Friday, March 17, 2000

Bonnies prove loss can yield some rewards

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CLEVELAND — Tim Winn sensed Kentucky's contempt. While his St.Bonaventure teammates tried to stretch Thursday morning, the Wildcats walked among them, trespassing on their territory, sharpening their jump shots, oblivious to their opponents.

        “Usually I say something in those situations,” Winn said. “But I was like, "Wow, they think they're going to step all over us. Just don't say nothing. Let them keep that demeanor.'”

        So Winn stayed quiet. Through two frenetic halves and two wrenching overtime periods, he held his tongue and kept his composure, determined to answer Kentucky's arrogance with golden silence. But now the words tumbled out in a torrent, and Winn's eyes were getting watery. Kentucky had prevailed, 85-80, and Winn's goal was to avoid crying on camera. He didn't know how much longer he could keep his tears at bay, only that his college basketball career was over and that he was bound to break down eventually.

        For every victor in the NCAA Tournament, someone else is vanquished. Often, it is excruciating. Too often, it is overlooked.

        “I understand the nature of winning and losing and what our society is about,” Samford coach Jimmy Tillette said upon his team's elimination by Syracuse. “(But) sometimes, I think the loser's story can be quite an interesting one. We have a remarkably good group of young men, and I think it would be good if somebody could investigate what they're about and scrutinize them in a more extended way. If you're looking for a precedent to that, Homer did well with Odysseus, but Virgil did just as well with Aeneas and The Aeneid.

Getting there counts, too
        If the NCAA Tournament is all about survival — as winning coaches invariably insist — then we've missed the point of the great classical poets. Only one team will be cutting down the nets April 3. Those who fail to reach their desired destination ought to find value in their journey.

        Had Kentucky lost Thursday, Tayshaun Prince could have consoled himself with the clutch 3-point shot that tied the game at the end of regulation. St.Bonaventure's David Messiah-Capers may never experience another moment so fulfilling as the final second of Thursday's first overtime period.

        Fouled on a 3-point attempt with four-tenths of a second remaining, the St.Bonaventure senior stood at the free throw line needing to sink all three of his shots to prolong his team's season.

        Statistically, Capers was a poor candidate for this challenge. He made only 56 percent of his free throws this season and had not attempted a foul shot in six of his previous seven games. Stylistically, he conveyed no confidence. He paced the floor between shots, feeling the nation's scrutiny, personifying pressure. Then he moved to the line and drew deep breaths, the picture of dread.

        “My teammates came up to me and said, "If you miss it, we'll still love you,'” Capers said later. “I was thinking about all my friends back at home, and I was just praying that the shot would go in. I didn't want to be on ESPN as the guy who missed the shot.”

        When he made the first one, Kentucky called a timeout. When he made the second one, Kentucky called another timeout. Before Capers could attempt the third one, he was told he would have to wait for the network to come back from a commercial. He was living a dream in super-slow motion.

Pride to be gained
        When the last shot went through, Capers raised his arms in triumph. He thought about tearing off his shirt, but there was another period to play. St.Bonaventure would not prevail, but it had proved its worth.

        “That comes with the territory,” Winn said. “Little St. Bonaventure coming to the big tournament — you can't be serious. But by the end of the game, it was like you knew in the back of (Kentucky's) minds they had to say, "OK, we're not going to shoot jump shots down there no more.'”

        Winn smiled as he said this. He had lost, and yet gained.

        “When you're in a war,” he said, “no matter what the results are, you're proud of the troops.”

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