NCAA BK

For Paul's parents, tourney life's a trip

Watch and listen to Gus Johnson's call on Brandon Paul's buzzer-beater.
Watch and listen to Gus Johnson's call on Brandon Paul's buzzer-beater.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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CHICAGO

Every parent with children knows: You drive one kid to a guitar lesson, then the other across town to gymnastics, leaving just enough time to get back to pick up from guitar and take to basketball practice.

CBK

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Does anyone play in the backyard anymore?

“Enjoy every minute of it,’’ Lynda Paul said Thursday. “Don’t begrudge it. It doesn’t last long. They grow up and things change.’’

It was just then that Paul had to put down her cellphone, as she and her husband, Cliffton, drove through a tollbooth somewhere in Indiana along I-90 in their Nissan Maxima. It has 240,000 miles on it.

Cliffton was napping.

This was parenting on steroids. Cliffton finished his overnight shift as a cop in north suburban Chicago, then went straight to the United Center to see their son, Brandon, score 25 points and sink a shot at the buzzer to lead Illinois over Minnesota 51-49 in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. They watched Brandon do a TV interview, “gave him a kiss and headed out,’’ Lynda said.

They headed for the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where one of their other sons, Darius, would play that night for Western Michigan in the Mid-American Conference tournament.

It was 346 miles, 5½ hours, barring traffic.

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“We have a little less than three hours to go,’’ Lynda said.

She said that at 5:25 p.m. ET. Darius’ game was scheduled to start in 3 hours, 35 minutes. This was going to be close.

And if only that were all. When Western Michigan’s game against Eastern Michigan ended, the plan called for Lynda and Cliffton to kiss Darius, then. . .

Head back to Chicago. Western Michigan’s game figured to end around 11 p.m. That would be 13 hours before Brandon’s next game in Chicago, when Illinois would play Indiana.

“Yes, we have every intention of coming back for that,’’ Lynda said. “It’s likely my husband and I will do some tag-team napping. With the Lord’s will. We’re not really sure how we’re going to do it.

“It’s likely we’ll drive through the night. No traffic and no rush-hour traffic. It can be a little ugly going through rush hour, a lot of different communities. Not sure if we’ll go home or stay in (the city).’’

I don’t think it’s going to be possible to complain about guitar lessons and gymnastics anymore. These people can’t even carpool.

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“They’re Super Parents,’’ Brandon said. “And I love them with all my heart. They do a lot for us.’’

Lynda, who owns and operates a financial planning business, coached Brandon and Darius in AAU ball for years. She says Darius, a 6-foot-8 power forward who made the MAC all-freshman team, has probably the highest basketball IQ in the country. She said Brandon, a 6-3 guard who likely has an NBA career ahead of him, is underappreciated.

“We’ve had a lot of time together as far as basketball is concerned,’’ she said. “But the driving is a wonderful time to get to know who your kids are. You have a captive audience.

“Some of the things you may sit down and have a feel for; (it’s) a great opportunity to get into their head. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. And it’s only temporary.’’

Yes, but come on. Work all night, watch a basketball game, drive all day, watch another game, drive all night? And it might not even end there, depending on how both teams do.

“With Brandon’s performance, and the fact they won, that makes this drive. . .actually we’re kind of floating along now,’’ Lynda said. “We’re really on autopilot.

“Twenty-five points and two assists. I’m just so happy. We didn’t have a really good Big Ten tournament last year. I was really glad to see his reputation redeemed. I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing.’’

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Darius had 14 points, seven boards and three assists Thursday in a 20-point win. His mom wasn't sure they would make another trip to Cleveland; if both brothers keep winning, the miles really could pile up. But she daydreamed about the possibility of Western Michigan getting to the NCAA tournament. Illinois is going to go. Imagine if both sons are there.

At different regional sites. Imagine one in Philadelphia and one in, say, Salt Lake. For the Paul family, it would be a different kind of Road to the Final Four.

“I would be nice,’’ Lynda said, “if we had a private jet.’’

One more thing: There is a third Paul brother. Cliff Jr. is roommates with Brandon at Illinois. He’s on an intramural team that will be playing for a championship in Champaign, Ill., in a few days.

Plans call for a certain Nissan Maxima to be in the parking lot.

Tagged: Illinois, Michigan, Western Michigan

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