A couple of nights ago, I found myself walking past the Huntsman Center up on the hill. Just as I do every time I pass the “House that Jack (Gardner) Built”, I smile. I think of my first game there. Or the time when well after a game was over and I was on my way out, I walked around a corner and crossed paths with Jerry Chambers and Billy McGill and was able to shake their hands. If only I had had a camera phone at that time. I even think about this past March, watching as Jason Washburn celebrated with fans following his final home game, an upset over nationally ranked Oregon.
It hit me that in just over three weeks, another season of basketball would start. New memories to be made, new highs and lows to go through.
Just down the hill, the Jazz started their preseason schedule last night with a win over the Warriors. Even though it was preseason, it was fun to see the team play again. It is the dawning of a new era for the Jazz and this season will be exciting, even if the win total is lower than we are accustomed to.
I don’t know what it is, but there has always been something about basketball for me. My parent’s neighbors will tell you that there were many times that I would go outside and shovel only enough of the driveway that I could shoot jumpers and drive to the basket. I loved Saturdays. I knew that my Mom would be doing laundry and I could run to the vent every 15 minutes and warm my hands up. No matter what else is happening in life, just shooting a basketball has always made it better. I have always been a big sports fan, but nothing comes close to basketball for me. I love my Boston Red Sox and the Utah football team, but at the end of the day, they really aren’t much more than time killers before basketball starts.
I love that in basketball, greatness can happen at any moment. It doesn’t happen every game, but when it does, you remember it. I join most Jazz fans in knowing exactly where I was and how I reacted to “John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA finals!” I’ll never forget watching Antawn Jamison accept the award for Player of the Year in 1998, only to have Alex Jensen harass him into a 7-19 shooting performance as the Utes moved on to the championship game.
Here in Utah, we are lucky to be the home of some great basketball.
A couple of years ago, my Father-in-Law took me to the Dee Events Center to see Weber State play Eastern Washington. It was my first chance to see Damian Lillard in person. I was amazed at how easily he controlled the game and how great he was. I don’t know if the Wildcats will ever see another Damian Lillard, but I do know that Randy Rahe will continue to keep the Wildcats in contention as long as he is the head coach.
Up in Logan, Stew Morrill has been running the show for the better part of 15 years now. Looking at the players that are brought in, it’s always easy to say “Ok, this is the year when Utah State finally comes back down” and yet they never do. Stew has the ability to see something in a kid and to get the most out of him. His teams are always in contention for an NCAA tournament appearance. What’s more is that Stew has made Logan his home and has turned down bigger offers because he is the rare coach who realizes how good he has it.
This column is not long enough to say enough about Dave Rose. The head coach of the Cougars has led the team to unprecedented heights and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon. This summer, it was announced that the vicious c-word that Coach Rose so courageously fought off several years ago has returned. I join with everyone in praying that Coach Rose will be able to continue to lead BYU for many years to come.
For my own team, the Runnin’ Utes, we are still trying to overcome the effects of two head coaches in a row who were just not the right guys for the job. Coach Larry Krystkowiak has the team headed in the right direction and for the first time in a long time, Ute fans are optimistic about the future of the program. It remains to be seen what Coach Krystkowiak can do, but for now, there is a buzz around the program that has been missing for years.
Last but certainly not least is the Jazz. Through all the pettiness that comes from the college rivalries, we can all come together on the Jazz. Sure, we have never won a title. But I am so proud to be a fan of this team. For the vast majority of my time following the team, the Jazz have been genuinely fun to watch. When Energy Solutions Arena really gets rocking, I don’t know if there is a comparable atmosphere in all of sports. As fans, we may not agree on personnel or on management or the coaching staff, but we have a love for this team that is hard to describe in words. The Jazz are just a part of who we are. Who can forget the “Honk for Jazz!” signs, the Robert Lund songs, or Stockton to Malone?
No matter who your team, you should be excited about the coming season. Sure, there will be highs and lows, moments of excitement and frustration, but basketball fans, we are almost there!