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Wednesday April 11, 2001

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Commentary: Livin' the good life

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By Ryan Finley

Hey you! Yeah, you, the know-it-all who talks about "priorities" and "loyalty." Listen to me.

I play basketball for the Arizona Wildcats, the second-best team in the country. Sure, we lost to Duke, but we were the feel-good story of the year.

Now, I can go on to the pros. They say my stock has never been higher.

Remember those 20 points I dropped in the finals? That point guard I shut down? Those free throws I hit?

You know what I got paid for that? Nothing, unless you count the free visors and T-shirts we wore out of the locker room. Later that week, I was at Jack in the Box with the rest of the UA students, trying to figure out if my stipend could cover the ultimate cheeseburger combo. Ah, the life of the poor and famous.

Remember that jersey you bought at the bookstore when we made it to the Sweet 16? Remember the T-shirts you sent to your dad for his birthday or the replica shorts you bought your little brother? Remember how you bought the shooting shirt in McKale Center and then took the damn thing downtown to get my name and number on the back?

You know how much money I made off of all that stuff? About as much as you did.

I've been at this school for three years, and you know what I have to show for it? A quality education, some free Nike shoes and a little bit of local recognition. That's it.

You know the kind of money I've generated for this school? Remember, buddy, fans don't stand outside to see Lute Olson roam the sidelines or "Super Dave" sell Eegee's. They pile into McKale Center to see my teammates and I beat the living hell out of Washington and then play UCLA to the final possession.

How about the Pepsi machine in front of McKale Center? There's an Arizona player on it: He wears my number and looks like me, but he's not me. That would be a NCAA rules violation, after all. Guess what? I haven't even gotten a free Big Slam out of that.

How about the knock-off jerseys people sell on the street corners or in the bargain liquor stores? It's an Arizona jersey, all right, and it has my number on it. Who makes the money off of that? The liquor store owner, the printer and the T-shirt company. But not me.

So don't talk to me about loyalty, pal. Why make money for the school when I can make money for myself, my family and my friends? I know it sounds selfish, but it's the way that the world works. Would you pass up a chance to buy your mom a beach house or your little sister a brand-new convertible? I sure wouldn't.

Come on, hotshot political science major, listen to me. Let's say I gave you a check for a million dollars and let you be the new mayor of Anytown, USA. Would you take the money and the job?

Why not? It's always been your goal to be a political figure, and the money I give you would keep you financially secure for the rest of your life. You can live your dream and get paid insane amounts of money to do it. Wouldn't you take it?

How about you, Mr. arrogant history teacher? While you sit here and talk about loyalty and greed, you're making $30,000 and barely keeping your family financially afloat. Wouldn't you take a million dollars and a job at Harvard or Princeton if I offered it to you? Sure, you wouldn't be what some people call loyal, but it would be an offer too good to refuse. Right?

So, go ahead and call me names. Call me a sell-out, an opportunist or even a punk. But don't call me disloyal. People leave school all the time for all sorts of different reasons. Do you criticize a kid who is forced to leave school because he can no longer afford it? No. So don't criticize me. I can't afford not to go.

You see, I didn't come to the University of Arizona for its philosophy department or even the nursing program, although some people say athletes getting degrees might mean something. I came to the basketball program for the same reason that law students come to the UA law school and business students come to the business school - to advance my life and, eventually, get a job doing what I love to do.

Guess what? I found a job doing what I love to do, and it pays great. I get fame, women, money, power and joy from my job. Do you?

Come this June, I'll be on television, signing a contract that will pay me what my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents couldn't make in their lifetimes combined. I'll buy my mom and dad a house. Maybe, I'll get a new Mercedes with custom license plate. Hell, maybe I'll even give something back to the school. After all, it was Coach O and the other players that prepared me for my success.

It was only last week that I was scrounging for change in the cushions of my couch, looking for Jack in the Box money.

Next month, I'll be rich, happy and successful. Isn't that what they teach you to reach for in college anyway?