Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Three Beautiful Things 01/08/19: Walking to Yoke's, Sweet Popcorn Memories, BBall Roundup and Gonzaga Dreams

1. I got in a pretty good walk today. After I did some more reading about diet and recipes for people with Stage IV kidney disease, I strapped on my backpack and walked to Yoke's and bought some kidney friendly groceries like mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, popcorn, and other things.  I think I'm set for several days of dinners and leftovers.

2. Once home and once organized, I prepared to watch the St. John's v Villanova men's basketball game I've been keenly anticipating. For the first time since leaving Greenbelt, I popped popcorn. I felt some sweet nostalgia, suddenly feeling again how much I enjoyed it when Olivia and David occasionally came to our apartment home in Greenbelt for a sleepover and I got to play the part of Grandpa Popcorn. I stared out the kitchen window for a few minutes, missing my grandchildren -- Jack, Olivia, David, and Ana. Recent pictures of them growing up, getting older, being vibrant children flashed before me. Then my mind turned to those evenings with the Deke in our apartment home when we had popcorn for dinner. I chuckled, melted some butter, poured the popcorn out of the Dutch oven into a bowl, and shuffled into the tv room to watch college basketball.

3. The St. John's v Villanova game was dizzying. St. John's raced to double digit lead early in the game and Villanova clawed its way back, defending more tightly as the game progressed and relying on their two most experienced players, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, for clutch scoring. In the closing minutes, Villanova outscored St. John's 14-4 and beat the Johnnies 76-71. I thought the difference in this game was poise, poise borne of experience in tough games. St. John's is maturing, but in this game, especially in the last five minutes, Villanova seemed much more assured, more certain about what they were doing on both offense and defense and I thought St. John's got a bit rattled and succumbed to Villanova's ever more suffocating defense.

Villanova, even with a bunch of new players this year, is a long-established successful program, having won two of the last three national titles. St. John's is a program in the midst of resurrection and, to me, it showed tonight that Villanova was more experienced at knowing how to win and that St. John's is not quite there yet. I've said it a hundred times and now I'll make it a hundred and one: it is fun and invigorating to see the teams of Big East conference playing such exciting and hard fought basketball and nothing in college basketball excites me more right now than the re-emergence of St. John's. Next up for the Johnnies? DePaul will be visiting Carnesecca Arena in Queens. Here's hoping Lou Carnesecca and John McEnroe will both be on hand for the action.

I caught my breath after the St. John's game and flipped to ESPN's coverage of the North Carolina v North Carolina State tilt in Raleigh. I turned on this game with much milder interest in its outcome than the St. John's game, but by about sixteen minutes into the game, I turned from mild to rabidly engaged because the North Carolina State Wolfpack, who had fallen as many as fourteen points behind in the first half, found their groove and in helter skelter fashion charged back to eventually tie the game, but could never seize a lead. I loved NC State's style -- they hounded the Tar Heels, often with full court pressure, forcing lots of turnovers. They were aggressive on offense -- sometimes unlucky -- they had some very good shots rim out -- and they played hard. They could have surrendered this game early on, but did just the opposite.

So, now I want to keep a closer eye on NC State. Much like St. John's, it's another team that might be on the rise, trying to establish itself as a high quality program after some lean years.

Let me add that North Carolina is, as always, a really good team. They played as fast, and at times, faster than NC State and have players up and down their lineup who can score from multiple spots on the court. Watching today's game, it became even clearer to me why and how this team defeated Gonzaga so handily a month ago. The Tar Heels can be careless. They are prone to turnovers. But, they are a great scoring team, pound the offensive boards relentlessly, and can pile up points quickly with their quickness and sharp shooting.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is always tough, and, this year, I look forward to seeing some donnybrooks as Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Miami, and others play each other as they move deep into the conference schedule.

I have to say it.

I wish Gonzaga were in a conference like the Big East or the ACC where they would be facing this kind of stiff competition game in and game out. Not only does it get old to watch the Zags blow out inferior teams like Santa Clara and others in the WCC, but these mismatches do little to toughen up Gonzaga.

All through the St. John's v Villanova game especially, I kept trying to imagine the Zag players matching up against the likes of Shamorie Ponds and Marv Clark or Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. I'd like to think they'd match up well, but I wish I could really see them play superb players like these night after night in the months of January, February, and early March rather than just having Gonzaga dreams.

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