Thursday, September 27, 2012

WCC: Gonzaga Looks to Dethrone St. Mary's and Reclaim the Title

The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Will Gonzaga or St. Mary's again claim a conference title, or will a darkhorse steal the show in 2012-13? (ESPN.com)
Gonzaga had a stranglehold on the West Coast Conference, winning 11-straight conference titles until St. Mary’s knocked the Zags off the throne last season. What makes the storyline even better? The two are heated rivals; one has claimed dominance over the conference and the other is looking to make the same jump the Zags have made from March Madness Cinderella to a team expected to make a run every year.

Add BYU into the mix in its second year in the league and the WCC is not a mid-major conference to be reckoned with. The league is top-heavy, but Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU all have the potential to be dangerous in March. Here’s how we think the WCC will shape up this season.

Conference Champion - Gonzaga
Sophomore Kevin Pangos will be a key member of the Zags 2012-13 campaign. (goldandbluezone.com)
Gonzaga lost a powerful inside presence in Robert Sacre, but the Zags have the talent and experience to reclaim the conference crown. If there’s one thing the WCC does well, it’s recruit international talent. Worldwide recruiting is what’s going to help replace the loss of Sacre, as the Bulldogs brought in 7-foot Polish star Przemek Karnowski. Gonzaga also has conference player of the year candidate, Elias Harris, and Sam Dower, who was sensational coming off the bench last season, in the post. The Bulldogs will also have strong guard play with sophomores Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, 13.6 and 10.4 ppg last season respectively, now having a full season of experience under their belts. The Zags play four Big 12 teams (West Virginia, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State) and Butler in the non-conference schedule, which will give the team valuable experience heading into conference play.

Darkhorse Team to Watch - Loyola Marymount
Don't sleep on Loyola Marymount to make a run at the WCC's top teams. (sfgate.com)
Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and BYU take up most of the conversation at the top of the conference standings, but don’t be surprised if Loyola Marymount fights its way into one of the top three spots. The Lions finished fourth in the league last season, but just a game behind BYU for third with an 11-5 conference record. Head coach Max Good’s team was never an easy win for opponents, with only one of the five conference losses coming by more than 10 points (to Gonzaga in Spokane). The 21-13 Lions also defeated UCLA on the road and St. Louis at home in the non-con, showing the team can compete with NCAA Tournament teams. Loyola Marymount lost its second leading scorer in Drew Viney, but guard Anthony Ireland returns as the team’s leading scorer with 16.1 ppg last season. The Lions are a strong fundamental team, shown in the fact they were the No. 1 free-throw shooting team last year (73.8 percent), and third in field goal percentage defense, steals and turnover margin.

Player of the Year - Matthew Dellavedova (St. Mary’s)

Dellavedova is the ultimate playmaker for the Gaels. (zimbio.com)
WCC opponents cringe when Dellavedova has the ball in his hands. The senior point guard from Australia is the face of the team, and will be even more valuable after the loss of senior Rob Jones, who averaged a double-double of 15 points and 10.8 rebounds per game last season. You can look at the stats; that Dellavedova averaged 15.5 ppg and 6.4 assists, and had 10 games of 20 more points (and a season high of 27), but more importantly, Dellavedova is clutch. The Aussie wants the ball in his hands when the games are tight, and he often delivers with big shots and plays to either keep St. Mary’s alive or put the game out of reach. Dellavedova is an excellent 3-point shooter who is also not afraid to drive to the basket and initiate contact. He spent his summer playing on the Australian National Team in the 2012 London Olympics, where he competed against some of the best players in the world. That’s pretty good experience before starting a senior season of college.

Newcomer of the Year - Przemek Karnowski (Gonzaga)

Prezemek Karnowski should make an immediate impact on Gonzaga's post game. (eurohopes.com)
The 7-foot Polish player has been compared to Memphis Grizzlies forward Marc Gasol and was labeled an “McDonald’s All-American-type recruit.” Duke, Kansas and Marquette were all interested in Karnowski, but Gonzaga won the sweepstakes, and Karnowski looks to make an instant impact. Karnowski has the skills necessary to play Division-I basketball, but part of the reason why he could be successful early is that he fits well with Gonzaga’s personnel and scheme. Center Robert Sacre is gone and now an LA Laker so Karnowski should be able to slide into that 5-man spot. He also has a similar game to Sacre, who had a successful collegiate career. Karnowski will post up on the block and use move and fakes to get to the bucket, and can also hit the turnaround shot. The Zags also have forwards Harris and Dower, who both have good mid-range jumpers and can drive to the basket. Gonzaga should be able to spread the floor and give Karnowski room to work in the lane. The big man is also a solid passer, which could prove costly to opponents who double team him in the paint.


Coach of the Year - Rex Walters (San Francisco)
Rex Walters has a difficult task replacing four starters from a last season. (usf.usfca.edu)
Mark Few (Gonzaga) and Randy Bennett (St. Mary’s) will always be in the conversation for WCC Coach of the Year with the success their teams have had. But the award is for best coaching job, which usually means finding success after overcoming obstacles. Walters' team posted a respectable 20-14 season (8-8 in the WCC) a season ago, which included a one-point win over Gonzaga. The obstacle in building on last season came when Walters lost six players to transfers and two to graduation. The transfers included Perris Blackwell, the second leading scorer on the team a season ago and an Honorable Mention All-WCC selection. The Dons are returning only one starter (point guard Cody Doolin) and six players total. Walters’ top recruits (small forward Tim Derksen and center Matt Christiansen) will have to learn quickly and contribute immediately. If Walters can get his essentially new team to buy in quickly and match or exceed last year’s record, he will have to be considered for the conference’s coach of the year.


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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Coaching and Market Size in the Career of J.R. Smith

J.R. Smith — ejected against Indiana — could fit with the Pacers. (windyapple.com)

Eight years is long enough to establish your worth as a commodity in the basketball community. J.R. Smith's path through three NBA franchises in that amount of time has been riddled with ridiculous feats of athleticism, hugely entertaining dunks, and enough headaches for coaches and fans to know exactly what they are getting when associating with the New York Knicks shooting guard.

Smith is hardheaded and insistent on being a go-to scoring option, but thus far has not bought into playing systematic basketball or committed defense. Last week, Jonathan Abrams explored Smith's enigmatic on-court presence in this piece at Grantland. The piece chronicles Smith's upbringing and seeming inability to mature or advance his game. It is worth reading, for sure. The coaching particulars brought up are important. Two of the three professional head coaches who have worked with Smith — Byron Scott in New Orleans and George Karl in Denver — are known taskmasters. Smith's current coach, Mike Woodson, is defensive-minded and inherited a team with two All-Star talents in Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.
None of these men are ideal candidates for a coach-player pairing with the 27-year-old, and Smith has never had a starring role during his NBA career for reasons including paying rookie dues as a teenager and, later, Chris Paul's arrival with the Hornets in 2005-06. Paul immediately became a centerpiece for the Hornets and Smith was traded to the Bulls in the offseason, then flipped again to the Nuggets where Anthony was already entrenched as the headliner.

But what if Smith's case is one filled with bad breaks? Would he flourish on a team that asked him to do nothing but shoot? A Smith-centric game may have worked in Mike D'Antoni's game plans, but his ousting in New York came five months before Smith signed with the Knicks after a lockout-forced stint in China, albeit the plans would have only been made around Smith with a purging of Madison Square Garden's star forwards.

But in an alternate reality, it is possible Smith would have been a lead act given free rein in a seven-seconds-or-less offense that relied on an offensive barrage to overcome defensive inefficiencies like those that are an all too real part of Smith's game. To point: he may be the only player ever to receive useful D advice from Carmelo Anthony.

Smith fits the run-and-gun style to a tee and loves to throw three-pointers at a moment's notice, as evidenced by his top-10 statuses in 3-point attempts and makes in both 2008-09 and 2009-10. His father, as quoted in the Abrams article, taught defense as an afterthought and sought to breed an offensive prowess that unarguably exists.

The characteristics are ingrained, learned. Coaching matters, but so does the surrounding cast. Aside from the Anthony-Stoudemire duo and Chris Paul, Smith's rookie season is the closest example of being on a team with an undefined go-to guy in his entire career. He started 56 games and played in 76 that season, but dealt with the growing pains of being a teenager in a man's game as the Hornets crawled to an 18-64 record.

Big markets attract big names and aptly sized personalities, so Smith's signing and recent re-signing with the Knicks is no surprise, and his friendship with Anthony no doubt influenced the initial decision. Returning to alternate scenarios, though, Smith would be a star in a small-market.

Smith drives against the Pacers. (Michael Conroy/AP)
When teams were courting him in February, Smith took to Twitter and listed a bevy of big-market teams that he was considering, but the guard also included the Indiana Pacers — a defensively tough team full of capable players with no discernible take-charge leader on the offensive end. The Pacers captured the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff seeding, but Smith would have added another dimension to the team. His presence demands attention behind the arc and his ability to create shots for himself would open opportunities for teammates.

His ascension to what many, including Smith himself, would consider a lead guard position wouldn't change the fact that the guard title is prefaced by the word "shooting," not "point." Smith's career average of assisting other players' field goals is 14.3 percent, with 17.3 percent in the 2008-09 season being the highest mark by a wide margin.

That season was a perfect storm for Smith. The Nuggets traded Allen Iverson to Detroit in the early runnings, getting back a willing facilitator in Chauncey Billups. Anthony missed 16 games because of a suspension, a sore elbow and a broken bone in his hand suffered against the Pacers on Jan. 5. This injury necessitated an uptick in offensive production from the Nuggets' supporting cast and Smith was happy to oblige, notching career highs in points (1,233), assists (227), assist percentage and minutes played. Smith also started 18 games — more than in any season since his last time in a Hornets jersey in 2005-06.

The sample size is small, but Smith willingly stepped up when called upon. The baggage that came along with additional playing time came in the form of career highs in two other categories: turnovers (150) and personal fouls (190).


Assuming Smith could overtake rookie guard-forward tweener Paul George and his rookie backup Lance Stephenson — both of which likely could have happened — he would have been a starter on a playoff-bound team, especially if head coach Frank Vogel thought inserting a newly signed free agent into the line-up would not be a detriment to continuity and chemistry.


If starter's minutes begot the same kind of performance that Smith supplied the Nuggets in 2008-09, an extension would have been on the table in no time. Whether or not Smith would have meandered to a major media market is anyone's guess, but resigning with the Pacers would have made him the most ballyhooed guard on a team with All-Stars in the front court. All-Stars who are quiet either by nature or virtue of playing in the Midwest. Given Smith's personality and the confidence it takes to make the direct leap from high school to professional sports, a starting spot on a playoff team would seem hard to turn down for a seat on any team's bench.


Last season's Pacers, maybe, are the ideal scenario for Smith on a small market team. If he would fit as well in Charlotte, Salt Lake City, etc., could be a different story. Eight years in, and it is still easy to believe that he would relish the limelight of being the focal point of an NBA team. And knowing that, just maybe, would allow Smith to find more pleasure riding bikes in the shadows of smaller buildings than he has under the lights of Times Square.



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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Creighton: Usual Suspects in the Missouri Valley Title Hunt

The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Doug McDermott will once again lead Creighton's charge to the top of the MVC. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle)

Favorite:  Creighton

Creighton is the only Missouri Valley team to be ranked in the top 20 preseason poll. The reason is simple, and his name is Doug McDermott. Entering his junior year, McDermott is the only First Team All-American returning to NCAA competition, and he's an insanely efficient scorer who averages 23 points per game on 60 percent shooting while staying at 48 percent from three point range.

Creighton is also returning veteran point guard Grant Gibbs, who averages five assists a game. They are losing two of their three leading scorers, however, in guard Antoine Young and center Gregory Echenique. Echenique's departure is an especially big blow because of his shot blocking, but he will be replaced by a seven-footer out of Texas named Geoff Grosselle. 

Dark Horse:  Northern Iowa

In 2011-12, Northern Iowa was tied for third place in the conference. This year, they are returning six of their seven highest scorers from last season. They had a surprisingly balanced attack last year, with only one player averaging (rising senior Anthony James) more than 10 points per contest. Their experience could be a huge advantage in the coming months. 

POY:  Doug McDermott, Creighton

McDermott should be the unanimous pick. The 23 points and eight rebounds he averaged per game last year gives him a convincing argument even before this season begins.

Coach of the year:  Greg Marshall, Wichita State

Wichita State is losing their top six leading scorers from last year. There is no doubt 2012-13 will be tough, but the coach of the year award usually goes to the team with the lowest expectations at the beginning of the season. Marshall has a great recruiting class that includes three-star small forward Deontae Hawkins and Oregon transfer Malcom Armstead, who averaged 8.6 points and 4.4 assists per game two seasons ago. 

Newcomer:  Fred Van Fleet, Wichita State

Another addition to Marshall's remade Wichita State roster, Van Fleet is a four-star point guard from Chicago. Although he is undersized at only 5’11”, he is still a threat, proven by his status as the No. 1 recruit out of Illinois this year. Van Fleet has been committed to WSU since his junior year. His ballhandling and shooting should should anchor the Shockers' backcourt for the next four years.


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Gonzaga Trick-Shot Video Going Viral

A few of the guards on Gonzaga's basketball team including starter Kevin Pangos put a highlight reel of trick shots on YouTube yesterday. Th video, which is at the beginning stages of going viral, also includes a guest appearance from PGA golfer and Zags fan Kyle Stanley.

As of 9 a.m. today, the video already had 3,446 views and is getting attention from some of the game's biggest media members. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted a link out this morning that is sure to help boost the number of hits.

The video begins with introductions and some of the more traditional trick shots, but be patient. As you get further in, you'll see lots of deep-range shots from the upper deck of the McCarthy Athletic Center, as well as the use of props. One of the most impressive shots is about two minutes into the video, when a sling-shot-esque prop is employed.

 
 
If you enjoy impressive trick shots, this is worth your time. If you enjoy trick shots and lots of dancing basketball players, don't waste another second.


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Friday, September 21, 2012

Billy Gillispie Resignation Best For He and Texas Tech, But Leaves Both In Worse Shape

Billy Gillispie resigned Thursday as coach of Texas Tech. (bleacherreport.com)

This is how it had to end. It was the only way that made sense.

And yet while Billy Gillispie resigning as the head coach of Texas Tech Thursday citing health as the reason although he may not have had a job much longer anyway was probably best all around, everyone involved in the situation is now worse off.

Billy Gillipsie will have trouble finding a new job. Gillispie was accused of mistreating and overworking his players, causing many of them to leave the program. Gillispie did not defend himself against the accusations because he was in the hospital dealing with stress and other health issues.

Coaching shouldn't be on Gillispie's radar until his health is in order, but even when he's ready, it won't be an easy comeback. This is the coach's second failed stop (the first being at Kentucky) and now it is going to be hard for players to trust him and buy into his system. Both his coaching and personal reputations are bruised and will need time to heal, if they ever do.

The Red Raider basketball program is in just as bad of shape. Texas Tech was steamrolled throughout the season finishing 8-23 overall and 1-17 in Big 12 play and bringing in a third coach in as many years will delay the rebuilding process.

I wrote earlier how Texas Tech had no choice but to part ways with Gillispie, especially after what happened with the school and former football coach Mike Leach. This outcome was inevitable, but it is far from a happy ending.

Texas Tech is not the easiest place to recruit players. The school is in Lubbock, located in the middle of west Texas not exactly a metropolis area where football is still the king. The prestige of being in the Big 12 helps, but is then countered by the fact the in-state recruiting competition is more talented Baylor and Texas, not to mention conference foe Kansas, who has found success recruiting in the conference's southernmost state.

The focal point of the player mistreatment allegations has been Gillispie, but there are those who have placed blame on the players, calling them soft. Others have come to Gillispie's defense, including former players who say they would play for him again. Coaches interested in being Gillispie's replacement might be hesitant to enter the situation for fear of receiving the same reputation. The new coach may even change his coaching style, easing up on practices and preparation out of precaution. If allegations arise for a second time, the Red Raider job will look like a career death sentence.

Gillispie will spend time away from coaching to restore his health, which is his first priority. Coaching is on the back burner, and maybe time will help heal his reputation.

Texas Tech is now in the hunt for a new coach. The rebuilding process has started over, and fans will have to sit through another long winter of losing. Gillispie's first season with the team did not amount to many wins, but often the second year is more successful. Now success is at least three or four years away.

The players were able to part with their coach, but three coaches in three years is never successful for players. Regardless of fault, they too have a stigma attached to them.

Then there's the new coach, whoever he may turn out to be. The Texas Tech job has now become possibly the most difficult job in the country. Who wants to inherit a controversial program that could barely compete on the court last year? This is not a quick fix. It will take time, patience and strong will.

This is as close to a happy ending as the situation could get in Lubbock, but no one is left smiling.


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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Horizon League Conference Preview: Life Without Butler


The long wait will soon be over when the first official NCAA basketball game of the 2012-13 season will tip-off on Nov. 15. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Ryan Broekhoff looks to lead Valparaiso to a Horizon title this season. (Ray Acevedo)

Favorite: Valparaiso

The Horizon League will be in search for a new standard-bearer following the departure of the Butler Bulldogs to the Atlantic 10 Conference. In the near-term, the most likely contender is Valparaiso. Bryce Drew, famous for his buzzer-beating shot to send No. 13-seed Valparaiso to victory in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament, took over the helm for his father in 2011 and led Valpo to a regular season championship. The Crusaders look to be the favorites again after graduating only two seniors, who averaged 1.4 and 0.4 points per game, respectively.

Dark Horse: Youngstown State

Youngstown St. finished a distant 6th in the 2011-12 regular season standings. However, the Penguins return their top three scorers in 2012, including stand-out guard Kendrick Perry, the league's top scorer at 16.8 ppg. Cleveland State, Milwaukee, and Detroit will challenge Valparaiso with their talent alone, but the experience of Youngstown St. makes them a true dark horse candidate in a relatively weak field.

POY: Ryan Broekhoff, Valparaiso

Broekhoff looks poised to edge out Detroit's Ray McCallum, Jr. for his second straight Player of the Year honor. The 6-7 power forward from Australia averaged 14.9 ppg and led the league with 8.5 rebounds per game in his junior year. By the way, he also shot 39 percent from 3-point range. Broekhoff nearly made it to the final cut for the Australian national team this summer and has continued to develop all facets of his game. If he continues to make strides in his senior campaign, look for him to make noise on the national scene and potentially find his way into the first round of the NBA draft.

Coach of the Year: Porter Moser, Loyola Chicago

Bryce Drew won the honor of Horizon League Coach of the Year in his first season with Valparaiso. I'm guessing the pattern will continue with Loyola's first-year head coach Porter Moser. The Ramblers have received positive reviews for their hire of the former St. Louis associate head coach. Kansas head coach Bill Self said:
"Porter is very familiar with Chicago and has already gained some valuable head coaching experience at a young age. He is someone whom [St. Louis head coach Rick] Majerus gave a lot of responsibility to because of his abilities. He is a great fit for Loyola and the University. Alums and fans will love having him as their head coach."
Porter will begin with a team that returns three of its five leading scorers from last season, along with a strong recruiting class. In fact, he recently attracted University of Kansas recruit Milton Doyle (one can assume that Self helped direct Doyle to the Ramblers, given his positive opinion of Moser). After Loyola finished dead last in the Horizon League with a 1-17 conference mark, there's plenty of room to improve and impress.

Newcomer: Junior Lomomba, Cleveland State

Cleveland St. scored a big recruiting victory with Lomomba. The Vikings beat out the likes of Baylor, Minnesota, Cincinnati, and Xavier for the 6-4, 175-pound small forward from Madison, Wisc. ESPN's scouting report gives Lomomba three stars and calls him a slasher, writing, "Junior runs the floor and attacks from the wing in transition and has no problem finishing through contact on a regular basis." With Cleveland St. losing its three leading scorers from 2011-12, there should be plenty of opportunity for Lomomba to get playing time and make a name for himself right away.


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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On the Passing of Steve Sabol, Football Film Mastermind

Steve Sabol influenced more than football filming. (AP Photo)
Anyone that visits BDD or reads our Twitter feed on a regular basis knows that our primary focus is basketball. On such an occasion as the passing of a luminary, however, conventional barriers can be bypassed out of respect.

Those mourning Steve Sabol, an engine powering the NFL Films machine for the past 50 years, number more than we can imagine. After an 18-month ordeal with brain cancer, the NFL films president died Tuesday morning at the age of 69. Whether his impact in an person's life was direct or simply held as a passing gesture, Sabol will be missed.

True, this can be said of most people after their deaths. But Sabol, in his way, revolutionized the way sports are filmed. His 35 individual Emmys for work with NFL Films are a testament to this, as are any number of NFL video clips or documentaries. Sabol's goal was to allow fans of American professional football to see the game he loved from new angles, beginning with his work as a cinematographer and continuing through his rise to company president.

It would be a stretch to say that Sabol is the sole inspiration for multi-camera tracking, which enables more advanced analysis of NBA games or the camera angles that chafed some viewers during this year's NCAA tournament, but his enterprising interpretation of the game he loved will have a residual effect on the way every sports broadcast is seen for a long time, if not forever.


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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Reason for Seattle to Look Forward

Sonics great Gary Payton and his watch reflect on good times with Chris Hansen. (AP Photo)

The Oklahoma City Thunder's NBA Finals appearance must have really stung Chris Hansen. It was already in his plans to lead a group of investors in funding a new sports arena in Seattle, and mayor Mike McGinn submitted an official proposal of financing in May, but talks with the city intensified in June and culminated in a deal with defined financial terms being signed last week.

By most accounts, Hansen seems to be genuine in his approach and reasoning. He is a local product that, as a hedge fund manager, reached billionaire status while working in San Francisco. While there is technically no professional basketball franchise in San Francisco, the Golden State Warriors reside in the Bay Area and appear to be trending up, especially since any backcourt-ballhandling issues should have been resolved with Monta Ellis leaving town and a healthy Andrew Bogut heading into his first training camp with the team this fall.

In this context, Hansen's concessions to the initial plan — taking on more responsibility for cost overruns or, worse, if construction is never completed; purchasing the arena after 30 years of use or paying to raze the arena if it is to be torn down after the same amount of time — are understandable, even with his group already ponying up $290 million of private money to the cause. Hansen cannot be blamed for wanting to bring pro basketball back to a city that felt David Stern's scorn in 2007 as the Zombie Sonics waited to rise from the ground in OKC, with the NBA commissioner using the phrase "too bad" after stating that "if the team moves, there's not going to be another team [in Seattle], not in any conceivable plan that I could envision."

For a city that houses teams in the NFL and MLB, those words were a death knell. So, supposing Hansen's aim is true, there is no blame to be hurled or had.

A Sonics fan mourns. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Though reports that the arena will be entirely self-financing are false Seattle's property owners would incur an additional two or three dollars in taxes each year since the proposed arena would be publicly owned — portions of the funding are required to go toward the improvement of public transportation in the SoDo neighborhood, where the arena would reside alongside the baseball and football stadiums already in place, according to a Slate article that goes in-depth on funding. Slate's reporting also explores the red-tape that may make it a challenge to bring in a new franchise.

Excitement over any prospects attached to this proposal should be tempered, though. Stern stated in February that NBA owners are not overly eager to expand, meaning that a "new" team is probably not in the equation for Seattle. He did mention that it is not unbecoming of a franchise to relocate, and one particular California team could be ready for such a move after being shopped to any prospective buyer.

In total, $800 million of private money would get Seattle a new arena that is expected to be the home of professional basketball and hockey teams; a binding agreement that neither team that plays there can relocate until the city of Seattle's financial investment is repaid in full; refinement of public transportation in a high-traffic district; and half-a-decade-late improvements to KeyArena, the former home of the Supersonics.

I know a little bit about basketball, and a very little bit about the nuances of constructing an arena and the funding necessary to pull off such a feat. That being said, it sounds like Seattle is getting the better end of things.


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Monday, September 17, 2012

Turgeon, Recruits Aim To Bring Maryland Back to Prominence

Coach Mark Turgeon is in the process of bringing Maryland back to success. (testudotimes.com)

It hasn't been that long ago that Maryland basketball was in the hunt for ACC and national titles every season.

The program hit a rebuilding process after the retirement of coach Gary Williams, and now head coach Mark Turgeon is trying to bring the program back to prominence. After this recruiting season, he could be close.

The Terrapins landed former Xavier guard Dez Wells at the beginning of the month, who left Xavier after an alleged sexual assault incident. Wells, a member of the Atlantic 10 rookie first-team last season who averaged nearly 10 points and five rebounds per game, will likely have to sit out this season due to the school change.

If the Terps can be patient and continue to progress this season, look for the 2013-14 year as the time Maryland begins making noise. Turgeon brought in a transfer forward from Michigan, Evan Smotrycz, who will also be eligible in 2013, and Maryland is in the market for the best guard duo in the 2013 high school class.

Aaron and Andrew Harrison, twin guards from Fort Bend, Texas, and the Nos. 3 and 4-rated recruits in their class, have just narrowed their list of possible schools to three, and the Terps are still in the hunt. Kentucky is one of the other schools remaining, and SMU the third school, so nothing is certain.

The Harrisons will visit Maryland for the program's Midnight Madness on Oct. 12, and while everything is uncertain when judging high school talent transitioning to the college level, landing the twins would likely be monumental for the Terps' growth. We mentioned in a previous post on the 2013 class what talented twins can do for a team.

The combination of a strong 2012 recruiting class led by center Shaquille Cleare, who will have a year of experience by 2013 the transfers who will be eligible to play, and the signing of the Harrison twins could shoot Maryland back into the top of the ACC in the 2013-14 season.

Turgeon's track record speaks for itself. He turned Wichita State and Texas A&M into conference contenders and NCAA Tournament teams, and he can do the same for Maryland. The Terps haven't made the NCAA Tournament since the 2009-10 season, but don't expect this streak to continue much longer.

If all goes Maryland's way, the Terps will have the talent and the coach to return to the program's rich tradition of success.


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Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Look Back on Jim Calhoun's Candid Interview Response That Became an Internet Sensation

At 2 p.m. Thursday, Jim Calhoun will hold his final press conference, where he will announce his retirement.

It takes more than a few words to describe Calhoun's coaching career and his legacy. National basketball writers have been tackling the task of summing up Calhoun's retirement; about his success and NCAA troubles, his likeability and his outbursts.

I'll let them handle it. Instead, as Calhoun steps up to the podium for the final time as UCONN's head coach, let's have some fun and take a look back on the question regarding his salary in 2009 that became an Internet sensation.


As much as this showed us about Calhoun - his candidness, his willingness to give advice ("Shut up") and more specifically how much money he makes - this was a good lesson for reporters looking for the scoop on UCONN stories that happen outside of the court. If a reporter wanted that angle, Calhoun wasn't going to help him with it. What Calhoun shows us in the video is why many people loved him.

Don't expect this dialog in today's press conference. Instead, it'll be a good reminder of what the basketball world will miss with Calhoun's retirement.


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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Notre Dame's Move to ACC Drives Stake Into Big East

Notre Dame's basketball team, along with all sports except for football, is the newest member of the ACC. (und.com)

The Notre Dame football program has yet to hear an offer sweet enough to lure it away from it's Independent status, which is not a surprise. That move could still be years away. But for all other sports, and basketball most importantly, the Irish are the newest members of the growing juggernaut that is the ACC.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported Wednesday morning that Notre Dame will join the ACC in all sports except for football. It is still unclear when that will be. The Big East has a 27-month exit rule, but the last three schools to leave the conference West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse have all left early.

For basketball fans, the Big East Conference Tournament is one of the biggest events of the season. The brutal road of ranked teams facing off as early as quarterfinal games in Madison Square Garden made for wildly entertaining basketball. Enjoy this year's tournament, because after this year, it won't be the same.

Conference realignment has been mainly dictated by football, which makes sense seeing as it is the largest revenue sport. So while Syracuse and Pitt are both basketball schools (West Virginia has been successful in both), the moves to the ACC and Big 12 was also because of football.

But now a school has made a move to a new conference without its football team, for now, and there lies the potential death of the Big East.

Don't get me wrong, Notre Dame's decision was also about football. Part of the agreement to move to the ACC is that the football team, while still an Independent, must schedule five ACC opponents every year.

Notre Dame saw the decline of their conference in basketball as well, and bolted before it became worse. While the football team is still involved with the school's move to the ACC, the team itself is staying still. Most conference realignment moves happen because of football, but Notre Dame's acceptance into the ACC may motivate teams without football programs to also make a switch.

Who is to say teams like Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova who do not have FBS football teams won't do the same? UCONN has also expressed an interest in leaving the Big East, which would make them the fifth team to do so in the last two years. Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova can't be blamed for also heading to greener basketball pastures.

In an uneasy time for conferences, the Big East is by far the most vulnerable and Notre Dame's departure puts it on even shakier ground. As a school, Notre Dame has the most tradition and national recognition in the Big East, even without football. The biggest basketball conference in the country may be on the verge of extinction.

Notre Dame's departure will be possibly the most painful to the Big East because it reopened the door for schools without football to follow. Football aside, Notre Dame didn't trust a future in the Big East, and other schools in the conference probably feel the same way. It's only a matter of time before they too seek out opportunities elsewhere.


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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mavs' Mbenga Move Culminates Two-Year Slide

One of these men is in Dallas Mavericks training camp. One is Kenyon Martin. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

D.J. Mbenga is a large man by NBA standards. Juxtaposed with anyone who doesn't play professional basketball, he is downright huge. But size does not translate directly into success, and Mbenga — with his muscular 7-foot stature tipping the scales around 245 pounds — does not have a place in the Association.

That is to say that the center does not have the skills necessary to excel in the NBA, not that he is unemployed. ESPN reported this morning that the Dallas Mavericks are adding Mbenga to the team's training camp roster. Depth is important, but after procuring the frontcourt services of Chris Kaman and Elton Brand in the offseason, and already having 15 guaranteed contracts on the books for 2012-13, this move exemplifies how far removed the Mavs really are from the championship-winning team that felled the Miami Heat just 15 months ago.

A two-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Mbenga is a player who is best known for being dunked on (notice there are four links — one of which leads to a compilation), and, in seven seasons, has failed to post even an average Win-Shares per 48 Minutes statistic. As a rookie, his WS/48 was actually -0.029. His closest approach to the league-average mark of .100 came in 2010-11 when he notched .076 with the New Orleans Hornets. In layman's terms, this means that Mbenga's offensive and defensive efforts add very little to team success and sometimes, in the occasion of negative win shares, hinders his team's chances of winning.

True, it is not easy to produce impressive numbers when playing reserve minutes, but plenty of people have made their living as bench-filling stopgaps. Mbenga might be that, barely.

The Mavs' current roster is not devoid of playmakers. There will be at least one as long as Dirk Nowitski is getting meaningful minutes. The ball-handling forward is entering the autumn of his career, though, and Jason Terry is no longer around to bring energy off the bench like he did during the championship run, when he spent more time on the court than any Maverick not named Dirk.

Gone, too, is Tyson Chandler, who cashed in with the Knicks before last season. DeShawn Stevenson, J.J. Barea and a host of other players left Dallas whether due to greener-pastures opportunities elsewhere or front office juggling on the Mavs' behalf. Sometimes both. Not every player jettisoned made major contributions, but those who did were allowed to leave in order to create salary cap space for big-name free agents who never arrived.

The loss that looks worst is Dallas-area native Deron Williams re-upping with the Brooklyn Nets, essentially choosing a franchise that hasn't been relevant for nearly a decade, over his hometown team. There was more money in New York, and the recent addition of oft-overlooked All-Star guard Joe Johnson, but even Nowitski's proven talents and Finals MVP Award from the summer of 2011 could not compensate for the rest of Dallas' shaky squad.

The roster is a shadow of what it once was. Last year saw drops in offensive rating (8th to 22nd) and points allowed per game (10th to 12th).

A 57-25 season that culminated in a Finals victory celebration made the Mavs look like world-beaters, dominating Miami's perceived Goliath triumvirate and showering David in confetti. The just-over-.500, 36-30 follow-up season revealed what Dallas let walk in its gamble to gain another superstar: a formidable cast whose chemistry was more vital to success than having three of the league's best players.

In that series, Miami relied on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to make superstar plays, allowing Chris Bosh to get an occasional touch and letting role players sag on their responsibilities. Nowitski played his tried-and-true game and Terry embraced being a second-fiddle sixth-man, but this left enough room for others to contribute and play a team game.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and his front office cohorts sacrificed that rotation with the hope of pairing Dirk with another star. So far, there isn't one. A chance remains that the Los Angeles experiment chafes Dwight Howard and motivates him to look for a headlining role and a max contract elsewhere. Dallas will be able to offer him both next offseason. But for now, Mbenga's coming to training camp.


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Monday, September 10, 2012

After Mike Leach, Texas Tech Has No Choice In Billy Gillispie Case

Billy Gillispie is in the hot seat after player misconduct allegations. (Sports Illustrated)

Texas Tech head basketball coach Billy Gillispie might not have much time left in Lubbock, and the university might not have a choice in the matter.

CBS Sports has been headlining reports for the last week about allegations that Gillispie mistreated players and broke NCAA rules. Gillispie has been accused of over-practicing players - and not adhering to the NCAA’s mandate that says teams cannot practice for more than four hours a day and 20 hours a week - as well as making injured athletes practice and taking back job promises to potential coaches.

The situation is not one-sided. Former players and fellow coaches have come to Gillispie’s defense, with players saying they would play for the coach again. Some have come down hard on the coach, while others are criticizing the players for being soft.

It’s tough to decide a coach’s fate when proof and facts are not yet clear, but because of recent history, Texas Tech will need to fire Gillispie. Just go back to 2009 when Red Raiders head football coach Mike Leach was accused of mistreating player Adam James. Texas Tech fired Leach after an investigation into the issue.

Texas Tech made a statement with the firing, showing that success on the field would not save a coach from alleged wrong-doings. The Red Raiders were 8-4 and played in the Alamo Bowl when Leach was fired. Gillispie’s Red Raiders were last in the Big 12 in his first season as head coach.

Leach was fired for his alleged actions against one player. Gillispie’s accused actions involve an entire team, and whether he is guilty of his accusations or not, 15 players have left the program since his arrival.

Texas Tech set a precedent that it would not allow player misconduct to even be a question, so can it afford to keep Gillispie around after this? The cost would be heavy. The university would be looked at as a hypocrite and has to be consistent with it’s handling of punishments. The situations aren't identical, but both fall under player misconduct.

The university ripped the winningest football coach in school history away from the team, so it can’t keep a basketball coach who went 8-23 last season after similar allegations. Regardless if Gillispie is guilty or not, his reputation has been tarnished, which could make his progress at Texas Tech more difficult.

The question now is if Texas Tech can change its chance to allow Gillispie's progress to continue after bringing Leach’s career to a halt. 


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Friday, September 7, 2012

Potential Mascots for New York's Newest Team

The Barclays Center opens in three weeks and will mark the beginning of a new era of basketball in New York City. There has been a long run-up to the New Jersey Nets crossing state lines and officially having a home in Brooklyn.

Unseating the Knicks from their position of power and shifting NYC's basketball paradigm to a new borough will be challenging, though. Do the Nets have what it takes, now that have multiple All-Stars on the roster, a Russian billionaire owner paying the bills and Beyonce's husband doing more than his ownership share requires?

We can all agree that they do not.

The key ingredient is having the right mascot. When you have a nickname like the "Nets" the mascot can really be anything. The Spurs have a coyote, the Rockets have Clutch the Bear and the Magic have a dragon.

It makes sense why Brooklyn doesn't go directly off the nickname and have a giant net running around. That would be as effective as the Lakers having a puddle hanging out court side. The current Nets mascot is Sly the Fox, but rumor has it that Marvel Comics is helping design a new Brooklyn Knight mascot.

 Thanks to BDD friend Kate Kearns, here's what the two options for Brooklyn to consider could look like:

Illustration by Kate Kearns

 The Brooklyn Knight idea seems like a good move. The team is moving into Knicks territory and is used to taking a back seat to the more famous New York team. The Nets need a powerful, intimidating mascot to fight for respect in the Big Apple. The Knight also lends itself well to fan interaction and is more marketable than a fox (the Barclays Center is its castle and he is protecting the Nets brand). Plus, who wouldn't want to see a mascot stab a basketball with a sword to fire up the crowd? Brooklyn needs to earn credibility in its new home and an upgrade at mascot is a good start.

Illustration by Kate Kearns
Sly is the current mascot for the Nets and is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Brooklyn Knight. Sly might better represent how the Nets are going to have to win over the city. The team isn't going to be like a knight and swoop in to take the allegiances and the city by force. Instead, the Nets will need to be clever with its plays on and off the court to earn respect. Having a knight as your mascot can pay off well, but it is also risky and looks corny if not pulled off correctly. When you stick with an animal mascot, you know what you're getting and they are always kid favorites.


Kyle Davis contributed to this article 


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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Derrick Rose Becomes Partner in Well-Known Chicago Restaurant

Rose is the newest equity partner in Giordano's pizza. (believethehypenba.com)

Giordano's is one of the giants of the Chicago deep dish pizza industry and has just brought on one of the city's athletic giants as a partner.

ESPN's Darren Rovell announced Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose will be named an equity partner in the Giordano's franchise today. Giordano's wants to expand outside the state of Illinois with only three of its 43 restaurants currently residing outside the state and Rose's partnership could make the task easier.

This isn't just an endorsement deal. Rose paid an undisclosed amount to be a partner in the company, and will receive a share of the profits.

Giordano's can't use any Bulls trademarks in advertising or promotion as the team already has a deal with DiGiorno. However, Rose will be pictured on takeout boxes and the restaurant will promote his personal favorite pizza.

Rose already has been a major endorser of Adidas, but has not yet reached the elite level of national endorsements and recognition. However, his career is still young and he already is a recognizable figure nationwide. Plus, Chicago loves its athletes, so helping take a local restaurant national will make him more loveable to his city than if he would have become a partner elsewhere.

While paying for a piece of the restaurant company is more risky than just doing an endorsement, the payoff will be big for Rose if Giordano's successfully expands throughout the country.


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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Are NCAA Precedents Applied Fairly for all Sports?

A Penn State football fan looks away from the Nittany Lions' loss to Ohio. (Getty Images/Patrick Smith)

The Penn State community is no longer used to winning. A series of horrendous actions compounded by inexcusable cover-ups; the tarnished legacy of a longstanding football coach who was more like a father figure to students at large; and, trivial in comparison, being on the wrong end of a 24-14 result on their home turf against the Ohio Bobcats during the first weekend of the college football season.

For the first time in decades, the emphasis of "Happy Valley" is on the latter word.

While the penalties levied against Penn State are harsh, the Nittany Lions dodged the death penalty. The University of Miami is also still competing in the NCAA football ranks despite some demand for a ban after a booster implicated dozens of players, coaches and former players in an illicit benefits scandal in August 2011.

But what if the allegations at Miami had fallen more on the basketball team than on the gridiron Hurricanes? Or if an assistant basketball coach at any university in the country committed the heinous acts of Jerry Sandusky?

The hypothetical situations, obviously, cannot even approach the seriousness of what really happened. However, it is imperative to note that football is the clear breadwinner of athletic departments across the nation. Of the top 50 most profitable college athletic programs in 2009-10 season, 38 were football programs. Twenty spots passed before the first basketball program appeared, and it made more than $50 million less than the list's premier program.

Incidentally, the Penn State football program came in third on that list, turning a $50.4 million profit. If a program of that magnitude were removed from competition all together, the university would not be the only institution taking a financial hit. The NCAA would not reap any rewards either, financial or otherwise. Other areas of the institution would suffer as well, as football money is used to support other teams and it is widely believed that some students choose a university because of athletic success.

Axing a school's basketball program would not have such a far-reaching ripple effect, though. Players fall in hot water because of accepting improper benefits, and sometimes multiple members of the same team face such inquiries simultaneously, but nothing of Miami-magnitude has occurred in college hoops. Removal of a college basketball program would affect fewer student-athletes than taking away football due to sheer roster size disparity. Couple that with the second-tier profitability of college hoops and, no matter the offense, it would be far easier to wipe basketball from a campus than it would be to knock football out of the practice facility.

The most infamous reference among NCAA death penalty cases — those in which participation bans were actually levied, not just rumored or threatened — is that of Southern Methodist University's Pony Express football team. But the precedent of all major penalties was set by the University of Kentucky's basketball team of 1952. Four Wildcats were found culpable for their involvement in a point-shaving scandal as Kentucky was in the midst of winning three national tournaments in four years, the last coming in 1951 after allegations were already public. Despite legendary coach Adolf Rupp defending his players in the media, the Wildcats' 1952-53 season was effectively cancelled by a postseason ban and other programs' refusal to play Kentucky because of NCAA pressure.

A scandal more comparable to that of Miami's left the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisana at Lafayette) basketball team banned from NCAA play for the 1973-74 and '74-75 seasons. The multi-season was implemented for 120-plus violations involving cash payments and various other infractions in the program.

The NCAA powers-that-be take necessary action to keep member institutions and their student-athletes clean, acting with the intention of setting examples that are supposed to inhibit future infractions. It is the opinion of each individual fan, player and coach as to whether the penalties are reasonable or applied appropriately in the spectrum of all sports rather than on a basis that would give preference to one sport over another.

Hypothetical questions rarely provide relevant answers, but they can act as primers for situations that may come up in the future. As long as every athletic program is trying to gain a competitive edge, NCAA investigations will persist. The territory entered with the Penn State sanctions ensures that programs now face the specter of ramifications for actions involving neither payments or play, but for other actions committed off the field.

Right now an argument about fair treatment between varying sports programs is the farthest thing from the collective mind of a football team in Happy Valley, though.


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Monday, September 3, 2012

NCAA Investigates UCLA Freshmen Trio

Shabazz Muhammad and two other UCLA freshmen are being investigated by the NCAA (espn.com)

Ben Howland is trying to bring UCLA basketball back to prominence.

The past few years were a whirlwind of scandal and lack of leadership which came out in a Sports Illustrated piece disgruntled players (Reeves Nelson) and more losing than the Bruin faithful like or are used to.

This year felt like it could be different. With Howland on the hot seat, he brought in high school phenom Shabazz Muhammad, the No. 1-rated player in his class according to Rivals.com, as well as highly recruited players Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker. UCLA received immediate buzz after the signings, and the new additions were pegged to bring the Bruins back to the top of the PAC 12.

Those dreams might be placed on hold. CBSSports.com is reporting that all three recruits are being investigated by the NCAA. Muhammad's eligibility has been questioned throughout his recruitment with inquiries about his connection to financial advisors, and he was not allowed to travel with the team to China last month for exhibition games.

Now Anderson is on the NCAA's radar for his supposed relationship with agent Thad Foucher and Parker is being investigated to see if his family received improper benefits.

The UCLA trio aren't the only freshmen who have the NCAA looking at them closely. Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel's academic eligibility was initially questioned, but even after he was cleared to play, the investigation now turns to improper benefits.

Every team wants to recruit the best players. That's how it should be. But the hype players are given at such a young age makes them more vulnerable to the persuasion of agents. These recruits can turn your team around quickly, but it also seems like these top players are being investigated more often and eventually they will not all get cleared to play. Teams will still argue the players are worth it just don't expect it to be a smooth ride.

UCLA was hoping their talented trio of freshmen would take it back to the NCAA Tournament, but they won't win any games if they are found ineligible and are forced to stay in street clothes. It would be yet another rough patch in Howland's up-and-down tenure in Southern California.


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