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August 26, 2009

Bilas Channels His Inner Kropotkin

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 11:59 am

Jay Bilas has written far and away the most original and thorough piece yet on last week’s Memphis ruling, one in which he proposes that the NCAA get out of the enforcement and eligibility business entirely and instead restrict itself to simply administering championships. (Sorry, Outsiders: Bilas’s piece is behind the Insider paid wall at ESPN.com.) In fact, I threw myself on this column the way only a topically fatigued reader can: with genuine initial curiosity followed by swelling delight at finding someone–anyone–putting some actual thought into this matter instead of merely shouting “Evil!” and shaking a pitchfork in the general direction of the NCAA.

Which is more than a little ironic because, truth be told, the cumulative thrust of his argument is that the NCAA really is evil. Oh, Bilas uses all the right qualifiers, of course. “Reasonable minds can disagree,” blah, blah, blah. But his five-part argument posits that the NCAA did the wrong thing in, what do you know, all five instances. What’s more he offers (I’m getting faint, it’s so wondrous) actual reasons to back up his statements.

(Last Thursday morning I created a new alert in my RSS aggregator for “John Calipari,” and I have read every single resulting ping. Whatever your view of Calipari, it’s been a dispiriting ordeal for this reader to slog through all the splenetic and inane screeching that has erupted. And I thought the Internet was going to solve this problem! Where is the gleaming new era of enlightened discourse I was promised? The college hoops punditry has not covered itself with ratiocinative glory the past five days.)

So, yes, Bilas has produced without a doubt the best piece done on the subject to date. But I think in this instance he’s mistaken.

Banish all rules….What’s not to like? 
Before I tussle with Bilas, let me flag two areas of consensus which are just as substantial as any points where we may agree to disagree. First, Jay is plainly fatigued by the way transgressions in the college hoops world are discussed with the same curious admixture of aggrieved vehemence and lawyerly solemnity as actual criminal behaviors in, how do I put this, the real world. Amen, brother! I am no apologist for (allegedly) cheating on one’s SAT. But there’s a long line of bad things I am no apologist for and one must husband one’s outrage accordingly. If I spend too much of it on “(allegedly) cheating on one’s SAT,” I’ll have nothing left for war, famine, acts of terror, or even Brett Favre.

Second, Bilas advances the following somewhat heterodox notion: “Call me old-fashioned, but when I imply that a coach was masterminding academic fraud…I require credible proof. There is none.” Behold the odd trio: Bilas, Dick Vitale, and yours truly. On this point we are in total agreement. I’m certainly not too squeamish to engage in some rollicking good what-did-he-really-know speculation regarding Calipari. But when defining what the NCAA should have done, I’ve been quite simply dumbfounded by how many writers have brayed for a pound of coach flesh without bothering to find an actual evidentiary basis for extracting said flesh. Kudos, Jay.  

He lost me, though, with point one in his five-count indictment: the “NCAA’s initial eligibility standards are a joke.” Bilas suggests that member institutions be allowed to admit whomever they want for basketball, just like they admit whomever they want for their non-athletic-scholarship freshman populations. It’s “nonsensical” to require a certain combination of high school GPA and test score. “If a player can be admitted to an institution with a 400 on his SAT, does it really matter whether the kid gets a 550 or a 700?”   

I realize full well that Jay Bilas has likely done more discursive penance for his alma mater than any other human alive. So I hesitate to play the Duke card here, I really do. But surely if Bilas had received his undergraduate degree, as I did, from one of those vast impersonal Big Ten schools, he would be familiar with the GPA vs. test score matrix. Years before I applied to any college I knew that my application to the nearest vast impersonal Big Ten school would be screened with said matrix. (Not to mention this admittedly crude and reductive matrix was originally a meritocratic reform that superseded more insular and clubby admissions criteria.) Let’s say my application had been rejected. If I appealed the decision by pointing out that other applicants had been granted admission with lower test scores (but higher GPAs) or lower GPAs (but higher test scores), I would have been met with a shrug and a pamphlet on any number of fine institutional alternatives with “Eastern” or “Southern” or such in their titles. That’s life in academe. I can’t share Bilas’s outrage here.

The NCAA’s intrinsic NCAA-ness is portable; it will adhere to any entity assigned the same thankless tasks. 
Nor do I envision the same milk and honey that he anticipates will flow at last when the NCAA gets out of the enforcement business. Bilas proposes that investigations and penalty determinations be turned over to independent third parties. But won’t independent third parties face the same obstacles tomorrow that the NCAA faces today? In a passage that frankly baffles me, Bilas asks that we “please save the tired excuse that the NCAA doesn’t have subpoena power. Every member institution has to bow and scrape before the NCAA.” Yes, every member institution has to bow and scrape. But individuals, famously, do not, to the dispositive detriment of more than one investigation. The fact that the investigator across the table is suddenly wearing a really big hat that says “Independent Third Party!” isn’t going to change that one bit.

I’m a sucker for “toujours l’audace,” and Bilas’s proposal is nothing if not audacious. (And by that I mean there’s no bloody way it will happen. We might as well ask the post office to get out of the business of junk mail.) But the incorrigible necessities of 340 member institutions playing the same sport mandate that all those teams will have to arrive at prior agreement on some procedural covenants, otherwise known as rules. The group that sets and monitors those rules will never be loved.

Bilas sees what we all see: a student-athlete conceptual hybrid that at the most elite levels of college basketball is contested, unsteady, and even combustible. At the risk of oversimplification his solution might be said to be to remove the “student” element of that compound entirely. I cannot co-sign there. The exertion of bothersome academic effort to satisfy what in the abstract can be seen as arbitrary standards is doubtless inconvenient for more than one highly-sought high school recruit. That kind of exertion, however, is pretty much the quotidian alpha and omega of life off the court.             

August 25, 2009

Finding Hope at the Garden

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 7:54 pm

Just the other day, I was remarking to a friend how sad it is to look at the 2009-10 projection for the New York Knicks in my SCHOENE spreadsheet. With restricted free agents David Lee and Nate Robinson still as yet unsigned, the Knicks have for the time being taken a step backward from last season. In the long term, New York’s future is bright should the Knicks be able to add some key pieces in the free-agent market next summer. 2009-10, however, is looking like a fairly long campaign.

Against that backdrop, New York Magazine asked Tommy Craggs to come up with four reasons for optimism at Madison Square Garden. He then turned to me, though fortunately I only had to supply one–Danilo Gallinari. I’ll let Craggs explain:

When the Knicks’ oft-injured top 2008 draft pick did play last year, he asserted himself as a deadly shooter—44 percent on threes—and according to 82games.com, the woeful Knicks actually outscored their opponents when Gallinari was on the floor. Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus, who uses historical comparisons to project a player’s performance, pegs Gallinari as a league-average player this year. Since he’s just 21, that means eventual star potential: a J.R. Smith with fewer tattoos, a Dirk Nowitzki with more tattoos.… He’s a good player with one tattoo, is what we’re saying.

Go check out Craggs’ other three reasons.

For the record, here are the players most similar to Gallinari (based on his abbreviated 2008-09 campaign) at the same age: Mike Miller (94.7 similarity), Martell Webster, J.R. Smith and Tim Thomas. Knicks fans can feel free to ignore the last one.

August 24, 2009

Update: Arthur and “Strict Liability”

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 12:00 pm

Since wondering aloud if Kansas might be the next program to be forced to vacate its 2007-08 season, I’ve heard from a couple of alert KU fans who hastened to point out something I included in my original draft and, indeed, should have kept in: unlike Derrick Rose‘s SAT score, Darrel Arthur‘s high school diploma has not been invalidated (and, apparently, “will not be“) by the Dallas Independent School District. 

Mindful of this I was careful to use the word “dubious” as opposed to “invalid” to speak of both Arthur’s diploma and Rose’s SAT at equivalent points in time: at their presentation to the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Besides, as a matter of simple fairness, I would hope that even if DISD were revisiting this issue they would give Arthur a year or two to complete any coursework he needs to pass rather than simply send him a letter in the mail saying his diploma’s no good. More fundamentally, I don’t want national championships decided by the Dallas Independent School District.

In any event it appears that in the eyes of Arthur’s school district his diploma stands, though his high school team had to vacate two state championships. With Arthur holding a valid high school diploma, the NCAA will likely continue to invoke last Thursday’s “strict liability” standard to say Kansas was kosher that year, while Memphis was not.

My question is more basic. Starting today and going forward, what is the best set of rules that we can adopt for clearly NBA-bound players, the ones most likely to have had the rules bent for them before they arrive on campus. Do we hold college teams accountable even if it can’t be shown that they knew of the rule-bending? The answer to that question used to be “no”; now it seems to be “yes.” That change does move the discussion close enough to the 2008 Kansas team that we are now talking about, of all things, public school administrators in Dallas.     

Changing NCAA Standards: Is Kansas Next?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:54 am

At the 2004 Final Four, NCAA Vice President of Enforcement David Price was asked why Duke‘s 1999 Final Four trip hadn’t been vacated, even though Corey Maggette had long since admitted that he had received cash as a high school player. As noted this weekend by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, Price responded at that time as follows:

The standard for that is whether either the institution knew or should have known that Maggette was ineligible or if Maggette himself knew that–or should have known that he was ineligible. After a lengthy investigation, we came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to determine that Maggette knew or should have known, and we believe firmly that the institution did not know and should not have known.

[emphasis added] 

My how times have changed. Memphis sent their lawyers to appear before the Committee on Infractions on June 6 of this year. The lawyers were there to say their school could never have known in advance that in May of 2008 Derrick Rose would, in effect, be rendered retroactively ineligible for the 2007-08 season when his SAT was invalidated by Educational Testing Service (ETS). Here is what ensued:

COMMITTEE MEMBER: We have situations that come up from time to time before this committee where something is learned after the fact, such as a person actually played sports at another institution. Nobody knew, but that person didn’t have eligibility remaining, so they were ineligible. If you have a test score that is invalidated, you didn’t have the scores to be admitted to begin with. Where am I wrong?

[snip]

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: That’s correct. We haven’t contested that.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: Okay. So he was ineligible?

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: Yes; yes, sir. The university was not aware at the time he was ineligible.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: I didn’t suggest that they were.

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: Okay.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: I am not saying they cheated. I am saying this young man was not eligible to participate.

[emphases added]   

I excerpted some of the same verbiage on Friday to illustrate that, despite a legion of braying pundits out for John Calipari‘s blood, the Committee on Infractions at least had a rationale for what they did: vacate the season without alleging knowledge aforethought.

That may have been the correct decision rule in this particular case. But Parrish has shown that rules change. He therefore wonders why, in light of their ruling last week on Memphis, the NCAA somehow never got around to vacating Duke’s 1999 season.

A much better, more symmetrical, and more timely question, of course, is whether Kansas shouldn’t be forced to vacate its 2008 national championship. For the purposes of any rule-making body, the two teams that appeared in that year’s national championship game are categorically identical.   

Derrick Rose was never really eligible in the first place? I’m OK with that. (Ignore all writers who adopt the outraged “go back in time” and “they can’t erase memories” memes. We go back in time and erase memories every day of the week. If there’s point-shaving, steroids, or cash payments involved, no one raises a finger against retroactive justice.)  

But by that same standard, KU’s Darrell Arthur was never eligible either. His high school had to vacate a state championship won during his junior year due to failing grades that were changed after-the-fact on his behalf. The high school diploma he presented for admission to Kansas was, for NCAA Clearinghouse purposes, as dubious as Rose’s SAT. 

Of course, no one can prove Kansas knew Arthur was ineligible. (I think it unlikely KU had any clue.) Then again no one can prove Memphis knew that Rose was ineligible. (I think it likely the powers that be in the Fed Ex Forum did know, “or should have known.”)

I’m not criticizing the NCAA’s new standard. Maybe it’s best that coaches on the recruiting circuit probe a little deeper and step a little more warily. Maybe the new standard is the way to go.

But it has to be a uniform standard. If Memphis has to vacate its 2007-08, so does Kansas. Conversely, if Kansas is able to keep its national championship, Memphis has to be allowed to keep its 38 wins and Final Four appearance.

I said on Friday that the appeal Memphis has vowed to mount is doomed and, seen by its own lights, it should be. The University is on the record as agreeing that Rose was indeed ineligible. But, done right, the Memphis appeal could jeopardize KU’s national championship. Memphis could lose the appeal but win the argument regarding a uniform standard.

When they present their appeal to the NCAA, a well prepared Memphis lawyer should open his or her presentation with this:

You have situations that come up from time to time before this committee where something is learned after the fact, such as a person actually failed algebra and theater in high school but their grades were later changed without the teachers’ knowledge. Nobody knew, but that person didn’t have eligibility to start with, so they were ineligible. Where am I wrong?

Just a thought. 

August 21, 2009

Calfeasance

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 3:15 pm

It’s only malfeasance if you get caught. In the case of John Calipari, though, Final Four seasons just keep getting vacated without Coach Cal being “implicated.” (By the way, there’s something to put on your tombstone, Roland Burris-style. “I was never implicated.” Bully for you.)

Calfeasance: A particularly elusive brand of sketchy conduct, wherein a star player’s brother pays for five flights with the team but flies free for two; or where your star player’s SAT is invalidated by Educational Testing Service–but only after his college career is over. As a coach engaging in calfeasance, you reap the benefits on the court and move on to a better gig just when you hear the sirens closing in. In the immortal words of Keith Richards, you walk before they make you run.

Doesn’t that just stick in your craw? If so, Dana O’Neil of ESPN has helpfully arranged for a cart chock full of muffins, lattes, and catharsis to be wheeled to your cubicle this morning: “We waited eight weeks for this? For a punishment that has the bite of a 15-year-old golden retriever?”

Sure, it’d be nice if this saga had a more definitive outcome than “let us never speak of this again.” The problem is that the available evidence in this case doesn’t support that more definitive outcome.

The NCAA’s Public Infractions Report is pretty efficient in laying out what is and is not known. And O’Neil’s entire premise–what punishment?–is shredded by an exchange that took place at the June 6 hearing between a lawyer for Memphis and a member of the Committee on Infractions (an exchange that, pointedly, the NCAA took the trouble of reproducing at some length in an otherwise slim document):

COMMITTEE MEMBER: If you have a test score that is invalidated, you didn’t have the scores to be admitted to begin with. Where am I wrong?

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: At the time he was admitted on the score that was provided at the time? Is that your question? Was he eligible, in looking backwards, whether he was eligible or not?

COMMITTEE MEMBER: Yes. He didn’t have the score.

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: We have acknowledged that.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: You have acknowledged that he was ineligible.

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: Yes, and we have to address that, based on after-the-fact information.

[snip]

COMMITTEE MEMBER: Okay. So, he was ineligible?

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: Yes; yes, sir. The university was not aware at the time he was ineligible.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: I didn’t suggest they were.

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: Okay.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: I am not saying they cheated. I am saying this young man was not eligible to participate.

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: That is correct.

[emphasis added] 

We can all engage in conjecture about what Calipari knew and when he knew it. Anyone who cares at all about college basketball is right to do so. (Derrick Rose tried and failed three times to achieve the required score on the ACT. With less than 30 days to go before he would report to campus, Calipari’s star recruit changed course, went to Detroit to watch a Bulls game, and gave the SAT a try. My conjecture is that it would be odd in such a situation if a future number 1 overall NBA pick was strategizing alone on how best to secure the necessary test score.)

More saliently, Kentucky would have been well advised to engage in precisely that conjecture before hiring Calipari. I’ll even go so far as to speculate that when members of the Committee on Infractions get home at night and prop up their feet, they too engage in the same kind of speculation.

But in their day jobs those same committee members decide on actual punishments that inflict real and purposeful damage on coaches and programs. (Ask Kelvin Sampson and Indiana.) And the evidence showed that Rose was ineligible, nothing more or less.

Vastly more plausible than a simple off-with-their-heads! yelp is the despondent fatalism recorded more in sorrow than in anger by Luke Winn of SI.com: “As the NCAA prepares to erase another Calipari milestone, [a] message is being sent: You can have not one, but two Final Fours vacated for using ineligible players, and still become the highest-paid coach in the game, at the most storied basketball school in the land. Knowing that, what incentive is left to stay clean?”

Hey, I can do Whelliston-tinged resignation and ennui with the best of them. But, as it happens, it’s time to turn that frown upside down, college hoops world! Hit “next” on your black-on-the-inside Morrissey and crank up your can-do Go! Team, because the ameliorative procedures needed here are refreshingly straightforward and easy to install!

I offer my program of sweeping reform free of charge. Just give me a donut when you see me.

The Gasaway no-more-Roses kit 
1. Have each player retake their SAT or ACT when they hit campus in early summer of their freshman year. If a player’s score has dropped by half a standard deviation (or whatever–let the applicable geeks craft the ukase here) from the one they used to gain admission, forward their case to either ETS or the laudably eponymous ACT, Inc. The NCAA could charge member schools a tiny surtax to be forwarded to the now more robustly staffed test police so that investigations yield results inside of the roughly four-month window between the start of summer and the start of practice.

2. Don’t let family members fly for free.

(Yes, I realize the ultimate no-more-Roses fix is to allow high school players to proceed directly into the NBA. However, that reform is entirely at the mercy of David Stern and the NBA Players Association. I work with the tools I have at hand, people.)

“Calipari”: Henceforth synonymous with “maddeningly lucky” 
Also note that Calipari’s status as the highest-paid coach in the profession is a function of, from his perspective, an extraordinarily and indeed almost impossibly fortuitous confluence of events. I’m not worried about other coaches now saying yes to calfeasance because, even if they’re foolhardy enough to do so, the likelihood that it will yield them Calipari-level results is tiny.

For starters, in order for Calipari to become coach at Kentucky, former UK coach Billy Gillispie, obviously, had to be fired. Not only that, I am convinced that Gillispie had to be fired before news of the NCAA’s Memphis probe leaked. Two conditions had to be met here, and neither of them were a sure thing. Far from it.

The chances that Gillispie would fail to get to the NCAA tournament with a team featuring Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson would have been rated in advance, correctly, as very small. Go figure, it happened anyway, in large part because the Wildcats simply couldn’t hang on to the rock. Then there’s the fact that even at 8-8 in a down SEC, Gillispie still might have been able to hang on, however feebly, at least one more season had he not behaved like such a boorish jerk to ESPN sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards and pretty much everyone else in view. 

So Calipari was lucky at Gillispie’s expense. Even that degree of good fortune, however, pales in comparison to the luck Coach Cal enjoyed with respect to the NCAA’s investigation of Derrick Rose. Arguably the single most shocking aspect of this entire episode is that it stayed entirely quiet all the way up to the evening of May 27, 2009. Maybe it was a failure of journalism; or maybe people just don’t leak the way they used to.

Either way it’s amazing. A partial list of the entities that were aware of this story as early as October 25, 2007, would include: 

–Chicago Public Schools Internal Audit Division
–Illinois Office of the Inspector General (apparently displaying rare Blagojevich-era competence)
–Educational Testing Service
–NCAA
–University of Memphis
–University of Kentucky 

(Note the October 2007 date for the initial sounding of the alarm. Seth Davis of SI.com muddles this timeline to the detriment of his otherwise understandable point, that a team told by ETS that its star player may have faked his SAT will, unavoidably, find itself painted into an unenviable corner.)

In other words, men and women working for six different employers in six different cities scattered across five states knew questions had been raised about Derrick Rose’s SAT score–news that would have landed like a bombshell at any point in 2007-08–and yet, somehow, the story stayed under wraps for more than a year and a half.

Calipari could hit “replay” on 2009 and five times out of every six he would today be the head coach at Memphis, holding a tense press conference and defending his actions in the Fed Ex Forum. Instead he’s the toast of the Bluegrass State. He owes his job at Kentucky to the kind of lucky accident that no one should be able to count on in advance, that not one of the six organizations named above harbored within its walls a Mark Felt

Has Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart read Dr. Faustus?
Memphis says it will appeal the NCAA’s ruling. Good luck. The University is already on the record as agreeing with the NCAA that: 1) Rose was indeed ineligible (see above); and 2) the free flights and hotels provided to Rose’s brother, Reggie Rose, constituted “failure to monitor.” In fact the NCAA’s position is that “these trips rendered [Rose] ineligible from the point they were first received, December 14, 2007.” (At which time Memphis was in New York City participating in the Jimmy V Classic–remember the triangle-and-two USC played against the Tigers?) So either the season is wiped out in toto because of Rose’s SAT or it’s wiped out after the first seven games by his brother’s travels. Either way, any appeal is doomed. Memphis would do better to take the attorneys’ fees that will be wasted on an appeal and instead divide the money equally among the University’s 930 full-time faculty members.

Better still, be proactive and ship that money to Kentucky to kick start a legal defense fund in Lexington. If past events are any indication, John Calipari’s employer may well need such a fund someday.

How does this man keep getting hired? He’s excellent at what he does. He recruits elite athletes and, somehow, gets them to do that which hoops curmudgeons the world over say can’t be done “anymore.” Calipari gets these elite NBA-bound athletes to play defense. (The 2009 Missouri Sweet 16 game notwithstanding, obviously.) It worked at UMass. It worked at Memphis.

And it will work at Kentucky. But at what cost? 

BONUS record-straightening! 
Again, read the report. It’s just 26 pages, fully nine of which are devoted to the disturbingly chummy women’s golf coach at Memphis. The remaining 17 pages should give you the wherewithal to cut through a lot of folkloric clutter over the coming days.

For instance, Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News is more than a little disingenuous when he suggests that ETS’s invalidation of Rose’s SAT–and thus the balance of the NCAA’s finding against Memphis–was due in part to the fact that Rose failed to respond to notices sent by ETS to his home address in Chicago. An “action this profound, this lasting,” DeCourcy writes, “was undertaken at least partly because Rose didn’t get his mail.”

Actually an action this profound, this lasting, was undertaken at least partly because on June 23, 2008, Rose expressly refused to be interviewed by the Committee on Infractions. Then on January 5, 2009, his attorney received a final last-ditch request from the Committee for an appearance by Rose. The attorney never even responded.

I trust Rose’s attorney gets his mail. 

August 20, 2009

The NCAA Just SAT on Memphis

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 9:50 am

This morning the Memphis Commercial Appeal is reporting that later today the NCAA Committee on Infractions will force Memphis to vacate its 38-win 2007-08 season, a year that would have ended with a national championship if not for a timely three by Mario Chalmers of Kansas. The Committee apparently will rule that Derrick Rose is retroactively ineligible, due to travel on the team plane provided to his brother and, more importantly, an SAT score that, it is alleged, was achieved not by Rose but by a stand-in.

Remember three things:

1. John Calipari owes his job at Kentucky to an outdated NCAA reflex and a tight-lipped administration at Memphis. I frankly don’t understand the Skull-and-Bones-Society-level secrecy that attends the NCAA’s Notices of Allegations. Memphis received their NOA in January. If the allegations had been publicly known, there is no earthly way John Calipari would have been hired by Kentucky on April 1. Yes, the UK administration was apprised of the situation before they pulled the trigger on the hire. I just can’t believe that Calipari would have been the winner of a search process where the administration and the public at large were working from the same set of facts. (Or am I giving Kentucky too much credit?) When a regulatory arm of the federal government alleges wrongdoing at a publicly traded firm, they say so. The firm is of course entitled to a day in court and maybe the allegations will turn out to be groundless. But the earth continues to spin.

2. Kentucky should henceforth take a good long look at their incoming players’ test scores. In addition to the Rose allegations, there is of course the deliciously extreme case of former Memphis player Robert Dozier, who as a high school student reportedly zoomed from the fourth percentile in both his verbal and math scores on the PSAT to the 76th and 89th percentiles in verbal and math, respectively, on the SAT. The magnitude of the improvement here suggests two and only two possibilities: 1) wrongdoing,  or 2) Robert Dozier is actually Charlie Gordon.

3. Derrick Rose needs to say what he knows. Maybe the NCAA is wrong and Rose really did take the SAT all by himself. If not, however, the wise course for Rose would have been full disclosure, ideally today. Instead he has crawled pretty far out on a shaky limb: “I know I didn’t do anything wrong.” Using someone else’s test score as your own is wrong. If that is what he did and if he admits it, he will find this whole thing is effectively behind him with amazing speed. (Yes, I realize the allegedly bogus test score could be seen as tantamount to fraud, that the value of his athletic scholarship at Memphis could be the ill-gotten gain, etc. Understood. I just don’t think Memphis will win a lot of sympathy, or future recruits, by suing Rose.) After all, as a certain coach once said: “When you have a problem, if you tell the truth, your problem becomes a part of your past. If you lie, it becomes a part of your future.”     

As for Calipari, I can tell you from personal experience that he is quite simply a force of Twitter nature. That he, like the rest of us, has trouble spelling “Doug Wojcik” correctly. That his Twitter page clearly benefits from a level of staff ghosting usually reserved for heads of state. (“Rodney McMullen, a UK grad was named President of Kroger! Congrats Rodney! We are proud of you AND to be a partner w/ the company you lead!!”) And that at the end of the day both of his Final Four appearances (UMass 1996, Memphis 2008) will, apparently, have been vacated. 

August 18, 2009

Are Freshmen Necessary?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:21 pm

Today is a happy day. ESPN has posted its first Summer ShootAround preview of a major conference (ACC, natch), meaning our long national nightmare is drawing to a close. Forget hitherto anonymous major-tournament champions who will almost certainly return to anonymity. Never mind the fate of the Nats’ franchise. Ignore Brett Favre. (He makes it hard, I know.) This is important: college hoops is drawing near.

If there’s previewing being done, it goes without saying that the previewers are wondering aloud which ACC freshmen will make the biggest splash: Derrick Favors, John Henson, Ryan Kelly, Michael Snaer, or, as Homer Simpson might say, someone else?   

Any or all of those players may indeed provide a big boost for their team this season. Just remember, though, that if last year is any indication our expectations for freshmen should be, dare I say it, realistic.

Judging from the WWL’s salivating over Favors, Henson, et al. (“dominates the game,” “incredible,” “skill set that separates him from the others”), we are still operating in the interpretive echo left behind by the unreal 2007 recruiting class, a group that by itself accounted for over a third of the NBA’s lottery picks in the last two drafts, to wit: Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, James Harden, Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn, Eric Gordon, Jerryd Bayless, and Anthony Randolph. Nor are non-lottery ’07 recruits such as Austin Daye, James Johnson, Jeff Teague, JJ Hickson, and Donte Greene what you’d call chopped liver. Heck, even some of the class’s chopped liver (Kosta Koufos, DeAndre Jordan) is at least gainfully employed. Lastly, note that the ’07 class also included one DeJuan Blair. I believe with every fiber of my being that Blair will be a 12-time All-Star and first-ballot Hall of Famer before moving on to the U.S. Senate to represent his native Pennsylvania. The NBA, conversely, thinks he’s just another second-rounder. We shall see what we shall see. 

But 2007 was the exception and not the rule. My advice to you is to forget 2007 and instead view this year’s crop of freshmen through more of a 2008 lens. Remember the 2008 class? It was solid, certainly, but how many bona fide season-changing players did that class’s top tier really have?

I’d say two. Here is how Scout.com, for one, ranked last year’s elite freshmen in advance of the season:

1. Brandon Jennings
Jennings, of course, de-committed from the drama club that was/is Arizona (without, it should be noted, having attained academic eligibility) and spent his 2008-09 playing professionally in Europe, where by all accounts he was solid but not spectacular at point guard. He was drafted with the tenth pick by Milwaukee.

2. Jrue Holiday
The young lad from North Hollywood, CA, was superb on D for UCLA last year and showed an ability to finish near the hoop that most 6-3 freshmen don’t possess. But he played an unusually small role in the Bruins’ offense–perhaps, in part, because he was a turnover-prone 31 percent three-point shooter. Mind you, I trust he’ll do fine in the pros (he was drafted with the 17th pick by Philadelphia). Defense and 53 percent two-point shooting are nice indicators for a young guard. My point is simply that the putative second-best recruit in the country didn’t move correspondingly large mountains for his one and only UCLA team.

3. DeMar DeRozan
Nominally a wing, DeRozan didn’t rebound or make threes for USC in 2008-09. You don’t have to do both, of course, but I would have thought one would be nice coming from a SF/SG. To date DeRozan frankly baffles me; I will watch his development (he was drafted with the ninth pick by Toronto) with keen interest.

4. Samardo Samuels
Again, I trust Samuels will be fine medium-term at Louisville and beyond, but my most recent memory here is the freshman being benched in the regional final loss to Michigan State, having gone 0-for-6 from the field. To be fair, as the season progressed he did develop into a formidable weapon in-close on offense. Then again he was unbelievably invisible (this is a typo, right?) on the defensive glass.

5. B.J. Mullens
Said it before, I’ll say it again. Thad Matta‘s best play for Mullens last year at Ohio State must have been called “Mongo Go to Rim.”

6. Kemba Walker
I’m bullish on Walker but I’ll concede we’re still early in this conversation, so to speak. He spent the bulk of the year playing a supporting role for a loaded Connecticut team, before taking on some unexpectedly huge minutes in a close regional final against Missouri. All the while Walker looked impossibly quick, even as he exhibited zero range on his shot (hitting a sub-Mendoza 27 percent of his threes).

7. Tyreke Evans
Season-changer. Single-handedly kept Memphis in contention during its season-ending Sweet 16 foul-fest with the aforementioned Tigers from Mizzou.

8. Scotty Hopson
There’s potential here: listed at 6-7, Hopson made 36 percent of his threes while supporting the more prominent likes of Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism at Tennessee.

9. Greg Monroe
Season-changer, albeit one who needs to snag a few more defensive boards for Georgetown.

10. Rashanti Harris
Like Jennings, a DNP. Harris prepped last year at the Patterson School in North Carolina and will debut this fall as a freshman at Georgia State. (Yes, Georgia State.)

Of course, if we look beyond just this class’s top ten players, we do find lead-pipe-cinch NBA prospects like Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Willie Warren. (Not to mention a healthy Tyler Zeller might show us a thing or two this year.) As I said, it’s a solid class.

But over the next few weeks as you read the glowing accounts of what this year’s freshmen are about to accomplish, just remember that even among elite recruits there will likely be more solid contributors than true season-changers.   

August 12, 2009

Hornets Send Butler to Clippers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 3:31 pm

A quiet day in the NBA was interrupted by the New Orleans Hornets sending swingman Rasual Butler and cash to the Clippers for a conditional 2016 second-round pick (or, in other words, nothing), a deal reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein this morning and subsequently announced by the Clippers.

For the Hornets, this is a pure salary dump, which is odd in that Butler was such a key player for New Orleans last season, when he started 73 games and averaged a hair under 32 minutes a night. He saw more playing time per game than three All-Stars (Kevin Garnett, Jameer Nelson and Shaquille O’Neal).

Yet Butler remained expendable because the Hornets have so many wing players. Morris Peterson started at the position in 2007-08 before losing his job to Butler during last year’s injury-plagued campaign. SCHOENE projects him to bounce back and be more valuable than Butler next season. To the extent Butler’s size and ability to defend small forwards differentiates him from Peterson, well, James Posey brings that too. Then there are the kids, third-year forward Julian Wright and rookie second-round pick Marcus Thornton, who give New Orleans a different look on the perimeter with their scoring punch. Given all of those options, it seems unlikely the Hornets will miss Butler too much despite his ability to sop up minutes last season. When you consider New Orleans saved nearly $8 million in the deal (both Butler’s salary plus the matching luxury-tax payout), this seems like a no-brainer for the Hornets perspective.

On the other side, the Clippers have no monetary concerns for this season but wouldn’t want to cut into their future cap space for a player of Butler’s ilk. Dealing for a player in the final year of his contract accomplishes just that. Butler is surely an upgrade on the journeymen who backed up on the wing for L.A. last season (Mardy Collins, Ricky Davis and Fred Jones). The question is whether Butler could be something more for the Clippers. The brilliant Kevin Arnovitz already has a post up at Clipperblog musing as to whether Butler’s skillset might not be a better fit in the team’s starting lineup than Al Thornton‘s, particularly in terms of complementing Eric Gordon on the wing.

Pitino’s Uncanny Timing

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:26 pm

Just think: If health care reform had been enacted during Clinton’s first term, there would be no “town brawls” erupting this summer and, more to the point, Karen Sypher wouldn’t have had to dun Rick Pitino for $3K in 2003.

Speaking of our 42nd president, don’t write off Pitino’s “image” or “legacy” or such in toto just yet. I make no predictions regarding his continuing employment at Louisville–that is entirely up to president James Ramsey and athletic director Tom Jurich–but I do know this: Clinton is now springing American prisoners from North Korea. Eliot Spitzer writes for Slate. Mark Sanford is still, at this writing, governor of South Carolina. Different cases all, to be sure, but the examples they provide suggest that there are indeed second acts in American lives. Even after an unremittingly tawdry episode.

Anyway, that’s what Pitino (not to mention John Edwards) is hoping.  

August 10, 2009

What does Kleiza signing portend for unsigned restricted free agents?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bradford Doolittle @ 3:02 pm

Today’s news that the Nuggets have lost restricted free agent Linas Kleiza, a former Missouri Tiger, to Olympiakos of the European League is as daunting to other NBA teams trying to hang onto restricted free agents as it is to Denver. Clearly, the various cap exceptions, qualifying offers and veteran minimums currently begin dangled by NBA teams are not economically competitive to the riches the restricted class can find overseas. It’s like the Mayflower is making its way back to the Old World.

According to Kleiza’s agent, there were never really any serious negotiations with the Denver brass. My guess is that the Nuggets were idling, hoping that the outside-shooting big man wouldn’t find an offer sheet elsewhere in the league and thus would accept the team’s $2.7 million qualifying offer. On one hand, the strategy was sound — Kleiza never did find a market for his services on this side of the pond. However, Olympiakos swooped in with two years, $12.2 million, which made Kleiza’s choice a pretty easy one. His pact does reportedly include an out-clause which would allow him to re-enter the restricted NBA free-agent market next summer.

Former Rocket Von Wafer will be joing Kleiza in Greece. Could there be more restricted free agents headed that way? Josh Childress has re-upped for second year, Ricky Rubio is sticking with DKV Jovenhut and Juan Carlos Navarro, whose NBA rights are still owned by Memphis, signed a five-year, $20 million deal with FC Barcelona. Could other restricted players stuck in limbo like Ray Felton, Ramon Sessions, Nate Robinson, David Lee, C.J. Watson and Joey Graham become the next dominoes to fall?

On the bright side, the Celtics retained restricted free agent Glen Davis.

As for the Nuggets … word over the last few weeks was that Mark Warkentien was having to choose between retaining Kleiza or bringing Anthony Carter back into the fold. Since the Nuggets already have promising rookie Ty Lawson to back up Chauncey Billups, that’s sort of like having to choose between a facelift and a second nose.

@bbdoolittle

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