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Basketball and Daytona

It was a sports weekend with a definite North Carolina flair. The two great passions of that state, college basketball and NASCAR, combined to dominate the air waves, cables and satellites. From Herb to Tyler to Jimmie to JJ, representatives of Old North State sport could be found all over the spectrum. There was a little something for everyone. An unconfirmed rumor even had some Olympics taking place.

The sports weekend got underway a short jaunt up Interstates 77 and 81 from the basketball and racing Mecca . NC State added another to what has become several season’s worth of close losses for the Virginia Tech basketball team. This Tech squad, which has battled through several season’s worth of adversity, continues to come up just short against the ACC’s first division. The Wolfpack joined the Blue Devils, Tar Heels, Hoos and everybody else not named Clem, Wake or the other Tech in easing past the Hokies. At this stage of the season, the close losses tend to run together.

Set Greenberg preaches the necessity of playing with a great degree of intensity like a tent revivalist advises adherence to the straight and narrow. Salvation is to be found through obedience and the opposite through deviation. Tech is experiencing precious little of the former.

Tech did not have its collective heads into the game upon tip-off against the Pack. That was certainly understandable on the part of Coleman Collins. Basketball can seem like a trifling affair when one’s father’s funeral is the next day and is. Coleman has done a remarkable job of dealing with the extraordinary circumstances under which he has been placed. He seems to be mentally exhausted and while he soldiers on in an admirable fashion, perhaps the reservoir of emotion left to be tapped has become dangerously shallow.

The grind of a season played underneath great tragedy has taken its toll. Jamon Gordon continues to give it his all, but Zabian Dowdell looks a lot like a guy who has played entirely too many minutes this season and is wearing out. Given Tech’s tenuous personnel situation, he had no choice. That Tech attempts to put up the good fight is admirable. There are teams in this conference who have faced far less hardship than Tech and thrown in the towel on the season. Having Chris Paul leave early for the NBA sure seems like a hoot when compared to two season-ending injuries, a career-ending cancer and three deaths of persons very close to Tech players, including a parent. Wake Forest has flat quit on this season, but Tech has not. Even if the Hokies don’t win another game, certainly a possibility, their courage and refusal to surrender to very bad things makes them one of my all-time favorite Tech teams of any sport.

Teams that spot State ten points to start the game, then lose enough collective concentration late in the first half and extending the loss of focus into the second until they are behind by twenty-two are going to lose. Tech did. The Hokies mounted a terrific comeback, cutting the lead to two before the Pack knocked down enough free throws to hold on. Herb Sendek also showed that he is an assiduous watcher of game tape. Fallback Dave of the Hoos demonstrated earlier in the season that Tech has much difficulty in late-game situations recognizing and dealing with changing defenses. Herb tried the same and got the same results.

Like Fallback Dave had done, Herb out-guessed Seth at the end. One does wonder whether that bit of tactical brilliance will be noticed by those Woldpackers who seem to stay in a constant mode of calling for Herb’s thinning scalp. The guy can coach.

Herb inherited a State team that was about as lousy as ACC programs get and has spent a decade gradually making the Wolfpack better. Geography works against him. State is located in the same Triangle that contains elite programs Carolina and Duke. Herb has not gotten the Pack to the levels of excellence Coach K has maintained for a couple of decades and Ol’ Roy quickly brought back to Blue Heaven.

Perhaps he won’t ultimately hit that Top Ten level; nobody else has done it consistently over the years, even Jim Valvano, who won a national championship with Norm Sloan’s players, then spent the rest of his career mainly operating in the middle of the ACC with his own. Sendek has built a program at least as good as JimmyV’s, one that, unlike Valvano’s, considers the NCAA rule book as something more than a suggestion. Herb Sendek is an excellent coach; hopefully, one of these days he will be recognized as such.

Following the State-Tech game, basketball and sports focus shifted out of the state of North Carolina for a couple of hours as the Hoos traveled to Florida State . Fallback Dave’s credentials for ACC Coach of the Year are considerably brighter when Sean Singletary is on the floor. The Hoos ain’t much of a team when he rides the bench in foul trouble, as the Noles demonstrated. Fallback Dave has gotten about as much out of his Gillenized talent level as could have reasonably been expected. When he gets to work selling that shiny new arena to schoolboy hoops hotshots the Hoos are going to be trouble, but this year look a lot like a team that will advance only as far into the NIT as Singletary can carry them.

Sunday afternoon things got considerably more up close and personal for North Carolina ’s sports fans. The state’s blueblood basketball programs were both in action, sandwiched around the Daytona 500. The timing could have been handled a bit better. Tony Stewart had already knocked out some contenders by the time Carolina put the finishing touches on Wake, while Duke had already blown out Miami by the time Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag in Florida . On the whole, though, we were treated to dominance by NC’s twin capitals, the basketball one located in the RTP and racing’s Charlotte.

Wake Forest put up about as good a fight as could be expected from a pre-season ranked team in utter collapse as their coach chases another job. In other words, they lost by double digits. Rashawn Terry was the story for the Heels, although the fawning Tar Heel media will no doubt spend another week engaging in Tyler-worship. Hansbrough is indeed the real deal.

It has been a while since Carolina has had a great white hope of its own, but Tyler will fills the bill quite nicely. If he comes back next year for what would surely be his last in the light blue [there probably aren’t enough luxury SUVs in the Triangle to keep him around much longer, although one gets the feeling that perhaps they might not hold the appeal for this Star Heel as they did for some of his most recent predecessors], the state’s media, finally having a Tar Heel who looks like them after two intolerable decades of having the really good white guys mostly playing for hated Duke, watch out for the hype.

One little aspect of Tyler ’s great game that the Tar Heel-adoring Tar Heel media doesn’t seem to be noticing is the very physical nature of Tyler ’s play. The guy is too good for some of the stuff he is pulling. He really needs to be taking his game cues from Tar Heels such as Mitch Kupchak and even Eric Montross rather than State’s Dan Wells.

Several hours after Carolina had sent Skip Prosser racing for a telephone to inform the folks in Cincy that the collapse of the Deacons is merely an aberration and this sure won’t happen when he is coaching them, the celebration of JJ Redick got underway in earnest.

Needing thirty points to establish himself as Duke’s all-time leading scorer, at least until it is determined that Coach K’s gunner-designate Jon Scheyer is as good as that twenty-one points in seventy-five seconds he recently rang up, that was exactly how many JJ got. Go figure.

The Roanoke Rifle got them with Duke assistant, mentor and former record-holder Johnny Dawkins watching. Twenty years was a fair amount of time for Dawkins to hold the record, certainly longer than the six Mike Gminski had held it before him. Dawkins got his without benefit of the three-point shot that has been Redick’s calling-card. Had the bonus point been around when Dawkins played, the post-game Cameron celebration of all things JJ would likely have been a bit muted. Television viewers would certainly have been spared all of those shots of Ma Redick, who is to feminine attractiveness what Duke is to quality football. Geez, would it have hurt to at least run a comb through that hair?

In between the basketball bonanza, there was the Daytona 500. All of those Hokies in the employ of Hendrick Motorsports, including those who read these communications, should be a chipper bunch down in Charlotte . The happiest of them all would be Darrian Grubb, the Franklin County good old boy, Tech alumnus and Rick Hendrick’s top engineer. He was tabbed to sit atop the #48 pit stall after usual crew chief Chad Knaus drew the wrath of NASCAR’s nabobs for experiencing difficulty locating the moving line between what the France gang allows and doesn’t in any given week. The Hendrick organization certainly has depth at crew chief.

Jimmie Johnson won the 500 largely due to his success at staying several bump drafts away from Tony Stewart. It was not difficult to locate those who were racing in close proximity to #20- they were the ones sailing across the infield and smashing into the wall. One does wonder how the dueling building supply sponsors reacted, as one watched its rolling billboard taking the checkered flag while the other observed through gritted teeth as their message was associated with dirty driving. NASCAR may attempt to gussy itself up for upscale consumption, but you don’t have to scratch too far to discover the old moonshine-hauling origins.

NBC’s ratings for the Daytona 500 were likely its best of the weekend. Numbers for the Winter Olympics are turning into a major dud. People are not watching by the tens of millions. There would seem to be good reasons. About the only time I have glimpsed even a few seconds of these Games was Saturday morning when the television went on. The previous Friday afternoon it had been left on CNBC. While Friday afternoon there had been discussions of that day’s market activity, Saturday morning found the business channel showing women’s ice hockey. Women’s ice hockey. Needless to say, participants would not be mistaken for Victoria ’s Secret models. Yikes! No wonder nobody is watching, in North Carolina or anywhere else.

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