had a fun year. I had a great year on the court, and off the court at school."
"I believe, if I’m not mistaken, Bill Gates went to college for one year," said Boeheim. "I don’t think it hurt him, did it? I believe that every kid that goes to college for one or two or three or four years gains tremendously from it."
As for McNamara, he’s not headed to the NBA just yet, but there’s no understating his impact.
The sight of the scrawny kid from Scranton lighting up one defender after another was symbolic of his entire season. Normally, it takes point guards a year to fully adjust to the college game.
In McNamara’s case, the college game has had trouble adjusting to him.
"It’s unbelievable to think around this time last year I’m playing in high school for a state championship," McNamara reflected. "Coming in, I didn’t know what my role would be. I didn’t know what kind of position I’d be playing. To think I’d have such an effect on my team and win a national championship, I never could have imagined it."
Neither could the rest of us.