Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lesson Not Learned

On December 26, Eddie Sutton was named head coach at the University of San Francisco. Current coach and former Arizona assistant Jessie Evans announced he was taking a leave of absence.

Sutton's basketball coaching abilities cannot be denied and even this website in a previous blurb acknowledged as much. Sutton has 798 wins at the division I level. This is the fifth most wins by any division I coach. He trails only Bob Knight (896), Dean Smith (879), Adolph Rupp (876), and Jim Phelan (830) on the all time list. Between coaching at the College of Southern Idaho, Tulsa Union high school and at the division I college level he has exactly 1000 victories.

Sutton's coaching career came to an all to abrupt end in February of 2006 when he was charged with driving under the influence after an accident in which his sport utility vehicle rear-ended another car and went off the road. Sutton pleaded no contest to drunken-driving charges, and as a result of the incident took a leave of absence from his coaching duties before retiring three months later.

Prior to coaching his alma mater Oklahoma State Sutton had been the coach at the University of Kentucky. Sutton's tenure at Kentucky ended with a scandal that badly damaged the school's basketball program. It broke out when an express package sent to high school prospect Chris Mills from Kentucky assistant coach Dwane Casey popped open and $1000 in fifties popped out. Another player, Eric Manuel, was believed to have received improper assistance on his college entrance exams and was ultimately banned from NCAA competition for life. The scandal roiled the Wildcats to the point that they suffered their first losing season in 63 years. The NCAA seriously considered hitting the Wildcats with the "death penalty", which would have shut down the entire basketball program (as opposed to simply being banned from postseason play) for up to two years. However, school president David Roselle forced Sutton and athletic director Cliff Hagan to resign. Sutton later admitted that he didn't have enough control over the program, although he personally committed no wrongdoing. The scandal, combined with Sutton's alleged drinking and drug use, led to his forced resignation.

Sutton's latest return begins December 29th against Weber State at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah. His team loses the game 62-54. Sutton will have another chance at winning number 799 on Monday night when the Dons take on Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. However, there is a bigger story here.

If any school has gone through the aftermath of resurrection it is the University of San Francisco. The University of San Francisco basketball program has won three national championships. The first came in 1949 in the NIT. USF was coached by legendary Pete Newell and the sports information director was future NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. USF followed it with national championships in 1955 and 1956 while being led by future Boston Celtics Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. In the 1956 title game, Jones outscored LaSalle's star -- Tom Golla. In 1957 the Dons lost in the semifinals to Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas. During the 1955 and 1956 seasons, the Don's posted a then record 60 game winning streak. Only John Wooden's UCLA teams' 88 game streak is longer.

The school continued its success during most of the 60's and 70's earning NCAA tournament bids in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1981 and 1982 while winning five consecutive West Coast Conference Championships.

Yet all the success couldn't eclipse a growing list of irregularities and abuses. Star player Quintin Dailey was alleged to have been paid for a summer job he never performed. Then Dailey was charged with rape, (he subsequently pled guilty to sexual assault charges). Additional allegations of alumni interference with the program and recruiting improprieties by coaches followed. The NCAA began an investigation, but facing additional scrutiny President Lo Schiavo said "enough." The allegations, investigations, and criminal charges were damaging the university's most priceless asset -- its integrity and reputation. In 1982, then President Father John Lo Schiavo shut down the program.

Unlike the SMU football program which received the "death penalty," USF shut it's program down on its own accord. Father John Lo Schiavo described USF's dilemma as follows "how are we teaching the building of a decent, law-abiding society in this country if educational institutions are willing to be prostituted and involve young people in that prostitution for any purpose, and much less for the development of ill-gotten recognition and income."

If it seems that Sutton is being fed to the University of San Francisco through the coaching fraternity it should. Former Oklahoma State players like ESPN's Doug Gottlieb, Joey Graham, Brooks Thompson and former coach Jerry Tarkanian and current Kansas coach Bill Self are all selling Sutton to the city of San Francisco.

Who bought this sale? Debra-Gore Mann is the current athletic director at the University of San Francisco, she got the job on August 1, 2006 after serving as Senior Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University. Her resume includes an MBA from Stanford, work at Bechtel Enterprises, Morgan Stanley and Raychem Corporation. She was also the business developer for the City of Portland on the Portland Light Rail Project. She has a masters of business administration, her interest is in profit.

Her husband is former USF player Anthony Mann, who was a member of the 1985-86 team. USF's first team following shutting down its program. Their only daughter's name is Quinci.

Perhaps this is what makes Eddie Sutton an odd match for the University of San Francisco. It seems the last place Eddie Sutton would be resurfacing is at the University of San Francisco. Sutton is looking for a second chance, USF is on its second chance. Perhaps Gore-Mann has missed exactly what Father John Lo Schiavo found 25 years ago.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Where Have You Gone Frank Selvy?

In the history of college basketball only two players have ever scored 100 points in a college basketball game. Many would guess Pete Maravich whose career scoring average of 44.2 points per game over three seasons will never be topped. Wilt Chamberlain who holds the NBA single game mark averaged only 30 points per game over his college career at Kansas. The two players who accomplished the feat make a great trivia question. Only Bevo Francis and Frank Selvy can lay claim to having scored 100 or more points in one college basketball game.

On December 20th and 21st Utah State hosts the Gosner Foods Classic among the teams appearing is Selvy's alma mater Furman University. Furman, enrollment 3349, enters the tournament with an 0-8 record, a far cry from the glory days during which Selvy led the program to national prominence.

When I was a boy living in North Carolina, my father took me to see Selvy play, and his smoothness on the court seemed ethereal. When he shot a basketball, it was like he was folding silk scarves to put in a drawer. Conroy on first seeing Frank Selvy play.

Selvy accomplished the feat against tiny Newberry College on February 13, 1954. Selvy's effort was in response to Bevo Francis of Rio Grande College who had scored 113 only two weeks prior against tinier Hillsdale College. Essentially, the storyline of the 1954 season was the Bevo Francis vs. Frank Selvy scoring race.

Francis played at the NAIA level, his scoring barrage over the previous season against obscure schools of over 50 points per game was met with skepticism. In response, Rio Grande upped it's level of competition and played NCAA schools including Butler, Wake Forest, Miami, and North Carolina State which was led by Conroy's future coach Mel Thompson in 1954. In spite of the upgraded schedule, because of the questionable compeition from the previous season, much of Francis' accomplishments go almost unnoticed. Selvy, playing at the division I level averaged a Maravich like 41.7 points per game during the 1954 season.

Although the crowd, television crew on hand, and opposition is mesmerized by Jaycee Carroll during the two games of the tournament -- Carroll scores 32 points in the opening night game against Utah Valley and then follows it with 33 points in the championship against Northern Arizona, he is less than two thirds of the way to what Selvy did in one game!

After I shook Dick Esleeck's hand (a Furman player Conroy had squared away against) someone slapped me on the behind and said, 'Good game, Pat'.

When I turned to see who it was, it was a startling encounter for me. I am the first novelist in the world who has ever been slapped on the fanny by the incomparable Frank Selvy." Conroy on his second encounter with Frank Selvy.

Selvy has long been forgotten by anyone in the Dee Glenn Spectrum and Furman drops it's opening game against Northen Arizona and it's second game against Utah Valley. The two losses drop the Paladines season record to 0-10.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

All About the Number$$

The NCAA tournament has catapulted obscure schools in unknown locations into the living rooms of Americans across the nation. Every year, unknown schools like Valparaiso, Santa Clara, and George Mason pull monstrous upsets that become the talking point of the country. Certainly, this year will be no different.

In the Rocky Mountain region there are approximately twenty division I basketball programs competing for spots in this tournament. Besides the exposure mentioned above, the schools and member conferences receive a huge financial burst when they appear in the tournament and even more when they win. Ultimately, the notoriety, prestige and money that come with winning in the NCAA tournament make schools spend time, money and resources.

The largest basketball budget in the Rocky Mountain region is the University of Colorado which spent over 3 million dollars last year. Keep in mind Colorado won seven games last year and their coach announced he was leaving before the season even started! If this seems like a waste of 3 million dollars you might be right. CU's combined conference record over the past 15 years is 88-134.

The largest basketball budget in Utah is the University of Utah which spends 2.5 million dollars on its basketball program. This isn't much when you consider that Duke's budget topped 8 million last year.

Three main conferences touch Salt Lake City - the Mountain West, WAC and Big Sky. Mountain West schools spend roughly 2 million on dollars on their basketball programs. This ranges from CSU's 1.7 million to 2.7 million at UNLV and New Mexico. Utah State's budget is 1.3 million which places it roughly in the middle of the WAC. Interestingly, Utah Valley which has no conference affiliation and therefor no NCAA tournament bid, spent 525k on chasing a dream which doesn't even exist last year. That was more than Weber State whose expenses totaled only 507k a year ago yet actually reached the NCAA tournament.

If you think Montana dominates in the Big Sky because of it's great recruiting base, think again. Montana's basketball program spent 1.4 million last year. Those are typical expenses for a WAC school and almost triple what Weber State spent. If you want an up and coming school in the region look at Denver University which spent 1.4 million dollars trying to get to the NCAA tournament last year - not much less than CSU's 1.7 million or Wyoming's 1.8 million. Big Sky newcomer Northern Colorado spent 655k last year.

The point of all of this is that when you watch the games this year see more than the names on the jersey's or the flashy suits the coaches are wearing and realize that behind every school and every program is money. And although this all might seem like a reason why the bigger schools should always beat the little schools remember in 1999 Weber State (507k) beat North Carolina (4.7 million) in the first round of the NCAA tournament 76-74.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Land Grant Institutions

Utah State University and Michigan State University share the common bond of being their state's specific land grant institutions. A land grant institution is an institution that has been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive the benefits of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890.

Senator Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont saw the need for land grant legislation as a way to allow a university education for the industrial and working classes. Essentially, after the revolutionary war, private education at such schools such as Harvard, Yale and William and Mary allowed education to only an elite few. Publicly controlled institutions were not much different from their private counterparts and Morrill saw a need to educate those members of the working class who were missing out on these same opportunities. Morrill's first attempt at legislation was in 1857, however, after being passed by congress the bill was vetoed by President James Buchanan.

The Civil War commenced and Morrill sought another avenue to the passage of his idea, this time instead of focusing primarily on agriculture and technical education or mechanical arts, Morrill added a provision that the land grant institutions were to teach military tactics. Congress and then President Lincoln also saw the need for increased military training in the Civil War effort. The exact language of the bill stated the purpose as,

the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the states may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.

Morrill's new found emphasis on military training with the Civil War just beginning was quickly passed and President Lincoln signed the bill into law on July 2, 1862. The military curriculum at all land grant institutions led to the establishment of the Reserve Officers Training Corps, an educational program for future Navy, Army and Air Force officers.

Kansas State became the first land grant college, but was quickly followed by a plethora of other land grant schools. At present, every state and the District of Columbia have at least one land grant institution. Seventeen southern states have an additional land grant institution due to the second Morrill Act of 1892 which expressly allowed for all black land grant institutions with the same mission.

In Utah, the land grant institution is Utah State University which was founded in 1888. Sister land grant institutions in the west include Colorado State University, Washington State University, the University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, Montana State University, the University of Idaho, and Oregon State University. Utah State and New Mexico State in fact nickname themselves "Aggies" as a short term for agricultural students. The schools traditionally are looked down upon by their usually larger and often more prestigious brethren -- as the agricultural schools developed research, law, engineering and other academic programs later than their more prestigious brethren if they have developed them at all.

On Wednesday night, Utah dumps it's land grant counterpart 72-48 as the Utes hold Jaycee Carroll to only 7 shots. On Saturday Brigham Young University opens up a ten point halftime lead against Michigan's land grant institution -- Michigan State University (founded in 1855, but made Michigan's land grant insitution after passage of the Morrill act), but the 7th ranked Spartans rally to win 68-61 at EA Solutions Arena.

To think none of this could have existed had Senator Morrill not seen the need for agricultural, mechanical and military colleges 145 years ago.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

When Is a Scholarship Offer a Scholarship Offer

One of the best parts of Pat Conroy's My Losing Season is his scholarship offer or lack thereof to the University of South Carolina. Like thousands of high school basketball players across the country Conroy dreams of playing for his large state institution. In his case, it's the University of South Carolina.

As a 17 year old senior, Conroy is naive, innocent, manipulative and stupid. His season is complete and he is pulled from a class and introduced by his high school principal to Dwayne Morrison an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina.

"'How'd you like to play fo Carolina, Pat?' Morrison asked me. Stunned by this unexpected news, I stared at Coach Morrison with my jaw loosened and my mouth agape as I hunted for the proper words.

'More than anything in the world, Coach.' I told him... Coach Morrison made me feel like I was the best basketball player he had ever talked to, and he made me believe in every single aspect of Chuck Noe's program. He talked about "redshirting" me for a year, sending me to summer basketball programs for extra seasoning, and teaching me all the tricks of the trade that a point guard would need to know in the highly competitive Atlantic Coast Conference at the time South Carolina still held membership in it... When he talked about his university, he made it sound like some grand easement into paradise...He could've talked me into walking across burning embers or a live minefield. When he left me that day he said, 'We're going to try to make this work, Pat. I can see you in a Gamecock uniform. We've got a couple of other kids we're going to look at. But I can practically guarantee you, you're the kind of guy we're looking for. A good point guard's worth his weight in gold these days...It's you we want, Pat. You. Got it, buddy?'

'Yes, Sir," I said.

Conroy raced home slipped up and told his father who then began making reservations for the ACC tournament the next year. When no scholarship offer ensued, The Great Santini dubs his son with a new nickname -- "ACC."

Much of this cite has followed the season of Jaycee Carroll. When Carroll was a senior at Evanston High School, I was a high school basketball official in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I had the privilege of officiating one of his games against either East or Central High School in Cheyenne. I do not recall which. I do recollect that he was tremendous, scoring close to fifty points on a series of dazzling runners, leaners and knifing shots. I could only compare him to Jay Burson who starred at Ohio State University during the early 80's, small, but with an uncanning ability to score. I remember walking away from that game thinking, "If that kid isn't good enough to play at the University of Wyoming then no one ever will be."

I have not spoke with either Coach Steve McClain or Jaycee Carroll himself, besides the words that a referee and player exchanged on that Friday night years ago. I have spoken to Jaycee's parents, relatives, and assistant coaches at the University of Wyoming at the time. Carroll himself has indicated that he received only one scholarship offer out of high school to Utah State University. One assistant coach at Wyoming at the time told me Carroll was too small. Another told me that Wyoming offered him a scholarship. McClain himself has been quoted as saying Carroll had the same offer he had from Utah State. It does seem that both parties would like to move on from the situation.

That's not possible on March 10th 2007. Both teams play simultaneously in venues separated by hundreds of miles, but at the Portocall sports bar in Salt Lake City the games are inches apart on two televisions. No one could have attended both contests, but I am coming as close as a basketball aficionado can. Wyoming loses to BYU 96-84 in one Mountain West Conference semifinal. The loss drops Wyoming's season record to 17-15. It is likely Steve McClains's last game as head coach at the University of Wyoming. Only inches away Carroll is leading Utah State past the 10th ranked team in the country - Nevada, 79-77, by scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a Western Athletic Conference semifinal.

After the games, my thoughts are on Conroy's wonderful portrayal of his possible scholarship to the University of South Carolina. I suspect Jaycee Carroll's story is much the same.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Championship Week

Championship week has 30 conference tournaments. Teams scramble for NCAA tournament bids. In approximately 20 of those conference tournaments the entire season comes down to the tournament. The only team that will receive a bid to the NCAA tournament, the only school that will see their name in the bracket across the country over the next week is the tournament champion. The notoriety and prestige of an NCAA tournament birth render the regular season nearly meaningless in these exclusive conferences.

Far and away the best formatted tournament isn't in the Big 10, SEC, ACC, or Big 12. It's not in the Big East or any major conference. It's in the Big Sky. They Big Sky takes only six teams into its tournament. It eliminates two teams based on the regular season. Additiionally, the winner of the conference gets to host the semifinals and finals. They get the homecourt advantage. The second place team receives a buy into the semifinals. I have now attended two of the last three Big Sky tournaments and each year I walk away knowing I have seen what midmajor college basketball is all about.

This year, Northern Arizona tied with Weber State for the Big Sky crown. Weber swept the Lumberjacks, wins the tiebreaker and is therefor the tournament host. Both teams receive a buy. In the first game, NAU scratches and claws to a seven point win over last year's NCAA Cinderella Montana.

The nightcap is March Madness at it finest. Weber State's crowd is raucous, but Portland State is determined. Like Conroy's alma mater, The Citadel, Portland State University has never been to the NCAA tournament.

A part of me is still emotionally invested with Portland State. At one point in my life I spent 6 months trying to be a part of this program. I wasn't paid, but I volunteered, hoping that somehow I could get this team to the NCAA tournament - a glorious place they are only two wins away from right now. As if that would be the fulfillment that would make my life complete. I find myself rooting for Portland State because of it. As I do, I realize that I am the only fan in the building that Portland State has. There still isn't enough interest in the program in Portland, Oregon to get any fan support for this Big Sky semifinal. It's as if somehow something that I did then would be a scintilla of the reason Portland State's name might appear in the bracket come selection Sunday.

Intensity is not a strong enough word to describe what is happening on the court. Every shot is contested. Every call is scrutinized. Both coaches have their jackets off midway through the first half. As an official myself, I wonder how any official could actually want to call this game. Ultimately, I know that this game, the last college game that the seniors on one of these teams will ever play is going to come down to one or two late calls or noncalls.

It does. With under ten seconds to go and Portland State trailing by a point, Delonte Huff who scores 20 points, comes out of the pack for Portland State with the ball. He dribbles in the open court going for the go ahead basket. Just past half court Juan Pable Silviera of Weber reaches and knocks the ball away. "I'm glad they didn't call a foul." Silviera says after the game. Weber State gets the ball in the ensuing scramble. The non call goes Weber State's way.

"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.

After the game Weber State coach Randy Rahe says, "The crowd was our MVP tonight."

Perhaps the regular season wasn't so meaningless after all.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Boston Celtics

The longest consecutive tenure of any professional sports team originating in it's still home city of the four major professional sports is the Chicago Cubs who have called Chicago home since 1876. In hockey, the Montreal Canadians actually existed before the NHL, starting play in 1909 as member of the National Hockey Association. The NFL has the Green Bay Packer who first started playing in Green Bay in 1921. The Bears started playing that same season, but in Decatur, Illinois and then moved to Chicago the next season.

Basketball has the Boston Celtics who originally started playing in Boston in 1946 as a member of the Basketball Association of America. In 1947 the NBA became a league and incorporated the BAA. Since that time, the Celtics have won 16 NBA Championships. The Yankees have won 26 world series, but over a much longer period while the Canadians have won 24 Stanley Cups also over a longer period.

Other cities have landmarks. San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge, St. Louis has the Arch, New York has Central Park, and Boston has the Celtics. Their uniforms have not changed. They are the same Irish Green with "C E L T I C S" emblazoned across the front. The identical uniforms I remember watching as a kid. Yes, the Red Sox have been in Boston longer, but the Red Sox are losers, the Celtics are winners. No city wants to be thought of as losers. For Boston, it means the Celtics are Boston.

Their names are legendary: Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Bill Russell. They transcend their game the way that former Yankees transcend baseball - only the Yankees didn't start in New York, they started playing in Baltimore in 1902 originally. This fact distinguishes the Celtics from even the Yankees and makes the Boston Celtics the all time greatest professional sports franchise.

I first saw the Boston Celtics in 1981. The Jazz played them at the Salt Palace. The game was a sellout, not because of the Jazz who only won 25 games that season, but because of Larry Bird. At the time it was surreal to see Larry Bird playing basketball. He was only in his second season, but his legend had already formed the way only the greatest players of their sport can (Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky) before their careers come to fruition. My media guide says the Jazz lost by only 11 points, but I don't remember it being that close.

The Celtic faithful have such strong allegiance that they are dotted throughout Energy Solutions Arena. Older fans wearing Larry Bird jerseys who maybe make only a handful of games all season cheer when Boston is able to pull within a point in the second half.

However, the modern Celtics don't have Larry Bird playing, they don't have Red Auerbach coaching. In fact at one point during this season they lost 17 straight games. How could this happen to the Boston Celtics? This game does not have the feel of even a regular season game as the Jazz play mainly backup players. Jerry Sloan must believe that this game will be won no matter what they do as Carlos Boozer plays only 23 minutes while Derrick Fischer leads the team in scoring with 21 points. Sloan plays a vast array of players and lineups. The Celtics only recognizable name if former Kansas star Paul Pierce. These are the Boston Celtics? They are the worst team in the NBA. They even have a strong Utah link as former BYU All American Danny Ainge has assembled this cast, he is the President or Director of Basketball operations - Red Auerbach gave him the job saying, he was "lucky."

Boston's record drops to 13-42. The Jazz improve to 37-18. Red must be rolling over in his grave and Boston must not be Boston.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Wyoming @ Utah: Sailors, Ferrin, Mikan and The Great Santini

In 1943 Wyoming captured the schools only NCAA basketball championship. After winning the Mountain States Conference championship Coach Ev Shelton and the Cowboys defeated Oklahoma, Texas, and Georgetown to win the championship in the NCAA tournament. Legendary Kenny Sailors of Hillsdale, Wyoming averaged 15.5 points per game and Milo Komenich averaged 16.7 points per game in leading the team to the championship. The team finished the season with a 31-2 record.

Along with Hank Luisetti of Stanford, Sailors is arguably regarded as the inventor of the jump shot, Conroy himself disputes the fact.

"'When your father came to this part the Midwest, everyone shot with two hands. When he left, everyone shot with one hand. Your old man brought the one-handed shot to Iowa.'" Conroy being told by his father's longtime friend Ray Ambrose that the Great Santini in fact invented the jump shot. Conroy's father played high school basketball in 1938 exactly the same time Sailors was shooting the shot in Hillsdale!

Wyoming's championship likely would not have happened had the season not coincided with World War II. That same year Illinois finished the season 17-1, but their season was cut short as all five starters headed off to active duty in the armed forces. Illinois had finished the regular season as the nations' top ranked team, but did not participate in either the NCAA or NIT tournament that season as a higher duty called.

A year later, Utah captured the Mountain States Conference championship and its only national championship under a set a nearly identical circumstances. Arkansas, this time was victimized by a freak auto accident. Just prior to the NCAA tournament, two of Arkansas five starters were injured when their station wagon broke down after returning from a scrimmage game in Fort Smith, Arkansas. While trying to fix a flat tire, two of the starters on the team, Deno Nichols and Ben Jones were injured when another car rammed into the back of the station wagon. Both players never walked again. The severity of the incident caused Arkansas to withdraw from the upcoming NCAA tournament. In need of a replacement, the NCAA committee turned to Utah, inspite of the fact that the Utes had 4 losses and had just lost their first round game in the NIT tournament. The Utes promptly went out and beat Missouri, Iowa State and Dartmouth in overtime en route to the schools only NCAA championship. Similar to Wyoming, Utah was led by a couple of local kids - Arnie Ferrin who would was named MVP of the Final Four, Fred Sheffield and interestingly Wat Misaka who was himself of Japanese decent.

Importantly, Depaul led by a junior center George Mikan, went 22-4 in 1944, and was largely regarded as the premiere college basketball team in the country that same year, but lost in an upset loss in the NIT tournament.

Only a year - 1943 - before Utah won the championship the man who became the Great Santini took on Mikan and Depaul, Conroy writes, "In a practice game against DePaul Dad outscored a young sophomore by the name of Geoge Mikan, the first great big man in the game. George Mikan was named the best basketball player in the first fifty years of the twentieth century. . . My father had outscored the best basketball player of his time. 'I caught Mikan young, before he became George Mikan.'" Conroy's father explained.

Somehow, the man who would become Bull Meecham in The Great Santini managed to avoid both Kenny Sailors and Arnie Ferrin!

Both Sailors and Ferrin, after capturing the NCAA tournament championships, lead their teams to wins over NIT champion St. John's in front of capacity crowds at Madison Square Garden in war effort benefit games organized by the Red Cross.

The game has changed. In 1944, Utah had one player, Lyman Condie a medical student, who midway through the season quit the team to pursue medical school. Additionally, in 1944 all of Utah's players were raised within 30 miles of the Utah campus. Wyoming's stars were from Hillsdale, Wyoming and Green River, Wyoming (Jim Weir). Today, Wyoming's star point guard is from Chicago, Illinois and Utah's star center is from Australia. In fact all but one of Wyoming's players (Eric Platt) is from another state or country. Utah has only Sean Green and Daniel Deane as regular players raised in Utah.

The game is back and forth, as neither team able to take control, but Wyoming's leading scorer Brandon Ewing picks up his third foul with only 6:11 left in the first half and is forced to take a place on the bench for the rest of the half. The Utes use the advantage to take a two point lead into the half.

With Ewing back, Wyoming opens up seven point lead in the second half, but Utah's Australian Center Luke Neville scores 14 points and is able to use his height to get a couple of key baskets. A late charge call goes against Wyoming and Utah's Sean Green of Salt Lake City hits two free throws to put the Utes up by four points. It almost isn't enough as Eric Platt of Casper hits a late three pointer and three free throws. The Cowboys get a last possession with 4.0 second left but Brad Jones' runner misses and Utah escapes with a 62-60 win.

Neither Ferrin, Sailors, Mikan or Bull Meecham are in attendance.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Air Force

"Winning basketball games in a military college is as perilous a way to earn a living as exists in American coaching." Conroy on coaching at a military academy.

The statement is supported by Conroy's alma mater The Citadel which enters it's game against Davidson this same evening with a record of 6-12, having still never reached the NCAA tournament. Additionally, Army has still never reached the NCAA tournament. Only the Naval Academy has had a level of basketball success as a military institution, having reached the NCAA tournament 9 times.

Air Force's two recent NCAA appearances and 17-1 mark and number 13 ranking this year has defied the long odds that plague military schools. The Falcons have won 13 straight games with a 17-1 record. They have large margin victories over Texas Tech, Wake Forest, Stanford and Colorado - all from major conferences. The latest Bracketology lists the Falcons as a #3 seed in the future NCAA tournament. The same seed line as Duke, Pittsburg, and Clemson.

Six years ago the Air Force basketball program was a joke. It traditionally finished dead last in the conference. Joe Scott brought the Princeton offense with him and Air Force made the NCAA tournament his last season. He left after the successful season, saying exactly what Conroy wrote above - the Academy just had too many strikes against it and it really wasn't possible to consistently win there. A year ago, Jeff Bdzilik took over, tweaked the Princeton offense and made the NCAA tournament again. This year, the Falcons have gone beyond even the wildest Zoomie fans expectations. Their only loss was against Duke.

Utah has lost six straight games, it's the longest losing streak Utah has had in 56 years. The talk on the local radio shows is that Coach Ray Giacoletti's job may be in jeopardy if things don't turn around quickly.

What happened next is exactly why basketball games are played. Utah takes the lead early expands it to 15 points and never relinquishes it. Utah center Luke Neville goes 8 for 8 scores 18 points, the Utes shoot 70% from the field, Neville uses his height advantage and dominates against the smaller Falcons. Air Force does show a lot of fight, hitting five straight three point baskets or plays down the stretch to cut the deficit to five points, but ultimately, Utah doesn't fold, withstands the rally and uses their home court advantage to pull away to a totally unexpected 85-79 victory. The improbability of the victory causes dozens of fans to storm the court after the victory. The rematch will be February 14th in Colorado Springs.

The Citadel also lost tonight 79-54 to Davidson. Their record drops to 6-12. This weekend Army and Navy will play on Saturday and Sunday in a new scheduling format utilized by the Patriot League.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

College of Southern Idaho

The all time record of the College of Southern Idaho is 1129-210 - a winning percentage of .847. It is the winningest junior college basketball program in the country. The program was first coached by legendary Eddie Sutton who went on to hold head coaching positions at both Kentucky and Oklahoma State. He is the only coach to lead four different schools to the NCAA tournament. As Sutton tells the story, when he arrived at CSI the school didn't even exist and the President told him that his job was "to make a school." His first games were played at a local high school. Boyd "Tiny" Grant who later coached at Colorado State and Fresno State followed Sutton and Fred Trenkle who later coached at San Diego State followed Grant. The current coach is Barrett Peery who clearly appreciates what has been built and what he has at CSI after stints at Southern Utah, Utah Valley and Portland State as an assistant coach.

CSI has won two national championships, but it has been 20 years since Fred Trenkle lead the 1987 squad to a 38-1 record and their last national championship. Expectations are high at CSI. On Saturday, January 14, 2007 they host Salt Lake Community College. The previous night, SLCC pulled off a shocking one point victory to drop CSI's record to 15-2.

"When I think of the word "snakepit," the image of the claustrophic, hostility-steeped field house where Clemson University played their basketball games comes to mind." Pat Conroy.

If Conroy had played junior college basketball he would have envisioned the College of Southern Idaho Fieldhouse instead of Clemson's field house. The ends of the arena at CSI are plastered with booster signs from around the Twin Falls community, any business would be hard pressed to find a place to put another sign. The lower section of the arena has a wait list for season tickets and all seats are chairback. The booster club has raised over one hundred thousand dollars this year alone and the prime banner locations correspond to the largest donors. CSI even has their own practice facility - a complete rarity at the midmajor level much less the junior college level. The arena seating is steep - like climbing the steep portion of a mountain. The fans in the upper reaches of the fieldhouse cannot even see some parts of the court. Their view is blocked by asbestos laden beems that support the ceiling. The lower level has fans that are sitting almost on top of the court. From 1984 to 1992 CSI won 137 consecutive games - the longest home court winning streak in junior college basketball history.

CSI is clearly one of the premiere junior college basketball programs in the country.

CSI's roster is dotted by players from across the country: Portland, Oregon; New York, N.Y.; Reno, Nevada; Youngstown, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Waterbury, Connecticutt; Headland, Alabama; Biloxi, Mississippi; Las Vegas, Nevada; and St. George, Utah; and beyond - Dakar, Senegal; Minsk, Belarus. Players are usually placed at the CSI by division I head coaches who need the player to become eligible. Initially, the typical CSI player does not meet the NCAA's core requirements and is therefor ineligible until completely two years of junior college. This year's squad features a 6'11" center from Minsk, Belarus who would clearly play for any division I school that he wanted. CSI landed him with the help of Binghamton University from all the way in New York, which is hoping to sign him after he becomes eligible.

Going into the weekend, CSI was ranked 6th in the latest NJCAA rankings. Friday nights' upset loss will surely lower their rating, but CSI needs Saturdays' game to avoid a disastrous weekend.
CSI utilizes 12 players during the course of the game (15 suit up). They press full court all game, looking to take advantage of their depth and quickness. The challenge every dribble and every pass. The strategy usually works as CSI's depth can usually wear down an opponent. The disadvantage is that opponents usually reach the bonus quickly. That is the case during both the first half and second half against SLCC as SLCC is in the bonus only six minutes into the game. They utilize their free throw advantage to stay in the game and at the half trail by only two points.

Looking at the teams, any novice basketball fan can see CSI has an athletic and height advantage. They clearly have better players, but SLCC is able to utilize the made free throws to stay in the game longer than anyone in Twin Falls would like. Midway through the second half, though, CSI is able to go on a couple of runs created by their press and SLCC turnovers. The runs put them up by as much as 16 points and they cruise down the stretch to a 98-91 victory. Their record improves to 16-2 with the rematch weekend to follow in Salt Lake on February 16th and 17th.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

No Jimmy Chitwood in Park City

Traditionally, towns like Jackson Hole, Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Sun Valley and Park City do not have strong basketball programs. I am assigned to the Park City vs. Union jayvee game in the nonheart of the game town of Park City, Utah. It's not the game that is interesting, it's the struggle to develop enthusiasm for the sport. It's not hard to see why. The competition for 12 to 18 year olds' kids time is fierce in a town that only four years ago basically hosted the Winter Olympics. In the coaches/athletic directors office are skis, snowboards, and boots all sitting beneath the schools sports schedule. Before the game, students walk in and out of the school in helmets and ski boots - fully dressed from an afternoon or ready for an evening on the lit mountain that sits less than a mile from the gym.

"Coach Crunkleton prepared us for the tournament in the oddest most unconventional way imaginable. . . We never touched a basketball once and looked more like a cross-country team." Conroy on his coaches preparation for his sophomore year of high school basketball. Park City seems more prepared for a cross country ski race than the high school basketball games that are about to take place. Their players are thin and lanky, but not tall. They are in shape, but not basketball type athletes.

Over the past three years Park City has won only seven games. Parents complained that their was talent, it just was not being used properly. At the midpoint of this season, the coach Troy Buford called for a parent meeting to resolve problems. He resigned after the meeting. Unlike Hoosiers, their was no Jimmy Chitwood who came in and miraculously saved the coaches job. He just resigned and a new coach and staff were appointed by the school.

The new coach, Matt Nagel, doesn't look like a basketball coach, he looks more like the English teacher he is. Unlike Union where the coaches have jackets and ties on, Coach Nagel wears a tie with a short sleeved sweater while his assistant has a long sleeve sweatshirt similar to Bill Belichek.

At the half of the varsity game against Union, Park City trails by 22 points. The second half isn't much different. Union clears their bench early and although Luc Tucker of "City" as they are called, by the locals, hits four straight three pointers, they lose 54-38. Their record drops to 1-11.

The jayvee game, where programs are developed, is no different. Union takes a technical foul to open the game and then another one at the start of the second half, almost as if they are trying to keep the game more interesting. It's not interesting to me, them or City and it mostly appears Park City wants not only the second half of the game to be over, but their whole season to be over, if not their whole program.