So, generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of college sports. I dig the enthusiasm and the energy, but a few things have happened through the years that particularly turned me off.
First, the University of Delaware killed off its men’s cross country and track and field teams—thereby dismissing one of the finest coaches in America and ripping a piece of my heart. Yes, I only ran for the Hens as a freshman. Yes, I placed last in the conference championships in the mile. Yes, I sucked. But it connected me to a special time and place. With its death, well … yeah. It hurts.
Second, the corruption. Despite what Danny Kennell says, the NCAA is gross. In particular, it plucks young African-American men and women from impoverished, underfunded neighborhoods throughout America, peddles hope and glory and education, then leaves most on the curb.
Third, I dunno. As I age I feel increasingly silly living and dying with the exploits of young men and women who could be my kids.
That said, March Madness is great, and March Madness is particularly great when you feel a connection to one of the teams. For me and my son, that team (in 2019) has been UC Irvine.
Every year we try and attend a few games, and this season we were fortunate to be there for Irvine-Denver, when a junior guard named Max Hazzard just went off for 32 points in an 86-52 rout. Midway through, Emmett noted that “Max Hazzard” was a uniquely cool game, and after a bunch of Google searches and document perusings I found myself sitting across from Max to write this piece for The Athletic.
I liked the kid immediately. First, because he was wearing a shirt he made. Second, because he had fantastic taste in music. Third, because when I asked whether he thought about an NBA future, he shrugged. Literally, he shrugged. Like, “I dunno, not really.” Fourth, his family. Just wonderful people with excellent perspectives on life, on happiness.
So, as often happens, I kept an eye on Max Hazzard’s season, and took particular joy in seeing he and the Anteaters roll through the conference, into the Tournament, past Kansas State and, ultimately, to yesterday’s defeat to a slightly-better Oregon team.
Now, with Irvine done, we’re pretty much done, too.
It was a blissful little ride.