Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Islands in the Stream of Consciousness

Islands in the Stream is my favorite Hemingway book and Hemingway is one of my favorite authors, sometimes I say he is my favorite author, though I usually say Faulkner or Wolfe and since I live in Chapel Hill, where Wolfe attended college, and my son recently moved to Asheville, Wolfe's hometown and the setting for Look Homeward, Angel, I find him even more relevant to my life.  I wonder, though, why UNC makes such a big deal of Thomas Wolfe being an alumnus, a monument and a library dedicated to him even though his novel makes it clear that his first choice was Vanderbilt, but never seems to mention Walker Percy, also an alum, when The Moviegoer is frequently ranked higher among the great Southern novels than Wolfe's books.  Heck, James Polk was President of the United States and UNC doesn't exactly trumpet that he was a Tar Heel (probably had no jump shot) and I'm really only talking books here, because my favorite Hemingway piece is not a book, but a short story about fly-fishing called Big Two-Hearted River  and although the book is called Islands in the Stream, it refers to the gulf stream-- saltwater, and I'm partial to trout streams, like the one in the short story.  Regardless, I'm reading Faulkner right now.

Absalom, Absalom is an amazing book, though extremely difficult to read because Faulkner uses a stream of consciousness style with no punctuation, few paragraphs, sentences that run on for pages and, to make sure the reader is completely confused, he often introduces new characters as if the reader already knew them and reveals the plot by repeating it many times from the perspective of narrators who each know only a part of the story.  So, this has got me thinking about how I think and how difficult it is to think about how someone else thinks, and especially to read about how someone else thinks, with all the mental ramblings that go on in our own heads, instead of pursuing a straight path to a logical conclusion.  It works pretty well in our own heads but it doesn't really travel well.  I wonder what Urban Meyer was thinking when he resigned as head football coach of Florida yesterday, though I don't really care that much because I'm not a Florida fan, quite the opposite in fact, I'm a fan of Kentucky, who is playing in the Music City Bowl tonight, a game I will no doubt watch after composing my random thoughts here.  An unfortunate side effect of the Internet is the ability to share one's stream of consciousness in near real time; I just read on Twitter that Urban Meyer has decided not to retire, a single day after announcing to the world that he would retire, and I wonder even more now what he might be thinking, and I think one should continue the thought process to its logical conclusion in privacy before calling a press conference, instead of revealing one's thoughts as a public work-in-progress, a belief that Urban Meyer apparently doesn't share.

Kentucky and Florida are basketball rivals and that interests me more than football.  Florida's basketball coach, Billy Donovan, played and coached with Rick Pitino, who coached Kentucky for eight years, then went to instate rival Louisville, for which I bear no grudge except to hope that he rots in hell; a bit harsh, perhaps, so maybe my real feelings lie somewhere between no grudge and rots in hell and I'm just trying to find my place along the spectrum between the two, as North Carolina fans would no doubt do if, for instance, Roy Williams decided to take the Duke job.  A few years back, Kentucky tried to hire Billy Donovan, but he snubbed their advances, opting instead to accept a coaching job in the NBA for about a week before deciding he had made a big mistake and would return to the University of Florida.  What is it with Florida coaches and decisions, anyway?  Isn't the job of a coach almost entirely to make decisions? what play should we run, coach?. . . pass. . .no, run. . .wait, pass!  Pass!  Yeah, that's it: pass. . .but then run.

Kentucky basketball is currently in the news because they hired John Calipari to coach the Wildcats and he recruited several NBA-bound freshmen who are currently 12-0 in the 2009-10 basketball season.  There are a lot of haters out there, notably including Bobby Knight, who believe Calipari cheats and can't understand why players he recruited while at Memphis would follow him to Kentucky, though the same haters would follow a chef to his new restaurant, avoiding the unknown chef who replaced him at his previous place of employment, knowing that the quality of the meal is primarily dependent upon who cooks it and not who sells it, and if they thought about it for two seconds would realize that the futures of these players in the NBA depend not upon having played for Memphis or Kentucky or UNC or Duke, but upon having played for Calipari or Williams or Krzyzewski or the like wherever they coached; otherwise, star NBA prospects would have flocked to Billie Gillispie at Kentucky, and that didn't happen.

Bobby Knight may have been a great basketball coach and he may even have a few correct ideas about changes needed within the NCAA, but in questioning Calipari's integrity, he was a very large pot calling the kettle black, or perhaps he was smoking pot, because his major accomplishment in attacking Calipari seems to have been to bring his own questionable behaviors back into the news spotlight for a generation of fans who might not have been old enough to witness them firsthand (many were televised) or for those older fans who witnessed but forgot them, including throwing a chair across the basketball floor on national television after being called for a technical foul, choking a player, belittling the crime of  rape in an interview with Connie Cheung (also on national television), getting arrested for assaulting a Puerto Rican policeman while representing his country in the 1979 Pan American Games (probably on Puerto Rican television), firing his shotgun at a man's house during a dispute over the man's complaints that Knight hunted too near his farm, being put on a zero-tolerance leash by IU's president, quickly running Larry Bird off to Indiana State University (unless Bird thought Terre Haute was a better showcase for his talents), and in an event that would presage vice presidential political drama, hunting without a license and accidentally shooting his friend.  The list goes on and on.  I hate to ruin a good story with the facts, but UMass was not placed on probation after the Marcus Camby incident, as Knight claimed, though they were sanctioned, and the investigation found nothing to indicate that Calipari's actions or involvement "put" those schools on probation.  Memphis was placed on probation, as Knight correctly insinuated, but that probation is under appeal because the NCAA, the organization placing Memphis on probation, is also the organization that investigated Derrick Rose after high school and told Memphis that he was cleared to play, like a cop telling you it's OK to walk across a vacant property and then arresting you for trespassing.  Apparently, Knight thinks the word integrity only applies to NCAA sanctions, of which he has none-- whoop-de-doo, coincidentally the same number of NCAA sanctions (zero) that have been given Calipari, and now Bobby has brought an entire generation  previously unaware of his shenanigans up to speed; I hope that makes him happy.  (Were it me, I would have preferred them to remain forgotten.)  Yes, Your Honor, I admit I shot at that man's house and that I am probably still banned from Puerto Rico, but I didn't want to go back there, anyway, and by the way, I don't have a single NCAA sanction.

The Marcus Camby UMass argument against Calipari's integrity I find particularity perplexing in its total lack of logic, Camby admitting to having accepted about $28,000 from sports agents while he played for the Minutemen under Coach Cal, which made him ineligible to play basketball in the NCAA and resulted in UMass having to vacate victories in which he played, including a Final Four appearance.  Had Calipari or UMass given Camby gifts or cash to play at UMass, that would clearly be cheating but would at least make sense because Calipari would have had something to gain; encouraging or ignoring Camby's acceptance of cash from sports agents could only have had negative implications for Calipari's reputation and success and would gain him no advantage, Camby already being on the team, so why would Calipari condone this behavior if he had everything to lose and nothing to gain?  One would have to believe that Calipari knew Camby was accepting gifts, approved of having his program and reputation put in jeopardy with nothing to gain for either, and then persuaded Camby to come clean with the NCAA.  A simpler explanation is that Camby accepted gifts without Calipari's knowledge, providing a financial gain for himself but jeopardizing UMass basketball, and Calipari counseled him to confess when the coach discovered it, the principle of Ocham's Razor asserting that the explanation with the fewest assumptions is more often correct. The haters argue that Calipari should have known that his player was talking to agents, though our own children, for whom we as parents are also responsible, do lots of things every day of which we are completely unaware, so imagine keeping tabs round the clock on twelve college students who don't live with you; some argue that even if Calipari didn't know, he should be held responsible for his team's transgressions, anyway.  I doubt these same haters would feel that Bobby Knight should have been fired had it been determined that one of his players, completely without his knowledge, accepted gifts or cash (and for all we know some did but were not caught); for chrissake he was arrested for assault and he shot at a man's house; nor does anyone seem to be calling for Roy Williams to be banned from basketball, though he coached Kansas the year it received probation, not just sanctions, then ran out of town ahead of the NCAA to a more lucrative job at UNC, and he, unlike Calipari, was personally sanctioned by the NCAA.  Calipari is also chastised for hiring Tyreke Evan's strength coach at Memphis, a move that seems shady but is apparently completely legal and not uncommon (though I think it should be neither), but the Raleigh News and Observer reported in 2009 that the University of North Carolina hired Tyler Hansbrough's mother while he still played for the Tar Heels, which might appear to be a more direct subsidy to a student-athlete than hiring his former coach.  Williams just seems to be more likable than Cal and that must play a part in whom we consider to have integrity.

Calipari is also castigated for recruiting one-and-doners like Derrick Rose and John Wall, a category of players created by a stupid NBA collective bargaining rule that says high school players can't turn pro until they've been out of high school for a year, even if they're already good enough to play with the pros, a second reason Bobby Knight may be onto something regarding the current system for college basketball players.  The haters sneer at one-and-doners as if they're a lower life form, primarily fans from schools that one-and-doners snub, but also fans of schools like North Carolina and Kansas, in spite of the probability that Xavier Henry at Kansas will be a one-and-doner this year, and Tar Heel fans conveniently forget Brandan Wright, who was one-and-done just two years ago.  I'm not sure why they're held in such disdain, though a frequently stated criticism is that they're not really in school to be students, but are there as a brief stepping stone to the NBA, as if doing that for just one year is somehow much worse than being two-and-done like, say, Michael Jordan, three-and-done like nearly all pro-bound college baseball players, or one of the herd of football players who go to college for three and a half years but never complete their last semester of college because, football season ending in January, they no longer need the eligibility, as if anyone believes that most star athletes at major sports colleges are there for an education and might consider a career in pro sports after they graduate, or perhaps law or neurosurgery.

Some of those football players are playing their final college game in the Music City Bowl shortly, some will graduate while some will not, and I need to go watch it now to rest my brain because all this thinking about thinking has reduced my own stream of consciousness to a mere trickle and besides, I need to check ESPN to see how far down his own stream of consciousness Urban Meyer has drifted in the past twenty minutes.

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