Morning Five: 09.14.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 14th, 2012

  1. Jim Calhoun is no longer the head men’s basketball coach at Connecticut, and for most of us covering this sport, we really don’t know of a time when that wasn’t the case. Say what you like about him, but the 70-year old head coach is arguably the greatest program-builder of the modern era. Consider this factoid: When Calhoun took the helm at UConn in 1986, the program hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in a decade and only had achieved four victories in its history. Since then? Forty-eight NCAA victories, 10 Big East championships, and of course, those three national titles. Incredible. Let’s run down some of the best articles on the legacy of Calhoun: Seth Davis (“His pals joke that he’s not happy unless he’s miserable.”); Mike DeCourcy (“That is what Calhoun did better than anyone, ever: Coaching ‘em up.”); Dana O’Neil (“He was pointed without being vicious, upfront with his complaint, yet willing to concede that there were two sides to that particular story.”); Alexander Wolff (“Calhoun needed a cantilevered epaulet for the chip on his shoulder.”); Andy Katz (“He created a national power at a school that lacked tradition, facilities and a deep recruiting pool.”). There’s also this collection of some of his best quotes from The Connecticut Post.
  2. Jim Calhoun helped make the Big East the basketball juggernaut that it became, but now upon the week of his retirement, he must feel rather bittersweet about yet another very good basketball program (Notre Dame) alighting for the greener pastures of the ACC. The media analysis is varied, but by and large, most people seem to think that this move was a win/win for both the school and the new conference. Head coach Mike Brey certainly must think so, given the reported quote to his AD regarding conference realignment: “Please don’t take me to the Big 12.” All chuckling aside, the ACC’s John Swofford can rest easy in the knowledge that he’s managed to protect both the league’s all-important basketball and academic branding while keeping the football schools in Florida and South Carolina equally engaged. If the ACC decides to grab another similarly situated basketball/Olympic sports school in the near future to get to 16, we proffered a few leading candidates on Thursday.
  3. We mentioned earlier this week the Raleigh News & Observer‘s report that Tyler Hansbrough‘s mother, Tami, had come under fire along with her boyfriend Matt Kupec (the Chief of UNC fundraising until this week) over a number of personal trips funded with university dollars where the couple traveled around the country to watch her other son, Ben Hansbrough, play basketball for Notre Dame. She was originally placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, but late Wednesday Hansbrough tendered her resignation to the school, leaving little question as to her alleged culpability. The six trips to see the younger Hansbrough occurred during the 2010-11 season, but according to the N&O, the couple has taken as many as 25 trips together since May 2010 on the school’s dime. It’s unclear at this point whether any or all of those trips were legitimate, but this is yet another black stain on the UNC brand — it makes you wonder just what kind of internal controls they have in place in Chapel Hill, because it certainly doesn’t appear there are many.
  4. Sean Miller is absolutely tearing it up on the recruiting trail down in the desert, as five-star prospect in the Class of 2013, Rondae Jefferson, has committed to the Wildcats. A 6’7″, 215-lb. small forward from Chester, Pennsylvania, Jefferson’s commitment proves that the UA brand name remains relevant nationally, as Miller is on track to bring in his third straight top 10 recruiting class with this pickup. ESPN.com‘s Paul Biancardi describes Jefferson as one of the hardest-working players in his class, and is somewhat reminiscent of Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in his relentless attacks on the rim. It’s been over a decade since another RJ patrolled the wing at the McKale Center, but without question Miller is looking to bring back those glory days with a continual influx of players like these. One other recruiting note: According to Rivals.com, eight of the top 10 players nationally in this class are still uncommitted.
  5. Let’s close with an uplifter in a week that was less than so… remember the tearjerker of a story involving a Gettysburg College player named Cory Weissman who had suffered a terrible stroke but who received a chance to play and made a single free throw — the only point of his college career — on Senior Day last season? The story got a lot of coverage last spring, with ESPN, SI, NPR, and just about everyone else doing a feature profile on his remarkable story. Well, that story had some legs, as 1,000 to 1: The Cory Weissman Story will begin shooting on the Gettysburg campus a little later this fall. If you don’t recall his triumphant moment, you can check it out on Youtube here — just make sure you have a few Kleenex handy.
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Morning Five: 06.02.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 2nd, 2011

  1. UConn head coach Jim Calhoun cannot go to any public engagement this offseason without considerable analysis as to what his future plans may hold.  The latest such situation was Wednesday, where the three-time national championship coach spoke at the commencement ceremonies of one of his first employers, Dedham (MA) High School.  Despite a lightning storm in the area, Calhoun said that he envied the 176 graduates “for all the great things that [they] have left ahead” of them, but in an interview afterward, he said he wasn’t even thinking about his future at this time.  Unless Calhoun plans on pulling a Dean Smith and leaving the UConn program in the hands of his assistant coach, George Blaney (playing the save-the-day role of Bill Guthridge), we don’t see him retiring yet.  Having now had two months to reflect on his latest title and career, we think he knows what he’s going to do at this point — it’s just a matter of when he wants to announce it.
  2. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen something like this before, but in the wake of the Jim Tressel mess at Ohio State, Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne is asking Wildcat fans around the country to drop dime on UA players if they “ever know of a situation where a student-athlete is receiving an extra benefit (something that the rest of the student body would not receive).”  It’s certainly an innovative approach to a ubiquitous problem, and Byrne deserves accolades for at least acknowledging the possibility that Arizona players might do the wrong thing every once in a while.  Still… can you ever imagine an AD at an SEC school doing something like this?  They’d rather eat their own babies than support such a transparent nod to ethics.
  3. Speaking of the Southeastern Conference, the coaches on Wednesday voted in support of scrapping the East and West division format that it has had for two decades.  The reasoning behind this change is to reward the top four teams in the conference regardless of division by giving those schools byes into the SEC Tournament’s quarterfinals, and through some vague and undefined notion, help the overall profile of the league when it comes to postseason selections.  Considering the stark imbalance in recent years between the two SEC divisions — nine East teams have made the NCAA Tournament in the last two seasons versus none from the West — we’re having trouble understanding how removing two byes from the weaker division actually helps the conference profile.  Consider a 9-7 Mississippi State team, the West division winner, in 2009-10.  The Bulldogs received a bye to the quarters and were able to rest while #3 Tennessee (11-5, East) and #4 Florida (9-7, East) played in the first round on Thursday; MSU was then able to beat UF and #2 Vanderbilt (12-4, East) in succession before dropping an overtime game to #1 Kentucky (14-2, East) in the finals.  Although the Bulldogs didn’t get an NCAA bid, its bye to the quarters undoubtedly helped its postseason profile, and if they’d been the overall #5 seed instead, we’re not convinced that they’d have been able to make a similar run.
  4. From the players behaving badly department (noticeably quiet lately, to be honest), Syracuse’s Fab Melo was arraigned on Wednesday for a misdemeanor charge of criminal mischief related to “reaching through the open driver’s side window of a 2003 Chevrolet Impala, and breaking the turn signal control arm making the turn signal, headlight high beam control and windshield wiper control inoperable.”  Well, that’s certainly one way to do it.  The driver in question was allegedly a female SU student who has also filed a restraining order against Melo.  Something tells us that Melo is already running the stairs of the Carrier Dome over this.
  5. In the aftermath of the horrific tragedy in Joplin, Missouri, Frank Haith’s program and local school Missouri Southern are attempting to put together a charity basketball game in October to raise money for the victims of the three-quarter mile-wide tornado last week.  Mizzou already has its maximum allotment of two exhibition games scheduled for next season, but the Tiger program is applying for an NCAA waiver to allow it to play the Division II program in Joplin.  As Missouri Southern head coach Robert Corn said in response to the waiver, the NCAA has “no heart” if the governing body chooses not to allow it.  Agreed.
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Lute Olson Retirement Wrapup

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2008

People have had over 24 hrs now to think about the ramifications of Lute Olson’s sudden retirement yesterday.  Reading through the various reports and testimonials on Lute’s career, we were struck by how many Arizona fans are absolutely livid with Olson’s handling of the past year or so.  While we’ve been the first around here to scold Olson publicly for his certifiable insanity of the past year, we sorta figured that UA fans would be a little more gracious for you know, creating something out of nothing, as a whole.  Guess not. 

Here’s what some folks, both MSM and blogosphere, are saying…

Pat Forde, ESPN - Why can’t anyone else do that these days? What has happened to the graceful exit?  Lute Olson is the latest college coaching legend to thoroughly bollix his closing act. The Arizona basketball coach’s retirement was announced Thursday, ending a 12-month saga that did considerable damage to his remarkable rep. [...] For the second straight season, Olson pulled the rug out from under his program at the worst possible time. For the second straight season, the school was left squirming to explain the erratic actions of a legend — at times seemingly compelled to fib on Olson’s behalf. For the second straight season, Arizona basketball has been thrown into turmoil by the very man who breathed life into it.  Sadly, a guy who projected an aura of control and composure has turned his exit from basketball into an absolute mess. Even sadder is the fact that Olson is merely the latest in a line of college coaching legends who don’t seem to know when or how to walk away.

Nowahoo, Thirty-Five Seconds – While it’s tempting to say that you or I would have handled our health or personal problems better, I think we know that’s wishful thinking.  The standards we (or at least Pat Forde) set for others in their final acts is kind of a joke.  Almost all of us will retire someday, but almost none of us will do so in a satisfying way.  Most of us will retire when we can’t make the commute anymore because of a slipped disc that never healed right, or when the people we work with stop giving us worthwhile work, or when the thought of one more condescending continuing ed seminar gives us the howling fantods to the point where we just fire off a retirement memo and hope we’ve enough in the kitty (or at least educated the shit out of our kids, so we can flip the script get our mooch on).

Paola Boivin, Arizona Republic - A coach’s final ride into the sunset should be a leisurely gait, not a series of angry bucks and sudden halts.  Lute Olson’s brilliant coaching career, which came to a sudden end when he announced his retirement Thursday, will not be remembered without an unflattering footnote. When he had the opportunity to bow out gracefully from the basketball dynasty he built at the University of Arizona, he chose instead to let his final months be defined by conjecture, defiance, silence. It shouldn’t diminish his accomplishments, but the ending does reflect Mark Twain’s perfect description of golf: a good walk spoiled.

Gary Parrish, CBS SportsTruth be told, I never spoke with a person close to Olson during the past year who believed it was a good idea for him to return to the sideline. Most who know him well recognized a noticeable change in recent months, and now seems like as good a time as any to revisit a scene from what turned out to be Olson’s last game as a coach.

Dashiell Bennett, DeadspinPerhaps that’s because he decided to inform more important people first. The order of ranking goes something like this—insane color commentator, then the assistant coaches, then the families of the high school kids you are recruiting, your ex-wife, the mailman, the guy who runs the wax dispenser down at the car wash … then if there’s time, you tell your team and maybe your employers. It’s important that you respect the process.

Andy Katz, ESPN – On Monday, Chase Budinger gave maybe the most detailed description of Olson’s demeanor last year: “It was tough because in the beginning he really never gave the team an explanation of why he left. He felt very fatigued all the time. He looked tired.”   Budinger said there were times prior to when Olson took his leave of absence that he would make mistakes on the practice court. He said the coach simply wasn’t right.  “He kind of seemed like he was depressed all the time, it was kind of hard for him to coach out on the court,” Budinger said.

Dick Vitale, ESPN - No one has been a bigger supporter of what he has done in Tucson. He is the ultimate Frank Lloyd Wright and has built the program into something very special over the years. Arizona had been in the depths of despair, and he took the school to greatness. There was an excitement in the desert that was so special.

Zach, Northwestern WinsThis entire operation has been botched. How do two fathers of Arizona recruits know the news, ESPN gets a gift-wrapped scoop on the news….yet prominent players like Jordan Hill and some administration have no idea where this story is coming from. It would have been wise to hold a team meeting this morning to alert the Wildcats and let the entire staff know before this leaked out (I know, easier said than done) rather than have members of the team “not knowing a damn thing” and spending the entire day thinking Lute Olson was their coach when I heard the news around 11:30 AM central time.

Scott Bordow, East Valley (AZ) TribuneOlson is not leaving Arizona gracefully. Players, recruits and, most certainly, Kevin O’Neill, have every reason to be upset about how he’s handled himself the past year. UA is in disarray, and he’s responsible.  But once those emotions subside, he’ll be remembered for his accomplishments rather than his departure. He came to a basketball Siberia 25 years ago and turned it into a winter wonderland.

Grant Wahl, CNNSII did interviews with his assistant and did speak with Olson last Wednesday for half an hour. It was clear at that point that he wasn’t as energized as he had been in April when he announced that he was coming back. I left that meeting thinking something might be up, and so I’m not entirely surprised by this news.

Achilles, (UCLA) Bruins Nation - While I’ve rooted hard against Lute Olson’s teams over the years, I’ve great respect for what he accomplished. Arizona was not a basketball powerhouse when he went there, but he turned them into one. At their peak, Arizona teams played exciting, uptempo basketball. Olson also deserves respect as a top recruiter with an eye for talent.  More than anything else, it is sort of sad to see him go out the way he is now. Try and find his most recent press appearances on an Arizona site or YouTube. He’s become practically incoherent and appears to be in poor health.  I’ll personally prefer to remember him as a fiery, rival coach, prowling the sidelines for some really great UCLA-Arizona match-ups.

Vince Marotta, Arizona Sports Hub - According to various sources, the fathers of two members of the 2009 Arizona recruiting class, Solomon Crawford (father of recruit Solomon Hill) and Abdul Gaddy’s father, Abdul Sr. both received information that Olson was retiring. Further judging from the reports, nobody from the University, nor the current players or their families were notified about anything. How do recruits know this information before the guys who already suit up for the Wildcats?

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Lute Olson’s Legacy

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2008

Now that we’ve had a little bit of time to digest the news of Lute Olson’s retirement from Arizona after 24 seasons, it’s time to take a look at his legacy.  Lute wore his humanity on his sleeve for the past year or so as he’s piloted the usually steady Arizona ship into some rough waters through a minefield of health issues, marital problems, leadership changes and various other snafus.  But for the previous 34 years of coaching, Olson has consistently fielded talented teams that were a threat to win it all.  Consider the following accomplishments of a first-ballot HOF career:

  • 781-280 (.736) in 34 seasons as a head coach
  • 3 losing seasons in 34 years
  • 1 National Championship (1997)
  • 5 Final Fours (1980 – Iowa; 1988, 1994, 1997, 2001 – Arizona)
  • 15 Sweet Sixteens
  • 45-27 (.625) NCAA Tournament record 
  • 23 consecutive NCAA appearances (1985-2007)
  • 11 Pac-10 titles
  • 2 National COY Awards (1988, 1990)

Photo Credit (Tucson Citizen)

Olson’s numbers place him in an elite group of one-title coaches, including contemporaries Jim Boeheim, Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and Gary Williams.  The one thing, however, that separates him from those other names is that each of those coaches entered programs as new coaches where basketball was already an established way of life.  In Tucson, Lute Olson IS Arizona basketball. 

When Lute Olson stepped off the plane from the icy midwest in 1983, he encountered sunshine, babes and bikinis, but also an Arizona program that was so far off the map in terms of basketball success, you needed a magnifying glass to find it.  In the 78 previous years of its existence, the program had managed to make it to three NCAA Tournaments (1951, 1976, 1977) and three NITs (1946, 1950, 1951).  The combined NCAA record of those teams was 2-3, with both wins coming in the 1976 tournament (two upsets over Georgetown and UNLV to reach the Elite Eight).  The combined NIT record was 0-3, which meant that, upon Lute Olson’s arrival, the Wildcats had enjoyed only a single year (1976) in its basketball history with postseason wins of any kind.  To make matters worse, the team that Olson inherited was coming off the absolute worst year in the history of the program (4-24, 1-17 in the Pac-10). 

To say that Olson built the Arizona program up from the ashes insults the concept of fire.  After one mediocre year in 1983-84 (11-17), Olson found the mojo that he had utilized during previous stints at Long Beach St. (24-2) and Iowa ( 168-90), and set off onto the triumphant career in the desert that we’re talking about today.  The key, of course, was recruiting, and Lute mined the west coast hoops hotbeds (especially SoCal) on an annual basis, and it showed on the court.  Prior to Lute’s arrival in Tucson, Arizona had produced one first-round draft pick (Larry Demic in 1979).  Beginning in 1989 with the transcendental Sean Elliott, Olson put 13 first-rounders and 17 second-rounders into the NBA Draft, including such fantastic pros like Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, and Andre Iguodala.  By the time Lute got it really going in the mid-90s, Arizona had become a chic destination school for America’s blue chippers, and he was able to recruit nationally – Jason Gardner (Indianapolis) and Loren Woods (St. Louis via Wake Forest) from the 2001 runner-up team come to mind, but there were many others.  Let there be no question – Arizona basketball wouldn’t exist on the national stage were it not for Lute Olson.  Here’s his crowning moment. 

 

There’s no doubt that Lute was a tremendous program-builder, teacher and recruiter, but if we had to pick one criticism of his illustrious career, it would be that his teams sometimes appeared to lose focus and/or lack motivation.  Maybe it was the laid-back lifestyle of Tucson or simply something about the kids Olson tended to recruit, but in our view, it is somewhat telling that he won his sole national championship in 1997 with a #4 seed.  Don’t take that the wrong way – that was a SICK team that just hadn’t come together until very late in the season (and we had the privilege of watch cut down the nets).  But they were an underdog in each of their three games against #1 seeds Kentucky, UNC and Kansas, and we always felt that Lute relished and managed the underdog role a little more than he was able to do so as the favorite.  Let’s make the case statistically.

As stated above, Lute Olson has gone to five Final Fours.  Here are the NCAA Tournament seeds for those years – #5, #1, #2, #4, #2 (avg. = 2.8).  Arizona also received five #1 seeds during Olson’s tenure.  Here’s the result for those five Tourneys – F4, S16, E8, R32, E8 (avg. = 2.6 games won).  When Lute was expected to go to the F4, he went once; when he was not expected to go, he went four other times.  This quick examination of the numbers confirms what we wrote last year when we surveyed the top overachieving and underachieving programs of the 64/65-team era of the NCAA Tournament.  From 1985-2007, Arizona averaged a #4.1 seed in the NCAAs.  The historical model (above) suggests that Arizona should have won 44.1 NCAA contests over this period - the Cats won 39, which means they ‘underachieved’ by nearly five Ws, and therefore puts UA in terms of performance in the bottom third of schools with greater than eight appearances over the era.  The most obvious examples of this phenomenon were first-round upsets in 1992 (#3 UA loses to #14 ETSU), 1993 (#2 UA loses to #15 Santa Clara), and 1999 (#4 UA loses to #13 Oklahoma).  Even Olson’s most talented and decorated team, the 1998 #1 Wildcats led by Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, had a major letdown in the E8 against #3 Utah, getting run out of the gym by 25 points.  What were we saying about focus and motivation?

(Photo Credit: Tucson Citizen)

It’ll be sad to see Lute Olson go.  Even last year, when Kevin O’Neill was busily turning Arizona into Tennessee ca. 1998 (ugh), we still thought the Silver Fox would make his way back to the sidelines again.  You could always count on Olson teams to have athletes who made the game fun to watch.  If his medical problems are serious enough to warrant missing another season, then he probably is making the right decision in riding off into the desert sunset.  Best of luck to him and his family. 

Now, about that Bob Knight looking to get back into coaching thing…  what odds did we lay?  10:1?  Associate coach Mike Dunlap is expected to take over the reins on an interim basis. 

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Sources: Lute Olson to Retire?

Posted by rtmsf on October 23rd, 2008

A mere two days after making comments to the media that he was “fired up” to be back for a new season, the Lute Olson Soap Opera continued in earnest today.  ESPN (through Rays megafan Dick Vitale) is reporting that Olson is retiring from Arizona after 24 seasons at the school.  (h/t The Big Lead)

Arizona’s Lute Olson is stepping down as the school’s men’s basketball coach, a source has told ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale.  Associate coach Mike Dunlap will take over the head coaching duties on an interim basis, the source told Vitale.

As of mid-morning Pacific time, Arizona officials are vehemently denying these reports.  From the Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA sports information director Tom Duddleston said the news is not true.  “Dick Vitale is wrong right now,” Duddleston said in a phone interview with the Daily Wildcat.  When asked if there is any indication that any of the reports may be true, Duddleston said no.

(photo credit: Flickr)

This comes on the heels of a report that Olson missed practice and his annual Rotary Club Luncheon yesterday because he was sick.  Sick as in, a cold sick, not something more serious, according to Arizona sources. 

The reports further claim that Mike Dunlap, a current assistant coach for Olson, will take over the reins as the head man.  Dunlap’s previous head coaching experience was at D2 Metro State in Denver, where he was an astonishing 248-50 (.832) with two national titles at that level (2000 and 2002).

We’ll see how this shakes down as the day matures, but it has all the earmarks of a solid scoop.  Olson’s recent history of mania notwithstanding, we do hope that his medical condition is treatable and something that will allow him to continue to enjoy a happy, fulfilling life. 

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