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Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
9/15/2008 02:31:00 PM

Q&A with ... VCU's Eric Maynor

Defending CAA player of the year Eric Maynor will return to Virginia Commonwealth to look for his second NCAA tournament bid.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI
The latest subject in our Hoops Q&A series is VCU senior Eric Maynor, a 6-foot-2 point guard who was the Colonial Athletic Association's player of the year in 2007-08. Maynor averaged 17.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season, but is still best known for his NCAA tournament heroics as a sophomore, when he hit a game-winning shot to knock out sixth-seeded Duke in the first round. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Luke Winn: You decided not to even test the draft waters this offseason. What's it going to take, this season, to make coming back for your senior year feel like it was really worth it?

Eric Maynor: Making the NCAA tournament and advancing -- not just to the second round. I already had the experience of playing two games in the NCAAs [in 2007], and I know my teammates wanted to play more. We were hungry last year [when VCU went to the NIT, losing in the first round] but some things went down and we weren't able to get another shot at the NCAAs. This team, this year, I think can be pretty special.

LW: What was the worst part of watching the NCAA tournament last year, while you were absent from it?

EM: Knowing that George Mason was in it, and that they came out of our conference instead of us, that was the hardest thing.

LW: What did your decision to return come down to, specifically?

EM: Me and my dad -- he drove up from North Carolina after the season ended -- and coach [Anthony] Grant had a long talk. And it came down to what coach Grant was telling me, that he felt like I could improve a lot as a senior, that I could get stronger before taking my game to the next level.

LW: Realistically, what did you think was going to happen with coach Grant in the offseason? His name kept coming up for a lot of bigger jobs.

EM: I knew the phone was going to be ringing off the hook for him. But we all know that he's a straight-up guy with his players. Whatever was gonna happen, he was gonna let us know first.

LW: Were you guys at least nervous about him leaving, though?

EM: I mean, we'd see stories about it, but he always said, 'Don't listen to the media. I'm going to tell you straight up what's going on, at the time it's going on.' So nobody was really worried about it, because he kept telling us that we'd find out before the media finds out.

LW: That's kind of refreshing -- because plenty of players at plenty of schools get left in the dark on coaching-change situations.

EM: I'm cool with a bunch of players around the country, and I hear stories all the time about that -- about coaches just up and leaving, and players not even knowing about it. So I think what [Grant] did was good.

LW: And you already lost one coach at VCU--

EM: You know, that's one of those situations right there. I was chilling in the house late at night, and somebody came in the room and said, 'Guess what I just saw: Coach [Jeff] Capel is going to Oklahoma!' Everybody was like, 'Naw, that's not true.' And we turned on the news and found out it was true.

LW: You have a game scheduled against Oklahoma this season [on Dec. 20 in Oklahoma City]. Do you hold any kind of grudge against Capel for leaving?

EM: No way. I still talk to him. He's a good dude. No way I'd hold a grudge against him for something like that.

LW: When Capel sold you on playing for him in the first place, how much did he talk about his own career at Duke?

EM: We would talk about it sometimes. I remember asking him how it felt to hit that shot against UNC [in 1995]. He said it was one of the greatest feelings he'd ever had playing basketball.

LW: And when you beat Duke with your shot in '07, what did he say when you talked to him next?

EM: He said, man, 'I knew it would come for you.' I knew your time would come.' He's always told me to keep working; before I made my decision about the NBA, I talked to him too, and he said whatever decision I made he'd be behind me. So like I said, we stay in touch.

LW: On the topic of clutch shots, if you were a college coach, which shooter -- and not anyone on VCU -- would you want taking a last-second shot for you in a big game?

EM: Probably Stephen Curry, from Davidson. He can really score and he really knows the game, and how to get his shot. And then Wayne Ellington, from Carolina. He's just a pure shooter, a knock-down shooter. And he had one [game-winner] last year, when he hit that three to beat Clemson and finished with 35.

LW: Switching to this year, your team already took a Labor Day weekend trip to play in the Bahamas, and then you'll be playing a tournament in Cancun over Thanksgiving weekend. When you saw that schedule, how happy were you?

EM: I mean, I was excited to be able to go to the Bahamas and Cancun. But everything we do is basically like a business. That's what coach always tells us: it's a business. So we had to go out there and take care of business, and then after, maybe, have a little fun.

LW: You sat out of all three games [all victories] in the Bahamas with an injury. What was it?

EM: Something was just bothering me with my toe, and I didn't want to re-aggravate it down there, so I just laid off it that weekend. I had hurt it right before we left, and by the time we got back, it was fine. But it was good for the other guys on the team -- both the freshmen and the guys coming back -- to play without me. They gained a lot of confidence, and showed they could play as a team, rather than depending on one person. The first game down there, they came out and went down a little bit in the first half, but talked at halftime and grouped together. They ended up winning by 20, or something like that.

LW: What player, specifically, was the biggest surprise on the trip?

EM: Brandon Rozzell [a sophomore two-guard]. Coach had him playing like a point guard, and he had to learn everything new from that position. So that was good for us, to know that he can handle playing the point.

LW: So after the business was done, you had to do something vacation-like, right?

EM: The hotel -- the Atlantis -- was real nice. Had waterslides, and there was basically like a waterpark in the hotel. So we swam. And we ended up going on jetskis the last day. Me and my boys were racing them, deep out there in the water.

LW: There was a picture I wanted to ask you about from the Bahamas. Have you seen emaynor.com?

EM: Don't know anything about that site. Hold on, I'm by a computer right now -- I'll look it up. (Pausing).

Wow, this is crazy. (Laughing.)

LW: The swimsuit picture is the one I'm talking about. Everyone's in basketball shorts ... and then there's one of your teammates -- Kirill [Pishchalnikov], right? -- in a Speedo.

EM: That's Kirill. He's from Russia. Everybody on campus has been talking about the Speedo; that picture was up on Facebook. He said that's how they do it in Russia.

LW: I assume you heckled him about the suit, right?

EM: Of course. We were just like, 'Kirill, what do you got on? You've gotta put on some shorts.' We were bashing him. Then on Facebook, people have been saying that everyone else looks cool, but Kirill messed the picture up.

LW: How much do you keep in touch with your old teammates that have gone overseas? I saw that B.A. Walker was in Iceland ...

EM: I talk to B.A. all the time -- he's in Holland now, though. Jamal [Shuler] is in to Germany. I talk to him almost on a daily basis; he said the style they play is just like what we ran at VCU. And Jesse Pellot-Rosa is working out in Georgia right now, trying to get a job overseas. B.A. told me that basically, you've gotta perform on a daily basis [overseas], because they expect Americans to be the stars of the team. And the minute you don't perform like that, they want to send you back to the States.

LW: Switching up a little bit, I read that one of your favorite movies is He Got Game--

EM: Matter of fact, I'm going to go watch it today. I just got it from one of my teammates, and since all we had is a shoot[around] today, I'm just going to chill out and watch it.

LW: If you were Jesus Shuttlesworth, would you have gone to Big State or Tech U?

EM: I think I would have went to Big State.

LW: Even with that recruiting visit to Tech U?

EM: He had some fun at Tech U. I was like, whoa, when I saw that part. But I still would have gone to Big State.

LW: Any other favorite hoops movies?

EM: Above the Rim, Blue Chips, Glory Road, Love and Basketball. That's my favorite one. I just can relate to it, the way Quincy grew up, his life, all the ups and downs he went through on the way to becoming a man.

LW: I remember talking with your dad, George, at the NCAA tournament in '07, about his own career -- how he got drafted by the Bulls out of East Carolina in '79 [in the fourth round], but didn't make the final cut in camp. How would you describe his game?

EM: He played the point, but he could really shoot it. He didn't really do anything fancy -- he was really basic, but he could really score. I'll put it like that. He could shoot the three real good.

LW: Did you ever see videos of his East Carolina days?

EM: Never. I got to watch him play pick-up when he was older. I could the end of the stick. But he could still shoot it.

LW: And I remember him saying that the biggest difference between the two you of you was your shot -- that you didn't have the same kind of 3-point strike when you were coming out of high school.

EM: The mechanics of it weren't right, and I didn't shoot a great percentage from three. But I've gotten better through repetition, just getting in the gym and shooting a lot. That was the main thing. [He shot 39.4 percent from 3-point range last year, a career-high].

LW: Last season ended, in the NIT against UAB, with you taking a last-second three-point shot ...

EM: And it fell short. I can envision myself taking that kind of shot again. I know I'll be in more situations like that this year. There's going to be another game where I have a chance to do that, and make it. I'm the type of player who wants that kind of clutch shot. I'm willing to take it.

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9/02/2008 11:00:00 AM

Q&A with ... BYU's Lee Cummard

Lee Cummard withdrew from the draft to return to BYU and attempt a Davidson-like NCAA run.
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The latest subject in our Hoops Q&A series is BYU's Lee Cummard, a 6-foot-7 shooting guard who is back with the Cougars for his senior season after initially declaring for the NBA draft in April. Cummard was the Mountain West Conference's Co-Player of the Year in 2008 after averaging 15.8 points (on 47.2 percent three-point shooting) and 6.3 rebounds per game. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Luke Winn: It was just announced that you'll be playing the first hoops game at University of Phoenix Stadium, against Arizona State on Dec. 20. As a local [Mesa, Ariz.] boy, you were at one point pretty dead-set on playing for the Sun Devils. What happened to change your mind?

Lee Cummard: I did grow up wanting to play at ASU, to stay around home and play in front of a whole crowd of family members. I went on visits to both of them [ASU and BYU] in September of my senior year, and before the visit, even, I was dead-set on ASU. I was kind of just taking [the trip to] BYU to get a few family members off of my back. To them I was just like, 'OK, I'll take the visit if you really want me to.' I ended up liking it -- BYU did a great job recruiting me.

LW: So how did your family members go about bugging you to visit BYU?

LC: They would just make subtle hints, like 'Oh, you should visit BYU, just to see what it's like.' My mom did that. And I had some aunts and uncles who were pushing for it too. I said what the heck. BYU actually ended up being my first visit, and ASU was the second, and after that I knew I was choosing one of those two. I figured that I didn't need to waste my time or other schools' time by making any more visits.

LW: You're one of the rare college basketball players who is married with a child [Lee Casey Cummard Jr., born in July of '07]. I assume it might have been tougher, given the culture of the school, to go to ASU as a married family guy than it is to be at BYU.

LC: The culture is completely different at both places. Neither of them are better than the other -- but here at BYU, I've made a lot of friends who are in the same boat: Poor, married students trying to get the most out of college that they can. I think it's a little easier to be married with a kid up [in Provo].

I think if I had gone to ASU, I would have hung closer to my family, since they're all down there. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet new people, and start new relationships with new friends. I've really had a great time doing that.

LW: The stories of your in-home recruiting visits are legendary; they were more like a convention than an intimate meeting. Can you describe what the scene was like when a college coach came to your house in Mesa?

LC: He would be greeted by probably between 40 and 80 people, all relatives or neighbors who wanted to come over and see what it was all about. They all kind of went through the whole process with me. There were times when it was just me and the coach talking, or me and my parents and the coaches, but when they came for the [official in-home] visit, it would be that big group, with a big spread of food out, and we'd all eat and chat. If the coaches wanted to make their presentation, we'd do that too. Afterwards I would always like to hear everybody's perceptions of the coach, and what they thought about the school.

LW: So everyone who was there would chime in with an opinion?

LC: Some more than others. But definitely, if I asked them for their reaction, they would share it.

LW: What's the funniest reaction you ever received from a coach? I assume a few of them had to be taken aback by the crowd.

LC: They all would say, this is the biggest group I've ever come into a home visit with. One of funny story is, we had a sno-cone machine at the house -- I don't know if it was my mom's, but we had it -- because we had about 60 people over. [BYU] coach [Dave] Rose was there; he wasn't the head coach yet but he came along on the visit. I remember him saying something like, 'You know, I've been served everything there is to eat in a home visit, but I've never had a sno-cone.

LW: When you made the decision, in June, to pull out of the draft and go back to BYU as a senior, how many people did you involve in that? Did you keep the circle as wide as you did in recruiting?

LC: At the time, I was living at home, so there were a lot of people around. I think they would see all the cars parked outside and just wander over, or my mom would do the calling and the invitations. I really do take into consideration a lot of people's opinions. I like to see all sides of it, all the pros and cons, but this [decision] probably stayed in a smaller group in the end. I talked with my coach, my family, my wife, my brothers, my high-school coach. It stayed a little bit closer to the vest.

LW: What did it come down to, in the end?

LC: A big thing was the thought of what kind of season I could have [as a senior], and what kind of legacy I could leave here at BYU. Hopefully, it's a good one. I think it's a win-win situation. Going through the whole [draft workout] process, the feedback I got was, 'You could be a pro now if you would like, and chance it,' or, a lot of people said, 'You could possibly be a first-rounder next year.' So that played into it. I think I'll have a great time, leave my mark here at BYU, and in the Mountain West, and in the NCAAs and then move on.

LW: Last offseason you had a bigger event happen -- the birth of your first child. How does having a kid at school affect your college experience?

LC: Just having a son changes your perception of life. But at the same time, my wife [Sarah, also a BYU student] has been understanding of the fact that the reason we're up here at BYU is for basketball, and a lot of good things can come from that. She's such a great mom, and she's really helpful. You just have to balance your time and do what's most important as a parent. If you have to miss a homework assignment because your family needs you, then so be it.

LW: As a kid, you were notoriously skinny -- so much so that I read you were nicknamed 'Leethiopia.' How did it come about, and did it stick through high school?

LC: I got that nickname in elementary school, and my mom jokingly kept it around. None of my high-school teammates kept it up, but it became kind of a family joke that kept going.

LW: What do you get called now, at BYU?

LC: My teammates call me a lot of stuff. I'll just leave it at that.

LW: You're not going to give us any of them?

LC: Well ... a few. They call me Lee-Z, LeRoy, Big Pipes and Deez Salty.

LW: Deez Salty?

LC: That's just what they call me. I don't know.

LW: I read about a promise, from your strength coach at BYU, that if you broke 190 pounds, you wouldn't have to wear a shirt in the weight room ever again. Your bio lists you at 185 -- have you reached the goal yet?

LC: I'm still not all the way there. When that day happens, though, it's going to be glorious at BYU. I'll never have my shirt on again in that weight room.

LW: So that's where Big Pipes comes from.

LC: There are a few more weight room nicknames to go with that, but we'll just leave it at Big Pipes.

LW: Your wife was quoted as saying that you like to admire yourself in front of the mirror.

LC: Occasionally that happens. I'll get up in the morning, and before I get in the shower, I've gotta take a look, and see how all that hard work is paying off.

LW: I saw the BYU-TV segment on YouTube where you played the reporter, and introduced yourself as Ron Burgundy. How did you not sign off with 'You Stay Classy, Provo'?

LC: I've never seen Anchorman all the way through -- that's why I didn't know about that line. The Ron Burgundy bit was just kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. Our media guy came in and said, 'You're going to do the interviews today.'

LW: Mark West was reportedly your favorite Phoenix Sun during their glory days, when you were a kid in Mesa. A 6-10 center was your favorite guy? Why not a shooter?

LC: I just always liked [West]. I was big into the Suns, and that year they went to the Finals, I probably watched 99 percent of their games. And [West] was my guy. Obviously I liked Charles Barkley, too -- don't get me wrong -- but Mark was the kind of unsung guy that I always liked. I actually got a chance to meet him when the Suns brought me in for a workout [in May, leading up the draft].

LW: Did you tell him that he was your favorite Sun?

LC: Oh, of course. He was my guy! I had to let him know that. The Big Cat. He was a great guy, too.

LW: And what was his reaction?

LC: He just kind of jokingly laughed. I don't think it meant all that much to him.

LW: Switching gears here. Before you started your career at BYU, you went on an LDS [Church of Latter-Day Saints] Mission to Nashville for a year. How much basketball did you get to play during that time?

LC: On a mission, you get about 30 minutes a day to workout. Where I was at, we had a little gym with a weight room and a treadmill. And then once a week we got a bunch of missionaries together and played at a church, which was pretty good. We had some good runs.

LW: And what was life like as a missionary?

LC: It's all basically structured to proselytize and get out and talk to people and preach the gospel. A basic day is like this: You usually get up at 6:30, and that's when you work out, until 7, then you'd have two hours, maybe two and a half, to get ready and eat breakfast, and study on your own, and then either a half hour to an hour of studying with your companion, who's with you all the time. Then from maybe 9 or 9:30 until 9:30 at night, you're out meeting people, knocking on doors, trying to talk to whoever you can. All in hopes of helping someone and getting a chance to share your beliefs and your faith.

LW: Did you keep up with college basketball at all during that time?

LC: I would get letters from my family that let me know about things, but really, I didn't keep up much at all.

LW: Did any schools try to re-recruit you during that time? Technically, I think, you were fair game to be recruited during that time [after former BYU coach Steve Cleveland left for Fresno State].

LC: No, not really. When coach Cleveland left, no one came right to me, but my high-school coach wanted me to make sure of where I wanted to play. Basically, I sat down with coach Rose the next day, and he kind of re-recruited me, because I was hearing rumors that there were others schools who wanted to get back into it.

LW: You did just one year of an LDS mission rather than two -- which you initially said you were planning on doing [and then were going to start playing college basketball in '06-07]. Why did you end up coming to BYU sooner?

LC: It was just a personal decision. In the LDS faith, a young man isn't forced to go on a mission, but if he goes, it's usually for two years. Because of where I stood at that point, and what I wanted to do with my life, it was just a personal decision to go to college [after one year in Nashville].

LW: Your current team at BYU has two elite three-point shooters in you [who hit 60 last season] and Jonathan Tavernari [who had 88]. Have you had any memorable shooting competitions with Tavernari?

LC: I don't have any contests with him. I usually mess around with guys who can't shoot, just for fun. I would say John and I get after it in pickup games, though -- that's where we compete. Because our team is usually a little shallow at the four spot, in pickup ball in the summer, I'm usually playing the four and I'm matched up with [Tavernari] so we can get the best runs we can. Some days it'll get heated, but fortunately my team usually wins.

LW: What impact will the new three-point line have on college hoops?

LC: The biggest difference is going to be for guys driving and getting into the lane. It's going to spread the floor a little bit more, and for drives to the hole from the perimeter, slow white guys like myself need all the extra space we can get. So I hope it helps. As for percentages, for the guys that can already shoot it well, I don't see their stats going down from an extra foot away.

LW: So you and Tavernari will be fine.

LC: That's well within our range. And probably for most shooters, it's well within theirs.

LW: Give me three shooters in college hoops -- but not on BYU -- that you admire.

LC: I kept my eye on Jaycee Carroll [of Utah State] last year. He hit a lot of threes, and I thought he was a great player. Usually I just paid attention to guys on teams that we played, or guys in our conference. I get so wrapped up in our season that I'm not watching much else.

LW: What about Stephen Curry, from Davidson?

LC: I was a huge fan of the season he just had, and what he did for that school. I hope he has another season like that. That was actually one of the thoughts that I had, during the whole process of deciding whether or not to come back for my senior year: If a small school like Davidson can do what it did with Curry [and go to the Elite Eight], why can't BYU make it to the Final Four?

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8/07/2008 10:21:00 AM

Q&A with ... Arizona's Chase Budinger

After a year with a different coach at the helm, Arizona's Lute Olson had to recruit Chase Budinger back to Arizona.
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The Hoop Q&A series, now in its third season of existence on SI.com, makes its '08-09 debut this week with an interview of Arizona's Chase Budinger. After averaging 17.1 points and 5.4 rebounds as a sophomore in '07-08, he declared for the NBA Draft -- but later opted to return to the Wildcats. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Luke Winn: You pulled out of the draft on June 16, on the last possible day. What have you been doing this summer since then?

Chase Budinger: After I decided to come back to school, I took some time off. I was at home [in Encinitas, Calif.] for about two weeks, just relaxing. I'd go to the beach, hang out with friends, lay by the pool -- I wasn't doing anything competitive, just being lazy and eating a lot. Then I headed back to Arizona to take summer school and train there. There's only been a few players around, but we've been playing pickup and lifting every day.

LW: Probably the biggest news out of Arizona this summer was that Brandon Jennings, your All-America point guard recruit, opted to play professionally in Europe for a year rather than join the 'Cats. What was your reaction when that happened?

CB: I just felt that it was unfortunate that he wasn't able to come here. I was looking forward to playing with him again. I was able to play with him for two years in club [AAU] in high school, so I was very familiar with his game, and I felt we had a good connection.

LW: How much -- if at all -- did you talk to Jennings when he was making up his mind?

CB: During that whole process, I let him make his own decision. I figured he didn't want someone like me to be in his ear convincing him to come to Arizona. So I really didn't talk with him.

LW: What was your reaction, then, when Jennings actually chose Europe? Shock? Or did you expect it?

CB: It was kind of stunning, but knowing Brandon Jennings, he's the type of guy who always wants to be the first one to do something. This was a chance for him to be the first player to skip college and go to Europe for a year, then go to the pros afterwards.

LW: Last season [with Kevin O'Neill coaching during Lute Olson's leave of absence], Arizona played some pretty slow basketball by its own standards. You were down four whole possessions per game (65) from the '06-07 average (69). What was your feeling about that stylistic change?

CB: I didn't like it. I came to Arizona to get up and down the court, play up-tempo, score a lot of points. That's what I'm used to, and that's what I was looking for when I came to Arizona. My second year, I came back and a lot of changes happened. Some of them were kind of frustrating, but you had to learn to adjust.

LW: Do you remember a specific point from last season where you just kind of looked at what was going on on the floor, and said to yourself, this isn't Arizona's style?

CB: I mean, there were times during games were there were five minutes left, and I looked up at the scoreboard and we were in the 50s. I would see that and feel like, 'Wow. This is not typical Arizona basketball.'"

LW: So I take it coach Olson is making it a focal point to get back to the ways of old when he returns this year ...

CB: That's something he emphasized -- getting back to his coaching style, running for the whole game, running motion offense instead of having set plays every time down, causing chaos on the defensive end. I'm looking forward to getting back to that.

LW: The Olympics are starting this week in Beijing. As a former national prep volleyball player of the year [ex-'Zona assistant Josh Pastner called Budinger the 'LeBron James' of volleyball] who opted not to play the sport in college, are you going to be following the U.S. team?

CB: There's a lot of sports I'm going to watch in the Olympics, but I'll keep a close eye on volleyball, because there are two guys on the team that I've played against -- a middle blocker named David Lee, and an outside hitter named Sean Rooney. Those are the only two real young guys -- the rest are too old for me to have played against.

LW: In the SI story about you from back in '06, Lute said that he'd consider allowing you to play volleyball in the 2008 Summer Games. That was obviously before you chose to stop playing it competitively, but had you not, could you have realistically been on the Olympic team?

CB: I believe so, that there would have been an opportunity to play on that team if I had really worked hard at it, and stuck with volleyball for a couple more years.

LW: When's the last time you actually played volleyball -- or have you given it up altogether?

CB: I actually played last weekend, just on the beach in LA, in a Six Man beach volleyball tournament on Manhattan Beach. It was just for fun, playing with some buddies. We finished fifth. I was actually very impressed with myself, that I was able to still hit the ball the way I did.

LW: Did anyone recognize you -- as the basketball player -- while you were in that tournament?

CB: A lot of people did. They came up to me, knew who I was, and talked to me a little bit, or asked for autographs, things like that.

LW: Last November, a picture of you went up on Deadspin -- presumably from a Halloween party -- where you were wearing a Celtics jersey, with two costumed girls in front of you.

CB: Yeah, it was a Halloween party. We went out, a bunch of us, and I was just wearing a Larry Bird jersey. I wasn't really going to dress up.

LW: It wasn't incriminating or anything, but did anything bad happen to you because of it? Did coaches react?

CB: No, not really. The coaches saw it. They just laughed about it. There's nothing negative about it -- there was no damage at all. It would have been different if I had a handle of vodka in my hand, though. That would have been bad.

LW: Your freshman year, in a game at Washington, fans held up your parents' home phone number on a sign, trying to rattle you. Was that the harshest thing any fans have done in your career, still? Or has anyone topped it?

CB: That's still the harshest thing. My parents said that the whole night, they were getting calls. They had to unplug the phone, and the whole week had to keep turning it off. They say they still get random calls on weekends, and when that game comes around, it starts up again. I think they laughed about it, though. They were just glad it wasn't my cell phone.

LW: You're regarded as one of the college game's best raw athletes. When you've watched college hoops over the past few years, which players outside of Arizona have impressed you with their athleticism?

CB: I've been impressed with Joe Alexander, from West Virginia. He was a freak athlete. Terrence Williams, from Louisville, just watching him and playing against him, he had some pretty big highlights. And Greg Oden, for how big he is, the fact that he's that athletic is amazing. The last guy would be Gerald Henderson from Duke -- he can really get up. Very athletic.

LW: When you were still up in the air over your NBA decision, I heard Lute visited your family's house in San Diego [Encinitas, actually]. Were you there -- and what was said?

CB: I wasn't there. But he went down [to Encinitas] a couple of times, to kind of recruit me all over again, and recruit my parents again. He told them that this year was going to be different. They were good talks; my parents have put their trust in coach O this year again. And I'm putting my trust in him that he's going to be able to coach all year.

LW: So how did he recruit you, then?

CB: He would leave me messages, or send texts telling me that next year will be different, it would be more like my freshman year, and we'll be having fun while we get back to running up and down the court.

LW: There was one kind of harsh quote from coach Olson, regarding your draft stock, that stood out at me from earlier in the summer. He said that it would be 'ridiculous' for you to go out this year, in the 20-21 [pick] range, rather than being in the top six next year. How did you react when you heard that?

CB: At the time, I felt like it was a pretty harsh comment that he made. It was just his own opinion at the time. Maybe he was just saying that so I would look at it and it would persuade me to come back, but at the time, though, it was harsh. know where he was coming from, though, because he knows that I'm a much better player than what the draft boards were saying. And his whole thing this year, is the win the Pac-10, go far in the NCAA tournament and also get me to be a top-10 pick.

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2/26/2008 09:18:00 AM

Q&A with ... Maryland's Greivis Vasquez

Sophomore Greivis Vasquez tied a Maryland single-game record with 15 assists in a win over N.C. State on Feb. 9.
Al Tielemans/SI
For the latest Q&A, I chatted with Maryland's Greivis Vasquez, a sophomore from Caracas, Venezuela, who's averaging 17.5 points and 6.7 assists per game. The Terps are currently 17-11 (7-6 in the ACC) and on the NCAA tournament bubble. The following is an edited transcript of a conversation with Vasquez from late last week:

Luke Winn: For a Sports Illustrated piece from last season, you told me a story about your family listening to Webcasts of Maryland games, specifically a big early win over Illinois. Is this how they still follow the Terps from Venezuela?

Greivis Vasquez: That's legendary now. We've got a Web site for Maryland that has the game [stats] on it, and they track it, just sit around the computer and keep refreshing the page. And they've got the Internet radio that they can listen to. But they don't speak English. So they wait to hear my last name, and then they go crazy. They'll keep the [box score] on the computer that shows when a player shoots the ball, and there's maybe 40 people watching that as it loads. They've got ESPN now too, though, so when we're on that they can see it on TV.

LW: You talked about your dad being a huge New York Yankees fan. Have you taken him to a game yet when he's visited the states?

GV: He LOVES the Yankees. Loves baseball. He can talk about baseball for years and years. He wanted me to play baseball, but I couldn't wait for the ball to come to me.

This summer when he came we went to see the the Orioles when they played the Yankees, twice. But I want to take him to Yankee Stadium, go up to New York so he can see one of those games. That would be special.

LW: I heard you do -- or at least used to do -- a celebration dance in practice called the Caracas Shuffle.

GV: My high school coach, coach [David] Adkins (an assistant at Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md.), called me "Caracas Shuffle" because I'd be bouncing around all the time in practice -- especially when I made a big shot. Sometimes I'd celebrate that, but I've stopped it mostly since I got to college. Coach [Gary] Williams doesn't really like that. He does let me do it once in a while, and I will, just to remember the old days.

LW: So how does the dance go?

GV: I'll kind of shake my shoulders, like a shake-and-bake thing, and maybe do a little bit of chicken wing. Sometimes I'll make a funny face while I'm doing it. I don't know if you watched the game when we played Duke last year, but I made a big three and then came to the end of the court, and was shaking my shoulders and dancing. That was pretty cool at the time -- because we were winning.

LW: It seems like you live for games at Duke.

GV: Duke is a great environment. I give a lot of respect to Coach K: he is one of the best in the business. Their fans are so good; they're into the game, they make the game so much better. It's just good to play in that environment. And of course Duke is a great team. You have to compete with somebody better than you, or on an equal level to you, so you can get better.

LW: The Cameron Crazies put a lot of effort into heckling you in particular. What's the best thing they've said?

GV: The funniest thing is when they started calling me names about my president in Venezuela, [Hugo] Chavez. They know the situation there. Our president is known as a guy who talks a lot, who doesn't like the president of the United States. They talk a lot of trash abut that, and say things like that I'm [Chavez's] son. I guess they do research and think, 'How can I get this guy?'

LW: Being Chavez's son wouldn't be that bad, right?

GV: If I was actually Chavez's son, I'd be in a great situation, with all the power and money and all that. I mean, he's the president! But I'm not his son. That's not how it is.

LW: After you lost this year at Cameron, Duke's DeMarcus Nelson was quoted as saying about you, "He might have gotten his points tonight, but his teammates didn't, and we got the win. ... It's more about himself than his team. That's something, I guess, they allow in their locker room." What was your reaction to hearing that?

GV: I haven't said anything about that, just because I can't wait to play against Duke again. And that's part of the reason they've been losing lately: They're getting into things that are none of their business. I've got no right to talk about anybody else's locker room, and when I talk after the game -- when I win or lose -- I never say anything bad about any good players or any other teams.

I don't know where he got that from. I was just trying to win the game. I don't have any right to say things about your game, so you better keep it to yourself, and make sure you're doing what you need to do to make your team better, and not worry about anybody else. But he said what he said, and it motivated me to work even harder. So one day I will play aginst him again and show him how it is: That it's not about me scoring 25, it's about me winning basketball games. On that night Duke happened to win.

LW: In an interview for that SI article, Gary Williams told me that you saluted him before the first day of practice in your freshman year. Did you ever do that again?

GV: I do it once in a while still. Not that often. I show him a lot of respect. To me he's maybe the best coach that I'll ever have -- him and Stu Vetter from high school. I love coach Williams -- his attitude, his passion, his energy. It's like I see myself in the mirror when I see the way he coaches practice, and how he's so intense. That's my personality. I want to be coached by him and win a national championship with him. That's going to take a lot of work; I know that every college team wants to win a national championship. It's going to come down to who wants its the most.

LW: Coach Williams used to call you his "John Havlicek" when you were a sixth man as a freshman; now you've transitioned into being the team's leading scorer. Was that a difficult switch?

GV: Any compliment from Coach Williams is great; that's coming from a guy who is going to be a Hall of Famer. He gives me so much confidence, and I know what I'm capable of doing on the court. And especially after playing a lot of basketball with my national team from Venezuela this summer, it wasn't that hard of a transition. I got to play against guys like Kobe [Bryant], Jason Kidd, all the NBA guys, and when I got back to Maryland I kept working hard, hoping that one day I'll reach that level.

LW: What was the best moment from that national-team run?

GV: Guarding Kobe Bryant was unbelievable. I grew up watching him, and all the stuff that he said after the game -- and during the game -- was just good for me to hear.

LW: I read that Kobe spoke to you in Spanish.

GV: He spoke Spanish pretty well. At first he was talking to the ref in Spanish, he was saying that he wasn't elbowing me. Then [Bryant] told me later on, 'Just keep playing hard, you're going to be fine. You're doing good.' It was Kobe Bryant, man! It was just good to hear that. He said a lot of stuff in Spanish. I couldn't believe it.

LW: If you say something in Spanish now, during a college game, what is it?

GV: I'll never forget where I'm coming from, so I've gotta say some things in Spanish to get myself feeling better, or if I don't want someone to understand something -- like, if I'm mad after making a turnover or not shooting the ball well. It's a good thing [people don't understand it] sometimes.

There are a few different things I'll say in Spanish: Sometimes when I'm going 199 miles an hour, I'll tell myself to calm down; or, when I'm starting to go crazy, in a good way, I just say, "Something crazy started!" -- that's when I start going off.

LW: I read (in the DC Sports Bog) about you doing some crazy moped driving on campus. True?

GV: That was just a one-time thing. Some players saw me driving that moped that I borrowed. I was a little late to class, and yeah, I was driving a little crazy because I didn't want to be late. I think I had a quiz. I mean, [the moped] only goes up to 50, so you can't go that crazy with it, but I was going in a wild way, up on the sidewalk and all that. Just yelling, "People! Please move out the way!" and going through the crowd.

I'm not using that moped anymore, though; on campus they just put up some papers saying that nobody's allowed to ride a moped on the sidewalk, that the fine will be like $80 if they catch you.

LW: In that same story, teammate Bambale Osby called you the 'Mr GQ' of the Terrapins. How did you earn that nickname?

GV: I guess I got that because, you know, we're in Maryland, we're close to Washington D.C., and there's a lot of people who can relate with my game, with my energy and all that. I try to just worry about playing basketball, but it's cool when people know who you are in a good way. And Boom knows a lot of people who want to know me, who want to be my friend.

Now he knows my new girlfriend, too, so he had to say something about me dating softball girls and cheerleaders. I used to have a girlfriend who was a cheerleader, and we just broke up a while back. Now I've got a girlfriend who plays softball. I introduced her to Boom, and now he's making her famous.

LW: As Mr. GQ, what's your opinion of Boom Osby's fro?

GV: I mean, that's his personality. His afro looks good on him. That's the way he represents himself. He's got this big afro and he plays that way -- big. A lot of people compare him with Ben Wallace because of that afro, but I don't think they should compare him like that, even though Ben Wallace is a good player. I just think he's Boom Osby. That's his style.

LW: Would you wear that if you could

GV: I wish I could. I wouldn't be able to, though. My hair doesn't grow that way.

LW: I wanted to ask you about the thing you had shaved in your facial hair earlier this season. I had never seen anything like it -- crazy designs on your cheeks. How did you come up with that?

GV: My barber did it. One day he was cutting my hair and was doing some fancy stuff. I told him to shave my face too. When you're young you do some crazy stuff. I mean, college is only four years -- you've got four good years of it.

You have to think about having a fresh look and see if stuff looks good. It's not about looking good necessarily, it's about having some type of STYLE, you know? Like the Spanish people would do. Like Puerto Ricans or Venezuelans would do. You just have to try some things, like having some style on my face.
It was cool for a couple of days, but I can't do that anymore. It's not that great for your image if you're trying to eventually be a pro.

LW: This barber, who is he, in case people want to get that design?

GV: His name is Boris. He's Puerto Rican. I call him Boris The Puerto Rican Barber. His shop is like 20 minutes from [campus]. He's always trying new things. And every time I go to his barbershop, they say, 'Oh, that's the guy from Maryland, and I help to make him a little famous. So people will come over and get their hair cut, and ask questions about our games.

LW: This new style that you've got right now, with the goatee and the slick look, what was inspiration for it?

GV: Right now I'm trying to look fresh, clean cut. I wanted to do something good with my hair, to use a lot of gel in my hair to look Spanish and represent my people.

LW: Gel represents the Spanish?

GV: Yeah man, using a lot of gel. I just try to change it up once in a while. I wanted to do some fancy stuff. You've got to keep it real; keep people asking, "What is that in his hair? And what has he got on his face?" It's all for fun.

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1/29/2008 09:01:00 AM

Q&A with ... Kansas State's Bill Walker

Kansas State's Bill Walker grabbed 10 points and nine rebounds in last Saturday's win over Iowa State.
Scott Sewell/Icon SMI
For the latest Q&A, I chatted with Kansas State's Bill Walker, who has helped guide the Wildcats to a surprising 4-0 start in the Big 12. The redshirt freshman swingman, who starred at Cincinnati's North College Hill High School alongside O.J. Mayo, then followed Bob Huggins to K-State, opted to remain in Manhattan when Huggs bolted for West Virginia. Walker is now averaging 15.8 points and 6.6 rebounds on the season. The following is an edited version of a phone conversation with him from last week:

Luke Winn: Some of your teammates been been referring to the Big 12 season as a "heavyweight fight" with 12 rounds left, and I heard that was your idea. Why the boxing metaphor?

Bill Walker: Because it is a heavyweight fight. It's not called the Big 12 for nothing -- it's a physical brand of basketball. And I like boxing. I'm a big Floyd Mayweather fan; I just caught that Ricky Hatton fight from last month. [Mayweather] has a swagger. He's confident about himself no matter who he's going up against.

LW: Who would win a K-State team boxing tourney? And how would [Michael] Beasley do?

BW: I'm not sure -- and I don't think I want to find out, either. Beasley is a lefty, so he's probably pretty awkward. We're both powerful guys, but he's bigger, so I'd have to out-quick him.

LW: You've been averaging 17.3 points per game in the Big 12, and you're getting back on NBA scouts' radar after being sort of written off following your ACL tear [as a true freshman]. People are saying that the 'old Bill Walker' is back; was he hiding just because of the injury?

BW: It was more me just adjusting to college basketball. People forget that I only played six games last year, so this year is just like it would be for a true freshman. I'm maximizing my shot attempts now, not taking bad shots. I'm getting more comfortable about learning from scouting reports and knowing weaknesses in defenses.

LW: You're making a lot of threes now, too [he's connected on 8-of-15 in Big 12 games]. That didn't used to be your forte when you were called "Sky" Walker. Where did this newfound accuracy come from?

BW: I like challenges. I like when people say I can't do something. That was what pushed me to go out there and do it, and to put a lot of work into my shot.

The rap sheet on me was always 'He can't shoot -- if he doesn't dunk it, he's not going to score.' Which is totally not the case. I can score from anywhere on the floor. I just hadn't had a chance to show it.

LW: People that saw your team in November and early December [when it lost to George Mason, Oregon and Notre Dame] probably wouldn't have given you much of a shot to beat Kansas on Wednesday. That may no longer be the case. How serious of a threat do you think the Jayhawks consider your team?

BW: We have seven freshmen, so there was going to be an adjustment period. When guys finally got acclimated to this type of competition, everything came together. I don't think Kansas is looking past this game. You can't -- that's how you get beat in college basketball. I know what they're trying to accomplish. They're trying to go undefeated, and they're off to a great start.

LW: Mike Beasley's mom, Fatima Smith, has been blogging for the Wichita Eagle. Have you ever read her blog?

BW: I haven't seen it. I don't read too much media stuff. She's always around our room [he lives with Beasley] policing us anyways, making sure we're eating the right things, making sure we're there when we're supposed to be there, stuff like that.

LW: She has a key to the dorm?

BW: They'll let her in. She's come over plenty of times.

LW: What's the best thing in the Walker-Beasley pad?

BW: Probably the XBox 360. We play NBA 2K8 and College Hoops 2K8. I play with us and I play with USC.

LW: You play as O.J. [Mayo]?

BW: I gave Mike 84 [points] with O.J. one game. I think Mike had like 60-something as himself, but he claimed his controller was broken.

LW: How much do you and O.J. keep in touch? You were linked together for so long in high school ...

BW: I keep in touch with O.J. a lot. I called him a few days before he played UCLA. We don't talk about basketball all that much now, though; we already hear that all day. It's just stuff about life in general, making sure we're doing the things we need to do to stay on the path we always talked about.

LW: Former shoe kingpin Sonny Vaccaro, a friend of yours and O.J.'s, has called you a 'victim' of the NBA's age-minimum rule, in that you could've entered the draft -- and been a lottery pick -- rather than going to K-State and tearing your ACL last season. Do you agree with that characterization?

BW: I just look at it as, [the NBA] took away the choice that you have, forcing you to go to college, when sometimes college isn't for everybody. I think about the fact that I can go enlist in the Army and die at the age of 18, but I can't play in the NBA. That means that they take basketball more seriously than a person's life.

LW: It was speculated at one point that you and O.J. would actually try to find a way around the rule -- by either going to Europe or some other pro league for a season, then entering the NBA draft. Did you two ever seriously consider that, or even have discussions about it with Sonny?

BW: Naw. Once they put the rule in, I decided it wasn't worth going overseas. I wasn't that desperate. I figured I'd go to college and play. If you're really as good as you think you are, then you should figure you can make the jump out of college, right?

LW: I'm not sure if you go on YouTube at all, but amongst all the videos of you dunking there are two pretty classic ones. The first is from late in an overtime loss to Oregon [from Nov. 29], where it's tied 71-71 near the end of regulation, and you run to the bench during a stoppage, put towels in your shorts, and well ... take care of some pressing business so you can comfortably continue the game.

BW: It was either that or leave the court. And I was trying to win that game, so I did what had to be done.

LW: That's dedication. The other video is from last year's NIT--

BW: The popcorn thing.

LW: Yeah. Where you're redshirting, and on the bench eating popcorn at the start of the DePaul game. It's one of the better sideline clips I've ever seen.

BW: I didn't think people were going to make such a big deal about it. I still eat popcorn before all the games now. I love popcorn -- and not out of the microwave, either. I like the taste of it when it's popped out of the machine, so I either go and get some, or have somebody get some for me, before every game.

LW: Three of the better freshmen in the college game right now -- Kentucky's Patrick Patterson, O.J., and yourself -- all grew up in Huntington, W.V., which isn't usually thought of as a hoops hotbed. Is there anything about the culture of the city that shaped your games?

BW: We're a different caliber of people, from Huntington -- just blue-collar people who go to work. Patrick displays that when he plays for Kentucky. You can tell he plays hard and goes to work, and same with O.J. It's how we were brought up. It's not like there are a lot of jobs or opportunities for people [in Huntington], so if you do have something, you have to work your tail off to keep it.

LW: You write "1023" on the backs of your Nikes, which is an ode to Huntington, right?

BW: 1023 Minton was my street address when I lived in Huntington. The house was in real bad shape when my family first moved in. We had to clean it up to make it a home. So I can be going through the worst slump ever, and I can look down at the 1023 on my shoes, and know it can't get any worse than when we first got there.

LW: Last one. What about your jersey number, 12? Is it another play off of that address, or something else?

BW: I just wear 12 because it's the first two numbers -- the most important numbers. The first two steps to any play are the most important. You've always gotta have your 1-2 right.

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1/07/2008 09:09:00 AM

Q&A with ... Indiana's D.J. White

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.

LW: Your signature move has been referenced as a "turnaround baby jumper." Do you agree with that?

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.

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posted by Luke Winn | View comments (6) | Add a comment
12/18/2007 03:30:00 PM

Q&A with ... Pitt's Sam Young

Pitt's Sam Young leads the Panthers' drive against Duke Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
For the latest Q&A, I chatted with Pitt's Sam Young, who is in the midst of a breakout junior season for the undefeated, No. 11-ranked Panthers. Young, a 6-foot-6 forward, is averaging career highs of 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. In a consistent starting role for the first time, Young has scored in double-digits in all of the Panthers' 10 games, and should contend for All-Big East honors if he continues this level of production. The following is an edited version of our phone conversation from Monday:

Luke Winn: You had a self-imposed 'ban' on talking to the media for most of your sophomore season, when you were coming off the bench behind Levon Kendall at the power-forward spot. Why the ban?

Sam Young: Last year, I was pretty frustrated. I consider myself a hard worker, and I was working hard all offseason, and then had a knee [injury] be a problem for me all season long. I felt like I probably wasn't the best player at the three [small forward] on the team. But at the four, I felt like I was the best player, and that basically added to my frustration. I was put in a position where I couldn't win, basically. And then when the media asked me questions, they often put me in a position where I wanted to say some things that I shouldn't. So I felt like the best thing for me to do, if I didn't have anything positive to say, was to be quiet.

LW: Did that ever get uncomfortable for you, or were there at least a few moments where you felt like you wanted to start talking again, but didn't -- say, after a game where you played a lot and did well?

SY: Even after some of the big games, what I felt was that I could have been doing that all season. That [those performances] were what I was supposed to be doing. I was happy about them, but I never felt like I wanted to say something after a big game. Because I might have said the wrong things.

LW: What is it like this season, then, to be finally in the starting lineup, and also talking to the press?

SY: I feel more free. I feel like the players and the coaches have more confidence in me. Everyone knows that I'm healthy, and knows that that's a big part of me playing well. I'm capable of doing things I wasn't last year. They have confidence in me, and I have confidence in myself, that I can do anything.

LW: About that knee injury you mentioned ... Coach Jamie Dixon once made a comment that you would play almost too much pickup ball, and that wear and tear contributed to your knee problems.

SY: To be honest, I know what it was [that caused the injury]. I always had a little tremble in my knee when I would finish playing. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes it didn't. For the most part, I could still jump and be a productive player. But there was one day [in the summer of 2006] where I actually hurt it. I had a workout with my personal trainer for about two hours, doing legs, and then we hit the track for 45 minutes. And then somebody had recommended me to another trainer, and I guess he was trying to impress me, so he took me through about two hours of leg workouts -- lunges, leg press, squats. My knee was hurting, and I should have said something to him, but I didn't. I had also promised some people I would play pickup with them at about 9 p.m., and I did about two hours of that, too. The next day, my knee was worse than it ever had been. I overworked it, and it followed me through the whole season.

LW: What's the most ridiculous pickup game you've been in, maybe when you went against people who weren't exactly your level, just for the sake of playing?

SY: Sometimes I'll go back home and play pickup with the JVs at my high school [Fort Washington (Md.) Friendly]. Or if the managers here [at Pitt] want to play pickup or one-on-one, I'll play with them. I go up to the student gym, too, almost every week, to work on stuff like moves with my left hand. Pickup is how I improve my game. When I'm playing in practice and in real games, there's certain stuff I can't work on. You almost can't do certain things in practice because you're expected to maintain a certain level of play. You can't focus on stuff that you're really weak in.

LW: And these students at the rec center, do they ever get a little over-zealous about trying to go head-to-head against the school's star?

SY: Definitely. I'll go up to Trees Hall [a student gym], and every time somebody will want to pick me up and play me extra hard. They'll say, 'Let me get Sam, he'll probably kill me, but I can tell my kids about it.'

LW: I've read about your motivational phone message -- the one that goes "I'm not big enough to play the four and not skilled enough to play the three. Everything you hear right now, they said that stuff about me." Are there any others you use?

SY: I have this one on my wall at home, and up in my locker. I read it before every game, just something to remind me of who I am. This is it:

I am strong, body mind and spirit. I am different. I am cocky, confident, conceited but humble. I am serious but hilarious, independent but incomplete. I am special. I am a king in my own mind and have the wits of a God. I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul. I am a believer, for believing is understanding life. I AM A WINNER, I can't lose to any man, for when they come into contact with me, the have entered MY world. I am impatient, I will leave anyone behind that doesn't want to help themselves. I AM ONE OF A KIND, I am Sam Young.

LW: That's good. You wrote it, or adapted it from something?

SY: I wrote it.

LW: I've also read a few reports of your skills as a gymnast. There was a quote where you said people thought you could have been an Olympian. Where did that come from?

SY: I began flipping -- or doing flips -- when I was a kid, probably back to the age of six. People think it's crazy when they see me do it now for the first time, but it's like second nature to me.

LW: What's the craziest gymnastic feat you've pulled off?

SY: You have no idea. When I was young, me and guys used to have crazy flipping contests. We would flip off this elementary school building, probably 15 feet high. We flipped off of big trash dumpsters, probably eight feet. We flipped over gates, flipped off of gates. If you just look at my legs, I've got a lot of war marks from flipping off of stuff as a kid. A lot of times I was successful. But I did hurt myself, a couple of times and a got lot of bruises. I think that's one of the reasons my knees are bad, because I did so much crazy stuff as a kid.

LW: How often do you do the flips in practice, or around the team?

SY: I don't do it often, but the other day I did a handstand in the locker room for 20 seconds, and everybody looked at me like I was crazy. That was the day before the Oklahoma State game. Right in the middle of the locker room.

LW: Does anyone at school challenge you to gymnastic contests?

SY: There's a girl in the dorm who always asks me to do handstand contests, and she always wins. I give her a run for her money, but she's too good at it.

LW: Switching gears back to hoops: If you could wear any college retro jersey, whose would it be?

SY: It would probably be Vince Carter in Carolina blue. To be honest, though, I didn't even watch basketball until I got to prep school [at Hargrave Military Academy] -- I just knew how to put the ball in the hoop, and worked hard at that. When I got my first recruiting letter from Pitt, I had a friend who watched basketball a lot, and I asked him, 'Is Pitt a good school?' He was like, 'Yeah,' and he started talking about Carl Krauser and guys like that. I had no idea who Carl Krauser was.

I used to always trade basketball cards and football cards, though, and once somebody gave me a college card of Vince Carter. I didn't know who he was then, and I think I misplaced it. Then I started watching him later on in the NBA, and kind of wish I had held onto it.

LW: What are the prize cards in your collection?

SY: I probably have over 100 Michael Jordan cards, but I was more into football. Barry Sanders, from the Detroit Lions, I got his college card and his NFL card. I've actually got a card with him holding a basketball. Don't ask me how I got it, but I do.

LW: I've heard you occasionally play the piano, too. How did you get started in music?

SY: Well, my little brother, Michael Spriggs, who's 18 now, is legally blind. And I didn't start playing until he really started playing. He first did it when he was real young -- his grandmother bought him a little piano when he was a baby. But when he got to about about nine or 10, he took a liking to it and started playing a lot. He got me interested when I was in the ninth grade. I took a piano class.

LW: Who's the better piano player now?

SY: He is. We were equals back then [when he started], but now he's way better.

LW: Is he a senior in high school now?

SY: Yeah, at C.H. Flowers [in Springdale, Md.], because my family moved. He's in public school, but they give him all of his lessons in braille there.

LW: Have you learned to read any braille from him?

SY: Not at all. I don't understand how he begins to understand it.

LW: For your own music, I've heard that you play the parts to a few rap songs ...

A few times I've done that. I was trying to play by ear from stuff I heard on the radio. R&B songs, rap songs, I pretty much can play them. There's also a guy on our team, Maurice Polen, who can sing to anything. I just try to make up a beat and then he'll sing to it.

As for songs, I've played some Dr. Dre, and R. Kelly's I'll Never Leave, and Dru Hill's Incomplete. I have a keyboard in my room, and there's a piano in the student union, that's the main place kids go and relax, and there's always one in the hotel lobbies that we go to on the road.

LW: Coming into Thursday's showdown with Duke, you're 10-0 but you haven't played much of a schedule -- as compared to maybe another undefeated team like Texas, which has already faced Tennessee and UCLA. Do you want to play a tougher schedule early in the season?

SY: Definitely. Why wouldn't I? I'd want to play a schedule like that, just because I want people to know how good I really am, or how good I'm not. And I definitely want to know how good I am myself. You only can learn from a tough non-conference schedule. Playing a team going into the game that you know you can beat, you can work on your execution and stuff like that, and work on running stuff as a team. Other than that, it doesn't test you as much as a big game would.

LW: You said you didn't watch much basketball growing up, but what do you think of the mystique around the Duke program?

SY: Once I became friends with players, and a student of the game, I knew that Duke always had a crazy rep. Coach K has been doing a great job there forever. But that reputation isn't anything if you can't back it up, so I'm not worried about the reputation part. If they don't come to play, and back it up, then they'll be in trouble.

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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.

LW: You're one of the rare guys who goes for the two-wristband look. Any particular reason for it?

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.

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11/12/2007 10:55:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Vanderbilt's Shan Foster

Shan Foster
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?

The suit.
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: Who are your favorite musicians right now?

SF: I like John Legend a lot. J. Moss. Judith McAllister. I love her music. Yolanda Adams. Smokie Norful. And Stevie Wonder.

LW: If you had to play one Stevie song, which would it be?

SF: Well, Ribbon in the Sky is the only one I know how to play.

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.'

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9/05/2007 11:28:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Michigan State's Drew Neitzel

Drew Neitzel returns to Michigan State for his senior season after a summer of international play at the Pan Am games.
Mark Cowan/Icon SMI
For the latest edition of the Blog Q&A series, I chatted with Michigan State point guard Drew Neitzel, who returns to lead the Spartans after averaging 18.1 points and 4.3 assists as a junior in 2006-07. This summer, Neitzel was one of 12 college stars to be named to the U.S. Pan American Games team, which finished fifth in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The conversation below is an edited compilation of two interviews: the first was conducted in person at the Pam Am trials in July, and the second was by phone last week.

Luke Winn: You've been around the Big Ten for a pretty long time now, since 2004. What's the toughest road place to play in the league?

Drew Neitzel: It's a tough conference to play on the road. Every place is unique, and sometimes it depends on what kind of a year a team is having. Illinois is tough. Indiana might be No. 1, though. It's not just their student section; it's their whole fan base. They love basketball. The arena [Assembly Hall] is huge. It's like a theater -- it goes up really high on both sides, and the sound seems to echo in there. It feels like the fans are right on top of you, and they get pretty loud.

LW: What's been the most memorable harassment you've received from a Big Ten student section?

DN: It usually happens at the free-throw line. Kids will start chanting "Marshall Mathers" or "Slim Shady," for Eminem. Last year, when Britney shaved her head, and we played at Wisconsin, they were calling me Britney Spears.

LW: How long has the shaved head been your style?

DN: It's been like that since I can remember. Since elementary school. I grew it out for a month and a half at the end of [the '06-07] season, but I had to cut it. It was thick and nasty. It got to the point where a lot of people didn't recognize me.

LW: I assume you'd prefer to avoid Britney comparisons, but what about Eminem? Are you a fan?

DN: That's fine. He's one of my favorite rappers; he's on my pre-game list on my iPod, with Young Jeezy and Nas. I don't really want to be like Eminem, but it doesn't bother me at all. My teammates get more laughs out of that stuff than I do. After games they'll be making fun of me on the bus.

LW: What about basketball players that you admire? Do you have a favorite lefty shooter?

DN: As far as lefties, I don't know. Right now I like to watch Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich. They're probably my two favorite players. Arenas, because he can hit shots from anywhere, plus create off the dribble and score in a lot of different ways. Hinrich, I like the way he plays the point, sort of similar to the way I do. He's a point guard but he looks to score a lot as well as get his teammates involved.

LW: I guess you shouldn't be limited to lefties; aside from shooting you're known as somewhat of an ambidextrous player. How did that come about?

DN: My dad [Craig] worked with me since I was little -- probably starting at 8 or 9 -- and it gradually happened. On the court, we'd do different kinds of ballhandling drills, especially two-ball dribbling. [Neitzel was the two-ball national champ at age 12]. Off the court, I'd do things like eating or brushing my teeth with both hands. I've always worked both hands equally.

LW: Are there any players you've tried to emulate from watching YouTube clips?

DN: That site is pretty cool; I go on and look up a lot of different guys. Pistol Pete highlight tapes. Jason Williams highlight tapes. I think there's about four of his that I have saved. There are a couple of highlight videos our fans at Michigan State made, too.

LW: We weren't able to see any of the action from [the Pan-Am games in] Brazil this summer. How was that experience for you? And how did the team handle the shock of losing its first two games, to Uruguay and Panama, and finishing fifth?

DN: I took a lot of good things from it. It was my first experience with the international game, and to get to hang out with some of the other top college guys around the country was a lot of fun. When I watched the Olympic team [the U.S. senior men's squad] play in Las Vegas, I saw lot of the same guys we played against down in Brazil.

Losing early on was hard; we didn't get a whole lot of practice time before we played our first game, and we struggled with two close losses. We improved throughout the whole tourney, though, and by the end, we ended up beating a team -- Panama -- that we lost to earlier in the tournament. That showed our progress.

LW: Which players did you end up living with in Rio?

DN: We lived in suites of six in an Olympic Village-type place. My actual roommate was Maarty Leunen [of Oregon], and there were four other guys in the two other bedrooms: Roy Hibbert [of Georgetown] and Shan Foster [of Vanderbilt] were in one, and Scottie Reynolds [of Villanova] and James Gist [of Maryland] were in the other. It was a pretty tight living situation.

LW: What will you remember most about Brazil, off the court?

DN: We played five games in five days, so it was tough to do much; we got to see the city and some of the sights once we were done playing. The thing that surprised me most was the security. Everywhere you went there were armed security guards, or armed military people. You couldn't go anywhere without showing your ID. When you entered and exited the village, they'd search the bus. I think they said there were 5,000 athletes and 25,000 security and military people.

LW: On the Michigan State front, you're welcoming in two new, four-star guards [freshmen Chris Allen and Kalin Lucas] to a backcourt that was extremely thin last year. How much will that help, especially having a second point guard in Lucas?

DN: It's going to be really nice to have some depth this year. As a player, you always want to play 40 minutes a game and never come off the court. But a couple of minutes here and a couple there really make a difference for me as far as my body. I think I'll be more effective [with Lucas spelling him]. Having more options on the wing, too, is going to open up the floor. Teams won't be able to double me as much.

LW: Is this going to be a breakout year for [sophomore forward] Raymar Morgan? He showed flashes of being a future star last year, and you desperately need another quality scorer.

DN: Raymar had a great season as a freshman, even if he was injured for a lot of the year. This summer he went to Serbia with the Under-19 [World Championship] team and played well. He's improved his jump shot a lot. I can remember a year ago, before he even started school, he'd come up and shoot and he couldn't hit anything. Now you can't leave him open, because he'll knock it down. That's going to be a big step in his game, because people are going to have to pressure up on him, and then he can go by them on the dribble.

LW: I've heard you have an interest in coaching when your playing days are over ...

DN: I would like to get into coaching. I want to do something with basketball. That's my love, my passion. Hopefully it would be for a college team; I could work my way up to that level.

LW: Should we expect to see you back on the Michigan State bench down the road?

DN: I don't know. A couple of [Spartans] assistants said maybe I could work for them if they got a head-coaching job. It'd be interesting. But I'm not trying to get into coaching yet. I want to keep playing until my legs fall off, and then I'll think about that.

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8/23/2007 10:14:00 AM

Blog Q&A with ... UCLA's Ben Howland

With the addition of star recruit Kevin Love and four starters returning, UCLA coach Ben Howland looks to guide his Bruins to their third straight Final Four.
Rob Curtis/Icon SMI
For the latest in a series of offseason Q&As, I chatted with UCLA coach Ben Howland, who guided the Bruins to their second straight Final Four this past season. Howland, who had just returned from vacation in Hawaii when we spoke, is returning a loaded team -- minus All-America two-guard Arron Afflalo, who was a first-round draft pick of the Pistons -- that should contend for a national title in 2007-08. The following is an edited transcript of our phone conversation from Thursday.

Luke Winn: With super-recruit Kevin Love on the way in, and Arron gone to the draft, how will your lineup be restructured next season? Is it as easy as putting Love at center, and shifting Lorenzo Mata, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Josh Shipp [last year's five, four and three, respectively] down a position?

Ben Howland: Actually, when Kevin plays alongside Lorenzo, [Love] will probably end up playing the four on defense as opposed to the five. And we're definitely going to be playing Lorenzo and Kevin together at times. On offense, though, Kevin will be able to play both the four and the five. He works [at the five] because he'll probably be our best rebounder, if not one of our top two. He has very good low-post moves, plus he can step out and shoot the three, and he's good from the foul line. But the biggest thing is what Kevin can do around the basket. We haven't had a great low-post scorer since I've been here.

LW: Kevin is also the biggest recruit you've ever signed at UCLA. What is his immediate potential for this season? Can he make an impact anywhere near what Kevin Durant did at Texas as a freshman?

BH: I hope so. That would be great. I think Kevin is going to be very good. He'll be one of the best freshmen in the country. There are a lot of good big men in our conference -- and the Pac-10 is the best league in the country -- so it's going to be a good challenge for Kevin.

LW: Love has been on campus for a while now. What has he been up to this summer?

BH: He's been to summer school in both sessions, and he actually went down with Darren Collison and played in a camp [the Adidas Nations Basketball Experience] in New Orleans. All reports out of there were that Kevin was one of the best players in the whole thing. He's working real hard. On campus they play regular pickup at the Men's Gym [in the Student Activities Center]. Kevin Garnett was there this week. Emeka Okafor's been there; he played against [Love]. Baron Davis has been there, so has Earl Watson and Sam Cassell. The list goes on and on. It's great competition.

LW: It seems like a large number of foreign-born college players are having big summers in international competition. We recently ran a story on the Ohio State guy, Kosta Koufos, starring for Greece's Under-18 team, and also mentioned how one of your reserves, Nikola Dragovic, was the third-leading scorer on a Serbian gold-medal team in the European Under-20s. Were you able to keep tabs on your guys overseas?

BH: Absolutely. In fact, Luc is over in Africa now, playing qualifiers in an Olympic tournament for Cameroon. They have a game today against Egypt in Angola, and if they win they're in the Olympics. Alfred Aboya played in the first qualifying tournament in Algeria, and Luc's playing well in this one.

As for Nikola, we're going to need him because we're down to 10 guys on scholarship after what happened to [forward] James Keefe; he's going to be out for the first couple of months because of shoulder surgery, which is sad because he had such a great spring and summer. Last season, Nikola had to miss the first 12 games because of an NCAA ruling [over playing for a professional team in Serbia], so that set him back. He's going to start out fine this year.

LW: You had an international experience of your own a long while back -- your one year of playing pro ball in Uruguay, in 1980. How did that come about?

BH: Someone just got ahold of me about the opportunity [after finishing at Weber State in '79]. We were really the first group of Americans to play down there. It was a great experience culturally; it made you appreciate being American. No one was starving to death, but TVs and cars were real luxury items. A washer and dryer for your clothes, those were like luxury items. We take that stuff for granted in this country.

LW: What was it like playing-wise -- and did you consider staying there for more than a year?

BH: There were times when we would play on cement floors … or find ourselves in a situation where everybody in the arena was smoking. I made about $1,000 a month, and I had a chance to stay, but I wanted to go into coaching. The best thing for me was to get back and start [as a graduate assistant] at Gonzaga.

LW: You have a lot of talent returning this year, but how do you expect to pick up the defensive slack from Arron's departure? He was regarded as a great lock-down guy on the perimeter.

BH: We're going to play Luc at the three this year, and the biggest difference from that move will come on defense. He's so versatile that he can guard a point guard all the way up to a five, and there are very few players you can say that about. Luc will definitely end up guarding some of the other team's best wings.

LW: Josh Shipp is going to have to play a huge role this year. How is his rehab work coming after that left-hip surgery?

BH: Josh actually played five-on-five yesterday for the first time since he had the surgery on April 20, and he apparently played well. He's going to play again tomorrow, which means he's ahead of schedule now from where I expected him to be. It looks like he'll be ready to go once practice starts in October. Initially I thought he wouldn't start playing five-on-five until mid-September.

LW: I usually ask this question of players in Q&As, but since we're in the middle of the U.S. senior team's qualifying, and [Villanova's] Jay Wright and [DePaul's] Jerry Wainwright had the chance to coach younger U.S. all-star teams this summer, I think it's timely. If you had to fill a starting five with current college players not from UCLA, whom would you pick?

BH: I would love to have [Tyler] Hansbrough from North Carolina. I think Brook Lopez at Stanford is a very good big kid, and I could probably just pick a lineup from the Pac-10, since our league is so good. Outside [of the conference], I love Darrell Arthur and Brandon Rush at Kansas, too -- and the two freshmen coming in at Indiana and Memphis, Eric Gordon and Derrick Rose. There are so many good players out there.

If I had to settle on a starting five, though, I'd start Hansbrough at the four; I just love his toughness, and how relentless he is as a rebounder and scorer. Lopez would be at the five. Rush would be at the two. For a point guard, I'd take D.J. Augustin from Texas. And then the three … I'd probably choose a guy like Kyle Weaver from Washington State. He's so versatile that he can play the one, two or three. He's got a future in the NBA.

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7/31/2007 11:21:00 AM

Blog Q&A with ... Oregon's Bryce Taylor

Oregon's Bryce Taylor looks forward to embracing more of a leadership role this year with the Ducks.
For the latest edition of the Blog Q&A series, I chatted with Oregon guard Bryce Taylor, who is returning to the Ducks for his senior season following a run to the Elite Eight in the 2007 NCAA tournament. Taylor, who averaged 14.1 points and 4.6 rebounds as a junior, was one of 14 players (out of 30 hopefuls) who passed the first cut at USA Basketball's Pan American Games trials earlier this month in Haverford, Pa. He and Texas A&M's Josh Carter were omitted from the final 12-man roster. When we spoke, Taylor had just completed his third day of trials for the U.S. team, which also included fellow Duck Maarty Leunen. The following is an edited version of our conversation.

Luke Winn: Aaron Brooks -- the point guard and clutch scorer who helped you get to the Elite Eight, was taken in the first round by the Houston Rockets last month. How is Oregon going to cope with him being gone?

Bryce Taylor: It's going to be tough, because Aaron created so many shots for everybody. We lost someone who could basically get in the lane at will. We're going to have [sophomore guard] Tajuan [Porter] slide over, look to create and get his shots as well. I think we'll probably run more sets, but still do some motion, so we can spread the ball and let everybody do what they do well. I know I'm going to have to work on my ball-handling for the rest of the summer, because we'll be in situations where I would maybe have to create at the end of the shot clock.

LW: I've heard that you and Maarty have been running the offseason pickup games in Eugene …

BT: We stepped into a role that's pretty natural for us. We're seniors; it's just the natural progression of our college career. It's our time to take the team over -- [Maarty], myself and Malik [Hairston] as well. We're just taking that leadership role and going with it.

LW: Malik came in as a five-star prospect, you as a four-star, and both of you were ranked in the top 50 for the Class of 2005. Did you think it would turn out like this, that both of you were still at Oregon together as seniors?

BT: Naw. Coming into college, you never know what to expect, but you have that ultimate confidence where you think you have the ability to get to the NBA as quickly as possible. Malik's had a great college career. I think he's learned a lot about himself and basketball and what he needs to do to get to that next level, so, if anything, it's just helped him become a better player, probably.

LW: You've maintained the close-cropped 'do -- as opposed to the signature dreads from early in your Oregon career -- for a while now. Any plans to let the long hair come back?

BT: For now, I'm keeping it clean-cut. Maybe down the road, I might grow it out again. But looking back, my hair was pretty crazy my freshman and sophomore years. Sometimes when I see a picture, I'm like, 'What was I thinking?'

It was a phase I was going through. Coming out of high school, I was a big Bob Marley fan, so I thought, I'll just let my hair grow ... and then I grew it for like three and a half years straight. I was kind of a free spirit, and people would always tell me, 'Cut your hair!' That made me want to grow it that much longer.

LW: Are you still a Marley fan, or did that go away, too?

BT: I still love Marley, and Jimi Hendrix, stuff like that. I just can't be connected with it visually the way I used to -- or the way that people used to make that assumption by looking at me.

LW: So what were the circumstances of you actually cutting it?

BT: I had a rough year as a sophomore. I struggled with an injury, and I couldn't play a quarter of the season. So I just went home and cut my hair off. I did it myself, with scissors, then went to the barbershop the next day. It was kind of a big deal for me, because it was part of my identity -- a big part of my identity. But I got rid of it, and it ended up being a good thing. Even if my family was going crazy initially. My mom loved my old hair.

LW: It seems like, when I'd watch Oregon games on TV this season, announcers would often credit your transformation into a more hard-nosed player as a junior to the fact that you had shorter hair, as in, "Bryce Taylor looks like he cares about basketball now" -- basically insinuating that having dreads and working hard are mutually exclusive. What's your reaction to that?

BT: That's just a stereotype that goes along with all types of counterculture, or whatever's not traditional and conservative. It's kind of unfair, because people pass judgments on you before they know you ... but that's also kind of the way things go, especially as you get to a higher level. It's just part of the business, and people want you to fit in with the mainstream.

LW: In a pop-culture survey that appeared in SI Players before this year's Super Bowl, you said your ideal band to play the game's halftime show would be the Arcade Fire. Not a lot of guys in college hoops listening to the Arcade Fire, I presume. How did you get into them?

BT: My freshman year at Oregon, my girlfriend, my sister and I went to the Sasquatch Festival at the Gorge in Washington. Kanye [West] was one of the headliners, and that's where I saw [Acrade Fire] there, and Bloc Party, Matisyahu, a bunch of cool bands. I'm into all types of music -- alternative, indie.

LW: Where does the indie part come from?

BT: My surroundings, in high school, brought that on. I went to high school [at Harvard-Westlake] in North Hollywood. It's kind of like a different culture in LA. You get a lot of indie kids wearing skinny jeans and American Apparel.

LW: You had other influences from home -- like the fact that your dad [Brian Taylor] is a former Princeton star and NBA player who was known as a big-time shooter. Among all these college stars here [at the Team USA trials], do you perceive your identity as as a shooter, or something different?

BT: When I came out here [to Haverford College], I knew there was always a need for shooters. The team has creators, ball-handlers, guys who can get to the basket. I can do that as well, but in a situation where there are 7-footers [like Roy Hibbert] in the lane, and a lot of guys making plays, if I have a shot I'm going to shoot it. I want to continue to expand my game, but still play to my strengths, and I would say shooting is one of my strongest points.

LW: Your other gunner at Oregon, Tajuan Porter, made the US Under-19 team in Serbia. He was a nice surprise for you guys as a freshman last season, especially since he wasn't highly regarded coming out of Detroit [and Renaissance High School]. How does he compare, personality-wise, with your other Detroit product, Malik?

BT: Tajuan is a pretty funny guy. He's a lot different from Malik. Since they came from the same high school, you don't really know what to expect, but Tajuan is a funny, outgoing guy who's super confident -- but not like in an arrogant way. That's just how you have to be when you're the smallest guy on the floor.

LW: Tajuan also seems to have unlimited range -- way beyond the international line -- on his 3.

BT: Yeah. He'll just pull from anywhere, anytime. But he makes enough of them that you can't get mad.

LW: Eventually, he'll be the one taking over as the team leader, once you and Maary and Malik are gone. I heard you were actually planning on graduating at the end of the summer. True?

BT: Now it's after the fall semester, in sociology. After that, my parents want me to take an African-American history class. I'll probably take some Yoga, too, and then once the [basketball] season is over, I'm going to leave and hopefully prepare for the draft.

LW: You can get credit for Yoga?

BT: I took Pilates last spring, too; that helped with my core strength. I'm not sure what those classes go towards. Maybe an elective credit. Not anything toward a major. But you do get credit. Oregon's a good school like that.

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7/17/2007 11:38:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Memphis' Joey Dorsey

Memphis' Joey Dorsey grabbed 9.4 rebounds last year, but says this season he'll average 15.
For the latest edition of the Blog Q&A series, I chatted with Memphis' Joey Dorsey, who was one of 14 players to pass the first cut in USA Basketball's Pan American Games trials last week in Haverford, Pa. The 6-foot-9, 260-pound power forward left a strong impression on the U.S. team's selection committee, playing the role of beastly rebounder and looking like a potential starter alongside Georgetown's Roy Hibbert in the post. Dorsey, who averaged 8.5 points and 9.4 rebounds for the Tigers last season, was also one of the more outwardly goofy players in the camp. During the final seconds of a scrimmage on the day before we spoke, he begged one of the camp's photographers to shoot flashbulbs at Duke's Jon Scheyer while he was on the free-throw line, in hopes of distracting him so Dorsey's white team would pull out a victory. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Luke Winn: You grew up in West Baltimore; do you still connect, or look up to, any basketball greats from back home?

Joey Dorsey: I'm actually really close with Carmelo. We talk a lot, and work out together a lot. Rudy [Gay] is down in Memphis, and me and Rudy are real close. I stayed with him before he went out to Vegas [for the NBA Summer League]. It's mostly those two; I knew Carmelo back when he transferred from Towson Catholic to Oak Hill, and I ended up wearing his number [15] my freshman year at Memphis.

LW: But you've changed it since. Why?

JD: People said I put a lot of pressure on myself by having Melo's number going into college, and I didn't have very good first year. So I switched to 32, Amare Stoudemire's number, and I think I played pretty well doing that. But I'm changing it again for this season, to 3.

LW: And who's that one for?

JD: Coach Cal [John Calipari] wants me to be Ben Wallace so bad, that I thought I might as well just go and be Ben Wallace. I gave in. Both coach Cal and Larry Brown -- he came down for a coaches' clinic -- kept saying, ‘Just be Ben Wallace. Get every rebound and dunk everything.’ So that's what I'm going to try to do.

LW: Are you cool with the Wallace comparisons?

JD: Yeah, I'm cool with it. He's a great player, and I have a big body, I'm real athletic, and one of the strongest guys in college, so the Wallace stuff stuck on me. I've even got the braids, and I'm ready to let the bush out, so it's going to be crazy.

LW: You're going to pick out the Wallace 'fro for games?

JD: Oh yeah. I think they're ready to come out with a bobblehead doll at Memphis with the number 3 on it and my afro. I told the fans I'd wear my bush out this year for them.

LW: You also changed your first name -- from Richard to Joey -- your freshman season at Memphis. Can you explain why?

JD: I was at Laurinburg [Prep, in North Carolina], and they were calling me Richard. But I got the name Joey from mom when I was really young. I jumped around a lot as a kid -- I was real energetic and hyper, and she was like, 'I'm going to name you Joey, like a baby kangaroo,' and it stuck from there. So when I got to Memphis I told the announcer to call me Joey from now on. I didn't like hearing 'Richard Dorsey.' It just didn't sound good.

LW: The jumping around, high-energy rebounding thing is your M.O. at Memphis. How closely do you pay attention to your personal rebounding stats?

JD: I always pay attention. That was one of my biggest things coming into last year -- I wanted to be top five [nationally] in rebounding. I'd always think of things like, how in the game against Tennessee I had about 15 rebounds in the first half, and then fouled out with just 15 rebounds. I was so upset about that, because I knew I could have got 25 rebounds that game.

LW: And what's the goal for this year?

JD: I want to lead the country in rebounding with 15 rebounds a game.

LW: You issued a pretty strong challenge to Greg Oden in the Elite Eight last year, saying you were Goliath, he was David; you were underrated, he was overrated, and then the game didn't turn out very well. How much is that still on your mind?

JD: I've heard so much about that Ohio State game this year. I let my teammates down; I apologized to them after that, because my mind was somewhere else. I was going through a lot of family problems right before that game started. But things happen, and that's why I came back this year. I wasn't going to leave on a note like that.

LW: Did the family problems lead you to say the stuff about Oden, too?

JD: No, not that part. I was just trying to hype it up. I wanted it to be a big matchup, because I'm a great rebounder and he's a great player. It's the same thing as when me and Roy [Hibbert] are going to play each other down in Memphis; people are going to try to hype that up, too.

LW: If you come into another game like that, would you hype it up in the same way? Call an Oden-caliber guy overrated?

JD: No way. Nooo way. The next time I go up against a big guy like that, I'm going to let the giant sleep.

LW: Is that your call or coach Cal's demand?

JD: Coach Cal said you learn from your mistakes. Let 'em sleep.

LW: You have a big-time freshman of your own, Chicago point guard Derrick Rose, coming in this season. I'm assuming you've had a chance to play with him a little bit; what were your impressions?

JD: The first day Derrick got there we played pickup, and me, him, CD-R [Chris Douglas-Roberts], [Robert] Dozier, and Antonio [Anderson] were on the same team, just like a starting five. Rose was amazing. Amazing. I didn't know the kid was that quick -- the first time we threw the ball in, he was down the court in three dribbles. He sees the floor very well and gets all his players involved. He just knows where everybody's at; I'm going to love playing with him because he likes to run, too.

I know he's going to throw me a couple of lobs, and I'll throw him some too. I threw him one coming down on the break, it was back-and-forth, pass, pass and I threw it up to him, without knowing how high he could jump. The kid is athletic. We have to find minutes for him, because I guarantee he's a one-and-done player. He's that good. I'm going to enjoy playing with Derrick Rose this year.

LW: Those old Laurinburg guys -- Anderson, Dozier and Kareem Cooper; do you live with any of them at Memphis?

JD: We actually have a house -- 11 bedrooms, all basketball players, so mostly everybody stays there.

LW: How did you find that place?

JD: It's an on-campus thing; Coach Cal did it. It's almost like a mansion. You can get lost in there. It's decked out, too; the living room's got 42-inch flat screens where we can watch game tapes, or review player personnel. Or we can go upstairs where there's a theater, and just watch movies.

LW: Are you a fan of the HBO show The Wire, seeing that it's set in your hometown?

JD: Oh yeah, I watch it. That's right around in my neighborhood. West Baltimore. And all that stuff in actually happens back home. It's so bad that I stay in Memphis a lot. I go back home for probably three days to see a couple of my friends there, and then I'm out.

LW: And the slang in The Wire is accurate, too?

JD: They sound just like us. Like, how they say the number "two," or I’m going "too." We say it different in Baltimore, like "tue."

LW: Any scenes filmed on blocks where you once lived?

JD: Yup, there was one when Omar came up to the projects. He was like, 'Throw the bag out the window!' and they dropped it to him. That was my neighborhood. We used to stay in the apartments probably a block away from there.

LW: I remember that. One of Omar's dealer-robbery binges.

JD: Right. He was collecting everything. Robbing them with a shotgun.

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5/14/2007 07:57:00 PM

Blog Q&A With ... St. Louis' Rick Majerus

Rick Majerus coached the Utes to the 1998 national title game.
For the first in a series of 2007 offseason college hoops Q&As, I chatted with newly hired St. Louis coach Rick Majerus. The former Marquette, Ball State and Utah coach left his post as an ESPN color analyst to return to the coaching ranks and take over the Billikens, who last reached the NCAA tournament in 2000. Majerus has taken teams to the big dance 11 times, including a trip to the 1998 national title game with Utah, and has a lifetime record of 422-147. When we spoke, he was in Milwaukee -- where his mother, Alyce, lives, and he keeps a home -- for Mother's Day weekend. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Luke Winn: Why, exactly, did you decide to make your comeback in St. Louis? It's quite different from the last place you accepted a job [USC, in 2004].

Rick Majerus: I understood and respected what the school is about. I got a Jesuit education. I went to Marquette High School and Marquette University. I coached at Marquette, and I really had a great fondness for that, and liked Father Biondi [the university president] at St. Louis. He's very much a dynamic guy who was honest with me. He said, "I don't know much about sports. That's not my strength. I just feel we want to try to be as competitive as we can be, within the rules." St. Louis is a place where it's a student-athlete environment, and everyone there understands that. It's the same thing at Marquette.

We also have a nice new arena coming [Chaifetz Arena]. It'll be a $100 million building by the time it's done. We can be St. Louis' team, and we should be a St. Louis' team. And for me, it's close to home, in Milwaukee. I can drive there in six hours, fly there in 55 minutes. My mother is there, and our relationship is very important to me.

I'm spending this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, all day, with her. When I was young I wouldn't have done that. I would have just sat in the office and ground out a couple of 18-hour days. I don't know how much longer my mom will be around, and I realize how important our time is to her. We're not going to be in peril of losing or winning because I came home for Mother's Day.

LW: The contract you signed at St. Louis is for six years. Where do you expect the program to be, realistically, at the end of that stretch?

RM: If I knew, I'd buy more Berkshire Hathaway stock. I don't know where the program will be in six years. No one can know that. No one would have thought Utah could go to the Final Four. No one would have thought that Ball State could go to the Sweet 16. I don't know where it can go. First of all, you've got to try to crawl before you can walk. You're not inheriting Kentucky or UCLA here. I always tell people, 'If you take those jobs, recruiting a player is like recruiting an alcoholic to a New Year's Eve party.' If you take this job, you have to build relationships with kids in St. Louis and their parents, establish a bond of trust and work an area that you don't really know.

I'm making it a priority to recruit this city and the surrounding area, but, while I understand the machinations of the university, but I don't know what it is, yet, that either attracts someone to St. Louis or doesn't.

LW: You were attracted enough, at least, to leave behind a house that you designed in Milwaukee...

RM: I had help and advice with the design -- I would meet with people and tell them what I wanted. I really love it. I've got it exactly the way the want it. The only thing I would have done differently is put a TV in the steam room. I have a steam room, a big steam room with a great shower, and if I did it again, I might put a TV in the steam room. I like sports news, I like news shows, I like movies, and now that I'm coaching again I'll take tapes home with me. I don't know how much you can watch in the steamer, but that's the only regret that I have; I put TVs in all the other rooms.

LW: Movie-wise, you also dabbled in the film business recently ...

RM: I'm credited as a producer on a movie that I'm involved in as an investor. It's called Synapse, and we're trying to get it into some film festivals. It's a science-fiction love story set in the future. It's not going to become a Saving Private Ryan kind of classic. It is what it is: a fun movie some friends of mine have put a lot of work into.

LW: Are you a fan of the sci-fi love genre ... if that is an actual genre?

RM: Oh, no. No. These guys had a vision and I tried to lend some support. I love movies -- when I was at Utah I would go to the Sundance Film Festival, almost when it was a non-entity at the inception -- but believe me, I'm not giving up my day job as a coach or a broadcaster because of this one.

LW: Are you making a cameo in the movie, at least?

RM: No. The girl in it is a stone-cold knockout, though. I forget her name, but she's way out of my league.

LW: Back in the '90s, you'd often use old movie-industry crushes, like Cindy Crawford or Cameron Diaz, in your basketball analogies. Have you moved on to any new women?

RM: No, I'm sticking with my old flames. Crawford, Diaz, I like those two.

LW: What about picking up new theories on coaching? When you were at ESPN, you were always heavy on the Xs-and-Os analysis -- above and beyond any of the other color guys. Were there things that you observed from current coaches, while doings games for TV, that you might integrate into your own philosophy now that you're back on the sidelines?

RM: Absolutely. You do that as well as a coach, borrowing information. But I really feel that I was fortunate [at ESPN]. I got to sit down and watch film with Coach K and his team and see how he utilized it. I got to watch a Tom Izzo practice. I watched Skip Prosser, at Wake Forest, prepare a game plan. I had some access to things that other people wouldn't have had, and I would pick up something everywhere I went. I'd see something that would be a little bit different [from how I had coached it] -- either the terminology, or a drill, or something philosophical.

LW: But the old Utah teams will be the main template?

RM: Throughout my career, at Utah, Marquette and Ball State, I've had teams that have been good defensively and solid in terms of offense and transition. You've got to guard the ball, you've got to get good shots for your best players, and have a good blend of post action with perimeter shooting. If you do that, victory favors you. And that's been the case for me. I'm a defense-first guy, but I don't think you can win it on that alone.

LW: You're inheriting an extremely small roster at St. Louis [the main pieces are 6-foot-4 Tommie Liddell and 6-2 Kevin Lisch, and of the five returnees who played major minutes, none is taller that 6-5]. Will that force you to adjust until you get the right personnel?

RM: We just signed a 6-foot-5, 250-pound kid [Barry Eberhardt of Coffeyville Community College], who hopefully can be a wide-body inside. But we're going to have to play some small-ball, probably. We're still out there looking for another big player if we can find one [there are still two open scholarships], but we don't want to rush into a decision.

I've had to develop guys because the jobs I've had aren't the kind where you're selecting players. You do that at UCLA, Indiana, Kentucky. Here you have to take what you can get, play to your strengths and negate your weaknesses. I don't have the exact profile yet of who I want. I know what I'd like to recruit. But it's kind of like knowing what you'd like to drive; you want a Ferrari, but in reality you're looking at a Camaro.

LW: You did develop a series of versatile forwards with the Utes ...

RM: I'd prefer to have big men who are able to go inside and shoot the three. I've always played three shooters, and if you look back at my old teams, I've always had good fours. Josh Grant was my first NBA four at Utah, he was drafted by Golden State [second round in 1993]; then I had Keith Van Horn, who was drafted by New Jersey [No. 2 overall in '97]; then Hanno Mottola by Atlanta [second round in 2000] and Britton Johnsen with Orlando [signed as a free agent in '03].

LW: Realistically, how quickly can St. Louis get back to the NCAA tournament?

RM: I had one day with the guys in the gym -- for two hours. I've watched one film of them. I'm not going to give you the Polyanna, and say we'll be there this year or be damned. I'm only 14 days into the job, and [because of the late hire], we're really behind in recruiting, scheduling. We're just trying to scramble.

I still haven't hit that critical stage when you don't know what you don't know. Initially when you take over, there's a ton of stuff you know don't know. When you get your hands wrapped around that, then comes the onslaught. I walked into the AD's
office, one week ago from tomorrow, and he said we still have to schedule 7-9 games. So now we're trying to put together a schedule. We're trying to do the best we can.

LW: Have you gone back to the famed hotel lifestyle again?

RM: I'm going to live in a hotel probably through this season. Only because I don't know where I want to live yet. I don't have the luxury or the time to worry about that right now.

LW: What did you bring with you down there, while you're getting things off the ground?

RM: A couple of changes of clothes, some sneakers. I don't wear socks. I won't wear socks from now until Labor Day. I recently got some sandals. I don't need much. I'm the kind of guy who used to show up at a softball tournament, where they'd give you a ball cap and a T-shirt, and I used to think that was a wardrobe. I haven't changed much.

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3/02/2007 02:30:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Georgetown's Roy Hibbert

Georgetown's Roy Hibbert has helped the Hoyas to a No. 12 ranking.
Jeff Fishbein/WireImage
As the latest in a season-long series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Georgetown junior center Roy Hibbert on Wednesday. Hibbert, who averages 12.5 points and a team-leading 6.2 rebounds for the Hoyas, is shooting a stunning 73.5 percent from the field in Big East play. Georgetown, which has won 11 of its past 12 conference games, is ranked ninth in the latest AP poll.

Luke Winn: You wear jersey No. 55, which most recently belonged to Hoya centers Jahidi White and Dikembe Mutombo. Did you randomly pick it, or is it an ode to one of those two guys?

Roy Hibbert: Well, I met Dikembe when I was in sixth grade and always liked how he played. I wore 33 in high school [at Georgetown Prep, in North Bethesda, Md.] -- because it was the biggest jersey they had -- but a part of me wanted a new number when I got to Georgetown, and meeting Dikembe played a little bit of a role in that.

LW: How did you run into Dikembe back then?

RH: I was at a Run N' Shoot [Athletic Center], and I think he came by. I actually have a picture with him that my mother has tucked away somewhere at home. I was 6-6 then and he was a 7-footer, and I was astonished by his size. That's something I'll always remember. The fact that I get to play against him sometimes when he comes back [to campus] is really fun.

LW: Which of the former Georgetown big men has given you the most advice over the years?

RH: Whenever Alonzo [Mourning], or Dikembe, or Big Pat [Ewing] comes by, they always give me their two cents, and I always listen. Mike Sweetney and I used to work out at Georgetown a lot when I was in high school, and I actually talk to him more than any other former player. I'll send him e-mails, talking about stuff like the pressures of playing at Georgetown. It's easy for a coach to talk to me about how to handle that stuff, but it's different when a former player can tell me about it. Mike was out there doing the same thing as I am now.

LW: How did those workouts against Sweetney go in high school?

RH: For me it was like a rivalry. I used to go up there [to Georgetown's campus] and play against him, and I guess the other big guys had class at the time of the workouts, so I had to guard Sweetney every day. He'd always tell me, 'I'm killing you, Roy, I'm killing you.' I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, and he was this big, mammoth player. It was a challenge that I eventually got better at. Whenever I see him now, I tell him I can't wait to play him again.

LW: You were described as an extremely raw player when you started college. Of all the moves you've added to your repertoire as a Hoya, which one are you most proud of?

RH: The running hook, or the 'Kareem hook.' Coach [John Thompson III] always calls that my bread-and-butter move whenever I'm in the post. That's the move I can do with either hand, left or right, and I feel like it's my strongest option. When I first got to Georgetown, coach Thompson had me in the gym for hours upon hours, shooting hooks until I got it right.

LW: If you added all these moves after you got to college, how did you still score 19 points a game in high school?

RH: I'd just turn and shoot. The next-tallest people there were 6-1 or 6-2, so it was rather easy. Sometimes I felt like that was my time off from working on stuff that I could really use in college.

LW: When you first got to Georgetown, the elder John Thompson [Jr.] nicknamed you the Big Stiff, then renamed you Stiff-No-More after you improved. How did you react to that -- and is there a different nickname that you actually prefer?

RH: I took what Big John said as a challenge. I just wanted to prove people wrong and show them that I'm not this Big Stiff; that meant having to do a lot of agility work and running. As for other nicknames, one of our assistant coaches, coach [Kevin] Broadus calls me "Franchise," and I prefer to stick to that one.

LW: As far as agility work, there was some hula-hooping involved, right?

RH: That was early on, because it was difficult for me to do certain, simple things. The hula hooping I don't really do anymore, but it helped me with my side-to-side movement and athleticism.

LW: Will any video of that every get out on YouTube?

RH: No, no video. The only time I did it was in the back of [McDonough] Gym, by myself.

LW: Do you ever go on YouTube to watch basketball clips?

RH: Yeah -- one I just watched was of my friend Deron Washington [of Virginia Tech], who I played with this summer [in D.C.'s Kenner League]. He had a dunk from a game against Boston College that's on there. I'll also go and look at old Pat [Ewing] dunks, and old Iverson crossovers and stuff.

LW: This is a random style question, but I wanted to know why you opt to wear a T-shirt under jersey during games -- is it to follow suit with Ewing, Mutombo and Mourning, who all wore Ts as Hoyas too?

RH: The reason why I do it is because the Verizon Center has ice [for the Washington Capitals] under the court, and it gets cold sometimes. When I was a freshman, the first few games I was coming off the bench, and I decided I'd rather stay warm than come in cold.

[Ed note: According to Georgetown sports information director Bill Shapland, in the days when Ewing's Hoyas shared the old Capital Centre with the Caps, they had the T-shirts sewn into jerseys to stay warm. The NHL has had a major impact on Hoya fashion.]

LW: Your student section does a "Roy! .. Roy-Roy-Roy" chant to the beat of Eye of the Tiger when you make a big play. Do you enjoy that?

RH: When I was a freshman, I was really into it. But as I get older and better, I tend to zone it out because I have to focus on the task at hand. When I was a freshman, and I'd score, I'd be happy. Now if I score I'm worrying about making sure I get back on defense, or that I make sure to run the offense and not get too excited the next time I get the ball. I mean, I appreciate [the chant] -- I like it, because it's quick and to the point -- but I'm steadily moving away from paying attention to it.

LW: Do you have a go-to pregame album that you like to listen to? I'm assuming it's not Survivor.

RH: I like to listen to Biggie Smalls, his first album. Ready to Die.

LW: You were talking before about making sure you run the offense. Everything you guys do on offense seems very calculated. Let's say you get the ball in the high post, early in the shot clock. What is your thought process?

RH: I go through a checklist. I look to see who's covering my teammates. If I see John [Wallace, the Hoyas' point guard] is being covered by a bigger, slower guy, I'll play a two-man game with John and he could backdoor, because a big guy wouldn't be able to stay with him. Or, if I see Jeff Green's guy laying off of him, I'll throw the ball to Jeff and go screen for him. I don't want to go into it too much and give it away, but our offense is all about reading and making the correct decisions.

LW: Georgetown went from a team that was struggling early in the season -- losing to Oregon and Old Dominion -- to having the nation's most efficient offense down the stretch. What clicked that allowed that to happen?

RH: We established that Jeff [Green] is the go-to guy. He is the leader of this team, and he takes control of the game from start to finish. We make sure we run our plays through him and he distributes the ball. That's why we've been able to win; he's put the team on his back. We've each done our parts and come together around him.

LW: It says in your bio that you're a government major. Is that still true -- and do you plan to do anything with it?

RH: Yeah, I'm in political science. I might get an internship on the Hill this summer -- I need to make a decision on that soon, but because basketball is going on right now, I haven't been able to sit down with my advisor and look at it. Coach Thompson knows enough people around town that I'm hoping he could pull some strings.

LW: Are there any current politicians that you admire?

RH: I like Barack Obama. He came to campus and spoke [in September], and I got a chance to listen to it, sitting way up in the rafters. What he was talking about really seemed to click with me.

LW: Any chance you'll have a future in politics after college?

RH: Maybe if basketball doesn't work out, I'll run for office. But that's way down the road. I'm just trying to win ballgames right now.

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2/20/2007 11:44:00 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

LW: And how did it happen against Kansas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2/06/2007 08:00:00 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TG: We were not successful in the black uniforms.

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

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

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

TG: I'm actually in Recreation Programming now.

LW: So what does that mean?

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

LW: Whose coaching style would you like to emulate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LW: And you expect me to believe that.

TG: [Laughing.]

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1/29/2007 08:41:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Virginia Tech's Deron Washington

The high-flying Deron Washington has the Hokies atop the ACC standings.
Richard C. Lewis/WireImage
As the latest in a series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Virginia Tech forward Deron Washington on Friday. Washington's Hokies have been the nation's biggest surprise East of the Mississippi, jumping out to a 16-5 start and sitting in the ACC lead with wins over Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and Georgia Tech. The versatile, 6-foot-7 junior is the team's third-leading scorer at 11.1 points per game, second-leading rebounder at 5.0 per game, and the regular subject of high-flying highlight clips.

Luke Winn: How much are you aware of the fact that, after almost every Virginia Tech game, there's a new photo -- or highlight -- out there of Deron Washington dunking? Whatever you're doing, it seems like you've become pretty photogenic.

Deron Washington: I have noticed that. I get calls from people in my family, or friends on Instant Messenger send me messages. My mom is the one who usually sends over the pictures; she e-mails them to me and I usually save them on my computer.

LW: Do you have any kind of philosophy on taking the ball to the rim -- some sort of thinking that helps bring about a lot of these plays?

DW: Just go until somebody stops you -- and even then I feel like I can jump over them.

LW: So would you describe that as an aggressive mindset?

DW: Yeah. Basically, I just take it to the rim as strong as I can. It's either going to be a foul or a basket the majority of the time.

LW: Tell me what you know about YouTube. Are you fan of the site?

DW: I get on there quite a bit, to see highlights from pros I like. My favorite player is Sean Marion, so I usually look at his stuff. And then Vince Carter -- his college highlights from Carolina -- or old Shawn Kemp or Dominique Wilkins dunks.

LW: So, do you realize how much the YouTube clip of you vaulting Duke's Greg Paulus has made its way around the Internet?

DW: Yes. I've seen about four or five clips up there; it's everywhere right now. I've seen people with pictures of it on their computers, too. I think it's pretty nice. It's still kind of amazing, when I watch it, that I actually jumped over him.

LW: What did you think was going to happen on that play, before you jumped?

DW: I didn't know what to expect. I just took off. I didn't think he'd be able to step in front of me, and then slipped over and got there -- and I went over him.

LW: Was anything said between you guys after that?

DW: Nothing.

LW: Where do you think basketball ranks on the Virginia Tech campus, in terms of things that the general student body cares about right now?

DW: The way everybody is acting lately, it seems like basketball is coming up. It's probably second behind football; everybody is starting to come to watch the games. I hope that we're developing into a football-basketball school.

LW: Last season -- when I'm sure you didn't get as much fan support [with a 14-16 record] -- your team was beset by numerous tragedies on and off the court. To you, what was the low point??

DW: It was all the stuff that happened off the court, with so many of the players' families. It seemed like everybody was down; the majority of people weren't able to enjoy basketball. A.D. Vassallo's [host mother] died of cancer. After what happened with Coleman Collins' dad [he passed away in February from lung cancer], his head wasn't into it. I was down when my situation [with his mom having to evacuate New Orleans due to Katrina] happened. And then when Allen Calloway got sick, that affected the whole team. He was just playing one day, and then the next we found out he had cancer.

LW: Tell me about what your mom had to leave behind in New Orleans.

DW: It was the house that she lived in for at least eight or nine years. It was in the Eighth Ward, about three or four miles from downtown. She called me and told me she was leaving a couple of days before the storm came, and then headed for Texas. I didn't hear from her for three or four days because of the cell phone problems. It was a little stressful.

LW: And have you seen the house again?

DW: Actually, I went back to see it and everything was all fixed up. There was only about three or four feet of water [flooding it], so there was mildew and they had to gut the house out, but they did that pretty quickly.

LW: What's the state of it now?

DW: She still owns it, but she's renting it out to a friend. She's living in Blacksburg now, in an apartment. I love having her around, because I haven't lived at home for about five or six years. I lived with my dad [his parents are divorced] for two years in high school, and then for another two years I went to prep school at National Christian Academy.

LW: Your dad, Lionel Washington, is the defensive backs coach for the Green Bay Packers, and played for 15 years in the NFL. What was it like growing up around professional football?

DW:DW: It made my childhood kind of fun. I'd get to visit my dad during seasons, and meet guys like Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen [when Lionel played for the Raiders from 1987-94]. I met a lot of famous people that I wouldn't have had a chance to meet otherwise.

LW: And were Bo and Marcus the most favorite guys you met?

DW: Well, one guy I really liked when my dad started coaching for the Packers [in 1999] was Aaron Brooks. I'd always play basketball against him in Green Bay. He always won those games; he had a pretty good shot and I had a hard time trying to check him.

LW: How old were you then?

DW: I was like 14 or 15. We'd play during the summers about once a week; either one-on-one or games of H-O-R-S-E.

LW: On the floor, you wear high socks, knee braces, elbow pads, a headband -- about as much gear as anyone in the country. Any specific reason?

DW: The headband is just something I've always worn. And the high socks are something I've always liked. The knee brace and the elbow brace I have to wear -- those are for injuries. But it does look like I'm always stacked up with something. People have told me, 'That's a lot of stuff.'

LW: And the braids you're wearing; what would those look like if you picked them out?

DW: I think it would be a lot similar to Joakim Noah; I'd have to put it in a ponytail. I did it for one game -- only because I couldn’t find somebody to do the braids, though. I'll let Noah keep his style.

LW: I saw a recent interview with coach [Seth] Greenberg in which he was working out on the elliptical and listening to his iPod. What do you think is on his iPod?

DW: I've never heard any music that he listens to. I can't even imagine what it would be. I guess it would be something old; I don't see him listening to too much new stuff.

LW: How old are we talking? Like, Sinatra old, or classic rock old?

DW: Maybe Sinatra, that's what I guess I'd picture.

LW: And what's on your 'pod when you work out?

DW: I listen to a lot of Lil' Wayne. That's what a lot of people listen to when I'm in New Orleans. Everybody in Louisiana kind of loves him.

LW: If you had to give me your prime-time college dunkers -- and couldn't pick anyone on Virginia Tech -- whom would you pick?

DW: I like Reyshawn Terry [of North Carolina]; he's a pretty high flyer. I'm trying to think of some others. Oh -- I like Gist too. James Gist [from Maryland]. Me and him have had a couple of run-ins, dunking on each other. We play in a summer league together [the Kenner League in Washington] and he dunked on me this summer. He can get high up.

LW: Last one. If you could pick anyone in the country to dunk over, who would it be?

DW: There's two people I'd pick. Greg Oden [of Ohio State] and Sean Williams from BC ... if he could still play. Williams is one of the premier shot-blockers in the country; and he's a little bigger than me, so I think that would be bring some recognition.

LW: And why Oden?

DW: I've never dunked on a 7-footer before. It's something I've always wanted to do.

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1/22/2007 11:08:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Air Force's Dan Nwaelele

Dan Nwaelele scored 11 points in Saturday's win over San Diego State to help drive the Falcons' record to 18-2 on the season.
As part of a series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Air Force marksman Dan Nwaelele (pronounced Wah-LAY-lay) late last week. The senior wingman, who is averaging 15.2 points in Air Force's hybrid-Princeton offense -- the equivalent of averaging 19.1 at North Carolina -- is shooting 51.1 percent from long distance. We spoke while Dan was on a bus back to the Academy following a loss to Utah, only the Falcons' second this season. They're currently 18-2 and 5-1 in the Mountain West.

Luke Winn: Can you tell us about coach Jeff Bzdelik's Motown jones? We've heard that he's playing Motown music during your practices ...

Dan Nwaelele: He does -- he puts it on every once in a while at the beginning of practice. It's mostly the Temptations that he has going. It's kind of chill, and everybody enjoys the music. It sets a good mood for practice, but I haven't caught anybody dancing.

LW: Bzdelik was quoted as saying that shooting was about rhythm, and music might help the rhythm. Seeing that you're the Falcons' most accurate gunner right now, what would your your ultimate shooting-rhythm music be?

DN: I'm not sure. I usually shoot with no music at all. But [the ultimate] would just be something with a little beat to it -- hip-hop or rap, probably.

[Someone is yelling "country" next to Nwaelele on the bus at this point.]

LW: Who's saying country music?

DN: That would be [Falcons forward] Jake Burtschi [from Chickasha, Okla.]. He's after me about country music. He tries to get everybody on the team to listen the country songs he's playing. I don't even know any country artists. I try not to listen to them.

LW: You've kept country off your iPod, then.

DN: I'm probably like the only player on the team that doesn't have an iPod.

LW: You're shooting extremely high percentages this year for a perimeter player -- 58.1 from the field, 51.1 from three. How did you develop such an accurate shot?

DN: When I was young, I tried to watch a lot of NBA games. I tried to look at players that I liked, like Michael Jordan, Anfernee Hardaway and Grant Hill. And I tried to emulate how they shot and how they played. I haven't always been a great shooter and tried to work hard at it. I get up as many shots as I can, after practice and out of season.

LW: Your country teammate, Burtschi, recently said he had heard Air Force's offense called "Princeton on steroids." How would you describe it?

DN: I'd say it's like the Princeton offense with a little bit of leeway. We're not running it down to the end of the shot clock like we did with coach [Joe] Scott and coach [Chris] Mooney [who left to take the Princeton job in 2005]. If we have an open shot, coach has the confidence in us to take it. So that's the leeway.

LW: So it's safe to say you like it better than the orthodox Princeton offense you used before Bzdelik arrived ...

DN: I like it a lot better -- It's definitely a much more fun version.

LW: You're listed as part of an "inspections team" at the academy. What does that entail?

DN: I was on it last semester. I was a replacement for anyone who couldn't do the inspections -- so I didn't have to do anything. We have inspections of [cadets'] rooms and uniforms, and you go around and grade the room or the person with the uniform on. I was trained to do it, but I didn't end up having to.

LW: What's your real duty, then?

DN: I was like an athletic clerk, or an athletic non-com officer. Now I'm athletic officer of my squadron. There's a physical test you have to take, year-round, stuff like push-ups, sit-ups, standing long jump, and a 600-yard run. We're not exempt from it as athletes, either. I also have to coordinate with everyone and make sure they're doing things like playing intramurals.

LW: I've been asking a few players this question lately: If you had to pick a "dream" college team that included you and four other players -- but no one else from Air Force -- whom would you pick? Take positions, including yours, into consideration.

DN: Well, first, I like that Kevin Durant kid at small forward. He's got the whole package, and can score in so many different ways. Then Greg Oden -- he's a grown man already. He looks like he's 40 years old, but he's just 18, right? At power forward I like the big, strong dude from Florida, Al Horford. He's solid. I'll take the two spot, so I still need a point guard. I guess I'll go with another Florida guy -- Taurean Green.

LW: Would anyone at Air Force be allowed to grow a beard like Oden has?

DN: Not one that big. You can get a shaving waiver. If you have one you don't have to shave every day, but you have to get the waiver from a doctor, for something like ingrown hairs in your neck.

LW: I'm assuming, given the spelling of your name, that you get some rough pronunciations from public-address announcers. What's the worst one you've heard?

DN: I'm almost to the point where I don't even notice it, or hear what they say; when they announce my name I know it's my name and leave it at that. But the worst ... probably something like Nah-wheelie.

LW: Can you explain the heritage of your name?

DN: It's Nigerian. My parents -- who now live in Bothell, Wash. -- were born in Nigeria, and came to the U.S. when they were 18 or 19. I went to Nigeria once, when I was 5, but I can barely remember it.

DN: What I did remember, just now, is another shooter I liked. My favorite, actually.

LW: And who's that?

DN: Ray Allen. I just like the way he gets his shot off. It's such a nice, quick release. It's the purest form I've ever seen. I'd like my shot to be that smooth.

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1/09/2007 04:07:00 PM

Blog Q&A With ... Tennessee's Chris Lofton

Chris Lofton and the Vols are set to face No. 5 Ohio State in Columbus on Saturday.
Al Tielemans/SI
As part of an ongoing series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Tennessee sharpshooter Chris Lofton earlier this week. The junior two-guard, who already has five 30-plus-point games, is averaging 22.2 points and should be considered one of the frontrunners for the Wooden Award. I spoke with Chris a few minutes after he finished an afternoon practice in Knoxville, while I was in a Glendale, Ariz., press box awaiting the start of the BCS National Championship Game.

Luke Winn: I'm sitting here waiting for Florida and Ohio State to take the field. I heard you were a pretty good high school wide receiver back in Maysville, Ky. How much do you still care about football, and will you be watching tonight?

Chris Lofton: I'll be watching. I love football. I was mostly a wide receiver, but I played a little corner, too. I was basically a possession receiver. I wasn't all that athletic, but I could catch the ball real well.

LW: A little more about Maysville: Can you describe the basketball court that you liked to shoot on as a kid?

CL: I learned on a few different courts, inside and out, but the main one was where my Mom grew up, in a small town called Flemingsburg [17 miles south of Maysville]. I used to go up there, hang out with the family, and shoot all the time. It was in a place called Hillside Park. A cement court outside.

LW: Do you remember what the rims were like?

CL: The rims were tight there. I think it made me a better shooter. When you play on rims that tight, it's harder -- and you get used to being more accurate.

LW: Are you bigger in Maysville than the town's other favorite son, George Clooney?

CL: No, I think he is. George Clooney's a millionaire and I'm still in college.

LW: Your orange Tennessee jersey does get sold back home in the middle of Kentucky Wildcat country, though, so there might be equal representation for you and George.

CL: That part might be about even. There's a festival named after his aunt [The Rosemary Clooney Music Festival], which happens every year. So their name is around.

LW: Have you met George?

CL: Haven't met him yet.

LW: Favorite Clooney movie?

CL: Batman.

LW: Any reason?

CL: I can't think of any others off the top of my head.

LW: I've heard you're a pretty avid "night shooter." What's your routine when you do that?

CL: I just try to shoot 25 shots, from seven different spots on the floor. All three-pointers. Then I do a little mid-range work after that.

LW: Are you doing this alone? How does it work?

CL: I'm usually shooting win a gun [a machine that fires basketballs out on a timer] or a rebounder.

LW: And how late are you going?

CL: Sometimes I do it right after practice, but if I have something else going on, I'll come back at night -- but not real late, not usually past 9.

LW: Night shooting isn't like night putting -- you can't get in trouble for it. Have you seen Caddyshack?

CL: I have not seen Caddyshack (laughing).

LW: There's a line in there about night putting -- a guy got kicked out of school for it. We'll move on. You're shooting 45.8 percent from beyond the arc this year, and are one of the country's most feared long-range gunners. Who taught you how to shoot threes, or rather, who, if anyone, helped you develop your stroke?

CL: No one, really. It just came from shooting all the time as a little kid. I continued to do that as I grew up, just kept putting up a lot of shots all the time.

LW: How early did that start?

CL: I can remember shooting back when I was 5 or 6 years old. I used a little ball back then, and then eventually moved on to the big one.

LW: Who are the best shooters -- of all-time -- that you admire?

CL: I think they would be Reggie Miller, Ray Allen and Michael Redd.

LW: Is Reggie your No. 1? Or ...

CL: Ray Allen is my No. 1. I like how he plays so smooth -- his shooting stroke is the smoothest in the league.

LW: He's a solid actor, too.

CL: Yeah, I sometimes call him Jesus Shuttlesworth -- from He Got Game -- instead of Ray.

LW: You almost always get the ball in crunch time for the Vols. What's said in the huddle, either by you or coach Pearl, before those big plays. Do you demand the ball?

CL: [Pearl] just calls the play -- and a lot of times it's for me. I usually try to take the shot. He says that when he calls the play for you, he wants you to be aggressive with it.

LW: What about the game-winner against Texas, where you hit that bomb over Kevin Durant?

CL: There was a play called. ... I was just trying to be aggressive. My mindset is that I want to take that shot.

LW: But did you realize how far out you were?

CL: At the time, not really. Not until I had seen it a couple of times on TV did I realize it.

LW: What's the biggest shot you've hit in your career? Describe how it happened.

CL: It was in the NCAA tournament last year, against Winthrop. It was a tie game, in the last few seconds, and coach Pearl called a special play for me, and all I had to do was shoot it.

LW: What was the special play?

CL: I'm pretty sure he just drew it up in the middle; he made it up on the spot. I set a screen and then came off a screen, and got free.

LW: You're an even-keel guy, but coach Pearl is known to be rather animated at times. What's your craziest Bruce Pearl story from the past two years?

CL: Probably when he ripped off his shirt after the Kentucky game last year. He came into the locker room and just tore off his dress shirt. It was pretty surprising -- and really funny. Hilarious.

LW: I've been asking a few of the other Blog Q&A subjects to pick their college dream team, but I wanted to change it up for you. In a hypothetical situation, if you couldn't take the last shot in a game, what current college player not at Tennessee would you pick to take a three-pointer?

CL: I'm thinking here. I would have said J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison last year. But right now, for a three, I'd take Lee Humphrey from Florida. He's the highest-percentage [long-range] shooter in the SEC, and he knocks down open shots.

LW: And what about if the clutch shot had to happen in the paint? Who would you take then?

CL: If I go inside, I'm going to either Joakim Noah, Tyler Hansbrough or Greg Oden. Noah plays so hard for 40 minutes; Hansbrough is a beast down low -- they beat us in November in New York -- and Oden is killing Division I basketball right now with one hand.

LW: Last question. You get hounded by opposing defenses. Who would you say is the best on-the-ball defender you've had to face in the past two seasons?

CL: Probably Corey Brewer [from Florida]. He's long and athletic. Either him or Garrett Temple from LSU. He's like Brewer -- long and athletic.

LW: But you still think you can drill shots over any of those guys ...

CL: That's the goal.

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12/12/2006 10:07:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Pittsburgh's Aaron Gray

Aaron Gray helped Pittsburgh to a close win over Buffalo last Saturday.
As part of an ongoing series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Pitt's 7-foot man in the middle, Aaron Gray, on Monday. After declaring for the 2006 NBA Draft, he opted to pull out in June and return for his senior season. It's gone well thus far: He's averaging a double-double (16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds) for the nation's second-ranked team, which is 10-0 heading into a Saturday duel with No. 7 Wisconsin.

Luke Winn: You're just starting finals week at Pitt right now. What do you have left to do, degree-wise -- and do you plan to use it for anything?

Aaron Gray: I only have a few classes I have to take next semester to finish up my degree, and then I'll be graduating with a major in communications and a minor in history. I did the communications classes because I kind of want to be in broadcasting, and history was just something I really liked. As a fall-back sort of thing [to pro basketball] I could become a history teacher and coach at the high school level.

LW: So what's your area of historical expertise?

AG: Well, since it's a minor we don't have to have a concentration, but I'm mostly doing American History. I'm more into the back-in-the-day stuff, like how the country got started, from the revolution up to the Civil War.

LW: Your Panthers had quite the scare against Buffalo on Saturday, rallying from 10 points down in the second half to beat the Bulls 70-67. How did you guys pull off the comeback?

AG: We just stayed together as a team. Guys didn't start pointing fingers or yelling at each other. We kind of always had the belief, in the back of our minds, that, 'Hey, we're going to get this one.' We have a pretty good team, with a lot of experienced guys who had been in games like that before.

LW: That had to be a pretty wild scene in Buffalo, though. It's not very often that a major-conference team -- much less the No. 2 squad in the country -- travels to a good mid-major's home court.

AG: It made a real exciting atmosphere. It was the third-largest crowd in the history of [Alumni Arena], I think the fans saw a pretty good game. Of course they were doing all of their chants, and making derogatory remarks, but that's fine -- our motto has always been, 'They don't chant at the bad players.'

LW: Did the Buffalo folks give you anything good? I mean, you had 19 points and 11 rebounds in that one …

AG: It was actually kind of funny. It started off with guys saying things like, 'Oh, you think you're good enough for the NBA?' and then, 'You don’t have a chance!' But at the end, someone actually from their student section came up and shook my hand. He said, 'You're the truth, and you're going to make a lot of money.' He didn't have to say that -- because he was an opposing fan -- so I think it he meant it.

LW: You're shooting a pretty stellar 64 percent this year from the field, as opposed to 52.6 percent last season. Where are you picking up that 12 percent? New moves? Easier baskets?

AG: I think I've always had good touch around the basket, and always been able to shoot it a little bit. The reason the percentage was down last year was due to me not being in as good a shape as I am this year. I've continued to work a lot on my strength and conditioning in the offseason. It's funny, because I took easier shots last year -- far more of them right inside, near the basket, and I'd rarely ever fade out to 10 or 15 feet. This year I'm out to 10, 15, even 17 feet and my percentage has risen.

LW: Did you have some kind of specific training regiment that resulted in the new, fitter Aaron Gray?

AG: Ronald Ramon's pops actually came out and put us through a boot camp for the last six weeks of the summer, to get us ready for the season. We'd wake up at around 7 a.m., and start doing a bunch of conditioning and agility work, running hills, running on the track, and doing cone drills for lateral movement. Then we'd work the basketball camps here for the little kids, which ran from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. -- and we'd lift weights during the lunch break. After camp, we'd do all of our on-the-court stuff, with everyone working together on their ballhandling, shooting and everything else.

LW: You're playing with a point guard this year, Levance Fields, who has a 3.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. How much has that helped the team, having a floor leader who so rarely coughs up the ball?

AG: Levance has been a great asset for the team. He's a really good point guard who loves to pass the ball, and it makes our offense run smoothly. He's also able to score at times, when we need a big lift. He had a big steal to put us up for the first time against Buffalo -- that was huge. Levance is still a young guy, too, but he plays a lot older.

LW: I know you never got to play for Ben Howland at Pitt -- although he recruited you -- but how cool is it to see his new team [UCLA] and Jamie's team at Nos. 1 and 2?

AG: It's something that the media loves -- they get to play it up. What I think is, it shows that programs are not always built entirely on head coaches, but also on the guys they had around them. Coach Dixon was here with coach Howland for pretty much all of his career, and was able to learn so much from him. That's sort of repeating itself here, with coach Dixon as the head coach and his assistants growing to the point that they're getting Division I head-coaching jobs. I'm really excited to be No. 2 in the country, but right now we're trying not to focus on the ranking.

LW: Your parents, Mike and Sandy, make the long [four-hour] drive from Emmaus, Pa., to Pittsburgh for every home game. Are you going to reimburse them for the mileage when you get to the NBA?

AG: They're at all of the games, even on the road. They book their tickets at the beginning of the year for every away game, they drive out [to Pitt] for every home game, even the scrimmages, and they make team functions, too. We've had picnics, we had a Thanksgiving dinner the day after the Florida State game, and they were out here for that. They love it -- and a lot of my success is because of them, the fact that they're around at every game. So as for the payment, I don't think all the money that I'll make could really pay them back for the support.

LW: It says in your bio that you once shattered a backboard in high school. Can you tell me how that went down?

AG: It happened in practice, right before my junior season started. We were just working on getting up and down the floor, and I got an alley-oop thrown to me, and the next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. I kind of broke my ankle, and I had to get about 65 stitches in my face and down my arm. It wasn't pretty … but at the same time it was pretty cool. The bad thing is that I had to miss my first 13 games of that season. I think we went 1-12 during that stretch, and then once I came back we won 17 or 18 in a row.

LW: So you just blacked out after it shattered, or what?

AG: Well, I remember laying on the ground, and it was like I was in a pile of shattered glass and a puddle of blood. It was pretty crazy.

LW: I hope they didn't make you pay for the board.

AG: No, they didn't. But they did try to add something into our code of conduct after that -- it said that if you broke a backboard, you'd be responsible for it. I never signed it.

LW: Got a less gory, more historic hoops question for you. Who's your favorite big white guy of all-time?

AG: I don't really know. I guess I don't really look out for big white guys. The guy I grew up liking was Shaq, and one of the most underrated big men ever was Charles Barkley, who was only 6-6 but was banging against 7-1 guys every night, and he led the league in rebounding. He was real tough -- and that's how I like to play. I love rebounding the ball, and I love to play D. As for white guys, though, right now I like Pau Gasol's game. I'm also sort of a Mark Madsen fan. He's always going, always hustling. Maybe he needs to work on his dance moves, but he's a tough player.

LW: NBAdraft.net lists your pro comparison as Felton Spencer.
Any thoughts on Felton Spencer?

AG: I don't even know who that is.

LW: Ha. I like that. Moving on ... I asked Kansas' Julian Wright this question a few weeks ago. If you had to pick a college all-star team -- four guys to surround you on the floor -- but it couldn't include any other Panthers, whom would you choose?

AG: Wow, that's tough ... [pauses] At the one, I'd probably go with Dominic James from Marquette. He loves to pass but can also score a lot. At the two, I think I'll take Arron Afflalo [from UCLA]. He's a good shooter and he plays great defense for them. My three would be Kevin Durant from down at Texas. He's only a freshman, but he's averaging 22 and 10, he can really shoot the ball, and he's so long that he can play D and also be a great help as a rebounder. With a 6-10 three-man like him, the other team's second-chance opportunities would be slim to none. Finally, at the four, I'd go with Tyler Hansbrough from UNC. He's such a hustler. He's giving 100 percent on every single play, has a knack for scoring around the basket, and he can also step out and shoot as well as knock down his free throws.

LW: Finally, I know you said you didn't care that much about your ranking, but if you guys go and beat Wisconsin, do you think you'll have a good case to be No. 1?

AG: I think so, definitely. I think we can make a strong case right now. We were ranked ahead of UCLA at the start of the season, and they jumped us. They've played well, but I think we haven't doing anything to relinquish our ranking. Obviously we've got a few tough games coming up. Wisconsin barely ever loses at their place [they're 69-5 under Bo Ryan at the Kohl Center], and then after that we go to Oklahoma City to face an undefeated Oklahoma State team, and they're also really good. We're going to be facing some very tough crowds away from home.

The Blog will return in the middle of next week after a brief hiatus. In the meantime, chat amongst yourselves ...

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posted by Luke Winn | View comments (32) | Add a comment
11/30/2006 11:25:00 AM

Blog Q&A With ... Kansas' Julian Wright

Kansas' Julian Wright, a star on the court and at the lanes.
Greg Nelson/SI
As part of an ongoing series of Blog Q&As, I chatted with Kansas' Julian Wright on Wednesday. The versatile sophomore power forward helped spark the Jayhawks' overtime upset of top-ranked Florida in Las Vegas last Saturday night, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 42 minutes.

Luke Winn: You committed to play for Kansas on the day Bill Self visited your home in Illinois, without ever even seeing campus first. What, exactly, did he say that convinced you?

Julian Wright: I was comfortable with him and Kansas. I was already starting to get recruited by him when he was at Illinois, so I was familiar with what he was about. He was straightforward; he talked about the Kansas family, and how I could play a lot, with some great guys, but I had to earn it first. Looking back, that was the truth, I wasn't ready to come in and start and play 30 minutes right away. I had to get better in practice first.

LW: There was some kind of apology in there, too, right? I had heard you were upset because KU had given up on recruiting you for the whole summer after [assistant] Norm Roberts left for St. John's ...

JW: At first I didn't want to hear from them again. Kansas had been my favorite -- even if I didn't say it -- way back in the spring, and I was upset during that summer, thinking, couldn't they have at least sent me a letter telling me what was going on, or why they weren't interested? My mom asked me to give [Self] the chance to explain what happened. So I listened, and knew I had to make a grown-man decision. I could have held a grudge like a little kid and not thought about it, and let someone else get that last scholarship. Or I could go ahead and play for the team I wanted to play for, with guys like Mario [Chalmers], who I had already gotten to know at the USA Basketball camp.

LW: The whole impromptu, players-only clearing-of-the-air session you guys had in your hotel the night before the Florida game is becoming Kansas legend. Can you tell me exactly what you said that evening?

JW: It'll need to be censored. Basically we all knew that coach [Self] was frustrated, and we were starting to get frustrated, too. He was on us all the time, and we needed him to be on us, but it got to the point where I could sense a lot of players starting to plant negative seeds, in terms of making small excuses or pointing fingers. And excuses are coach's pet peeve. I just started saying, 'What are we doing? This is not how we can play. How are we going to be good until we start playing the way coach wants us to? He's on us because he knows we can be better.'

I heard a lot of 'Shut-ups' from people, and I later apologized, because I was saying a lot of personal stuff, just to fire them up. It was basically the same stuff that coach says, but maybe in terms that a player could relate to a little more. I was frustrated. Not because people happened to have bad games, but because the way we were playing, there wasn't any zip to us, no passion or energy. I said we shouldn't be stressed out, we should be living for these moments.

LW: If the night before the Florida win was serious, what was the night after like in Vegas?

JW: We actually left right away. People were happy, but they were tired, too -- it was a high-intensity game. We watched the tape on the plane on the way back, and even though we won, we knew we still had work to do, that it's just a stepping stone to getting better.

LW: So you're telling me no one wanted to pull an all-nighter on the Strip.

JW: I think a lot of guys wanted to stay a little bit longer, but it was a tiring trip. We didn't even get back into our rooms [in Lawrence] until sunrise. Had we gone out [in Vegas], I would have been more scared for the staff than the players. (Laughing.)

LW: And what was your favorite moment from that win?

JW: Brandon Rush's winning shot. Not that I thought Joakim Noah was going to block it, but I was in position to get the rebound just in case. At the same time, as a spectator, I knew he was going to finish strong and make it. Our main focus was to get in the paint and put pressure on Florida's defense, so it was fitting that the game-winner was scored in the paint.

LW: Switching sports here, I've heard you're big into bowling. True?

JW: I was actually a little late [for our interview] because I was bowling. I hadn't been to the lanes in a while.

LW: And you have your own ball?

JW: Yeah, it's called the "Big Bully." It's a dark red ball, with a logo of a guy with some big muscles on it.

LW: Is this a long-time obsession? Tell me how you got into the sport.

JW: I bowled once in seventh grade, and I didn't bowl again until my freshman orientation here at Kansas. ... This summer was when I got serious about it. I was up there [in the student union's J-Bowl] almost every day, trying to take it to another level. Some of the guys there had been bowling since they were 5, and they were brutalizing me by 50 pins while I was just struggling to not get any gutters. That's not the case anymore -- my motivation was to become the best bowler possible in the quickest amount of time, and my average is up to the 160 range now. I've gone from barely breaking 100 at the start to almost hitting 200 every third game or so.

LW: What's your taste in music like? Not bowlers' polka, I assume?

JW: My iPod has a little bit of everything, over 1,500 songs now. I mostly listen to R&B, though. A little jazz, a little hip-hop. But I'm not a big hip-hop head like a lot of players are. There are just too many songs out there that talk about the same stuff. It gets repetitive. I'm more of a person who appreciates the actual substance of the music, not just the music itself.

LW: So who are your R&B All-Stars?

JW: Of all-time, the top three are probably Joe, 112 and R. Kelly. Lately I've been listening to a lot of Bobby Valentino, Eric Benet and Justin Timberlake, though. Gotta have Justin Timberlake on there.

LW: Back to hoops. You have pretty unique passing skills for a big man. How did that part of your game develop?

JW: I don't think I take it for granted, but when I start watching other guys my size with the ball, I start to appreciate my ability to see the floor. Coach gets mad at me sometimes because he says I think too much looking for the extra pass, rather than just going ahead and scoring. I guess I have a willingness to give. I'd rather see someone else get the basket. It comes from back home [near Chicago], when as a kid I'd play about two grades higher than mine, with guys who were stronger and faster. I've never been a ballhog, and and usually that's the only way they'd let me play -- if I promised them I'd pass the ball around.

The concept of creating your own shot was pretty much foreign to me until I got to college. And I still don't feel like I need to score a lot of impact the game. I'd rather pass it.

LW: You've been creating a lot of looks for your new star freshman, Darrell Arthur. How happy are you with his progress?

JW: I was really proud of the way he played down the stretch against Florida. He's coming along faster than most freshmen. We took him under our wing this summer, and told him if he didn't worry about playing well, or being great right away, that's when he'd start to get good without even noticing it. The way he runs the floor and rebounds really helps us a lot.

LW: Finally, if you had to pick a College Dream Team -- four guys to play alongside you -- and you couldn't choose any other Jayhawks, who makes the roster?

JW: Man, that's tough. Since Al Horford blocked my shot like that, I'll take him at the five. I've got nothing against 7-footers, but I'll take him because I want all of my guys to run the floor. At point guard, I'll go with Acie Law [of Texas A&M]. He's smooth and knows how to play under pressure; I got to see him a lot this summer. At the two, I'll go with youth and use Kevin Durant [of Texas]. He's really skilled, long and athletic and can shoot the ball. I'll put him on my team any time -- he can explode for 20 points and plays far beyond his years. At the three I'll take Alando Tucker. He's pretty good up there at Wisconsin, a real tough-nosed player. I've never faced up against him, but I know he's from my area of Illinois, too. And I'll play the four -- I'm pretty comfortable with that now.

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