Last Word: Memories of Madness

A member of the 2005 Bison basketball team takes an ironic look at the NCAA experience.

By John Clark '07

Nine short years ago, I played a prominent role in Bucknell’s public flogging of the Kansas Jayhawks, a group of Midwestern birds unfamiliar with the rules of basketball. And by “prominent role,” I mean I played three minutes, committed two clumsy fouls and launched a 25-foot “shot” that fell 10 feet short of the rim. Fortunately, allowing my brief participation was our coaches’ lone tactical mistake.

Strange as it seemed at the time, our win seems even stranger to me today. Like other top seeds, Kansas stayed at a posh Marriot in downtown Oklahoma City, two blocks from the arena. We slept at a Holiday Inn somewhere near El Paso. They had seven-footers on their bench. We had seven-pounders. Their power forward was an NBA prospect from Mars. Ours was a singer-songwriter from Maine.

Of course, we weren’t just a sad collection of quiet engineers. We had athletic guards, deadeye shooters, aspiring rappers and one dominant center who, as fate would have it, was also a quiet engineer. And lest posterity exaggerate our contributions in the classroom, let’s make one thing clear: We were student-athletes in the fall, but athlete-students in the spring.

The game itself was as ugly as our Technicolor jerseys. Coach Pat Flannery ’80, our fiery spirit guide, thoroughly outwitted his famous counterpart, Bill Self, who must have prepared for the game by watching tape of Colgate’s debate team. By the time John Griffin ’08 delivered a no-look pass to Donald Brown ’07 for a very immodest dunk, the partisan crowd had quietly braced for a loss to the upstarts in Oompa-Loompa orange.

The celebration — a handful of loyal Bison fans screaming in the midst of vast silence — still rings in my ears. Years later, I sat in group meditation, pursuing “mindfulness,” where focus funnels to the present, and concerns of others, self and world float away, like a comically errant three-pointer. As I adjusted my aching knees, I realized I first found mindfulness while sprinting across the court to join the largest all-male group hug in Oklahoma history.

The next year, freed from my interference, the same group of guys won another game in the NCAA tournament, climbed into the Top 25, continued to write songs, attend a fair number of classes and deftly avoid the grasp of Public Safety. Four years later, Kansas won a national championship, aided in part by the absence of certain prairie-dwelling beasts from its side of the bracket.

It feels a bit odd to celebrate all of this now. Reluctant to embrace what seemed like a narrow identity, I spent much of college trying to define myself as something other than a jock. But a decade later, I know it’s a label I was lucky to have. And I’ll always be indebted to the teammates and coaches responsible for my poached triumph. Those guys worked harder at basketball than I’ll ever work at anything else.

John Clark ’07 lives in Chicago, where he practices law and plays professional office-trashcan basketball. To read more of his ramblings, check out his blog, The Private Letters of John W. Clark, at theprivateletters.wordpress.com.

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