Sunday, March 18, 2018

Chuck Berry – "Sweet Little Sixteen" (1958)

All the cats wanna dance with 
Sweet little sixteen

Friday night, the University of Maryland–Baltimore County’s men’s basketball team – which was the lowest-seeded team in its region – beat the top-seeded University of Virginia men in a first-round NCAA tournament game in Charlotte, NC.

Here’s the headline that appeared on the website of the NBC affiliate in Charlotte immediately after that game ended:

And here’s a corrected headline that appeared on that website about half an hour later:

As the NCAA pointed out in a tweet the morning after the UMBC upset, #16-seeded Harvard upset top-seeded Stanford in the 1998 NCAA women’s basketball tournament.

Until UMBC won Friday night, that was the only time in men’s or women’s tournament history that a #16 seed had beaten a #1 seed.

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My twin daughters were 5th-grade basketball whizzes in 1998, so I watched women’s basketball on television whenever I could – including Harvard’s shocking upset of Stanford.  I don’t remember a lot about the game, but I do remember being in awe of Harvard’s star player, senior Allison Feaster.

Feaster, who had led the nation in scoring that season, was unstoppable in the Stanford game, scoring 35 points and contributing 13 rebounds and three steals in the Crimson’s 71-67 victory.  She played virtually every second of the game.

Allison Feaster in 1997
Two of Stanford’s starters suffered fluke injuries after the team was given a #1 seed by the NCAA tournament committee.  There’s no doubt that helped Harvard’s chances, but Stanford was still a huge favorite.  The Cardinal were perennial national championship contenders – they had been to the Final Four in each of the three previous seasons – and their players had a decided height advantage over Feaster and her teammates.  

Feaster was 5 feet, 11 inches, which sounds pretty tall.  But  Stanford’s roster featured no fewer than eleven players who were taller than Feaster was – including a 6’7” player, a 6’6” player, and two 6’4” players. 

Stanford was coached by the legendary Tara VanDerveer, whose teams had won national championships in 1990 and 1992, and who had been chosen to coach the women’s Olympic team in 1996.  VanDerveer and Tennessee’s Pat Summitt are the only two women to coach Division I basketball teams to more than 1000 wins.  (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski is the only male coach to reach that milestone.)  

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer
And the game was played in Stanford’s home gym, giving the Cardinal a significant edge – the men’s tournament games are always played on neutral courts.

Here's an ESPN piece about the game that aired in 2008:

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I’m not taking anything away from UMBC.  But there are many fewer upsets in the NCAA women’s tournament than on the men’s side.  While a #16 seed had never won in the men’s tournament until Friday night, eight #15 seeds and 21 #14 seeds have won first-round games over #2 and #3 seeds.

But not only has no #16 seed other than the 1998 Harvard team won in the women’s tournament since it became a 64-team tournament in 1994 – no #15 or #14 seed has ever won either.  In other words, out of 300 games involving #16, #15, and #14 seeds against #1, #2, and #3 seeds, the Harvard win in 1998 represents the one and only game when a low-three seed beat a top-three seed.

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The more you read about Allison Feaster, the more amazed you’ll be her athletic and academic accomplishments.

Allison Feaster in 2014
Here’s an excerpt from a resolution honoring Feaster that was passed by the South Carolina Senate in 1994:

Whereas, Allison Feaster has been named to the 1994 Parade All-American Basketball Team, the 1993 and 1994 Smith and Street All-American Basketball Teams, South Carolina Player of the Year for 1993 and 1994, Miss Basketball by both the Greater Greenville Basketball Club and The Charlotte Observer, and one of the 1994 Top Fifteen Seniors by USA Today; and

Whereas, she has been a member of the South Carolina AAAA State Champion basketball team in 1993, AAAA Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994, selected to All State for five years, the National AAU Junior Olympic Champion team in 1993, and the Most Valuable Player in the North-South All Star game in 1994; and

Whereas, Allison Feaster is the career leading scorer in South Carolina history with 3,427 points; and

Whereas, she has been a member of the 1993 All-Region Track Team and has thrice been a state finalist in both the Shot Put and Discus and has been a member of the 1993 and 1994 All Region Tennis Team; and

Whereas, she is graduating from Chester High School as number one in the Senior Class and will be attending Harvard University; and Whereas, the Senate of South Carolina wishes to hold Allison Feaster high as a role model for all the youth in our State. Now, therefore,

Be it resolved by the Senate:

That the best wishes and heartfelt congratulations of the South Carolina Senate be extended to Miss Allison Feaster of Chester High School in Chester County for the many honors and accolades she has received as an athlete and as a scholar and wish her continued success in pursuing her future endeavors.

Did you catch that Feaster was an All-State basketball player for five seasons?  That wasn’t a typo – she made the All-State basketball team as an eighth-grader!  (She started on the high-school varsity team as a seventh-grader.)

After graduating from Harvard with a degree in economics, Feaster was a first-round WNBA draft pick of the Los Angeles Sparks.    (She’s still the only Ivy Leaguer to be picked in the WNBA draft.)

Feaster in the WNBA
She played ten seasons in the WNBA – she took 2007 off to have a baby, but came back in 2008 – and continued to play professionally in Europe until just after her 40th birthday.  

Feaster recently was named Director of Player Personnel & Coach Relations for the 26-team “G League,” which is the NBA’s minor league organization.

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“Sweet Little Sixteen” was a #2 hit single for Chuck Berry in 1958.  (Berry was miles ahead of Elvis in those days.)

The song was a favorite of “British Invasion” bands – you can find recordings of live performance by the Stones, the Beatles, and the Animals on Youtube.

John Lennon included “Sweet Little Sixteen” on his 1975 Rock ’n’ Roll album.  The Phil Spector-produced cover is unlistenable.  

Here is Chuck Berry’s original recording of “Sweet Little Sixteen”:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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