This is how Brett Comer rolls …
He has the ball because he has the ball all the time, or he would have it all the time if the world was fair so we could share in the fun he's about to have, and we see him now …
He's driving hard into the lane, just right of the free throw line …
Only now he's changed directions, and he has twisted to his left in a reverse pivot that takes him …
No, he has faked the reverse pivot, palming the ball in that direction an instant before bringing it back -- Globetrotter move! -- and he has snapped back to his right, and …
What happens if you watch Brett Comer is that you see him going one way when he's going the other way and pretty soon America's sporting scribes, gathered for corporate-sponsored basketball but smitten with Brett Comer's subversive improvisational hoops, are hammering at typing machines in a Brett Comer Theme Contest -- he's a "visionary," he's "gritty," he's "creative," he's the "buzz-cut band leader" of a "rollicking, refreshing GIF-machine". . .
And now, instead of going left, Brett Comer is a half-step ahead of whatever poor broken-ankled defender is trying to keep up, and he's dancing into the paint because that's where he makes stuff happen, and this is the part where we all get to have fun because we know he ain't gonna shoot it, he's gonna give it to somebody we least expect, somebody who knows to keep watching the ball because it's liable to come at him with weight on it, and …
Wait, you ask, who's Brett Comer?
He's the guy who has saved college basketball.
Something has gone blank in college basketball's soul. It became sadly clear last March in the minutes after the national championship game. When Kentucky's one-and-done's cut down the net, did you see the ladder they climbed? There was a sign on it. The ladder was the "Official Ladder of the NCAA Tournament." Really? Really. As Kentucky's Adolph Rupp once said, of many things, "Goodgawdamighty."
This season, then, bleh. I'm done caring about whatever one-and-done's do. The Big East is dead and I don't feel too well myself.
I didn't, anyway, until I saw this guy with the basketball.
I had no idea who he was.
I had come to the TV to see Georgetown. Instead, I saw someone wearing the number 0 for an odd team called Florida Gulf Coast University. The player himself looked odd. The combination of black shoes and black ankle braces made it look like he wore boots. He had a black, stubbly beard. He was always pushing his mouthpiece out, giving his face a gnarly look. Think: point guard for a Hell's Angels intramural team.
Whoever the guy was, I loved him because he played the game of a point guard's dreams. Loose. Fast. Try this, try something else. Come into the paint on the right, fake the reverse pivot, snap back to the right, see a big man no one else can see, make the no-look pass to the invisible big man, and take those black boots flying back on defense while the big man slam-dunks it …
About then, I heard a voice shouting at the TV, "Who's the 0 guy? Gimme a name!" The voice was mine.
I'd never seen Brett Comer before.
Next thing I knew, because Gulf Coast makes things happen in a hurry, running free, running loose, here came Brett Comer leading a 3-on-2 break, and he did this thing that I'd never seen anybody do before. Just inside the free throw line, in front on the break, he bounced a pass back to the right-wing trailer.
Think on that. He's leading the break, he's first into the paint, and there's no way he can see the trailer on the right, and yet he taps a bounce pass to him, just pats the ball backwards to the guy, who collects it and slams it in with the undisputed authority that has made Gulf Coast the most fun college basketball has seen since Jerry Tarkanian and Paul Westhead put air in the balls and told their guys to go play. A coach who beat Gulf Coast twice this season, Lipscomb's Scott Sanderson, told a reporter, "You can't just let them go crazy up and down that floor. Ain't no brain surgeon to figure that one out."
This is basketball. This is the game as jazz. Some teams do minuets. Gulf Coast does break-dancing to music we've heard on the playground. We can put lyrics to it. The coach, Andy Enfield, has said, "We run the floor. We throw the lob. We kick it out. We shoot the three well. And we can finish in the lane." Liz Clarke of the Washington Post calls the team's style "exuberant, almost acrobatic, up-tempo." David Jones of the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News has seen Gulf Coast bring long-lost joy back to the game, like an old man suddenly remembering "what love feels like." It's basketball that can't be taught, it can only be lived.
At the center of all that is Brett Comer. In the first two NCAA tournament games, he has done double-doubles: 12 points, 10 assists against Georgetown, 10 and 14 against San Diego State. He's a sophomore. He has played basketball mostly forever, for a while alongside Doc Rivers's son, Austin, on a Florida high school team that won two state championships. Comer is 6-foot-3, 192 pounds. His father died three years ago, the father who built a court for him in the backyard, the father memorialized on tattoos on his son's right arm.
And there he was, Brett Comer, with a minute to play against Georgetown. He had the ball in the paint. Perfect. He knew what to do with it. How he knew, no one but he could know, but he knew that the big man, Chase Fieler, was coming his way. No need for a slam-dunk. No need to risk getting hurt with the game won. But Brett Comer didn't become Brett Comer by waiting for things to happen. He put the ball in the air. Just kinda tossed it straight up, telling Fieler to come on in, come in high, come get it.
"I just knew where he was," Comer said.
Fieler slammed it down.