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SportsMonday: March Sadness

Trying to muster enthusiasm for the NCAA tournament now . . . after all, my sports-mad 10-year-old son is totally into it. As of 6:30 p.m. Sunday he had already filled out a couple brackets and had plans for a couple more. Me, not so much

Is there anyone who isn't totally blinded by allegiance to the alma mater or to the nearby big school/only game in town who doesn't have at least a few reservations at this point? I suppose there are also those fans who don't know better than to take each and every cue from ESPN and its stable of simple-minded personalities. And of course there are those who only care about the gambling.

For the rest of us . . . the fact that everyone involved in major college sports at a high level gets rich except the immature, easily manipulated stars of the show, and that most of the "student-athletes" don't receive anything even approximating a decent education, and that coaches never get fired for lousy graduation rates . . . this stuff is troubling. A knowledgeable fan tunes into Dick Vitale singing the praises of low-life, parasitic coaches like West Virginia's Bob Huggins and, well, it is disheartening.

It didn't used to be this way. In my teens and 20s I loved the tournament as much as anyone. When I was in college (1984-88) I went to my grandparents' house in Falls Church, Virginia, for several spring breaks that coincided with the first week of the Dance. At that point ESPN would show five or six first-round games from noon on Thursday until midnight and then show many of the games it had missed on tape from midnight back around to noon. Then they would do it again until noon Saturday, at which point the second-round games began. I had a friend who lived in Silver Springs, Maryland, who would come over to watch and while we never quite made it all the way around the clock, we took in a ludicrous amount of basketball.

Later on I spent the same Thursday and Friday March afternoons in the old Hi-Tops on Sheffield (now a Harry Caray's). We would sit there with our sheets and watch a tripleheader before stumbling out blinking into the rapidly fading sunlight during the brief period between the day's slate of games and the evening contests. But that was a while ago now.

Even as my enthusiasm for college basketball has waned, my affection for Chicago kids playing the game has stayed strong. And this has been just an unbelievable season for guys from around here. The Sun-Times did a real good two-page spread Sunday on the amazing number of local guys, starting with Jon Scheyer (Glenbrook North and Duke), Sherron Collins (Crane and Kansas) and national player of the year candidate Evan Turner (St. Joseph's and Ohio State) and then moving on to include new stars such as Jacob Pullen (Proviso East and Kansas State) and Jerome Randle (Hales Franciscan and Pac 10 regular season champ Cal). There are tons more, including far South Side Washington High School grad DeAndre Liggins playing for Kentucky, and they are all fun to watch.

I suppose I do have a general observation or two as the postseason kicks off about the one team I have followed reasonably closely. It is unbelievable that Duke earned a No. 1 seed. Part of it is that this was a very, very down year for the ACC. But this Duke team, which has no athletic swing players, no true point guard and doesn't even shoot that well from beyond the arch, somehow found a way to play that has frustrated many more talented teams.

I will always wish Scheyer, who I covered for Pioneer Press when he led North to the state title in 2005, had gone to Illinois. In Champaign he would have been the unquestioned star from Day 1. He would have played with quicker guards who could have created shots for him and given him the freedom to operate from the high post at times as well as on the wings. But he has done about as much as he could in this, his senior season down in Durham. Scheyer does not have a great chance to play in the NBA (not nearly quick enough to play the point and neither big nor athletic enough to hold his own against decent NBA shooting guards) so this very well may be his last big-time basketball hurrah.

Bulls Blowout
In the past week-and-a-half, Luol Deng has come up with three different excuses to miss either practices or games. During that time the Bulls have not coincidentally stretched a season-killing losing streak to seven games.

First, there was mysterious swelling in his knee that suddenly kicked in multiple days after he had suffered minor trauma to it. Then he went with the stomach flu excuse, and now he has missed the last few games with a calf strain.

Just a quick bit of advice Luol: no matter how many doctors you consult, you won't be able to find one willing to diagnose a stress fracture in your calf. You know, like the supposed stress fracture (other care-givers called it a microfracture - if they saw it at all) in your leg that enabled you to kick back and relax on the sideline during the last 20-plus games of last season.

Most guys wouldn't be able to get more than a game or two off after a calf strain so it will be a challenge for you to somehow turn this into something more serious. Since the team doesn't play defense anymore and therefore doesn't win, perhaps you can entertain us with another search (a reality show?) for a medical professional willing to give you the diagnosis that ensures you'll be able to stay on the bench the rest of the way.

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Jim Coffman rounds up the sports weekend every Monday in this space. He welcomes your comments.

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