St. Pete Scenes
NABC All-Star Game: Play-by-play of the damned
Posted: Saturday March 27, 1999 02:38 PM
By Dan Shanoff, CNN/SI
TAMPA, Fla. -- Unless you know a coach -- or perhaps have a life outside of college basketball -- Friday night before the Final Four offers little in the way of cultural engagement. So thank god for the 37th National Association of Basketball Coaches All-Star Game, at the University of South Florida's Sun Dome, for hard-core hoops fans (but hardly for purists).
Tip-off: Utah's Rick Majerus leads the West team. Kentucky's Tubby Smith is coaching the East. You get the feeling that this pair -- just a year removed from being on the other side of the Final Four experience -- is doing somebody a favor. ("It's like dating a matronly woman in her 50s," Majerus said. "And going out with Kathy Ireland.")
18:45: The few thousand spectators aren't being treated to much in the way of fundamentals ... or shooting ... or patience. But really, did we expect anything else?
16:20: A sight that could strike fear in the heart of Tampa's restaurant district -- Majerus counsels West center "Large" Monte Hardge of Missouri. Are they discussing post defense or how to block out at the salad bar?
14:04: 11-9, East. Mass substitutions by both coaches. Five players in and five players out for each side. Southern Mississippi's Neil Reed takes a seat next to citizen-spectator Gene Keady, Purdue's coach who tried to foil Reed when Reed was at Indiana. I'm no lip-reader, but it looked like someone said, "Knight-mare."
13:15: George Washington small forward Yegor Mescheriakov, a constant struggle for the P.A. announcer, also caused a headache for the uniform manufacturer. In a reasonable solution, they went first-person. Mescheriakov's No. 50 jersey read "Yegor M." on the back.
11:44: A timeout brings on the "Recruit Relay" -- two tiny, intentionally cute siblings draped in XXL basketball jerseys and made to run the court length in their socks, stumbling all the way, much to the amusement of the crowd. Exploitation or entertainment? You decide.
8:18: 30-25, East. More mass subs. With the sloppy play and stone-cold shooting, the most entertaining part of the game is the USF band, sitting behind one of the baskets and playing an unlimited variety of wailing trombone-based tunes to accompany the near-slapstick antics on the court.
7:45: More youth exploitation -- the "Piggyback Challenge." Two fathers run with their sons on their back across the court to a basket, where the sons had to hoist a free throw (wasn't happening) and a layup (oy).
3:59: 37-33, East. During the last mass substitution of the first half, I looked over the two 10-player rosters, trying to identify the five who are destined to end up in the "Where are they now?" File: Reed and Kansas G Ryan Robertson, neither of whom have the bulk or handle to play the point in the NBA; UMass C Lari Ketner, who earlier clanged two free throws and doesn't seem to know how to pass from the post; Lebanon Valley G Andy Panko, a Division III wonder (that kind of says it all, doesn't it?); and Cincinnati G Melvin Levett, who earlier in the night won a slam-dunk contest, but doesn't have the ball-handling skills or outside-shooting consistency to be an NBA lead guard.
Halftime: 43-43. You can cut the tension with a butter knife. The entertainment: Tampa's Brandon School of Dance Arts, a baker's dozen of early teenage girls dancing modern-style to "Fever," followed by 30 kids dressed like Ragged Dick selling me a Tampa Tribune, putting on an enthusiastic performance to the theme song from "Newsies." Hey, if you want great cultural criticism, go to Entertainment Weekly.
Besides Panko from DIII, the other player living out a dream is Antonio Garcia from Division II Kentucky Wesleyan (18.5 ppg, 14.6 rpg), a chunky 6-foot-8 forward with a game and body like Chris Gatling. With a trainer and footspeed, he'll hook on in Europe or perhaps back in his native Panama.
To start the second half, the East sticks with its same starting lineup (Panko, Ketner, Niagara's Alvin Young , Central Oklahoma's Eddie Robinson and Villanova's John Celestand ). Majerus mixes it up. I should be ashamed for paying so much attention.
19:00: Ketner misses his third and fourth free throws in as many tries. You may not be able to teach size, as the old recruiting adage goes, but you'd think UMass would teach the kid how to shoot the gimmes. Somewhere, Pete Newell is crying.
18:05: Louisville's Cameron Murray takes a charge for the West. Somewhere in Hell, a snowball fight breaks out.
17:15: Niagara's Young is at the line for two shots. What happens to a guy like Young, who led the nation in scoring this season (25.1 ppg)? "I have to show the scouts I can play the [point]," he said. Up to this point in the game, he hadn't been shooting like a scoring machine. "Everyone knows I can score. I want to show I can lead a team." Young finished with eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, but added five assists and six rebounds, the most well-rounded performance of the night. He'll head to the NBA's Portsmouth pre-draft camp on Wednesday.
15:32: Robinson dunks off a Panko steal and set-up. A no-name fast break.
15:24: Timeout. More audience participation -- the "infamous" Dizzy Bat Spin. Their adjective, not mine. When executed correctly, a big-yuks crowd-pleaser.
14:30: The Doug Swenson Show begins. Swenson, a 6-10 center from Creighton is listed at 210 pounds, but that measurement was probably taken dripping wet and holding fellow Bluejay and all-star Rodney Buford . Swenson (11.8 ppg, 5.1 apg) merited honorable mention status in the Missouri Valley Conference, but tonight he has the look of a guy on a mission.
14:30: Swenson, soft hook.
14:04: Swenson, soft layup.
13:16: Swenson with a bunny from a foot out. He's on fire. I'm about to start calling him "Do-It-All" Doug Swenson.
11:40: Swenson takes a seat during a mass substitution. Audible calls of disappointment can be heard from the thinning crowd. Two 3-pointers by Reed have the West up 63-55.
10:50: Ketner -- call him the anti-Swenson -- tries to tomahawk jam from outside the lane. Yikes. Miss. Fouled by Hardge, Ketner connects on his first, and only, free throw of the game.
10:27: After watching him bobble his latest touch, I'm beginning to realize that Ketner's stone hands could be the culprit behind his curtailed development.
9:01: Timeout, Majerus, with the score tied at 67. He needs a 20, but really he's probably thinking about the hellish traffic from St. Pete to Tampa. "It's like 'Wagon Train,'" he commented after the game.
8:30: Robinson finishes a half-court alley-oop from Panko. The no-names are putting on a show.
7:57: Swenson jams like Shaq. OK, maybe not like Shaq. How about like Stacey King?
7:41: Swenson mishandles a feed from Reed on the break. OK, so he's not god.
7:12: Swenson hook. What can't he do?
5:20: Swenson tips in a miss by Boise State sharpshooter Roberto Bergerson. He cleans, he cooks.
4:14: Swenson flushes an alley-oop from Bergerson. I have seen it all. Will Swenson raise the roof? He doesn't even smile, hustling back down the court.
3:57: Coming into the West huddle during a timeout, Swenson grabs his jersey and asks for a breather. After all that dunking and rebounding, does anyone blame him?
3:17: Swenson re-enters the game, to a smattering of applause from a crowd of a few hundred. They obviously don't know a good thing.
3:02: Swenson backs in on Ketner -- insert symbolism of big name-small name, top-prep-unheralded prep here -- on the left block. He hits him with the baby hook. Swenson's fouled! The shot goes down! Are you kidding me?
2:50: Ketner tries to return the favor on the other end, challenging Swenson down low. Swenson doesn't quite reject Ketner, but "Do-It-All" has just enough presence to force Ketner into a bad shot under the rim.
1:23: Ketner sits. CBA awaits.
0:00: The horn. Your final: West 93, East 86. Your MVP: Doug Swenson, with 23 points and 12 rebounds in 18 minutes.
After the game, Swenson is low-key. "I really just wanted to play hard, to get to the boards."
Majerus was more effusive -- "I'd like to take him home to Utah."
Swenson gets the last word: "Things fell into place for me. I was in the right place at the right time."
Notes: Two years ago, Robinson, Young and Swenson played against each other at the Division II Junior College National Tournament in Danville, Ill. When asked to compare Danville and St. Petersburg, Young just shook his head, repeating "Oh, man. ..."
CNN/SI asked Majerus which of the four Final Four point guards -- William Avery, Mateen Cleaves, Khalid El-Amin and Scoonie Penn -- he'd want at Utah to replace All-American Andre Miller. Majerus picked Penn ("for our system"), but projected Avery as the best NBA prospect. Majerus said one NBA executive told him that there are five point guards in college basketball currently rated higher than Miller. ...
For NBA potential, out of this crop of 20 all-stars, we'll take Bergerson, Mescheriakov, Robinson, GW PG Shawnta Rogers and Young.Check back for more St. Pete Scenes as CNN/SI covers the Final Four from St. Petersburg, Fla.
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