Tag Archives: Carlos Boozer

Sorry Duke, Virginia is the New Taste in College Basketball

Reading some of national reporting on college basketball, particularly Virginia basketball, it might be easy to conclude that there was a crisis in college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia basketball was an infection slowly killing college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia was leading NCAA basketball down the path to attention deficit disorder-driven doom.

Such a conclusion couldn’t be more wrong.

I watched Duke play Florida State the other day. It is hard not to be impressed by the embarrassment of riches Coach K has brought to Durham. Duke starts 4 freshmen. At least 2 of those 4 will be one-and-dones. The other 2 could spend a second season in Durham pretending to be college students, but it is not likely. Smart money says all four call it quits on going to class in January and conclude their stints at the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham after March Madness concludes.

As I watched the track meet with FSU, I couldn’t help but wonder what Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Jay Williams thought. I can’t imagine what Bobby Hurley, Christan Laettner and Grant Hill think. I am sure they are happy with the continued success of the program. Duke is an unquestioned big dpg in NCAA basketball. However, watching Duke play basketball today has very little in common with Duke basketball that put the Blue Devils on the map. It looks nothing like the game that Battier, Booozer, Laettner, and Hurley played. Funny, I don’t remember many reporters griping about too much defense when defense was Duke’s calling card.

The Duke of old was known for discipline. Hard-nosed, aggressive man-to-man defense was Duke’s differentiation. While Duke had very talented players back in the day, they lived and died with their defense and the offense it so frequently spawned. Prior to the current incarnation of Duke basketball, players went to class and graduated with college degrees.

Not any more. The Duke of today is a staging area for NBA players. A way station, a holding bin. Duke no longer has a brand or calling card other than a roster stacked with kids who have no interest in a Duke education. Instead, they have every intention of leaving Durham before the first commencement ceremonies of their college “careers.” Remember when Coach K wouldn’t raise a championship banner in Cameron Indoor if a player on his team had not finished his degree? Yeah, those days are over.

Watching Duke play these days is like any other play ground game. it is festival of 1-on-1 moves and dunks. Duke’s defense is more happenstance than strategy & execution. When ridiculously talented players log enough minutes, eventually they will be in a position to make a remarkable play. Duke’s defensive success is more like looking down and finding a 4-leaf clover than the result of a well deployed plan.

On the other hand, I just got back from the Virginia/North Carolina game in Charlottesville. UNC came into today’s game averaging 85 points per game. They scored just over half of their average today as Virginia dominated the Tar Heels for the second year in a row in John Paul Jones Arena.

In past two games combined against Virginia, the Heels have scored 92 points for a per-game average of 46. That doesn’t happen by accident. It also is not a result of Virginia’s roster being stacked with 5-star, future NBA lottery picks. Rather it is the result of a program that is committed to winning differently and generally has its way setting tempo and controlling the pace of play.

Unlike Duke, Virginia wins based on stellar execution at both ends of the floor. They win by playing the best defense in the country. They win by frustrating offensive juggernauts used to having their way running up and down the court doing tomahawk and windmill dunks. UNC didn’t have any windmill jams on Saturday. Instead they got their butts kicked at both ends of the court by a team that, on paper, had no business staying within 20 points of the Tar Heels. What’s not to love about that?

David slaying Goliath has always been a popular theme in college athletics. Until Virginia started averaging close to 30 wins a season, no one ever evaluated David’s style points for how he slew Goliath. That Virginia fans went as crazy over 3 uNC shot clock violations as they did for De’Andre Hunter’s thunder jam over Joel Barry shows me that Virginia fans appreciate the full breadth of the college game.

Virginia can’t win playing UNC or Duke basketball, so they don’t. Instead, they play aggressive defense. They make the extra pass on offense. They play Virginia basketball. True basketball fans should at least appreciate if not relish the fact the Coach Tony Bennett has found a way to run with and beat the big dogs by intentionally not playing their game. Strategy and execution should be as appreciated as a part of college basketball as a break-away slam.

I suspect those who grimace at the way Virginia has creeped into the top tier of basketball programs are the same folks who like to see a winning score at the US Open of -20. On the surface a birdie-barrage looks more entertaining than hacking out of knee-deep cabbage.

However, what the run-and-gunners  and birdie fanatics miss is an appreciation for the strategy options and execution that turn an expected outcome on its head. Maybe what irks Virginia’s detractors the most is that Virginia wins enough big games now, that after a beatdown of UNC, no one even considered storming the court…since Virginia has now done this 5 times in a row.

I am not asking everyone to be a Virginia fan. All I am asking is for an accommodation, for a grudging acceptance that there is more than one way to succeed mightily in college basketball. Virginia might be an acquired taste, I understand that, but so is good bourbon, good scotch, and stout beer. Beating the tar out of the Heels two years in a row is a great reason to celebrate the acquired tastes in life, wherever we find them.

Some Thoughts on the NBA Playoffs

I really didn’t know what to write about this week. I have some big things happening on other sites, and last week I spent the week telling you what I wanted and didn’t want in Cleveland sports. Today, however, I figured I’d pick the most high-profile happening in sports at the moment: the NBA Playoffs.

First, I would like to comment on the imbecile that didn’t vote LeBron James as the NBA MVP. You sir, or ma’am, should have your vote taken immediately. Either you had a grudge, don’t take your vote seriously, or are flat-out unequipped for such responsibilities. I don’t think there has ever been a player more deserving of the NBA MVP than LeBron James this season, and that is evident by the historic number of votes LeBron received.

Unanimous or not, LeBron won the MVP by the most votes in the history of the award and garnered his fourth career NBA MVP Trophy. With that being said, here are some thoughts on LeBron and the Heat.

People believe it is a foregone conclusion that the Heat will win the NBA Title and I believe that they are essentially correct. I truly don’t see any team beating the Heat four times in a series, (or maybe even once for that matter.) Rather than watching to see whether or not the Heat will make it, we should be focused on who will give the Heat the best run, who will take a stab at shutting down the league’s best player, and who can stop the Heat from sliding through the postseason undefeated.

I know the Bulls ended the Heat’s winning streak, but the Cavs almost did too. It’s hard for me to see Chicago winning a game in this upcoming series. With Hinrich on the mend, Deng fighting a horrible flu, and Derrick Rose trolling the free world, I just don’t see Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer beating the Heat. It’s too hard to fathom. We’ll see if they can squeak a game out, but I find it doubtful.

When it comes to the other NBA Playoff series, the matchups are MUCH more interesting.

I am absolutely intruiged by the Pacers and the Knicks series. The Knicks have struggled through the first round and the first game of the second round, but I can still see them putting up a fight and making this series against the Pacers a close one. I wasn’t old enough to remember, but back in the day, the games between Reggie Miller and the Pacers and John Starks, Patrick Ewing and the Knicks were incredible. It was a rivalry like any other, with Reggie’s constant chirping and his incredible shooting backing up his talking. I think this Pacers and Knicks rivalry is starting to heat up again, as I believe these two teams will be facing each other in the playoffs for a few years to come.

In the Western Conference, you have two great matchups as well.

First of all, in what I find to be the lesser of the two series, you have the Grizzlies and the Thunder. While I said it was the lesser series, it is a phenomenal series nonetheless. In last night’s game, Kevin Durant and the Thunder were able to squeak by Memphis, thanks to a few missed free throws by Quincy Pondexter, but I could see Memphis squeaking by and winning games like that at home as well. The only thing I don’t like about this series involves Russell Westbrook.

As we all know, Westbrook went down with a torn muscle in his knee and could be out for the remainder of the playoffs. This is a TREMENDOUS blow to the Thunder and the chances of any team beating the Miami Heat. Many Clevelanders, and NBA fans alike, are comparing Durant’s Westbrook-less Thunder to the Cavaliers team LeBron James took to the Finals. It’s a fair comparison and it doesn’t bode well for the Thunder. LeBron played the most dominant playoff series of his career to get to the Finals, and once he got there, he was swept by a tremendously better San Antonio team.

If Durant can get his team to the Finals, I don’t see how they would compete against Miami without Westbrook. If Memphis wins this series, Miami will have a cakewalk to another ring.

The most intruiging matchup of the playoffs, thus far, is the Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. It’s a matchup of two teams with the opposites in terms of mantra. For Golden State, it’s shoot, shoot, shoot. For San Antonio, it’s rely on fundamental, defensive basketball. Golden State has a great young coach trying to prove himself. San Antonio has one of the best ever trying to add to his collection. The Warriors are a bunch of young guns. The Spurs are bunch of old veterans who know the game better than anyone. The opposite styles of each team will create a great matchup. San Antonio has the edge, just in terms of experience and coaching, but Golden State has the athleticism and the best player on either team in Steph Curry. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in this series. Can Golden State shoot their way to an appearance in the Western Conference Finals? Can San Antonio defend the perimeter and wear down the Warriors with their experience? It’s a matchup more than worthy of watching.

Here’s my prediction as to what will go down in the semi-final round:

Heat beat the Bulls 4-0.

Pacers beat the Knicks 4-2.

Memphis beats Oklahoma City 4-3.

Golden State beats San Antonio 4-3.

This is the worst case scenario in terms of a battle against the Heat, as neither Golden State nor Memphis have a chance in the NBA Finals, but it would create a tremendous opportunity for a Finals run for the three great fan bases in Memphis, Oakland, and Indianapolis.

Obviously, anything can happen. LeBron could tweak an ankle and be ill-fit to play the rest of the way. Steph Curry could have a playoff run, worthy of legendary status. The Spurs could drink from the fountain of youth and take home another NBA Title. You just never know

I’m just hoping that the Playoffs are more exciting than they should be.

Players Not Shaking Hands in the NBA Shouldn't be a Big Deal

by Ryan Isley

Are we really going to do this again? Are we actually going to talk about a team and their best player not shaking hands with the competition after a hard fought game in the NBA? Yes. Yes we are.

When the Chicago Bulls defeated the Miami Heat 101-97 on Wednesday night to end the Heat’s 27-game winning streak, LeBron James set the Twitter world on fire when he walked off the floor immediately following the final buzzer, not stopping to shake hands or hug any members of the opposition. He was upset. Not only by the loss, but by the way the game was played.

The Bulls physically beat up James and the Heat, but mostly James. Their game plan was to make LeBron know that they were there and not give him any easy layups or dunks that might shift momentum in the game. The most obvious example of the Bulls plan was when Kirk Hinrich tried to tackle LeBron on a drive in the first quarter as if he was a safety and the three-time NBA MVP was headed for a game-winning touchdown.

Here is the thing – I don’t have an issue with how the Bulls played. I see no problem with it whatsoever. If the officials are going to let the two teams play – which they should – then the Bulls game plan might be the ultimate blueprint on how to beat the Heat. It was like something out of the NBA TV vault – two teams being allowed to play without being called for every little hand check and without the offensive player being bailed out on every possession. This was old school basketball. The kind of basketball we all grew up watching before superstars (and semi-stars) starting dictating the way the games were called. I can only imagine that Chuck Daly was watching this game from heaven with a grin that stretched ear to ear.

But if we are going to be fine with how the game played out, we also can’t fault LeBron for doing something else that was old school – taking the game personally and wanting to beat the daylights out of his opponent so badly that afterwards he didn’t want to be friendly with them.

Somewhere along the line, we have become a society that is so worried about sportsmanship and what we define as being such that when players don’t want to shake hands after a game – win or lose – we call them bad sports and sore losers. We say that they should be punished and scolded publicly for their lack of sportsmanship or in some cases, class. Unfortunately we have become so fixated on worrying about everyone’s feelings that sometimes we forget that there are winners and losers. The NBA isn’t some fourth grade league at the local YMCA. There aren’t trophies awarded at the end of the season for participating so that nobody walks away upset.

This is the part of sports I have grown to despise. Forgive me if I don’t have a problem with a player not wanting to shake hands with players that he just spent the last three hours trying to beat into a pulp. This isn’t just about LeBron, either – it goes for every athlete on every team. And after the game on Wednesday night, I tweeted as much. During the Twitter conversation, I was tweeted the following from Anthony Gabriele:

Tweet about NHL

He makes a great point. This was one of the only examples in which I could would be upset if the players didn’t shake hands. The post-series handshake line is one of the greatest NHL traditions that still remains to this day. But you don’t see players shaking hands and hugging after every regular season game or even every individual game in the postseason.

The other example I came up with was after a round in a golf tournament. It is golf etiquette to remove your cap and shake hands with the person you played with that day, whether it is just a friendly round at the local course or a major championship on the PGA Tour. But if you watch most handshakes in golf, they are done just for that simple reason – it is proper etiquette. They aren’t shaking hands and hugging or laughing it up on the 18th green. Most times it is a simple and cordial handshake, the way it has always been.

And that brings me back to the NBA. The NBA hasn’t always been a league where guys exchange pleasantries following a game. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell weren’t hugging at half court after they went to battle with each other. I am pretty sure the Bad Boy Pistons and the Michael Jordan’s Bulls weren’t friendly with each other after games. Even the Knicks and Heat in the 1990s had the feel of two teams who just simply didn’t like each other.

Personally, I preferred that NBA over the one we have today. Players back then didn’t play AAU ball together growing up and didn’t have friendships that overshadowed their rivalries. They didn’t want to join other superstars to win a title – they wanted to beat other superstars to win the title. And yes, I know this is a LeBron issue as well – it is the one thing I still hold against him.

So forgive me if I am not upset with LeBron for walking into the tunnel without going over to hug Carlos Boozer or share a laugh with Kirk Hinrich. Just like you forgave me when I supported him for not shaking hands and having a good time with the Orlando Magic in 2009. Even in this age we live in, I still think sports should be about beating your opponent – not becoming best friends with them.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]

It's Too Early to Give Up on the Chicago Bulls

After Chicago’s disappointing loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday, pundits and fans are questioning Derrick Rose’s ability to get it done for the team. Adding fuel to the fire is the team’s Jan. 25 loss against the Indiana Pacers when Rose gave the last shot to Brian Scalabrine instead of taking it.

With this year’s abbreviated NBA season, there’s still a lot of basketball left for the Bulls and this means plenty of time for them to come back. Here’s a few things to keep in mind. Continue reading It's Too Early to Give Up on the Chicago Bulls