Thanksgiving and football go together like oil and vinegar, hot dogs and the Fourth of July, Kentucky and one-and-done star freshmen.
I grew up in Massachusetts, where not only did we sit down and watch the Lions and Cowboys play home games on TV, but we also trudged out in parkas to watch the local high school play its traditional Thanksgiving morning rivalry game. It wasn’t officially the holiday until I stuffed my face, plopped in front of the TV to watch another terrible Lions team and acted like I had dozed off to avoid the annoying relative’s mindless conversation.
But a few years ago, my eye wandered past the gridiron to college hoops, and I admit, I felt slightly ashamed at first. Instead of just that lone Great Alaska Shootout game late-night on the holiday, there were suddenly games spaced throughout the holiday. It didn’t seem right at first, but then I found myself staying on these games a little longer. I’d miss the Lions’ latest three-and-out and no longer did it feel un-American.
Last year I spent Thanksgiving at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, covering Davidson in the Old Spice Classic. I missed just about all of the football that day, but I didn’t really miss it that much. I watched a well-drilled Davidson team and a surprisingly good Gonzaga squad. I watched Bob Huggins rant and rave. I saw three-pointers and dunks and good defensive plays and didn’t really long for the the NFL’s extra point—commercial—kickoff—commercial sequence.
You know what, basketball on Thanksgiving works. “It’s a good thing for college basketball,” College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik said.
And this year there’s plenty to choose from, including Wojcik’s Cougars. I’ll be in Phoenix on Turkey Day, so perhaps you can join me for a Hardwood Thanksgiving. Here's a road map:
10 a.m. for me in Phoenix (noon ET): I successfully avoid donuts 364 days each year, but give in on Thanksgiving. Hey, it’s a diet-busting day anyway, so why not go all out? Join me as I pound mini-powdered donuts and watch a much fitter Marcus Smart lead Oklahoma State against Purdue on ESPN2 in the Old Spice Classic. No doubt some NBA executives will also be watching Smart, who scored 40 points against Memphis this month.
Noon for me (2 p.m. ET): Get the clicker handy. Yes, you’re allowed to take a peek at Packers-Lions, but spend some time on Miami-George Washington from the DIRECTV Wooden Legacy on ESPNU, and Butler-Washington State from Orlando. on ESPN2. See how Miami is faring after losing all five starters from a year ago, and how Butler is holding up after losing coach Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics.
2:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET): Time to race over to the buffet, but be strategic so this buffet not only has white meat, gravy, potatoes and plenty of rolls, but it’s near a TV tuned to ESPN2 and Marquette-Cal State Fullerton from the Wooden. You’ll notice that while Marquette’s Davante Gardner likely beat you to the buffet line, the guy can play.
4:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. ET): I covered Jimmy Patsos when he used the ultimate triangle-and-2 defense to hold Stephen Curry scoreless — and yet lose by 30. You never know what the colorful coach will do, and I look forward to watching him in his first year at Siena try to take down a deep Memphis team from Orlando on ESPN2. It’s OK if you catch the end of Raiders-Cowboys, too.
6:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. ET): Wojcik’s Cougars try to upset San Diego State on ESPNU at the Wooden, while Saint Joseph’s and LSU play in the final game of the day in Orlando on ESPN2. LSU features highly-touted freshman Jarrell Martin, who could be in the NBA a year from now.
9 p.m. (11 p.m. ET): The relatives are likely gone now, so you can settle in without distraction and catch a couple of the nation’s best players square off while picking at the leftovers. It’s Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who has already scored 37 points in a game this season, against Arizona State and speedy guard Jahii Carson on ESPN2. If you dare to miss a Carson fast break, you’re allowed to catch the end of Steelers-Ravens.
It’s just you may forget to click over.