National | Sports

Issue: "What is art?," March 20, 2004


Right now, St. Joseph's can enjoy its feel-good status. A No. 1 ranking, an undefeated season, a top tournament seed, and a championship in Philadelphia's famed Big 5 city tournament. That's pretty good for a private school with 3,400 students that's usually overshadowed by neighboring Temple and Villanova. But since Cinderella stories aren't made in the regular season, St. Joe's will have to go back to what the team has done so well this season: silencing dismissive critics.

There are still those who will try to disparage the Hawks' perfect regular season. St. Joe's conference, the Atlantic-10, is a cakewalk, critics say. And, sure, the Hawks beat Gonzaga, but it was just the first game of the season before Gonzaga fully developed into a top-five team. But Stanford's loss at the end of the season left St. Joe's with a lion's share of the limelight and the very difficult task of continuing regular-season perfection into post-season success.

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One year ago, college basketball trudged through scandal as March Madness approached, giving the sport a black eye even before it opened on its biggest stage. This season, instead of trouble at Georgia and St. Bonaventure, college basketball approached March Madness with dramatic late-season runs by Stanford and St. Joe's. And though St. Joseph's reign as king of college basketball may be short, it's a storyline that beats a lot of the seamier alternatives.

Magic misery

At this point, it's easy enough to believe that nothing goes right for Grant Hill. Four years ago, Mr. Hill was the NBA's can't-miss free agent. In six seasons with Detroit, the forward developed a reputation as a consistent triple-double threat, a warm, fan-friendly personality with a penchant for public service. In other words, Mr. Hill is exactly what the misbehaving NBA needs more of-if only the fallen star's ankle would allow it.

Since 2000, when Mr. Hill signed with the Orlando Magic, he's played in just 47 games out of more than 300 scheduled regular-season contests. He hasn't played since Jan. 16, 2003. And as the positive reports of Mr. Hill's recovery from his fourth ankle surgery mounted, fans held their breath for the bad news that has so often plagued Mr. Hill. In an examination last week, a doctor raised concern, which in turn raised doubts about whether Mr. Hill will make it back to the court this season as he had planned.

The Magic brought Mr. Hill and young superstar Tracy McGrady to the Magic Kingdom to make up for the losses of Shaquille O'Neal and Anfernee Hardaway in prior years. But Mr. Hill's injury has crippled the franchise, robbing Mr. McGrady of a strong supporting cast and consuming the Magic's salary cap by paying an injured player more than $13 million per year.

You can't blame Terrell Owens's agent David Joseph for trying to force the star wide receiver out of San Francisco and into Philadelphia. Mr. Joseph made a grand mistake by forgetting to file the paperwork that would have made Mr. Owens a free agent. Instead, the 49ers traded the ill-tempered star to Baltimore, which offered a second-round pick in exchange. But that move upset Mr. Owens, who wanted to be sent to Philadelphia. The players association has jumped in, asking the league to void the trade for somewhat indiscernible reasons. All this, because an agent forgot to file his paperwork.

The NBA players association is not likely to appreciate Damon Stoudamire's recent behavior. No, the Portland guard wasn't recently busted for drug possession, as he was last summer. Rather, Mr. Stoudamire took a surprise drug test on a dare from a Portland sports columnist. The guard passed the test, proving he's clean. But Mr. Stoudamire did admit his union probably wouldn't look too favorably on the test; he said it was merely his way to clear his name.

Amid the steroid scandal in baseball and the cries that doped-up athletes will soon break nearly sacred baseball records, one would hardly notice that home runs were down last season. No player reached the 50 home-run mark-a first since 1994. Barry Bonds, himself at the center of the doping scandal, blamed the decrease in home runs on "softer baseballs." Harder baseballs notwithstanding, 2004 may again see lower home-run totals. Jim Thome may be the National League's best shot, but he's recovering from injury.


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