Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Continuation of a Long Term Bit: Arkansas

Being a devoted fan of a team gives you some nifty built in travel excuses. North Texas has been in the Sun Belt basketball tournament championship game for four out of the last five years, you say? Said tournament is in the noted tourist trap and place of mild historic interest of Hot Springs, Arkansas, you say? Well, of course, we must make this journey! It's almost a civic duty, you know.

Hot Springs has a lovely convention center with a nice little arena on one end. Great venue for a tournament.

This is Karen Aston, first year head coach of North Texas women's basketball, worker of minor miracles. She inherited a team that had won all of five games the previous year, and how they did that I'm not sure I can explain. Calling them inept is an insult to the talent and work ethic of all things inept. With almost the exact same group of players they won 15 games, beating the likes of Alabama and Oregon State and played with an intensity that I didn't think they were capable of last year. It was as dramatic a reclamation as I have seen in any sport on any level from one year to the next. Sadly, they seemed to hit a bit of a wall in February, winning only once the entire month. In Hot Springs, they beat Troy University fairly handily in the first round but lost an absolute heart breaker to Florida Atlantic in the quarterfinals. During that game I realized something. You can call me a prude if you want, I don't much care, but I'm not a big fan of the whole dance team idea. I just think it's a little crude. I will, however, now consider these young ladies

to be downright wholesome after seeing a performance by these young ladies.

The guy sitting next to me said "they forgot their poles." I don't think I can add anything to what he said.

That sad, dejected soul above is the man, the myth, the legend, Tony Mitchell. He could very well be the greatest athlete to set foot in Denton, TX since Joe Greene himself. A defensive machine, he will have more blocks in a single game than lesser men will have in a lifetime. If he comes back next year (before the tournament he said he was leaning that way, but had yet to really weigh everything and make a decision) do yourself a favor and come to a game to see this young man up close. Sure, you'll be able to catch him on television for years while he's in the NBA, but up close and in person makes you appreciate what you're seeing so much more. Also, you can get really close seats to UNT basketball for way cheaper than you can get not so close seats to an NBA game.
As you probably guessed looking at that picture, UNT lost in the final. To add insult to injury, it was to a team that had a half melted McDonald's character for a mascot. I mean, really, what is that? And just so I can offer visual proof that I was on national TV

See the one guy wearing red in the top right corner of the picture? Right below him in a white shirt is me, head slightly tilted.

Enough basketball, time to talk Hot Springs.
In an earlier post you could see the view from the little apartment we rented. We were situated on lovely Lake Hamilton just across the way from some of the fancy old houses that used to host illegal casinos back when the town was a playground for the rich and powerful. It's easy to see how it used to be such an important place. It's an area of great natural beauty, and spa towns have been a big deal for centuries.

The national park visitor center is in one of the old bath houses, and they've kept everything pretty much how it was back when.

That is the men's bathing room. While waiting for their turn in a tub, the men would sit around in their towels lounging on those marble benches around the fountain. Imagine the things that have been said in that room, the deals struck and political bargains made. It all seems very Roman to me.
There is kitsch enough and to spare across the street from Bath House Row, and as my dad has said about Hot Springs, it is a town well versed in the art of separating you from your money, but don't let that distract you from the interesting things it does have to offer.

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