Friday, April 9, 2021

Andy Young: Basketball and why the UConn women continue to dominate

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

As a youth I was an avid National Basketball Association fan. Thanks to devouring The Sporting News every week, I knew there were actually NBA teams besides the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers, and whoever Wilt Chamberlain was playing for at the time. Oscar Robertson, Rick Barry, Zelmo Beaty and their teams (the Cincinnati Royals, San Francisco Warriors, and St. Louis Hawks, respectively) may be distant memories now, but to a hoops-obsessed 10-year-old they were gods, albeit unusually tall ones.

But humanity has evolved over the millennia, and so too have individual persons, even those males whose adolescence endures for approximately three decades. I’ve moved past men’s basketball, having finally realized just how silly being preoccupied with a bunch of large men playing a kid’s game is. Besides, these days there’s something far more important for discerning hoop fans to follow.

My awareness of women’s basketball began on a Saturday afternoon during my freshman year of college, when a friend asked if I’d come to a game at the school’s field house with him. His girlfriend (and future wife) was on the team, and he said they could use some fans. That was clearly true, since it appeared there were more people on the court than there were in the stands. And that couldn’t be blamed on ticket prices, since admission was free.

Anyway, the Massachusetts Minutewomen beat our school’s squad that day, 84-70, but I felt good about having lent moral support to the home side, particularly since I was probably the only one in attendance who wasn’t directly related to one of the players.

Sixteen years later I was back on campus visiting when, by utter coincidence, I ran into a friend from my hometown who happened to be a student manager for the school’s women’s basketball team. There was a game that night, and she said she’d leave me a ticket. A sweet gesture, I thought, though hardly necessary, given the intimate gathering of friends and relatives I expected to encounter there.

Thank goodness I was on the pass list; there wasn’t an empty seat in the brand-new arena! The only downer for the enthusiastic sellout throng: the Miami Hurricanes beat the home team, 75-59.

University of Connecticut alumni like me are justifiably proud of our school’s women’s basketball team, which has compiled the sort of record that would make the Celtics of the 1960’s, the Montreal Canadiens of the late 1950s, or the New York Yankees of any era green with envy.

All that success can be attributed to a variety of factors, like standout players (including 13 multiple-year All-America selections) and a remarkable coaching staff, but there are also a few seldom-acknowledged components.

Like, for example, me.

Shortly after seeing that Miami game, I had a sobering epiphany. I realized my mere presence was jinxing my alma mater. After all, how many people have gone to more than one UConn women’s basketball game in person and never seen them win? That’s why I made the heartbreaking decision to stay away in perpetuity from personally attending any of the team’s games. Has that selfless decision had any effect? You be the judge; since the start of the 1993-94 season the 11-time national champions have won 957 games while losing just 66, for an outrageous winning percentage of .935.

But don’t think for even a second my devotion to the women’s game has lessened my encyclopedic knowledge of the NBA. The Celtics and Paul Pierce still rule, of course, but I think the Cleveland Cavaliers may have themselves a rising star in this James LeBron guy. <

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