Basketball-mania descends on the USA

Published 10:30 am Friday, March 22, 2013

Column: Associated Press, by Jim Litke

Welcome to BracketRacket, your one-stop shopping place for all things NCAA.

Today, LeBron James struggles with “The Decision” (Again? Seriously?), Fox anchor Neil Cavuto tries to order takeout food off a bracket sheet, men debate “hotness,” best-selling crime novelist Robert Crais plots a happy ending for the NCAAs (clue: Duke wins! Duke wins!), and one very sad Kentucky fan refuses to take off his hat.

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Oh, and the real tournament begins.

But first, let’s crank up the time machine.


The Decision, Part Deux

It’s July 8, 2010. King James has surrounded himself with props (or real children, still not sure which) inside the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, Conn. He is about to end the summer of speculation and make “The Decision.”

Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, James jumped to the NBA after his junior year of high school and the home-state Cleveland Cavaliers are the only pro team he has ever known. But he’s also a free agent and tired of winter.

“I’m going to take my talents to South Beach,” he says, “and join the Miami Heat.”

Now it’s Wednesday, we’re back in Cleveland and James and the Heat are closing in on the NBA record for consecutive games won in a regular season. That first decision looks pretty good in hindsight, especially after James finally got that first championship by beating Oklahoma City in the finals last year. Strangely, though, he will be a free agent again in 2014, and he’s been coy about his future plans.

So AP sports writer Tom Withers sidles up to James at the Heat’s morning shootaround Wednesday and asks the tough question: “Who ya got?”

“Everyone has a chance to win it,” James replies. “Everyone.”

That’s right: The King still hadn’t filled out his NCAA bracket, either.

He likes Louisville and Kansas, Indiana and Ohio State. He just can’t — stop me if you’ve heard this before — commit.

“There’s always going to be one sleeper,” he told Withers. “There’s always going to be a VCU or a Butler or Norfolk State that’s going to be out there in the Elite Eight. We’ll see.”

Nothing indecisive about the result later that night, though. James leads the Heat back from 27 down in the third quarter to win and extend their streak to 24 straight. The real highlight, though, comes, when a young man runs onto the floor mid-game wearing a T-shirt that read: “We Miss You, 2014 Come Back.”

As security hauled him away, James patted the guy on the head.

“There are metal detectors here, so we were OK,” James said. “I embraced it.”

No word yet on who the kid was picking.


‘What do you mean, get my own chicken salad?’

Neil Cavuto is a serious news guy. He said so himself a half-dozen times in his “Common Sense” segment Wednesday on Fox. But even he couldn’t resist trying to glom onto the coattails of the NCAAs at this time of year.

In his opening segment, the anchor decided to chide President Obama for failing to submit a budget on time. But how to tie it into the tournament? Try an NCAA-styled graphic showing that while the president had completed his brackets ahead of the tournament every year in office, he’d blown through the deadline for submitting a budget in four of those five.

A stretch?

Sure. And so finally, as his guest, Guy Benson, the political editor of, was offering a light-hearted defense of the president, Cavuto cut him off and conceded, “I don’t understand this bracket thing.”

But at least he knows now why everybody on his staff has been running around the studio this week waving sheets of paper, and why getting lunch ordered in could be a problem for the next two.

“At first,” Cavuto conceded a moment later, “I thought it was for takeout orders!”

We report, you decide.


So he’s got that going for him …

Yesterday, BracketRacket sought out Playboy founder Hugh Hefner’s take on the tournament, only to find out he doesn’t even watch.

Today, in the interests of fairness, we turn to that other aging arbiter of the culture of “hotness,” Cosmo.

The magazine just unveiled its “Hottest Guys of March Madness 2013” list.

There are plenty of “hot” guys on it, if by that you mean big-name players who could go on a tear and carry their teams all the way to the championship game, like Duke’s Seth Curry and Michigan’s Trey Burke.

Then there’s Creighton’s Ethan Wragge.

You’ll have to judge for yourself whether he’s “hot” in the Cosmo sense. But he must have something, because the bearded, 6-foot-7 junior hasn’t even cracked the Bluejays’ starting lineup, though he is the first guy off the Creighton bench.

“Ethan has great aim. He’s awesome at 3-pointers. That’s hot,” Cosmo coos.

You can imagine his teammates’ reaction. Even coach Greg McDermott couldn’t resist.

“There are a lot of things in life that maybe aren’t accurate,” he said, “but that has to be close to the top.”


We should all be this lucky

Our first celebrity alum has it all — literary awards galore, another sure-to-be-best-seller already on the shelves (“Suspect”), an Emmy nomination (for “Hill Street Blues”) — heck, Robert Crais even owns a legit rooting interest in one of the best college football teams in the land, having studied at LSU before bolting for Holywood to become a writer.

And now he’s got a daughter at Duke, and plenty of cover for his other blue-blooded rooting interest.

“I live and die with the Duke Blue Devils,’ Crais told AP national writer Hillel Italie.

Crais tracks their progress from L.A. these days, but he admitted that finding room in his heart for basketball wasn’t easy at first.

“Life in Louisiana revolves around LSU football, the Saints and the opening day of duck season,” Crais said. “I still try to fly back for one or two games every year with my tailgater buddies.”

But that’s still six months off. Italie wanted to know instead how the NCAAs are going to end three weeks from now.

“Kansas made it to the top spot on my bracket,” Crais hedged, “but if Duke can focus, stay focused, and bring their 3-point game, they can take it.”

Mystery solved.


Stat of the day

If you stayed up for play-in games both nights, you heard a lot about teams wandering in the wilderness. That’s because this year, four teams that have gone at least 18 seasons between appearances in the tournament finally made it — Middle Tennessee (24), La Salle (21), James Madison (19), North Carolina A&T (18). That got the folks at STATS wondering whether it was a debutante-like record.

Nope. It’s actually happened at least four times since 1980, including 2012, when Harvard led a quartet of the long-suffering into the NCAAs after missing out for a dizzying 66 years.


Quote of the day

“She’s still got a credit card with my name on it,” — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team plays Montana in the opening-round game, on whether he’s worried that his daughter, a former teacher at the university who still lives in Missoula, might have divided loyalties.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at