Everyone else wanted to dismember him.
Keith Dambrot wanted to embrace him — and did, both literally and figuratively.
The drug bust involving star University of Akron point guard Alex Abreu right before the Mid-American Conference basketball tournament seemed from every conceivable angle to be an unmitigated disaster.
When police said he was with a guy who signed for a package containing five pounds of weed, even casual fans were livid.
This appeared to be the best Akron team in eons, a team with a legitimate chance to win at least a game or two in the NCAA Tournament, an event that has grown so enormous in the national consciousness that it is universally identified by the phrase “March Madness.”
Abreu’s move, if true, was not only incredibly stupid — possessing that much dope is a life-changing felony — but it also came at the worst possible time. How, people wondered, could he pull that kind of stunt now, when the whole season is coming to a climax?
But during the height of the backlash — one day after Abreu was arrested ... minutes after a disheartening regular-season loss to Kent State ... well before UA pulled itself together and won the MAC Tournament — Abreu’s coach said this to Beacon Journal sports columnist Marla Ridenour:
“I love that kid. I’m going to stick behind him. It’s my obligation to stick behind him and get him through his difficult times. ...
“It’s a hard pill to swallow for all of us. [But I told] our guys, ‘We’ve got to give him more love than we’ve ever given anybody in our life because that’s what you do to a brother who is in trouble.’
“We’re not going to try to embarrass him. We’re going to be there for him. ...
“It’s easy to be nice to people when things are going well. But it’s hard when you’re down and out.”
Wow. What an amazing, compassionate, magnanimous thing to say.
At the time, Dambrot must have felt as if his professional world were crashing down. He was looking at the potential demise of a team he probably thinks about 18 hours a day and dreams about at night, a group of young men he had spent months and months cajoling and praising and disciplining and teaching and motivating, trying to squeeze out the last ounce of its God-given talent.
Yet Keith B. Dambrot somehow managed to maintain the proper perspective.
The 54-year-old Akron native is, in short, exactly the kind of person who should be coaching college athletes. Dambrot is the best of both worlds: a rousing athletic success — seven consecutive MAC title games, a Top 25 national ranking this season — and a man who doesn’t forget basketball is a game.
So in spite of Thursday’s nuclear bomb against Virginia Commonwealth, we should be thrilled to have Dambrot in our community, representing us on the national stage.
Fortunately for us, he isn’t going anywhere. Unlike so many Division I coaches who have a great season or two and immediately jump to a bigger program for more money (example: Ohio U’s John Groce bailing for the Big Ten after reaching last year’s Sweet 16), Dambrot is not on the market. He grew up here, went to college here and plans to stay here.
If I were the parent of a Division I basketball prospect, I would certainly take note of the character of this fiery, veteran coach who said and did exactly the right things during the intense heat of a team crisis.
Turn it down!
On a lighter note ... are the people who design college basketball uniforms ingesting something far stronger than weed?
We probably shouldn’t be surprised that the most obnoxious uniforms in this year’s tourney are worn by the Oregon Ducks, who nest in the same state as Nike, whose mission in life is to bring as much attention to shoes and uniforms as is humanly possible and to keep changing colors and styles to maximize sales.
Oregon’s basketball and football teams long have been poster children for the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test uniform trend.
But the fluorescent-green-on-fluorescent-yellow worn at times by this year’s hoops team is enough to make a person trade in his high-def TV for a 1968 black-and-white.
Even worse, heretofore bastions of respectability have caved in. How about Notre Dame wearing a neon green that makes the players look like huge leprechauns who are fighting terminal hangovers?
For many years, the University of Michigan — in spite of what Buckeyes fans might claim — was a respected institution. But ripe bananas would be embarrassed to be as yellow as this year’s Wolverines.
How about Cincinnati wearing peachy pink accents with camo shorts?
Or Baylor’s neon yellow with hints of baby-barf green?
Anyone loving Marquette’s North Carolina powder blue with epaulets?
Almost makes you long for Indiana’s boring white and red with no names on the back.
A trend to kill
Watching basketball terminology evolve can be both amusing and annoying.
Remember when a “3-ball” was the red orb on a billiards table? Back when I was heaving basketballs at the rim, that shot was known as a “3-pointer.”
I can live with that change, but I’m not sure I can live with the newest fad in basketball lingo: announcers telling us about players who can “score the basketball.”
As in, “Russ Smith can really score the basketball!”
As opposed to what, scoring the shuttlecock?
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.