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Friday, December 16, 2005
Updated: January 10, 3:57 PM ET
Something's Bruin

By Kieran Darcy
Page 2

Things have gotten out of hand in Los Angeles.

After a big win against Nevada Saturday -- a win achieved without injured centers Michael Fey and Lorenzo Mata and forward Josh Shipp -- Bruins coach Ben Howland told reporters, "We're like a M.A.S.H. unit … we have a student who helps out with the video -- he tore his ACL the other day."

This seemed worthy of investigation. The latest injured Bruin is freshman Eric Lemus. Lemus says he always felt he was destined to attend UCLA, since he was born at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. He played high school basketball for Foshay Learning Center in L.A., but he wasn't good enough to get recruited by the Bruins. Still, he wanted to get involved with the basketball team when he arrived on campus, somehow -- but all the manager positions were already filled. So he volunteered to help out with videotaping practices and games.

Turns out Lemus wasn't hurt on the job. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, a driver in front of him on a California freeway slammed on his brakes unexpectedly, and there was a minor collision -- enough to aggravate a knee injury Lemus had suffered playing hoops in high school. When he had it re-examined, his worst fear was confirmed -- he'd torn his anterior cruciate ligament.

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Now Lemus is facing surgery, perhaps as early as next week, and an estimated nine-month recovery period. But he hopes to stay involved with the team, even if he's on crutches. "I just like being around basketball," Lemus says.

I know how you feel, Eric. As do the hundreds of other students who, like you, volunteer their time to help out college hoops programs across the country.

I think they'd all join me in wishing you a speedy recovery.

Gonzaga's Adam Morrison is currently leading Division I in scoring at 28.5 points per game. Duke's J.J. Redick is second at 24.9. Any guess who's third, just a fraction below Redick?

Steve Burtt, that's who. And the 6-foot-1 senior guard has also led Iona to a 7-0 record, tied for second-best in school history. That includes an impressive 89-72 win at Iowa State, in which Burtt tallied 23 points. And he poured in 28 in a MAAC conference game at Marist Sunday.

Steve Burtt
Iona's one of the most dangerous mid-majors in the nation, with Steve Burtt leading the way.
Burtt has steadily improved his scoring average over his four years at Iona, from 9.2 ppg to 13.5, to 19.3, to this season's 24.9. He attributes his improvement this year to some intense offseason study. His coach, Jeff Ruland, gave each of his players a shot tape after last season, which showed every single shot that player took the whole season. Burtt says he watched his tape about 15 times. "I saw which spots I shoot the ball better from," Burtt says. "I saw I need to stay calmer, and not rush … If a guy rushes at me, I need to shoot my regular shot, and go to the [foul] line if he fouls me -- don't adjust my shot, play my game."

And yet Burtt's still not the best player in his family. Heck, he's not even the best Steve Burtt! His father, Steve Sr., is Iona's all-time leading scorer -- he finished his college career in 1984 with 2,534 points (and went on to play parts of four seasons in the NBA). Burtt Jr. entered his senior season with only 1,254 points. But in the Gaels' second game of the season, against Portland St., the Burtts became the top father-son scoring duo in D-I history, passing Jalen Rose and his father, Jimmy Walker (who played for Providence in the mid-'60s). "That felt great," Burtt Jr. says. "It's great to be in that company with my dad. It's great to have left my mark in the record books. But I've got a lot of unfinished business left here."

Next up for the Gaels? A trip to Kentucky to face the Wildcats on Dec. 23 -- and don't be surprised if Iona wins that one. But Burtt is more focused on March, and getting to the NCAA Tournament; Iona hasn't been there since the year before he arrived on campus. "Steve wants to win more than just about anybody in the country," Ruland says.

Steve Burtt Sr. can't catch every Iona game -- he's on the road a lot, coaching on the And1 Mixtape Tour. But he keeps track of the team, and his son, very closely. After this season, who knows? Burtt Jr. might be able to follow in his father's NBA footsteps.

One thing's for sure though -- there will be no one-on-one games, great as they might be. Father and son haven't gone head-to-head in about 10 years. "He'll say he doesn't want to hurt my feelings," says Burtt Jr. "I'll say he's scared. But the truth is, I wouldn't even want to cross that line. He's my idol … I just hope to improve on his legacy."

Mission accomplished, young 'un.

The Barry Collier experiment at Nebraska could be about to implode, after the Cornhuskers were drubbed by in-state mid-major rival Creighton for the seventh time in their last eight matchups. Despite being without three injured players, including top scorer Nate Funk, the Bluejays won 70-44, forcing 31 turnovers in the rout.

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Nebraska is off to a decent start overall at 6-2, including a win over Marquette, with its other loss coming by one against UAB. But Collier, who had a 70-77 record in his first five seasons in Lincoln, probably can't survive many more embarrassing losses like this one -- particularly because this one was in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a basketball game in the state.

Kentucky vs. Indiana. Sounds like a great matchup, right? Not this year -- the Hoosiers won a laugher, 79-53. But these Kentucky numbers aren't funny at all:

4 assists, 19 turnovers, 2-for-27 from 3-point range

The Wildcats desperately need Randolph Morris back. They don't have an effective low-post player right now -- even the big forwards they are playing, like Rekalin Sims, look more comfortable on the perimeter. And their guards clearly can't carry them the way Villanova's guards can.

Kentucky fans have cause for major concern. Morris will be eligible to make his season debut on Jan. 10 against Vanderbilt. He needs to provide more than the 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game he averaged last season.

He said he knew it was going in. He said he called "bank." He said …

"I had the angle."

You call that an angle? Off-balance, with two defenders flying at you? Whatever the "angle," Morrison hit a fantastic shot to beat Oklahoma St. He said he went glass on purpose. His coach, Mark Few, said he got lucky. It doesn't matter. The bottom line is, Morrison is cash money.

Scary thing is, he said his game winner with less than a second to go against San Francisco in Spokane last season was even better. Gotta find me a videotape of that one.

Thoughts from games I watched this past week:

J.J. Redick
J.J. Redick put on a spectacular long-range show against Texas.
• I, along with most other people it seems, thought Texas would knock off Duke last Saturday. Hats off to the Blue Devils. Redick was wonderful to watch (see below). Also, Sean Dockery, who I was pretty down on earlier in the year, is really starting to impress me with his defense and toughness. And I'd give freshman Martynas Pocius a few more minutes of PT, too.

• Despite the blowout loss, I was also impressed with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kenton Paulino of Texas. Paulino is better than I thought, and Aldridge looks poised for a monster year and career. Also, if I was P.J. Tucker, I'd swallow my tongue when someone has torched my team with 41 points on nine 3s.

• Indiana had great ball movement and offensive spacing against Kentucky. I have a gut feeling the Hoosiers will make the Final Four this season -- which just happens to be in Indianapolis. Wouldn't that be nice?

• Thank God CBS switched from Indiana-Kentucky to Gonzaga-Oklahoma St. (at least in my area) for the last 10 minutes of the second half. I was happy enough just to be able to watch Morrison's game winner live. But the fact that Bill Raftery was working the game, and we got to hear his commentary about one of the best bank shots you'll ever see? Priceless. "Major, onions! … Oh what a smooch!" You gotta love it.

• Maryland-Boston College was a good watch, but it still didn't feel quite right as an ACC conference game. With new refs, new (and longer) road trips, new arenas and new opponents, the Eagles might be in for a tougher first year in the ACC than they anticipated.

Redick's 41 points against Texas were the most by a Duke player since Danny Ferry dropped 58 -- that's right, 58! -- on Miami on Dec. 10, 1988 (exactly 17 years earlier). Duke was ranked No. 1 in the country on that day, too.

We tend to forget how great a college player Ferry was (and how much hair he once had). But he was better than great that night. He was superhuman. Ferry made 23 of his 26 field-goal attempts. He tacked on seven assists as well in Duke's 117-102 victory. This game needs to air on ESPN Classic. ASAP.

You know, LeBron could use that kind of shooter alongside him. Maybe Ferry should quit his GM post and suit up for the Cavs instead.

Speaking of Redick … like him or hate him, there's nothing more beautiful to watch in the college game right now than his jump shot. I taped the Duke-Texas game, and went back and watched Redick's nine made 3-pointers, several times each. His form is simply impeccable. No wonder he's the best free-throw shooter in the history of college basketball.

Almost without fail, his feet are perfectly squared up facing the basket, nicely spread apart, on balance. His back is straight. He gets great lift from his legs. The ball is perfectly positioned in his hands, above his head. The flick of the wrists … the rotation of the ball … the extended follow-through … no wonder so many of those shots swish through the net so smoothly.

Spend a whole game watching Redick, particularly watching him shoot the basketball. You'll enjoy it, even if he doesn't get 41.

Best pure shooter I've ever seen? No, not Redick. You probably haven't heard of this guy. But you've definitely heard of some of his students: Kobe Bryant, Stephon Marbury and Ray Allen, just to name three.

The man's name is Dave Hopla, and he's one of the most renowned shooting instructors in the game. I saw this guy put on several clinics at basketball camps I attended during my high school years. There can't be a better shooter on the planet. He'd take at least a couple hundred shots during each session -- and you'd usually be able to count the amount he missed on one hand. He'd drain half-court shots with regularity, and 3-pointers with his eyes closed.

Read more about him at his Web site. And by the way? In an article written about Redick in the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) last year by David Teel, Hopla called Redick's form "flawless." High praise, indeed.

Last week's poll question asked whether you'd rather watch this year's North Carolina Tar Heels, or last year's underclassmen (Felton, McCants, May and Williams) defend their title. The result: 69.7 percent of you disagreed with me -- you'd rather have watched last year's group. That's about what I expected -- but I did get a lot of e-mails from Carolina fans who supported my position.

For this week's poll question … well, despite the outstanding play of Burtt, it's a two-man race for national player of the year right now, between Morrison and Redick. My question to you is: Who would you rather have on your team? Please vote in the poll at the top-right corner of this page.

And remember, please do send me questions for next week's column, or nominations for the different subject categories. You can e-mail me here. Now, here are a couple of the best questions I received in the past week:

Kyle Lowry
Kyle Lowry and the other Villanova guards are playing very well, even without Curtis Sumpter.
The word is that Curtis Sumpter is making a rapid recovery from his knee surgery. If Sumpter returns to support this guard-rich Wildcats team, does Villanova immediately become the favorite in March? After all, Sumpter was arguably the best player on the squad last year, and this year's guards are inarguably the best in the land.
-- Tim Klagholz, Ithaca, N.Y.

That's a big "if" Tim -- Sumpter is making great progress following his surgery, but it's still more likely that he will redshirt and save his final year of eligibility. After watching their win against Oklahoma, I'm convinced the Wildcats can get to the Final Four without him. If Sumpter did come back, it could push them over the hump … or it could backfire if the team struggles to adjust after playing so much of the season with their four-guard lineup.

After watching my Terps take down Boston College Sunday night, mostly because of a huge night by Ekene Ibekwe, it struck me that the Terrapins really have no true "star" or "go-to" player. How far can a team that wins by having a different player step up every night really go?
-- Joe Sochurek, California, Md.

You raise a good point, Joe. Teams like that can go a long way … but it's usually difficult for them to go all the way. You want your team to have one or two "go-to guys" that everyone is confident can make the big shot down the stretch. Most top teams have that kind of guy -- Redick and Morrison being two of the best examples. Very balanced teams like Maryland and Florida, for instance, need to try to push one or more of their players into that role over the course of the season. If not, they'll have trouble winning a big game when they need to down the stretch.

Lots of interesting matchups this coming week. I picked two of the more intriguing ones:

UCLA at Michigan (Saturday, noon ET, ESPN): Two big-time programs trying to regain their dominance -- UCLA's coming off the big win over Nevada, while Michigan is still undefeated. (Eric Lemus won't be there, but he'll be watching.)

Indiana at Charlotte (Monday, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2): The 49ers desperately need a high-profile nonconference win after a rough start, while D.J. White is slated to see his first action of the season for the Hoosiers.

Kieran Darcy is an editor at and a contributor to ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at