Written by: Jerrod Mustaf

A Fighting Chance

March 26, 2015

For 36 times this season, college teams have given the Kentucky Wildcats their best shot, and for 36 times each of their foes have come up empty. With a talent-laden roster that would make the Lakers drool, Kentucky is just four wins from being the standard for college basketball excellence. The general consensus is that the Wildcats best competition this season has been each other in practice and therefore the Vegas bookies have predicted double figure wins in all of their games.

With nine NBA prospects in the rotation, no other college team has the talent to match up with them. They have great guards but their real strength is the size and skill of their bigs.

West Virginia knows that they can’t match up man for man with Kentucky, so expect them to make the game ugly. Their head coach, Bob Huggins, has never been confused with a choir boy. He groomed former bruisers Danny Fortson and Kenyon Martin at Cincinnati where he created a culture of thuggery on and off the court.

In the Mountaineers Second Round game against Maryland last week, at least three of Huggin’s players could have been charged with assault. They physically pounded the Terp’s guards from the opening tip until finally Melo Trimble was tapped out by the medical staff after his tenth time hitting the floor. Even though Maryland fans understood they had no chance to win with Trimble on the bench, they were relieved he wouldn’t further risk his health with the West Virginia mugging taking place.

True to his character, Huggins will push the boundaries of physical play against Kentucky and deploy his henchmen in uniform to counter-punch the Wildcat’s skilled players. He knows his only chance to compete with them is to make the game a slug-fest.  But Kentucky’s players are too gifted and disciplined for that and will make West Virginia their 37th victim!

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Written by: Jerrod Mustaf

RestLess

March 26, 2015

For years there was a gentleman’s agreement in the NBA circles that the last week of the season for playoff-situated teams was reserved for either rest or player development. While this usually happens in April, right before the Playoffs, some teams have been employing this strategy since Thanksgiving!

Last season the Spurs, with a veteran roster, rotated the off games for the ancient Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli, which resulted in them being beneficiaries of a well-oiled machine throughout the NBA Finals.

But to the chagrin of NBA fans in cities around the country, teams are following this trend of resting stars who the fans have paid handsomely to see play.

Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr issued an apology to fans for his decision to rest his star players during the final quarter of the regular season.

But what began as a strategy to prolong the careers of the aging trio in San Antonio has become the trend of NBA All-stars. Players feel privileged when they are given a night off. They equate earning a rest day to being a part of the NBA elite.

Playing in all 82 games was the goal and that iron man streak carried significant weight during negotiations. Now, we are lucky if the best teams play their stars together in 75 games. Not only should today’s NBA players rest less, but if I spend hundreds to take my boys to watch LeBron in a suit, I would be RestLess!

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Written by: Sam Perkins

Road to the Final Four

March 26, 2015

Some teams may be happy to be there, but if you want to win a championship you have to look at the Sweet Sixteen as just another round. When we were playing we wanted to go all the way, so we didn’t think about it as the Sweet Sixteen, we thought about it as a game against Alabama. That’s the mindset you have to have going in. I’m sure the coaches are all saying the same thing.

After that week in between rounds you don’t really feel rested, it’s more like restlessness. You’re playing almost every other day and then all of a sudden it stops for a week or so. But, you have to go out there and get ready as if you just played. You have to just pick up where you left off if you want to keep winning.

We played Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen in 1982 when we won the championship, and we never faced them before. I think they had more veteran players, but we had more dangerous players. We were the higher seed, but that goes out the window when the ball tosses up. You know you can get beat by anybody regardless of what ranking you are. In the beginning of the game, each team feels each other out, but then after a while you see where you can do some things and you figure out what you need to do to win. Teams adjust as they go along, but anyone can get hot and anyone can get cold. You just try to put your foot on their neck and wipe them out.

We didn’t do anything different out there. There might have been a play here and there that was a twist in our offense. Coach Smith was one of these coaches that adjusted well in the game. We worked with Worthy and Michael and the whole team and tried to sustain runs and then make a run of our own. If you’re up by 15, there’s so much time left and teams want to come back on you, but you have to settle in and take care of the ball.

This year North Carolina is playing Wisconsin, which like us in ’82, is a team that they haven’t seen much of before. For them to win they’ll have to play consistent basketball. They’ve been surviving in coming back on teams, but now it gets tougher with Wisconsin who is known to run their offense well through Frank Kaminsky, their big scorer, and capitalize on transitions. That’s one of the things that Wisconsin doesn’t allow other teams to do – get transition baskets.

Carolina is young and somewhat inexperienced, so in order for them to win they have to rebound the ball well, find a way to control the tempo and get as many easy baskets as possible. For Wisconsin to win, they just have to move the ball like they do, and rebound. Carolina is small and they give up rebounds. I love my Tarheels, but I think Wisconsin just might make it to the Final Four.

For the most part all of the teams that I expected to be there are there. One or two are gone. I don’t know what Tom Izzo does to get there but he always has his team in the middle of things. I think they lose to Oklahoma who also beats Louisville to get to the Final Four. I think Oklahoma might sneak in there. It doesn’t seem like Kentucky is going to lose. I can’t see Notre Dame beating them. Duke will make it.

Those are my picks – Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Duke – but anything can happen, especially if a team gets caught looking ahead. You’re always look ahead, but you can’t overlook your opponent now, otherwise you’re playing right into their hands.

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Written by: Jerrod Mustaf

Game Change

March 24, 2015

Over a billion made, not everybody getting paid.

March Madness, pure sadness.

How is the MEAC conference not a high major?

Oh, Duke took our savior.

HBCUs should always be in the fans favor, the “Marching 100” perform with flavor.

Lets be real, the best players are always Black kids

Recruitment-wise they put Black colleges on a blacklist.

They rather go to Kentucky or Duke, but the CIAA Legends weren’t a fluke.

But if you’re going one-and-done, why not go to FAMU, Howard, Hampton, or A&T?

And don’t say it’s for exposure cuz if you’re the best, you’ll be exposed, I guarantee.

But subconsciously I guess Willie Lynch is still alive

We are brainwashed as a people, didn’t change in 1865.

So, we’re stuck in this mindset, I guess its not time yet

One day we will realize that we had our minds wet.

All it takes is one to change the future of college sports, I can see it all over ESPN and Coach Cal ’s all out of sorts,

“Five All-Americans Choose to Play at Howard, players are going to Black colleges and powerhouses are losing power".

Number one in college basketball for that one season, million dollar contracts offered and you know the reason.

Paying players to sign a letter of intent would become the rule, anything to keep them in the state school.

With players being compensated, we could see where our allegiance rest, and finally witness our schools as the Nation’s best!

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Written by: Jim McIlvaine

How Did I Pick 9 of the first 10 NCAA Games?

March 19, 2015
That's right, I picked UAB AND Georgia State

The great thing about announcing the methodology for picking your bracket, is that it erases all doubt as to whether or not you could've really predicted two upsets like UAB beating Iowa State and Georgia State beating Baylor, as I was able to do. The not-so-great thing about explaining my methodology, is that in spite of all my years of experience in playing basketball and working as a broadcast analyst, the most successful bracket I've ever chosen was based entirely on one factor that any schlub with no basketball knowledge could've used- mileage from campus.

I thought my lucky streak would end with a perfect bracket in the First Four, but it continued well into the first day of games, including two major upsets. It looks like Xavier will knock off Ole Miss, so my record will drop to nine of eleven, but that's still far better than I (or 98.2% of you) could've done otherwise. It won't continue. It can't, as I just can't imagine how West Virginia, if they were to get past Buffalo and a Valpo team that would have to upset Maryland, could possibly beat Kentucky. But that's ok. Even if my bracket gets wrecked, it won't be as wrecked as a lot of other folks.

However, it does drive home the point that people picking brackets should really have fun with them and not worry about team records, rankings, conference tournament performances or seedings. None of that really matters in this tournament.

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Written by: Jerrod Mustaf

Black Colleges See Red in March Madness

March 19, 2015


In 1988, I became the first and only McDonald’s All-American basketball player to ever include a historically Black college or university in his final two choices for college. Through much trepidation, I accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Maryland over the Mecca of Black Intellect; Howard University. To this date, no other Black All-American basketball recruit has even taken an official visit to an HBCU campus.

Tonight, basketball fans across the country will eat chicken wings and watch the heavily favored Kentucky Wildcats demolish the only HBCU invited to the dance of 68 NCAA teams; Hampton University.

Kentucky, the winning-est NCAA Division 1 basketball program in history, is also famous for the groundbreaking 1966 NCAA Championship game with Texas Western, that marked the first occurrence of an all-white starting five against an all-Black starting five. The game, which was won by Texas Western, began the gentrification of college basketball and has produced a permanent debilitating economic hierarchy in college athletics for Black schools. As major white institutions began to recruit from the inner cities, the Black athletes abandoned the very schools founded to educate and develop them, and signed up for the Blaxploitation from schools in the major conferences.

Nine Black high school All-Americans will platoon in the Wildcats rotation while Hampton University will field a team of six-teen Black student-athletes who will be starting their corporate internships by Monday morning.

Beginning today, over one billion dollars will be generated during this year’s March Madness by Black athletes. A mere pittance of that billion will circulate back to Black schools due to Hampton’s one-game participation as a sparring partner for the first half TKO coming from the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats.

The award-winning movie “Selma”, which highlights the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, precipitated the integration of college athletics, but has covertly led to the demise of competitive Black collegiate sports. As elite Black athletes continue to eschew HBCU’s where their talent could propel their teams to NCAA moments like Butler and Davidson most recently, Black colleges will remain in the red during March Madness!

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Written by: Spencer Haywood

March Madness Has Arrived!

March 19, 2015

It’s March Madness time! Everybody is happy, everybody is finalizing their brackets! And I’m really pumped because there’s a possibility of a team going 40-0! That hasn’t happened since Indiana did it back in the day, back in 1976.

I’m thinking Kentucky is going to go 40-0. And who saved the day for them? The Harrison twins, who came back for another year of college ball.

Now there are teams that could upset them. The first one I’m thinking about is Wisconsin. And guess what?! There are mostly upperclassmen on that team. You got Frank Kaminsky, who really popped onto the scene after deciding to stay in college. Before he was a mid-level Draft pick, and now he’s the College Player of the Year.

The next team that could upset Kentucky is Duke. Duke has a good core of strong players, and they could take it all too. They’ve got Okafor (not Emeka, the other kid!), and he’s a really good player. I’m big on Duke because I have watched Coach K train many NBA players on the U.S. Men’s National Basketball Team, and he got them up to snuff when they were going haywire, when we couldn’t even get a medal.

I respect that kind of coaching and that kind of teaching. Not that the other coaches are not teaching, but Coach K has really done such an incredible job. And you’ll notice that even after NBA guys play for him on the National Team, they rise to the top. For example, James Harden is balling this year! Steph Curry is at the top of is game. Klay Thompson, too. They all played for him last summer.

So who are my early favorites for the Final Four? I’m picking Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin and Villanova. You heard it here first! Oh, and by the way, I stole that Villanova pick from President Obama’s bracket!

I’m planning on tuning into ALL of these games! Oh yes, I am watching every one of them. It’s the NCAA Tourney! I’m a fan of this game, and I’ll be sitting on my couch yelling and screaming at the TV. I am truly a fan!

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Written by: Dale Ellis

Rocky Top Reflections

March 19, 2015

College is the best time of your life. When I was at Tennessee we won every single year I was there. We were in the tournament every singe year. A couple of years we were facing Virginia and Ralph Sampson, who was tough to get past, but we had opportunities to go and do something special. We established a winning tradition at the University of Tennessee.

I was very fortunate to have a coach like Don DeVoe. He prepared me every single day for the next level. His attitude was that it didn’t matter how you practiced yesterday, what are you going to give me in practice today? It didn’t matter to him if you scored 30 points last Friday, what are you going to do in this game? As far as academics, he had the same attitude. You’re passing your classes, but what do you have for this next test? He prepared you for being a professional.

When you get to the next level, you have to be a professional. You have to come with it every single day. I was fortunate to play on a professional level for 17 years. My first coach was Dick Motta in Dallas, and Dick sat me down one time and told me about how it is to be a professional. The great ones out of 82 games might have 2 games that they can’t get up for, because it’s a long season. College and the NBA are two different games. When you get to the pro level, you’re playing nine months out of the year, so how can you get up for all those games? He would tell me that you have to find ways to get excited about what you’re doing and you have to come with it every single game. It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday. What do you have for me today?

College prepares you for that. I had an opportunity to come out of college early and I didn’t do it. I looked at my teammates and thought these were my guys, I’m going to stay the four years. When you’re in college you learn teamwork. It’s not about individual play. When you watch a lot of NBA ball right now you see a lot of individual basketball. I just happened to be fortunate to play in an era when the game was simple. Fundamentals were sound and guys played together. It was about the team achievement. I think today they miss out on that aspect by not finishing the four years of college basketball.

Plus, like I said, it’s the best four years of your life. When you come out of college and you go into a professional field, whatever it is, if it’s sports or the law or medicine or whatever you are trying to be in life, it’s a rude awakening. College should prepare you for that next level, but in the meantime don’t get stressed out. Enjoy every single minute. I was an average student. I did just enough to get by and I regret that to this day, but I was the first in my family to receive a college degree. Receiving that degree told me that I could accomplish anything I want to accomplish in life. I wanted to play basketball. Once you get there it’s a job and you have to come with it every single day, in whatever field you choose. You have to come with it because there’s always someone out there trying to knock you off the totem pole.

Whatever field that you’re looking at, try to be the best at that field and if you fall short of that goal, you’re going to find something beautiful in between. You’ve got guys like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to mention a few, whose goal was to be the best whoever played the game. Once you decide what you want to do, it will reveal itself what you have to do to get where you want to be. Then you have to make that commitment. You might have to give up a few things to get where you want to be, whether it’s friends or family or whatever. But when you are in college don’t give up anything. Take care of the academic part of it and enjoy every single minute. 

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Written by: Jim McIlvaine

Jack Haley Should Still Be With Us

March 19, 2015
Jack Haley with the New Jersey Nets
Dick Raphael/NBAE

It seemed like about as random a run-in as someone could have. I was in Las Vegas on business and I'm not sure why Jack Haley was there, but we both ended up in The Peppermill restaurant on the Vegas Strip. It's not much of a surprise that I was there, as that is my regular spot in Vegas- so much so, that some of the people there think I'm a local. For Jack, I'm guessing he was probably in town for a wedding or a quick vacation. He probably told me, but I don't remember.

What I do remember is that Jack looked great. He looked fit, he looked happy and during our conversation, it sounded like everything was going well for him. That was just a few months ago. Fast forward to this evening and I noticed a tweet from Detlef Schrempf in my feed, mentioning Jack's passing. It seems like just the other day I was blogging about the passing of Jerome Kersey and now I find myself asking the same questions- How could it happen? Why Jack? Why now?

Jack's passing was the latest in too long of a line of basketball people that I've watched leave far too soon. It started with Derek Smith after my second year in the league. That was followed by Yinka Dare and then Bob McCann. While most of these guys were either my coaches or teammates, they all had heart-related issues. There were others along the way, like Dwayne Schintzius, who died almost three years ago today (March 15th) and more recently, Anthony Mason, but they were different. Dwayne battled Leukemia and I saw Anthony during the years his son played for St. John's. He looked like he'd put on some weight and by several accounts, led a lifestyle that did not sound like he had any aspirations to fill the void left behind by Jack LaLanne.

It is the passings of Derek, Yinka, Bob and now Jack that cause me to take a hard look at my own health. I know people die young all over the world for a multitude of reasons, but I guess I don't expect it to happen so often among guys who were some of the world's elite athletes. I've put on some weight since retiring, but 20 pounds is easy to hide on a seven-foot frame. The greater concern for me is my heart. While I had what I would consider an "active" lifestyle for most of my life, in recent years, I've become more sedentary. That, combined with some advice from my doctor several years ago, has heightened my awareness for my physical well-being. 

I was actually working out with Marquette, when I went in for a physical and was told my cholesterol level was higher than my doctor would've liked. She encouraged me to exercise more and I thought to myself, "How much more can I exercise, than chasing around a bunch of college kids?!?" I decided to start doing Sprint-distance triathlons and did those for a few years, before other pursuits got in the way. I figured triathlons would be relatively-low impact, if I focused more on the biking and swimming and just slogged my way through an occasional run.

I probably ended up focusing too much on the biking end of things, accumulating well over 1,500 miles in a single year and developing a hemorrhoid issue that ended up requiring surgery. I haven't spent nearly as much time on the bike since. That result is similar to the challenge many former professional athletes face upon retirement- have you done so much damage to your body during your playing career, that you're now physically unable to maintain a moderate level of physical fitness in retirement?

With Jack's passing, it got me thinking about the first time the retired NBA players held their annual summer meeting in conjunction with the current NBA players. It was an eye-opening experience for me and one that I felt gave me an opportunity to look into my own future as a retired player, at least from a physical standpoint. There were guys at that meeting in their 50s (and maybe even 40s), who were hobbling around like they were in their 70s or 80s. I didn't want that for myself and decided I wouldn't continue playing until my body would no longer allow it. I know I'm not alone in that regard and when I see guys like Chris Borland walk away from professional sports, I'm only surprised that it doesn't more often. 

Adding Jack's passing to the growing list has made me re-evaluate how I've dealt with moderately-high cholesterol in much the same way I did when I first met the retired NBA players. Up until now, I've preferred to make dietary adjustments, pop red yeast rice tablets and try to exercise more. The first two efforts have gone well and made a significant difference, but I never seem to find enough time to exercise consistently. I'll be making a renewed commitment to exercise more, but perhaps more importantly, I'll be calling my doctor tomorrow for the Lipitor perscription she'd previously-suggested. 

Jack was about 17 years removed from his playing career and seemed full of life when I last saw him. He seemed like he had a lot going on and a lot to live for and it's a shame to lose such a good person so early. I'm 14 years removed from my last NBA season and the thought of only having three more years on this earth is not appealing in the least. I have what seems like a gaggle of kids and I want to see them all get married and have kids of their own, which should take several more decades, so tomorrow I make the call. Somehow I found enough time to hop on the stairmaster tonight and the next time I visit The Peppermill, I'll be thinking of Jack when I order a salad.

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Written by: Sam Perkins

Before Kentucky Wins a Championship They Have To Win Their First Game

March 18, 2015

In the tournament this year all eyes are on Kentucky, and while everyone is thirsty to get to the Final Four, they have to play one game at a time. Even though that’s cliché, it’s accurate. We were like them at North Carolina. The bull’s-eye on our back was big, but Coach Smith got us focusing on just one game. We actually never saw the brackets when we played, but that was a different time. Now you see a bracket everywhere you go. As a person playing in the tournament, you’re better off not looking. If you look ahead you lose focus.

In 1982, during our championship run, we faced James Madison early on and they came out and played. Teams like that have nothing to lose, so they come out and play as hard as they can. We were expected to win big, but when things didn’t go right we had to play each possession. We were the superior team but in the mind of our opponent, going against the number one seed, they couldn’t care less about what seed we were or who we were. They were playing because their coach instilled confidence. Once you get that confidence, as a Cinderella team, things happen. We had to just stay focused and do everything we prepared to do.

During that game, Coach Smith told us to keep grinding and it will break loose. We had never seen them play before, so of course they’re going to do different things. We were the better team on paper, but teams get hot. During this tournament you’ll find out: teams get hot. Luckily we didn’t look ahead or underestimate our competition and we won the game.

Preparation and having a great coach was a big part of our success. Our preparation during the tournament wasn’t really different from the regular season, but during the game we made more adjustments than usual. Overall our mentality was strong and Coach Smith instilled that in us. He didn’t back down so we didn’t back down.

For Kentucky, a team like Hampton (or Manhattan) has been watching them all year, hearing about them all year and now they’re facing them, so they’re their coach is devising a way to beat them and telling them that they put their shoes on the same way, and instilling confidence. A lot of teams now, if they see a higher ranked team, they’re going to go after them. That mentality is to come get you, while a team like Kentucky is sitting in the driver’s seat thinking ‘we got this.’ The only way to get through these brackets is to go out there and do your thing and take care of business on the court. You can’t think about the next opponent ever.

I don’t see anyone beating Kentucky though. The toughest team they’ve got to face looks like Notre Dame or Maryland in their bracket. I can’t see either of them winning. Duke seems like they’re going to cruise to the Final Four. I like Virginia out of the East. North Carolina has their work cut out for them in the West. They lost games this year that they should’ve won, but I don’t know if that was because of focus or concentration or because of inexperience or injury. They had a lot of guys injured this year. Wisconsin has been playing well but they’ve been playing in a comfort zone. My man Frank Kaminsky has been their guy but if he gets stopped one night it’s all over for them. It’s going to be interesting.

Iowa State is my sleeper. I like the way Fred Hoiberg has that team. They’ve been tough all year. They’ve won close games. They play well together. They’re a team to watch – a team for us to watch. If Kentucky wants to win, they should only be watching their next opponent.

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