Funny how the landscape of college basketball could have been completely different had then-Lakers GM Jerry West not talked new Nets coach John Calipari out of drafting a 17-year old player from the suburbs of Philadelphia named Kobe Bean Bryant. With one of the best young players in the world at his disposal in the late 90s, would Coach Cal have been fired in 1999 only to resurface back in the college game at Memphis in 2000 and eventually moving to the Bluegrass in 1999? Unlikely.
There should be more of this in college basketball. Quincy Pondexter on Saturday pretty much guaranteed a victory over rival Washington State this coming weekend, and his teammate Isaiah Thomas backed him up in a radio interview on Tuesday morning. While this game doesn’t mean a whole lot in the national picture, it’s clear that people in the Pacific Northwest are taking it seriously.
Gary Parrish thinks that UConn should just go ahead and offer Jim Calhouna lifetime contract for as long as he wants it after the last ten days where UConn thrust itself back into the NCAA Tournament picture. We’ve gone on record showing that this UConn team both before and immediately after Calhoun’s medical leave of absence wasn’t appreciably different, but there can be no question about the post-Calhoun effect.
Pat Forde offers this week’s Forde Minutes column, and we’d LOVE LOVE LOVE to know the number of nasty emails he’s going to get with the following statement near the top of the piece. Referring to the terrible seasons going on in Westwood and Chapel Hill, he says, “We’ve never seen such simultaneous lousiness from what The Minutes believes are the top two programs in college basketball history.” Can a whole state go apoplectic at exactly the same moment? Forde will know soon enough.
Ole Miss students came correct yesterday with their vote to add a new mascot to take over for, um, nothing, because the school hasn’t had Colonel Reb prancing around its games since 2003. Administrators said that bringing the racially-charged former mascot back is not an option, but reportedly, Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars fame is one of the top candidates. Love the ironic twist there, but we doubt the very traditional school or the SEC would ever allow it.
This fall I’ve had the pleasure to travel around a little and attend several college basketball games as a media member, but as I walked by the loading docks and into the back of the Cintas Center on Sunday night, I felt it as soon as I got inside. I’ve attended Xavier basketball games on a media credential in the past, but this time, the buzz, the sounds, the aura…
This was different.
I had expected a different experience, because this was my first Crosstown Shootout. But this was beyond expectation. I made a quick detour through the media room and, without being asked, one of the very helpful Xavier Sports Info workers showed me to my seat. I was positioned just around the corner from the Cincinnati bench, a short bounce pass away from UC head coach Mick Cronin, himself. If you’re familiar with the Cintas Center setup, you’ve probably already realized — I was right in front of the Xavier student section.
Total. Freaking. Mayhem.
Now, that period-after-every-word emphasis thing you see above is an overused tool by everyone ranging from amateur tweeters (myself included) to professional sportswriters (myself not included), and it’s losing a little luster. I use it here because…well, if I had to use it once in my life to get a point across, this is when I would choose to use it. As I said, I’ve been to a number of games in this part of the country this season. The only way I can think to describe this particular student section on this night is…”beautifully ridiculous.” I turned around, saw their painted faces and myriad noise-producing implements, heard the unbelievable roar that flowed from them, and I honestly thought I’d see Mel Gibson as William Wallace riding around in front of them on a horse. They were both exhilarating and horrifying. And I mean that in the best way possible. I didn’t grow up in Cincinnati, I didn’t go to either one of these schools, and I brought no allegiance with me for either program to this game. I was there as an observer. But they numbered in the hundreds and sounded like thousands. They were already putting in a legendary performance — and the game hadn’t even tipped off.
Kentucky 68, Florida 65. This was the game of the night, by far. For a while it appeared that Nick Calathes’ “game face” (according to Jimmy Dykes) was going to carry the Gators to their eighth victory in nine tries against UK, but Jodie Meeks’ (23/5) ridiculous nearly-falling-down-then-recovering three from the left elbow, followed by Calathes’ (33/7/3 assts) “choke face” missing all three of his FTs (the last intentionally) that would have tied the game, ensured that wouldn’t happen. UK staved off what would have been another devastating home loss, and kept their NCAA hopes alive for a couple more weeks, whereas Florida is probably still ok unless they go on a severe drought (not impossible with this mentally fragile group). But several other interesting things happened in this game. First, Patrick Patterson was carried off the court midway through the second half with what appeared to be a sprained right ankle, and there’s no word on his status yet, but if he’s out for any significant amount of time, UK could be in serious trouble in the short term. Second, the call where Walter Hodge was ejected for stepping on Perry Stevenson’s arm in what was clearly (to us) an accidental mis-step was a clear example of the Aubrey Coleman Effect – a month ago he would not have been thrown out of the game for that “offense.” Finally, does any coach in American despise a sideline reporter as much as Billy Gillispie does Jeannine Edwards? Seriously, the contempt is palpable. In recent weeks, he’s spot-analyzed her question (conclusion: bad), pretended not to hear her and made a snide reference to she “would know better than him.” What’s wrong, Billy G – did Ms. Edwards turn you down for a date at Harry’s? (to be fair, Edwards is painful to listen to, but it just seems as if Gillispie has an elevated distate for her questions)
Michigan St. 54, Michigan 42. MSU gave one of its strongest defensive efforts of the year, holding its rival Michigan to 35% shooting and 17% from three on its home floor tonight. This was especially true because UM, who had lost six of its last eight, really needed a signature late-season win to showcase along with its early season victories over Duke and UCLA for the NCAA Tourney Committee. MSU’s Delvon Roe had 14/10 as he continues to make his way back from multiple offseason knee surgeries – if he, along with Goran Suton, Raymar Morgan and an assorted cast of Spartans, are completely healthy come March, this is a different team than the one we saw UNC emasculate at Ford Field back in early December.
Villanova 102, Marquette 84. Seems like a long time ago when Marquette was undefeated in the Big East, doesn’t it? Props to whomever we read today that predicted Villanova (not Marquette) would end up in the top 4 of the Big East Tourney (Katz? Goodman?). In a statistical oddity, Villanova hit between 54-59% of every shooting category, which is largely a good thing (except FTs, of course). The Cats hit 13 threes en route to 59% overall to score 100+ pts for the second consecutive game. Scottie Reynolds (27/4) and Corey Fisher (21/4) did the most damage, but this game was an offensive player’s paradise – nine players hit double figures. Marquette was led by (who else?) Jerel McNeal’s 23/4/7 assts, but the Golden Eagles suddenly look like a team with severe limitations defensively. They get a two-game breather before the crucible hits.
Other Games That Caught Your Fancy.
Florida St. 68, Virginia 57. Is there a Dave Leitao watch yet? If not, when will there be? Does 60-55 (24-33 ACC) over four years cut it? Regardless, UVa lost its eighth consecutive game, and FSU solidified its standing in third place in the conference (tied at 6-3 with Clemson).
Providence 77, South Florida 62. PC avoided the fate that befell Marquette at USF, and in so doing, continues to gum up the works in the second tier of the Big East for schools like Syracuse and Georgetown.
Texas 99, Oklahoma St. 74. UT easily avoided its first four-game losing streak in a long time by putting four players in double figures, led by AJ Abrams’ 20,and holding everyone except James Anderson (35 pts) down for OSU.
Clemson 87, Boston College 77. In a game that would potentially define the relative directions of both of these teams, Clemson played a strong second half behind Terrence Oglesby’s 21 pts (6 threes) and came away with a road win to go to 6-3 in the ACC. RTC Live was there.
Minnesota 62, Indiana 54. The Gophers avoided a letdown loss they couldn’t well afford behind reserve forward Paul Carter’s 22/6 off the bench. No other Gopher hit double figures.
John Stevens is a featured columnist for RTC. His columns appear on Tuesdays throughout the season.
In college basketball terms, the arrival of January means that it’s time to, as Zack de la Rocha said, “rally ‘round the family.”
Wearing red — is Zack a Louisville or Davidson fan?
(Photo credit: stereogum.com)
Ah, yes…it’s time for conference play.
The importance of conference play doesn’t have to be explained to anyone reading a college basketball blog. My personal favorite aspect of conference play is that any given team’s biggest rival is often found in their conference, but within a conference, you can make any game a rivalry game. The ACC, for example, doesn’t necessarily have to be defined by the Duke-UNC hatred. Sure, that’s the biggest ACC example but I guarantee you that Wake Forest and Clemson can find enough reasons in their history to hate each other, and when it’s time to play, those reasons will definitely be remembered. It doesn’t matter if you’re from a BCS conference, mid-major, or bottom-dweller. Take two teams from any conference in the land, put them in a gym, and it’s like putting two young blonde up-and-coming Hollywood starlets in front of a camera. The competition is fierce and ruthless. They can always find a reason to scratch each other’s eyes out.
It seems to have abated in the past couple of seasons, perhaps due to tighter security, more restraint among fans (I doubt that one), whatever; but floor-rushing has been a practice that college basketball fans have made their very own through the years. Yeah, I know fans often take over the field after a big college football win but it’s just not the same. Most fans storming a college football field have one goal in mind, and that’s bum-rushing the goal posts, or to be near the goal posts as they are upended. These days, football stadiums have the “retractable” goal posts that can be intentionally lowered by event staff if they are threatened. College basketball has no such equivalent. Plus, at a football game, it’s several THOUSAND students/fans against, at most, a few hundred security guards who aren’t about to (except for a few documented extreme cases) resort to any real physical force to keep the storm from happening. Look at a basketball arena when there’s a pending rush; there are true stare-downs happening between fans and security. None of us here at Rush The Court would ever advocate putting anyone in real danger in the name of a floor-rush, but the point is – it’s just harder to take over a basketball court. And watch it when it happens; it’s much more dramatic than that of a football game. In a football stadium, for the most part, there is an initial rush of fans and then the rest come slowly funneling out, and the whole of the field is almost never even covered. On a basketball court, it looks almost viral. The fans absorb the playing surface within seconds. It’s just cooler.
This is not the type of Rush we’re talking about.
(Photo credit: mediabistro.com)
The question is begged, then. When is it appropriate? Since this site is called Rush The Court it only seems sensible that we have an opinion on this, and it only seems sensible that we force that opinion on others in the manner of any self-appointed authority. In this case, however, I feel that the definitive work on the subject was written by ESPN.com’s Pat Forde in the beginning of this article from 2006. It’s a great set of provisions, and there’s almost nothing I’d change about it except to add Kansas to the list of schools that have at least three national titles (not the case at the time of the original article), and therefore put them under Forde’s Old Money Principle. Here’s a quick summary of Forde’s rules:
I. Old Money Principle. If your program has 3 or more titles, you should never rush a court. The only allowable exceptions apply ONLY if your team has fallen on hard times AND 1) you beat a #1-ranked and/or undefeated opponent at least halfway through the year, 2) you defeat a top-5 team at the buzzer with a shot measuring 25 feet or more, 3) you’re hammered and can’t recall how many titles your program has or your opponent’s rank, or 4) you see Ashley Judd in the stands and you’re taking the shortest route to her. Rush The Court (and probably Pat Forde) understands – but advises even MORE caution – if there is some overlap between items 3 and 4, there.
II. Upper-Middle-Class Principle. If your program has multiple national titles you may only rush the court if you defeat one of the above leviathans and only with a buzzer-beater. Exceptions: if your titles predate Texas Western’s title (1966), you can rush if you beat a top-5 team (Ancient History Exception), or if your titles came before the 3-pointer was introduced, you can only rush after a “dramatic win over a top-ranked team.” (Semi-ancient History Exception)
III. Middle Class Principle. If your major-conference program has had SOME basketball chops and “takes itself seriously,” then you can only rush after defeating a top-5; beating a truly hated, unbeaten, in-conference rival; ending a period of extended futility/frustration against a rival; or clinching a conference championship.
IV. Lower Class Principle. If you play in a mid-major or low-major conference and you beat a BCS conference team, you may rush. Exceptions are Gonzaga, Memphis, or “any other school whose program is [bigger] than its conference profile.”
V. Bottom Feeder Principle. A case of true gigantic discrepancy between programs; Forde cites an example of South Dakota State beating Wisconsin as being a permitted rush.
So far this year we are aware of two major examples where a court has been rushed. Using the Forde Protocol, we will evaluate them now.
Case 1: #4 Duke at Michigan, 6 December 2008.
Michigan does not qualify for evaluation by rules I and II because they only have that 1989 national title (note that rule II necessitates “multiple” titles), but without question is subject to rule III (Middle Class Principle). Because they defeated a top-5 opponent, we feel that Michigan’s exuberance was not in excess, and the rush was warranted. Michigan’s 12/6/08 rush is approved.
Case 2: Arkansas at Missouri State, 22 November 2008.
Missouri State is a Missouri Valley Conference team, currently ranked 8th in conference RPI at RealTimeRPI.com, only two spots below the SEC. It certainly qualifies as at least a mid-major conference and therefore puts Missouri State subject to evaluation under rule IV (Lower Class) even though I think the names of these Principles might need adjusting. We know Arkansas’ status as an SEC school, so in this regard, Missouri State’s enthusiasm was in no way overdone, and therefore Missouri State’s 11/22/08 rush is approved.
Another reason I like the Forde Protocol is that not only does it leave just enough room for discussion in some areas, but it also respects the importance of conference play in that it does not leave much room for the approval of a court-rush on a non-conference opponent. But as much as I think Syracuse should be feared this year (especially now that Devendorf has been reinstated), I HAVE to show you this video of a court rush from last season that would NEVER have been approved by the Forde Protocol or even the most liberal criteria…
This happened on February 16, 2008. It was a normal conference game against Georgetown, ranked #8 at the time, a team who already had four losses. And this was a ‘Cuse team that would go on to win 21 games. Given the chance, we would have stomped that court-rushing into a whimpering, bloody submission. This brings up another important aspect about taking over the floor – if you do it, despite the fact that you just won a game, are you not acknowledging that you are somehow subordinate to the team you’re rushing? This should definitely keep teams in the major conferences from rushing the court except in the most extreme circumstances. I have friends on both sides of the Duke-UNC rivalry who say that they would NEVER consider rushing the court after a win over the other side because they want to show that it just “isn’t a big deal” to beat the other program. Even if Georgetown were ranked 5th in the game referenced above and therefore Syracuse’s court rush should have been approved by rule III, if you’re a Syracuse fan, would you want to send that message to Georgetowners? Keep in mind, the Forde Protocol isn’t there to tell you WHEN to rush…only when it is permitted. You don’t HAVE to do it. Upon further review, perhaps rule II should include teams that have won at least a single national title.
This is the time of year when we’re more likely to see fans and students come down out of the stands in celebration, because the teams they support are fighting against their family members and the emotions run high. So enjoy conference play, and if you decide to rush your home court after a big victory in the next few months, be ready, because we’ll be watching — and more than ready to pass judgment.
(All videos: www.youtube.com. And if those first two don’t already make you fired up for March, then you have problems I can’t fix. –JS)
I’m not even sure where to begin with this post. Here at RTC, we have discussed OJ Mayo several times most recently in what rtmsf myopically thought would be a final retrospective on the latest OJ to grace the USC campus. As pretty much everyone knows by now Mayo has been implicated in a rather large scandal involving Bill Duffy Agency (BDA) and Rodney Guillory, who appears to have been essentially hired by BDA to bring Mayo to them.
Most of my knowledge on the topic comes from Kelly Naqi’s Outside the Lines report I saw on Sunday morning while I was staying at a beach resort so this isn’t going to be some deep NY Times investigative piece that some of you may be expecting from RTC–we’ll work on that over the summer. Instead, I think it’s more interesting to consider the impact this will have on USC and recruiting/college basketball in general given the hype that Mayo brought with him to USC and the manner in which he handled his recruitment of USC–yes, the way he recruited USC.
According to the OTL report, Guillory gave Mayo cash, a flat-screen television, cell phones, hotel rooms, clothes, meals, and airline tickets. Given Mayo’s celebrity status, it’s pretty hard to believe that Tim Floyd and others at USC didn’t notice this was going on. Some prescient writers like Gregg Doyel even warned USC about the specific threat as early as 2006, but USC never did anything about it. Floyd and USC just looked the other way and hoped nobody else would notice or at least that nobody would give them up while they raked in the money from the increased attendance and sales of Mayo’s jerseys. The transgressions are not at the same level as those involving Reggie Bush’s family at USC, but these directly involved a player (Mayo) while the majority of the financial benefit in the Bush situation appears to have been reaped by Bush’s parents who stayed at a million dollar house essentially for free.
The big question now is what the NCAA will do about it. There have been several reports over the past year that the NCAA has investigated Mayo thoroughly, but did not find anything. Given the amount of evidence presented in the OTL piece, it’s hard to imagine that the NCAA spent much time digging into Mayo if they never came across any of this stuff. Ever since Yahoo! Sports broke the Reggie Bush allegations, Internet message boards have been abuzz first with what sanctions would be levied against the Trojans and when none came with conspiracy theories about how the NCAA was protecting the Trojans while being much more harsh on other teams such as a dominant football power on the East Coast (Miami). Compounding the fans fury was the seeming indifference of the sports media outside of Yahoo! Sports (read: ESPN) to really go after USC. Fans claimed that ESPN was trying to protect its sacred cow as ESPN had hyped up the Trojans to the point where they ran a week-long segment on where the Trojans ranked historically even before their Rose Bowl game against Texas, which they lost thanks to a super-human performance by Vince Young (I Heart VY). Now that ESPN has decided to join the attack against USC, it will be interesting to see if the mainstream sports media will turn up the heat on the NCAA (still waiting for the SI cover asking USC to cancel its athletic program). For those of you who think I may be going too far, the list of transgressions by USC athletes goes far beyond Bush and Mayo and includes recent charges against athletes ranging from dealing drugs to weapons possession to sexual assault.
While I’m not on board with Pat Forde’s reactionary death penalty column, I think the NCAA should come down pretty hard on USC. I am not sure what the precedent is for multi-sport probation, but given the multiple transgressions by the USC football team and the Mayo fiasco that anybody could have seen coming, its pretty clear that the Athletic Director Mike Garrett has no control over his programs or doesn’t care as long as they win. I would think that a 1- or 2-year probation with a ban on postseason play would send a pretty clear message that the NCAA won’t tolerate this kind of behavior. However, I doubt the powers that be will punish USC that severely, but USC should at least have some scholarships taken away from them in addition to the ones they lost with their poor APR performance. If the NCAA fails to do that, the Internet and the parents’ basements that bloggers inhabit will be all over them and this time the mainstream sports media with ESPN’s support will be behind them.
The story about Mayo’s recruitment is well-known as an associate of his (Guillory) entered Tim Floyd’s office and offered Mayo and his “services” to USC. When Floyd asked for Mayo’s number to speak with him, he was told that Mayo would call him. Perhaps Guillory wanted to make sure Mayo stayed within the minute limits on the plans that Guillory was paying for. Hopefully, this fiasco will convince more coaches not to get involved in these situations as it was obvious from the beginning of this relationship who was in control. At least Floyd seemed in control over the team, but it won’t be too long before some 5-star comes in with his personal coach and pushes for certain personnel moves and demands that the offense runs through him so he can get his numbers to boost his draft status.
The final issue, and potentially the most important in terms of its overall effect on college basketball, is how this will affect the NCAA’s decision on the 1-and-done rule. It’s pretty obvious that Mayo and several other stars like Michael Beasley were never going to spend a minute more than required in college before jumping to the NBA. If it’s going to be like that for the next generation of college stars, I wonder if the trade-off is worth it. As much as opposing fans like to knock Tyler Hansbrough and J.J. Redick, they embody what we used to love about the college game with guys staying 4 years and developing their games and fans identifying teams with players and not just the coaches manning the sidelines. Unfortunately, Tyler and J.J. are not the caliber of player that we saw do that in the 1980s. College hoops fans need to face the reality that we will never see a Lebron James (would have finished his senior year last year) or Dwight Howard (would have finished his senior year this year) having those kind of historic college careers. The question is how much is it worth to bring in guys of that caliber (or Mayo who is clearly several steps below James or Howard) in for 1 year with the risk of it blowing up an athletic program like it threatens to do at USC now. Mayo’s career and eventual legacy at USC may go a long way in determining the future of this rule.
I provided my instant (revised) analysis very early this morning and rtmsf will be providing his a little later today. I thought I would provide you with some of the thoughts of various other sportswriters.
–At the Alamo, this was one to remember: Bob Ryan, who most of you may know from his frequent appearances on ESPN, offers his thoughts on the game and the Kansas team, which may get lost in all the talk about missed FTs and Chalmers huge shot.
–The Shot Heard ‘Round the World: RTC’s most well-known fan (and SI writer/CBS college basketball studio analyst) Seth Davis provides a short Q&A in between the game and his early-morning wakeup call to be on Mike & Mike.
So the coaching carousel rumor mill is blowing up right now, and this one is on a little firmer footing than yesterday’s Knight/WKU rumor (which interestingly still hasn’t been refuted), but Pat Forde and others are reporting that UMass coach Travis Ford (and NIT finalist) will take over the head position of the LSU Tigers later this week. The firm leading the search for a new head coach (and AD) had this to say:
Dan Parker of Parker Executive Search denied Wednesday an ESPN report that LSU is prepared to name University of Massachusetts Coach Travis Ford as its next basketball coach. “We’re waiting on the new athletic director to be named today or tomorrow, then we’ll engage with him,” said Parker, whose firm was hired last week to assemble candidates and was also hired for the AD search. “There have been no interviews, but we have made some phone calls. LSU wants it to be an inclusive search.”
If the Bayou Bengals do hire Ford, we may as well start calling the SEC the Pitino Protege conference, what with three of his former players (John Pelphrey – Arkansas; Billy Donovan – Florida) running programs down there.
This would be an intriguing hire. Ford got the previously moribund Eastern Kentucky program into the NCAAs in 2005, and even gave his alma mater Kentucky a run in the first round before losing 72-64. After a rebuilding year in 2006 at UMass, the last two seasons have been very successful by UMass standards (24-9 in 2007 and 25-10 thus far in 2008), culminating in two postseason trips to the NIT with the possibility of an NIT title tomorrow night against Ohio St.
If true, LSU fans should be thrilled. Ford is young, ambitious and has a strong hoops pedigree. But hey, anything beats John Brady, right?
Update: Ford took his name out of consideration for the LSU job (ultimately taken by Stanford’s Trent Johnson), but he had that snivelling look of someone with one foot out the door after all. He’s headed to Oklahoma St. to become Boone Pickens’ houseboy.
An absolute ton of newsworthy stuff to catch up on from the weekend…
2008 #1 player Greg Monroe committed to Georgetown after his visit there this weekend. It couldn’t have had anything to do with that now-ubiquitous Jerry Rice dance, could it? “Hoops” Weiss has the definitive take on how Monroe will impact the Hoyas. Above the Rim writes that Duke (who was hot-n-heavy for Monroe) isn’t used to losing out on these guys.
Lots of Midnight Madness and practice coverage from the weekend…
Huggins taking over the reins at his alma mater. (there’s an amusing wmv file floating around where Huggins is giving a speech to some WVU booster club – it’s longwinded and rambling, but the DerMarr Johnson payoff is funny)
A general roundup of MM from Lexington to Lawrence.
Sad news that former Georgia star and current surgeon Alec Kessler died of a heart attack last weekend.
Injuries, suspensions and dismissals:
Gonzaga’s Josh Heytvelt was reinstated on Friday but will miss the first week of practice due to shroom farming foot pain.
Louisville’s Juan Palacios injured his ankle and may have to redshirt his senior season.
Brandon Rush reports that he’s on target for his Dec. 1 return to Kansas.
Georgia suspended three players for not attending classes, including top two scorers Takais Brown (9 games) and Mike Mercer (15 games). Seriously, fellas? SEC Hoops:TGTBTD has the take on how this will affect the Bulldogs.
Northwestern’s best player Kevin Coble is taking a leave of absence to be with his sick mother.
Ball St. coach Billy Taylor booted two more players off the team, making a total of six since he was hired in August.
More Preseason goodies:
Gary Parrish and Ben Howland converse about whether the Pac-10 will have the most first round picks ever this year.
Pitino bitches about the difficulty of the unbalanced league schedule Louisville is being forced to play.
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:
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 cnnsi.com (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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.)
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.
The biggest story: Brandon Rush tore his ACL, withdrew from the NBA Draft, will have surgery this week, and will likely be ready to play at KU next season. The 07–08 Jayhawks just got a lot better.
Florida A&M’s coach Mike Gillespie was placed on paid leave after his recent arrest on misdemeanor stalking charges. Wait, the FAMU coach is white??
Apparently Glen “Big Baby” Davis has slimmed his way to 280 lbs for the NBA Draft workouts… begging the question, why wasn’t he using this regimen throughout his career at LSU?
Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were asked to join Team USA – size up your bronzes now, boys.
Dane Bradshaw wrote a book (“Vertical Leap“) about his senior season at Tennessee, which of course presupposes that Vol fans can actually read the thing.
In an espn.com piece by Pat Forde, we learned that Arkansas is actually paying three head basketball coaches at the same time. Does George Steinbrenner run the Hawgs now? Nah, just the very recently retired Frank Broyles, another senile 80-year old.
After years of vile homerism, John Feinstein commits treason in Monday’s Washington Post – Coach K’s dark angels are already moving into the DC area on a seek-and-destroy mission. A must-read for all Duke haters.
Oh, and Maryland fans hate Duke also. We particularly enjoyed the Jon Scheyer portion.
Some industrious UCLA fans paid homage to uber-scrub Michael Roll in an epic video.
Finally, we reserve a moment of silence for the Charlotte Coliseum, the site of many outstanding ACC Tournament battles as well as the 1994 Final Four. It will be destroyed on Sunday.