Sunday, April 30, 2006

Should We Still Fear the Turtle-Part 1

Is the University of Maryland athletic program losing steam? After the football team won the ACC and played in the Orange Bowl following the 2001 season and the men’s basketball team won the 2002 national championship, Terrapin sports appeared to be at the apex of success.

To many Maryland fans, that seems like a long time ago. The football team has posted back-to-back 5-6 records and the men’s hoops squad has not earned invites to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. Have things gone to hell in a hand basket in just four years?

The answer to that question depends on how wide your focus is.

For many fans and alumni, the success of their school’s athletic program is largely defined by their football and men’s basketball teams. From that view, the good ship Terrapin has been taking on water over the last two years.

The drop-off on the basketball court has been striking. Maryland’s string of 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances was snapped in 2004-05, a mere three years following their national championship. The school’s bid to the 2004 tournament was hanging by a slim thread going into the final week of the regular season, but the Terps won their final two games and then swept through the ACC Tournament to earn the conference’s automatic spot.

Terp fans who have come to view a berth in the NCAA’s as the baseline for even a moderately successful season are up in arms about how the program could fall so far so quickly. This angst is exacerbated by the opening of Comcast Center in November, 2002. A sparkling new facility with every modern convenience should be a magnet for impressionable high school stars. They should be chomping at the bit to play there against ACC opponents in front of raucous crowds on national television.

Only they’re not, at least not the right type of players.

Maryland’s rise to national prominence was as much about the character of the players in the program as it was about their talent. Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, and Steve Blake, the foundation of the 2002 title team, were talented players, but it was the intangibles they brought to College Park that made a good team champions. They arrived on campus with a chip on their shoulder and responded to the one Coach Gary Williams has always carried around.

That type of player hasn’t been seen on campus since Blake finished his career in 2003. Williams is not known for being particularly “hands-on” in recruiting, relying on his assistants to do a large share of the evaluating and relationship building. When he had a stable staff of Billy Hahn, Dave Dickerson, and Jimmy Patsos, that worked very well. All three were part of building the program into a championship one which helped them earn head coaching opportunities for themselves. Some of their replacements (Matt Kovarik, Mike Lonergan, and most recently Rob Moxley) have also left, forcing Williams to adjust his recruiting practices.

During this transition, Maryland has attracted talented basketball players, but ones who lacked the character of Dixon, Baxter and Blake. In the past year, former players Chris McCray (a team captain) and Travis Garrison have had run-ins with the law. McCray also became academically ineligible, and the remaining four seniors dropped out of school before any of them earned a degree.

It is this issue that is reportedly causing tension between Williams and athletic director Dr. Debbie Yow, a very image-conscious leader and administrator. Of course, the mounting losses on the court don’t help either. Rumors have popped up about Williams showing interest in the Charlotte Bobcats coaching job. I have never been able to imagine Gary Williams as an NBA coach, seeing him as far to demanding for spoiled millionaires to tolerate. Nevertheless, it could be a way of Williams pushing back on Yow.

With the collection of knuckleheads who arrived on campus the fall following the national championship gone, this upcoming season is a critical one for Maryland basketball and the ability of Gary Williams to chart a new, more successful direction both on and off the court and finish his coaching career on an upswing.

Head football coach Ralph Friedgen faces the same type of pressure entering the 2006 season. I’ll share my thoughts on his situation in my next blog entry, then I’ll conclude this series by telling you why I think the Maryland athletic program is actually in excellent shape.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wolfpack Coaching Search-All Bark and No Bite

You know, I hate it when I'm right. The CourtMrs thinks it's fortunate I don't have to worry about it too often, but that's another issue.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that NC State fans who were lusting after the demise of then head basketball coach Herb Sendek were overestimating how attractive that job would be when it came open. So far, Texas' Rick Barnes, Memphis' John Calipari, West Virginia's John Beilein, and ESPN's Steve Lavin agree with me. The three current head coaches and one broadcaster have reportedly rejected ovetures, if not formal offers, from NC State.

According to this report in the Raliegh News & Observer, the leading candidates are now Phil Ford and Dereck Whittenberg. Ford, the greatest college point guard I've ever seen when he played at North Carolina in the mid-1970's, was an assistant coach there for several years but left when he had to deal with alcohol abuse. Ford is now on Larry Brown's staff with the New York Knicks.

Whittenburg, a former Wolfpack player, is best known for throwing up the air ball that Lorenzo Charles put in for the game winning shot in the 1983 National Championship game. He has enjoyed success as the head coach at Wagner College and is currently at Fordham University.

I don't think either of those coaches would cause North Carolina's Roy Williams or Duke's Coach K to lose any sleep, and therein lies the problem for Lee Fowler, NC State's athletic director.

Until either Williams or Coach K retire, the Wolffpack basketball program is destined to be the third best in the Triangle area. It is frustration with that fact along with the total lack of charisma former coach Herb Sendek displayed that fed the open revolt among State fans this spring.

The fans' attitude along with the competitive challenges at the program have contributed to the lack of interest in this job. The second thoughts of top Wolfpack recruit Larry Davis, a 6'2" guard from New York, also doesn't help matters

State is willing to pony up big bucks; reports indicated the offer on the table for Calipari approached $2 million annually. That kind of money, however, is available in enough other places that don't have two national champion coaches up the road to severly thin out the pool of realistic candidates.

Barring an amazing turn around in fortune or the uncovering of a diamond in the rough, the phrase "the good old days" and the name of Herb Sendek could be joinded together for Wolfpack fans in the near future.

The lesson here is to be careful what you wish for.

Friday, April 21, 2006

You Just Never Know Who's Reading

Last weekend, I commented on a story I linked to regarding a young man named Rafe Bartholomew who is on a Fullbright Scholarship to study basketball in the Philippines.

Lo and behold earlier this week, I received a nice e-mail from Mr. Bartholomew himself, still over in the Philippines. Here is his note below:


Thanks for the nice mention in your blog. I'm the Fulbright Scholar who's writing about basketball in the Philippines. I wanted to let you know I also have a blog, where I'm writing about my whole experience in the Philippines, including but not limited to basketball. I'm just having fun with it. You'll also find a link to a story I wrote in the Chicago Reader about a former DePaul player who spent his first season as a professional in the Philippine Basketball Association. Hope you enjoy it.

Rafe Bartholomew

Here is Rafe's blog, titled Manila Vanilla. He's obviously having a good time, and God bless him.

The moral of this story is directed toward my fellow bloggers. When we write about someone, no matter how far away they might be, you can never assume they won't read it; something to keep in mind, isn't it?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gay On His Way to Being an NBA Underachiever

On his Sporting News blog, national college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy shares his views on how UConn's Rudy Gay will fare in the NBA. I'm linking to it because I share his views.

Gay, to the surprise of no one, declared for the NBA draft following his sophomore season. In his two years at Connecticut, he has teased fans with his talent. I don't know if anyone thinks either J. J. Redick or Adam Morrison is more talented than Gay, (I sure don't), yet Gay's name was mostly an afterthought in the Player of the Year debate this year that centered on Redick and Morrison.

If Gay's passion for the game even came close to matching that of either Redick or Morrison, he would have been the one making the tour picking up award hardware.

Decourcy writes, "Gay is a mirage. His talent says one thing. His performance says another. His talent says he is long, electrically quick, preternaturally balanced and extremely skilled. His performance says he is soft, reticent, uncertain of what type of player he is now or eventually should become."

That's pretty harsh, but it matches up with what I saw the last two years.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Good News: Wheelchair Football

How cool is this? I ran across this anouncement that members of the University of Toledo football team will be participating in the fourth annual game between the Rockets and the Toledo Crash, a wheelchair football team. The game is Wednesday night and will benefit The Ability Center of Greater Toledo. Photos from last year's game are here.

I remember watching a wheelchair basketball team putting on an exhibition at my junior high school way back when and how amazed I was at the shots they could make that I could never dream of on two good legs. The idea of wheelchair football had never occurred to me until i saw this yesterday.

If you are interested in learning more about wheelchair football, there is information on the NCPAD (The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability) web page.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Cool Toys!

Columnist Rick Maese of the Baltimore Sun writes about the newest toy, er tool that University of Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen has picked up. It can be yours too, if you have $240,000.

The Pro Simulator is essentially a John Madden video game on steriods (fortunately there is no testing for video equipment). It is programmable with an entire offensive and defensive playbook and also detail size, strength, and speed of the players at each position. This tool allows players to use something they are familiar with (video games) to learn how to read defenses. This should be particularly valuable for reserves that don't get as much practice time as the starters.

Coach Friedgen has always been known for being on the cutting edge of technology, going back to when he was an NFL assistant coach for San Diedo in the early 1990's, and he's there again with this system.

Now I know what to put on my Christmas list-I'm sure the CourtMrs would love to learn how to throw against a two-deep zone.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Good News: Basketball in the Philippines

Good news can be a bit offbeat, and I believe this story qualifies. This is the first time I'm linked to a piece published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but bear with me while I explain why it's worth your time to check out.

This story, which I found via the NCAA's blog Double-A Zone, is about the experiences of a Northwestern University graduate who received a prestigious Fullbright scholarship for travelling to the Philippines--to study basketball.

If you think that's a bit out of the way to go for hoops since we have plenty here in the good 'ol US of A, you would be correct. Rafe Bartholomew, the journalism graduate who is undertaking the study, feels it is worth the trip. The game of basketball is described in the story as "a national obsession" where players are "elevated to a godlike status."

Bartholomew says "It's a part of people's lives at really every level of society here. It's no different than studying religion." He also believes that basketball's grip is greater in the Philippines than in the United States, something I would have never imagined.

The story also tell us that "The most devoted followers are groups of transvestites who attend every game, their unbridled enthusiasm tolerated, even secretly embraced, by the most macho of players."

Yeah, NOW you want to read about hoops in the Philippines, don't you?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good News: From Liberia to Happy Valley

There is a wonderful cover story in this week's Sporting News about former Penn State defensive linemanTamba Hali. As an eight-year old, he watched public executions in his home country of Liberia. At 22 years old, he earned All-American honors as a defensive end at Penn State and will likely be chosen on the first day of the upcoming NFL draft. It's a great story about a family that became divided when the father escaped to the United States but was reunited over here years later. It's about survival and taking advantage of opportunities.

This is a very pleasant contrast from players who have been pampered since early in their high school careers and developed a sense of entitlement (one of my pet peeves). Hali has an appreciation for what he has now and hopefully will maintain that after he starts cashing checks in the NFL.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Some College Hoops Coaching Notes

I have a few thoughts on coaching news of the past few days:

According to ESPN's Andy Katz, John Calipari would have left Memphis to take the NC State job but for the fact that he was not sure he could compete against North Carolina and Duke. My observations of Calipari over the years has led me to think he has a pretty healthy ego, and it's hard for me to imagine him backing down from that challenge. Katz had better be right or else he's likely to have an angry Calipari to deal with down the line.

Jeff Capel was hired at Oklahoma after compiling a 79-41 record at Virginia Commonwealth over four years. Capel is only 31 years old and may still be best known as a former player for Coach K at Duke. Unlike most recent Blue Devil alumi, Capel had to deal with adversity during his Duke career; his senior year was the season Coach K was out on medical leave. The Coach K coaching tree has come down with a serious fungus condition recently, so it will be interesting to see if he is up for the task of competing against Kansas, Texas, and Kansas State with new coach Bob Huggins. I've got my doubts.

I think Temple made an excellent hire when they drew Fran Dunphy away from Penn. Dunphy has long been rumored as a candidate to move out of The Ivy League, where he won 10 titles in 17 years with Penn. Dunphy's personality is radically different from the retired John Cheney (that's a good thing) but fans and high school coaches in Philadelphia already know him well. The Owls' program has slipped in recent years, but Dunphy is in position to rebuild it fairly quickly. Jumping back up toward the top of the Atlantic 10 wouldn't take that much, and I expect Temple to quickly return to the NCAA tournament.

Of course, a coach doesn't have to switch jobs in order to get a big payday. Calipari may come close to doubling his salary, which was already over $1 million. Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon got a fat raise with his 10-year extension (like he's really going to stay there 10 years). Even Kent State coach Jim Christian, fresh off a MAC championship, received a seven-year extension that will make him the highest paid coach in the MAC.

The NC State job remains the biggest position currently in play. Once athletic director Lee Fowler makes his hire, that could spur a whole new cycle of dominoes falling. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Have A Question? Ask Myles Brand

One of the changes in the NCAA since Myles Brand took over as president is more openness and interaction with the fans that buy the tickets and merchandise that pump so many millions of dollars into college sports.

Brand's latest move toward communicating with the masses is a weekly Q&A session on the NCAA's blog, "Double-A Zone." Blogger Josh Cantor is soliciting questions from his readers to ask President Brand during "Mondays With Myles", and I would encourage everyone to participate. He apparently is not just looking for softball questions either, so if you have concerns about the Academic Progress Rate or the disbritubtion of the hundreds of millions of dollars from the NCAA basketball tournament, ask him.

Here's the information on submitting questions.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The CourtMaster Look Ahead

You may have noticed that I haven't posted that much during the past week. To be honest, I needed to step back a bit after going hard since pre-season college football practice began last August. I had a lot of fun writing for Southern Pigskin and Duke Basketball Report along with what I posted directly here. There have been a lot of radio appearances too, especially with my buddy Bob Hayine on WNST 1570 in Baltimore and Thom Abraham on WUMP 730 in Huntsville, AL.

So what lies ahead for The CourtMaster?

My posts here will take one of three forms:

1) Continued commentary on the news in college sports, primarily football and men's basketball. I'll dip into other sports as the occassion presents itself, as I have with recent posts about women's hoops and men's lacrosse.

2) A lot of sports commentary has, by it's nature, a negative tone to it. Let's face it, columns that rip some deserving knucklehead are usually easier to write and entertaining to read. I want to go beyond that and run a continuing series calles "Good News in College Sports." Just like it says, I want to highlight stories you may not have heard about but are worth your time. The good news in sports doesn't often attract headlines, but they will here.

3) Over the past few years, I've accumulated a library of over 500 books written about college sports which continues to grow. I'll be going through some of them this spring and summer and sharing my book reviews with you. Some will be for recently published titles, others will go back 50 years or more. I hope you'll enjoy them and share your comments if you have read one that I review.

That's how the next few months on "The CourtMaster Rules on College Sports" shakes out at this point. I'll also be entering into an additional venture over the next few weeks that I'll let you know about.

I'd like to personally thank each of the 11,000 visitors I've had since Labor Day, but hopefully you'll accept a sincere "Thanks!" here.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The CourtMaster's Closing Arguements

Originally submitted to the Duke Basketball Report 4/4/06

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in its final session for the 2005-06 college basketball season. Yep, it’s time to drop the gavel one more time for my final DBR CourtMaster column.

I like things that are symmetrical, so I thought I would wrap things up the way I started them back in October; by sharing my thoughts on the state of the ACC.

I have seen this season referred to by numerous media types as a “down” one for the ACC. In some ways, especially regarding the NCAA tournament, it was. Any year a conference as strong as the ACC doesn’t get a team as far as the Elite Eight is a disappointment.

The league did have, however, one of the more popular choices for coach of the year (North Carolina’s Roy Williams), player of the year (Duke’s J. J. Redick) and freshman of the year (Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough). From my chambers, it’s hard to call a season in which the league hauled some major hardware like that a “down” one, so I won’t and I suggest you don’t either.

I’m more concerned with looking ahead in this column to what I think looms ahead for the ACC.

The conference is deep, it’s balanced, and there are two programs currently among the nation’s elite. That’s an excellent foundation to have in place and continue building upon.

Although there were no great teams in the ACC this season, there weren’t any terrible ones either. Only two teams did not earn post season bids, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. The Hokies were beset by injuries and personal tragedies, yet remained competitive. The Yellow Jackets were extremely young and have an excellent recruiting class coming in.

The only team I see in danger of slipping toward bad is Wake Forest. They finished last in the conference this season and the core of their roster was comprised of seniors. The Demon Deacons appear headed toward a rough patch of road the next couple of years.

The ACC has seldom seen better balance. The middle six teams in the conference standings posted records between 10-6 and 7-9 in league play. It was that balance in part that contributed to only four schools making the NCAA tournament. It was hard picking one or two out of the fifth through ninth place teams, so none made it. I expect at least two of those teams to rise up enough to earn additional tickets for the big dance next year.

Duke and North Carolina are clearly the two best programs in the conference and among the best in the nation along with Connecticut, While I think Duke will slip a bit next year, that should be only a slight drop-off and not last long. Carolina is my very, very early pick to win it all next season. If you knew how bad my brackets were this year, you would realize that was the kiss of death for the Tar Heels.

I wrote back in October that I thought Duke and Carolina were in position to dominate the ACC for the next few years, probably until either Roy Williams or Coach K retires. In some ways, this is good news for the conference. A trend of not having teams in the Final Four would chip away at the reputation of the ACC, but these two schools should be contenders for the foreseeable future.

There are several other schools in any given year that could pop up to challenge for the ACC and national titles. I am not prepared to write off schools like Boston College, Maryland, and Georgia Tech—I believe those schools belong in the “pop up category.” The others will be fighting for spots on the NCAA bubble or the NIT, with NC State a big question mark until their coaching situation is resolved.

I grew up watching ACC basketball in the early 1970’s when NC State, Maryland, and North Carolina were among the best teams in the nation and the conference was clearly the premier basketball league. There may be a year here and there where the ACC slips a bit like this season, but over time I feel the best college basketball has been and will be played in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The CourtMaster’s Briefs

The vocal anti-Herb Sendek hating branch of NC State fans had their dream come true this weekend when we learned Sendek was leaving to take the job at Arizona State. It’s hard to imagine that the phrase “I’ve had enough of this crap” didn’t run through his mind during the decision making process.

I’ve recently written that I think the Wolfpack fans have overvalued how attractive that job currently is. When Sendek was hired, he was a successful mid-major coach at Miami of Ohio. I suspect that’s the pool they will be drawing from again. Perhaps they’ll look at former players like Dereck Whittenberg (head coach at Fordham) or Monte Towe (head coach at New Orleans), or maybe a hot mid-major man like Mart Turgeon (Wichita State), Winthrop’s Gregg Marshall, or even the Cinderella man himself, George Mason’s Jim Larranaga.

Are any of these candidates a sure bet to succeed at Raleigh, just down the road from Coach K and Roy Williams and battling in the tough ACC? Not really. Just what will fans consider success since five straight NCAA tournament appearances was not enough for Sendek to earn their love? Do they want another Jim Valvano who cut corners with academics and recruiting rules but won a national championship and, more importantly, had the type of charisma Sendek so painfully lacked?

NC State athletic director Lee Fowler is in a tough spot because his fan base is perceived by coaches like Texas’ Rick Barnes as a liability. This will be an interesting story to watch, and I’ll be commenting on it in my blog at

Sendek came across as the boring history teacher whose class you would fall asleep in, but later in life you recognize how much you actually learned from him. He’s always impressed me as nothing but a class act and I wish him well in Tempe.

That’s it for the CourtMaster here at DBR for a while. I’ll probably pop up from time to time, including a book review on “The Krzyzewskiville Tales” coming soon. I want to thank the gang at DBR, especially James and Julio, for hosting The CourtMaster column again this season. They’ve always given me complete autonomy to write whatever I want, even when some of my points were not popular with their readership base, and they’ve been very supportive. Thanks guys!

It’s been a lot of fun being part of DBR this season. Check out my blog if you get a chance, or drop me a line at

Until next time, court is adjourned!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Terps Women-National Hoops Champion

I'm sure glad that when I fell off the George Mason men's basketball bandwagon, I was able to latch on to the one for Maryland women's hoops.

Congratulations to the national champion Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team. Winning the school's first title in the sport would have been sweet enough by itself, but to defeat North Carolina and Duke in the Final Four was the proverbial icing on the cake.

I wish the Terps' men's teams over the last couple of seasons had the toughness and heart that the ladies showed on their march to the championsip. Their semi-final victory over the Tar Heels was as intense and physical a basketball game as you could want to see, and the championship match was close behind.

Major kudos goes to head coach Brenda Freese, who has rebuilt the Maryland program in only four years, duplicating and then exceeding her turnaround success at Ball State and Minnesota, where she was named national Coach of the Year in 2001-02. Some of Freese's contemporaries in the coaching profession don't much care for her hard-charging ways, whining about her going over the top at times in recruiting. The same type of complaints are heard about Florida's men's coach Billy Donovan, who took home the championship trophy Monday night. Coincidence--I think not.

I don't follow women's college hoops closely and as a result don't write much about it. Even a casual glance at the Maryland starting lineup Tuesday night though, featuring one junior, two sophomores, and two freshmen (why aren't they called "freshwomen" anyway?) makes one wonder if Coach Freese has a dynasty in the making.

The Terps will certainly be challenged in the near future by both North Carolina and Duke. Both schools are perennial contenders for the ACC title and Final Four berths. This season was the first time three schools from the same conference have reached the Final Four at the same time, and the ACC could certainly duplicate that soon.

Maryland should begin next season as #1, and the new challenge for Freese will be to make sure her players don't sit back and read their press clippings instead of improving their games. With the Tar Heels and Blue Devils around, they don't have much room for error.

I happened to notice that the WNBA draft was held Wednesday in Boston, the site of the Final Four. They don't give the girls much time to cool off, do they?

The Terps' title also reminded me about how perceptions of a school's athletic program can get out of whack. This is the third national championship Maryland has won this scholastic year. This fall they won titles in field hockey and men's soccer. Yet some of the natives are restless because the football team has posted consecutive 5-6 records and the men's basketball team has missed the NCAA's the last two seasons.

Many alumni, boosters, or just casual fans just look at the success of the two marquee teams to evaluate how their school's athletic program is faring. By that evaulation, Maryland is struggling. Any school with three national championships in a season, however (and perhaps another to come in men's lacrosse) is doing a lot of things right, even if a lot of fans don't notice.