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Syracuse Basketball: Sometimes You Get a Banana, Sometimes You Get a Star

Reflections on Orange hoops and a classic video game.

NCAA Basketball: Cornell at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The lessons of life or even the lessons about life can sometimes be found in the worlds and on the courses of the great and all-knowing Mario Kart. (If you have no idea what that is, you might want to skip this one.)

-- This may sound like it comes from one of those sarcastic “Dad of the Year” nominations, but I just couldn’t help myself. I was fixated on what was in front of me: nothing but open pixilated dirt. Or maybe it was supposed to be chocolate? Either way, I was in first place of a race that felt like, video game or not, winning was everything.

I had to win. No. Matter. What.

Wait, what’s that noise? Is Brady yelling for help?

“Daaddd! I can’t catch up. I keep crashing!”

At that point, I was too close to the finish line to even glance over at my six-year-old son’s side of the TV screen. What is that, like a half-inch glance to my left? Had I just moved my eyes over to the left just a little, I probably could have told him to do this or get that. Help of some variety. He wasn’t going to win, yet I should have done something to get him out of dead last.

Instead, clutching the Wii U controller like a surgeon holding a scalpel in an operating room, I thought about how serious the developing situation was for me. First, his bailing on the race could affect my ultimate goal of winning the “Leaf Cup.” And let me tell you something, as someone who once crushed it in Super Mario Kart about two decades ago, winning again on the newest version gave me a rather embarrassing sense of accomplishment. Ain’t no way I was going to fall for any distractions at that point, plus I needed his full attention if we were going to finish out the other races of the cup.

Secondly, I couldn’t have my son just give up when shit got tough.

It’s something we all have to learn one way or another. That life, be it in sports or school or with love, is going to go badly for a period of time. The key is to not think the world is ending every time plans don’t go as hoped.

I learned it as a little kid watching Syracuse play. When SU would start falling apart, and I would be gathering the proper amount of anger and rage to make a perfect temper tantrum, my dad or mom would say something to calm me down. “It’s basketball, everyone makes a run. They’ll get back in it.” And sure enough, the Orangemen would make a comeback. Obviously, that effort to get back into a game didn’t mean SU would always win, but I learned fairly young that a game wasn’t over until either it was over, or until Jim Burr said it was over.

There’s nothing tastier to a fan than the no-way-it-will-happen comeback. I mean that with watching your favorite team or in simply doing something that someone thinks you can’t do.

Some 30 years later, playing a game, I was offering up the following generic but all-too-serious advice: “Brady, you can never give up. You are never out of it; you’ll get a star or Bullet Bill, red shells, something, and you’ll be right back in it. Don’t give up because there’s always a chance.”

I think it’s in the first week of Parenting 101 when you learn how to apply Mario Kart as a life lesson. But the thing is, metaphorically speaking, what I said is accurate. If you work and prepare, the magic box with a question mark on it in life will eventually give you something worthwhile.

And a few months later, I think Brady is starting to get the hang of Mario Kart. As he’s starting to need the well-timed piranha plants and lightning bolts to win a race or two a little less these days.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Also, in watching this Syracuse team, Brady’s getting the hang of not throwing in the towel too quickly. He actually sat and watched the entire Duke game a couple of weeks back, start to finish, with my wife on the couch. That includes the first half where SU looked like it was about to be blown out. When John Gillon went into “Star Mode,” sprinting down court for the game-winner, Brady jumped up and down with mom, pure joy.

I wanted to be with them, but I was lucky enough to be in the Dome with my brother and 30,000-plus other people, all of whom couldn’t believe what they just saw. This Syracuse team, at the time with 12 losses, beat one of the best teams in the country. And it was a buzzer-beater. Not a shot made with a second or tenths of a second left to play. Gillon’s shot was in the air before the clock read zero, and it went through the net right before the buzzer sounded. Or at least I assume it went off. Who the hell could hear anything other than that roar? It was like someone shook the world’s biggest soda can and then ripped the pop-top.


It felt like Syracuse was going from last place to first place in seconds. It was a late-in-the-race lightning bolt that changed the outcome of what was practically a done deal. It was as if the Blue Devils were in first place and going over a jump when the Orange used the bolt. ZAP. The Devils were suddenly off course and staring at the back of Jim Boeheim’s cart (not a euphemism.)

The whole damn season has felt that way, really. As fans mentally prepare for the torture of Saturday’s game with Georgia Tech, it is kind of crazy that it even means anything all. Not many people, myself included, expected the Orange to pull out of its early-season tailspin. Not after the month of December that provided some of the worst Ls in recent Syracuse basketball history.

This season, maybe more than most, has provided and proven a lot. And for those who have hung on all the way through, it might just pay off. You really can’t give up.

Yes, we’re talking about college basketball here. Or maybe I mean Mario Kart. Or life?

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports


Back a few weeks ago, it seemed like the game changed, that this Syracuse team didn’t look like the others we all were so accustomed to watching. It didn’t play defense with the same intensity. It had an aversion to the fastbreak and to alley-oops. It was getting run out of the Dome by opponents that probably wouldn’t make the NIT.

The valleys of this season were more like giant, unsightly craters. Bob-omb styles.

Here we are though, with the Orange closing in on the end, the checkered flag flapping, with a chance at getting a chance to win it all. The Yellow Jackets could still hit the Orange with a red shell, spinning the Orange out of the tourney. Or, well, anything can happen.

This team is still upright, standing, still on the course, unpredictably and just as predictably still in the race to the very end.