Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eric Montross Cares About Politics?

I don't know all that much about politics, and I don't think I actually know why John Edwards is important, but I do know that he has a mistress and a love child with her (maybe I should put down US and pick up Time). Yesterday, it was reported that someone who is closely tied to Edwards has been paying as much as $15,000 a month to Rielle Hunter and to Andrew Young, who claims he is the father of the child.

Well today, it is being reported that former UNC Tar Heel and 1st round NBA draft pick Eric Montross is Edwards' money man, as well as providing Hunter a place to live. Radar Online reports:

the Enquirer reported that after word of the affair got out, Hunter moved into a home owned by an Edwards supporter in the exclusive Governors Club, a gated community less than five miles away from the Edwards HQ in Chapel Hill and only a few blocks away from the Young residence.

Here's where things get weird: five days later, a right-wing blog called Death By 100 Papercuts received a tip that the house Hunter had moved into was owned by a former NBA player who had contributed money to the Edwards campaign. Doing some digging, Doug Ross reported that the only former NBA player who had donated money to Edwards was Eric Montross, a UNC graduate who was drafted by the Boston Celtics back in 1994 and ended his NBA career in 2003. Montross gave $4,600 to Edwards during the 2008 election cycle; he was described as a "big backer of John Edwards' White House bid" by CNN. (Edwards went to UNC law school.)

I don't like getting into that tabloid news too much, but this was too good to pass up. Continue reading...

Top 10 Dunks in College Basketball History

Now I know I'm not the only ones out there that loves watching clips of great plays, and given the fact that I just wasted about three hours watching some of the best dunks ever, I figured I'd save you the trouble of youtube browsing and give you a list right here - the top 10 college basketball dunks.

A couple of things before we get to the BIAH top 10: there were a couple dunks not on this list because I simply could not find a video of them - see Hakim Warrick's ****** (hint: its what you dip in hot water to make tea, this blog is strictly PG-13) on Royal Ivey to the right. I also am an 80's baby, so there might be a lot of dunks that I simply don't remember or know about because I am too young. That said, if you know of any that are missing, post a comment and let me know what they are, and I will do everything in my power to get a clip up for you, or just leave us a link to your favorite dunk.

So without further ado, follow the jump for the top 10, plus a few extra just because we at BIAH like you guys that much.

UPDATE: I found the Hakim Warrick dunk.

Honorable Mention:

Stew Hare of UNC-Wilmington clinching the Seahawks first round upset of USC by dunking on the Trojans entire front-line. The only reason this even makes this list is because of the situation when it occurred.

Baron Davis with a fake behind-the-back and dunk. The move is better than the dunk, but it is still pretty sick.

Chris Porter with a ridiculous tip-dunk (a theme you will come to see). Would probably be higher if the video quality was better.

Senario Hillman of Alabama with a HUGE facial dunk on a fast break against Auburn.

Hakim Warrick dunks over a defender from Pitt, off the vert, from five feet away from the basket. How does he get up that high? Best part, though, is Bill Raftery yelling "Bring your lunch!!" What does that even mean?

10: Grant Hill catches a (almost) half court alley-oop from Bobby Hurley in the 1991 Final Four.

9: VC with a two-handed dunk on Tim Duncan's head.

8: Ismael Muhammad of Georgia Tech jumps over Engin Atsur of NC State. It has gotta be pretty embarrassing to get completely jumped over and dunked on.

7: Jerry Stackhouse on 14 feet of Blue Devil (am I the only one that loves seeing a Dookie get dunked on). Anyway, I promise this is the last ACC clip.

6: Melvin Levitt from Cincinnati soars for a one-handed put-back dunk. The announcers reaction is great.

5: Nate Robinson. I chose this video because it also has some insane highlights of the midget dunking, but the #5 dunk is actually his put-back dunk against Arizona.

4: Darvin Ham breaks the backboard with a tip dunk ... IN THE NCAA TOURNEY.

tie 3: JR Rider posterizes two guys. I have no idea who they are playing, but listen to the sound the dunk makes.

tie 3: Dirk Nowitzki Minnifield from Kentucky. He just looks like he keeps going up and up, even after he hits the guy taking a charge.

2: Shaq jumps over someone trying to box him out on a put-back dunk. Listen to a young Dickie V announcing.


Here's a better look at the dunk itself, with music in the background.

So there it is, the BIAH top 10 list for greatest college dunks of all time. I know I missed some, so leave a comment and let me know. Continue reading...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

7/30 - Some Links, Some News

UPDATE: Mississippi State guard Phil Turner was arrested at an off-campus party after refusing to comply with an officer's requests to sit on the ground. Bad day for college hoopers.

-Maybe Huggy Bear isn't the best coach to use as a role model. Two West Virginia players, Joe Mazzulla and Cameron Thoroughman, got arrested after a scuffle at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Apparently, the two twenty year-olds were putting away a good number of beers at the game, and when police asked to see ID's, Thoroughman told the cops he didn't have his. He resisted as the cops tried to arrest him, and that's when Mazzulla stepped in and punched one of the cops. Thoroughman was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and underage drinking while Mazzulla got charged with aggravated assault, hindering prosecution, and underage drinking.

How dumb do you have to be to resist arrest or hit a cop? Is it really worth all the trouble they are facing now to get an underage drinking offense? Whoever was serving them beer would be in more trouble than the players. But to hit a cop? Mazzulla deserves whatever he has coming.

-Illinois guard Jamar Smith, who was the (drunk?) driver of the car in the accident that severely injured teammate Brian Carlwell, may never suit up for the Illini again. Apparently, he was questioned by an officer outside a campus bar about an incident (which he was not involved in) and he admitted he had been drinking, which was a violation of the two year probation he received. If he is not allowed to return, Illinois could be in for another long season, as he was expected to shoulder a huge load for this team.

-Jonathon Givony of Draft Express got an interview with an assistant coach from the Greek club team Olympiacos, who recently signed Josh Childress. It is a pretty interesting read.

-Along those same lines, The Sports Agent Blog takes a look at why agents and players will look overseas - to drive up his salary here. They use Delonte West as an example.

-The NBA is playing Euro teams?

-More from Draft Express - if anyone wants some up-to-date information about some of the best recruits in the '09 class, click here and here.

-Skip Prosser's son, Mark, is an assistant at Wofford. Andy Katz wrote a nice piece about him for ESPN.

-I don't know why you would need it, but Rush The Court put together a great database of all the NBA Draft picks from 1949-2008 and where they went to college. Continue reading...

Wednesday Where Are They Now?: Troy Bell

Ever wonder what happened to those college stars that couldn't catch on in the NBA? The guys that put up the great numbers or the guys that left early, and were never heard from again? Every Wednesday, we at BIAH will take a look at a former college star that never made it in the NBA, and we will update you on where he is playing or what he is doing. We're guessing the results will surprise you. To request a player, leave a comment in the comments section.

Troy Bell, Boston College

Despite being fairly lightly recruited out of the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield, Minnesota (he was only offered by Xavier and Tennessee, and UT coach Buzz Peterson wasn't even on campus during Bell's official visit), the 6'1", 180 lb Bell went on the have one of the greatest careers in Big East history. Bell was setting scoring records from the minute he stepped on campus in 1999, as he averaged 18.8 ppg as a freshman, setting the rookie scoring record. For his career, Bell averaged 21.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, and 3.5 apg, and established a BC career record (good for 21st all-time) with 2,632 points. As a senior in the 2002-03 season, he averaged 25.2 ppg (27 ppg in Big East play, another record) and won his second Big East player of the year award, joining Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Troy Murphy, and Rip Hamilton as the only players to achieve that feat.

Despite winning a share of the Big East regular season title Bell's senior season, BC did not make the NCAA tournament. But Bell was selected with the 16th pick in the NBA Draft by the Celtics, before being traded to the Grizzlies. He only saw action in six games his rookie year, and four days before the opening of summer league before his second season, Bell injured his knee and needed surgery. After reinjuring the knee during training camp, the Grizzlies released Bell, who then signed with Real Madrid in Spain. Bell only stayed in Spain for two months during the 2004-05 season, and ended up sitting out the entire 2005-06 season after being cut by New Orleans after their first exhibition game.

During his season off, Bell moved back to the Midwest, where he started working out in Michael Jordan's gym (apparently he beat MJ 1-on-1). Eventually, in an effort to build up strength in his knee and in his core, Bell started working out in a boxing gym. After a couple of months he decided to try his in luck in the ring. He ended up going 2-0 in amateur boxing matches, but was drafted in the D-League in August of 2006. He played in the D-League during the 2006-07 season for Albuquerque and Austin, averaging 14.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, and 3.5 apg on the season.

In 2007-08, Bell signed with the Italian team Angelico Biella, where he led the team (which also had former Kansas guard Keith Langford and for Georgia Tech guard BJ Elder) at 15.6 ppg. He just inked a deal to play the 2008-09 season for Vanoli Soresina, another Italian league team.
Continue reading...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Who you callin' a mid-major?

College basketball is a lot like the Hollywood scene: the rich get richer, while it is increasingly difficult and competitive for an unknown or "small-time" actor to become one of the marquee names.

(Ed. Note: For his wondering fans, a picture of BIAH contributor and through-and-through Blue Devil fan, Ross, can be seen below).

The analogy is simple: big-name programs like Duke, Kansas, North Carolina (and for you, Rob, UConn) are granted unspoken (and perhaps unfair) privileges. They have the biggest recruiting budgets, the most recognizable logos and uniforms, and play on national television multiple times a season. As a result, recruits across the country see these teams play, and these powerhouse programs are able to afford to go see any recruit they choose. It is no surprise that every year, the best high school players in the country routinely select the same schools (by my count, there are anywhere from 18-24 of these schools in the country). The proof is everywhere: look at the rosters from some of college basketball's most storied and successful programs. A few of the players will be local, but many will be from all over the country. Players that grow up in California see Duke and North Carolina just as much as they see their local school. The flip-side is true, as well: players in New York can watch UCLA all the time.

Now, what happens if you are a small school with little or no prestigious basketball history? For the most part, schools like this work hard to attain moderate levels of success, and reaching the NCAA tournament seems like the ultimate prize (I am mostly talking about schools outside of the BCS Conferences). These schools recruit mostly local players, develop them over three or four years, and then hope that a team of upper-classmen can beat more talented freshman from bigger schools. Schools like Penn, Bucknell, Tulsa, New Mexico and others have achieved success like this for years.

Now, all of this is changing. Watch out, Jayhawks and Bruins, Huskies and Hoyas! The mid-majors are coming! This trend has been written about exhaustively in the past few years. It started with Gonzaga's success at the beginning of the decade. Players like Blake Stepp, Dan Dickau and later Ronny Turiaf and Adam Morrison transformed the tiny Spokane school into a basketball powerhouse. Butler followed, beating numerous BCS schools over the past few years and becoming a team that no one wants to play. The fears of college basketball's blue bloods were confirmed when George Mason, a commuter school outside of Washington, D.C., with no basketball history and a wacky coach, made the Final Four in 2006.

The next team to follow in this tradition seems to be tiny Davidson College, a 1,600-student school outside of Charlotte, NC. Their march to the Elite Eight, led by guards Stephen Curry and Jason Richards, riveted a nation. Now, with Curry back as a pre-season All-American, people are starting to notice the tiny Wildcats.

But here is the difference: national television is starting to take notice as well. As a recent article (insider needed - Andy Katz's blog )outlined, as many as seven Davidson games will appear before a national audience this season. While ESPN did create "BracketBuster" games to showcase mid-major teams that might make trouble for a traditional power in the NCAA tournament, this is the first time that the network has gone out of its way to showcase a school like Davidson.

So what does this mean? Well, for starters, it's hard to call Davidson a mid-major anymore. The national television exposure will give high-school players around the country a chance to watch their style and imagine themselves in Wildcat red. Their basketball budget will rise. Curry will be on the cover of magazines and on television around the country, giving the program a face. All of these sound like trademarks of schools like Duke and North Carolina. And to think, Davidson is brash enough to creep onto the scene in their own backyard.

Parity in any arena is hard to come by. Directors in Hollywood will always want to cast Tom Cruise or Matt Damon, rather than take a chance on an unknown actor. And ESPN or CBS will always want to show a school from the ACC or Big East that even casual fans have heard of, rather than an unknown team that no one cares about. Yet Davidson, Butler and George Mason prove that the glass ceiling can be broken. Teams that were afterthoughts one year can become darlings the next. As Curry and Davidson are about to find out, the trick is sustaining it.
Continue reading...

7/29 - Some Links, Some News

-Before I get to the main point of this edition of Some Link, Some News, let me update you on a couple of transfers. Jordan Crawford, who averaged 9.7 ppg and 3.4 rpg for the since-imploded Indiana Hoosiers, has decided that he will transfer to Xavier (where he will coincidentally join prep player Terrell Holloway, who originally committed to Kelvin Sampson at Indiana). Crawford fits in well with the Musketeers system, but don't they already have about eight versatile wing players (Derrick Brown, CJ Anderson, Dante Jackson, BJ Raymond)?

These next two are a bit older. Curtis Kelly, the UConn transfer, has decided that he will play for Kansas State where he will have two years of eligibility left after sitting out the 2008-09 season. A big, athletic, lefty power forward playing for K-State. Sound familiar? Derrick Jasper has decided he will join UNLV.

-Now to the main theme: the way that coach's get around recruiting restrictions. We talked about this on BIAH a while ago, but Jeff Goodman gives another look at Bruce Weber and his recruiting of younger players. The more I think about the younger recruitment, the more I am torn on an issue. For one thing, it is a very effective tool for a coach whose team has been struggling in recent years to build a rapport with local talent. And regardless of whether or not coaches are allowed to recruit these guys, scouting agency's and recruiting websites are still going to rank them, so does it really hurt for coaches to watch them or recruit them?

The biggest problem I see is the effect it will have on the player's. It can put unneeded pressure on a player to commit to a college before he has even decided on where he will attend high school, especially in places in the midwest where high school sports are so important. It could also be a deterrent to the player's work ethic. It is hard enough to convince young stars who dominate their competition to work on and develop their game, but if they already have big 10 coaches on their doorstep when they are 13, it could convince the kid that he has already "made it", when in fact they still have a very long way to go. The most detrimental effect, however, could be to the kids psyche. Let's say, for example, that the player in question happened to hit puberty early, and is, in effect, a "man" when he is 13 or 14 - he is stronger, taller, and more athletic then everyone he is playing against at his age (hopefully, for a kid like this he will be playing up a level, i.e. against older players, but you never know). What happens to him when everyone else catches up, and the school he committed to decides they do not want him anymore. That would be pretty humiliating and depressing for anybody, and could ultimately effect his career.

-Another interesting, and kind of funny, recruiting trick is one that Dana O'Neill wrote about over the weekend. Apparently, Indiana assistant coach Bennie Seltzer got word that a player he went to watch didn't think that any Indiana coaches were in the crowd. So to avoid having to face that problem again, Seltzer has taken to wearing Indiana's red and white pinstripe warmup pants everytime he goes to watch a recruit play.

-Gary Parrish has written two very interesting pieces (here and here) on some of the more subtle recruiting techniques that you rarely hear about, both coincidentally involving summer and AAU coaches. The first is about Miles Simon, who after being let go by Arizona has started coaching the LA based Pump N Run Elite. They just sent Jrue Holiday to UCLA and Larry Drew to UNC, and still have Solomon Hill, Tyler Honeycutt (both '09), Tyler Lamb and Kendall Williams (both '10) on the roster. The article talks about how summer coaches use their connection with these star recruits to land themselves jobs at big time schools. He also highlights Chris Walker's hiring at New Mexico and Emmanuel Richardson at Xavier (and how they coincided with the recruitment of players from the T-Mac All-stars and the Gauchos). As Parrish says:

Simon will be an intriguing candidate for some West Coast school, because he now knows the SoCal kids on a personal level thanks to this summer spent developing relationships without NCAA guidelines hindering his moves. That's a huge bonus, and if you don't believe me you should've seen Richardson and Walker in their Xavier and New Mexico shirts this past season, working the jobs they "officially" got a little less than a year ago.

The second article by Parrish highlights a little known technique schools use to get players onto their campus. They are called Elite Camps. What the school does is hold a camp for 15-20 players that they are recruiting, and hire the player's summer league coaches to give a speech. It doesn't matter what it is about, because the only reason they are hired is to get the players to come to the camp. Let me explain. Let's say I am living in DC and coaching a team with two top recruits on it. UCLA (a school the players would never be able to afford to visit on their own) will pay me, say, $5,000 to come give a speech at their elite camp, with the (unwritten) understanding that a portion of that money is to be used to get the players to LA. This is all legal, apparently (Billy Donovan is even quoted in the article - he says some interesting things as well).
Now I know what you're thinking: How exactly is this legal?

Answer: It's legal because the NCAA does not regulate who universities hire to work summer camps, meaning Oklahoma State's Travis Ford could hire my uncle or John Wall's AAU coach to work his camp, and there's no NCAA guideline preventing him from doing it.

Furthermore, the NCAA can't regulate how much AAU coaches can be paid for working a camp any more than it can regulate how much Louisville pays Rick Pitino for doing a radio show or how much Washington spends on pregame meals. Everything is OK as long as the pay is consistent -- meaning Oklahoma State is in the clear provided it pays every AAU coach who works a camp roughly the same amount, regardless of whether the pay is $500, $2,500 or $5,000.

(It's also worth noting there is nothing preventing a school from hiring the same AAU coach to work five different camps in one summer. In that case, a $5,000 payday for one afternoon of talking could turn into a $25,000 windfall for five afternoons of talking, and do you see how this is a slippery slope?
Continue reading...

Monday, July 28, 2008

ESPN Prestige top 50

Last Friday, ESPN finished their list of the top 50 most prestigious college basketball programs since the NCAA tournament was changed to 64 teams. As much as I hate Duke, there is no way you can argue against them being #1. They have had 10 #1 seeds, 10 Final Fours, 3 National Titles, and 21 combined conference regular season and tournament championships in the past 23 years, all while maintaining a squeaky clean program.

In general, I think this is a pretty good list. The only major issue I had with the list was how high UNLV was rated. How can the most scandal-plagued program in college basketball be ranked in the top 10 of a prestige ranking? Maybe it is just me, but can a program really be considered "prestigious" when all of its success came while its coach faced numerous NCAA accusations, including recruiting violations, ineligible players, and the infamous photos showing three Runnin' Rebels in a hot tub with a convicted sports fixer. To me, for a program to be considered prestigious, they not only have to win, but win in the proper way (although, it is probably pretty likely that UNLV just happened to get caught, while others schools on this list didn't).

One of the reasons I've heard a lot of people discrediting this ranking is that some mid-major and low-major teams that are very successful get ranked ahead of average high-major teams. I guess it all depends on your personal definition or prestige, but personally, I feel it is more impressive to be a school like Murray State (30th), Penn (34th), Princeton (40th), or Gonzaga (26th), and dominate a conference for an extended period of time that it is to be a school like Wake Forest or Purdue, a middling power conference that's never made a Final Four. Fellow BIAH writer Ross pointed out that recruits almost always would rather play most schools in the big six conferences as opposed to a good mid-major team, but I don't think that indicates prestige. Isn't part of the reason you go to play at a Georgia Tech or a Villanova that you get to play against (and the chance to beat) the UNC's and the Duke's, the UConn's and the Georgetown's every year? Can the fact that you get to play another team really have an effect on your team's prestige? I don't think so.

Here is Andy Katz and Doug Gottlieb giving their opinions on the list.

Continue reading...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

RIP Skip Prosser: the one-year anniversary

Today marks the one year anniversary of the sudden and tragic death of Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. I never had the chance to meet him, but by all accounts he was one of the great teachers and most well respected coaches in the game. His coaching accolades speak for themselves: a 291-146 career record (.666 winning percentage), 2003 ACC coach of the year, regular season titles in three different leagues (MCC, A-10, ACC). And in a state where college basketball is synonymous with Roy Williams' and Dean Smith's, Coach K's and Jimmy V's, Prosser was able to create a name, a reputation, and a legacy for himself.

For Prosser, it was always about more than just basketball. For example, during his tenure, 100% of the players that played for four years earned their degrees. 100%. How often do you see that. And where most coaches use the cliche, "Give 110%!!" quotes to inspire and motivate their team, Prosser had a reputation for quoting his favorite authors - be it Thomas Paine or Shakespeare - before games (the link is to a great article Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports wrote the day after Prosser died).

Most college teams take a summer exhibition tour, usually to a place like the Bahamas or Puerto Rico or Canada. Prosser, who never lost the student in him, would always bring his Demon Deacon teams to Europe, to places where his players could take in some of our world's greatest historical monuments. He would line up a professor to teach a one credit course on the history of their destination during the spring semester, requiring his team to take the class. What's more is that Prosser would take the class with his players, even going as far as writing the final paper for it. How many coaches can say that.

Maybe the most telling aspect about the effect Prosser had on his players is that this year's recruiting class, which is top 3 in the country, all decided to honor their oral commitments to Wake Forest. Ty Walker, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Tony Woods all were recruited by and committed to Prosser last summer as high school rising seniors. All were pursued by other schools and other coaches, pretty heavily I might add, after Prosser's death, but decided to honor Prosser by attending Wake. Walker even got a tattoo saying "RIP Coach Prosser" on his arm, commemorating a coach he never played for.

Dino Gaudio, who considered Prosser a best-friend and a mentor, took over the Wake Forest program, which after a couple of down years looks to be back in the thick of things, at least on paper, atop the ACC. The Deac's return essentially their entire team, who went 17-13 last year, highlighted by an upset of then No. 2 Duke, and were at one point midway through the year third in the ACC. Last year Wake was led by two freshman. PG Jeff Teague, who averaged 13.9 ppg on the season and 19.1 ppg in the last nine games, anchors an experienced backcourt. Forward James Johnson, who put up 14.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg, will combine with the trio of freshman to form what may be the best front court in the ACC. Wake is probably the pre-season favorite to finish third behind Duke and UNC.

All the success Wake had last year and (presumably) will have this year is bittersweet for Gaudio, who is reminded of Prosser everywhere he goes. Hopefully, the 2008-2009 Wake Forest team, on which all of the players were recruited by Prosser, can live up to his lofty standards.

RIP Skip. In a profession where morals are decaying by the hour, you did it the right way.
Continue reading...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

7/24 - Some Links, Some News

-Following up on yesterday's post about player's heading to Europe, former Georgia Tech forward Ra'Sean Dickey has signed a contract to play professionally in the Ukraine giving up his last year of eligibility. The 6'10" Dickey red-shirted last season as he battled knee problems and academic issues, but was an impact player in his three seasons for the Jackets. His best season was in 2005-2006 when he averaged 13.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg, and 1.5 bpg. The loss of Dickey combined with the graduation Jeremis Smith and Anthony Morrow leaves the Ramblin' Wreck with a thin front line and without a go to scorer. Combine that with a weak recruiting class, and it could be another long year for Paul Hewitt.

UPDATE: Draft Express Euro guru Luis Fernandez weighs in on the exodus of NBA and American players to Europe. Interesting read, and it looks like we really don't have much to worry about here.

-By now everyone knows the story of Antonio Gates - the hero for tiny Kent State during their run to the 2002 Elite 8 who, upon graduation, joined the NFL (after not playing football in college) and has since become one of the best tight ends in the league. Joe Reitz is looking to follow in those footsteps. The 6'7", 250 lb (now around 270 lb) Reitz signed with Baltimore in April after graduating from Western Michigan as their third all-time leading scorer and rebounder. He averaged 15 points and 8 boards this past season. Reitz, who was all all-state on the gridiron in high school, is being groomed by the Ravens as an offensive tackle, and the Ravens like his athleticism and mobility, but he needs to be bigger and stronger before he can contribute. Right now, he is battling three other players for a spot as a back-up.

-John Thompson, in an LA Times article, voices his opinions and concerns regarding the one-and-done rule and the problems involved with recruiting high school players these days. Definitely worth a read.

-Remember the name Jerome Jordan. He is a 7 foot, Jamaican-born center playing at Tulsa who is starting to get some serious NBA Draft buzz. A rising junior, Jordan averaged 10.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 3.7 bpg on the season, but averaged 16.2 ppg, 12 rpg, and 4.8 bpg in his last six games last year. He is one of those guys that really just needs a chance to play and develop his strength and his game, although I suspect he could be the next in the Patrick O'Bryant/JaVale McGee pipeline. Jeff Goodman at FoxSports has a nice profile on Jordan.

-The U18 National Team lost in the finals of the FIBA Americas to host country Argentina, 77-64. Future UConn Husky Kemba Walker was named MVP of the tournament.

-6'10" German forward Robin Benzing, who was signed to play for Michigan, did not meet eligibility requirements because of a league he played in that included professionals. Continue reading...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"I get Euros, that's right, plural." Sounds like Jay-Z is on to something

When former Stanford standout and Atlanta Hawks swingman Josh Childress went into his off-season of free-agency, he wanted what all free-agents want: a contract to secure his family's financial future, and the chance to play for an up-and-coming team committed to winning. Well, Childress got what he was looking for, but not in San Antonio or Detroit. Hey Josh, do you know how to say, "don't forget to rotate on defense" in Greek?

Childress decided to sign with Olympiakos, one of the premier professional teams in Greece (remeber Lynn Greer from Temple?). The team, based in Athens, finished second in the Greek league last year, and has made major moves in the off-season to improve their chances of recapturing the title. They recently signed Theodoros Papaloukas from a Russian team, and by adding Childress, a dynamic scorer on the wing, Olympiakos is poised to dominate the competition.

But Childress' decision to defect has much larger implications for American basketball. In recent history, European professional basketball has been looked at like Euro-league football (before it collapsed) or Latin American baseball leagues: a place where marginal American players go to try and improve their game or where injury-riddled veterans try to will a few more paychecks out of their aching knees. Good competition, yes, but it was assumed that if you could play in the NBA, you wouldn't think twice.

Not so fast. Childress was far from an NBA afterthought last year. He averaged 30 minutes and almost 12 points a game for the Hawks, and played a big role in their surprising first-round series with the Boston Celtics, when they pushed the eventual champions to seven games. Childress is a dynamic athlete that attacks the rim, makes open jump shots, and can guard a variety of positions. Solid contributors like him, especially ones that don't mind coming off then bench, are hard to find.

And Childress is not alone. A number of other quality NBA players have made the jump across the Atlantic. Former New Jersey Net Bostjan Nachbar, former Grizzlies point guard Juan Carlos Navarro, and former Raptor forwards Primo Brezec, Jorge Garbajosa and Carlos Delfino (Ed. Note - is this proof Canada sucks?) are also taking their services to Europe next season. The difference, of course, is that they are originally from Europe. Childress is the first successful American-born NBA player to willingly take his game to Europe.

The rationale behind his move seems to be mostly financial. His contract is worth more than $20 million after taxes, much more than he would have received from any NBA team, according to his agent. Apparently, the Hawks offered him a 5 year, $36 million contract, which, at face value, appears to be more than what he was offered to play in Greece. But in Europe, the club you play for pays for your taxes ON TOP of the money you make (meaning that Childress pockets $6.7 million a year in Europe). He also only signed a three year deal, which is important when you consider his next contract. He is 25 now, so he will be 28 when he is eligible for his next contract, as opposed to being 30 after the contract the Hawks offered. Those two years are the difference between starting on the downside of one's career, and being smack in the middle of one's prime. It should also be noted that he has opt-out clauses in the contract which would allow him to return to the NBA at the end of each season without having to buy the contract out.

There is more to it than just money, however. European basketball is improving (witness the ever-increasing number of imports in the NBA and the recent lack of success by USA Basketball in international competition). By simply signing his name, Childress went from a decent player in the NBA to the most-famous and highest-paid basketball player in Europe. He was a medium sized fish in a big pond. Now he is a huge fish in a slightly-less-big pond.

By this rationale, his decision doesn't seem so crazy. So will we see more American players jump to Europe? It's certainly possible. Brandon Jennings, the one-time Arizona recruit, will play next year in Europe as he readies for the NBA. However, given the limitations on NBA rookie contracts, who is to say he will come back? And given the strength of the Euro with relation to the dollar these days (it's trading at about 1.4 to 1), we may see more NBA and future-NBA players decide to bring their games to one-time basketball backwaters. The NBA is in no danger of losing it's place as the premier basketball league in the world, but league offices should take notice. Europe isn't just for wanna-bes and hangers-on anymore.

Better learn how to say "sweet no-look pass" in Greek. And French, Spanish, German.... Continue reading...

Wednesday Where Are They Now?: Shawn Respert

Ever wonder what happened to those college stars that couldn't catch on in the NBA? The guys that put up the great numbers or the guys that left early, and were never heard from again? Every Wednesday, we at BIAH will take a look at a former college star that never made it in the NBA, and we will update you on where he is playing or what he is doing. We're guessing the results will surprise you. To request a player, leave a comment in the comments section.

Shawn Respert

The 6'1", 185 lb Respert was a standout scoring guard for Michigan State from from 1991-1995, teaming with Eric Snow to provide one of the best backcourts in the history of the Big Ten. He averaged 21.3 ppg on 46% 3 PT shooting for his career, on his way to an MSU record 2,531 points and 331 three pointers. During his senior year, Respert averaged 25.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, and 3.0 apg and shot 48% from 3 en route to Big Ten Player of the Year and unanimous 1st Team All-America honors, but the Spartans lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to 14 seed Weber State.

After he graduated, Respert was taken with the 8th pick in the 1995 draft by Portland, but was traded before he could suit up to Milwaukee for Gary Trent and a 1st round pick. Respert would have a disappointing NBA career, averaging only 4.9 ppg in four seasons with Milwaukee, Toronto, Dallas, and Pheonix. After the 1998-99 season, where he played in just 12 games with Pheonix, Respert headed over to Europe where he played for four seasons in Italy, Greece and Poland before retiring.

Given the hype Respert had coming out of college, and how high he was selected, many people have listed him as one of the biggest busts in NBA Draft history. But what those people didn't know, and what no one knew until a 2005 interview with the AP, is that Respert battled stomach cancer throughout his career, starting his rookie season. Respert kept his illness a secret from everyone except the Bucks trainers, doctors, and the GM Mike Dunleavy in order to avoid excuses for his sub-par performances. He lost 20 pounds during three months of radiation before his second season and his cancer went into remission, and hasn't come back, but he still could not rejuvenate his basketball career.

Once he retired as a player, Respert took a volunteer job with Prarie View A&M before landing a position as the Director of Basketball Operations at Rice. Currently, he is working as the Director of Basketball Operations for the NBDL. Continue reading...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Durant's Number to be Retired

College basketball's one-and-done rule has had quite an effect on the game. Sometimes, it seems to turn out well (Memphis and Ohio State's championship game runs, Kansas State's one year return to prominence). Sometimes, it doesn't turn out so well (I bet Tim Floyd will be wishing that OJ Mayo went the Brandon Jennings route post-high school as he receives the NCAA's sanctions). Sometimes, it changes how jerseys are retired?

Kevin Durant, who put up ridiculous numbers in his one season at Texas, will become the second longhorn to have his number retired, alongside TJ Ford. Don't get me wrong, he had a fantastic season in Austin, but is one year enough to get your name in the rafters? Texas does not have the basketball tradition of a Duke or a Kentucky (or their football team), but still, they have been on top of the Big XII under Rick Barnes, and they did have seven guys on NBA rosters last year.

So, without further ado, here is my criteria for getting a number retired. In order to be eligible for number retirement, you must qualify for at least one, preferably more, of these criteria.

-You play 3-4 years at the school, setting career records there, while earning all-conference and all-america honors, playing for teams that competed for conference championships. Usually, these are your fan favorites and the most despised by your rivals - the Shane Battiers and Gerry McNamaras and Tom Coverdales.

-You are the best player, the leader, and the face of a team that reaches the Final Four (or wins a title for the schools with more basketball tradition). This is where Carmelo Anthony, despite playing just one year, gets the nod.

-You have a pretty good career, but you have one defining moment, one incredibly memorable shot or play, that will get replayed during every NCAA tournament. By itself, this moment isn't enough to get your number retired, but if you are a borderline candidate, it is enough to get you over the hump. See Mario Chalmers, Keith Smart, or Tate George.

-You win a national player of the year award. It is enough for UNC, but, again, I don't think the award is enough in itself.

-The last measure is, god forbid, an unforeseen tragedy that ends your career (or your life) and makes you an inspiration for future players. Hank Gathers, RIP.

Durant is a tough call, in my opinion. He had a fantastic freshman season, especially in Big XII play, and won player of the year honors. But his team finished third in the conference, lost in the conference tourney finals and in the second round of the NCAA's (all of that with DJ Augustin on the team), and they actually had a better season last year playing without him.

So what's my verdict? Give it to him. Because, in reality, does any one really care? Continue reading...

Monday, July 21, 2008

7/22 - Some Links, Some News

-So Harold Shelton, Nick Loucks, and Chris Fallica over at ESPN have put together a ranking of the top 300 schools based on "prestige". I like how they looked at it based strictly on numbers and the formula they put together, leaving all the normal biases writers have aside. They have yet to release the top 40, so I'll have more on this when the full rankings come out.

-Luke Winn of wrote a great piece on Arsalan Kazemi, an athletic, 6'7" 18 year old from Iran that has moved to the states to try and become the first Iranian to play in the NCAA. It's a tough situation for the kid, because he wants to return to Iran to play in the West Asian games for his country, but if he does and he leaves the states, he may not receive another visa to return to the US. Regardless, it sounds like this kid is the real deal, and he has already received scholarship offers from schools like Seton Hall and Oklahoma State. He will be playing at the Patterson School in North Carolina for Chris Cheney, who coached players like Shawne Williams, Robert Dozier, and Antonio Anderson at Laurinburg Prep. It is an interesting look at how the escalating tensions between Iran and the US has effects far beyond just foreign relations.

-Chris Lofton, who hid his battle with testicular cancer prior to his senior year at Tennessee, has signed to play with  Mersin Metrocity Municipality Sport Club in Turkey. After hearing about what Lofton dealt with, how can you not root for him.

-Good news for Gonzaga fans - Austin Daye does not actually have a torn ACL, which would have put his 2008-2009 season in jeopardy. After seeing specialists at UCLA, it seems that Daye only has a bad bone bruise in his knee and a slight tear of his ACL, which means he only needs a few weeks of rest as opposed to surgery. This is great news for the 'Zags, as a healthy Daye, who seems poised for a breakout sophomore year, means that Mark Few will be fielding what may be his most talented team to date.

-There has been an interesting twist in the recruitment of UCLA transfer Chace Stanback. Considered one of the top recruits in his class coming out of high school, Stanback was going to be forced to pay his way through school for a year as everywhere he wants to transfer is already using their full allotment of 13 scholarships. But his mom just won $25,000 online at, which means that it will be that much easier for him to attend school for a year. Rumor has it he is headed north to play for Lorenzo Romar at Washington.

-Demar Derozan has qualified at USC, and thus will not follow Brandon Jennings to Europe to play.

-Andy Staples takes a look at how the rising gas prices will effect collegiate athletic programs that don't have the budget of a North Carolina.

-Patrick Patterson's rehab on the stress fracture in his left ankle is ahead of schedule, and it appears that the Kentucky center will be healthy heading into the season.
Continue reading...

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Younger the Better: College Coaches go to Middle School

A recent ESPN The Magazine article delved into the world of a most disturbing trend: the recruitment of an increasing number of players before they even get to high school. The story highlighted an assitant coach from Illinois who fought off coaches from other big-name schools to get a prime seat at an AAU game. To watch a 13-year-old kid. This is not your father's recruiting process.

There are a number of reasons why colleges look to prepubescent kids for talent these days. The increased influence of the Internet has made access to young kids easier and easier. Now, there are databases, lists and ranking systems for basketball players as young as ten. In addition, the pressure-cooker environment created by talk-show radio, blogs and the like have put immense pressure on college coaches to win consistently. From a coach's point of view, it's easy to see why you would want to recruit more, and therefore, younger kids.

The problem, of course, is that this is a disturbingly negative development, and not just for the players. I think it's obvious that very few 13 and 14 year olds can handle the pressure that comes with being recruited by major college basketball programs. Friends you never knew you had come out of nowhere. Agents want to talk to you. Girls want to date you. Opponents target you. All this coming at a kid who is still a year or two away from his learner's permit. One youngster who committed to USC as a 14-year-old, Ryan Boatright of Illinois, reported feeling undo pressure to perform at a high level. What kid wants that?

But the often overlooked aspect of this trend is that it can seriously hurt a program. The fact that a 13-year-old kid is dominating the competition he sees certainly does not mean he will continue to do so as he gets older. Some kids stop growing. Some stop improving. Some simply decide to do things other than play basketball. Committing time and resources to recruiting a kid that is such a gamble is dangerous enough, but what happens when that player commits to a school? While high school players can't formally sign to play at a school until much later, programs that get verbal commitments are taking scholarships off the table. What happens if a much-hyped 8th grader doesn't pan out? What happens if, God forbid, he decides he wants to have a normal childhood and not play basketball? Not only does the university lose that player, but they lose the chance to recruit scores of others who might help the team.

The NCAA and the NBA have already teamed up to set an age limit for when players can enter the NBA draft. The NCAA should do the same for when college coaches can begin to recruit prospective players. I know it is tempting to scout the youngest, most promising talent, but coaches should be forced to wait until the kids are old enough to understand the responsibility that comes with choosing a college. I remember being completely overwhelmed while choosing what college to attend at 17-years-old. How then, is it deemed fair or wise to let a 14-year-old to make the same decision? A recruitment age limit would benefit the development of amateur basketball players around the country. And in many cases, the college programs as well. Continue reading...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jason Whitlock on Brandon Jennings Round 2

Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports weighs in on the Brandon Jennings decision again, this time after sitting down for an interview with both Jennings and former sneaker rep Sonny Vaccaro (see below for video of the interviews).

I have believed that Jennings made the correct decision from the beginning, and in general, I completely agree with Whitlock. He changed his stance a little bit in this article - he toned down the black-kids-exploited-by-white-officials argument - but he still is making the same point. Why is it fair to force kids to go to school for one year, when (and I know I have beaten this point to death on this blog) the sole purpose of the one year is so that the NCAA and NBA can profit? Vaccaro hits it right on the head with this quote:

(Miles) Brand said they've made millions of dollars before with kids playing in college, and they'll make millions after. They're not going to rescind the CBS contract. They're not going to rescind the new contract with the leagues. He doesn't give a damn about the kids. He doesn't care about caring for the kids. It's a business proposition.
He's right. It's not fair to force the kids to go to school if the reason is so the suits and the leagues can profit. I do, however, think it is fair to force kids to go to school because they are not ready for the league yet. I don't think one year in college is enough, but if the players had to go to college for two years and had to be 20 years old to enter the draft, I would have no problem.

I understand Whitlock's argument about baseball players, but I don't necessarily agree with it. He says:
Why demonize a kid for pursuing his dream? We don't do it to baseball players who join the minor leagues for relative peanuts straight out of high school. Why basketball players?
But baseball has an elaborate minor league system. You never see players come out of high school and go straight to the bigs. For the most part, the top prospects spend years in the minors trying to learn to hit a curveball or to make their change-up look like a fastball. Many top draft picks never reach the majors.

Basketball doesn't have that; they have the D-League. When there was no one year rule, 18 year old draft picks were expected to come into the NBA and perform against the best players in the world. Some were successful (LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, KG, arguably the three best players in the league) while many were not (remember these names - Ousmane Cisse, Ndudi Ebi, Lenny Cooke).

I find it interesting that Whitlock conveniently forgets to mention that the NFL has a much stricter rule than the NBA - three years out of high school. This is one is tough to argue simply because of the physical maturity and sheer strength necessary to handle the daily beatings. In the NBA, you need mental maturity and, for lack of a better word, "game" maturity. In high school, most of these guys succeed simply because they are just better athletes - they're taller, quicker, jump higher - but their skill level is not even close to the level it needs to be to succeed in the NBA. Whitlock barely even mentions this point, if he does at all. He's right - the NCAA is a rigged system, but sending kids into the NBA unprepared is not good for them, its not good for the NCAA, and its not good for the NBA.

I've mentioned it before, but what is the problem with forcing these kids to go to school, and then giving them a little money for it. If you paid them $150 a week like I suggested here, then they would be making as much as their minor league baseball counterparts. Because that what the NCAA essentially is - NBA minor leagues?

He made one other point that was interesting, and which I never even thought about. In college, there are limits as to how much time per week a coach is allowed to work with a player. In Europe, there are none. So even if Jennings gets stuck at the end of the bench on a team, he will still have much more time on the practice court - either going against professional point guards, or working out on his own. And, as Whitlock puts it:
Strictly from a basketball standpoint, a year in Europe will do Jennings good. No one who knows anything about basketball believes Lute Olson would teach Jennings a thing about the fundamentals of the game. I'm not taking a cheap shot at Lute to defend Jennings' decision. It's a well-known fact within basketball circles that Lute Olson is famous for rolling the ball on the court, kicking back and enjoying the work of his recruiters. Lute Olson is not Bobby Knight.

And as far as culture shock goes, Jennings went from Dominguez High School in Compton to Oak Hill Academy in country Virginia. Pretty differing cultures, no?

Here are the videos of the Vaccaro and Jennings interviews.

Whitlock with Jennings
Whitlock with Jennings

Whitlock visits Vaccaro
Whitlock visits Vaccaro
Continue reading...

Brandon Jennings to Italy

Brandon Jennings has signed with a team in Italy. He has signed a three-year, multi-million dollar contract with Rome-based Pallacanestro Virtus Roma, but the deal has buy-out clauses that would allow Jennings to make himself eligible for the NBA Draft in 2009.


Virtus Roma is considered a midlevel Italian team and is not regarded among the elite clubs favored to reach the Euro Final Four. But the competition at that level is still high. Last season's roster included former American college players Allan Ray (Villanova), David Hawkins (Temple), Christian Drejer (Florida), Erazem Lorbek (Michigan State) and Ibrahim Jaaber (Penn). The point guard spot could be open for Jennings if Roko Ukic signs with the Toronto Raptors, which is a possibility. The only other point guard listed on last season's roster is Italian Jacopo Giachetti.

An NBA executive told that Virtus Roma is considered a "good team, with an old-school coach," but the executive said he thought that "Rome would be an adventure for [Jennings]."

Jennings said he asked Virtus Roma general manager Dejan Bodiroga whether or not the team needed a point guard when he worked out for Bodiroga last week in Las Vegas.

"He said they need one,'' Jennings said. "I guess they want to make me the icon there. They're real excited about me coming to work for them. They know the deal. They know what they're getting in and feel comfortable about the whole situation.''
Best of luck Brandon, I hope it works out well. Continue reading...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

7/16 - Some Links, Some News

-So now that it is official that Brandon Jennings is going to Europe, the question is where will he end up? Luis Fernandez over at Draft Express tells you everything you need to know about where he is looking and where he should be looking. Picking the correct league to suit his needs and abilities is so important for Jennings. As Fernandez puts it:

Europe is a huge mass of different basketball competitions, with some of them hardly resembling each other. This is not like playing in the NBA, where there are 30 defined teams and a comparable level between them. Overseas, there are some incredibly competitive leagues and some easier ones, balanced and unbalanced, defensive oriented and scoring happy, with an intense tactical approach and more free styled, better leagues and worse leagues, with a huge gap between them.

It would likely be a big mistake for Jennings to put himself into an excessively demanding environment. A high profile team (like Euroleague outfit Rome- who are rumored to be strongly in the picture) usually enjoy a deep roster and a very structured game on both ends of the court. There are no one-man shows here, the ball needs to flow and the team works united for a purpose. A player like Jennings, who loves to jack up shots and to dribble looking for the final definitive pass, probably doesn’t enjoy the experience and maturity to adjust quickly enough. Playing in a top league, you need to be extremely mature and consistently effective in order to enjoy significant freedom within the system, certainly not the easiest task for such a young kid playing the point guard position.
This is definitely worth the read, as Fernandez takes an in depth and interesting look at European basketball and how Jennings would fit in each league.

-Originally called an injured hamstring tendon, it now appears Gonzaga forward Austin Daye partially tore his ACL at the LeBron James Skills Academy summer camp. This is a huge blow to the 'Zags Final Four hopes, especially since they play in the mid-major West Coast Conference. It took 5 1/2 months for Brandon Rush to come back off of this same injury last off-season, and he returned from the injury early. If Daye has surgery, it means he will be out until at least January, missing all of Gonzaga's non-conference schedule - the most important time for tournament seeding for a mid-major.

-In 2003, the last time that Kansas made the NCAA final, the Jayhawks faced the very same situation they did in the 2008 final - down three with the ball, only seconds left on the clock. In 2003, Kirk Hinrich found Michael Lee in the corner for what seemed like a wide open three, until Hakim Warrick took off from what seemed like the block to swat the shot out of bounds (Note: if anyone knows where I can find a video of this play, let me know. As much as I hate the 'Cuse, this was one of the most memorable and out-of-this-world athletic plays I've ever seen live). Dana O'Neill of ESPN, who I love as a writer, caught up with Lee who, in a cruel? ironic? interesting twist of fate, was at the Alamo Dome when Chalmers hit the game-tying three.

-Speaking of Kansas, the outlook for their season just got a whole lot more promising. Remember back in June when reports surfaced that Sherron Collins had skipped a court date and was looking at serious legal trouble and a $75,000 fine? Well, the district attorney has decided not to file charges against the Jayhawk.

-While were on the topic of sexual assaults (my segues are impeccable today), former Florida Gators shooting guard Teddy Dupay was in court Monday facing rape and kidnapping charges stemming from a June 19th incident in Park City, Utah. This isn't the first time Dupay has been in trouble with the law. He was kicked off the Florida team after it was discovered that he gambled on college sports. The accusations are pretty disturbing, so I'm going to leave them off of this post, but take a look at his mug shot. He's fallen a long way from the 2000 National Title game.

-Now, one last piece of recruiting news. Pitt has landed top 25 recruit Dante Taylor, a 6'9", athletic combo forward. Already a top 5 team, the addition of more front court athleticism only solidifies the Panthers as a Big East and Final Four favorite.

-More Big East news. It looked like Derrick Caracter had burned all of his bridges at Louisville, but apparently Rick Pitino has told him that if he can keep his nose clean for a year, then Caracter can return to the Cardinal team for the 2009-2010 season. For all the hype and talent that Caracter has, is it really worth having the constant distraction around your team? I guess Pitino is just hedging his bets in case Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark both leave for the draft this year. Continue reading...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bettering College Basketball

A buddy of mine, Andy of Bi-Monthly Blog fame, recently asked why I had not yet commented on the moving of the college three-point line from 19'9" to 20'9". I am going to wait until closer to the start of the season to discuss the move (partly because I am torn over its effects, partly because I wasn't thinking about anything other than the draft until recently), but it got me thinking about changes that could (and should) be made to better college basketball. I wrote about one of those changes here and here, regarding Brandon Jennings and the one-year rule, but there are a couple of other changes I would make as well.

Before I get to that, I just want to say one more thing about the one-year rule. The reason I am so against it is not because I think high schoolers should be playing in the NBA - in fact, I believe the exact opposite. My problem with the rule is that the reason that it has been put into effect is because it allows the NBA to draft players that have already built up name recognition - if Derrick Rose was coming off of a state title instead of a trip to the NCAA finals, does he still go #1? Is there the same discussion revolving Oden-vs.-Durant or Rose-vs.-Beasley as the first pick? The NCAA benefits from the rule as well because they get the best players in the country suiting up for a year. The only people who don't benefit are the players themselves. They spend a year making a mockery of the term student-athlete while everyone makes money off of their talents except themselves.

If the NBA was serious about the claims that they want more of a chance to scout players they are drafting, and that they want the players to be more prepared for the NBA, make them go to school for two years (which, depending on how the Brandon Jennings situation pans out, could very well end up happening). Two years in college will give the players more of a chance to grow into their bodies (how many 19 year olds are physically ready to handle the NBA), learn the game, and develop their skills while keeping the moniker student-athlete somewhat accurate.

But that doesn't account for the issue that the players generate a ton money and do not get much compensation (what is a scholarship really worth to Michael Beasley when he only has to go to class for one semester) when, if they were playing professionally, they would be able to. Bottom line, I think that the players should be getting paid. Nothing huge - maybe like $600 a month depending on the school (bigger schools equal more revenue equal more compensation). Think about it - for any teenager that doesn't have to worry about things like rent or the cable bill, $150 a week will seem like a lot of money. Being able to get a couple of new shirts or a new pair of Jordans every week could keep a lot of players happy (especially when a lot of them get at least that already). I'll take it one step further - have the money come from the boosters that provide players with the (currently) illegal benefits. If you make the players file a tax return, then you can kill two birds with one stone - if there are legal consequences to the player receiving OJ-Mayo-esque benefits, then it will greatly reduce the likelihood of players taking that chance (right now, only USC is facing any backlash - losing scholarships, forfeiting games, fines - while Mayo gets away with just a little damage to his reputation).

Another change, as I mentioned Wednesday, is that I would make basketball (and football, baseball, or any other sport where the possibility of a career in that sport exists) a major, especially for schools with big time sports programs. Just to clarify, I'm not saying that these schools (or the NCAA) should allow these athletes to participate in the sport and represent the school without going to any class at all. Instead, educate them in something that will help these kids down the road. As Rick Reilly so tactfully noted in his column last week, there is a huge problem with athletes ending up broke way to quickly after they retire. This happens for many reasons - horrific spending decisions, poor money management, bad investments, and the fact that after taxes, agent/publicist/etc. fees, and the obligatory mansion (or two) and Bentley (or three), there really isn't that much left.

Brian Cuban (Mark Cuban's brother) had an enlightening interview with agent Jordan Woy about this issue, where Woy says

if athletes educate themselves, learn money management skills and make smart, safe investments along the way, they are usually in very good shape. After representing athletes for over 20 years, we call this our “life plan”. We take out clients to learn business networking. We have people from industries such as real estate, oil and gas, financial planning, credit repair, asset protection/estate planning, etc. come to educate the players and their wives so they can learn about these business and also determine if they are interested in any of these industries for life after sports.
Why not put the players under this "basketball" major in classes like this? For one thing, you might actually get some of them to attend and pay attention in class. Maybe you could even turn some of these one-and-done guys into honest-to-goodness student-athletes. I mean, I guarantee that Michael Beasley would have gotten more out of a class on how to value real estate or how to invest money effectively than he did from english 101 or geometry. You could even have classes on becoming a basketball coach, an announcer, or even a writer.

Needless to say, it is not as simple as creating a basketball major. For one, there are only a few schools, and only a few players at those schools, where doing something like this would even be feasible or logical (maybe just a generic professional athlete major where you can get a concentration in a particular sport would be more effective). There is also so much potential for corruption and grade fixing, a la Jim Harrick, but doesn't that already happen way too often? If a school is going to cheat, the school is going to cheat regardless of what classes the player is in.

Another risk is that some of the players under this major don't have the talent to be a pro and thus the classes that they would take would not be as beneficial to them - learning how to manage your money won't help if you can't make any. But isn't this a risk that is inherent in any major for every college student? How many college students know what they want to do in life when they choose their major? I have an econ degree, which probably won't help me too much as a sportswriter.

The bottom line is that the real student-athletes are still going to go to class and get a degree in a field they want to pursue. But by adding this option, you can help some kids learn how to capitalize on their talent and the money that they make off of it.

The last change that I would make is to eliminate the play-in game in the NCAA tournament. If one less middling high-major makes the tourney, is it really that big of a deal? Since 1985, when the tournament was expanded to 64, only 19 times has an 8 seed or lower reached the Elite 8, and only five times has one made the Final Four - 11 seed George Mason in 2006, 8 seeds North Carolina and Wisconsin in 2000, 11 seed LSU in 1986, and 8 seed (and eventual champion) Villanova in 1985.

You want more stats? Of the previously mentioned 19, only four were at-large bids that were lower than 11, meaning that they were one of the last schools to get into the tournament as an at-large - George Mason and LSU from above, 12 seed Missouri in 2002 and 11 seed Loyola Marymount in 1990 (in 2002, 11 seed Temple won the A-10 tourney). So only four times in the last 23 years has a team that could be effected by the reduction of an at-large made it as far as the Elite 8. The last few teams to get in are always either a mediocre power conference team or a very good mid-major that lost during their conference tourney. To be honest, I wouldn't mind losing one of them each year.

The biggest reason that I believe the NCAA tournament should go back to 64 teams (or at the very least remain at 65) is one simple reason: NCAA tournament pools. The way it is currently set up, the whole bracket can fit onto one, standard 8 1/2" X 11" piece of paper. All anyone in the world has to do is print out the bracket, fill in some team names, and throw down 10 bucks in your office pool and boom, you're thrown head first into the excitement of March Madness. That's the beauty of it. No matter who you are or what you do, no matter how much you care or know about college basketball, you are only one bracket away from having everything on the line.

Part of the reason it works so well is that it is so easy to print out that one piece of paper. If the tournament expands to 72, 96, 128, or whatever number Jim Boeheim asks for next, will your boss have the time to fill out that many games? Will your girlfriend have the energy to pick out her favorite mascots on multiple pages? Will the tourney still be the national spectacle it is if every average Joe and Jane doesn't fill out a bracket?

So there you have it - my proposed changes for the 2008-2009 basketball season. Leave a comment and tell me what you think. Continue reading...

America goes for gold

The Beijing Olympics begin on August 8, and perhaps no American athlete or team will be scrutinized as much as the men's basketball squad. The team, selected by USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and the head of USA basketball, Jerry Colangelo, is comprised of NBA stars. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James headline the team, but there is all-star talent from top to bottom. A collection of players of this caliber should have no problem running over the competition on their way to a gold medal, right?

The answer is not so simple. On the one hand, all signs point to the Americans reclaiming their place atop the basketball world. After a disappointing showing at the Athens Olympics is 2004 when the U.S.A. struggled to a bronze medal, the committee was determined to make international competition more of a priority. Coach K was brought in, and a three-year commitment was required of all players. Americans began to get smart about why NBA players, considered the best in the world, were losing to supposedly inferior international competition. Athleticism and flare are less important playing under international rules, and defense and outside shooting become critical. The roster was altered, adding dynamic playmakers like Chris Paul, outside shooters like Michael Redd, and defensive specialists like Shane Battier. The proof was in the pudding, as the American team coasted to an undefeated showing at the FIBA Americas tournament last year. The Dream Team, it seems, is back.

Not so fast. While the American team has made drastic improvements over the past two years, the rest of the world is keeping up. An increasing number of international players join the NBA every year, and many have become stars. Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol are just a few that have proven that international talent can succeed at the highest level. Perhaps more importantly, many pundits believe that the U.S. Olympic team is flawed. Only one true center, Dwight Howard, was added to the roster, meaning that players might have to play out of position (LeBron James will see considerable time at power forward). A lack of size could hurt the U.S. against bigger, physical teams like Argentina.

Also, Redd is the only consistent outside shooter, and if he is not making his shots, the U.S. could struggle against a team that played an aggressive zone defense. Many have questioned the rationale behind taking three point guards (Paul, Deron Williams and veteran Jason Kidd) and leaving off a great shooter like Mike Miller, or another big body like Amare Stoudemire.

So what will happen? If I was a betting man, I wouldn't bet against the Americans. Their combination of incredible talent and a renewed desire to bring the gold medal back to the states should lead to victory in Beijing. But anyone that expects it to be easy is fooling themselves. There are great basketball players around the world, and for many prideful American basketball fans, this is a necessary but painful realization. Continue reading...