Columnist Mikel Kelly, who, it could be argued, likes basketball a little too much, takes time from his game watching and court strategizing occasionally to write something for the newspaper

PHOTO COURTESY OF OREGON MEN'S BASKETBALL - Members of the University of Oregon men's basketball team celebrate their win over Kansas and a trip this weekend to the Final Four. The Ducks will face off against North Carolina on Saturday.I just watched the Ducks beat Kansas for the right to go to the Final Four, and I'm really, really excited. These moments come rarely, if at all, for Oregon basketball fans.

Yes, I am aware that the University of Oregon won the very first college basketball national championship, back in 1939, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't televised, and I wasn't born yet anyway. For those who are history-impaired, that was the year that both "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind" came out.

The last time that a team I truly cared about got to the Final Four was 1963, when the Oregon State Beavers (led by Terry Baker and Mel Counts) met up with Cincinnati in the opening round and had their hats handed to them by the fancy-pants Bearcats. Cincinnati, of course, had won the previous two national championships, thanks to All America guard Oscar Robertson. The Big O was no longer a college player in '62-'63, but Cincy did have all-star studs George Wilson and Ron Bonham.

Because I grew up on the Oregon coast, not that far from Corvallis, OSU was the school we gravitated to in those days. Once in a while, my dad scored Beavers tickets from his logging buddies, and occasionally I got to tag along. I'd never seen anything like that level of college basketball. The crowd, the pep band, the rally squad, the excitement on the court — it was all almost too much for this high school whippersnapper to bear.

The Beavers were exciting to watch. Terry Baker, who also happened to win the Heisman Trophy for his exploits on the football field, also quarterbacked the b-ball squad. And the 7-foot-1-inch Mel Counts was a bonafide All American who could shoot from virtually anywhere.

(Special note No. 1: The year after OSU lost to Cincinnati in the Final Four, the Bearcats came to Gill Coliseum, and I did get to see that game, in which the Beavers got a bit of revenge by beating the big-city team.)

(Note No. 2: My all-time favorite Beaver player was guard Jim Jarvis, who not only could sink shots from anywhere on the court, but he could also hit anybody anywhere with his Bob Cousy-like passes, including a killer behind-the-back outlet pass that could go the length of the floor and hit a man breaking for the basket.)

Ironically enough, I never attended any University of Oregon games in person, even though I was a student there in the 1970s. I watched many Ducks games on a 13-inch black-and-white TV in my little house off Willamette Street and cheered on the Kamikazi Kids (Ronnie Lee, Greg Ballard, Stu Jackson, Ernie Kent, etc.) -- but that particular group of players, in spite of having one of the best team defenses in the nation, never advanced any farther than the NIT, the tournament reserved for the country's also-rans.

Like the football program, though, the UO basketball team has seen its luster increase in recent years, and the Ducks have, at least, made it far into the NCAA tournament a few times in recent years.

This year, however, they will go to the Big Dance (where they will face North Carolina on Saturday), and that is huge to this lifelong basketball fanatic. Although I never progressed beyond making the varsity at a very small high school in my senior year, I was known to my classmates as "Mr. Basketball," and I have the scribbles in my high school yearbook to prove it.

Why the moniker, you may ask? Well, I never went anywhere without a basketball, and in my early high school years, I'd dribble the four miles to town, where I'd shoot in the schoolyard (or, on those occasions when we'd take the outside doors off their hinges, in the big gym) all day long — and then, of course, dribble all the way back home again.

At the risk of sounding like Dustin Hoffman's "Rain Man," I was a very good dribbler.

Exactly what fate awaits the Ducks in this year's tournament remains to be seen. To my mind, it's now reached the point some actors experience when they are nominated for Academy Awards. It really is a big honor just to get that far. Unlike Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and Louisville — all of whom expect to advance that far in the tournament EVERY season, for us it's still a thrill. If the Ducks advance more, great. If not, that's OK, too.

Back in 1963, Cincinnati went up against Loyola of Chicago in the championship game, hoping for the first "three-peat" in the nation's history. They couldn't do it. Jerry Harkness of Loyola banked a running hook shot off the glass in the closing seconds to do them in.

The very next season, UCLA would begin (under Coach John Wooden) a string of national championships interrupted only twice in the ensuing dozen years, an achievement almost unthinkable. First it was Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich doing the damage, then teams led by Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and finally future Blazer Bill Walton.

For now, I'm content to celebrate the Ducks' accomplishment. Oh, sure, the media will refer to it as a "loss" by Kansas, just like the game before that was called a loss by Michigan. At some point, I suppose, they'll have to give the boys in lemon and green credit for winning.

Until then, though: Go Ducks!

Mikel Kelly, who, it could be argued, likes basketball a little too much, takes time from his game watching and court strategizing occasionally to write something for the newspaper.

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