Odds and Ends

As I’m sure everyone saw earlier this week, Luol Deng declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. He said that he isn’t going to sign with an agent, but there’s no chance in hell that he’s coming back to Duke. None. Baring some disastrous event, he’ll be drafted in the top five. He knows it too, so I’m not really sure why he’s doing it this way. Maybe he felt it would assuage the feelings at Duke. If so, it didn’t work. Check the comments at the bottom of this article from Duke’s paper, The Chronicle.
In other Dukie-going-pro news, 6’7″ point guard Shaun Livingston has not yet announced his intentions. It sounds very much like he’ll be in Durham next year though. His father and grandfather really want him to go to Duke, and so does his high school coach. It’s hard to believe he would go against all of their wishes. I have to say, I’m very impressed with his dad. It sounds like this kid’s getting some good guidance, something that’s often lacking for top athletes.
The only other ACC player, or really ACC-to-be player, with NBA aspirations for next season is UNC recruit JR Smith. All signs have been pointing toward his entering the draft, but there has been no official word yet. Evidently, he has a press conference scheduled for Monday. The press conference will be held at his high school. Hmmm. Sounds like he won’t be wearing Carolina blue next year. I think he’s making a big mistake. Yeah, he played a couple of good All Star games, but scouts have already gotten over that. He’ll probably be a late first rounder. That’s certainly good money, but if he were to play at Carolina a couple of years, he might join the line of wing guard greats (Jordan, Stackhouse, Carter (and McCants?)) and go in the top five.
At UVA, a sad story is coming to a sad end. Pete Gillen decided not to offer a scholarship to Majestic Mapp for his last season. Mapp has already been at UVA five years, but because of his series of knee injuries, has only played three seasons. He has already graduated. Instead of moving on with the rest of his life, Mapp has decided to enroll at Division II State University of West Georgia next year and play out his last year of eligibility. I can’t decide if it’s great that he still wants to play or sad that he can’t move on. It’s definitely too bad that he won’t get to finish up at UVA, but then it probably wouldn’t have been too fun for him to ride the bench in his last year. UVA will have two good, young point guards next year and Mapp is just no longer an ACC-caliber guard. I hope Majestic has a great year and a great life. He really seems like a good kid who had a rough break.
In other UVA point guard news, TJ Bannister was arrested for his involvement in a fight on campus. The arrest continues a recent tradition for Virginia point guards.
The NCAA approved sweeping changes to their academic requirements. I already wrote about my thoughts on the changes. They actually addressed some of my concerns, including how transfers are counted. All in all, I think the changes are good. I’m concerned about the risk of fraud and the increased bureaucracy, but it’s a big step in the right direction. I like that the NCAA finally has their sights on cleaning up the academic side of things.
Lastly, I want to talk a little more about the bizarre Mike Danton case. Nothing that I’ve written about has brought nearly as many search hits as this Mike Danton case. Maybe I should switch the focus of this site from ACC sports to homicidal, closeted professional hockey players. To be fair though, it’s looking more and more like this isn’t as simple as a gay player trying to whack his lover before he rats him out. Instead, it looks like Danton was trying to kill David Frost, his agent and Svengali. From the sound of it, like I wrote before, Frost completely controlled Danton and likely abused him. It may well be that Frost sexually abused Danton when he was younger and then used that fear and power to control Danton over the years. Even if there wasn’t a sexual relationship, it’s clear that Frost is a dangerous man and that he used some powerful methods to control and intimidate the players on his teams. It’s no surprise that one of them felt the only way out was to kill Frost. It’s just like a battered wife shooting her dirtbag husband in his sleep. It’s too bad that Danton’s the only one facing federal charges.

The ACC – A Familiar Caste

Ken Pomeroy posted an article where he makes the point that Frank Haith made a mistake by accepting the head basketball position at Miami (and frankly, I wasn’t too impressed with Miami’s choice of him either). Ken’s point is an interesting one. He says that in the ACC, teams at the bottom tend to stay there, and teams at the top stay there. He backs up this proposition with some stats (hint, you’ll need to highlight his table to read it. For some reason, he picked white text on a white background. Ken’s a statistician, not a web guru).
The startling thing to me was seeing the win totals of FSU, Clemson and NC State over the last 13 years. They’re pretty impressively bad. State seems to have finally broken free of their low earth orbit, but even so, the three teams have a total of seven winning records in 13 years. That’s seven out of 39! And of those seven winning records, four were 9-7.
I think a large part of the reason for this apparent caste system isn’t so much the difficulty in moving up, but that a few of the programs stand out. Duke and UNC are pretty much always going to be at or near the top. Yeah, UNC slipped a bit over the last couple of years, but there’s no indication that those years are anything but anomalies. Those two schools are basketball royalty.
On the other hand, both Clemson and Florida State are football schools. They barely notice that they have basketball teams. Yeah, they like to beat Duke and UNC every now and then, but otherwise, their fans care more about spring football.
Think of it this way, at Duke and UNC, if their football team won the national championship (now there’s a hypothetical for you), but the basketball team had a losing record, would the fans be happy? No, they’d be outraged. Now, at FSU and Clemson, if their team won a football championship and their basketball team had a losing record, do you think even one fan would care?
So, there you go, two programs always at the top and two at the bottom. That’s nearly half of the conference. The other five schools tend to bob up and down in the standings, rising and falling like Styrofoam in the sea. Land a Tim Duncan or Juan Dixon and you’re at the top. Get an Ishua Benjamin, and you’re at the bottom.
With the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech, the ACC is getting two more schools like FSU and Clemson. So that’s four teams out of eleven always at or near the bottom. It’s hard to say what that will do with the caste system. Most likely, sheer chance will bust one of those four schools out of the bottom each year, but over time, they will be the doormats.
Welcome to the ACC, Frank Haith.

Rolling Rivers

Unlike every other sports-related web site, I didn’t see fit to put out my own mock NFL draft. It just seemed a pointless exercise. Sort of like artificial sport. Journalistic onanism. I think more people were interested in guessing who teams would pick than in the results of the actual picks.
Thank god for the Philip Rivers & Eli Manning story. It turned what is otherwise a fairly boring event into high drama.
First of all, could Philip Rivers possibly have come out of this whole thing looking better? I mean, who wouldn’t root for this guy? I’m not a State fan, but I couldn’t help but become a fan of Rivers over his career. He always seemed to do and say all the right things on and off the field. The season he put together this past year was simply spectacular. While the team didn’t meet the unfairly lofty goals of their fans, no one could fault Rivers for any of that. So, it was a funny to me that Rivers was seen as a bit of an underdog going into the draft. He predictably played very well at the Senior Bowl, and somehow that surprised people. I guess it took a long time for the pros to see what people in this area have been seeing for years – this kid is special.
I can’t say for certain that Philip Rivers will be a great NFL player, but I certainly wouldn’t bet against him. He reminds a lot of people of Bernie Kosar, mostly because of his sidearm motion. He also reminds me quite a bit of Dan Marino – a big, stationary guy who always knew where the open receiver was and then could put the ball on the money. Rivers knows football. He will learn to read NFL defenses much faster than most rookie quarterbacks. Because he is so accurate, he’ll be able to find the open man and hit him, even if “open” in the NFL doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in the ACC.
And then there’s Eli Manning. It’s amazing what he and his dad did to damage a good name in just one week. What a punk. He said he’d never play for San Diego, but instead of being a man and saying it himself, he had his daddy do the dirty work. It’s not like refusing to go to the Clippers or Expos. It’s San Diego! One of the best places to live in the country. The Chargers have a star running back in LaDainian Tomlinson (yes, I had to look up that spelling), a good coach in Marty Schottenheimer and the franchise was in the Super Bowl just a few years ago.
Eli continued his whining ways on Saturday, when he frowned after being picked #1 overall and then refused to put on a Chargers hat. So, an employer says they want you and are willing to pay you millions of dollars and you refuse to put on their hat? What an ass. It’s not like Eli was such a superstar in college that he can pull that kind of crap and have people understand. He had a good career for a fairly mediocre team.
The ironic thing is that Eli’s antics in contrast to Rivers look exactly like Eli’s older brother Peyton compared to Ryan Leaf. Except that the younger Manning is playing the part of the petulant Leaf. Talk about your brand name assassination. Peyton should sue.
It’s just perfect that Eli ended up in New York. Talking about getting what you asked for. He better damn well be good right off the bat or they will eat him alive. Let me run down the things he has going against him:

  • He’s a QB, drafted #1 overall in New York City. Talk about your lofty expectations. Anything short of excellence from day one and he’ll be getting attacked by the fans and media like he never saw down at Ole Miss.
  • The Giants traded up to get him. It’s not like the Giants just had the pick and took the best player. They went after him.
  • His punk behavior of the last week. He’s already starting off with one big knock against him. Everyone’s going to be looking for him to fail now, with many hoping that he will, just to get his just deserts.
  • On draft day, the Chargers bluffed and the Giants blinked. The general perception is the Giants panicked and gave up too much in the deal, giving their #4 pick (Rivers) as well as three other draft picks, including next year’s #1. Giants fans are already unhappy at the deal.
  • The comparisons to Rivers. Manning has to outplay Rivers or he’ll never be seen as a success. Many highly rated QB’s don’t make it, but when they are so inexorably tied to another player, like Leaf to Peyton Manning, it makes the failure more acute.

So, we’ll see what happens. In a couple of years, once they’ve each had a chance to seize the starting role and take over their teams, we’ll know who really made the right moves on Saturday. My money’s on San Diego and Philip Rivers.

An American Hero

As you’ve you no doubt heard by now, former Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman was killed yesterday in Afghanistan. You probably remember Tillman from the news he made three years ago when he abruptly quit football to join the Army. He said he was motivated by the events of 9/11 and wanted to serve his country. I was amazed that someone could make that decision. Frankly, I couldn’t really understand it. I still don’t. I understand his intent, but I can’t fathom his bravery. I feel like I’m a pretty brave person with some pretty strong convictions, but I can’t kid myself into thinking I’d ever consider making the sacrifice he made in his life.
To understand Pat Tillman a little better, know these things about him:

  • A native of Phoenix, he enrolled at Arizona State and walked on to the football team.
  • By his senior year, he not only started at safety, but was named the Pac-10 defensive player of the year
  • He graduated in 3.5 years with a degree in Marketing and a 3.84 GPA
  • In 1997, he was drafted in the seventh round by the hometown Arizona Cardinals. Seventh round picks often don’t make the team. It’s likely they drafted him largely because of his regional ties.
  • He made the team and quickly made his mark, starting ten games his rookie season.
  • In 2001, he was offered a 5 year, $9 million contract by the St. Louis Rams. He rejected it on the basis of loyalty to the Cardinals.
  • He instead quit football in March, 2002 and joined the Army, planning on becoming a Ranger. He walked away from a three year, $3.6 million contract.

Normally you can’t really tell much about a person from a short bulleted list. With Pat Tillman, you can. You can tell that he was a very tenacious, hard working man. He was intelligent and self-confident. He cared little about fame and money. He was extremely loyal, ethical, patriotic and brave. He was the greatest professional athlete role model that I know. He was everything you’d want your son to grow up to be. In short, he was a hero.
Thank you, Pat Tillman. May the story of your life and death inspire others to be as strong of character.

The NCAA Gets It Wrong Again

I love college sports. I love the passion and the tradition. I love that the athletes are still kids growing into adulthood, maturing before our eyes. I love that they are students, superficially no different from the rest of their classmates.
What I don’t like is the hypocrisy of college athletics. I try to ignore it, but it’s there. College athletics is big business and the money that’s involved corrupts. Athletic departments, shoe companies, coaches and television networks make tons of money off of the athletes and the kids don’t get a dime. Worse, at some schools, the players are paid, and the payments are hidden behind veils of deceit. Worst of all though is the academic corruption. Unqualified students are accepted into schools where they can’t succeed; paid tutors do the players’ work; grades are falsified; unearned diplomas are handed out on graduation day.
This academic corruption doesn’t happen everywhere, but it does happen. We all know it. The same coaches who preach about how their team is a family and they are their players’ surrogate fathers turn their backs on the one gift the athletes are given – the opportunity for a college education. Most elite athletes have been so coddled that they don’t really know how to learn. Many come from broken backgrounds where education was never stressed. It’s not that they can’t learn, it’s that they don’t know how and no one has ever made them try.
The truly good coaches, the Dean Smiths and John Woodens of the profession, take on this responsibility. They know that it’s more important for a young man (or woman – I’ll stick with men here for simplicity though) to learn to think critically than to learn to execute a pick and roll. It’s better to know how to research and write a term paper than to be able to recognize a two-deep zone defense.
The snakes of the profession, like Bob Huggins of Cincinnati who graduates approximately none of his players, are basically pimps. They send their players out to do their bidding and earn their money, giving nothing in return. The players don’t get paid (well, I actually I’m not convinced of that at Cincinnati) and they get no education.
So, now the NCAA wants to do something about this. It’s an honorable goal. What they want to do is replace the bizarre 5/8 rule with a rule that grants and denies scholarships to schools based on the academic records of their players. In particular, they will pay attention to the graduation rates.
First of all, getting rid of the 5/8 rule (basketball teams can give no more than five scholarships in one year and no more than eight in a two year span) is great. The rule didn’t really do any good. Teams were penalized when players left early for the pros or transfered. That the players left should have been punishment enough. Also, in this age of parity and players leaving early, teams really can’t stockpile deep benches of talented players, so limiting the number of scholarships really served no purpose.
Limiting scholarships based on academic achievement is a good idea. Tying it to graduation rates is a horrible idea. First of all, the rates are inherently flawed. Players who transfer in good standing and then graduate from another school count the same as dropouts. Incoming transfers don’t count either (actually the NCAA does count them, but in a separate category). Instead, they should just count them as a fraction based on the number of years at each school. A player who transfers after his freshman year and then graduates should count as .25 of a success for the first school and .75 for the second.
The more sinister side of tying scholarships to graduation rates is that some schools will simply give out undeserved diplomas. That already happens. Schools inflate or fabricate grades so that players stay eligible. How big of a step is it to just give out a diploma? Remember Dexter Manley who admitted that although he “graduated” from Oklahoma State he couldn’t actually read?
Look, the temptation is just too great. No athletic department will want their teams to lose scholarships and presumably not be able to compete. There’s too much money at stake. So, they’ll lean on the professors, tutors, TAs, deans and whoever else they can. They’ll be successful. You’ll see graduation rates magically climb, but it won’t prove much. In most cases, the increases will be legit, the result of increased efforts to get the athletes in class, but in some cases, it’ll be fraud, plain and simple.
If schools are going to bring in players who can’t handle the academic work, then I’d much rather have those players flunk out. At least then they’d learn a valuable life lesson. Giving out fake degrees to these guys not only fails to teach them things they should learn, it teaches them horrible lessons. Once they leave that school, unless they go on to the pros, they’ll find that life doesn’t really work that way. Once they are no longer eligible to dribble the ball for Old State U, reality will kick them in the teeth.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a better idea right now. I like that the NCAA is trying to enforce tighter academic standards, but they need a better way. They need to make sure that all schools and programs are giving back to the athletes. They need to protect the magic of college sports.

Welcome to the new ACC

Wow. I don’t have much to add to this article. It’s a pretty scathing rundown of Miami and how cheating is in their DNA.
I agree with just about every word of it, but it’s jarring to see that kind of writing in a newspaper. Usually they tapdance over stuff like that.
If only the university presidents had read stuff like that before. Ah, who am I kidding? They don’t care. All they see is the bottom line and with Miami it has some nice big, black numbers. Miami is famous for its white lines as well, but that’s another topic.

Skipping College

As I wrote about previously, UNC recruit JR Smith is still thinking about skipping college and going to the NBA. Heels fan Ryan Wilson of Heels, Sox & Steelers does a little analysis of others who skipped college since 1995.
His analysis doesn’t prove that Smith shouldn’t go to the NBA. The numbers really aren’t too bad. Taking a further look however, it doesn’t look quite as good. I think Ryan missed out on a few players, including several busts like Taj McDavid, Ellis Richardson and Tony Key who weren’t even drafted. Include all the players and the numbers won’t look as sound.
Take a look at this list of early entrants since 1995:

Year  	Player			Drafted		Team
1995 Kevin Garnett No. 5 Minnesota
1996 Kobe Bryant No. 13 Charlotte**
1996 Taj McDavid -- --
1996 Jermaine O'Neal No. 17 Portland
1997 Tracy McGrady No. 9 Toronto
1998 Al Harrington No. 25 Indiana
1998 Rahsard Lewis No. 32 Seattle
1998 Ellis Richardson -- --
1998 Korleone Young No. 40 Detroit
1999 Jonathan Bender No. 5 Toronto***
1999 Leon Smith No. 29 San Antonio****
2000 Darius Miles No. 3 L.A. Clippers
2000 DeShawn Stevenson No. 23 Utah
2001 Kwame Brown No. 1 Washington
2001 Tyson Chandler No. 2 L.A. Clippers
2001 Eddy Curry No. 4 Chicago
2001 DeSagana Diop No. 8 Cleveland
2001 Tony Key -- --
2001 Ousmane Cisse No. 47 Denver
2002 Amare Stoudamire No. 9 Phoenix
2003 LeBron James No. 1 Cleveland
2003 Travis Outlaw No. 23 Portland
2003 Ndubi Ebi No. 26 Minnesota ** -- Traded to L.A. Lakers
*** -- Traded to Indiana
**** -- Traded to Dallas

What you might notice is that the only true All-Star caliber players who have been in the league three years are Garnett, Bryant, O’Neal and McGrady. The closest (excluding James and Stoudamire who haven’t played three years yet) is Rashard Lewis, who had a breakout year this year, his sixth in the league.
Several other players have progressed steadily and slowly (like Al Harrington and Eddy Curry), indicating that they were correct that they belonged in the league, just probably not at the time they entered. Going to college likely would have helped all of those players by giving them some years to grow up mentally and to practice in a system that puts more emphasis on teaching individual skills. In the NBA, they don’t practice much during the season and what they do is usually going through offensive and defense sets, not working on how to drop step or box out.
Sure, those guys are all earning big bucks now, but you could argue that if they had been more prepared to play, then they’d have been more likely to succeed in their first three years. Rookie contracts (for first round draft picks) are for three years, so it behooves any player to show that he’s a potential (or current) star by the end of his third year. If he’s still learning how to play, he might cost himself tens of millions.
So my advice to JR Smith – go to Chapel Hill for a year or more. Learn the game and then go make your millions.

Odds ‘n’ Ends

This entry is going to be largely about the rumor mill. The mill has been working overtime lately, churning out the nice powdery flour of speculation cakes.
First, off it seems that Luol Deng might be one and done at Duke. The DBR is understandably concerned.
No word yet that I know of about Shaun Livingston.
In Chapel Hill, things don’t sound so good about JR Smith. Just after they got official word that Marvin Williams is coming, rumors are flying fast and furious that Smith will never enroll at UNC.
At Virginia, they aren’t fortunate to recruit the kind of players who consider skipping college for the NBA, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be hurt. The mill says that Derrick Byars is going to transfer. At the beginning of this past season, it appeared that Byars would be UVA’s top offensive player, maybe even busting out to all-conference level. Didn’t happen. He had a very shaky season, and it sounds like he wasn’t happy. More bad news for “Beleaguered” Pete Gillen (that’s his official title now).
I also want to update the Mike Danton story that I posted about yesterday. Man, has this story gotten weirder and sadder. Evidently, he’s been estranged from his family for some years now. According to his father, it’s all because of his former junior hockey coach and current agent, David Frost. Frost is a controversial figure who’s been banned from coaching in two separate hockey leagues.
Evidently, Frost and Danton have had a long, suspicious relationship. Former teammates said that Danton didn’t socialize much with them, but would spend long periods of time alone with their coach, Frost.
Frost, of course, blames Danton’s father.
Obviously, the big angle that many are tap dancing around is the issue that I brought up in yesterday’s posting – that it sounds like Danton was trying to off his gay lover. Predictably, his agent and lawyer are denying that that’s true at all. The interesting thing though is the comments from his teammates. Obviously, they came to the same conclusion, but they all sounded very supportive of him. They didn’t come out (no pun intended) and say that they thought he was gay, but they pretty clearly said that they wouldn’t mind if he were.
So, maybe the one rainbow (OK, that one was intentional – my bad) to come from this storm is that we’ll find that pro athletes aren’t the bigoted Neaderthals everyone assumes them to be. Maybe they would be cool with a gay teammate. We might just get to find out sooner than we thought.
I’ll close this rumor-filled entry with one hard, incontorvertable fact. In case you missed it (and I know you didn’t), Freddy Adu got his first professional goal this weekend. It was only his third game, and he’s had less than a game and a half of field time. Maybe the hype is legit.

A Juicy Story

I was skimming the sports section of the News & Observer on Saturday when I came upon an incredible story buried on page 8. Here’s a good version.
The basic story is this, Mike Danton, a St. Louis Blues forward, was arrested for allegedly trying to hire a hitman to kill someone. He was arrested when he returned home from San Jose after the Blues were knocked out of the playoffs.
Now, usually when I read stories of people hiring hitmen the person they’re trying to kill is their spouse or lover (A note to all of my homicidal readers – this strategy never works. You either end up hiring an undercover FBI agent or you get Jim Bob, the crackhead carpenter who will botch the job, leave countless clues and then squeal on you at the slightest police pressure). Rae Carruth is an example. In this case though, it turns out that Danton wanted someone to whack a friend of his. A male friend. Hmmmm.
According the police report, Danton wanted to kill this guy because he thought his friend was going to talk to the Blues about Danton’s “promiscuity and use of alcohol,” ruining Danton’s career. Promiscuity and alcohol abuse? Those don’t ruin pro careers; they’re practically prerequisites.
Then, there’s this last part. After the police nabbed Danton, he broke down and cried, saying he wanted to kill his friend because he “felt the acquaitance was going to leave him.” Uh-huh.
I think it’s pretty clear what we have here. Danton is gay and he wanted to kill his lover because they had a fight and the other guy threatened to go public with their relationship.
Nothing would derail a pro career and stigmatize a pro athlete like being outed. Nothing. I think if you were found to have killed and eaten babies, but could stick the three or run a 4.2 40, you’d find a job (probably on the Portland Trailblazers). Openly gay? I don’t know. You had better be a superstar. Mike Danton is no superstar. But, he may become a sort of gay Jackie Robinson (but without the success and dignity).
This story could get huge.

Jump Balls? No!

I’ve been having an email discussion with Dan Lewis of www.armchairgm.com about various rules issues. We’ve talked about my Ban The Charge article as well as his points about intentional fouling at the end of games and refs judging the intent of players.
All that rule talk reminded me of something that’s been pissing me off for years. In every single game I watch on TV, at some point there’s a tie ball situation and the announcers go off on a rant about how they need to bring back the jump ball. They go on and on about how unfair the possession arrow is. Mike Patrick and Dick Vitale (go figure) are the worst about this.
Every time they do this, I want to throw things at my TV. Are they nuts?
Think about this fairly common situation – the ball is dumped down into the post to Sven Bigwhitestiff. As Sven makes his clumsy move, he dribbles the ball once or twice. Meanwhile, the point guard on the defense, Punky Webster, drops down and ties up the big man. Great play by Punky right? Not in Dick Vitale’s feeble mind. With a jump ball, Punky gained no advantage at all. All he did was make the offense reset with a new shotclock, because he has no hope of outjumping big Sven.
With the possession arrow, at least he earned something. If he didn’t give his team possession, he earned them the next possession. Maybe that’s not the ideal way to handle the situation, but it’s much fairer than using height to settle a dispute (uh oh, I feel a Caddyshack quote coming on).
Judge Smails: Then how do you measure yourself with other golfers?
Ty Webb: By height.

Sorry about that. Back to jump balls …
An even better idea is to automatically give possession to the team that is on defense. It should be up to the offense to retain clear possession of the ball. If they let the D tie it up, they lose it.
Maybe then Dick could stop ranting about the damn jump ball and get back to what he does best – talking about Duke.