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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    For the love of the game

    Commentary by Bryan Roy

    Jim Livengood probably slept a total of four hours in a seven-day span.

    The UA athletic director survived pulling off the hire of a lifetime by begging then-Xavier’s Sean Miller to begin Arizona basketball’s crucial rebuilding phase this town starved to witness.

    Did I just say begging? Survived? Lifetime? Starving?

    April’s overblown soap opera forced the Wildcat faithful to use those phrases, along with other select four-letter words uttered at Tim Floyd during that disastrous meltdown.

    Disastrous? Meltdown?

    Those fans used a borderline-stalker Web site to track the chartered flight that Floyd took into Tucson. When he landed, a photographer snatched a TMZ-esque paparazzi shot of the USC basketball coach in a black SUV as if Jack Bauer awaited Floyd’s arrival.

    For every minute Floyd took to decide whether this ordeal was worth the risk, a new e-mail popped up in Livengood’s inbox calling for his crucifixion. Fans suddenly recalled every wrong move Livengood has made in his 15-year tenure during these tough times.

    Risk? Crucifixion? Tough Times?

    The fundamentals of basketball are being lost in the drama.

    Which brings us back to the basics, the way basketball was meant to be played.

    As someone who grew up five minutes from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., I’d like to think basketball runs through my DNA.

    In my second season coaching youth basketball here in Tucson, I knew the sport taught pre-teens more than just dribbling and driving. It’s about teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship and all that stuff.

    But it’s even more than that.

    At our team’s regular weekly practice, the fun-loving group of 10- and 11-year-olds finished a Friday-evening playing knockout. It’s by far their favorite game, and by the smiles and excitement, you’d never think our season record was 3-9 and statically one of the worst teams in the ASUA youth basketball league for underprivileged kids.

    Of course we wanted to win, but certainly the end result wouldn’t be based on a record; rather, improvement over a five-week span and the fun factor. These kids had fun.

    “”One more game, please!”” a couple of kids would say, even though the sun was tucked behind the mountains and only a dim floodlight illuminated the outdoor court at the ROTC courts on campus.

    The league is free for any student of any skill level. All coaches are volunteers, so not surprisingly, the league certainly has its fare share of wannabe Jim Calhouns. We played against a couple jackass coaches who only cared about how good they looked with a clipboard roaming the sidelines.

    That’s not how we ran things. Every person played regardless of skill level. The kid who didn’t know when to run back on defense substituted for our Nic Wise equivalent, who once asked me for white powder before our game.

    “”Like LeBron James,”” he said throwing his hands up in the air with a smile.

    The third game of knockout got down to the final two players and the sun had completely set. Suddenly, after getting knocked out of the game, our team’s funniest, most vocal leader took off in frustration.

    Sprinting in no particular direction, his teammates begin yelling at him to come back. His guardian started to panic. I started to panic.

    What was happening? Other parents didn’t know what to do. Nor did I.

    I began sprinting in his direction. Adrenaline completely took over, deeming those four years of high school track completely irrelevant in this situation.

    Our team’s other coach, Cory, hung back on the court with the stunned team.

    His guardian said he’s pulled antics like this before. It was 6:30 p.m., the tail end of rush hour on a weekday and I had no direction.

    We briefly stopped and talked to a University of Arizona Police Department officer. He radioed in backup for a search.

    Minutes passed. Emotions were completely out of whack – anxious, nervous, worried and confused.

    After 20 minutes of questioning every possible person around the general vicinity, a skateboarder said he saw a kid matching the description.

    In an alley next to the Bio Sciences West building, there he was, looking dejected, as if Livengood had offered the UA coaching vacancy to Utah’s Jim Boylen.

    He wouldn’t talk. I got the silent treatment, as if Boylen turned down the job.

    Eventually, after reassuring him that we’re a close team that can help each other out with problems, he confessed some problems at home. His older brother picked on him while they were home alone after school.

    His mother and father worked two jobs just to make ends meet. They needed to pay the bills.

    We slowly walked back to the court and reunited with everybody involved in the search process. They wondered why our team’s leader did something like that. So did I. I asked his guardian to step aside for a moment, just to explain the situation and what he shared with me during our heart-to-heart talk.

    The guardian told me he has it rough at home. It’s not a good environment. She said the one-hour weekly basketball practices are the only time the fun-loving character that we see can actually be a kid.

    The family is enduring tough times financially. Both parents work overtime to survive.

    Sometimes he goes to sleep starving.

    Survive? Tough times? Starving?

    The thought made me cry, just like you fans would have if Reggie Theus came to town. Somehow we’re talking about the same sport – two scenarios that couldn’t be more skewed out of perspective.

    You thought Livengood could’ve founded his own personal FMyLife.com.

    I think I’ll start AppreciateMyLife.com.

    Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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