It took me a couple of days to fully realize and appreciate this, but the very best part of a silly series of press conferences Thursday afternoon at Amalie Arena was Geno Auriemma cutting through all the goofy garbage to point out the absurd direction of a conversation.
"You think Tom Izzo has to deal with this crap?" Auriemma said. "I don't think so. I don't think Coach K has ever been asked a question like that at the Final Four. I don't think Dean Smith or anybody else has ever been asked a question like that."
The prevailing theme of the day: If they weren't fierce competitors and rivals, could Auriemma and Muffet McGraw be friends or even married?
That's what we were obsessed with. What a disservice to the Final Four and its participants and to women's basketball. I took part by incorporating the coaches' responses into a column about the wacky nature of these press conferences and how Auriemma tends to make each one unique, no matter how routine UConn reaching a national semifinal has become.
Maybe it was the hours spent Saturday walking along Bayshore Boulevard, watching dolphins jump in Hillsborough Bay, or the intense sunburn earned through that experience, but something shook me toward introspection and/or fried my brain into a state of common sense.
So I went back to the site of Thursday's sloppy scene – to this most serious basketball stage – where Notre Dame was playing Baylor for the national championship Sunday before another sellout crowd and national TV audience. I went to steer myself back in the right direction.
Because this was a serious weekend, a seriously superb weekend for women's basketball. Baylor won its third national title. Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale, last year's buzzer-beating hero, missed a free throw with 1.9 seconds left and the Bears, despite Lauren Cox leaving the court in a wheelchair late, hung on.
It was breathtaking. It was another wonderful showcase for a sport that should be appreciated for its increasingly refined product, its wonderful players, the coaching brilliance of people such as Auriemma and McGraw, and more.
Instead, we shelve that stuff – some of it, anyway – in favor of gossipy noise that takes on a life of its own. You think Zion Williamson would sit silently on stage, so few questions asked, while Mike Krzyzewski explained whether he and Roy Williams would share a Happy Meal on Mars?
"I think the issue around women's basketball that I find a little bit disconcerting is the attention is always taken away from the game and the players, and it's turned onto the personalities of the involved coaches," Auriemma said. "God forbid, one coach is a man, the other coach is a woman, there always has to be some kind of friction, tension, all that other stuff."
Players hold press conferences like coaches, sometimes simultaneously, and the questions asked of them are few and more general by comparison. Auriemma and McGraw are legends, so different but having a similarly profound effect on girls and women and basketball. And because their teams so infrequently cross the national media's path compared to men's teams, the coverage becomes extremely coach-heavy and, sometimes, childish. It's easy to get sucked into.
There's nothing wrong with exploring rivalries and personalities, or even posing the same questions to people of equal influence and then lining up their answers for perspective, even entertainment. A little drama? That's cool, because we understand and appreciate humor, levity.
There is also a healthy balance, and sometimes we're wobbly.
Those press conferences are wide-ranging, a lot to take in. They can even be important to issues surrounding or transcending the game. McGraw gave an impassioned speech about equal opportunity for women Thursday, and Auriemma followed with his own unique take. That's healthy.
But too many are driven by tabloid stuff, a convenient entry point for a sport that is riveting without the gobbledygook. I even wondered in print, before Tampa, whether one coach would stop the car if the other was stranded, or simply accelerate through a puddle. It's funny, how much these coaches can't stand each other, but why would I invest so much time contemplating such a scenario, even the amount needed to write a sentence on it?
These are giants of the sport who have coached giants of the sport, and we wonder whether they'd hold hands? Guess what we did find out, though. Geno and Muffet once played golf together! Stop the presses!
We live in a scandal-guzzling, social-media-run world of distractions, hypotheticals and the mindless occupation of time. Hell, the Kardashians are still famous after almost 15 years and not 15 minutes.
But there are topics of impact to examine more closely and appreciate, in this case the basketball, the players, the games. Last year's Final Four gave us two overtime game-winners by Ogunbowale. Friday's UConn-Notre Dame game was another thriller in the sport's best rivalry.
Baylor's victory over Sabrina Ionescu and Oregon came down to the final seconds. And Sunday's championship was rife with former McDonald's All-Americans and future WNBA draft picks. It was also more entertaining than what you will see Monday night in Minneapolis. Women's basketball is in a better place than ever.
And yet ...
"When you watch a (women's) game on TV, they talk more about the shoes that the coach is wearing," Auriemma said. "Who gives a damn? Really, come on. Let's get over that. Let's talk about the game. Let's not talk about the nonsense that's on TMZ. If we want to be taken seriously, let's act seriously."
Rebecca Lobo acts seriously. Kara Lawson, too. Mechelle Voepel, Holly Rowe and on and on, there are many. Not all of us. Not all the time, anyway.
This is on the media – and the coaches. McGraw felt it necessary to tell ESPNW recently that Auriemma likes to bully people. The media asked Auriemma about it, and he defended himself in Thursday's press conference. The cycle goes on. Maybe a lot of coaches think Auriemma is a bully simply because he wins so much.
The sport is better than that. Just finish it on the court. McGraw had the latest say, Auriemma has 11 championships and, hopefully, they coach against one another for years to come. It's great for basketball because it's great basketball.
Auriemma is fascinating. There's nothing like a Geno press conference, November or April, whether he's breaking down basketball or complaining about fans getting ripped off, and no one should stop having fun with what he says. Even as he made the Izzo and Coach K reference, Auriemma laughed. But we should be careful about too often harping on material that pulls a soap opera curtain in front of something serious and something seriously good.