Saturday, October 4, 2008

Division I Basketball back at Seattle U.

This year as every year, a number of teams will be attempting to make the jump up to Division I college basketball and chase the NCAA tournament dream that this blog has focused on. Former My Losing Season blog cinderella Portland State realized the dream for the first time a year ago.

This year, as I researched for the upcoming season, I noted the arrival of Seattle University back on Division I scene. Similar to the University of San Francisco which revitalized its program after a lengthy absence, Seattle University was once a power. In 1958, behind Elgin Baylor, Seattle University reached the NCAA championship game where they lost to Kentucky and Adolph Rupp's "Fiddlin Five" squad on a virtual homecourt for Kentucky in Louisville. During that season Baylor trailed only Oscar Robertson in the national scoring race, averaging 32.5 points per game, even beating Wilt Chamberlain.

Seattle U., a Jesuit school, reached the NCAA tournament in 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967 doing so as Independent. Between 1953 and 1967 the Chieftains made the tournament 11 times. They did join the West Coast Conference from 1972 to 1980, but dwindling resources and a lack of success throughout the 70's ultimately caused the demise of the once storied program.

Although, the 1958 Championship game was likely Seattle University's most chronicled game and the one fans will recall as they see the name Seattle U. plastered on ESPN's scroll with the volumes of other late night scores it is not Seattle U.'s most legendary game. That came in 1952 when the then Chieftains took on the Harlem Globetrotters.

In 1952, the Globetrotters were the best basketball team in the world. The NBA was still in its formative stages and the Globetrotters paid their two star players "Goose" Tatum and Marques Hayes twenty five thousand dollars each. At the time, they were the highest paid players in the world. Entering the game with Seattle U., the Globetrotters had played 3571 games winning 93 percent of their contests and when they did lose it was more often than not because they suited up a second team or alternative team to meet their excessive scheduling demands. However, that was not the case on January 21, 1952. Tatum and Haynes played in a game designed to raise funds for the United States Olympic efforts.

Jazz great Louis Armstrong played at halftime and actress Joan Caulfield performed a ceremonial opening tip off at the University of Washington's Hec Edmondson Pavillion which was filled to the rafters. Seattle U's Johnny O'Brien was at the time the nation's leading scorer and against the much taller Tatum, O'Brien dominated. The 5'9" O'Brien, who that same season became the first player in the history of college basketball to score 1000 points in a single season, poured in 43 points while playing post against the Trotters. Johnny's brother Eddie played point guard for Chieftians and his half court shot lifted them to a 10 point lead.

Both O'Brien's went on to successful major league baseball careers

After Louis Armstrong's halftime performance, the Trotters got back in the game as Johnny O'Brien was forced to tend to a broken nose and sat out most of the third quarter. Ultimately, with only seconds left and Seattle U. clinging to a two point lead, the Globetrotters called a time out they didn't have resulting in a made free throw by Johnny O'Brien and a possession change - Seattle U. prevailed 84-81.

Globetrotter owner Abe Saperstein was so upset that he canceled the rest of the Trotters benefit schedule that year and over the next year, gradually, Saperstein began to ease his team away from competitive games choosing instead to play a staged opponent -- the Washington Generals.

This year Seattle University will not play as the Chieftain's - the school changed its name to Red Hawks in 2000. Once again they won't play in a conference, they will attempt their comeback as an Independent at the Division I level.

Last March, the West Coast Conference of which Seattle U. was once a member voted to not expand its membership and include Seattle U. Besides its past membership in the West Coast Conference, Seattle U. does have several connections to the WCC. Current Seattle U. athletic director Bill Hogan was formerly the Athletic Director at the University of San Francisco. Additionally, WCC Commissioner Mike Gilleran is a Seattle University graduate. Finally, WCC lynchpin Gonzaga is a sister Jesuit school and although Seattle University's admission as a WCC member might hurt recruiting in Seattle for the Zags as a Jesuit school in the same province Gonzaga's support is required by the church.

This year, Seattle University games will be played at the small on campus arena, the Connolly Center, which seats approximately 1600 for basketball, although talks have already begun with Key Arena regarding filling vacancies left by the Sonics abandonment. Ideally, Hogan would like to have a small on campus arena which seats around 4,000 similar to what the University of Portland has.

In 2008-2009, Seattle University will find itself playing against fellow Independent schools that this blog features which are also making the transition to Division I status as Independents -- Utah Valley, NJIT, Cal State Bakersfield, North and South Dakota -- it's unlikely the Globetrotters will come looking for a rematch.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


In the period of basketball history of which I write, Davidson represented the big time in the Southern Conference because the wily, fast talking Lefty Driesell had transformed the small Protestant college into a national power. I never took the court against them without thinking the the eye of sports loving America had turned its curious gaze on me. When Mel delivered his pregame speech as the crowd began to hum in the field house, he tried to instill fear in us, implying always that he doubted whether we possessed either the talent or the will to be on the same court with the Wildcats. He could give us a thousand reasons why we could not beat Davidson and never came up with a single one that suggested we could.

Pat Conroy on The Citadel's first matchup against Davidson during his senior year.

I wanted to beat Davidson so badly I could taste it, vinegary and sharp in the back of my throat. They had ruled the Southern Conference and been ranked in the top ten teams in the country since my freshman year.

I dribbled past Davidson caoch, Lefty Driesell, I hear him . . .

"Hey, Pat. Why did Mel bury you alive the last couple of years? Mel even told me you couldn't score for shit. I'd've played you up here, boy. Guarantee that.

I put the next layup in and as I rose to shoot that basketball off the board I rose up as the happiest boy in North Carolina because the great Lefty Driesell had proven to me that he actually knew my name. . . I basked in the glory of it.

Pat Conroy on his second matchup with the Wildcats.

Much will be written about Davidson this week. The fact that their enrollment is only 1678. The fact that out of the 339 schools that play division I basketball their enrollment places them 335th. The fact that they now own the nation's longest winning streak at 24 consecutive games. No one will probably note that during Conroy's senior season the Wildcats beat the Citadel both times, the second time by a final score of 97-85. Most articles will probably note that Lefty Driesell turned Davidson into a national power during the late 1960's. In 1968 and 1969, Davidson reached the regional final -- losing to North Carolina both times. In 1969 the Wildcats finished the season ranked #3 in the country according to the UPI their record during what would be Driesell's final season was 27-3

Driesell left the next season to take over Maryland's program in the ACC. Driesell was 176-65 as the coach at Davidson. The program has had solid season since Driesell left, but nothing compared to what has happened this year. They are this season's cinderella -- America's team.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Battle for Hutch

My heart went into my throat as Whittenburg barely controlled, searched for the basket and the clock at the same time and hurled up his final 30 footer. The amazing irony was that Charles, on the opposite side of the basket, saw the ball falling short, and Olajuwon, in textbook rebounding position facing the basket, did not. Akeem never even jumped. Lorenzo did, grabbed the ball with both hands and smashed it home. North Carolina State had won the national championship!

And there I was searching for someone to hug. I had told Lo in the huddle to make believe anything near the rim was a hubcap, but this was ridiculous. People were running every which way, everybody was hugging everybody, I knew the TV cameras were on me, and yet I couldn't find one person to hug! Where was I running? I was running around looking for Dereck because I had dreamed of this moment all my life and I knew I was only the 28th coach in history to win the NCAA title and that sixty million people were watching and I had been hugging Whitt after all our games because he was my designated hugger and I thought I'd be making history myself here.

Every weekend of my life I had tuned in "wide World of Sports" and heard about the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat and watched that skier come down the mountain -- boom, schuss, boom, splat -- while somewhere in France, some poor woman is going, "Look Pierre, here comes ton pere!" I felt as if all they had ever had to show on "Wide World" was the agony of Defeat, and now I, Jim Valvano, would be the Thrill of Victory. I imagined that the cameras would be zeroing in on me running slo-mo and the crowd would be roaring aaahhhh and I would be running and Whitt would be running and "Chariots of Fire" would be playing in the background and it was going to be History! Me! Whitt! Together! Hug! Chariots of Fire! And I would be on TV forever.

Then I got out in the middle of nowhere, and there's Whitt... hugging somebody else!

So I ran left, looking for somebody else to hug. Everybody was hugging somebody else. I ran right, looking. Everybody was hugging. There was nobody left to hug! I had just won it all: history, 28th coach, sixty million watching -- and I had nobody to hug! Where was I running? I finally found my athletic director, Willis Casey, my boss, a bit old and out of shape but a very nice man. He gave me my break. He grabbed me. He hugged me Wonderful! Great! Finally, a hug!...

I had just won the national championship, 28th all-time to do it . . . sixty million have watched me running around like a maniac. . .

Jim Valvano's description of his thoughts and the precious moments after North Carolina State captured the national championship in They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead.

While Jim Valvano lived his dream, there are hundreds if not thousands of coaches and athletes who have fallen short. The nature of March Madness is that every game has a loser and there is only one national champion.

I have known the assistant coach of the Southern Idaho Golden Eagles, Steve Gosar, for 32 of his 38 years on this planet. We grew up together. At one point, as junior high students, although he will deny it, I could beat him in a game of one on one. We went to high school and even college together. We spent much of our twenties in bars in Laramie, Wyoming where he worked as an assistant director of the Cowboy Joe Club. When offered the director position he turned it down to become a graduate assistant basketball coach at the University of Wyoming. It was a decision only those people who are crazy enough to chase a dream would make. He is still chasing this dream. He now has a wife and a son. He has a family to provide for, but he is still chasing his dream.

Southern Idaho enters their region 18 title game against Salt Lake Community College with a record of 29-1 they are ranked as the third best junior college basketball team in America. Salt Lake enters the game with a record of 27-3 they are ranked as the fourth best junior college basketball team in America. The two teams have met three times this year with CSI winning two and SLCC winning one.

Prior to the game the public address announcer proclaims, "The winner of this championship game has a legitimate chance at the junior college national championship!" The NJCAA playoffs take place in Hutchinson, Kansas. These two Scenic West rivals are battling for the chance to ride in a bus across three states to play in Hutch. It is all part of the dream!

Salt Lake has two of the best junior college guards in the country. Prior to the game I sit with Steve and he believes that they cannot let Scenic West Conference player of the year Durrell Jackson control the game from his point guard position.

CSI's gym is packed for the region 18 championship and I sit up high. Jackson and SLCC guard Brian Green, from Fruit Heights, Utah control the first half they take a seven point halftime lead. In the second half, CSI makes a run and actually takes a one point lead with slightly over ten minutes to play. The final ten minutes of play are as agonizing as any ten minutes of basketball I have ever watched. Green hits three three pointers, a couple of key free throws, and a couple of tough running layups and with only a little over two minutes remaining the Bruins have built a 10 point lead. It almost seems hopeless, but CSI makes one final run, a late charge call goes their way and with six seconds left they trail by only a point and have the ball.

After the game, Steve tells me that their hope was to get the ball to point guard Reggie Guyton and have Guyton drive to the basket either hit a runner, draw a foul or have one of their "Bigs" follow up a miss just before the buzzer. Nick Hansen, the only player that receives significant minutes on the CSI roster from Idaho, a player that Steve says "lives and breathes" the program is set to inbounds the ball at midcourt. The Pocatello native throws the ball too hard and it goes out of bounds on the opposite sideline.

Apparently it is possible to go 29-2 and have a losing season, because the atmosphere in the fieldhouse is dead. The expectations of the Twin Falls community, the team and the coaches have not been met, it feels like a lost season. After the game the head coach of the Eagles Barrett Peery musters up enough gumption to accept the runner up trophy. While the Bruins celebrate, the Eagles sit on their bench with hands wrapped around their downtrodden heads, some use towels to cover up their tears, some have disappeared, some stare blankly at the floor. It is the agony of defeat that Valvano speaks of above.

The assistant coach of the Eagles, Steve Gosar, has turned down higher paying opportunities with multiple organizations to chase his love of coaching, but at this moment I am certain he regrets it all. It can't seem worth it. CSI's entire season and his career in coaching had come down to this game, this moment. It isn't often that a team knows they have a chance to win it all. The hope for any junior college program is that they can get to Hutch. In Hutch dreams come true. Junior college players and coaches land opportunities at the division I level. Present USC assistant coach Gib Arnold is a former CSI head coach. These are the type of opportunities that can happen only at Hutch. There will be no trip to Hutch this year for Steve or the College of Southern Idaho.

Winning shapes the soul of bad movies and novels and lives. It is the subject of thousands of insufferably bad books and is often a sworn enemy of art.

Loss is a fiercer, more uncompromising teacher, cold hearted but clear-eyed in it's understanding that life is more dilemma than game, and more trial than free pass. Pat Conroy author My Losing Season.

I know Steve, I feel for Steve - more than I ever felt good for Jim Valvano.

Friday, March 7, 2008

It Ends For Everybody

It ends for everybody. It ends for the pro who makes ten million dollars a year. It ends for the high school kid who never comes off the bench. For me, it ended on December 22, 1979, at the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida. Former LSU all SEC football center and author of "It Never Rains In Tiger Stadium" John Ed Bradley.

For Jaycee Carroll, it will likely end within a couple of weeks. Utah State has chance to win the WAC title at Idaho on Saturday night, then it will be on to the WAC tournament in Las Cruces, New Mexico. If things go well Carroll could end up playing in the NCAA tournament, but more likely the NIT tournament. Carroll will likely finish as the second leading all time scorer in the history of Utah college basketball. This after an illustrious high school career at Evanston High School in Evanston, Wyoming. Is there a place for Carroll in the NBA? Maybe. But it could simply be over, former BYU star and #3 leading scorer in Utah college basketball history Devin Durrant never found a place in the NBA.

This year Carroll will likely finish as the only player in the country to shoot over 50% on three point field goal attempts, over 90% on free throw attempts and over 50% on all field goal attempts. Certainly, other great college players never find a place in the NBA. Names like Bo Kimble of Loyola Marymount, Freeman Williams of Portland State, Kevin Houston of Army, Joe Jakubiak of Akron, and Alfredrick Hughes of Loyola of Illinois -- all tremendous college basketball players each of whom led the nation in scoring, but never found places in the NBA.

I gave it up, gave basketball up, gave my game up, the one I played so badly and adored so completely. I gave it up in Charlotte, in emptiness, in sorrow, in despair that I played it so badly yet in gratitude for what the game had given me...Basketball had rescued me from the malignant bafflement of my boyhood. It had lifted me up and given me friends that I got to call teammates. [Basketball] gave me moments where I brought crowds of strangers to their feet, calling out my name. The game had allowed me to be carried off the court in triumph...I gave it up. I left my game in Charlotte forever. Conroy's thoughts in the locker room following his teams' loss in the Southern Conference tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It's likely Jaycee Carroll won't be carried off the court the way he was when he set the Utah State scoring record ever again, just as Conroy was once carried off the court. Carroll likely will never again bring crowds of strangers to their feet calling out his own name as he has over the last four years at the Spectrum in Logan, Utah.

It ends for everybody. It ends for the pro who makes ten million dollars a year. It ends for the high school kid who never comes off the bench.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Home Court Win Streaks

Utah's basketball has some of the best home courts in the country. This year both Utah State and BYU have gone undefeated at home. The Aggies are 16-0 at home their last home loss was against Fresno State in their final regular season game one year ago. Coincidentally, they are hosting Fresno State in their final regular season game once again this year.

BYU has now won 45 straight home games. One year ago, BYU played at Air Force which at the time had won 30 straight home games. The two schools will meet on Saturday night in Provo.

The longest home court winning streaks are:

Kentucky, 129 from 1943 to 1955 ended by a loss to Georgia Tech 59-58
St. Bonaventure, 99 from 1948 to 1961 ended by a loss to Niagara 87-77
UCLA, 98 from 1970-1976 ended by a loss to Oregon 65-45
Cincinnati 86 from 1957-1964 ended by a loss to Bradley 87-77
Arizona 81 from 1945-1951 ended by a loss to Kansas State 76-57
Marquette 81 from 1967-1973 ended by a loss to Notre Dame 71-69
Lamar 80 from 1978-1984 ended by a loss to Louisiana Tech 68-65
Long Beach State 75 from 1968-1974 ended by a loss to San Francisco 94-84
UNLV 72 from 1974-1978 ended by a loss to New Mexico 102-98
Arizona 71 from 1987-1992 ended by a loss to UCLA 89-87
Cincinnati 68 from 1972-1978 ended by a loss to Georgia Tech 59-56

Some of college basketball's most memorable games are the streak stoppers. I did attend the 1992 Arizona loss to UCLA. Arizona does allow scalping and at the time, tickets went for over $100.00 a seat for any place in the building. A national television audience watched the game on ABC as Dick Vitale was present. Don McLean led the Bruins past the Wildcats. Eventually, BYU's current streak will end, each added game brings a premium to the next game and tickets come harder and harder to come by. The loss likely won't happen this year as only Air Force and Wyoming remain on the Cougars home schedule.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Things Happen

The 1966-67 Citadel basketball team of which Conroy writes and of which the site garners its title finished the season with a record of 7-19. This year's Citadel squad is no better, they have a record of 6-20. Basketball State lists them as the 338th ranked team in the country. They are coached by Conroy's cousin Ed Conroy.

My acquaintance with loss has sustained me during the stormy passages of my life when the pink slips came through the door, when the checks bounced at the bank, when I told my small children I was leaving their mother, when the despair caught up with me, when the dreams of suicide began feeling like love songs of release. It sustained me when my mother lay dying of leukemia, when my sister heard the ruthless voices inside her, and when my brother Tom sailed out into the starry night in Columbia, South Carolina, sailed from a fourteen story building and plunged screaming to his death, binding all of his family into his nightmare forever. Though I learned some things from the games we won that year, I learned much, much more from loss. Pat Conroy on his losing season.

In spite of Conroy's words, it's difficult to think that either Pat Conroy or his cousin Ed Conroy have learned nearly as much as those players and coaches associated with the New Jersey Institute of Technology this year. NJIT is 0-28 entering their final game at Utah Valley University. They are coached by Jim Casciano, a former Drexel player who has a fairly impressive resume of coaching stops at the division II level. Last week, the school announced that Casciano would not be returning next year. Essentially, this is his last game as coach at NJIT. NJIT is the lowest ranked team in both the RPI and Basketball State rankings at 341.

I attend the game and sit directly behind their bench. There are a handful of other NJIT fans, all people from New Jersey living in Utah who recognize the dire need of support for NJIT at this time. I sit next to an assistant coaches' wife. She says that it is too bad the coaching staff is changing as the "momentum that has been built up this year is going to be killed." Only a coaches wife could find "momentum" in the 0-28 season.

NJIT is like today's opponent UVU in that they play as an independent at the division I level and are meeting the NCAA's three years of play requirement before becoming eligible for postseason play. This is only season two. Like Northern Colorado, Portland State and UVU who have all been written about in this blog NJIT's dream is the NCAA tournament.

As will happen when everything has gone wrong in a season, the NJIT flight is late and the game is delayed one hour. It doesn't help. NJIT gets the first basket of the game on a three point shot and there is hope as all four of us in the NJIT contingent get our first and only chance to cheer for a lead.

Coach Cariasco is a typical firey Italian coach. He calls time outs at appropriate times, uses his white clipboard to diagram mistakes during the time outs. He has players who leave the game sit next to him after exiting and he coaches them just as Mike Kryzewski and Eddie Sutton would do. The assistant's wife indicates that much of Cariasco's coaching style comes from Villanova's Jay Wright who is at least partially responsible for Cariasco's opportunity at NJIT. Earlier today Villanova upset UConn. Perhaps it is a good omen. With the coaching change she indicates that next year's potential game at the Palestra against Villanova for NJIT has already been canceled.

NJIT does appear to struggle offensively as a great deal of their offense is ran beyond the three point line and they struggle to get any inside opportunities. They do, however, dive for lose balls and get upset at bad calls - it's obvious they are trying to win, but they are not good enough.

The Highlanders entire season is perhaps best mirrored by play at the end of the first half when they play for the last shot in spite of a 21 point deficit. The clock ticks down and NJIT tries a long three pointer, which misses, UVU gets the rebound and Ryan Toolson throws in a 35 foot bomb at the buzzer. UVU takes a 24 point half time lead.

The 76-50 loss to UVU drops NJIT's record to a new NCAA record worst 0-29. Previously, only Savannah State (2005) and Prairie View (1992) had compiled 0-28 season records. In the end, NJIT's season and future is best summarized by one supporter sitting in front of me, "things happen" he says. He is right. Conroy writes,

Basketball has always been a game for the poor kids of the big cities, the game where the boys of immigrant families could prove themselves while navigating their ways along the mean streets of fierce ghettos whether they were Jews, Irish, Poles, Lithuanians, or the soon to be dominant black kids.

That should help ease the pain a give some hope for the future for a school in New Jersey.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Big Sky @ The Stott Center

On television tonight is the NBA slam dunk contest, Indiana vs. Michigan State, #1 Memphis escaping against Alabama Birmingham and UNLV at BYU in a showdown for supremecy in the Mountain West Conference, and Oregon playing for it's NCAA tournament life against Washington State. My heart and tonight my radio is at the Peter W. Stott Center in Portland, Oregon.

I once spent six months of my life as an uninvited guest of the Portland State University athletic department. Had I been invited, I'm certain I would still be there.

The Peter W. Stott Center is the smallest division I arena I have ever seen. After an overhaul prior to the 2002 season capacity was increased to roughly 1500. Almost every 4A/5A high school arena is larger than the Peter W. Stott Center. This list includes Highland High School in Salt Lake City, Utah where Weber State forward Steve Panos played his high school basketball, it includes Prairie High School gymnasium in Vancouver, Washington where Dan Dickau once starred, it includes Oregon City High School in Portland, Oregon which currently is ranked in USA Today's top 10 high school teams in the west and it includes Evanston High School where Jaycee Carroll played. Kyle Whelliston's own website, the bible of midmajor internet college basketball, "Basketball State" lists Portland State's home arena as the Rose Garden, but this is not true. Portland State University plays at the Peter W. Stott Center. It should be proud to play at the Stott Center. The highest seat is 11 rows from court level! There are over 350 division I schools and somewhere there might be a smaller home arena, but I have not found it.

After years of struggling at the division I level in basketball Portland State University actually dropped it's program for an extended period before starting it up again in 1996. Portland State's most storied player is easily Freeman Williams who once score 81 points in a college basketball game. Williams is one of only three players to average over 30 points per game over at least a three year college career. Pete Maravich and Oscar Robertson are the other two. He is familiar to most Utah Jazz fans as the player who was acquired in exchange for Dominique Wilkins when the Jazz selected Wilkins in the 1982 draft.

Portland State's best season came three years ago when they won the Big Sky regular season championship, but lost in the Big Sky semifinals against Weber State. My favorite arena -The Stott Center- was deemed too small to host the conference tournament which the Vikings won the right to host and the tournament was moved to the Portland Memorial Coliseum. Unable to adjust to the cavernous surroundings, the Vikings lost in the Big Sky semifinal to Weber State. A year ago Portland State once again reached the Big Sky semifinals against Weber State, but narrowly lost on the Wildcats home court.

Portland State is once again making a run at the Big Sky championship and NCAA tournament in their 12th year since restarting the program in 1996. They own a 9-2 conference record this year and once again are trying to overcome Weber State which sits in second place at 7-4 at the Peter W. Stott Center. A win tonight will almost guarantee Portland State the right to host the Big Sky tournament in less than a month.

Portland State's best player this year has previously been introduced to readers of this site as 5'6" Jeremiah Dominguez who is averaging 14 points per game. Only at Portland State could a 5'6" player be the star player, it's the beauty of lower level division I college basketball.

There are numerous lead changes and ties. Late in the game Brody Van Brocklin and Delonte Huff exchange three pointers. Weber State's 5'6" point guard Kellen McCoy actually outplays his 5'6" Portland State counterpart Jeremiah Dominguez by scoring 19 points, but Dominguez hits a 10 footer and four free throws to put Portland State up 74-70. A late three pointer by Van Brocklin cuts the lead to a point, but it's not enough for Weber State. Portland State wins 76-73 and virtually clinches the right to "host" the Big Sky tournament.

I can only hope that "hosting" this time will mean playing at the Stott Center and not some cavernous Portland Trailblazer homecourt or former homecourt.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Chasing the NCAA Tournament Dream

The Big Sky Conference is my favorite conference. More often than not a fan can garner a seat only a few rows from the action. The schools are located in "cool" mountain towns like Bozeman, Flagstaff, Missoula, and Portland. Tickets generally run in the $5.00 to $7.00 range. There has yet to be an at large birth for any school into the NCAA tournament from the Big Sky and this causes the post season tournament to take on an even more paramount importance. However, unlike other leagues which let every school into the their tournament, the Big Sky only allows its top six teams entrance. Additionally, the winner of the league hosts the conference tournament.

The University of Northern Colorado is the newest member of the Big Sky Conference. The most that can be said for Northern Colorado's basketball program is that its abbreviation is the same as one of the most prestigious programs in the country -- UNC. Importantly, Weber State, tonight's opponent for the Bears, is incredibly 4-0 all time against "the" other UNC (that's right the University of North Carolina).

In fact, most of Northern Colorado's tradition is in football where they won a pair of Division II national championships. As a football based league, the Big Sky was an ideal fit for the Bears. Don't forget, the Big Sky was the launching league for both Boise State and Nevada which have gone on to have a national impact in football and basketball respectively in the WAC.

Yet, given the payout, prestige and notoriety that a school can get for making it to the NCAA tournament, Northern Colorado's emphasis has changed to basketball. Their arena, the Butler-Hancock Sports Pavillion has gone a complete overhaul with the addition of chairback seating and updated scoreboards. From 2002 to 2006 the Bears played as an independent and went through a transitional period required to become eligible for NCAA division I basketball membership. A year ago they played in the Big Sky Conference, but were not eligible for postseason play. Two years ago the Bears went 5-24. The head coach was fired and prior to the start of last year former player Tad Boyle was named coach. Last year, although not eligible for postseason play, the Bears in their first season in the Big Sky went 4-24 overall and 2-14 in conference play.

Readers of the blog will recall that since the advent of the modern NCAA tournament in 1948 only five schools that have fielded teams since 1948 have failed to make the field -- St Francis of New York, William and Mary, The Citadel, Northwestern, and Army. The Bears aren't likely to make it in their first year of eligibility. Ultimately, though that's the goal for the Greeley, Colorado school. Northern Colorado is leaps ahead of other division I schools like Utah Valley because Northern Colorado is in a conference that has an automatic bid. All the Bears have to do is find a way to win the Big Sky tournament.

Around the Dee Events Center, banners hang showing the success of tonight's Northern Colorado opponent - Weber State. Weber State has made multiple appearances in the NCAA tournament, twice making it to the regional semifinals and on two other ocassions making it to the second round of the tournament. In 1995, in fact, the Wildcats pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament, beating the other UNC, North Carolina.

The Bears have made some progress this year as they enter the game against Weber State with a record of 11-12 including a 55-52 win over Weber State in Greeley back on January 6th.

However, that is not the case tonight as Weber State takes a 26-24 halftime lead and then utilizes the shooting of Dezmon Harris who scores 20 points to beat the Bears 70-54. The loss drops the Bears into 8th place with a league record of 4-8.

In the parity driven league, former darling Portland State is leading the league with a record of 8-2. After the victory, Weber State is only a game behind the Vikings at 7-3. The top six teams make the Big Sky tournament and Montana and Montana State are tied for 5th/6th at 5-5, the Bears will need to make up 2 games during the final weeks of the season to catch them and keep their dream of making the field of 65 alive.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mighty Mites

Jeremiah Dominguez scored 26 points last night for PDX State as the Vikings beat Montana 70-68. Dominguez hit 7 of 13 field goal attempts and currently leads the Vikings averaging over 12 points per game.

Dominguez is only 5'6" tall! It isn't hard to find his chief rival as the nation's best small player, just drive down I-5 to Eugene where 5'6" Tajuan Porter is averaging over 12 points per game for the Ducks.

Many would argue that Bob Cousy, John Stockton or Isiah Thomas are the greatest small players of all time. Let's make something clear, they were all at least five inches taller than either Dominguez or Porter! Hard to believe that the Ducks could have missed out on Dominguez as he is from nearby Salem. Perhaps they already felt Porter from Detroit filled their quickness niche. In a game that is designed for those with height, what is going on in Oregon with Dominguez and Porter is phenomenal! Inch for inch the best basketball is being played in Oregon.

The two did not play this year. Hopefully in future seasons as both players are sophomores. The matchup is too good to ignore.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Junior College Showdown

On Friday night at the Sundance Film Festival I watched a documentary about the South Los Angeles gang scene, Made in America. The movie chronicled the history of gang violence in South Los Angeles by interviewing veteran gang members and older ex gang members. Over the past 35 years fifteen thousand people have been killed in South Los Angeles due to gang violence - needless battles between the Crips and the Bloods.

At Portland State University I met Dedrique Taylor, then an assistant basketball coach at PSU, Taylor had previously coached and played in the L.A. Junior Colleges - since then he has held assistant coaching positions at the University of Nevada which has reached the NCAA tournament each of the past three seasons and now at Arizona State University which finds itself in the Top 25 for the first time in over a decade. The reason all three of Taylor's schools have been successful is largely because of Taylor's connections. Taylor has stayed connected to his roots in the Los Angeles junior colleges and basketball provides an escape from the gang violence for those kids talented enough to play it at the division I level. Without exception these players are not eligible out of high school. They first play a season or two at the junior college level. Often they start out at a division I school can't stay eligible and wind up at a junior college.

On Saturday afternoon two of these junior colleges hook up in a showdown between the #2 and #3 ranked teams in the country. Each is undefeated. Salt Lake Community College enters this game 18-0 and 3-0 in the Scenic West Conference ranked #3 in the country. The College of Southern Idaho is also 18-0 and also 3-0 in the Scenic West Conference they are ranked #2 in the country. CSI's top player is 6'7" point guard Kevin Galloway who has already spent time at the University of Southern California and then at Fresno State. Former CSI head coach and current USC assistant coach Gib Arnold landed him at USC. However, Galloway wasn't able to stay eligible at either school and now leads the Eagles chase for a national championship. CSI has been so dominant this year that they really haven't had a real game. Scores are 160-68, 131-58, 101-78, 104-52, and 146-96. CSI has ten or eleven players who are interchangeable, all tall and athletic.

With a couple of exceptions every CSI player has already spent time at a Division I school or prep academy where they were placed by a division I school: Indiana, Washington, Oral Roberts, BGS Academy, God's Academy. Salt Lake Community College isn't much different - players have already come to SLCC via the University of Colorado, University of Idaho, University of Utah, and Southern Utah University. For the players, often the junior college are the only way to the next level. They need to take their core courses, keep minimum grades to get the scholarships to division I schools across the country. A year ago, CSI had seven players earn full ride scholarships to division I schools after leading the Eagles to the NJCAA Final Four. Gary Wilkinson at Utah State University is a SLCC veteran.

Kevin Galloway, was supposed to be teaming with OJ Mayo and leading USC to PAC 10 prominence this year, but his grades didn't meet minimum requirements as a freshman and he spent a short time at Fresno State before coming to CSI. He is a freaky 6'6" point guard who makes three pointers, drives to the basket, and dunks in transition. The Utah Jazz would have a hard time containing him much less Salt Lake Community College. Memphis, Kentucky and yes Arizona State are leading in the chase for his talent this time around.

Yet all I can think of as I watch is how many of the players at CSI are avoiding the gang scene in South Los Angeles or Oakland or Philadelphia because of their basketball gift. Will they mess this opportunity up? Will they end up back in South Los Angeles or Oakland? This is their last chance. You can see it in how they play. How they all want to score to show colleges that they are still good enough. The focus isn't so much on winning (that just happens as a byproduct), it's more on showing what they can do.

CSI wins 84-78, but the game isn't that close. In the second half CSI opens up a fifteen point lead, but because of the players focus, CSI keeps shooting three pointers and pressing they allow SLCC some hope, but not much, because it's obvious CSI has a chance to do something they have done twice before - win a national championship in Hutchinson, Kansas.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Of all the schools in the Southern Conference, a conference in which I take a fierce and partisan pride, there was not team I would rather play again than the Keydets of Virginia Military Institute. Pat Conroy.

Every school has its rival. That school that makes the announcers always say, "you can throw the records out when these two schools meet." Utah has 1595 victories, this places them 12th on the all time list, BYU has 1526 this place them 21st. Importantly, this rivalry has a state vs. religion dimension that can only be found here.

In every game we played against VMI, the Keydets came at us hard and fast from the opening tip-off. Conroy on playing against VMI.

On a college basketball scale the BYU/Utah rivalry is as good as any in the country. Most would argue Duke vs. North Carolina is the best and on a national scale this is probably the case. However, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have met only 212 times. Since 1909 BYU and Utah have met on the college basketball court 245 times. My own research suggests this is second to only Kansas and Kansas State teams that have played 255 times.

The pre World War II portion of the series was owned by BYU which won 64 of 99 contests. Throughout most of the 1920's and 30's the teams met four and sometimes even five times a season. It took Utah until 1913 to even win a game against their southern rivals. Utah experienced a brilliant turnaround after World War II. The nineties were dominated by Rick Majerus' and Utah, with Majerus as their coach Utah went 21-9 against BYU. Entering today's game, Utah owns a 124-121 edge.

I never thought someone from Wyoming could land a seat five rows up at center court for a BYU/Utah game, but through someone who knew someone who found out that how much I loved the game that's where I sit for meeting number 246 between these schools.

Jocks are second-class citizens in every military college in this country and in a secret, wordless accordance we acknowledged our aggrieved station in the chain of command by playing our best games against each other for the honor of our schools. Pat Conroy.

Certainly, BYU and Utah save their best games for each other the same way the Citadel saved its best for VMI. This game is hard fought, both teams struggle shooting during the first half as BYU makes just 9 of 26 field goal attempts. Utah is only 9 of 23 at the half and BYU gains a 3 point advantage. The second half is similarly hard played, with the same result. For the game, BYU shoots 38% and with 33 second remaining has a one point advantage. Tyler Kepkay's runner misses everything with five seconds remaining, and Utah fouls BYU's Lee Cummard who finishes with 18 points after making both free throws. Kepkay has a late chance for a three pointer but this also misses and BYU changes the series score to 124-122 in favor of Utah.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


My favorite college basketball player isn't Tyler Hansborough or OJ Mayo and although he is written about much on this site it isn't even Jaycee Carroll. My favorite college basketball player this year is Jaxon Myaer of the same Utah State University squad that features Jaycee Carroll.

Myaer attended Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City, Utah where as a senior he average 18.7 points per game and was the 3-A player of the year in the state of Utah. As I made my way through the officiating ranks in Salt Lake City during my first two years, I ran across him on multiple occasions -- either at summer basketball camps where he played point guard for Judge Memorial High School or at Saturday youth Catholic games where he would involve himself with the activities at the Catholic High School. On one Saturday afternoon, I remember officiating as then Utah coach Ray Giacolletti looked on. Myaer began shooting more frequently, hoping to impress the then coach of the Utes.

Myaer stands only 5'9" tall. I have watched Utah State play four times this year and he has suited up only one time against Utah. He has yet to get into a game and he sits at the end of bench, just ahead of the trainers, but behind all suited up players. He is a walk-on.

"Walk-on -- this still remains the proudest word I can apply to myself. Walk-on -- there are resolve and backbone in that noun." Conroy on being a walk-on at the Citadel.

Myaer's bio in the media guide says, "A confident point guard who is determined to overcome the question marks with his height. Believes he can play at this level and brings a lot of positive attributes to the court. An excellent perimeter shooter." One day Myaer will be proud to be a walk-on the same way Pat Conroy is today.

When Pat Conroy was nudged out of a scholarship by the Citadel coach Mel Thompson, Thompson told him,

"'We wanted you since we first saw you. If I had you, I wouldn't worry about a full court press for the rest of my life. But I just ran out of scholarships...In my opinion, Pat, the boys we signed have skills that make them much better basketball players than you are at this point. But you could find a place on this team. We liked your heart.'"

During the game with New Mexico State Myaer cheers for good plays, he stands on the outskirts of the huddle during time outs. During the game he watches intently and talks with trainers and other players not suited up.

Additionally, in the personal section of Myaer's bio it indicates that he enjoys backpacking. I have read media guides from hundreds of different programs across the country as I've followed college basketball over the past thirty years, and Myaer is the first and only player I have found that listed backpacking as an interest.

In the end, Morrill gets his record setting victory as the Utah State Aggies beat the New Mexico State Aggies 74-62 in front of a raucous sell out crowd at the Dee Glenn Spectrum. Salt Lake Community College transfer Gary Wilkinson leads the USU Aggies in scoring by putting in 18 points. Myaer is only eight seats away from the same seat Stew Morrill has coached all those victories from.

"'Pat, you did everything we asked of you this year. We were pleased with your progress and we want to offer you a basketball scholarship.'" Mel Thompson offering Pat Conroy a scholarship.

I walked away with my scholarship in my hands, but my teammates would call me a walk-on for the rest of my life. I walked back toward the only college education I was going to get. Conroy after receiving his scholarship from the Citadel.

There is a place for Jaxon Myaer on the Utah State University basketball team.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Point Guard

It is roughly sixteen blocks west and eighteen blocks north from Behnken Field House where the Westminster Griffins play their home basketball games to the intersection of 300 West (John Stockton Boulevard) and South Temple where the statue of John Stockton is prominently displayed in Salt Lake City.

It is impossible to be a basketball fan and attend a game involving the Westminster Griffins of the Frontier Conference of the NAIA level, see Stockton's son's name Michael Stockton in the program and not think of the greatest point guard that ever played. The Griffins gym is smaller than most high school gyms in Salt Lake City. In spite of this fact my thoughts are on Stockton's brilliant career as I watch his son and the rest of Griffins warm up.

In the realms of college basketball, the entire concept of the point guard was a new and developing one. I had heard the phrase used in my first summer at Camp Wahoo, but the necessity of having a guard who directed the offense and distributed the ball to the big men and the shooting guard (also a new concept) was gradually spreading around the theorists and innovators who created new wrinkles in offensive patterns and strategies. Conroy on the advent of the point guard position.

I am still a bit surprised when I look up and see the greatest point guard that ever lived walking up the bleachers next to me. Stockton's first NBA coach Frank Layden advised him to not change the way he was when he first entered the league. That probably holds true even after he has left the league. Stockton's admonishment and desire to not be bothered is so well respected at Behnken Field House that aside from only a couple of young kids who ask for autographs at halftime he is completely anonymous as he sits only two rows away from me. This is a player that never missed the playoffs during his nineteen year NBA career. This is a player who has spent the longest time with one franchise in NBA history, right here in Salt Lake City. Stockton retired as the all time steals and assist leader. In seventeen of his nineteen season Stockton played in every single game. Additionally, Stockton is the only NBA player former UCLA coach John Wooden has said he would pay to see play. Yet, tonight, he has somehow managed to escape all that - tonight, he is a father watching is son.

My philosophy of life was caught up with what I believed were the responsibilities of a point guard -- the importance of outhustling your opponent, watching for the unexpected, moving teammates to their proper spots on the floor, barking orders and calling the plays, exhorting and inspiring your team, and never quitting until the buzzer has sounded. Conroy, who like Stockton attended Gonzaga Prep, albeit in different locations, could never play the position as well as Stockton, but his philosophy of the position is the same.

The Griffins play at the NAIA level, they enter this game against Lewis-Clark with a record of 10-2 -- it is the Frontier Conference opener for both teams. Westminster is rated 12th in the country slightly ahead of Wiley College. The same Wiley College that Denzel Washington coached to victory against Harvard in the movie the Great Debaters -- no word yet on whether either Wiley's basketball team or debate team has won today.

Michael Stockton, is left handed, he wears number 20, he plays point guard like Conroy and Stockton, but only briefly in the first half and in spite of the fact that his father's number is retired in the rafters only 38 blocks from here Michael gets called for a questionable travel midway through the first half. He does hit one of two free throws moments later.

Former Utah point guard Tommy Connor coaches the Griffins and both he and Lewis-Clark coach Tim Walker are as animated as any division I coach. There are no cheerleaders or drill teams at this level. This is all about the game and it is as competitive as any game I will watch this season. It goes into overtime. The crowd, Stockton included, spends most of the last five minutes of regulation and the overtime period standing. In the end, Westminster's point guard Danny Reeder is fouled with .8 seconds remaining and the Griffins down by a point. Reeder misses both free throws and Lewis-Clark wins by a point.

On the drive home, my father critiqued every aspect of my game, slashing the air with his index finger to emphasize his points as he listed my shortcomings. Pat Conroy.

Hopefully, John Stockton is a little kinder to Michael than the Great Santini was to his son.