On Selection Sunday, I urgently searched the cable guide for ESPNU. It was a voyage of discovery. I didn't know I had ESPNU (yes, channel 614!) and I didn't know anyone broadcast an NIT Selection Show.
Silly me, I should've phoned someone in Tempe. The Sun Devils went to the NIT in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2008. I was astounded. Who knew?
It's not that I hadn't done my homework, don't appreciate the NIT history in this town, or fail to understand what it can do for your image.
In 1946, the indomitable Stewart Udall, then a 26-year-old, eighth-year senior with World War II combat experience, marched into the Daily Star newsroom and presented sports editor Abe Chanin with a petition signed by the entire Wildcat basketball team.
The manuscript said, in essence, that the 25-4 Wildcats wanted to play in the NIT and that reluctant coach Fred Enke needed some public nudging to agree. And why not? The UA had just swept the Los Angeles Deaf School, whipped Chihuahua University and had a 13-game winning streak.
Once the story went public, Enke had no choice but to conclude that his obscure team was NIT-worthy. Acting as the UA's agent, Chanin sent a telegram to NIT czar Ned Irish and pleaded Arizona's case.
Irish agreed. His return telegram instructed the Wildcats they would play mighty Kentucky on March 16 and don't be late. Enke arranged for his team to make a three-day train journey to New York City. When the club arrived for the NIT opener, there were two revelations.
1. The team had never before seen glass backboards.
2. No one on the team or coaching staff had ever been to New York City.
Kentucky took a 16-1 lead and won 77-53.
And here we are 64 years later - Stewart Udall, former secretary of the Interior, is 90! - and the Wildcats are still struggling to get in the NIT.
On Sunday's aforementioned NIT Selection Show, we learned two more things about the NIT.
1. It does not reward a school its name-recognition or past basketball glory.
2. No amount of pleading will save Arizona from its temporary sentence into basketball blackness.
It is March and we don't have anything to worry about or look forward to. What will we do with ourselves?
We can pretend it doesn't hurt and that our feelings aren't bruised. Or we can face the future like big boys and girls and realize that a game or two in the 2010 NIT, is not, as gee-whiz Memphis coach Josh Pastner blurted in an ESPNU interview, "a tremendous event."
This way, Arizona basketball and it fans can make a clean break. Missing out on the Madness once every 26 years can actually be useful.
You don't have to face the near-inevitable ignominy of being eliminated by Kent State or Tulsa in a tournament that no one watches. And when Sean Miller has been given enough time to properly recruit a team worthy of postseason basketball, it won't be a by-the-seat-of-your-pants, last-team-in scenario that is better appreciated by UTEP or Texas Tech.
The NIT comes off as a public-access cable production with no lasting meaning. UCLA won the NIT in 1985; a year later it went 15-14. Cal won the NIT in 1999; a year later the Bears were 18-15.
Hey, in 2000, Miller was on Herb Sendek's North Carolina State coaching staff when it ousted Arizona State in an NIT game. Archie Miller was a star player on that Wolfpack team. A year later, N.C. State suffered through a 13-16 season and almost got Sendek and Miller fired.
There is no shortcut, no NIT Band-Aid, that'll help Arizona get to where it wants to go.
Given the reality of Arizona's situation, the inability to field a team with one-time Wildcats to-be Abdul Gaddy, Jeff Withey and Brandon Jennings, the purpose of Miller's first Arizona season wasn't to get an NCAA or NIT berth.
It was to survive with dignity intact, and the Wildcats went way beyond that.
The meaning of the 2009-10 basketball season at Arizona was that it provided good entertainment, piqued the interest of a beaten-down and disillusioned fan base and supplied well-grounded hope. The 16 victories were pure gravy.
Rather than qualify for the postseason, in any form, Miller re-established recruiting contacts and introduced four freshmen who, by 2012, appear talented enough to be the core of a No. 1 or No. 2 seed at the NCAA tournament.
Enjoy the break. Watch a spring training game. The Madness will soon return.
Contact columnist Greg Hansen at email@example.com or 573-4362