by Kevin Burton
I call it “Splashdown.” Long live Splashdown.
It was a long three-pointer made by then freshman guard Fred VanVleet of Wichita State in a second-round NCAA tournament game vs. Gonzaga.
The rainbow jumper beat the shot clock and pushed a precarious two-point lead to five, with less than two minutes remaining. It caused Gonzaga to panic into a turnover and it caused Mike Kennedy, the radio voice of the Shockers, to go a little bit crazy.
“Long three……Good! Oh ma goodness, HO-LY COW what a shot by VanVleet…”
It was a game changer in more ways than one.
When the shot left VanVleet’s hands it was “Wichita State has a pretty good team this year.” When that shot swished through the net it turned to “Wichita State is a national force.”
The shot didn’t finish off Gonzaga, but it made things look very good, eased the way to the eventual win.
It was quite the splash, VanVleet’s first calling card, first indication of what we now know him to be, clutch and a winner.
West regional top seed Ohio State cheered, no doubt, to see the number one seed go down. But Ohio State would get theirs later in WSU’s final four run.
In the sports vacuum created by the virus, many radio stations have been playing tapes of “classic” games, including that great 2013 tournament run. That has been almost medicinal for some of us.
Letting my mind drift back to the state of the current Shocker team – eight players bolting the team after the virus-shortened season – would be like dribbling through memory lane, soaring toward the hoop for a layup and being fouled hard, brought crashing down to earth.
So, let’s not. Not now.
For now, let’s talk about why Shocker basketball means so much to me.
I explained it to my brother this way, “I love Kansas and I like K-State but I am Wichita State.”
In other words I am the underdog, deserving, but disrespected.
WSU was a smaller school from a smaller conference (in those days they were in the Missouri Valley Conference). They got only grudging respect in the polls and in seeding for the NCAA tournament.
When the Shockers showed up undefeated to the NCAA’s big party in 2014, the selection committee had no choice but to give them a number one seed but placed traditional power Kentucky in their path as an eight seed.
What they were saying is “No, it’s not OK for Wichita State to bubble up and be among the elite. Not at that level.” They liked the Wichita States of the world to be an occasional Cinderella and nothing more.
Well I’ve been there. As a person with a disability and being from a minority group, I know that the rest of the world has a box they want me to sit in. In many cases women also get this treatment.
I have often been excluded from opportunity altogether. At other times all I needed was to walk and chew gum at the same time and I was labelled an “inspiration.”
If you don’t sit quietly and compliantly, in the box the majority group imagines for you there is a price to pay.
My sociology prof stressed that “minority” is not a numerical term in this sense. He said the “majority” is the group, whatever the number, that controls the prevailing ideology.
Kind of heavy for a hoops blog. Sorry. But I have gotten that treatment, disrespected just like the Shockers.
This is why I identify so strongly with The Shockers and glory every time they knock off one of the big boys.