Santo chronicles Sumpter’s dilemma

Santo Caruso

At a party recently, a beer pong opponent began taunting me, saying, “Who is this week’s love letter going to be to? Fraser? Ray? Ross Condon?” So I took a look back at my last few columns, and I realized I had gotten a bit caught up in the tidal wave of good feelings that has swept our campus.

I had turned away from the bitter columnist I once was, one who was not afraid to tackle tough issues and made it a point to look at the leading stories from a different perspective. I had become the ‘Nova Nation PR department, swooning over our hardwood warriors like a north Jersey groupie at a Bon Jovi concert during “Bed of Roses,” minus the teased hair and gum snapping, but plus the stonewashed jeans and denim jacket, because they never go out of style.

So no more! No more glowing profiles, no more fawning over Kyle Lowry. I’m going to separate the columnist from the kid who drives to Chicago (and maybe Starrs). The obsessed, blue-and-white clad student who snuck into the Georgetown game and almost ended up singing the national anthem (thankfully only my roommate did, so if your wondering why the conductor was wearing jeans and looked a bit old to be in the choir, wonder no more).

I won’t abandon the team, however. A good writer knows his audience, and this audience wants to hear about only one thing (and it ain’t the Winter Olympics). Instead I’ll work extra hard to dig deeper into what is really happening with the team, starting with the issue that has been on the back burner since that fateful Friday before homecoming.

Will/should/can Curtis Sumpter come back?

From the day the forward retore his ACL, reports have been vague and basically worthless. What few connections I have with the team have given the same company line, and I’ve asked often enough to be annoying with hope of getting some sort of time table.

I feel like I’ve been shaking a magic eight ball and getting nothing but “answer hazy, try again later” for three months.

This isn’t just professional curiosity, or wanting to break the big story. I’ve asked because as excited as I am about our tournament chances, getting our best player from last year back in any form is the kind of boost that could lead to Indianapolis.

It isn’t that I don’t think the ‘Cats can do it without Sumpter, because depending on who they face and in what bracket, this team is capable of going all the way right now. But what Sumpter brings is tough rebounding, a deep bench and a locker room intangible that has already proven its value.

For example, during the UConn game, Sumpter put his arm around the slumping Allan Ray during halftime as if to say, “We’re 1-4 against Connecticut. We need this one.” I think we all know the happy ending that fairy tale had.

Imagine instead of having to wait until halftime, Ray looked over and saw Sumpter crashing the boards after a long miss, picking up a hard foul and getting back to stop a layup. It becomes a lot tougher to fail when you have another player you care for so deeply there to support you.

And that is what this senior class has become more than anything – a close knit support system, each picking up the other when they are down. You can almost see how the pieces lock in: the oft-injured Fraser lending spiritual and emotional support to Sumpter during this difficult time, and Sumpter passing it on to Ray, a cocky gunner from Bronx, who is the yin, to Sumpter’s yang, a hard working blue collar player from Brooklyn.

Unfortunately for Sumpter, if the doctors do clear him to play, he will basically be deciding between a full healthy senior season next year (with a team that will probably be in the top 10 if he returns) or the once in a lifetime chance to join a group of guys who are more friends and family than teammates, as they seek to fulfill the promise they all made when they signed to Villanova.

This team is great without Sumpter, but this team would be better with Sumpter, and in some ways, even off the court he has made them better. I won’t say what I think Sumpter should do; it isn’t for me or anyone to tell him which road is the right one. He knows that if he returns for the tournament, he is most likely not going to be drafted and is going to have to make a team the hard way, as an undrafted free agent.

They say you shouldn’t regret the things you do, just those you don’t. For Curtis Sumpter, either way he’ll be looking back on this decision for the rest of his life. I just hope he looks back fondly, and smiles because he made the right one.

This column hasn’t exactly been bitter, so how about a few quick thoughts to get my rep back:

Andre Igudala got robbed from the start. That contest was more fixed than the 1917 World Series. They did everything but lower the net. As a short person, I support what Nate Robinson did, but the AI to AI off the back of the backboard dunk was unbelievable. Even when he missed, he hit his head on the backboard.

Pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. I can make the easy joke that the Phillies are already out of playoff contention, but do you see who is reporting? For most teams, the battery of players getting to camp early is a sign of two important positions making an effort to get a jump start on the season. For the Phillies, it is just another depressing reminder of how little we’ve improved this off season.

Happy now?