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Pat Bigold

The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, April 4, 2000

College basketball
a rough game

I used to be in awe of hockey players in the "original six" National Hockey League for their amazing ability to shake off hits that would send the average Joe to the emergency room.

Back then they didn't wear masks or helmets. That would've turned off their fans and made them look like sissies.

I saw Montreal Canadiens goalie Gump Worsley up close a few times during my days in Boston and the man's face was a road map. I don't know how many times the Gumper took the edge of a stick blade across the mouth or had been hit in the noggin with a speeding vulcanized rubber disk, but he laughed in the face of it all.

Everybody took his best shot at Boston's golden boy, Bobby Orr, if they could catch him, yet Orr played until he was a candidate for a wheelchair.

Nowadays, you can't recognize faces on the ice for the protective headgear, and the hits are more plentiful than ever. But many of them are cowardly. The insulation players feel in the modern NHL gear inspires false bravado.

A winger who bounces back to his feet after getting wiped out in the corner doesn't need the grit of a Gordie Howe anymore.

So, I am increasingly drawn to the courage of athletes in a game that has yet to turn to headgear and pads: basketball.

ANYBODY who saw Mateen Cleaves fall like a rag doll to the floor last night after colliding with an extremely aggressive Teddy Dupay at the baseline knows what I'm talking about.

None of us can imagine how much that ankle sprain hurt, especially with the national championship on the line, millions watching, and bettors angrily flinging their slips into the air around the nation.

Cleaves was helped off the floor to the training room where he was examined and diagnosed as a having a pulse. That's all it took to get him back into the game after a four-minute absence.

His reappearance in the runway was high drama, and so was his teary-eyed appearance on crutches with the championship trophy in his hands.

Basketball players have no way to soften the impact of elbows, knees and fists that come their way more often than ever these days.

I saw players drag themselves off the court on hands and knees during the past season, only to return moments later.

IF I had a dollar for every elbow Hawaii's Predrag Savovic took to the head or stealth punch he took to the kidneys, I might be able to dine at John Dominis tonight. "Savo" absorbed the beatings, shook them off and declared, "I love it when they play like that."

Sports Illustrated's Final Four feature in its April 3 issue spoke of "the gridiron influences" of the college game. Writer Alexander Wolff pointed out that Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo had his team practice in football gear. That certainly encouraged less inhibited play under the glass.

SI also noted that North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers, the Tar Heel football team's sack leader, was a key contributor off the bench for the basketball team that reached the Final Four.

You'd better be willing to mix it up in today's game.

I recall being in Canada back in the late 1960s and hearing the American game ridiculed for being "too soft." Canada had its battle-hardened Worsleys and Gordie Howes. What did we have?

Well, I know what we have now. Guys who play college roundball with the same ferocity as the bare-headed, "original six" NHLers.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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