So much talk surrounds the future and location of the Crosstown Classic, what can be lost is that importance to the students are what makes the game unique. (Photo Courtesy Cincinnati.com)
CINCINNATI -- In a world where the expanses of familiarity expanded well beyond those within a 30-minute drive the personal rivalry between UC and Xavier took on a different feel.
A post on Instagram can rile up a friend two time zones away. A Skype session to New York can erase 638 miles of body language.
When the sprawling, interconnected web of organized AAU basketball connects players from every team it's nearly impossible to find an opponent on the schedule that doesn't bring up a personal rivalry.
Of the 20 players expected to take part in Saturday's Crosstown Classic only three hail from inside the I-275 belt. Recruits aren't sold on playing this game that defines college basketball in this city. They don't know about Lenny Brown or the non-handshake. Heck, some of the freshmen on these teams might not have even known about the brawl until they arrived on campus.
The players see each other. As do the coaches. But playing against those you know doesn't classify as a rare event anymore.
"With social media the college basketball world has shrunk immensely," Mick Cronin said. "It's amazing how much they know each other so therefore they want to play well against each other. In every game there's I played AAU with that guy, I've known that guy my whole life. I went to camp with that guy. I think there was a time maybe the only time you played against anybody all year was in this game. I don't think that's quite the case anymore."
The game isn't about the players. It's not about the coaches, who grew up playing basketball in the same parks in this city and have no plans on leaving their hometown universities.
In the unusual present and uncertain future Saturday at U.S. Bank Arena the heart of this game will still be special. It will still be unique. It will still be what Justin Jackson insists a game that's just "not a regular game."
It can't be. Not in this city. Not with these two fan bases.
Fans don't understand what life is like walking from TUC to Memorial Hall, from Lindner Center to Daniels, for a University of Cincinnati basketball player.
Every day. Year round. Wherever they go. The same message relays from students. Beat Xavier.
"That's the worst -- the students," Sean Kilpatrick said. "Especially on your social network. That is the worst (talking about the game). Coach this week he's been talking about it, but not as much as the students. They talk about it the most. That is something they worry about throughout the whole year, which team is going to win. That's the students anxiety."
Jackson compares the Crosstown to Duke-North Carolina. The parallel has ben made before and still rings true. But not because us media types say so. Not because of the attention drawn from a few punches two years back. Not because these players exchange brohugs around town.
This game means more than the rest because the students say so.
"We get it all through the year," Jackson said. "Even before practice we hear about UC and Xavier game. Year round, it's a big deal."
While adults around town postulate on what will be the best future for this game, where it should be played, the truth of mob mentality and the value of celebrating the city versus respecting history, the game will go on and mean as much this year as any other.
And it will mean just as much today as any other year because to these players and the students reminding them during every step across campus, this one matters more than all the rest. It means more than the conference tournament or the NCAA Tournament.
Just as Jackson, he's been reminded regularly for four years: "It's like life and death over here."
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