Welcome, Dr. Emmert: Please Don’t Mess Up…

Posted by rtmsf on August 18th, 2010

Yesterday on Seattle radio station KJR, NCAA president-elect Mark Emmert gave an interview with host Mitch Levy where he discussed his thoughts on some of the hot-button topics impacting collegiate sports.  Dr. Emmert, who will assume his post on November 1 of this year, is currently the president of the University of Washington and the former Fulbright winner is widely recognized as one of the savviest up-and-comers in the world of academic administration.  His rise up the ranks from an assistant professor (Northern Illinois) to Vice-Chancellor (Colorado) to Provost (Montana State) to Chancellor (UConn and LSU) to President at UW is impressive on its face, and his skill at political maneuvering and fund-raising should be obvious.  The concern we have, however, in all situations where administrators move from an academic to an athletic environment is whether such a transition will be seamless — in other words, will that person “get it?”  The danger in the application of ivory tower customs and norms to the world of athletics is that you can find yourself in troublesome spots if you haven’t gauged the environment correctly, such as when Emmert badly overreached in asking for public funding for a new Husky Stadium in the midst of a massive nationwide recession.  While that example represents a single misstep in a career full of home runs, it gives us pause when taken in concert with the following quote he made on the KJR radio broadcast.  In discussing the much-maligned one-and-done rule in college basketball, Emmert said:

I much prefer the baseball model, for example, that allows a young person if they want to go play professional baseball, they can do it right out of high school, but once they start college they’ve got to play for three years or until they’re 21.  I like that a good deal.  But what you have to also recognize is that rule isn’t an NCAA rule.  That’s a rule of the NBA. And it’s not the NBA itself, but the NBA Players Association. So to change that rule will require me and others working with the NBA, working with the players association.  We’ll be having those conversations, because I think it would be good for young people and good for basketball.

Emmert Seems a Smart Fellow, But the MLB Model is a Mistake

Before we get to our argument against this idea, let’s briefly touch on the reality of this proposition.  You hear this frequently stated among coaches, fans and pundits, but what all of these folks fail to recognize is that the NBA wants nothing to do with this on either the management or the players’ side.  Commissioner David Stern and his owners do not want untested teenagers who are virtually complete unknowns coming into their league because they are unmarketable, while players do not want untested teenagers who are virtually complete unknowns coming into their league because they take away veterans’ jobs.  The NCAA acts as a veritable minor league for the NBA, providing a competitive environment to fully vet and scout players for at least a year before some 80-year old owner throws sixteen million dollars and the viable future of a franchise at them.  Think of it this way — were Washington Wizards fans more excited about #1 pick Kwame Brown (who nobody outside of rural Georgia had ever seen play) or #1 pick John Wall (who was on national television about 4,000 times last year)?  As a point of fact, the NBA powers-that-be seem more interested in extending the one-and-done rule by another year than rolling it back in any way.  And why not? — it’s better for business.

Now, as to Emmert’s proposal itself, we’re going to explain why this is not a preferred option without regard for what the NBA wants or will agree to.  The remainder of this post represents pure advocacy for the college game and the college game only.  We see three compelling reasons that the NCAA should not bother to explore this MLB model possibility, as tempting as it sounds to an educator/administrator such as Emmert.

What Say You, UK Fans? One Year of Wall or None of McGrady?

  1. The NCAA Needs Marketable Stars Nearly as Much as the NBA Does.  This is the dirty little secret of college basketball in the 21st century.  The hardcore fans of the elite programs at Duke, Kansas, UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, et al, aren’t going anywhere.  These folks would watch their teams play if they suited up four skinny 12-year olds and a rented donkey.  But the casual fan won’t.  The casual fan wants to see star power, and he wants to learn who the next big basketball talents will be through the crucible of the best postseason in all of sports, the NCAA Tournament.  When players like Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, John Wall and many others are on college campuses building considerable buzz throughout the season and heading into March, this collective must-see component to the game takes on a much different meaning than when the player names are instead Jameer Nelson, JJ Redick, Adam Morrison and Tayshaun Prince.  All great collegians, but do you see the difference?   Who does Mr. Office Drone/Bracketeer tune in to watch more readily?  Furthermore, CBS/Turner Sports just signed a fourteen-year, $10.8B deal to broadcast the rights to the NCAA Tournament, in case you’d already forgotten, and there will be none-too-subtle pressure on the puppet-masters of the sport to ensure that the best possible product is placed on the floor.  For the maximum amount of interest to take hold, that product without question must include the top 18- and 19-year old basketball players in the world. 
  2. When High School Seniors Make Their Decisions, Coaches Bear the Brunt of It.  We talked about this back in June, and nothing has changed in the interim.  We saw what happened to recruiting from 1995-2005 when coaches had to compete not only against rival schools for the talents of a player, but also the siren call of the NBA.  Whether it was Kentucky and Tracy McGrady, Florida and Kwame Brown, Duke and Shaun Livingston, or North Carolina and JR Smith, the fans and (more directly) coaches of those programs where agonizingly forced to endure a late spring phone call to learn that, after many hours spent recruiting the player to their campuses, it was all for naught.  And those were the elite players!  Imagine the situations where the player was fully expected to go to college but still was lured away — Jackie Butler (Mississippi State), Ndubi Ebi (Arizona) and Louis Williams (Georgia) all come to mind.  How does a coach go about finding a suitable replacement for a star recruit so late into the signing period?  Short answer:  he can’t.  We certainly understand that it’s frustrating to a lot of people (coaches included) to have to lose a star player as a one-and-done, but to have spent the same amount of time recruiting him and not receive even a single season of his talents is far worse, isn’t it?  That’s what would happen if the MLB model were implemented — recruiting would once again become a two-phase process.   
  3. For Better or Worse, NCAA Basketball is the NBA’s Minor League.  It’s not the NBDL (although it has found a nice niche as a training ground for older players), and it’s not Europe (similarly).  Rather, college basketball remains the NBA’s minor league, and where the MLB example fails is that college baseball is not.  Each professional baseball franchise has several levels of minor league teams beneath it by which to develop its prospects, whether they come directly from high school or after three seasons of college.  This is a HUGE difference.  The reason is that, as Mark Stein notes in this article, the vast majority of prep-to-pros players during that ten-year period were nowhere near ready to impact the professional game on a regular basis, and there remains no true professional minor league in basketball available by which to develop them.  NCAA hoops is it.   The list of players who came right into the NBA and contributed immediately is much shorter (Dwight Howard, LeBron James) than the list of those who took a few years to develop (nearly everyone else, including superstars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal and Amare’ Stoudemire).  If Mark Emmert is worried about the players (and his quote above seems to imply that he is), then he needs to push for an environment that will foster player development for the next level, in much the same way as he would inspire any student with soaring dreams.  This tact dovetails nicely with what we described above that college basketball should be selling — Watch the greatest sporting spectacle on earth — the NCAA Tournament — where the stars of tomorrow are on stage today. 

We obviously recognize that there are no easy answers here.  Any model implemented will have someone complaining.  But beginning in November, it will be the obligation of Emmert to push the game of college basketball forward in popularity and interest.  After all, NCAA Tournament dollars fund nearly the entire operation there in Indianapolis.  The way to do this is not to push college hoops down a path that makes it even more like college baseball, a sport that nobody cares about in large part because there is no direct connection between those players and the pros; but instead,  Emmert should work with the NBA to pursue a model more like college football, an incredibly popular sport where everyone knows that today’s Heisman Trophy candidates are tomorrow’s NFL all-Pros. 

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The Meteoric Rise Of Anthony Davis

Posted by nvr1983 on July 20th, 2010

For most of his high school career, Michael Gilchrist (a recent Kentucky verbal commit), has been the top-rated player in his class. Now it looks like the talented small foward might be losing his place atop those rankings through no fault of his own. Instead, the reason for his drop is the spectacular play of Anthony Davis over the past few weeks, which has prompted many analysts to anoint the 6’10” power forward out of the “Mean Streets” of Chicago (that’s actually his AAU team’s name) as the new #1 player in the rising senior class. Davis has been rising up the charts so rapidly that even in-state schools like Illinois have only began to pay particular attention to him in the past few months. An ESPN Chicago writer took a look at the rise of Davis back in May while he was rocketing up the class rankings, but was still not receiving “#1 in the class” praise. Currently, the only listed “schools of interest” are SyracuseOhio State, and Kentucky although there are reports that UNC is reportedly interested in Davis (and which school wouldn’t be?). However it appears that the Tar Heels sit in 4th position at the moment while the Davis family analyzes UNC’s current situation.

Credit: David Dixon/Natural Talent Scouting

Where will Davis land?

All of this begs the question as to how someone as talented as Davis could go relatively unnoticed in the over-saturated recruiting landscape. The only comparison player we could think of who rocketed up this quickly this late was Tracy McGrady who went from a relative unknown coming into the summer before his senior year to the top recruit in his class by the time he graduated a little over a decade ago, but that was pre-YouTube and even pre-Google (yes, there was a world before Google). Part of the reason that Davis has shot up the rankings is because of a ridiculous growth spurt during his sophomore and junior years (6-7 inches in 18 months according to Evan Daniels). Still some Illinois recruiting gurus [Ed. Note: We are imagining a Hoop Dreams-like TV segment here.] only had him as the #9 player in the state of Illinois after the high school season ended just a few months ago. There has been some speculation amongst Illinois high school basketball fans that Davis may have been ranked so low coming into the summer because he played in a weak Chicago Public League division that most of the recruiting gurus paid little attention to and until this summer he had skipped the AAU summer circuit. All of this seems perfectly reasonable although somewhat surprising so we are left to wonder just how good Davis actually is. For that we turned to Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports and Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog, who have seen Davis in person and spoken with Davis and people close to him.

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Time to Bet Heavily Against FIU

Posted by nvr1983 on April 14th, 2009

According to Jeff Goodman at Fox Sports, Isiah Thomas has accepted an offer from Florida International University to become their head coach. We briefly discussed the situation yesterday, but now that it’s all but official it is probably a good time to review Isiah’s prior experience. As a basketball player, there is no question that he was an all-time great. As a basketball executive/coach? Not so much.

isiahthomas

Here is a quick recap of his prior stints in a managerial role:

  • Toronto Raptors (1994-1998): Serving as the GM and part-owner, he started by taking B.J. Armstrong with the #1 pick in the 1995 expansion draft. While Armstrong isn’t what you would consider #1 pick material, when you look at the other luminaries that were available it was probably a pretty good pick (at the very least he could show the young guys all the three championship rings Michael Jordan won for him that he won). Unfortunately, Armstrong refused to report to the team and was promptly traded. Even though the team was 67-179, Isiah did exhibit some draft acumen by taking Damon Stoudamire (turning the #7 pick into the Rookie of the Year), Marcus Camby (the #2 pick who might have won Rookie of the Year that year if it wasn’t for some guy named Allen Iverson), and Tracy McGrady (with #9 pick out of high school just 2 years after Isiah’s hilarious plan for Kevin Garnett). Sadly, this was probably the high point of Isiah’s managerial career.
  • NBC (1998): Briefly worked with Bob Costas and Doug Collins. Not particularly memorable, but it worked out better than his last appearance on NBC (see below).

  • CBA (1999-2000): Purchased the league for $10 million on October 7, 1999 and turned down an offer from the NBA to purchase it for $11 million and a percentage of the profits, which according to some sources would have been a $2 million profit (or a 20% ROI) in March 2000. Isiah then promptly proceeded to show everyone what a shrewd businessman he was for turning down the 20% ROI in 5 months by running the league into bankruptcy. [Ed. Note: The fact that the CBA Museum has a page for Isiah Thomas is amazing. Isn't that kind of like a Jewish charity museum starting an exhibit on Bernie Madoff?] Sadly, this was not the low point of Isiah’s managerial career.
  • Indiana Pacers (2000-2003): Took over a team that Larry Bird had coached to the Eastern Conference finals and decided to change directions with a youth movement by playing Jermaine O’Neal, Jamaal Tinsley, and Al Harrington more minutes. Even though he had a respectable 131-115 regular season record, his stint is largely considered a failure as his team’s lost in the first round in each of his 3 seasons as a coach. Heading into Isiah’s 4th year, Larry Bird came back as President of Basketball Operations. At his press conference, Bird assured the media that he would work with Isiah. He promptly fired Thomas and replaced him with Rick Carlisle. [Lesson: Don't mess with the Basketball Jesus.]
  • New York Knicks (2003-2008): I don’t know what can be said that hasn’t already been said. I’ll just refer you to Jeff Coplon’s article that says everything in its title “Absolutely, Positively the Worst Team in the History of Professional Sports”. Quick Cliff Notes style summary: Threw away two 1st round picks for Eddy Curry. Fired Larry Brown (his best move) and made himself coach (his worst move–on the court). Ordered his team to commit a hard foul against the Denver Nuggets resulting in a brawl. Despite having the highest paid team in the league and the pipe dream of landing LeBron James he continued to blow money/cap space on over-priced/under-performing players. “Reassigned” and forbidden to have any contact with the Knicks’ players. Charged in a sexual harassment lawsuit that led Madison Square Garden to pay $11.6 million to his accuser and offended multiple sponsors. Reportedly overdosed on Lunesta and was taken to the hospital, but afterwards tried to throw the entire thing on his 17 year-old daughter.

So, um yeah, good luck with that FIU.

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Adidas Plays “What If. . .”

Posted by nvr1983 on March 12th, 2009

Adidas has just released a new series of commercials featuring several prep-to-pro stars pretending that they went to various schools.The ads themselves are fairly interesting, but I would be more interested in your thoughts on where these guys (and other prep-to-pros) would have actually gone and what impact they would have had on those programs. Would they have led their schools to multiple championships or would they fail to live up to expectations? Would Tracy McGrady win a round in the NCAA tournament? I know that CNNSI used to do a feature like this making an imaginary NCAA tournament, but I can’t find the link right now.

First, here are the commercials:




Personally I would have liked the videos to feature the guys either doing a big press conference where they announce which school they will be going to or some sort of dream sequence where Dwight Howard is dominating some mediocre college center (Brian Zoubek?).

After the jump we have a list of prep-to-pros since 1995. I am interested in hearing your thoughts on where they would have gone and what impact they would have had. Leave you thoughts in the comment section and your reasoning for the argument.
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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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