Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Schnauzer: NCAA Tournament Edition

When I'm not fighting corrupt judges, lawyers, and other bad guys, I'm a pretty serious sports fan. In fact, I used to make my living as a sportswriter, so I guess I come by that interest naturally.

I live in Birmingham, otherwise known as "The Football Capital of the South." But for my money, the greatest event in sports is the NCAA men's basketball tournament, better known as "March Madness." And the madness begins tomorrow at sites around the country.

One of those sites, where play will be on Friday and Sunday, is the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena. Also, one of our native sons provides a splendid tournament story.

So let's take time out from corruption and such to celebrate the greatest show in sports.

I've had the good fortune to cover a number of NCAA Tournaments, and I would take it over the World Series, the Super Bowl, you name it. Nothing generates genuine emotion and fascinating backstories like the NCAA Tournament. And for sportswriters, there's a ton of free food. (Ever wonder why you rarely see a slim sportswriter? That's the reason. There's free food everywhere they go.)

Birmingham's regional will feature four intriguing matchups--South Alabama vs. Butler, Boise State vs. Louisville, American vs. Tennessee, and St. Joseph's vs. Oklahoma.

But here's the cool thing: Cornell of the Ivy League is in the tournament for the first time in 20 years. And the Big Red is led by a kid from Birmingham.

Ray Melick, of The Birmingham News, writes today about Louis Dale Jr., a sophomore guard who was Player of the Year in the Ivy League. Basketball in the Ivy League has been dominated for years by Princeton and Penn. But Cornell crashed the party this year, thanks to a little guard with big-time skills from Birmingham's Altamont School.

You don't get into Cornell--or the Altamont School, for that matter--unless you are awfully sharp, and Dale has the academic goods. He is majoring in human ecology, with an interest in policy analysis. Dale's coach says he has the talent to someday challenge for a spot in the NBA. But there is no telling what this kid might accomplish off the court.

Dale comes by his academic credentials honestly. His father, Louis Dale Sr., is a mathematician and administrator at UAB (University of Alabama in Birmingham.)

Cornell plays powerful Stanford this afternoon at Anaheim, California, and the Big Red will be a heavy underdog. But win or lose, keep an eye on Louis Dale Jr.--both on and off the court. You can read more about him here.

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