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Perhaps the best way to go about summarizing a state basketball tournament like the one we just experienced is to be grateful that we have a state tournament to summarize in the first place.
So before anything else is discussed, let’s be thankful for the basketball that was played and be grateful the plug was not pulled. Others were not nearly as fortunate. There are 10 states that had their tournaments canceled, and 14 others that were postponed with dim hope they’ll be played at all.
“I want to thank the NMAA,” Melrose boys coach Kevin Lackey said. “I know a lot of other states are calling off their whole tournaments and I could not imagine what it would feel like for this group to do all the work that we’ve done and not be able to play. I know the NMAA went to bat with the Governor’s Office, negotiated hard. And I’m so excited that these guys got the chance to play.”
Having said that, to label the 2020 as memorable hardly seems appropriate to the occasion, a dilemma created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This tournament was unlike any other, and will leave a lasting imprint on all of us. It was remarkable and strange and surreal and depressing and communal, all bundled into one incomprehensibly complicated package.
And let’s hope there’s never going to be another one like it.
WELCOME: It’s my annual tradition to start off with the first-time state champions, and there were two this year in the Mescalero Apache girls and the Bosque School boys. This is rarefied company they keep now.
There were a few repeaters. Valley’s boys for one.
The boys from Melrose and the girls from Los Lunas capped off three-peats. Pecos’ boys now have four straight.
We congratulate the 10 state champions.
PARADOX: As completely bizarre as this year’s tournament turned out to be because of the ban on fans for the final three days, the basketball was surprisingly predictable as the brackets didn’t stray far off the chalk lines and produced far fewer upsets in Week 2 than we’re accustomed to seeing.
In fact, all 10 No. 1 seeds reached the state final, and going back to NMAA record keeping that exists on its website dating to 2007, that had not happened before in any year.
The No. 1 seeds won seven out of 10 championship games, and no seed lower than 3 reached the last game. The non-No. 1 state champs were Bosque (a 3), plus 2 seeds in Mescalaero Apache and Melrose’s girls.
And, of course, can’t do this today without talking about the two father/son duos who won state together, Clifton and Eli Davidson of Bosque, and the two William Benjamins at Las Cruces High. What a thing to have shared, empty Pit or not.
NFHS FALLOUT: I have stayed quiet on social media about this, and not by accident.
There was much noise about the NFHS Network charging fans in New Mexico to watch games they had wanted to attend but could not. The cost (which I paid, too, although I get reimbursed) was $10.99 for the length of the tournament.
NMAA executive director Sally Marquez said she asked for games to be offered at a reduced rate, but was not successful.
I have been of two minds on this. My first reaction was, it seemed a bit like a money grab.
But that point of view is somewhat shortsighted.
I’m not sure all the vitriol directed at the NFHS was warranted. Given how many hundreds (and probably thousands) of basketball fans who were able to gather in large groups and watch games for free at homes or at restaurants/bars, can we say for sure that the NFHS is going to be making a huge profit off New Mexicans?
Look, boys and girls, it was not a perfect solution on a week that presented us with viewing challenges we were not prepared to embrace. Not everyone had the same reliable video stream that someone like me had from my desk at the Journal. In fact, on Thursday morning, I had two choices: watch on my laptop in my living room, or watch on my desktop at the office. It was an easy choice. But not everyone had this option available to them, in particular visiting fans who weren’t exactly carrying laptops with them en masse to the metro area.
And, it is absurd that the streaming of a game was running several minutes behind the live action on the court, even with a strong signal. The NFHS would do well to address that.
HANGING IT UP: Four-time state champion coach Eloy Brazil of Maxwell, one of the state’s small-school legends, said Saturday would be his last game.
After 40 seasons coaching, including two state titles for Springer, one at his alma mater Cimarron, plus a state championship and two runner up finishes with Maxwell, he said it was time to retire.
AND FINALLY: In light of Sunday’s announcement from the CDC, it is obvious that today serves not just as a farewell to the basketball season, but all high school sports until the summer.
That doesn’t mean I won’t be doing any writing for the next few weeks. Quite the contrary, there is going to be much to write about.
But more than ever, I’m glad I had the chance to spend a few hours inside the Pit on Saturday.
Take care, everyone. We’ll talk again soon.