Tuesday, October 30, 2001

The CourtMaster From the ACC's Operation Basketball

Originally posted on DukeBasketballReport.com

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session on the road in lovely Greensboro, North Carolina. I traveled down here to rule on the ACC's annual Operation Basketball. This is the joint media day where coaches and players gather together to swap stories, eat, and tell the media how wonderful their team will be this year. Here are my rulings on the festivities.

After a lovely lunch (I'm happy anytime I go out and don't have to eat out of a bag), ACC Commissioner John Swofford graced us with a few moments of his southern charm. His main purpose was to tell everyone that ACC games would seemingly be on every television network except Comedy Central (bad for the image, I guess).

Swofford then introduced John Guthrie, who is the head of the ACC-SEC officiating partnership. He said the points of emphasis would be the same as last year; reducing contact in post play and between screeners and cutters. Interestingly, he said, "Hopefully we won't get to the overkill we started with last year." Folks, that is about as close as you get to hearing a referee saying they made a mistake.

After that exciting beginning, I journeyed over to a ballroom with all of the writers to begin interviewing coaches. Here are some of the highlights and my impressions after sitting across the table from some of the movers and shakers in the ACC.

Skip Prosser-Wake Forest: Prosser's wit and pleasant demeanor reminded me of his mentor, Pete Gillen, without 10 cups of coffee.

The main topic of conversation with Coach Prosser was the Demon Deacons' transition into his style of play. He said "Often, you feel like you're speaking a different language." He then balanced that by saying, "we have an intelligent group of kids who are willing listeners."
He made it clear that his team would become the "Runnin' Deacons or die trying." Good approach, coach, because your team is way too small to play any other way.

Gary Williams-Maryland: I've spent more time with Williams than I have any other coach, and it's obvious he does not appear to enjoy media gatherings. He will answer the questions, at times even humorously. It just seems as if he would prefer to be somewhere else.

He is pleased with how his team's practices have gone thus far, although he would rather not have such an early season opener (November 8 vs. Arizona).

I asked Williams to clarify a quote regarding recruiting in a recent Andy Katz column on ESPN.com. The quote was "Most of those top 10 guys get cheated on anyway. Why do that? Why not be a coach instead of a used car salesman?"

His response was "where that came from was talk about how players are rated. A lot of the top ten players have been offered things. That doesn't mean where they go to school. Some schools play it completely straight, other guys, you know, you can get a deal if you want one. What I say is that it's ok to get a player who might not be a great player his freshman year but by the times he's a senior develop into a great player." He added "we've had great players so I can get great players. I like to get other players too."

Even though he has now made it to a Final Four (no other ACC coach except Coach K has done that), Gary is still finding he has to defend his recruiting. Amazing.

Herb Sendek-NC State: As with all the returning ACC coaches, this is at least the second time I have had the opportunity to talk with him. He comes across as a sincere, caring man who would make a great relative or next-door neighbor.

I asked him who would rebound for his team, and he said "I'm wondering that myself. If you look at us on paper, you could easily scratch your head and wonder where in the world we could get a rebound from. We're a very small ACC team with very little to no experience up front. The only way I can think about doing it is in gang fashion."

Sendek does like his team's versatility, saying, "We really have a lot of interchangeable parts. I'm going to resist talking about positions." He felt that this concept would make it even easier for his young team to learn his system. It seems to me that it is harder for a player to learn multiple roles than it is for one, but I'm not a highly paid basketball coach. Of course, if his approach does not work this season, Sendek won't be either.

Matt Doherty-North Carolina: Doherty appears to be a naturally high-energy guy without ingesting stimulants, a style which should be, and is, effective recruiting.

He is also very proud of Carolina's tradition, saying "if you give me a 30 year window, I'd say Carolina's the standard for the country. That's what I'm trying to maintain." How about that, Duke fans?

In light of the recent controversy at the Inside Carolina UNC Basketball message boards (SID Steve Kirchner threatened to revoke IC's press credentials if posters were not required to include e-mail addresses); I asked Doherty if the negativity of some message board postings made his recruiting efforts more difficult?

Doherty did not mince words in his response, telling me "I don't read the message boards. I don't like them. There is no accountability. It's dangerous stuff."

If he does not read the message boards, how does he have an opinion one way or the other? Isn't "accountability" the main word Kirchner used in threatening IC? Could Doherty have been behind that? Next, will Carolina want those who call into sports radio shows to leave their home phone number? Just wondering.

Coach K-Duke: I'm always disappointed when he arrives in my presence without trumpets blaring and an entourage surrounding him. From what I've seen, both on TV and in person, is that he does not answer questions as much as he imparts his vast basketball wisdom.

Along with a brief lecture on the difference between talking and communication, he talked about filling the void left by the graduation of Shane Battier. Regarding leadership, he said "it will be a shared responsibility and should be with the experienced players we have coming back. They are looking to do that."

When asked about the recent rivalry between Duke and Maryland, he said "I don't look at a rivalary with a school. I think it's the worst thing you can do. I've never done that and I never will." Admitting a rivalry would mean sharing space on that pedestal, wouldn't it?

Larry Shyatt-Clemson: Shyatt impresses me as the kind of guy you would want for a drinking buddy. He would be the type to buy the extra round, tell dumb jokes and slap you on the back while he is laughing at them.

He did not set specific goals in the win column for his team, saying "We are better, we'll be fun. I don't know what that will equate to."

When I asked him if his team would slow down their tempo this season with more big men available to play, he emphatically told me "I promise you you won't see ANY half court sets. You may not see any sets. I want them to know how to play, not how to run play."

Well coach, you've got me interested. It does sound like the Tigers will be fun to watch, just not in the NCAA Tournament.

Steve Robinson-Florida State: Robinson is a pleasent interview, someone who believes in what he is doing and believes in his players without being on the defensive.

I asked him about Nigel Dixon, and if the reports of his improvement in practice were accurate. He confirmed that Dixon was down to 335 pounds, having lost about 80 since last season (a 415 pound basketball player?!). He said "It's not even close to the past two seasons. He is showing signs of maturity. When Nigel decided it was important enough to him, he lost weight."

He is particularly proud of Delvon Arrington, his point guard who became the first partial qualifier in the ACC to graduate in four years and earn back a year of eligibility. He told us "Why is the ACC taking all these partial qualifiers? Delvon is the reason why. When you write about it, you need to put in there Delvon Arrington, college graduate."

My pleasure coach.

Paul Hewitt-Georgia Tech: The consensus among the writers I sat with during this session is that Hewitt it the real deal as a head coach. He is very popular with his approach to the media, and well respected for his success.

When asked about the expectations for this year's team, he grinned and said "I have no idea. We're a little more gifted, but definitely sloppier.

Regarding the adjustment to being without center Alvin Jones, he said "It will be a different team, but statistically we can add up to the same numbers."

He shared his concern and admiration for senior Michael Isenhour, who is currently being treated for leukemia. Hewitt told us "He's (Isenhour) been the source of support to us. He's been so upbeat."

Our prayers are with Michael and his family as we hope for a full recovery for this fine young man.

Pete Gillen-Virginia: Gillen is always the highlight of these events. He is the only coach who brings his own comedy act with him. His opening comment was "We want to look good in the lay-up line this year. We're all into image."

He described freshman point guard Keith Jennifer as so thin that "if it's windy, we have to keep him in his room." He called departed senior Keith Friel "a pathological shooter. He only shot it when he had it." Gillen said of the Cavaliers' first round exit from the NCAA tournament last season, "We had an hors d'oeuvre at the NCAA, we couldn't stay around for the salad. Gonzaga was poised, we were like Sponge Bob (the cartoon character)."

When he was not doing schtick, we said his team would be more powerful and thicker, and said "Duke and Maryland are a breed apart, but we can beat them if we play. We can also lose to anyone in the conference."

It looks like Gillen will start Roger Mason at point guard until Keith Jenifer develops enough to take over. If that works out, they do indeed have a shot at the top guns in the ACC.

After a short potty break, the players came into the ballroom and the writers circulated among them. This is not our favorite part of the day, because how often does an 18-21 year old say something truly profound or interesting? Nonetheless, I caught a few things worth reporting.
Jason Williams said about going undefeated "I think for this team, it is a realistic goal." Jason, didn't you read my column last week? It's not going to happen!

Williams was asked about dealing with fan adulation. Regarding members of the opposite sex, he said "it's always girls 12-13 years old who really notice me." He also told us "since we've won the championship, what I've really learned is the value of time with my family."

Jason, some men NEVER learn that lesson. Good for you.

Mike Dunleavy told us how he put on 20 pounds this summer; "I lifted weights, drank supplement shakes, and ate 5-6 times a day." I've tried that last part and found it works, but I lost a step or three in the process.

I dropped by the table where Kris Land and Jason Capel were, and most of the talk was about the possibility of Julius Peppers playing this season. Lang's response was "I think he's going to play. I think he loves the game very much."

Lang impressed me with his response to Carolina's lower than usual rankings by pointing out that the 1971 Tar Heels was picked 7th and wound up winning the NIT when that really meant something. You don't hear too many of today's players having much of a grip on hoops history, so that was a pleasant surprise.

Capel responded to the same question by saying, "I don't see us as underdogs. I don't care about the opinions of writers." Hey man, that hurts. I bet if writers vote him an award, though, he'll accept it.

Most coaches brought along their point guards, and this group made a lasting impression on me with their poise, confidence, and determination.

If NC State, Florida State, and Clemson live down to the pre-season predictions, it probably won't be due to a lack of leadership from their point guards. Anthony Grundy, Delvon Arrington, and Ed Scott all struck me as being mature, grounded young men who realized how important they were to their teams and, rather than brag about it, wanted to work hard enough to lead them to successful seasons.

If these are the leaders of the worst teams in the ACC, then this is still going to be a very strong conference again this season.

Kudos to the ACC and Media Relations Director Brian Morrison for putting on a very worthwhile event in a lovely venue, the Grandover Resort. If I ever get per diem to travel, I might actually be able to stay there. I am already accepting applications from anyone interested in sponsoring next year's trip.

As always, this trip was made more enjoyable by the companionship and support of Mrs. Courtmaster (not to mention her driving).

Here are the results of the media voting for pre-season honors in the ACC.

Standings: First place votes are in parenthesis. There was a total of 74 ballots cast.
1-Duke (69) 661
2-Maryland (5) 596 (no, I was not one of the five)
3-Virginia 485
4-North Carolina 421
5-Wake Forest 407 (not second, DBR, fifth)
6-Georgia Tech 254
7-NC State 242
8-Florida State 140
9-Clemson 126

If these look familiar, it's because they happened to match my predictions exactly. At least if I'm wrong, I had company.

The jury is still out on the player and freshman of the year. I heard something about borrowed voting machines from Florida, but thay may have just been a rumor.

That's it from Greensboro. Let me know what you think on the message boards or send e-mail to thecourtmaster@aol.com ,

Next week, I'll be back in the comfort of my chambers previewing the early season tournaments ACC teams are participating in.

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