Danny West had just finished his first regular-season home game, a 92-67 win over Brown Tuesday night for the Rams, when he made a big mistake.
He uttered a word URI coach Jim Baron despises.
“I think we got a good chance of making it to The Tournament,” West said. “Making it though. Not first, second round – we’ve got somewhere we’re trying to go – but I feel we do though.”
This was a very strange statement for a couple reasons.
For one, the word tournament – Atlantic 10, NCAA or NIT – wasn’t even in the question West was asked. He was asked if he thought the young Rams were coming together.
What made it more strange was he was the first person associated with the Rams to ever utter the word “tournament” before March and by the sophomore’s tone, you knew which tournament he meant.
Baron isn’t a big fan of talking about the NCAA Tournament. I know from first-hand experience because in my time covering the Rams, I’ve made it a point to ask him, usually a week or two into conference play.
That may have been the reason why, when I asked Baron what he thought of West’s comment, a look of utter contempt grew on his face.
“Who antagonized him? I would be a little bit surprised if it wasn’t you,” he said, looking directly at me, which drew laughter from the media members that have heard me ask about the tournament in the past. “Here we go again. How many years has it been that we’ve been talking about this.”
I’ve been talking about it for three. URI fans have been waiting more than a decade, which is why I’ve raised the question often.
Baron wasn’t ready to kill me. In fact, his response was very tongue-in-cheek, something that can be hard to pick up on if you haven’t been around Baron long enough.
The Tournament is not something you talk about in early November – and not something I start thinking about until January.
But it’s something that’s on a lot of people’s minds all the time.
After all, this is a team that hasn’t seen the Tournament since Mr. Khloe Kardashian’s miracle won the Rams the 1999 Atlantic 10 title. They’ve had a few sniffs at the NCAAS but – most notably the last three seasons – have found a way to choke it away.
It’s not surprising Baron doesn’t like to answer questions about The Tournament and doesn’t want his players talking about it either.
But it needs to be asked. Again and again and again until URI finally makes it, because it’s a blemish on Baron’s record no one ever expected after some of the seasons he’s had. After all, how many coaches stay with a team for over a decade, fail to make an NCAA Tournament and receive contract extension after contract extension?
It’s not a shot at Baron. He’s done a good job with what he's had at URI, but until he makes the NCAAs, Baron will have to field the questions and he’s going to dodge them the way he dodges the other questions he hates - like his teams’ inability to run a half-court offense or the way they always seem to fall in the game they need to win to get to The Tournament.
He’ll continue to talk about “The Method,” or whatever his moniker is for what he’s doing, churn out a team good enough to compete and not talk about The Tournament. He doesn’t even talk about the future, which is typical of coaches but completely ridiculous because if a coach isn’t thinking about the future, he doesn’t deserve to have one.
So when young Mr. West stood at the podium and talked, it was refreshing, even if it wasn’t something Baron would ever want him to say – and for that, he’ll likely not be allowed to speak at a postgame press conference again.
“He doesn’t even know what the tournament means,” Baron continued after coming after me Tuesday night. “He’s going through growing pains and we’ll take him one step. The Atlantic 10 Tournament, right? “
Sorry coach, that wasn’t the tournament he was talking about.
But it was about time someone did.
Eric Rueb covers sports for SRIN and can be reached at 789-9744, ext. 130, or by e-mail at email@example.com