Preparing for Rio

I defend my dissertation in just a few weeks, so I am dipping my toe back into basketball blogging just in time for the Rio Olympics this summer!  I become a fan of so many sports during the Olympics- track and field, gymnastics, swimming, rowing (though I do follow the Warwick Rowers on Instagram because they are outspoken about LGBT inclusion in sport), volleyball (beach and indoor), wrestling (I managed my high school team and have a soft spot for the grapplers), and diving.  There is so much that divides us, but sports can be that thing that brings us together (like getting UNC fans to root on Coach K).

Team USA has released the Women’s roster and it is hard not to be excited to watch these athletes play!  There is so much talent collected on this team.  It is hard to see how Geno Auriemma could have put together a better squad.  #squadgoals

Of course, the best part about sports is that we all have ideas and can dialogue back and forth about the details.  Is the team UConn heavy? Yes, but those are the best players in the game right now.  Geno is good at his job and has built a powerhouse.  He is not killing the game and by the look of his work with in Team USA basketball he is cultivating coaches to rival him during the season.  There are blog posts to be had around UConn, women’s sports, and the game of basketball, but if you don’t bemoan the 44 point rout of the Sooners by the Villanova Wildcats in this final four in the same way that you want to blast the Huskies then we need to explore why.  Is it because their dominance is hurting the game?  Based on history, that just doesn’t hold up. John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins won 10 titles in 12 seasons from 1964-1975, seven consecutively (1967-1973), and the game seems to be doing just fine.  But back to the task at hand…

Tamika Catchings is a perpetual face on the roster.  She graduated Tennessee in 2001 (the same year I finished undergrad) and is playing some great ball!  36 looks good y’all!

I am thrilled to see how Geno will make use of the talents of Maya Moore, Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, and Breanna Stewart.  I loved watching these women play separately and together there may be some sort of superpower they can link together and unveil on the court- I imagine it is kind of like the Thundercats call!

To cull the team to 12 players, there will always be great talent left at home.  That said, there are two players I am missing.  I don’t know who’s place they could take and trust that the right decisions were made for Team USA basketball, but Candace Parker and Shoni Shimmel would be great additions to the field.  Parker will be part of the training camp and I’m not sure why Shimmel’s not here, but they deserve a mention.

The Olympics are coming up fast and I’m ready for all the basketball action!

Christmas comes early for some schools

It seems that upsets were in the air in college basketball tonight.

Stanford upset #9 Texas in OT.  After loosing to BYU last week, Stanford was looking for redemption and it happened to be wearing orange.  With a jump shot from the free throw line in the final seconds, Chasson Randle contributed 22 points and teammate Anthony Brown added 25 more.  Texas outshot Stanford 52% to 38% in second half, but Stanford stayed in the game with offensive rebounds and 9 second chance points to the Longhorns 0.  This is the first top ten win for Stanford since 2008.

In a shocking (to me at least, I’ve not had my eye on UNLV), the Running Rebels dethrone #3 Arizona from the realm of the unbeatens.  I would describe UNLV as inconsistent at best.  They have talent, but have had some eye catching losses.  It seemed to come together for them tonight as Arizona generally fell apart.  The Wildcats struggled all around with some of their starters in foul trouble.

Another OT surprise was #11 Wichita States 1 point win against Hawaii.  I watched the beginning of this game and had I known there would be 22 lead changes, 5 in OT alone, I’d have made more of an effort to stay awake.  I thought the Shockers had this one in the bag.  The final OT play, which looked really similar to their only loss to Utah last year, let them slip by Hawaii to meet George Washington in the final.

In Women’s news, congratulations to South Carolina for topping the AP poll for the fifth straight week.  The Gamecocks are ahead of traditional powerhouses UConn (2), Texas (3), and surprisingly Stanford (16).  This is the first time the Cardinal has been out of the top ten since 2009 and the lowest they have ranked since 2006 after two surprising losses to Tennessee and Chattanooga (go SoCon!).  Welcome Oregon State Lady Beavers (10); they have cracked the top ten for the first time in school history.  Always nice to see some new faces at the top!

completely busted

Today, with losses by both Michigan State and Arizona, my bracket is completely busted.  I had those two in the final with the Spartans taking it all.  I don’t love any of the final four teams.  Kentucky wears that garish shade of blue, plays dirty ball, and relies to hard on the one and done players- blah, no thank you.  Billy Donovan and his Gators lost it for me with his piss poor coaching against UConn in their loss to the Huskies.  UConn has been a perennial “no thank you” but with their new coach, the time they have spent in “no post-season” purgatory, and the on-court leadership from Shabazz Napier this season they may be the best of a lack luster choice. (I also saw Napier’s mom saying “good job” to the MSU players as they walked into the locker room today- good sportsmanship is learned early and that was nice to see).  I own two dachshunds and it is just hard to root for the Badgers.

On a better note, the Lady Heels won against that other “Carolina” and will be meeting Stanford in the elite eight.  If they get another win, Coach Haskell will be meeting the ladies in Nashville.  Go Carolina!

As Arizona is out, we no longer get to see Rondae Hollis-Jefferson do this:

Watching basketball on a Friday afternoon

One of the perks of being a graduate student is that I can go to a 2pm home game on campus.  Watching the UNCG women beat South Carolina State is a nice way to spend a fall afternoon, especially when my friend Lee Burgess joins me for the second half of the game!

The Lady Spartans jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead and led for the entire game against the Bulldogs of SC State, winning 72-63.  The Spartans were giving (and receiving) hard body checks for a game filled with physical play.  The on-court leaders, including Janea Stevenson and Lucy Mason, drove the plays and kept the energy high.  They were helped by 20 points from the bench (compared to SCSU’s 2).  When looking at the numbers:  SCSU had a disheartening 9% three point game, shot only 39% from the field, and contributed on 54.5% from the line.  It is hard to win games with those numbers, Bulldogs!  The Spartans, while better, have some room for improvement.  The offered 40% from behind the arc, 43% from the field, and 64% from the line.  That free throw number, at the collegiate level, needs to be up- higher than 7/10.

Then, I was subjected to the heart stopper that was the UNCHoly Cross game at 8pm.  I have been a Tar Heel fan long enough to know that watching them play basketball is sometimes an exercise in patience. It is often easier to watch games at home where you can pace, when needed.  They like to dawdle in the first half and come back in the second, but there were moments during this game that my doubts about them winning were high.  These Heels are a team without a leader and they have no focus on the court. Oh, if only Kendall Marshall had stayed- nonetheless, Marcus Paige is a great guard (but I want him at the point instead of Nate Britt- let’s be honest, I want it to be 2009 and have Ty Lawson back!), he tied his career high 23 last night.  This team needs a leader.  If PJ Hairston was on the floor he may be the one to assume that role (the NCAA has yet to weigh in on his return) and many are hoping that James Michael McAdoo will strengthen his leadership.  McAdoo is a great ball player, but I am not sure that they weight of leadership rests easily on his shoulders.  This is a good team (much better if Hairston and McDonald were on the court), but they need to get it together, find focus, and play ball like a team.

Roy Williams does not get a pass on that game last night, either.  I know that he wants players to play through frustrations and calls few time outs.  But last night at about the 16 minute mark of the second half, the Heels had not scored and players were showing their frustrations, fraying on the edges.  It would have been the perfect time for a “let’s get our heads on straight” time out.  That is what they are there for, coach!

I want to give Holy Cross their due.  The played a hard game last night.  The stats for both teams showed close numbers in the field goal, three point and free throw percentages.  I am a believer in close games to galvanize a strong team to find their potential, but a bit of me wants the Heels to flounder on December 7th….shhhh, don’t tell my mom!

Brittney might not be able to give an answer

Brittney Griner, the 2013 WNBA #1 draft pick is an amazing athlete.  Her accomplishments are too many to list here, but they include being the first NCAA player to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots.  She also has recored of amazing plays like this:

Baylor vs K State

It was no surprise when she was went #1 in this year’s draft- going from being a Baylor Bear to being part of the Phoenix Mercury club.  As part of her press junket, she acknowledged she is a lesbian.  The world did not stop at the news that the  #1 WNBA draft pick came out, in fact it the article was not even prominently featured on the NBCnews website- it was on the front page, but not highlighted. This is news, as an athlete who is able to openly name their identity, she said, “Don’t hide who you really are.”  She tells how she has been out, but this is the first time she has talked about it publicly. Kudos to Brittney.  She is already a role model and superheroine to young basketball players and now her story may resonate with other youth that are playing sports while gay.

The article does ponder the difference between women’s and men’s sports where Brittney can come out to little fanfare, but there has been speculation of an NFL player coming out.  That story would undoubtedly spend days, weeks, and months in the headlines.  It would be a huge deal, where Brittney is able to casually mention she is gay in an interview.  In this way, there is much to digest about the nature of sport in the maintenance of gender/sexuality binaries, what it means to be an athlete in the patriarchal culture that values agressive, individual achievement, the use of homophobic slurs to “motivate” players to work harder and be better- and it goes on.

In her coming out, Brittney comments that she is unable to “give an answer on why [men and women’s sports are] so different.”  That is fair.  Just because one claims an identity, it does not make you expert on all aspects of what that identity means to others or an expert in anyone’s experience except for your own.

While I a make no claims on anyone else’s experience, with a Master’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies and a love for college basketball, I feel able to ask us to think about the ways that sports is implicated in our hegemonic understanding of masculinity and femininity.  We, as a society, draw harsh and unforgiving lines around what is “male” and what is “female.”  In this constructed grouping, it is often easier for a woman to navigate masculine territory then for a man to navigate feminine ones.  This is not absolute, but it tends to maintain the gender hierarchy that is present in all aspects of our lives and foregrounds the masculine experience.  As an athlete, Brittney had access to the label “tomboy” (whether or not she was called that I do not know), but it is a socially acceptable way to talk about girls and women who want to be associated with “boy” things- often including sports.  For example, I don’t like ribbons and frills, I play ball like a tomboy.  But there is no congruent term for men who embrace feminine traits.  (Not saying embracing feminine traits is a 1:1 equivalent to knowing someone’s sexuality because gender and sexuality are different- if intertwined- concepts.) Even if they were the best ball player in the land, “momma’s boy” or “sissy” is not something embraced or praised as a way of being.  Being female and a badass athlete is easier for our collective social mind to imagine than a gay, male athlete playing professional football because we often reduce the questions we ask to, “what goes on in the locker room?”

Brittney might not have an answer to the question of LGBTQ, gender, and coming out in professional sports- But I want to be part of that conversation!

**Update- A great friend of mine reminded me that Brittney Griner played for Baylor University– (I knew that)- a private Christian university supported by the Baptist church.  This is another place to continue this conversation.  In an uncritical way, we often think that there is one religious voice around issues of sex, gender, and sexuality and there is not.  I would be interested in talking to Brittney about being out and at Baylor- what was her experience? Where can we find other religious voices to balance the sound bites that privilege hate over love?