Friday, October 31, 2003

Mystery Men of the ACC

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session and it’s time to cite the “Mystery Men” of each ACC school. These returning players all have the potential to make strong contributions to their team’s success this season, but could also play a key role in their potential failure. Here are my choices for the ACC’s “Mystery Men” with by predictions of how their seasons will play out.

Clemson - Chris Hobbs: Hobbs’ erratic play was a mystery that former Tigers’ Coach Larry Shyatt could not solve last season. Hobb’s numbers shrank to 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, both the lowest of his three-year career at Clemson. He is expected to play at 245 pounds this season, down from the 260+ he carried last year.

Hobbs told the ACC Handbook that he is “looking forward to being more involved in the offense and defense” this season. PREDICTION: Pushed by new Coach Oliver Purnell, Hobbs will have a career season, but will still have trouble matching up against the ACC’s best big men and will continue to fight foul trouble.

Duke - Shavlik Randolph: Randolph began last season as the Blue Devils’ most hyped recruit but finished as a non-factor. He struggled early on against stronger defenders, and saw his season end early due to a hip injury that required surgery. He reportedly worked out like a demon (and ate like one too), adding at least 25 pounds to his frame.

Where Randolph will fit into the rotation with the arrival of this season’s mega-hyped recruit, Luol Deng, is a good question. It also remains to be seen if he can adjust his game to allow for the extra bulk. PREDICTION: Randolph will be a strong and versatile contributor off the bench for Coach K this season.

Florida State - Michael Joyner: Joyner came to Tallahassee heralded as an outstanding all-around player who could do it all. He has shown flashes of that ability, but not the consistency or assertiveness needed to live up to that billing. He has yet to average in double figures during his three years with the Seminoles.

Florida State can still reach postseason play without Joyner significantly raising his level of play, but if he does have a big senior season, he could make the Seminoles a more dangerous team than they have been since the Sam Cassell days of the early ‘90’s. PREDICTION: Joyner will still not be a big scorer, but will continue to help his team by playing solid defense and being a good complimentary player on offense.

Georgia Tech - Luke Schenscher: So far in his Yellow Jacket career Schenscher, an Australian native, has been very tall but never stepped up big. He was injured for most of his freshman season, and contributed in a limited (12.5 minutes per game) role last season. He is the only true center on Tech’s roster this season.

With the early departures of Chris Bosh and Ed Nelson, Coach Paul Hewitt desperately needs more production out of Schenscher this season. He needs to draw defenders to him on the low post to open things up for the Jackets’ talented perimeter players, and also establish himself as a consistent rebounder and shot blocker. PREDICTION: Schenscher is still not strong or quick enough to be a major inside force on an ACC team. His playing time won’t go beyond 20 minutes per game as Hewitt is forced to go with a smaller lineup.

Maryland - Jamar Smith: Smith is the latest product of the recent pipeline from Allegheny Community College in Cumberland, Maryland to play for Gary Williams (Ryan Randle and Steve Francis preceded him). As was the case with most players on this list, Smith showed flashes of brilliance last season, while at other times he resembled a lost sheep on the court.

Smith has the physical tools to compete with the other top big men in the ACC, particularly at the defensive end. It remains to be seen if he can establish himself as a low-post presence on offense, or if he will even embrace that role. PREDICTION: Smith will not match Randle’s numbers from last year, but he won’t have to. He will be a solid 20-25 minute a game player a defensive star, and produce a couple of Sports Center highlight dunks every game.

North Carolina - David Noel: It is usually a sign of desperation when a major college team needs to give a lot of minutes to a walk-on player. That happened at Carolina last year when Matt Doherty turned to David Noel to help bolster the Tar Heels’ thin frontcourt. Noel, however, turned into one of the few pleasant surprises for Carolina last season. The former football player (6’ 6”, 230 lbs.) helped fill in at center for the injured Sean May and performed admirably. Noel averaged nearly ten points and over five rebounds per game over the second half of last season and earned a scholarship for this year.

Noel is considered to be a natural wing player, so it remains to be seen how Roy Williams will utilize him this season. Will Noel be able to readjust his game to face the basket more often, and will he fit in with Williams’ up-tempo style? PREDICTION: Noel will play all three frontcourt positions at times this season and be a solid contributor off the bench.

North Carolina State - Jordan Collins: With the early (and unwise) departure of Josh Powell, the Wolfpack have a huge hole to fill in their frontcourt. Collins, despite rather pedestrian numbers in his first two years at State, is the logical choice to take Powell’s place in the lineup. To borrow a line from ESPN’s Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend!” Collins will not be eligible to play until the end of the first semester after dropping out of school last spring.

Once back on the court (he is practicing with the team), can Collins stay healthy? He was plagued with injuries last season, breaking a hand, suffering a groin injury, and twisting an ankle. If he remains upright, will he begin to realize the promise Coach Herb Sendek saw in him as a recruit? The Wolfpack’s offense minimizes the role of a low post player, but no team can effectively compete in the ACC, or any other major conference, without at least a decent presence down low. PREDICITON: Given the buzzard’s luck NC State has already had this season, I’m not optimistic about Collins’ season. He could follow the same path Powell did last season and come on strong late, which would enhance the Pack’s chances of doing some damage in the postseason.

Virginia - Elton Brown: The biggest mystery about Brown has been distinguishing him from his first cousin on the Cavaliers’ football team with the same name. Brown the football player is an offensive lineman, which is a bad thing for Brown the basketball player to be mistaken for. This year promises to be different.

Brown has lost nearly 35 pounds, dropping from an estimated 280 pounds during last season to below 250 now. He has traded Big Macs and whole pizzas for grilled chicken and salad. He also appears to have a new attitude to go along with the body. Brown saw the leadership void on his team last season and plans on being one of the players to fill it this season. PREDICTION: Brown will come close to posting Travis Watson-like numbers and hold his own against the tough big men at Wake Forest, Maryland, Duke, and North Carolina.

Wake Forest - Eric Williams: The question about this man-child is not if but when will be break out and become a star. Williams started every contest for the Deacons last season, but only averaged 20 minutes per game. The main problem was fouls, which led to five disqualifications. Even in that limited playing time, he demonstrated a clear understanding of how to play the low post on offense, more of a rarity than you would think in today’s game.

Williams needs to improve on the defensive end this season. He should be capable of doubling his rebounding average of just over four per game and become more of a shot blocking threat. As he becomes a more polished player, the sky could be the limit for Williams and Wake Forest. PREDICTION: By the end of the season, Williams will stand along Sean May and Shelden Williams as the best big men in the ACC, although foul trouble will still be an issue.

Question for the Jury: What do you think of my choices for the ACC’s “Mystery Men” and how accurate do you think my predictions are? Send me e-mail at

Responses to my “Most Indispensable Players” focused mostly on my choice of Sean May at North Carolina. There were a lot of fans across the conference that thought Raymond Felton, the Tar Heel point guard, would have been a better choice. Hopefully we won’t have to find out how much any of these players would be missed by their respective teams.

CourtMaster Briefs:

If you think the ACC has some of the best radio play-by-play announcers in the nation, then you agree with Dick Vitale (collective groan). Dickie V listed his choices for the Sweet 16 radio voices in the nation, and 6 of them came from the ACC. They were, Gene Deckerhoff (Florida State), Wes Durham (Georgia Tech), Woody Durham (North Carolina), Bob Harris (Duke), Johnny Holliday (Maryland), and Jim Phillips (Clemson). Unfortunately, Phillips passed away on September 9. For those of you don’t know, Wes Durham is Woody’s son.

Do you remember Nigel Dixon, known as “Big Jelly” while at Florida State? Well, he’s not quite so big anymore, although he’ll never be “Little Jelly.” The Associated Press caught up with him at his new school, Western Kentucky, where he is eligible after sitting out his transfer year last season. Dixon is down to a relatively svelte 320 pounds. His new coach, Darrin Horn, told the AP “Nigel Dixon has had the best off season, in terms of improving his body and his work ethic and commitment, of anybody I’ve been around.” I’m sure you will join me in wishing him luck as a Hilltopper.

NC State continues to have an exciting preseason for all the wrong reasons. Starting forward Marcus Melvin escaped injury on Monday when the SUV he was driving his a wet spot on the road, jumped the curb, and went down an embankment. With injuries and eligibility issues, there has been some really, really bad karma working down in Raleigh so far.

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun decided against taking the high road regarding future ACC member Boston College’s departure from the Big East. According to, he said “I have no desire to play Boston College. Not for the fact that they are leaving but how they did it.” It was not clear if he had a doo-doo lip when he said that.

Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at

Please let me know which site you read this column on. How tough is each ACC home court to play at? I’ll rank them from bottom to top next time. Until then, court is adjourned!

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The ACC's Most Indespensible Players

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated on Yahoo

Hear ye, hear ye. Court is back in session, and it’s time to rule on each team’s MIP (Most Indispensable Player).

This is not necessarily a squad’s best player. It is the one individual a team would have the most difficult time replacing if he was out of the lineup. This designation is as much a reflection of the makeup of each school’s roster as it is the skills of a particular player.

Here are the ACC’s MIPs.:

Clemson: Chey Christie—Christie is the Tigers’ top returning scorer (11.5 ppg) and is their only real hope for point production from the backcourt this season. He has seemingly alternated between brilliance and invisibility in his two years at Clemson, and will need to dramatically improve his 40% shooting from last season, 28% from three-point range.

Christie led the team in steals last season and will again need to be an effective defender this year.

Duke: Shelden Williams—Williams is clearly not the best player on Duke’s roster, but he is the only one who gives the Blue Devils a strong inside presence. More importantly, he brings a toughness and attitude that Duke will sorely miss from the departed Dahntay Jones.

No player on the Devils’ roster improved more during last season than Williams, who averaged 10.5 points, 9 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in his last nine regular season games. His continued improvement will give Duke the balance they need to stay at the top of the ACC.

Florida State: Tim Pickett—Last season, Pickett became one of the very few junior college players who made a major impact their first season in the ACC; Bob McAdoo and Steve Francis come to mind. Pickett led the ACC in steals (2.8 per game) and was the Seminoles top scorer (17.1 ppg) and rebounder (5.7 rpg). At times, he did it all for Coach Leonard Hamilton.

With a deeper roster this season, all the pressure won’t fall in Pickett, which should help to improve his 38% shooting. His skills are so diversified that two or three players would have to pick up the slack in his absence.

Georgia Tech: B. J. Elder—Elder is referred to by Coach Paul Hewitt as “The best kept secret in college basketball” after a season where he scored 15 points per game and became the Yellow Jacket’s main scoring option down the stretch. Importantly, Elder is not only a good perimeter shooter (Tech has plenty of those) but he can also create his own shot off the dribble.

Elder is the team’s best individual defender, and his ability to match up against taller wing players will be critical to the success of the three-guard lineup Coach Hewitt will likely employ often this season.

Maryland: John Gilchrist—Gilchrist had already emerged as the leader, perhaps the very heart, of this young Terrapin squad before practice had even started. Stories from this season’s incoming freshmen pointed to the opportunity to play on the same team with him as a major factor in their decision to come to Maryland. The Terps will be his team this season.

Beyond that, he is indispensable because there are no other pure point guards on the Maryland roster. Coach Gary Williams has a very versatile squad this season and does have other players who could fill in at the point, but no one who could even approach Gilchrist’s ability to run the team.

North Carolina: Sean May--Ask Matt Doherty how important Sean May is to the Tar Heels’ success. Carolina was rolling along with a 7-2 record and wins over Kansas and Stanford when May broke his foot against Iona on December 27. The Heels were 12-14 the rest of the season, which featured only a brief appearance by May in the ACC Tournament.

Like Gilchrist, May is critical to coach Roy Williams’ squad for two reasons, he is an outstanding player and there is no one else on the roster that can come close to matching his production. With May, the Heels can stand up against teams like Duke, Maryland, and Wake Forest that feature strong front lines. It is no coincidence that these are four of the top teams in the ACC. Without his low-post scoring and rebounding, Carolina could be frighteningly similar to last year’s team.

North Carolina State: Julius Hodge—How can a team get along without a player that can do it all like Hodge? Not very well, thank you. He led the Wolfpack in scoring (17.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg) last season, and also posted strong numbers in assists, blocks, and steals.

In my opinion, Hodge is the best player in the conference. He matured into a leader last season and will continue to be the backbone of his team this season. He was able to put up his numbers while still keeping talented teammates like Marcus Melvin and Scooter Sherrill involved in the offense. He may even be pressed into action at point guard, so perhaps he’ll add the Pack’s assist title this season.

Virginia: Todd Billet—Billet had his hands full last season, a natural wing guard forced into playing significant minutes at the point. The dismissals of Keith Jennifer and Jermaine Harper thinned out the Cavailers’ backcourt rotation, forcing Billet to play 34 minutes per game. He stepped up and handled the extra responsibility capably, leading the team in assists and finishing second in scoring. He was an outstanding three-point shooter, knocking down 41.8% of his 225 attempts. That percentage rose to 45.4% in conference games.

As Coach Pete Gillen tries to put his team back on the winning track, integrating five new players and redefining roles for others, Billets reliability and versatility will be a critical part of any success Virginia may have this season.

Wake Forest: Vytas Danelius—The Demon Deacons are such a balanced team, one player does not clearly jump out for this distinction. I chose Danelius because of his versatility. He is Wake’s leading returning scorer and rebounder who can block shots, make his free throws, and extend his game out to three-point range. On a team with several good all-around players, Danelius fills more roles than anyone and would be the hardest to replace.

With Josh Howard now in the NBA, Danelius will need to develop into a go-to-guy for the Deacons. His ability to both play with his back to the basket and convert perimeter shots makes it very difficult for teams to match up with him defensively. Danelius’ defensive prowess also makes him a key part of Coach Skip Prossers’ schemes on that end of the floor.

We media types like to talk about senior leadership, but it is interesting that of the consensus picks for the top five teams in the ACC, none of their MIP’s are seniors. I think this speaks to the growing stable of young talent in the conference that will be competitive nationally this season, but could dominate the polls next season.

Question for the Jury—Who do you think should have been on this list that wasn’t? Let me know on the message board or by e-mail at

I saw some spirited debate on the message boards about my recent coaching rankings. As I expected, there were some loud complaints about ranking Gary Williams ahead of Roy Williams. The most intense discussion/debate centered on Herb Sendek, with the result of a hung jury. The responses I received were nearly split down the middle with positive and negative comments.

CourtMaster Briefs
The injury bug is already biting conference teams. Wake Forest’s Chris Ellis, counted on to be a part of the Deacons’ front-line rotation, broke a bone in his foot and could be out into January. Coach Prosser also has to be concerned about Vytas Danelius’ knees, where tendonitis has flared up and limited his practice time.

NC State lost guard/forward Cameron Bennerman for 6-8 weeks with a broken hand. Freshman Wolfpak guard Engin Atsur will sit out the first three games of the season because of his involvement with a European pro league. With Jordan Collins out until mid-December due to grades, and Ilian Evtimov still limited coming back from a sever knee injury, State will have a very thin roster early in the season.

Interesting notes from the ACC’s Operation Basketball media day:

Jawad Williams, a North Carolina forward, not only believes the early season hype about the Tar Heels, he doesn’t think it’s enough. According to the AP, he said “I think we have a chance to be one of the best teams ever…the best team in NCAA history.” Will someone please hose him down!?

ACC coaches met with Commissioner John Swofford to discuss the impact of conference expansion on basketball. Speaking out against splitting the ACC into divisions, Coach K told the Washington Post “I think it would be bad, because it divides a brand. You start thinking ‘You’re in the East, and I’m in the West.’ Forget about it if we started naming them North and South.” You go K! I couldn’t agree more.

Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at In my next column, I’ll name the Mystery Men of the ACC, important players on each team who could be key players or big-time busts this season.

Until then, court is adjourned.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Rating the ACC Coaches

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

Here ye, hear ye. Court is in session, and it’s time to rule on the head basketball coaches in the ACC, ranking them from bottom to top.

I first want to say that this is an outstanding group of coaches. There is no one in the conference that I look at and say, “He needs to go.” Every head coach in the ACC has achieved some level of success with a major program and taken at least one school to the NCAA tournament.

I dare say this is the highest quality of coaching the conference has seen since the mid ‘80’s. Back then, Dean Smith, Bobby Cremins, Lefty Driesell, Jim Valvano, Terry Holland, and a young Coach K roamed the ACC sidelines.

On with the rankings:
#9-Pete Gillen, Virginia—The fact that Gillen, one of the most entertaining personalities in the ACC, falls here emphasizes my point about the quality of coaching in the conference. Gillen built the Xavier program in the late 1980’s and early ‘90’s, winning 20 games there seven times and mentoring future head coach Skip Prosser. He also led Providence on a surprising run to the Elite Eight in 1997.

Gillen took over a dormant Virginia program in 1998 and led them to a 20-win season and a return to the NCAA tournament in 2000-01. It has been a bumpy road for him in Charlottesville since then, however. Over the last two seasons, the Cavaliers have lost 28 games and missed the NCAA’s both years. He has had discipline problems with players, resulting in the departure of Jermaine Harper and Keith Jennifer last year. He has already lost Jason Clark (not Devin Smith as I erroneously reported in my last column) for the fall semester.

Gillen still has several years left on his contract, but is facing growing discontent of restless fans and alumni along with the need to gear the program up to fill a new 15,000 seat arena in 2006. He’s not on the hot seat yet, but it is starting to warm up.

#8-Oliver Purnell, Clemson—Purnell comes to Clemson after a successful 15-year head coaching career during which he has rebuilt three basketball programs. Most recently, he took Dayton from a 20-loss season to four straight years of 20 wins, an Atlantic 10 championship, and two NCAA appearances. Purnell has also enjoyed success as a coach with several USA national teams in international competition. He will be an assistant for Larry Brown at the 2004 Olympics.

Purnell is not in the Atlantic 10 anymore; he is playing with the big boys. I rate him this low only because he is not familiar with the ACC and has never been a head coach in one of the power conferences. He takes over a Clemson team that clearly has the least talent in the league, and it will take him some time to build his roster to a level where he can compete in the ACC. He was an outstanding hire for the Tigers, and you can be sure his teams will be organized, disciplined, and play very hard every night.

#7-Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech—Hewitt is a young, polished, sincere man who has brought life back into a stagnant Yellow Jacket program. He was the ACC Coach of the Year in 2001 after leading Tech into the NCAA tournament in his first season.

Hewitt has had strong recruiting success, landing blue chippers like Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack. Bosh and the less heralded Ed Nelson won the last two ACC Rookie of the Year awards, but unfortunately for Hewitt, neither will be on campus this year. Bosh is with the NBA Toronto Raptors, Nelson transferred to Connecticut. He is left with a small team that will play the up-tempo game he enjoyed success with at Siena College.

I rank Hewitt this low because, after three seasons, he has yet to post a winning record in ACC competition (8-8, 7-9, 7-9). The jury is still out on his long-term success in Atlanta, but a coach of his ability usually finds a way to win.

#6-Herb Sendek, NC State—I was one of the many that thought Sendek’s job was on the line two seasons ago, when the Wolfpack broke through with a 23-11 record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Sendek has reached the ACC tournament finals three times, the only active coach besides Coack K to do so.

Sendek and assistant coach Larry Hunter have successfully implemented their version of the “Princeton offense.” This is essentially a motion offense that does not feature a strong low-post presence and emphasizes good outside shooting. He has put together a team well suited for this style.

It appears to me that much of Sendek’s recent success has been built around two recruiting classes that, if Julius Hodge turns pro this summer, will be gone after the season. His roster does not appear deep enough to sustain those losses, and I can easily see a return to the NIT for the Pack in 2004-05. That would probably have the moving vans circling Sendek’s home again. For this year, however, he can still ride Hodge and the momentum of two straight NCAA appearances.

#5-Leonard Hamilton, Florida State—As I mentioned in my last column, I think Hamilton is doing an amazing job of rebuilding the Seminole basketball program. Last year, in his first season at Tallahassee, he did not see improvement in the won-loss column, but he did successfully implement his tough, defensive style and began developing a winning attitude. He is quickly bringing in talented players that give Florida State a shot at cracking the top four in the conference.

His early recruiting success here is no fluke. He proved he could lure quality players to a Miami program that did not have nearly as much going for it as Florida State. The sparkling new practice facility in Tallahassee, along with renovations at Leon County Civic Center, have been good selling points, but the best thing Hamilton can sell is himself. So far, he has found plenty of buyers.

#4-Skip Prosser, Wake Forest—Prosser is another coach that put life back into a stagnant program. The most important news for the Demon Deacons this summer was the fact that Prosser turned down a tempting offer from Pittsburgh and committed to Wake for the long-term.

Prosser has seamlessly blended players recruited by former coach Dave Odom and his new recruits, a task that has tripped up many fine coaches. As he continues to bring in strong recruiting classes geared more toward the faster pace he likes his teams to play, the foundation for success grows even stronger for the Deacons.

Prosser is an engaging, eloquent man who has energized the fan base in Winston-Salem. He should have Wake competing for the ACC championship well into the foreseeable future.

#3-Roy Williams, North Carolina—I know, I know; how can I have the man with the highest winning percentage among active coaches ranked third! My primary reason is the fact that he has been in Kansas for the past 15 years. I know he kept up with the Tar Heels, but that’s a lot different than coaching them and scouting their opponents. It will take ‘ol Roy some time to relearn the ACC. The fact that he spent time coaching the USA National Team this summer didn’t help.

Williams is an outstanding coach, one of the best in the nation. DUH! (Not DOH!) He still has to learn about and develop relationships with his players and learn about his conference opponents. For this ranking, at this time, that is a significant disadvantage, but one that he will quickly overcome and return “The Carolina Way” to Chapel Hill.

#2-Gary Williams, Maryland—Just as Roy’s status as a newcomer hurts him in this ranking, Gary’s 15 year tenure at Maryland is a huge advantage. With a National Championship banner and a new arena to hang it from, Williams has built a rock-solid base for the Terrapin basketball program. Ten straight NCAA appearances speak to its consistency, two Final Four’s in the last three years speak to its excellence.

Williams has grown by leaps and bounds as a coach during his time at Maryland. He has improved his recruiting and established a strong track record in developing players, two areas his critics pointed to as serious deficiencies a few years ago. By the time they wrap up their careers, both Williams’ will merit strong consideration for the Basketball Hall of Fame.

#1-Coach K—I could spend all day reciting his accomplishments, but the ones that jump out are: 3 national championships, 9 Final Fours, 8 ACC championships, a 60-16 record in the NCAA tournament, a 590-175 record in 23 seasons at Duke.He is already in the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. He continues to recruit blue-chippers, play difficult schedules, and he has never been tagged with an NCAA violation in the process. Coach K (I have a policy of not typing his last name, it keeps locking up my computer) is simply the most successful basketball coach in the nation.

Question for the Jury—Do you think I was wrong in my ranking of your favorite (or least favorite) coach? Let me know at

In my last question, I asked how fans felt about the changing geography of the ACC. Most of the responses I received viewed the conference as more mid-atlantic than southern and weren’t all that upset about the northward expansion to include Boston College.

CourtMaster Briefs
Earlier this week, Duke President Nan Keohane introduced “Professor K”, part of the university’s new Fuqua/Coach K Center of Leadership and Ethics. Now wait just a cotton pickin’ minute here. What’s next for K, Sainthood? Was he afraid he would get second billing to Mother Theresa when she was beatified this week?

Here are some issues I hope he discusses during his first ethics lecture:

o Receiving large sums of money from an athletic apparel manufacturer for outfitting his players in the company’s gear
o Using abusive profanity in addressing players and coaches
o Allowing his players to taunt opponents
o Intimidation of referees during games

Most coaches of major college basketball programs (including Coach K) do these things. Coach K, however, is the only one who is considered such a paragon of virtue that his name is attached to a Center of Ethics. Hearing him justify these practices, plus finally answering questions about issues colored in a shade of gray (Corey Maggette, Pete Gaudet, for example) would be one college lecture that would keep me awake. It is one no one is likely to ever hear.

Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at In my next column, I’ll identify my choices for each team’s Most Indispensable Player. Until then, court is adjourned.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Midnight Madness at Maryland

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated on Yahoo

As fans approached the Comcast Center Friday night on their way to attending “Midnight Madness”, they saw a large spotlight circling the night sky, similar to a Hollywood premiere. Upon entering the arena, they were not disappointed; the Maryland athletic department delivered an evening of “Showtime.”

After being treated to the team’s 2002-03 highlight video “A Decade of Dominance”, all in attendance gave a warm standing ovation to the voice of the Terrapins for the last 25 years, Johnny Holliday.

Holliday introduced the rosters for the annual alumni game, including a mix of familiar names and relatively obscure members of teams past. We saw a few flashes of former glory from some of the best known former stars.

Keith Booth, who received the warmest ovation of the alumni (and who recently completed work on his bachelor’s degree), picked the pocket of another former Terps hero, Ernie Graham, and took the ball in for a score.

Graham, who still holds the school’s single game scoring record with his 44 points against NC State in 1978, had his moments during the game. He showed, along with former guard Jeff Baxter, the damage they could have done if the three-point shot had been part of the game when they played. Both Graham and Baxter knocked down several shots beyond the arc.

Cedric Lewis, the school record holder for blocked shots in a game and a season, showed that he could still be a force inside. His former teammate Dave Dickerson, now a Terps’ assistant coach, took a rebound coast to coast for a hoop.

The pace of the game during the two ten-minute halves was sluggish, as were some of the players. That never matters in these types of games, however, nor does the final score. It’s always great to see former players, stars or not, come back home.

As my wife and I enjoyed the spirit squad performance that followed the alumni game, I made the mistake of sharing my dream of being one of the male cheerleaders that got to throw the girls up in the air and catch them. After she stopped laughing, my bride speculated on the chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons I could have kept in business given my natural klutziness and the low percentage of successful catches I was likely to have made in that role.

The school’s Gymkana group followed the spirit squad onto the Comcast Center floor. I had heard about how entertaining these performers were, but I had no idea just how good they were until watching them live for the first time. The rapid-fire sequence of progressively more difficult vaults these young men and women successfully made were amazing, but the finale was spectacular.

My wife (I was speaking to her again by this time) said when they brought out a large hoop, “They’re not going to jump through fire, are they?” Indeed they did, and at the same breakneck speed with which they performed their earlier vaults. A couple of vaulters had to get patted down after landing when they brushed against the flames, but the stunts went off without any apparent injury. An appreciative crowd roared their approval just before the lights dimmed and the main act of the evening was about to begin.

First came the spotlight introductions of the women’s basketball team and coaching staff. I’m no women’s basketball expert, but it sounds like Coach Brenda Frese, the 2002 National Coach of the Year, has a very strong recruiting class that should help rebuild the once strong Terrapin program. She felt the love from the spectators when she asked, “Is this the best place in the country to be tonight or what?”

The arena went dark again in anticipation of the introduction of the men’s basketball team. On the video board, an animated Terrapin that probably could not pass Olympic drug testing flexed his oversized muscles and whipped up the crowd. A laser light show followed where each player’s autograph was drawn onto the basketball court accompanied by some hard driving music.

At this point, the atmosphere felt as much like that at a rock convert as one at a basketball game. The arena was charged with electricity and the fans their adrenaline pumping.

One by one, the members of the men’s basketball team were introduced, dribbling and dunking in their various styles. Not surprisingly, the most excited player appeared to be point guard John Gilchrist. He flashed his infectious smile and had an extra bounce (nearly a hop) in step. After his dunk, Gilchrist came up with his own funky little dance that the fans loved.

As soon as the last assistant coach was introduced, the fans started chanting “Gary, Gary, Gary!” Within moments, the spotlight shone on Coach Gary Williams riding a Harley onto the Comcast Center floor. Williams, wearing the obligatory leather jacket, told the crowd, “I always wanted to ride a Harley once. That was it. The first and last time.” He also said to the masses “You’re the best fans in the country. There’s no question about it.” Everyone loves to be told they are the best, and those in attendance Friday night were no exception, roaring with approval to Williams’ comment.

The teams concluded the evening (now early morning) with three separate scrimmages, two by the men sandwiching one by the women. During the first men’s scrimmage, Williams sat impassively with his legs folded, even when players missed easy shots or threw the ball out of bounds. Williams seemed more interested in talking to late arrival Walt Williams, “The Wizard”, Maryland’s single season scoring record holder, then yelling at his players. By the end of the second scrimmage, Gary was seen muttering to himself, probably easing himself into full blown coaching mode for Saturday’s first REAL practice.

A few observations from the men’s action: Nik Caner-Medley is fully recovered from the dislocated ankle he suffered in the Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State in March. If anything, he looked even more athletic than he did last season. Gilchrist scored both by penetrating and knocking down three’s. Mike Jones made a couple of off-balance three’s that he probably shouldn’t think about taking in a real game, but it was still impressive to see the freshman knock them down.

This was the first Midnight Madness event I have ever attended. The main reason I had passed in previous years was the midnight part. I’m more of a Eight O’clock Madness guy myself. I was not disappointed.

I have seen fans on the message board upset about the empty seats and saying Friday night lacked the enthusiasm of last year. Well, since it wasn’t the first event in a brand new arena following a National Championship with a returning nucleus of seniors that helped win that title, I guess this year’s event may have lost a bit of the edge. Regardless, it was still an exciting and spectacular way to start a new basketball season.

For the Terrapin coaches and players, it’s now time to get to work.

Notes From Under the Shell
For those wanting to see more pure basketball, the Terps will hold their annual Red-White scrimmage on Saturday, November 1 at the Comcast Center. This is open to the public and free of charge. The time is tentatively set for 10 a.m., but may change depending on the kickoff time for the Maryland-North Carolina game at Byrd Stadium that day. Keep an eye on the Terp Town message board for updates.

Caner-Medley has been selected for the first LeFrank Scholarship for men’s basketball. This is a scholarship that will be awarded annually to a player who exhibits extraordinary athletic, leadership, and scholarship abilities. Congratulations Nik!

Opening Arguements

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated on Yahoo

Hear ye, hear ye! Men’s college basketball practices have begun, so that means court is back in session.

Around the ACC, schools approached their opening festivities in different ways this weekend. In Chapel Hill, before a packed Smith Center crowd approaching 22,000, Late Night with Roy proved it will not challenge David Letterman’s version, but returning savior Roy Williams and his players did entertain with comedy skits and alleged dancing”.

Maryland went with high-tech glitz (fog, laser show, music) followed by Coach Gary Williams riding slowly onto the court perched on a Harley motorcycle wearing a leather jacket.

There was little of this frivolity at Duke, however. Coach K, reminding everyone that he stands
above the unwashed masses, told the Durham Herald-Sun, “I’m not going to ride a motorcycle in or put sideburns on and do an Elvis impersonation.” Instead, the school began their “Morning Mayhem” by introducing injured former star Jason Williams, who stood at center court on his crutches while the crowd’s affection rolled over him in waves.

Other schools like Wake Forest and NC State will wait to have their season opening celebration, tying it in with their first full scrimmage. Clemson’s new coach Oliver Purnell decided to skip the public show entirely, preferring more serious closed practices.

Regardless of what did or did not happen in conjunction with “Midnight Madness” this is constant throughout the ACC schools this weekend—practice has started and it’s time to get to work.

I’ll open my coverage by addressing some of the issues I’ve recently been pondering (Often while I’m in the shower, where I do most of my best thinking. Sorry if that’s too much information for you).

Like most ACC fans, I am glad to see Roy Williams back in the conference. If I have to hear him talk one more time about the agonizing process he went through in deciding to leave Kansas, however, I WILL SCREAM! Having to put a parent or loved one in a nursing home, ending a marriage, firing an employee—those are agonizing decisions. Choosing which multi-million dollar coaching position to take--that is an opportunity. I’m sure it was a difficult move to make, but let’s keep some perspective here.

Have you noticed what’s going on in Tallahassee? They are enjoying recruiting success that has nothing to do with Bobby Bowden. Leonard Hamilton is exceeding everyone’s (except his own) expectations with the studs he has landed the last couple of seasons.

Signing Tim Pickett two years ago and Von Wafer and Alexander Johnson last year have built a strong foundation for Seminoles basketball. He has added to that by obtaining commitments from Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann, two top 50 national recruits, this fall. Visiting teams are going to have a rough time on their visits to Tallahassee from now on, and they will even have to be concerned when the ‘Noles come to play in their house.

Am I the only one who thinks NC State is overrated this season? I know they have some fine talent on the roster. Julius Hodge is probably the best all-around player in the conference, and the return of Ilian Evtimov will be a boost. Marcus Melvin and Scooter Sherrill give the Pack a core of players that can pass and knock down perimeter shots.

I have a tough time, however, seeing a team ranked nationally (as State is in several preseason previews) that lacks BOTH a proven center and a proven point guard. Sure, the Wolfpack can shoot the lights out, but if they can’t rebound or bring the ball up against pressure defense, they’re not going to get enough shots to win. If Hodge is forced to play point guard, Coach Sendek will have to make sure his players don’t stand around on offense and wait for their star to do something.

This is a middle of the pack…sorry, bunch team at best this season. On the nights the shots are falling, they can beat most teams in the nation. When they are not shooting well, however, there are a LOT of teams out there that can and will knock off NC State.

The Sporting News has ranked Duke #1 in the nation. Has a #1 team ever had more questions to answer than this season’s Blue Devils?

Will Duhon play up to the level of his ability this season, which he fell far short of last season? Will Sean Dockery have to step in and run the team if Duhon falters? Who will replace the toughness and fire that Dahntay Jones brought to the court last season? Maybe Shelden Williams, who will be a force inside for Coach K, maybe Daniel Ewing if he gets enough playing time.
Will Shavlik Randolph be a contributor after a disappointing, injury-marred season last year? Does the fact that Randolph is recovering from hip surgery while adding 20-30 pounds of bulk seem like an odd combination? Won’t the extra bulk, even if most of it is muscle, put more strain on the hip? Will Sally tell Biff that the baby is really his? Oh, sorry, this was just sounding a plot line for a soap opera, ‘As the Blue Devil Turns.”

Don’t misunderstand me, I think Duke will be very good, but projecting them number one or even in the national top five is a stretch. If the same players wore Georgia Tech or Virginia jerseys, for example, they probably wouldn’t even be in the top ten. Part of that is Coach K, part of that is reputation. We’ll see if they live up to the latter.

I join those analysts that think expansion will water down ACC basketball. Looking ahead, Virginia Tech should replace Clemson at the bottom of the conference with Miami not far in front of either. Boston College could be in the middle with a strong recruiting class.

At least BC has recent success to build on. Miami misses Leonard Hamilton, and Virginia Tech has been bad for a while. It was one thing when the ACC added Florida State and the other football programs had to improve to catch them. It’s another thing entirely for programs like Miami and Virginia Tech to come in and have to catch several schools just to be competitive. It will take some time, if it happens at all.

I’ll be adding coverage of these future members to my columns this year as we all gain familiarity with their basketball programs.

Question for the Jury: I received an e-mail from a reader questioning my description of the ACC as a “southeastern” league. The reader felt the membership was as much mid-atlantic as it was southeastern. How do you view the geography of the pre-expansion ACC and how does the inclusion of Boston College change that? Does it even matter? Please share your thoughts at

CourtMaster Briefs:
After dropping out of school last spring, NC State big man Jordan Collins will not be eligible to play until after the end of the fall semester in mid-December, but he is practicing with the team.

The same cannot be said for Virginia forward Devin Smith. Coach Pete Gillen announced last week that he would neither play nor practice for an undetermined period of time. No reason was given for this action. Gillen would not confirm reports that this would last through the end of the first semester. After last season’s problems with Jermaine Harper and Keith Jennifer, Gillen did not need this kind of start to the new season.

Adam Simmons, a redshirt freshman center at NC State, is the stepson of Duke’s women’s basketball coach Gail Goestenkors. I wonder if he ever looks at a decision Coach Sendek makes and thinks, “That’s not what my stepmother would have done.”

Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at
In my next column, I rank the coaches in the ACC from bottom to top. Until then, court is adjourned!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

ACC Expansion: The Next Chapter

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

The Atlantic Coast conference completed its expansion quest on Sunday by unanimously voting to invite Boston College as it’s 12th (and presumably final) member. Even Duke and North Carolina, the strongest anti-expansion forces in the conference, apparently relented and presented a unified front for the ACC for the first time since expansion discussions became public last spring.

Rev. William Leahy, the President of Boston College, quickly accepted the ACC’s invitation and will rescind their membership in the Big East conference, as Miami and Virginia Tech chose to do in June.

The effective date of this move was not immediately certain. In all likelihood, this would not take effect until 2005, leaving the ACC at 11 members for the 2004-2005 athletic seasons. With 12 members in 2005, the conference will be allowed to hold a conference championship football game, one of the main reasons for expansion in the first place.

This move came as little surprise to those who had been following the situation closely. That group does not appear to include Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, whose public whining about the ACC’s raid of his league brought this issue to the public consciousness last spring.

Tranghese released a statement Sunday in which he said, “Our membership is very surprised that the ACC Presidents continue to come back into our league for membership.” Hey guys, pick up the sports page every now and then and keep up with the news, or at least have someone read it to you.

In the meantime, Traghese is leading a raid of schools from Conference USA, preparing to add Marquette, DePaul, Cincinnati, and Louisville. The Big East leaders consider that a different situation because, they claim, they have been very up front working with Conference USA membership to facilitate an orderly transition.

To me, this is analogous to the difference between someone robbing your home when you aren’t there vs. a burglar knocking at your door and robbing you at gunpoint. I’m sure if the latter happened to any of the Big East leadership, they would say, “Well, at least the thief had the common courtesy to rob me to my face.” Yeah, right!

Now the bidding will begin in earnest for the lucrative (estimated at up to $10 million in revenue) conference championship game. The ACC will likely divide into two divisions, at least for football.

The Raleigh News and Observer reported that tentative divisions were discussed at the recent ACC meetings. One division would have Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, Miami, and Georgia Tech. The other division would contain Maryland, Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest, Florida State, and presumably Boston College.

The scheduling plans announced for 2004 and 2005 football will now have to be revised, at least for 2005, with the addition of the 12th team, and it remains to be seen if the divisional alignment will be tinkered with at that time.

It is also not clear how this will affect the basketball schedule guidelines determined at the same time. Each team was given two “Designated Rivals” they would play twice every year within a 16-game schedule. The addition of Boston College will obviously affect this in a manner yet to be determined.

If you want my two cents worth (and who wouldn’t) the conference schedule should grow to 18 games. This would give each conference school the opportunity to play seven teams twice and four teams once every year. Expand the designated rivals to three per school.

Give Boston College former Big East members Miami and Virginia Tech as designated rivals and add Maryland, the closest school geographically. This would also allow the conference to correct flaws in the original plan, such as reinstating the automatic second game between Duke and NC State, while Wake Forest could drop Georgia Tech and add Duke and North Carolina. The tobacco road rivalries are still the backbone of the ACC and should be preserved by any reasonable means possible.

I doubt there will be any celebrations of this news in Boston, even if the Red Sox were not currently in the post-season. Boston is a pro sports town, and college athletics rank well down the list of sports priorities in Beantown and most of New England in general.

I have nothing against Boston College. It is a fine school with a solid athletic program. They would be a credit to any conference they chose to belong to. Just one thing bothers me, though; Boston is in the northeast, not the southeast. The Atlantic Coast Conference (at least Boston is on the Atlantic Coast unlike, say, South Bend, Indiana) was born from teams from the Southern conference. All of its previous (and until today, future) members were from the southeast. Do you see what I’m getting at here?

It doesn’t make much more sense geographically for Boston College to be part of the ACC as it did Miami belonging to the Big East. I suppose college sports have outgrown geography. As long as the numbers add up on the athletic departments’ bottom lines, a school could be in Guam and still be part of the picture.

The Atlantic Coast Conference took the final step Sunday to sell part of it’s geographic identity and sports tradition in order to keep their seat at the table with the rest of the major power brokers in Division I college sports. Over time, we will see how much of its soul was part of the deal.