The Louisville Cardinals and Russ Smith are set to defend their crown as NCAA champions Nov. 9 when they battle the College of Charleston Cougars in their season opener.
It’s been seven months and a handful of days since the Cardinals left the Georgia Dome with nets around their necks and holding the championship trophy in triumph. But much has changed with this Louisville squad since cutting down the nets April 8:
Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have made their way to the NBA and left gaps in the 2013-14 roster, the uncertainty of Chane Behanan’s return to Louisville’s lineup and Smith’s father assuming his son would go pro.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino landed a slew of potential future All-Americans in Terry Rozier, Anton Gill, Mangok Mathiang and Akoy Agau (Chris Jones wasn’t mentioned because of his remaining eligibility).
So with the new additions, what will be the identity of this year’s Cardinals?
Will they be the one-and-done champions that every team has been since the 2006-07 Florida Gators repeated? Will there be a huge drop off like their in-town rival Kentucky Wildcats experienced in 2012-13? (Not likely, but it is a possibility). Or will they showcase another spectacular run that will end with them cutting down the nets at AT&T Stadium?
Well, it would be premature to make that assessment. But one thing is certain—these Redbirds need to establish an identity early in this year.
Coach Pitino’s full-court pressure is the staple of Louisville’s defense. However, with the team’s former floor general and best pickpocket, Siva, in a Detroit Pistons uniform, who will become the leader on this team?
The seemingly obvious candidate is the team’s best scorer, “Russdiculous.”
In Smith’s last hoorah as a Cardinal, this will be the preseason All-American‘s opportunity to raise his draft stock as well as become a leader of this flock by developing a propensity to build-up and guide his teammates.
According to Mark Maloney of Kentucky.com, being a leader is something Russdiculous yearns to become this season. “Just being a leader really, and just showing people a different side of my game. … Being more poised.”
We will see how Smith bounces back after his last two games of the Big Dance.
In the Final Four game against the Wichita State Shockers, Smith managed 21 points. However, that was on 6-of-17 shooting (4-of-11 from beyond the arc) and hitting just 5-of-12 from the charity stripe. Even more of a blow to Russ’ colossal scoring ego was his performance in the championship game against the Michigan Wolverines. Smith was an abysmal 3-of-16 from the field with just nine points and three turnovers.
In the same interview with Maloney, Smith admitted something that certainly sounds like he’s making strides toward becoming a leader:
When I was younger, I couldn’t admit that I was pretty selfish. I’d have dreams of scoring maybe 50 points in a game like (the finals) and maybe losing by one. But national championship game, to not have a big game, score 30 and to understand that and to sacrifice what you do best to help others win the game, I feel that’s the kind of mature thing I’ve grown into.
The more belief Smith has in his teammates, the better chance the champs have of repeating. It is evident Smith is an established scorer and can do so in a myriad of ways. Now, Smith must show Coach Pitino and NBA scouts that he is capable contributing to a win outside of lighting up a scoreboard.
Smith wasn’t far behind Siva in steals (83, and needs 72 more to become Louisville’s all-time leader) and was second on last year’s team in assists (116). He will have to improve those numbers as well as cut down on the turnovers (108) this season. As someone who’s a slasher, it’s expected for Smith to cough up the ball more than usual.
However, with Jones, Kevin Ware, Rozier as potential ball-handlers, Russ will have a much easier time expanding his game and dropping his turnovers.
The struggles Russ Smith endured the final two games of last season should make him more intelligent as a senior.
And his forgettable performances can be stories shared with his new teammates to help them omit similar mistakes he’s made during his tenure as a Cardinal and lead them in a positive direction.
According to ESPN.com’s C.L. Brown, during the offseason, Smith began making those strides at becoming a leader. Shortly after the confetti finished falling in Atlanta, instead of resorting to his usual Twitter banter with fans, Smith faded into the background and returned during offseason drills poised to become a leader.
In the same article, Brown noted that teammate Stephan Van Treese believes Smith has filled the vacancy of leader that Siva left.
We know he’s one of the floor generals we have this year, we follow him into battle. Now he’s basically the new Peyton, Van Treese said. He tells us what to do on and off the court. It’s weird to see Russ in that role, but he’s really matured. He’s kind of become a new person.
As the season goes on and the pressure mounts, Smith will elevate his game and blossom into the leader Pitino and the Cardinals need him to be. But with a player like Smith, the Cards must be patient this season while he makes those changes on the court.
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Video: You could’ve fooled me..
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Leaders in the NBA normally possess one of two qualities: Incredible talent relative to their peers or years of experience. The most effective ones have both traits—think Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki—and the teams that employ them are almost always in a position to succeed.
These players act as commanders on the floor. They are the select few who demand the ear of teammates as if they’re coaches. Leaders in the NBA are respected for surviving in a league that’s constantly cycling through talent and churning out veterans in exchange for younger, less-expensive talent.
Until Rajon Rondo returns to action, Gerald Wallace is the leader of the Boston Celtics. He’s the team’s only All-Star player and the only one with at least 10 years of experience. By contrast, the Miami Heat have five such senior statesmen while the Brooklyn Nets have Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko.
The only other current Celtic with as much experience as Wallace is Keith Bogans, a below-average 3-and-D journeyman.
The various ways that Wallace has already influenced the inexperienced Celtics are perceptible.
Wallace is coming off a terrible season with the Brooklyn Nets in which he shot less than 40 percent from the field, 30 percent on threes and 65 percent from the free-throw line (an inept shooting line matched only by Lamar Odom). Wallace’s value in the NBA was at an all-time low when he was traded to Boston—and that was before taking into account the three years and $30 million that was left on his contract.
But the situation in Brooklyn wasn’t a good fit, and Wallace has done everything he can this preseason to prove that Boston is the right fit for him. He’s an up-and-down player, who is more effective in the open court than in a slow-paced, half-court offense.
The Nets averaged 91.23 possessions per 48 minutes last season, making them the third-slowest attack in the NBA, and Wallace looked out of sorts. He was used primarily as a spot-up shooter, which was not great since he can’t shoot.
In his six preseason games with the Celtics, Wallace has averaged 11.5 points in just 26.6 minutes—four more points per game in four fewer minutes than last season. The numbers, however, rarely tell the full story with Wallace, especially when he’s flying around the court at top speed on every possession, diving for loose balls, barking out defensive assignments and beating his man to the glass. Those were things he stopped doing towards the end of last season, when defenses began sagging off of him to allow an open shot. That experience was demoralizing, but on a feisty Celtics team that’s already shown it loves to run, Wallace has fit right in.
As impressive as he’s been on the court, Wallace’s play isn’t what has earned him the respect of his teammates so much as how he reacted in the fiery aftermath of Boston’s 104-89 preseason loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 20. He could have sat back and done nothing, collected his paycheck and accepted his new, unfortunate situation as the Atlantic Division rival that just traded him, the Nets, geared up for a legitimate run at an NBA title.
Instead, Wallace spoke out, establishing himself as the Celtics rightful spokesman. Nobody’s words in Boston’s locker room would’ve carried the same weight as Wallace’s because nobody on Boston’s roster has ever held that same leadership role and the responsibility that comes with it. Wallace, who led the Charlotte Bobcats so for several seasons, called out his teammates in a public forum and it worked.
A day after Wallace vented, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens informed reporters, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston, that Boston’s following practice was their best of the year. A cry for more effort and determination was answered.
For a young Celtics team that’s searching to establish a firm identity and progressive culture, Wallace is a fantastic veteran to follow. His fearless style is one which every player on Boston’s roster should mimic this season and beyond, as they set forth on their individual maturation.
Rondo may be Boston’s best player, but until he’s back on the court, it’s Wallace who needs to lead the way.
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This summer, Anthony and his cash-strapped Knicks remained largely idle while the top half of the Eastern Conference grew stronger by the day.
New York’s closest rivals, the Brooklyn Nets, retooled their already loaded roster with a host of proven performers: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko. The Chicago Bulls saw the return of their fallen leader, Derrick Rose. The Indiana Pacers brought back their own former All-Star, Danny Granger, and stocked their reserve unit with experience (Luis Scola) and perimeter shooting (Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson).
The Miami Heat simply reloaded for a fourth straight run at the NBA Finals. They lost one key contributor (Mike Miller) but gambled on a pair of boom-or-bust players (Greg Oden and Michael Beasley) that they don’t really need but would be happy to have.
And then there was New York with pennies to plug its roster holes. Truth be told, the Knicks’ offseason haul—Andrea Bargnani, Metta World Peace, Beno Udrih and Tim Hardaway Jr.—was impressive considering the meager funds former general manager Glen Grunwald had at his disposal.
But it wasn’t the kind of summer the rest of the Eastern Conference powers enjoyed.
Lacking any dynamic additions to the roster, Anthony’s challenge for 2013-14 is the same as it was last season: put this team on his shoulders and carry it as far as he can go. But has that struggle gotten any easier for the reigning scoring champ? Or is this burden now heavy enough to propel him out of the Big Apple next summer?
Despite the writing on the wall, Anthony’s offseason strategy was incredibly optimistic. Via Marc Berman of the New York Post, a source close to Anthony said the six-time All-Star hoped the franchise could find a legitimate secondary scorer over the summer.
It was a logical request to fill an obvious need for anyone who watched last season’s Knicks. With microwave scorer J.R. Smith as the second most reliable offensive threat (18.1 points per game), Anthony needed help.
But it was a risky ploy.
No matter how you spin Berman’s story, there’s no way to get around the fact that Anthony didn’t believe this team had championship potential. And given those aforementioned cap constraints, this was largely the same group of players he’d have around him in 2013-14.
While that second scorer never surfaced, though, Anthony should have more help this time around.
As far as the offseason additions go, Bargnani is poised to make the biggest impact. The key is to view Bargnani in the right light—not as a failed top selection, but as a 27-year-old 7-footer with three-point range (career 36.1 percent) who’s just one season removed from a 19.5 scoring average.
The Knicks don’t need Bargnani to be dominant the way his former employer, the Toronto Raptors, did. What they need is for him to spread the floor so Anthony can continue his dominance on the low block and help shore up New York’s rebounding woes (49.3 rebounding percentage, 17th last season).
Tempered expectations should also be applied to the arrival of newcomer World Peace. The Queensbridge native and four-time NBA All-Defensive team selection is 33 years old. Father Time has sapped his ability to keep pace with the athletic specimens flooding the league.
But he brings his own value to the hardwood. He’s not a knockdown shooter (career 34.2 three-point percentage), but he can be effective when he’s mindful of his shot selection (37.5 percent between 2007-08 and 2010-11). Not to mention he has the size (6’7″ 260 lbs) to defend the low block, which eases some of the physical punishment on Anthony when he’s playing the 4.
And there’s reason to hope for more help from Anthony’s returning teammates.
Iman Shumpert’s athleticism returned late last season after the guard’s lengthy rehab from a torn ACL. He has already made a dramatic appearance in the preseason.
But more intriguing for Knicks fans is his improved shooting stroke. Always a rugged defender, the former Georgia Tech star has the chance to be just as special at the opposite end. Of players with at least 10 playoff appearances in 2012-13, only he and Ray Allen shot above 40 percent from deep and 85 percent at the line.
Amar’e Stoudemire is another year older and another year wiser in terms of dealing with his nagging injuries. Even if under a minutes restriction (he averaged 23.5 last season), he can still be effective in limited doses (21.8 points per 36 minutes, 57.7 field-goal percentage, 22.1 player efficiency rating).
His maturation, on and off the floor, would be a godsend for this franchise. He has the talent to be that second option that Anthony wants, especially if he becomes more discerning about his shot selection
The puzzle for Anthony will be figuring out how to maximize these new weapons without sacrificing the efficiency he exhibited last season. He’s been working with trainer Idan Ravin to fine-tune his offensive game, but it’s on him to put these new tools to work.
The Struggle Within
New York’s roster changes might not have been dramatic this summer, but the way they affect Anthony’s usage could be.
Despite Anthony’s scorching run as an undersized 4 last season (career best 24.8 player efficiency rating and 9.5 win shares), he could be on the move back to his natural spot at the 3.
Anthony himself has signed off on the arrangement, via Begley:
Anthony’s right, this setup doesn’t entirely preclude him from playing the post. But it figures to limit his touches on the low block. Bargnani can stray from the basket on occasion, but he’s not the kind of player who can afford to live out on the wing.
Anthony’s far from the worst decision-maker in the league, but there have been points in his career when he’s gotten a little jump-shot happy. For a player with as many offensive weapons as he has—combined with the offensive slant of the PER category—he should have something better than a career 20.8 PER.
As his team’s unchallenged best scorer, he’s in a bit of a tough spot. A number of prolific scorers get too ball-dominant at times, but Anthony still has to pick his spots wisely.
Last season, he was lethal in his offensive execution. He became just the 10th player in NBA history to average at least 28.5 points and fewer than 3.0 turnovers, and the first to do so since Tracy McGrady achieved the feat in 2002-03.
But being so close to the basket, Anthony had less time to think. As soon as he caught the ball in the post, he had to instantly read and react to the defense. If help crashed, he’d find one of New York’s gunners on the outside. If it didn’t come, he’d bully his way to baskets or free throws.
This season, those reads will take longer to develop. Double teams won’t come as quickly, and when they do, he’ll likely be making those reads on the move.
The first open shot isn’t always the best. Remember, these are Mike Woodson’s Knicks, not Mike D’Antoni’s.
Anthony’s quick-fire first step will give him an offensive advantage more often than not. But it’s those second and third steps that really matter, the ones that can take him from the dead zone of mid-range jumpers into that realm of efficiency known as the paint.
He still has shooters to find when help perimeter defenders drop down too far and finishers in Chandler, Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin should defensive help come from underneath.
If Anthony’s an unselfish scorer, New York’s ceiling goes beyond last season’s 54-win total. If not, well let’s just say the ramifications could be felt well beyond 2013-14.
The countdown is underway in New York, and it’s not the one tracking the time until the Knicks’ regular-season opener on Oct. 30.
Anthony watch is on in full force, as he sits less than 12 months away from deciding whether to opt out of the final year of his current contract.
It’s more of a formality than anything. Anything close to a repeat performance of his 2012-13 effort will ensure the 29-year-old another major payday.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll be filling out a change-of-address form next summer. He could simply re-sign with the Knicks, something ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith says has a “50-50″ chance of happening (via Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles).
The will-he-or-won’t-he question will surround this team all season, no matter how hard he tries to bury the topic.
If he’s still swimming in blue and orange beyond next summer, that means he’s willing to buy this team’s title potential. He told MSG Network’s Alan Hahn he thinks the Knicks improved over the offseason:
This year, we got guys that can help us all across the board. Down on the block, out on the wing, defensively; just overall as a group, I feel we have a better team than last year, and that’s saying a lot because we had a real good team last year.
And that appreciation of his teammates will grow over the course of this season.
He has more scorers able to help carry the offensive torch. Bargnani can light up a scoreboard, Shumpert looks poised for a break-out season and the combination of Smith and Hardaway gives Woodson options to find instant scoring.
World Peace will help keep Anthony away from the defensive post. Udrih (career 3.6 assists to 1.5 turnovers), Raymond Felton (6.6 to 2.6) and Pablo Prigioni (3.0 to 1.1) breathe ball control.
These Knicks won’t shoot themselves in the foot, and the added athleticism on the roster will help strengthen the perimeter defense. A clean bill of health for Chandler and Martin can close off the defensive interior.
This is a top-five team in the East no matter how you look at it. If Stoudemire returns to relevance, Shumpert realizes his potential and Smith keeps the gas pedal glued to the floor, New York’s ceiling reaches all the way into June.
Anthony will have the biggest say whether the Knicks play at a championship level. But he’s far from being the only voice in that discussion.
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It’s good to be the King.
Not just in Akron. Not just in Miami. Not just in the United States.
In the entire world.
According to Tim Reynolds, writing for The Associated Press, LeBron came out on top of the global ranking of jersey sales, finishing up a top 10 that also includes Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard (the Los Angeles Lakers version), Deron Williams, Blake Griffin and Rajon Rondo.
It’s an accomplishment that “means everything” to the MVP:
To know that so many people look up to me, so many kids, that’s what means more than anything, that I continue to inspire the youth and they look at me as a role model. I understand, when you wear someone’s jersey, you actually like believe in them. You believe they can do supernatural things. It’s like an extension of our family and I really appreciate that.
Over the last few years, LeBron has completed a worldwide tour of excellence that is virtually unmatched throughout the lengthy annals of NBA history. He’s won two league titles, two regular-season MVPs, two Finals MVPs and an Olympic gold medal for good measure.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this personable athlete at the top of his sport is selling jerseys faster than anyone else. Although I suppose a shoutout to Derrick Rose is necessary after he finished in the top five without playing a single game.
This is just further proof that no player in the Association—not even Kobe—is more beloved than LeBron right now. Over the summer, ESPN’s Darren Rovell wrote about a national poll that voted the Miami Heat superstar as the most popular NBA player, but the methodology was limited and flawed.
There’s nothing wrong with the method here. It’s just more evidence that the world currently belongs to LeBron, and we’re just living in it.
Now he just has to earn the respect of the incoming rookie class.
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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Retired NBA star Dennis Rodman left North Korea Saturday after a five-day trip during which he met leader Kim Jong Un.
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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Larry Sanders was looking forward to making an impression. Invited to the United States national team’s minicamp in Las Vegas, the Milwaukee Bucks center wanted to take the first step in earning the chance to represent his country.
Instead, Sanders sprained his left ankle during one of the workouts, preventing him from participating in most of the minicamp.
But that doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t a lost cause. In fact, Sanders was amazed with what he took away from his time around the national team.
“They talked a lot about unity, which is great,” Sanders said. “Everybody not really putting their egos aside, but joining egos for the USA ego. Putting individual accolades aside just to contribute to winning and how they all had the same goal in mind.
“That mindset going forward is something that we can definitely bring to the Bucks. Just everyone pointing in the same direction and focusing on contributing to winning the game and how much of a better t
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Former Boston Celtics star Paul Pierce, now with the Brooklyn Nets, told Celtics guard Rajon Rondo that this coming season will be the toughest of his career, mentally and physically. “Right now, he’s injured, and I told him this is probably going to be the toughest year of your whole career,
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The National Basketball Players Association hasn’t determined the type of leader it wants.
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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Tuesday that he has ”absolute confidence” in the president of Rutgers University even as some lawmakers have called for Robert Barchi to step down amid a string of embarrassing revelations for the university’s athletic department.
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