Taking On A Generational Talent Like Zion Williamson

Millions of kids across the country participate in high school athletics. Invariably, those high school athletes will compare themselves, or be compared, to the other players in their conference and state. Some will think they measure up pretty well. Others know they will not do more than earn their high school varsity letter. And then, every once in a while, a generational talent will show up and re-calibrate everything.

Zion Williamson, a rookie Power Forward on the New Orleans Pelicans, is two years removed from playing high school basketball in South Carolina. Every opponent during his high school career had his game marked – “The Zion Game” – and those opponents knew that they were in for a long, humbling evening:

The Zion Games didn’t feel real most of the time, more like some kind of fever dream. Just to see a dude that massive, yet somehow more athletic than everyone else on the court by a factor of about 10, is astonishing. I still remember watching him go up for an alley-oop and seeing him float in the air like he was made of helium or something. 

Even though these kids knew that they were in for a humbling beat down from one of the great players of their age – or any age – their appreciation and respect for Zion was what was most interesting to me.

All that said, Zion is genuinely one of the nicest dudes I’ve ever played against, just super positive and humble. He was a huge deal in high school, especially in South Carolina. We had an unofficial team policy that you weren’t allowed to take a picture with him after the games, just to maintain what little integrity we had. But that still didn’t stop a lot of the younger guys — and even some coaches — from doing it. To Zion’s credit, he was always willing to talk to anyone as well as always encouraging to the younger guys. Everyone should really be rooting for him to succeed. He’s a great guy, and he’s overcome a lot to get to where he’s at. 

Maybe current and future stars from across the sports spectrum can take a cue from the 20 year old rookie from New Orleans. Be humble and show respect to your opponents no matter how good your are and no matter what the outcome of the contest is.

Smells Like School Spirit

It is that time of year again – March Madness, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, where your brackets will be busted by the end of the weekend and the chances that you will win the office pool will go down in flames.  But don’t let that prevent you from showing some school spirit on your computer or mobile device. 

Head on over to my NCAA desktop backgrounds page for backgrounds of all 68 teams in this year’s field!

With some schools, there are other ‘designs’ within the other tabs on the page so hunt away if the ones in the “NCAA Tournament” tab don’t float your boat.

As a Syracuse fan for the majority of my life, I have to admit that I was extremely surprised that they made it – by the skin of their teeth –  into the Field of 68 .  So Let’s Go Orange! Let’s make some noise in this year’s tournament like we did in 2016!!

Follow The Numbers

There has been a ton of publicity about Warren Buffet putting $1 Billion on the line for anyone who picks a perfect bracket in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Well, according to Matthew Berry of ESPN, we are only four games into this year’s NCAA Tournament and out of 11 million submitted brackets in ESPN’s Tournament Bracket Challenge, only 5.7% of them (~627,000) remain perfect.

Once again, Mr. Buffett has made a wise investment, this time in publicity, for an extremely low risk wager.

matthewberry

via Matthew Berry’s Facebook feed

Syracuse Hoops Players In The NBA

NOTE: I have started to contribute posts and articles to the Syracuse fan site Inside the Loudhouse. My first article published today and is titled “Syracuse Orange Hoopsters In the NBA“. An excerpt from it is below.

Through all the years that Jim Boeheim has been coaching men’s basketball at Syracuse University, he has never had a problem attracting basketball talent to the program. Many ‘talking heads’ have said that Boeheim has not done enough with the talent that has come through the program, but that is a discussion for another day. When a program like Syracuse attracts such basketball talent, the inevitable question becomes how many of it’s players make it to ‘The Show’ (aka: the NBA) and how well prepared are those players for all the demands at the professional level?…

Read the Full Article at Inside The Loudhouse.

Syracuse Is Final Four Bound

finalfour_splash

For the sixth time, my Syracuse Orange(men) are heading to the Final Four. Syracuse has actually been remarkably consistent in it’s runs to the Final Four, going roughly once every nine years (1975, 1987, 1996, 2003, 2013, 2016) and at least once in each of the past five decades.

No matter what happens next weekend down in Atlanta, I’m still proud of the team. Now go out and bring back another championship to the Dome!!

Brackets Busted

A total of 8.15 million NCAA Bracket predictions were submitted to ESPN ahead of this year’s tournament.

As of Friday March 22 at 9pm EST, a grand total of 2 perfect brackets remain after LaSalle, Creighton won this afternoon. And with Florida Gulf Coast University (Florida GC! Really?) about to beat Georgetown, those lonely two will probably fall as well.

I love March Madness.

via ESPN.

The Day The Big East Died

This past weekend, it was announced that Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh will be leaving the Big East conference and joining the ACC.

My Syracuse Orange(men) are now part of the ACC. That just sounds wrong.

I have taken a few days to let this sink in. And in those few days, I have rationalized that from a business, relevance, and survival perspective relative to the current state (fiasco) that is college athletics, I can understand and agree with the move. Yet from a historical and emotional perspective, they are ripping out their athletic heart and soul and as far as I can see, signaling an end to the Big East conference as we know it.

Above and beyond any school in the Big East conference, it could be argued that Syracuse put the conference on the map. No disrespect to Georgetown, Villanova, Pitt, St. John’s and others. But to a high school kid, the spectacle of a sold out Carrier Dome and Brent Musburger saying “You are looking live at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY where today the Syracuse Orangemen will be taking on [insert team here]…” was (and still is) breathtaking. It drove athletes from Southern California to play basketball in the Big East and Syracuse, NY. Think about that for a second.

But this move is not about basketball. Its about football, money, survival, and relevance. The Big East was a basketball conference that tried to become a football conference. In my mind, no matter how hard it tried, it could never get the same respect for football as it did for basketball. In football circles, it was always second tier to the SEC, SWC/Big 12, etc. even though it had a seat at the BCS table. And in the end, that perception/reality was what did the conference in. The Big East’s basketball roots and success did not mean a thing.

The irony about this whole situation is that now the ACC has 5 former Big East schools (Boston College, Virginia Tech, Miami, Syracuse, Pitt) and from what I have heard, two more may be on the way. So as was very accurately Tweeted the other day by Pete Abraham (@peteabe) of the Boston Globe, the new look ACC may very well end up being structured as follows:

And at the end of the day, what will they have really accomplished? The 5 (and maybe 7) former Big East schools will get to play each other again, with a smattering of vapid games against Duke, Clemson and Florida State mixed in for good measure. But we will lose far more – we will lose the beauty of what made the Big East – rivalries with regional schools and programs like Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s. We will lose the ability for fans/students (oh, remember them?) to take reasonable weekend road trip to visit friends at a rival school and catch the game. We will lose the Big East Tournament in NYC – where alums from all over the Big East have gathered during a week in March for the past 25 years to enjoy a week of non stop, heart pounding, bragging rights basketball.

Yes, I understand the necessity to make this move. But the sports fan in me is not too excited about it.

Orange Madness

Come on, Jimmy B, don’t let me down. Throw a wrinkle in the gameplan to throw Villanova off. That is what is going through my mind tonight as my #4 ranked Syracuse Orange take on the #8 ranked Villanova Wildcats. The anticipation for this game is rivaling the classic Georgetown games from the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Throughout the years, there have been several unique characters, signs and stunts at the Dome that have helped get those huge crowds revved up – there was Dome Eddie (a scrawny guy wearing a big Orange wig), the Dome Ranger (a guy in an Orange Lone Ranger outfit who ran up and down the length of the court), signs telling Boeheim to “Unleash Tony Scott” to name a few. And now, there has been a new twist when a genius SU Grad Student brought a five foot high picture of Jim Boeheim to a game. From there its expanded to Wes Johnson and, hilariously, even Juli Boeheim, Jim’s wife.

Over at Syracuse’s Newhouse School of Communications blog, there is a great interview with Pat Manley, the aforementioned grad student who came up with the idea for the “Big Head Boeheim”. And yes, for all you Syracuse fans, he is part of that same Manley family who’s name was on the old fieldhouse.

So here we go, this is what college hoops is all about. May the best team decked out in Orange win!

MJ Hits The Hall

Today, Michael Jordan is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, along with C. Vivian Stringer, Jerry Sloan, John Stockton, and David Robinson. ESPN has put together a compilation of the 23 best moments of MJ’s career (Note: ESPN could have done a better job of this page by making the videos play continuously instead of the way they have it, which requires the user to click on every clip).

Declaring Early…From High School

A basketball player named Jeremy Tyler from San Diego, CA has decided to leave high school early in order to play basketball in Europe, and prepare himself for the NBA draft in two years.

“It’s significant because it shows the curiosity for the American player just refusing to accept what he’s told he has to do.” [Sonny] Vaccaro said. We’re getting closer to the European reality of a professional at a young age. Basically, Jeremy Tyler is saying, “Why do I have to go to high school?”

Ah, who needs an education when you can dunk a basketball? He better make darn sure he gets drafted. It will be very interesting to see the ripple effect of this move on other top rated players.

Bleeding Orange

su_uconn

As a student and an alum, I’ve been watching my beloved Syracuse Orange(men) for close to 22 years now. I’ve never been bashful in my criticism of Jim Boeheim and I’ve also been one to acknowledge when he’s done a good job. I’ve witnessed some of the greatest games in the Carrier Dome, watched almost every big game on TV, enjoyed 3 runs to the NCAA Championship game, one National Championship in 2003, and have watched some of the program’s most painful defeats (Richmond Spiders anyone?).

But what has gone on at MSG during this week’s Big East Tournament has has made me even more proud to be an alum of Syracuse University. The effort and will to win that the team put forth this week in the 6 (!!!) Overtime epic against UConn was nothing short of spectacular (Yes, I stayed up to watch it against my better judgment). And then to turn around and go into another Overtime game and win against a very good West Virginia University team is just staggering.

All the accolades and hype for their effort are justified. Jonny Flynn is “the man”. He has played in all but maybe 5 minutes of the past two games. Andy Rautins has been “en fuego”. Eric Devendorf, not one of my favorites, has been clutch and mostly in control.

Tonight the Orange play a very, very good University of Louisville team. The cynic in my says it does not look promising. But at this point, nothing will surprise me.

The Bear

Yesterday Don Haskins passed on. “The Bear”, as he was known, was the long time coach of the University of Texas – El Paso or UTEP…the ultimate acronym team you did not your team to face in the NCAA Tournament. Back in the 1960’s, UTEP was known as Texas Western, and in 1966. “The Bear” coached Texas Western to an improbable run to the National Championship against Adolph Rupp and the University of Kentucky. What was significant about this game was that Haskins started five African-American players against the all white UK team. Similar to the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in MLB, this championship by Texas Western was another monumental event in the history of our country during one of the most fractured times in our history. Yet, its a milestone that is not given the recognition it should receive. Haskins himself said it best:

“I just played my five best players” Haskins once said in recalling Texas Western’s stunning 72-65 triumph over Kentucky. “In my mind, kids were kids, and I had some that could play.” But Haskins pointed to more than the national implications of that victory. When he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1997, he said: “Ten of the 12 players on the team got their degrees. And every one of the players have made successes of their lives.”

He didn’t care what color their skin was. He cared about who gave his team the best chance to win. Haskins coached TW/UTEP for 39 years and had a winning record 32 of those years. He sent several players to the NBA including Tim Hardaway and Antonio Davis. But what was more important was how he molded his players.

If you get the chance, rent Gloryroad, the 2006 movie starring Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, and Jon Voight. It isn’t the best sports movie you will see, but it does a nice job of documenting the significance of that victory.

Asleep In Seattle

Recently it was announced that the Seattle Supersonics have moved to, of all places, Oklahoma City. (I won’t even go into the shock that Keven Durant must be having, going from an energetic city like Seattle to, with all due respect, a sleepy plains city like OKC.) But come on, could they not have done a little bit of a better job with the new team name and logo? The Oklahoma City Thunder? Thunder? What Thunder?. The logo is terrible. The team name…eh…its up there with the Magic, Wild, and Thrashers as inanimate objects masquerading to be sports mascots. Come on folks of OKC, could you not have gone with Cowboys? Yes, its boring, but OKC is a cowboy town.

L.A. Story

A lot has been made about Kobe Bryant and his drive to win a championship on his own, without the likes of Shaq at his side. And there is also his egotistical desire to elevate himself past Jordan.

Well, last night the Lakers blew a 24 point lead. And as Bill Simmons at ESPN put it:

The Kobe-MJ thing … done. Over. Jordan never would have let that happen in the Finals. Ever. Under any circumstances. Nobody is ever allowed to bring this up again.

As it was, last night’s game was one for the ages. If the Celts end up winning this thing (because as the Red Sox have proven in 2004, it’s not over until it’s over), the impact of this game will grow exponentially.

Steve Nash’s “Training Day”

Agency Spy and several other websites have noted how Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash has created, and produced his own spot for Nike depicting a day in his life during the off season from his regular job as a guard for the Phoenix Suns and a former NBA MVP.

This past summer I was walking to work in TriBeCa and happened to see Nash cruising on his skateboard down Chambers Street, in a very similar fashion to what is depicted in his video, and just days after an article in the NY Times talked about how he spends summers in NYC playing soccer in various leagues in the city.

The Dunk

I recently read a great article in this week’s Sports Illustrated about the art of “The Dunk”, how it has its own vernacular and culture and is still one of the most revered shots and experiences in sport. To praphrase the article, do we know another move in all of sports that can be collectively described as “boomshakalaka”, “dipsy doo dunakroo”, “windmill”, “throw down”, “360” and, the mother of all dunk descriptions, the “Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam-Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam”. And everyone would know what you are talking about!

Through the article, there are several seminal dunks that are described so in honor of them, here they are in all their glory:

Baron Davis over Andrei Kirilenko – Classic!!
John Starks over Horace Grant
Tom Chambers over Mark Jackson
Dominique Wilkins Top 10 dunks
Vince Carter over Fred Weis
Dwight Howard Superman Dunk
Chocolate Thunder

Nah, He’s Not Biased

A couple of nights ago, Duke beat Clemson at Cameron Indoor on a last second play that was very controversial because the refs screwed up the clock management at the end of the game, giving Duke additional time to score (which of course they did) and win the game.

So watching ESPN this evening, as always, they over analyzed the play and asked Jay Bilas, a Dookie from the late 1980’s and their college basketball analyst, to provide commentary. And what did he do? He defended the refs! He had the audacity to imply that Duke would have won no matter how many seconds were on the clock and that Clemson never could have won the game.

Are you kidding me? How can you imply that? The ref’s screwed up. Duke got away with one. Just admit it.

Naaah, no bias towards Duke from that journalist.

Orange Jubilation

I don’t usually post about my alma mater’s basketball team, but their performance this week at the Big East tournament was just too spectacular to let go without some recognition. Maybe its the Garden and its amazing ability to bring the best out of certain players and teams. Maybe its cheezy coaches polls that are critical of the team’s star player. No matter what the motivator, the run that my Syracuse Orange(men) just pulled off was one of the best I’ve seen for this program, and (at risk of dating myself) I’ve been actively following them for close to 20 years now.

While its not as good as the 2003 National Championship, the 1996 run to the National Finals, and the 1987 run to the National Finals, its in the same ball park. The reason is that when this week started, the Syracuse basketball team was on life support. They had a 19-11 record with some really ugly losses (by 39 points to DePaul…yikes!), and few strong wins. Without a doubt, they were a team on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament fence as they entered this week’s Big East tournament. For Gerry McNamara, Syracuse’s senior shooting guard, the week started with a couple of polls stating that he was the most overrated player in the Big East. But by the end of this week, he is the king of NYC and the Big East.

So as I sit here after just witnessing the amazing 4 game run that my Orange(men) just pulled off to claim their 5th Big East Tournament Championship, and 2nd title in a row, it just leaves this SU alum speechless. They essentially took themselves from being an NIT team to somewhere between a #6-8 seed in the NCAA tournament. Its not as much the fact that they won the Big East Tournament, but its the manner in which they won, and the teams they beat along the way. They beat two of their biggest rivals in UConn and Georgetown (Beating UConn, especially when they are #1 in the country, is sweet, but beating Georgetown in the Big East tournament always makes the basketball season that much sweeter), and, arguably, their 3rd biggest rival in the University of Pittsburgh. For Gerry McNamara, he essentially put the team on his shoulders, making clutch shot after clutch shot, and single handedly beating Cincinnati in the first round and UConn (#1 in the country) in the 2nd round. Now let’s hope that they do not have a let down after this amazing run and replicate their unceremonious 1st round loss in last year’s NCAA’s.

Oh Well: The jubilation was short lived as the Orange were efficiently dispatched from the NCAA Tournament by Texas A&M. It was a classic #5 vs. #12 seed upset special. The Orange did not deserve such a high seeding. They were not that good a team.

Random thoughts….Did anyone notice that for all the frivolous expansion that the Big East did this year, and all the changes, that the league went through, that the final four teams were all original members of the league – SU, Georgetown, Villanova and U of Pittsburgh….Loved the fact that Derrick Coleman and “Pearl” Washington was on hand at MSG rooting on the Orange….While Boeheim has at least a 10 year pass now for winning the National Championship in 2003, his game coaching did not make these wins any easier…I love the way that ESPN dregs up fossils like Bucky Waters to analyze the WAC tournament, like he is going to know anything about the teams in that league…