Thursday, December 27, 2001

The CourtMaster's New Year's Wishes

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye. Court is now in session, and it's time to wrap up 2001 and look ahead to 2002. This week, I offer my New Year's wishes for the ACC.

For Duke, more opponents like Kentucky that can make the Blue Devils dig deep and find the highest level of play.

For Maryland, the opportunity to either defeat Duke in the post-season or avoid them entirely. Gary Williams doesn't deserve to deal with another year of "how can you beat Duke" questions. He should have the opportunity (and develop the ability) to enjoy his success.

For the small minority of Maryland fans that like to throw objects and set fire to things, a large dose of common sense.

For the majority of well-behaved Maryland fans, the above wish to come true so their name does not get dragged through the mud.

For NC State, either a very good season to break the drought of NCAA tournament appearances, or a bad enough year to bring in a new coach. Another mediocre season with an NIT bid will only thicken the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the program.

For Clemson and Florida State, enough wins to give the fans and school administration sufficient hope to keep their coaches another season.

For Larry Shyatt and Steve Robinson, the opportunity to be successful at another school if the above does not come true.

For North Carolina and Matt Doherty, the ability to fast-forward through this season, like removing a bandage quickly so the sting is brief rather than peeling it off slowly allowing the pain to linger.

For North Carolina fans, an extra dose of patience. One bad year out of every 35 isn't really anything to complain about.

For the ABCers (Anybody But Carolina), the ability to enjoy the Tar Heels' misery while they can--it is not likely to last very long.

For Skip Prosser at Wake Forest, a successful enough season to get him through what promises to be a bumpy ride next year. Wake loses five key seniors after this season.

For Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech, more games like their victory over Syracuse and less like the dismal loss to Tulane. That would enable him to keep the momentum going he generated with last season's surprising NCAA bid.

For Pete Gillen at Virginia, a healthy point guard to allow him to move Roger Mason back to the wing. This would keep the Cavaliers near the top of the rankings next season even with losing seniors Chris Williams and Adam Hall.

For Jason Williams at Duke, the opportunity to be drafted by an NBA team that will not expect him to carry them from day one. He should be an outstanding pro, but it would be nice if he had time to learn at that level rather than having it shoved down his throat by a desperate losing team. In other words, stay out of Chicago!

To Michael Isenhour at Georgia Tech, a swift and complete victory in his battle with leukemia.

To Majestic Mapp at Virginia, a completely healthy knee and a return to the court next season.

To Juan Dixon at Maryland, an NBA team that will give him a shot at playing the wing rather than the point. Despite his size, I think his toughness and quickness would make him effective in the pros at that position.

To Nigel Dixon at Florida State, the discipline to continue living a healthy lifestyle.

To Dick Vitale, Billy Packer, and all of the network broadcasters that work Duke games, the ability to not mention Shane Battier's name every five minutes. He doesn't play there anymore!

To all ACC fans out there, a prosperous, healthy, and safe New Year.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at

I'll be back after New Year's. Until then, court is adjourned.

Monday, December 17, 2001

An Interview with ESPN's Jay Bilas

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session. This week I offer a profile of former Duke player Jay Bilas. Bilas has kept himself quite busy since his days as a Blue Devil. He played pro basketball over in Europe, became a movie star, returned to Duke as an assistant coach and a law student, and now works as a broadcaster and attorney. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jay about these experiences.

Jay was a high school basketball star at Rolling Hills High in southern California. He was recruited by many of the major powers in college basketball. Bilas told me he took official visits to Duke, Stanford, Kansas, Iowa (when Lute Olson was their coach), and Syracuse (where he was their first California recruit). He also visited local schools UCLA and USC.

Coach K and Duke ultimately won out. Jay said "he (Coach K) was a huge factor in the appeal of going to Duke. The combination of him, the ACC, and Duke; it was just too hard to turn away from." He emphasized the importance of Coach K by telling me "If Coach K were at Michigan I think I would have gone there, if he was at UCLA I definitely would have gone there, where if he was at Central Montana State I probably wouldn't have gone there."

Bilas was part of the top rated recruiting class in the nation in 1982, when Duke was coming off a losing season. Jay told me about how Coach K pulled that class together, "We believed in Coach K before the masses knew about it. I think now, it's kind of easy to say well heck, he's a great coach; I want to commit to him. Back then, you didn't have a whole body of work to go on, you were going on what you believed was in him, maybe there was a little bit of that both ways. He believed in us too."

Jay reflected on being one of the early building blocks in Duke's success under Coach K. "Our experience was one I don't think I'd trade for anything. If you come in now as a player, the guys are pretty sure they're going to win 25-30 games a year and be really competitive right away. We were not assured of that. We played in a senior dominated league and started four freshmen. My first ACC game I started against Ralph Sampson. Back then that was as strong as I could imagine a league being. All the teams were senior dominated. At Georgia Tech they had Mark Price and John Salley, and those guys couldn't win either.

Unlike today, the Duke campus was hardly unified in their support of the basketball program. Bilas said, "When we were freshman, it was a lonely process. We didn't have a lot of people supporting us. Although they may not like to admit it, there were a number of people who sit upstairs at Duke who were very much against Coach K staying. There was constant speculation about when he was going to be fired, and that affected us. We were all worried about if that happened, what would we do. I can tell you if that had happened, I wouldn't have stayed there."

Bilas played 127 games for Duke from 1982-86, including Coach K's first Final Four trip in 1986. After finishing his collegiate career with averages of 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, Jay spent three years playing pro basketball overseas; two in Italy and one in Spain. At that time, he was accepted into Duke Law School and was offered an assistant coaching position by Coach K. Regarding that decision, Bilas told me, "it's (playing overseas) something I anticipated doing for 10-12 years, but when I got accepted into law school and Coach K offered me a coaching job, I thought it was something I should take now rather than think it would be there later."

Jay spent three years (1989-90 thru 1991-92) as an assistant at Duke while attending law school. The Blue Devils reached the Final Four all three of those seasons, winning the national championship in the last two. Bilas was on the bench when Duke suffered the worst defeat in the history of the national championship game at the hands of UNLV in 1990. He remembers it well, "That was really hard to deal with. It's one thing to get beat, but we didn't just get beat, we got destroyed. To sit there as an assistant coach, I don't remember a more helpless feeling ever than watching that because we got steamrolled."

The following season found Duke matched against the Runnin' Rebels again in the Final Four. Regarding the preparation for the rematch, Jay said "I don't have any qualm in saying this; UNLV was better than us the next year. There was a feeling amongst the staff that maybe we shouldn't show them the tape of last year. Coach K's response was no, we need to do this. We need to show them we screwed up here and if we're stronger with the ball here, if we don't make this mistake, then we're in a nip and tuck game at the end. We're used to being in those games, and they're not. We played in a lot of close games, we're the ones who know how to handle it and they don't. That gave the guys a lot of confidence."

The Blue Devils' win over UNLV could have led to a Duke-North Carolina showdown for the 1991 national championship, but Carolina lost to Kansas in the semi-final before Duke's game. Bilas told me that his team paid close attention to the Tar Heel's loss. "There was a feeling of relief on two levels; one that if Duke lost, at least Carolina wouldn't be playing in the title game and kind of outdoing Duke. If we won, we wouldn't be playing them in the championship game and have that extra baggage to carry in. Everybody felt it. You can sit and listen to all these people that deny that stuff exists but it does. I remember Coach K coming out of the coaches' locker room jumping on the guys and, pretty heated, telling the guys it is not ok to lose just because they did. I think that took the guys up a notch. It was typical Coach K, attacking something head-on which was unspoken that everybody felt. It's not something people would admit, but they felt it and he attacked it, and I think the guys played better as a result of that."

Bilas shared his motivation to pursue a law degree with me. "My parents were very pro-education. I was the first kid in my family to finish college. My parents always talked about getting a graduate degree and being a serious person with credentials that would put you ahead. I think my dad always thought the most versatile degree to have was a law degree. His thing used to be; you get a law degree you don't have to be a lawyer. You go to medical school you probably ought to be a doctor. You're going to be able to handle your own affairs at the minimum and you can go in a number of different directions. Also, the discipline provides you with a different way of thinking and approaching problems and solving them. I approached it with the idea I am not training to be a lawyer, I'm just training myself."

I asked him what he does at the law firm that has employed him since he earned his law degree in 1992. "I'm a commercial litigator. I'm a trial lawyer. My practice is not as active as it once was. ESPN is really my full-time job. The off-season is the only time I have any significant blocks of time, but even just doing it in the off season, I can't carry a full practice. The legal profession isn't just a four month thing, your cases have to be serviced year-round."

Wouldn't it be stressful having two careers plus being a husband and father to two children? Not according to Jay. "I'm pretty lucky with what I've got, so I don't ever second guess my decision making. I love both jobs. I think sometimes people give you too much credit for doing what you enjoy doing."

A major part of how he handles so much going on in his life goes back to a philosophy he learned from Coach K. "I don't say this to be arrogant in any way, but there's no time on the planet more important than mine. I think that's the way Coach K is. That means if I'm sitting down to work, I'm going to devote my full attention to my work and I'm going to be efficient and I'm going to get it done. When I am with my family, they have 100% of my attention. What I'm doing at the time is the most important thing to me in the world at that time. When I'm done with it, I move on to the next thing. His (Coach K's) concept of next play I think carries over to your daily life. Whatever happens, move on to the next things. I don't dwell on good things that happen, I don't dwell on bad ones. You try to anyway. You can only do the best you can."

After working for Raycom/Jefferson Pilot and the Duke Radio Network from 1992-95, Bilas joined ESPN in 1995 as a college game analyst. He is also co-host of College Hoops Tonight seen on ESPN 2. Jay covers both men and women's games for "The Worldwide Leader in Sports."

Oh yes, about that "movie star" reference. Perhaps it was an exaggeration, but Bilas does have a feature film credit on his resume. So did George O'Leary, I understand, but I verified that Jay's was accurate. Living in the Los Angeles area, Bilas knew people in the industry.

He told me "I'm now a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors' Guild. I can call myself with a straight face an actor even though I'm probably not. It all started when I was in high school, I was on the White Shadow, I got on there through a friend of mine's dad, who was the creative consultant." The program can still be seen in reruns on ESPN Classic. If Carver High had ever defeated Maryland, that episode would probably be shown at least once a week, but I digress.

Jay later beat out 200 other "actors" to play a 6'8" white guy in a Minolta commercial. He remembered, "I didn't realize what a big deal these commercials were. It took us 3 days to film it. They had a mini-movie set for a 30 second commercial. It played for several years. I turned the TV on and I saw it all the time. It was kind of nice."

His big break came later when "I got a call one day and this guy asks me if I've ever done any acting. I said in the school play when I was in 3rd grade. I was pretty good too. He said they're casting a part in a Dolph Lundgren picture, why don't you go down and see if you like the process. So I thought, oh what the hell, it would be fun."

The movie was titled "I Come in Peace". Lundgren played a Houston cop out to stop a criminal gang that was working with an alien drug dealer. Jay, our hero, was the "Good Alien" who worked with Lundgren and the police to save the world, or something like that. If you check out the Internet Movie Database ( and search under the movie title, you can see the film's trailer. There is a brief scene with an alien sitting in the back of a car. Folks, that is Jay Bilas. That scene ends badly for Jay's character when his head explodes. Just as well there was no sequel.

Don't feel bad if you don't recognize him. Bilas said, "They had to shave part of my head and put hair extensions in. I had hair down the middle of the back and it filmed in Houston and LA. I walked around town looking like that. They had to put in the opaque contact lenses so I couldn't see during most of the filming. It was like looking through a glass of milk."

The experience was a good one for Jay. "It was really interesting seeing how all that stuff worked. We blew up a lot of things. It was fun just going onto the set every day. I had a trailer and a chair with my name on it, which I still have. It's hardly a movie with redeeming social qualities. It's just a shoot-em up science fiction movie." When I told him I would mention this cinematic gem in my column and possibly rekindle some interest in it among Duke fans, he said "Yeah, like anybody with a Duke education is going to watch that for very long."

When I asked Jay what he saw himself doing 5-10 years from now, he responded (tongue-in-cheek?) "Broadway!" So, Andrew Lloyd Webber, if your next musical has a part for a 6'8" alien, Jay Bilas is your man.

I wrapped up our interview by inquiring, as a member of a top ranked recruiting class himself, what advice he would offer to the latest group of blue-chippers coming to Duke next fall. He said, I wouldn't presume to give them any advice. They'll be fine. My only advice would be to listen to Coach K."

That sounds like pretty good advice. It has clearly worked for Jay Bilas long after his basketball career ended.

That's what I think. Let me know how you feel on the message board or by e-mail at

Until next time, court is adjourned!

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Likes and Dislikes of the CourtMaster

Originally published on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session. As usual, I have a few things to get off my chest and rule on, so let's get to it!

I like the fact that games are being carried on Sunday nights. They give the ACC the national state all to itself, and it fills in what is usually a quiet time of the week for sports (unless there is a good Sunday night football game on).

I dislike the guest announcer concept Fox Sports Net is using. I understand they want to do something different to stand out from the ESPN or Raycom coverage, but sometimes there is a reason something is not being done. If Fox wants to catch up with former ACC stars, let them do a halftime feature on them. Just keep them away from the play-by-play broadcast. So far, I have just found them to be a fifth wheel.

I like the way NC State came out and played against Syracuse Saturday night. The Wolfpack's aggressiveness knocked the Orangemen back on their heels, and Herb Sendek's team showed enough poise down the stretch that Syracuse never even made a serious run at them.

I dislike the fact that State's performance will probably just give Wolfpack fans false hope. State shot very well in that game (54%) and out-rebounded Syracuse, but it is doubtful they can accomplish that against ACC teams very often. Despite their inflated 7-2 record, I still see an uphill battle for Sendek's squad to gain even an NIT bid.

I like the way that Wake Forest is playing. They may be the most entertaining team in the ACC to watch so far. They play at a fast pace, and most of their games have gone down to the wire. Coach Skip Prosser has done an excellent job getting his players to buy into his system, and the potential is there for the Deacons to improve as the season goes on while Prosser's system becomes second nature.

I dislike the fact that so far, only four ACC teams (Duke, Maryland, Virginia, and Wake Forest) are clearly NCAA Tournament caliber. NC State and Clemson have good won-lost records (7-2 and 6-3 respectively), but only State's win over Syracuse could be considered a quality win. The struggles of North Carolina (1-4) and Georgia Tech (3-5) have the conference pointed toward somewhat of a down year. Both teams have plenty of young talent on hand, with more coming next year, but this season could be disappointing for both. For Carolina, the potential still exists for their worst record in a couple of generations.

I like the position Virginia finds itself in. Did you realize they are up to #6 in the coaches' poll this week? I'll bet you didn't, and I'll also bet Coach Gillen loves being the best kept secret in the ACC. With Duke and Maryland garnering all the attention nationwide, the Cavaliers continue to play well. They chalked up a road win at Auburn over the weekend, another good sign for Gillen's squad. Road wins have been hard to come by for the Cavs in recent season. If they can defeat good opponents away from home, Virginia should be in the top 10 for quite a while.

I dislike anyone talking about RPI rankings this early in the season. According to Jerry Palm, the unofficial RPI guru, North Carolina ranks #162 in the nation, Georgia Tech is #191, and NC State ranks #30. I doubt anyone honestly thinks Carolina or Tech is that bad, and State is certainly not near that good. I've seen plenty of fans throw around the low numbers for Carolina in both the RPI and Sagarin rankings, but it is way too early to mean anything. A much better gauge would be at the midway point of the conference season. Let's come back and look at these rankings after every team has gone once around the conference and see what they really mean.

I like the fact that, despite his team's bad start and all the negativity coming his way from the fans and media, Matt Doherty is not hiding from any of it. He is stepping out and taking his lumps in press conferences, interviews, his weekly radio show, and media teleconferences. The debate about good a coach he is would take up an entire column, but he has earned my respect by stepping up and taking his beating without excessive whining or turning on his players.

I dislike the fact that Coach K is so inaccessible. I don't write this because I have been denied an interview with him; I have not even tried. What I don't like is the fact that he often secludes himself behind closed doors at Cameron Indoor Stadium or in his tightly secured office unless HE has an agenda he wants to use the media for. For example, I participated in a teleconference for the launch of Fox Sports Net's ACC coverage, and he was the only one of the four head coaches who did not show. Only a few weeks earlier, I could hardly turn the dial on the television or radio without running across him promoting his new book. I don't have a major problem with him not being interviewed at halftime of games; I think that is intrusive. I just think that again Coach K conveys the image he is above it all. For a coach who does so many things right, I hate seeing his reputation tarnished with arrogance.

That's what I think. Let me know how you feel on the message board or by e-mail at

Next week, I'll have a feature on a DBR favorite, Jay Bilas. Until then, court is adjourned.