Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Midmajor Coaches Perspective of Non Conference Road Games 12-30-2006

BYU takes on Seton Hall at the Marriott Center. The game is intriguing because Seton Hall has come all the way from New Jersey to play in the BYU Holiday Classic. How they ended up here is a mystery too me. The Marriott Center is only fractionally full and I land a seat about ten rows up next to Liberty Flames coach Randy Dunton whose team has just lost three straight games in the Holiday tournament. Needless to say he's not happy with the results. Having just lost to both BYU and Seton Hall I quickly ask him "who is going to win this game?"

"You kidding me? It's eight on five. BYU," he responds. I am not so certain as we both know Seton Hall has one of the top rated freshman in the country in point guard Eugene Harvey. He thinks I'm a BYU fan, but I correct him and say I'm just a basketball fan. He can tell as I actually know a few things about his Big South Conference and about schools other than BYU. I like Seton Halls quickness. Brown vs. Board of Eduction may have been decided decades ago, but it hasn't drifted to these two ecumenical schools. BYU has 10 white kids and two black kids while Seton Hall has 11 black kids and 1 white kid.

Seton Hall opens up an eight point lead and extends it to double digits in the second half. I tell Coach Dunton I think Seton Hall has better players and thats going to determine the game. He chuckles, and continues, "not in the Marriot Center they don't." His comments are mostly based on personal experience and he knows that with three Mountain West Conference officials doing this game BYU could pretty much beat anybody. I'm still skeptical, but as the one time coach of the year in the Big South Conference points out BYU is in the bonus less than five minutes into the second half. "That'll negate that quickness factor," he says.

We agree that Seton Hall is probably 20 points better than BYU on a neutral floor and I hold my belief that they will even be better tonight in Provo.

At the 12 minute time out in the second half Seton Hall has an 8 point lead. Coach Dunton announces during the time out that at the next time out (8 minute mark) BYU will be leading. The claim seems a little much and I'm skeptical.

At the eight minute time out the score is tied!

"Why does Seton Hall take a road game in Provo with Mountain West officials anyway?" I ask the head coach of the Flames.

"Simple, they get three games that count only as one on their schedule and with a new coach, they probably didn't have a schedule in place so they just needed games." Dunton replies.

Jerry Falwell could not have been more prophetic on his own evangelical network on this night. BYU cruises down the stretch to a 78-67 victory.

Tuesday I go back to the mortgage business, Coach Dunton has Florida next week. "We need the money." he says. So do I.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Albany Wins - Makes 0 Free Throws

Nonconference preseason games are often one sided affairs featuring a team from an obscure unknown conference against a home team padding it's early season record on it's quest for 20 wins. The officials are usually selected by the home team and often call the game accordingly. Utah's game against Albany was likely meant to be this sort of affair.

True, Albany won the American East Conference a year ago and did have preseason American East Conference player of the year in Jamar Wilson. A year ago the Great Danes played Connecticutt to a virtual standstill for 30 minutes of their first round NCAA tournament game. Against Utah, Albany took it a step further while staring straight in the face of difficult road officiating.

I left the floor, rising into the air, into the light and smoke, into the history of that night, into the death of time and the last game I would ever play. I rose up into the happiest, most glorious moment of my life, to take the shot I had awaited since I was a boy of ten. . . The VMI forward lunged wildly toward me, but I moved my left shoulder between him and the ball, braced myself for his impact, and spun the ball softly, gently against the backboard. I did not see the ball go into the basket, but I did not need to...

Going to the foul line, I lifted both arms to the crowd and the noise carried me again, entered each cell of my dazzled, inflamed consciousness, and I let it take me, seduce me . . . .I wanted my life to freeze at that exact moment, with my arms raised, the crowd on its feet, those thousands of human voices screaming out my name. The referees handed me the ball and I shot my free throw, watched the net shiver with the ball's entry. . . Pat Conroy.

Like Conroy's fictional win and shot by Will McLean against Virginia Military Institute in The Lords of Discipline, Albany won by one point only they did it without making a free throw or having the home crowd carry them. No, not just not making a free throw at the end of the game like Will McLean, but without making a free throw the entire game! The e-mail has already gone off to Ken Pomeroy to see if this has ever happened.

Certainly, in the modern game with huge contracts for coaches home nonconference games are the closest thing to "rigged" games as exist in sport and in beating Utah on Thursday, Albany overcame not only Stephen Weigh's 22 points and Utah's 16 made free throws of their own, they also overcame the home officiating that makes winning as a midmajor on the road so incredibly difficult. The final Albany 59 Utah 58.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

$7.00 Well Spent

Utah Valley State College, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, The New Jersey Institute of Technology, Longwood University, Chicago State University, Indiana Univerity-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Savannah State, Texas Pan American, UC Davis, and Winston Salem all have something in common with Army, William & Mary, The Citadel, Northwestern and St. Francis of New York. Whatis that? Since 1948 (largely considered the time the NCAA tournament passed up the NIT tournament as the most prestigious tournament) none of these schools has ever been to the NCAA tournament.

Utah Valley State College has only been a four year insitution for five years, that's the same amount of time that it's division I basketball program has existed. They don't have a conference affiliation, they don't have a big time booster club and like the other 12 schools on the first list play as an independent at the division I level. It is the equivalent of being a "walk on" in the division I world.

"'Walk-on' - this still remains the proudest word I can apply to myself. Walk-on--there are resolve and backbone in that noun." Pat Conroy on being a "walk-on." There is no automatic bid the NCAA tournament, Utah Valley has no hope at post season glory. The biggest game of their season is on December 9th at home against in state brethren Utah State. The word "rival" doesn't apply to this game, UVSC is a walk-on, you don't have rivals as a walk-on. What UVSC does have is a beautiful on campus arena that seats eight thousand people in Orem, Utah. It's almost as if the basketball program came before the University itself.

UVSC's coach - Dick Hunsaker, spends most of the game two to six feet out on the court, prodding his team. The David O. McKay Center is probably eighty percent full (half with Utah State fans) and everyone in the building knows a win in this game will legitimize UVSC's "walk on" status.

In the first half, Hunsaker's squad milks the shot clock down to below ten seconds on virtually every possession and Utah State's star, Jaycee Carroll, picks up two questionable first half fouls. He spends most of the half on the bench and is limited to six points by good UVSC defense and the fouls. At the half UVSC leads by a point 27-26 - Hunsaker's slowdown approach and home officiating is paying dividends. The crowd senses their legitimizing win is a possibility.

Incredibly, no one in the crowd gets up to go anywhere at half time. I am baffled by this. Until the "Grandma drill team" is introduced. In a creative marketing effort UVSC has comprised a drill team of 100 grandma's with over 1000 children and grandchildren to perform at halftime. The crowd's largest cheers of the entire evening (including during the game) are reserved for a 90 year old grandma - Jane Petty - who finishes the show with a Roquette style leg kick and two sets of splits and midcourt! It's easily the most anticipated event of the evening and the crowd goes bananas.

The second half tries to follow this act with the mid-majors 9th leading scorer finding ways to get to the basket. Carroll hits three straight runners and Utah State opens up a seven point lead. Hunsaker continues prodding his team and working the officials.

"If you do not think that contempt of home crowds does not file down the rough edges of a referee's psyche, then you know little of the game of basketball." Pat Conroy on home officiating. Carroll picks up a ticky tack 4th foul with just over five minutes left in the game and he is forced to the bench. Utah State has ten team fouls while UVSC has only four. UVSC gets a huge three point basket from Richard Troyer and it closes the gap to 64-63. It's as intense a basketball game as will happen at this point in the season. UVSC is trying to take their spot as a legitimate Division I team in Utah.

With under thirty seconds remaining and only four seconds on the shot clock everyone in the McKay Center is expecting Carroll who in spite of the foul trouble, now has 18 points on 9 of 12 shooting, to take one last big shot. Everyone, but Durrall Peterson, who for the second consecutive game (he previously hit a game winner against Utah on Wednesday night) hits a three pointer from the corner to put the Aggies up 67-63.

It is still not enough! David Heck answers for UVSC with a two pointer of his own. With under twenty seconds remaining UVSC is forced to foul, incredibly, UVSC still doesn't have seven team fouls and they are forced to waste time to get to seven. The seventh foul is committed against Peterson who goes to the line and sinks both free throws and UVSC's chance at legitimizing it's program.

Amazingly, the price of admission for all this - $7.00.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Sagebrush looks the same in Utah as it does in Wyoming

"In this one glorious night, I lifted right out of myself and turned into the kind of basketball player who could change the way a town felt about itself." Pat Conroy on his 36 point performance for Beaufort, South Carolina high school against Chicora, South Carolina high school in 1963.

Jaycee Carroll is that kind of player. Over the past two years he has brought the same feeling he gave to his hometown of Evanston, Wyoming to Logan, Utah and the Dee Glenn Spectrum. Each of the last two years Utah State has made the NCAA tournament. (That brings their total number of appearances to 19. It's exactly 19 more than William and Mary has made). They play Weber State on November 25th.

The Spectrum is small compared to most basketball arenas. It has a great "midmajor feel" to it though as the students sit right on the court. It is two thirds full for this state rivalry but the Utah State students are easily the best basketball fans of all the schools in Utah. They are knowledgeable, come up with clever chants and make an impact on the game.

Carroll scores a quiet 12 points in the first half and the Aggies trail by 2 points at the half.

At half time the famous Aggie fight song gets played. It includes the great line, "A Utah Aggie knows the spot where the sagebrush grows."

Carroll comes out firing in the second half and scores a quick nine points to put the Aggies in the lead by 8 points. He drives hard toward the basket midway through the second half and is undercut as he makes a layup. For a moment the crowd is silent. Then Carroll stumbles up. The crowd cheers wildly seeing their hero back on his feet, but he is still limping. He misses the ensuing free throw and it is obvious that he is not quite at full strength. Coach Stew Morrill takes Carroll out for a significant stretch and this allows Weber State to get back into the game. With six minutes left Carroll reenters the game. The crowd starts its, "Jay-cee Car-roll, Jay-cee Caroll clap, clap" chant. With a minute to go Carroll responds by hiting a three point basket - that puts the Aggies up by 8 points and seals the victory.

On this night the only difference between Weber State and Utah State is Jaycee Carroll, he scores 26 points while making 9 of 14 shots.

On the way back - two Wyoming 19 plates pass me by. That's Jaycee Carroll's home! It has lots of sagebrush and he's changing the way Evanston and Logan look at themselves with his play - the same way Pat Conroy did some 43 years ago.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Jazz 12-1; 11/24/2006

It isn't this easy. The Jazz improved to 12-1 before a sellout crowd at the Delta Center err ah Energy Solutions Arena. At least it never seemed this easy for John and Karl. They never started a season 12-1. Carlos Boozer scores 31 points and has 16 rebounds. Deron Williams leads the Jazz past the Lakers in the 4th quarter. Although the Jazz trail by 7 points in the fourth quarter, the sellout crowd carries them past Kobe Bryant. Boozer, not Bryant, is the best player on the court, he's smooth, powerful and dominant. The Jazz are getting great performances from role players like Derrick Fischer and unknown second round draft choice Paul Millsap. Everything they do is right. The city is becoming electric like the glory days.

Jerry Sloan is the reason I root for the Utah Jazz though, he is the sole link to the glory days. No matter how many games this team wins they cannot take the place of those individuals with their jerseys retired in the rafters: Stockton, Malone, Griffith, Hornacek, Layden, Maravich and Eaton. Yes, Mark Eaton's name appears in the same sentence as Pete Maravich. Only if Deron Williams plays 19 years in Salt Lake City and gets more assists than John Stockton will he deserve 400 West to be named after him. Only if Carlos Boozer scores more points than Karl Malone can the city name 300 South after him.

Of course this duo may do something Stockton and Malone could never do - win an NBA Title.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

New York to Salt Lake City

"I looked to the blackboard and received my greatest shock of a season that would contain many. My name was written in the starting lineup." Pat Conroy's take on seeing his name listed as a starter for the first time. Laurence Bohra couldn't have felt much different on Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center. Through the Utes first two games the sophomore had played a combined 14 minutes without scoring a point. His freshman season he never cracked the starting lineup and averaged under two points per game.

The Utes followed their Southern Utah loss with a loss at Santa Clara. The 9th winningest program of all time was certainly in dire straights when they hosted the CU Buffs on Wednesday night. A spartan crowd freckled the Huntsman Center and for only the third game of the season a certain sense of desperation had set in. Not quite the same desperation Ricardo Patton, Colorado's coach must have felt when he resigned at the start of the season, but still desperate and those few fans in attendance could see the desperation in the line up that Coach Ray Giacoletti put on the floor. The redshirt had suddenly been taken off a promising you freshman center from California - David Foster and Laurence Bohra suddenly found himself in the starting lineup.

Utah seems to lack a certain athleticism this year. The game is back and forth - which isn't good if you're Utah considering CU lost to Utah's conference rival Air Force by 40 points on their home floor. These appear to be two teams heading nowhere. The only problem is CU's coach has already quit while Utah's has three more years left on his contract. It's hard to believe the Coach Giac as he's known went 29-5 during his first season at the University of Utah and reached the sweet 16.

"I spent the evening, self-conscious and tentative, trying to lok like I belonged on the court." Conroy's approach to his first start. Laurence plays similarly, scoring 8 points but seeming slightly out of place at times. He's easy to root for as it's his first start of his career and he's a black student athlete all the way from New York City playing basketball in the middle whitebread Utah. How did he end up here?

Down the stretch, CU gets a couple of baskets from it's best player Reggie Roby while Utah's Johnnie Bryant counters with a couple of his own. With only five seconds left and the score tied the Utes turn the ball over inexplicably while trying to convert a fast break of their own, the ball winds up in CU's hands, in the excitement Laurence reaches and is called for a foul against a CU forward Jermyl Jackson-Wilson. Jackson-Wilson sinks the first free throw misses the second and CU steals a one point win.

Utah drops to 0-3.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Catholic High School Basketball, November 18, 2006

Portland Jesuit, Salpoint Catholic in Tucson, Mullen Prep in Denver, Meter Dei High School in Los Angeles are each among the best high school programs in their respective states. They are all Catholic High Schools. Although, Salt Lake City might be the center of the Mormon religion, it does have Judge Memorial High School. Regularly Judge is among the best 3A teams in the state, two years ago they captured the state championship and on this Saturday I spend an afternoon officiating two full scrimmage games at Judge.

The gym is surprisingly small, but the players play hard and there are actually a few fans (I assume parents) in attendance. It is my first officiating of the season and it is good to work out some cobwebs. Judge mixes teams and players around. I notice one of the coaches has a "DeMatha Basketball" T-shirt on. DeMatha, located in Baltimore, Maryland, is the center of Catholic High School basketball, it was formerly lead by legednday high school coach Morgan Wooten, has won numerous high school basketball national championships and it has dripped all the way to Salt Lake City.

If I had all the money in the world I would referee, and today is proof of that as I am not being paid. I am very familiar with Judge and several of the players recognize me from my summer officiating at the U. Their is a certain excitement at the start of every high school season as Judge is still undefeated. It's basketball and it got Judge's season off to a start.

Friday, November 10, 2006

November 11th, SUU over Utah

The first three or four games college games of the season are often times the most unpredictable. No one knows what anybody has. Players have graduated, transfered, shuffled around, often times coaches don't even know who their best players are. Such is the case for the University of Utah's opener against Southern Utah Utah. SUU plays in Midcontinent Conference it's most notable member is Valparaiso - notable only because it's low seed when it won an NCAA tournament game.

The Huntsman Center is only a third full and I can't even find a program or roster. I quickly grab one of the best seats in college basketball. Row 1 of the upper bowl at the Huntsman Center. Great because no one can stand in front of you and because you can put your feet up on the railing during slow points during the game. The crowd seems to feel Utah will just roll over an easy out of conference patsy.

Early in the game, I am sitting in front of a professor at the U. and he cheers as one of his students enters the game. Apparently, the kid is actually attending class, a nice idea considering this is "college" basketball. Lawrence Bohra is his name, but he doesn't play long, the ball bounces off his hands and out of bounds during one possession and the professor jokes that he's going to lower his grade from his current "b" to a "c" for the turnover.

Besides the tradition and facilities, the only real difference between the two teams on the floor appears to be Utah's 7'1" center Luke Neville. He's 6" taller than anybody Southern Utah has and Utah tries to take full advantage by pounding the ball inside every time. The only problem is they can't stop SUU. SUU shots 73% in the first half and takes a five point lead into the half. Utah scores the first 14 points of the second half and opens up it's own 9 point lead. The crowd is listless, almost acting as if they expected the turn of events. Only no one told Stephen Barnes.

Barnes is a 5'10" point guard from right in Cedar City, and his fiery play leads SUU back. With only two minutes to go the Thunderbirds have cut the lead to two points. The spartan crowd suddenly wakes from its stooper and tries to carry the Utes for the final two minutes. But Barnes hits two jump shots with under a minute to play to give SUU a one point lead with 35 second left. Utah plays for the last shot, but Utah's point guard Johnny Bryant, is trapped on the baseline and he forces a bad fall away jump shot that isn't close. Utah fouls and SUU makes both free throws to steal an unexpected 76-73 win at the Huntsman Center. I leave and hear one Utah fan say to another, "that wasn't supposed to happen." I am reminded why early season college basketball can often be just as eventful as March Madness, it just doesn't get the hype.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

November 4 Bear Makes Mascot Hall of Fame

I am at a Jazz game once again with coworker Craig Low and his girlfriend. They are not basketball fans, but seem to enjoy the event. The Jazz open a big first quarter lead and roll over a bad Golden State Warrior team that is now coached by Don Nelson. In the program I notice that Nelson has 5 assistant coaches including former Final Four star Keith Smart. It doesn't matter - C.J. Miles hits for 13 first quarter points and the Jazz win easily. Everybody plays.

The Bear is inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame at half time. I am always amazed at how professional sports teams manage to make extracurricular events into events for a single game. The Bear in the mascot Hall of Fame? What is the Mascot Hall of Fame? Apparently, it's in Philadelphia, PA. Orin Hatch is somehow involved in the induction as he is running for reelection in 2 days and Larry H. Miller must be supporting him. Hatch isn't all that popular in the Delta Center as he is treated to a rash of boos.

I can sense a certain excitement building in the Delta Center as the arena is probably 80% full for an early season game against a complete also ran. On the Trax train home, several other fans agree this looks like the Jazz's best team since the 96 Finals team that lost to Michael Jordan. On 1320 KFAN Nelson says that this is one of Sloan's best teams, indicating that they don't have the star power of Malone and Stockton teams, but that they are that good and will make some noise in the West. I hope he's right. Nelson isn't one my favorite basketball coaches, but he always seems to have "basketball vision," an ability to see potential. He picked Dirk Novitzki - no one knew who Dirk was. Of course he also traded for Shawn Bradley. I hope the Jazz are more like Dirk.