Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute: St. John's

Of all the St. John's players of the past four years, none may be remembered more so than D.J. Kennedy. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Our final edition of Memorial Day tributes takes a look at the team that captured the hearts of a city; and to a lesser extent, a nation as well. After chronicling Seton Hall's first year under Kevin Willard and revisiting the start of something big for Mike Rice and Rutgers; it's time to finally honor the seniors that brought St. John's back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, as we remember the "Journey with the Johnnies."

No. 3, Malik Boothe (Photo courtesy of New York Post)
Malik was the exception to the rule: A local kid that decided to stay home as he went to the next level after a stellar career at Christ the King under coach Bob Oliva. After serving as Eugene Lawrence's understudy in his freshman campaign while providing glimpses into a promising future as the starter at the point, Malik never let opponents intimidate him. His tendency to hold nothing back while giving you a little bit of everything in a way that always made his numbers bigger than what they actually were is what made him so good. The little man stood only 5-9; but his positive attitude and intense style of play proves that good things really do come in small packages.

Malik's Defining Moment: It came down to two, but we'll go with February 24, 2010. In Anthony Mason Jr.'s final game at Carnesecca Arena, Boothe drained a three in the final seconds to tie Marquette at 54 and send the game into overtime. The Golden Eagles eventually won on a Jimmy Butler buzzer-beater; but Boothe's heroics sent a rush through the crowd that brought back memories to the days of another Malik, the late Malik Sealy. Also considered was Boothe's performance against West Virginia as a freshman on March 8, 2008, when he calmly hit two free throws to give the Red Storm a brief lead on West Virginia before Joe Mazzulla's driving layup tied the game at the end of regulation.

No. 32, Justin Brownlee (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
The other Justin came to the Johnnies two years ago from junior college in Florida and started out as a reserve under Norm Roberts. Little did we know that the versatile swingman would not only find his way into the everyday lineup for Steve Lavin; but also become one of the irreplaceable pieces to the Red Storm as they shocked the world all the way to the "Big Dance." The most outstanding player in both the Great Alaska Shootout and Holiday Festival, Brownlee was unfazed by his hardware; continuing to be a go-to guy for St. John's through the eighteen games that comprised their Big East schedule, including one against Rutgers that he won while fighting a broken thumb.

JB2's Defining Moment: The Rutgers game stands out, but his efforts in the final ten seconds on January 3, 2011 are Brownlee's official induction into the group of Red Storm legends. After ripping down an offensive rebound from a Dwight Hardy miss, (more on him later) Brownlee drove inside for a layup that gave the Johnnies the lead for good on their way to a 61-58 win over Georgetown that allowed the boys from Queens to improve to 3-0 in conference at that point; a crucial win in a season that saw St. John's win twelve games in the Big East, tying them for third-most in the league.

No. 24, Justin Burrell (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
The Johnnies' best player as a freshman underwent a reinvention of sorts throughout his four years, going from a dominating post presence to a reserve after an ankle injury in his junior year to an X-factor that was named the Big East's Sixth Man of the Year this past season. Steve Lavin hardly started the 6-8 forward, but was never afraid to bring him into any of the Storm's 33 contests. Once regarded as a can't-miss prospect, Burrell will live on in the hearts of St. John's fans as someone who never put himself above the team.

JB's Defining Moment: January 3, 2009. Playing in just his third game after returning from facial injuries, Burrell's 18 points and six rebounds while donning his notorious protective facemask provided the perfect complement to a D.J. Kennedy double-double as the Johnnies upset then-No. 7 Notre Dame 71-65 inside Madison Square Garden for what was the biggest win in Norm Roberts' career at the time; as well as what would be the biggest win for the program until the epic upset against Duke two years later.

No. 42, Kevin Clark (Photo courtesy of Scranton Times-Tribune)
The working class hero of the team, one that was just as much a source of inspiration as he was a competitive spirit on and off the court. The Johnnies' equivalent of "Rudy," Clark only saw minutes after the outcome of the game had by and large been decided; but that didn't stop him from letting up, nor did it stop the St. John's faithful from cheering their beloved walk-on in a relentless attempt to will him to a basket every time he touched the floor.

Kevin's Defining Moment: Senior night this past season at Carnesecca Arena. In the Storm's March 5th affair against South Florida, Steve Lavin substituted his starting seniors individually in a classy move so that each one could get a standing ovation. No reaction matched the pop that nearly blew the roof off of Carnesecca when Clark entered, however. With St. John's having already put USF away heading into the final media timeout, a sellout crowd started to chant "We Want Kevin!," and would not stop until Clark made his way out. When Clark did finally come into the game, it was among the louder ovations I personally have heard in four years covering this team. The guard didn't score, but impressed his large fan base with a no-look pass to fellow walk-on Cameron Edison that kids on playgrounds can't even replicate.

No. 15, Dele Coker (Photo courtesy of
Another career reserve that didn't get the chance to play as often as he would have liked, Coker made a name for himself with his aggressive style that was a boom for the Johnnies and a bane for opponents that had never seen him before. An effective complement to Tomas Jasiulionis whenever those two were on the court simultaneously, St. John's could count on defensive stands inside while opening their guards up for open looks outside.

Dele's Defining Moment: This one was hard because of his limited action, but we'll go with December 9, 2009. In the SEC/Big East Invitational against Georgia, Coker gave the Madison Square Garden crowd something to talk about while waiting for John Wall and Kentucky to face UConn later on that night with a six-point, five-rebound and five-block performance against Georgia just four days after the Johnnies suffered their first loss of the season, a close defeat at the hands of Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

No. 5, Sean Evans (Photo courtesy of New York Post)
One of two Philadelphia natives on this team, Evans was just as athletic as he was defensively gifted. Never one to light up teams offensively, (unless you count his sophomore campaign, where he averaged ten points per game) Evans' greatest achievements were those that did not show up in the box score. Among the team leaders in rebounds and steals, Evans also improved at the free throw line late in his career to become an underrated player that got closer to being a complete prospect down the road.

Sean's Defining Moment: March 10, 2009 in the Big East tournament against Georgetown; or for those of you who know me well, the "landline game" of WSJU Radio fame. Evans was held scoreless in the first half as D.J. Kennedy and Paris Horne basically carried the Red Storm on their back; but came up big in the final stanza en route to a 12-point, 13-rebound effort that earned him "Vincenzo's Pizza Player of the Game" honors on my postgame show that afternoon, one that saw St. John's upend Georgetown for the second time in seven days, this time by the final of 64-59.

No. 12, Dwight Hardy (Photo courtesy of
The team MVP last season and Big East's Most Improved Player. Those are just two of the hundreds of accolades Hardy garnered in his second season with St. John's after coming to Queens from Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, where he spent his first two seasons. Hardy developed from a sixth man with a killer outside shot into a point guard whose refusal to lose provided a mentality in this team that saw St. John's play inspiring basketball on the way to defeating one Top 25 opponent after another. Or, if you're Quinn Rochford, you're a big fan of Hardy wanting to run the ball screen for Justin Brownlee.

Dwight's Defining Moment: The one pictured above, coming on February 19th of this year. "D-Buckets" channeled his inner Baryshnikov according to coach Steve Lavin on this reverse layup in which he appeared to step over the baseline, but it went unnoticed by the officials as Hardy's basket provided the winning margin for St. John's in their 60-59 upset of then-No. 4 Pittsburgh as the Storm moved one step closer at the time to an NCAA Tournament appearance.

No. 23, Paris Horne (Photo courtesy of Slam Magazine)
Referred to by Steve Lavin as the "Energizer bunny," Horne was a little bit of everything. He could shoot, he could dunk, he could defend. What more could you ask for in a player? When Anthony Mason Jr. went down for the season just three games into the year in 2008, Horne picked up the slack impressively, becoming the team's leading scorer while holding on to his starting job through the following season. Horne was benched at the beginning of his senior campaign, but ultimately won the shooting guard position back as Dwight Hardy blossomed into one of the Big East's best point guards.

Paris' Defining Moment: "Air Horne" was inhaling a different kind of air on January 24, 2009 against Rutgers. Paris was seemingly perfect that night, going 12-of-13 from the field on the way to a career-high 27 points in the Johnnies' 70-59 victory over the Scarlet Knights at Madison Square Garden. Also considered was Horne's 23-point effort against Georgetown in the Big East tournament later that year.

No. 1, D.J. Kennedy (Photo courtesy of New York Post)
"The Hitman" (credit Keith Arias for that one on color commentary when he and I called the St. John's-Howard game on WSJU back on November 22, 2008) went from a freshman with a lot of potential to the heart and soul of St. John's basketball before his senior season was prematurely cut short by a torn ACL, an injury that provided the "#DoItForDJ" hashtag created on Twitter by teammate Sean Evans and spread throughout Johnny Nation by superfan Bill Brusca. Kennedy was another player that could seemingly do it all, from his ability to burn you inside and outside to his sixth sense when it came to rebounding and tracking down a loose ball.

D.J.'s Defining Moment: Honestly, there are too many to mention; but we'll go with March 5, 2010. Kennedy provided a career-high 32 points and seven three-pointers on the road as St. John's needed triple overtime to defeat DePaul in the same building where Bret Hart made "Stone Cold" Steve Austin pass out from the sharpshooter at WrestleMania 13 in 1997, providing us with a past and present look at "The Hitman."

No. 55, Rob Thomas (Photo courtesy of The East Coast Bias)
The man who shares his name with the Matchbox 20 frontman was the human interest story before (and even after) Kevin Clark. Overcoming learning disabilities to play Division I basketball, Thomas added a new title to his resume as the team's "student assistant" last year after being one of Norm Roberts' top reserves in his sophomore season, making his first career start as a replacement for Justin Burrell in the Holiday Festival.

Rob's Defining Moment: March 3, 2009. The final regular season home game for the Red Storm was one that went to overtime the week before Georgetown sought redemption in the Big East tournament. Thomas' two free throws were the deciding factor in the extra session as the Johnnies eked out the 59-56 win that damaged the Hoyas' NCAA Tournament dreams.

Head Coach Steve Lavin (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
The savior, the king of Queens, the man who provided a match made in heaven after returning triumphantly to the sidelines after seven years as a color commentator and studio analyst "barnstorming the country" (in his own words) with Brent Musburger on ESPN. Revered by certain members of the Daly Dose fan base as much as Mariano Rivera and Eli Manning, Lavin's fierce coaching style, affable charm, and propensity for quotes that will last a lifetime made just as much of an impact as his fashion statements down the stretch last year. The coach simply credited "putting hammer to rock" as the reason behind his team's newfound success, and Johnny fans will hope the hammer hasn't rusted over the summer as the youngest squad in program history looks to replicate last season's miracle.

Lav's Defining Moment: His speech during a timeout in the aforementioned Pittsburgh game back on February 19th. "Win one for the Gipper" has nothing on this call to action imparted by Lavin on his young players as the Johnnies came back to provide yet another magic moment:

"This is Madison Square Garden! You've got this place electrified. You're playing with your best friends, and you're playing at Madison Square Garden. This is fun! It's about enjoying this moment, and playing with passion."
- Steve Lavin during a second-half timeout, St. John's vs. Pittsburgh, February 19, 2011

Lavin said at his introductory press conference that with the reception he received, "you can't help but feel that you do belong." Not only does he belong, he has already returned to the game of college basketball bigger and better than ever before; a hero to fans of one of the most illustrious programs in the game.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute: Rutgers

Always underrated, Rutgers forward Jonathan Mitchell finally gets people to take notice of him after his four-point play in final seconds to beat Villanova. (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)

In the first piece of our three-part series honoring the recently departed seniors of the three local Big East programs, we reminisced about those who had left Seton Hall and their contributions to the Pirates. Our second installment also focuses on New Jersey; but makes a trip down the Garden State Parkway to honor a team I still believe is the Rocky Balboa of the Big East, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

No. 10, James Beatty (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
Plucked out of junior college by Fred Hill two years ago, this crafty shooting guard made a name for himself by becoming a combo backcourt player with his ability to be effective both at the point and off the ball for both Hill and current Rutgers coach Mike Rice. A true silent killer, Beatty was as much a threat giving the ball up for a teammate as he was taking a shot for himself; and was among Rutgers' best three-point shooters during his two years in Piscataway.

JB's Defining Moment: Here's one player whose greatest contributions went largely unnoticed since he was more of a facilitator than an aggressor, but Beatty's career night came this past January against Marquette. The deceptive senior scored a career-high 24 points in an effort fueled by six threes against the Golden Eagles.

No. 31, Mike Coburn (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
A high school teammate of Jonathan Mitchell (more on him later) while playing for Bob Cimmino at Mount Vernon, Coburn's flashy speed and steady hand gave Mike Rice a formidable one-two punch in the backcourt with the aforementioned James Beatty. Mike's willingness to be the man that set up most of the scoring for the Scarlet Knights enabled Beatty to become an additional scoring option that joined Mitchell and Dane Miller up front, especially from outside.

Mike's Defining Moment: A throwback here, since it came during his freshman year against archrival Seton Hall. Exactly one week after setting a career-high with 23 points against Villanova, Coburn equaled that number against the Pirates; and added nine rebounds for good measure in an effort that proved he would not soon be forgotten in Piscataway.

No. 5, Robert Lumpkins (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
The epitome of an unsung hero after transferring to Rutgers by way of New Mexico State. A former teammate of Seton Hall's Herb Pope at NMSU, Lumpkins was immediately eligible to play for Rutgers; and although his time with the Scarlet Knights was limited, he played each second he was on the court as if it were his last.

Rob's Defining Moment: February 2, 2011 at Carnesecca Arena. Just when it looked like St. John's would pull away from the Jersey boys, Lumpkins kicked it into another gear. The senior tallied 13 points off the bench, eleven of which came in the final two minutes and seventeen seconds of regulation. Lumpkins was the catalyst behind Rutgers' late rally with three consecutive three-pointers that tied the game at 56, but St. John's managed a layup from Justin Brownlee (pictured above) in the final seconds for the 58-56 victory.

No. 24, Jonathan Mitchell (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
It is really a shame to see this kid go. That was how much Mitchell endeared himself to the basketball fan in me, so much so to where I posted my opinions of him in this very space. After sitting on Billy Donovan's bench while Florida won their second of two consecutive national championships, Mitchell transferred into Piscataway looking for more playing time; and in the process became the most underrated player in the Big East, and maybe college basketball in general while simultaneously becoming one of my favorite players to cover. A warrior that gets better every day, Mitchell will hopefully get a chance to shine in the NBA.

J-Mitch's Defining Moment: February 9th of this past year against Villanova, when he completed his well-documented four-point play by hitting a three with eight tenths of a second remaining in a regulation and drawing a foul on Villanova's Corey Fisher in the process. Since the play was so dramatic; and because Mitchell was such a great player, I've uploaded this video taken by one of the lucky people in attendance at the RAC that night.

Why is @DalyDoseOfHoops yelling at me?
Head Coach Mike Rice (Photo courtesy of Quinn Rochford by way of ESPN)
In much the same way Jonathan Mitchell became my favorite player this past year, Mike Rice became the latest member of the group I like to call my favorite coaches. His intensity is misunderstood for just how driven and motivated to succeed he really is. How else can a coach get so much out of so little? From our first meeting at last October's Big East media day all the way to courtside encounters at both St. Francis (where he was in attendance to see his former Robert Morris squad face the Terriers) and St. John's, Rice has proven that he is a class act and easily likable guy both on and off the court. Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti didn't just hit a home run by hiring Mike Rice to replace Fred Hill, he hit a grand slam. Just take a look at the Scarlet Knights' performance last season versus what was predicted of them; then look at the recruiting class coming into Piscataway this fall, and you'll see that the best truly is yet to come on the banks of the old Raritan.

Rice's Defining Moment: This one came off the court in the wake of the Scarlet Knights' devastating Big East tournament loss to St. John's after officials Jim Burr and Tim Higgins missed a blatant step out of bounds and apparent travel committed by the aforementioned Justin Brownlee of the Red Storm. As Rice prepared to address the media in his postgame press conference, I'm sure that the majority of media in attendance expected Rice to criticize the officials in some way. What we got, however, was a remarkable display of restraint that gave even the most vocal of Rice haters more than one reason to embrace the head man. If you haven't read my opinion of Rice yet, I'll give you a chance to see why this man should be celebrated.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day Tribute: Seton Hall

Jeremy Hazell carved out quite a career through four years in South Orange, becoming third-leading scorer in Seton Hall history. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

With Memorial Day weekend now upon us, I thought I'd do something to honor those who could use a little recognition. These people have not passed on, (thank God for that) but their contributions were significant in their own way. Today will mark the first of a three-part series in which I'll pay tribute to the recently graduated seniors and head coaches from each of the three local college basketball programs in the Big East, and up first is Seton Hall.

No. 21, Jeremy Hazell
The man pictured above instilled fear in the eyes of his opponents and created nightmares for coaches when devising matchups and plays to stop him. The sweet shooter was such a weapon that he became arguably the best player that both Bobby Gonzalez and Kevin Willard had ever coached before his time in South Orange was through. The third-leading scorer in Pirates history, Hazell managed a double-figure scoring night in each game during his sophomore year; and still found a way to average close to twenty points per game in his final season despite overcoming a broken wrist and a shooting incident on Christmas night. The Harlem native came to the Garden State after a year at the Patterson School in North Carolina, a prep program that has produced a Who's Who of Big East stars the likes of Dwight Hardy and Wes Johnson among others; and his first highlight in a Seton Hall jersey was his 65-footer at Carnesecca Arena that would have tied Seton Hall at 65 with St. John's after Anthony Mason Jr. hit a three of his own with 1.5 seconds left that gave the Johnnies the lead, but the basket was rescinded after officials determined Gonzalez had called his final timeout prior to Hazell getting the shot off.

Jeremy's Defining Moment: It's hard to pick just one; but for the sake of space within this column, we'll go with his 35-point outburst against Notre Dame at the Prudential Center back in his junior year. Hazell poured in his 35 on 12-of-16 shooting (including eight three-pointers) and added four steals as the Pirates upset the eventual NCAA Tournament-bound Fighting Irish by the final of 90-87.

No. 22, Jamel Jackson (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
Even though this transfer was dismissed from the team this past season after being brought in by Bobby Gonzalez the year before, he still walked across the stage at his graduation; and die-hard Pirates fans will still remember him when they recall the 2009-10 NIT team. Jackson never really got a fair shake, and his dismissal may or may not have had something to do with Pat Hobbs wanting to put his own stamp on the program; but that's another issue for another time.

Jamel's Defining Moment: Without question, it's his explosive effort against VMI from December 2009. Jackson shocked most of the basketball world by going off for 40 points on 14-of-17 shooting, with twelve of the field goals coming from beyond the arc. Jeremy Hazell added 33 of his own in the Pirates' 134-107 victory, one that saw Seton Hall improve to 8-0 at that point in the season. In this contest, Jackson became the first player to score at least 40 for the Pirates since all-time leading scorer Terry Dehere did it in 1993.

No. 2, Keon Lawrence (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
Another Gonzalez transfer that came to New Jersey from the University of Missouri, and another who was unceremoniously dismissed from the team midway through the year last season. Lawrence had made his fair share of mistakes, but it didn't diminish his talent whenever he got a chance to show it off.

Keon's Defining Moment: The Newark product had his finest hour on January 31st of this year against Cincinnati. Despite losing to the Bearcats by the final of 70-53, Lawrence set a career high for the Pirates with 15 points and six rebounds off the bench.

No. 14, Eniel Polynice (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
The transfer that was able to play immediately after leaving the University of Mississippi was lauded by Kevin Willard at Big East media day last October for his versatility, described by the coach as a player who could play anything from point guard to power forward. Unfortunately, Polynice didn't produce as much as fans would have liked; but was still a high-energy player off the bench that gave Seton Hall productive minutes any and every time he stepped on the court.

EP's Defining Moment: The last game of the regular season at the Prudential Center against Marquette. Two days removed from a shocking upset on their home court against St. John's in a game that saw a rare ejection of Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin, Polynice chipped in with eleven points as the Pirates headed into the Big East tournament on a two-game winning streak; jeopardizing the Golden Eagles' NCAA Tournament hopes at the time.

No. 32, Jeff Robinson (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
The versatile small forward that joined the team halfway through the 2009-10 season after becoming eligible in the wake of his transfer from Memphis gave the Pirates something to smile about down the stretch of his junior campaign. His impressive performance against St. John's (16 points, nine rebounds) after Jeremy Hazell left the game with a hand injury was the biggest key to giving Bobby Gonzalez his long-awaited first win at Carnesecca Arena, as the Pirates overcame the Johnnies by the final of 59-50. Robinson continued his unsung hero style into his final season; and despite a performance in the Big East tournament against Rutgers that he'd probably like to forget, he remains an integral part of Pirates basketball over the last two years.

J-Rob's Defining Moment: Another Pirate with several on the list to mention, but it's his outing against archrival Rutgers at the RAC in March of 2010 that stands out in my opinion. Robinson picked that game to record his first double-double in a Seton Hall uniform, scoring 16 points and ripping down 14 rebounds as the Pirates defeated their Garden State adversaries in Piscataway by the final of 85-74.

Head Coach Kevin Willard (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
Hired to succeed Bobby Gonzalez after he was surprisingly (and unjustly to some) fired immediately following the Pirates' NIT loss to Texas Tech, Willard's maiden voyage in South Orange was one marked by turmoil and adversity. From losing Jeremy Hazell for almost two months due to the aforementioned broken wrist and attempted robbery in which he was shot to the departures of Lawrence and Jackson that forced him to play a seven-man rotation at times, Willard made the best of what he was dealt in a season where Seton Hall finished 13-18 after progressively improving their win total in each of the previous four seasons under Gonzalez.

Willard's Defining Moment: January 25th at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse had come in on a two-game losing streak after being undefeated well into the new year; and the Pirates executed better than any other point that season in their signature game of the year, a 90-68 demolition of the Orange just seventeen days after Syracuse had defeated Seton Hall in a close game at the Prudential Center in which Brandon Triche proved vital for the Orange from beyond the arc. Willard would get two more huge wins to close out the regular season against St. John's and Marquette, but neither were as significant or as resounding as this one.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Splitsville For Big East?

Could the nets that hold all 17 Big East programs be cut in the future? UConn head coach Jim Calhoun thinks it's a foregone conclusion. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

The induction of Texas Christian as the seventeenth institution in the Big East Conference effective next July has a myriad of effects on what has come to be regarded as the strongest conference in college basketball. For instance, the league's 18-game schedule will either lose one of its three home-and-home series or perhaps expand to as many as twenty games. While there are some out there who embrace the idea of the rich getting richer, there are others who are outspoken critics of expanding membership into an already expansive league that the Big East hopes to add an eighteenth member to in the near future.

"My own personal opinion, and I won't probably see this: In the next couple of years, I think you'll see a separation," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who last month celebrated his third national championship win. "I think it's inevitable." It should be noted that Calhoun is not particularly enamored with the Big East's current state, as every year at Big East media day there is a question asked of the legendary coach that results in his belief that eighteen games versus the former sixteen-game ledger isn't exactly the best thing for the teams and players. Veteran scribe Dick "Hoops" Weiss of the New York Daily News tweeted his unfortunate agreement with Calhoun yesterday, and I will do the same here today.

The split of the Big East would best work out if the "football schools" (referred to as such since football is their highest revenue generator) broke away and formed their own league, leaving the "basketball schools" to do the same. Under that scenario, the reformed Big East (which would then become two separate conferences) would look like this:
Football schools: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse, Texas Christian, West Virginia
Basketball schools: DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova

To an educated fan, this also creates a split between public and private institutions; which also brings the financial issue of basketball not bringing in enough cash to compete with the football programs into play. If you're not sure just how influential this gap between the haves and have nots of the gridiron is, just take a look at the disparity in salary between Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, the lowest-paid head man in Big East basketball; and UConn's Jim Calhoun, the highest-paid employee in the state of Connecticut. Or, you can watch the video below.

Calhoun also thinks the prospect of the basketball schools adding some other mid-major programs to their own conference is a distinct possibility, and I agree with that as well. With the eight mentioned above, one could conceivably picture another four schools joining up to form a new conference. Here are four schools that would be best served jumping ship:

Xavier: Aside from Temple, they're the second-most recognizable institution in the Atlantic 10, and a private university just like its prospective new brethren. Not only that, but Xavier is one of the more consistently successful mid-majors in Division I; and coach Chris Mack's Musketeers are capable of making a deep NCAA Tournament run every season. The move would add to an already intense rivalry with intra-city adversary Cincinnati, a feud that comes to a head every year in the "Crosstown Shootout."

St. Joseph's: Assuming Villanova decides not to move its football program up from the Football Championship Subdivision, (Division 1-AA for my fellow old timers out there) it's only natural that another Philadelphia school joins the fray. Even if the Wildcats do cross over and side with the football schools, another Philly program like Drexel or LaSalle could come in; giving added emphasis and new meaning to the already storied and fierce Big 5 battles.

Hofstra: For much the same reasons as St. Joe's: A New York school that gives the prospective league a third presence in the nation's largest media market to go with St. John's and Seton Hall. The Pride (Flying Dutchmen for all my fellow AARP members) have been a big fish in a small pond for quite some time now in the CAA, and even longer before that back when Jay Wright was winning America East championships with Speedy Claxton and Norman Richardson.

George Mason: What better way to make a splash than by adding the team that redefined Cinderella. Mason even has some local blood to force itself into the picture: New head coach Paul Hewitt is a Long Island product, having grown up in Westbury; and picked up two players with metropolitan area ties: Anali Okoloji, who recently transferred from Seton Hall, and 2011 commit Corey Edwards from Christ The King High School in Middle Village.

I would love to hear your thoughts on what could be a watershed moment in the history of college basketball as we know it. Chime in via the comment box or on Twitter to share your vision.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

End Of An Era In Harlem As Rice Closes

Prior to joining Steve Lavin's staff as director of basketball operations at St. John's, Maurice Hicks transformed Rice into a CHSAA powerhouse. The Harlem high school announced its closure yesterday due to declining enrollment and increasing operation costs. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

If you're from New York City, grew up in the late 1980s and throughout the '90s like I did, and follow CHSAA basketball; you'll automatically recognize Rice High School as one of the perennial dominant forces in city hoops, be it public school or private school. That's why it's still a shock 24 hours after the Harlem institution announced its decision to close. In other words, we truly bid farewell to a legend.

To honor the legacy of Rice basketball, we'll pay tribute to those that graced the green and gold colors of the Raiders by ranking the ten greatest players in Rice history similar to what we did with the college hoops bucket list in an earlier post.

Special Recognition: Maurice Hicks
Any mention of Rice basketball has to include its most decorated head man and former alumnus, one that spent 16 years turning a program once left for dead into one of the premier prep teams in the nation, let alone the city. The only coach in New York City to win both a CHSAA championship and a PSAL title, (with Brandeis in 1992) Hicks was responsible for a Who's Who of future college stars, some of whom will get their own tributes in this space later. Now the director of basketball operations at St. John's University, Hicks is still a profound influence on his former players and in the game.

1) Kemba Walker
This 2008 Rice graduate (photo courtesy of New York Daily News) stands to become Hicks' first NBA player in recent memory after walking away from the college game a winner last month when he led UConn on an unforgettable run to the national championship after finishing 9-9 in Big East play. Walker could go as high as third overall in next month's draft and is likely a Top 10 selection, and it all began for the Bronx native a few years ago in the heart of Harlem.

2) Andre Barrett
A lot of people forget about this once-elite prospect (photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated) who was the guy everyone wanted back in 2000. Barrett left Hicks' tutelage after four years to sign with Seton Hall in a battle that saw Barrett turn down an offer from UCLA and then-coach Steve Lavin, now Hicks' boss at St. John's. The flashy point guard unfortunately never replicated his prep success at Seton Hall or professionally, but still stands as one of the better players the Raiders had on their roster.

Felipe Lopez
3) Felipe Lopez
Another local legend (photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated) that eclipsed his already impressive stature in high school by becoming the third-leading scorer at St. John's while playing under Brian Mahoney and Fran Fraschilla. Just like Barrett, Lopez didn't have the greatest success in the NBA, but still had a solid career in the grand scheme of things.

4) Edgar Sosa
Shown here with college coach Rick Pitino, (photo courtesy of ESPN) this guard has just about seen it all. After his stellar career in Harlem, Sosa carved out a four-year tenure at Louisville that saw him nearly transfer at Pitino's urging only to use that as motivation to ultimately become one of the more underrated backcourt members in the Big East.

5) Keydren Clark
Hardly anyone would have guessed that this 5-11 dynamo (photo courtesy of USA Today) would go on to win a pair of scoring titles across the Hudson River at St. Peter's College after averaging just 13 points per contest under Hicks while in high school.

6) Dean Meminger
A selection sure to rekindle some memories among older members of the Daly Dose fan base, Meminger (photo courtesy of New York Times) went on to enjoy a moderately successful career under Al McGuire at Marquette before coming back home to win an NBA championship with the Knicks in 1973. Younger fans and media members may also recognize his son, Dean Jr., from his work as a reporter for New York 1.

7) Kenny Satterfield
Most look at Kenny (photo courtesy of Cincinnati Enquirer) and see a case of "what could have been" after a promising career with the Bearcats alongside former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Kenyon Martin didn't fare so well in the NBA, but what most people tend to lose in the shuffle was how highly regarded this kid was coming out of high school, where he had his pick from several different suitors before eventually settling on Bob Huggins and Cincinnati.

8) Curtis Kelly
The big man that rejuvenated his career after a transfer (photo courtesy of New York Daily News) won a city title with Hicks and the Raiders before committing to Jim Calhoun and UConn. Let's just say that didn't work out so well. Kelly capped off his college career with Frank Martin and Kansas State, helping lead the Wildcats to three NCAA Tournament appearances; including a regional final in 2010.

9) Russell Robinson
The highly touted Kansas recruit (photo courtesy of Draft Express) joins the aforementioned Kemba Walker as one of the few Rice players to win a national title after he was a part of Kansas' 2008 championship team. However, Robinson also became the latest in a long line of former Rice stars that couldn't catch a break professionally.

10) Durand Scott
Shown here with Hicks after winning a state title, (photo courtesy of New York Daily News) Scott edges out former Arizona guard Momo Jones for the final spot. Now going into his junior year at Miami, Scott should have a breakout season under new coach and fellow CHSAA product Jim Larranaga, who once upon a time played for Jack Curran at Molloy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Polee Jumps Ship From Lavin's Ark

Citing health of his mother, Dwayne Polee becomes latest St. John's player to transfer out of New York. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

The streak continues.

For at least the seventh consecutive year, at least one member of the previous year's St. John's University men's basketball team has decided to transfer before the opening tip of the next season; as Dwayne Polee announced his decision to return home after one campaign in Queens, indicating the health of his mother as the impetus behind his departure. Polee joins Quincy Roberts as the only Johnnies to leave under head coach Steve Lavin since his arrival over a year ago, as Roberts exited the program shortly after St. John's commenced its most successful season in recent memory; one highlighted by its return to the NCAA Tournament after nine years on the other side of the bubble.

"I really enjoyed my experience (at St. John's) and I'm going to miss the staff and New York," said Polee, who averaged 4.4 points per game while starting the majority of the 33 games played by the Red Storm. "Right now, I feel it's best to be close to my family and help us get through a health issue."

Polee was Lavin's initial recruit after the coach replaced Norm Roberts, landing the California prep star just several weeks after taking the job. The versatile swingman made quite the impact in his collegiate debut, scoring a career-high 16 points in a losing effort against St. Mary's; and prematurely ended his tenure as a Johnny on just as high a note by tallying a dozen points in the Storm's NCAA Tournament loss to Gonzaga. His imminent change of scenery will leave junior guard Malik Stith as not only the sole survivor from the Roberts regime, but also as the last man standing from last year's team; as the Johnnies will start fresh with nine new recruits in a group that has been regarded as the third-best incoming class in the country, but also the youngest incarnation of the St. John's Red Storm in the program's 104-year history.

Polee has not picked a new school yet, but the Los Angeles native has been rumored to have San Diego State at the top of his list. Regardless of whether or not he will be granted immediate eligibility via the NCAA hardship rule, he would be a major and welcome addition to an Aztec squad coming off its first-ever Sweet 16 appearance a year ago. Despite not looking like a prototypical power forward, Polee's athleticism and rebounding prowess would give coach Steve Fisher an unexpected replacement for outgoing star and likely Top 10 NBA draft pick Kawhi Leonard should the former Johnny take his talents there.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The College Hoops Bucket List

Any list of the best college basketball venues in the country has to include the "Dean Dome," better known as North Carolina's home court of the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Earlier this morning, word got out that my alma mater St. John's would be traveling to Rupp Arena in Lexington for a road meeting with Kentucky in the Johnnies' return to the SEC/Big East Invitational. After a handful of text messages exchanged between members of the Daly Dose fan base, (you guys know who you are, so no recognition is necessary) I decided to compile a list of the ten places that any die-hard college hoops fan needs to visit for a game at some point in their existence. Keep three things in mind, though: The venues I am about to mention are places that I myself have never been to as neither a fan or media member. Moreover, venues of the past such as Cole Field House and Freedom Hall will be excluded as well. Finally, this list will also not include venues shared by NBA teams; so although I believe arenas such as Madison Square Garden and the Prudential Center should be included in the college basketball experience tour, I'll limit the following to pure college courts and nothing else. So without further ado; and in no particular order, I give you:

1) The Palestra: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania and Saint Joseph's University)
Any old-school college hoops fan knows this cathedral. (Photo courtesy of ESPN) A throwback in every sense of the word, you can't have a conversation about basketball without the home of the Big 5 making its way into the discussion. Personally, it's a venue I would kill to attend either with a ticket or credential; and no one I have spoken to has ever said a negative word about the place. From what I've heard, it's an arena you have to experience firsthand to truly appreciate.

2) Dean E. Smith Center: Chapel Hill, North Carolina (University of North Carolina)
The majestic court pictured in the opening should be one of the first stops for anyone who respects the game of college basketball. All one has to do to fall in love with the "Dean Dome" is simply look around. Be it the history in the form of the many retired numbers hanging from the rafters; or the sea of Carolina blue seats, the home of the Tar Heels is as visually pleasing as it is to just sit back and watch Carolina take the court. Even those who hate Carolina would admit that Chapel Hill is an enjoyable experience if they're educated enough and have a conscience.

3) Cameron Indoor Stadium: Durham, North Carolina (Duke University)
You can't mention Carolina without also paying homage to the home of the world-famous "Cameron Crazies," (photo courtesy of ESPN) regardless of which school you root for. Duke's venerable arena may seat less than 10,000 fans, but the proximity of the crowd to the court is so close that the atmosphere is virtually unrivaled through most of college basketball. Two years ago when St. John's traveled to Durham to face the Blue Devils, my former broadcast partner Frank Qasim had the opportunity to share the call of that game on WSJU after succeeding me as sports director; and he still considers it the highlight of his young career.
4) Allen Fieldhouse: Lawrence, Kansas (Kansas University)
Arguably the toughest place in the country to play, Allen Fieldhouse (photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated) is just as venerable and majestic as it is mentally and physically taxing on both Jayhawks players and their opposition. It may be just a little intimidating for the fans as well, but that all changes after the opening tip. In addition, not many chants rival the timeless classic "Rock Chalk Jayhawk."
5) Rupp Arena: Lexington, Kentucky (University of Kentucky)
The venue (photo courtesy of ESPN) that launched this impromptu idea about five hours ago this morning when I was informed that John Calipari and Big Blue Nation would be hosting St. John's sometime in the upcoming season. Kentucky IS college basketball, and this arena is college basketball's version of the Masters: A tradition unlike any other. The players and coaches may change, but the fans and building (for now, and hopefully not ever) never will.
6) Pauley Pavilion: Los Angeles, California (University of California-Los Angeles)
Just as Lexington has become synonymous with college basketball, so too has Westwood. The perennial home to winners under John Wooden in the 1960s and '70s (photo courtesy of Orange County Register) hasn't changed much over the years. In fact, it's become more iconic as its fan base demands the same expectations year in and year out. St. John's head coach and former Bruins head man Steve Lavin had this to say about the inhabitants of Pauley last year at Big East media day: "At UCLA, if you don't deliver Final Fours and national championships on a consistent basis, someone else gets a crack at it."
7) Assembly Hall: Bloomington, Indiana (Indiana University)
Another place where the die-hard feels right at home (photo courtesy of Bloomington Herald-Times) is the Big Ten's most iconic court, one graced by legends such as Branch McCracken and Bobby Knight before current Hoosier head man Tom Crean opened its doors. The court of dreams for most boys growing up in the Midwest is a Mecca for anyone who bleeds cream and crimson just as much as it is for those who simply watch college hoops for the love of the game.
8) Hinkle Fieldhouse: Indianapolis, Indiana (Butler University)
The home to "Hoosiers" and back-to-back national runner-up finishes for Butler University, (photo courtesy of ESPN) Hinkle doesn't get the respect it deserves since it plays host to a mid-major. However, what it lacks in national recognition is made up for in visual charm and quality of the game. The best college basketball is played in this area of the country, where thousands sell out arenas to watch groups of kids in their late teens and early twenties play their hearts out for forty minutes a night (sometimes more) while holding nothing back.
Breslin Center (Getty Images)
9) Jack Breslin Student Events Center: East Lansing, Michigan (Michigan State University)
Yes, I spelled out the full name of the Breslin Center, (photo courtesy of CBS Sports) and it has absolutely nothing to do with me having been a Michigan State fan since the mid-1990s. Home to one of the most raucous student sections in the nation in the form of the "Izzone," the battlefield of the Spartans has garnered a reputation as being a formidable foe just as fast as head coach Tom Izzo has become notorious for almost always making a deep run into March. If not for the long and storied mystique of Indiana basketball, this place would be higher up on the list.
Gallagher-Iba Arena (James Schammerhorn)
10) Gallagher-Iba Arena: Stillwater, Oklahoma (Oklahoma State University)
The "Madison Square Garden of the Plains" (photo courtesy of CBS Sports) is the last entry in this group, and a wild card of sorts. Oklahoma State hasn't been as relevant in recent times following the departure of longtime coach Eddie Sutton; but if you're a college hoops enthusiast that has been around for a while, you'll remember how far ahead of its time this building with the maple floor that no amount of words does justice to was, and that was before the days of "Big Country" Bryant Reeves and the guard duo of Tony Allen and Joey Graham from the 2004 Final Four squad.

Honorable Mentions:
McKale Center: Tucson, Arizona (University of Arizona)
Frank Erwin Center: Austin, Texas (University of Texas at Austin)
Petersen Events Center: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh)
Carrier Dome: Syracuse, New York (Syracuse University)
Comcast Center: College Park, Maryland (University of Maryland)
Qwest Center: Omaha, Nebraska (Creighton University)

That's pretty much it. If you feel I left some places out, please chime in through the comment section or on Twitter. I would love to hear from you and keep this discussion going.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Turgeon Displays Mark Of A Winner

Mark Turgeon is all smiles Wednesday after replacing legendary Gary Williams as head coach at Maryland. (Photo courtesy of

Only in college basketball can one see a wide range of names floated around for one job to find that the man who actually gets it is nowhere to be found on the list of initial candidates. So it was at Maryland after Gary Williams announced his emotional retirement a week ago today, as the following days provided speculation with a Who's Who of the coaching fraternity that included such luminaries as Jay Wright, Jamie Dixon, Mike Brey, Sean Miller, Tubby Smith and Shaka Smart. Hardly anyone expected the choice in College Park to be Mark Turgeon, he of Wichita State and (most recently) Texas A&M fame after each of the aforementioned coaches turned the Terps down. However, just like Steve Lavin proved a year ago when he left the broadcast booth at ESPN to replace Norm Roberts at St. John's, sometimes the dark horse candidate turns out to be the best possible hire; and if you look at what Turgeon has managed to accomplish in thirteen years as a Division I head man, you'll think the same thing.

Turgeon brings a record of 249-158 into College Park, along with a pedigree unlike any other in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The new coach played under Larry Brown at Kansas; where he later served as an assistant under Roy Williams, whom he will now consider an adversary at North Carolina. Not only that, but the affable Turgeon injects a presence of youth (he just turned 46 in February) into a team that shares Turgeon's mix of youth and experience; led by guard Sean Mosley, who enters his senior year. Turgeon may be immediately impacted by the loss of Jordan Williams to the NBA draft and the decommitments of 2011 recruits Sterling Gibbs and Nick Faust, but don't expect him to be hamstrung for long, as he has managed to recruit top-level talent that turns itself into potential All-Americans; with Texas A&M's Khris Middleton being a prime example of that characteristic that Turgeon perfected as a head coach in the Missouri Valley Conference, a league notorious for turning overlooked prospects into future stars.

Finally, another thing that stands out about Turgeon is his self-admitted brutal honesty. Such an aspect is lacking in most coaches these days; and aside from Mike Rice or Rick Pitino, I personally have yet to see so much of it in a head coach anywhere in the country. Here's an interesting display of it from Turgeon's introductory press conference Wednesday:

"The hardest part for me, if you know anything about me, was having to tell my players I wasn't coming back. I followed a local legend in Texas in Billy Gillispie. (now the coach at Texas Tech) He was loved like no coach I've ever been around and I fought through that. It was much more difficult than this transition is ever going to be because I know Maryland fans love basketball. They want to win and they're going to support me from day one."

As far as that last part, if Turgeon is able to take it to Duke and Carolina the way Gary Williams made a career out of doing, then he won't have to worry about support. As far as saying replacing Gillispie was more difficult than replacing Gary Williams, I'm not sure how many people will agree with that. However, no matter how you slice it, there is a new dimension to Maryland basketball that will evolve over the next few years, and despite the bold statement about his first years at Texas A&M, Mark Turgeon may be the man who picks up where Gary Williams left off and keeps Maryland among the national elite, and not just that third-place team in the ACC.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Gary Williams: A Giant Among Men

Shown here cutting down the net after winning national championship in 2002, Gary Williams officially retired today after a 43-year career that included spending last 22 seasons at alma mater Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

I've seen many coaches in my almost-25-year existence, even more over the last four years since becoming part of the college basketball media. Far too often in this world do we see coaches that are overshadowed by other legends that have become synonymous with their institutions that are part of the same conference; but sometimes the coach living in relative anonymity goes on to have the more respected career, even if his own success (which is nothing to sneeze at) does not rival some of his adversaries.

Gary Williams is Exhibit A of such a coach. The man who spent the last 22 years at his alma mater of the University of Maryland as the head man in a league filled with luminaries the likes of Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski, Williams carved out a career at Maryland unlike any other; amassing a school record 461 wins in College Park and 668 overall between American, Boston College, Ohio State and his alma mater, where he brought the school to its first-ever Final Four in 2001 and won Maryland's first and only national championship in the following season. The third-winningest coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history behind the aforementioned Smith and Krzyzewski, the 66-year-old Williams today announced his retirement in an emotional sendoff at the Comcast Center that was attended by students, administrators, alums and former Williams players that included former No. 1 overall NBA draft pick Joe Smith and 2010 ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez.

"This is my decision," said a visibly shaken Williams shortly after being introduced by longtime Terps play-by-play man Johnny Holliday. "It's a decision I've thought about for a while. This is one of those things where I feel like I can still coach, but you realize there's other things out there." Williams will remain at Maryland as a special assistant to athletic director Kevin Anderson, a nugget broken last night by veteran scribe Dick "Hoops" Weiss of the New York Daily News. It is unclear just who will succeed Williams at this time; and while the list of rumored candidates include Mike Brey, Sean Miller and Shaka Smart, Williams was confident that whomever decides to undertake the daunting task of succeeding a legend will do just fine in his new line of work.

Many had assumed that the decision of sophomore forward Jordan Williams to remain in the NBA draft was what sent the coach over the edge, but Gary Williams emphatically denied such rumors. "Jordan Williams had no effect on my decision," said the outgoing icon. "I appreciate Maryland giving me the opportunity to coach for 22 years, and I've seen coaches who just stayed too long." Williams also revealed that he briefly flirted with retirement after capturing the national championship in 2002. Shortly before the coach was introduced, Maryland administrators announced that the court at the Comcast Center will be renamed in honor of Williams, a classy gesture for a true nice guy.

As a North Carolina fan, I always knew Williams' teams would give the Tar Heels a fight every time the two took the court. It was because of that and his positive demeanor that I never hated Maryland. I always respected the Terps. That and the fact that Maryland always took it to Duke the same way they did against Carolina didn't hurt either.

"I've had my time," stated Williams shortly before reopening the floor for questions from the media in attendance. "I've had a job for 43 years. Not many coaches have been able to do that. I'm grateful for what I've had."

I wasn't as fortunate as some of the other media members to have covered you, but so am I.

Thank you, Gary Williams.