So, where did I get my basketball fix during this winter of discontent? The college game, to my surprise. I set out on a tour of some of the area’s smaller gymnasiums to get my proper dosage of hoops and came away not just satisfied, but excited.
The goal was to look beyond the two teams that have long dominated local coverage (the Maryland and Georgetown men’s squads). I watched seven teams that represent just a fraction of the college basketball options in the area but run the gamut from Division I men to Division III women. And every game was so reliably entertaining — the proximity to the action, the unpredictability of the outcomes, the intensity of the (often very few) people in the stands and the unique experience of each gymnasium — that I didn’t simply get a respite from the lack of NBA, I became a full-fledged convert to the college game. (Being able to get cheap and sometimes free tickets at the door is another plus.) So take my word for it. With conference play underway and the season kicking into high gear, now is the time to adopt a new favorite team.
Howard University Bison
The competition: The Bison have just two NCAA tournament trips to their credit, the last in 1992. But the team certainly doesn’t shy away from top competition, playing road games in the past month against top 25 teams Indiana, Kansas and Kansas State. Howard lost those games by an average of 49 points, but the Bison are much more competitive when facing teams that aren’t national powerhouses, and Howard’s 88-83 overtime win over Delaware on Dec. 22 was the most exciting game I saw during my month of gym-hopping.
The logistics: Division I men’s college hoops for free — how can you pass that up? Especially in a gym with a name as cool as the Burr. It’s a tiny spot that can hold up to 2,000 people but rarely reaches a quarter of that, which means you’ll be right on top of the action no matter where you sit. In fact, the venue is so small that if you want to buy popcorn and a soda you don’t even have to walk to the lone concession stand. Just raise your hand, and someone will come along to take your order.
The best part: The compact gymnasium means there’s nothing resembling a bad seat, and you can hear every word the few hundred fans may yell at the refs when disagreeing with a call. And, again, it’s free.
Make a day or night of it: Burr Gymnasium is right near the heart of the bustling U Street corridor, and the games end early enough for an entire night of options — food at Dukem or any of the other Ethiopian restaurants, music at U Street Music Hall, Twins Jazz or the Black Cat or the old reliable, Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Key upcoming games: Monday at 7:30 p.m. vs. N.C. Central, Feb. 11 at 3 p.m. vs. Florida A&M.