Monday, March 29, 2004

Blame the Media | A final note that needs to be shared before I can close the books on Saint Joseph's unparalleled season: In the interview room after Saturday's loss in the regional final, I and dozens of reporters waited for Hawks head coach Phil Martelli to appear and address the media. According to the name tags on the dais at the front of the room, Saint Joseph's two best players, Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, would represent the team.

Well, immediately after his attempt to tie the game had bumped off the front of the rim, Nelson fell onto his back and lay prone for several seconds before a handful of Oklahoma State players graciously helped him off the floor. West, in front of the Hawks' bench, stood bent forward at the waist, his head buried in his hands. Neither appeared to relish the prospect of standing in front of national television cameras and telling the Bergen County Record's basketball writer how he felt in the wake of the result.

So I was not surprised when an NCAA media representative replaced their name tags with those of Pat Carroll and Tyrone Barley. Yet immediately there was audible grumbling. "You gotta be kidding." "That's not acceptable." "Un-freakin'-real." When the moderator announced the switch, one reporter actually had the temerity to ask why.

Nelson eventually made his way to the dais to join Carroll and Barley, and of course no one asked him any question of consequence or substance. They just wanted him there -- wanted to see if he would break down, wanted to see if he would bitch about the officiating, wanted to see if the four-year persona of a classy warrior and stand-up guy was real or just a facade. Wanted to see if his wheels would finally come off.

Look, I know the media have a job, and a big part of that is asking uncomfortable questions of people who may not wish to answer them. But we're talking about 21- and 22-year-old kids who have just lost, in brutally agonizing fashion, the biggest game they've ever played in. And this program has been second to none in offering access to players, coaches, and the campus. The fourth estate wouldn't have fallen if a roomful of reporters had cut them some slack for one night.

In case you're wondering, by the way, yes, it still hurts like a son of a bitch.


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