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Today's word on journalism

Monday, April 24, 2006

Dueling masters on words:

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

--William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962), on Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961)

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

--Ernest Hemingway, writer (1899-1961), on William Faulkner, writer (1897-1962)

Aggie season a triumph -- validation for Morrill and staff

By G. Christopher Terry

March 24, 2006 | Summing up the recently ended Aggie men's basketball season is one of those tasks that makes the English language seem woefully inadequate.

There were brilliant performances. There were nights everyone in the Spectrum will remember as long as they live. And there were setbacks; indeed, the Aggies' season ended on a down note as it does for all but one NCAA Tournament team every year.

The '06 season marked the debut of Morrill-ball in the Western Athletic Conference to rave reviews. Finishing second in the conference with a roster of Big West players everyone said weren't athletic enough to match up is the kind of achievement the team deserves to brag about. The cherry on top of this banana split of a season was receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA's.

In the excitement over making the tournament and the speculation on how the Ags would match up against Washington, many people didn't seem to realize the significance of being selected in the first place. For the 10-person NCAA Tournament selection committee (the same body that stiffed the Ags two years ago, when they spent a good part of the season ranked in the top 25 and were frankly more deserving of the bid than they were this year) to give USU an at-large bid isn't just a nice surprise; it's an event of great magnitude. It means that Morrill's program has begun to garner respect nationally, from people who have no idea where Logan is.

The success should be enjoyed like a fine wine, but the Aggie Nation can't afford to get cocky and think that second bid is always going to be there for the WAC. Last Thursday I watched Montana show Nick Fazekas zero respect, going aggressively into the paint from the first possession as they pulled off a resounding upset. Perhaps the Pack was down a notch after winning a Super Bowl of a WAC championship game against the Aggies. Watching at the time, I thought to myself, 'This makes tonight's game a must-win for the WAC.' Hours later, another Utah State basketball season was over and our conference was 0-2 in the tournament.

Many observers, CBS's Jim Nantz for one, felt the selection committee was tilted in favor of the smaller conferences this year. The Missouri Valley Conference placed four squads, as many as the powerful ACC. The Missouri Valley, unlike the WAC, shut its doubters up by getting Bradley and Wichita State into the round of 16. I have little doubt but that next year's selection committee will sway back toward favoring the power leagues, as those commissioners redouble their efforts to deprive deserving mid-majors of berths in favor of bigger programs and conferences.

Will the WAC's poor showing this year become a factor? It shouldn't, as the WAC's regular season credentials were strong this year, but I suspect it will.

The best option for the Aggies is to get behind their skipper and just win the damn conferene tournament next year. To this end, I am crossing my fingers that Fazekas turns pro. This year's Wolf Pack had only one senior, sixth-man Mo Charlo, and the boys from Reno will be loaded next year with or without their mega-talented pivot. If Fazekas returns, the Pack will be prohibitive favorites to repeat as champs and possibly deny us a tournament spot. The Aggies still have Jaycee Carroll and Morrill, plus a few returnees who only got limited chances to demonstrate their abilities this year. Plus you know Morrill will bring in a bumper crop of new JC's including, hopefully, an instant impact player at point guard. So my confidence in the Aggies ability to contend is high no matter what, but if the NBA claims Fazekas or Louisiana Tech's Paul Millsap, all the better for us.

One player who will be gone for sure next year is Nate Harris, the Smithfield native who stands as an example of everything right about collegiate sport. Harris is soft-spoken and polite and keeps his emotions in check on the floor, because his game yells at the top of it's lungs. I could list off his brilliant performances for pages. Whether it was a crucial rebound or a layup USU had to have, Harris has meant everything to the Aggies and deserves an honorable mention to the All-Century team. No one single play serves as a defining moment of his career, but rather, for me, it's a pastiche of every time Harris pump-faked as many as five times to get his defenders off their feet, laid it in and drew the foul. His signature craftiness in the low post will be missed, but not as much as his humble, unassuming demeanor.

Harris has gotten plenty of acclaim, but Chris Huber, Cass Matheus and Dave Pak will be missed by the diehards in the Aggie Student Section as well. Matheus ended his career as one of the best shot-blockers in USU's history and his fine play kept the Brazilian flags flying in the Spectrum stands this year. Huber and Pak split time at point guard this year without a whisper of ill will or griping about playing time. Both got their teammates involved and knocked down open shots, the definition of a point guard, and if Huber was a hair better on defense, Pak had a slight edge with his flashy ball-handling.

Pak's arrival at USU threatened to be shrouded in controversy, but he shut his doubters up. I never heard so much as a whisper about his conduct or manners. I was privileged to study for some sociology quizzes with the Aggies' oldest player last year and found him to be an engaging personality blessed with quick wit. His popularity among the student body is a testament to the quality of his character and the quiet pride he carries himself with. To the people out there Pak hasn't convinced of his integrity, I have only this to say: imagine if the details of the worst mistake you'd ever made in your life were public knowledge and open to speculation and discussion by your peers. Stop throwing stones and, if it bothers you that much, pray for him.

On an ending note, I feel that coach Morrill's achievements in leading USU to a new era of WAC basketball are deserving of more than the mere devotion of the fans and the plaudits of the pundits; Morrill should be recognized with something permanent. The man has set the bar to incredible heights and oversees a program in the midst of a historic run of success. Randy Spetman and the other decision-makers in the athletics department should consider an homage many schools pay to their most successful coaches. How does Stew Morrill court at the Dee Smith Spectrum sound? Morrill's signature is already on the court in twenty foot high figurative letters, we should show our appreciation for a rare gem of a coach who shocked Rick Majerus when he bought a house in Logan seven years ago.

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