A Call to the Hall
Last week, when P.J. Carlesimo left Seton Hall to take over as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, the names of other successful college basketball coaches who Hopped in the pros, notably Dick Vi-tale and Jerry Tarkanian, were thrown in his bearded lace. It has been more than a decade since Vitale failed to make the transition from the University of Detroit to the Detroit Pistons—he went 30-52 with the Pistons in 1978-79 before being fired 12 games into the "79-80 season. But Tarkanian's 20-game disaster with the San Antonio Spurs in 1992-93, after he had gone 501-105 with one NCAA title in 19 years at UNLV, is still fresh in the minds of basketball observers. Why should the highly confident Carlesimo—who at his press conference said, "I'll be shocked if I can't coach at this level"—expect to fare any better?
Well, for one thing, Carlesimo may have less in common with Vitale and Tarkanian than he does with Rick Pitino, who in 1987 left Providence for a successful two-year stint with the New York Knicks before returning to the college ranks. Though his outgoing personality is vaguely Vitalean, Carlesimo, unlike Vitale and Tark—but like Pitino—is also an X's and O's guy, someone who has lived a life of clinics and blackboards. His technical expertise was the major reason that he was selected to assist Chuck Daly with the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics.
It is hard for a coach who comes to the NBA without a big league reputation to earn one once he's there. Pitino, for instance, spent two seasons as a Knick assistant coach earlier in his career. But Carlesimo has a rep: He has his Dream Team association and, having led an overachieving Seton Hall team to the NCAA finals in 1989, a track record that should gain him the respect of the Portland players.
What's more, he's walking into a good situation. The man he replaces. Rick Adelman, is an outstanding coach, but he was unable to light a fire under the Blazers. Though Portland has a collection of athletes with personal style—e.g., Clyde Drexler, Cliff Robinson and Rod Strickland—its team personality is bland. Maybe it was time for the Blazers to try a coach who has some cheerleader in him.
Ultimately, the NBA is a players' game, and the fact that Carlesimo will not have enough good ones or young ones will be his biggest obstacle And it remains to be seen if Carlesimo's fire and brimstone will play in a league in which many top coaches ( Daly, Phil Jackson and Pat Riley, to name three) have been more shrinks than shouters. Still, the Blazers needed new direction, and Carlesimo was a bold and imaginative choice.
Jim Lampley, who calls the action at Wimbledon for HBO. may want to check his history. After Kenneth Carlsen's second-round upset of Stefan Edberg last Thursday, Lampley said that the 113th-ranked Carlsen had "banished the most famous name in Swedish sports history."
What a Surprise
Former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding appeared at a press conference last week in Portland to announce her involvement in professional wrestling. Surrounded by a troupe of grapplers that included a midget in an orange fright wig and a guy in a red, white and blue superhero outfit, Harding seemed right at home. And why not? After all, this is a woman who kept company with Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckardt.
"It's just exciting to be here and be part of this group of wonderful people." said Harding, whose latest career move has her serving as "celebrity manager" for wrestler Art Barr, better known by his ring name of American Love Machine.