Archive for Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tourney about more than just basketball

April 9, 2008

What an NCAA Tournament.

What a National Championship.

What a celebration on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence after Kansas University, on Monday, won its third NCAA title with an improbable overtime win.

Throughout the tournament, there also was a handful of great upsets and Cinderella stories.

And at the same time, all the No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four in the same year for the first time ever.

Then, for Jayhawk fans, there was that much-anticipated clash - Kansas University versus the University of North Carolina.

However, as much as Kansas' fans so wanted to knock off those Tar Heels, a piece on CBS earlier Saturday certainly kept sports and life in perspective.

The segment focused on Jason Ray, the former UNC mascot who was killed before the Tar Heels' 2007 Sweet 16 game in the NCAA Tournament.

Ray was struck by a car and died from injuries sustained in the vehicle-pedestrian accident.

Ray, who was an organ donor, saved four people's lives by donating his organs.

In addition to his organs saving lives, roughly 75 other people benefited from tissue donation, for instance, a new cornea or ACL.

The folks at CBS did a fine job of putting together the feature package, profiling Ray's parents, as well as the donor recipients and their families and how all their lives now are intertwined.

It certainly brought some tears to my eyes. With the KU-UNC game a few hours away, it put things into better perspective. Oh sure, I still wanted the Jays to knock the tar out of the Heels. And I still was nervous as ever anticipating the win-or-go-home national semifinal game.

But the feature, at least for the afternoon, brought me back to Earth a bit.

UNC had yet another tragedy shake its campus this year. In early March, the university's student body president, Eve Carson, was shot and killed around 5 a.m. about a mile from the UNC campus.

To honor Carson, UNC basketball players wore a circular black patch with "EVE" printed in the middle on their jerseys.

As for KU, players have dealt with more than just basketball this season. Seniors Darnell Jackson and Rodrick Stewart - on the same day in February - lost family members in shootings. Stewart's cousin, who also is his adoptive brother, was killed in Seattle and Jackson's cousin in Oklahoma City. Jackson already had been dealing with the loss of his grandmother, to whom he was very close. In addition, he previously lost an uncle who was beaten to death with a hammer and had lost another cousin to a shooting.

As for Stewart, he didn't even get to play in the Final Four, as he injured his right kneecap during a practice session Friday and had to watch from the bench as his teammates played. I had a case of dejà vu when I heard about Stewart's injury.

In 1986, when Kansas played Duke in the national semifinals, KU's Archie Marshall also went down with a knee injury, although that was during the game rather than in an open practice session.

Life is not just basketball, even though sometimes we might think that is the case for a few months - especially March and early April - each year.

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