Final Four a platform for amateur athletes, but has a professional feel

Posted Thursday, Apr. 03, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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engel The Final Four’s arrival feels not too dissimilar to when the Super Bowl came to North Texas in 2011 … minus the ice, frigid temperatures, seat/ticket fiasco and national-punch line status. Oh, and those players who played in that game at JerryWorld were paid.

The 2014 Final Four may be a platform for amateur student-athletes, but this event is remarkably professional. Forget the breathing contradiction of a professional event for amateur athletes — the beneficiary is the fan.

Regardless of what you think of the NCAA — start with money-grubbing business — these people do know how to throw a party.

If you are not inclined to attend the Final Four games, but would like to join “the scene,” there is a solid way to take part at the Capital One Bracket Town in the Dallas Convention Center beginning Friday and ending Monday evening before the title game.

This is akin to the NFL Experience — an indoor “amusement park” full of activities from basketball, pop-a-shot, baseball, lacrosse and the other sports that are a part of the Capital One Cup, given annually to the athletic department that combines for the most points in men’s and women’s sports.

One of the new “activities” added to Bracket Town is — get this — basketball.

There are basketball activities everywhere in this place to complement the merchandise areas, food courts, etc.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 3 to 11.

BTW — for those with kids who want to actually participate in the games, closer to 7 might be about right. And prepare for crowds — this thing is always popular.

Kellogg’s pick

CBS/TNT NCAA analyst Clark Kellogg was at Bracket Town on Thursday morning for a quick meet and greet; he is a member of the Capital One advisory committee.

I asked him who is going to win the title.

“I am leaning toward Florida. I like the maturity of that team,” Kellogg said. “I like the way Scottie Wilbekin is playing. Florida is the team that is a notch above.”

Unlike Kentucky, which is all freshmen, Florida is loaded with seniors. The Gators start four seniors and one sophomore. So experience does actually matter.

“Experience matters not only in terms of the players but the mission they are on. This is a group that has been around,” Kellogg said. “[Coach] Billy Donovan has been there — they have the ingredients: they defend, they rebound. I wish they had more potency offensively. But Florida might be, if needed, a little more explosive offensively.”

Bruce to play three

Not sure how they did it — thank TNT — but the big “get” of this weekend is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s arrival and scheduled performance at the March Madness Music Festival at Reunion Park on Sunday.

Bruce, who has not played Dallas since April 2008, is scheduled to take the stage at 7 p.m.

The real surprise, although if you follow Bruce’s career it’s not a shock, is that he is not mailing it in at this festival with an abbreviated show. A representative from Capital One, which is sponsoring Sunday’s performance, said The Boss is scheduled for a three-hour performance.

Admission is free to the music festival; if you are willing to wait, and brave the crowds, Bruce is always worth it.

UConn’s trio

For the third time in as many appearances at a Final Four in Texas, Connecticut is here because of a guard who is better than everybody else.

Shabazz Napier is averaging 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and is shooting 45 percent on 3-pointers, and 93 percent from the free-throw line. He is the reason UConn, seeded seventh, is still playing.

UConn won the title in 2011 in Houston on the back of point guard Kemba Walker, who was named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player.

UConn won the title in 2004, in San Antonio, with two-guard Ben Gordon playing a major supporting role to center Emeka Okafor.

If UConn has any shot at defeating Florida for a second time this season — the Huskies won 65-64 at UConn on Dec. 2 on a buzzer-beater from Napier — its point guard will again have to be the best player on the floor.

UConn won its first title in 1999, against Duke in St. Petersburg, Fla. Its two best players were guards — Richard Hamilton, and Khalid El-Amin.

He’s not kidding

“The issue one and done has now become a bad connotation. So we’re going to break out something new this week to get you [media] off this one and done so that we can think about in another term,” Kentucky coach John Calipari on the One and Done Era.

Suggestion: Mercenaries.

Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at www.star-telegram.com/sports/.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof

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