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Gabriel James Bump Headshot

Late On a School Night

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Last night was going to be extra special, possibly unforgettable.

At the United Center, the third annual State Farm Champions Classic, the best non-professional basketball games scheduled before March: Number one Kentucky against number two Michigan State, number four Duke versus number five Kentucky.

There was the setting: watching Duke super-freshman Jabari Parker, Chicago-native and Simeon alum, go up against Kansas super-freshman Andrew Wiggins in the living room where this series started.

The Coupets had me over and it was going to be profound.

Ben Coupet Jr., hours removed from practice, weeks away from the start of his own season.

Watching past-Simeon star with future-Simeon star, a few miles away from the action, in a living room overlooking Lake Michigan.

And, oh, yeah, Ben's dad, a past-Simeon star, also.

It was cold when I pulled into the apartment garage, just above freezing. On the radio, Michigan State, with their returning starters, was holding off Kentucky, with their stacked freshman class.

I was told to grab more wings from a modest pile in the kitchen, not knowing they had ordered thirty and ate most of it before I got there.

We settled in for the final couple minutes, briefly caught up.

The last time I saw Ben Jr., he was proving his place among the best young recruits in the state. Now, he was tired, sore, limping a little. Soft-spoken, as always.

With Mom out of town, the apartment was a temporary man cave with a view. There was Ben Jr. lounging his 6-7 frame on the couch, Ben Sr. on a chair, baby Chase in a carriage on the floor, two-year-old Blake running around with a tiny basketball, me fitting in somewhere.

We watched as Kentucky Freshman Julius Randle put the team on his back, almost single-handedly pulling off the comeback with 27 points and 13 rebounds.

We watched as Kentucky fell short, ultimately loosing by 4.

Nine o'clock on a school night and the wings were running out.

While the Duke-Kansas pre-game coverage continued to hype Wiggins vs. Jabari, an announcement rolled across the bottom of the screen. Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, the two best seniors in the state, arguably the country, are going to pick colleges on Friday. Kansas is on both of their lists, Duke on Jahlil's.

I ask Ben Jr. if he's thinking about his college list.

(Head shake "no")

But if he could choose between any of the four historic programs playing tonight, which would he choose?

(Thought) "Probably Kentucky, or Kansas"

Why?

"They fit my playing style."

We were watching a standing room only event on national television, with almost 70 NBA scouts in attendance (there are only 30 teams in the Association), starring some of the best collegiate talent in recent memory, and Ben Jr. is thinking about playing style?

It's the smart thing to think about, the mature thing. But that's not what I wanted.

I wanted dirt. I wanted him to hate Kansas and Andrew Wiggins for what they did to Jabari's shine.

Jabari won four State titles in a row, was on the cover of Sports Illustrated before his senior year at Simeon. He was supposed to be the best high school player since LeBron James.

Now, everyone can't stop talking about this Wiggins kid. He's long, athletic, great smile, humble, can jump out of the gym, on the cover of every basketball magazine in the country (He was even featured in GQ, c'mon).

I wanted Ben Jr. to feel disrespected for his old teammate.

Instead, he looked tired and bottle-fed his baby brother.

He didn't cheer, like his father and I did, when Jabari went 4-5 from three in the first-half.

He didn't snicker, like his father and I did, when Wiggins got in foul trouble and couldn't get in a rhythm.

He bounced his baby brother up and down, occasionally patting his back.

Eleven o'clock on a school night and he slept on the couch, with Duke and Kansas battling down to the wire.

I wanted basketball to be the only thing that mattered.

But, sometimes there are baby brothers to play with.

Sometimes you have to watch in silence as a Hometown Hero picks up his fifth, and final, foul chasing down the Wiggins kid on fast break with over a minute left in the game.

You have to sit with a father, his kids all finally asleep, and wonder how single mothers pull off raising families.

You talk about the father's aspirations, having temporarily forgotten that fathers have aspirations too, and his burgeoning company, ViZionary Entertainment; how he just got back in town from a show.

Kansas won 94-83. Jabari finished with 27 points and nine rebounds. Wiggins, 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Ben Jr.'s season starts the first week in December, until then, I guess, basketball doesn't have to be the only thing that matters.