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The Joy of Knowing First

There's a certain joy in knowing about something good before anyone else does. The whole hipster culture is built on this idea, to the point at which it becomes gauche to admit to enjoying something popular. This may be the only case in which basketball and hipster culture overlap.

I grew up in southwestern Ohio. Though I have always been a Xavier fan, I've never really had anything against the Miami Redhawks. My dad had an enormous amount of respect for Charlie Coles as a coach, and I followed suit. I also knew how to spell Szczerbiak before most people who follow basketball only on a national level even knew why that word would ever be important. I followed Wally through his college career, mostly because the Redhawks played locally and my family didn't have cable. Then the Redhawks made the 1999 tournament, and I told anyone who would listen that he was great. Nobody cared, until Wally started getting buckets - just like I knew he would. Less than two weeks later, he was a media darling. I was ecstatic; now everybody knew about Wally Szczerbiak, but he had been my secret first.

That's one of the pleasures of following Atlantic Ten basketball, or perhaps any conference outside of the big six. There are no secrets in the ACC; nobody is sneaking out of the Big Ten. Those games are persistently televised and then endlessly dissected, to the point at which "hand down, man down" started trending after Duke knocked off UNC. Anyone ready to make a meaningful contribution for a team from one of the BCS conferences has already been exposed to the bright lights of media scrutiny.

And so the great players from the small conferences become "our boys." Not all of them - I don't have anything but antipathy for any member of Saint Louis, and nobody ever loved Jimmy Binnie - but certain players have conducted themselves in such a manner during A-10 play that I have grown to enjoy them as I've followed Xavier. I can't help but respect the heck out of Andrew Nicholson, who has toiled in prolific obscurity at St. Bonaventure for four years. I like Micheal Eric, the 6'11" Nigerian who looms in the paint to turn aside those who would penetrate on Temple's defense.

Of course, it's even more fun when it's a Xavier player, as Jordan Crawford and Lionel Chalmers have proven in the last decade. Still, there's some joy in, when other fans are just now discovering some player who has labored to make his name in the A-10, saying, "I know him. I watched him go from promising to good to scary. I've seen him go to battle against my team; I know he's good." This weekend, as you gnaw your fingernails to the quick waiting for and then watching the Xavier game(s), don't forget to spare a thought for the rest of the Atlantic Ten players in the tournament. Except for the guys from Saint Louis.