March Madness- Death By Cinderella

ImagePerennial powerhouse college basketball programs like those of Kansas, Duke, and Syracuse may comprise the backbone of March Madness, but it’s the Cinderella stories that give the tournament its soul.  This year’s big dance looks to be chock-full of soul with a bevy of upsets in the early rounds headlined by Harvard and Wichita State. However, for every inspirational Cinderella story there is a more sobering tale written in the subtext, and sometimes it’s worth considering those who get trampled and trounced on Cinderella’s unlikely road to triumph. Sometimes it’s worth considering someone like Tray Woodall.

After Pittsburgh’s shocking 55-73 defeat at the hands of Wichita State, Tray Woodall, a fifth-year guard for the Panthers, walked unsteadily off the court. His eyes were red, his head was hung, and his field goal percentage in the last college basketball game of his career was forever stuck at a nightmarish 8 percent.

Woodall averaged 11.5 points per game during the season.

He scored 2 in the loss to Wichita State.

After the game, the young guard broke down into tears in the post-game press conference.

“It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth,” responded Woodall when asked to explain his feelings about his last performance as a Pittsburgh Panther. “To end my career with one of the worst games I’ve played in the history of playing here….I’m sorry I let my team down…..It was one of the worst games I’ve ever played.”

                It’s always heart wrenching to see someone pour so much of themselves into a pursuit, only to stumble and fall when the goal is finally in sight. And seeing a young man like Woodall, who is clearly in such a fragile state, needlessly coerced into tears by inane interview questions almost tempts my inner Mike Gundy into letting loose a fiery, good-old-fashioned “I’m 40” rant.  But, of course the reporter didn’t actually do anything wrong. And, after all, the tears aren’t even what make Woodall’s meltdown so poignant. It’s everything that came before.

                Woodall grew up in Brooklyn in a home with no father, an addict mother, and a sister with a daughter of her own to support. At the age of 12, he started selling drugs in order to make a living. His sister, Shataya, did likewise. If other avenues were available to them, Tray Woodall couldn’t fathom what they were or how he could find them. It wasn’t until he relocated to Paterson, New Jersey and moved in with a newly-made friend that he realized the other trajectories his life could follow. And so, with the help of his surrogate family, Woodall threw himself into his schoolwork and, even more so, he threw himself into basketball. Basketball which brought him to the University of Pittsburgh. Basketball which brought him a college degree and a hope for a brighter future.

                So while this year’s Cinderella bandwagons (Wichita State, Florida Gulf Coast) start to rapidly pick up steam and new passengers, just keep an eye out for the teams, dreams, and narratives being left in their wakes. Because if Tray Woodall isn’t a true Cinderella story, I don’t know what is.




Coach K: Court-Storm Hunter

Storming the court is as quintessentially “college basketball” as is March Madness. In many ways, it’s emblematic of the high-energy atmosphere of the NCAA and the purity, and joy, of the game which many college enthusiasts believe the NBA sorely lacks. Now, if after reading this last sentence you find yourself sagely nodding your head in agreement, I have one recommendation for you. Riotously invade any and every hardwood surface you can find. And do it quickly, because the good-old-fashioned court-storm may soon be going out of style.

If you didn’t already hear, Virginia upset #3 ranked Duke on Thursday. It was a pretty big deal. A court storming kind of big deal….at least that’s definitely what the Virginia student section thought. The highly-respected, gold-medal-decorated head-coach of Duke, Mike Krzyzewski was of a slightly different mind.

“Whatever you’re doing, you need to get the team off first,” said Coach K after the game. “Look, celebrate, have fun, obviously you won, that’s cool. Just get our team off the court, and our coaching staff, before the students come on.”

Coach K went on to describe the inherent hazards of the court-storm. And he made a lot of sense. Obviously in any court-storm situation the stormers are having a grand-old-time. But, on the other hand, the team desperately trying to flee the oncoming tidal wave of drunk, face-painted frat-boys probably isn’t reveling in all the court-storming fun. And then there’s always the worst-case scenario: things turn ugly fast and someone gets hurt.

With the number of people reacting in support of Krsysewki, a rule-change may be lurking just around the bend.  And, it’s not like a court-storming prohibition would be unprecedented. The SEC currently has a rule that states: “For the safety of participants and spectators alike, at no time before, during or after a contest, shall spectators be permitted to enter the competition area.”

This SEC policy comes with a $5,000 fine that can be assessed to a school on a first offense with up to $50,000 being fined for further offenses. If similar punitive measures are applied to the rest of the NCAA, fans can kiss their court-storming days goodbye as surely as colleges prefer not to hemorrhage green. And, if there’s one thing you can say with all certainty about this issue, colleges do love their money.