March Madness

“And the madness begins” is what was going to be the title, but really, the madness began awhile ago…several months ago when men’s college basketball began. I’m rather surprised to be so interested in the Final Four Tournament but then I guess it really shouldn’t be a surprise… I mean, I live with someone who is on the edge of obsessive about men’s college basketball -Penn State- in particular. Brad has season tickets and goes to every home game which is about a two-hour drive from our home. He even goes on “school nights” and to late games, arriving back well after midnight, and still getting up at 5:30 for work the next morning. As I write this, he and his son, Adam, are on their way to Des Moines, Iowa (close to 1,000 miles away) to see Penn State play in the tournament tonight. They’ll see a couple of other games before the Penn State one against Texas A&M at 10:00 EST. They both got off work and left yesterday mid-morning for the 14-hour drive, staying overnight in Illinois. I just got the news that they are now in Iowa and have only two hours left to go. Exciting!

I’ll be honest, their enthusiasm is infectious this year. Two years ago Adam invited me to enter a bracket in his group’s pool (I hope I have the lingo correct.) I remember calling my brother and nephew who are basketball fans, for their opinions, and I asked Brad some questions, and then I filled it out. I didn’t win but I didn’t do too poorly either. I was near the top until close to the end (that’s my memory anyway.) I was rather pleased with myself. Last year I was in Italy and didn’t pay any attention to it whatsoever. I thought I wouldn’t care this year either, but I’m nothing if not a fair weather fan. When it started looking like Penn State could make it into the tournament, my interest piqued.

Brad has a lot of options as far as who to take along to the games. His pool includes two sons, two brothers, and two long-time friends. I really had no interest in going to any games and was always glad he had company with him. He has taken to writing the home games on the calendar along with who’s going with him. I noticed nobody was “signed-up” for Valentine’s Day and so I said I would go along. He’ll groan when he reads this next part but I enjoy it. I told him that my going along with him was my Valentine’s Day gift to him, my presence at a game. (My nephew probably just thought…’most Leo thing ever said.’ lol.) But it really could have been his gift to me. It was such a fun night! We stopped at his mom’s on the way and took her flowers, chocolate, and turkey chili to eat with her for dinner before we made the rest of the trip to the Bryce Jordan Center. What a treat was in store for us that night. It was the game where Jalen Pickett scored 41 points. I was hooked! Along with Jalen Pickett, Seth Lundy, Camryn Wynter, Andrew Funk and Myles Dread are among the players that have been so fun to watch. The team is high in the rankings for shooting 3-pointers. It’s also been fun to watch and cheer for their coach, Micah Shrewsberry, who is always so generous to the players in his post-game interviews. In the Big Ten Tournament they beat Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana and then lost to Purdue in a valliant effort -it was their fourth day in a row of playing at full speed- they must have been tired. So now, while Penn State is still an underdog and not expected to go too far, they’ve already gone farther than expected and they will be playing after some rest so … never say never!

I want to give a nod to women’s basketball too. I just read in the New York Times to watch out for Iowa women’s team and its star, Caitlin Clark. They said she may be the country’s most entertaining player and her fans include LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Speaking of three-pointers, Clark is known for her “logo threes,” shots made from near the half-court logo!

Lastly, speaking of women’s basketball, a fun fact little story… From 2004-6, I owned a condo in Seattle’s Belltown area, a short walk to the Key Arena where the Sonics played when Seattle had an NBA team. The Key Arena is now Climate Pledge Arena and home to the Seattle Kraken ice hockey team, the Seattle Redhawks men’s basketball team and still home to Seattle’s WNBA team, the Seattle Storm. The years I lived in Belltown were good years for the Seattle Storm. Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson were superstars. Their coach, Ann Donovan, lived in the Penthouse Suite in my condo building. It was always a thrill to ride the elevator with her. Our building manager, Rick, was friends with her and often got tickets from her. I was lucky enough to go with him to a couple of games. What fun that was. Sadly, a couple of years later when I sold my condo and moved to West Seattle, I no longer went to games and no longer followed them. I don’t think they were as good either but I can’t say that for sure. Sad to say, I really am a fair weather fan. It works for me.

Go Nittany Lions!

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