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These are the dark and quiet days.

Days when the basketball gods retreat to their beds, pull down the shades, and leave us mortals down on earth without even an exhibition game to watch. Until October 31st and the start of the NBA season, we, like existential man, are alone in the universe.

And to make matters worse, it’s been a rough summer for American basketball fans. The world FIBA championships, full of promise for a young and philosophically reconstituted American team, have come and gone, and for all the work and tryouts and avowed recommitment to good team basketball, Team USA faced the gods’ wrath for past sins of selfish one-on-one play and a lack of commitment to fundamentals and returned home from Japan with only a bronze medal after a humiliating loss to Greece, a country where they only started playing basketball two weeks before the tournament started. (Please click below for actual Toros news.)

Last week, the mighty American women’s team, full of WNBA stars even more dominating than their NBA counterparts, fell at their world championship tournament to Russia, where they don’t even have basketballs. Players there learn to dribble using ripe cabbage.

And then the unkindest cut of all: those same basketball gods - capricious and cruel - looked past the Dwayne Wades and the Elton Brands and the Manu Ginoblis of the world and aimed their thunderbolts at me, a poor journalist, striking me down in the full spring and flower of my basketball youth with a nasty sprained ankle - right in the middle of a daring and revolutionary defensive set I was working on, one I’m sure my competition at the Hyde Park court had no answer for.

Yes, these are indeed the dark and quiet days.

But here in Austin there is a light. That light is the Austin Toros, our local minor league representatives, who are coming off a tough but positive first season in the NBA Development League. The team, led by former NBA champion and five-team All-Defensive first-teamer Dennis Johnson, finished the season a respectable 24-24 and featured the league’s MVP, Marcus Fizer, a 6-foot-8-inch forward who began his career as a Chicago Bull and who was called up at the end of last season to play alongside Peja Stojakovic and Chris Paul for the New Orleans Hornets.

Starting today, my friend and fellow pass-first guy Dave Mann and I will be bringing you updates and stories and profiles from the world of the Toros, to keep basketball on your brains during the long, loud football season and to help generate support and enthusiasm for our local players and coaches and the Capital City Dancers, who are beautiful and talented and I’m sure deserve a column of their own.

The Toros’ next campaign begins November 24 at Albuquerque, where they’ll face last year’s D-League champion Thunderbirds. Despite the loss of Fizer and forward Jamar Smith, who was recently signed by the San Antonio Spurs, the team’s got talent to work with and will be looking to guards Ramel Curry and Andre Emmett to carry the load in the early going. The team’s home season begins Saturday Nov. 25 at the Austin Convention Center Downtown on Fourth Street. For ticket information, call 512/236-8333.

By the way, if there are any local players out there blessed with an abundance of basketball skills and an overabundance of temerity, guys who can shoot and dribble and set screens and make the extra pass and take the high-percentage shot and talk trash and know the proper way to spin a white towel in the air, the Toros will be holding open tryouts Oct.14-15 at the Delco Activity Center on Pecan Brook Drive. I don’t know where Pecan Brook Drive is, but I will be there, pen and pad in hand, keeping an eye out for any future Iversons and stealing moves for my own triumphant return to the court.

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