When we first saw the story that Augustus “Gus” Gilchrist was reneging on his LOI (login required) to Virginia Tech because of their shootings last month, stating that he was not “mentally prepared” for dealing with it, our initial reaction was probably like everyone else’s who is unfamiliar with the situation. “Poor kid doesn’t want to deal with the pressure of coming into a tough situation where everyone on campus is mourning.” “I can understand not wanting to feel like some kind of sports savior after what has gone on there.” Etc.
Unfortunately, the empathy with which we felt for Gilchrist, a 6’9 jumping jack out of Clinton, Maryland, who was the MVP of the Capital Classic, quickly gave way to skepticism and then, outright disdain for the kid’s rescission. When Gilchrist committed to the Hokies in November, he was pretty much a nobody on the recruiting lists; but after a strong senior campaign and excellent performances in the all-star games (supposedly playing Patrick Patterson to a standstill at the AAU Nationals), his stock has risen to the point where he is now considered a major sleeper in the class of 2007. We believe there’s more to this story here than meets the eye.
The way we see it, Gilchrist is pulling one of two stunts. Either a) he really is feeling conflicted over attending Virginia Tech after the tragedy there this spring, showing a degree of selfishiness and callousness that surprises even us (what kind of person avoids being part of a healing process?); or b) he is using the events of April 16 as a convenient pretext to get out of his commitment so he can trade up to another school, capitalizing on his “rising star” status. Either way this kid is a complete tool.
Huggins growing horns?
According to Josh Barr’s Washington Post blog, Gilchrist’s personal trainer – the fact that he has a personal trainer making statements for him is a red flag in itself – is saying that he will be attending a prep school next year instead of Virginia Tech. This makes absolutely no sense because Gilchrist is already academically eligible to play D1 next season, and prep schools are solely used for ineligibles. This is undoubtedly a leverage play to try to get Virginia Tech to release him from his LOI, so that he can go elsewhere. And rumors are swirling that the Man in Black, Bob Huggins, is somehow involved in this mess. If so, please remember to tip Lucifer on your way out of the stadium, WVU fans.
Update (June 2008): Gilchrist is on the move again, this time leaving Maryland before even playing a single game.
In the hypercompetitive world of college basketball recruiting, last year’s new NBA rule requiring a player to be one year removed from his high school class prior to declaring for the draft sent repercussions throughout the game. Coaches at the elite programs generally fell into two camps – you either recruit players who you expect will stick around for more than one season, hoping to keep stability (and consistency) within your program; or, you recruit the very best talent available year over year, hoping to catch lightning-in-a-bottle Carmelo-style without experiencing the program volatility that such a strategy may entail. Now that we have one season of one-and-dones behind us, let’s take a look at how the programs employing that strategy fared. We considered the top twenty players in the Class of 2006 (login required) as the most likely one-and-dones.
Looks like one and done worked out for Greg Oden.
Ohio State – Well Worth It
This program, along with UNC, had the most players listed (3) in the 2006 top twenty – Greg Oden, Daequan Cook, Mike Conley, Jr. As of today, they’re definitely losing Oden; Conley is likely to leave, and Cook is a tossup. However, even if they lose all three, it would be fair to say that OSU got its money’s worth. A 35-4 (15-1) record, NCAA runner-up, Big Ten championship, and the best season in Ohio State’s post-UCLA history will do that. Essentially, this group of players made Ohio State relevant as a national powerhouse again. For many programs, losing a group like this would equal the NIT or worse next season; but with Matta bringing in another group of blue chippers next season (and the season after), OSU won’t take a terrible hit. This gamble definitely paid off, and will continue to do so, long after these players have moved on.
North Carolina – Well Worth It
Brandan Wright, Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington were all potential one-and-dones when they were recruited by Roy Williams to Chapel Hill. UNC dodged a substantial bullet by losing only Wright to the draft. Led by these three rooks (+ Tyler Hansbrough), Carolina played itself into a 31-7 (11-5) record, an ACC championship and a run to the elite eight where they were simply out-executed by a game Georgetown squad. Still, with Lawson and Ellington returning, Carolina’s gamble came in like Ari Gold at the blackjack table – they’re set to be preseason #1 next year.
Georgia Tech – Not Worth It
Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton were the two jewels of Paul Hewitt’s class last year, and both have declared for the draft this year, but neither has yet signed with an agent. It remains to be seen whether one or both of these players will return, but with Young projected in the low lottery and Crittenton in the mid-low first round, it is likely both will stay in the draft. So how did Georgia Tech fare with these guys? Not as well. A maddeningly inconsistent 20-12 (8-8) record with a first-round NCAA loss versus UNLV isn’t the type of season that the teams above enjoyed. Hewitt has a couple of decent players coming into Atlanta next season, but the 2007-08 campaign will be made or broken on the decisions of these two players. This was clearly a tenuous gamble that may actually set the program back if both fail to return.
Reviewing today’s ESPN article on the ten programs to watch during the next decade, it crystallized a trend that we’ve been noticing and tracking over the last couple of years. Sure, the traditional six superpowers – Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina and UCLA – were all on that list, and why wouldn’t they be? Any “down” period will not be tolerated very long by their alumni and fans, which ultimately means that these schools will always provide just enough resources at their programs to be considered elite. But what really struck us as interesting is that Florida, Ohio St. and Texas – all traditional football powers – were ranked in the top seven to watch in basketball. Throw in USC as an a school in “others receiving votes,” and we’re left with four of the giants in college football also being considered as major players for the next decade in basketball. When did this shift happen?
Ten years ago, or even twenty, what football-first schools could we have said this about? Probably Michigan in the 90s, and perhaps Oklahoma in the 80s, and if you want to go way back, undoubtedly Notre Dame in the 70s. But who else? Using Final Four participants as a rudimentary barometer of program success, we find that only five of the forty F4 participants (12.5%) in the 1970s could be considered football-first schools (Florida St. – 72; Michigan – 76; Notre Dame – 78; Arkansas – 78; Michigan St. – 79). Moving into the eighties, we don’t see much improvement, with only six of the forty teams (15%) in the F4 focusing foremost on football (Iowa – 80; LSU – 81, 86; Georgia – 83; Oklahoma – 88; Michigan – 89).
Things began to change a little during the 90s, as more SEC and Big Ten teams who traditionally considered basketball as a nice little diversion before spring practice began pouring resources into the sport. Eight of the forty F4 participants (20%) were teams from traditional football schools (Arkansas – 90, 94, 95; Michigan 92, 93; Florida – 94; Michigan St. – 99; Ohio St. – 99). Cut to this decade where through eight seasons football school participants have already made up eleven of the 32 F4 participants (34%) – Michigan St. – 00, 01, 05; Florida – 00, 06, 07; Wisconsin – 00; Oklahoma – 02; Texas – 03; LSU – 06; Ohio St. – 07. This is a definite trend over time, and it is no accident.
As the traditionally football-focused schools have figured out that there is a benefit, both financially and in terms of program cache, in having a successful basketball program in addition to their gridiron brethren, schools such as Florida, Texas, Ohio St. and USC have started making inroads in basketball. In fact, over the last two seasons, the football schools have outmanned the traditional basketball schools in F4 representation four to three (with little guy George Mason thrown in for good measure). Since the athletic department budgets at these collegiate goliaths, driven by football, are pushing nearly $100M/year, there is no shortage of top-rate facilities and resources available at these places now. The idea that Florida or Ohio St. could have a better practice facility than that at Kentucky or UNC sounds ridiculous, but that’s become the reality in today’s NCAA. How much have things changed? Look no further than Billy Donovan’s decision to stay at a football school as second banana to Urban Meyer rather than going to Kentucky and become a veritiable deity this spring. We should expect more of this in the future.
One interesting piece of news that came out this week was that Der Commisar of Hoopdom, David Stern, is floating the idea of building and maintaining a “basketball academy” of elite high schoolers, similar to those that already exist in tennis and golf. The obvious impetus for this idea is the embarrassing performances of USA, er, NBA Basketball in recent international competitions, which has been (rightly or wrongly) excoriated in the national media as predicated on a glaring lack of player fundamentals such as shooting, boxing out, and solid defense.
While there is absolutely no question that the current system dominated by AAU basketball is a broken one, we’re not sure that Stern’s basketball academy is the answer. For starters, the academy would only take “several dozen” underclassmen in a given year, which begs several questions: who would be selecting these 8th, 9th and 10th graders as the chosen ones? What role would politics play in getting a certain kid into the program (see: McDonalds All-American game)? Since scholarships are not tied to performance on the courth, how do we handle the late bloomers (Tracy McGrady) and the early phenoms who don’t progress past age 16 (Schea Cotton)? Would these kids then be pressured to attend certain “most-favored” schools by virtue of their newfound pedigree? The larger question is left unsaid, but Arn Tellem touched on it in his thoughtful LA Times op-ed this week. This program seeks to help the top 30 or so players in a given year to keep their heads on straight, but what about the hundreds of other kids who end up at NCAA programs every year as well? Is this a basketball-based or an education-based decision? There are so many questions that would need to be answered before we could definitively state whether this is a good idea or not.
What we like about this idea is that someone on high is finally addressing the problems that exist in the cesspool that is known as the AAU and summer basketball circuit. We’ve had the privilege of attending a few of these events and can say without reservation that many of the same problems derives directly from the me-first mentality of this scene. Maybe Stern’s basketball academy or something similar can help to emphasize education and basketball fundamentals amongst the very best players. Maybe not. But the key point here is that there is recognition of the existence of a problem, and important people are talking about how to fix it, which is a start.
ESPN put out its top ten individual teams of the last decade, and we see some definite problems with some of their choices. First of all, only fourteen teams received votes, and we figure that at least four others – Kentucky 1998 (a champion, mind you), Arizona 2001 (runner-up), Duke 2002 and Arizona 1998 – deserve to be mentioned. As it stands, here is our list of the best teams of the past decade:
Team of the last decade?
1. UConn 1999 (34-2) – Nobody on this list had a better season from start to finish as this Huskies team. People tend to forget this team because it was considered at the time a bit of a fluke that they had beaten a loaded Duke team for the title, but they actually had held the #1 position for more weeks that season than Duke. Make no mistake about it, this team was legit across its lineup (Voskuhl, Freeman, Hamilton, El-Amin, Moore), and simply went about its business methodically winning game after game on its way to the championship.
2. Duke 1999 (37-2) – The primary reason UConn 1999 is #1 is because they proved their mettle by beating the sickest team of the last decade in a knockout championship game. Duke 1999 was the last “great” team of its era – along with its counterparts UNLV 1991, Duke 1992, and Kentucky 1996. This Duke team destroyed just about everyone they played all season long, but for a miraculous finish against a very talented Cincinnati squad in Alaska and the UConn “shock the world” game in the title match-up. A couple more baskets by Trajan Langdon and this team would be considered in the top five or ten of all-time.
3. Florida 2007 (35-5) – In terms of effectuating a repeat championship, and the manner in which they did it (virtually unchallenged in the NCAAs for two consecutive years), the 2007 Gators will be mentioned as one of the greatest teams of all-time. Horford, Noah, Brewer, Humphrey and Green were a true definition of “team,” with someone different stepping up in the clutch every time they needed it. However, a mind-boggling (albeit forgivable, considering the pressure on this team) mid-season hangover including ugly road losses against Tennessee and LSU are all that keeps this team from jumping to the top of the list with UConn 1999.
4. (tie) Duke 2001 (35-4) – This Duke championship team exhibits the type of team that wins titles in the 2000s – those with versatile inside/outside players, a solid core of experienced veterans, but not much depth. Battier, J-Will, Dunleavy, Boozer, and Duhon were an all-star cast that makes you wonder what has happened to K’s recruiting in the last few years.
4. (tie) UConn 2004 (33-6) – A belief in our eyes that this team was better than its record is based on Emeka Okafor’s back problems during this season. Coming from behind and closing out a scrappy Duke team in the final three minutes of the semifinals was a testament to just how good this team could be. Read the rest of this entry »
In June’s Men’s Journal magazine, Mark Cuban has created a bit of a stir by saying that, as long as performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) do not cause harm to the athletes, he doesn’t see anything wrong with their use in sports. Maybe his reaction is a response to the Mavs’ somnambulant appearance last week during the Warriors – if anyone needed an “upper,” it was those guys – but it is an interesting proposition.
Again, the assumption here is that a PED of the future would not cause physical, mental or emotional harm to the athlete – we can all agree that any substance that does so should be banned from sports. But what about a safe substance that can be prescribed and monitored by a physician that would put an extra 2-3 mph on that fastball; or allow your vertical to increase a couple more inches? Some might say we already do this, with our GNC-driven supplements, antioxidants, and other mystical powders and analgesics. And what about treatment of injuries? Science has made leaps and bounds with its ability to get athletes back on the field or court at a high level and quickly – is that not another form of constantly evolving performance enhancement? Read the rest of this entry »
The WWL today began a thought-provoking series of articles about which college hoops programs have been the “best” over the last ten years. We’ll track this over the next few days, chiming in where appropriate. Their expert panel apparently consisted of Katz, Bilas, Forde, Glockner and Lunardi. Good thing that the human smegma known as Dick Vitaletrick wasn’t involved or Duke would have held all ten positions.
Duke came out on top anyway, with Michigan St. and UConn tied for second. Florida, Kansas, UNC, Kentucky, Arizona, Maryland and Syracuse rounded out the list – all eight schools who won titles during this period + Arizona and Kansas. While we tend to agree with the ten programs listed, we would re-arrange the order a bit. Our criteria for excellence is fairly set: first and foremost, NCAA Tournament success matters most. To be considered the best program, you must make it almost every year, you must win while you’re there, and you must go to Final Fours and win championships. Since every one of these programs starts each season with one primary goal – to win the national championship – that must be the foremost consideration. Here’s the ultimate arbiter – would any team’s fans trade their decade of success, however it is measured, for another championship? Of course they would, which is why UConn and Florida with two titles each have been the “best” programs of the last decade in our analysis.
Calhoun’s Huskies and Donovan’s Gators lead our list.
1. UConn – two different titles with two different teams (1999 and 2004), and they beat ESPN’s #1 Duke both times en route to the titles.
2. Florida – we pick UConn over Florida because it is harder to win with two completely different teams than a stacked one which comes back to do it again. But as of now, Florida is without question the Team of the 00s.
Now, we consider the teams with one title during this period. Sorry Kansas and Arizona, but again, their fans would happily trade all their conference titles and #1 seeds for just one Maryland 2002 or Syracuse 2003 run. Especially KU – how long has it been now – coming up on 20 seasons, right? At least Arizona just missed their 1997 title by this rather arbitrary ESPN time frame.
3. Duke – this is where the Blue Devils belong over the last decade. They have the best resume of the one-title teams, and have avoided significant “down” seasons compared with the other schools (nine straight NCAA Sweet 16s or better from 1998-2006).
4. Michigan St. – the Spartans have been to one additional F4 than Duke, but have mostly been pedestrian (three first round NCAA losses) since their glorious run from 1999-2001.
5. North Carolina – the Doherty years of 2000-2003 (one NCAA win and an 8-20 debacle) aren’t compensated enough by three F4s and one title to overcome Michigan St.
6. Kentucky – we’re talking about one F4 leading to one title in 1998, but the Cats were consistently good, if not great, throughout this period (ten straight NCAA second rounds and four elite eights).
7. Maryland – cf. with the Terps, who although they went to back-to-back F4s in 2001-02 and won their first national title in the latter, they have really fallen hard in recent years – only two NCAA wins in the last four seasons.
8. Syracuse – the other one-title teams would have a decent argument to be included in the top eight even if they’d not won a title , but Syracuse probably would not, having numerous middling seasons surrounding that magical run in 2003.
Best of the Rest
9. Kansas – this would probably have been true for almost any ten-year period throughout the 90s and 00s that you choose because they’re always very good. Kansas just cannot seem to get back over the hump and win another national title despite multiple F4s and several absolutely loaded teams.
10. Arizona – of course, if this list was created last year, Arizona probably would have finished in the top five because of their 1997 title; nevertheless, the Cats have had several excellent teams like Kansas that were good enough to win it all without a truly bad season during this period.
Others considered: UCLA (two F4s), Ohio St. (two F4s), Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Stanford, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma St.