Could basketball be emerging as the sentimental favorite, after all?
To be perfectly honest, basketball is not my favorite sport.
I would be able to identify and analyze an infield fly much easier than I could a matchup zone. Not even close. My basketball career ended in junior high school. I was terrible. And although I am the proud owner of Larry Bird's autograph, it's scribbled on a baseball. I play fantasy baseball, not fantasy basketball.
That said, I haven't slept very well since New London High School's Rosalee Nicholson hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer to beat defending Class LL champion Stamford in the quarterfinals of the girls' basketball state tournament 11 days ago. Really, I haven't. And, to be clear, I don't really know Nicholson that well.
So what is it about the emotion of basketball that has so undeniably resonated with me? This season? Every season?
To begin my explanation, there was the women's basketball coach at Boston University, Christine Basile, whose team I covered while I was a student there.
When people ask me for my most distinct memories of college, I list her. I didn't play for her, no. But I learned from her. As the team's beat writer, she dragged me along on road trips to Maine and Vermont, Brooklyn and New Hampshire, all in the old Seaboard Conference. She introduced me to then-Miami coach Ferne Labati, whom I would later cover in her matchups with UConn.
Coach Basile, the only person I still call coach, demanded accountability and excellence. She was the first person to treat me like a reporter and is one of the people I think of, still, every time I cover a women's basketball game.
More of my memorable moments have come from covering the UConn women's basketball team and Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma. My late mom, a huge fan, naming her Dodge Caravan the Kara Van, after UConn's Kara Wolters … the night Diana Taurasi ended her career with the 2004 national championship in New Orleans, punting the ball into the upper deck … the night in St. Louis that Stonington High graduates Jacquie Fernandes and Heather Buck were teammates on the Huskies' 2009 national championship team.
There, too, were the days spent covering late Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt, whom, after you introduced yourself, would always address you by name in her Southern drawl, unfailingly accommodating.
There was the night in Fresno, Calif., when, for the first time, tears streamed down my face throughout a press conference, as the late Kay Yow, then the women's basketball coach at North Carolina State University, sat at the podium following a loss to UConn in the Sweet 16, listening to her players talk about her courage in the face of Stage IV breast cancer. Yow, who had to be helped to her feet during the game to argue a call or to speak to her team, professed not to retire. UConn's Auriemma wore a pink tie in her honor.
There were plenty of silly sportswriter moments, most involving food and beverages. Note: Never order a special at a fancy restaurant without first asking how much it is.
Among the high school teams, which I have covered for all of my 27 years at The Day, there has been Norwich Free Academy coach Bill Scarlata and his seven state championships, winning the 1997 title days after the funeral for his father, Charles, reminding us that with great sorrow also comes great joy.
There is Stonington coach Paulla Solar, who was brought to tears this season by her players and assistant coaches with a surprise pregame ceremony honoring her late dad, Ed Kolnaski. There is New London's Holly Misto, who fires her emotions to “boil” at the start of every game and brings her team along with her.
New London's team, Misto and Nicholson among them, won the Class LL championship Saturday night before 8,186 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena, the grandest stage.
My friend and colleague, Day columnist Mike DiMauro, captured one of the finest examples of emotion I've ever read in his Sunday column. The mother of New London senior India Pagan, Carmen, wore red so India could find her in the crowd. “Sometimes, I just needed to look at her,” India Pagan said.
And so the UConn women play Syracuse on Monday at Gampel Pavilion in the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Huskies bidding to win their unprecedented fifth straight national championship.
It is with great privilege that I'll be there to see the rest of the season through. With each day, I'll think of the people I know who love the game, the people who care for basketball and cultivate it.
I suppose it's OK that there's a few more weeks of winter, after all.
This is the opinion of Day sportswriter Vickie Fulkerson.
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