John Calipari continues to seed NBA rosters

Calipari continues to bring NBA-in-waiting talent to Kentucky at a remarkable rate.

      
 

 

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UNC Basketball: Dean Smith’s Legacy Continues to Live on in Today’s Coaches

Dean Smith’s last game as a college basketball coach was in 1997 when his North Carolina team fell to eventual national champion Arizona in the Final Four.

But even though it’s been more than 17 years since Smith was the coach of record in any contest, his influence on the modern game is so prevalent it’s like he’s been an assistant for most of the top programs in the nation.

From current UNC coach Roy Williams, who has referred to his former boss as “one of the great mentors,” to any number of Division I coaches who learned under him, to even longtime rival Mike Kryzewski at Duke, Smith is regarded with the kind of adoration and adulation that legendary UCLA coach John Wooden received.

And rightfully so.

From 1961 to 1997 Smith collected 879 victories, all with the Tar Heels, winning two national championships (1982 and 1993) and reaching the Final Four 11 times. The time span between his first and last Final Four is an astounding 30 years, during which time the tournament expanded from 23 to 64 teams.

Yet for as much credit as he gets for the wins and titles, what continues to keep Smith relevant and keeps him impacting the game so long after retirement has very little to do with his famous Four Corners offense or anything on the court. Instead, it’s how his relationships with players and coaches away from the gym served as a backbone for how some of today’s best coaches handle their interactions with both superstars and walk-ons.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said as much in a recent blog he posted on his personal website, CoachCal.com:

It may seem crazy to think that something so logical as making it about the kids as innovative, but Dean Smith made it part of the foundation that we coach on today. You’ve heard me say many times that during the season it’s about our team but the minute it’s over it’s about each individual player. Well, I got that straight from Dean Smith. He spoke that way through the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and he inspired me to do the same. Dean Smith was the original players-first coach.

Calipari and Smith never faced each other in a game as head coaches, but that didn’t mean Smith didn’t influence the career of one of today’s most successful program leaders. Calipari’s blog talks of learning how Smith never let anything get in the way of his interaction with his players: a laundry list of talent that ranged from Michael Jordan to Jerry Stackhouse to Rasheed Wallace. And this wasn’t just when they were in the program, but after, as Calipari recalls working at a UNC camp one summer when he learned how dedicated Smith was to his players:

If a call came through from one of his players, it did not matter who was in his office, what meeting he was in or what he was doing; she (Smith’s secretary) was to break in on the conversation and put him through to the player – who, by the way, may have played for him 20 years ago and just needed his advice on something.

Smith recently turned 83 years old, and in November he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. It might have been one of his last coherent memories, as the Hall of Fame coach is suffering from dementia, according to the Washington Post’s John Feinstein.

Feinstein wrote back in February that Smith hasn’t had his wits about him for some time, which is something the writer first noticed almost a decade earlier. As heartbreaking as that sounds, though, he ended his piece on Smith with the most fitting of disclaimers, noting that “Dean Smith can no longer remember all the lives he touched. But he should be remembered every single day—on his birthday, today and forever.”

Smith had an arena named after him while he was still coaching, but his legacy will live on far beyond the on-campus Dean E. Smith Center that UNC packs for every home game. He’ll be remembered in every situation where a basketball coach takes the time to think about his players before worrying about the scoreboard or the stat sheet.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Danny Ainge continues to downplay upcoming draft, what’s his plan?

I don’t know if Danny Ainge is playing a game of poker with the other GM’s across the NBA. Ainge seems to always have an angle, and his love of the upcoming draft is in the friend zone. He’s not overly warm about the upcoming draft, and honestly I don’t want the Celtics to bank on drafting players as the only way to improve. Ainge has a star on his team that he needs to maximize while he’s in his prime. Rondo isn’t getting any younger, so this summer is the best time to build towards the bigger picture. It’s unclear this early if Ainge has any specific star in mind that he plans to go after this summer. We know some rumors, like Kevin Love’s name being out there. We do know that Ainge built the Celtics roster to capitalize on the opportunities that he worked so hard for this past summer. Ainge has continued to call this draft over hyped, and as I said, is he gambling with other GM’s? With his act of disregard for the draft keep his phone ringing o…

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Kobe Bryant Continues Critique of LA Lakers Brass, Despite His Selfish Move

Kobe Bryant has publicly voiced his demand that Los Angeles Lakers management forgo a rebuilding process and enter the 2014-15 NBA season with a championship-quality team. He told reporters this much in a press conference where he announced he would not return for the remainder of the campaign. Then there were the rumors of Kobe not being interested in having coach Mike D’Antoni back next season. Kobe’s “encouragement” of Jim Buss continued in an interview with ESPN’s Darren Rovell (via Dave McMenamin): “But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.” In theory, Kobe comes off as a fierce competitor, willing to do whatever it takes to win that elusive sixth NBA Championship—even publicly putting pressure on a front office like rarely seen from a player who just signed a new contract. While Kobe is pointing fingers at Lakers management…

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Michigan Continues to Shoot the Lights Out vs. Texas, Cruises into Sweet 16

All coaches like to eliminate hope. Hope is for the gamblers. Hope is for the brackets. Coaches like preparation and controlling situations.

Until you see Michigan and John Beilein in your bracket. Then it’s time to go buy a lucky rabbit’s foot.

Texas became the latest victim of the hardest offense to guard in college basketball on Saturday afternoon, losing to Michigan 79-65, and entering the offseason with sore necks as the Horns helplessly watched 14 threes go through the net.

Hopeless in Milwaukee.

Beilein appears to have his team playing its best (and most confident) basketball again in March, one year after the run to the national championship game. And there may not be a darn thing anyone can do about it. 

See, there are those who live and die by the three. (The Duke Blue Devils, please raise your hands.) Then there’s the Wolverines, living and thriving on jumpers on their way through another bracket.

Beilein’s two-guard offense has always been hard to guard. He did, after all, win his 700th game on Saturday.

Last year was a real chore for opposing defenses when Beilein had Trey Burke, the National Player of the Year, running off endless ball screens and setting the table for talented scorers around him.

This year it might be even harder, as Beilein has five shooters—at least three on the court at all times—knocking down better than 39 percent of their threes. The worst shooter statistically in Michigan’s rotation, Glenn Robinson III, knocked down two of three treys. 

When Robinson is on as well, don’t just hope. Pray. 

It’s a wonder where Michigan is now. This is a team that many were ready to write off in mid-December when Mitch McGary, the breakout star of last March, decided to sit out the rest of the season because of a back injury. At that time, Michigan was 6-4 with one of those losses coming to Charlotte. 

The Wolverines responded by winning the Big Ten and becoming a more efficient offense than last year’s team that led the nation in efficiency. 

But McGary did leave one hole. Jordan Morgan has done a more than respectable job filling in, but the Wolverines do not have great size. 

Texas posed a real threat on Saturday. Conventional wisdom said the Horns should have been able to exploit the Wolverines in the paint. Texas starts two legitimate post players, one of them a mountain of a man in 285-pound Cameron Ridley. 

The Horns were able to dominate the offensive glass—rebounding 21 of their misses—but that hardly mattered with Michigan shooting 50 percent from distance. 

Poor Rick Barnes spent his afternoon grasping for some kind of defense—mixing in multiple zone looks—to try to take away those outside looks. But Beilein always had an answer to get his guys their shots. He always does.

Because you can game-plan to try to keep a team out of the paint, you can game-plan for one shooter. But it’s incredibly difficult to game-plan for a team that is more than content with taking jump shots all afternoon.

Now, Michigan is headed for the Sweet 16 and two more good shooting nights away from a second straight Final Four.

Next up could be Tennessee, another team with great size inside and the potential to control the paint.

If the Vols are able to beat Mercer on Sunday, someone alert Cuonzo Martin to bring his lucky rabbit’s foot to Indianapolis.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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76ers streak continues, lose hearbreaker to Knicks

The 76ers lost for the 23rd-consecutive game, quickly approaching the NBA record of 26.

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Durant continues scoring binge as Thunder top Bulls

Durant poured in 35 points, his 32nd straight game with at least 25.

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Dwight Howard continues to get laughs with impressions

Whenever Dwight Howard’s NBA career is over, he should be able to easily get a gig doing impersonations of his professional basketball counterparts.
Before the Rockets took the court against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night, Howard provided a spot-on impression of former NBA player and current TNT analyst Charles Barkley.
Earlier this month, Howard delivered on a fan request to do his best Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal impersonations while signing autographs. 
As if that wasn’t enough, Howard does a decent LeBron James voice too as he displayed during the All-Star break after greeting the Miami Heat star in the hallway prior to the All-Star game. 
Keep it up, Howard, soon you will have enough voices for a one-man comedy skit. 
Follow Shawn Ramsey on Twitter: @ShawnPRamsey

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Boston Celtics awful season continues

 
The Boston Celtics are getting harder and harder to watch this season, as they not only continue to pile up losses, but they are “accomplishing” these feats in an ugly fashion. As stated many times before, this isn’t surprising in the least, regardless, it is still unbearable to behold.
The offensive output of this team has been less than futile recently, as they’ve lost their three games this past week, while not shooting 40% as a team in either of those three games. Their defense has remained in the middle of the pack, something that doesn’t sound astounding, but with the players on the roster it is definitely an accomplishment.
In regards to the Celtics offense, the thought of all-star point guard Rajon Rondo all of a sudden making them significantly better has proven to be laughable. Even with Rondo at the helm the past several years, the Celtics offense hasn’t been any better than league average (and that was with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen). The truth is, that…

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Doug McDermott Continues to Overshadow Hyped Freshmen in Player of the Year Race

Doug McDermott casually glided up the court. In one of the most frantic moments of the Creighton Bluejays’ season, he reached the mid-court line and began tiptoeing, as if he were a mid-40s YMCA player exhausted from one too many times up and down the floor. It was perhaps the least athletic gait you’ll see in all of college basketball this season.

And then McDermott sprung to action. With his hands cocked at his side in perfect catch-and-shoot position, McDermott waited for Austin Chatman to pound the ball up the floor and off to Jahenns Manigat, who dribbled toward the break and then send a pass to him. Catching the ball with a defender flying over a screen and toward his shot, McDermott fell to his back as he launched a 25-footer.

All net.

McDermott’s shot came with 2.5 seconds remaining and served as the game-winner in Creighton’s 63-60 win over St. John’s on Tuesday night. It was the second time McDermott has hit a clutch shot to clinch a win this season, but it was the first time he’s done so before his home crowd. 

“At home this is the best feeling I’ve ever had,” McDermott said, via the Associated Press (h/t ESPN). “That Saint Joe’s one was pretty good, too. This tops it.”

The senior forward had a season-high 39 of his team’s 63 points, but the occasion rarely felt colossal until that final shot. All of it was merely in a night’s work for McDermott, the nation’s second-leading scorer and quite possibly the front-runner for the National Player of the Year Award.

Sure, McDermott is far from new on the college basketball scene. As a senior who has exhausted every last bit of his eligibility, the college basketball world is well versed in what McDermott has to offer—if you’ve taken the time to pay attention.

McDermott is in his third straight season of averaging at least 20 points and seven rebounds. He’s shot better than 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc since arriving in the small Catholic university of less than 8,000 situated in a city perhaps most famous for being a pre-snap call from Peyton Manning. 

So McDermott is far from new. Why is it now, four years into the making, that he’s finally seen as some transformative figure in college hoops?

For some, perhaps it’s the dichotomy between him and the players who were supposed to be putting up McDermott numbers this season—Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle. It’s the same fearsome freshman class that was supposed to render the old models leftover from last season obsolete and send NBA general managers into full-scale deconstruction mode.

Wiggins, anointed as God himself in a basketball uniform before ever setting foot in Lawrence, became the second freshman in history to be named to the Associated Press preseason All-America team. He and McDermott joined Michigan’s Mitch McGary as the forwards selected. Randle replaced McGary on CBS Sports’ All-American roster. Sporting News gave a nod to Parker.

It’s a bit ironic that Parker, playing the best of that triad, was probably given the least accolades coming in despite his high profile. And it’s equally amusing that Kansas center Joel Embiid, absent almost entirely from the preseason hubbub, would probably be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft if the season ended today.

When it comes to college basketball, though, McDermott has separated himself head, shoulders, knees and toes as the best and at times most entertaining player in college basketball.

Among the highest-usage players in the nation—those who represent at least 28 percent of their team’s offensive possessions—McDermott has the fifth-best offensive rating in basketball, per kenpom.com (subscription required).

Parker sits at 21st, and UConn’s Shabazz Napier is just barely excluded from the conversation due to his 27.8 percent usage rate. (Napier’s offensive rating is below McDermott’s regardless.)

Ken Pomeroy’s normalized Player of the Year rankings have McDermott dwarfing Parker and the field. Only 10 best scores are publicly made available, but third-place Nick Johnson is closer to Cleanthony Early than to McDermott—and that woefully undersells the chasm. Only Parker, who is currently going through a miserable shooting slump, can even begin to compare.

More than anything, McDermott is the ecosystem by which perhaps the nation’s best offense revolves. McDermott is a dead-eye three-point shooter and a vastly underrated post player who does damage from anywhere at any time. Teams have to account for his presence no matter where he stands on the floor, which makes St. John’s defenders crashing toward Chatman all the more perplexing.

They say great players make good players elite and replacement-level players good. The proof has certainly been in the numbers for Creighton this season. 

The Bluejays are averaging 125.0 points per 100 possessions in Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive rating, just behind Duke for tops in the nation. The Blue Devils win out because they’ve played a tougher schedule, but Creighton’s move to the new Big East has quelled all those “ain’t played nobody” criticisms once and for all.

Though, after Creighton dropped a 96-68 curb-stomp on then-No. 4 Villanova in Philadelphia last week, that probably went without saying. The Bluejays hit a Big East record 21 three-pointers on that night and led by more than 40 before ‘Nova had a late run. Ethan Wragge was the star on that night, tying a school record with nine three-pointers.

But even in a supporting role, McDermott had 23 points and five rebounds, knocking down five of his own from beyond the arc and earning effusive praise from Wildcats coach Jay Wright. 

“I think he’s the best player in the country, I really do,” Wright said, via ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. “I respect that our players respect him. I’m very impressed that our players like his game. I love his combination of skill and intelligence. It seems like he rarely takes a bad shot.”

McDermott has 17 games where he’s scored 20 points or more already this season. Wiggins, Parker and Randle have combined for 23. He’s been a better, more consistent outside scorer than either Wiggins or Parker and at times an even more lethal post threat than Randle, a talented but frustrating player who has a propensity to be a black hole.

Granted, it’s patently unfair to foist the same expectations on all four men. McDermott is a 22-year-old man. He’s been through this grind before on three previous occasions. Randle, Wiggins and Parker are barely old enough to buy a lottery ticket on their own, their talents more tantalizing for who they could be rather than who they are at the moment. 

Still, you can forgive the McDermotts of the world for being a little tired of it all. The attention given to the yearly wave of freshmen—especially ones as talented as these—often overshadows the already accomplished.

These are the guys whom we already know. They’re the ones like McDermott, talented and breathtaking on the collegiate level but consigned to get the national scraps while everyone fawns over at the kids’ table.

“In the back of my mind, it motivated me,” McDermott said. “Did people forget I’m still around? I’m still here.”

You can rest assured that no one is forgetting now. McDermott, at the top of his game and finally getting some deserved credit, is the best player in college basketball. Maybe he doesn’t have the future of NBA All-Star Games, mega shoe contracts and perhaps even Hall of Fame potential of these freshmen.

That’s fine. For now, McDermott will just have to settle for being plain old better.

 

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