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Underachievers' Diary 

The Wildcats finally came through, even if they didn't ultimately win.

The events of the past few weeks bring to mind a line from the movie The Commitments, a howlingly funny and painfully sad tale of a bunch of dead-end kids in Dublin who get together to form a soul-music band. After struggling mightily against the odds and among themselves, they achieve a level of collective excellence that none of the individuals had ever thought possible. Then, poised on the edge of fame and fortune, their dreams are dashed.

Trying to make sense of it all, Jimmy, the kid who had put the band together, seeks answers from Joey "The Lip" Fagen, the older member of the band who had played with several soul legends during his younger days. "Oh sure," Joey explains, "we could have been famous and made lots of albums and stuff. But that would have been predictable. This way, it's poetry."

Predictable? Almost. Poetic? I'm not so sure, unless it's that kind of poetry that doesn't rhyme and has no meter. When just about everyone in town had arrived at a place in their hearts and minds where they absolutely expected a storybook finish, it turns out the storybook was written by Franz Kafka.

At first, it was a far-out notion, a Hollywood tragedy-into-triumph scenario even a hack screenwriter fresh out of USC Film School wouldn't have dared to try. But then it started to take shape. The Cats ended the regular season with a highly improbable sweep of Stanford and Cal in the Bay Area. Then they shoved aside two lightweight foes in what has been for the Cats over the years a treacherous first weekend of the NCAAs.

The Dream came into sharper focus as Arizona out-muscled Mississippi and then shoved aside the thugs from Illinois. When they blasted the defending national champion Michigan State Spartans in the semi-final game, it all just crystallized. There was no way the Cats were going to get all that way and then lose. It was universally accepted that there was only one possible outcome. As it turns out, there were two.

Excuses are like anuses--everybody's got one and they all stink. There are no excuses. It wasn't the refs, it wasn't Gilbert Arenas' injury, it wasn't Duke's Mike Dunleavy pulling big shots out of his butt. That's what championships are made of: playing better than you are.

This could have been one of the most disappointing teams in the history of sports. Arizona lost to a weak UConn team and to an even weaker Purdue squad. They lost in their own tournament for the first time in school history. They got hammered at Oregon. But then they pulled it together and made an exquisite run, one that not only redeemed their season but quite likely put them on a par with the other two great UA teams of the past--the Sean Elliott team of 1988 and the champions of 1997. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if, with the passage of time, this team goes to the head of the line in the sweet memories of Cat fans.

Watching them pull together and become a force greater than the sum of their individual parts was a wonder to behold. "Loser" is not the worst label in sports; that ignominious distinction goes to "underachiever." For a while the Cats had cornered the market on underachieving. But then the spark was lit and they took off on a quest.

UA alum Ron Shelton, in his screenplay for the classic sports film Bull Durham, wrote, "And for an extraordinary (two months), they played the game with joy and verve and poetry."

Again with the poetry. But this was more than just another season. It was a piece of our lives.

Over the past few weeks, I have grown weary of the Arizona haters. As we are reminded every time we try to go anywhere in this town, Tucson is bursting at the seams with people from Someplace Else. It's bad enough that they came here at all. But they didn't just come here to live; they came here to bitch.

It's too hot here. What, you didn't understand the definition of the term "desert"?

There's too much traffic. You're a major part of that particular problem.

I don't like the Wildcats. Well then, you're an idiot.

These aren't the Dallas Cowboys with the drug scandals and spousal abuse. They're not even the New York Yankees, who go out and buy championships. They're a bunch of kids playing college basketball. Richard Jefferson might be something of a jerk at times, but no one can dispute that he plays his ass off. Gilbert Arenas is delightful on and off the court. Jason Gardner had one bad shooting night, but his steadying influence during the tournament was as important an ingredient as any in the Cats' success. Michael Wright is a freakin' Man. And Loren Woods ignored the whispers in his head and showed up big time.

What, I ask, is not to like? Luke Walton playing with a broken thumb? Eugene Edgerson pretty much single-handedly obliterating the widely held notion of West Coast softness? Lute Olson enduring a near-endless stream of inappropriate questions about his beloved late wife from an increasingly embarrassing media that uses a paint-by-the-numbers approach to finding The Story Angle?

I sat in the gym last Sunday and listened to a gaggle of morons bag on the Wildcats. No reason to hate; with these clowns, hatin' is its own reward. I felt like I should have been angry, but then I realized they weren't worth it. As I watched them spew their stupidity, I realized they looked more pathetic than an old white man with a Filipino wife.

And so it ends: The Dream Season, Minus One. It's probably for the best. If they had won it all, Hollywood might have felt obligated to come calling. And Lord knows, nobody would've bought Gene Hackman as Lute Olson.

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