Many of our most passionate obsessions are, in truth, devoid of greater meaning. There’s this hobby store in town with an entire section devoted to model trains. There are pint sized dopplegangers for every rural fence post and water tower. Once a week grown men, with presumably normal “real” lives, meet there to discuss the developments in the mid-American utopias they’ve made of paper mache on a banquet table in the sbobet basement. They exchange grains of universal wisdom that only apply in a world where an ant becomes Godzilla.

For me, an Eastern Kentucky boy with a Big Blue diploma, the obsession is Wildcat basketball. I love it so much, I hardly ENJOY it at all.

CJ

So, yes, there’s an element of poker here because I can’t escape the grand unifying theory of the blog itself. Like many of our readers, I’ve been impressed by and proud of CJ’s recent tournament run. Granted, many of us can say we EXPECT to cash in these donkey MTTs, but CJ is on a final table groove that card slingers call “a rush.” He’d be plenty tired of running if the payout wasn’t so nice.

Still, its awfully hard to say I’m suprised. I know I speak for Otis when I say we’ve always known CJ was a very skilled tournament player. As I wrote in the comments to his last post, those of us who prefer to see poker as a game of skill… to any extent… must be impressed with his play. He’s more than a suckout artist, he’s just playing really well. But that alone doesn’t explain a single weekend of dominance. I look to Kentucky for that.

PATRICK SPARKS

This week Kentucky had two big games against ranked teams, part of some corporate pre-season extravaganza in Missouri. (It’s true, this week something INTERESTING happened in Missouri.) On Monday, the ‘Cats were lousy and lost to Iowa late. The next night, they beat an arguably superior West Virginia team by more than 20 points. For that, credit Patrick Sparks.

Monday: 7 points in 24 minutes.

Tuesday: 25 points in 33 minutes. He made 8 of 13 shots, 7 of 11 from 3-point range.

Patrick has always been a streaky player with a great outside shot. But what explains his spurts? He’s just as TALENTED and SKILLED on Tuesday as he was the day before. Why did he do so much better?

Here’s how teammate Bobby Perry explains it…

“When you’re hitting shots, you get in a zone,” Perry said. “You’re feeling it. You feel you can do anything on the court.”

Meanwhile West Virginia Coach John Beilein said this about the normally sharpshooting Moutaineers:

“When we didn’t make (shots) — and that’s something we haven’t seen this year — I think we panicked just a bit. They got their confidence back, and we lost our confidence completely.”

SO IS CJ IN “THE ZONE”?

Clearly CJ is “feeling it” when he plays tournment poker. Right now, I’m tossing bricks. I suspect coach Beilein has figured out why. You can’t play poker without knowing you’re playing well… or about to play well… or at least you aren’t worried about the bricks you’ve already shot.

Sports “experts” have long debated this idea of “the Zone” as if it’s akin to summoning the “force.” I’d say there nothing metaphysical about it. It’s not some miracle of short-term muscle memory or an ablity to think more clearly than before. Instead, it’s clarity almost to the point of not thinking at all. When Patrick Sparks decides to shoot on Tuesday, he’s not worried about the position of his elbow or the break of his wrist.

Brain thinks: “Shoot!” and his body just does it. No thinking required.

The same is the case with CJ. He’s posted this list of ideas for playing well and we all know they’re right on. I think all of us play by rules that are very close to his. But when a player is running hot, the rules don’t matter, at least in a conscious sense. We JUST DO IT.

When things are running bad, however, we begin to fill with doubt. It’s the reason losses become streaks. We start to second guess ourselves and almost FORCE the wrong play. Play we KNOW we shouldn’t make.

There’s this superstition about not talking about a rush. It has a basis in fact. By talking about our play, we begin to break it down in a way that causes reflection and doubt, “Why DID I make that call?”. And once we start worrying about our shot… it’s almost bound to brick.