Monday, December 31, 2012

Lone Peak

This past week Lone Peak High School reached rarefied air, claiming the number one national high school basketball ranking in the Maxpreps poll (See link:   Never before had a team from Utah or even the Rocky Mountain Region reached the top ranking in any high school basketball poll.   The Knights have since then won three games at the City of Palms Invitational in Florida before falling in the championship game to now number one ranked Montverde Academy of Montverde, Florida 66-45.  The Knights did end Chester, Pennsylvania's 61 game winning streak in the semifinals. 

The Lone Peak squad is led by future BYU Cougars T.J. Haws, Nick Emery, and Erik Mika.   Quincy Lewis coaches the Knights who previously won a state championship when led by Haws' brother and current BYU star Tyler Haws.   Lone Peak also captured a state championship last year with almost virtually the same cast that it now fields.   T.J. Haws' brother Tyler Haws was a two time state player of the year.  MWC followers will also recognize names like Toolson and Shumway who play vital roles on this year's team.  

Not coincidentally, the Salt Lake Tribune's lead story in its Sunday edition featured a series of articles on the new rules implemented by the Granite School District regarding required reporting of booster payments in high school athletic programs.  See Link:(  

This isn't the first time Utah's high school procedures and policies have come under scrutiny.   Previously, Bingham High School's football team reached a number four USA Today final national ranking in 2010.    (See Link:   The ranking was as much due to coach Dave Peck's outstanding coaching as it was to Utah's open enrollment policy which allowed Bingham to essentially "recruit" top players from across Salt Lake City to fill its roster.   All too similar to what Cottonwood High School was represented to have done in the Salt Lake Tribune articles.  

The Salt Lake Tribune's own article on Lone Peak's ranking clearly indicates that 6'10" center Erik Mika was forced to sit out a year when he transferred from Waterford Academy a small 2A school to complete Lone Peak's talented team this season.   Clearly, another case of a player picking a school as opposed to living in a school district and attending school in that district.

  I am not directly involved in any of this, however, my officiating has taken me across Lone Peak High School, Bingham High School and Cottonwood High School so I have seen the kids and the parents and the schools that have benefited.   I have talked with coaches and players at these schools.  Perhaps I feel a certain connection to these schools.    However, not living in Salt Lake City or seeing these teams/schools on a regular basis anymore I am likely more apt to comment. 

Also on Saturday afternoon previously mentioned former Lone Peak star Tyler Haws scored 42 points in leading Brigham Young University past Virginia Tech University at Energy Solutions Arena.   He's now a collegiate star and possible NBA player in the making. 

The Salt Lake Tribune articles on Cottonwood High School feature a series of comments from current NFL player and former Cottonwood star Stanley Havili of the Philadelphia Eagles defending Cottonwood High School and its benefactor/offensive coordinator, millionaire Scott Cate.

Because of Utah's open enrollment policy (specified in both articles), Utah has given its high schools advantages that other states and districts don't, creating Bingham's and Lone Peak's ranking and Cottonwood High School's own situation.   The open enrollment, national rankings and high school benefactors are unique to Utah. 

This issue is complicated by the Salt Lake Tribune itself and other media outlets which are commending the Granite School District for cracking down on booster and benefactor donations through more stringent reporting requirements (see , article by Kurt Kragthorpe).  

At the same time the media props up the main beneficiaries of the financial support of these schools.   Haws' scoring outburst was featured prominently on the front page of the Tribune sports section on Sunday ( and Lone Peak's own number one ranking was detailed previously by the Tribune (

Is the Salt Lake Tribune going to suddenly stop reporting on BYU's basketball team?  Not likely.   Should itself place a less emphasis on the national ranking of these high school teams?   Also, not likely.   Yet, that's where the solution has to come from.  

It's the media itself (particularly ESPN which has created the massive athletic programs at universities across the country) that is responsible for what is now seeping into high schools like Cottonwood, Bingham and Lone Peak.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Wyoming opened this season winning its first ten games.  There are still fourteen undefeated teams remaining as of this writing and last year we well documented and researched the last remaining undefeated team for each season since 1949 (see link: as well as a history of Murray State (one of the last unbeaten teams a year ago)  (see link:    I have spent a majority of my life in Wyoming and have an advanced degree from the insitution.   It's a unique state and its basketball team's success this year is largely attributable to Coach Larry Shyatt.   Shyatt  previously coached Wyoming in 1997-98 before returning last year and guiding Wyoming to a 21-12 record.  

Wyoming has a storied basketball tradition.   Besides the National Championship referenced here: and Kenny Sailors mentioned in this same post, Wyoming had some strong seasons during the late 80's including a cover photo and Sports Illustrated article about its then superstar Fennis Dembo.  Through the magic of technology that issue is now available to everybody online.   (see link:

Dembo's name will go down with several others referenced in this blog for its combination of uniqueness and the fleeting moment of infamy that like so many other college stars he had.  Dembo led Wyoming to some of it's best seasons.   The 1986 team went 24-12 and advanced all the way to the NIT Championship game at Madison Square Garden before losing to Florida.   The 1987 team advanced to the Sweet 16, as Dembo torched Reggie Miller in a second round matchup against UCLA by scoring 41 points. 

In fact, the last time Wyoming found itself ranked according to the Associated Press was at the end of the 1988 season when Dembo and Eric Leckner led Wyoming to the WAC Tournament Championship playing in Provo, Utah.    Wyoming finished that season with a final AP ranking of 13, led by Dembo, future NBA first round draft choice Eric Leckner and then coach Benny Dees.  

That was the same year Wyoming played against Loyola Marymount which finished ranked 15th in the final AP poll.  (see link regarding Paul Westhead and LMU:   The 1988 season was particularly relevant to followers of WAC basketball as BYU was the last undefeated team that year.  (See Link to Sports Illustrated article ( 

In fact, if you parse the back issues of Sports Illustrated you will find an additional article and picture of Dembo on page 88 of the March 21 issue.   In that issue, in the last paragraph of Morin Bishop's weekly report on college basketball he writes, "But it was fun again for the 3,500 fans that made the trip to Provo; one of them waived a sign that said, 'Benny Dees for President'".   Benny quipped, "that's the guy that threw those eggs," regarding a previous incident earlier in the season when his house was egged.  (see link:
While Bishop is correct about the sign, it took two of us to hold it the night in Provo.   What Benny Dees probably still doesn't know is that other person who held the sign that night in Provo also later gave Dees' son a job where they teamed up to win a junior college national championship.  This blog has written a lot about the College of Southern Idaho and its coaches passion and my passion which were largely fueled by those games that Wyoming played in 1986, 1987 and 1988 -- the last time Wyoming found itself ranked. 

Accordingly, it has been twenty-four years since that season when that sign was hoisted in the Marriott Center in Provo, Utah and Wyoming last found itself in the Associated Press Top 25.   Wyoming did crack the UPI top 25 in 1991, rising to number 25 during the week of January 15th and actually on that team as a walk-on was the current head coach of CSI Golden Eagles.   I am certain that he does not even know about the multitude of factors and incidents which tie him to the lore of Wyoming basketball. 

This past week, the Pokes received 15 votes in the AP poll, putting them at essentially 29th and 8 votes in the USA Today Coaches poll putting them at essentially 31st.   Both on the cusp of being ranked for the first time since 1991 in the coaches poll and since 1988 in the Associated Press poll -- given the right bounces, the Pokes could find themselves essentially ranked for the first since that 1988 season. 

Wyoming doesn't play again until December 18th -- a home game against the University of Denver and then they host UCSB on December 21st (a team they already beat by 28 points on the road).   The likelihood of entering January undefeated and with two poll opportunities between now and then the likelihood of being ranked seems high.  

Whether the team can achieve the ranking evokes strong memories and connections. 

Go Pokes! 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Big 5

There is only one Big 5.  It's an association of five schools in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that play college basketball -- St. Joseph's, Pennsylvania, Temple, Villanova and LaSalle.  The Big 5 was originally formed in 1955 and the history and tradition that all of these programs have is what makes the Big 5 so great and so unique. 

Originally, all five members of the Big 5, located withing 17  miles of one another, played their homes games at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania aka The Cathedral of College Basketball.  (see the picture that graces the left hand corner of this blog).  The Palestra itself has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other facility -- 52.   Additionally, The Palestra has hosted more college basketball games than any other facility.  The Palestra is as much a part of the Big 5 as any of the institutions.

The Big 5 also features a religious dimension as St. Josephs (Jesuit), Villanova (Augustinian) and LaSalle (Christian Brothers) all stem from respective religious orders of the Catholic Church.  Temple and Pennsylvania are public insitutions although Penn is the only public institution in the Ivy League.  The Palestra was named at the suggestion of Greek professor Dr. William N. Bates who reasoned that the name fit because in Ancient Greece, young men would compete in a variety of events in a rectangular enclosure (a Palestra) in view of spectators. So in 1927, the Palestra opened its doors.

Philadelphia coaching legends all made their names in the Big 5 -- John Cheney, Rollie Massimino, Chuck Daly, Jack Ramsey, Jack McCloskey, Phil Martelli, Dick Harter, and Harry Litwack, even Tom Gola coached a couple of years in the Big 5.  

Ramsay, has always been a favorite.  He is an interesting story, he coached his alma mater St. Joe's for 11 seasons and won six Big 5 Championships.  In 1961 Ramsay coached the Hawks to their only Final Four appearance.   (See below for additional details).  He followed that up by winning an NBA Championship as general manager of the 76ers.   Ultimately, he traded away Wilt Chamberlain and wound up winning another title as the coach of the Portland Trailblazers in 1977 with Bill Walton as his big man. 

Daly coached the 1992 Dream Team to gold (most experts agree the greatest collection of basketball talent ever assembled).   He started his coaching career in at Punxsutawney (PA) before landing at Penn in 1971.  All 5 of the starters on the 1979 Penn Final 4 team were recruited by Daly, but Daly was not the coach, he had moved on to an assistant position with the 76ers.   Bob Weinhauer actually coached the team, still the farthest any Ivy League school has advanced in the NCAA Tournament.

"What made Penn basketball special were The Palestra, the student body, and the players. The tradition of the students tossing the red and blue streamers after the initial basket in every game, is one those memories that stays with you forever."   Penn Coach Bob Weinhauer.

Each Big 5 school has its own history and tradition though.  Everyone will remember Villanova's 1987 NCAA Tournament Title, but the other schools boast as much if not more history and tradition.

The LaSalle Explorers nickname derives from a mistake made by a local Philadelphia sportswiter. The writer thought the university was named after the French explorer Sieur de La Salle, when in fact it is named after St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle.  The nickname caught on, however, and has remained ever since. Even being embraced by schools mantra of, "Never stop Exploring".   

LaSalle won the 1954 NCAA tournament and the 1952 NIT Championship (this was before the NIT was even considered the less prestigious tournament (see discussion regarding Murray State's history:  The Explorers appeared in NCAA Final again in 1955, but were turned away by the University of San Francisco and future Boston Celtic legends Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.  

However, LaSalle's best team may have been the 1969 team, coached by Gola, which went 23-1, but was ruled ineligible for postseason play due to academic and recruiting violations that occurred before Gola took over as coach.   

Temple, named the Owls, because it started as a night school (the Owl being a symbol of the night) went to two Final Fours during the 1950's led by Litwack. Cheney coached Temple to 17 NCAA Tournament appearances and the Number 1 rating in 1988.   Both Cheney and Litwack are in the basketball Hall of Fame.  Temple has actually been the dominant team in the Big 5 winning 25 unoffical Big 5 Titles.  St. Joseph's and Temple first met during the 1901-02 season.  The Owl without a Vowel (Bill Mlkvy) scored a school record 73 points against Wilkes College in 1950-51.  He led the nation in scoring and rebounding that season. 

St. Joseph's 1961 Final Four appearance (coached by Dr. Jack Ramsay) was vacated due to a gambling scandal when star players Jack Egan, Vince Kempton and Frank Majewski were declared retroactively ineligible because of their involvement in a point shaving scandal.    Earlier in the season, Majewski had thrown a game against Dayton, scoring only 4 points and grabbing only 1 rebound.   The Flyers beat the Hawks 67-65.   Games against Xavier and Seton Hall were also proven to have been fixed.   Ultimately, the Xavier and Dayton games were two of only five losses the Hawks experienced all year.  Egan, Kempton and Frank Majewski were expelled from St. Joseph's.   Sports Illustrated gave a then in depth account of the details.  (See link: titled "Portrait of  Fixer").  

However, St. Joe's 2004 teams' 27-0 start led it to the number one rating and it was the last undefeated team that season.   See link:   The Hawks did not lose until the Atlantic 10 tournament against Xavier, and only a second time in the Elite Eight by two points against Oklahoma State.

St. Joe's also boasts arguably the best cheer in college sports, "The Hawk Will Never Die." 

Villanova's best season was obviously the 1984 NCAA Tournament Championship.  However, the Wildcats also reached the Final Four in 1939 and did it more recently in 2009 and in between appeared in 28 NCAA Tournaments. 

The 1971 Villanova/Penn rivalry was particularly spirited as the Wildcats avenged two previous Big 5 defeats by knocking off a then undefeated University of Pennsylvania team in the East Regional Final by a score of 90-47.  However, the Wildcats subsequent championship game appearance was vacated when it was determined that star player and leading scorer Howard Porter had signed with an agent prior to the tournament.  Ultimately, all five NCAA tournament games were vacated. 

There is a book on The Big 5 -- Palestra Pandemonium by Philadelphia sportswriter Robert S Lyons.  It is much better than anything I could write or put into a small read on a blog.   You'd have to be from Philly to truly appreciate the Big 5.  Additionally, there is a website promoting the Big 5 -- also better than anything I could put together and to be honest much of what appears here is stolen from it. 

However, The Big 5 deserves our attention now because of what it has always been and I wrote this hoping that fans, especially from other regions, fans that have never been to Pennsylvania or Philadelphia, might take a second to go out of their way and watch a Big 5 match up this year.  No matter how much college football changes the landscape of college athletics by shifting Louisville to the ACC, Nebraska to the Big 10  or The Big 5's own Temple to the Big East -- The Big 5 remains.  It's not based on conference affiliations or television dollars, it's based on proximity and a city.   Players play high school ball in Philly and they end up at different schools in Philly, they play again in college, the atmosphere is intense.   Penn can't suddenly decide to opt out of the Big 5.   Villanova, LaSalle, St. Joe's and Temple are their Philadelphia brothers -- relatives that they can't get away from or pay exit fees to escape rivalry games from.  

This year Penn will play Villanova on December 8th -- its Big 5 opener.   Penn actually shows a road game against St. Joe's on January 19th at the Palestra on its schedule.   Keep in mind that the Palestra is on the University of Pennsylvania campus.  More historic is the fact that from 1955 through 1989 LaSalle actually played all of its home games at The Palestra.   What forced LaSalle to move it's games to the Palestra?   Its 1954 National Championship,  when the Explorers knocked off Bradley in the final game behind Tom Gola, forcing the school to abandoned its limited on campus facility in favor of a more prestigious environment. 

LaSalle will precede these games by playing Penn State at the Palestra on December 5th as well as St. Joe's later in the season.  Never mind that Tom Gola Arena is the official home court of the Explorers. 

Here is the full Big 5 schedule for this season:

MEN'S BASKETBALL Sun. Nov. 25: La Salle 77, Villanova - OT (Tom Gola Arena)
Wed. Dec. 5: Temple at Villanova (The Pavilion), 9 p.m.
Sat. Dec. 8: Villanova at Penn (The Palestra), 8 p.m.
Tue. Dec. 11: Saint Joseph’s at Villanova (The Pavilion), 7 p.m.
Sat. Jan. 5: Penn at La Salle (Tom Gola Arena), 2 p.m.
Sat. Jan. 19: Penn vs. Saint Joseph’s (The Palestra), 5 p.m.
Wed. Jan. 23: Penn at Temple (Liacouras Center), 7 p.m.
Sat. Feb. 2: Temple at Saint Joseph’s (Hagan Arena), 6 p.m.
Sat. Feb. 16: Saint Joseph’s vs. La Salle (The Palestra), 1 p.m.
Thu. Feb. 21: La Salle at Temple (Liacouras Center), 7 p.m.

The Big 5 is what college basketball should be about.