Wildcats’ hoops a chance to root for the little guy

Jesse Abrams-Morley Column

I have been lying to you this quarter.

For nine weeks, I have written about “serious” topics, ranging from war in Iraq to the death of Paul Wellstone to the battle between Northwestern and Evanston. All along I have tried to make you think these so-called serious topics consume my life on a daily basis.

Well it’s not true.

So what does consume my life, if not these important issues?

Northwestern basketball.

I just can’t get enough NU hoops, and I’ve been in withdrawal since March. Each night, I wake up in a cold sweat, fearing the season will never start. Fortunately, according to the schedule I have hanging in my room, the Wildcats begin play at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Friday against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

I’m so excited that I can’t even get my work done. My friend and I spent a good 10 minutes Sunday night searching for the whereabouts of Tavaras Hardy, a leader on last year’s team who has since graduated. We ended up on the Web site of some Finnish basketball team.

But NU basketball hasn’t always been my obsession. The first team I fell in love with was the St. Joseph’s Hawks, a gritty bunch of no-names from a small Jesuit college in West Philadelphia.

St. Joe’s never fielded the best teams, but its players always had character. When the Hawks finally made the NCAA tournament in 1997 and again in 2001, I felt a special sense of pride knowing I had supported the team during its dark years. It’s a feeling people who root for Duke or the Yankees could never understand. To me, victory without struggle is meaningless.

So it’s not much of a stretch for me to cheer for NU basketball. As the only Big Ten team never to make the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats enter almost every conference game as underdogs. But there’s something special about them.

Maybe it’s the way they play great team defense. Maybe it’s their milk-the-clock-and-try-to-catch-the-other-guys-napping offense. Maybe it’s the way Head Coach Bill Carmody seems to get the most out of his talent.

For a sap like me with my romantic notions about team play and hustle, there is no shortage of heroes in this bunch. Even the national press seems to think the Wildcats are going in the right direction.

“A game against Northwestern used to be a virtual lock victory for the rest of the Big Ten,” ESPN.com’s Jeff Shelman wrote. “That ain’t the case any longer.”

So there’s good reason to be optimistic. And maybe, just maybe, my love for this team fits in with the rest of the philosophy I’ve expressed this quarter.

As stupid as it sounds, I like NU basketball for the same reason I liked Paul Wellstone: I’m hopelessly addicted to rooting for the underdog. I live for the upset, for those precious few moments in life when some dazzling upstart brings down the over-confident giant. When the underdog wins, all is right with the world.

I’m not saying sports is life. That would be silly. But there’s something universally wonderful about watching the unexpected happen. Yes, I’m a bleeding-heart liberal and a sucker. And I’ll be at Welsh-Ryan on Friday night, watching the Cats try to make history, one backdoor cut at a time.

Jesse Abrams-Morley is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]