Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/22/2007 04:15:00 PM
Vandy's Shooting Star (And It's Not Derrick Byars)
Vandy's Shan Foster and Alex Gordon sign autographs in East Rutherford.
The open practices at Continental Airlines Arena were sparsely attended.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Kevin Stallings stood by himself at halfcourt of Continental Airlines Arena on Thursday during Vanderbilt's practice, picking up basketballs and nonchalantly launching them, from behind his back, at the basket 47 feet away. They kept bricking, mostly wide left off the backboard, until he eventually gave up and called an end to the workout.
"That's coach's party trick, and he usually hits it in three tries, so he's probably sitting outside right now frustrated with himself," junior forward Alan Metcalfe joked while standing in the sixth-seeded Commodores' locker room afterward. "He hates losing at HORSE, so he makes up these random things that no one else can do. He's also figured out how to double-bank a shot -- first of the backboard, then the rim, then the backboard again and in -- and he's pretty good at it."
For most of the nation, the indelible image of Stallings is that of a man defiantly playing dead-ball keep-away from Joakim Noah in Vandy's upset of the then-No.1 ranked Florida on Feb. 17. But many of the Commodores -- among them some of the most dangerous long-distance shooters left in the NCAA tournament -- associate their head coach with those trick shots. Shan Foster, the 6-foot-6 junior guard who once chose Vandy over Kansas, Notre Dame, LSU and Illinois, still remembers what Stallings did when he visited Foster's hometown of Kenner, La.
"He came to my high school when I was getting recruited, and we were playing HORSE," Foster said. "He made that shot three times in a row to beat me, So I've seen it before."
Asked if Stallings' marksmanship, which was honed as a player on Purdue's 1980 Final Four team, swayed his decision, Foster said, somewhat jokingly, "I thought, if a coach can make a shot from half-court behind his back, I needed to be on his team."
Considering that Foster is the 'Dores' second-leading scorer, at 15.6 points per game, and that he's averaging 19.0 during the run to the Sweet 16, Stallings' circus move was a rather valuable recruiting tool.
Stallings' 17-year-old son, Jacob, was standing in the corner of the Vandy locker room on Thursday, watching his dad's press conference on a wall-mounted TV. Jacob, a prep gunner at Brentwood Academy in Nashville who was launching his share of 3-pointers during the practice, said that he doesn't play much HORSE against his pops -- only about 20 times, ever -- "because he always beats me, and then makes fun of me afterwards."
Metcalfe, the big Englishman who was still standing nearby, glanced up at the TV and decided to let Jacob know that, "I dropped out of that Facebook group you made for your dad."
"That wasn't my group," Jacob said. "I don't care."
The Facebook group Metcalfe was referencing? "Kevin Stallings: Sexiest coach in the NCAA," which has more than 250 members, mostly from Jacob's high school.
"I didn't really feel like my relationship with coach was on that kind of level," Metcalf said, laughing.
Understandable. Stallings may be phenomenal at HORSE, and leading a team that has more than a halfcourt-around-the-back-shot's chance of knocking Georgetown out of the dance tomorrow. But sexy?
• 6-11 Vandy center Ted Skuchas is the star of a black-and-white, YouTube commercial spoof that popped up on Deadspin last week. It's an old-timey advertisement for professional "Tall Guys," who can help with tasks like changing lightbulbs, rescuing frisbees, etc. (defending Roy Hibbert is not listed as one of the available services).
I asked Skuchas for an explanation while he was standing outside the Vandy locker room. "I did that in high school [at Germantown Academy in Philadelphia]," he said. "That was the idea of one of my friends who's now out in L.A., working in the movie industry. He actually sent me that link a long time ago, but after it was up on Deadspin this last time, I came into practice on Monday and one of my coaches asked, 'What was that thing?'"
Yours Against Mine in Bracketland (With a D-Wash Cameo)
NEW YORK -- Indy's bunker boys have emerged with all of Sunday's major-conference-tournament champs -- Florida, North Carolina, Kansas and Ohio State, in that order -- as No. 1 seeds. How much those designations actually mean is up for debate. According to Joakim Noah in his post-dancing diatribe to a flabbergasted Bill Raftery after winning the SEC tournament on Sunday, the seeds don't matter. "Who cares!" Noah yelled. "At the end of the day, it's yours against mine -- we'll see who gets it!"
After watching Florida over the past three days, I'm pretty sure I don't have the guts to pick someone else's over the Gators'. The committee handed Noah & Co. the easiest road to Atlanta, giving them far more room to overcome the consistency issues that were discussed last week.
North Carolina, on the other hand, is the No. 1 in which I have the least confidence. With Marquette, Texas, Vanderbilt and especially Georgetown in the Tar Heels' path, and Tyler Hansbrough's Plexigass masquerade likely to continue, the odds seem heavily stacked against UNC. In the West, Kansas and UCLA are essentially both No. 1s, and I don't see anything getting in the way of them meeting in San Jose, Calif. to decide a berth in the Final Four. Ohio State's Midwest region, meanwhile, is weak overall -- there are zero threats to the Buckeyes in the first three rounds -- but contains the most dangerous No. 3 in the entire bracket, Texas A&M. As much as Ohio State has dominated down the stretch in the Big Ten, am I crazy for feeling more comfortable slotting the Aggies in Atlanta?
Your Blogger is back in New York, where in a few minutes I'll enter the Sports Illustrated NCAA tournament bunker and assist Grant Wahl on the magazine's bracket. Regularly scheduled blogging will resume after that. In the meantime, Blog Pool is open, and Mr. Klitschko would like you to join. Please do.
In the interest of not leaving you content-less for the rest of the evening, the remainder of this post is being turned over to an actual NCAA tournament participant. Players can make good bloggers (check out what The New York Times' Pete Thamel solicited from Penn's Stephen Danley on Saturday), so we turned to former Q&A subject Deron Washington of Virginia Tech for a YouTube guide to his three best dunks of the season.
Washington, if you haven't heard of him yet, is the best human highlight reel not named Kevin Durant in college hoops. While he didn't actually code up the YouTubes, he did provide us with the breakdown late on Friday night:
Deron's No. 3 Dunk:
"No. 3 came against Miami, at home. The YouTube clip of it shows a whole bunch of game dunks and then a few I did in practice. (The actual dunk is the fourth "game" slam on the footage.) Ze [guard Zabian Dowdell] made a nice pass through like three people. I felt like I was just sitting in the air for a minute -- and then I dunked it straight through."
The No. 2 Dunk:
"No. 2 came at home against Boston College, when I came right down the middle of the lane. That was such a fun game; we were running up and down the court like it was streetball. I saw Jamon [Gordon] looking at me and he was like, 'Oh Yeah, we're about to get a top-10 play.' He just passed me the ball, and as soon as I caught it, I just took off. I was expected a little bump from [Tyrelle] Blair, since I had dunked on him at BC, but he didn't jump. I was leading so far forward when I dunked it that I almost feel -- that's why I had to grab the rum with two hands.
"ESPN showed my mom after that dunk, and she was kind of mad, because people called her to ask what she was doing -- she was talking to herself, and it was pretty funny. She gets pretty excited. She's just like me, a real energetic person."
The No. 1 Dunk:
"No. 1 came at BC, the first time I dunked on Blair. That was a great one. Jamon, once again, made the pass. I slipped to the basket and Blair came over to help. I took off and Blair jumped with me, and it seemed like he hit the ground while I was still going up. I dunked it, and he didn't say anything -- he just turned around and went to get the ball."