DeMarcus Cousins, the Kentucky Wildcats' style icon. (Luke Winn/SI)
Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins isn’t a lock for first-team All-America honors, but he is for first-team All-Style Archive. What other player has Cuz’s range? On Saturday we caught him rocking a bad bootleg tee that uses his name in a Southern inbreeding joke … and on Wednesday he came out for interviews with a look reminiscent of Spike Lee.
(Matthew Dellavedova, St. Mary’s)
Is the Aussie wearing a mouthguard, or being forced — a la A Christmas Story’s main character — to put a bar of soap in his mouth? We shall never know.
Two Masks & an Old Guy
(Tai Wesley, Tyler Newbold, Utah St.)
Texas A&M’s Bryan Davis, an easily startled octogenarian, was attacked by two masked men in the opening round. He survived (but lost to Purdue two days later).
(Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga)
The Zags’ combo guard is the only college hoopster with an Allman Brothers/Warren Haynes shout-out on his Nike IDs. Better than sunshine, better than moonshine.
Lewis: Top Shooter
(Gilberto Clavell, Sam Houston St.)
A friend texted me when I was at the Baylor-Sam Houston State game and said of Clavell, “That guy in the rec-specs is straight out of Arch Rivals.” Hence, Lewis.
Honest Abe Pullen
(Jacob Pullen Kansas State)
The Pullen Beard became a phenomenon in Manhattan, Kan., inspiring Fear The Beard shirts and mass purchases of Abe Lincoln costume facial hair.
(Lucas O’Rear, Northern Iowa)
He’s already been in the Archive for his shamrock shoulder tattoo, and now makes it for a second time on the strength of his chops, which give him X-Men-like powers.
On Tuesday, Turkish big man Enes Kanter committed to play for Kentucky. (Luca Sgamellotti/Getty Images)
On the eve of the first round of the NCAA tournament, with the nation focused on March Madness, a game-changing piece of amateurism legislation quietly took a step closer to entering the NCAA rulebook. The school with the most to gain from it, in the short-term, is Kentucky.
NCAA proposal 2009-22 would allow international athletes who’ve played on teams with professionals, but not received compensation, to become eligible immediately, rather than face lengthy suspensions under current rules. Proposal 2009-22 was adopted at the NCAA convention in January, and passed a March 17 override deadline without the requisite number of objections from universities. It’s slated for final approval in April, three weeks after the national title game.
The rule would go into effect on Aug. 1 as “exception 22.214.171.124.1,” stating that, “In sports other than men’s ice hockey and skiing, prior to initial full-time collegiate enrollment, an individual may compete on a professional team, provided he or she does not receive more than actual and necessary expenses to participate on the team.”
That would clear the way for John Calipari’s 2010-11 Wildcats to immediately have the services of one of the most high-profile European club prospects ever to jump to U.S. college basketball: 6-foot-9 Turkish forward Enes Kanter, who was the MVP of last summer’s Under-18 European Championships.
Kentucky received a commitment from the 17-year-old Kanter on Tuesday, just six days after 2009-22’s override deadline. Kanter made his first appearance in the U.S. at the international game of the Jordan Brand Classic in April 2008, and was originally committed to another school with powerful Nike ties, Washington, before re-opening his recruitment in February. He attended Stoneridge Prep in Simi Valley, Calif., this season, but SI.com confirmed that he played part of 2008-09 for Turkish club team Fenerbahce Ulker, appearing in four Euroleague games and five Turkish Basketball League games alongside pros, despite being just 16 years old at the time.
Kanter reportedly maintained his amateur status in Turkey, turning down a five-year, multi-million-dollar offer from Fenerbahce, as well as a two-year deal from Greek club Olympiakos. But if the NCAA rulebook stays as is, he could be suspended for a portion of his freshman regular season due to those club appearances.
The most recent Turkish prospect to come to the U.S., West Virginia freshman Deniz Kilicli, was forced by the NCAA to sit out the first 20 games of this season. The reason? As an amateur playing for Pertevniyal, a farm team for Turkish club powerhouse Efes Pilsen, Kilicli played 13 games alongside former George Mason star Lamar Butler, who was being paid. The suspension prevented Kilicli from cementing a spot in the Mountaineers’ rotation; despite having enormous potential, he’s played just 11 minutes in their two NCAA tournament games.
If Kanter can come to Lexington and be eligible from Day 1, he’d be able to fill the center position that’s expected to be vacated when DeMarcus Cousins declares for the NBA Draft, and join sophomore-to-be Daniel Orton on a formidable front line. Kanter told Scout.com that he chose Kentucky “because of John Calipari. He’s a good coach. I like the way he plays. I like the freedom.”
Proposal 2009-02 needs to pass two more bureaucratic hurdles to free Kanter to suit up for the Wildcats next November: The NCAA’s Legislative Council must approve it at its April 19-20 meetings in Indianapolis, and then it gets a final review by the Division I Board of Directors on April 29. If it hits a snag in either of those meetings, then Kanter would be subjected to Kilicli-like treatment. For someone who made the bold decision to pass on European club riches and pursue the American path to the NBA — and has stated in the Turkish press that he hopes to enter the draft in 2011 — that would not be an ideal way to start life in Division I.
Patrick Patterson and the Wildcats overpowered Wake Forest 90-60 in the second round. (Bob Rosato/SI)
NEW ORLEANS — What we learned from second-round Saturday at the NCAA tournament …
1. Northern Iowa over Kansas is an upset so monumental — like George Mason-over-UConn monumental — that years from now, you’ll remember where you were when it happened. I saw it from a makeshift media room inside New Orleans Arena, after skipping out on the live finish of Baylor-Old Dominion to watch the CBS feed. Kentucky band members and cheerleaders, who’d been milling around in the back hallways, started gathering around the TV set as the Jayhawks neared their demise. The UK contingent was cheering hard, and they weren’t as much for Northern Iowa as they were against Kansas.
When the buzzer sounded, declaring the Jayhawks’ title shot dead, the two UK cheerleaders sitting closest to the TV jumped up to celebrate. (See the video below.) A male UK cheerleader walking through the hallway began mocking things he’d heard from pundits on TV — “Kansas is the best team, and Kansas is a lock to win it” — before breaking into laughter. The Panthers hadn’t just stunned the Jayhawks, they’d blown the bracket wide open. And Kentucky was among the teams that stood to benefit most.
When the top-seeded Wildcats took the floor against ninth-seeded Wake Forest, they were unaware of what had rocked the Midwest Region. UK coaches had ordered that their locker-room TVs be turned off, to avoid distractions, although junior forward Patrick Patterson managed to catch a glimpse of the action on CBS. “I saw that they were down,” he said, “but we knew that it was Kansas, that they weren’t going to let that happen.”
Patterson and his teammates then went out and annihilated the Demon Deacons, 90-60, in what was the most dominant single-game performance by any team in this tournament. Wake has one Lottery Pick (Al-Farouq Aminu) and one of the country’s fastest guards (Ish Smith), but it was blown off the floor by the Wildcats, who shot 60 percent from the field, and had human victory cigars Josh Harrellson, Mark Krebs and Jon Hood on the floor for the final few minutes.
When they got back to their locker room, according to Patterson, “We looked at our phones, and all of a sudden got text messages and updates from scoreboards saying, Kansas lost.
“I was shocked when I saw that.”
So was the rest of the country, myself included. I honestly thought there was no stopping the Jayhawks. The after-effect is that the Wildcats are the new national title favorite — a sentiment that Patterson already held. “I always thought we were the team to beat,” he said. “I’m not going to deny it.”
2. This is Ali Farokhmanesh’s tournament.
Northern Iowa’s senior shooting guard shouldn’t have been taking that shot, the dagger that knocked the nation’s No. 1 team out of the NCAA tournament. He had the ball with 35 seconds left, a one-point lead and 30 seconds on the shot clock. He stood on the right wing. He should have waited for Kansas to foul him. Or dribbled off as many of the precious remaining seconds as possible. You don’t take a three there, because if you miss, Sherron Collins is going back down the other end of the floor, driving the lane, and probably winning the game.
“But if you know Ali,” said backcourt mate Jonny Moran, “you know that shot is going up at the end of the game.”
He beat UNLV in the first round with a longer three, with a greater degree of difficulty, but this trey required a greater degree of balls — essentially, a willingness to take a shot that would either kill Kansas or kill the Panthers, when there were safer options available.
Farokhmanesh made the shot. He made himself famous. The son of two former volleyball coaches, one of them an Iranian immigrant — that’s why you have someone with the name Ali Farokhmanesh playing on a team in Cedar Falls, Iowa — is the new Pittsnogle. But better.
3. If you told me in January that Kansas’ Sherron Collins, Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette would all lose on the same day of the NCAA tournament — and that day would be the second round — there’s no way I would’ve believed it.
I’m still having trouble believing it now. Reynolds showed signs of slumping late in the season, but went ice-cold against a St. Mary’s team that brutally exposed ‘Nova’s lack of post D, with Omar Samhan going for 32 points. Fredette seemed ready to become a breakout tourney star, with his 30-point-plus games and Mormon rapper brother, but Jimmer got out-Jimmered by Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen.
And Collins? As teammate Tyrel Reed said on Saturday, he’s the “ultimate competitor,” and it always seemed like his destiny to get back to the Final Four. Who could’ve imagined Collins would get Farokhmanesh’ed instead?
4. The bracket is setting up really well for Baylor, which beat Old Dominion in New Orleans on Saturday. The Bears were slotted in the weak South Region, and if they make the Elite Eight, their path will have been through three double-digit seeds: No. 14 Sam Houston State, No. 11 Old Dominion and No. 10 St. Mary’s. And they’re playing their games next weekend in Houston, just 185 miles from their Waco, Texas, campus.
As Baylor forward Quincy Acy told me, “God works in mysterious ways.”
I should note that the Bears don’t have a cake-walk into a potential regional final against Duke, because St. Mary’s has been playing brilliantly, sharing the ball better than any team in the bracket. But the Bears match up with Samhan much better than Villanova did; they have Ekpe Udoh (6-10), Josh Lomers (7-0), Anthony Jones (6-10) and Acy (6-7) to challenge shots in their zone. If Samhan can score 32 against Baylor, then he’s truly a beast.
5. No team has an entourage like Kentucky does. Sitting two rows behind the Wildcats bench was die-hard fan/actress Ashley Judd; one row behind her was Worldwide Wes (agent-to-be William Wesley) and rapper Drake; and actor Steve Zahn — co-star of one of the most underrated comedies of all time, Safe Men — was reportedly in the house, too, although I didn’t spot him. It’s a shame he didn’t make it in this priceless Judd/Wesley/Drake pic from SI photographer Bob Rosato:
Ashley Judd striking a pose, and drawing a weird look from William Wesley. (Bob Rosato/SI)
NEW ORLEANS — Old Dominion fans come in all forms here: Monarchs, Maniacs, Cats in the Hat, wearers of plaid shorts …
If you’re reading this, and you’re in the New Orleans metro area, you might as well come down to the arena. Judging from the crowd on Thursday, there’s a chance you might be able to purchase your own section of the upper deck.
Plenty of Kentucky fans went in early — perhaps to provide moral support to Dwon Clifton, who wasn’t able to prevent John Wall from coming to Lexington?
The Superdome, site of four Final Fours (1982, 1987, 1993, and 2003), is right across the street from New Orleans Arena. I’d never been up close to the place before. It looks like nuclear reactor that’s been decorated with a Saints sign.
I figured the best way to set up the Kentucky-Wake duel wasn’t with a John Wall-Ish Smith story, but rather some strange FlipCam video from each team’s locker room:
The first one, starring UK’s Mark Krebs, contains the question, “Do you find that the hair on your body hurts you from being a good basketball player?”
And the second clip, starring Wake Forest’s Phaethon Bolton, contains what might be the strangest line I’ve heard all season: “If you’re light-skinned and you’re pregnant, call me”: