TROLL TUESDAY: March Madness and the battle for basketball's soul

Streeter Lecka

March Madness is here, but Kentucky basketball is missing out, and the rest of the field is weaker than ever. Are we in the middle of a crisis? You be the judge.

Rather than wait for columnists to bait readers into blind Internet anger, we at SB Nation believe in setting the curve ourselves and doing so honestly. On Troll Tuesdays , we attempt to construct the most obnoxious column on earth. Today: Let's talk about March Madness.

INDIANAPOLIS — Do you have a fever? A cold? Did you get into a car accident? March Madness has arrived, and chances are you're getting your excuses ready to skip out of work on Thursday and Friday, all part of the most magical time of year for sports fans. Me? I'm sick to my stomach.

To anyone who's been paying attention to college basketball, the magic's not the same this year. For instance, last year's title winners couldn't even make the tournament in 2013. But of course they couldn't. Like so much success these days, it turns out Kentucky basketball was an empire built on quicksand.

All year long you've heard the refrain in college hoops. "There's no great team in 2013!"

Folks, there hasn't been a great college basketball team in a long time.

For years, the sport's been ravaged by a culture of one-and-doneism, coaches who put performance ahead of principles, and shoe company kingmakers who turn our leaders into moral paupers. You think it's a fluke that this year's teams have less talent than ever?

Grow up, kids.

Look what happened to Kentucky basketball.

You can only put the cart before the horse for so long before the wagon goes off the road.

Look what happened to Kentucky basketball. You can only put the cart before the horse for so long before the wagon goes off the road.

This week, I traveled to Knightstown, Indiana to see the original gym from the movie Hoosiers. I try to make the trip once every year to remember what it's all about. But this year was different. Up and down the court I walked, wondering whether any of this means anything anymore. What would Coach Dale think of Shabazz Muhammad and his Gucci backpack? Would Jimmy Chitwood be too busy with his AAU coach to learn what it takes to be great? Maybe, but what can you do? That's where we are these days.

I watched as some would-be Chitwoods practiced free throws, and when practice was over and the gym was empty, I stopped to measure the hoop.

Sure enough, it was an even 10 feet, just like everywhere else.

But everywhere else is still miles away from Hickory High.

The truth about the youth in this country is that the YouTubeification of our world and Twitterizing of our minds has spawned a generation that lives for instant gratification.

Everybody wants to be the next viral sensation with a slam dunk, nobody wants to make the layup. Everybody wants to block a shot and get Twitter tweeting, nobody wants to take a charge. Everybody wants to live in a mansion, but nobody wants to lay the foundation.

Who's out there to stop it?

Nobody.

But I'm here to try.

Admitting there's a problem is the first step to changing anything. So while Kentucky goes back to recruiting AAU hot shots, UCLA pins its championship hopes to a superstar freshman who'll be gone in two weeks and still doesn't know the offense, and the media roots for that desperate, former UCLA star suing the NCAA to make the college game a professional sport, let's try and remember John Wooden. Try and remember what Success really looks like.

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Industriousness, alertness, intentness, team spirit, competitive greatness.

Just a few of the principles that made UCLA the greatest, classiest program we've ever seen. You don't see any mention of the NBA Draft or shoe contracts or Worldwide Wes in the success pyramid of the most successful program in college basketball history, do you? Who needs Worldwide Wes selling pipe dreams when you've got the Wizard of Westwood selling results?

Alas, there's not much competitive greatness these days. After all, why sacrifice for the team when you can show off for the scouts? Why play for the love of the game when you can sue the NCAA to get a piece of the pie?

The name on the front of the jersey? Who cares, dude.

Pretty soon kids will ask for their twitter screen-name on the back, and they'll get it, too. Because coaches understand it's all about fame for today's stars. Basketball's just another opportunity for kids to become a trending topic. These are tomorrow's heroes.

Next to all that, maybe it's not a coincidence that the world's oldest dynasty (America) finds itself on perpetual upset alert. Our children are behind in the classrooms, our economy's behind in the standings, and everyone's favorite team isn't such a powerhouse anymore. Sorry, Coach Wooden.

Your pyramid is ancient history.

Who knows whether basketball culture sparked America's decline or America's decline paved the way for basketball culture to take hold of our youth, but it doesn't matter, does it? What came first, the chicken or the egg?

The home team's buying the farm either way.

Think about that while you fill out your brackets and play hooky from work this week.

Maybe it's all crazy, sure.

Maybe I'm just a Norman Dale kind of guy in a Calipari kind of world.

But this fight isn't over.

Up and down the floor I went at Hickory High this week, wondering where we're all going, thinking about where we are. The highlight dunks, the trending topics, the misplaced priorities, the unstoppable train of self-interest churning into the lane to slam dunk us all. Then, I stopped. I took a deep breath, planted my feet in that empty gymnasium, and imagined AAU culture hurtling toward the rim. And I practiced taking a charge.

It won't show up in any box score, and you probably won't see the highlight on YouTube.

But that's okay with me.

If we want to be winners again, somebody's gotta do the dirty work.

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