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Go, Ponies!

Guard Nic Moore, who short but awesome. (photo courtesy SMU)
Guard Nic Moore, who is short but awesome. (photo courtesy SMU)

Tonight SMU tips off against Clemson in the first game of the NIT semifinals. Still bummed that SMU didn’t get a bid from the NCAA? You shouldn’t be. Jackson Williams certainly isn’t. Jackson is a longtime FrontBurnervian, and he is pumped about tonight. With his permission, here’s an email he sent us that I thought was worth sharing today:

There isn’t a bigger sports story in the Lone Star State. The SMU Mustangs went an astonishing 23-9 in the regular season, beating several ranked teams along the way, including a couple of top 10 teams. That’s good enough for an NCAA tournament berth, and they hoped for one, but the selection committee puts a lot of stock in how you do late. SMU lost its final two regular season games and then lost the first post-season game in its conference tournament. Three straight losses at the finish got them passed over. Oh, well. They have battled through the NIT tournament. Indeed, they’ve gotten to the NIT Final Four that commences tonight at Madison Square Garden. Little ’ol SMU from University Park.

Meanwhile, U Conn has made the NCAA Final Four, taking place this weekend at Jerry’s Death Star in Arlington. Among all of their wins this season, SMU positively owned conference rival U Conn. Spanked them both times they played, home and away. Won by nine points both times, and neither win was a fluke. Their record isn’t a fluke, and 70-year-old coach Larry Brown, in his second year on the Hilltop, isn’t a fluke (a bit of a flake, maybe).

So: both NIT and NCAA have set their Final Four teams. Look at this way: There are only eight Division I college teams still playing basketball, and the Ponies are one of ’em. They’re on the cusp of a national title. Name a Texas team in the three major sports, in Division I or Pro, that has been seriously in the hunt for a national title in the past 12 months. OK, besides the NBA Spurs. They’re always in the hunt. SMU basketball isn’t, ergo it’s a bigger story. As the SNL character Tiny Elvis would say, “It’s huge, man!”

Starting at age 12, I’d ride my 10-speed to SMU’s Moody Coliseum to run one of the four concession stands. Each stand was staffed by eight people, and I was in charge of one of them. I worked basketball, pro tennis, concerts, whatever was booked. I did the same at McFarlin Auditorium on campus (lots of concerts), and at the natatorium (not a big crowd for swimming). SMU football in those days played at the Cotton Bowl, so we didn’t run those stands. I had this job til I went to boarding school at 16. It sure beat a paper route or mowing lawns, and it paid better. Plus, it kept me in the ’hood, I was never out too late, and my parents didn’t have to drive me there. God knows they loved that.

I didn’t attend SMU. My nostalgia isn’t alma mater-related. It predates college and high school. I guess it’s a hometown thing, a University Park thing. You can call me old-fashioned, you can call me Ishmael, you can call me Ray, whatever. I hold fond memories of working at SMU in my long ago youth. I pretty much owned the joint. Hell, I was even entrusted with keys to the facilities! Not sure that was a good idea, but at least the statute of limitations has run out.

The Mustangs still play at Moody, built in ’56 and recently remodeled at a cost of $40 million. A sweet arena, it seats just 7,000. The team is damn good, and will be better next year, and until Larry Brown wigs out and heads off to the next stop on his own peripatetic journey through life. SMU is his 13th head coaching gig since ’67, back and forth between college and pro. The only coach to win both an NCAA title (Kansas ’88) and an NBA title (Detroit ’04) is close to adding an NIT title. Always a winner, he won gold as a player with the U.S. squad at the ’64 Tokyo Olympics, long before we stocked Olympic teams with professional NBA players.

I’d love to be a teenager today, working the basketball games at Moody. I’ve seen several on TV this season. I can feel the energy of what they’ve accomplished on the court. Moody was alive, electric. I’d be biking home and telling my parents all about it every night, and everyone in greater Dallas would be excited. They are excited, actually, and now the team has hit the bright lights of the Big Apple. Go, Ponies!!!