It's down to four teams. Which one is the the most Yonderful of them all?
In you’re in Florida or North Carolina, you’re bruised. If you live out West, you’re oblivious – have been since UCLA’s reign in the ‘70s. But if you have spent much time in Connecticut, Virginia, Indiana or Kentucky, your heart is hanging and sparking like an electrified anchor.
This weekend brings the final four of men’s NCAA basketball. Virginia Commonwealth (Richmond, VA) plays Butler (Indianapolis, IN) in the early game Saturday, and then Kentucky (Lexington, KY) meets UCONN (Storrs, CT). The winners will vie for the national championship Monday night in Houston.
Which is the most Yonderific team? None of the coaches is a ruralite, and few of the starting players are. Actually, none of the regulars for VCU or UCONN comes from a rural community. You’d think Kentucky would have a wagon load of country boys, but of their core players there’s just one from a small town: Darius Miller. The Junior guard comes from beautiful Maysville, up on the Ohio River.
“I grew up in Kentucky,” Miller said. “I know what it means to the state, how big it is for the state. I’m just glad to be a part of something like this and experience it . . . We don’t really have a pro team so it really is a big deal.”
A big deal? Our father, born in Paris, KY, and a resident of Louisville, told writer Dwight Allen several years ago that in Kentucky a sex pervert’s defined as ” a person who prefers sex to basketball.”
Across the river, Hoosiers are just as ardent about the sport though they say it with architecture. Nine of the ten biggest high school gyms in the country are in Indiana.
Butler’s star center Matt Howard, who was recruited by bigger colleges across the country, said he chose Butler partly for its “small school, big gym” feel. Howard knows all about that, coming from Connersville, Indiana. The New York Times’ Pete Thamel wrote a good profile of Howard and what he – and basketball — mean to the town. Connersville High School “has 1,000 students and a gym that holds 5,000.”
Butler’s Zach Hahn and Chase Stigall hail from New Castle, Indiana (pop. 18,000); its Fieldhouse (note the rural terminology) is THE biggest high school gym in the country. The 81,000-square-foot building holds 9,325 spectators – or more.
Quoted in a piece on the town and its basketball legacy, Steve Alford, a former hero of the New Castle Chrysler High School Trojans, told Sal Ruibal of USA TODAY, “I played in at least 12 games in The Fieldhouse where the crowd was bigger than 10,000. That’s more fans in one game than most high school players see in their entire careers.” Alford went on to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana, then for the Dallas Mavericks, and now coaches the University of New Mexico Lobos.
New Castle’s fanaticism has a gravitational pull: it sucked the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame right out of Indianapolis and moved it 37 miles east. Since 1990 the Hall of Fame has been planted just down the way from the New Castle Fieldhouse.
The Final Four and championship games will be played at Reliant Stadium in Houston, which holds 71,500. As of Wedneday afternoon, one $17,870 ticket in the 400 level suite and several hundred (thousand?) less expensive seats were still for sale.
We’d love to be there but will traveling a safe distance from perversion, watching the games on a small screen in Louisville.