CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Let's try to stay calm here. Many of us have known Miami nights seeing fuzzy, funky things that may or may not have been real and certainly did not compute. Let's just sort back through the alleged events of the Tuesday night and surmise if we got a tainted cocktail or a bad mahi-mahi taco.
OK. Off the Metrorail at University, across a boulevard and a parking lot, there appeared in the 7:53 p.m. darkness a queue of University of Miami students. It stretched down the sidewalk to curve left into a parking lot. These students had lined up outside an arena with a clear intent to get the better seats to watch University of Miami basketball, purportedly the No. 2 team in the vast land.
"'Huge' might even be an understatement," Miami student Michael Anthony said of this buzz.
Flag that right there. Remember that this program operates in the American capital of indifference, a city with an indifference just about galling enough to be appealing, a city that has turned its art-form indifference toward Miami basketball even during Miami's recent 28-season stretch of intermittent viability and five NCAA Tournament berths. Check that season-opening attendance this year, even with a promising team, and see the puny 3,160. Hear the testimony from one multi-year fan, Bo Healey: "I've been in the building when other than the ushers, concessionaires and security, there were under 100 people."
Read the history. What's your favorite barrenness in University of Miami basketball history? Could it be that with the great Rick Barry in the 1960s, Miami played in such a mishmash of venues -- including high schools and something called the Dinner Key Arena -- that Barry once told writer Phil Taylor that he'd go to the team bus uncertain of the location of the game? Would you prefer that in 1971, Miami averaged 1,166 fans per game when it would seem you might get that many who just got lost and wandered in unaware? What about 1983, when Miami became that bizarro outfit with a national football champion and a national basketball nonexistence?
Maybe you would choose 1985 when, under the guidance of athletic director Sam Jankovich, Miami started up again, beat The Citadel on a Friday night in November to go 1-0 and had a roster of such greenhorns that head coach Bill Foster said, "The first two times down the court, every player was in the wrong defense."
No, no, wait, it has to be this pearl from the Los Angeles Times in 1985:
"In 1971, the attendance at one game was announced as 75 ..."
Do you even realize what that means? That means that in the grand, lurid history of announced attendances, either Miami had one of the most upright attendance announcers ever, someone who refused to inflate it to 100 with the excuse that 25 people might have gone to the loo, or somebody with a penchant for fudging who had to inflate that thing to get to 75.
And while that has been 42 years, tradition matters; would Kentucky, North Carolina or Kansas ever have drawn 75? Kentucky in 1970 would have drawn 75 to watch Dan Issel brush his teeth.
So you knew this Miami night already had its Miami doubts when they kept materializing along the sidewalks, people, arena-bound people in green and orange, people with the preposterously smooth faces of youth joining the student line. Over near the beach volleyball court, here came two, emerging from campus through the mist -- OK, it was perfectly clear and warm out --- juniors from Boston who said this Miami team had altered their college experience, lent it the unforeseen.
Even last year, Jennifer Torto said, "It would take you a minute to get in. No one would really be in the line. You could just show up and go in."
Now, Tom Hess said, "Every class, everyone is asking, 'Are you going to the game tonight?'"
Now, Torto said, "You know there's a game, when before you wouldn't know."
Now, there's a fan outside the 8,000-seat BankUnited Center -- Healey -- who can pull out his smartphone and show a photo of the ticket he bought in Las Vegas last May: Miami at 250-1 to win the NCAA title. He could win $25,100, probably won't but just might.
Of course, they're still motley enough that the blur of a point guard, Shane Larkin, tweeted on Tuesday: "LOL dude just tried to offer me tickets to our game tonight." But the cold facts do say Miami has gone 22-3, gone a celestial 13-0 in the ACC, won 14 straight games, won the 45-43-type games, won the 90-63-type games, obliterated Duke, obliterated North Carolina, drawn LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and James Jones as spectators one night. It has a second-year coach, Jim Larranaga of the 2006 George Mason Final Four wonder, whom the players seem to call "Coach L."
Yes, they're a winning team with a Coach L.
So try to parse the latter part of the Miami evening, for many of us do know of those latter parts of those Miami evenings. Concentrate.
The security guard in the corner said he works there regularly now but worked only sporadically last year because they just didn't need that many security people. The arena filled. The PA announced the fifth sellout in the building's 10-year history. The place boomed, especially when visiting Virginia had the ball on crucial possessions. Students hopped to hip-hop. Reiterating the human love of big people, fans chanted amiably for 6-foot-10, 292-pound Reggie Johnson. Consecutive blocked shots by Julian Gamble wrought a roar.
It felt sparer than some palaces of today, but it felt just right. It felt fresh. In a sport that can feel stale, it felt fresh.
Then the whole thing came down to a 50-50 tie and 14 seconds left and Larkin dribbling up the court, and that's when came one of those crazy late-night thoughts: In the whole of college basketball in 2013, there could not be anything any better than a tie with the seconds ticking and the thrilling Larkin, dribbling, near the University of Miami campus. In Miami. Around the perimeter. Chockablock with possibility.
Then he whipped that thing in to Johnson for a whiplash layup, and the place rocked, and the win ended, and some reporters chased university president Donna Shalala (formerly of the Clinton Administration) out for comment on the NCAA ruling on bygone regimes, especially football, that came through Tuesday night. In the breakneck tenor of Miami nights, she made a successful fastbreak and escaped.
So they talked, and Johnson said Larkin "makes the game easy," and Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said of Larkin, "Love him." The seasoned Coach L, 63, said it's "always important to build and it's easier to build on victories than it is on losses," and attributed the repeated close victories to age and players, especially seniors, who have "stayed hungry." Bennett said of this infectious team, "There's not a lot of answers because they spread you out and they can get you inside and that's what's hard about them ... A hard team to play against. Good spacing. Good physicality." And Coach L even said the hovering NCAA specter wasn't hovering: "My guess is if it was overshadowing what we were doing, this (media) room would not be packed to the ceiling."
And all the while these people were talking about college basketball in Miami.
At Miami, where once they drew 75, in the middle of indifferent Miami, where the enveloping champion Heat sometimes sells out playoff games, Gamble says he suddenly gets noticed and complimented and asked for photo poses "a lot." ESPN analyst Jay Williams says Wade was asking about the Hurricanes. Senior big man Kenny Kajdi says, "I feel like I'm dreaming. It's insane, around campus, in Miami, everybody's talking about you."
So in other words, it was another Miami night, all probably true, much certainly fuzzy.