Tuesday, June 28, 2005

After Tonight, You're Dead To Me

The NBA draft is upon us tonight, marking the one night per year that I get particularly excited about an NBA event. To me, the event is less about the NBA, and more about bidding a final farewell to the college players that have entertained me for the last 1-4 years. And it’s a chance to see some of the worst suits ever tailored. It’s sort of like a graduation ceremony for the remarkably talented, but stylistically challenged. Given my love of the event, and the fact that Milwaukee is abuzz over the opportunity to draft first this year, I think I need to weigh in. So here, in no particular order, are my draft-related thoughts and predictions:

1) The debate in Milwaukee right now is whether the Bucks should draft Andrew Bogut or Marvin Williams. Let me go on record right now that I think Bogut’s the guy. Bogut has proven himself at the college level, has done well in international play, and has stated that he would like to play in Milwaukee, a rare sentiment from a pro athlete. Williams is an exceptional athlete who didn’t start on his college team, and had a sub-par workout with the Bucks. That’s about all I need to know. Of course, I have two follow-up rants on this topic:

First, the Bucks’ GM Larry Harris makes me laugh every time I hear him say that they’re not sure who they want to pick. There’s not a doubt in my head that it’s Andrew Bogut. And if there was, it was dispelled last night when I saw a sound clip from current Buck, Desmond Mason, on the news giving an endorsement to Bogut. I understand that you need to keep from revealing your choice if you want to continue to receive media attention over a controversy, but there can’t be a more contrived controversy than this one.

Second, the concept of picking Marvin Williams encompasses everything that I hate about the NBA draft. So much of it now is based on potential. Teams no longer draft hoping to add talent to their roster, but rather simply try not to get anyone fired because they passed on the next Kevin Garnett. This Williams-Bogut thing is the perfect example. Williams is 19 years old, and many don’t think he can step in right away and be an impact player, but he has great potential. Bogut is roughly one year older than Williams, and is generally thought to be ready to play in the NBA from the moment he is drafted, but may not have as much potential. Maybe it’s just because I’m risk averse, but I’m taking the guy that can play, rather than the guy who might be able to play in a couple years (when, notably, his 3-year contract may be up).

It’s not wanting to miss the next big thing that leads to decisions like the Clippers, in 1998, using the number one pick to take a raw center from Pacific who had only played basketball for something like 5 years beforehand. Simply put—if you’ve got the number one pick, you don’t take a project. You take the surest damn thing you can find. Even if he’s not a star, you’ll at least have a solid player for awhile.

Of course, it’s views like these that keep me from getting on Let’s Make a Deal. Like I’m going to give up $500 to take what’s inside a random box.

2) Last night as I was going to bed, I happened upon the NBA Network (which I actually didn’t know I subscribed to) and they were showing the first hour or so of various old drafts through the years. I wish someone had told me about this beforehand, because it was excellent television (and because I missed all of the years in which David Stern was still wearing a hilarious mustache). There’s nothing more entertaining than seeing the happy face of a GM picking a player with a high draft pick, but knowing (as he surely does not at the time) that the guy he just drafted will be playing in Uzbekistan within three years of being drafted. I felt like Biff Tannen in Back To the Future II.

Perhaps the high point of what I saw last night, though, was watching 1989 draft and hearing Rick Barry discuss how poorly the Clippers had done in prior drafts, and then watching them take Danny Ferry, the most raved about player in the draft. Of course, we know now that he’s also the guy who would make the unprecedented move of playing in Italy to avoid joining the Clips. All the while, the present day news crawl at the bottom of the screen kept repeating that Ferry was just named GM of Cleveland. It was surreal, and I couldn’t believe that I had missed other drafts earlier that night. Thank goodness I have the DVR box working overtime to capture the early 1990s tonight.

3) I hate the ESPN show “The Top-5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…,” but last night’s installment featuring reasons that you couldn’t blame Portland for drafting Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984 was something not to be missed. I learned a few tidbits, but probably the best part was Bowie himself reflecting on the fact that given Jordan’s career, Portland should have drafted Jordan. Yeah, no crap. The show did give me moment for pause, however, as every time I saw Bowie play on the downside of his career, he was referred to as a great passing center. I always sort of thought that was code for “a center who can’t really rebound or score.” As a Milwaukean, should I be concerned that people keep talking about Andrew Bogut’s great passing ability?

4) Given the NBA Network’s old draft coverage, I’d love to write up the top-10 draft moments that I can find from the old footage that they’re showing. Of course, given my track record of actually writing about something that I’ve referenced as a future topic, there’s probably about a 4% chance that I’ll actually buckle down and do it, so I should just get the important ones out of the way now. With that in mind, I’d have to say that my all-time favorite draft moment would have to be Jalen Rose being drafted, and walking to the stage in his red suit with yellow pinstripes, which still stands as the ugliest suit I’ve seen at an NBA draft (which is pretty much an ugly suit convention to begin with). A close second is David Stern shaking hands with Gheorge Muresan, who was roughly 2.2 times his height.

5) Ah, the state’s talent. Who’s going to be drafted? Well, after two banner years in which players with Wisconsin ties went at the fifth pick, Travis Diener’s really the only hope tonight. It doesn’t sound like Mike Wilkinson’s workouts went very well, and Ed McCants has been spending his summer learning Italian, so I assume the state’s second-best players know what they’re doing this upcoming year. Apparently Diener’s stock has shot up over the last month, and he’s gone from being a fringe second-rounder, to a high second rounder. I still don’t think that Diener will ever see significant floor time for an NBA squad, but he’s definitely a guy who I’d want on my roster. If nothing else, I think Travis will see lots of the country in the next couple years as he bounces around the NBA. And 12th man, even for the worst team in the league, is still better than what most of us are doing for a living.

6) What am I doing for the draft? There’s a small part of me that wants to go to the Bucks’ draft party downtown at the Bradley Center. But it’s a really small part. Advertised as being free, I’m assuming that the draft party is largely just an excuse to get some more PR and sell $8 beers to fans. Thus, I’m watching the draft at a sports bar with some friends. The beers will still probably be $4, but it will be a lot easier to make audible jokes to my friends about players’ suits.

7) Point guards are going to be the real story of this draft when we look back on the NBA Network in 10 years. So my predictions on the top three?

Deron Williams: A solid NBA cog for years to come, but never a superstar. Will still be in the league 15 years from now, getting ready to retire with an adoring fanbase, and great memories of the one all-star game he played in.

Chris Paul: Not sure what it is, but something tells me this guy just doesn’t make it big. This should be a fun quote to re-visit in a year, given the chances that I’m horrifically wrong on this one. I just have a feeling, though, and I’m predicting bust. After all, we need someone to laugh at when we’re watching this draft 10 years from now.

Raymond Felton: Will be the top point guard of this year’s class. Since his sophomore season at UNC, he looked more like he was wearing an NBA jersey than a UNC jersey. He’ll make someone very happy.

So let the draft begin. And enjoy your evening draftees, because after tonight, the amount that I care about what you do on a basketball court drops about 90%. (Not that that bothers any of you, because by the end of the night you’ll all be able to buy and sell me 50 times over.)

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Recruitment Is Over

Well, Jerry Smith decided last Thursday that he was going to attend Louisville for college, putting an end to years of anticipation. I suppose it would be derelict for me not to weigh in, given how much I’ve watched him play over the last three years, and given that I am a fan of his current high school team, as well as the Wisconsin Badgers, a school that lost out on Mr. Smith’s services. However, I don’t feel like I can say much that’s very provocative on this issue, so if you’re looking for controversy, look elsewhere.

My first reaction upon hearing that Jerry Smith was going to Louisville? Selfish disappointment. I had been hoping not only to watch him help the Badgers out, but to continue to have the chance to watch him play regularly. After all, I have seen him play quite a bit, and could have annoyingly said things to my friends like “Michigan State’s doing the best job defending Smith since I saw Middleton slow him down with their 2-3 zone back when he was a freshman in high school” for another four years had Smith ended up in Madison. As it stands, I’ll probably get to see a fair amount of him, given that Marquette and Louisville are conference rivals, but it won’t be the same having to cheer against him when he comes to town. Based on everything that I’ve heard about the kid as a person, he’s a fun guy to root for. And his game has been fun to watch develop so far.

Aside from the selfish disappointment, I can’t fault the end decision at all, though. Whenever I watch a huge basketball prospect struggle to decide where to go to school, I think back to my own struggle with choosing a college. It wasn’t an easy decision for me, and I was lucky enough to have lacked any discernable skills to make the local and national media cover my every move from 8th grade on. Is Smith’s decision the decision that I would have made? Probably not (to this outsider, Wake looks mighty nice), but I also don’t know as much about the situations at each school as he does, and I’m not 17. Heck, when I applied to schools at age 17, half of my six applications went to places where I’d be able to watch good basketball. I applied to another school largely because I met an attractive girl who wanted to go there. I ended up choosing a school whose campus I had basically never been to, with the exception of attending two football games there. So yeah, I doubt that I’m the guy to criticize Jerry Smith’s decision-making process. And the point that I always come back to in the end is that he didn’t have a single bad option to choose (as he was not recruited by Cincinnati). I expect that he’ll thrive at Louisville, just as he would have at Wisconsin, or at Wake Forest.

As for Wisconsin, they’ll be fine. Losing out on a Jerry Smith hurts, but they’ve still got plenty of time to get someone almost as good. Hopefully that someone will be Trevon Hughes of St. John’s Military Academy, as he appears to be the best talent available now, and it’s always good to keep the excellent in-state guys. But if it’s not, things will still work themselves out.

Meanwhile, I’ve got another season of high school ball to watch Smith and Hughes. With that in mind, if anyone would like to sell me an advance ticket to the Milwaukee King-Tosa East game next March, I’d be happy to buy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Great Mysteries Revealed

On this momentous day, I must give thanks to my friend T.J. After months of searching for something that should, in theory, be easy to find in the age of the internet, T.J. has found what I, and several others could not. Because I wish to share the joy which was brought to my face when I learned where to purchase perhaps the greatest basketball garment of the last 5-7 months, I offer you the following link where you may purchase your very own:

Kevin Pittsnogle Jersey

Sure, the NCAA jerseys don’t come with names on the back, but we know who #34 is, and I can only assume that iron-on letters are cheap. I know that I’m excited, and I can only assume that the couple of people who have emailed me looking to find this item are equally overjoyed. I’m envisioning not only hours of game-time fun next season, but I think I already foresee a Halloween costume for this year. Again, I thank you T.J. All true basketball fans thank you.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Early Summer Update

Well, it’s the offseason, and as such, there’s less to update on. However, give me a month at any point of the year, and I can come up with a few basketball-related things that bear noting. In no particular order, here’s a few random off-season thoughts:

1) Though the man played his last game over 20 years before I was born, I was saddened to hear of the passing of George Mikan a few weeks back. While I’ve never actually seen Mikan play, I was a bit of a basketball historian when I was a kid, and was perhaps the only 13-year-old on my block who thought that George Mikan was awesome. And let’s not forget that one of the greatest drills of all time is named after him. Who hasn’t done the Mikan drill? It’s the only reason that I’m anywhere close to being able to sort of, kind of use my right hand in a near-adequate manner when I’m on the court. By friend Beau even created a dance patterned after the drill, which he breaks out every time we’re anywhere near a dance floor and he want to impress the other people around. Sufficed to say, even though I’m not 13 anymore, I still think Mikan is awesome.

2) Marquette is really amping up the promotion for heading to the Big East next season. It’s early June, and already I have received a two phone calls and email urging me to upgrade from my 5-game package of seats to season tickets. I know I won’t do it, since the odds of me making it to enough of Marquette’s games to justify the expenditure are pretty low, but the sales guy does have me excited for the move to the Big East. I was already excited about getting to see teams like UConn and Syracuse come to town, but I had completely forgotten that West Virginia is in the Big East. Thus, if things work out, and he pulls his name out of the draft list, I might just get to see Kevin Pittsnogle in person next year. Now that’s something to get excited about.

3) The embarrassing moment of the year for me had to be a couple weeks back when I was at a local civic festival and ran into the local high school basketball coach. Instead of greeting me with “hello,” or “how’s it going,” when he saw me he grinned and said “Hey, nice web site.” Thankfully, I have always liked the coach, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never said anything all that critical of him (my mind was definitely racing during our conversation, though). It did remind me, though, that things around here would be a lot different had I ever known there was a mechanism for people other than the 20 friends that I originally directed to the site to find my brain droppings. For one thing, my real name would be unlikely to be at the top of this page.

4) If you haven’t read it already, you need to read the playoff journal of Phoenix Suns 12th man, Paul Shirley. Seriously, get off of this page right now, and read this guy’s journal. It is maybe the most entertaining basketball writing that you will read all year—simply hilarious. Similarly hilarious is his earlier journal about a Suns’ road trip. Who knew that an NBA bench player could be such a talented writer? Whether or not this guy keeps playing, NBA.com, or some other media outlet needs to capitalize on his abilities as a scribe. I would happily pay some sort of subscription fee to access a full-season journal on NBA.com, and given how cheap I am, that’s saying something. But why are you still reading what I have to say? Didn’t I tell you to head to the Paul Shirley journal?

5) As Dwyane Wade’s recent play in the faux-basketball league that is the NBA showed, he is likely to be considered as one of the NBA’s top superstars for some time. The NBA should market the hell out of him, because in addition to being a stellar athlete, by all accounts he seems to be a really, really good guy. I had the good fortune of seeing him play a bit in college, but today I’d like to recount the first time Wade entered my consciousness. Why? Because there’s nothing going on, and I have time to kill.

The first time I heard about Dwyane Wade was incredibly, at a high school game at Milwaukee Vincent. Wade was sitting out the year for Marquette as an academic non-qualifier. I was sitting in front of some sort of low-level AAU-type guy who noted to a friend that Marquette had a freshman who couldn’t play yet, but was lighting up everybody in practice. He went on to note that Marquette had better enjoy him when he did become eligible, since he’d be in the NBA before his eligibility was up. I kind of chuckled at the time, since that’s pretty high praise to be throwing around for an ineligible freshman who had flown under the recruiting radar. As the year went on, though, I heard more people talking like this guy. As we know now, this guy knew what he was talking about.

6) So Wisconsin fans are asking themselves all sorts of questions about Jerry Smith and Trevon Hughes, as they have only one scholarship left, and two of the best guards in recent Wisconsin memory remain in the mix. My take? Bear in mind that I’ve only seen Hughes play one half of basketball, and I’ve seen Smith play upwards of 20 games, so I probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but I’d rather the Badgers got Smith. Smith seems like the type of guy who physically and mentally could step in and be a solid cog from the first day he steps on campus. I somewhat doubt that he’ll become a superstar, but I have no doubt that he’ll be a consistent contributor who is good enough to see plenty of court time during all four years of college. I see some superstar potential in Hughes, but 9 times out of 10 I’m taking the surest bet, even if it doesn’t have the biggest payoff, and Smith is as sure a bet as I’ve seen in awhile.

Of course, all that said, I have no idea of whether either one will ever wear Badger red. Frankly, Badger fans should be delighted if either one signs on to play for Bo Ryan. My guess (and it’s just a guess) is that both young men should be ready to announce their intentions sometime in the next 2-3 weeks, and that Hughes will be joining the Badgers. As for Smith, I have long been a doubter of Wake Forest, but I think that’s where he ends up. We’ll see in awhile how accurate my gut is, but it should be a fun ride in the meantime.

7) I’d give kudos to Marquette for backing off of their ill-fated “Gold” decision, but that would sort of be like praising someone for wiping up a glass of milk after accidentally spilling it. They had to find a way to back off of one of the worst ideas that I’ve ever seen. Somewhat to their credit, though, they did come up with what seems to be a palatable solution. And I’m also pretty pleased that the two nicknames that I found most likable ended up in the final two. Seriously, who was voting for “The Spirit?”

8) So Bob Huggins isn’t getting his contract renewed at Cincinnati. I can’t say I can blame the Bearcats, though the non-renewal news comes at sort of an awkward time, as Huggins had finally cracked the 0% mark on graduation this year. Huggins has always had an aura of sleaze around him. From his 0% graduation rate, to his DUI arrest last year, to an array of players in trouble with the law, it isn’t rocket science to surmise that Huggins is a somewhat unsavory character.

One of my personal favorite moments that sort of involves Bob Huggins came when I was still in school. While walking to one of the buildings on campus one day, I saw another student walking in the opposite direction wearing an obnoxious-looking black and silver t-shirt. I hypothesized that once I got closer the shirt would be revealed to have come from a strip club, and have some obscene slogan. Instead, the t-shirt revealed a silhouette not of a woman dancing on a pole, but of a basketball player and read “1999 Bob Huggins Basketball Camp.” It was simultaneously the most and least appropriate camp t-shirt that I’ve ever seen.

And if you haven’t already seen this wonderful link which Yoni Cohen provides, enjoy this hilarious op-ed by Nick “Mr. Jessica Simpson” Lachey, which focuses partly on Huggins and how he should not be held responsible for the off-court misbehavior of his players. I could go on about how that’s absurd when such a regular pattern has developed (and as a Wisconsin football fan, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on that point), but I’ll refrain, because no one wins when they match wits with Nick Lachey.

9) So the local team, the Milwaukee Bucks, landed the #1 pick in the NBA draft. Not two days before the draft lottery I was on the phone with my friend Nick when I noted “I think the Bucks are going to win the lottery this year. I mean, the prize this time around is a big white guy, so it would only make sense that they would win in an off year.” After the shocking parade through Milwaukee of white guys 6’9” and over (names that come to mind include: Larry Kystkowiak, Frank Brickowski, Randy Bruer, Paul Mokeski, Fred Roberts, Joel Przybilla, and my all-time favorite, Marty Conlon) during my lifetime, one can’t help but notice that it is fate that the Bucks would get first crack at Bogut.

Of course, I mean no disrespect or ill-will toward Bogut. I think the Bucks’ GM is a fool if he doesn’t take Bogut, because he’s clearly the best player in the draft. Marvin Williams may have great upside, but he still didn’t start on his college team. Admittedly, I watched less Utah games when Rick Majerus left coaching, but early in the 2003-2004 season I found myself scratching my head trying to figure out how Bogut could only be a freshman.

Of course, my loyalty to the Bucks is unlikely to be changed whoever they take. I plan on attending exactly the same number of games as I did this past season. Zero.

So that’s my early-summer update. I’ll be back with random thoughts in the days to come. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to ignoring the NBA finals. Stupid fake basketball.

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