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WOSTER: In SD, we're starting to think we can

Terry Woster

What I don't get about life is how people think they can compete with bigger-name people.

OK, so there are a lot of things I don't get about life. I don't have time to type them all, The Daily Republic doesn't have space to print them, and the reader has neither the patience nor the time to wade through them. For now, I'm thinking of athletics mostly.

The puzzlement struck me as I prepared for the South Dakota State University men's basketball game against the University of Michigan and the SDSU women's basketball game against South Carolina. Now, when I was in college, we had some pretty decent teams at State.

I transferred to Brookings the year after the basketball team won the Division II national championship, so I know we had some good players. But when we went to play the University of Minnesota or Kansas State to open a season, I never figured we'd, you know, win the game. I wonder if the players back then figured we would.

It seems like the players on both men's and women's teams these days think they can beat just about anybody. That's a great attitude. It comes in handy when you're playing in the NCAA Tournament, because not too many slouch teams are wandering around in the brackets. But what makes these kids think they can beat everybody? Do the coaches make them believe? The other players? Or do they just grow up figuring they play better than anyone else on the court?

See, I grew up thinking I wasn't all that good at most sports. I liked sports, don't get me wrong. I just wasn't a quietly confident, I-own-the-rest-of-these-guys kind of athlete. In track, I liked relays a lot, because a guy shared the thrill of victory or agony of defeat with other runners on a team. My freshman year in track, I qualified for the state track meet in the half-mile run. I finished at the state meet in sixth or seventh place, about 10 seconds behind Rich Cutler, of Wessington Springs. Now, he won in a state-record time, so there was no way anyone could expect me to beat him. But nobody in the stadium at Watertown that afternoon expected it less than I did.

I did, however, come within a couple of ticks of a school record, running 2:09 something. That was enough so that the next year, just before track season began, Coach Wahl called me to his desk during study hall and asked, "How fast do you think you can run the half mile this year?''

I gave the question serious thought and said, "If everything went just right, maybe 2:05 or 2:06.''

His eyebrows went up. "Why not two minutes flat?''

"I can't run that fast, coach.''

Guess what? It turned out I couldn't run that fast.

At the state cross-country meet my senior year, Coach Giese told me to go out fast and stay right on the shoulder of Norman White Shirt, a School for the Deaf runner. I lasted half a mile that way, realized Norman was planning to run that fast the whole race and fell off the pace, finishing behind about 80 guys. It turned out I couldn't run that far, either.

Chamberlain moved to Class A in basketball my senior year. That was back when there were two classes of basketball and all the bigger schools were Class A. We were the little Class A, and I never really adjusted to the notion that I could outplay the big-school guys.

Our first game against a Class A school that year was in Pierre. The Governors' center was all-state in football and had me by about 3 inches and 60 pounds.

"Establish yourself in the pivot,'' Coach Byre told me.

"Get out of the lane and don't come back in here,'' the Pierre center said, shoving me out of position.

He never really gave me a chance to work on the idea that I might be the better player. I was way too busy the rest of the night staying out of the lane.

I just never developed that quiet confidence, I guess.