Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Crosstown Punchout

I wasn't at the game—didn't even watch it on TV—but that doesn't mean I didn't feel it when I saw what happened. Like a shock wave that emanated from the Cintas Center on Xavier's campus, I too was swept up in the chaos' aftermath, despite my most resolute intentions to ignore the whole fiasco.

The game I refer to was the 79th Crosstown Shootout—an intra-city event that has produced a lot of stuff to feel good about—but sadly, the 80th may have to wait some time before the rivalry resumes. Today marked a sad day for Cincinnati. The tension between the Bearcats and Muskies had been brewing for a few years now. The crop of personalities on both sides formed a perfect storm of fists and trash talk that many times prior had boiled over in the city's prominent summer league games, the Deveroes League played at Woodward High School. There, Yancy Gates and Kenny Frease would shove each other around on a regular basis and Tu Hollaway would just get mad at everyone so he could play well. Those three guys, plus Tu's little Pomeranian, Mark Lyons, are all you need to start a gang brawl on a basketball court.

Before everything came to an unfortunate end, it's important to look closely at these individuals. Here is Yancy Gates, a little boy in a grown-ass man's body. He's the local cat with more to live up to than most UC star recruits and he and everyone around him is openly frustrated that he hasn't developed into the beast he should be. The bottom line with Yancy as player and as a person is that he is soft, and the reason he punches people first is to prove that the opposite is true. He's the biggest little man you'll ever come across, but you'd better keep your distance when you see him in person.

Then there is Kenny Frease, another wide-bodied load that looks like the big hairy orange thing that hangs out with Marvin the Martian on those cartoons. With good hands but terrible feet, Frease too has frustrated scouts and onlookers. Plus he's the token Palooka on the team—just a big dumb white boy whose best attribute is the five fouls he starts with. Kenny Frease is usually the first guy getting punched in any brawl and that proved to be true today.

Tu Halloway is next. Here is a nasty little dude. Some players like T.J Houshmandzadeh , for instance, have to be angry to play at their best; Tu is one of these guys. I don't know why he is most successful when in a disturbed frame of mind, but from what I've seen, if he isn't pissed off at somebody, he's bored. Overtime, angry guys become permanent assholes, and this is the fate of Terrell Halloway, I'm afraid. A terrific talent, but completely unlikeable.

Never far from Halloway is Mark Lyons. If Halloway is genuinely a shitty dude, than Lyons is faking his shittiness and that's even worse. He's not even tough; he just runs his mouth and makes faces a lot. Aside from bouts of brainlessness, there's really nothing wrong with him as a player, but he will always be Tu's little lapdog, yapping away in my memory.

With the cast of characters out of the way, some back story is needed.

As mentioned, the summer league games were often heated, and the previous shootouts were always good for a shoving match for a loose ball, but nothing to the degree of what took place today. Earlier in the week a local reporter asked Bearcat shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick if he thought Tu would start on UC. His response was stately and well thought out. “With the guys we have now,” he said, “I would say no.” Not necessarily inflammatory stuff there. The reporter served it up to him, he essentially was asked to compare Tu to his teammates, and he sided with his teammates. No story there.


Tu Halloway took offense to this and confirmed as much after the brawl. Instead of ignoring what anyone—especially the other team—had to say about him, Halloway decided that the comment mattered and he wasn't going to leave it be after a twenty-point victory. As the seconds ticked down in the game, he started barking to the UC bench, then at an opposing player on the court and then pushed said player to the ground. Shortly before all of that, Tu also asked Xavier beat reporter Shannon Russell, to tweet her followers that “XU put them in a (presumably f-word) body bag.” This to me is a shit-talker gone mad. This is going beyond the realms of a game. If such a fueling of misguided testosterone happened in a night club or an automobile, someone may have been killed.

Nobody disrespects the little angry guy, though. No one talks shit about the 5'10'' toughy without getting what's coming to them. My God! How old are these people? And the funny part is, as soon as the fight broke out, Tu was safely restrained by the referee while his carnage erupted around him.

Yancy Gates acted very cowardly with his solid right hand to Kenny Freise's jaw. Frease was not squared up with him and looked to be acting more of a peacekeeper than an instigator. He wasn't even looking at the punch that floored him and where I'm from (and where Yancy's from), that's called a sucker punch. Yet, to one up such a cowardly move, the big Senegalese UC center whose name sounds like Mooge, stomped Kenny on the ground with his giant basketball shoe. Stomping someone on the ground. That's prison behavior.

Friese wound up with his face split and bloodied, and a bunch of yelling and shoving and breaking up ensued. Yancy looked the most aggravated of everyone and ended the fracas by throwing air punches at pretty much anything.

Eventually, long after the teams left the court and the violence-charged crowd filed out of the building, some kind of order was restored and press conferences were made manageable.

Mick Cronin's statements were good. He talked about how society as a whole puts sports on too high of a pedestal. He tried to convey to us and to his players and maybe even to himself that none of it is that important. He aired his concerns of getting fired over the brawl and said he made all of his players take off their jerseys. He looked shaken, angry and mortified.

Then Tu and his mutt took the mic on their side and embarrassed themselves even further. Tu talked about how his team is made up of “gangsters”, and of how he felt disrespected by Kilpatrick's comment. He clarified his comment to Shannon Russell when he said his team “zips them up” in body bags to close out games—he said it was the team's motto. He was really fixated on body bags that game. Then Lyons yapped about how the media expected a brawl from the teams because of the hype the press created around the Crosstown Shootout. He pointed out that if someone put their hands in his team's face, bad things would happen to them. What class acts.

Days after the fight, the city couldn't stop talking about it. I overheard old guys on the bus recounting the incident blow-for-blow, librarian ladies in the break room trying to decipher who started it and even grade-school kids pretending they're Yancy Gates and Kenny Freise in slow motion.

Suspensions were levied: six games for Yancy, Mooge, and some guy named Ellis. For X it was four for freshmen Dez Wells and Landen Amos, two for Lyons, and one for Tu. Obligatory apologetic press releases were issued by both universities and their respective conferences. UC dragged their participants in front of a microphone for a public apology later in the week where Yancy gave a tearful lament of how he was now mostly referred to as a thug after the fight.

Meanwhile, basketball rallies on. Both teams now have short-handed lineups and have to make due with the ends of their benches. Fortunately for each program, this stretch of the schedule is always cupcake row with teams like Oral Roberts and Wright State coming up next for X and UC respectively. Halloway said that everyone will forget this even happened in a day or two and I'm sure everyone affiliated with the teams hopes that were the case, but it isn't likely to happen. The Crosstown Brawl of 2011 will be remembered in Cincinnati for at least a half-generation if not a whole one.

Whether the rivalry will continue is still up in the air. Yes it would be a shame to cancel one of the city's premier annual sporting events, but everyone would understand if it was temporarily halted until some fresh faces appeared on each bench. Yet, I think these same groups have learned some kind of lesson here. With strong reactions coming from all angles, I would almost think a rematch with these two teams would lead to a clean game without incident. Then again, perhaps simply seeing the opponent would raise the hair on their neck and the mouth would begin to froth once more. In the end, it's just basketball and not really a big deal to the rest of the world. Cronin hit the nail on the head when he said we make this crap more important than it is, but it's these kinds of primal distractions in society that spice up our routine and predictable lives. It could be considered sad that we obsess over public fisticuffs like this, but such is human nature. The depravity in all of us sometimes rises to the surface, even in the harmless confines of college basketball.

Mojokong—play to the whistle.