North Carolina cashed in at the Chase NIT
Brooklyn was in the house last Friday night at Madison Square Garden. This was apparent because every time North Carolina junior point guard Ed Cota made a good play, someone in the crowd shouted out, " Brooklyn in the house." For Cota, who grew up in the Crown Heights section of that borough, last week's Chase NIT was his first chance to play in the world's most famous arena, and he made the most of it. He had 28 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists as the Tar Heels improved to 6-0 and won the championship with victories over then No. 14 Purdue and No. 3 Stanford. Cota was the obvious—not to mention popular—choice for the MVP award. "It seemed like I knew everybody there," he said afterward. "I gave out 30 tickets, but I could have used a hundred, easy. It felt like a dream come true."
Moments after his sterling 17-point, 11-rebound, five-assist performance in North Carolina's 57-49 upset of the Cardinal, Cota walked over to the stands and hugged his mother, Cecilia, who merited a few shout-outs of her own. The night before, it seemed as if all of Brooklyn was in her house. More than two dozen friends and neighbors stopped by for a Thanksgiving dinner of lasagna, chicken and ham. ("Ed doesn't like turkey," she said.) Cecilia cooked the feast by herself, an extraordinary effort considering that she has had 14 operations on her knees and hips stemming from a February 1990 auto accident during a visit to her native Panama. That crash also left Ed's stepfather, Jorge Cede�o, paralyzed from the waist down.
Ed was in eighth grade when the accident occurred. Cecilia and Jorge spent much of the following year recovering in Panama, while Ed lived with his grandmother, Felicia, back in Brooklyn, where he slipped into a pattern of truancy that lasted almost two years. He righted himself with the help of Eric (Rock) Eisenberg, his coach at Tilden High, who later arranged for Cota to transfer to St. Thomas More Academy in Oakdale, Conn. "I knew I had to get out of Brooklyn," Cota says. "I had too many distractions."
Cota was the ACC rookie of the year as a freshman at North Carolina, and his 274 assists in his sophomore year broke the Tar Heels' single-season record, set by Kenny Smith in 1984-85. If he keeps up his pace of 83 assists per game through Sunday, he'll break Smith's career assists record of 768 by March.
While he was home, Cota visited one of his best friends from Brooklyn, Dee Macarthur, who earlier last month had completed a six-year term at the Adirondack Correctional Facility in Elizabethtown, N.Y., for selling crack cocaine. Cota gave Iris buddy tickets for both games at the Garden. "I was really happy to see him. We did everything together growing up," says Cota, who is thankful for every reminder of where he has been and how far he has come. "Not too many people I grew up around have had the opportunities I've had. I feel blessed."
Cincinnati Beats No. I Duke
Bearcats Show Their Claws
Two years ago Cincinnati led No. 1 Kansas by 16 points in an early-season tournament only to collapse in the second half and lose 72-65, a defeat that seemed to sour their whole season. The Bearcats found themselves in a similar spot last Saturday, having frittered away a 19-point lead to No. 1 Duke in the final of the Great Alaska Shootout. With three seconds remaining and the score 75-75, Cincinnati coach Bob Hug-gins called for the play known as Home Run, which began with Ryan Fletcher's tossing a baseball pass from his own baseline to center Kenyon Martin at the top of the opposite key. Martin deftly made a touch pass to a cutting Melvin Levett, who slammed home the dunk that gave Cincinnati a 77-75 win. "You work on that play in practice, but you never expect it to work that well," Levett said later. "I guess a home run is what it takes to beat the best."
The Bearcats, who are now 4-0 and ranked sixth, had built the huge lead against Duke with their trademark smothering half-court defense, forcing 11 turnovers in the first half. But they came out tentatively in the second half, scoring just eight points in one 10-minute span. "I'm proud of our team because we had a chance to pack it in but didn't," Huggins said.
The win was especially sweet for Levett, who entered the game shooting just 28% from the field but nailed 11 of 14 shots to finish with 25 points—and one home run. Levett had been pointing to this game since the first day of conditioning drills on Sept. 24, when he ripped off the cover of a magazine featuring Duke guard Trajan Langdon's picture and posted it in his locker. "I've looked at that picture almost every day, and it wasn't because I like the guy," said Levett after the game. "We had to travel millions of miles, but we showed the world we're for real."