Today is the day of the best rivalry in college basketball. While Duke-UNC is hyped endlessly, it’s the domain of the corporate, of the white collar fan who has a dry riesling and discusses portfolios between timeouts and bouts of apathetic clapping. It’s a place for that kid at school with the sweater tied around his waist and trust fund money. The fans that cheer against each other are all cut from the same cloth. Cingular v. T-Mobile. It’s artificial.
The Crosstown Shootout isn’t that. It’s violent, earthy, genuine hate. It’s real. In this game names are made, legends are burnished or tarnished in equal measure. It’s here that records really do go out the window and the “these guys really don’t like each other” gives way to technical fouls and battles on the baselines.
It was in this game that Lenny Brown became immortal, first rising off one foot in the lane and then swaggering, oozing confidence, nay arrogance, into a shimmy in front of Bob Huggins, who could do little but stare. It’s in this game where Kevin Frey weaved and waved his way down the court, a joyous 6-8 pinwheel of jubilation, shock, and defiance in equal measure.
This has been a game for the little guy too. A game where Dee Davis could take an outrageous beating as the lone standing player on an overmatched team, left to charge into defeat mostly on his own, but come back two years later and launch a shot that hung in the air for seeming minutes before passing through the net with barely a ripple. Redemption and vindication as, for a few glorious moments, no one in the nation wondered if he was big enough to run an elite team, just basked in the glory of a shot with the trajectory of a Cedar Point roller coaster.
It’s been here that the lesser lights shone as well. For years Lloyd Price was Xavier’s highest ever ranked recruit, but his time on campus was generally that of a young man not ready for the spotlight. The Shootout was the salvation of Price’s reputation as well. Musketeer fans don’t remember him for his transfer, but for the sheer nerve, the outright balls, to pick Steve Logan at midcourt, in a game that Xavier trailed with 30 seconds to play, and race the other way for the game winning bucket.
The stars have shown here as well. David West emphatically shut Jason Maxiell’s mouth, and Trevon Bluiett played lone Musketeer two years ago, pouring in 40 in an effort that deserved so much better than it got. And of course there is Edmond Sumner, whip thin, always smiling, as guileless as a college basketball player can seem, rising into a momentarily hushed Cincinnati night to meet Octavius Ellis, a grown man, wall of muscle, allegedly one of the best shot blockers in the country, and throwing down the dunk that signified to UC fans clinging to history their parents can’t remember that the tide of this rivalry has long since turned.
Today remains a blank slate. This could be the Elias Harden game, or the day when Zach Hankins becomes the next Kerem Kanter type to walk on campus and stamp his authority all over the one Shootout he plays. Maybe today Tyrique Jones grimaces and means mugs his way to 20 rebounds, or shows Nysier Brooks what the Big East looks like. Maybe Xavier’s newest dog, Paul Scruggs, puts on another one man show, this time on the big stage, maybe Naji Marshall explodes or Quentin Goodin finally breaks out. Right now, it’s all out there to play for. This is what real rivalry looks like.