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Tourney captures spirit of school

Pat Leonard | Monday, April 26, 2004

In the Final Four of the men’s Bookstore Basketball tournament, D.J. Lipke of KPMG threw up a floater over imposing defenders. The ball bounced high off the rim and towards the middle of the lane.Varsity football player Jerome Collins leapt into the air. He flushed the rebound. The crowd exploded and a freshman taking a mid-afternoon nap in Keough Hall woke up.The kid could have had his window opened or closed. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that not only the freshman but nearly every person on campus knew about Collins’ dunk by the time the final game rolled around at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon.And that is the effect this tournament has on people on a campus ripe with basketball talent.There are students who play every weekday from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Rock in preparation for the outdoor spring tournament.There are kids who sprint from their last Friday class to the Rolfs locker room, change into gym shorts and a T-shirt and walk out onto the court yelling, “Who’s got next?”There are some who never leave the gym.And while Mike Brey and Chris Thomas try to take the varsity basketball program to national prominence next season, the sport of basketball and the spirit it creates has already engulfed the historically football-crazed campus in South Bend.Fans sat six-deep at the championship game. Others stood four-deep around the court’s perimeter. Referees’ whistles brought simultaneous cheers and jeers.People cared about every play up-and-down the court because the players were their friends, roommates, teammates, brothers or cousins.Many of the players Sunday were actually varsity football players, guys who had just played a full-length, full-pad scrimmage Saturday but were back competing just one day later.Wide receiver Carlyle Holiday occasionally defended quarterback Brady Quinn. Converted tight end Collins blocked offensive lineman Dan Stevenson on several occasions. Place-kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick drove by safety Chinedum Ndukwe.Fans got the chance to see just how great of athletes these guys are, and who ended up winning?Well, the team with four freshmen, of course. Yes, freshmen.And as much as a freshman victory emphasizes the tournament’s positive parity, it never gets easier to watch the pain on the faces of seniors whose chance to take the ultimate prize has vanished.There are many courts and countless teams, many great names and better games. Bookstore Basketball completed its 33rd year of competition Sunday, and every person on campus couldn’t be more disappointed. Because we all have to wait until next year.

The views of this column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of The Observer. Contact Pat Leonard at pleonard@nd.edu.