KAMPALA, UGANDA—As you stroll down Main Street here, you’re practically surrounded by Ugandans wearing the colors of their favorite universities. The office pools are ready to swing into action throughout East Africa. Meanwhile, Ugandan bars and restaurants are gearing up for a flood of college basketball-crazed fans. On radio, analysts are breaking down potential NCAA tournament pairings.
No, not really.
In fact, Uganda might as well be Jupiter when it comes to college basketball. I think the average Ugandan might be vaguely aware that American universities play basketball, but wouldn’t have the slightest notion about the difference between a Jayhawk (good) and, say, a Blue Devil or Tiger (evil).
Uganda, for all its charms, is NCAA tournament purgatory.
I love college hoops. I would ordinarily just as soon forego oxygen as skip March Madness. However, due to my temporary relocation 8,000 miles from home, my March Madness experience this year will be a little like Internet dating—better than nothing, but a pale imitation of the real thing.
I miss March.
I miss the hype leading up to the tournament. I miss the hundreds of hours of mindless tournament prattle on TV, and the thousands of hours of even more mindless tournament analysis on local talk radio. I miss the banter with my “friendly” competitors from Kansas State and Missouri. (Well, it is friendly between KU and K-State anyway). Tears are welling up in my eyes thinking of the wonderful opportunity I’m missing to gently point out the University of Kansas Jayhawks’ superiority in this sport (KU=7 straight league titles, second most wins all-time of any team, 13 Final Fours, 2008 national champs, etc.). This doesn’t sit well with purple-faced Wildcatters (KSU=no Final Fours since 1964; no league titles for decades) or yellow-eyed Tiggers (MU=no Final Fours ever; no league title since 1994). I’ve tried repeatedly to point out these facts to Ugandans, who smile politely but generally have little to add to the discourse. On the plus side, I haven’t met any Dukies here yet.
I miss Kansas City every day, but especially in March, when the city is the center of the college hoops universe..
I will miss watching the games on TV. We do have ESPN here, but it’s some god-awful international version that shows about 90% soccer. I’ve seen a few stale college hoops games this season, taped and shown a day or two later. I may get a few such leftovers during the tournament. My consolation prize: I’ll get to listen to live radio coverage over the Internet. I’ll be tuned in, even if it’s at three in the morning. (Yes, CBS does offer live NCAA video streaming, but the Internet is too slow here for live video streaming. I tried. It doesn’t work).
Most of all this March, I miss my dad, who has been my college basketball pusher since I was a wee lad. Some of my first, fondest memories are from the old Big Eight Pre-Season Basketball Tournament at Municipal Auditorium. Today, I watch most of the KU games with my dad, whose devotion to our Jayhawks has, if anything, intensified through his 74 years. You know how some sons and dads fish, or hunt? Our thing is college basketball.
After KU won it all in 2008, I secretly wished, to myself, that dad and I could share one more Jayhawk championship together. This may be the year. As much as I want that title in 2011, it won’t be the same if we don’t get to experience the championship together, just like we did in 1988 and 2008.
There is one thing I can do to help ease the pain of our separation during March Madness. Right after the NCAA tournament brackets are announced, I plan to call my dad, just like always, so that we can complain together about the raw deal our team got at the hands of the selection committee. It will be 1:00 a.m. in Kampala when the brackets are unveiled, but I won’t have a hard time staying up.