Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Late Summer Ramblings

While it would appear derelict of me to completely miss the opportunity to give my thoughts on the recent verbal commitment off Trevon Hughes to Wisconsin last week, I have a good excuse on why I've been so hopelessly out of touch. I was out of the state on vacation last week, and lacking a computer to travel with me, I had no reasonable way to track down Wisconsin sports news. Not that I really would have done much reading up on the the hoops scene in Wisconsin when I was staying 100 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, but for the last week, I didn't even have the option of seeking such info. Remarkably, I learned of this big piece of recruiting news while sitting poolside and checking voice messages on my phone this past Friday night. My friend Kevin had called for another reason, but threw in a comment about Hughes as an aside, since we typically can get off on a 20 minute basketball tangent during any conversation. So I was a few days late on learning some key basketball news. On the upside, faced with limited newspaper options for the week, I learned quite a bit about the high school football scene in eastern South Carolina. I'm sure that should come in handy somewhere down the road.

Enough about why I haven't commented yet. Here are my thoughts on Trevon Hughes, and a number of other things crossing my mind this summer.

1) I could ramble on and on about what the Trevon Hughes decision means, but at the end of the day, I think we all know that his decision to play at Wisconsin is a good thing. The state of Wisconsin hangs on to a player that's been highly touted for a long time, the Badgers can relax a bit on the recruiting trail now with what should be its entire 2006 freshman class signed up, and Hughes can focus his mind on playing good basketball in his senior year. One final thought, though--having now read articles about Hughes' announcement, I am astounded at how this guy consistently said all of the right things during his announcement. He expressed actual legitimate reasons for wanting to attend Wisconsin, and was generally respectful of other schools which had recruited him. Whoever is advising this kid on how to deal with the press should be working for the White House press secretary. No 17-year-old should be that poised with the press.

2) I missed the opportunity to do so earlier, but I'd like to give my congratulations, and my thanks to a friend of mine who will soon be moving to perhaps the greatest region of the country in which to watch basketball. The congrats are on the new job, the new house and the chance for my friend to fully indulge his basketball passion in his new home region. The thanks are for giving me an excuse to travel somewhere to watch big-time hoops this year.

3) Since I'm handing out thanks, I'd like to pass along some thanks to my aforementioned friend Kevin. As noted, Kevin deserves thanks for unknowingly giving me my first knowledge of Trevon Hughes' college decision. However he deserves thanks for something bigger. You see, Kevin's the guy that I can talk about the obscure stuff with. Division 3, up-and-coming high schoolers, great prep players that never quite got the shot at D-1 for one reason or another--no topic of conversation is off limits. So, when earlier this summer I put forth the idea of checking out a high school summer league game or two, and Kevin noted that going to something like that might be a bit much, I had to take it to heart. There's a fine line between being a basketball fanatic, and just flat out being a nerd. Thanks, Kevin, for reminding me where that line is when I forget.

4) It appears that last week I also missed the fact that Milwaukee King's Leneal Harris has accepted a scholarship offer to play at UWM next year. Sounds good to me. Harris really impressed me the last time that I saw King. Despite being the least hyped player on his team, he might have been the best guy on the floor. And that's saying a lot, since King returns a scary amount of talent this year. I'll save further comment for a future pre-season preview, but let's just say for now that there's only one area high school team that I've ever seen with as much talent as this year's King squad.

5) I’ve had a few days to think about it, and I’m still not sure where I stand on the new NCAA ban on Native American mascots in the NCAA tourney. It’s an issue that has kicked around in my head for years, having seen a mascot controversey close up back in my high school days. Back then, I was strongly opposed to mascots and logos that could widely be seen as offensive to minority groups. I still generally feel the same way, but I see a lot more grey area today. For instance, like many others, while I generally think that the NCAA tournament ban is a positive step, it seems very unfair to me that a school like Florida State, which appears to have made a genuine effort to reach out and work cooperatively with the local Seminole community to ensure the creation of something that both entities can be proud of. Surely this can’t be the same as a school that just randomly chose the nickname “Fighting Braves,” can it? I certainly don’t pretend to know the history on all schools, but from my vantage point, at least one institution is not getting the credit that they deserve for appropriately dealing with a potentially touchy situation. Not that I know how to create a structure to recognize these efforts...

(And I promise, this will be the last time that I say anything positive about Florida State. Partially, of course, because the above matter is about the only good thing that one can say about Florida State.)

I should also add that I laughed the first time that I read an article about this new ban, as this initial article referenced Wisconsin and Iowa as being models for change, through their policies not to schedule games against teams with Native American mascots. While I can’t speak to Iowa’s policy, I know that Wisconsin’s policy applies only to regular season games (i.e., no tournament forfeits for a bad pairing), and includes exemptions from the policy for conference opponents and traditional rivals (likely an out to keep Marquette on the basketball schedule back when the policy was drafted). As you can see, this really only stops games against teams with Native American mascots when it’s convenient for Wisconsin to do so. Sure, it’s a nice starting point, but it’s not exactly the model for change that I’ve seen it touted as. I don't find it a particularly principled stance, nor do I find it to be one that the athletic department wouldn’t try to get around if enough money was on the table.

6) My friend Peter is addicted to NCAA Basketball for his Playstation. Modern video games are generally lost on me (yes, I do have an original Nintendo hooked up in my living room), but I love hearing Peter talk about his teams. In the past two months I’ve heard things like “I just coached UWM to two straight conference championships, and now we’ve been invited to the Pac-10,” and “The NCAA just sanctioned my team for violations.” Who can’t respect a game with that much detail? When I toss Double Dribble into my Nintendo, I’m just hoping that I can make the Boston Frogs score more points than the LA Breakers, or the Chicago Oxen. When I talk to Peter, though, I find myself asking questions like “Is your power forward attending all of his classes?” and “Did you review the transcripts of that Juco point guard you’re recruiting?” More often than not, Peter has an honest answer to these questions. Yes, video games have come a ridiculously long way since I was a kid.

(Of course, it wouldn’t be totally fair if I didn’t point out the game’s biggest flaw. Peter was coaching Harvard for awhile and kept telling me about the guys he had on scholarship. Everyone knows that the Ivy League doesn’t offer athletic scholarships. Come on, Sega!)

7) Last night I was cooking some dinner and listening to the radio show of Steve “The Homer” True, who announced that after this week his daily show was being moved from the 6-8pm time slot to the 9-11pm time slot. On its face, this has no basketball implications, but let me explain further. True, in addition to being my main source of entertainment when I cook dinner every night, is perhaps best known as play-by-play man for Marquette basketball broadcasts. Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel speculated (not shockingly) that this may prompt True to move to another station when his contract is up (which apparently is something that will occur within the next couple months). If this is the case, does Homer still do the Marquette broadcasts? I honestly don’t know. I know that he’s got a great relationship with the school, and that Marquette probably doesn’t want to enter the Big East with an entirely new broadcast team, after the retirement of George Thompson this past year. Can that overcome Homer’s potential contract problems, though? A broadcast with neither George Thompson nor Homer is a shocking proposition, to say the least. Though admittedly, I think Homer is much more gifted at doing a talk show than he is at calling game.

8) Marquette's Big East schedule is out. No home game against West Virginia. Sadly, it appears that Kevin Pittsnogle will not visit my fair state until his lengthy and properous NBA career, which is inevitable.

9) Speaking of Mr. Pittsnogle, a huge thank you to my friend Dez for a voice message earlier today informing of me of today's USA Today sports section cover story entitled "The Summer of Pittsnogle," which profiles the popular West Virgina center. Upon hearing this, I bought a copy as I was leaving work and read the entire article before leaving my parking garage. I completely would have missed this if not for Dez alertiing me. I'm still not completely sure how the editors at USA Today, during the thick of NFL training camp, the start of college football practice, and the heating up of baseball's pennant races, thought to themselves "Hey, let's run a cover story on that college basketball player from West Virginia with the funny name. College basketball's been over for four months and doesn't start up again for another three months, but what the heck." Whatever thought process brought us this story, though, I'm not complaining.

And it is a great feature. Before reading the piece, I always had loved Pittsnogle because he looked like a West Virginia stereotype. Now I know that he is a West Virginia stereotype (not that I'm judging, because I reinforce my fair share of Wisconsin stereotypes). You should read the piece for yourself, but here are a few key tidbits to tide you over:

a) Kevin got a new tattoo this summer. When asked how many tattoos he has, he replied "Depends how you count."

b) Kevin learned to shoot well because the court at the trailer park that he grew up at had a surface that was so poor, it didn't allow for consistent dribbling. Thus, all anyone ever did was shoot.

c) Sorry ladies, Kevin's married. He was to be married this summer, but the wedding date ended up being a year early due to an unexpected pregnancy. As his now wife astutely notes about the situation, " I didn't want to be a big, fat bride."

And yes, you are a fool if you don't think that I'm cutting this article out, framing it, and putting it up somewhere in my apartment.

So that's the mid-August update. Within the next week or so, I'll let you in on some of the websites that I use to get my basketball fix during the summer. It's tougher right now, but as USA Today showed us today, someone's always thinking about the college game.


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