Morning Five: 09.09.10 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 9th, 2010

  1. The big news so far this week has been The New York Times reporting that Kentucky recruit Enes Kanter had received improper benefits while playing semi-professionally in Turkey and while we haven’t had the typical full Kentucky explosion we are expecting it to happen any moment now particularly when we stumble upon news like this. If you are looking for the aforementioned explosion we would recommend checking back here intermittently for when Kentucky fans finally decide to go off the deep end on Pete Thamel.
  2. We typically save this for our Recruiting Rumor Mills, but Chane Benahan‘s commitment to Rick Pitino and Louisville is notable for the fact that he is the first recruit in quite a while to turn down John Calipari and Kentucky. His reasons for turning down the Wildcats: difficulty getting playing time in Lexington and because he felt that Kentucky only offered him a scholarship because Louisville did. At the very least, Benahan’s decision appears to have convinced Louisville fans that the rivalry between the two schools is back. Of course, the folks over at KSR were quick to post this video of Chane as a back-up dancer for a song that we are sad to admit has not found its way onto our iPod yet.
  3. Twenty-one years ago Rumeal Robinson was celebrated for hitting two clutch free throws in overtime against Seton Hall in the 1989 NCAA championship game to seal the victory for Michigan. Yesterday, he was found guilty of 11 charges of various forms of fraud including attempting to sell his mother’s house without her knowledge. We’re going to guess that Rumeal won’t be a popular guy in prison where he could be for up to 30 years in addition to facing a maximum of $1 million fine per charge.
  4. The guys from Lost Letterman caught up with former USC star Harold Miner who was once billed as “Baby Jordan”. The content of the interview isn’t particularly enlightening, but we do find it interesting that Miner has been so reclusive that he had not done an interview in over a decade and makes an interview request such an ordeal. We also found the fact that Sports Illustrated selected him as the 1992 College Basketball Player of the Year over Christian Laettner and Shaquille O’Neal rather amusing. Fortunately the current crop of SI writers, whom we all like, had nothing to do with that selection.
  5. I know that many of you are not Duke/Coach K fans, but when he gets into an argument with the Russian coach (who happens to be an American citizen) about whether or not the 1972 Men’s Olympic Basketball Final was rigged I think we can all get behind Coach K on this one.
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Big 12 Tourney Daily Diary: 1st Round

Posted by jstevrtc on March 11th, 2010

I love days like yesterday.  Sure, the drive was a beautiful 8.5 hours of the same view — that is to say, farms, farms, and more farms, and where there weren’t actual farms, there was grass.  And it’s all flatter than a Shaquille O’Neal free throw.  But no matter the surroundings, it’s one of my favorite things to do.  Is there any greater feeling — especially right after thawing out from a tough winter — than packing a bag and a cooler (of fruit, granola, and bottled water, mind you), filling the gas tank, and hitting the road?  There aren’t many, for me.  Especially when the Big 12 Tournament is waiting at the end of that journey.  Don’t get me wrong, though — I was thankful for the satellite radio.  Have the satellite radio guys received their Nobel Prize, yet?  One second, I’m listening to ESPN Radio or Sporting News Radio dudes talking about hoops.  Then the NFL talk starts and I switch to, say, the BBC’s Europe Today, or a song by Gomez, or some blues from B.B. King.  Then back to hoops talk.  Fantastic.  And no, we’re not affiliated with them in any way.  I’m just being honest.

One of the best parts of any journey like this is when I text my friends who are at their jobs.  I’ll send them some generic message asking them what they’re doing, and they’ll respond with some variation of, “I’m at the office, knee-deep in status reports/memos/directives, trying to knock things off my action items list.  You never text during work hours.  What’s up?”  And I’ll type, “Oh, nothing.  I was driving to the Big 12 Tournament, enjoying some tunes, a gorgeous drive, a 70-degree day, and the prospect of four days of top-flight basketball.  Thought I’d give you a shout.  But you go back to your thing.”  Even though this is a blog and I’m allowed to type almost anything, I’ll spare you the vitriol that my friends offered in response.  Not even close to being safe for work.

So, as the comedian says, I’m here all week.  This’ll mostly be about basketball, but you might see some reviews of barbecue restaurants and/or interviews and pics from the festivities here.  This is such a great time of year, and this is the conference tournament at which to be.  Now, some notes from Wednesday’s games:

Texas 82, Iowa State 75

I didn’t know what we were going to get in this one, since Texas was obviously reeling, having dropped eight of 14, and Iowa State had just scored that victory over Kansas.  But is this what Texas needed, meaning the second season to arrive?  There’s a small part of me that’s been wondering if Texas mentally checked out at the midpoint of the season after they took their first loss because of the boredom that can take over teams.  A longshot, I know.  But there aren’t many reasons why a team this talented and athletic can’t get themselves out of first gear, a place they seemed to be stuck since the middle of January.

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Adam Zagoria on Kyrie Irving, Recruiting, and Social Networking

Posted by nvr1983 on October 27th, 2009

When Adam Zagoria, a writer for SNY.tv and ZagsBlog.com, broke the news last Tuesday night about super-recruit Kyrie Irving‘s committing to Duke (note: initial report did not have Irving’s denial and had Chris Collins named in place of “[a Duke assistant]”) reaction across the blogosphere varied from ecstatic to negative after Irving denied Zagoria’s reports. After Irving eventually officially committed to Duke on an orchestrated ESPNU ceremony less than 48 hours after his initial denials and told multiple media outlets that he had decided on Duke long before he went on ESPNU several media members (Seth Davis and Gary Parrish being the most prominent) felt that Irving owed Zagoria an apology. We were a little more measured and felt that the entire episode reflected more of the circus that is college basketball recruiting. Since that time, the issue of the interaction between Zagoria (the journalist) and Irving (the recruit) has grown increasingly contentious on message boards across the Internet so we decided to go to Mr. Zagoria and get his take on it.

Rush the Court: What kind of background do you have doing this type of stuff [covering recruiting]?

Adam Zagoria: I’ve been a sportswriter for about 15 years and I’ve been doing basketball recruiting for I guess about 5 years. I was at a newspaper, The Bergen Record and The Herald News, in New Jersey for 10 years and I’ve been at SNY for about 2 years.

RTC: I don’t know if you have been reading what they have been saying on the Duke message boards and other places like that. Have you been keeping up with that at all or do you try to avoid that stuff?

AZ: I’ve read some of it. I’m pretty busy with my other job duties, but I’m aware of it.

RTC: Ok. Could you talk a little bit about how you developed a relationship with Kyrie Irving and his family and how that came about happening?

AZ: I cover metropolitan-area basketball and I know the players and coaches at the local high schools–St. Anthony’s, St. Patrick’s, and St. Benedict’s–for a number of years so I met Kyrie going to his team’s games and going to different events.

RTC: So your relationship with him was no different than the typical star recruit in the area? Or was it a little closer than that?

AZ: I have a lot respect for Kyrie and his family. I think they’re great people and he’s a tremendous player and person. I wish him nothing, but the best going forward.

RTC: Could you tell us a little bit about what happened when you broke the story [about his commitment]?

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So Shaq Would Have Scored 500 g’s on the Dunkometer?

Posted by rtmsf on February 25th, 2009

We’re total suckers for this kind of thing (h/t TSN). 

Clemson University’s physics department (Clemson has a physics department?  who knew…) has come up with some contraption (pictured) that supposedly can tell us just how much force a basket is subjected to when a large athletic manchild decides to jump up, grab it, and throw an orange ball through the middle of it as hard as he possibly can.

This Looks Like Something Our Cousin Charlie Has Lying Around His Garage (photo credit: physorg.com)
This Looks Like Something Our Cousin Charlie Has Lying Around His Garage (photo credit: physorg.com)

We’re having a little trouble believing that Clemson could come up with something like this – a dunkometer – but if it’s actually reliable, score one for State U. over the nerds at MIT and Cal Tech.  According to the CU spokesperson, who doubtless was the guy with one of the lovelies pictured below: 

Ray Sykes had a nasty dunk at the East Carolina University game,” said Jonathan Cox, one of the students working on the project. “It peaked at a little over 30 g’s, one of the highest recorded so far. That’s awesome when you consider an earthquake’s ground motion produces accelerations around point five and one g.

Physics is Phun!!!
Physics is Phun!!!

So they’re saying that Ray Sykes’ dunk was 30-60 times more powerful than an earthquake?  What does that even mean?  Part of us wonders if this isn’t a prank by the three nerds at Clemson on the rest of the campus…  “see what happens when you put a 40 up there!…  watch how crazy they’ll get!”

We would be interested in learning what this particular dunk would have scored, though.  Probably 100 Hiroshimas combined with 50 earthquakes. 

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Santa Clara’s John Bryant: Q&A With John Stevens

Posted by jstevrtc on February 20th, 2009

John Stevens is a featured writer for Rush The Court.

You’ll have to excuse John Bryant if he doesn’t exactly dwell on the past, these days.  Why should he?  When you’ve got as much going on as this guy, the past is something from which you’ve become expert at taking whatever lessons you can, and then letting it fall away.

Wait, what’s that name?  John Bryant?  Right now you are likely wondering why that name sounds familiar.  You are wondering exactly where you’ve heard it before.  In a moment, I’ll tell you.

The best player you dont know.  (credit: tucsoncitizen.com)
The best player you don’t know. (credit: tucsoncitizen.com)

Bryant plays center for Santa Clara University.  And he doesn’t just play center — he’s one of the best big men in the nation.  He currently has 21 double-doubles (points and rebounds) on the year, a mere one behind likely player-of-the-year Blake Griffin’s 22.  Yes, that’s more than some other guys you might hear more about, like Harangody, Thabeet, Blair, and Hansbrough.  Bryant is second in the nation in rebounds per game (an unreal 13.8), not to mention tied for 14th nationally with 2.6 blocks per game, and is now the all-time leader at SCU in that category.

But that’s not where you know him from.

In the middle of finishing up his senior season, including leading the Broncos to wins in seven of their last eight games, John was good enough to find time to answer some of my questions:

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Pete Newell: A Basketball Legend

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2008

We felt bad giving such short shrift to Pete Newell yesterday in our ATB wrapup, so we wanted to take an opportunity to give our condolences to the Newell family and also educate young readers on just how influential a figure Coach Newell was in this game.  The vast majority of Newell’s career was before our time as well, but his sphere of influence reaches down through the decades to this very day.  Every time a young big man utilizes a drop step or seals his defender in the post, Newell’s innovations and techniques are showing their relevance and timelessness.

pete-newell1

Consider some of the interesting facts and highlights of this man’s career:

  • Like the founder of the game, Dr. James Naismith, Newell was Canadian by birth.
  • He won an NIT championship at University of San Francisco in 1949, when that tournament meant something.  He developed and instituted a successful zone-pressing defense at USF that was widely copied over the years.
  • He won four straight Pac-8 titles at Cal in the late 1950s (neat stat: the last eight times Newell faced legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, he was 8-0 against the Wizard of Westwood), culminating in trips to the championship game in 1959 and 1960, the former year of which he won the NCAA title against Oscar Robertson’s Cincinnati.  In 1960, the Bears lost to John Havlicek/Jerry Lucas’ Ohio St. team, who employed a defense that Newell had taught OSU coach Fred Taylor the previous year.   It’s widely known that Newell’s Cal teams were vastly inferior in talent to their F4 opponents, which belies Newell’s ability as a teacher who can get the most from his players.
  • He was the NCAA COY in 1960 and also led the US Men’s National Team to the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in Rome, making him one of only three coaches to have won an NIT, NCAA and Olympic titles (Bob Knight and Dean Smith are the others).
  • To reduce the stress and demands of coaching on his body, he retired from Cal in 1960 (at a mere age of 44) with a 234-123 (.655) lifetime record.  He spent the next 16 years working as an AD at Cal, then as an NBA scout and later as a GM for the Lakers.
  • In 1976, he opened his Pete Newell Big Man Camp, which sought to provide training in footwork and fundamentals for professionals entering the NBA and others seeking to improve their post game.  The camp was free, and it worked with such notable HOFers (and future HOFers) as Hakeem Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Shaquille O’Neal (who said, “he’s the best teacher there is”).
  • He was elected to the HOF himself in 1979, and his legacy is that coaches and players alike believe his contributions to the game to be at the highest possible level.  Bob Knight in particular has stated on the record that Newell had more influence on college basketball than any other person in history.

Since we never met Pete Newell, it would be an injustice for us to describe him, so we’ll leave you with a few of the better pieces we’ve found about his life and career in basketball.  RIP, Pete.

  • Ric Bucher from ESPN the Magazine writes about his visit to Newell’s camp in Hawaii a few years ago.
  • Newell’s biographer relates a great story about trying to get John Wooden to admit that Newell flat-out had his number in the late 1950s.
  • The LA Times questions whether UCLA would have become UCLA had Newell continued coaching through the 1960s.
  • Deadspin’s Rick Chandler had the privilege of learning techniques under Coach Newell.
  • Pete’s adopted hometown paper has a nice writeup on his life and influence.
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NBA Finals Preview 2008

Posted by nvr1983 on June 5th, 2008

Well it’s the series everybody has been waiting for (ok, not rtmsf). I’ll try to limit my bias in this preview although all of my friends are well aware of the extent of my taunting. Honestly, they’re just happy there isn’t a potential Triple Crown (and eternal bragging rights) at stake here. Anyways, on to what might be the most hyped NBA Finals since 1991 when Michael Jordan formally took the throne away from Magic Johnson (and Larry Bird).

By now, you may have heard that the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have a little bit of basketball history. Boston comes in sporting an amazing 16-3 record in NBA Finals, but no appearances since 1987 andno titles since 1986 (following that title they selected a forward out of Maryland named Len Bias). Meanwhile, LA comes in with a 9-13 record, but had a 3-peat from 2000-2002 and appeared in the 2004 Finals. However, as Rick Pitino said during his ignominious stint in Boston:

Despite all the hype ESPN has given (wonder who has broadcast rights) to the history of this rivalry–think hammer versus nail (sorry, I can’t help myself)–none of the players that led the franchises to their numerous titles will be walking through that door except for some guy named Kobe Bryant. So instead of focusing on the glorious past of this match-up, I’ll focus on the present and this season.

Head-to-head: Boston 2-0. The Celtics won a November matchup in Boston 107-94 and a December matchup in Los Angeles 110-91. As every talking head on TV has mentioned, Pau Gasol didn’t play in either game (before Chris Wallace and the Memphis Grizzlies gave the Lakers the Western Conference). I could go into a detailed analysis of what happened, but I’ll just give you the link to Henry Abbott’s excellent analysis of the earlier games.

Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fischer. It seems like this match-up hasn’t been getting much press, but I think it could be the most pivotal of the series. This is definitely a young gun versus experience veteran type of match-up as Rondo is much more athletic than Fischer, but is more prone to making silly mistakes. Along with experience, Fischer has a big edge on Rondo in terms of shooting. With all the helpside defense that Kobe demands, Fischer will likely get a lot of shots. Advantage: Fischer. This match-up is closer than you might think because of Rondo’s athleticism and his surprising maturity. Unfortunately for Boston, Rondo is too inconsistent to give Boston the advantage at PG, but if he plays well he should be able to equal Fischer.

Shooting Guard: Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant. Somehow this turned into a rivalry soon after Shaq left LA and Ray Allen told the media that Kobe would go to to Mitch Kupchak in a few years and demand a trade (a few years later. . .). Later, Kobe said that he and Jesus Shuttlesworth shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence. Now, the two All-Stars are saying that there never really was a feud. Why do I bring this up? Well because even though these two play the same position, I can’t see them guarding each other much. LA might put Kobe on Allen particularly if he goes into another one of his funks, but Kobe roams too much and that’s a very bad idea against Allen even if he hasn’t been performing up to his standard. As for Allen guarding Kobe, even Doc Rivers isn’t that dumb. Kobe will see a steady diet of James Posey and occasionally Paul Pierce although Ray Allen will probably play some matador defense against him early in the game as Kobe will probably defer to his teammates early as he notes “I can get off any time I want” (insert Colorado hotel room joke here). Advantage: Kobe. This one isn’t even close. Allen has sort of become a wild card for the Celtics. Even when he’s on this position goes to Kobe and the Lakers, but if Allen can hit from the outside he can keep Boston in the series.

Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Vladimir Radmanovic. This might be the biggest mismatch of the series (not including the coaches). If they match up head-to-head, Pierce will dominate Vlad. As Shaq once said, “My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the motherfucking truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.” An Inglewood native, Pierce grew up idolizing Magic and the Showtime Lakers, but during his time in green, he has torched the Lakers for a career average of 27.9 PPG (his most against any team). My guess is that Kobe will be guarding Pierce in crunchtime. The rest of the time Vlad will try to stay in front of him. The key for LA is for Vlad to hit his 3s, which usually energizes the Hollywood crowd (if it’s after the 6 minute mark in the 2nd quarter when the crowd shows up) and will make Pierce or whoever is guarding him work. Advantage: Pierce. Big edge although this might turn into a Kobe vs. Pierce match-up, which Kobe would still win.

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Lamar Odom. This is the most interesting match-up of the series. Although Pierce is Boston’s go-to guy, KG is the heart-and-soul of the team. Usually he is able to dominate at the 4 because he is much more versatile than the opposing player. However, Odom’s unique skill set could theoretically pose a problem for KG especially with the amount of help defense he will have to play with Kobe and Gasol. Odom has the type of game that could limit KG’s ability to roam, but Odom is so inconsistent that it may not matter. Advantage: Garnett. If you look at the match-up on paper based on skills, it would be pretty close other than defense, which Odom doesn’t seem to care about most of the time. However, KG’s consistency and effort wins out over Odom’s tendency to space out (insert bong joke here).

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Pau Gasol. The Boston fans will really hate Chris Wallace by the time this series is over. Not only did he kill a few years of Paul Pierce’s prime by trading Joe Johnson for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk (some blame falls on Paul Gaston, the Celtics owner at the time, who refused to resign either player), but he also gave the Lakers Gasol, who poses a tough match-up for Perkins. One of the 3 straight-to-pro starters this series (you probably know the other two) Perkins has grown a lot this year. Playing alongside KG has certainly helped during games, but perhaps more importantly off the court in practice and it shows in his improved performance. Unfortunately for Kendrick, Gasol is basically the worst match-up he could have. While Perkins is a hard-nosed defender with good strength, he isn’t particularly agile and the Lakers pick-and-roll with Kobe and Gasol could give Celtics fans nightmares over the next 2 weeks. Gasol will probably dominate this match-up unless Perkins can somehow turn this into a physical match-up. To limit the Lakers advantage, Perkins will have to try and dominate the glass as the Lakers don’t really have a great rebounder (Gasol can put up numbers, but isn’t going to get physical) while the Celtics have two (Perkins and Garnett). Advantage: Gasol. The Lakers have a clear advantage here as Gasol is one of the best centers in the league, but it’s closer than most people think. Perkins has had some big games in the playoffs and will need to do so in this series if the Celtics are to win #17.

Bench: James Posey, P.J. Brown, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Tony Allen, & Sam Cassell vs. Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmer, Ronny Turiaf, & Trevor Ariza. The Celtics will probably use Posey quite a bit on Kobe and Brown on Gasol as neither of the Celtic starters appear to match up particularly well. If Posey can focus on staying in front of Kobe and knock down 3s on kickouts, he could become an important facto in the series. Outside of Posey, Brown and House are the most likely to play key roles in this series. Brown primarily for his interior presence against Gasol and House to spot up for 3s assuming Doc notices Cassell couldn’t cut it in a YMCA league. Powe and Big Baby could also contribute in spots, but I have a feeling that Doc will yank around their minutes too much to give either a chance to contribute for more than a game or two. If Doc is smart, Allen and Cassell won’t take off their warm-ups as neither of them has contributed much this season. Meanwhile, the Lakers have a very strong bench. I’m pretty sure Walton would start on most teams in the league. He’s one of the rare players who can come into the game and make an immediate impact, which I attribute to Luke being one of the few players in the NBA who plays with his head instead of his body. Vujacic and Farmer have also proven to be valuable and will spell Fischer when Rondo starts to wear him out. Both of them can hit 3s, which will make them valuable when Kobe decides to drive. As for Turiaf, he’s not a great player, but he’s the only legit thing the Lakers have as a 4/5 backup. Advantage: Lakers. This may be the difference in the series even if Doc doesn’t screw up the rotations like he usually does.

Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Doc Rivers. The Zen Master with 9 rings as a coach (tied with Red Auerbach) and 11 rings overall (tied with Bill Russell) versus the least stable rotation in basketball history. Advantage: Jackson. This is probably the biggest mismatch in Finals history. Even Ubuntu can’t save Doc in this one and it might cost the Celtics a shot at the title.

Prediction: Lakers in 6. If the Celtics play to their potential (that means you Ray), I think they can win, but he’s just been so inconsistent and the Lakers have been so dominant (in a better conference) that I just can’t pick them to win as much as it kills me if you haven’t caught my bias in the preview. I think LA and Boston will split the opening 2 games and Boston will come back to win 1 of 3 in LA before Kobe takes over in Game 6 and puts the Celtics away.

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Best. Freshman. Ever.

Posted by rtmsf on April 15th, 2008

In the most surprising and disorienting news of the month, Kansas State’s freshman all-american and shoulda-been Player of the Year Michael Beasley has decided to further his game at the appropriate professional level, considering he singlehandedly kicked the living crap out of everyone in college-world for a few months. 

How good was this guy?  In 33 games, he had 28 double-doubles.  He had thirteen 30+ point games, seven 15+ rebound games, and four 30/15 games including a monster 40/17 outing against Missouri.  He led the nation in average efficiency at 29.7,  a key statistic where only 34 players were 20+ this season.  Put simply, he was unstoppable this year, and he’d be wasting his time competing against college players any longer.

Looking at BEASTley’s numbers (26/12), it got us to thinking – where does his year rank among the all-time greatest freshmen in college basketball?  Freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity until the mid-70s, so we started with Magic Johnson and ended up with thirteen (+ Beasley) names of superb freshmen from the last thirty years so we could do a quick comparison.  We’re quite sure we forgot a couple, so don’t get your thong in a wad – just leave it in the comments section. 

Wow, is there any question that the new NBA age-limit rule has had a major effect on college basketball?  Four of the best individual freshman seasons of the last three decades were in the last two years (and we didn’t even include Derrick Rose or OJ Mayo!). 

The next thought we have is that, yeah, Beasley’s individual numbers outrank everyone else on the list with the closest competitors being his Big 12 predecessors, Kevin Durant and Wayman Tisdale (last spotted on Jazz Cafe).  LSU’s Chris Jackson (aka the American patriot Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf) has him on scoring, but Beasley tears him up on everything else, and neither made it very far in the NCAA Tournament.

Quick aside:  the only team on this list with two of these guys was that 1989-90 LSU team (oh, and Stanley Roberts was also on that team), and they couldn’t even get to the Sweet 16?  Seriously, how is that possible??  Dale Brown only explains the incompetent game management and lack of motivation part, but it doesn’t diminish the talent there.  Sheesh.

Getting back to Beasley, where does the Big 12 find these long, rangy guys who walk right into college and put up double-double averages?  For what it’s worth, they don’t go very far in the Tourney, although we’re sure that the long-term residual effects of having a Tisdale, Durant or Beasley in your program can mitigate that one year (after all, Texas went to the Elite Eight this year, two rounds further than they did with Durant last year).

 

Best of luck as the #1 or #2 pick in draft, Michael.  We’re sure that South Beach or OKC will suit you even better than Manhattan (KS) did.   

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Does March Madness matter in May and June?

Posted by rtmsf on May 31st, 2007

Mike Wilbon 

Wilbon, as usual, is up in arms. 

Today we wanted to take a moment to examine an idea put forth by the inimitable Mike Wilbon in Monday’s Washington Post.   Wilbon’s essential take (written after game 3 of the Detroit-Cleveland series) was that much of Lebron’s struggles in late-game situations of the NBA playoffs is directly attributable to his lack of “big game” experience, which his predecessors (Magic, MJ, Bird, etc.) honed and developed during the crucible of March Madness.  He wrote:

LeBron’s bigger problem is never having learned how to play these kinds of high-stakes games in college — and now having to learn against a recent champion. Most every iconic player in NBA history, particularly the triumvirate of Magic, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, learned to play big games during March Madness. For every Kobe (who had Shaquille O’Neal), there’s an Isiah Thomas or Dwyane Wade or Richard Hamilton, guys who learned how to deal with the enormous pressure of big games in college, then successfully transitioned into the NBA playoffs. It’s no coincidence that Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett, who also skipped college, struggle so mightily in the playoffs. Without Shaq, Bryant is 0 for 2 getting out of the first round of the playoffs.

Since the high school-to-NBA era began in 1995 with Kevin Garnett, there have been 28 first round picks used on US kids a month removed from their high school graduations.  It’s too early to say for many, but early returns suggest that only seven were definitely worth the pick – KG, Kobe, Jermaine O’Neal, T-Mac, Amare, Lebron & Dwight Howard.  Others such as Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum and the two Smiths – Josh and J.R. – may end up being stars in a few years, but for now it’s too early to tell.

Of that group of high school-to-NBA superstars, and with the very notable exception of Kobe as first lieutenant second banana to Shaq, how many of that group have led their teams to postseason NBA success?  The struggles of KG (2 playoff series wins in his 12-yr career) and T-Mac (0 series wins in 10 yrs) are well documented, although Jermaine O’Neal (3 series wins in 7 yrs as a starter in Indiana) may soon also warrant inclusion on that list.  Still, Amare (5 series wins in 5 seasons in the NBA – assist to Steve Nash) and Lebron’s (3 series wins in 4 seasons) rather quick starts confound Wilbon’s blanket theory a bit.  It’s too early to say with Dwight Howard.

For now, we think there is some validity to Wilbon’s theory, but it’s not as clear-cut as he suggests.  The NCAA Tournament’s knockout format eliminates pretenders from contenders very quickly, and the teams with gamebreaking talents who can keep their cool and make plays at the end of games are usually the ones last standing.   But where we feel Wilbon’s argument fails is that it’s very difficult to go deep in the NBA playoffs for just about anyone, whether a four-year college player or one who skipped it altogether.  During the era of which we’re speaking (96-07), only five franchises have won NBA titles (Chicago, San Antonio, LA Lakers, Detroit, Miami), and it appears that one of those same franchises will win again this season (SA or Detroit).  History tends to show that only age and collapse from within creates a vacuum by which a different NBA franchise can rise to the top of the heap.

Shaq Graduation Laettner at Duke

Shaq & Laettner have had different degrees of success in college and the NBA.   

With so few historical opportunities for superstars to elevate their teams to the highest level of the sport, we find it somewhat unfounded to correlate the amount of time spent playing in March Madness as an indicator of future NBA playoff success.  After all, didn’t Shaq (4 NBA titles and 123 playoff wins) flame out early every year at LSU, winning a grand total of two NCAA Tournament games in his three seasons in Baton Rouge?  Conversely, Christian Laettner won 21 NCAA Tournament  games at Duke, but his NBA teams only won 11 playoff games where he was a significant contributor (note: he also averaged 2.2 ppg in 11 more playoff wins with the Heat in 2005).  There are undoubtedly other examples that will support both viewpoints.  We tend to believe that the those who are destined to become superstars will ultimately use their talent and drive to work their way to that level, and whether those players learned how to do that in college or on the job in the L  doesn’t really matter.  Tonight Lebron will have his biggest opportunity yet to prove us right.      

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NBA Draft Lottery

Posted by rtmsf on May 23rd, 2007

 NBA Draft Lottery Logo

As we watched the NBA Draft Lottery last night, we wondered if the ultimate settling and selection of the envelopes in the hopper represented another cruel fait accompli to long-suffering NBA fans in cities like Boston and Atlanta; or whether it would manifest as the final piece to the puzzle in renaissance projects ongoing in cities like Chicago or Phoenix.  Chalk one up for the French. 

The shot on ESPN of Celtic fans in that pub that looked like a place Sam Malone would frequent, heads in hands with despair, was one that will not soon be forgotten – missing on Duncan a decade ago; and Oden/Durant now.  Bill Simmons is probably just stirring awake from the Southie gutter where he chose to rest last night.  (update: he crawled out of the gutter to post this article by 3pm EDT)  Instead, the clean and green cities of the Pacific Northwest should enjoy a basketball rebirth, not unlike that of the area in the past several years of college basketball (Gonzaga, UW, Wazzu, Oregon).  Oh, and the Varsity Conference just got that much tougher.

Boston Draft Logo

Sign us up for Xi Xianlian!!

It’s not always the case that a #1 pick from the draft lottery guarantees success.  In the lottery era, only Ewing (85), David Robinson (87), Shaq (92), Duncan (97), and Lebron (03) were considered no-brainer dominant picks who could carry a franchise from day one.  Shaq and Duncan have had the most success, whereas Ewing and Robinson were somewhat constricted by the pure brilliance of the MJ era.  Lebron is TBD.  Oden is expected to follow the career arc of these players, considering his skills and athleticism as a 19 yr old 33 yrs old.  As long as the Blazers go for the big man over the guard this time, just as  they did in 1984 (that one didn’t work out so well), they should be fine.  Will Oden lead Portland to championships?  Nobody knows for certain, but Portland fans are ready to take that gamble after a long period of “jail blazer” sucktitude, crashing the team website twice last night amidst all the giddiness over their good fortune. 

Oden/Durant

What about Durant going to Seattle?  Will he become the next T-Mac or KG, or someone who can actually win something once in a while?  He is undoubtedly a spectacular talent, someone who has a presence about him (even at such a young age) that makes you ashamed to avert your eyes.  He also may be the golden cow that inspires Seattle voters into approving a new arena so as to keep the Sonics from eventually moving to Oklahoma.  And as much as the Oklahoma City fans were supportive during the Hornets’ exile there after Katrina, the NBA needs to keep its presence in an internationally-focused and culturally important city such as Seattle.

Draft News:  Roy Hibbert has announced he is returning to Georgetown for his senior campaign.  His frontcourt mate Jeff Green is entering the draft.        

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