Venoy Overton scandal may be big in Seattle, but Pac-10 tourney has a fine Sheen in LA.
Each Thursday, Art Thiel checks out the weekend sports scene locally and offers more casual sports fans some observations that can get them in and out of conversations without anyone catching on to your, ahem, casualness.
Whether at the water cooler, bus, lunchroom, frat kegger or cocktail party, you can drop in a riposte, bon mot or bit o’ wit to start a conversational conflagration, or put one out. Then walk away.
THURSDAY, FRIDAY, SATURDAY
Huskies basketball: Pac-10 Tournament, Staples Center, Los Angeles; Washington State vs. Washington, 8:40 p.m. (FSN) — To those uninitiated in the rituals of college basketball, this is an event of bewilderment; a four-day tournament that essentially reduces the point of the four-month regular season to roughly the size of a dippin’ dot.
The fact is that a team that can win three games in a row here gets invited automatically to the prize, a berth in the NCAA tournament next week. Even if said team has figuratively soiled its sheets all season, instant redemption is available with a hot streak. Granted, it’s never happened; then again no one foresaw the Middle East falling down one government at a time like Bedouin tents in a Saharan windstorm.
Regardless of outcomes, virtually every major conference has adopted a post-season tournament, for a simple reason: More games on TV, and thus more TV money. God knows that America needs more televised college basketball in March.
As to the Washington Huskies, this particular Pac-10 tourney will be their weirdest ever. Under coach Lorenzo Romar, the team normally prospers in the late season. This time, the Huskies finished the season losing 6 of its final 11, including two of the final three at home.
The major reason was finally disclosed this week: Police charges against a previously unidentified player, Venoy Overton, finally brought a two-month simmer to a public boil. Romar suspended Overton for the tournament because he was charged with supplying alcohol to a minor. The suspension was more about having sex with the same minor, a 16-year-old girl, whose claim of rape had insufficient evidence for prosecutors to bring the charge.
Overton’s conduct was appalling, messing with the girl as well as the Huskies’ season. Compounding the crumminess was the fact that because the investigation never named him, but the university confirmed a player was under scrutiny, meant the stink-eye was upon all his teammates.
Now that the world knows, Romar made the decision to keep Overton out of the game(s) but with the team in LA. Should UW be invited to the NCAA field, Romar will allow Overton back onto the court. Romar took considerable criticism for being too soft, but the simple fact was that the damage already done was not going to be fixed by keeping Overton off a team he could rejoin as soon as Monday.
The problem is that he will be the object of perpetual scrutiny as he sits on the bench, although it’s unlikely he will be the object of heckling. Most fans at Staples are from Los Angeles, meaning they are much more worried that Charlie Sheen will get well, robbing them of their reason for continuing to live. Comparatively, Overton is a trifle.
Besides the Overton distraction, the UW faces an opponent, Washington State, that it twice failed to defeat in the regular season. Besides missing the services of Overton, it was disclosed Tuesday that Justin Holiday suffered a concussion in the final regular season game against USC, and his status is questionable.
So the Huskies, undermanned, dispirited and disheveled, are unlikely victors Thursday, although the story line of an aggrieved team, engorged with redemption, emerging triumphal, is nearly as old as fire.
In the event the Huskies somehow prevail, it can be seen either as one of Romar’s greatest single-game coaching achievements, or a validation of the contention that Romar failed to act decisively earlier when the gravity of Overton’s depravity became known to him, and he failed to remove the distraction from the team’s midst.
A keen observer of this scene might find some ironic curiosity in the Washington predicament: “If sex is so bad with a 16-year-old is so bad, why isn’t it illegal in this state? And if sex with a 16-year-old isn’t bad enough to merit being kicked off the team, aren’t the Huskies passing up a powerful recruiting tool?”
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