By JOHN T. THOMPSON
Special To One Great Season
I am a Xavier fan. I went to the school. I have followed the program for more than 15 years. In the late 1990s, I sat along the baseline as Xavier beat hated crosstown rival and No. 1 Cincinnati in The Gardens, photographing the game for the XU school paper. I wrote an XU blog after moving out to the Pacific Northwest. I love my squad.
Therefore, I cannot care less that the sports world has called Xavier a mid-major for years yet is suddenly ready to recant. Well, color me unimpressed. I've been too busy enjoying a program that also was called "Power Forward U." When your program sends Aaron Williams, Tyrone Hill, Brian Grant and David West to solid NBA careers, it sounds like a pretty legit nickname. I've also been too busy watching a team that's made three straight Sweet Sixteens. And I have definitely been busy enjoying the quiet and astounding career of Jason Love, the epitome of Xavier basketball.
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When the "little writer that couldn't" in Minnesota predicted that the Gophers should handle the Muskies with ease in Friday's first-round of the NCAA Tournament, he showed his ignorance of the program that helped mold Jason Love. He came to Xavier as a lightly recruited player from Philadelphia. His personal stats started off slowly but have steadily climbed to 11.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Not too impressive, you say? Why should I care about this no-name, no-stats fella from Eggs-zavyer? I'll tell you why: because the respect XU and "mid-majors" have suddenly earned this week via the collective wisdom of the national media (tongue planted firmly in cheek) is the result of wins.
And this year, Love became the winningest player in Xavier basketball history. XU has won 108 games during Love's four years, and Muskies fans hope there are still more left in the tank. That's an average of 27 wins a season from a team full of guys just like Love. And did I mention the four straight Atlantic 10 championships?
No one can tell me how many points XU averaged last weekend in winning two more NCAA Tournament games, but I can tell you that Xavier is 7-2 in the last three trips to the Big Dance. And in the SportsCenter era of highlight-reel dunks and self-promoting one-and-dones, XU never forgets the bottom line. Just win, baby.
But was the national media ever paying attention? Did writers do their homework over the past four seasons? Or even this year? Could even Cincinnati's local media rattle off these fully impressive statistics (I'm looking at you, Enquirer beat writer Shannon Russell)? Will XU supplant UC on more pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer now that the tables have so definitively turned? The answer to all those questions is a resounding "no." And the response from true Xavier fans is a simple shrug, because we don't need the adulation. We don't need the dunk clips. We don't need the pre-game style when we can settle for the post-game substance: the win.
Up next is Kansas State under the psycho-killer watch of coach Frank Martin, whom we all know Martin is a Bob Huggins protege, but we don't know if he has learned from Huggs to dine out for the rest of his life on one great postseason run. As for the daggers Martin shoots at his players for the smallest of mistakes, didn't that approach run its course when Bobby Knight faded into the Texas Tech sunset? KSU did smoke Xavier early this season when the Muskies were going through some serious growing pains. The convincing 15-point loss dropped XU to 5-3, but helped star player Jordan Crawford begin to adopt Love's team-first attitude that would help them win games like that one. Or this one.
While I don't fall into the trap of trying to predict the next round's games, I'll go in a different direction and will give you guarantees. Crawford will take some shots you wish he wouldn't, and he'll make them. Kenny "The Glacier" Frease will foul opposing players in an interesting manner. And win or lose, Love will play hard and with passion and will represent his program just as impressively as any other player from any other team, mid-major or not.
John T. Thompson is a die-hard Xavier fan who lives in Portland, Ore.