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2010-11 Article: Chapter II

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  • 2010-11 Article: Chapter II

    Chapter 2: Interlude

    The Northern Iowa Panthers were outsized, outmanned, and a beat behind a stronger team. The Wichita State Shockers were going to win the game, and everyone in the building knew it. They just weren't willing to admit it yet.

    Then, a numinous type of excitement arose from the 7,000 in attendance at the McLeod Center. The electric drum beat started, and the unmistakable first notes of an obscure techno track by a band better known for its impressive metal resume began to play throughout the arena. The tribalistic motions of 1,500 UNI Students were felt by everyone there, including the hundred or so Wichita State fans who had made the trip from Kansas.

    Yes, it was The Interlude Dance: UNI's brand-new contribution to the college basketball world.

    It came on a year that would otherwise be lost to the death throes of time. To think that UNI's identity might be defined in a year where it could easily finish with more than 13 losses on the season is a delicious thought. The arenas were still full in a year where UNI would finish 10-8 in the Valley. Not a bad year to be sure, but certainly no longer the expectation.

    There is a type of feeling in our sport that I like to call "Basketball Zen." Those who have been following the game for a while know this feeling. It's hard to describe, but it's unmistakable when it happens. It's a realization that the entire basketball world makes sense in its own chaotically beautiful way.

    I've had a handful in my ten or so years as a disciple. The most meaningful came for me the weekend after UNI stunned the number one Kansas Jayhawks. The entire country was enamored with this group of hard-working Midwestern college students from the University of Northern Iowa. We were supposed to be heroes. Heck, maybe we already were.

    UNI lost in a hard-fought game to Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans in St. Louis in front of more Panther fans than I thought existed. Izzo gracefully shook hands with Ben Jacobson and a clearly-disappointed group of young men. It was at this point that the reverent feeling of Basketball Zen took hold of me. I saw Ben Jacobson's future in Tom Izzo's eyes.

    Ben Jacobson will be in that same position ten to fifteen years from now. He will be the harbinger of defeat to a young coach and his disciplined and talented basketball squad, most likely from a school most of the country hadn't heard of. He will offer condolensces of a well-played game and tell them what Izzo likely told Coach Jake as they shook hands: you're going to be back here again someday.

    What separates Gonzaga, Butler, Utah State, Nevada, and George Mason from the dozens of schools like Bucknell, Loyola Marymount, Kent State, and Hampton? What makes a school continue its success in the NCAA Tournament long after that initial joy?

    Some schools are content with watching the glowing embers of fond memory. Others want to keep the fire raging. To them, that's all their basketball program is: an ever-turning machine of events. One season leads to the next, and so on.

    My friend Jerad had a moment of Basketball Zen after that Wichita State game, one that UNI lost 73-55. Despite being frustrated at the result of the game, he was nonetheless refreshingly positive.

    "I can't even be mad," he said with a half-smile on his face as we headed to Main Street after the game. "It is what it is, you know?"

    If I were to call myself The Light, Jerad would be The Fire. With anything, one can't exist without the other. In his moment of zen, he saw the future for what it was: ripe with possibility. Allow me to explain our relationship a little bit. I'm the one who can rattle off the National Champion in Division I college basketball from memory all the way back to 1977 (Marquette, and NO I didn't look that up). He is the one who played the game throughout his high-school career. He has been in the fire, in other words. I'm the big picture guy, he's the one focused on the moment. It might sound kind of corny, but we've relied on each other a lot in our ten years of watching UNI Basketball together as a result.

    Our roles were reversed that night, however. He had become the light, and I was now the fire. I expressed concern about not winning another game that season. He said it was possible, but he also suggested that we could be pretty darned good the following year. I agreed. Just like that, the entirety of awesomeness that is college basketball became clear again. On one hand, we would struggle to a 10-8 Valley finish. On the other hand, basketball is still a really fun sport to play and watch. Besides, Jerad is right... we WILL be pretty good next season.

    So that's what it all comes to down, in a way. I believe UNI Basketball will be great again very soon, and this season is a stepping stone to that greatness. Great music isn't all swells and big payoffs, there always has to be an interlude. This season is that interlude, and therefore it is a part of that greatness.

    I firmly believe that UNI Basketball will be on the national consciousness for years to come, whether Skip Bayless likes it or not. I know this true because I've seen the fire and the light in almost every Panther fan I've ever met, and I've heard it in the roars every time Ali Farokhmanesh, Johnny Moran, or Jake Koch (little brother of Adam Koch) makes a three. And you better BELIEVE that I see it every time 1,500 maniacs start dancing to a techno song at the first called time out of the second half.

    "Once it starts, it never ends."
    -Eldon Miller

  • #2
    Re: 2010-11 Article: Chapter II

    Nice work. It's been a while since you earned that "writer" tag under your name, but you did today.


    • #3
      Re: 2010-11 Article: Chapter II

      Thank you, I genuinely appreciate that. There's one more coming, but I can't finish it until the Championship on Monday. I posted these today just 'cause it wouldn't make any sense to do it AFTER the basketball season, right?

      "Once it starts, it never ends."
      -Eldon Miller


      • #4
        Re: 2010-11 Article: Chapter II

        Really nice piece of writing. Thank you.