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Mark ye well, the University of San Diego Toreros men’s basketball team goes up against the (San Francisco) Academy of Art University Urban Knights, 7:00 p.m., December 19, at Jenny Craig Pavilion. This is a home game people. Attendance is required.

I’ll get to the game preview and all the IMPLICATIONS of what a USD victory would mean, but first, let’s review the story to date.

Last year was good for the Toreros. Their biggest regular season game was an 81-72 thumping of Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Putting a stake through the heart of that SEC glory hog and seven-time national champion made the world a better place.

Still, San Diego lost four consecutive games in November, three in December, and finished fourth in the WCC (West Coast Conference), behind Gonzaga (25-8) and St. Mary’s (25-7). Their season would have quietly slunk away, except...they won the WCC Tournament, winning three games in three nights, coming from 17 points down to beat St. Mary’s in double overtime and finishing Gonzaga off in the championship game.

Of course, they were playing on their home court, and strange things have been known to happen in college basketball. At least that’s what everybody said. Still, for the first time the WCC placed three schools in the NCAA’s postseason tournament.

USD’s conference victory bought them a 13th seed in the West Regional and the right to be demolished by number 4 seed UConn. And then Toreros sophomore guard De’Jon Jackson swished a jumper with 1.2 seconds left and San Diego beat Goliath 70-69. Suddenly, they were for real.

San Diego was led by rookie head coach Bill Grier, who had done hard time (16 years) as assistant coach at Gonzaga. But, one good year in San Diego, with players at least partially recruited by former head coach Brad Holland, was enough to provoke Oregon State, member in good standing of the Collegiate Big Time, to offer Grier a $4 million jackpot to jump ship.

He didn’t take it. I would take it. You would take it. Bill Grier has a higher calling.

What he got for staying in town was essentially the same team he had last year (five starters are back, not one senior was on last year’s team) and, with that, a shot at building his own Gonzaga South basketball program.

Last year USD finished 22-14, 11-3 in the WCC. Made it to the NCAA’s second round, lost to Western Kentucky 72-63.

As to this year, the Toreros are finishing the first third of their season in preparation for the December 19 showdown with the aforementioned Academy of Art University. I’ll leave the “Why does an art school want an athletic program?” aside for the moment. It is, by the way, an art school; you may choose any of the following degrees: advertising, animation & visual effects, architecture, computer art, digital arts, fashion, fine art, graphic design, illustration, industrial design, interior architecture, motion pictures & television, multimedia communications, or photography. Who knows why the Academy is starting up an athletic department in their 80th year of existence, although, if we guess “Has nothing to do with students and everything to do with money,” we’re probably not far off.

The Academy of Art University was founded in 1929. “Built by artists for artists,” they say. They also say, “To ensure that the Liberal Arts curriculum is relevant to our students...fashion and interior designers attend the opera to observe costuming, set design, and production work.... In Creative Writing, an illustrator may discover a passion for writing stories for children. Photographers who take astronomy learn the properties of light on field trips to observe the night sky, while cinematographers in art history discover that Scorsese and Coppola are fans of Caravaggio.”

Don’t be fooled; these guys are killers. Follows are headlines provided by the Urban Knights athletic department.

11.14.2008. Men’s Basketball Falls to SF State in Inaugural Exhibition Game.

11.18.2008. Men’s Basketball Defeated by CSU Stanislaus in Season Opener.

11.21.2008. Urban Knights Lose Battle with Division I Dons.

11.24.2008. Urban Knights Still in Search of Their First Win.

11.26.2008. Masterful Shooting Too Much for AAU Men’s Basketball.

11.28.2008. Urban Knights Fall in First Game of Thanksgiving Classic.

11.29.2008. Cassita Scores Game-High 18 Points for the Urban Knights in a Losing Effort.

The Urban Knights are led by one-time forward Peter Thibeaux, 47, who was the second all-time scorer at St. Mary’s, a fourth-round pick in the 1983 NBA draft. He played two years for Golden State, bounced around Europe, Japan, and the CBA for another six years.

The Academy has been invited to join the Pacific West Conference and will begin playing as a member next year.

Welcome to the party.

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