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Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
2/27/2007 12:16:00 PM

Hoops' Fashion Dynasty

Larry Johnson
Undrcrwn brought Larry Johnson's Rebels into the 21st-century fashion scene.
Ken Levine/Getty Images
For the unhealthy amount of time I devote to watching, writing and obsessing over basketball, the game is underrepresented in my T-shirt collection. Two tees, out of maybe 100, are hoops-themed. The first is a blue Nike classic with "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly" in Western font on the front, and black-and-white images of the Golden State Warriors' Chris Mullin (the archetype for my lefty jump shot), Billy Owens and Tim Hardaway on the back, with the line, "Who are you calling ugly?" That one was introduced into my J.F. Luther Middle School wardrobe in 1992 and made weekend cameos until earlier this month -- when Hardaway's verbal ugliness made it socially stigmatic. Why, oh why, Timmy, did you poke your head out from oblivion and ruin my retro gear?

The second shirt, which I bought in December, ending a 14-year hoops-apparel drought, is the reason for this post. Near the end of a failed sneaker hunt in lower Manhattan, I spotted a tee with no logos or frills -- just six words in silver ink:

The Shark

That was my introduction to the Dynasty Tees, which were the handiwork of the small street-wear outfit Undrcrwn in 2006. The inaugural line included four NBA models and two from the college ranks: 1990 UNLV (sans George Ackles) and 1994 Michigan's Fab Five (Jalen&Chris&Juwan&Jimmy&Ray, sans Ed Martin), an appropriate choice since the inspiration for the shirts was a Danish company's textile tribute to the Fab Four. "John&Paul&Ringo&George" was remixed for the hardcourt, and the resulting products -- which have sold out online -- were an underground sensation among sneakerheads, basketball geeks and even pro athletes. New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush appeared in an AP photo in December wearing the "Sin City" model while signing autographs.

In the interest of taking this blog beyond the standard material -- Florida-LSU and Wisconsin-Ohio State were covered this weekend, if you're wanting in that department -- I put in a call to Undrcrwn's lead designer, Dustin Canalin, who works out of a studio (that also doubles as his apartment) in Tribeca. Undrcrwn's Dynasties as well as its riffs on old Salem caricature tees from the '80s and '90s, resonate in part because, as Canalin said, "When's the last time you've seen a really fun basketball shirt?" And perhaps more because they've taken late-20s and early-30s hoopheads back to an era when Spike Lee played Mars Blackmon, Charles Barkley was not a role model, and the indelible image of the NCAA tournament was Tark dining on his towel. Never mind that UNLV and Michigan weren't actual dynasties; culturally, they had more impact on the street than the Duke team that did win back-to-back titles.

I met up with Canalin, an Alameda, Calif.-born 29-year-old who was formerly a design director at And1 and Ecko Unlimited, earlier this month and talked about Undrcrwn over a few beers in the West Village. The natural reaction to the Dynasty line, he said, was a deluge of suggestions for what should come next. "We get e-mails every day, and the majority of them are like, 'Do my team -- the '76 Knicks!' Or, 'Do the old Milwaukee Bucks!' Or, 'I love Chuck Person -- How can we get the Rifleman on a T-shirt?'" said Canalin. "Those shirts are how we launched ourselves at the basketball consumer."

My reaction was identical to everyone else's. I brought along the NCAA's Final Four Records Book to show him the pimped-out photo of 1977 Marquette (every champion in the book has a standard team picture, except for the Warriors, who are wearing tuxes while posed around a white Rolls Royce) and make my pitch: Bo&Butch&Jerome&Seashells&Balloons.

The Al McGuire model is unlikely to actually happen; the genesis for most of Undrcrwn's ideas is players or teams who mattered in the lives of Canalin and fellow company founders Jeremy Castro and Pete Small. Canalin was born in Las Vegas in '77, and after moving to the Bay Area, was babysat by prep phenom J.R. Rider -- hence the affinity for the Runnin' Rebs. As a student at the California College of Arts and Crafts in the mid-'90s, Canalin estimates that, "literally, 90 percent of my projects had to do with Michael Jordan," and not surprisingly, he made a Bulls Dynasty tee. Canalin's father was such a Dr. J fan that he stipulated his eldest's son's first and middle names be Dustin and Oliver, to make the initials "DOC" -- eventually spawning an '83 Sixers tribute that comes out later this year. "Almost all the products we've done have been a regurgitation of my childhood," said Canalin. "That was pretty much the golden era for everything from hip-hop to Jordan, to sneaker culture."

While Undrcrwn's Spring '07 line is devoid of Dynasties (it's more high-fashion, including a Cosbyesque Bed-Stuy jersey that I could never pull off wearing), college hoopheads should be psyched about what's in the works for later this year: odes to Louisville's Doctors of Dunk, Houston's Phi Slama Jama and, best of all, a blend of '82 and '83 Carolina -- with the shirt done completely in argyle. "That one is hilarious," said Canalin. "This round is going to be a lot more creative than the first."

Canalin, who e-mailed me an exclusive sneak preview of the UNC tee this morning, is already forecasting another Tar Heels title in March. Such an outcome, I presume, could have an effect on the 2023 release of Joakim&Al&Humpty&Corey&Crunk Juice.

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2/23/2007 01:57:00 PM

Historic Heels

Ty Lawson
Ty Lawson is the speedy guard behind UNC's secondary break.
Kevin C. Cox/WireImage

Grant Wahl's must-read feature on North Carolina's secondary break (from this week's SI) got me wondering how, exactly, this Heels team stacks up against Roy Williams' previous three squads in Chapel Hill. Luckily, what Ken Pomeroy calls the "Modern Era" -- the point at which he started tracking full pace and efficiency stats -- began at the same time Roy returned to his alma mater, so we have a full plate of data available:
          Poss./40*   OffEff.*     DefEff.*    NCAA
(Rank) (Rank) (Rank) Seed
'06-07 73.9 (7) 122.0 (4) 82.0 (2) 1**
'05-06 71.8 (22) 117.1 (10) 90.4 (20) 3
'04-05 73.7 (10) 125.6 (1) 87.9 (6) 1
'03-04 72.7 (17) 118.8 (9) 90.2 (23) 6

* adjusted for competition.
** projected.

What we learn is:
• This, at least according to the adjusted tempo figures, is Roy's fastest team ever at UNC. It's more than two possessions per game faster than last year's squad (credit the Tywon Lawson Effect) and just slightly speedier than the '04-05 team that won the national title.
• It's close, but still somewhat behind the Felton/May/McCants team in offensive efficiency. There's a 0.035 points-per-possession difference between the two, which at Carolina's pace equates to approximately 2.6 points per game.
• The '06-07 team is immensely better on defense than any of its predecessors. Crusty analysts who rely on points-per-game stats always focus on UNC's scoring power, but this team, secondary break and all, is actually higher-ranked nationally in defensive efficiency than it is on offense.
• The debate over whether UNC is a title contender has to come down to intangibles -- particularly, doubts that a freshman point guard can carry them through the tournament, or worries over the lapses they've had against NC State and Virginia Tech (twice). Because statistically, these Heels are right in line with Roy's first national champs.

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2/22/2007 10:24:00 PM

The Ol' Fieldhouse

Hinkle Fieldhouse
The view from outside Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse on Feb. 17.
Luke Winn/SI

Hinkle Fieldhouse
Hinkle, 30 minutes before the gates opened on BrackBusters Saturday.
Luke Winn/SI

The Butler band supports Todd Lickliter's coach of the year candidacy.
Luke Winn/SI
I'm finally getting around to posting these pictures of Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse, aka Home of the Lickliter Tuba, from my BracketBusters trip. I arrived there unfashionably early to get a chance to soak in the atmosphere before the gates opened. My driving route to Hinkle took me through blocks and blocks of a sleepy residential Indy neighborhood, and just at the point when I was starting to question my directions, the trees and houses on 49th Street stopped, and sitting in the middle of a snowy clearing was one of the most beautiful venues in all of college hoops.

The NCAA's Final Four records book says that in the 78-year history of Hinkle, it's only been an NCAA tournament site once, for the 1940 Eastern Regional. Would anyone -- other than the accountants -- object if the NCAA went retro for a year and gave this place a slate of first- and second-round games?

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2/20/2007 03:22:00 PM

Style Archive Update No. 4

This is the fourth expansion of The Style Archive, which opened on Dec. 4, 2006, and has grown to 34 exhibits. It's a blog-museum college hoops style -- everything from hairdos, to flair, to YouTube-worthy moves. The eight new inductees appear below, and the complete Archive can be found here.

(Readers are encouraged to make archive nominations either in the blog comments or by e-mailing hoopstylesi@gmail.com, and will be credited on the site for any successful suggestions.)

>> Feb. 23 Exhibits <<

The Kill Bill
Dominic James, 5-11 guard, Soph., Marquette
Classification: Golden overdose
Submitted: by an anonymous reader (take credit in the comments!)
Notes: James periodically goes on a color-coordination binge, matching his arm sleeve and high socks with his gold jersey. He actually wears two arm sleeves, with the base layer handed down from Allen Iverson.

Lorenzo Mata, 6-9 center, Jr., UCLA
Classification: Headband/earwarmer
Spotted: Feb. 10 at West Virginia by the blog
Notes: Mata has been wearing his headband like this for a long time -- it's even over his ears in his official UCLA pic. He was not wearing it poolside in his most famous image, though.

The Chicago Shave
Julian Wright and Sherron Collins, Kansas
Classification: Shaved-in hair design
Submitted by: Reader Dustin Fox
Notes: KU's Chicago duo had matching patterns in the front-right portion of their close-cropped 'dos in late January. KU readers: If you have any more information on the design's significance, leave it in the comments.

Dirk's Doppelganger
Kyle Wilson, 6-8 forward, Sr., Wichita State
Classification: The Nowitzki look
Spotted: Jan. 30 at Northern Iowa by the Blog
Notes: Wilson grew up in Dallas, not Germany, but bears a strong resemblance to the Mavs' MVP candidate. Also, like Dirk, Wilson is his team's tallest starter, top scorer and highest-percentage three-point shooter.

The .44 Special
Sean Singletary, 6-0 guard, Jr., Virginia
Classification: Absurd, reclining game-winner
Submitted: by a UVa alum in Duke grad school
Notes: Singletary's one-handed, one-footed, horizontal shot to beat Duke on Feb. 1 might go down as the YouTube clip of the year in college hoops -- and will surely be the season's coolest clutch shot.

The '90s Bowl
Lawrence Hill, 6-8 forward, Soph., Stanford
Classification: Classic bowl-shave 'do
Submitted: by Gonzaga alum Lawrence Cenotto
Notes: Hill, who's stepped up as a sophomore to become the Cardinal's leading scorer (at 16.1 ppg) and rebounder (6.1 rpg), is rocking a look from the early part of the Mike Montogmery Era.

PR Stunt
A.D. Vassallo, 6-6 G/F, Fr., Virginia Tech
Classification: Head-shave abbreviation
Submitted: by VT student Gregory Bringhurst
Notes: Vassallo, whose father was a 17-year star in the Puerto Rican pro league, shaved an homage to his homeland in the back of his head. A.D. has played for Puerto Rico's Under-21 national team.

Flow It, Show It
John Pelphrey, head coach, Southern Alabama
Classification: Grown-out sideline 'do
Submitted: by reader Rick G.
Notes: Former UK guard Pelphrey sported a standard, shorter cut during the Jags' NCAA tournament trip in March 2006, but has since grown out his (Goldi)locks -- and appears to have cut about 5-10 years off of his age.

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2/20/2007 11:44:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Texas A&M's Acie Law IV

Acie Law IV has led the Aggies to a 22-4 record this season (10-2 Big 12).
As the latest in a season-long series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Texas A&M senior point guard Acie Law IV on Monday. Law leads the eighth-ranked Aggies in points per game (17.0), assists (5.5) and clutch shots (basically, every time they've needed one). A member of the Wooden Award's midseason top 30, Law has piloted A&M to a 22-4 record leading into Wednesday's showdown with Oklahoma State.

Luke Winn: With game-winners against Texas (last year) and Kansas (this year), plus innumerable late-game scoring barrages (against Oklahoma on Saturday, for example), you've established yourself as one of the nation's best clutch shooters. Is it pretty much understood by the rest of the Aggies that you'll have the ball in your hands when the game is on the line -- or is it still not a guarantee?

Acie Law IV: I think, in the last few minutes, we just look for matchups. Sometimes we try to get it inside to Joe [Joseph Jones], and sometimes we try to get it to myself. I've been fortunate to be able to deliver in the clutch, but it's not just me -- we have a couple of guys we can go to.

LW: Sure, but that doesn't mean you don't want it …

AL: Oh, I always want the ball. Whenever we're in a tight situation, I go to coach [Billy Gillispie] and say, 'I need the ball. I want the ball.' And usually he'll say, 'OK, take it and make a play.'

LW: And how did it happen against Kansas?

AL: The ball got tipped out of bounds before that play; I looked over at coach and he had called something different [not for me]; I told him I wanted it, and he said 'OK.' I took the inbounds in the corner, and [KU's Brandon] Rush back off me enough to let me take the shot. That was a sign of how confident coach has become in me, and how much our relationship has grown.

LW: I'm not sure if I've seen a player, anywhere, have Roman numerals on the back of his college hoops jersey. What factored into your decision to go with your full name -- "Law IV" -- instead of just "Law"?

AL: It's my name. I'm Acie Law the fourth. When I first got to A&M I wanted to put my whole name on there, and that's what it is.

LW: Tell me about the first three Acie Laws. What are their stories?

AL: My great grandfather is Acie Sr., but I never got to meet him. My grandfather is Acie Jr.; he passed away in 1997, when I was 12. He was the best person in the world. We had a great relationship; he'd take me shopping as a kid, he'd watch me play basketball, and was around a lot in Dallas. He was into basketball, but his big deal was boxing; when he died it was at my house, right after we had watched the second Tyson-Holyfield fight. He got so excited over it that he had a heart attack.

My father is Acie the third; he's an auto mechanic in Dallas, and he played ball when he was young. He had committed to go play at St. Louis, but then he had my older brother and ended up going to Navarro College instead (a juco in Corsicana, Texas, south of Dallas). And he was a point guard, too.

LW: You're the grand-nephew of Ernie Banks on your mother's side. Has he ever given you any athletic advice?

AL: We actually spoke just last week, and he told me he's coming down for my Senior Night, which I'm excited about. When I first met him as a kid, and he found out I played basketball, he told me that if I worked hard, anything was possible. I think he was the first person to get me thinking that I could achieve great things through basketball.

LW: You have a tattoo on your right arm that says "Lord's Favorite Lawman." Can you explain what that means?

AL: The Lord has been so good to me, and I just wanted to express that. I've always felt that I'm unbelievably fortunate to be where I am, and the tattoo was one way of showing it. "Lawman" is one of the nicknames that my dad gave me; people called him that and they called my grandfather that, too. It got passed down through the generations.

LW: The tattoo on your left arm appears to be a long verse of scripture. Which one is it?

AL: It's part of Psalms 91 and 93. When first I read those verses, they just hit home for me; they say that God is my fortress, in him I trust, and that I shall fear no one. That's how I feel.

LW: A fact about you that's not widely publicized is that you're ambidextrous; you shoot left, but were born -- and still write -- righty. Can you explain how it happened?

AL: I broke my right hand when I was young. Rather than just sitting around without playing, my dad forced me to dribble, and do things with my left -- and I just got good at it. I started out as a righty, but I broke my hand three different times, falling on it playing basketball in seventh, 10th and 12th grade, so I got used to shooting lefty and stuck with it. Those were tough injuries, but everything happens for a reason.

LW: You're somewhat famous for your accurate, lefty knuckleball shot. Did coach Gillispie try to tinker with it at any point?

AL: He taped my whole right hand up in one practice, because he felt like my right thumb was the reason the ball wasn't spinning. It didn't really work; after that he just told me to continue working on my shot, and if I keep making it, it's fine. The no-spin thing doesn't bother me. Everyone talks about it, and my teammates give me a tough time about it -- but as long as it goes in, that's what it's all about.

LW: Which teammate gives you the most flak for the knuckler?

AL: That would be Joe [Jones], who I'm really close with. He'll say things like, 'I couldn't even do that if I tried,' and guys well mess around in practice, seeing if they can shoot without spin. I have no real explanation it; I've worked on trying to make it spin, but it doesn't happen.

LW: Back in coach Gillispie's first season, you were considering leaving A&M. Why?

AL: It was just immaturity. We were coming off a winless season [0-16 in the Big 12], coach was coming in, and we didn't hit it off. It was a matter of me being irresponsible and not buying into the system. His system obviously works; he's won everywhere he's been. For the first couple of weeks it was tough, though. I've never been an outspoken kid, and he said to be a point guard you have to talk a lot more than I was doing on the floor. We were doing a defensive drill in practice where I was supposed to talk, and wasn't. I was stubborn, and coach is very stubborn, and you're not going to win against coach. The drill went on for 20 minutes, with me not talking, and my teammates starting to yell at me, until I finally gave in. That was the day I started to be a leader.

LW: Who's the best on-ball defender you've squared up against in college?

AL: I would have to say Marcus Dove at Oklahoma State. He's a long defender who's quick enough to guard on the perimeter but can also match up against guys in the post. You have to go extremely fast against him, and he makes it difficult to execute plays; basically, he makes it real tough for you.

LW: And what do you think of the 'Dove Sign' that he -- and the whole Cowboys team -- does after dunks?

AL: I've seen it, and I like it. It's just a way of expressing himself, and the passion and joy he has for the game. I don't want to see him do it against us, though.

LW: You obviously don't like to give the ball up in crunch time, but if you had to pick one other player in college -- and not another Aggie -- to take a shot with the game on the line, who would it be?

AL: Kevin Durant, from Texas. He stays cool in tight situations and has proven himself on numerous occasions, like that Oklahoma State triple-OT game, and he played well here [in College Station] against us. He knows how to handle himself and can perform under pressure.

LW: Last one. Of all the big shots you've hit as an Aggie, which one is your personal favorite?

AL: It's still the one against Texas [a game-winning three-pointer on March 2, 2006]. It was on our home floor, and our backs were against the wall because we were trying to get into the NCAA tournament [they did as a 12 seed]. The fans were so excited that they rushed the floor. They still call it The Shot at A&M, and they made posters of it that they gave out this year.

LW: I'm assuming you have one of those.

AL: I've got one, but I signed it and took it to get framed, and am waiting for it to be finished. For now I'm just going to leave it in Dallas until I get my own house [he's a projected first-round NBA Draft pick in June]. Then it'll go in my game room.

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2/14/2007 03:11:00 PM

Diagnosing Duke

Oakland Arena
Coach K has not been happy with Duke's performance on the defensive end as of late.
The buzzards are circling over Boston College's Conte Forum, where tonight the Eagles face a reeling Duke team that's on the verge of the first five-game losing streak of Mike Krzyzewski's career. The Blue Devils have not yet played their way out of the NCAA tournament (it would take at least three, if not four, more ACC losses to make that a lock because their non-conference schedule was so strong), but what's affecting the House of K is more than a random slump. Today's blog takes a look at what, exactly, is wrong with Duke.

• For an elite team to stay successful after losing nearly its entire identity from the year before -- as Duke did, with J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Sean Dockery and Lee Melchionni leaving -- it needs to have a transcendent underclassman ready to take over. This happened at rival North Carolina in 2005-06, when beastly freshman Tyler Hansbrough carried the Heels to a second-place finish in the ACC after they lost their top six players, including four first-round NBA Draft picks. It's happening at Texas this year, with super-frosh Kevin Durant as the focal point after the 'Horns lost their entire starting five, including three to the NBA. It hasn't happened at UConn, which delivered four first-rounders to the draft, never found a new star for '06-07 and is likely to miss the NCAA tournament as a result.

It also hasn't happened at Duke. Coach K has one of the best stockpiles of young talent in the nation -- six McDonald's All-Americans, to be exact -- but no transcendent player capable of carrying the Blue Devils out of this funk. Sophomore forward Josh McRoberts is the closest candidate, but he hasn't been consistently dominant; he's an incredibly gifted passing big man … with no one else in the post to pass the ball to. Duke's freshman class, which ranked fourth in Scout.com's 2006 rankings, is strong enough to be the nucleus of an ACC title team in two or three years -- and that may be K's design -- but there isn't a Hansbrough, Durant, Greg Oden, or even Tywon Lawson among them. Thus '06-07 has become a somewhat rough, transitional season.

• Duke ranks 10th in the ACC in offensive efficiency, partly because it struggles to shoot 3s, but mainly because it isn't getting enough production out of the point guard position. There has been debate over whether criticism of Greg Paulus is unjust, so let's simply examine his stats -- in offensive efficiency, assist rate and turnover rate -- against the rest of the league's point guards. The final column is the difference between the assist and turnover rate:
Player (Team)     OEff.    AsRt    TORt    Diff
Rice (BC) 113.0 32.8 21.2 +11.6
Lawson (UNC) 114.8 33.8 24.2 +9.6
Atsur (NCS) 117.4 29.3 20.2 +9.1
Singletary (UVA) 117.3 29.7 20.6 +9.1
Smith (WF) 92.0 37.7 30.0 +7.7
Gordon (VT) 101.1 27.8 20.3 +7.5
Clemente (MIA) 107.5 25.8 20.2 +5.6
Crittenton (GT) 107.7 31.2 26.5 +4.7
Vasquez (MD) 104.6 24.9 25.4 -0.5
Douglas (FSU) 108.7 19.2 20.7 -1.5
Hamilton (CLE) 101.3 20.1 21.8 -1.7
Paulus (Duke) 101.6 23.9 28.7 -4.8
What it reveals is that Paulus is the fourth-worst point guard in the ACC in offensive efficiency, only behind Wake Forest's Ish Smith, Virginia Tech's Jamon Gordon and Clemson's Vernon Hamilton -- and the worst point guard, by far, in terms of assist versus turnover rate. Paulus turns the ball over at a 4.8 percent higher rate than he creates baskets for teammates. He definitely hasn't made the kind of jump that Duke needed him to make between his freshman and sophomore seasons.

• Duke's slide is also a case of unfortunate timing. The transition between the Redick/Williams empire and the youth movement of McRoberts, Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson couldn't have come at a worse time. The ACC is not as strong at the top as it was in '04-05, when it had legit Final Four contenders in UNC (the national champs), Wake (with Chris Paul), N.C. State (with Julius Hodge), Georgia Tech (with Jarrett Jack) and the Blue Devils. But this year the league has become absurdly deep, with its top 10 teams -- everyone down to 3-7 N.C. State, which upset UNC on Feb. 3 -- all capable of beating one another. Once-average squads such as Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Clemson are as dangerous as they've been in years … and they're all looking to take advantage of a vulnerable Duke team.

• The Blue Devils are capable of being a great defensive team -- they still rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, at .816 points per possession -- it's just that, over the course of this losing streak, their defensive toughness has disappeared. And as Coach K said this week, "The two most important things for our team is how we play defense and how we care for the ball, because we are not going to just outscore you. That hasn't been the M.O. of this team and won't be the M.O. of this team until the end of the year."

Early in the season, Duke was a defensive juggernaut: It held Indiana to a stingy .798 points per possession in a win on Nov. 28, and Georgetown to .873 on Dec. 2. Yet in their past four losses, the Blue Devils have given up more than one point per possession, and allowed FSU, UNC and Maryland to shoot with effective field goal percentages (a stat that adds extra weight to 3s) of over 50 percent. A hallmark of Duke's best teams has been their ability to defend on the perimeter, and the '06-07 team has been substandard in that deparment during ACC play. Coach K has accepted that the Blue Devils must overcome an anemic offense with strong D -- and until that happens, the streak will only get worse.

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2/12/2007 02:17:00 PM

Free (Throw) Advice From The Masters

Oakland Arena
Butler's A.J. Graves puts his sweet stroke on full display when he gets to the foul line.

For all of the more obvious labels one could slap on this season -- the Year of Florida's Reign, the Year of the Freshman, the Year Bruce Pearl Painted his Chest -- it is also, quietly, the Year of the Free Throw. The NCAA's greatest charity-stripe artist of all-time, Missouri State's Blake Ahearn, is in his final season after winning three straight free-throw percentage crowns. As a freshman, he set the single-season record at 97.5 percent. Midway through February, Ahearn has a respectable percentage of 93.6 yet still trails three players in the national standings: Butler's A.J. Graves, Utah Valley State's Ryan Toolson and Gonzaga's Derek Raivio. The oft-lamented decline of free-throw shooting may have been greatly exaggerated.

Free-throw stats are almost like referees, in that we tend to pay the most attention to them when they're negatively affecting a game -- when a team shoots in the 60-percent range and suffers a close loss, say, or when a player pulls a Nick Anderson and chokes from the stripe in crunch time. But the masters of the art are invaluable weapons for protecting leads in late-game, bonus situations, and Graves and Ahearn are both proven mid-major giant-slayers in part because of their abilities from the 15-foot line.

In an effort to examine what makes these experts tick, Graves and Ahearn were asked to share trade secrets, from how they learned to shoot free-throws, to the minute details of their pre-shot routine. While they differ in technique, their styles were both inherited from fatherly sources.

A.J. Graves, Butler

2006-07 Percentage: 96.3 (105 of 109)

Graves is such a renowned marksman in the Horizon League that he often gets harassed at the line. "They'll say, 'Just give me one. Just miss one. How bout you give us a break?'" Graves recalls. "I enjoy it; it gets me chuckling as I'm backpedaling away from the line."

How he learned: "We had a few basketball goals set up in the backyard of our house [a rural home in Switz City, Ind.], and when I was young, my dad used to rebound for me and my brothers [former Butler players Matt and Andrew Graves] all the time. He told me what he used to do, and that's what I've done since. Also, growing up, Michael Jordan was my hero, and seeing that he put in the time to become a good free-throw shooter motivated me. Free-throw shooting can win games at the end, and there's no one guarding you, so you might as well put in every one you can."

The technique: "My dad always told me, 'Don't play around with it. Just get lined up and shoot it in.' Once I got really serious about shooting free-throws, which was probably in middle school or junior high, I got the routine down. There's a dot on the free-throw line, and I put that in the middle of my body. I don't say anything. I don't spin the ball. I don't think about any thing else; if you think about other stuff, who knows what will happen? I just line up, take three dribbles and shoot it in. It's the way I learned it, and the way I've always done it. Free-throw shooting and shooting in general are all about routine and muscle memory."

Oakland Arena
Blake Ahearn led the NCAA in free-throw percentage each of the last three seasons.
G. Newman Lowrance/WireImage.com

Blake Ahearn, Missouri State

2006-07 Percentage: 93.6 (88 of 94)

Ahearn, who is gunning to become the only four-time free-throw champ in the history of Division I basketball, is a meticulous marksman. He's been tracking his practice shots in a black book since the fourth grade, and has a younger cousin, Sumner Ahearn, who serves as his unofficial statistician in his assault on the NCAA record book. (The following quotes are taken from a 2006 interview I did with Blake for SI.)

How he learned: "My dad [former Washburn University player Daniel, who also coached Blake in AAU ball] always harped on one thing, free throws, as easy points. He said never to give away easy points. Ever since the fourth grade, he had me make 100 free throws every day. Actually, I make 102 every day -- the two extra is a 1-and-1 that I do to put myself in a game situation. I believe my dad took that drill from Steve Alford."

The routine: "Once I get fouled I go straight to the line. I find the nail on the floor, and being right-handed, I put my foot on the nail. Right before the ref throws me the ball, I think "heel to toe, and arch" -- because the free throws that I've missed, always come down to me falling back on my heels or not getting high enough on my toes, which causes the ball to be flat. If I put arch on it, I get a batter chance to get a bounce on the rim, or a roll, rather than a line drive. When I get the ball, I take three dribbles, then spin it out in front of me, wipe my hands on my shorts, and let it come back to me. Then I find the valve on the ball, which is the center. I put my index finger as close to that as I can, and let it fly."

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2/06/2007 08:00:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Florida's Taurean Green

Taurean Green and the Gators were unanimously ranked No. 1 in the latest AP Poll.
As the latest in a series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Florida point guard Taurean Green on Monday. Green, along with fellow Gators Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer, was named to the Wooden Award's midseason top 30 list. The 6-foot floor general leads top-ranked Florida in points (13.8 per game) and assists (3.8 per game) and has piloted the team on a 14-game winning streak heading into Wednesday's date with Georgia.

Luke Winn: I see that Florida now sells jerseys for every member of your starting five -- something that I don't think happens at any other school. Can you rank them in order of which ones you see around town the most?

Taurean Green: No. 1 would be Jo's [Joakim Noah]. The second-most is Al Horford's jersey, and No. 3 is probably Corey [Brewer]. Then me and Lee Humphrey are in a tie for last.

LW: If you had to add one of those to your everyday wardrobe, which one would you pick?

TG: I wouldn't have any of them … but a jersey that I have wanted is an Adrian Moss throwback. [Moss was the lone senior on the 2005-06 title team.] Moss was here for like five or six years, and I'd take one of his early ones, in black.

LW: Those black jerseys aren't around anymore, are they?

TG: We were not successful in the black uniforms.

LW: Let's say you're on a fast break, four on one. Jo is on your left, Al is on your right, and Lee Humphrey is trailing for a three. What would you most like to do with the ball?

TG: I like to do it up big, so if it was really up to me, I'd pass it back to Humph for the three. But usually I go and get the easy bucket, the two, to Jo or Al for a dunk, so coach [Billy] Donovan doesn't get mad at me. If it's a four-on-one and I don't get the easy one, he will get mad. … But a three for Humph, on the break, is almost like a layup anyway.

LW: You're listed as a student in "Social and Behavioral Sciences" at Florida --

TG: I'm actually in Recreation Programming now.

LW: So what does that mean?

TG: It can lead into a lot of stuff, but the most obvious thing would be coaching. When I'm done playing basketball, that's what I want to do -- coach.

LW: Whose coaching style would you like to emulate?

TG: I would mix it up. I would definitely have some of coach D's style, some of my dad's style, too. [Taurean's pops is former UNLV and NBA player and college coach Sidney Green.]. I've been around a lot of coaches and I'd take some things from all of them.

LW: Your dad, Sidney, was a 6-foot-9, 220-pound power forward, but you're only 6-0 and 177. How did that happen?

TG: I inherited all of my mom's genes. She's 5-5. I always ask her, why couldn't you be 5-8 or 5-9? I'd be a good 6-4 or 6-5 then. I probably get my energy from my mom, too, even though both my parents are calmer than me.

LW: You poked fun at your dad during last year's NCAA tournament because he was crying all the time after your wins. ["It's OK for my mom to cry," Taurean said then. "Big Sid cannot cry. A 6-10 baby."] Did you inherit that gene from him?

TG: I'm a non-crier. I remember walking up to him after that title game, and I said, "Why are you still crying?" But then I thought, he has a pretty good reason to cry. And he doesn't care if I make fun of him for it.

LW: I've heard Jo tell the story of Ndongo, a word that has become your team's rallying cry. What's your version of it?

TG: Well, we came back to Gainesville from the summer, and [Noah] was like 'Yo, I got married in Africa.' I said, 'No you didn't,' but he told me it was tradition, and that his grandfather had set it up. So I said, 'What's her name?' -- and he told me 'Ndongo.'

I just started laughing, but I did believe him for a little while. Soon I found out he was just joking around.

LW: After the Vanderbilt game, Jo called you "a little stupid dude" for getting the Gators' first technical of the season. What's your reaction to that?

TG: I was right there in front of him when he said it. He was calling me a baby for getting the T. It's fine. We joke around about it a lot.

LW: When you were growing up, which point guards did you admire the most?

TG: I watched a lot of Isiah Thomas. I just liked the way he dribbled the ball, and how he carried himself on the court. And Earl the Pearl, too -- I watched a lot of film on him, and admired his basketball IQ and just how smooth of a player he was.

LW: I heard there's a good story behind the scar you have on your face. You mind telling it?

TG: I got into a little altercation in my junior year of high school. I was at IMG Academy, playing on the post-grad team with older guys against St. Petersburg junior college. We were just playing, and a dude was hand checking me a lot. I slapped his hand off of me a few times, because the ref wasn't calling a foul. On the next possession, the guy did it again, the ref finally blew his whistle, and I gave the dude a little elbow. I turned around to give the ref the ball, and the next thing, I started turning back, and the dude hit me with a sucker punch. It turned into a full-out brawl.

LW: You've played a solid schedule already this year, with Kansas and Ohio State in the non-conference season. Which team that's not on your schedule would you most want to play?

TG: It would have to be UNC. Growing up, you watch UNC all the time, and either want the chance to play for them or play against them. And me against Tywon Lawson would be a good matchup.

LW: You're still living in that four-bedroom apartment with Brewer, Horford and Noah. Any new additions to the décor beyond Noah's African masks?

TG: We've got a lot of new posters up. A new Jimi Hendrix one. [Noah walks by, yelling something at this point.] There goes Jo. He and I went to the store and bought that one together; I don't really listen to a lot of Hendrix, but our old teammate Adrian Moss loves Jimi, so we had to get something for our walls.

LW: Al Horford told me a long while back that you were the "hyper roommate." Is that true?

TG: Yeah. Jo used to call me "Crunk Juice" because I have all the energy. [Crunk Juice is a Lil Jon concoction.] I'm usually hyped all the time.

LW: So what's the craziest thing that's happened in your apartment since winning the national title?

TG: Aww ... I don't even know. Nothing really crazy has happened.

LW: And you expect me to believe that.

TG: [Laughing.]

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2/06/2007 01:40:00 AM

The Magic Durant Formula

Wow. This thing actually worked. If you're late to the party, on Monday I debuted a "Durant Prediction Formula" (and reader contest) that predicted the Texas superfrosh would score 28 points against Texas A&M. Which is exactly what he did.

So the winner of the reader contest is either no one ... or Mike R. from Cypress, Texas, who said 28 points without realizing it was also my pick. Should we still give Mike a prize? Or maybe just some of Todd Bozeman's discarded ham sandwiches?

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2/05/2007 03:33:00 PM

Durant Versus The Wall

Freshman forward Kevin Durant is averaging 33.1 points in Big 12 play for Texas.
John Biever/SI
The Kevin Durant Show, which has produced at least 30 points in six of eight Big 12 games, rolls into College Station tonight for a tasty duel. The nation's best individual offensive player will square off against Texas A&M's top-five defense -- which is sure to give Lil' Kev the most physical challenge he'll face in the Big 12. (Kansas' defense is statistically more efficient than A&M's, but we can't really call the Jayhawks superior to the Aggies at this point.)

Late Saturday night after winning in Lawrence, A&M's Mr. Clutch, Acie Law, was already talking about his team's next test. "You've got Mr. Superstar, Mr. Do-It-All Kevin Durant coming in," Law said. "I really enjoy watching him play, to tell you the truth."

No doubt the Aggies will also enjoy harassing Durant into what they hope will be his lowest point total of the Big 12 season. The current low is 26 against Nebraska on Jan. 24. While it's still unclear which A&M player -- either Dominique Kirk, Antanas "A.K." Kavaliauskas, or Marlon Pompey -- will guard Durant, there is a good chance he won't break 30. And I think there's a good chance Texas won't win, either ... but Vegas has already established that.

I did a far-too-elaborate analysis today to attempt to predict how Durant would fare against A&M. First I took his point totals in Big 12 play and, thanks to the possession data on midmajority.com, came up with a "DPPTP" (or, Durant Points Per Texas Possession) score for each game. The DPPTP score was then divided by the opponent's overall defensive efficiency (or Defensive Points Per Possession, from kenpom.com), to get a final "DRatio" (Durant Ratio) that factored in his efficiency versus the relative strengths of the defenses he's faced.
Date  Opponent   Pts Poss. DPPTP OppDE   DRatio
1/6 Colorado 37 79.4 .466 1.020 .457
1/10 Missouri 34 69.0 .493 .923 .534
1/13 Oklahoma 28 66.0 .424 .835 .508
1/16 Okla. St. 37 98.8 .374 .932 .401
1/24 Nebraska 26 62.2 .418 .965 .433
1/27 Baylor 34 69.7 .488 1.031 .473
1/31 Tex. Tech 37 65.8 .562 .953 .590
2/3 Kansas St. 32 60.5 .529 .889 .595

2/5 Texas A&M 28 67.0 .413 .827 .499

By plugging the average DRatio for the eight Big 12 games (.499) into a formula with Texas A&M's defensive efficiency (.827) and the projected number of possessions for a Texas-Texas A&M game (67.0), Durant's projected point total for Monday night is 27.7. I'll round it up to 28, and make it my official pick.

Readers: To what point total will the Aggies hold "Mr. Superstar, Mr. Do-It-All Kevin Durant"? Leave your picks (as well as your NAMES) in the comments before tip-off. There will be a prize for the winner, and additional nods to anyone who can come up with a more absurd Durant-prediction formula than mine.

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