I will be rooting for the Russians during these Olympic Games.
Before someone comes after me with a hammer and sickle and Joe McCarthy begins to stir in his grave, let me explain.
I worked as the men's basketball sports information director at Bucknell University from 1995-99. For three of those four years, I had the privilege of publicizing the accomplishments of J.R Holden, a somewhat undersized (6-1, 175 pounds) Division I point guard from Pittsburgh.
Holden is currently leading the Russian men's basketball team as its starting point guard at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
After graduating from Bucknell with 1,327 points and 308 assists, Holden signed a contract to play professionally in Latvia. It was the springboard into a very successful professional career overseas that would land the former Patriot League star in Belgium, Greece, and eventually, Russia. Since 2002, Holden has played for CSKA Moscow in the Russian Super League. Last September, the Pittsburgher captured the admiration of Russian basketball fans from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, draining a game-winning jumper in the FIBA European Basketball championship game in Spain. The victory clinched the Russians a berth in the Beijing Olympic Games.
In 2003, Holden secured Russian citizenship. He maintains dual citizenship in Russia and the United States. Two weeks ago, Holden scored 17 points in an 89-68 loss to his fellow Americans in an exhibition contest in Shanghai, two points shy of Kobe Bryant's game-high 19. Last week, the 32-year-old and his Russian teammates opened official Olympic action against Iran.
More than a decade ago - around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5, 1997, to be exact - I was upset with J.R., then a junior at Bucknell. Earlier that evening, our Bison team had faced off against the Naval Academy in the Patriot League championship game. We led Navy by double figures in the second half before the Midshipmen's Michael Heary got hot. Navy's sharpshooting guard drilled several long-range jumpers to keep the Mids close. Holden tried to answer Heary, taking a number of ill-advised, tightly contested jump shots, and we got away from a very effective inside game and lost to host Navy, 76-75.
It was the closest I would get to the Big Dance - the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament - in my 10 years working in collegiate athletic media relations at the Division I level.
My frustration with Holden's poor perimeter shooting down the stretch in the Navy game was shortlived because I have so much respect for him.
My office at Bucknell was below Davis Gym, where the Bison used to play their home games. While wrapping up my postgame responsibilities - long after just about everyone else had left the gym - I would often hear a ball bouncing on the floor of the court above me. Before leaving for the night, I would often peak between the cracks of the gym doors to see who was shooting around.
It was always J.R.
So forgive me if I'm pulling for the men's basketball team representing our nation's former Cold War foes.
The remarkable accomplishments of this team's point guard are a testament to hard work and dedication - and a willingness on the part of two world superpowers to bury the hatchet to the extent that a U.S.-born point guard can suit up for the Russians in the Olympic Games.
And for the record, J.R., I've also buried the hatchet.
After leaving Bucknell, Farabaugh served as Sports Information Director at St. Francis University from 1999 to 2005. He is currently an instructor in the Journalism Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.