' Cinema Romantico: 5 College Basketball Movies That Need to Be Made

Thursday, March 16, 2017

5 College Basketball Movies That Need to Be Made

Though basketball movies tend not to elicit faux-breathess lists as often as baseball movies, hardwood-set films nevertheless have more than a few solid offerings. There is “Hoosiers”, of course, which is beloved by many, perhaps the linchpin of the genre, and the highly enjoyable “White Men Can’t Jump” and the positively delightful “Love & Basketball”, not to mention the timeless documentary “Hoop Dreams” as well as “He Got Game”, which is not so much underrated as still not appreciated anywhere near enough, and hey, who can forget that one dynamite scene in “Semipro” where Will Ferrell keeps passing the ball out to the perimeter from the post and then demanding the ball be passed right back into him. But then, none of these movies are college basketball-centric. And college basketball centric movies are too often either middlebrow mush like “Glory Road” or half-effective attempts to Say Something like “Blue Chips”. We can do better; we should do better; let’s do better. To coincide with the (real) start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament here are five college basketball centric movies that need to be made. (They will never be made.)

5 College Basketball Movies That Need to Be Made


Whatever it Takes. It’s the greatest college basketball story that not enough people know, a story that truly has it all, at least in a CBB sense. It would meld the maniacal devotion that so often goes hand in hand with college basketball coaching to the strange, fanatical world that is college athletics recruiting. It goes like this: twenty-six years ago, Tennessee Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt, despite being very much pregnant with her first son and due any moment, refused to cancel a visit to Allentown, Pennsylvania to meet with a desperately coveted recruit. The plane landed and, as if dictated by the story gods, had her water break, only to press on with the recruiting visit, all with the help of a little (big) white lie to her doctor, and then still somehow make it back to Tennessee to give birth. So even though she famously bleeds Kentucky blue, we will enlist Ashley Judd as our Coach Summitt, so able is Ms. Judd at evincing drama and farce in equal measure and in the same moment, which is precisely the quality we need for a story to undoubtedly make people go “Did that really happen?”


Way Up! In the mid-80s, three-time Big 8 player of the year and scoring savant, the late Wayman Tisdale, was at the forefront of the high-octane, freewheeling offensive carnivals lorded by irascible Coach Billy Tubbs, one of college basketball’s greatest all-time quotes, and who would be a worthy supporting character. But Tisdale was also an impeccable jazz bassist, one who would not only go on to record eight albums (the title of one giving our make-believe movie its name), but who convinced Tubbs to schedule practice around his bass playing in the church band. And because Tubbs, unlike so many modern, control freak coaches, gave his players, including, if not especially, Tisdale, so much individual freedom within his offensive system, I imagine “Way Up!” as a rendering of hooping like so many funkadelic bass lines, a lyrical blending of the athletic and the musical. How will this work? I have no idea. We would need a helluva director. But in an era when college basketball, despite increasing athleticism and a shortened shot clock, has improbably become more boring and slow-moving, we need an antidote. “Way Up!” could be it.


Legacy, Wrecked. Last week Hall of Fame basketball coach Bobby Knight, most famously of Indiana where he won three national championships, and infamous grumpy gus, went on The Dan Patrick Show and vehemently trashed his former employers at Indiana, wishing death (literally) upon all of them. Whatta guy. This “increasing bizarre and sad legacy” was written about by Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim in a piece that was not dissimilar to, if a bit less purple than, a piece for SB Nation from two years ago by Jeremy Collins evocatively titled “The General Who Never Was.” “But this always struck me as the biggest irony of all: Knight was enthralled by history,” wrote Wertheim. “Yet when he began to assume a starring role in that most classic of historical narratives—the centuries-old, cautionary tale of hubris and absolute power corrupting absolutely—he was either blind or helpless to stop it.” So here I'm imagining a one-man movie, a la Robert Altman's “Secret Honor”, in which a once brilliant, now disgraced, habitually angry former basketball coach, all alone in his man cave, is left to waste away in his own narcissism, railing against his perceived enemies, unwittingly deconstructing his own myth even as that myth figuratively buries him right before our very eyes.


Over the River (and through the Woods). The one original idea on this list was concocted after I read about South Florida’s Troy Holston and Geno Thorpe inadvertently being left behind at the airport after a road trip to Tulsa. So, when the University of Lower Pennsylvania’s star player and spunky walk on who have never gotten along find themselves stranded in the wake of a freak spring snowstorm in advance of the game that could clinch them their first conference championship in fifty years, they have to find a way to get themselves there in time for tipoff by any means necessary. It’s Jesus Shuttlesworth & Booger Sykes crossed with Jimmy Chitwood & Ollie in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” meets “White Men Can’t Jump” meets that scene in “Blades of Glory” when Will Arnett chases Will Ferrell across Montreal in ice skates.


Jobe. Ben Jobe, the reason this list came to be, passed away last week at the age of 84. He was known, but perhaps not well known, not a member of the college basketball hall of fame and fine with that as he made emphatic in a fiery interview with John Pruett nearly ten years ago. Indeed, Jobe, son of a sharecropper, longtime coach at historically black Southern University, was an advocate for black basketball coaches, who he felt never got their necessary due, as well as for civil rights, which he was there for, even if he refused, as he memorably said in that Pruett interview, to turn the other cheek as so many freedom fighters did. I always wondered if that attitude at least partially tied back to his desire to employ such a frenetic, don't-wait-just-shoot, pile-on-the-points style on the basketball court. We could explore that in “Jobe”, which would become a wonderfully ironic title, an irony that Scott Rabalais noted in his Jobe obit for The Advocate. Rabalais also quoted former Southern athletic director Marino Casem who said: “(Jobe) never reached the pinnacle. He was always looking for something else.” Biopics are tough to get right, but I like the idea of a biopic about a basketball coach not trying to summit some expected third act pinnacle but looking for something else instead, something loftier, more formidable and much more meaningful.

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