Monday, December 1, 2008

K's Korner: Blogging Through a Mid-Major's Season Pt. IV

Welcome to K's Korner!! Scott Klatzkin is the voice of the Delaware State University basketball and football teams. The Hornets play in the MEAC, but also play one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. Scott will be checking in with us periodically throughout the season as he follows DSU all over the country.

Despite the 20 point loss at Dayton, the team was in good spirits as we loaded onto the bus the next morning to head to Columbus. They did seem a bit tired, but rightfully so as tonight’s game against the Buckeyes would be the Hornets’ 5th game in 7 days. It was in Columbus that I learned that DSU doesn’t really go for the whole “team meal” thing. It’s pretty much fast food in a food court, which gives the players an option, or its McDonalds. As Director of Basketball Operations Arthur Tyson put it: “Coach Jackson loves him some McDonald’s, so sometimes it’s just not up to me.”

We pulled into a shopping mall on the way to the hotel for lunch and the players scattered throughout the food court for a meal before arriving in Columbus. After fending off offer after offer of Japanese and Chinese free samples, I eventually cracked and went with the Teriyaki Chicken with rice and vegetables at the Japanese place. I could feel the glares of the angry Chinese restaurant workers against the back of my head, as they watched me in disgust, knowing they had wasted a free sample on me.

After lunch, it was back on to the bus as we finished our trip to the Holiday Inn on the Lane (Lane Street is right across from St. John Arena, where the Hornets-Buckeyes game would be played due to a Reba McIntyre-Kelly Clarkson concert at Value City Arena. This would be only the 4th time since 1999 that Ohio State has played in the historical building that John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas once called home).

The team went to shoot around, and I took full advantage of the complimentary wireless internet (score one for the Holiday Inn on the Lane) back in the room as I finished up my game prep for the night. The more I prepped and read about the Buckeyes and their freshman phenom, BJ Mullens, the more I got excited about being a part of his first career game. The team planned on heading across the street at around 5:30, which I thought was entirely too late for a game that started at 6:30, so I took a walk to the arena around 4pm. I set up my equipment and had a conversation with OSU Associate AD of Communications, Dan Wallenberg, who was incredibly helpful and then picked the brains of the Buckeye broadcast team Paul Keels and former Ohio State captain, Ron Stokes. The gist of the conversations was that Mullens was young, and it would probably be awhile before we saw his NBA Lottery potential coming to fruition this season. Either way, I was looking forward to seeing his debut and my eyes were focused on the young buck as he warmed up. He was pretty quite as he shot around, not interacting too much with teammates as he consistently knocked down 15 to 18 footers. His touch from outside was not what I expected to see from an 18 year old still growing into his 7 foot frame. It was smooth and the ball had a nice rotation. While other guys like Evan Turner and David Lighty shared laughs and crossed over imaginary defenders on one end of the court, Mullens had his game face on already as he shot free throws at the opposite basket. It was the face of a guy that was focused on the game, but also perhaps a little nervous about his first collegiate game.

And while Mullens had his game face on, there were still no faces at all to be found from Delaware State. 5:15 had rolled around and the team had not arrived yet. Still the lone representative from DSU, Dan walked over to me and sarcastically asked if the team knew there was a game tonight. I pointed to the scoreboard and jokingly asked Dan the same question. The St. John Arena scoreboards had “Delaware” listed as the visiting team. In my short time at Delaware State I have learned that the Hornets cannot stand being second-fiddle to the University of Delaware. Any allegiance to the Hens in Dover is considered blasphemous, so I try my hardest to keep my UD degree a secret around DSU's campus. So while it may have only been a small error on the scorekeeper’s part, I suggested that they make the switch before Coach Jackson and his team arrived at 5:30.

It was Michigan-Ohio State Week in Columbus, so I wasn’t sure exactly how many people even knew it was basketball season yet, let alone how many would show up to the old home of Buckeye basketball which has since been converted to the team’s Volleyball Arena (the basketball lines had been put on the day before and I’m surprised the out of bounds lines from the smaller volleyball court were not more of a distraction). To my surprise, though, about 6,400 came out to support the Buckeyes and their center that will eventually follow in the footsteps of Greg Oden and Kosta Koufas by leaving for the NBA at season’s end (by the way, Greg Oden, Joe Smith, Michael Olowokandi and Kwame Brown walk into a bar…)

The game was underway and neither Mullens or top 15 recruit William Buford were in the starting lineup (which totally ruined my hopes of calling the first jump ball of Mullens’ post-high school career). Instead, defensive specialist Dallas Lauderdale started at center and David Lighty, an original member of the Thad 5 recruiting class, was moved to power forward. Unlike the Dayton game the night before, it was clear that the Hornets were not going to be able to hang around for even a half, or even a half of a half. It was 15-3 after 3 minutes and the Hornets looked lost and tired. It’s hard to blame the guys. While the Buckeyes had the adrenaline of playing their first game of the season, DSU had been sitting on a bus earlier in the day and faced a heavy man-to-man full court press similar to the one they faced in the Dayton game that had ended only 21 hours prior.

After 5 minutes, Mullens made his collegiate debut, subbing in for Lauderdale who already had 2 blocks. I highly doubt he imagined his first possession to go as it did. As Noopy Crater (Yes, “Noopy”!! He’s on the All-Name Team without a doubt, joining former Scoonie Penn, Penny Hardaway, Ya Ya Dia, and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje) dribbled the ball near half court, setting up the offense, the 7-footer tripped over himself trying to get position in the post. I looked on in disbelief, while saying in my head “Did BJ Mullens just fall on his ass in the first 30 seconds of his college career?” Unfortunately, I don’t think my radio call was much better. I believe my exact call was “Noopy Crater with the ball, right side…. (Pause)… uhhh… BJ Mullens just fell….” He did get the ball after getting back to his feet and it was quickly stripped away by Frisco Sandidge. Not the greatest start to the game, but he did improve as game progressed.

Mullens finished with 7 points and 3 rebounds in 20 minutes of play, but the star of the show was the man he was backing up – Dallas Lauderdale. The scouting report I got from the OSU radio analyst, Stokes, was dead on – long defensive player that will block some shots, and provide some dunks and put backs but not much else on offense. The big man had 7 blocks and 7 points on 3 monsterous dunks and an and-1. The freshman of the game was William Buford, though. The 6’5 All-American from Toledo showed a nice array of ways to score. He got to the basket, he showed a mid range game, he knocked down a trey and worked the offensive glass.

I also enjoyed watching Jon Diebler play. Not necessarily because I wanted to see what the state of Ohio’s all-time leading prep scorer had to offer, but because I received a text in the first half of the game from BIAH editor, Rob Dauster, claiming that I looked like him. I don’t know about Rob’s claim, but I do wish I could shoot like him. The sophomore knocked down 3 threes from a few steps behind the new 20’9’ line (ED. NOTE: I can't be the only one that sees it).

All in all, watching the debut of Mullens was a bit disappointing. I’m sure he will blossom into a dominating presence in the Big Ten this season and may even end up as the #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft, but he just didn’t show it in his first game. He did get a win, though, as the Buckeyes rolled 70-42. In my post-game interview with Coach Jackson, he stressed the fact that the Hornets were looking to improve each and every night, and that doesn’t always mean winning the ball game. While DSU was unable to win the game, they were able to win the battle of the boards. With their tallest player at only 6’7, the Hornets outrebounded the Buckeyes (who have 5 players taller than that height) 26-25. Jackson could be proud of his team’s improvement on the glass and after a 4th consecutive loss, this time by 28 points, it’s good to have something to hang your hat on.

This would end the first part of my stay with the basketball team. The next morning, I shuttled my way to the Columbus Airport and flew back to BWI in Baltimore, where I would meet up with the football team for their final game against Howard in Washington, DC. As I flew back east, the basketball team bused down to Rupp Arena to face Kentucky on Saturday. The Hornets won their football season finale 10-6, while the Hornets basketball squad got rocked 71-42 in front of 21,592 (the largest crowd to ever watch a Delaware State basketball game). I’ll have to wait another year to cross Rupp Arena off of my list of college basketball arenas I’d like to visit.

I finally got home to Wilmington, Delaware on Sunday and it was just enough time to rest and re-pack before going out for the second leg of the trip on Monday. DSU Sports Information Director, Paul Dodson and I would be heading out to Almost Heaven West Virginia in the AM, where we’d meet back up with the team.

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