Examples of poor sportsmanship exhibited by basketball players are as accessible as the clicker. As long as the remote's isn't misplaced underneath the couch cushions, the examples are minutes, even seconds away.
The referee blows his whistle to call a foul, and the offender rolls his eyes, stomps his feet, shakes his head, laughs and generally treats the zebra as a human spittoon.
What these whiners are saying without coming right out and saying it is that they are so great they couldn't possibly be guilty of trying to gain an unfair advantage by breaking the rules. Their behavior insults not only the referee, but the opponent. It embarrasses the player's coach, his family, his friends. If it doesn't embarrass them, it should.
These whiners, who play the game with such extraordinary skill television cameras record their every move, are the role models dribbling youths across America follow. It's hardly surprising that grade school and high school games are packed with players who goof and then immediately look for an excuse, blaming a referee for making or not making a call. They look to their coaches expecting them to agree, and when they don't, they look to their fathers in the stands.
It has become so routine it doesn't even stand out as worthy of a mention anymore, which brings us to the deportment of the players in Thursday's Free State-Lawrence High game played inside the packed Jungle.
The players who participated in Free State's 71-64 boys victory over LHS watch the aforementioned foot-stomping excuse-makers nearly every day on television. They watch them, and they make conscious decisions not to follow their poor examples. Pretty impressive for teenagers.
"We talk about it all the time," LHS coach Chris Davis said. "In practice, we don't let them react to things. We make a big deal about it. I'm not real pleased with the outcome of the game, but I am very proud of the way our kids respond to things. I think sportsmanship is pretty important, and I'm glad we do a good job with it."
With the rivalry so hot, the intimate building so packed and the players competing with so much intensity, things could have gotten ugly, but they didn't because the players on both benches didn't let it happen.
"We talked about it in pregame, maintaining our focus inside the rectangle, not letting anything in the crowd or anything else distract what was going on on the court," Free State coach Chuck Law said. "We are certainly not going to tolerate bad body language, talking back to the refs or anything like that. We don't tolerate it in practice, and we sure as heck aren't going to tolerate it in games. It's just excuse-making. It takes away from what it is that we're trying to accomplish as a team. If you start to worry about things you can't control, what's going on with the crowd, what's going on with the officials, then you're done."
Law singled out senior guard Kris Wilson as the player who has improved the most in on-court demeanor.
"Kris Wilson has grown up probably as much as any kid I've ever been around," Law said.
Based on the way they all competed and avoided excuses, it's a safe assumption every player will grow throughout the season, and when the teams meet again in February, it will be an even more entertaining shoot-out than Thursday's.