Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Butler basketball makes me question the concept of this blog

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I’m typing this entry from my mother’s patio in Carmel, Ind., suburb of Indianapolis, site of the recently completed NCAA men’s basketball Final Four, where the little hometown school crashed the party and nearly made me wonder whether I was too cynical in titling this blog “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.”

After all, the conceit behind this blog is that no matter how much money or time you spend training your young athlete, the chances of your child going pro — or even getting a college scholarship — are almost nil. There is always someone, somewhere you don’t know that leaps higher, runs faster and hits harder. No amount of coaching or training can ever completely make up for that. Sports is a fun activity, and it’s good for kids. If you want to spend a lot of money on a travel team, have it at. But don’t expect your child to be a star.

And then came Butlermania.

If you didn’t hear, Butler is from the Horizon League, which is to major college basketball as Double-A baseball is to the National League. Even though Butler has been a perennial NCAA team over the last decade (including two previous appearances in the round of 16), it still was an amazing story that a 4,000-student college with a basketball team whose budget could fit into a Duke player’s duffel bag was now facing those same Blue Devils in the final.

And as a native of Indianapolis who has seen many games in Butler’s storied Hinkle Fieldhouse (hey, did you hear “Hoosiers” was filmed there?), I got sucked up in the excitement, especially after coming down with my family Sunday, midway through Final Four weekend.

I took my 12-year-old son, my 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son downtown Monday to soak in the excitement themselves. We drove by Monument Circle just as the second Butler rally of the weekend, attracting another gaggle of thousands, was breaking up. We made our way to the Indiana Convention Center, north of tournament site Lucas Oil Stadium, to go down to Bracket Town.

Bracket Town is a relatively inexpensive ($10 for adults, $6 for kids and seniors) experience where you can do all sorts of basketball-related activities, from pop-a-shot to 3-point contests to skill challenges to just plain shooting around to games of knockout. There also were activities related to other NCAA sports — lacrosse shooting, football drills, a home run derby (with a plastic ball and bat), computer-aided rifle and golf (though not together), hockey puck shooting, and fencing. My 10-year-0ld daughter will forever lord it over my 12-year-old son that she beat him in fencing (with plastic swords). My 7-year-old, already feeling like a little brother after his big brother crushed him in air hockey, didn’t stick around to shake hands after a 9-year-old girl beat him in fencing.

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Of course, Bracket Town was thick was people wearing Butler shirts, something you didn’t see much even around Indianapolis before this NCAA run. After all, it is a small school, with a small alumni base, easily pushed aside by Indiana, Purdue and even Ball State. Just hearing Butler fans in a cheer competition, at an NCAA final, was bizarre, despite the school’s past glimpses of success.

On top of that, Bracket Town encourages you to dream big for your kids. I couldn’t help but think, as my 12-year-old was nailing the lacrosse drills — a sport he’s never played — that maybe this would be the sport for him (and that this, following a dabbling at hockey, makes me wonder why he can’t like such expensive activities.) Watching my daughter’s footwork and aggressiveness during fencing, on top of the early success she’s had as an athlete, made me wonder if she’s going to someday write her ticket to college through sports. Watching my 7-year-old’s competitive fire made me think he’s got the guts to go far in his chosen sports of baseball and bowling, though I should talk about him about maybe, next time, shaking the girl’s hand.

Back on the streets of Indianapolis, the Butlermania only built as the game drew closer. More fans in Butler T-shirts swarmed downtown (as did a fair number of fans in West Virginia T-shirts, despite its Final Four loss to Duke — those fans must have had nonrefundable hotel rooms). In a great American mashup, a man in a Sikh headdress wore a T-shirt highlighting hometown pride and the direct 6-mile route from campus to Lucas Oil Stadium: “The Road to the Final Four Goes Down Capitol Avenue!”

Everything was Butler. On the way back to Carmel, we drove through the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood to check out Butler’s campus, including its Clowes Hall, where in 1987 I saw the Psychedelic Furs (featuring Richard and Tim Butler). On the way to the bar where my wife and I watched the final game, we passed by Butler Toyota.

The final game itself was a testament to how good Butler really was, and how tough it played. A few times it looked like Duke — much taller, bigger, faster and moneyed — was ready to run away, but Butler always pulled the Blue Devils back. Butler, and particularly star player Gordon Hayward, did not shoot well. Yet they defended well, worked hard on the offensive boards, and had players step up out of nowhere to keep Butler in the game. Players such as Avery Jukes, with a name that could put him in the backfield with Tonsillitis Johnson and Artis Toothis in the great Dan Jenkins novel “Life Its Ownself.”

Speaking of cultural references, maybe Butler, as it cut a five-point lead to one in the final two minutes, could be the real-life “Hoosiers.” Maybe I was wrong about Your Kid’s Not Going Pro. Maybe it is true that with determination, heart and the smarts to take advantage of any lucky breaks you get, your kid could go pro. Or at least college. And not only play at a higher level, but also succeed wildly. When Butler called timeout with 13 seconds left, down one, how many people do you think broke out references to Butler running the picket fence? To Brad Stevens saying he would use Gordon Hayward as a decoy? To the players shiftly uncomfortably until Hayward stared Stevens in the eye to say, “I’ll hit it”? All 70,000 in attendance? Most of the millions watching?

Hayward did get the ball — twice in the last three seconds, it turns out — and couldn’t hit either time. The movie Butler starred in wasn’t “Hoosiers.” It was “Rocky.” Butler was an underestimated foe who seemingly came out of nowhere to take the champ’s best shot, give back as good as it got, yet not quite have enough talent to overcome a superior foe.

The Mid-Majority, the world’s greatest college basketball blog, has a saying for the mid-major Cinderellas of the NCAA men’s tournament: “It always ends in a loss.” It’s not a cynical statement about smaller programs. It’s the reality. Rocky can’t come right out of the meat locker to knock out Apollo Creed.

And even if he did — even if Butler won — would that have fundamentally changed things? Would every mid-major be able to fight toe-to-toe with the Dukes of the world? Probably not. Butler, like Gonzaga, is a program that has found a way to transcend its relatively low status on the NCAA totem pole to be successful year-in and year-out. The other members of Butler’s Horizon League are not going to replicate this anytime soon.

These were some of thoughts running through my disappointed head as the crowd cleared out of my bar after game time as if someone had just released anthrax.

So in the end, Butler does not make me rethink my assumptions behind “Your Kid’s Not Going Pro.” As a matter of fact, it only strengthens them. If you want to spend a lot of money, time and energy on your child’s sports, then that’s great. I will continue to do so with my four children. But unless your child grows to 6-foot-11, or runs a 4.2 40, or has a 97 mph fastball, it’s a long, hard road — and it might be even if your child HAS these attributes.

That’s why it’s important to make sure you enjoy your child’s sporting experience, and not make it the focus of your social life, or your family’s future mansion-dwelling potential. Because it always ends in a loss.

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