Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
11/30/2007 02:58:00 AM
Blog Q&A With ... Kansas' Brandon Rush
Kansas junior Brandon Rush declared for the Draft before tearing his ACL.
Scott Sewell/Icon SMI
For the latest edition of the Blog Q&A series, I chatted with Kansas junior Brandon Rush, who returned to the Jayhawks on Nov. 15 -- well ahead of schedule -- after rehabbing from an offseason ACL tear and subsequent surgery. Rush was KU's leading scorer as a sophomore and had declared for the 2007 NBA Draft, but was forced to remove his name following the knee injury. He scored 17 in each of the Jayhawks' victories this week (over Arizona and Florida Atlantic). The following is an edited version of our phone conversation from Thursday:
Luke Winn: Before you played your first game at Kansas, you were asked to describe your offensive repertoire, and you said, 'Highlights.' Is that still the description you'd offer, or would you revise it?
Brandon Rush: I wouldn't say it's highlights anymore. It's smooth plays. That's my style now. Guys on the team -- mostly [sophomore guard] Brady Morningstar, whose locker is right next to mine -- will call me 'Smooth.'
LW: The 55-footer you took at the end of regulation against Arizona got a lot of rim before missing. [Here's the YouTube.] If the Jayhawks held a beyond-halfcourt shooting contest in practice, who would win?
BR:Brady [Morningstar]. That's all he does during practice: shoot from halfcourt. He's redshirting this year, so he doesn't have to do too much.
BR: My first year in college, I was really nervous, and my hands were getting covered in sweat. Coach [Bill Self] told me that if I wore wristbands in that first game, I had to wear them the rest of the year. He's superstitious like that. So I had to wear them the rest of the year.
LW: Was there ever a point where you wanted to ditch them?
BR: No. I would have had so many turnovers if I did. The ball would have been slipping out everywhere.
LW: KU made a controversial font change on the front of your jerseys for this season, going with "Trajan" lettering. How do you feel about the new look?
BR: As long as it says Kansas and has our numbers on the back, it's fine with me. I heard they paid a pretty penny for this font, too. [It was $88,900.] Some people are upset about it, but there's nothing we can do; it was a thing the athletic department decided.
LW: If you could pick any college retro jersey to wear, whose would it be?
BR: I like the Tar Heels jerseys -- the baby blues -- and I've always loved Jordan, so I'd wear his old 23. I don't have it, but I'd wear it if I did. People on campus might get mad about that, though.
LW: You went to high school in North Carolina [at Mount Zion Academy] but you're a local kid, from Kansas City. Did you get to spend your Thanksgiving with family?
BR: I got to go home for a few hours. I went over to my grandmother's. We had a big Thanksgiving dinner down here, with my mom, uncles, all of them came. It was fun. Most of the [Kansas] players who didn't get to go home either went to Mario [Chalmers]'s or Brady's, since their families live in Lawrence.
LW: What's your favorite Thanksgiving food?
BR: This apple salad that my grandmother makes only once a year, for Thanksgiving. I don't know how she makes it, but it's got apples and mayonnaise and a bunch of other stuff.
LW: Last Sunday -- three days after Thanksgiving -- you guarded Arizona's Chase Budinger while you were still recovering from the knee injury, and he scored 28 points. That had to be a tough matchup, but who's the most difficult guy you've guarded in three years at school?
BR:Kevin Durant. He could do everything possible to score: he could shoot in your face, go off the dribble, post up. He was the complete package, the toughest guy to defend. I was trying to guard him before he caught the ball, so he wouldn't even get a chance to make moves, but that didn't work out too well.
LW: Do you guys play pre-game music in the locker room to get yourselves ready?
BR: Shady [Darrell Arthur] will come in sometimes and play some of his crazy Texas music.
LW: Crazy Texas music?
BR: Just crazy stuff that Texas people listen to, all the Chopped and Screwed stuff. If I'm on my iPod I only do Lil' Wayne. Anything by Lil' Wayne is my pre-game stuff.
LW: Students at Allen Fieldhouse have been waving those giant-head cutouts of Jayhawk players, which are kind of eerier. Which one do you think looks the scariest?
BR: I'd have to say Sasha [Kaun]'s, because his sign has got such a mean look to it, it is scary. I think it has more of an effect on people too, because they don't hold it up that much. It comes out, maybe, when he makes a free throw or a big dunk.
LW: Do you own any of those giant signs, by any chance? Maybe for your place?
BR: Naw, I don't own one. Darnell [Jackson] and I just have a giant, five-foot poster of the team in our main room, though.
LW: I've read a lot about all the rehab you went through on your knee before coming back to the court in the past few weeks. What was the lowest moment during that whole process?
BR: Just watching everybody else play. Watching everybody else get better in the summertime, when I couldn't do anything but rehab. It was depressing not to be able to get my reps in. I found ways to work. I couldn't run or anything, but I would dribble in place, and shoot without jumping. That was all I could do.
LW: Who was the first person you called when you hurt your knee in that pickup game in June?
BR: I called my mom first. Then I called my AAU coach [John Walker]. Then I called coach Self, and then my teammates. When it happened I didn't know what it was at first; I just told my mom I tweaked my knee a little bit, and that I was going to be out for a while. Then I came back to school, and it was still swollen, and I got an MRI. Before I even got the MRI, the doctor was saying there was a strong chance I tore my ACL, and that's what it turned out to be.
LW: Had you already packed up your college stuff to move out of Lawrence? You had declared for the draft the month before, and it seemed like a lock that you would stay in.
BR: I didn't have any of my stuff packed. I was really going to wait and see how the draft stuff worked out anyway.
LW: You declared for the NBA Draft out of high school in 2005, then pulled out, and now you're in your third year of college. Honestly, back to '05, where did you expect to be in '07?
BR: I was expecting to be in the NBA. But it didn't happen that way. I stayed an extra year at Kansas, then I got hurt this summer, and that changed some things. It's been a good experience. I'd had a lot of ups and downs in my life, but I've learned a lot just by being at a school like Kansas.
LW: What's the funniest thing you'll remember Bill Self telling you as a player?
BR: Just how he always talks about how my left arm is crooked. That brings a smile to my face all the time. I broke my arm when I was 11 doing backflips, on concrete, and I had to go through years of healing to get it back to normal. It's still a little crooked, though, and everybody on the team loves to make fun of it. If I fumble away a ball or something, coach Self will be like, "Just straighten out that left arm, and you would have caught it."
LW: Finish this sentence for me: If we don't make the Final Four this season ...
BR: It would be kind of a disappointment, because we've got the team to do it. We've got the team to make it happen. But even if it doesn't happen, I'd be happy that we went as far as we did.
Gerald Henderson and the Blue Devils aren't quite playing at a Phoenix Suns pace, but they're much faster than they were in '06-07.
Four things we learned about No. 7 Duke from its 82-58 rout of No. 20 Wisconsin in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge ...
1. These are truly accelerated Blue Devils.
Back in October, Duke assistant Chris Collinsdescribed the team's revamped offense to me like this: "We'll try to spread the floor, create space for guys to try to drive, get open shots. We don't want to get into a grind-it-out game where a team is going to try to match us physically."
Collins talked about how the Blue Devils' entire staff had spent the summer with Coach K and Team USA, which featured Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni as an assistant. They learned a few things from D'Antoni -- "There are philosophies of his that we're trying to implement with our own," said Collins -- and while the Steve Nash part is impossible to replicate, I wondered if the other influences would actually translate to a faster Duke product on the floor. Not Suns, :07 Seconds Or Less-faster, mind you, but would there be a noticeable difference between the Blue Devils of 2006-07, who were the ninth-slowest-paced team in the ACC and the 203rd-slowest team in the country, and the small-ball club that was taking the floor in '07-08?
The sample size is small -- seven games, slightly more than a fifth of the season -- but Duke is playing much faster than it did last season. Its raw tempo (from kenpom.com) for all of '06-07 was 66.1 possessions per 40 minutes. The Blue Devils' raw tempo thus far in '07-08 (from BasketballState.com) is 74.4 possessions per 40. The speed of one's opponents factors into the stat, but Duke has already sped up a traditionally molasses-based Princeton team that averaged 52.9 possessions/40 last season to 73.1 in the Maui Invitational. And in Tuesday's rout of the Badgers, who averaged 63.3 possessions/40 last season, the Blue Devils upped the pace to 74.9. They won't be able to maintain that high of a tempo through the ACC slate, but it's a sign that Duke is likely to finish third or fourth in the league in pace, right behind North Carolina and Maryland, rather than at the back of the pack.
2. Upping the shot volume isn't a problem for Duke's offense.
To put it nicely, the '06-07 Duke team, which bowed out in the first round the NCAA tournament, had limited options on offense. Three players were allowed to shoot 3s -- Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer and DeMarcus Nelson -- and of them, only Paulus (45.0 percent) was a truly good long-range marksman. The Blue Devils' lone force on the inside, Josh McRoberts, was a capable scorer but far too passive for the team to thrive. And if two of those four players were cold on a given night, there weren't any real offensive options to step up in their place. While Duke was still an elite defensive team last season, it couldn't score enough points to keep itself afloat.
The fact that the Blue Devils have upped their pace this season means that they're taking more shot attempts -- and more threes -- per game. But now they have enough weapons on the perimeter to insulate themselves from all but the worst of cold spells. Freshman Taylor King and Paulus combined for nine 3s against the Badgers, helping open a 20-point lead in the first half that remained in place for the rest of the night. King and Paulus are gunners Nos. 1 and 2 for Coach K, but Duke now has six realistic shooting options. Here are their 3-point stats through seven games:
Player M-A Pct. Singler 7-18 .389 Henderson 5-12 .417 King 19-37 .514 Scheyer 11-22 .500 Paulus 13-28 .464 Nelson 4-15 .250
3. The Blue Devils are capable of overcoming a size deficit.
Wisconsin isn't the best "big" team Duke is going to play this season -- that would be North Carolina, with Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Alex Stepheson -- but the Badgers aren't terrible, either. And what they did was essentially start one 6-foot-1 point guard (Trevon Hughes), two 6-7 power forwards (Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry) and two 6-foot-11 centers (Brian Butch and Greg Stiemsma) against a Duke lineup with two 6-foot-8 guys (Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas) in the low post.
UW was done in by its inability to hit anything from the perimeter (going 3-of-14 from long distance) but it also failed to exploit its size advantage to any real gain. The Badgers only outrebounded the Blue Devils 42-40, and only had a small, 32-26 lead in points in the paint. Rail-thin Duke guard Jon Scheyer actually finished with more boards (nine) than Butch and Stiemsma combined (seven).
4. For the time being, the Dukies aren't overrated at No. 7.
There are few teams shooting as well as the Blue Devils are from the perimeter, and their transition into the Runnin' Devils has looked surprisingly smooth -- especially on Tuesday, when they outscored UW 17-2 in fastbreak points. As much as N.C. State, which just won the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, is still a solid sleeper pick in the ACC, Duke appears to be the stronger challenger to UNC. I still have trouble envisioning the Devils overtaking the Heels, who can run and score inside, but Duke is a lot closer to Carolina than most believed in the preseason.
Connor Atchley (32) is emerging for Texas in his junior season.
NEWARK, N.J. --Four things we learned about No. 15 Texas from its 97-78 win over No. 7 Tennessee in Saturday's Legends Classic Final -- a game in which a fan, with 7:20 left in the second half, yelled, "Bring the girls team next time, Tennessee!" ...
1. It seems crazy saying this, but A.J. Abrams looks like a better two-guard than Chris Lofton.
Remember last year's Texas-Tennessee game? The one where cold-blooded Lofton was on full display, hitting a beyond-NBA-length 3 over Kevin Durant to keep the Vols alive in regulation -- and finishing with 35 points in an overtime win? That Chris Lofton wasn't at the Prudential Center on Saturday. He hasn't been present all year, for that matter, as he's been averaging just 13.8 points through six games.
Lofton put up 18 on Saturday, but many came during garbage time; he was dogged by Abrams and was barely a factor in a game that saw Texas hold a double-digit lead for all but the first 11 seconds of the second half. Longhorns point guard D.J. Augustin said the neutralization of Lofton began on the offensive end, when he was chasing Abrams: "We wanted to get [Lofton] tired and run him off of so many screens with A.J. that, by the time he got on offense, he wasn't as energized."
Vols forward Wayne Chism explained last week that Lofton was merely "chillin'," or biding his time before acting like the marksman that we've come to know over the past two seasons. He would be wise stop chillin' soon, lest his All-America campaign be shut down. Abrams, meanwhile, is on an amazing long-distance shooting tear to start the season: he's hit 55.6 percent of his 3s thus far, including 12-of-20 in Texas' two wins at the Prudential Center. Apropos of the arena name, a harder-than-normal, composite ball called "The Rock" has been used in Legends Classic games. Of Abrams, Texas coach Rick Barnes said, "He might want to invest in that [ball], because he's had a pretty good week with it."
Abrams scored 31 against New Mexico State and 21 against Tennessee, outshining Lofton, who entered the tournament as its biggest name but walked through the handshake line afterwards with his jersey tugged up over his head, as if to shroud himself from the reality of an ugly, 19-point loss. Augustin was named the Legends Classic's MVP, but he was expected to be the best point guard on the floor. Abrams wasn't expected to be the best two-guard in Newark. "I had [outplaying Lofton] in the back of my mind," he said. "He's an All-American, but I didn't want to come out and just say 'I'm going to outplay him.' I wanted to win this tournament." Abrams managed to accomplish both.
2. This is Connor Atchley's breakout year.
Atchley, a redshirt junior, is the only Texas starter from Saturday who does not appear on the front cover of the Longhorns' media guide. There are a few reasons for this: The other four starters -- Augustin, Abrams, Justin Mason and Damion James -- all started last year, too, while the 6-foot-11 Atchley averaged 17.9 minutes and only 3.9 points off the bench. And Atchley, when the season began, was considered by most to be merely keeping the fifth starting spot warm for five-star freshman Gary Johnson, who was waiting for medical clearance for an undisclosed heart condition.
Five games into this season, Johnson is still on the bench in a V-neck sweater and untucked dress shirt, while an ultra-confident Atchley is the team's third-leading scorer. On Saturday, he poured in a career-high 22 points for his fourth straight game in double-digits. In the first 5:09 of the game, he had one layup and one 3-pointer assisted by Augustin, plus another layup and a dunk on fast-breaks. "His conditioning is off the charts," Barnes said of Atchley. "He runs so well and D.J. trusts him, so if he's open, D.J. will get him the ball."
The timing of Atchley's breakout is impeccable, considering Texas otherwise has a sizable void in its frontcourt; this would be LaMarcus Aldridge's senior season, but he's been in the NBA for two years; this would be Mike Williams' junior season, but he transferred to Cincinnati at the same time Aldridge turned pro. Six-foot-10 sophomore Matt Hill is on the bench in a boot, sitting in street clothes alongside Johnson. Atchley waited four years for his turn, and now, in an offense with a speedy, penetrating point guard (Augustin), and a sharpshooter (Abrams), Atchley should continue to get his fair share of open looks against stretched-out and befuddled transition defenses.
3. The Texas fastbreak overwhelmed Tennessee's athletes.
The Vols' vaunted press is still effective when they can set it up after made baskets, but the Longhorns thrived off of misses, when Tennessee's transition defense was often all but helpless. Texas had a massive 23-6 advantage in fast-break points, with everyone from Augustin, to Abrams, to Mason, to Atchley streaking downcourt for open layups and dunks. After putting up 97 on the Vols, the 'Horns are now averaging 99.7 points over their past three games. "We were focusing on our transition offense," said Abrams. "We looked on the film and noticed that [Tennessee] sometimes didn't get back on defense, so we wanted to get down [court] on them."
Augustin and Mason were also extremely adept -- in both fast-break and half-court situations -- at drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line. Between them, they shot 17 free throws, making 13, while Tennessee was 10-of-16 from the stripe combined. At one point late in the first half, after Augustin had drawn yet another whistle, Vols coach Bruce Pearl yelled to his less-aggressive guards, "Drive into them one time! Initiate contact!"
4. The Texas portion of the Big 12 is much scarier than we expected at the beginning of the season.
Baylor took down Notre Dame and Winthrop this week to win the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas. Texas A&M slaughtered unranked Ohio State to win the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday (that beat-down was covered in yesterday's blog). And Texas one-upped the Aggies by dismantling a top-10 team on a neutral floor on Saturday. "I knew we were going to be a great team," Augustin said on Saturday, after being asked about what he expected from the 'Horns in Year 1 post-Kevin Durant. But did anyone think they'd be this good, even before Johnson was added to the lineup? Neither Texas nor A&M began '07-08 in the top 10 of any polls. And Baylor wasn't even ranked. Less than a month into the season, Texas -- and not California, North Carolina, Tennessee or Washington -- looks like the most powerful state in college basketball.
A few photos from the trip to Newark, N.J., on Saturday evening for the Legends Classic final between No. 15 Texas and No. 7 Tennessee ....
The train ride only took 20 minutes from one Penn Station (New York's) to another (Newark's), which was dressed up in New Jersey Devils signage rather than college hoops advertisements ...
Then a four-block walk from the train station to the shiny new Prudential Center, during which I encountered zero fans clad in either Longhorns or Vols gear. It was foreshadowing for the nearly empty arena I'd soon enter ...
That shot was taken with about five minutes left in the West Virginia-New Mexico State consolation game, and the crowd did not swell in size for the nightcap. Although a number of Tennessee fans did vacate the Prudential Center's mezzanine-level bar, where they had been watching the Vols' quadruple-overtime win over Kentucky in football.
Joseph Jones harassed Ohio State freshman Kosta Koufos into 4-for-16 shooting.
NEW YORK --Four things we learned about Texas A&M from its 70-47 rout of Ohio State in Friday's NIT Season Tip-Off Final at Madison Square Garden ...
1. The Aggies are still as physical as ever on D.
There's a noise that 6-foot-9 forward Joseph Jones occasionally makes while holding his defensive ground in the post. It's the basketball version of the tennis grunt, an "UGH!" that's muddied by his mouthpiece but can still easily be heard from press row. The first time Ohio State's budding Greek god, freshman Kosta Koufos, tried to back Jones down on the block, the Buckeyes' baby 7-footer was met with the sound and a collision, and the right-handed hook shot he attempted was off the mark. Jones says the grunts are an unconscious thing, but by being so aggressive, "I try to let players know that I'm here, and I plan on being here the whole night."
For Ohio State, it was the longest of nights. Koufos, who had scored 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting in Wednesday's semifinal against Syracuse, was manhandled by A&M and limited to just 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Said Jones of the Aggies' game plan, "Coach [Mark Turgeon] said [Koufos] has a tendency to shy away from contact, so we tried to play him as physical as possible." That they did, with the trio of Jones, Bryan Davis, and DeAndre Jordan not only keeping Koufos' offense in check but also holding him to only three rebounds, while A&M finished the game with a massive, 47-32 advantage on the boards. While the Buckeyes' cold shooting contributed to their worst loss since a blowout at the hands of Florida on Dec. 23, 2006, they were demoralized by the Aggies' thorough domination of the interior. It wasn't entirely a coincidence that OSU shot 24.6 percent from the field and went the opening 11 1/2 minutes of the second half with just one field goal. They were in the clutches of a defensive juggernaut.
2. Even DeAndre Jordan is starting to look the part of an A&M menace.
The 7-foot Jordan came out high school with five-star hype but didn't exactly live up to it when he first arrived in College Station. He was tentative and immature, and even when I saw an Aggies practice in mid-October, Jordan was getting roughed up by Jones and Davis, and was relatively ineffective on offense. "He was being a baby [then]," said Turgeon. "[Jones and Davis] have been great for DeAndre." What they've done is turn Jordan -- who didn't need to exert much energy to dominate tiny opponents of his 126-student Christian Life Center Academy in Houston -- into a force against high-major competition. He scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 26 minutes on Friday. Another near-perfect shooting performance -- 5-of-6 from the field -- brought his season field-goal percentage to a stunning 87.9 percent (29-of-33). Those buckets are mostly dunks and put-backs, but still, can you find another 7-footer who's averaging double-digits with that kind of accuracy?
In what might be perceived as a sign of respect, even Jones and Davis have begun to cut Jordan a break in practice. "Jo' and 'BD' used to do a thing where they'd screen me at the same time, kind of squishing me, and that took a lot out of me," Jordan said. "But now they don't really do it anymore, I think because they don't want me to get hurt during the season."
3. Dominique Kirk is no longer a question mark at the point.
In October, Turgeon said the Aggies' point-guard position, which had just been vacated by All-America/Lottery Pick Acie Law, "is a daily [question] for me." He had three options: Kirk, a savvy senior; Donald Sloan, an athletic sophomore; and B.J. Holmes, a diminutive freshman. Turgeon chose Kirk, with Sloan in relief, and the move has thus far been a resounding success. Kirk dished out a team-high five assists against zero turnovers against Ohio State, and his assist-to-turnover ratio through six games is 3.25-to-1, higher than both his (2.6) and Law's (1.9) from last season.
"Dominique has been phenomenal," said Turgeon, who in his playing days was a point guard under Larry Brown at Kansas. "The first day of practice I was like, 'Oh man, I've got problems.' But [Kirk] has come so far, and now he thinks like a point guard. ... So I feel much better today than I did then."
The unselfishness of Kirk and Sloan has transformed A&M from a team that often lived or died with Law's scoring ability into one with an extremely balanced attack. Against the Buckeyes, the Aggies had five players between nine and 15 points in the box score: Derrick Roland (15), Nathan Walkup (11), Jordan (11), Jones (10) and Josh Carter (nine).
4. A&M just might belong in the top 10.
Asked if the Aggies had made a national statement by winning the NIT title, Jones said, "I don't know if the world thinks we're a good team or not, but I think we're a pretty good team ourselves."
The world, Joe, should soon be warming up to that notion. In this young season, no team has destroyed a quality opponent like the 15th-ranked Aggies did to the Buckeyes on Friday. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim insisted on Wednesday night that "Ohio State is without any question a top-25 team" -- and then A&M made that same team look like an NIT club two days later. Even Turgeon admitted, "I wasn't expecting this. I was expecting a high-scoring game out of them. They're so hard to guard."
Given the vulnerabilities shown by a number of teams ahead of A&M in the AP poll -- Louisville, Marquette, Tennessee and Oregon, to name a few -- it's more than reasonable to consider the Aggies worthy of a spot in the lower portion of the top 10. In terms of administering bruising beat-downs, they might as well be ranked No. 1.
Chris Douglas-Roberts (33 points) and freshman guard Derrick Rose (24 points) combined for 57 of the Tigers' 81 points.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Checking in from Memphis' 81-70 win over UConn in Friday's title game of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic ...
NEW YORK -- There's an obvious reason these Tigers are a better team than the version that reached the Elite Eight in March. It's that kid with the sphynx-like mien and cat-like quicks. The freshman point guard. No. 23. Derrick Rose. Hard to miss him. He scored 24 points against the Huskies, including 16 in the second half. The fewest points he's scored in a game thus far is 17. But he's the obvious reason. There's no need to keep pointing it out.
The real question is, why else should we believe that Memphis has improved this year? Another night of watching the Tigers at Madison Square Garden yielded these answers:
1. Chris Douglas-Roberts spent the summer working on his accuracy -- but not his unconventional form -- after hitting only 32.8 percent of his threes last season. He's a better shooter now, knocking down seven of his first 13 trey attempts through four games. What's important, though, is that he hasn't been deluded into thinking he can thrive on the perimeter. "CD-R," as they call him, took 24 shots on Friday en route to scoring 33 points, and only three attempts came from beyond the arc (he made two). "Even though I improved my shot, I'm not going to shoot all threes," he said. "I like the physical play in the lane. I like getting bumped, I like getting and-ones, I like shooting runners. That'll always be my bread and butter."
Smart kid. Douglas-Roberts does not have a frame that appears built for contact -- he's essentially the anti-Joey Dorsey, a spindly wing with long arms swimming inside a baggy tee, socks pulled up high on beanpole legs and his jersey frequently slipping off his narrow shoulders. But CD-R is a wizard inside the arc. Memphis likes run him off low screens, set mostly by Dorsey, in order to free him up for isolation plays on the wing. Coach John Calipari criticized Douglas-Roberts on Thursday for being lackadaisical and picking up two, stupid early fouls against Oklahoma. Against UConn, he stayed out of foul trouble and made a massive impact, attacking Huskies forward Stanley Robinson time and time again for baskets inside the lane. Douglas-Roberts prefers to start his approach slowly, lulling his defender to sleep with lazy dribbles, then feigning a few pull-up jumpers, before backing in and finding acrobatic ways to launch the ball at the goal -- and usually scoring. "That's the best play," he said of Memphis' wing iso set. "That's our only play, really. It's called 'Quick'."
2. Not many teams have one, much less two, perimeter defenders who can handle the isolations Rose and Douglas-Roberts are allowed to run. To get an idea of just how often Memphis relies on this one-man, NBA mode of offense, consider that the Tigers scored 32 baskets against the Huskies -- and only five were assisted. Four of Douglas-Roberts' 14 makes were assisted and zero of Rose's eight were. Yet the Tigers' two stars still shot over 50 percent from the field combined (22-of-41).
Rose said that feeding the hot hand with isolation opportunities is one of the tenets of the Tigers' offense against a man-to-man: "Coach tells us to go with the person who's sticking 'em," he said, hence the frequency with which Douglas-Roberts found himself breaking down Robinson. UConn, it must be noted, put exceptional athletes up against Rose and Douglas-Roberts. A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson and Robinson are no slouches ... but they were still burned repeatedly. Price and Dyson managed to return the favor on the other end, combining for 40 points, but they didn't score enough down the stretch to pull off an upset.
3. Antonio Anderson no longer needs to shoot -- at all -- for the Tigers to win. This is more of a suggested opportunity to improve rather than a reason Memphis is currently better: The junior guard is still taking too many shots, as he was 1-of-8 from the field on Friday in 32 minutes. Memphis could make a major offensive-efficiency jump simply by ordering the junior guard not to take any more threes for the rest of the season. He was allowed to shoot 106 triples last year and made only 26 (for a dismal 24.5 percent success rate). Rose, Douglas-Roberts, Doneal Mack and Willie Kemp are capable of taking the bulk of the treys from here on out, while Anderson focuses solely on creating shots for others. Assist-men are what the Tigers need right now, anyways: Anderson was the only one with more assists (three) than turnovers (one) against UConn.
Rose, despite being billed in a few scouting reports as a deft distributor, is not yet acting like a pass-first point guard. He took 17 shots and had zero assists against five turnovers on Friday. In the two games at the Garden, he took 29 shots but dished out just three assists and committed nine turnovers. That's pretty much the definition of a scoring point guard.
4. Experience is now on their side. Rose is getting loads of attention, so much that Calipari held a meeting at his house earlier this month to attempt to prevent it from creating rifts within the team. It was a smart move, since the key to a Memphis title run this season may be that their rotation prominently features one seasoned senior (Dorsey, a rebounder extraordinaire who had 12 on Friday) and three juniors (CD-R, Anderson and Robert Dozier, who had a stellar, eight-point, eight-board, three-block performance vs. UConn).
"Our experience got us over the hump today," Douglas-Roberts said after the game, in which UConn took a 41-40 lead into halftime and didn't wilt until the final six minutes. "Two years ago, I'm not sure if we could've pulled this game out."
5. Worldwide Wes is now on their side more than ever. I'm only kidding about the impact of this on the Tigers' actual games. But I did find it interesting that William Wesley -- a.k.a. "Worldwide Wes" or "Uncle Wes," a confidant of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Jay-Z, et al, and the man of whom GQ asked, Is This The Most Powerful Man in Sports? -- was present on Friday. He came off the court with the Tigers following their tournament trophy ceremony, and was heard saying, "I want to hear the speech," before ducking into their locker room. Wesley has ties to Douglas-Roberts' AAU team, "The Family," which is sponsored by another friend, Richard Hamilton. Wesley is also rumored to have helped sway Rose toward Memphis. Said Rose of Wesley, "He's a close friend -- for the whole team." Douglas-Roberts said Wesley "doesn't have a role on the team; Uncle Wes is just a man." Later, Wesley was seen talking with one of Rose's older brothers, as well as an older brother of Tyreke Evans, who's the No. 2-ranked prospect in the Class of 2008 and one of the Tigers' top recruiting targets.
6. The Tigers aren't collapsing under the weight of their star power. Their assist-to-turnover ratio -- of 5-to-18 -- was horrible; but that was largely a product of all the isolation plays they used to break down Calhoun's man-to-man D (not the ideal scheme to use against Memphis). Rose will be in the spotlight all season, but he doesn't seek it out. When I inquired afterward about his favorite bucket of the game -- Calipari wasn't pleased with a few of Rose's "circus shots," but the freshman did knock down a a few crazy, hanging layups -- all Rose said was, "I just like seeing my other players score."
Douglas-Roberts, who was chosen the MVP of the tournament, made a point to say later that, "Joey [Dorsey] was the MVP. He gets double-digit rebounds, covers everybody's back, gets three blocks a game -- I mean, I don't see how he wasn't the MVP of this tournament." When asked if he would turn over his freshly acquired MVP trophy to Dorsey, Douglas-Roberts paused before saying, "I'll just make sure that he reads this." Unselfishness has its limits.
Derrick Rose and the Tigers' three starting guards tallied 38 points and 12 boards against the Sooners.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Three things we learned about No. 3 Memphis after its 63-53 win over unranked Oklahoma in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic on Thursday at Madison Square Garden ...
1. The Tigers' most valuable player isn't Derrick Rose. It's Joey Dorsey.
The on-court aura of the 6-foot-9, 265-pound Dorsey, according to Rose, a soft-spoken freshman, is "scary." Memphis has a surplus stock of speedy point guards (Rose, Willie Kemp and Andre Allen) and slick wings (Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and Doneal Mack); but what it does not have is multiple big men who put fear in the hearts of opposing posts. This is solely Dorsey's department. He's chiseled, relentless on the glass and has a crazy streak that leaves him liable to commit a technical foul at any moment (he had one against Oklahoma, for a shoving altercation with freshman Blake Griffin). Dorsey is also capable of regularly putting up bullish stat lines like he had on Thursday: Nine points on 4-of-5 shooting, 12 rebounds and five blocks in 33 minutes.
The fact the Sooners were intent on playing a grind-it-out, bruising style -- keeping Memphis under 80 points for the first time this year -- made Dorsey the most important Tiger on the floor. Afterwards, with an ice pack strapped to the sprained right shoulder that kept him out of the first two regular-season games, Dorsey said, "I love the physical play. This is what I want. That's what type of player I am -- physical."
Dorsey also played the role of Memphis' sparkplug on Thursday, igniting a rally that turned a 20-18 game with 7:34 left in the first half into a 35-25 contest at halftime. It all started with his tip-in of a missed layup by Rose with 6:32 left to put the Tigers up 22-18; he'd later add an alley-oop dunk from Rose to extend the lead to 30-23. Dorsey also erased two shots on the other end; on the possession after his tip-in, he swatted away a close-range attempt by 5-10 Sooner Omar Leary. Less than a minute later, Dorsey flew across the lane to stuff a much larger foe -- 6-11 Longar Longar -- and caused an older, female Memphis fan sitting courtside to say to her husband, in a thick Southern drawl, "You see Joey block that? Wheeeeeeeeew."
2. Rose has some absurd moves in his arsenal ... but he's still a freshman, not a superhuman.
Immediately after the buzzer sounded, Dorsey sidled up to Rose and said directly into his ear, "[There's] no pressure. This is what you want right here." Dorsey was referring to the stage -- Madison Square Garden, on national TV -- and the sometimes-shaky, sometimes-brilliant performance delivered by his five-star freshman point guard. Rose finished with a game-high 17 points, but five came on free-throws in the final eight minutes. He also had only three assists against four turnovers, often driving too wildly to the rim without a quality outlet option.
This was the least impressive game of the three he's played, and yet it still contained numerous highlight-reel moments. The most stunning of those was the first, which came just 1:39 after the tip: Standing one step inside the free-throw line, Rose rebounded Oklahoma's second shot attempt of the game -- and within four dribbles (and seemingly only a couple of seconds), he had reached the other end of the floor and laid the ball off the glass for two points. It was no run-of-the-mill layup, either: Rose had to lean into 6-9, 240-pound Blake Griffin to create space in the air before putting up the shot. The one-man fastbreak, said Rose, is something coach John Calipari strongly encourages: "If I don't do it, he'll stop me in practice and yell at me, and make me do the play over again."
Oklahoma kept itself in the game -- or at least within six points in the final two minutes -- by limiting Rose's fastbreak opportunities. Multiple Sooners would run back ahead of the speedy floor general and clog the middle of the floor before dropping into what, for the most part, was a 2-3 zone defense. "One person can't keep Derrick Rose in check," OU coach Jeff Capel said of the strategy. "The only person who can do that is Cal [John Calipari], and he ain't gonna do it."
3. The Tigers are loaded with talent, but need to prove they're not vulnerable to zones.
If Oklahoma, an average team that doesn't have a strong backcourt or regularly play zone D, could hold Memphis to 63 points and 38.6 percent shooting from the field, what will more formidable perimeter defensive squads be able to accomplish? The blueprint for slowing down the athletes in Calipari's AASAA (Attack Attack Skip Attack Attack) offense is no secret: Settle into a zone and force them to beat you by hitting jumpers rather than layups. Rose, Kemp and Mack are all passable perimeter shooters, but none is an elite gunner; on Thursday they were a combined 4-of-14 from long distance.
"We thought coming in, if they have any Achilles' heel, it's shooting," Capel said of the Tigers. "And one of the things we talked about was we wanted to make them contested jump shooters. We did a good job. We just had to score more."
Jump-shooting -- and whether or not Memphis is proficient enough at it to win a national title -- is no new topic in Tigerland. It was discussed ad nauseam last season, but it's not going to go away in '07-08. The Tigers' speedy, slashing attach is nearly impossible for lesser foes to defend with anything other than a zone. Following the game, Calipari said, in what seemed like a lament, "I hope, at some point, someone plays us man-to-man." Good luck with that.
Bulldogs on the downtown 1 train (from left to right: Thomas Sanders, Matt French, Takayo Siddle).
NEW YORK -- Six Gardner-Webb players were standing across the street from Madison Square Garden at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, soaking in the atmosphere of a city they'd never set foot in before -- a place with more than 2,100 times the residents of their school's hometown, tiny Boiling Springs, N.C. (pop. 3,866). An ad for a Dane Cook performance was on the Garden's video board, and a banner for the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic hung over one of the arena's main entryways. Freshman Nate Blank, a forward from Terre Haute, Ind., had spotted the banner first, and pointed out something peculiar: "Look at that," he said. "It's still showing Kentucky's logo."
The sign must've been made well in advance of the event, expecting Billy Clyde Gillispie's Wildcats to cruise through the two opening rounds at Rupp Arena and reach the Big Apple along with Memphis, Oklahoma and UConn. A week ago, Gardner-Webb threw a wrench in things by pulling off a monstrous, 84-68 upset of Kentucky. And so here are the Runnin' Bulldogs, on 7th Avenue and 32nd street in Manhattan, ready to take on Jim Calhoun's Huskies in less than 24 hours. The Gardner-Webb squad arrived around noon Wednesday, after playing a game the previous night -- they hadn't expected to reach New York, either -- and rushing to the Charlotte airport early in the morning. The banner wasn't the only thing that had failed to recognize their presence. Junior guard Takayo Siddle was wearing a fresh tournament T-shirt ... with Kentucky's logo on the back. "They left us off this, too," he said matter-of-factly, without a hint of resentment. Blank noted that the Bulldogs' logo had at least made it onto the tournament's official Web site, which was nice.
Gardner-Webb coach Rick Scruggs, who somehow managed to maintain a placid demeanor as his team took a 14-0 lead against UK and then held on for a shocking victory, told me via phone on Tuesday that he had once tried to get into Madison Square Garden. He was at the Final Four in 1996, the last time it was held in New Jersey and Kentucky won the national title. Scruggs traveled into Manhattan to get a peek at what, he says, "is one of what I consider to be the meccas of college basketball -- that and Rupp Arena. But security wouldn't let me in." Last week Scruggs won at Rupp. This week he'll be allowed in the Garden -- and allowed to stalk the sideline, no less.
Scruggs' players shouldn't be in awe of UConn, on a neutral floor, after knocking off Kentucky on its home turf. The Bulldogs were, however, somewhat out of sorts in the city. I met up with a group of them following their practice on Wednesday night -- Blank, Siddle, Matt French, Quincy Sarpy and last Wednesday's heroes, Grayson Flittner and Thomas Sanders, who combined for 43 points against UK. Walking up from their hotel toward the artificial glow of Times Square, they marveled at things big (the Garden, MTV's TRL studios, the NASDAQ video display) and small (boiled nut vendors, taxi cabs, steam coming out of manholes). "Why does it do that?" French asked of the white clouds billowing up out of the sewer. "It's right out of Ninja Turtles." Some of the Webb-sters are from decent-sized locales -- French hails from Melbourne, Australia, and Sanders is from Houston -- but Boiling Springs, where they left that morning, is a one-stoplight, zero-bar town in a dry, isolated county in North Carolina. Slightly different than New York City.
Bulldogs in Times Square (from left to right: Takayo Siddle, Nate Blank, Quincy Sarpy, Matt French, Thomas Sanders, Grayson Flittner).
All of the players were wearing Gardner-Webb garb, and were stopped a couple of times on the street by curious pedestrians. One man asked, "You guys ballers? What division?"
None of the players had been on a subway before, either, and I ended up playing the role of tour guide, taking them downtown on the 1 train from Times Square to Greenwich Village. The destination: John's of Bleecker Street, for classic New York-style, brick-oven pizza. There, the players told stories about the outbreak of basketball fever at their 3,000-student Baptist college, which has chartered buses take students on an 11-hour journey from Boiling Springs to Manhattan for tonight's game. "Kids camped out for three nights in the cold, trying to get a spot on the buses," said Sanders, the team's lone senior. "Tents were wrapping around our gym; they called it Scruggsville."
I asked them what the highlight of last season was; they had finished eighth in the Atlantic Sun Conference and never appeared on ESPN or ESPN2. Tonight will be their second appearance this season on the network's main channels. "We don't really want to talk about last year," said Sanders. "We only won nine games [they were 9-21]. There weren't any highlights." Flittner chimed in with a story of beating Western Carolina on the road in December. "We came back to win in overtime," he said. "That was probably the biggest thing that happened."
Gardner-Webb has attracted slightly more attention this season. Flittner asked me, "Why do you think the media jumped on our story so much last week?" They went from total obscurity to taking calls from the likes of the New York Times and the L.A. Times, and being followed around by ESPN camera crews. Whereas, he said, fellow Atlantic Sun member Mercer upset a ranked USC team -- with O.J. Mayo -- in a standard non-conference game a few days later and didn't receive the same level of attention.
My answer had three parts: The story was amplified by the fact that their victim was Kentucky; the Bulldogs hit college hoops' most legendary program with a gut punch before Billy Clyde's revival could begin. The game was also on national TV, on a night where there were few other entertainment options. (Mercer's win came on a Saturday.) And most importantly, the nation is always ready and willing to fall in love with a tournament Cinderella. Even if the tournament is in November.
Readers are encouraged to make nominations in the comments or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, and will get credit for successful suggestions. Pictures are welcome.
Without further ado, the Archive (latest update March 27):
D-Shirted Chris Douglas-Roberts, 6-7 guard, Jr., Memphis Classification: Sleeve removal Spotted: March 23 vs. Mississippi State Notes: CDR's trademark was a baggy tee -- until he switched to a smaller one midway through '08, and then ditched it altogether in time for the NCAA tournament, claiming not to be the least bit superstitious.
NCAA Flair Every tournament team Classification: Blue jersey patch Spotted: Omaha, Little Rock, Raleigh ... Notes: The NCAA mandated that all teams in the tournament wear the same jersey badge on their left shoulder, and for UCLA, at least, it matches. For a team like Michigan State or Wazzu, not so much.
Three Shades of Pearl Bruce Pearl, coach, Tennessee Classification: Sartorial diversity Spotted: Over the course of '06-08 Notes: First the orange blazer (right), then the shirtless stunt for a Lady Vols game (left), then this spacesuit/warmup for a recent speech. Pearl has the market cornered on coaching outlandishness.
Perma-tears Tyler Smith, 6-7 forward, Soph., Tennessee Classification: Facial tattoo Spotted: Entire '07-08 season Notes: Smith had these tears tattooed in memory of his late father, Billy, who passed away from lung cancer in September. Billy's illness was the reason Smith left Iowa in '07 and transferred closer to home.
Hair-on-Gody Luke Harangody, 6-8 forward, Soph., Notre Dame Classification: Various-sized buzz-cuts Spotted: March 2 vs. Depaul; March 20 vs. Winthrop Notes: 'Gody's iconic 'do, which was passed down from his father, Dave, is characterized by the fact that it sticks straight out of his head in all directions. The family simply refers to it as "Harangody Hair."
The Lanyard Look Coppin State Eagles Classification: Jersey decoration Spotted: March 15 vs. Morgan State Notes:Julian Conyers and the Eagles are the first 20-loss team to ever make the NCAA tournament -- and they'll likely be the only ones there this year who appear to have CSU lanyards sewn onto their necklines.
Downward-Facing Bulldog A.J. Graves, 6-1 guard, Sr., Butler Classification: Celebration cartwheel Spotted: March 11, after Horizon League title game Notes: Switz City's finest busted a move in honor of the Bulldogs' automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. We doubt Butler was doing flips over the No. 7 seed it got from the selection committee, though.
Jazz-Hands-In-Your-Face D D.J. Augustin, 5-11 guard, Soph., Texas Classification: Creative defensive position Spotted: March 15 in the Big 12 tourney Notes: Augustin tried to fluster Oklahoma's Tyler Griffin with this move in the Big 12 semis -- and at the very least, made him close his eyes. The 'Horns won the game, too, but fell to Kansas on Sunday.
Psycho-Spastic Shuffle Tyler Hansbrough, 6-9 forward, Jr., North Carolina Classification: Celebration dance Spotted: March 15 in ACC semifinals Notes: Hansbrough had good reason to make this flailing display of emotion: He had just hit the game-winning shot, with 0.8 seconds left, to sink Virginia Tech out of both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
The Cactus Matt Bouldin, 6-5 guard, Soph., Gonzaga Classification: Large 'do Spotted: All season Notes: Bouldin, the Zags' leading scorer as they head into the NCAA tournament, is the only college hoopster who bears at least a mild resemblance to a member of Phish (that would be bassist Mike "Cactus" Gordon).
Lithuanian Artillery Laurynas Mikalauskas, 6-8 forward, Jr., Virginia Classification: Schwarzenegger pose Spotted: March 5 vs. Duke Notes: Mikalauskas gave us perhaps the best single-basket celebration of the year after an and-one play against the Dukies. Not even an elaborate shoulder-and-arm brace could stop him from flexing.
Cinderella Beard Todd Babington, 6-6 guard, Sr., Austin Peay Classification: Facial hair Spotted: March 8 vs. Tennessee State Notes: For a lumberjack, Babington has some decent basketball skills: He scored 24 points while rocking this beard in the Ohio Valley Conference's tourney title game, clinching Peay a spot in the NCAAs.
Major League 'Stache Tony Shaver, coach, William & Mary Classification: Facial hair Spotted: March 9 vs. VCU Notes: Shaver is like a young Lou Brown, sporting a coaching 'stache that exudes authority. While Brown coaxed an underdog to the AL Pennant, though, Shaver came one game short of getting W&M to the NCAAs.
The Chism Tyrone Shelley, 6-6 guard, Fr., Pepperdine Classification: Headgear Spotted: March 7 vs. Portland Notes: Shelley and Tennessee's Wayne Chism both belong to the High-Up school of headband style -- essentially the opposite of UCLA's Lorenzo Mata-Real, who wears his all the way over his ears.
The Red Storm John Bryant, 6-10 center, Jr., Santa Clara Classification: Hirsuteness Spotted: March 9 vs. Gonzaga Notes: Bryant rocks an explosive mop of curls while serving as the Broncos' giant in the post. This puts him on par with Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin -- a Mike Gordon look-a-like -- for the WCC's biggest 'do.
The Sharpie Kevin Love, UCLA/A.J. Price, UConn Classification: Chin-strap facial hair Spotted: Bi-coastally Notes: The stars of Westwood and Storrs have been sporting beards skinny enough to be drawn on with a marker. The look seems to be working, though, as both Love and Price are All-America candidates.
Candy Stripers Tennessee/Indiana Classification: Warmup Pants Spotted: The layup line Notes: The Hoosiers have long been famous for their red-and-white, tear-off trousers, but the Vols -- also sponsored by Adidas -- got into the act this season, rocking throwbacks to the Ray Mears era.
Two-Tieing Van Chancellor, coach, LSU Classification: Neckwear Spotted: Feb. 25 vs. UConn Notes: Chancellor rocked a bow tie at the start of the Lady Tigers' loss to UConn, but ditched it at half for more traditional neckwear. "I will never wear another bow tie as long as I coach," he said.
High-Fashion Goggs Marcus Landry, 6-7 forward, Jr., Wisconsin Classification: Modern Rec Specs Spotted: Feb. 20 at Illinois Notes: Although I still prefer the yellow goggs worn by UCLA's Alfred Aboya earlier this season, Landry has a slick pair of Adidas specs. Basketball eyewear has come a long way since the days of Kurt Rambis.
Kissing Goodbye Drew Neitzel, 6-0 guard, Sr., Michigan State Classification: Center-court smooch Spotted: March 2 vs. Indiana Notes: Neitzel, as well as fellow senior Drew Naymick, made this parting gesture on their final trip off the court on the Spartans' Senior Day. The game itself was a laugher, as State routed Indiana, 103-74.
Eighty-Eights Kansas Jayhawks Classification: Throwback Jerseys Spotted:Feb. 16 vs. Colorado Notes: In an ode to the pre-Trajan era, KU trotted out throwbacks from Danny Manning's national championship team -- and while wearing them, pounded the Buffs, 69-45. Why not keep these on a permanent basis?
Dark Horses USC Trojans Classification: Alternate Jerseys Spotted:Feb. 17 vs. UCLA Notes: USC's "Black Out The Bruins" experiment did not go well: The jerseys were a style flop, and the Trojans played poorly in them, losing 56-45 to their L.A. rivals as star O.J. Mayo scored just four points.
The Cut Of Osiris Osiris Eldridge, 6-3 guard, Soph., Illinois State Classification: Gradual Mohawk Spotted: Feb. 5 vs. Drake Notes: The actual Osiris distinguished himself by having green skin -- and also by being the Egyptian god of life, death and fertility. That's a hard act to follow, but Eldridge is putting in a nice effort with this 'do.
K.S.wiss Indiana Hoosiers Classification: Ousted Coach's Initials Spotted: Feb. 23 vs. Northwestern Notes: The Hoosiers paid their respects to Kelvin Sampson's career by writing his initials on their shoes; he showed them some love by sending them text-messages after they narrowly beat the cellar-dwelling 'Cats.
LeVa Tech Paul Debnam, 6-3 guard, Soph., Virginia Tech Classification: Customized LeBrons Spotted: Feb. 16 at UNC by Zeke Smith Notes: Zeke, a Chapel Hill-based photog, not only nominated Debnam but sent in a photo of the walk-on's VT-emblazoned 'Brons. Other end-of-the bench guys take note: custom kicks will get you some Style pub.
Lumberjack From Down Under Aron Baynes, 6-10 center, Jr., Wash. State Classification: Woodsman/Williamsburg Beard Spotted: Feb. 7 vs. UCLA Notes: Baynes, the Cougars' temperamental center, recently began sporting this scraggly beard. Whether the Aussie is doing it for warmth or hipster cred, or if it's merely a result of hygienic neglect, we do not know.
DeanDome Dancin' Danny Green, 6-6 forward, Jr., North Carolina Classification: Pregame dance ritual Spotted: Feb. 6 vs. Duke Notes: The main reason Green doesn't start at Carolina, I think, is so he can do this dance while House of Pain's Jump Around blares from the Smith Center speakers right before tip. It's become something of a UNC tradition.
De-Dreaded Deron Washington, 6-7 forward, Sr., Virginia Tech Classification: Haircut Spotted: Feb. 5 at N.C. State Notes: The night before the Hokies beat Virginia on Feb. 2, Washington had his girlfriend and a teammate chop off his trademark dreadlocks and give him a mohawk in their place. "I wanted to shock everybody," he said.
Tylenol Flu Daytime Mouthpiece Trevon Hughes, 6-0 guard, Soph., Wisconsin Classification: Bi-colored mouthpiece Spotted: Jan. 31 vs. Indiana Notes: I'm not sure if I gave this entry the best name ... but when Hughes smiles, it looks like he has a Tylenol Flu Gelcap across his front teeth. This must've looked great with the Badgers' striped retro socks.
Marian Blues Dayton Flyers Classification: Additional jersey logo Spotted: Jan. 16 vs. UMass Notes: The first time the Flyers experimented with this retro look -- a baby blue that may have been an ode to the dome on their famous Marian Library -- they watched a 13-game winning streak come to an end.
The Fanucci/Wolfe/Greene Suit Rick Pitino, coach, Louisville Classification: All-white coaching attire Spotted: Feb. 9 vs. Georgetown Notes: As part of the Cards' "White Out" promotion, Pitino wore this getup -- but ditched it at halftime, claiming it was a casualty of a spilled soda. With its coach back in black, the 'Ville pulled off a comeback win.
Pimpin'eer Bob Huggins, coach, West Virginia Classification: Yellow suit Spotted: Jan. 30 vs. Cincinnati Notes: Huggs went all-out for his first coaching appearance against his former employer, sporting this crazy suit and matching shoes. He didn't get the desired result on the floor, however: WVU was blown out 62-39.
Sweater Vested Pat Knight, coach, Texas Tech Classification: O'Reilly Auto Parts Coachingwear Spotted: Feb. 9 at Nebraska Notes: Pat's ascension to the Red Raiders' head job moves the sweater vest, an increasingly rare sideline style, back into the forefront. The Son of Bob is well on his way to becoming the Jim Tressel of college basketball.
Thinking Pink Essence Carson, 6-0 guard, Sr., Rutgers Classification: Spotted: Feb. 11 at Tennessee Notes: Carson and the Scarlet Knights wore pink uniforms -- and even pink Nikes -- for their narrow loss to the Volunteers. It was part of a "Think Pink" campaign that's aimed at promoting breast cancer awareness.
The Air Gordon Tee Eric Gordon, 6-4 guard, Fr., Indiana Classification: Baggy undershirt Spotted: Feb. 10 at Ohio State Notes: The Hoosiers' influx of t-shirt-wearing rookies -- Gordon, Jamarcus Ellis and Jordan Crawford -- caused senior star D.J. White to cut off his sleeves. This oversized look has become Gordon's trademark.
Natty Nebraska Steve Harley, 5-11 guard, Jr., Nebraska Classification: Massive Dreadlocks Spotted: Jan. 12 vs. Kansas Notes: Harley, a juco All-America last season at South Plains College, brought some flavor with him to Lincoln. His overwhelming hirsuteness makes up for the fact that the Huskers' best player, Aleks Maric, has no hair.
Thick-Hawk Omar Samhan, 6-11 center, Soph., St. Mary's Classification: Mohawk Variation Spotted: Jan. 5 at Texas Notes: The raggedy haircut Sahman sports in his St. Mary's bio makes him look like a metal-band roadie. This ultra-thick mohawk is more appropriate for the court, where he's been averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 boards.
All-Blacks N.C. State Wolfpack Classification: Team-wide black socks Spotted: Jan. 12 at North Carolina Notes: With woeful ACC record, the Wolfpack aren't exactly reviving the Fab Five in terms of quality basketball -- but they are delivering an ode to the old Michigan teams by wearing all-black socks with their black kicks.
Mr. Untucked DeAndre Jordan, 7-0 center, Fr., Texas A&M Classification: Dense beard Spotted: Jan. 12 vs. Colorado Notes: Jordan has the nation's best field-goal percentage at 75.3, but there are two things he doesn't do well: shoot free throws (he hits only 36.1 percent) and keep his jersey tucked in. It's always out ... and it looks awful.
Shoulder U Miami Hurricanes Classification: Additional jersey logo Spotted: Jan. 12 vs. Georgia Tech Notes: The iconic "U" logo isn't just for football helmets. During their 14-1 run to start this season, the 'Canes have worn it on the left shoulder of their Nike jerseys, opposite the requisite U.S. flag on the right shoulder.
Blaze Orange Oliver Purnell, coach, Clemson Classification: School-colored coaching jacket Spotted: Jan. 6 vs. North Carolina Notes: Was this rented -- sans tophat -- off the set of Dumb and Dumber? A game between the Tigers and Tennessee, with Purnell and Bruce Pearl both in their orange blazers, would set coaching fashion back 20 years.
Sideline Sit-in Kevin Stallings, coach, Vanderbilt Classification: Defeated posture Spotted: Jan. 12 at Kentucky Notes: Under the NCAA's new rules of decorum, leaving the coaching box warrants a technical ... but sitting down within it does not. This was Stallings' reaction to the 'Dores' first loss, in double-overtime at Rupp Arena.
Buckled Down Mike Deane, coach, Wagner Classification: Actual bench seatbelt Spotted: All Wagner games Notes: Credit goes to SI.com's Kevin Armstrong for first telling the story of Deane's strapped-in protest in a Jan. 7 column. Deane might be onto something here, considering his history of stellar conduct on the sideline.
The Baron Kenny Williams, 6-8 forward, Sr., Ole Miss Classification: Dense beard Spotted: Jan. 9 at Tennessee Notes: Williams is part of the Rebs' physical front line, and his roughage suggests he's trying to be the Baron Davis of the SEC. But at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, Williams is unlikely to be mistaken for B.D. anytime soon.
Barbershop Art Chris Howard, 6-3 guard, Soph., South Florida Classification: Shaved-In Designs Spotted: Every Bulls home game Notes: Howard hits up his barber -- a dude named "Elvis" at Miracles in Motion in Tampa -- before each home game for a fresh design. South Florida even saw fit to post a Cuttin' it with Chris video on its official Web site.
U, Us, Muss Utah Runnin' Utes Classification: Ode-to-tradition Shorts Spotted: Dec. 31 vs. Gonzaga Notes: A fine way to honor one's student section. The "Muss" in U, Us, Muss stands for Mighty Utah Student Section. Muss also appears in the Utes' fight song: No other gang of college men dare meet us in a muss.
Bein' Easy Mike Beasley, 6-10 forward, Fr., Kansas State Classification: Custom kicks Spotted: Dec. 4 vs. Notre Dame Notes: K-State has no shoe unity -- nearly every player wears a different pair of swooshes -- and Beasley has gone the NikeID route. His nickname, "B Easy," and number, 30, are stitched on the inner sides of his kicks.
Wavy Greivy Greivis Vasquez, 6-6 guard, Soph., Maryland Classification: Facial artistry Spotted: Dec. 12 vs. Ohio by Mr. Irrelevant Notes: "Greivis Vasquez has curious facial hair" was the title of Jamie Mottram's blog post on this questionable fashion statement. Vasquez needs to switch to Russell Westbrook's barber and improve on the details.
Juice Monsta O.J. Mayo, 6-5 guard, Fr., USC Classification: Customized kicks Spotted: Dec. 4 vs. Memphis Notes: Mayo, like Beasley, used NikeID, lettering the straps across the front of his cardinal, gold and white kicks with the words "Juice Monsta." Now will he stick with the swoosh when he signs his first shoe deal in '08?
Derek Obama Barack Obama, 6-1 1/2 Democrat, '08 Presidential race Classification: Jumpman Jeter Vital shoes Spotted: Dec. 24 in SI's Gallery Notes: Posters on the NikeTalk message board ID'd Obama's shoes -- worn in his one-on-one battle with SI's S.L. Price -- as the latest Derek Jeter Jordans. Obama also wore his wedding band during the game.
Where's Waldo Wisconsin? Wisconsin Badgers Classification: Throwback jerseys, socks Spotted: Dec. 3 vs. Wofford Notes: The Badgers honored their 1941 national title team by wearing throwbacks, complete with high, striped socks. Of the leggings, coach Bo Ryan said, "I don't think you'd have a striped-sock fan club started around here."
Greyer Sooner Oklahoma Sooners Classification: Alternate jersey Spotted: Dec. 29 vs. West Virginia Notes: The Sooners debuted these jerseys on Dec. 5 in an 81-55 win over Tulsa. The light-grey look also brought OU luck on Saturday in Charleston, W.V., as it upset the ranked Mountaineers in double overtime.
Little Allen A.J. Abrams, 5-11 guard, Jr., Texas Classification: Iverson Sleeve Spotted: Nov. 24 vs. Tennessee Notes: Teammate D.J. Augustin likes to joke with Abrams about his Iverson obsession; he wears No. 3 and the arm sleeve, but can't sport the actual Iverson shoes ... because Texas is a Nike school.
A&M Memento Billy Gillispie, coach, Kentucky Classification: Belt buckle Spotted: Nov. 6 vs. Central Arkansas Notes: Gillispie wasn't rocking his favorite Texas A&M belt buckle for the Wildcats' game against UNC on Dec. 1, but fans noticed it earlier in the season. The diamond- encrusted UK buckle, presumably, is still in production.
Samurai Dreads Tweety Carter, 5-10 guard, Soph., Baylor Classification: Warrior 'Do Spotted: Nov. 30 vs. Washington State Notes: The Bears' shortest player gets a couple of inches taller by going with this look. Carter's grandmother nicknamed him "Tweety" for the way he cried as a baby, which, come to think of it, isn't a very samurai-like characteristic.
The Neitzel Jonathan Tavernari, 6-6 forward, Soph., BYU Classification: Bald dome Spotted: Nov. 24 vs. North Carolina Notes: While his BYU bio shot still shows a buzz cut, the Cougars' Brazilian shooting star is one of the few players -- along with Michigan State's Drew Neitzel -- going for the slick-dome look in '07-08.
Hoya Albus Georgetown Hoyas Classification: Alternate jersey Spotted: Dec. 1 vs. Fairfield Notes: The Hoyas, who traditionally go with gray at home and navy blue on the road, did not fare particularly well in their experiment with white: They fell behind lowly Fairfield in the second half before rallying to win.
Air Es Salaam Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3 center, Soph., UConn Classification: NikeID customized kicks Spotted: Nov. 15 vs. Gardner-Webb Notes: The Dar Es Salaam-born Thabeet sported these custom, 25th-anniversary Air Force Ones during the opening game of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden, but ditched them for the finale.
The Bron"X" Gavin Grant, 6-8 forward, Sr., N.C. State Classification: Arms Sign Spotted: Nov. 25 vs. Villanova Notes: Grant, a Bronx native, flashed this on ESPN immediately after hitting the game-winning free throw against 'Nova in the Old Spice Classic final. Of the home-town shout-out, Grant said, "Loyalty is priceless."
American Made Joey Dorsey, 6-9 forward, Sr., Memphis Classification: Team USA socks Spotted: Nov. 16 vs. UConn Notes: Dorsey made the U.S. Pan American Games team this summer, playing in Brazil on Jay Wright's fifth-place squad. And apparently Joey likes the U.S. socks ... because he's still wearing them.
High-Fashion Rec-Specs Alfred Aboya, 6-8 forward, Jr., UCLA Classification: Protective Eyewear Spotted: Dec. 2 vs. Texas Notes: Aboya fractured an orbital bone below his right eye in a game against Yale on Nov. 24, but didn't miss a game with the injury. He returned sporting a pair of goggles that would earn Mystery's approval.
Trajan Invasion Kansas Jayhawks Classification: Jersey font change Spotted: Nov. 25 vs. Arizona Notes: KU paid what Brandon Rush called "a pretty penny" -- $88,900, to be exact -- to switch its classic jersey font to Trajan this offseason. This spawned at KU fan to launch a "Trajan Sucks" Web site.
Super Mario 'Stache Nedim Pajevic, 6-9 forward, Sr., UCSB Classification: College hoops' greatest mustache Spotted: Nov. 11 at Stanford Notes: With Virginia's Jason Cain gone, someone needed to assume the mustache throne. That man is the Sarajevo-born Pajevic, who, according to his bio, also has a leg scar from grenade shrapnel.
Flaming Point Guard Russell Westbrook, 6-3 guard, Soph., UCLA Classification: Scalp Design Spotted: by UCLA student Erkki Corpuz Notes: Westbrook told the L.A. Times that this is called the "Flaming Mohawk." It's also the best cut we've seen this season -- and right up with Levon Kendall's "Vanilla" look in the Archive's greatest 'dos.
The Yellow Tie Billy Gillispie, coach, Kentucky Classification: Arm and leg sleeves Spotted: Oct. 31 vs. Pikeville College Notes: In his exhibition-game debut at Kentucky, Gillispie made the seemingly innocuous decision to wear a yellow tie -- prompting a number of Wildcats fans to question why he wasn't wearing blue.
Texas Longpants D.J. Augustin, 6-0 guard, Soph., Texas Classification: Ultra-long game shorts Spotted: Nov. 12 vs. UTSA Notes: The length of Augustin's trunks has expanded along with his role as a scorer in Year 1 post-Durant. The shorts don't seem to be hindering the 'Horns' PG, as he scored 19 points in their first win.
Gap-toothed Acronym UCLA Bruins Classification: Commemorative Jersey Spotted: Nov. 12 vs. Youngstown State Notes: UCLA is the first school to win 100 NCAA championships, and it's commemorating it by making the "C" in the Bruins' jerseys gold. An outline was added after the first edition received poor reviews.
Retro-Checkers Marquette Golden Eagles Classification: Classic jersey trim Spotted: Nov. 10 vs. IUPUI Notes: Marquette parted ways with Nike and now wears alum Dwyane Wade's Converse line. Along with customized D-Wade kicks, the Golden Eagles switched their jerseys to an Al McGuire-era look.
Fully Covered O.J. Mayo, 6-5 guard, Fr., USC Classification: Arm and leg sleeves Spotted: Nov. 10 vs. Mercer Notes: Mayo decided to armor up for his regular-season debut, sporting black sleeves on his arms and legs against Mercer. He scored 32 points, but wasn't particularly impressive, as USC lost by 15.
SI's Preview Issue dropped today, with five regional covers. Gardner-Webb/Mercer barely missed the cut. Our Top 20 -- as voted on by the SI panel -- is here.
Carolina, Duke, Texas and Texas A&M are mine, as is the "rivalry" bit that's teased on the cover. But that's a four-page foldout you'll have to peruse in print.
(A clarification for all the comments-section folk complaining about the lack of Duke-UNC or Kentucky-Louisville covers ... the concept inside the magazine is NEW rivalries, not classic ones. So their omission was intentional. Georgetown-'Cuse, obviously, is not new, but was included as a "reheated" rivalry after going through a down period for much of the decade.)
Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley has totaled 62 points and 38 rebounds in his first collegiate games.
It's difficult to ascertain when, exactly, the college hoops season begins. Sports Illustrated's preview issue -- what I've been working on lately rather than blogging -- comes out tomorrow. The first real "tournament" of the winter, the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic, takes place on Thursday and Friday at Madison Square Garden. Some teams have already played two regular-season games. Others have yet to play one. Basically: we're right in the middle of the beginning. And already, there has been no shortage of surprises: 1. The Zestier Mayonnaise
University of Illinois-Chicago's Josh Mayo was a huge prospect coming out of Merrillville, Ind., in the Class of 2005. So huge that he was assigned two stars in a photo-less, news-less profile in Scout.com's recruiting database. So huge that he wasn't even in Rivals.com's recruiting database. USC's O.J. Mayo, meanwhile, was a slightly huger prospect coming out of Huntington, W.V.: five stars in every recruiting service, and the No. 1 overall prospect in Scout.com's rankings. O.J. also was on the cover of SLAM last month standing in front of a Bentley. They are neither brothers nor cousins, nor did they, coming into this season, appear to be operating in the same basketball universe.
Until they went and actually played the games, that is. When the first weekend of the 2007-08 season was said and done, Josh Mayo > O.J. Mayo. The pride of Merrillville -- now a junior at UIC -- dropped 34 points on 11-of-17 shooting in an upset of Bradley on Saturday. The Fresh(man) Prince of L.A. had 32 against Mercer -- but he needed 27 shots to get there, also committed eight turnovers, and his Trojans lost by 15. To Mercer! Prediction: When Mayo is still taking 20-plus shots a game in three or four years -- for a bad NBA team -- he will not care about this. And Josh Mayo will still have yet to appear in a national publication, standing in front of a Bentley.
2. The Yellow Tie ... and that other thing
Oh, does Billy Gillispie long for the days -- just a week ago, really -- when his yellow tie was the only thing Kentucky fans were worried about. (Seriously, there was enough buzz over Billy Clyde's sartorial decision in UK's first exhibition game that Lexington columnist John Clay was justified in discussing it in his new YouTube series. He paraphrased the reactions of a few fans as, "Why was Billy Gillispie wearing a yellow tie? Doesn't he know he's in Kentucky? He's supposed to wear blue.")
Now the 'Cats, who were to be one of the main attractions in this weekend's 2K Sports College Hoops Classic at Madison Square Garden, are stuck at home, game-less, for two weeks after a rather stunning collapse: an 84-68 loss, on Wednesday, to a Gardner-Webb team that won nine games the previous year, and drew fewer people to all of its conference home games combined than UK did to its Big Blue Madness. (Thanks to mid-major guru Bill Trocchi for that absurd stat.)
3. B-Easy There, Young Fella
First came the rumors, that Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley (nickname: B-Easy) had scored 42 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a closed scrimmage against Marquette. Then came non-nationally televised confirmation of his dominance: Through the Wildcats' first two games, he's averaged 31 points and 19 rebounds. The opponents were Sacramento State and Pittsburg State, but do you see anyone else putting up those kinds of numbers? I ranked instant-impact freshmen in a gallery a few weeks ago and put Beasley fourth, behind UCLA's Kevin Love, Memphis' Derrick Rose and USC's Mayo. In hindsight, I'd revise the order of my top five to Beasley, Rose, Love, Indiana's Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo. Rose will get the most wins of any of them ... but Beasley, as crazy as it sounds, could actually surpass Kevin Durant's freshman numbers of 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
4. The D2 Invasion
Grand Valley State, the Division II team that sunk No. 8 Michigan State in the Spartans' first exhibition game of the season, appeared in this blog-space last Monday. When I asked the Lakers' L.J. Kilgore if he'd played in any environments as tough as the Breslin Center, he mentioned that the University of Findlay's Croy Gymnasium is rather intense, because "it gets so loud in there that it seems like a million people are against you." This was rather amusing, since Croy is more than 12,000 seats smaller than Breslin. I also figured it would be the last I heard about either Grand Valley State or Findlay all season. Four days later, Findlay upsets Ohio State in Columbus, 70-68. And much like the stunning Josh Mayo > O.J. Mayo development, we also have this: the Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference > the big, bad Big Ten.
Over the summer, Shan Foster reminded Roy Hibbert of this Kodak moment.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
For the latest edition of the Blog Q&A series, I chatted with Vanderbilt's Shan Foster, a senior swingman who averaged 15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 2006-07 as the Commodores reached the Sweet 16. In Vandy's '07-08 opener on Saturday against Austin Peay, Foster led the team in scoring with 21 points on seven 3-pointers. (He also has his own desktop wallpaper, although it was not a topic of conversation.) The following is an edited version of the interview:
Luke Winn: You made the 12-man roster for the U.S. Pan American Games team this summer. [Foster was the squad's second-leading scorer over five games in Brazil.] Which players do you keep in touch with the most from that trip?
Shan Foster: Either Derrick Low or Kyle Weaver from Washington State, or Roy Hibbert -- he was my roommate at the time. Those are the main three.
LW: How much did you and Roy talk about the Vanderbilt-Georgetown Sweet 16 game [which was won in the final seconds on a controversial travel/shot by Jeff Green]?
SF: Not much at all. We talked about it a little bit, obviously. I messed with [Hibbert]: I printed out the picture of me dunking on him, and I got him to sign it for me. He's a stand-up guy; he was like, 'Yeah, man, I'll sign it.'
LW: Is that prominently displayed somewhere now?
SF: No, it's in a safe place. It really just started as a joke while we were down there in Brazil. A few guys were talking about that game, and we were looking at some pictures on the Internet one day. They saw it [the dunk photo] and thought it was funny. So I printed it out as a joke. I didn't think he was going to sign it. I probably wouldn't have signed it, had it been the other way around, but he's a good guy.
LW: I read that you still won't watch film of that game ...
SF: Yeah. It definitely was tough. It ended and I was just like, 'No, I can't believe it's over.' We played so well that game. We were enjoying it being a tough game, and playing at our highest level. For it to end in that fashion ... was just ... [tails off].
LW: What's your instant reaction now, when you hear the name Jeff Green?
SF: He's a good player. A great player. He was a great player that whole game, and that whole season, and he's going to be a great NBA player. I got a chance to talk to him a little bit [from Brazil] because Roy was talking to him on the phone.
LW: And you had to ask him about the play, right?
SF: I did. I was just like, 'C'mon man, the game is over. Just for me, did you travel?' He said, 'Yeah, I traveled, but the ref didn't call it, and I made the play.' So he did travel, but he made a great play. He did what he had to do to get his team the victory.
LW: Georgetown lost Green and is still a consensus top-10 team to begin this season. Vanderbilt lost Derrick Byars and yet is unranked in nearly every poll. Does that anger you at all?
SF: No. [The media's] job is ranking the teams, and our job is to play. My thing is, we'll play and we'll see where we are when all is said and done.
LW: There's a lot of buzz about your new Australian center, A.J. Ogilvy. No one knew anything about him a few months ago, and now he's being talked about as a big-impact freshman. What is he capable of this year?
SF: Based on his work ethic, he's a guy who's capable of reaching his potential. He comes to practice with a hard hat on every day. He wants to be better. He wants to help the team win in every way possible. And skill-wise, he has great hands for a big guy; he catches post feeds real well.
LW: Is there anything about him that you've noticed that's uniquely Australian?
SF: He had on some shoes the other day that were pretty interesting -- some grey boots that looked Australian. I have no clue what they were. But for people who don't know he's from Australia, you'd never guess that he is. He fits in.
LW: I've heard that you're somewhat of a connoisseur of formal wear -- particularly suits worn in postgame appearances.
SF: Definitely. I have an aunt who owns her own clothing store -- called Alpha and Omega Creations, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about an hour away from where I grew up [in Kenner, La.]. She takes care of me in that regard, and keeps me looking fresh.
LW: So what's your preferred style of suit?
SF: I love pinstripes. I like a little flash, I guess. I have a large range of suits. A lot of flashy stuff, but also some business-wear that isn't as flashy, but looks fine and fits all tight. I'm not as big of a fan of those. But people seem to like them.
LW: What's the flashiest one, then?
SF:My favorite right now is a black pinstripe with kind of a silverish, grey tie. I wore it for SEC Media Day. I also have a black velour suit and a gold velour suit; that one goes with a black silk shirt. I wore it after the Tennessee game last year when we beat them at Vandy.
LW: Your on-floor rep is as a long-distance gunner. Who are some of the famous shooters that you admire?
SF: Growing up, it was Reggie Miller. He was a great shooter. And Michael Jordan in terms of being able to create his own shot. But Reggie was the main one -- I loved how he was always ready to shoot. If his man relaxed on him a little bit, he was cocked and ready and releasing by the time the guy got there. As a shooter you've gotta do that: be ready at all times.
LW: Music is a big part of your life. You were in a recording session in October for a gospel compilation CD; what, exactly, did you perform?
SF: I wrote a song with one of my music teachers [at Vanderbilt]; it's called He's the Answer. It'll probably come out some time after the end of the season, because of the NCAA regulations.
LW: And what's the song about?
SF: It's about somebody who's trying to find an answer -- a person who's looking at their life and things they go through and ways they go about them, and what people are saying about them. It's about thinking through those things, and trying to find something to believe in. And toward the end of the song, that person realizes that Jesus has been there all along; he just had decided not to go that way. And then when he does decide to go that way, Jesus will be there with open arms. So, Jesus is the answer.
LW: If you're not playing basketball professionally after this season, and you go into music full-time, what kind of musician would you like to be? Would it be solo, or in a band?
SF: What I would definitely be is a gospel singer. And I'd probably start off by myself. But it all depends on where God takes me.
LW: I also heard you learned not by reading music, but just by playing it back after listening to it a few times.
SF: I've always done it that way. My family kept me in church when I was young, and pretty much everyone in my family either plays an instrument or sings. So I've sung on the choir since I was young. I've always had an ear for music, and always loved music. It wasn't until my sophomore or junior year in high school, though, that my mom bought me a keyboard for Christmas. I was determined to learn how to play; I'd go to people's houses that had pianos, and try to play using two fingers. But I stayed with it. It gave me something to focus on away from basketball.
LW: And do you still go by that method -- playing by ear only?
SF: I had one teacher in high school that did her very best to teach me some things. But I just didn't have interest in reading music, so that didn't go over too well. This past year at Vanderbilt, though, I met a lady by the name of Deanna Walker, who is a great influence on my musical talent. She's taught me a lot in terms of music. Not just reading music, but understanding chord progressions and different types of music. I'm taking another class of hers next semester.
LW: Last one: If [Vanderbilt] coach [Kevin] Stallings were in a band, what kind of music would they play?
SF: Definitely country. I feel like he'd be a country music guy. He actually plays the guitar, you know.
LW: So have you ever played with him?
SF: We were talking about it after practice not too long ago. I told him we should play something together once the season is over. He said, 'If I can get any good at it, sure.'
Grand Valley State had a lot to celebrate after defeating Michigan State at the Breslin Center.
Of the strange things that happened on the weekend before the season actually started -- namely, Darren Collison's knee scare (just a sprain, not a tear!), or Lute Olson's leave of absence (just a family issue, not retirement!) -- there was none more eye-opening than this score from Friday night: Grand Valley State 85, No. 8-ranked Michigan State 82, in double overtime.
After Grand Valley senior Callistus Eziukwu -- a 6-10, 220-pound center they call "Bean," which is short for stringbean -- scored the game's final basket, and then got a finger on Drew Neitzel's buzzer-beating, three-point attempt, the Lakers rejoiced on the Breslin Center floor. Most of the 14,759 in the sold-out building, save for the 300 or so Grand Valley supporters scattered throughout, went silent. Said senior L.J. Kilgore, whose defense helped hold Neitzel, a Wooden Award candidate who grew up 20 minutes from Grand Valley, to 3-of-15 shooting, "You could just see everybody in the crowd's mouths wide open. Like, 'Wow, Michigan State just got beat by this Division II basketball team.'"
It was only an exhibition game, and thus won't go down on the Spartans' permanent record. It was, however, an early blow to their reputation. Grand Valley State, located an 80-minute drive west of East Lansing in Allendale, isn't just any D-II opponent, mind you; it's a veritable Ohio State of the second division. The Lakers are currently ranked No. 1 nationally in football. Their basketball coach, Ric Wesley, has significant D-I experience as an assistant under Barry Hinson at Missouri State. Wesley led them to the Elite Eight last year -- and nearly knocked off the Spartans in an exhibition game last year in Grand Rapids. But there remain some very fundamental differences between the two schools.
This one is my favorite: Kilgore, like Neitzel, is from Grand Rapids, and had faced Neitzel twice in high-school AAU games, losing both. When I asked Kilgore on Saturday if anyone on his team grew up rooting for Michigan State, he said he not only owned a pair of Spartans shorts -- he was presently wearing them. "I'm not doing it to be funny -- they're just one of my favorite pairs of shorts," he said. "I've cheered Michigan State on since I was young." One would assume that no Spartans player owns a pair of Grand Valley trunks.
Kilgore was not alone among the Lakers in his MSU fandom. Eziukwu, who hails from Muskegon, was not wearing any green on Saturday, but said, "I've always been a fan of [Michigan State's] program. When they go to play whoever they play, I root for them. I just couldn't root for them last night." Again, will anyone at Michigan State be pulling for -- or even paying attention to -- Grand Valley during the rest of its season?
Kilgore said the toughest gym the Lakers play in during their regular season is at the University of Findlay, because "it gets so loud in there that it seems like a million people are against you." The attendance listed for last year's Grand Valley game at Findlay's Croy Gymnasium was 1,957 -- 12,802 fewer people than were at the Breslin Center on Friday. The Spartans are used to huge crowds, and coach Tom Izzo suggested afterwards that they were not exactly hyped for their first exhibition. "The effort," he said, was "most disappointing."
Rather than intimidating Grand Valley, the atmosphere seemed to elevate them. Said Wesley, "We're not fortunate enough to be in those environments, where you have 14,000 people every night, and we didn't take it for granted. It inspired us. It really energized our guys."
So much so that they pulled off the first great upset of 2007-08. Wesley made sure to add that he didn't want this to be the "defining moment" of the Lakers' season. Neither, I'm sure, does Izzo want it to be that for the Spartans, who did not look, in the least, like Big Ten favorites.