It's called smiling through the pain.
Sitting in his Charlotte, N.C., hotel room at the ACC tournament, talking long distance, Jim Valvano was put on hold. "My lawyer says he's got Syd Thrift [the former general manager of the Pirates and Yankees] on the other line," Valvano said, cupping the phone between sips of Chablis. "What now? You think I'm being traded?"
"How can we laugh through all this?" said his wife, Pam.
"How can we not," said Valvano.
Sometimes—as in this college basketball season—laughter does not come that easily. I wish Valvano had been more scrupulous in recruiting athletes who knew right from wrong, and had done a better job of teaching them the difference. And I wish that he would take a greater degree of responsibility for the basketball chaos on his campus. I wish there was no drugs-and-payola scandal at Florida, no probation at Kentucky, no probation at Maryland, no investigations at Illinois and Missouri and UNLV, no street agents saying they represent Syracuse, no allegations of point shaving at Valvano's North Carolina State.
Beyond grief now, I wish to god Hank Gathers had not died; that he could be remembered instead for the way he lived—an elegant warrior of a player, a warm, caring, vibrant kid. About Gathers, a paraphrase of an Elton John song comes to mind: His candle burned out long before his legend ever will.
Ultimately I wished something would happen to remind us of the pleasures inherent in this terrific sport. And relief came just in time: the announcement of the NCAA tournament pairings.
Certain things about the season came flashing back. The surprise of Connecticut and Michigan State and Kansas. The academic accomplishments of Georgia's 3.91 microbiology (whatever that may be) student and All-SEC center, Alec Kessler. The feigned gunslinger theatrics of Oklahoma's Skeeter ("Shooting the guns—it just comes from my heart") Henry. The swan song of Virginia's Terry Holland, a beacon of integrity in coaching for 16 years.
Clarence (Bighouse) Gaines, the coach at Winston-Salem State, won his 800th game, more than any man alive and second only to Adolph Rupp in history. Miriam Walker Samuels, a 5'6" junior at Claflin (S.C.) College, scored her 3,700th point, more than LSU's Pete Maravich and second only to Kentucky State's Travis Grant. And for wondrous turnabouts, how about Louisville's Felton Spencer (from a career 6.5 scorer to a possible lottery pick), St. John's Boo Harvey (three last-second game-winners after missing last season for academic reasons) and UNLV's Travis Bice, a skinny walk-on who recovered from a 1988 auto accident that left him with 100 stitches to become the best three-point shooter in the Big West Conference?