With all the suspense on college campuses about whether or not underclassmen will be leaving perhaps the least suspenseful announcement of the week came earlier today when everybody’s national Player of the Year Blake Griffinannounced that he will forgo his final 2 years of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft. In his second year at Oklahoma, Griffin became the 3rd straight national player of year from the Big 12 (save your e-mails and comments UNC fans; we both know that Michael Beasley deserved it last year).
Griffin, who averaged 22.7 PPG and 14.4 RPG, was clearly the best player in college this season and was only derailed in the Elite 8 by eventual champion UNC when his Sooner teammates went 2/19 from 3-point range. Even in defeat, Griffin showed everyone why he will be the most clear-cut #1 pick since LeBron James in 2003 as he dominated Tyler Hansbrough and the other UNC interior players. Griffin finished the year with 30 double-doubles (second all-time to only David Robinson‘s 31) and 504 rebounds (second all-time to only Larry Bird‘s 505).
While everyone knows that Griffin will go #1 (assuming some brain-dead NBA GM doesn’t do something completely insane–not outside the realm of possibilities), the big question is what will happen in Norman where Jeff Capel turned down numerous job offers to stay as the Oklahoma head coach. The Sooners will be losing Taylor Griffin, Austin Johnson, and Omar Leary with only the first 2 contributing significantly. Although the Sooners will certainly take a step back next year, they can still compete in the top half of the Big 12 next year if freshman Willie Warren can resist the temptation of the money that comes with being a lottery pick and sticks around Norman for another year (or two). With a nucleus of Warrnen, Tony Crocker, and Juan Pattillo, Capel has a team that should challenge Kansas and Texas next year.
If you are a regular reader of our site, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the 1979 NCAA championship game, which featured Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and is widely cited as the seminal moment out of which modern basketball was born. Although I don’t profess to be a scholar of that game, I always thought my knowledge of the major moments in modern college basketball history (since the 1960s) was pretty respectable so when I received an e-mail for an advance copy of a book about the topic I wasn’t particularly excited (outside of the fact that I had never received an e-mail like that before). When I read through the e-mail and saw that Seth Davis, one of my favorite college basketball writers and a regular reader of Rush the Court (about 2/3 the way down), had written the book I became a little more intrigued so I decided to give it a shot.
One of the first things I realized when I started reading the book was that despite the significance of the game there has not been a lot written about it. The game and the events leading up to it lack the literary canon of some of the other important events in college basketball history such as the John Wooden era and the Texas Western–Kentucky game. In fact, most of my knowledge from the game comes from watching documentaries about Bird and Magic that make the actual championship game seem more like it was simply foreshadowing their great NBA careers rather than the spectacle that it was at the time. In the book Seth Davis goes into detail discussing the lives of both legendary players and provides the reader with background information that helps explain a lot about their personalities and the way they approached the game. Davis traces Magic’s life story including details about how he ended up at Everett High School instead of his original school (and preferred choice) J.W. Sexton High School as a result of busing mandates in East Lansing, MI. He also examines details of Bird’s life that the casual fan (or one outside of Boston–hard to say since I live here) might not be aware of such as his distrust of outsiders and almost pathological shyness early in his career.
We were granted the opportunity to speak with Bill Laimbeer, a 4-time NBA All-Star, member of 2 NBA Championship teams (“The Bad Boys”) and former team captain of Notre Dame as part of a promotion that Coke Zero is doing for http://www.TasteTheMadness.com.
I have to say going into this interview I was a bit apprehensive. I’m not the world’s smoothest sports interviewer on the planet (as Seth Davis can probably attest to) and Bill Laimbeer has a bit of a reputation although looking back now I can’t remember any Jim “Chris” Everett moments from Laimbeer so maybe my concerns were unnecessary. It turns out that he was much friendlier than I expected and actually laughed at a few of my jokes. Even though it was part of the Coke Zero campaign, we spent most of the interview discussing basketball (college, NBA, WNBA, and even Boston fans like Bill Simmons) and not just the promotion.
One of the things that stuck out when I reviewed the interview was that Laimbeer still seems to harbor some animosity towards Digger Phelps, who coached him at Notre Dame. Looking back I probably should have dug deeper into that, but we were on a schedule. If either Bill or Digger are reading this, shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to the bottom of this.
RTC: Coming from the West Coast, what made you decide to go to Notre Dame?
BL: Well, a few reasons. One was that my parents were moving from Los Angeles to Ohio at that time after my senior year of high school. That played a little part in it. The second part was that I thought Notre Dame was a national university both basketball-wise and school-wise, and I spent most of my life in the Midwest, but I spent my high school years in California so it seemed like a good fit. And Notre Dame was on TV every other week. There was only one game a week on TV.
Laimbeer at Notre Dame (Credit: Notre Dame Media Guide)
John Stevens is a featured columnist for Rush The Court.
On the news feed tonight the information has come down that Doug Towey, the CBS Sports executive who was responsible for the playing of the song “One Shining Moment” at the end of the network’s men’s NCAA Tournament coverage (that is, the song that plays over the highlight montage after coverage of the championship game), has died at age 61.
Evidently, the story of the song’s emergence goes like this: the song was written on the back of a napkin by a man named David Barrett, who actually wrote it after watching Larry Bird play for Indiana State in the 1979 version of the Dance. Barrett passed the song on to a friend at CBS (rumored to be Armen Keteyian) who in turn passed in on to Mr. Towey. The original plan was to air it after Super Bowl XXI (1987). Time constraints didn’t allow it, so the song was eventually aired after the 1987 NCAA Tournament final (Indiana 74, Syracuse 73, aka the Keith Smart game). I, for one, say thank God for the long interviews after Super Bowl XXI.
I recall the first-ever spin of the song after that IU-Syracuse game. As happy as I was to hear Teddy Pendergrass, with the first few notes I remember thinking that this was going to be some worthless attempt at tear-jerking, wondering why they would choose to end their coverage in this manner. By the end of the song, I had already called a fellow hoops fan who I knew would be watching and we agreed — it was perfect. The song itself can stand alone, especially because it was written with our beloved game in mind. But when you pair it with the highlight montage… well, you indeed have perfection.
Nobody Turns Off the TV Until Luther is Done (photocredit: AP)
The late great Luther Vandross has had the honor since 2003. And I’m not afraid to say that whether it’s Pendergrass or Vandross singing it, when I hear it, the ol’ eyes still well up to this day. Maybe it’s because of what it symbolizes — you know, another season’s end. Or maybe it’s because it’s just a great song.
So with nods to Messrs. Barrett, Pendergrass and Vandross, today we at RTC offer special thanks to Mr. Towey for pairing this song up with our game. In that spirit, here are a couple of samples of what Mike Krzyzewski (and countless others) calls “the national anthem of college basketball.”
This is the last installment of Fast Breaks for the calendar year, but it’s a loaded one with lots of news before the New Year’s ball drops.
After being spoiled by ridiculously talented freshmen the past two years (Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Michael Beasley), it appears as if we have returned back to normal. While there are several talented diaper dandies out there, none of them has really caught our eye as the next big thing. Pete Thamel gives a short run-down of the candidates for freshman of the year at this point. I’d be interested to hear what you guys have to say about this year’s class because quite frankly I haven’t been that impressed.
Speaking of the Gators. . .UF recruit Austin Rivers, son of Doc (the head coach of the world champion Boston Celtics), led his high school team to a win over nationally-ranked Marietta-Wheeler (GA). Rivers put up 46 points including 30 in the 1st half. We still don’t have word if Doc let him start the next game or made him play JV after his career night.
In a surprising story, Anthony Crater, a highly rated PG coming out of high school last year, was granted a release from his scholarship by Thad Matta. I’d be interested in hearing some of the reasons behind this. It looks like Crater hasn’t been getting much time on the court this year, but it’s really early to be deciding to leave Ohio State just based on that. If any of the Buckeye fans (or haters) have the inside scoop, I would be interested to hear it.
Think you have a rough week ahead of you? Try trading places with Rutgers coach Fred Hill who takes his Scarlet Knights up against #1 UNC, #2 UConn, and #3 Pittsburgh in the same week. On the bright side, only 2 of the 3 games are on the road so Hill at least gets a shot at Pittsburgh in New Jersey. I’m guessing their strength of schedule might go up a little bit this week.
Apparently, Rick left a few of his books back in Rupp Arena because Billy Gillispie wants you to know that the Wildcats can get better. To be fair to Billy, the Wildcats have certainly been much better than what they were like at the beginning of the season, but I don’t think any of us have been wondering if the Wildcats have been playing great basketball recently.
As previously mentioned on RTC (and every other decent site that covers basketball), the NBA held its draft lottery last night. Among the luminaries in attendance were the Basketball Jesus himself Larry Bird, Dwayne Wade of “Fall down 7 times, shoot 14 free throws” fame, Jay-Z, Kevin Durant, Mitch Richmond, Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg, and some lady who has Sacramento Kings season tickets.
As most of you know by now, the Chicago Bulls defied their 1.7% odds to steal the #1 pick. Rounding out the top 3 were the Miami Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves. The losers of the draft were the Seattle Oklahoma City Supersonics who fell from the #2 spot to #4, which I think they deserved after last year (still bitter despite a NBA record 42-win turnaround and a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals).
The top 2 are essentially set in stone although the Bulls lack of an interior scoring presence (not you Joakim) and lack of an elite point guard (sorry, Kirk) means they could go either direction. The Heat will get the “leftovers”. I’m guessing that Pat Riley (still the GM, right?) is hoping that the coachless Bulls take Michael Beasley because it seems like Beasley and Shawn Marion would clash in terms of their inside-outside styles and type of play so he would prefer Derrick Rose, who could be absolutely ridiculous paired with Wade and Marion.
We’ll be putting up draft previews over the next couple of days, but until then we’ll just offer a few thoughts:
(1) If I was the Bulls GM (if Reinsdorf or any one in the organization is reading this, please contact me), I would go with Rose. Even though they lack a great inside scoring threat, I think it’s a lot easier to find a serviceable PF than PG. I also think the impact of a great PG is bigger as Chris Paul and the other great recent vintage PGs have shown everyone the past few years. The Bulls have a lot of talented NBA-quality young guards (Chris Duhon, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Larry Hughes, and Thabo Sefolosha) along with a couple talented unproven youngsters (JamesOn Curry and Shannon Brown). While some analysts may argue that this is a reason to get a big man, I would argue they should take Rose (better than any of the current guards) and make a big package of these young guys to try to get another inside presence to compliment Andre Nocioni, Joakim Noah, Drew Gooden, and Tyrus Thomas along with the team’s only “star” Luol Deng. I’ll have more on this in an upcoming post. . .
(2) I wonder if Mike D’Antoni is starting to think he should have asked the Knicks for more money. He could have had almost the perfect team for his offense if he went to Chicago even before they had the chance to select Rose. I also wonder how D’Antoni is going to handle being on a team that uses its draft pick to select a player instead of selling it for money.
(3) Hoiberg looked like he was going to throw the cancer patient’s teddy bear when the Timberwolves ended up with the #3 pick (falling outside of the Beasley-Rose jackpot). That would have made an even better YouTube moment than it already was (around the 2:20 mark of the clip below).
A couple quick, early links on the NBA Draft:
(1) As always, Chad Ford has a mock draft up with a brief analysis. I swear he must have enough spare time during the year to come up with mock drafts for every possible team draft order combination.
(3) If you want to hate John Hollinger and his ridiculous unproven stats, check out his Pro Potential analysis (ESPN Insider access required). For those of you without access here are a couple of gems:
– Michael Beasley at #1 followed by. . .Blake Griffin at #2 and Danny Green at #4.
– 11 of the top 25 are freshman, which isn’t surprising, but that does not include several notable freshman who didn’t make the list: Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, DeAndre Jordan, Donte Green, and Eric Gordon.
– The list of freshman that Hollinger considers to have more pro potential than those five heralded freshman: DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh), Dar Tucker (DePaul), Robbie Hummel (Purdue), Andrew Ogilvy (Vanderbilt), and Matt Howard (Butler). The fact that I decided to list the schools these guys play at should tell you how far off the radar most of these guys are as NBA prospects. Hollinger offers an impassioned defense of his system, but I don’t buy it.