The Constant Gardner

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2007

Some day-after reactions from around Blogadelphia to last night’s amazing upset of Gardner-Webb over Kentucky…

Michael David Smith over at AOL Fanhouse is on board with us in pointing out just how terrible of a loss this was for UK:

After Kentucky’s stunning loss to Gardner-Webb last night, a lot of comparisons have been made to Michigan’s stunning loss to Appalachian State at the start of the college football season.  But let’s get one thing clear: Gardner-Webb is no Appalachian State.  Appalachian State was the best football team in Division I-AA last year. The Sagarin ratings at the end of the season had Appalachian State as the No. 53 team in the country, ahead of Big Ten teams Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern and Illinois.  

The Love of Sports points out that wins like this are good for college basketball because it produces publicity it wouldn’t have otherwise gotten:

For this program, it’s by far the biggest win they’ve ever seen. And that goes back to the days of Artis Gilmore and John Drew, who eventually made it into the NBA.  Yes, both Artis Gilmore and John Drew went to Gardner Webb. Bet you didn’t know that one.  But this is bigger than anything they ever did there. This is Kentucky. And this is now one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport.  Congrats go out to you, fellas. You slayed the dragon. And we love you for it.

Interesting point from Dan Shanoff on his daily roundup:

Be honest. If Tubby Smith had still been UK’s coach and lost to Garner Webb – Gardner Webb – he would have been fired this morning.  New coach Billy Gillispie gets a little more wiggle room in only his second game, but it can’t possibly be comfortable right now. This ain’t losing to Tennessee or Florida.

A Sea of Blue informs us that some Cat fans are blaming Tubby anyway!

I see an awful lot of people blaming this loss on Tubby Smith.  Folks, that is just silly.  Even if we were to accept the argument that Smith left the cupboard bare, blaming this loss on lack of talent is utterly non-sequitur.  We have two seniors who were highly ranked, one of them a high school all-American, several highly ranked sophomores, two freshmen high school all-Americans, and a hot new coach who has resurrected programs far worse off than us.  I wonder if Gardner-Webb had a 3-star among them? 

Kentucky Sports Radio had this to say:

Here, according to Joe Lunardi, are the Running Bulldogs’ best wins according to RPI Rating over the last five seasons:

• 2002-03: 4-24 (2-14 conference), Appalachian State, No. 162
• 2003-04: 7-20 (6-14 conference), Mercer, No. 208
• 2004-05: 16-12 (13-7 conference), at Central Florida, No. 108
• 2005-06: 17-12 (13-7 conference), at Minnesota, No. 83
• 2006-07: 8-21 (7-11 conference), Lipscomb, No. 179

Now we can add Kentucky to that list as well. What bothers me about the loss is not that it happened, although losing to the worst team that I can remember Kentucky falling to is bad enough. But what really bothers is me is just how bad a loss it was. Kentucky was never in the game. After the first few minutes, they were never closer than 7 and never, at any point, looked like the best team on the court. Also, this wasnt a case of a group of pesky guys getting hot and hitting ridiculous shots…..many, if not most, of the points came from layups…..often WIDE OPEN. The performance was pitiful and as a good friend of mine said at work today…..”I have never seen the Cats play worse.”

The pressure is on in Lexington.  How will Billy G. respond?

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Billy the Kid Fallout

Posted by rtmsf on June 2nd, 2007

Billy Donovan Magic

As expected, the college hoops/NBA blogospheres have been abuzz with thoughts on the reasoning behind Billy Donovan’s decision to leave Florida for the Orlando Magic, as well as speculation as to how well BTK will do when he gets there. As we said on Thursday when the news was breaking, it’s unlikely that Donovan will become an abject failure in the NBA like his mentor Pitino in Boston or several of the other successful college coaches who made that jump – most notably, Carlesimo, Calipari, Tim Floyd, Mike Montgomery and even switching sports with another ex-Gator, Steve Spurrier. The key distinction is that Donovan’s opportunity with Orlando, very much in contrast with most NBA job openings, is a pretty good one. Orlando was a playoff team this season, albeit barely, and they do have a young stud in Dwight Howard to pair with solid PG Jameer Nelson and a surplus of salary cap space. Plus Orlando as a city has long been attractive to free agents because of its warm weather, exclusive neighborhoods such as Isleworth (Shaq and Tiger have homes there) and tax benefit (no state income tax in Florida).

So the question really shouldn’t be whether Donovan will fail in Orlando, it’s whether he will succeed. Can he shrewdly use his eye for talent to build around Howard to make the Magic a 50-60 win team over the next five years, eventually rising to the level of challenging the Lebrons for the JV Conference title? In the NBA, the old adage goes, it’s all about the players. The coaches above failed for many reasons, often including a lack of imagination and management acumen, but the most important reason was they simply had inferior talent. Billy Donovan is in a unique position as a new NBA coach where he should be able to avoid that pitfall, and for that reason, it says here that he’ll have a successful tenure in Orlando.

The media expectedly is falling into two camps on this issue:


Kelly Dwyer at

From Mike Montgomery to Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger, Leonard Hamilton, P.J. Carlesimo, Jerry Tarkanian and Dick Vitale, the NBA landscape is littered with former college coaches who thought they could exhort and prod their way toward NBA glory. And, to a man, each fell well short. Only Pitino, Floyd and Carlesimo were offered second NBA jobs, with only Floyd (the most maligned of the bunch) improving his record in his second stint.

The overriding theme here is respect, and how to earn it from professionals making guaranteed money while the coach tries to sustain a sense of gravitas from training camp in October to, hopefully, a playoff run in the spring. NCAA coaches, who are allowed to wield scholarships and playing time over the head of impressionable youngsters, are able to get away with emptying all their motivational shells in the midst of what, at best, could turn into a 40-game season. NBA coaches tend to hit their 40th game in early February, with a playoff push and possible postseason run still weeks away.

Despite all the historical evidence suggesting failure, each pro team and each coach think their situation could be the one exception — the one marriage of pro team and ex-college coach that actually works. There is some evidence that suggests that Donovan, for all intents and purposes, could be the one who breaks the losing streak.

Ian Thomsen at (linked yesterday but written on Apr. 9):

“Here’s what I’ve noticed about Billy,” a GM said. “A few years ago he realized he wasn’t very good at coaching defense. He moved one of his assistants — which is very hard to do for a head coach, because in that world it’s all about loyalty and sticking together — and [in 2004] he brought in an old veteran guy, Larry Shyatt, to fix the problem. And that’s why they were able to win two national championships.”

Here’s the picture I should have recognized last week. Donovan has been aiming toward an NBA career, and along the way he’s been humble enough to recognize his weaknesses and fix them. He will have a lot to learn in the NBA, but there is a feeling among his potential employers that he won’t be the typically dictatorial college coach who fails to form a partnership with his richer, more powerful NBA players. Donovan will adapt and grow into the job.

“When he hires his assistants in the NBA, he won’t go the buddy route,” the GM said. “If he perceives he’s not good enough in a certain area, he’ll go and get himself some help. He’ll figure out what he needs to be successful in the NBA, and he’ll put the right guys around him.”

Tony Mejia at

Orlando has, in one single move, become relevant again. And even if Donovan fails, conventional wisdom is that he can always return to the college game the way mentor Rick Pitino did. He has had a nice re-birth, no?
But he won’t fail. He’s walking into a wonderful situation and was smart enough to recognize that. The Magic made his choice all the easier by ponying up the jack. I honestly never felt they had it in them. The climate has changed. Orlando wants to be more than mediocre.

The Big Lead:

Plus, unlike many college coaches before him, Donovan can win in the NBA: the Magic are already a playoff team in the East, probably will get Vince Carter this summer, and it looks like a couple teams in the East are going downhill (Miami’s old, Detroit’s aging, and Indiana appears to be on the path to rebuilding).


Pat Forde at

I sincerely hope Billy Donovan doesn’t wind up like all the others.

I hope he’s not the next Tark, the next John Calipari, the next Tim Floyd, the next Lon Kruger, the next Mike Montgomery. I hope he doesn’t follow the same failed path as his mentor, Rick Pitino. I hope he doesn’t wind up with his wind pipe being massaged by a player, like P.J. Carlesimo.

I hope he’s not just another college coach who, for some reason, couldn’t tolerate living with the happiness and success he built by hand, and chose the misery of losing in the NBA instead. I hope he’s not the next in a conga line of call-up coaches who flop when taken out of their element.

Bob McClellan at

The NBA is grinding, demanding. It’s four games in a week, not two. It’s hitting the road 41 times, not 10 times like the Gators did last season (and two of those were in-state trips). There are no non-conference cupcakes, although there are two games with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The fact is coaches don’t leave the NBA because they get better gigs. They leave because they get pink slips. They leave exhausted, chewed up and spit out, black and blue.

Orange and Blue would have been the safer choice.

Dan Shanoff as guest blogger at

And the final insult for any college fan, Florida or anywhere: What, exactly, is the lure of coaching in the NBA? On its face, it sounds like the shittiest job in sports.
Zero job security, with a “when” not “if” inevitability of a bad ending to nearly every coaching hire. (Welcome to Indiana, Jim O’Brien!) Star players who run the team. Financial realities that hamstring moves.

Roughest of all, the “Ring or Bust” mentality. Jerry Sloan is the ideal of NBA coaching longevity, yet he is best known for NOT winning a championship. And most of the coaches who have won a title recently (Jackson, Tomjanovich, Popovich) have enjoyed coaching the greatest players of their eras. Dwight Howard is the best post player in the East — not a bad foundation to build a contender — and they have double-digit cap millions to use (please God: NOT Vince Carter…hmm: Gerald Wallace?) But yeesh, those odds are still ugly.\Meanwhile, Billy D was on track to be one of the Top 5 most successful coaches in college hoops history. His style seemed MADE for college. (His weakness – Xs and Os – will be magnified in the NBA, while his strength – personality – will be mitigated.)

Brian Schmitz’s Magic Basketblog:

If hiring him winds up being the biggest transaction of the summer, it will mean the Magic failed to land a prized free agent or make a trade for the missing piece or pieces. And Billy’s NBA maiden voyage could hit rough water for a team that carries, perhaps, oversized expectations, firing Hill even after he led the Magic to their first playoff appearance since 2003.

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