Tag Archives: ncaa

Kansas football, Urban Meyer and doing the right thing in college sports

2007_KU_vs_CMU_football

For people who wonder how Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and many more college football coaches who have exhibited disturbing behavior continue stalking the sidelines, look no further than Kansas football. The Jayhawks, who just lost to Nicholls State Saturday night, who have won 15 games since 2010, who probably won’t win a game this season, who attract under 20,000 fans to home games, are an example — albeit an extreme example — of what can happen when a university acts according to societal morals and rids itself of a talented but problematic coach. Continue reading

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Center Stage

“Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try It.” – Eduardo Galeano from Soccer In Sun and Shadow

 *****

The woman working at the ticket office tells me I can come in, opening the one door from the inside that isn’t barred shut. “There won’t be any lights on,” she says.

I walk into Texas Hall, a place I’d never heard of until perhaps two or three days earlier when my editor assigned me the job of writing about UT-Arlington’s new arena, known as the College Park Center. It is replacing Texas Hall had been UT-Arlington’s home since 1965. It is a theater, not a gym, but the basketball team has played there, on center stage, on a portable basketball court. The team performed where Louie Armstrong played jazz, where Jerry Seinfeld joked, where Ludacris rapped. Continue reading

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Lavin is perfect for the Storm

Imagine Alumni Hall for just a minute. It’s a Friday afternoon, shortly after lunch time, and the place, situated on the aptly named Utopia Parkway, is packed. A smattering of students mill about the court, bricking three-pointers and lazily checking the man they’re supposed to guard.

This is the rec center, and it is also the same cramped gymnasium where guys like Ron Artest, Eric Barkley and Lavor Postell not only practiced but played a few Big East basketball games.

I love this about St. John’s. It’s small time, only it’s big time. The names – Lou Carnesecca, Chris Mullin, Artest – and the numbers – only six schools have more all-time victories – prove that. Really, St. John’s is Big East basketball, more so than Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, Connecticut, any of those schools. There’s more history at St. John’s, more pride.

I started watching the Red Storm when Artest and Barkley played. Later, Postell took over, then Marcus Hatten. He would lead them to the NIT Championship one year and the NCAA Tournament the next. That was 2002, and the Red Storm hasn’t been back since.

After Hatten, Elijah Ingram, a McDonald’s All-American took over as the lead guard. Losses piled, Ingram was charged with a crime and then dismissed from the team, coach Mike Jarvis would lose his job, more losses piled, Norm Roberts was hired, New York ties were supposedly reintroduced, more losses piled; and now when the Red Storm gets brought up in conversation, it’s more likely to get mentioned with South Florida than Georgetown.

***
Who has the hardest job in America?

I began the first journalism assignment of high school with that question. Keep in mind, we didn’t actually learn anything about journalism – i.e. reporting or structure or writing or anything of that nature. So this first assignment was basically a column. It was a column about UCLA coach Steve Lavin.

At first I couldn’t stand Lavin. His slick hair and scratchy weasel voice made John Calipari seem wholesome. He only got the UCLA job because it fell to him after Jim Harrick was charged with NCAA violations and other top assistants like Lorenzo Romar had already found head coaching jobs elsewhere.

Then players from Kansas City started going out west. Lavin recruited JaRon Rush, and one of my all-time favorites, Earl Watson, and I began watching UCLA.

Every year followed the same structure. Lavin’s teams would begin the year with high expectations, a top 25 ranking and a tough schedule. They would slump in the middle before gaining ground at the end and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, even if it was because they got the Pac-10s automatic berth.

Anyone who watched this season after season could form one of two opinions, the first being that Lavin disappointed. He twice brought the consensus No. 1 recruiting classes to Westwood and never put together a complete season.

The second opinion differs greatly from the first, penciling Lavin as a good coach who couldn’t meet wild expectations. I agreed with this one.

After all, Lavin did his best in the NCAA tourney. His teams advanced to the Sweet 16 five times in six seasons, most of the time upsetting higher seeds along the way. Only Mike Kryszewski and Duke made the same number of Sweet 16s in that stretch.

Of course, this wasn’t enough. John Wooden coached the Bruins, and we all know how he did. Nothing short of Final Fours and national championships wins goodwill from UCLA fans.

So no matter what Lavin did, UCLA wouldn’t accept it. Everyone called him a great recruiter and a terrible coach. He could bring in the talent and then let it lay dormant until it moved on to the NBA.

The placing of his name onto the so-called hot seat became a midseason tradition, a tradition that always ended with those Sweet 16 runs and thus the inability to fire him. I admired how he dealt with the unfairness, persevered, struggled a while again, and then still found some way to bring it all together.

Then came his final year – 2003. The Bruins never had that middle of the year run, and his firing was inevitable. Lavin spoke in the past tense about his time in Westwood. He knew he was finished, and he had no problem admitting it, even embracing it.

But then something strange happened, although with Lavin nothing was entirely strange. UCLA defeated Arizona, the top seed, in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. Would the Bruins mount another tournament run? It sure looked that way.

In the second round, UCLA held a big lead against Oregon. It was happening again, all the late season theatrics and victories that certainly incensed athletic officials and boosters. Somehow Lavin would save his job.

But that’s not how it worked. UCLA coughed up that lead, and Oregon won 75-74. The Bruins finished the year 10-19. Finally Steve Lavin could be fired.

***
Nobody can win at St. John’s. That’s the sentiment circling around right now; it has been since Mike Jarvis left, a cloud of controversy staying there behind him. Yep, no one can win there. No one can win at Rutgers or Seton Hall either. Schools like them, schools like St. John’s, they’re urban schools.

On the surface, coaching St. John’s would seem like an easy job. You’re based in New York. You’re based in the Mecca of college basketball.

About 20 million people live in that Mecca. Plenty of them grow up playing rec ball in cramped CYO gyms in the winter before bringing the game outside to the famous playgrounds in the summer. The smaller ones become pass-first point guards, and the taller ones develop mean streaks; they become the type of player no one wants to drive against in a game. Yes, the talent is there, but mining it is the hard part.

All the best players from the NYC area generally want to get out of the five boroughs. They don’t want to live in Jamaica, Queens. And outside of the NYC metro, no one has heard of St. John’s or cares about St. John’s. They don’t want to live in Jamaica, Queens, either.

The Red Storm’s last coach, Norm Roberts, knew New York as well as anyone. He was the man who first convinced Russell Robinson to leave the City and come to Kansas. He had connections. He could recruit the public and private schools of New York.
Roberts lasted for six seasons. He never made the NCAA Tournament.

And now here comes Lavin. He probably doesn’t have enough connections to reserve a table at a restaurant in New York City, let alone enough to gain favor among the area high schools.

Most people say this is a problem. How can the coach of a basketball team in New York City survive without any connections? How can a laid-back San Francisco guy inspire the gritty players of the Northeast to come play for him?

Here’s how. Lavin won’t. He won’t get the best players from New York City. He won’t establish deep connections with the city’s high schools. He won’t have to. And he shouldn’t try to.

St. John’s has been milking the New York City route for too long, and it’s a pointless endeavor. All the great connections of Jarvis and Roberts have gotten the Red Storm nowhere except the bottom of the Big East for the last several years.

New York City boys don’t respect St. John’s like they used to. They’ve moved on. St. John’s needs to do the same, and finally did so by hiring Lavin.

Like he did at UCLA, Lavin will recruit from all over the country and probably still largely on the West Coast. There’s no question it will be tougher. This will be a challenge.

But, remember, Lavin once held the hardest job in America. His new job fits into that same category, and there are few others more prepared for such a challenge.

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The other Ford Center memory

The Ford Center brings with it a certain connotation, giving rise to images of weariness, disgrace and pain for Kansas fans.

Everyone remembers a night from 2005. A group of seniors thought by many to be the greatest class in Kansas history lost to Bucknell. It had been to two Final Fours and came within three points of a national title. It came within an overtime period of another Final Four a year earlier. It included Wayne Simien, Michael Lee, Keith Langford and Aaron Miles.

And those stars lost to a group of guys in pumpkin-orange jerseys named McNaughton and Bettencourt.*

*Funny how people with variations of the last name Bettencourt (i.e. Betancourt) just seem to aggravate Kansans/Kansas City sports fans.

The senior who spoke forever on his senior night missed the last shot. With about three seconds left, Simien found a spot just inside the top of the key, turned around and attempted a shot he had made hundreds of times throughout his career, the shot that fans associated Simien with…and missed. The ball bounced off the iron, the Bucknell players swarmed the court and Kansas reached what many considered the nadir of its basketball program.

I didn’t see any of it. That night I was in Guatemala City, far away from TV or radio or March Madness or any type of medium in which you could even see a bracket. The next morning at the airport my group and I wondered about the game. We, of course, assumed Kansas won. A few Guatemalans told us otherwise, but we assumed it may have been a joke or miscommunication. Only when I returned home and saw the “Death-Knell” headline in the Kansas City Star did it fully hit.

Yet none of that night has ever quite registered the way it likely has for most Kansas fans.

This week, perhaps, they’ll think of the Ford Center because Kansas is playing there again. They’ll think of that night. They’ll think of Bucknell.

I’ll think about the NCAA Tournament at the Ford Center in a different way.

***
The 2002-2003 season was the first time I hadn’t seen a KU game in person at Allen Fieldhouse in six years. My family started going to one game a year in 1997.

That season we saw Kansas defeat Brown by approximately 984 points, and it was Jacque Vaughn’s second game back from his wrist injury. The next year, we saw them defeat Baylor by approximately 983 points. Then it was a loss to Iowa, then a loss to Iowa State and so on.*

*Yeah, we were a pretty unlucky group. Kansas never loses at Allen Fieldhouse, unless the Dent family comes to watch. Later on, as a junior in high school, I was there when KU lost to Richmond, too.

Every season, we saw one game. That was pretty much the rule, and it was generally a game that no one else would want to see, thus the reason why we could actually get/afford tickets.

But we didn’t see one in 2002-2003. Oh, I would have liked to have seen one. It was Nick Collison’s last year. Same with Kirk Hinrich. Two of Kansas’ all-time greats were going to graduate, and I wouldn’t get to see them in their final season.

It wasn’t exactly a tragedy along the lines of, say, Oedipus Rex or Macbeth, but I was a high school kid living in Kansas who had studied KU basketball for years. It sucked.

Then the NCAA Tournament rolled around. The Jayhawks earned a No. 2 seed and would play their opening round games at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City. I’m sure I could use a quick Google search to determine who they played in the first round but at this point, I am feeling lazy and just wanting to stream of conscious everything, so I will just say that they smoked their first round opponent.

In the second round, they would face Arizona State. The Sun Devils had a power forward named Ike Diogu who was supposed to be one of the best power forwards in the nation. I assumed, like for all the games, that I would watch it on TV.

Then my dad, Paul Dent, had this crazy idea. The day before the game, a Friday, he suggested that we travel to Oklahoma City to watch Kansas play against Arizona State.

It was a five-hour trip. Oklahoma was playing in the other second-round game, meaning all those football fans would be more than happy to sell their tickets and watch replays of Josh Heupel, Jason White in their basement.

We would have an opportunity to see Nick and Kirk, not to mention Keith Langford and Aaron Miles. Yes, it was a great idea.

My brother, sister, dad and I (my mom had some sort of open house thing, whatever that means, and couldn’t go) left early in the morning in my dad’s Toyota Avalon.

You get to Oklahoma City on I-35, a devil of a highway that pretty much runs from Canada to Mexico. It seems that everyone in the Midwest must traverse I-35 to reach any destination. It also seems that I-35 intentionally drags through the ends of the earth regardless of its latitudinal location.

Once you get past the Flint Hills and Wichita the only destinations between there and Oklahoma City are rest stops with broken vending machines and sketchy bikers wearing jean jackets. Diners with names like “Grab and Dash” and “Manny’s” pop up every 50 miles or so but that’s it.

After stopping at Braum’s (and thankfully not “Grab and Dash”), we found a hotel in Edmond, Okla., the hometown of Bill Self. This being 2003, none of us knew or cared about that then. We cared about finding tickets. And that would be a problem.

The Ford Center was buzzing. Oklahoma would play the first game of the day and you could tell.

Men and women in red shirts milled around outside, each desiring tickets like us and scanning for the either nonexistent or unapparent scalpers. My dad looked puzzled. My sister joked that she should try and persuade a security guard to let us in. I could have sworn I saw someone from my high school, not that that would have helped.

At this point, nothing helped. Kansas would be playing inside the arena looming tall in front of us in about two hours, and we had no idea how we could move from the sidewalk to the cheap seats.

So we didn’t. We kept walking, and my watch kept ticking, moving closer toward game time. With about an hour to go and elusive scalpers still very much elusive, we decided watching the game at a restaurant was better than not watching anything at all.

Bricktown’s red hues rose up within walking distance of the Ford Center, and we settled on a restaurant there. TV screens showed Gonzaga lose to Arizona in a second round overtime game before the Kansas game started.

My brother and I split a pizza. We would watch Kansas on TV again, just in a slightly different location.

And for a while we did. Nick Collison, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Miles and Keith Langford dominated Arizona State like we all expected.
Then something funny happened. CBS switched broadcasts. The screen went from that awkward split-phase to full-blown coverage of something else, something that wasn’t Kansas.

We drove five hours in one day, and now we couldn’t even watch the Jayhawks on TV? This was a new low. The game involving our favorite team, with two of its greatest players of all time, was taking place five minutes from where we sat and we couldn’t see it.

Powered by the thought that there had to be some sort of TV screen showing this game closer to the Ford Center, we walked back. Like before, hordes of people in red Oklahoma shirts walked outside.

This was different, though. They were leaving the arena en masse. They saw the ensuing KU blowout victory as CBS did, a worthy diversion for one half but not for anything longer.

Problem was, empty seats didn’t make a difference. We couldn’t just ask for their tickets because, upon leaving the arena, they were voided.

One half of basketball was left, one half that seemingly nobody in Oklahoma City wanted to see but us, and we couldn’t see it.

Then we had an idea, my sister’s desperate idea. I don’t know how we came up with it or who exactly suggested it, but we ran with my sister’s joke from earlier about just asking a security guard to let us in the arena.

An old man wearing a yellow jacket guarded one of the side entrances. He appeared to be a volunteer, the type of person excited about sports and helping others. My sister asked the question. Would he let us in?

Sure, he said.

We didn’t even think of ascending the stairs toward the upper levels and instead focused on seats located a few rows behind the Jayhawks’ bench. Four of them awaited.

For one half, we watched, the best view I’d ever had at any sporting event when 30 minutes earlier it seemed we wouldn’t get to see any of it.

I don’t remember much about that second half now. Kansas extended its lead, and I’m sure Hinrich and Collison led the way; but it’s really just a hazy image of fast-breaking, turnover-inducing Roy Williams basketball at its finest.

I do remember the end. As we walked out, a few older people decked out in KU garb waited by the same exit. I recognized one of them as Wayne Sr., or at least that’s what they always called him during the game broadcasts.

He was Wayne Simien’s father and came down to watch even though his son couldn’t play because of a shoulder injury. Feeling content from all the night’s events, I approached Wayne Sr. and told him I wished for a smooth recovery for his son.

He shook my hand. He told me he appreciated everything.

In two years, this man’s son would miss a shot in the same arena that would send fans fuming and writing threatening letters to Bill Self, a shot that people still remember and probably will for quite some time.

I won’t. I’ll remember Wayne Sr.’s handshake.

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Just thinking about Sherron

He looks like the old man in the rec league out there, the one who doesn’t quite understand that his legs and game have deserted him.

He weighs a little more than everyone else. Maybe that’s why. His back aches, and his quads aren’t firing. Maybe that’s why.
Whatever the reason, he is stumbling. This is ESPN Game Day. This is against a rival. This is Bramlage Coliseum. This is the Octagon of Doom or whatever the heck they’re calling it.

And Sherron Collins looks like that damn old man everyone at the gym would pay if he promised to never play again.

They take him out. They stretch his lower back. They massage his upper legs. When they put him back in the game, he hobbles around for a while longer.

So then it makes perfect sense that he makes the game’s most important shot.

***
A couple of weeks ago, a cousin of Nic Wise tried telling me that his Arizona point guard relative played the game of college basketball better than Collins.

Of course I laughed.

A friend of mine who graduated from Kansas State said point blank that he would prefer to have Jacob Pullen on his team rather than Collins.

Another K-State fan soon told him to shut up.

Reason prevailed during these arguments. Notions of basketball insanity were quickly dismissed. But a worry still lingers. These people erroneously questioned the value of Sherron Collins, and I fear it happens on a larger scale.

It seems strange. Collins is flashy, and he’s undersized, and he loves crunch time. He shoots the three. He often drives like a mad man. He’s been part of a national championship. He has what casual observers might refer to as intangibles.

These characteristics normally pop out for admirers of college basketball.

Yet the devaluation occurs. Sherron Collins, a fireball, one of the gutsiest players to wear a Kansas uniform, always does what he needs to do. The moment calls, and he’s there. Situations and games change, and he’s there.

***
Go back to early November, 2, 2006. In his first college game, an exhibition, Collins came off the bench for 24 minutes. He dribbled wildly, navigating his own way to the basket where he missed as many layups as he made.

He would score eight points and contribute five assists.

The crowd would pine for Shady.

Yep, Darrell Arthur did everything that night. He flashed NBA-ready post moves, jammed a couple of times and, of course, he introduced us to that nickname, Shady, one people would repeat for a long time*.

*And Dave Armstrong would improperly join the nickname with his last name, calling the big man “Shady Arthur” for the next two years and producing an untold number of cringes for listeners.

I remember walking home with a fellow group of KU fans. Someone talked about getting Arthur’s jersey. Another person told him not to bother because with that kind of game he would certainly leave after one season. Someone else said he couldn’t believe that he was a year older than Arthur.

What about Sherron? What about that 5:1 assist-to-turnover night? What about the way he darted into the lane, so quick that his own body sometimes couldn’t react?

***
Go back to April 2008. For the major KU fans, I suspect I don’t need to recount the date. However, for the less studious, it was Monday the seventh, and the game was the championship, and the opponent was Memphis.

We all know what happened.

Mario Chalmers stroked a fall-away three-pointer that sent the game into overtime. It would send the Lawrence crowds pouring out of Mass. Street bars and into the streets. It would send the “One Shining Moment” editor scrambling to make that the permanent ending.

Everyone, rightfully, raved about “The Shot.” Few noticed “The Pass.”

The pass came three months after a fight erupted in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Well, it wasn’t quite a fight. People who use the thesaurus too often would probably refer to it as a fisticuff or something.

It started when Boston College’s Rakim Sanders took offense to Chalmers. Chalmers had accidentally slipped into his chest, and Sanders started jawing at him, a little too close for just friendly chatter.

A second later, Collins was there. He could have knocked Sanders’ head off – and probably wanted to – or he could have played the role of peacemaker. In the end, he really didn’t do either. Darnell Jackson calmed the situation down.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Collins. He ran from the other side of the court in a second to be there for his teammate. I had never seen a person move quite like that when no one else really saw the argument coming.

And it illustrated a point. When his team needed something, Collins would do anything, and he would do it reflexively, as though it were second nature.

And that’s what connects Boston College with “The Pass.” No man could have consciously done what Collins did on that play. It was reflex. It was natural.

View after view on YouTube can’t bring about a clear picture. One second, he’s dribbling, the next he’s falling and still dribbling and making a perfect pass all at once. It almost seems like he skips a frame, like he transcends time.

Joe Posnanski ( I think) would later write a column about Collins’ pass. I unfortunately can’t find it.

This gave “The Pass” its due, its rightful justice. Only, it didn’t. Nothing could. Collins defied basketball logic with that play. He saw an opening few could have seen, burst through it and did something that can’t even be properly interpreted on film.

****
For a while, Collins struggled with his role as the man. And at the beginning of last season, he had to be the man. He couldn’t quite trust anyone else.

Cole Aldrich was still unproven. He had outplayed Tyler Hansbrough months before, of course, but this wasn’t the Aldrich Kansas could lean on just yet.

Tyshawn Taylor and the Morris twins were enigmatic at best. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed hadn’t become the ultimate glue guys and so on.

So against Syracuse, he tried a little too hard. Jonny Flynn made him. Flynn plays basketball with what the players like to call swagger.

Nobody outswaggers Collins, and he wanted to prove it. He did in the first half, scoring 15 points to Flynn’s eight. Then Flynn started scoring and talking and running with a little more energy. He scored 17 points the rest of the way.

Collins tried to keep pace, and made just one shot in the last nine minutes of regulation. At one point, he tried driving on Flynn, who stripped the ball, and Syracuse then went on a 13-2 run.

Kansas had a big lead. It lost in overtime. And it was easy, and probably rightful, to blame Collins.

A month later, he shot the ball too many times against Massachusetts. Kansas lost again.

Then came the Tennessee game. Bill Self said then that it was the kind of victory that could turn around a season. And something changed in Collins, too.

This was the first time since the Massachusetts debacle that Kansas played a tight game. Collins could have reverted to old form and tried to do too much. He didn’t.

In the last five possessions, the last few minutes, he got to the free throw line, and he passed the ball inside to Aldrich. The occasion called for that, and he delivered.

Of course, the occasions change. That’s why he shot and made all those three-pointers against Oklahoma. That’s why he came in at just the right time on Saturday against Kansas State. That’s why, though he could put 25 up if he wanted, sometimes he lets the Morris twins and Xavier Henry do most of the work in other games.

It goes back to his natural ability to respond to situations. He understands the subtleties of the given game and then delivers.

***
Go turn on ESPN. You may have to wait a few hours, or likely just a few minutes, but at some point on any given day, a talking head will gush about John Wall.

Everybody loves John Wall. Did you know he hit a shot to beat Miami of Ohio? Did you know he may or may not have feuded with his hot-headed coach over the weekend?

Wall averages gaudy numbers. He deserves much praise. But he gets it largely because of the numbers and general freshman hype.

Collins doesn’t always put them up. Against Missouri, he hardly scored. He really didn’t have to.

Last night, against Colorado, he hardly cared in the first half. He didn’t have to. Then in the second half, he erupted.
Collins just does what he needs to do, reflexively.

“The kid’s legacy to me is, there’s been a lot of good players here,” Bill Self said, “and he’s gonna win more games than any of them.”

Self said that to the Kansas City Star the other day, and I think you can read even further into the quote.

Collins isn’t just some guy who ends his career with a bunch of victories because he played on good teams.

Of all the recent Kansas players and all the college basketball players in general, no one does more to get his team those wins. There’s no other player who wins games like Collins.

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