I am, after all, just another in a long line of little boys from
Lincoln who grew up re-creating Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium's "Lights
Out" ritual in their living room on a Little Tykes hoop. While
journalistic ethics require that I do my best to be an unbiased
observer, no set of standards can legislate that little boy Railer
fan who still lives deep inside me. Don't tell my old-school
journalism professor from college that I said this, but, I'll be
rooting for our Railers tonight.
However, in tonight's game, my
rationale for cheering our Railers on isn't just about an affinity for
the sons of my hometown. While my sentimental side can recall being
a referee during the Junior Railer basketball careers of Max Cook
and Tyler Horchem, my desire for a Railer win isn't about that
either. Nope, not tonight.
For me, tonight's game is a battle over how the game of
basketball should be defined.
If that sounds like a strangely philosophical perspective, well,
it is. Allow me to explain.
Tonight, the Pioneers present a most formidable challenge to the
Railers in the form of one player: Keita Bates-Diop.
To be frank, Bates-Diop is, by all accounts, a superstar. A
6-foot-7 junior, Bates-Diop has already offered his verbal
commitment to play for Ohio State University in two years. A wiry
athlete with a silky shooting touch, Bates-Diop is touted as the
nation's No. 18-ranked player in the 2014 class by ESPN's recruiting
experts. Meanwhile Rivals.com lists him as the nation's No.
20-ranked player, while still another popular evaluation service,
Scout.com, lists him as the No. 28-ranked player in the nation.
Bates-Diop has led the Pioneers to a 22-5 record this season,
averaging over 18 points and six rebounds per game.
To no surprise, any time U-High is mentioned, so is Bates-Diop.
While he's certainly deserving of his recognition, and he is
surrounded by a strong supporting cast, it's hard not to believe
that his rising star doesn't at times eclipse the rest of his team.
When basketball fans watch a Pioneer game, they're going to watch
Keita Bates-Diop -- not necessarily the Pioneers.
Let me be clear: There's no indication that Bates-Diop invites or
initiates this. He may be as humble as a church mouse. He
and his remarkable skills aren't the problem; it's the new trend of
our star-crazed sports culture. We thirst for "the next star" at the
college or professional level, blind to the simple beauties of the
game itself. We salivate over a slam-dunk but hardly blink at the
perfect backdoor cut. Basketball has become all about the sizzle and
less about substance.
[to top of second column]
Maybe I'm loony, but I have a problem with that view of
basketball. I consider myself a basketball purist, and one of
the tenants of my hoops religion is that basketball is the
ultimate team game.
Which brings us to the 2012-13 Railers.
Lincoln has won 27 games this season without a single superstar.
No member of Lincoln's starting lineup sports a scoring average like
the Big Ten-bound Bates-Diop, but no Railer will be a non-factor in
tonight's contest either. While I won't predict a win, I am entirely
confident that between four and six Railers will make major
That's the way the game is supposed to be played: five players on
the floor, seeking a common goal, sharing the glory and the blame.
By those standards, for me and my purist perspective, this season's
unselfish sharpshooting Railers have been a joy to watch.
While it isn't the first time that the balanced Railers are
pitted against a superstar-powered opponent, tonight's game is by
far the most important.
During the regular season, the Railers handled Champaign
Centennial star and University of Illinois commit Michael Finke,
beating the Chargers 53-48. Lincoln also got the best of
Chatham-Glenwood sharpshooter and Division I prospect Peyton Allen
and swept two games against Springfield Lanphier's highly regarded
But, tonight's game is different. March Madness is officially
upon us and the loser will go home, not to be heard from again for
another eight months or so. For the winner, the next game is
sectional semifinals, next Wednesday at Mount Zion.
The ticket takers in Mount Zion might be hoping to see Bates-Diop
take his stardom to sectionals.
But not me.
I'm hoping the no-name Railers' season of playing "the right way"
survives at least one more superstar.
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]