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                             A new commentary every Wednesday — March 9, 2016

The Tale of the Caterpillar and Remembering Fred Snowden

    Believe me, when one is a pudgy person with short legs, and the physique, speed and dexterity of a caterpillar, it is difficult, if not impossible to accept your physical shortcomings—especially if you enjoy watching basketball; The rapidity of game flow, the athleticism, the teamwork and the pure physics in the arc of the improbable three-point shot. That is sheer magic. The proper word is "electrifying." 

    I know it's irrational, but often we puny people cannot keep from dreaming that one morning we'll awaken and a metamorphosis will have magically taken place. We'll have broken through the cocoon and emerged as a butterfly; a star at doing something physical.  I could never excel at anything involving muscles, not even curling. (A large stone is cast upon ice, then a broom is used to sweep the ice frantically, in order to warm the surface of the ice and change the stone's direction. It's a sort of slow motion bowling, favored by Scottish people, and recommended to be played while under the influence of the national beverage.)

    There is something else to consider. Become a fan. I prefer being a basketball fanatic (Sports writer and broadcaster Grantland Rice is accused of shortening the word to "fan.")

     It happened to me in 1972.  I looked it up. In 1971 the University of Arizona, where my son and daughter went to college, had a basketball team, but only a handful of rockbound supporters, most of them graduates, most always over-estimated to be 1000 in the stands attending their Western Athletic Conference games. That year, the athletic supporters watched the Wildcats squeak-out six wins from lesser schools while dropping 20 games. Even the students refused to attend the games in the old gym. 

    1972 was the year the U. of A. learned of a great assistant coach at the University of Michigan and hired Fred Snowden to be head coach... and he energized the moribund program. The very first year Snowden coached the team in 16 wins and 12 loses and his recruiting skills soon brought what was first termed "The Kiddy Core," to Arizona.  Larry Demic, Bob Elliott, Al Fleming, Eric Money, Coneil Norman and Coach Snowden brought with them a brand of basketball that gained the team a new nickname: "The Cardiac Kids."  Coach Snowden was named Conference Coach of the Year, won the Western Athletic Conference Championship in 1976 and bested powerhouse teams from Georgetown and Las Vegas. Best of all, attendance zoomed up to 14,000 in the seats of new McKale Court.  That year, the University of Arizona Men's Basketball Team advanced to the Great Eight pairings in the NCAA big dance in March for the first time.    

    As happens in many coaching careers, the winning streak for the Wildcats and Snowden slumped in 1978. It was bad timing for Snowden, with acceptance then for the University of Arizona in the Pacific Ten Athletic Conference. He resigned and accepted an executive position with Baskin Robbins.

    Fred Snowden suffered a fatal heart attack on January 17, 1994 while on the way to Washington for a White House ceremony.

    Yes, we like many others, have gloried in the Lute Olson years. He remains a living icon and we expect to see him at every game...until forever. But I end this memorial by quoting from a statement made by Tucsonan Bob Elliott, one of the Cardiac Kids, who went on to play in the NBA and retired to become a successful businessman here. He was quoted in the Tucson Citizen as saying, "University of Arizona basketball does not begin or end with Lute Olson, despite four Final Fours and one NCAA title to his credit. It all began with Fred Snowden."

 -Phil Richardson, Observer of the human condition and storyteller. "He goes doddering on into his old age, making a public nuisance of himself." - Joseph L. Menchen




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