- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

They share a low-profile conference and a compelling tradition of national excellence: the men's basketball team at Catholic University and the women's basketball team at Marymount University.

These two Division III entities are both a treat and the real deal, if the deal is a quality education that is not compromised in the interest of a quality athletic program.

Mike Lonergan, the Catholic coach, sometimes rues his lack of academic wiggle room with prospective student-athletes, starting in the range of a 1,200 score on the SAT.

The arbiters in the admissions department along Michigan Avenue in Northeast are not in it to save the lives of the misguided or to provide a second chance to a thug who has a history with law-enforcement authorities. They are not inclined to feel the pain of a Richie Parker or a Melvin Whitaker merely because of an extracurricular activity. They are in it to educate the young, and they have certain standards to uphold, and, no, it is not culturally biased to have standards that apply to all the students.

Of course, too many of the ninnies at the Division I level sold out a long time ago. They are the basketball whores who pretend to believe they are on a mission from God and who justify their actions with an empty logic that breeds a corrupting malaise. You know the spiel: He is really a good kid, even though he slashed a kid in Charlottesville, and he deserves this opportunity to represent our institution, because he has seen the error of his 72-stitch slash, and one day he will make a vital contribution to society.

Bill Finney, the coach at Marymount in Arlington, does not have to walk on the side of those who rape and pillage the community. He pursues the sort of student-athlete who can sit down and, believe it or not, craft a term paper without the tutelage of a ghostwriter, also known as an academic adviser.

The term paper is often a collective undertaking at the Division I level, where programs employ a stable of advisers, study hall monitors, a person or two to flash the first-grade spelling cards and the professional hand-holding artists who help an athlete get in touch with his inner moron.

Many of the delusional high school basketball wannabes locally could do a lot worse than to land in the care of Lonergan and Finney and their respective institutions. There is life after basketball, fortunately enough, and it is a life that does not celebrate the benefits of help-side defense.

By the way, you, the wannabes, are not going to the NBA or WNBA. Let's get that straight. To be honest, there is nothing to suggest the WNBA is even going to survive beyond the benevolence of the NBA. So what happens then, if there is no pro career in the offing?

Well, it works like this: You have to walk into the office of a potential employer and you have to be dressed appropriately. If you have 15 tattoos on your body and your baseball cap is upside-down and you have more pierced body parts than body cavities and you are all about keeping it real, you probably are not going to be perceived too favorably in the interview.

It is a cold world, and your basketball background is not liable to warm the person who cuts you off on the Beltway. That is just the way it is. They cheer you today. They cut you off in traffic tomorrow.

That is the beauty of the programs at Catholic and Marymount. You are not on some kind of head-turning trip. Your sense of importance is hardly exaggerated in the media. You play to play, and there is a healthy perspective all about you.

Matt Hilleary, the two-time Capital Athletic Conference Player of the Year, attracted a smattering of interest from Division I recruiters while at Seton in Manassas. He probably has been better served by his four years at Catholic than what might have transpired for him in the Division I ranks. He has enjoyed a stellar athletic career while maturing in an environment that demands he be a student. His major is civil engineering. How do you like that?

It is always kind of hard to understand the motivation of the towel-waving souls sitting on the end of a Division I bench. Isn't basketball, on some level, about playing? Or is it about cheerleading?

In the end, you become a name in small type on the back pages of a media guide. You might as well play while you can.

As if it is an annual rite of March, the men of Catholic and the women of Marymount have earned a berth in the NCAA tournament. It is the sixth consecutive appearance for Catholic and the third consecutive one for Marymount. Each team has received a first-round bye and plays at home this Saturday night.

The Cardinals have a 24-4 record, the Saints a 22-6 mark. The Cardinals won the national championship two seasons ago, the Saints advanced to the Final Four last season. Lonergan has a 227-81 record in 11 seasons, Finney a 399-142 record in 20 seasons. The Cardinals have two stars in Hilleary and Will Morley, the Saints have three 1,000-point scorers in Kate Jarvis, Ashlee Courter and Jodie Knotts.

They deserve our applause this week, the coaches and players alike.

Good job again. Now go get them.

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