Tuesday, February 23, 1999

Meacham paid dues as Bearcat

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Alex Meacham
        He is a kid who makes it all worthwhile. The striving, the dreaming, the stretched-thin hope that sports has an impact beyond the material and the trivial. Alex Meacham makes you believe in the goodness of our games. I'd write about people like him every day, if I thought anyone would read it.

        For Senior Day at the Shoemaker Center, Meacham laced up a pair of red and black, size-11 Air Jordans he borrowed from a friend. Kevin Cole collects Jordan sneakers. He had Meacham's size. Meacham wore this style in the first game he played, in 1984, when he was 8 years old.

        He wanted something special to mark his last game as a UC Bearcat. “I was looking to show my appreciation for all the years of playing basketball, the fans who cheer me on, my parents,” he said. “Everyone.”

        They should have been appreciating him. Meacham walked on the last two years at UC. He played for free. He endured what everyone else endured. The three-hour practices, the offseason conditioning, the daily drill from Bob Huggins.

Roger Bacon grad spirited
        It's one thing to play for Huggins because you have a scholarship and you want to play professionally. It's another to do it simply because it's what's in your heart.

        Alex Meacham scored seven points last winter. That wasn't his average. That was his total. This year, it's 13 points, in nine games. All that work for 13 points.

        People would tell Meacham he was nuts. They did not understand. “I had a hole in my life,” he said.

        Meacham never played a full season in high school. As a senior at Roger Bacon, academics sunk him. He went to all the games, as a fan. Roger Bacon gave him its Spirit Award. Meacham even made a halfcourt shot at halftime of one game, worth $1,000.

        But his senior year “left a bad taste in my mouth,” Meacham said. “I said, "I'm going to let basketball go.' I tried to ignore the game.”

        No luck. His friends would come home at Christmas with stories of playing college ball. “All I did was listen,” Meacham said. He studied UC's situation, when the Bearcats had two football players getting lots of minutes early in the year. He walked into the basketball office.

Hard work its own reward
        That began a little triumph that keeps you believing in the games and the people who play them. For nothing more than the smallest chance to play, Alex Meacham has busted it for two seasons under the most demanding of coaches. Always on time. Always working hard. Always ready.

        You get fed up in this job sometimes. Jocks abuse drugs and women. They commit crimes. They do lots of it with an easy arrogance that suggests they're entitled. It's enough to make you look for other work. But then an Alex Meacham comes along, once in a long while. It is enough.

        Who got the better deal, I asked Meacham: You? Or the team?

        “I think I got a real good deal,” he said. “There's more to it than playing in the games. Hopefully, I've given the other players a better appreciation for the game. I hope I've given them as much as they've given me.”

        He'll have a communications degree by the end of the summer session, and a leg up on lots of other graduates who have not yet learned the rewards of sweating for so little tangible gain. Striving for its own sake is not a bad way to go.

        Huggins wrapped him in a manly embrace before the game. Meacham survived Huggins by reading A Season on the Brink, John Feinstein's book on Bob Knight.

        “I read it front to back. I understand every tactic Huggins uses,” Meacham said. “You can't listen to how he says things. You listen to what he says. I've learned so much from him.”

        Huggins hugged him. You'll never see the coach more openly grateful or emotional than he is at Senior Day. It's a sweet moment. The best. “Thank you for giving me a chance,” Meacham said to Huggins.

        “No,” the coach said. “Thank you.”

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.