The Coach Is a Straight-Up Guy

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Glad I brought my bird's eyes. Uh, binoculars. (Monte Dutton)

Glad I brought my bird’s eyes. Uh, binoculars. (Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, December 8, 2014, 9:33 a.m.

Last night I drove home listening to classic rock songs and actually paying attention to the lyrics.

Thunder only happens when it’s raining / Players only love you when they’re playing.

Oh, really?

For the first time in quite a while – i.e., decades – I wrote about a major-college basketball game last night. Clemson defeated Arkansas, 68-65, in overtime. I can’t say I did it because I yearned for this opportunity. I can say that I did it because a Little Rock newspaper paid more than the standard stringer’s fee here in the Palmetto State during the current “Journalism in the Time of Cholera” age.

Yeah. I’ll do it. Why not?

Covering college basketball has changed. The previous time I’d written about a game at Clemson, Cliff Ellis was the coach. That was 1990. I covered a tournament at the Charlotte Coliseum, which no longer exists, five or six years later.

Now Clemson games are watched with a commanding view – near the rafters in one of the corners – and a commanding number of steps to go up and down in order to attend the requisite media conferences. In case you missed it, I have a bad knee. Lots of “ooh, oohs” and “ouch, ouches” on those stairs. Thank God for small favors known as handrails. I just have to remember to be careful. It didn’t swell overnight. Whew.

I really like Brad Brownell, Clemson’s head coach. I’d been impressed with him, watching on TV, but sometimes looks are deceiving there. I’ve nothing against Arkansas’ Mike Anderson, but, from a writer’s perspective, Anderson is one of those guys who is going to say what he’s going to say, regardless of the question. His team had just lost a game it had expected to win. He was pleasant. He just weighed every word.

“I’m certainly disappointed in the outcome,” he said. “I’ll take the blame. We didn’t close it off, but let’s give Clemson credit. They had a chance to fold their tents, and they didn’t go away.”

And, later, “It was a game of runs. They had a chance to have their runs.”

Pregame intros. (Monte Dutton)

Pregame intros. (Monte Dutton)

Brownell, though, is a valued commodity for writers. A tough, honest question doesn’t scare him to death. He doesn’t take it as an insinuation of some sort.

At the moment, the Tigers (5-3) are 2-0 against the Southeastern Conference and 1-2 against the Big South, which, despite its title, is not particularly big in the greater scheme of things. When Clemson lost to Winthrop in its second game and Gardner-Webb in its third, it had to create a certain sense of urgency. It’s tough for a coach to open a season slowly, essentially discovering that his team isn’t as good as he hoped it was, and then have to improve on the fly. It’s hard to address the overall health of a team when it’s necessary to deal with upcoming games.

“The hardest thing with basketball,” Brownell said, “is that you play thirty games. All you have to do is look at college basketball every day. People text me, trying to make me feel better. ‘NJIT beat Michigan. North Florida beat Purdue. … (USC) Upstate beat Georgia Tech. It’s happening more and more … because I don’t think the difference is as great.

“The kids play against each other so much more in AAU. These upsets happen. … I also think kids are a little bit numb to losing because of the AAU. They play so many games as an AAU player. You lose a lot in AAU, but you always have another game. You play at nine, and if you win, you play at two, and if you lose, you play at one. Then, if you win, you play at seven, and if you lose, you play at eight. In the park, when I was growing up, if you lost, you sat for three games. You didn’t like losing. In the park, you didn’t get to play but one game. I think kids today are prone not to be as bothered by losing and not be quite as ready all the time. I think that’s part of the reason there are so many upsets (at this level).”

On Sunday night, Brownell’s team pulled the upset. Arkansas (6-2) entered the game ranked eighteenth.

I’d gotten up that morning and written some short fiction. Then I’d made a sketch of what I thought a new character looked like. Then I’d showered and shaved, made sure I had everything I needed, driven ninety minutes to Clemson, watched the game, written about it, hobbled back to my car in the moonlight, and gotten back home a little after eleven.

Sitting in an interview room, interacting with Brad Brownell, ended up being the highlight of the day.


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About Monte

For 20 seasons, I mostly wrote about NASCAR. I'm still paying attention, but I'm spending more of my time these days writing novels and songs. I try to blog regularly on whatever happens to strike my fancy.
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