Friday, August 31, 2012

Newest Rivals150 Rankings: The Best HS Player Since LeBron No Longer Best In His Class

Jabari Parker (left) and Julius Randal (right) are two of the class of 2013's best talents. (hthoops)

Strong statements have been made about this 2013 college recruiting class. Many are about the depth of the class overall, with another about of the class' elite players.

So with the latest Rivals.com 150 rankings coming out this week, here is who climbed spots, who dropped off and who to watch out for. 

Let's start at the top, where Jabari Parker, the 6'8," 220-pound forward from Chicago, fell from his rank as the No. 1 player in the class. This came as a shock to many, especially after Sports Illustrated dubbed Parker the "best high school basketball player since LeBron James." Like I said, strong statements were made. The dubbed "best recruit" in nearly a decade is no longer the best in his class, which shows how quick we are to label. Parker hasn't even played his senior season yet.
Julius Randal, the 6'9," 240-pound forward from Plano, Texas, has argued SI's claim, as he drove past Parker for the spot as king of the class. Both of these players are great power forward talents with Randal having a slight height and weight advantage over Parker that any team would fight to have.
A large exclamation point should come up next to the No. 3 and No. 4 players on this list. Andrew and Aaron Harrison are twins from Fort Bend, Texas. Aaron, a 6'5" shooing guard, is the No. 3-ranked player while his brother Andrew, a 6'5" point guard, is No. 4. Both players have Baylor, Kentucky and Maryland at the top of their wish lists, and bringing the twins in together would be a monumental pickup for any of those programs. Successful twin combos have happened in the past; just look at what the Morris twins did for Bill Self at Kansas two seasons ago. Go a little further back and see what Robin and Brook Lopez accomplished at Stanford. All four players are now in the NBA after helping their college programs succeed nationally.

The 2013 class has been called the most talented since 2007, and is so because of its depth. The top 20 are all five-star recruits, and you have to scroll down to No. 111, Kevin Johnson, before you find the first three-star recruit. Although it's nearly impossible to predict a high school player's future at this point, there should be quite a few future pros high on this list.

If you're looking for player growth, a name you might want to know is Demetrius Jackson, a 6'1" point guard from Indiana, who jumped from No. 70 in the last Rivals rankings to No. 27 this time around. Florida State, Louisville and Notre Dame are among the schools high on his list, but with a jump like this, don't be surprised if others keep calling.

With an entire senior season remaining for all these players, it's hard to tell how the final rankings will end up, regardless of the order, don't expect a lack of talent.


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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Long Beach State's New Court Design Finds Successful Middle Ground

LBSU's new beach-themed court (sports.yahoo.com)

College basketball courts aren’t just backdrops to competition anymore. The design of light-wood-colored floors, easily distinguished boundary lines and the school’s symbol at mid-court doesn’t cut it for some schools.

Schools have taken the college football craze of creative and whacky jerseys and applied it to their basketball courts. Along with Oregon’s dozen football jersey combinations, in 2010 the school turned its court into a forest. 

Oregon's forest-covered court (sports.yahoo.com)

The designer of the court also created mockups for eight others schools, all being visually over-the-top. If these designs become reality, players will not only have to worry about trap defenses, but also worry about weeding through palm trees, the bayou and a giant Colonel Sanders. Towson went a slightly less aggressive route but failed by putting subtle tiger stripes on its floor, which from a distance looks like a grease spill.

This brings us to the new court of Long Beach State, which should be congratulated for finding middle ground between the extreme and the mundane. The court shows off the culture of the school and area without making the court an eyesore. Automatically, even non-basketball fans can assume this court is in California, and the combination of the school's colors and "The Beach" written in the middle give the perfect relationship between school branding and environment.

A school’s court is a brand, just like its jerseys and apparel, and it makes sense why programs would want to be unique. Seeing blue turf is automatically associated with Boise State football, and for Boise, that’s a great thing. But it is still just a basketball court, and when the look of the court takes fans’ eyes away from the action of the game, is the purpose successful?

Sure, the school doesn’t want there to be a question of where the game is being played. It is, after all, the team’s home floor, and should reflect as much. But the large, orange “S” at mid-court of the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University or the cutout of the state of North Carolina at UNC’s Dean Dome do a sufficient job of acknowledging where the game is taking place. Painting UNC’s court to look like it is covered in tobacco smoke isn’t necessary.

LBSU now has a surface that stands out among its opponents and honors the geography of the school. It will now be distinguished and remembered among the national audience, but for the right reasons. It took a piece of the surroundings to transform its hoops sanctuary, and players probably enjoy leaving the palm trees outside the complex for the trees on the court.

The key is to take a piece of the school or environment and incorporate it into the court, not the entire landscape. 


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Monday, August 27, 2012

High Transfer Numbers Show 'Me First' Culture

UCONN's Alex Oriakhi was one of the most highly-touted transfers this offseason (ctpost.com)

The days of watching your college team’s athletes wear their school’s jerseys for four years are gone.

Many of them follow the money to the NBA before their four years in college, but there is another epidemic sweeping college basketball. It’s one thing for a player to leave for the NBA when the potential and buzz surrounding his game is the greatest, but college programs also have to worry about players just looking for a change of scenery.

CBS Sports basketball writer Jeff Goodman posted a transfer list back in April that included more than 445 players. That number means, on average, more than one player on every team in NCAA Division I basketball will transfer this year. Unfortunately this isn’t new, and the elite programs are not exempt from players wanting to leave. Duke, UCONN, Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan all had players transfer from their programs this offseason.

Some cases can’t be helped. A player doesn’t always mesh with their coach or fit in with the program or university. Sometimes, it’s better to part ways and let him try again somewhere else. But more likely it seems that players transfer because they want to play right away. That is what Virginia head coach Tony Bennett believes and told the Washington Post last April.

“It’s an epidemic, without a doubt,” said Bennett in an interview with the Washington Post. “I think players have always been anxious to play, I really do. But when they thought, ‘I don’t know if this is the right place,’ the advice was always ‘Wait your turn. Stay put.’ But the times of waiting and being patient, well, it’s a different time.”

It’s the new culture of college basketball. Players want to show off their skills with the hopes of being noticed by an NBA scout, and to do that you have to be on the court. But what about using your first year or two to play behind a great player at your position to study and learn from him? The value of learning and battling for positions is lost in today’s game.

It’s hard to pinpoint the cause in the culture change. The rise of AAU basketball, where players flood to the spotlight and personal stats are more important than team victories, most likely played a factor. John Calipari and Kentucky’s method of winning with freshmen has probably played a role as well. If underclassmen see other underclassmen playing right away, and having success, then they strive for that too.

Another rule that contributes to the high number of transfers each year is the one that allows players who will graduate from their university to transfer, and play right away, with one year of eligibility remaining. This offseason, 28 of the transferring players on Goodman’s list have graduated and are transferring to use their remaining year. This is a rule that new Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has recently come out to share his opposition while touring Big 12 schools before the football season starts.

“Not one of my favorite rules,” said Bowlsby in a Kansas City Star article last week when visiting the University of Kansas. “I think it kind of has the taste of a hired gun. And … more often than not, there’s somebody that’s been there for three or four years, that’s been waiting for their chance to play. And now they’re gonna be taken out by somebody that’s playing a last year from another school.”

Bowlsby made these comments during football season, but his words can easily be applied to basketball.

Regardless of which is the biggest factor, the high number of transfers doesn’t look to be declining anytime soon. School pride and prestige ranks lower than personal stats in a player’s hierarchy, and until that changes, hundreds of athletes will find new homes each year.

So when you see a player finish his four years of playing at one university, cherish it. He is a dying breed. 


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Friday, August 24, 2012

Five College Basketball Coaches Worth Following On Twitter

Fans love their college basketball teams' coaches. It makes perfect sense. The success of the team, which is a fan's No. 1 priority, rests on the shoulder of the coach, and coaches who find that success are kings of their campuses. Fan bases feel that connection with their coach. They defend him, criticize him and praise him, all because they want the best for their team.

Twitter has become the newest way for fans to connect with their coaches. Following a coach on Twitter gets you insight into their daily activities, news and thoughts on their team and, if you're lucky, a chance for them to answer your questions.

Many elite college basketball coaches have avoided the social media site, but many of the coaches on Twitter have used it to their advantage as a chance to see the coach's personality and, in many cases,  fans like them more.

Regardless of if you are fan of their team, here are five coaches (in no particular order) that are great to follow, for a variety of reasons.

Tim Miles (huskers.com)

Tim Miles - @CoachMiles - Nebraska
The former Colorado State head coach was a visionary in terms of his use of Twitter. While many coaches hesitate to share too much about their teams, especially in the hours surrounding games, Miles was tweeting his thoughts on his team's performance during halftime. It would be worth following him just to see his reaction in the heat of battle. But Miles shows more than that. Miles has found the perfect combination of talking about his team, exciting the fan base, interacting with followers and showing his sense of humor in non-basketball related tweets. If he can earn some wins at Nebraska, look for his followers to jump from the more than 21,000 he currently has.

Tom Crean (sports.yahoo.com)

Tom Crean - @TomCrean - Indiana
Crean's Twitter profile reflects a few of the traits that make him a successful coach. His motivation, knowledge of the game and passion toward the players he coaches is all evident in his profile. Crean's love of the university is prominent — he even breaks down some stats for the number junkies. The Indiana coach doesn't neglect the site either, as he has more than 4,300 tweets, showing his Twitter maintenance is not a half-hearted and forced responsibility. Indiana fans recognize this as Crean is one of the more popular coaches on Twitter with more than 83,000 followers.

Chris Mack (mensbasketballhoopscoop)

Chris Mack - @CoachChrisMack - Xavier
You don't have to be a Xavier fan, or even a basketball fan, to enjoy following Chris Mack. The coach has proven to be one of the funniest in the sport, with many of his entertaining tweets not pertaining to basketball. Mack talks about his family life, pop culture, asks questions and interacts with fans, as well as basketball writers. Mack shows a side that is down to earth and someone you would want to hang out with, which can be difficult for higher-profile figures.

Frank Martin (latimes.com)

Frank Martin - @FrankMartin_SC - South Carolina
Anyone who has watched Martin roam the sidelines or do an in-game interview knows why he is on this list. He is a passionate, energetic coach and makes great soundbites. What you will find from his Twitter profile is he really enjoys what he does, he takes great pride in educating and coaching, and he tries to raise awareness for his university. Like Crean, Martin shares words of motivation, mixed with the entertainment value you see in interviews.


John Calipari (nationofblue.com)

John Calipari - @UKCoachCalipari - Kentucky
With Kentucky's recent national title and the buzz about Calipari's method of turning freshmen into phenoms, it's no surprise coach Cal has more than 1.2 million followers. Everyone wants to know what goes on in Big Blue Nation, and Calipari takes his followers on that ride with more than 6,000 tweets. The majority of Cal's tweets are about his team or what he is up to that day, although with that job, those subjects are enough to keep his followers entertained.


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Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Unsteady Times, the Kings Deserve Attention

DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans in less trying times. (Sacramento Bee/Jose Luis Villegas)

Southern California has a stranglehold on the state's basketball market, long entrenched by years of Los Angeles Lakers dominance and bolstered by the recent emergence of the Clippers as a postseason team. Trades netting All-Star caliber talents last winter (Chris Paul to the Clips) and this summer (Steve Nash and, eventually, Dwight Howard to the Lake Show) ensure that any Western Conference contender will have to play well in SoCal in order to prove their postseason worth.

As southern California basketball flourishes, though, things aren't as full of life in Northern California. The Golden State Warriors have scorer after scorer on the roster, and while an exciting offense keeps them from being dead in the bay water, they don't project as a playoff team in 2012-13.

The Sacramento Kings finished at No. 28 in Marc Stein's final NBA power rankings for last season — two spots out of last place. While it is only one notch higher than the Warriors ranked, make no mistake: the Kings are levels ahead of the Warriors, and a majority of NBA teams, when it comes to being interesting.

The Kings are mercurial. An enigmatic presence that deserves more attention than it will receive. There's reason to invest time in Queen City's NBA franchise, even if there's not much winning to be had by said team.

The average age of the 14 players currently on the roster is 25.35. Historically, NBA players' performance peaks as they work through their late 20s. The elder statesmen are shooting guards John Salmons and Francisco Garcia at 32 and 31, respectively.

Thomas Robinson. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee)
Thomas Robinson, the freshly drafted power forward out of Kansas, will have the same growing pains as any rookie, but he'll be fun to watch in the post with footwork that belies his 21 years and a serviceable short-to-mid-range jumper. Robinson will also pair with DeMarcus Cousins to form one of the more formidable frontcourt tandems in the league.

And, yes, Cousins is a bright spot for the Kings. As much of a headache as he can be — and there are still maturity issues for him to work through — Cousins posted better stats in most categories last year and grabbed nearly 50 more offensive rebounds than in his rookie campaign, despite playing in 17 fewer games because of the lockout-shortened season.

The guard play will be something to watch, too. Tyreke Evans, after winning Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, has produced two seasons of play that didn't live up to expectations and is coming off a case of plantar fasciitis that some will use to asterisk 2012-13. There's still a chance — and, surely, hope among Kings fans —for Evans to return to form. In order to succeed with the pieces around him, though, he may be wise to dish the ball more often. His 16.4 PER last season ranked a tick above the league average of 15. In the final year of his rookie contract, 'Reke has to know that it's time to earn his next deal and this is the inevitable make or break season.

Regardless, Evans will be the Kings' primary ballhandler and depth at point guard is not an issue. Isaiah Thomas, the diminutive baller who played college hoops at Washington, had the best advanced stats of any Kings player last season. The front office also acquired Aaron Brooks, two years removed from winning the Most Improved Player award and coming off a season overseas. He was unhappy in Phoenix before that, but being that he had a say in landing in Sactown and is presumably content, he could still flash the talent that made him attractive in his time with the Houston Rockets.

Jimmer Fredette. (AP/Steve Yeater)
And, of course, there is another pointman living on the bench. Jimmer Freddette is an anomaly. His stellar college performance was not projected to translate to the NBA, but he did put up better numbers than most of his teammates last season. But mostly, the range! His ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor is legendary in the state of Utah, and range like that does not go away. As Kelly Dwyer noted at Ball Don't Lie, The Jimmer is now technically a veteran and has to find his way in The Association soon, lest he wants to find a career elsewhere. The best way to do that may be to choose his shots instead of throwing up everything that comes his way; being a pure shooter on a team that already has enough guys to make plays. That same logic could be in the minds of other teams, too, possibly looking to snag Fredette while his price is low.

The players are young, and seeing how they work together is reason enough to be on NBA League Pass alert when a Kings game is scheduled. Keith Smart, entering his first full year as head coach, should be able to implement a plan after getting to know most of the roster last season. All of this, without mentioning the will-they-won't-they relocation rumors the Maloof family attempted, unsuccessfully, to dispel. If Kings players get the feeling that their play may affect the organization's future, this is when pressure is at an all-time high. It's time to be professional; time to excel.

Sacramento loves the Kings and deserves better than to lose them to a city that would be half as dedicated. Even with the threat of a move hanging above them, this squad will be fun to watch this season. They have players that are capable of lighting up opponents every time they step on the court, but they need to make the transition from NBA cellar dweller to middle-of-the-pack regiment.

Hoops-wise, that's as sunny as NorCal gets this year.


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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kentucky, Louisville Are Monitoring Their Athletes' Social Media Use

Universities are taking precautions to monitor their athletes' social media use. (cosida.com)

University of Kentucky and University of Louisville athletes are free to tweet whatever they want. They don't, however, have a say in if their tweet will still be there the next morning.

Both Kentucky and Louisville athletes have agreements with their schools to have a monitoring system set up on their social media accounts. If an athlete tweets or posts one of the more than 400 banned words and phrases, the school is notified and can decide if the post needs to be removed.

What are these words? Many are references to alcohol, sex and drugs; some generic and others brand names. Blow, chronic, crunk, benjamins, stoned and breasts are all included. Names of alcoholic drinks and drugs both kinds (Ale, whisky, cocaine, K2) and brands (Budweiser, Crown Royal and every other alcoholic drink imaginable) as well as references to being drunk or under the influence are all covered. One of the gems on the banned phrase list is, "act a fool." So players, don't be quoting any DMX lyrics in your social media posts.

In an effort to keep players out of a different kind of temptation, Kentucky also has banned the names of 370 sports agents - as well as words like extra benefit, agent and contract - all of which referencing could compromise the athletes' amateur status.

Players are going to tweet. They are going to post statuses and comment on photos on Facebook and check in on Foursquare. Most athletes will be fine, but there will be those to tweet and post inappropriate subjects, ones that can get them, and the school, into trouble.

(socialmediacoachforathletes.com)


The power of social media was proven once again when multiple cases arose during the 2012 Olympics, where a Swiss soccer player and Greek track athlete were kicked off their national teams for racist tweets.

The monitoring system allows school officials to see and handle situations before the words become national news. With more and more cases of issues involving social media and athletes, it will be interesting to see if more universities take the "watchdog" approach to their athletes' social-media lives.


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Do You Have a Minute? Longest Games in Basketball History

Barret Browning wonders if anything else is on. (FoxSportsMidwest.com)

Professional baseball is a subject rarely broached on these pages, but the Pittsburgh Pirates' 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night is something to note. The nine-run game lasted 19 innings.

For those unaccustomed to baseball, the standard game ends after nine innings. By more than doubling the length of an average contest, the Pirates-Cardinals held the field for six hours and seven minutes (or 367 minutes, since big numbers are flashier), recording the longest MLB game this season.

Due to shot clocks and timed segments, no basketball game will ever break the six-hour mark, but several multiple-overtime thrillers comprise the list of longest games in basketball history.


John Mantas (saratogian.com)
Game:  Skidmore defeats Southern Vermont, 128-123
Duration:  Seven Overtimes (75 minutes)
Date:  November 23, 2010

With the game deadlocked at 59 after two halves, each team scored more points in extra time (69 and 64, respectively) than they did in regulation. The Skidmore Thoroughbreds hit tying buzzer-beaters to end four different overtimes before clinching the longest game in NCAA Division III history.

There were a combined 145 missed field goal attempts — nearly two per minute played. Only 142 people were on-hand to see the back-and-forth action as John Mantas, a 5'11" guard, led Skidmore in scoring with 27 points.







Doug Schloemer (via The Dagger)
Game:  Cincinnati defeats Bradley, 75-73
Duration: Seven Overtimes
Date:  December 21, 1981

This seasonal showdown is the only seven-overtime match ever played in NCAA Division I. With the Bearcats' starting forwards having fouled out, Bradley didn't consider bench player Doug Schloemer to be a threat. They overplayed their hand and left him open, going with the odds that the Cincinnati reserve wouldn't hit a 15-footer with one second left. Except Schloemer did. Bearcat guard Bobby Austin and Bradley center Donald Reese logged a Divison I-record 73 minutes, and seven others were on the court for at least an hour. Jeff Eisenberg detailed it with grace earlier this summer at The Dagger.



Probably a hoop from BHS vs. Yankton. (via meeshypants)
Game:  Black Hills State defeats Yankton, 80-79
Duration:  Seven Overtimes
Date:  February 18, 1956

It's a good sign there isn't much out there about NCAA Division II's longest game when all the information you can find about it comes from articles about the other two games previously mentioned. An excerpt from the book "South Dakota Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities and Other Offbeat Stuff" mislabels it as an NAIA contest, but does offer some information about the game:

 "Both squads hogged the ball in the five-minute overtimes, hoping to sink shots at the buzzer. The home team [Black Hills State] won on a free throw after time expired in the seventh overtime."

That's most of what is out there about the BHS Yellowjackets' 3+ hour ordeal with the now-nonexistent Yankton College Greyhounds. Another misstep of the book: citing the advent of the three-point line and rules prohibiting stalling as reasons, "that it's unlikely a game will ever run so long again."


(logodesignlove.com)

Game:  Indianapolis Olympians defeat Rochester Royals, 75-73
Duration:  Six Overtimes
Date:  January 6, 1951

The NBA's longest game clocked in at 78 minutes and predated the shot clock era. The Internet generation would have nothing to do with this snail's pace contest, in which both teams combined for 23 shots over the course of six overtimes — that's an average of 3.83 shots for every five-minute long extra period.


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Monday, August 20, 2012

Nike-Sponsored Squads Set For Elite Event in 2017

Nike-sponsored schools will square off in a two-tournament event featuring college basketball's elite in 2017 (nikeblog.com)

It's not too early to look ahead to the 2012 college basketball season, which is three months away. But how about looking ahead to 2017?

Thanks to Michigan State Athletic Director Mark Hollis, the best early-season college basketball tournament won't take place in Maui or Madison Square Garden. This tournament will take place in Portland, and the star power represented by the schools is fitting given the star power of the sponsor they are celebrating. 

According to Andy Katz of ESPN, Hollis was able to receive commitments from 16 Nike-sponsored programs to play in a two-tournament event held over four days in November 2017. This is in celebration of Nike co-founder Phil Knight's 80th birthday, which is the following February.

The premise itself is enticing having teams sponsored by the same company compete against one another but it's the programs represented that will make college hoops fans' mouths water. 

The tournament will include a mix of blue bloods (Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan St.), as well as power-conference representatives (Florida, Ohio St., UCONN, Georgetown, Texas, Oklahoma, Stanford and Oregon), and some choice mid-majors (Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga and Portland).

Let that sink in for a moment. No matter the combination of seedings, elite programs will have a hard road to win these two tournaments. Unlike other early-season tournaments, there is no Chaminade in the quarterfinals. Even the "mid-majors" are no one to mess with. This event is loaded from top to bottom.

That's what fans want to see. Why else would this event even be a topic of conversation five years early if it wasn't big? The third game of the year against Towson isn't circled on any calendars. If you think your team is better than Duke, and the team doesn't play in the ACC, then you're excited to play the Blue Devils and find out if you're right. 

This not only is a win for fans and for the teams this should help boost the RPI at the end of the year but imagine what this does for Nike. It's hard to say which is more impressive:  that Nike sponsors all of these teams or that, when Hollis came calling with the idea, everyone said yes. The king of sports apparel and marketing will have its name on the biggest regular-season basketball event of the year, maybe even the decade, while every player on the court wears its equipment. 

The only downside is this won't take place for another five years. It's unlikely these teams will plummet to mediocrity during the waiting period, so if this upcoming season is any indication, college hoops fans are in for a treat in 2017.


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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kirilenko's Worth It, But Complicates Deep Frontcourt


The Timberwolves are planning for more celebrating after a busy offseason. (Getty Images)

When I heard the Minnesota Timberwolves were signing Andrei Kirilenko to a contract worth $10 million per year, I couldn’t help but laugh. Kirilenko hasn’t played in the NBA for a year and wasn’t doing all that well before he left. Also, it’s my gut reaction to laugh at anything David Kahn does because at this point, I just assume it’s something silly. But it seems like now, just as I did when Ricky Rubio started playing, I might be going back on my words.

Let’s start with his work in Europe. He signed with CSKA Moscow during the lockout. Something about going to his home country must have rejuvenated him because he ended the season with both the Euroleague MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards.

After Euroleague was over, he continued his multinational dominance by leading the Russian national team to a bronze medal in the Olympics.

He tallied 20 points and 8 rebounds in the bronze medal match against Argentina; he scored 19 points against Brazil; and got 19 points and 13 rebounds against Lithuania. The best part about Kirilenko's game was the way he looked. He was creating his own shot and not just settling on spot-up jumpers. He was playing the energetic and stifling defense that he originally became famous for, and best of all, he just looked confident.

Kirilenko is 31 now and while he may not be getting better physically, it looks like he’s back mentally. He should be a good fit next to Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio (when he returns). He will also be playing next to his Russian teammate Alexey Shved. The only downside to this move is the possible logjam it creates at the forward position. I’m not sure if Kahn knows that you need more than just forwards and point guards to win games. The team still has Kevin Love and Derrick Williams, they traded for Chase Budinger and drafted Robbie Hummel, a small forward out of Purdue. In addition to them, they also have Dante Cunningham and Anthony Tolliver on their roster.


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Friday, August 17, 2012

Christian Laettner is 43 Years Old Today

Now a coach, Christian Laettner always instructs perfect defense. (ESPN.com)
The world is five days removed from the 2012 Summer Olympics and the hangover is starting to lift. But with all the mentions of the Dream Team's twentieth anniversary, one name has gone largely unmentioned: Christian Laettner.

The former Duke star may not have lit up the NBA, but he did put together a college career that merited him a spot on the 1992 USA Olympic team, giving Laettner the distinction of being the lone amateur on a squad rife with Hall of Famers.

Laettner, now an assistant coach for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the D-League, turns 43 today. It's not a milestone birthday, but, without question, it has been a commemorative year for the man whose famous shot is also two decades old this year.


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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Welcome to Twitter, Kendall Marshall

The winner of basketball Twitter. (hornets247.com)
When the Phoenix Suns drafted North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall in the first round of the NBA draft back in June, the front office knew the team was getting a pass-first player who would happily facilitate for teammates. What Suns brass probably didn't know is that the No. 13 pick would be a revolutionary.

OK, "revolutionary" may be a bit much, but whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry about Marshall using the acronym "BTB" on Twitter used the word "groundbreaking."

For those not in the know about "BTB" — a group led by us all, at one time or another — it stands for "Been there, bro." The shortened term has been embraced by the basketball community on Twitter, where numerous bloggers and armchair pundits use it as a response to the thoughts of others. That sentence cannot do justice to the entertainment that BTB can bring, but the appropriate digging on the subject is not hard to do, and the discovery is a fun part of the journey.

As TrueHoop's Sean Highkin tweeted, "We have entered the twilight zone." By virtue of being the first to ask for a definition, Marshall became the first professional basketball player known to engage in BTB bandying. It is another example of how engrained social media is becoming in the world of pro sports and the increased interactivity of the celebrity/everyman dynamic in the new age of media.

Marshall's on-court performances during his rookie season, and perhaps several years into his career, will receive leeway from those in the BTB circle. He's part of the club now. One of his self-admitted detriments is trying too often to make The Big Play, but Marshall's already endeared himself to a swath of his new, pro-level audience.

As for that risky pass? btb.

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)


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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Top 5 All-Time Greatest Nicknames in the NBA

It seems like a right of passage for NBA players. When a player has proven himself in the league, he is granted a nickname, a "knighting" of sorts by his peers and fans. Some are more creative and catchy than others. 

Some players earn a nickname from their style of play, or from appearance or a quirk, and for others we just shorten the name or use initials. Maybe it's because attention spans have shrunk so much that we can't wait long enough to call players by their full names. Regardless, most elite players have nicknames that are used so often we sometimes forget what their actual names are. "King" James, D-Wade, Melo, CP3, Durantula, The Black Mamba, "Big Baby" Davis, Superman, and so on.

In honor of yesterday (Aug. 14) being the birthday of Ervin "Magic" Johnson, we are counting down the top 5 greatest nicknames in the NBA. If you agree, thank you. Think someone was snubbed? Let us know who you would make your top 5.We have a comments section and Twitter feed just for that.

Dr. J (NBA.com)

No. 5 "Dr. J" - Julius Erving
Dr. J played with a certain elegance and ease about his game. Watching him, you would think he just knew what was going on a little sooner and better than his opponents. The story goes that a friend in high school gave him the nickname, after Erving dubbed the friend "Professor." The nickname suits him well - not to mention opening doors for a Dr. Pepper endorsement after retirement - because Dr. J made the difficult plays look easy. You can trust him on the court, he's a doctor.

Karl Malone (slcdunk.com)

No. 4 "The Mailman" - Karl Malone
Where else is the term mailman held in such a high regard? There lies the true greatness of the name. It epitomizes Malone's ability to make plays and has a gritty toughness about it. No matter what the circumstances, the Mailman delivered, or at least that was the idea. And thankfully for both Malone and the post office, the shorts grew longer with time.

Pete Maravich (signis.net)

No. 3 "Pistol Pete" Maravich
Alliteration? Check. Longevity? Check. A headline writer's dream? Check. In a sport that involves "shooting" a ball, Pistol Pete is the perfect nickname for an unbelievable scorer, who didn't have the luxury of a 3-point line. You can imagine the fear of opponents when seeing "Pistol Pete" walk onto the court, much like if he would be entering an old-west saloon. You'd better watch out if ol' Pistol Pete is around. 

Michael Jordan (midwestsportsfans.com)
No. 2 Michael "Air" Jordan
So maybe "Air Jordan" isn't the most creative nickname in the world. But when it's namesake sparks a global marketing boom, can you really leave it out? Jordan did a lot well on the court, but his best trick was hanging in the air for what seemed like an eternity; switching hands on the ball, splitting defenders, ordering room service for after the game. The most exciting play in basketball is the slam dunk and the world sat up in it's seat when Air Jordan got ready for takeoff.

Magic Johnson (interbasketball.net)
No. 1 Ervin "Magic" Johnson
Magic. In sports circles that's all you need to say and everyone will understand. This wasn't just a nickname those who followed the team knew. He will always be Magic Johnson, with lesser references to Ervin sounding more like the nickname. Just think about the person. Johnson was a 6-foot-8 point guard who could do it all: pass, dribble in traffic, and of course, score. And he legitimately played the position, unlike a LeBron or Durant, who will occasionally walk the ball up the court. How many 6-foot-8 players do you see wanting to run the point and you have to look away and cringe, knowing it can't end well? Johnson was magical on the court, and how he's been able to overcome an HIV-positive diagnosis for 20 years is pretty magical in itself.


Honorable mention: "The Admiral" David Robinson, "The Worm" Dennis Rodman, "The Big Aristotle" Shaq, "The Truth" Paul Pierce and "The Answer" Allen Iverson, "Spud" Webb and "Larry Legend" Bird


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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Anthony Davis Met Another Formidable Unibrow at the Olympics

Anthony Davis poses with his brother in 'brow. (via Kobe Bryant's Facebook)
To no one's surprise, the USA-Spain gold-medal game was tightly contested. New Orleans Hornets rookie-in-waiting Anthony Davis saw playing time late in the game after sitting for a majority of Team USA's Olympic run, and can claim some contribution to the Americans' 107-100 victory. It is not something he will soon forget.

Ever the worker of back channels, though, Kobe Bryant — Team USA's veteran of veterans — organized something else for his young counterpart. In lieu of snapping photos of his gold medal, Bryant introduced Davis to Armenian wrestler Gadzhimurad Nurmagomedov, another world-class athlete clad with one eyebrow.

Bryant allegedly spotted Nurmagomedov during Team USA's celebration and, thinking quickly, united the Armenian with Davis and uploaded the picture to his Facebook account.

Solid work by Kobe, who is going an unusual route by vying for an after-basketball job as a photographer rather than a coach or broadcaster. If he really wanted to make a name for himself, though, he would have found a way to include Mexican diver Ivan Garcia and complete the unibrow trifecta. It's not often that one can snap a flick of three eyebrows on three faces at once.

Kudos to Dan Devine at Ball Don't Lie and Trey Kerby at The Basketball Jones for jumping on this.


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Monday, August 13, 2012

Chris Paul: The Sometimes Overlooked - But Not Underappreciated - Heart of Team USA

Chris Paul celebrating a gold medal with the American flag. (USA Today)

It was the scene everyone expected to see, yet the fact that it was anticipated didn’t take away from the scene of watching Team USA celebrate like excited kids as the U.S. defeated Spain 107-100 to win the gold medal at the London Olympics.

Superstars of the game, who one would assume work hard on their public appearance and try to seem cool, jumped up and down, hugged their coach and celebrated just as hard as the athletes we only hear about every four years. And that’s the way it should be. Although it was expected, the team earned the right to celebrate.

You saw LeBron James hitting clutch 3’s, Kevin Durant’s monster scoring performance and Kobe exiting his last Olympic Games on top. What you might have overlooked was the nucleus of the team whose play during the tournament should not be discounted.

The excitement of playing in the Olympics seems to have a carry-over effect with the following NBA season. Playing with the best players in the world looks to help players prepare better than pick-up games and summer leagues back in the States. Theories have been documented that playing in the Olympics has helped fuel players in their next NBA season. Kobe Bryant won an NBA title, and an NBA Finals MVP award, after the 2008 Olympics. The same happened for Michael Jordan and the Bulls following the appearance of the Dream Team in 1992. The rest of the offseason will now be spent determining who will use the Olympic experience to shine in the Association this year.

Team USA’s three-headed monster of LeBron, Durant and Kobe will be obvious front runners. LeBron proved he is the best player in the world, Durant can drain shots from every spot on the floor in any country and Kobe still has that killer instinct that paralyzes opponents. They all are expected to explode in the NBA this season.

Organizing the gold-medal winners was Chris Paul; you know, that guy who made sure LeBron, Durant and Kobe had the ball where they needed to so they could put up those great performances. Paul may have flown under the radar, but was not unnoticed. Paul quietly became one of the most important pieces for the squad, coming up big when his team needed it most. The best example came when you might expect it, with 50 seconds remaining in the gold-medal game against Spain. After crossing-over a defender, Paul flipped in a layup just before the shot clock expired, all while the U.S. clung to a lead in the final minute of the game. The play was a dagger into Spain’s back that made Coach K jump in excitement something Mike Krzyzewski rarely does and epitomized Paul’s role and worth to the team.

Paul scored 11 points, dished out two assists and added three steals in the gold-medal game, which are numbers that won’t make your jaw drop to the floor. But sometimes what you see when watching the game doesn’t show up on the stat line. Paul made big plays at big moments throughout the Olympics, but also knew how to best use the Goliaths of basketball playing with him in USA jerseys. His 11 points came on only nine shots, meaning Paul was two things you love to see in true point guards. He was consistent and effective, taking good shots when he had them and making plays for his teammates when he didn’t. Paul didn’t need to score 25 points per game for Team USA to sweep the competition, and his understanding of his role and how to play within that role made that team better.

So while Durant and LeBron will come back to their respective teams and light up the competition, don’t be surprised if you see great play out of Chris Paul this NBA season. The transition period should be complete after a full season with the Clippers, and Paul will look to make the same type of plays with high-flyer Blake Griffin as he did with his Olympic teammates.

Don’t let the stats fool you. Paul may not lead the league in scoring, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of his performance. The rewards he is reaping from a successful stint as Team USA’s floor general can only be a positive when he returns to Los Angeles. Paul will have more confidence, experience and a better understanding of how his international counterparts in the NBA play the game.

It’s amazing what a little gold can do for a player’s motivation.


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Friday, August 10, 2012

What to Make of Dwight Howard as a Laker

Dwight Howard's not sure why you're so upset. (icareitmatters.com)
There's no reason to like him.

Dwight Howard is personable in public, likes to crack wise, and, hell, he even recorded a Kidz Bop album (quality not to be mentioned) in an attempt to endear himself to fans. He is can be a good sport and sells it all with a charming smile.

Howard damaged his public image, though, as he snaked his way out of Orlando and the extension he chose to sign that would have kept him as the Magic's centerpiece for the 2012-13 season. Maybe, to the casual fan, that's no big deal. But NBA diehards will not — should not — forget Howard's actions.

Howard tried to preserve his reputation by stating publicly his intention to stay with the organization that drafted him in 2004. Amidst rumors that Stan Van Gundy could be a victim of the Dwightmare, Howard put on a fabricated front. All was naught, because word leaked that, despite signing the extension, behind closed doors Howard still desired a trade.

He may redeem himself in time. Lakers fans will love him as soon as his first promotional photos are released, if they aren't already fawning.

As they should. No matter your take on Howard's tactics leading to the massive four-team trade which landed him in Los Angeles and, including draft picks, shuffled more than 12 players around the league — he made the right choice. That statement does not need to appear in bold font because it should not shock anyone.

Few places can offer the talent that will surround Howard as the yellow-clad team of Staples Center. Remember, the Lakers were Howard's original team of choice before being swayed by the Brooklyn Nets. Howard has wanted to be part of a superstar cast rather than be a roster's headliner since the beginning of this messy saga.

The Orlando front office simply wasn't getting it done. Gilbert Arenas is not Kobe Bryant. As strong as he came on last season, Ryan Anderson is not Pau Gasol. For what he can do, Jameer Nelson is light-years away from being Steve Nash.

If he wants a ring sooner than later, Howard did the right thing. If he wants a bigger or longer contract in a place of his own choosing, Howard has the right to explore free agency next summer. The trade was, ultimately, a business decision made by the Magic. They forsook better offers from Brooklyn and the Houston Rockets, and were forced to settle for less.

Dealing Howard before seeing him on the court again was right for multiple reasons (locker room presence, the aftermath of back surgery, et al.). The Orlando front office is right for having done it. And for all the hemming and hawing, Howard is right purely on a basketball level for having forced the Magic's hand.

Assuming he wants to win now, Howard has improved his place in the NBA, even if he unmasked himself in the process.


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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

LeBron James: Handballer, High Jumper, Gymnast?


If you’ve been paying any attention to handball, you probably know that America is terrible. That probably shouldn’t surprise you; if you’re like me, you barely knew about the sport before the Olympics started. But if you actually watch the sport, it immediately becomes clear that America should dominate. It involves a lot of running, throwing, dribbling, passing and everything else that America loves and is really good at. What’s even more surprising is the fact that the USSR won more gold medals in the event than anyone else. At the very least, you would think that Richard Nixon would feel that national security was being threatened and personally handpick his own team.
(fnt-usa.org)

Anyway, while I was watching the sport the other day, I couldn’t stop thinking about how great the U.S. basketball team would fair at the sport. It wouldn’t even be hard they would probably only need three or four practices to learn the game and be great at it. LeBron James seems to be specifically tailor made for this game, but that’s mostly because he is such an insane athlete, and you could put him in almost any Olympic event and he could compete. So just for fun, I decided to speculate on how LeBron and the rest of Team USA would compete in other events.

Beach Volleyball
This is a sport where tall guys with long wingspans can excel. The movements aren’t that dissimilar to basketball so it wouldn’t take long to pick up. While watching the American men play volleyball, I couldn’t help but think that Anthony Davis would completely dominate the game. Don’t get me wrong: the thought of having The 'Brow represent America like a foreign diplomat scares me, but shot blockers are really important in the game. Miraculously, while I was writing this piece, I found a video which might prove my theory right, if someone would teach Kevin Durant the rules.

Swimming
Again, this is a sport where long wingspans can give athletes a huge advantage. I don’t know how good Team USA is at swimming, but I think they could pick it up with time. The only exception would be James Harden, whose beard would cause way to much drag in the pool.

100m Dash
I doubt LeBron could ever medal, but if there was a heavyweight division (and who wouldn’t want to see 250 lb. guys racing each other?) I would expect him to take the gold.

High Jump
Again, he might not be one of the best in the world, but if you add a heavyweight division (which might be even more entertaining than big guys running), I expect another gold for LBJ.

Gymnastics
This would take LeBron a lot longer to train for than the rest of the competitions, but if he wanted to, I doubt anyone could stop him. He’s a great jumper, which would help on the floor routine, and has great upper body strength for the rings.


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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Don't Confuse Team USA's Great Performance with Running Up the Score

Team USA was accused of running up the score in a 156-73 win against Nigeria (Bleacher Report)


Lopsided was an understatement.

It was domination, a clinic or whatever colorful phrase you wish to call it.

The USA basketball team defeated Nigeria 156-73 in the fourth game of pool play, which some called unsportsmanlike. Team USA was accused of running up the score, embarrassing their opponent. When the U.S. began to run away from Argentina, ultimately winning 126-97 in the final game of pool play, Argentina showed their anger in the form of cheap fouls.

This topic is popular mainly in high school and college sports. Overmatched teams getting overrun until the final whistle saves them from the torture.

But in the Olympics?

These are the world’s best athletes who have earned the rights to be there. For some it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and for a lucky few, they will return with multiple chances for gold.

The Olympics ask for the best of the athletes competing. This competition isn’t for those who don’t give their full effort. Olympic and world records hang over athletes like pinatas, waiting to be broken. With the 156-73 stomping of Nigeria, Team USA broke the Olympic record for points in a game, win margin, 3-point shots made in a game and, individually, Carmelo Anthony scored the most points in an Olympic game by an American. Yes, it was a night to forget for Nigeria, but isn’t that the kind of performance we want to see from Team USA?


This wasn’t running up the score. It was a just a good game where every player was on. Team USA wasn’t running a full-court press, trying to steal every pass and get easy fast-break points. They were shooting 3s and long 2-point shots, which were supposed to be lower-percentage shots, but they just happened to go in. Was Anthony Davis just not supposed to dunk when he was on the receiving end of multiple wide-open alley-oops? Was Anthony supposed to aim his open 3s at side of the backboard? The Americans shot 71 percent from the field and 63 percent from 3-point range. It was just their night.  

Michael Phelps doesn’t slow down from world-record pace just because the swimmer in second is 50m behind. Usain Bolt doesn’t care how far back his fellow racers are, and has even been known to turn around before the finish line to taunt his competition. That’s what we love. We love watching great athletes do great things.

The opposite end of the topic includes the news of the Olympic badminton scandal, where teams were losing on purpose to get a better seeding. Kids are taught to do their best and try their hardest, and it is disappointing to the fans and opposing team to know a team won only because the competition blew the game on purpose. So couldn’t this be worse? Should we be worried about a team breaking an Olympic record when teams are showing much less sportsmanship and class by throwing matches?

I understand the Olympics continue to push sportsmanship and integrity in the sporting events, which it should. But sportsmanship wasn’t in question with Team USA. Maybe the USA was running up the score if Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant would have played the entire game, but LeBron and Kobe played just 11 minutes a piece, a no starter played more than Chris Paul's 22 minutes.


Why wouldn’t this team want to break an Olympic record when given the chance, not knowing if that opportunity will again become available? Team USA wasn’t taunting or keeping starters in the game. The USA didn’t pressure on defense or try to draw fouls. They simply made shots, which they should not be faulted for.

Team USA just happened to have a great game where every shot was going in. Let’s not blame them for this as if it is a bad thing, because I know viewers around the world enjoyed watching the performance, and instead appreciate the spectacle that no other team in Olympic history has accomplished.



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