I Am Hack, Hear Me Self-Congratulate

If it's the college basketball offseason, that means it's time for lists and rumormongering and, most of all, CONTRIVED CONTROVERSY.

The Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Oates has never been shy about expanding the scale of molehills, and yesterday he felt the need to return his attention to one of his favorite topics: Madison's favorite prodigal-ish son, former Marquette guard Wesley Matthews, Jr.

Wesley Matthews was among those seated at the head table for the Madison Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony Wednesday night, which was both a bad thing and a good thing.

It was a good thing, of course, because Wes is, by all accounts, a well-rounded young man with an incredible work ethic who made his way in the NBA through force of will, parlayed his success as an undrafted rookie into a big contract from the Portland Trailblazers, and then, in a highly unusual move for an NBA player, actually got better after signing his new deal.

It was a bad thing for Mr. Oates, of course, because there was one more person between him and the Make Your Own Hot Fudge Sundae station on his (Mr. Oates') third trip through the buffet line.

It was good because Matthews was there to receive the Hall of Fame committee's 2011 Favorite Sibling Award, which was one more step in a reconnection with his hometown that is long overdue.

And just like that, you realize: this column has very little to do with Wes Matthews, and much, much more to do with Tom Oates.

It never should have come to that for Matthews, though it was probably inevitable. After putting Memorial on the state map, he went to Marquette instead of the University of Wisconsin, where his father (Wes Matthews) and mother (Pam Moore) had played. Even though Matthews had a stellar career at Marquette, he was disowned by some Madison fans and dismissed by many others as he toiled in Milwaukee.

Oh, Tom: you say "disowned by some Madison fans and dismissed by many others as he toiled in Milwaukee" like you're not talking about yourself. But more on that in a second.

This wasn't the first time the rivalry between UW and Marquette caused people to become irrational and it probably won't be the last.

I KNOW! I mean, The Rivalry That Must Not Be Acknowledged (TM Bo Ryan Industries) makes otherwise nondescript sportswriters take veiled potshots at Buzz Williams because his players sometimes refer to him by his first name. Even more bizarrely, those same sportswriters will sometimes go on local talk radio to take less-veiled potshots at an 18-year-old kid who clearly didn't have the academic chops to handle the rigors of UW-Madison's curriculum.  (All those essays Agricultural Journalism majors have to write about the prices of corn in the 1940s don't appear out of thin air, after all.)

Hell, even when Marquette's not prominently involved in the discussion -- like when Vander Blue originally decommitted from Madison, before there was even a hint that he'd eventually end up at Marquette -- you nutty Madison sportswriters get so wrapped up in the Not Quite Big Red mania that you pen hastily-written hit pieces on high schoolers, only to issue half-hearted mea culpas when you realize what you've done.

(Tangential cheap shot: it took me and BrewTown Andy quite a while to find Rob Schultz's hatchet job on Vander, which was originally published in print in the Wisconsin State Journal and online at www.badgerbeat.com. The problem, you see, is that the badgerbeat domain apparently expired last Friday, and the original online version now exists in Interwebs purgatory until someone pays the bill to get BadgerBeat up and running again. I have no further comment, other than: heh.)

Indeed, there is an element in Madison that will always hold it against Matthews that he played for Marquette or that he seemed to play a role in the decision by Memorial's Vander Blue to switch his commitment from UW to Marquette. But even discounting those people who see only red,

TOM, seriously! You could have saved a lot of trees (OK, probably a small- to moderately-sized maple tree; I don't want to overestimate your circulation) and this column would be a lot shorter if you'd just write "ME" in all these places. I mean, you ARE the guy who wrote that Bo Ryan could no longer be called an underachiever in the NCAA Tournament just a couple days before the Badgers got pantsed by Butler in the Sweet 16, right?

there is no hiding the fact that Madison is Badgers-centric when it comes to sports and that its media and fans historically ignore Marquette other than when it plays UW.

I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you above all the tweets you sent out about Marquette in the last five months ...

@TomOatesWSJ It seems original thinkers at #Marquette Community College have stolen Jump Around from #Badgers. Just another example of UW envy.

@TomOatesWSJ Facts R facts, #Marquette fans. 4 of 5 starters R jucos. Rip me all you want, but the truth is out there on floor every game. #MCC

@TomOatesWSJ My bad, congrats to #Marquette Golden Bearcats. RT "@miketotheg: Sweet 16, bitch. RT @TomOatesWSJ: Facts R facts, 4 of 5 starters R jucos."

What were you saying again?

(Now, granted: I understand that Mr. Oates writes shit like that (1) to troll for followers, since his Twitter account isn't even the first one that comes up when you plug "Tom Oates" into Google, and (2) to market himself to the mouthbreathing, Barry-worshiping segment of the Madison population, and, granted, I realize that this is exactly the type of transparently-trolling behavior you'd expect from a guy who's never advanced above entry level for a middling company in a dying industry, but, still and all, I'm forced to say again: you say the Marquette-Madison rivalry causes people to become irrational like you're talking about someone else, Tom.)

So it went during Matthews' four years in Milwaukee. The divide came to a head last year, after the 6-foot-5 shooting guard had made the Utah Jazz as an undrafted free agent and started 58 games, including 10 in the playoffs. When Madison media outlets, hoping to tell Matthews' increasingly compelling story to local fans, tried to contact him, he was less than cooperative. It became apparent he believed he had been snubbed by the media in his hometown.

No smart-ass comments, no cheap shots about your weight or job -- just a simple question, re: Wes felt he'd been snubbed by the Madison media:

Was he wrong?

It was then that your friendly local columnist decided to enter the fray, not because of some personal grudge - trust me, I went down that road once and it never happened again - but because

I AM AN INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT PERSON AND I MAKE THINGS HAPPEN.

it made absolutely no sense to me to have one of Madison's brightest lights feuding with the city's media and fans.

I stand by the basic premise of that column, which was that if Matthews wanted to reconnect with his hometown he needed to get past his feelings and participate in the fence-mending process. I admit the tone of the column was a little harsh and it came off as a personal attack on Matthews and/or Marquette, though that was never the intention.

A little harsh?  Since Tom didn't provide a link to the column in question, let me assist. I'll highlight the relevant portions here, starting with the headline (which I know Oates doesn't write himself): MONEY TALKS, MATTHEWS DOESN'T.

Some of the other "a little harsh" nuggets:

Matthews is a former Wisconsin Mr. Basketball from Madison Memorial who started for four years at Marquette - where he was overshadowed by teammates Dominic James and Jerel McNeal - before signing as a free agent with the Utah Jazz.

He's got us there: after all, we were the ones who decided against calling 'Nic and 'Rel and Wes the Three Amigos and instead went with the Two Amigos featuring Wes Matthews and Ousmane Barro's Hands of Stone.

No, the reason we haven't written a story on Matthews is because he has declined to participate. Reporters tried to contact Matthews before, during and after the playoffs but got no response from him.

Why that is, only Matthews knows. Perhaps he has simply outgrown his hometown. Maybe his nose is out of joint because UW didn't recruit him harder or the local media didn't follow his career at Marquette closely enough or because UW fans routinely bashed him on Internet message boards, especially after he seemed to play a role in the Vander Blue saga last year.

But yeah: Wes was totally the asshole in this situation.

Actually, I never held Matthews' decision to attend Marquette against him in the first place. I have a great deal of respect for former Golden Eagles coach Tom Crean, who recruited and coached Matthews, so I thought Marquette was a good place for him all along.

Knowing that Tom Oates has a "great deal of respect" for a two-faced, silver-tongued snake oil salesman like Crean clears the clouds from the sky: suddenly, Oates claiming that he's got no quarrel with Marquette or Wes a year after penning that attack column and months after calling Marquette a community college makes sense. He's learned from the best, it seems.

One other point: if you couldn't tell by now, Oates clearly doesn't think much of Buzz (or of the kids Buzz has brought into the Marquette program since he took over as coach), which might be another reason that Wes isn't all that keen on talking to him, since, y'know, Buzz is Wes' favorite coach and all.

Anyway, let's skip to the end, because it almost seemed like Oates figured it out for a half-second:

Matthews owns a condo in Madison and will remain a significant part of the community. Things like the free basketball clinic he held at Memorial last summer and his presence at the Hall of Fame ceremony

... show that he never had a problem with the community in the first place, and this was a manufactured piece of a drama by a hack columnist who was looking to cause a stir?

... will go a long way toward patching up a relationship that never should have cracked in the first place. Matthews is, and should remain, one of Madison's favorite siblings.

Nevermind.

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