Houston Diary

April 3

Greetings from Houston, not as bad as I thought it would be …

Snapshots from this weekend:

Eating at Don Shula’s inside the Hyatt Friday night, and reading the steak menu on a special football autographed by Shula, commemorating the unbeaten Dolphins. Geez, that page will never be turned. I thought they would bring me some champagne to celebrate.

Seeing a guy dressed as Col. Sanders on Saturday at the Hilton. He even sounded like him. I asked him to say, “no lie, free cherry pie.” He also had free fried chicken. The Colonel is a friend of mine. I didn’t ask him which Final Four team he was rooting for …

Making the eight-block walk to my work hotel and losing ten pounds. And it’s only April. Summers in Houston must be a delight.

Rolling up to the Astrodome/Reliant Field complex for the Final Four Saturday. The Astrodome is big, but it resembles a B cup to Reliant’s triple-D. If you wanted to get lost in Reliant, you could — easily.

Slithering into a courtside seat, although I don’t think I was supposed to be there. Head on a swivel for two games. What a view of the elevated court.

The tremendous spirit of the VCU fans, and that song, “you don’t wanna go to war with the Rams.” It’s still in my head.

The Butler bulldog mascot on court during the introductions. He wouldn’t stop barking. Guess the sound of 75-thousand people was a bit unnverving. Good thing he didn’t take a dump.

The clang-fest that was the first game. Bad shooters’ background in a huge stadium ? Elevated court ? Good defense ? Tight rims ? Nervousness ? I’ll discount the shooters’ background because both VCU and Butler shot in the 30’s from three point range, fairly respectable. There were also many missed layups.

Butler surging ahead in the second half behind Shelvin Mack and Ollie from “Hoosiers.” Zack Hahn is the closest I’ve seen to Ollie, but his eight big points midway through the second half were very un-Ollie-like.

The clang-fest that was the second game, at least for Kentucky in the first half, when they made just 9 of 32 shots. Then the second half comeback before the fade at the end. Brandon Knight didn’t take the shot to tie in the final minute … he was 6 for 23 and was out of gas, having played 40 minutes. Deandre Liggins’ heave hit the front rim, and Kentucky fell short.

( It’s OK, the title would’ve been vacated anyway. )

Watching John Calipari at court level. The word animated does not begin to describe him, and I’m sure it bothers opponents.

Big-time players coming up in big games: Shelvin Mack for Butler, Jamie Skeen for VCU, and Kemba Walker of UConn. But for the Huskies, Shabazz Napier came up with the biggest plays in the final minutes — his only 4 points of the game and a big rebound.

On Sunday, following a red-hot Phil Mickelson at the Houston Open, then escaping an angry crowd waiting for shuttle buses. I walked by them, behind two tournament officials, while riled up Texans yelled at me and a couple of others to “git back in lahn.”

Screw the buses, I’m taking a taxi back into town. If I can outrun the bullets. There would have been an Aubrey Huff chalk outline of me.

Rolling up just in time to see the Rockets keep their slim playoff hopes alive with a comeback win over the Hawks. The Rockets’ PA announcer, John Paul Stevenson, is hilarious. Over-the-top excitement when a Rocket scores, sounding like a funeral director when the Hawks score.

Back to the Hyatt for a nightcap. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar walks in. Everyone’s head turns in the hotel lobby. I dont think I’d like that kind of reaction everywhere I went.

Monday night, the NCAA owns the spotlight.

Conventional wisdom says UConn should own the trophy, in what may be Jim Calhoun’s swan song, for his third national title — putting him in elite company. The name Nate Miles shall not be uttered. However, the Huskies’ Kemba Walker is worn out and Butler coach Brad Stephens is a whiz at breaking down film — Butler will win on the strength of three-pointers, Shelvin Mack, and a good interior defense.


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