Joel Reichenberger: No playoff payoff

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Joel Reichenberger

Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Joel here.

— Basketball speaking, it’s been a groundbreaking year for me. I traveled to Pueblo to watch the Hayden High School boys basketball team play in the Class 2A state tournament. I traveled to Oklahoma City to watch a first-round weekend of the NCAA Tournament and, having seen the Utah Jazz defeat the Nuggets, 114-111, on Monday, I saw the NBA playoffs.

I never would have expected it was the Nuggets and the NBA that would register as the least inspiring.

For all the talk of state basketball at the high school level and the NCAA Tournament in the college ranks, neither is all it’s cracked up to be.

Pueblo is a long way away, and while Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Massari Arena isn’t large, it was easily big enough to swallow the cheering sections of all eight schools competing at the tournament. The Tiger faithful were packed together in small clumps in the arena, but vast tracts of seats remained empty throughout the weekend. State may be the sport’s biggest stage at that level, but that doesn’t guarantee a packed gym.

The dirty secret of the NCAA Tournament is that it’s pretty much the same way. Eight teams were in Oklahoma City. The selection committee is smart in that it tries to keep top teams close to home, even when that means having two top seeds from different ends of the bracket play at the same location for the first two rounds. In Oklahoma City, that meant Kansas State and Kansas, a No. 2 seed and a No. 1, shared the gym. It didn’t, however, mean the sold-out environment some might expect. The games were maybe 75 percent full for the two top seeds in the first round.

Hardly the screaming, writhing celebration one pictures when watching “One Shining Moment.”

Despite all that, the atmosphere was electric, both in Pueblo and Oklahoma City. There’s just something about basketball at those levels, something I didn’t fully appreciate until I yawned during the Nuggets game.

They try awfully hard to make you have fun at NBA games. The announcer never stops, and from contests to dance numbers, the timeouts are so busy there’s barely time to hit the concession stand. Traveling with some friends, we caught a great game. It was close early and, after a Nuggets rally, close at the end.

But there was just something missing. It wasn’t scoring. There were plenty of baskets — highlight reel stuff.

It was passion that was lacking. The players definitely were trying, and the fans really seemed to care. The concern was there, but the passion wasn’t. They didn’t play like high school kids living out their dreams or college hoopsters determined to make it to the next round. The fans didn’t cheer like this was a rare jewel of an opportunity.

It was a good trip, a fun stop in the big city and a good game. I’d do it again. But I won’t go back expecting anything to rival my other recent basketball postseason experiences.

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