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Archive for Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Tittrington: Hoop fans bring buzz in big way

December 20, 2005

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During my six-plus years as a sports journalist, I often have been asked by readers and colleagues which sport is my favorite to cover.

I love the smash-mouth intensity and passion of football, whether it's high school or inside a mammoth NFL stadium.

I love the strategy and gamesmanship of baseball, the one sport I perhaps appreciate more than all others because I played it at a high level.

There are even times I enjoy the mayhem of a big wrestling invitational or state meet, when it seems like 2,000 things are happening at once, and it's my job to sift through it all and find the right story.

However, when it's done right, the sport that starts my heart pumping and my fingers pecking away at the keyboard like no other is basketball.

The combination of warm, cozy environs on a cold winter night, being able to observe from floor level while surrounded by rabid fans and watching talented athletes who have the ability to throw down a dunk on one possession, then turn around and drill a 20-foot jumper on the next is a package too strong to ignore.

Unfortunately, when it comes to high school sports, hoops done right is too often an afterthought. I've worked in many parts of the country where, as the popular cliche goes, the favorite sport is football, the second favorite is spring football and nothing else really matters.

The results are half-empty gymnasiums, the lack of an enthusiastic student body and no buzz.

So color me impressed by what took place Friday night in Shawnee.

I was lucky enough to witness one of the two best high school basketball games I've ever had to write about as Shawnee Mission Northwest needed two overtimes to knock off Lawrence High in the Sunflower League boys basketball opener for both teams.

The action on the floor was terrific - flurries of three-pointers, clutch shooting from the floor and the free-throw line by both teams and a final three seconds of regulation worthy of a full column in their own right.

What took it to another level was the environment.

With the exception of a few empty rows behind the north basket, the stands were packed. A large throng of Shawnee Mission Northwest students was decked out in "Cougar Crazies" T-shirts, doing its best to match the fun-loving intensity of Duke University's famed "Cameron Crazies" with an assortment of cheers and jeers while jumping up and down on the west bleachers.

The fans even rushed the floor when they thought Northwest had won at the end of regulation. When's the last time you saw that happen at any high school basketball game, let alone in December?

LHS fans who made the 30-mile trek also played a dynamic role in bringing in the noise, while a lively pep band brought in the funk.

The final result was a big-time atmosphere for a big-time game.

"You picked a good one to get to," were the understated words offered by LHS coach Chris Davis as his first remark during our postgame interview.

True enough. And by the fate of the basketball gods, it should turn into a double jolt of electricity for LHS.

Next up on the Lions' docket - Thursday night's crosstown tussle with Free State.

Here's to another perfect marriage of hoops and hype.

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