It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VI

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 18th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. the magic of an intrastate rivalry in a basketball crazy state with Butler/Indiana. There are some games that seem like they’re just meant to take place in March, with all of those final consequences, and this sure seemed like one of those contests. What a treat of a game this early in the year, with all the back-and-forth and late dramatics that you could ask for. It makes sense that the Cinderella-prone Bulldogs and the upstart Hoosiers would be primed to start up a testy rivalry, but this barnburner might have just sped up that process by a couple of years. And you have to love the recruiting implications, too.

I LOVED… Sean Miller’s Wildcats taking out Florida in an early-season battle of potential March heavyweights. This one made me smile for two reasons – one, I feel like Miller is still on track with molding UA back into the perennial power that it was just a few years ago (and with that campus to recruit to, as it always should be…). But the other reason is that we need a couple of schools in the West to step up after a rough couple of years, just to restore some geographic balance to the college landscape. This Wildcats team looks like they could do their part this season.

I LOVED…. how content Tubby Smith is. He’s got another sneaky good team at Minnesota this season, as the Golden Gophers have only lost to #1 Duke and taken down Memphis and San Diego State, among others. You have to think that a guy with Tubby’s resume (read: national title) has turned down some offers at more marquee programs the past few seasons, but he’s remained committed to what most people would consider a rather moderate-profile university in a quality conference. It’s not flashy, and neither is Tubby, but it’s refreshing to see a good coach stay the course and keep building.

Tubby Smith Appears to Have His Best Minnesota Team

I LOVED…. Indiana losing a game at this point in the year. Though I’ve questioned their No. 1 ranking from the start, I really do like this team and think they very well could cut down the nets at the end of the year. But they needed some adversity, and getting it now rather than in late January or February will be a positive development, in my opinion. And getting it from a team that isn’t at their talent level should give Tom Crean even more material to work with in practice.

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The Goofball Goliath Arrives: Shaq’s Freshman Season at LSU

Posted by JWeill on November 9th, 2011

Past Imperfect is a series focusing on the history of the game. Every two weeks, RTC contributor Joshua Lars Weill (@AgonicaBoss|Email) highlights some piece of historical arcana that may (or may not) be relevant to today’s college basketball landscape. This week: the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal in college basketball.

Quick: What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever seen right in front of you? Was it’s a skyscraper, or maybe a mountain? Or maybe it was a waterfall or an ancient castle? But what if it was an 18-year-old kid in sneakers wearing a wide, toothy grin?

That’s what a lot of folks around the SEC saw back in 1989 when this… kid showed up. He wasn’t just big, he was huge. Never mind that he couldn’t yet spin in the lane like he eventually would or that his shot from more than four feet was not going to go in. He didn’t have to be there yet. LSU had other guys for that stuff, especially All-Everything guard Chris Jackson. Instead, the huge kid with the weird name was just supposed to do exactly what he did do: absolutely terrify opposing coaches away from the paint.

Shaq at 17 Was a Manchild

What kind of name was ‘Shaquille’ anyway? (Muslim, actually, for ‘little one’ … wait, little?). And where did he come from? (San Antonio, actually, well, by way of Germany, by way of New Jersey by… well, it doesn’t even really matter.) All those details, they didn’t help you shoot over him or grab a rebound when he was anywhere near the rim. That you knew who he was or where he was from didn’t make you any more likely to move him out of the paint.  Most likely, nothing would have.

That Shaquille Rashaun O’Neal ended up arriving on campus at Baton Rouge is a fantastic story unto itself and, like everything with the kid who would soon go by ‘Shack,’ it’s ultimately a tale of the tape.

It was 1985 – smack dab in the center of the great era of college basketball big men. Patrick Ewing dominated college ball at Georgetown. Ralph Sampson was a four-time college All-American. Hakeem Olajuwon redefined the position at Houston. As LSU coach Dale Brown has told it many hundreds of times, he was a world away from all that, wrapping up a basketball clinic at a military base in West Germany in a town called Wildflecken, when this lean 6’8” guy in a white polo shirt, khakis and sneakers came up to ask Brown some advice on improving his conditioning.

“How long you been in the service, son?” Brown asked him.

He replied, “I’m too young for the service, sir. I’m only 13.”

Working his best poker face, Brown answered famously, “So you’re 13. I’d sure like to meet your dad.” Which the overwhelmed and giddy Brown eventually did.

But being 6’8” at 13 isn’t easy. There’s a reason even a basketball coach would do a triple-take. His lack of motor coordination at that age got O’Neal got cut from the basketball team his freshman year; told, in fact, that he might consider being a goalie in soccer as a better option. O’Neal instead pressed on. That is why he was asking this coach he didn’t know how to get stronger in his lower body. Which is how Dale Brown, coach of the LSU Tigers about to be on his way back from Germany, happened to meet the future face of his program by absolute happenstance.

Which isn’t to say that it was ever that easy. Maybe Brown had the first contact, but he still had to stay in touch regularly because O’Neal didn’t stay a secret stashed away in Germany for long. When his stepfather, the man O’Neal considered his real father, a military man, a drill instructor named Phillip Harrison, was re-assigned to Ft. Sam Houston in Texas, Shaquille and his family settled into San Antonio. By now, the big kid was even bigger – 6’10” and still growing. His shoes could just about hold a toddler each. He enrolled at Cole High School. One can only imagine the heart-stopping joy that Cole High School’s unsuspecting coach Ken Kuwamura must have felt the day the Goliath fall into his lap.

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