NBA Commissioner David Stern is calling it a “nuclear winter.” The NBA Player’s Union’s decision Monday to reject the owners’ latest offer at best means that any professional basketball played in America this year will be extremely curtailed, or at worst, will never happen. Characterizing the decision as one “hell-bent on destruction,” the four-month lockout now threatens to head into the judicial system where it will most certainly result in delays to the point where NBA basketball will remain a whisper in the wind for the 2011-12 season.
We know… we know… it’s just not the same for you. And we understand that. The NBA isn’t the same for us either. Really, it’s not you, it’s us. But in the interest of throwing you a bone in the hopes that some of you will want to see real, live hoops action this winter, take these five tips to heart. It’ll help what you’re viewing go down a little easier, we promise.
Last night was supposed to be the start of the NBA’s 2011-12 season, but because of that lockout thing, doors were shuttered and the lights were off at the nation’s largest multi-purpose arenas. You know how we could tell? In the span of 30 minutes during last night’s Sportscenter, we saw not one, not two, but THREE separate highlight packages involving Top 25 teams playing in games of exhibition nonsense. Yes, the WWL is just as starved for live hoops as we are, and they’re willing to show it in the form of exhibition nonsense. For those of you wondering, the three teams involved were Syracuse, Kansas, andArizona. All three won handily.
If this really had been the NBA’s debut evening, none of those games would have been on anyone’s radar in Bristol, but it begs the question whether NBA fans will make room for college basketball during their winter of discontent. In a piece assessing the possibility, Dana O’Neil argues that the impact on attendance was virtually nil when the league was last locked out in the 1998-99 season . While true, she doesn’t address the likeliest area where NBA-turned-temporary-college fans would see any increase: television ratings. Interest in a sport can take many forms, but from our view, John Q. NBA is more likely to start watching marquee college matchups in November and December than he is to travel through the cold to catch a garbage game at Local State U. Whereas in previous years he may have been busy watching the Lakers vs. the Nuggets on his flat screen the week of Thanksgiving, he might instead this year be satisfied watching Duke vs. Michigan in Maui.
Grantland is back this week with what they’re calling their Preseason All-America awards (shameless plug: our preseason AAs went live yesterday). Their writer, Jay Caspian Kang, seems to have a sufficient grasp of the sport and its key players (even if he runs a little UNCentric), but we need to put in a call to Gary Parrish this morning, because Kang did the unthinkable in choosing the Carolina floor general, Kendall Marshall, for a spot on the 1st team over the more heralded star of the Tar Heels, Harrison Barnes (2d team). If you want to get technical about it, he actually chose four players — Marshall, Jeremy Lamb (Connecticut), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), and John Jenkins (Vanderbilt) — over the smooth-as-silk Barnes (Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger is the only true post on his first team). Again, it doesn’t bother us all that much — if someone had left Shaq off the 1992 or Duncan off the 1997 teams, we’d be more outraged — but it is peculiar given what he writes about Barnes as someone lacking in “elite-level skills.” Worth watching…
It’s not every day that a Congressman makes news for trashing the NCAA (that’s usually left to the likes of people like us), but Illinois representative Bobby Rush (D-IL) went on record Tuesday at a congressional forum of college sports in comparing the NCAA to “Al Capone and the Mafia.” The 64-year old who represents the largest majority-minority district in the House of Representatives (the South Side of Chicago) also holds the distinction as the only elected official to have defeated Barack Obama in an election (the Democratic primary for his seat in 2000). He infamously said at the time that the now-president “went to Harvard and became an educated fool,” and it’s clear that the irascible politician has not learned to better hold his tongue from controversial statements in the intervening decade. The context of his comments related to injuries sustained by athletes while playing college sports and his anger with how the NCAA handles its medical hardship cases.
He’s baaaaaack. Luke Winn‘s first edition of the Power Rankings is back, just in time for you to enjoy over your morning latte. Winn once told us that he sometimes spends upwards of 20 hours on these articles, which we all know is a complete and utter lie (he has most of it in his head already). Still, his weekly PR is something that you need to spend some time with, so put your office phone ringer on mute, close out any instant messages you have going, and get to work figuring out what he’s talking about when he refers to such elusive yet fascinating concepts as possession poundage or Marcus Camby with a unibrow. When you’re done with that, spend the next half hour trying to come up with a name for his Thomas Robinson comparison at #12 — we have one name in mind ourselves, but aren’t sure about its validity. You?
Today the RTC preseason All-America Team was announced, and it contains three sophomores on its first team who could have been viable 1-and-done prospects last spring had the NBA’s labor situation not been so tenuous. Those players are Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones, and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes. The second team has two more — Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb and Baylor’s Perry Jones, III. The third team has two players who may declare for the NBA Draft after this, their freshman, season — Duke’s Austin Rivers and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.
Battles Like These Between Barnes & Jones Could Become the Two-Year Norm (Getty/C.Trotman)
It’s no secret that the top talent in college basketball these days tends to skew younger, as our inclusion of seven freshmen and sophomores to our three preseason All-America teams clearly exhibits. In a different year assuming those five sophomores were already in the NBA, we might have included more freshmen such as Connecticut’s Andre Drummond or Oklahoma State’s LeBryan Nash on our list. But we didn’t have to, and the reason for this is that the pool of talent is deeper this season than it has been for the last five years, in the same way that the last half-decade was more talented than the prep-to-pros era of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Now, imagine if the following players were also back: Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Texas’ Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, Tennessee’s Tobias Harris, Kansas’ Josh Selby. You see where we’re going with this. And the NBA brass, always thinking about its own worldwide marketing of star players and its bottom line, does too. According to Chad Ford over at ESPN Insider, one of the few areas of consensus among the key folks in the ongoing NBA owner and labor negotiations is that 1-and-done is likely on its last legs. Two-and-Through appears to be the new standard. From Ford’s piece:
It’s Halloween night across college basketball nation and all the ghouls, goblins and ghosts are out trolling for sugary goodness. Whether Gary Williams shows up on your doorstep requesting a chicken wing or it’s an exasperated Jay Bilas wearing VCU garb from head to toe, Halloween is the only night of the year where everyone can act how they really want to act if there were no social mores, norms or YouTube. With the start of the season only one week away, RTC has put together a list of five tricks and treats for some of college basketball’s most notable people, places and things. Here’s our list of Halloween night goodies for all of college basketball’s kiddies, but don’t blame us if the bullies from over at Chapel Hill Street or Lexington Avenue jump out from behind a bush and steal all of your candy.
Treats to Purdue’s Robbie Hummel& Arizona’s Kevin Parrom– in the form of confident minds and an even more explosive sets of wheels. The good-guy Hummel returns for his senior season after rehabilitating his knee from a second ACL injury last October. He’s taking it slowly, wearing a massive knee brace and practicing only on second days, but the obvious fear is that he’s one of those hard-luck cases who simply can’t get healthy (he has also experienced back issues in the past). Parrom, on the other hand, found himself a victim of a shooting in September as he was home visiting his mother with terminal cancer (who has since passed). The versatile wing is projected to be back in the Arizona lineup in about a month, but despite his positive attitude and diligent rehabilitation of a leg pierced by a bullet, both he and Hummel will have to overcome the mental hurdles necessary to compete at the highest level of college basketball. Let’s hope both players find all kinds of treats as two of the biggest success stories of the season.
Tricks to Connecticut Basketball – for using a wink-and-a-nod to find a scholarship at the last minute for superstar freshman Andre Drummond, while former orphan Michael Bradleyvolunteered to give his up for the good of the team. No matter what the courageous Bradley says publicly, we still find the whole thing rather smelly. The NCAA may have stepped in and already provided a nasty little trick for the Huskies, though, in the form of an APR ban from participation in the 2013 NCAA Tournament — which, incidentally, is likely to impact Bradley rather than the one-and-done Drummond. Oy.
Treats to These Two For Finding Their Confidence in 11-12
Treats to Kansas’ Thomas Robinson — this kid more than any other deserves a breakout 2011-12 campaign. After a nightmarish year in Robinson’s personal life where he lost both of his maternal grandparents and his 37-year old mother in a span of a mere month, the talented big man is on the credit side of karma in a huge way and hopefully ready to cash it in. We’d like nothing more than to see Robinson become an All-American this year by leading Bill Self’s team to its eighth consecutive Big 12 regular season title, before heading off to the NBA Lottery as a superstar in the making.
Tricks to the NCAA’s $2,000 Optional Stipend -- although we agree that football and basketball student-athletes are vastly underpaid relative to their value to the schools, making the stipend optional at the leisure of the conference only opens the door for even more of an inequitable distribution of talent than already exists. The power conferences can easily weather the extra couple million bucks such a measure will require, but as for the mid-majors… they’d best keep scouring those patches for the Great Pumpkin of Mid-Major hope to find their future stars.
Word leaked Tuesday night that the worst-kept current secret in college athletics will finally see the light — Texas A&Mhas been invited to formally join the SEC beginning in the 2012-13 academic year. The school plans to announce its acceptance of the invitation later today, but the question on everyone’s minds from California to New York is what happens next. Will the SEC now seek to add a 14th team like Missouri or West Virginia? Will the Big 12 quartet of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech migrate en masse to the Pac-12? Will the Big East move to swallow up Mizzou, Kansas and Kansas State? Does the Big Ten convince Maryland to jump ship? Or will the ACC raid the Big East for Syracuse, Connecticut, Rutgers and Pittsburgh? The possibilities are seemingly endless and nobody knows how all of this will eventually play out. Our conference realignment expert, Andrew Murawa, will be posting his thoughts on the myriad possibilities later this morning.
One of the more intriguing possibilities from a basketball standpoint was reported by the New York Post‘s Lenn Robbins on Tuesday. If the Big 12 implodes, the 17-team basketball version of the Big East is considering adding Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State to create a ridiculous 20-team hoops juggernaut that would include as many as 14 NCAA quality teams in a given year (last season’s 11 plus the additional three). The format would divide the 20 teams into four five-team divisions, with each team playing home-and-homes within its division and rotating games among the other teams on a yearly basis. It’s been said a million times that all of this conference realignment stuff is driven by football, but if the Big East expands as proposed here or if the ACC raids the power players in the Big East, we’re going to end up with one hell of a basketball league as a byproduct of all this madness.
Luke Winn loves his efficiency stats, and we can’t really blame him. The rise of KenPom-like statistics in college basketball has helped us more deeply understand how to measure and quantify the hidden parts of players’ games who we know are really good despite perhaps only marginal numbers when it comes to the traditional metrics of basketball performance (PPG, RPG, APG). In the first of a three-part series running this week, Winn takes a look at the top ten most valuable point guards of the efficiency era, and you might be surprised with the relatively unheralded player who ends up at the top of the list. It’ll be interesting to compare the lead guards against the other players later this week, but three of the top ten single-season performances by those players were as a part of national championship teams, lending credence to the theory that superb play at the position is almost essential to winning a title.
About that NBA lockout thing. In case you haven’t yet noticed, the NBA has now been locked out of its facilities for over two months and there are no indications of the ongoing labor problems between players and management subsiding soon. The New York Postreported on Monday that Madison Avenue firms who are accustomed to putting nearly a billion dollars worth of annual advertising into the marketplace during the NBA season are looking for other options, and college basketball (along with the NFL) might be one of those beneficiaries. Although college hoops and the NBA generally attract different fans, there are some demographic similarities: for example, both groups skew younger and male than they do among professional football fans, an extremely coveted group of eyeballs among the creative class.
It’s never too early for a preseason All-American team, and in that spirit The Sporting Newsreleased its fifteen-member group on Tuesday. Your first-teamers: UNC’s Harrison Barnes, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Baylor’s Perry Jones, Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb, and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis. That’s right — one year after Barnes was prematurely selected as the first AP preseason All-American in the history of the organization, TSN is staking its reputation on the extremely talented but oh-so-young Davis. Of course, there have been seven freshmen first-teamers in the last five years, but the hard part is picking the right one. Duke’s Austin Rivers and UConn’s Andre Drummond, for example, might end up being just as worthy as UK’s Davis.
During an NBA lockout, the typical storyline that emerges is one where star players who haven’t taken care of their millions as well as they should have over the years find themselves in financial trouble when the checks stop printing. In Latrell Sprewell’s case, for example, he may allude to needing money to “feed [his] family“; a Kenny Anderson might suggest that he’ll need to “sell one of [his] eight cars” to weather the storm; a Patrick Ewing may admit that he makes millions, but that he “spends a lot of money” too. We’re only 42 days and three pay cycles into the current NBA lockout so we haven’t heard any quotes to that effect yet, but everyone will surely admit that it’s only a matter of time until we do.
One player who we don’t think we have to worry about, though, is former North Carolina star and current Phoenix Sun, Vince Carter. Without question the most spectacular and electric in-game dunker we’ve ever seen play this game, the 34-year old, eight-time NBA All-Star may be on the downswing of his career but he is clearly on the upswing of his largess. Having reportedly earned over $130M in salary during his 13-year professional career, Carter has not hoarded his riches all to himself. His alma mater (Carter graduated from UNC in 2001) announced Wednesday that he recently made a $2.5M gift to the Carolina Basketball Family Fund, an endowment that “will support the … men’s basketball program for years to come.” His contribution, the largest in the history of the fund (hear that, MJ?), will go toward supporting and expanding Letterman’s Lane on the Chapel Hill campus.
Lettermen’s Lane, the brick walkway between the Smith Center and the Koury Natatorium, will be named for Carter. This lane honors every varsity player, coach, trainer and manager in the history of Carolina basketball for the role they have played in over a century of the program’s success. “My days as a Carolina student, both pre-NBA and during the summers after I was drafted, will always be special to me,” Carter says. “It goes without saying that I am a Tar Heel. For several years, I have been thinking about something I could do to leave a legacy at UNC. Lettermen’s Lane is a perfect fit.”
Notwithstanding the pressures of the NBA lockout on Carter’s checking account, this isn’t the first time that he has given back huge gifts to support his roots. In the early 2000s at the peak of his NBA stardom, he gave another $2.5M to his Daytona Beach, Florida, high school (Mainland) to build a new gymnasium, now named the Vince Carter Athletic Center. More recently, he and his mother donated $1.6M to build the Vince Carter Sanctuary, a private drug and alcohol dependence rehabilitation facility also located in Daytona Beach. We get the feeling that these large donations are just the tip of the iceberg of Carter’s philanthropy. Who knew that the guy who fundamentally redefined what it means to get posterized (hello, Frederic Weis) would become a poster boy himself for an entirely different reason — giving back to his community.
We now know one thing that 2010-11 National Player of the Year Jimmer Fredette won’t be doing to supplement his income while locked out by his Sacramento employers this coming year: Hitting the links. The phrase Jimmer for three took on a whole new meaning over the weekend in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, as the tenth pick in the NBA Draft spent more time hacking around in the rough and serpentining around the greens of the American Century Championship than finding the sweet spot at the bottom of the cup. How bad was the nation’s best college basketball player? Gulp… even worse than Barkley. From the Salt Lake Tribune:
Make Sure to Duck if You See These Two Behind You
Fredette finished dead last (83rd place) at the American Century Championship golf tournament on Sunday afternoon, ending up with minus-88 points. Fredette had minus-30 on Friday, minus-28 on Saturday and minus-30 on Sunday. The worst he could have gotten each day was minus-36. Jay DeMarcus of the country music group Rascal Flatts finished second-to-last at minus-83, and Charles Barkley was third-to-last at minus-68.
Basketball players with their lanky frames and inability to stand still as a general rule didn’t perform well in this tournament, with Shane Battier (#77), Digger Phelps (#72), Jason Kidd (#56), Deron Williams (#46) and Penny Hardaway (#41) joining Chuck and Jimmer in lighting up the Edgewood Golf Club with high degree of difficulty shots from every nook and cranny in the Tahoe basin. The highest placing hoopster was former NC State star and current LA Clippers head coach, Vinny del Negro (#11), with His Airness and Jesus Shuttlesworth also placing modestly (tied at #23).
In typical good-natured Jimmer fashion, he tweeted out after his final round that he’ll be “much improved” next year. Given the look and feel of an NBA work stoppage that will likely leak well into next calendar year, The Jimmer will certainly have plenty of time to work on his golf game. Whether anyone will remember who he is depends on a bunch of other factors, but for at least this one year, he gave Sir Charles a reason to feel good about himself.
Welcome to the law of unintended consequences, folks.
Starting with Jared Sullinger’s surprising decision to return to school in the aftermath of #1 Ohio State’s upset loss at the hands of Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last month, a number of projected top draft picks have similarly shocked the world by deciding to stick around their college campuses for another season. Subsequent to Sullinger, Baylor’s Perry Jones — another top five pick — followed that up with his own shocker. Next, UNC’s Harrison Barnes and John Henson — both projected lottery picks this June — each decided that another year in Chapel Hill was to their liking. On Saturday, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones was the latest projected lottery pick to spurn guaranteed millions in favor of playing as an amateur for another season (ok, stop your snickering about the word “amateur”).
Counting up the number of lottery pick slots that opened up in the June draft, we come up with a total of five (of 14) and certainly the following early entrants will be this summer’s beneficiaries: Arizona’s Derrick Williams, Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, UConn’s Kemba Walker, and Kansas’ Marcus Morris. Five additional slots in the first round, though, isn’t the same as a floodgate opening, and we fear that the oft-repeated mantra of “weak draft” combined with a lack of an opportunity for players to get good evaluation feedback (thanks, ACC coaches!) has led to a bunch of poor decisions at the back end this year. Like we said, the law of unintended consequences.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at firstname.lastname@example.org. And have a beautiful Thanksgiving, everyone.
This Week’s Topic: It’s the time of year to give thanks. What college basketball related thing are you most thankful for this season?
Matt Patton, RTC Contributor
Early season tournaments. This year feels like one of the best years ever: the Maui Invitational (Kentucky, Michigan State, Washington and UConn), Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Vanderbilt, Minnesota and UNC), 2kSports Classic (Pitt, Texas and Illinois), and CBE Classic (San Diego State, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Marquette and Duke) all highlighted at least three at-large NCAA teams with an astounding 13 teams that have appeared in the top 25 counting UConn’s imminent inclusion. That’s really unbelievable when you think about it: we saw 15 probable at-large bids face off against at-large talent, and the conference season is still a month away! Some early season tournaments are jokes (here’s looking at you, Cancun), and it’s annoying that the Puerto Rico Tip-Off takes place in a gym the size of my high school’s (with horrible attendance to boot). But don’t act like it wasn’t awesome to see Duke battle Kansas State on a “neutral” floor two hours from the Little Apple, or Washington and Kentucky take their talents to Maui (and the impressive mobility of Big Blue Nation for migrating across the country). These are the nonconference clashes of titans that normally take place only in our sleep, in March, and now in November.
Zach Hayes, RTC Editor/Contributor
I’m most thankful for the seniors that have stuck around to play college basketball for four years. Given the pressure of today’s one-and-done-or-failure mentality, the seniors that have graced the college hardwood for four seasons truly represent what this sport should be about on and off the court. Whether it’s Kyle Singler’s silky smooth jumper, the end-to-end quickness of Corey Fisher, the rebounding prowess of Kenneth Faried, the scoring artistry of Jimmer Fredette or the leadership qualities of Kalin Lucas, these wily veterans will have dazzled us loyal hoop viewers from their first day at practice as a freshman to the moment they receive their college degree. They didn’t appear and disappear from our lives after four months. They didn’t decide to play overseas and collect that first paycheck as soon as possible. After studying how they’ve improved and tracking their ups and downs after four winters, these players almost seem like family. They take us back to a time when staying through your senior year was applauded rather than stigmatized. Mr. Singler, Fisher, Faried, Fredette, Lucas and all the rest of the seniors that deserve so much more attention than they receive, I thank you.
Brian Otskey, RTC Contributor
I’m most thankful for the NCAA, believe it or not. The much-maligned organization has had a very good year. Most importantly, they resisted the urge to expand to a 96-team tournament which would have been an unmitigated disaster. Just imagine a 5-11 NC State team or 6-12 St. John’s making it into the tournament. That would have likely happened last season under a 96-team format. I realize they are probably not done with expansion but let’s give them some credit for holding off, at least for now. The NCAA has also cracked down on some name brand programs, most notably Kentucky, declaring Enes Kanter ineligible. This was the correct decision as there is just no way a professional athlete should be able to play an amateur sport. Connecticut and Jim Calhoun have also come under fire from the “new” NCAA. Don’t forget Bruce Pearl’s situation, Baylor being the subject of an investigation and Oregon as well. I’m sure there is more out there and hopefully the organization will continue its crackdown in the coming years. The NCAA is still a heavily bureaucratic operation with many problems but 2010 has been a positive step in the right direction for collegiate athletics.
Brian Goodman, RTC Editor/Contributor
I’m thankful for Marquette and Connecticut turning heads with their performances this week. The preseason rankings in the Big East read as Pittsburgh, Villanova, Syracuse, Georgetown and everyone else. Marquette was tabbed eighth; the Huskies tenth. While the top two have handled things on their end, Jim Calhoun and Buzz Williams’ squads are already in the kitchen cooking up some crow. Five time zones away from Storrs, UConn made an early splash in Maui on par with last year’s party crashing from Syracuse in New York City. The Huskies were predicted to finish in the bottom half of the conference, and those who cover the Big East hitched their wagons to Austin Freeman for individual honors over Kemba Walker. The Husky junior’s response is loud and clear, exploding for 90 points over three games at Lahaina. The nation awaits the conclusion of the NCAA’s investigation into misconduct on the part of the Huskies’ staff, but in the meantime, credit Calhoun for keeping his young team sharply focused. Yes, the Golden Eagles left Kansas City with two losses, but they gave #1 Duke far more than #4 Kansas State could manage against the Blue Devils. The next night, they nearly sent Bulldog Nation into panic mode before falling short. Marquette will readily take on any challenge thrown their way and fight harder than many of the nation’s premier teams to make a name for themselves. Despite their lack of a consistent post option, they will never use it as a crutch. The Big East is at its best when these two teams are in the thick of things.