You can come out now. Take the paper bag off your head. Put the phone back on the hook. All is well. Detroit has a first-place team.

Say what?

“I think we can go all the way,” says the star player.

All the way? Did you hear that? Forget those Pistons programs you shredded in the blender. And the Red Wings hockey stick you smashed across your forehead when they lost, what was it, 86-0? Relax. Rejoice. All is well.

Detroit has a first-place team.

Say what?

“It took a lot of hard work, but we are rolling,” says the coach. “It’s in our hands now.”

Did you hear that? They are rolling. Mid-winter blues, be gone. They are rolling. What snow? What dead battery? They are rolling. Throw on a pair of cut-offs and skip to work. There’s a bluebird on your shoulder. Look. Over there. A rainbow. They are rolling.

Detroit has a first-place team.

And here they are. Shooting basketballs in the empty echoes of a college arena, under a logo that looks like something out of Captain Neptune’s Fish and Chips and Used Auto Parts Outlet.

The mighty Titans of U of D.

That’s, uh, University of Detroit.

We’re No. 1.

Hi, mom. Coach’s name is Sicko

This is a team that gets on Channel 62. Sometimes. A team that plays on Monday nights, so it won’t have to compete for attention with Michigan or Michigan State. A team with a coach named Sicko. Don Sicko (pronounced SEE-ko). Although it’s sometimes pronounced CY-ko. Like Psycho. Which doesn’t help when they’re on the road. You can imagine what people yell. Can’t you imagine?

But this is a first-place team.

First place in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference. Or, to friends, the MCC.

Say what?

“Enthusiasm is coming back to U of D,” says Greg Wendt, the team’s second-leading scorer. He transferred here from Duke. Mighty Duke. No. 2 in the country Duke. He transferred?

“If I’d have stayed at Duke, I’d be on Wall Street or somewhere by now,” he says. “I like it here. I’m getting to play.”

And over there is Kevin McAdoo. The point guard. Big assist man. Some nights the only crowd noise he has to worry about is the sneakers squeaking. Wouldn’t he rather be playing in the Bigger Big Time?

“We’re pretty proud of what we’ve done here,” he says. “A few years ago the program was really down.”

A few years ago, it was down and almost out. In 1982, 800 people showed up for the U-D home finale. They didn’t take their seats, they took their sections. The school was thinking of dropping down to Division III. Or maybe dropping basketball altogether.

Now, first place. A 7-1 conference record. A shot at the MCC title for the first time — and a chance of making it into the NCAA tournament, where anything can happen.

Here, in the winter of our discontent, when our pro teams range from mediocre to mercy-killing, they are, let’s face it, these U-D Titans, well . .
. the Kings of the City.

Say what? Urban renewal at its best

“Switch sides,” yells coach Sicko. He is watching practice from behind a wooden table alongside the court. The press box.

“We never complain about the amount of attention we do or don’t get,” he says. “We get what we earn.”

This is an urban school with urban digs. No rolling hills. No lazy bicycle riders. No bluebirds. The coach does have the team over to his house in the suburbs every few weeks for a nachos party. They eat, watch some TV. Watch some of those bigger-name teams.

“All 11 of these kids are local,” he says. So they know where they stand. They know about the Wolverines and Spartans and Pistons and Red Wings. They know that to most people, they are the TV dinner on the Michigan sports menu.

They know playing Evansville is not like playing North Carolina. But they’ve had their moments. They put a scare into Kansas, and Kansas is ranked No. 3 in the country. They beat Xavier twice, and Xavier was 18-4 as of Monday.

Besides, right now they are the only team with “Detroit” in its name that is on top of a pile, at least one that doesn’t smell. That counts for something.

And so people in Boston and Chicago and LA will please understand why we in the Motor City who have taken a fair amount of abuse in recent weeks would like to say just one more thing while we still can:

Yaaaah! We’re No. 1! Wooooooooh!

Ah. That felt good.

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