Friday, February 22, 2013

Fathers and Sons

As I make my way across high school gyms across the Rocky Mountain Region, I find a common theme.   The most frequent fan, the person that I most often see in the gymnasium is the parent.  The father or mother watching their son or daughter.   I often see people I have know for over twenty years now, people that I once played these same games against who are now the parents of a son or daughter that now plays in the same high schools that they played.  

Often, they are friends, often I have not seen them since the last time I played against them.  Having been out of the state of Wyoming for over ten years often they don't know my name, but I can remember them.   They are parents that yell at me now when I miss a call.  Often they are now coaching their son or daughter.   Sometimes, I'll have done so many games involving their son or daughter that they will recognize me from officiating.   This was true in Utah, it was true in Washington State and now it is true in Wyoming.

What I notice is the central theme -- that basketball, like baseball and like football is a game passed from generation to generation.  This is demonstrated at all levels of basketball from when you watch Larry Nance Sr. watching his son Larry Nance Jr. play for the University of Wyoming.  When the camera pans on former NBA star Dell Curry watching his son Stephon star for the Golden State Warriors or his other son Seth playing at Duke.   It's there when Mike Dunleavy is watching son Mike Dunleavy Jr. playing for the Milwaukee Bucks.   It's demonstrated when those fathers that once played high school basketball in Big Piney, Mountain View and Evanston are now yelling at me for the calls that I make against their sons or daughters.   Basketball is a family game. 

As a lifelong subscriber to Sports Illustrated, when Rick Reilly was the author of "The Point After" on the last page of each issue, I would turn to read the piece first.  It usually touched on something deeper than a score or a story.  Reilly had (and still has as an ESPN columnist) a gift for finding a chord and hitting it when he wrote.   There was an issue, maybe five years ago that featured a republished piece that he had written.  It was regarding "Nets".  Not the "New Jersey Nets" or even basketball "nets,"  but SI ran Reilly's (here is a link:  Life of Reilly -- Mosquito Nets ) column on the need for malaria mosquito nets in Africa multiple times.  The article  is exactly what Reilly does well.

The troubling part about the piece wasn't how powerful it was, but that Reilly later republished this same article in a later edition.   In an email I wrote to the esteemed columnist and questioned his dedication to his craft.  After all I'd paid for 52 issues wasn't I entitled to 52 new columns from Rick Reilly every year?  

Besides responding that he'd been on vacation Reilly responded that this piece had more meaning and had not nor could it ever be read enough.    With that thought, with the thought of Gonzaga's and David Stockton's role on the current Gonzaga team and the thoughts regarding fathers, mothers, sons and daughters from above I'm republishing something I wrote long ago regarding these relationships and the game which this blog touches on.   Similar to how Reilly felt about his piece on mosquito nets to prevent malaria, I felt this piece was not read enough when I first wrote it on January 8, 2008, it was titled Point Guard then, but perhaps a better title given what I point out above is Fathers and Sons.

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.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Most NCAA Tournament Appearances

This is a bit over done, but given the time of year and what everyone is talking about is worthwhile analysis.   Although, we always show the five that have never made the tournament on this blog (see upper right hand corner).  Just to remind you they are Army, The Citadel, St. Francis of New York, William and Mary and Northwestern.   It doesn't look like any of these schools will break their droughts this year either.  

With the tournament just around the corner, I thought it might be interesting to just list what schools have been in the NCAA Tournament the most.  Hopefully, I have not missed a school and it gets a little confusing at the end as there are several teams with 20 to 22 appearances that may have made it the last couple of years when I had to manually tabulate each school.   For purposes of this list even vacated appearances are counted.   (IE:  probation or scandal caused the NCAA to require the school to vacate an appearance it previously made). 

1.    Kentucky                  53
2.    Kansas                      44
3.    UCLA                       44
4.    North Carolina          43
5.    Louisville                   38
6.    Duke                         36
6.    Indiana                      36
8.    Villanova                  32
8.    Notre Dame              32
10     UConn                      31 
11.  Marquette                 30
11.  Temple                     30
11.   Texas                       30
14.   Illinois                     29
14.   Arizona                    29
14.   Arkansas                  29
17.   St. John's                  28   (and 27 NIT appearances)
17.   Ohio State                28
17.   Georgetown             28
20.   Utah                         27
20.   BYU                        27
22.   Oklahoma                26
22.   Cincinnati                26 
24.   Kansas State            26
25.   Oklahoma State       24
26.   Princeton                 23
26.   Memphis                 23
26.   Maryland                 23

The first seven are really no surprise.   Villanova appears high and for those that don't know their history might be surprised.   Temple and Marquette might be surprises also given their midmajor status.   Also, note that besides UCLA and Arizona, none of the Pac-12's long time member schools (discounting Utah as  new member) appear (Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, USC or Washington State) all of which have storied traditions, just not NCAA Tournament tradition. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Gonzaga a Potential 1 Seed

This week’s  AP and USA Today Polls find  Gonzaga University as the number 6 ranked team in the country.   Kenpom has the Zags at #9.  The BPI ratings have Gonzaga at #9 while the RPI has the Zags at 12.   Not great numbers, but Gonzaga has only two losses, to Illinois and at Butler.  The Zags are going to likely end up in the discussion to be a #1 seed if they can win out in the West Coast Conference. 
If Gonzaga keeps winning and winds up as a 1 seed it will follow some exceptional “midmajor” teams that achieved this feat.   Here is a list of schools that reached a number 1 seed as a midmajor since the committee began seeding teams in 1979.

Year                         Team                      Seed                     League                                     Result
1979                        Indiana State        1 Midwest           Missouri Valley                   Lost in NCAA Final
1980                        DePaul                   1 West                  Independent                       Lost in 2nd Round
1981                        DePaul                   1 Mideast             Independent                       Lost in 2nd Round
1982                        DePaul                   1 Midwest            Independent                        Lost in 2nd Round
1984                        DePaul                   1 Midwest             Independent                        Lost Regional Semi
1987                       UNLV                       1 West                   Big West                               Lost in NCAA Semi
1988                       Temple                    1 East                    Atlantic 10                           Lost in Regional Final
1990                       UNLV                        1 West                  Big West                                Won NCAA Tourney
1991                       UNLV                        1 West                  Big West                                Lost in NCAA Semi
1996                      UMass                       1 East                   Atlantic 10                              Lost in NCAA Semi
2002                      Cinncinnati               1 West                 Conference USA                    Lost in 2nd Round

2004                      St Joseph’s               1 East                    Atlantic 10                           Lost in Regional Final

2006                      Memphis                   1 West                Conference USA                  Lost in Regional Final
2008                      Memphis                   1 South               Conference USA                 Lost in NCAA Final
DePaul’s four number one seeds were done while it played as an independent.  UNLV received a number one seed three times out of the Big West Conference. 

What makes Gonzaga’s rise to potential number 1 seed unusual is that they are doing it outside of the Atlantic 10 or Conference USA where St. Joe’s, Temple, and Cincinnati came from.  They aren’t UNLV or Memphis, with large NBA type arenas and metro areas that support the program the way some cities embrace an NBA team -- making Gonzaga's potential top seed, as a small Catholic school, in Spokane, Washington  more of a true aberration than anything the NCAA tournament has seen since Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in 1979.