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.