Coaches with pretty impressive pedigrees cannot seem to stop talking about conference realignment these days. Yet with as much power and influence as these guys have at their respective universities, they wield very little leverage in the big-picture chess match being played by various college chancellors, presidents, and boards of directors. Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski provided opposing viewpoints on the matter Wednesday, with the four-time national champion coming out strongly in favor of further expansion of the ACC from 14 to 16 teams, and the three-time national champion unequivocally stating that his preference is for the Huskies to stick with the Big East. You have to believe that if John Swofford’s league eventually makes another move, one of the first inquiries will in fact be to the folks in Storrs, but maybe by that time both Calhoun and K will be in rocking chairs somewhere.
Sticking with Connecticut, remember that Michael Bradley kid — you know, the one who UConn took a scholarship from to give it to a basketball phenom who likely will be there for one year? Yeah, that kid. He came out on the record Wednesday stating that he has since been given a financial aid package and that he was only one of several players who stepped forward for the good of the team when it became apparent that prep phenom Andre Drummond was prepared to enroll. Even UConn president Susan Herbst got into the act, saying that Bradley has been “taken care of.” The company line was apparently in full effect in Storrs on this day, but there’s one thing we absolutely want to see happen here — five years down the road when Drummond is off to the NBA and Bradley has moved on to whatever great things also await him, we truly hope that he receives a registered letter from his former teammate containing a certified check for the full amount of any student loan (plus interest) he might have taken out to make this happen. Drummond says that he and Bradley have a “great relationship” and are “really cool” with each other — well, if so, he’ll do the right thing and eventually pay the walk-on back in spades.
This is a baseball story more than a college basketball story, but we don’t care. TBS/TNT’s Ernie Johnson has entertained us for years as the host of still the very best sports show on television, Inside the NBA. Last year with Turner Sports’ nascent involvement with the NCAA Tournament, Johnson played host for some of the studio coverage along with his good buddies Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley, and an assortment of others. He’s also a huge baseball guy, calling games for TBS as his father (whom he lost in August at the age of 87) had before him. In a normal year, he’d be doing the MLB playoffs right now before setting off to another hilarious NBA season in the studio with The Jet and Chuck — but this isn’t a normal year. Rather, Johnson, his wife and family have been keeping vigil with their eldest adopted son, Michael (one of four adopted children they have), who is suffering from muscular dystrophy and pneumonia in an Atlanta hospital. It’s a tragic story, but one that really shows just how good a guy Johnson is — we encourage everyone to read it.
Because of that NBA lockout thing, college basketball fans from all over the country are getting a rare opportunity to see some of their former (but not too former) stars in action on their school’s hardwood again as players seek ways to fill their time when they otherwise would have been in training camps. Syracusewill hold a scrimmage on Friday night at the Carrier Dome featuring two teams of ‘Orange Legends,’ and they’re really not kidding with that name — tentative rosters include Carmelo Anthony, John Wallace, Hakim Warrick, Wes Johnson and Gerry McNamara — or, in other words, most of the best SU players of the last 15 years. We’ll definitely be tuning into the ESPNU special on Friday night for a taste of this.
Wow. We know of quite a few writers, bloggers, television personalities, gadflies and ne’er-do-wells who are hurting in a big way this morning. After a 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon that once again did not fail to disappoint, the hangover is here. We’re guessing that #cbb on Twitter won’t be this quiet again until sometime in May, as everyone around the country comes off their hoops-gasm and starts calculating the actuarial ratios of all-nighters to lost months of life. Still, seeing all the different schools and fans and courts and cheerleaders and announcers and studio hosts and analysts around the country all day yesterday was pretty awesome, wouldn’t you agree? As much as we’ve ripped apart the opening week’s haphazard trickle-out of games, this made-for-television event is brilliant and is quickly becoming one of the best regular season must-sees that the sport has to offer. God help us all during the random future year when the 24HoH mimics a day of the NCAA Tournament and 75% of the games come down to the last possession — the WWL suits had better already have ESPN Legal working on its tort defenses. Oh, and our guy John Stevens? Over 11,000 words and untold hallucinations in 25+ hours of BGTDing, without a single drop of caffeine in his system (perhaps crystal meth, but certainly no coffee/soda).
The biggest non-ESPN 24HoH news from the day came from Turner Sports, as the cable network announced that it will provide some of its wildly popular NBA on-air talent such as play-by-play announcer Marv Albert and the brash-but-hilarious Charles Barkley as part of its joint coverage of the NCAA Tournament with CBS. The general consensus is that this is going to be a very good thing, and given that we are intimately familiar with the chemistry of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Barkley on Inside the NBA (the best sports show on television by far), we think that they’ll pull it off. Our only reservation — and admittedly, it’s a small one — is that we’ve watched (and listened) in horror to Fox when NFL announcers with their play-on-Sunday focus call college football games during the BCS bowls and it’s obvious they don’t even know or understand the key rule differences between the two sports. We found this experience exceptionally painful. Since none of the Turner channels (TBS, TNT, TruTV) are covering college hoops during the regular season, we’re a little concerned that even knowledgeable folks such as those listed above might have trouble making the transition.
And this article is why NBA fans are different in many ways from college basketball fans. Mr. Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register: in our sport, it actually IS about the names on the front of the jerseys. Carolina fans will go crazy for their team whether they have a future lottery pick like Harrison Barnes or a four-year guy like Tyler Hansbrough leading the way; Kentucky fans showed as much passion for one-year man John Wall in the blue and white as they did for Tayshaun Prince; Michigan State fans loved consistently-tough guy Charlie Bell as much or more than Zach Randolph. Here’s our suggestion. Get out of the suburban and basketball wasteland known as the OC and high-tail it to a Missouri or K-State game at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. While you’re in the Midwest, catch a game at Hinkle before heading over to Rupp for a Louisville or Florida game. Detour down through Tobacco Road and venture into Cameron Indoor Stadium before your soul goes completely cold; then, since you’re on the east coast, head up to the Palestra for an epic Big Five battle. Report back to us afterward if you gave a damn whether you actually knew the names of the players who you were watching — that is, assuming you actually enjoy the sport of basketball and not some bastardized version of star-watching.
Gary Parrish takes a look at the oft-bizarre world of AP/Coaches poll ballots in his weekly column, The Poll Attacks. Every time we read a column like this one, we thank our lucky stars that these flawed polls that reflect current perception are for entertainment purposes only. Teams will get a chance to settle their real rankings on the court. What some sportswriter in Eugene thinks about Villanova is about as important as what a Floridian believes concerning a local dogcatcher race in Wyoming — it’s irrelevant. And we love it that way.
Gregg Doyel examines the case of Enes Kanter and his eligibility through the prism of the NCAA rulebook and asks the question of when a pro is (or isn’t) a pro? As he correctly points out, the NCAA has drawn a bright line with the apples/oranges comparison between sports, as in the cases of Josh Booty, Chris Weinke and current Clemson QB Kyle Parker, all of whom played professional baseball prior to becoming amateur NCAA football players. But why have they drawn a distinction — what is the fundamental difference here? It would be interesting to review the NCAA legislative history on this issue to see what the thinking was.
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.