January 14, 2005

Ratner has more than a pretty face

He started off impressed. "It's about time they built this," he said, admiring Ratner's history-rich rotunda.

By the end of the afternoon, former Washington Post columnist and Washington Bullets beat writer Bob Levey, AB '66, was smiling from ear-to-ear, not only struck by Ratner's shiny, Maroon-filled gym but more by Chicago's impressive basketball programs.

There's little need to qualify a guy who, along with his radio show and column about Washington's little guys, once traveled day-in and day-out with an NBA team for one of the nation's top papers. Yet it really set in how much he knew when he, as we watched the game, rattled off the game's stories against Wash U. "Lead with the two big three pointers and a rebound in traffic." "Five runs in a row. That's a strange streak to start a game." "[Chicago] had no business beating them. They're bigger and more athletic. That's good coaching getting the most out of players."

The last statement rang especially true to me, as I watched a guy that had watched thousands of basketball games in his life, many in the cheering-free press box, transform from observer to fan over the course of the game. We have some impressive teams filling Ratner this season, and it'd be great to see more people give our school's athletic programs a chance to inspire them too.

After all, both the men and women have been playing some inspired basketball all year. The women's team has been spurred by a hardworking, intelligent coach that hit the ground running after suddenly being promoted to head coach at the end of September. His team has responded, improving their fast-break, transition offense and defense to the point where the early sloppiness is a distant memory.

Second-year Korry Schwanz's drive down the baseline and bounce pass to first-year rebounder-extraordinaire Nicaya Rapier for the easy layup had both of us—a casual and a lifelong fan of the sport—cheering wildly. Inspiring is the only word that comes to mind when describing a ten-minute start to the second half with only one field goal allowed to the fifth-ranked team in the nation.

The men's game was a similarly impressive performance with fourth-year Mike Dolezal stealing the show. Coming off a back injury, he followed blocks and steals with three-point shots, including two in the last three minutes that effectively put the game away. Despite that great story—which had Levey thinking that I actually knew some basketball after having played Dolezal up—what really won the game was the team's tight defense and patient play. Like the women, the men put together a true sum-is-greater-than-the-parts performance that created the most exciting atmosphere in Ratner since last year's men's win over Wash U.

The fact that Levey was impressed with the two teams' coaching should say a lot. After all, he did play a year under our school's most accomplished Division III coach, Joseph Stampf. Yet Levey hardly seemed like someone too experienced or acclaimed when he was excitedly leaning to his side to get a better view of the action in the first game's waning moments.

Now with the opportunity to "Pack the Place" against another UAA rival, Emory, On Friday night, you should take the plunge that Levey finally had the chance to. He went mostly for the building and old times, looking to check out our school's vast improvements, but he ended with two great performances in mind as well.

Many here think that because they're not a sports fan, they can't have fun at a game, or that somehow the games are just not a part of their experience. To you, I emphasize the nature of our institution as a liberal arts university and Division III program. We all are here for the same reason, and we all deserve support for being good at different things and trying to be good at others. Don't be misled into thinking that you know it all by now and that you have nothing left to discover when it comes to your interests.

Give it a chance, and you may be surprised. Even someone who has about seen it all was.