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Amid conflict, hoop dreams to be relished

SPOKANE, Wash — Play basketball or call time out for war?

Can Americans morally sit in front of TV sets and arenas coast to coast and watch sports and war?

Veteran UConn coach Jim Calhoun believes America should do both this week as the NCAA Tournament kicks off today with BYU battling Calhoun's Huskies in the first round of the South Regional here.

"We shouldn't let any tyrant control or say how we live our American way of life," Calhoun said on Wednesday.

He's right. It's called freedom of choice, something worth fighting for.

"Yeah, it's a bizarre situation right now and I've spent time watching MSNBC, CNN on our situation and war," Calhoun said. "I see people in Baghdad sitting around, their life on hold. But here, no one should suppress our American way of life. That's why our loved ones are over there protecting our way of life." Calhoun, who spent 16 days away from his team this year following prostate surgery, said he has a new appreciation for life and gratitude for God, his family and his team. Play ball? No question in his mind.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, his Badgers going against Weber State today, agreed.

"This is a good opportunity to be reminded generations died for us to enjoy freedom — many before us paid the price and it's worth fighting for. Imagine going from state to state, shooting free throws, dunking the ball, hitting free throws or going snowmobiling. This is a small part of freedom not everybody in the world can do," Ryan said.

The American way of life is reflected here today as many stories unfold at this South Regional.

"This is a great stage for recognition for schools, leagues and individuals," Calhoun said.

The American way of life?

Weber State guard Jermaine Boyette steps on the stage as coach Joe Craven's diamond-find in Indiana with a chance to make himself a top NBA draft pick against Wisconsin in a regional that includes outstanding guards like UConn's Ben Gordon, Stanford's Julius Barnes. "All I can do is my best and represent my school with class and dignity, giving it my all," Boyette said.

This time last year, BYU reserve guard Marc Roberts was on an LDS mission in Mendoza, Argentina, a country in economic turmoil whose big spark at the time was hype over World Cup soccer. Roberts, who may not get on the court today, is "thrilled" to be in the Big Dance and wherever it takes him.

Former Weber State center Jake Shoff, now a key BYU reserve, has a unique perspective having played for two teams in the South Regional. Same with teammate Ricky Bower, who transferred from Wisconsin, Weber State's opponent. Meanwhile Shoff's brother-in-law, Elder Ben Criddle, who is serving an LDS mission two hours away, received permission from his mission president to see today's BYU-UConn game in Spokane.

Washington natives on BYU's roster, Mark Bigelow and Terry Nashif, have cornered more than 36 tickets from teammates so family members can make the trek from Olympia and Vancouver. "I haven't played in this state in four years. I'm excited, this is a dream come true," Nashif said.<

Luis Lemes and Rafael Araujo, natives of Brazil who were playing JC ball in Oklahoma and Arizona last March, are excited as kids at a carnival this week. The opportunity also comes for Weber's Slobodan Ocokoljic (Serbia), Stephan Bachmann (Switzerland) and Steve Morrison (Canada). "I can't believe it, I'm so happy," Lemes said. It's great for our team, for our players and it is exciting to be a part of it, to just be here, to be on this team and play."

"We've got diversity on our team," Weber State coach Joe Cravens said. "I remember our season starting on a flight to Alaska. I walked through the cabin and our Swiss center was reading an economics book, our Mormon returned missionary was reading the Book of Mormon and our guard from Gary, Ind., was looking at Playboy Magazine. I asked them all to switch reading material. We had two guys change majors and another change his religion." Only in America.

Tip it off, let's go.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com