WOSTER: Singing the Bluejays' praises
Once South Dakota State is eliminated from the basketball playoffs, I'm a Bluejay.
That's Creighton Bluejay. I spent just a single year on campus there before transferring to SDSU, but during that memorable year, I once stood behind Paul Silas in the chow line at the student center.
Exactly. That Paul Silas. He was a junior and on his way to another 20-rebounds-a-game season.
Silas had played for the same Oakland high school that produced Celtics' legend Bill Russell. He was the main scoring threat for Creighton. He played great defense, too, and he rebounded like nobody else had ever done up to that time in college basketball. He left Creighton with an NCAA record for career rebounds. The year before I arrived at Creighton, Silas pulled down 38 rebounds in a single game. That's some incredible ball-hawking. He did it with position and timing.
In the NBA, he played for several teams, including the Boston Celtics. Rebounding was his strength. It kept him in the game for 16 years, but he also played defense, making the all-defense starting five a couple of times. His game was a lot like mine -- strong on defense and rebounding. And when I say a lot like mine, I mean except for the fact that he was really, really good at those things. But he and I focused on the same elements of the game, so I like to think we played alike.
Silas was listed at 6-7. That was about the biggest person I'd seen up to that point in my life. Standing behind him in the food-service line was like standing in the shadow of a California Redwood tree. My goodness, he was large. He drew the attention of everyone in the place, including the food-service staffers serving the meal.
"You want some more of this roast beef, Paul?'' one of the staffers said. Sure, he answered.
I waited hopefully with my own tray after the first slice of beef hit my plate. No offer of another helping.
I sighed and moved along.
I suppose big-time athletes don't eat in the food service these days. I've heard of training tables and so on, although I've never been around the modern-day world of college sports to see what all changes have been made.
I do know Silas made his college reputation -- best rebounder in the country -- in a three-year span. In those days, even the superstars played freshman ball, not varsity. And kids who showed up on campus, even the superstars, stayed four years, including the year of freshman ball. Even Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, played freshman ball at UCLA before his three varsity years that ended in national championships. Now, it should be noted, the UCLA freshman beat the varsity in a pre-season exhibition game in Abdul-Jabbar's freshman year.
I had a rather distant connection to Abdul-Jabbar, by the way, although not nearly so personal a connection as being in the chow line with Silas. Abdul-Jabbar played for a New York City school, Power Memorial Academy. The school won three straight state titles while he played for them, I believe.
I was at SDSU then, studying journalism. A couple of other J-school majors and I read in a national sports magazine that Lew Alcindor was struggling to decide where to go to college. The story said he had some interest in journalism as a major.
State had a pretty decent basketball team already, but I read that piece and had visions of a seven-foot New York kid playing in the Barn. Let North Dakota bring down their 6-10 Phil Jackson! The other J-majors and I decided to write the Alcindor kid a letter outlining our journalism program and praising the rest of the campus. And, we assured Alcindor, if he worked hard, he probably could earn playing time with the Jackrabbits.
We were disappointed when he chose UCLA, but maybe our letter got lost in the mail.
Tournament 2013 update: Duke just dumped the Bluejays from the playoffs. Now I don't have even a distant story about any player on any teams in the tournament.