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WSU hoops; a rich experience (04/02/2008)
By John Edstrom

After watching enough basketball in the last few weeks for a lifetime, (or at least until next year), one of the questions that poses itself is why, generally, does the college, or amateur game engage us and capture our imagination so much more strongly than pro basketball? A simple answer, but only a partial one, is probably that the skills of the college (or high school) player are more readily appreciated by the less sophisticated observer; shooting, dribbling, rebounding, passing, are done on a more human scale than in the pros. And of course, in the last weeks, the WSU Warriors were Winona's team to root for.

But I think more important is what motivates the players and generates the spirit in which they play. The amateur plays, by definition, a game for love that the professional plays for money. You would think that the impossible amounts of money that NBA players earn from the sport would make their games all-important; instead, it renders them largely meaningless, swamped in an ocean of dollars that has a sinister way of dissolving and drowning out all other values. It is not for nothing that Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

What truly made your heart go out to the Winona State athletes and made those games so memorable were the qualities they exhibited that have nothing to do with physical or athletic skills, the lack of which will most likely disqualify any of them from NBA careers. Poise, grace under pressure, equanimity in the face of success or failure, courage " these were the qualities most on display in the Warriors' championship run. These are the values that amateur sports are supposed to instill in young athletes, and prepare them for real life, and it just might work at this level.

It is ironic that precisely because these kids are a bit less skilled, big, strong, and fast as their professional or Division I counterparts, what they play for is more meaningful and important. (They should save a copy of this for when they're scratching to make the mortgage payment somewhere down the road.)

How impressive after the big win to hear, practically the first words out of Jonte Flowers's mouth: "I love you Mom and Dad! Thanks for everything." I'll bet he leaves college a much richer young man than most of the athletes who will go on to make huge money playing in the pros. (But you probably shouldn't count him out of that game either.)



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