Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
2/17/2008 02:34:00 PM
The Weekend That Was: Four Parting Thoughts
Memphis is still unbeaten -- but only after Robert Vaden's last-second shot missed the mark for UAB.
(Consider this a warmup for all the tourney blogging that awaits next month ... and beware, there's a minuscule Wire spoiler in part 2.)
1. If ESPN were to begin hyping up Tennessee-Memphis six days early, as if it were college hoops' Super Bowl, I wouldn't have any problem with it. Given what's on the line, the battle for Volunteer State supremacy feels about 10 times more important than the Nos. 2-vs.-3 Duke-Carolina game on Feb. 6. And yet I can't escape the feeling that if the Tigers were going to actually lose during the regular season, it would've happened in an out-of-the-spotlight, on-the-road situation like Saturday night's game in Birmingham.
Memphis-UAB was only televised regionally by CSS, and therefore most of the country only caught the Tigers' amazing comeback (and the ugly postgame melee, with classless Blazers fans throwing debris, and Joey Dorsey being restrained from attacking them) via highlight reels. Down 77-70 with 1:23 to go, the Tigers went on an 9-1 run -- with six of the points coming from All-America lock Chris Douglas-Roberts -- to close the game and save their undefeated season. Whereas Memphis has been prone to cold streaks from the field and the free-throw line in less-hyped Conference USA games, it has looked unbeatable in its marquee matchups at FedEx Forum. Just ask Georgetown, Arizona and Gonzaga how difficult it is to pull off an upset in that building.
(Update: Thanks to this photo posted on the Memphis Commercial Appeal's Web site Sunday, there's evidence of a player identified as Tigers forward Pierre Nilesslapping a fan in the UAB student section. So it appears -- beyond what was presented in the highlights -- that there was a lack of class on both sides. Conference USA said on Sunday night that it was investigating the matter.)
2. Damn, Indiana. Did you really go from treating Kelvin Sampson like persona non grata when he walked onto Assembly Hall's court on Saturday night, to chanting his name with less than two minutes left in that 80-61 win over Michigan State? Sampson's entry was met with a mix of boos and groans and uncomfortable silence. Somehow he managed to walk off the court like Sen. Clay Davis emerged from this week's grand jury hearing in The Wire: gleefully victorious. I'm happy there will be no postseason ban for the Hoosiers. None of the players had anything to do with Sampson's deceptions and disregard for NCAA rules, after all. But letting Sampson continue to coach while IU sharpens the guillotine -- and athletic director Rick Greenspan figures out ways to suggest he wasn't solely to blame for Sampson's hiring -- just makes for sad theater.
3. Brook and Robin Lopez put on quite the show for Stanford on Saturday at Arizona, with Brook (23 points, 10 boards) hitting the game-winning free throws, and Robin (14 points, eight rebounds) swatting Chase Budinger's last-second layup attempt. Brook, who seems to get at least one touch on every Cardinal offensive possession, is already listed as the fourth pick in DraftExpress' 2008 mock, but you have to wonder: If there were just one Lopez, rather than twins, and he had Brook's offensive skills and Robin's defensive skills, would he be regarded as a better NBA prospect than Greg Oden was last year?
4. I just watched Notre Dame barely survive against Rutgers at the RAC, and was reminded of something that Irish guard Kyle McAlarney had pointed out after Wednesday's loss to UConn: That meeting with the Huskies -- which took place on Feb. 13, mind you -- was Notre Dame's first road game in an on-campus arena all season. How in the name of Kelly Tripucka could that happen? To start, the Irish didn't play a single true road game outside of the Big East: they played only neutral-site affairs in St. Thomas (the Paradise Jam) and New York (the Jimmy V). And then their first four Big East road games were all at off-campus, NBA-style arenas used by Marquette (Bradley Center), Georgetown (Verizon Center), Villanova (Wachovia Center) and Seton Hall (Prudential Center). The Irish are a high-quality team with a legit All-America candidate in Luke Harangody, but they haven't exactly been battle-tested away from South Bend.
D.J. White (left) scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the Hoosiers' win at Iowa on Jan. 2.
For the latest Q&A, I chatted with D.J. White, the senior leader of the No. 11-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. White, a 6-foot-9 forward, has posted double-doubles in nine of IU's past 10 games. He's averaging 16.4 points and a team-high 10.1 rebounds, providing the interior balance to freshman Eric Gordon's electric game on the perimeter. The following is an edited version of phone conversations with White from Friday and Saturday:
Luke Winn: I'm looking at your season box score, and the strange thing is that you only grabbed four, three and three rebounds in your first three games, against Chattanooga, Longwood and UNC-Wilmington ... and then you went on this long run of double-doubles, against teams like Xavier, Southern Illinois and Kentucky. Can you explain what happened?
D.J. White: It was because I started being more aggressive going after everything on the glass. I know I have to rebound for this team to be successful. Also, at the beginning of the year, I was playing more on the perimeter; that wasn't the whole problem, but part of it. I switched back to playing not necessarily a true center position, but one where I'm under the goal a lot more. That's helped get better on the glass.
LW: There's a 2006 quote from Kelvin Sampson -- an interesting analogy -- that goes, "If you walk into a lot of African-American homes in the South, they always have a loaf of bread on the table, and salt and pepper shakers, and a bottle of hot sauce. I can't tell you how many houses I've been to like that; that's their basics. I don't treat [the players] all the same. I treat 'em fair. I may get on D.J. White harder than I do Joey Shaw. But I'm going to treat them both fair. But D.J. is our bread."
What's your take on this? What makes you the bread?
DJW: I guess he was basically saying that I'm the core of the team, a guy who a lot of people look up to. Something [Sampson] talks about all the time is that, for us to play late into March, I need to do a lot more things than just score: Block shots, rebound, defend.
LW: Does that table setup he referenced actually match the one at your family's home in Tuscaloosa?
DJW: We have the salt-and-pepper shakers, but not the bread on the table.
LW: And the sauce?
DJW: It's in the cabinet.
LW: Who would be the hot sauce of the Hoosiers, then? Is that [Eric] Gordon?
DJW: It's probably him. A lot of people that I know, they use hot sauce with everything. And we need him for everything that we do. So that's how I'm adding to the analogy.
LW: You and Eric are the two stars on this team, but you're 21, and in your fourth season, while he just turned 19, and is in his first. What's your relationship with him like?
DJW: We have a great relationship. He's a very quiet guy in public, but he talks a lot around the team. Me and him are getting closer and closer every day; we talk all the time now. And he doesn't have a car on campus, so if he needs a ride, I always give him one.
LW: Gordon looks like such a veteran scorer when he's on the floor. Does he at least have some freshman habits off of it, that make him seem like a kid? Or is there anything the older guys harass him about?
DJW: Well ... We both take naps in the same room [at Assembly Hall] before games. And he snores in there a lot. It's loud and it gets very annoying; I joke with him about it, but there's nothing you can do to make it stop. You nudge him and he might lighten up for a few seconds, but after that he's back to snoring.
He also can eat a lot. The way his body is like -- with no fat -- you wouldn't know it, but he'll eat like three hamburgers at a time. He has a huge appetite. He can easily out-eat me.
LW: I didn't catch the Tennessee State game [on Dec. 3], but you were credited with taking -- and missing -- a three-pointer in the box score. You had never taken a three before in your Indiana career. What were the circumstances?
DJW: The shot clock was running down, so I had to take it; I don't think [Sampson] minded. It felt good though. I should have made it.
LW: Will you take another one, or will it just be 0-for-1 on the career?
DJW: Hopefully I can get one more. My goal is to get to 50 percent.
LW: Your t-shirt-wearing habits have been of interest of Indiana fans. You used to have some kind of system to decide when you wore one under your jersey, right? Now it seems that there's a t-shirt brigade on the team -- Gordon, Jordan Crawford and Jamarcus Ellis -- and you're never wearing one.
DJW: That started back in high school for me. I'm very superstitious, and back then I'd wear a white t-shirt under my jersey for every home game. I kept doing that for every year up until this one. But this season, a bunch of my teammates were all used to playing with t-shirts, too, and they kind of took my style, so I had to do something else. I figured I'd changed it up for my last year, and go with no sleeves. It's been working out, so I guess I'll keep it that way.
LW: Do you keep up any other superstitions?
DJW: Not many others. I usually do the same routine before games, though. I put on my jersey, go in the training room and get taped, listen to my ipod -- different songs, but a lot of Kanye West -- and then walk on the court. And I usually read the same bible verse before every game.
LW: What's the verse? And do you have it printed out, or posted somewhere?
DJW:Psalms 121. I keep a small bible in my locker and read from it.
LW: What players do you keep in touch with the most from your Pan Am Games trip to Brazil this summer? [White was the U.S.' leading scorer in international competition.]
DJW: [Memphis'] Joey Dorsey the most. We text each other all the time. Eric Maynor from VCU, and [Georgetown's] Roy Hibbert, too, but mostly Joey.
LW: Joey wears No. 3 because he wants to emulate Ben Wallace. What's your reason for wearing it?
DJW: Truthfully, I don't have a reason. I just don't like those high numbers, I guess. I wore 54 in high school because that was the number on the jersey size that me. I just like having a lower number now.
LW: What's your best Joey Dorsey story from Brazil?
DJW: Probably something I couldn't tell you. We stayed up at night playing a lot of cards and watching TV, and he was always joking around. I had a good time with him. Now we just text if we see a good box score from the other guy, and say good game. I might have sent him one when I saw that their coach [John Calipari] put them on curfew early in the season, though, too.
LW: You came to Indiana in a recruiting class with James Hardy, who went on to become a star wide receiver for the Hoosiers instead of a basketball player [and declared for the NFL Draft on Friday]. Could he help this IU team if he came back to hoops? I know he played some minutes as a freshman.
DJW: It would probably take him a while to get back into basketball shape. He's very talented. If he did -- and I highly doubt he would ever do it -- I think he'd be fine.
DJW: It's probably that. I dribble toward the middle, turn around over my left shoulder, or over my right shoulder, either way, and shoot.
LW: And do you call it by that same name?
DJW: No. It's just a turnaround jumper; I don't have a good name for it. I'll let you make one up if you want.
LW: You've been sporting the beard for a few seasons. Any particular reason for growing it out in the first place?
DJW: Nothing other than trying to look older. Some people tell me I look like a little kid without my facial hair. When I heard that it made me want to keep it. My mother is the one who doesn't like it, though. She told me I need to cut it off, but I'd rather not.
LW: Who's the world's best bearded basketball player right now?
DJW: It's probably [the Golden State Warriors'] Baron Davis. I like his, but it's way too thick for me. No way I could wear mine like that.
LW: What's the worst heckling you've ever received from opposing fans?
DJW: I remember people calling me by my full name -- Dewayne White Junior -- a few times. Or people just calling me Junior. That's the most I've been heckled, but I don't even react to it.
LW: What's the toughest road venue in the Big Ten?
DJW: Probably the Breslin Center at Michigan State. Mostly because of the energy of the crowds, and how much they get into the game.
LW: Who should be considered the favorite to win the Big Ten right now? Indiana, Michigan State, or Wisconsin?
DJW: It's tough to say, since it's still early, and we've got a lot of good teams. Michigan State looks good. I think we deserve to be at the top, too, but I'm not going to pick one over the other. Ohio State needs to be in there as well, so it's those four at the top.
LW: Last question. If you had to build your ultimate team of college players, but couldn't pick any other Hoosiers, who would you put at the four spots around you on the floor?
DJW: That's a good one. I'd start with Derrick Rose on the ball; I just like his speed as a point guard. He's very versatile, and he's doing a good job leading Memphis. I respect his game, as well as Eric Maynor's from VCU; he doesn't get a lot of pub nationally, but I liked playing with him in the Pan Am Games. In the paint I'd like to play along with my man Joey Dorsey; I'd put him at the five, and if not him there, I'd have [Alabama's] Richard Hendrix.
At shooting guard, I'd put out [Washington State's] Kyle Weaver; I played with him this summer, too, and he does everything. He's a great all-around player. And at the three, I'd have [formerly IU's, now UAB's] Robert Vaden. I'd love to hook back up with him. We still talk often; we were old roommates and he was probably my best friend at Indiana.