New York On Tuesday night, the working press room at Madison Square Garden is a slice of New York. The space is too small for the number of people on hand to cover four of the nation’s top 13 teams in the Jimmy V Classic. So the workers spill into the dining room, where the lack of electrical outlets creates races to get stories done before the computer batteries expire.
The locals are easy to spot. Loud. Stressed. Friendly. Sharp facial features that hint at their varying roots. Friendly. Above all, interesting. Nobody more so than Bob Valvano. Brother of Jim Valvano, late great coach and character of the game of basketball, after whom the foundation that has raised more than $100 million for cancer research is named. (Visit jimmyv.org or dickvitaleonline.com to learn how to join the fight.)
Bob is peeling a tangerine, watching on TV the first half the Michigan State-Syracuse game being played downstairs. I repeat a few words of my favorite part of his dying brother’s famous “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” speech, which played at halftime of Kansas University’s 81-68 victory against Memphis. The speech never gets old.
“My favorite part of the speech,” Bob agreed, then recited. “That screen is flashing up there ‘thirty seconds,’ like I care about that screen right now, huh? I got tumors all over my body. I’m worried about some guy in the back going ‘thirty seconds?’ ... Hey, va fa napoli, buddy.”
That translates to: “Go to hell!” Beautiful. Dick Vitale and Bob Valvano didn’t need the English translation. They were laughing so hard they were crying, which gave them a respite from just crying.
As Bob Valvano watched Syracuse’s victory, he weighed in on Kansas.
“Hey, they’re good,” he said. “It helps when your best player likes to pass so much. He really likes to pass, doesn’t he?”
Yes, Marcus Morris likes to pass, especially to his brother, Markieff.
“That’s OK,” Valvano said. “Nothing wrong with that.”
No, there isn’t. Markieff led the team in scoring with 16 points.
It was nice to hear Valvano, a former college coach and current analyst/talk-show host and resident of Louisville, offer his insights. For most of us who watch every possession of the Kansas basketball season, which is to say, most of us who live in Lawrence, the tendency is to focus on where the team needs to improve.
Think of what Kansas does so well. As Valvano alluded, Marcus Morris’ unselfish play is contagious. These Jayhawks appear to enjoy, and not just a little bit, setting each other up for buckets. They move the ball so well they get to take a lot of open shots. They hit them (.569 overall, .415 from long distance) with amazing accuracy, routinely beat the opposition up and down the court and hit the boards hard.
Even without Josh Selby, this team’s a spectator’s dream. Given the choice, coaches prefer to play great defense. This is not that team because the great feel for playing the game that the Morris twins exhibit on the offensive end, that great radar, isn’t matched at the other end. Give them time. They’ve been passing and shooting all their lives. They just started playing defense two years ago.