Hooked on hoops
Mar. 6, 2007 | feedback
Some housecleaning on a Tuesday afternoon ...
• If you missed the end of the George Mason-VCU game Monday night, you missed the greatest random clutch performance in college hoops since Henry Steele came off the bench to win the climactic game in "One On One."
Here's what happened: GMU is leading by five and bringing the ball across midcourt with two minutes to play. Suddenly, VCU guard Eric Maynor strips the ball DJ-style, drives down for a layup and draws a foul for the potential three-point play. Maynor makes the free throw, hounds GMU's point guard off the inbounds pass, then pulls off another DJ-style pickpocket steal (this one was even better because it happened in the middle of the court) and flies in for the game-tying layup. You might see a pickpocket steal 10 times all season; Maynor did it on back-to-back plays in a do-or-die situation. Incredible. Amazing.
Now it's a tie game. GMU comes down and misses. Maynor brings the ball up, keeps it in his hands the entire time, works the clock down, beats his guy off the dribble and makes an impossible jumper in traffic for a two-point lead. Timeout, GMU. The Patriots are reeling. Now they need a 2-pointer to tie ... and they miss a wide-open 3. Who comes flying in for the rebound? Maynor. Who gets intentionally fouled? Maynor. Who makes the clinching free throws with 20 seconds left? Maynor. If you're scoring at home, that's nine straight points, two pickpocket steals and the game-clinching rebound in the final two minutes of a must-win game, as well as an inevitable ESPY nomination. If you missed it, check out the highlights. Robby Benson would have been proud.
(One other note from Monday's games: Maybe Santa Clara didn't upset Gonzaga, but the WCC title game featured a historic moment in the second half: that's right, a Double Whitewash! Every time that happens, the network showing the game should be forced to shift from color to black-and-white just to complete the effect.)
• Chad Ford made a salient point in his latest blog: The Oden-Durant debate has reached the point where it's impossible to guess who goes first until we know who's picking first. For instance, there's no doubt Memphis would take Oden because it desperately needs a center (same for the Hawks and Sonics), whereas Durant makes more sense for the Celtics, Bobcats or Bucks. In Philly's case, the question is moot because Billy King will screw up and end up taking Brandan Wright or Spencer Hawes. But you get the idea -- the No. 1 pick depends on the team.
Still, every reporter who discusses this topic with an NBA GM should remember: They're never getting an honest answer. Not even the dumbest GM (I'd mention a name here, but it wouldn't be fair to single out one dumb GM over the other 20 dumb ones) would be dumb enough to tell someone like Chad, "Honestly? I probably shouldn't be saying this, but we love Durant, we think he's going to be a superstar and we're going to take him if we get the first pick."
Think about this logically. Let's say you're Danny Ainge and you've fallen in love with Durant. (By the way, I believe this to be true.) Even if you DO want to take him over Oden, you can't tell anyone this. Why? Because your best-case scenario would be to land that No. 1 pick, convince everyone you're picking Oden, then eventually swap picks with the No. 2 team (assuming that No. 2 team is hot for Oden), pick up some extra goodies and end up with Durant anyway. It's the most logical business move. That's why every lottery team will pretend it has Oden ranked above Durant, even if it doesn't -- it wants to keep open its options for a draft-day trade, just in case. You can't trade down a spot if the team picking second knows you're taking Durant.
Translation: Don't believe ANYTHING you hear from a lottery GM about Oden or Durant for the next four months. Just ignore them.
(And if the GM of your favorite team is dumb enough to say, "You know what? We love Durant and we'd take him first," your team is probably in the wrong hands.)
• One more note on Chad: Contrary to what some readers seem to believe, we actually get along and exchange e-mails fairly regularly. He's one of my favorite writers on ESPN.com and works harder than just about anyone we have (including me). I've tweaked him over the years for the Darko/Pavel calls, as well as his infatuation with workouts and European players ... but I could be tweaked just as easily for my Morrison-Bargnani stance, my ongoing infatuation with Shaun Livingston (now in limbo) and everything else. I'd like to think we represent two distinct schools of thought about the draft process. I'm adamant that prospects should be judged by their body of work in college and that we make the mistake of overvaluing workouts and potential (especially with foreign players). I just feel like you can overthink this stuff and more of it is common sense than we believe. Chad is much more open-minded about foreign players, private workouts and the allure of TUP (tremendous upside potential).
Neither school of thought is right nor wrong -- like anything else, it depends on the player or players involved. In the case of Bargnani-Morrison, I gave Morrison too much credit for shining in a weak conference during a weak college hoops season, and didn't give Bargnani enough credit for being different than typical European forwards (he's actually a ball-busting Italian with a nasty streak). In the case of Darko-Melo, Chad became seduced by Darko's potential and ignored some of the common-sense aspects of Detroit's decision -- namely, that Darko was facing some legitimate obstacles that had nothing to do with his talent (moving to the U.S., riding the pine on a good team, dealing with the inevitable fallout from getting picked ahead of proven college guys like Melo, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and learning how to stick up for himself as a big guy in the NBA). It wasn't a mortal lock that he would make it in the NBA. It just wasn't.
Anyway, Chad loves arguing about this stuff and so do I ... but it's never personal and I hope nobody out there believes that. It's all in good fun and we have a great deal of respect for one another, especially because we were two of the original lost-in-the-Internet guys from the late-'90s who actually made it into the mainstream. (We both started back when the Internet was like the Wild West, nobody linked to each other and you could only build readers on word of mouth.) It's also important to remember that Chad's top-100 rankings reflect the buzz around those players with GMs, scouts and everyone else. When he moved Spencer Hawes up to fourth that week, it's not because Chad considers him the fourth-best prospect, it's because Hawes played his way into the fourth spot and could actually end up going there because NBA teams are stupid. Which is CRAZY. But whatever.
• I was just kidding about purchasing a plasma in yesterday's blog, but wow ... the e-mails legitimately poured in. Just about everybody made the same point: Don't buy a plasma, buy an LCD because they last longer and the picture's a little better.
If you're interested, the most common plasma recommendations were for the 50-inch Pioneer Elite (the runaway winner) and the Panasonic 37- and 42-inchers. If you're looking for LCDs, definitely check out the Sony Bravia ones (we have a 36-incher in our bedroom and it's excellent), the Sharp Aquos or the Samsung 50-incher (a good bargain) and make sure you're getting one that's (A) HDMI-compatible (if you play video games) and (B) has the built-in HDTV tuner with 720p or 1080p resolution (almost all of them do). If you're looking for a five-figure plasma to impress your friends, supposedly Panasonic's new 65-incher is astoundingly cool. If you're looking for another bargain, Costco is selling the 60-inch Visios for under three grand.
(Note: I can't vouch for anything other than Sony because I'm extremely loyal to my favorite products -- I only purchase TVs from Sony; I only purchase laptops from IBM; I will always choose Dunkin Donuts over any other coffee place; I will always go for McDonald's over Burger King; I won't drink Bud Light or Pepsi out of loyalty to Miller Lite and Coke; I will only order New England clam chowder and never Manhattan clam chowder; and even when I'm drunk, I'll only bum Marlboro Lights or Marlboro Reds and would never be desperate enough to smoke Camels or Newports. I feel like you need to know these things.)
• You can stop sending me the Forbes link to the implausible "Best GMs" article, which was so patently absurd, it's not even worth discussing. There's a reason Forbes doesn't normally write about sports. Although I enjoyed this line from Washington reader Ken S.: "McHale heads the list followed by Billy King at No. 3. Apparently Ken Lay topped their CEO poll."
• Get your TiVo ready for Bucknell at Holy Cross, Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2, winner advances to the NCAA Tournament! It's just too bad that Rob Stone and Bill Simmons won't be calling the action -- I could have broken Tommy Heinsohn's "most shameless homer of all time" benchmark for basketball announcing. They should have done an ESPN Full Circle and had us announce the game for ESPNU. Has an announcer ever gotten kicked off the courtside table for arguing with the refs before? Could have happened.
(Note: A few readers pointed out that Joe Lunardi's latest "Bracketology" column had No. 4 Texas pitted against No. 13 Holy Cross in Round 1. That's just cruel. I think Joe's trying to mess with my head.)
• After we added a correction that Duke fans believe that Billy Packer has been anti-Duke over the years, we received a bunch of e-mails confirming my original point that Packer has been pro-Duke with the notable exception of the 2001 title game against Arizona (when he refused to credit Duke and railed against the officiating). Multiple readers also pointed out that Packer plays in Coach K's charity tennis tournament every summer. So I'm going to stand by my original opinion because I've always believed that Packer was a Coach K apologist. The important thing to remember -- we can all agree that Billy Packer is a humorless, troublemaking curmudgeon.
• Mistakes in Monday's blog: I mistakenly wrote that OSU beat MSU on Saturday (it was Michigan); the last white center to make the All-Star team was Brad Miller (not Christian Laettner, who played forward for the Hawks the year he made it); it's Teresa Witherspoon (not "Weatherspoon"); and I should have written "non-foreign centers" instead of "non-Euro centers" in that section (which would have absolved Yao Ming and Andrew Bogut, among others). That's what happens when you make the crucial mistake of rushing a blog up when it's not quite ready yet. Won't happen again.
• The Duke grads are riled up because I wrote that I hated Duke. You're right, bad choice of words -- I should have written "disliked," "loathed" or even "abhorred." "Hate" is a strong word. Anyway, I feel like everyone has to pick sides in the UNC-Duke thing (much like with sodas, fast food, coffee and TVs as mentioned above), and I'm partial to UNC because I have multiple friends who went there and they've all brainwashed me to root against Duke. Which I do. Also, I think Coach K is a sniveling ninny. So I guess there's that. I don't feel like a true basketball fan should be allowed to remain neutral on this -- either you're against Duke or you're against UNC. It's one or the other.
(Well, unless you're Billy Packer and you're against both of them.)
• Thoroughly enjoyed this e-mail from Smitty in Jersey: "With March Madness upon us, I wanted to clue you in on a little-used stat that comes up most during tournament time. It's called a 'hand-gate.' A hand-gate is earned when a player (while on the bench) over-dramatically shields his ecstatic teammates from spilling onto the court during a big moment in the game. The all-time NCAA hand-gate leader is Cherokee Parks with 12. Of course, none of this is actually real -- my cousin Mike made it up."
• Some readers wonders why I raved about Al Thornton's 45-point game and ignored the fact that Scottie Reynolds dropped 40 on UConn last week. That's easy: It's much harder for an inside-out forward to crack 40 in a college game than a guard who can catch fire shooting 21-footers behind the 3-point line.
Which reminds me, Grant from Mayberry writes: "Welcome aboard the Al Thornton bandwagon. Too bad you were watching Durant all year when Thornton has been doing most of the same things all year."
Hey, Grant: Durant is five years younger than Thornton. You're missing the bigger point here, although we agree that Thornton has been overlooked.
• Received a fair number of e-mails about my under-22 Olympic team, which was admittedly thrown together in about 10 minutes. The players weren't as important as the overall point, but you're right -- if we're tossing together a team, we should make an honest attempt to come up with the best possible guys. In my opinion, Durant, Oden, the Wrights, Chris Lofton, Spencer Hawes and Chase Budinger are mortal locks. That's seven right there. We need two PGs out of the Mike Conley Jr., Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, D.J. Augustin group ... I think Conley and Collison are the steadiest picks, personally. So that makes nine. And we need Al Horford for another rebounder/low-post guy. That makes 10. Which leaves two remaining spots for perimeter shooters.
Originally, I had Jon Scheyer and Daequan Cook, but I'm not even remotely attached to either of them -- they were examples of the types of players you'd want at those spots (a pure shooter and an athletic guard) more than anything. So if you have any suggestions for those last two spots, e-mail me. It would be fun to come up with the definitive under-22 team.
• Some distressing news: Apparently CBS has Gus Johnson slated to do the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. After that, he loses his old spot in the regional semifinals and finals to James Brown. I wish I were making this up. Although if this leads to Gus leaving CBS so he can take over "Wide World of Sports" and announce cliff diving and motorycle jumps, I'm all for it.
• Just to clear something up: I abstained from voting for ESPN.com's "NBA Best Centers Ever" package because I'm a snob about stuff like this. A question like that can't be answered without specific guidelines -- for instance, are you talking about careers, or the ceiling of every center? Kareem had a better career than Walton, but if you were picking between them for one game and your life depended on it, you'd take Walton. There's no debate. Also, are we talking about the impact of the players when they played, or how they compared to every other great center? Russell and Wilt put up phenomenal numbers in the '60s, but you're telling me that Hakeem wouldn't have averaged a 45-25 in 1962? That's why I had to abstain. There's no real way to answer the question.
• An e-mail from Chris in Prairie Village (who attended the Texas-Kansas game):
"As much of a roller coaster as it looked like on TV, there's no way it compared to being there. I've been going to KU games since '92. My top four games: (1) Jacque Vaughn's game-winner vs. Indiana (the roof nearly came off the Fieldhouse); (2) Cal and Jason Kidd game, when Ostertag went coast-to-coast, solo, WITH A BEHIND-THE-BACK DRIBBLE to beat the defender, for the dunk (dogs and cats, living together ... MASS HYSTERIA); (3) the Georgia Tech OT game a couple of years back (audiologists all over the K.C. metro area started car shopping; (4) Texas.
"For the first 10 minutes, all the oxygen got sucked out of the gym every time the ball left Durant's hand -- home-team free-throw silence. Then he sunk whatever he happened to throw up, bouncing back down the court like he was on a pogo stick, while 16,000+ exhaled in a group 'what the ... ?' The crowd ramped the noise back up immediately, but he kept knocking us down over and over again. He was on pace to hang at least 60 on us until he apparently got bored and started dishing. Texas finished the half at 83 percent from the arc. Absolutely sick. The entire gym was breathing into paper bags.
"What few have mentioned is this: 8:30 into the second half, Durant only had two points prior to tweaking his ankle. Whether or not that means we would have kept him in check for the rest of the game is up for debate, but we did lock him down (as much as anyone can) for that period. Nevertheless, when he hit the deck, the entire crowd rooted for him to get back up -- some were even doing the 'we're not worthy' bow to him as he limped to the locker room. He even got applause on his return. Overshadowed in all this is the fact that Mario Chalmers decided to grow a pair the size of church bells and kick-start the entire Jayhawk squad. After the one [3-pointer] he hit where he started screaming at the top of his lungs, I knew we were safe. Anyway, I realize that I witnessed something amazing, but cell phone pics aren't gonna cut it -- I hope the Jayhawks win it all just so I can order the 'One Shining Moment'-style video of the '06-'07 season that captures a championship AND the Texas game. Amazing stuff."
And finally, some links to help you kill a Tuesday afternoon ...
1. Peter Vecsey rips the NBA refs a new one. Inept officiating continues to be the biggest ongoing problem in the NBA and nobody seems to care.
2. Jason from Richmond recommends another YouTuber who slapped together a nice variety of NBA videos, including clips from Magic Johnson's retirement and Larry Bird's retirement.
3. The K.C. Star had an absorbing feature about Kansas freshman guard Sherron Collins.
4. From the Denver Post: A scathing column by Mark Kizla about Carmelo Anthony's uninspired play over the past two months. If you remember, this was my biggest concen with an Iverson trade for the Nuggets -- how Melo would handle the threat to his alpha dog status. Well, we have our answer: Not well.
5. Alabama reader James Erwin sent this along: a Web site where you can purchase your very own League of Dorks championship ring!
6. Finally, please check out our good friends at bostonsportsmedia.com for all the details about Ron Borges' historic weekend at the Boston Globe -- when he wrote one of the most biased columns in the history of the paper (killing the Pats for signing Adalius Thomas, who was only the best defensive free agent available) AND handed in a Sunday football notes column in which he directly lifted material from another newspaper and earned himself a two-month suspension. Amazingly, those two columns ran in the same day! I feel like that Sunday paper could end up being a collector's item some day.
(And to answer your other question, "Yes, I'm excited for the Adalius Thomas and Wes Welker eras. Delighted, even.)