The Biggest Issue in College Basketball Is Not the Shot Clock

April 25th, 2015

While so many members of the media – print, TV & radio talking heads, even people on social media – are clamoring for a shortened shot clock, there are other aspects of the college game that needs to be addressed.

The main problem deals with transfers, e.g. 1) from one four-year school to another, whether the reason is due to homesickness, change of coach, lack of playing time, whatever, 2) the “double” transfer, i.e. started at one school, transferred to another, then left institution #2 (maybe played there, maybe not) to transfer once again or 3) the newest version of “good intention, bad result” – the kid who graduates from his original college and is allowed to go to another, and be immediately eligible, allegedly so he can pursue a master’s degree at his new location.

I’m not sure whoever thought of this “innovative idea” should be congratulated (although I’m 100% certain he fully believes he deserves accolades). My reasoning behind my skepticism is that in the “Information Age,” we get inundated with statistics, yet we have seen no numbers regarding 1) how many kids are actually receiving advanced degrees and, what’s worse, 2) how much legitimate academic work is being done by the guys who are taking advantage of this rule. My suspicion is that the moves are heavily weighted toward athletics decisions as opposed to academic ones.

As I’ve mentioned oh-so-many-times in this blogosphere, I toiled for three decades in college hoops, the final 18 as the assistant chairman of the Recruiting Committee for the coaches’ association (in addition to my duties at whichever school was paying me at the time). One year all coaches were mandated by the NCAA to cut the number of recruiting calls to prospects to one per week per prospect. The thinking behind this change came about when student-athletes were polled about what they disliked most about recruiting and pressure came in first by about the distance Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

Because the NCAA so severely limited face-to-face contact between coaches and prospects, phone calls were the next best method of establishing a relationship with, and selling the school to, prospects. At one of our Recruiting Committee meetings a question was raised, “What happens if you make your once-a-week call and it goes to voice mail?” The general consensus was if the call didn’t last more than one minute (which could be verified by phone bills), that it wouldn’t count as the call for that week.

At a coaches’ clinic I attended shortly thereafter, one of the topics dealt with the new recruiting rules. When the one/week phone call was brought up, one coach proudly shared what his staff did. Prospects were allowed to call schools as often as they wanted, the feeling being that since the prospect initiated the call, the pressure would be self-inflicted. The coach who spoke prided himself on not breaking the rules.

He explained that he (and the other coaches on their staff) would call and as soon as the prospect answered, they’d say, “Hey, it’s ____ from the U of ____. We can only call you once a week so here’s our toll free 800 phone number” (remember which century this was). “Call me back as soon as I hang up.” Th prospect is caught between a rock and a hard place. Few kids have the nerve to tell schools they’re not interested. Or maybe he is interested but has to leave and really can’t call back. Now he’s been placed in a pressure situation of greater magnitude. It was a somewhat devious move by the coach but only a minor violation. Other coaches in attendance could be seen nodding heads as they took notes.

The new torrent of transfers is the modern version of the phone call rule, i.e. the intent of the rule is good but the ways it’s being used is based on deception. These “master’s candidates” have become more like mercenaries and, like the one-and-dones, although so many coaches do not want to recruit them, they feel as though they must if, for no other reason than if of they don’t, they’ll wind up playing against them, maybe losing to them and, gulp, losing their job. Coaches are allowing their competitive gene overrule their moral gene.

Given the choice, my conservative estimate would be that 85% of the coaches would rather be able to coach guys for four (or even five) years. Part of that group would include junior college transfers whom they could work with for at least a couple years. Develop their skills. The relaxed transfer rules have turned too many college basketball players into nothing more than free agents. Adding in the one-and-done player, and coaches are behaving in ways that in past decades would be unrecognizable.

The stat I heard that hit me like a sucker punch I never saw coming was: every point scored by the national champion Duke Blue Devils in the second half of the final game against Wisconsin was scored by freshmen, only one (the four) of whom is returning to Durham next season. 18-year olds using one of the greatest academic institutions as a mere stepping stone to a professional basketball career.

One has to wonder in college basketball:

“Is the tail wagging the dog?”

With All Shaq’s Other Talents, Why Is He Being Allowed to Ruin TNT’s Studio Show?

April 24th, 2015

Wilt Chamberlain aside, it’s my opinion that Shaquille O’Neal is the most multi-talented seven footer anyone has ever observed – on the court and off. The LSU grad, one of the NBA’s most dominant centers, has also displayed an ability to dance (especially break dancing, no small feat for a guy of his proportions) and while his acting skills might not be Academy Award worthy, he has been cast as a leading man. In addition, his show “Shaq vs.” was quite entertaining, pitting the big guy (plus a handicap of some sort) against athletes who are/were world-class in their sport (Michael Phelps, Oscar De La Hoya, Serena Williams and Albert Pujols, among others).

With all those endeavors to his credit, why in the world did the people at TNT feel it necessary to add to the trio of Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson for their award-winning Inside the NBA television show? When those three originals were providing pre-game, halftime and post-game commentary and analysis, the viewer was privy to a couple of former NBA stars explaining the game and how professionals prepared for it, thought about and responded to various situations that would arise in an NBA contest. E.J. proved the perfect host, keeping the show on track, yet allowing for some good-natured banter between the other two.

Maybe some higher up at TNT had a (man or woman) crush on Shaq, maybe Shaq’s agent called in an overdue chit, maybe Shaq has pictures of somebody – who knows? – but for some asinine reason, it was decided to add a fourth mouth to the mix and the show has become more annoying and offensive than entertaining and educational. He feels it’s his turn to speak anytime, destroying the wonderful chemistry the other three used to have. His comments are predictable, e.g. “You gotta feed the big man” or “It all starts with the big fella,” independent of the strengths of the teams involved in the game that night. He drones on in his all-too-often pantomimed monotone or looks as though he’s at ventriloquist tryouts (except for when he gets really animated and scrunches up the left side of his face to make some mundane point). That is, unless there’s a joke at Barkley’s expense. Last night he laughed louder and longer than necessary at a, granted, funny remark directed at Chuck’s slaughtering the English language, rendering the rest of the segment useless.

Other than that, he can be heard serving up nonsensical remarks (“bar-be-qued chicken”) or feeding his massive ego, making a remark of how great he is (or was) at some area of the game (or life) and challenging anyone, especially his foil, Barkley, to refute it. If Chuck takes the bait, the audience is then subject to listening to his bravado, which drags on until a “showdown” is arranged or, thankfully, a commercial break comes to the rescue. His behavior is so unprofessional that viewers are left to wonder why the station is so committed to his presence on the program. It’s almost as if TNT  had a Rembrandt – and decided that it could be improved by allowing someone to draw on it with crayons. Finally, they realized it was no longer a masterpiece and resigned themselves to riding it out and continue the coloring.

Possibly, O’Neal took the gig in an attempt to set a record for how many different methods he can employ to increase his net worth. He’s endorsed any and all products, no matter how implausible his use of that item might be (really, Arizona Beverages – Soda Shaq & Shaq Fu Punch? Buick?) Does anybody think for a minute that, when Shaquille O’Neal’s muscles ache, he reaches for the Icy Hot?

As Variety‘s author, Brian Lowry, declared in his July 24, 2014 piece, TNT Made a Mistake by Signing Shaq (he recognized the network’s blunder almost immediately):

“The bigger they are, the harder they can be to listen to.”

It’s Not Unusual that There Is No Cut-and-Dried Case for NBA MVP

April 23rd, 2015

It’s late, my body has still not completely recovered from the cross country trip and ensuing cruise to the Caribbean (how old do you think I feel that I have to “recover” from a vacation)? Nonetheless, the following is a post from five years ago – and it sounds eerily similar to the conversation that’s going on today (although the 2015 version has some different characters involved).

An argument that has picked up steam recently – and seems to be gaining in momentum – is “Who’s the NBA’s best player?”

Although Kevin Durant, D-Wade, KG, CP3, Steve Nash, Amare, Brandon Roy, Tim Duncan, Dirk, Dwight, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and maybe some others hear their names mentioned, the discussion mainly centers around two players – Kobe and LeBron. The more the topic is brought up, the more it seems the vote is dead even.

Those for Kobe dismiss LeBron, explaining simply Kobe is the best of all time. In their minds, this means a comparison to MJ, not LBJ. It’s only natural. After all, Kobe and Michael are mirror images of each other, albeit years apart. Each is a guard (approx the same size) who can score, seemingly, at will; has/had the rep for taking and, way more often than not, making game-winners. Both Kobe and MJ are/were tough on their teammates, elevating the game of those with the internal strength to compete (and possibly crushing those who weren’t mentally strong).

During the Dream Team’s run, they scrimmaged a group of college kids, coached by my good friend, former boss and current mentor, George Raveling. One day the college kids actually beat the Dream Teamers. Allan Houston was on fire. The following day, as the guys lined up to scrimmage, MJ pointed to Houston and said, “I got him.” According to George, not only did Houston not score, he barely touched the ball.

A similar story occurred when Mike Krzyzewski coached this past Olympic squad and, prior to the first practice, Coach K was relieved when Kobe approached him and simply said, “Coach, I’ll play whoever the opponent’s leading scorer is.”  Kinda takes the pressure off of the rest of the match-ups.

The problem that fans have with comparing LeBron with Kobe is the problem fans have with comparing LeBron with anybody.  One reason is his 6’8″, 265 lb body.  People try to bring up Magic, but that’s only because of height and ballhandling skill.  Magic seldom iso’d as much as LeBron, nor can I ever remember Magic chase down a guy and block his shot.  Magic was more of a point guard, a distributor first.  While LeBron has vastly improved his passing skills, he is known for his explosiveness and emphatic finishes in a way that Magic just never attempted to do.  As far as championships, Johnson has it all over James, but there isn’t a fan with a brain (which eliminates all but a few contestants) who would deny that the teams Magic played on were some of the best ever in the league, while the Cavs . . .   Therefore, there seems to be no point in comparing those two.

Likewise, because of their different skill sets, it’s fruitless to pick one over the other when  it comes to Kobe and LeBron.  To paraphrase Oscar Wilde:

“The best way to appreciate Kobe and LeBron is to imagine the NBA without either.”

Fast forward to today. While the differences between Steph Curry and James Harden (throw Russell Westbrook in the discussion as well) are light years away from Kobe and LeBron, I’ve heard media (all types) as well as fans make compelling pleas for “their guy” to be the MVP.

Independent of how you’d cast your vote, what I found most fascinating is that, still in the conversation is LeBron – only now he has a couple championships added to his resume. Nearly every knock against him in the past has been answered (in the affirmative). So, it looks like for the immediate future (and possibly beyond), the road to the MVP goes through LBJ.

While some may claim, “There’s a new sheriff in town,” please be advised:

“The old one hasn’t left yet.”

Watching True Teamwork in Action Is Beautiful to Behold

April 22nd, 2015

The NBA is made up of the best athletes in the world – but when the playoffs begin, it’s about which team functions best. Individual awards for the season are being presented but what it’s all about at this time of the year is which team can come closest to realizing 100% of its collective potential. Recently, I witnessed first hand one of the greatest team efforts I’ve ever seen.

As I mentioned prior to going on my 12-day hiatus from the world of blogging, my wife and I were at a wedding party for the son of one of my college roommates, followed by a cruise to the Caribbean – on a monstrosity called the Oasis of the Seas, the biggest ship in the world. In the world.

Royal Caribbean, parent company of the ship, made the decision to go for it. The Oasis of the Seas accommodates over 6,000 passengers and nearly 2,400 crew members (the majority of whom are from countries other than the U.S.). The design of this bad boy (or I guess, gal, since ships are usually referred to as females) has seven distinct neighborhoods built for passenger enjoyment. Start with The Boardwalk, complete with its own carousel. There’s an amphitheater – and an indoor theater (where Jane and I saw several performances, including the Broadway hit Cats), a Youth Zone (although also a separate pool area for adults), a Sports Zone where you’ll find a full length basketball court, table tennis, rock climbing, surf simulators and zip lining (before you ask, the answer is, after nine back surgeries, no! – although I really would have loved to try).

Oh yeah, there’s Central Park, a garden lined with shops and fine restaurants (in all there are 25 eateries on board). Fortunately, the state-of-the-art fitness center kept me from leaving the ship two sizes bigger at journey’s end. While I worked out alone – recumbent bike, yoga and strengthening routines given to me by my yoga and physical therapy instructors – Jane did aerobics and core strengthening classes and walked around the track. I might have passed on zip lining but I did enjoy a seaweed massage, followed by one of the hot stone variety a couple days later. In the area of pampering, Jane outdid me (facials and every other sort of “relax & beauty mechanisms” were available – naturally, for a price). Speaking of “price,” there’s duty-free shopping at any type of store imaginable, plus a casino if you’re feeling lucky – or stupid. And, believe it or not, I’m forgetting something.

However, the reason for all of this information is not to elicit jealousy. The point is simply to help you understand the overwhelming necessity for teamwork for such a massive undertaking as we – and everyone else – experienced. Maybe it was due to all my years of playing and coaching but despite all the marvelous entertainment and coddling offered, I felt more gratification in marveling at the synergy of those committed to guaranteeing passenger happiness.

The first example was boarding. Prior to arriving at the pier, passengers printed baggage slips that were emailed and which had the deck (floor) you were on. Each person wrote name and address on each slip. Upon arrival, you’d look for your deck (ours was #10) and place your bags in that area. Then, when your deck was called, you showed your passport and boarded. 6,000 people and nary a line. Later that evening, like magic, your bags were placed outside your stateroom door. It was as though the ship had a mantra: Everyone has a job to do and each person needs to take ownership of that job.

This applied to the guy who I saw polishing the bannisters, those in charge of towels by the pool, the waiters and waitresses whose aim it was to always serve with a pleasant personality (even to the jerks whose goal seemed to be to complain about anything and everything), to the staff who always smiled when answering even the most inane question – no matter how many times they heard it, e.g. “If I buy a gift at a store in Cozumel, am I allowed to bring it back on the ship when we depart?” “No, stuff it in a bottle and throw it in the ocean” was not an acceptable reply.)

Observing the speed and efficiency with which the personnel turned over tables in the dining rooms was like watching the Spurs run their offense. The bus boy cleared the dishes immediately after the diners vacated. A new man swooped in, lifted the tablecloth, took the butter dish, salt & pepper shakers and put them on the table while he removed the dirty tablecloth. He, then, took the new cloth and shook it out so that it covered half the table, placed the butter dish, salt & pepper shakers on the side he just laid out and covered the other half of the table. Right behind him came the “settings” man, with however many of them there were seats for, withdrew the silverware from the already folded napkins, placing two forks on the left, the knife and spoon on the right with the dessert spoon and fork perpendicular at the top. The folded napkin was placed it in the middle. Each place setting had a bread plate to the left, with a butter knife on the plate. Although that might not have been accomplished in 24 seconds, it wouldn’t have been a shot clock violation in college.

Each room had a steward who made a point by the second day to know our names. When we left the room, we were instructed to place a “Make up my room” card where the key went and, when we returned, everything was clean – new sheets, made bed, bathroom spotless, floor vacuumed. Similarly, when we departed for dinner, the card once again went into the slot and, upon return, the bed was turned down and some type of animal – made out of a towel or two – was at the foot of the bed, e.g. a rabbit in child’s pose, a squid, a swan.

No money was exchanged (except for tips which, although they were included in the package, I felt compelled to give, if only as tuition for the course in esprit de corps they put on). Instead, each passenger had a card which served as a room key, ID and a “credit card” – for spa treatments, purchases at stores on the ship, etc. Each day passengers could check their balance on their TV screen, along with the day’s activities, TV shopping and, naturally, television shows. At each bank of elevators was an outline of the ship, including what deck you were on and what was located on it, as well as what was located on every other deck. This made it impossible to ever get lost which, when you’re traveling with someone who has a really bad sense of direction makes the trip so much more pleasant.

Finally, our seven-day cruise had come to an end. The disembarking was just as orderly as when we first arrived. All bags were to be packed with luggage tags that were left on the bed the night before docking. Leave the bags outside the door and, when your name is called, begin exiting. Bags will be at the designated area. We got a porter (one of the 72 ready to assist) and disembarked. He hailed a cab, took a tip and away we went.

And the Oasis of the Seas “team” turned right around and, in a few hours, repeated the entire process all over again for another 6,000+ passengers.

The moral of the story is:

“There’s nearly no limit to what can be accomplished when all involved are committed to their jobs – and each other. That’s the essence of a TEAM.”

The Major Difference Between College and NBA Hoops

April 21st, 2015

With the NBA Playoffs coming on the heels of college’s national championship game, the basketball junkie can witness March Madness, followed shortly by the pros version of it, and can compare the two products. Something that skews the numbers is that the professional game is 20% longer than its college counterpart – 48 minutes to 40.

Yet, such a contrast between college ball and the NBA can’t be attributed only to the time differential. Sure the professional shot clock is 24 seconds as opposed to college’s 35 seconds but a look at the statistics from the days the NCAA shot clock was 45 seconds reveals the scores were actually higher when the collegians had the longer clock.

As I blogged on 3/28/15, in order to score the offense has to actually do something, i.e. put the ball in the basket, while the defense’s purpose is to not allow something to occur, i.e. the other team to put the ball in the basket. Simply put, it takes so much more skill to score than it does to keep a team from scoring.

After the Spurs won the NBA title last season, fans had an absolute love affair with the You Tube video entitled “San Antonio Spurs Tribute – The Beautiful Game” which showed clips of the Spurs’ offense in which all five players would touch the ball, each player passing up, as coaches are wont to say, “a good shot for a great one.” Admittedly, as a former coach, it was amazing to watch. The Spurs’ offense was truly poetry on motion, exactly how one would believe James Naismith envisioned his invention for his PE kids to do when the weather forced them inside.

That, however, is somewhat deceptive. What one notices when viewing that video is that every player who touches the ball has the ability to score. Which is why the defense in those sequences is so frantic. If no one rotates to that next pass, the offensive player will burn the D – and many times it was from three-point land.

And that is what separates the college and NBA games. Not just pure skill but the ability to score – even when guarded. The game is in a catch-22. Nearly every college team had a player (or more) who can’t score and, thus, doesn’t have to be guarded. Even if left alone. Because it takes skill to put a ball in a hoop (even though two of them could fit simultaneously through a rim), colleges need skilled players. Yet it seems as though as soon as a talented player enters college, he’s looking to leave! Maybe that’s why there aren’t too many (any?) videos of college teams like that of last year’s champion Spurs (or, for that matter, this year’s Warriors and Hawks)

As the great Bill Russell said in that now famous Pepsi MAX commercial:

“This game has always been, and will always be, about buckets.”

April 8th, 2015

Headed for another wedding. A couple of my college roommates’ sons wound up getting married within three weeks of each other. This one’s in Ft. Lauderdale and, instead of a week at Myrtle Beach, like we did after the March wedding in Charleston, we’re spoiling ourselves with a cruise to the Caribbean. Why not? What’s retirement for anyway?

I’m sure I’ll have plenty to blog about by the next post on Tuesday, April 21. 

The NBA draft is made up of two rounds. i.e. a total of 60 picks. If a player is selected in the first round, his contract is guaranteed. In other words, he gets his money – independent of how well (or poorly) he plays, if he gets injured, even if the team cuts him. A second rounder receives meal money during camp and a spot on the franchise’s summer league club. It’s incumbent upon him to make the (up to) 15 player roster if he wants a steady check.

Last year nearly 44 underclassmen declared early for the 2014 NBA draft, 29 got drafted, 18 of those in the first round – with 17 out of the first 23 picks being underclassmen. In 2013 the numbers of early entrants was 48, 28 of whom heard their names called. Two-thirds of the first round were underclassmen. How about 2012? The numbers are eerily similar. 49 put their names into the draft before exhausting their collegiate eligibility. Of those, 29 were drafted – 24 in the first-round (16 of the first 17). Every one of the 29 who were selected went in the top 45 picks.

Those numbers almost seem that it’s worthwhile to leave school early – or at least consider it. Maybe so, but only they can tell. 55 of them over the past three years gave up college eligibility to . . . do what? Maybe their academic situation dictated they “put their name in the draft” to, you know, save face.  On occasion I’ve heard, “Aw, it was time, I couldn’t have accomplished any more in college.” (Translation: “I didn’t feel like studying harder and spending extra time with the tutors the program had set up for me, knowing I was a ‘special admit’ and needed extra assistance just to stay eligible in the first place). Believe it or not, for some kids, they have a better chance at playing professionally than they do of earning a college degree. Whether this type of academic risk should have been admitted in the first place is for another blog.

It could have been that they got bad advice from someone or maybe, as is the case among athletes, their egos exceeded their ability. Or, possibly, they were dismissed due to a legal issue (or issues) or they failed one too many “tests” – the kind administered by the training staff that’s impossible to study for.

In all likelihood, they’re playing overseas or in the NBA Development league, clinging to that shot they get called up for a 10-day contract in the “league.” And why not? If you can make a living playing a game, what better way to enjoy life? It’s not like someone can take a job in the business world and, when they turn 40 say, “You know, I think I’ll start that professional basketball (or whatever sport) career now.”

Hey, it’s a good job if you can land one. After all:

“It’s called, PLAY ball, not WORK ball.”

Ryan’s Remarks the Result of Unfortunate Timing

April 7th, 2015

Following his team’s heartbreaking loss in the national championship, head coach Bo Ryan made some not-so-veiled critical comments regarding the officiating, as well as a remark about not using “rent-a-players” (fifth year guys who have graduated from their original institution but, due to redshirting during one of them, are allowed to transfer and be immediately eligible elsewhere). In other words, Bo likes to build his team from within, developing players from their freshman year until they’re seniors (the way it was done in the “old days”). Frank Kaminsky going from a six-minute a game man to National Player of the Year is his prime example.

Still, many will say, why couldn’t Ryan simply have been a gracious loser, congratulate Duke and hear the applause from fans everywhere? The reason was beautifully articulated by ESPN’s Seth Greenberg, a former (as opposed to wannabe or “after the fact”) college head coach. Seth educated viewers 1) that in tournament games, the losing team and coach speak first at the post game press conference podium, 2) that this takes place only minutes after the final horn sounds and 3) that the realization is just sinking in that, not only has the season come to an end but so, too, has the player-coach relationship which, in Bo’s case has been 3-4 years. Just. Like. That. What Kaminsky said is true – it’s not like family, they are family. Emotions couldn’t be running any higher.

Consider that the Badgers won the Big 10 regular season championship and the Big 10 tournament (Duke accomplished neither, making the national championship an all-or-nothing proposition). Consider also that 60 out of 68 of Duke’s points were scored by their four freshmen and that Duke’s eighth man, frosh (what else) Grayson Allen had 16 points – a guy who didn’t even step on the court in the first Duke-Wisconsin game. Plus the fact that his club had a nine point lead with 13:17 remaining in the game with Okafor and Winslow in foul trouble (when, of all people, Allen, scores eight in a row on a three, an old fashioned three-point play and a deuce).

According to Bo, Wisconsin was “#1 in the nation in offensive efficiency . . . committed the least number of fouls during the year, a team that got to the free throw line,” evidently all areas of emphasis in his program. He felt none of this took place last night and UW lost. The national championship.

So, here’s Bo Ryan who, immediately after losing the biggest game of the season, has to go to the presser. He just lost what probably will be his best ever shot at winning a national championship. It’s not exactly like Wisconsin is an odds on favorite to win it all every year (except maybe 1942 when they could have repeated). At the press conference he explains the technique they teach at Wisconsin – which has led to his club committing the least number of fouls – yet last night fouls were called for using that same technique. Throw in two out-of-bounds calls, one which leads to a bucket in which Winslow’s foot is definitely on the line (but was outside of three minutes so it couldn’t be reviewed) and another which was inside two minutes. It’s just that the only three people in the world who mattered claimed they couldn’t see anything to overrule the original call . . . the one the play-by-play and his two color commentators had been thoroughly explaining to millions of people was off Winslow.

Possibly going through Bo’s mind was that, had they won, they would have done so in the most difficult manner: beating a #4 seed (North Carolina), a #2 (Arizona), a #1 (Kentucky) and another #1 (Duke). When your guys have gone through such an arduous path – and come so close – it’s just a hard pill to swallow.

There will be the Duke (and Coack K) supporters who will claim that Mike would have (and has) handled it better than Bo did. Is that because he’s classier than Bo or because it’s easier when you already have four of them? Maybe if he had a little more time to compose himself, his comments would have been tempered.

But television rules and they want raw emotion. In addition, they need to get commercials in, as well as post game comments from those who called the game for CBS, the studio foursome at the game, the studio group somewhere else in – or outside – the arena, ESPN’s studio people, Dick Vitale and any unexpected, but certainly welcome guest, e.g. the President – but only if his bracket was leading the pool.

While there might be some sympathy for the losing coach and team members (recall Andrew Harrison’s remarks after his UK squad had just had their 40-0 dreams dashed, that they’d heard about every day of the season, something they worked for half a year to achieve – and were forced to face the press just moments later), there is, however, no empathy. What’s the difference between the two?

“If you tell me you’re seasick and I say I’m sorry, that’s sympathy. If I turn green, that’s empathy.”

Rest assured, Bo, that anyone who’s ever coached at that level is feeling green for you.

 

The National Championship Game: A Battle Between Two Schools of Thought

April 6th, 2015

Tonight’s national championship could be called the “old timers” vs. the “millennials” – an argument for how college basketball teams ought to be constructed.

Basketball fans from years gone by, i.e. “baby boomers” can’t understand how kids can be so doggone antsy to leave college (“the best years of your life” as many claim that atmosphere is – being “on your own,” having a great social life, mingling with friends, . . . even going to class). Slow down and enjoy college life because once you leave, they warn, it’s gone forever. And you’ll never experience anything like it again.

The new generation are “live in the moment” people – use what and whom you can to accomplish your goal(s). College is just a means to an end. Why stick around when there are riches to be made and other dreams to be fulfilled?

Wisconsin and Bo Ryan represent the “old fashioned way.” Build your program with players who’ve been evaluated well, have bought into the system, are willing to work their butts off and then, in many cases, still are willing to be patient and wait their turn. Have innovative ideas, e.g. his “swing” offense, and be able to transfer your knowledge to your players – so they will be able to perform flawlessly when the heat’s on. Translation: the phrase “coach ‘em up” is alive and well.

There are pundits who believe that philosophy was why the Badgers were able to defeat a young Kentucky contingent down the stretch. Before jumping to any conclusions, however, the incredible pressure that had been building on the Wildcats, all season, cannot be overstated. Still, Bo’s bunch did what was necessary and came through when their prospects looked bleak late in the contest.

Duke, of all programs, is the one with four freshmen in Mike Kzyzewski’s eight-man rotation. If ever there was a coach whose flexibility of his body (due to back surgeries and general wear and tear) was in inverse proportion to his evolution as a coach, Coach K is that guy. His first couple national championship clubs were upper class dominated squads. Having worked with USA Basketball and the NBA’s premier talent, Mike has witnessed firsthand the value in pure talent (combined with work ethic and character), i.e. it’s easier to compete when your team’s talent is equal to or better than your opponents. Translation: even at one of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions, don’t turn down the “one-and-dones.”

Which approach is the better one? When setting betting lines, it’s remarkable how close the “wise guys” come to the actual spread. In this case, with these two vastly divergent styles, the statement they make is quite ironic. What does Vegas think?

“Pick ‘em.”

 

No Matter How Many Changes, There Will Always Be Controversy in Basketball

April 5th, 2015

When I started watching, playing and coaching basketball, there were two-man referee crews and no shot clock; then the players got so good, three officials were necessary, followed by a shot clock and a three-point line. Later, the line was moved back to allow for a more open game, one in which driving to the hoop was encouraged. But that was when, if players weren’t in college for four years (or five), it was because they flunked out.

Also, early on players would listen to their coaches – or feel the wrath of . . . their parents. So when coaches introduced “take the charge” drills, guys couldn’t wait to prove their toughness. It was so emphasized that there was room for kids of lesser skills who’d just give up their bodies and run under slashers, their contributions to the team getting stars in foul trouble. The result: an arc was placed in the lane and any player taking a charge had to have both feet outside that arc before the offensive player left the floor. In addition, some critics felt that rough play was ruining such a balletic sport so hand checking and “bumping cutters” were disallowed. Two free throws were given to the shooter after the tenth foul of either half to prevent teams from excessive fouling (the jury is still out on the effectiveness of that rule change).

Not enough!” cried those who demanded perfection. Too many errors in officiating were taking place. There needed to be a method to “let the players decide the outcome of the game.” Enter instant replay. Was that the answer? Some will rise up and say, resoundingly, yes. Just as many feel the exact opposite. While replay has helped to correct obvious mistakes, it is flawed in three areas:

1) The officials still get it wrong. Sit at home and watch a replay, e.g. the play in which Trey Lyles smacked John Gasser in the face. Listening to the commentators (unless you were on the Kentucky live stream), the odds were overwhelming a flagrant one foul would be called. Even Charles Barkley admitted the act was intentional – and no one is more in favor of physical play than Charles. So, was it a flagrant one or a flagrant two? Neither! Play on.

2) The officials can only go to the monitor at certain times. Shortly after Lyles’ karate chop (which the officials could review) came another no-call when the Badgers put back a missed shot well after the shot clock had expired. There is an official whose duty it is to notice such violations while the ball is in play but . . . one guy can’t always be counted on among the crowd of 72,238 (not including all the freebies – players, coaches, travel party, administrators, media, concessionaires, ushers) to get it right. There must have been close to 75K people in there, nearly all of them making noise. No wonder no one heard the shot clock horn. One problem, however. The play took place with 2:22 to go and officials can only review that type of situation (along with deciding which team should have possession on out-of-bounds calls) during the last two minutes. Because it meant so much, you say, why not allow the striped shirts to check it out? That leads to the third flaw.

3) Instant replays completely ruin the flow of the game. The huddles taken by the referees break up the natural rhythm of basketball. And, they take entirely too long. Usually it’s obvious to the viewers (often, as pointed out by the commentators), yet the refs keep looking and looking – as if the video is going to change! Prior to instant replay, referees would make bang-bang calls. Now, it’s as if they’re watching a mini-documentary. After all, up-and-down, continuous action is what sets basketball apart from football or baseball and makes it so exciting to watch.

Now there’s talk of shortening the clock, moving the three-point line back farther, widening the lane – all in an attempt to improve the game. Some of the (really) old-timers might have a different proposal:

“Go back to when the bottom of the peach baskets weren’t cut out and there was a jump ball after every basket.”

Fans Have It Easier than Players and Coaches Do

April 4th, 2015

Heard yesterday afternoon on the extremely popular ESPN show, Pardon The Interruption (PTI), Jason Whitlock answer the question, “If Kentucky were to lose to Wisconsin in the Final Four, would 38-1 be considered a successful season?”

Whitlock didn’t even pause before his reply. “No,” the fill-in host said, adding that the expectations were set early for this team and, so far, the year had gone as planned – although no one ever gave any consideration to how absurd a 40-0 season would be to achieve. I mean, a start-to-finish undefeated season hasn’t occurred for nearly 40 years. Granted, there have been some close calls, but none of them ending in storybook fashion – and that was before social media and all the distractions players and coaches have been forced to deal with.

Tony Kornheiser disagreed with his colleague – although that’s one of the basic premises of the show, isn’t it? In addition, saying that a 38-1 record in Division I basketball (at least on the men’s side, Geno) is, in fact, a major accomplishment, is not exactly sticking one’s neck out.

Fans of Wildcat Nation, however, will undoubtedly side with Whitlock in this argument. They would probably have been satisfied with UK going 39-1 – as long as the sole loss was during the regular season. And it wasn’t against Louisville. Or to an SEC opponent. Or in Rupp.

Supporters of other schools aren’t nearly so rabid (with the exception of Alabama fans – on the football side). That means a loss here and there – but nowhere else - can be tolerated. Loyalty is an overrated quality anyway. Do you think it’s possible fans have been spoiled just a tad?

The difference between fans and coaches & players is that, at any time during the season, fans are allowed to quit being fans without any negative consequences. Maybe they’ll receive a little verbal abuse but they know there will always be room on the bandwagon when the team becomes the type of winner they want to be associated with again. Unfortunately, that’s not an option that’s afforded to coaches and players.

“Even though there are times they wish it were.”