Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lorenzo Charles: 1963-2011

Anyone who knows college basketball knows about NC State's miraculous run to the national championship in 1983 that featured head coach Jim Valvano and Lorenzo Charles. Charles was tragically killed yesterday in a bus accident. He was just 47. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Arguably, it is one of those seminal moments in college basketball in which everyone who watched it can remember where they were and what they were doing when its miraculous background was written into history twenty-eight years ago.

It happened three years before my time, but I have been fortunate enough to have seen the 1983 NCAA Tournament championship game between a school that epitomized the concept of the underdog in North Carolina State and the team the Wolfpack took on for a national title, the illustrious "Phi Slamma Jamma" Houston Cougars squad led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler; who actually did bring a championship to Houston, albeit twelve years later with the NBA's Rockets. What most people forget (and rightfully so) about the 54-52 final score that night in Albuquerque was Houston's 26-game winning streak going into the opening tip, and the thirty-nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds that led up to one of the greatest conclusions to a sporting event the world has ever known.

Yesterday, another hero from this fairy tale ending perished way too soon; as Lorenzo Charles was killed tragically while driving a tour bus in NC State's home city of Raleigh, prematurely closing the book on a great career and even better life at the age of 47. Coincidentally, the Lord hired Jim Valvano, Charles' collegiate coach, at that same age when "Jimmy V" was taken from us far too soon eighteen years ago.

Charles was everything you could hope for: A player that never let success or past glory go to his head. After his career in the NBA didn't pan out, the forward played overseas and in the CBA and enjoyed moderate success while not resting on his laurels from 1983 or throwing that accomplishment around to get a free steak dinner. In fact, he was amazed that people still hold that performance against Houston in such high regard. "It's still kind of amazing to me that people are still talking about it," said Charles when asked to comment on his championship-winning moment. "When it first happened, I figured I would have my 15 minutes of fame, and that would be it."

After Charles caught Dereck Whittenburg's three-pointer and emphatically slammed it home, NC State completed the impossible; and the lasting image from the 1983 national championship game is Jim Valvano frantically running across the court looking for someone to hug. Valvano succumbed to cancer ten years later; and aside from his poignant speech at the inaugural ESPY Awards in 1993, this show of raw emotion goes down as his legacy.

Fortunately for NC State and college basketball fans around the world, (regardless of who we all root for) those final seconds in Albuquerque will not be forgotten anytime soon.

More importantly, Jim Valvano has finally found someone to hug.

May they both rest in peace.

Jim Valvano, 1946-1993
Lorenzo Charles, 1963-2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Winners & Losers As NBA Gets Jimmered

Brigham Young guard and worldwide sensation "The" Jimmer Fredette greets commissioner David Stern after being selected tenth overall by Milwaukee in last night's NBA Draft before being traded to Sacramento. Kings were one of few winners last night in Newark. (Photo courtesy of NBA.com)

After all the speculation, we can finally leave the NBA alone for another twelve months as we return to following the college game we all know and love. In the interim, there's one last order of business relevant to last night's NBA Draft that we have to cover; and that's a recap of the winners and losers as free agency (and maybe even an impending work stoppage) draws closer in David Stern's world. Who gained and dropped the most, you might ask? We'll help you out with that in the following evaluations:

Sacramento Kings - Far and away the best draft last night in my opinion, something that gives the city of Sacramento something to hold on to while owners Gavin and Joe Maloof figure out another way to move the team to Anaheim while also managing the Palms resort and casino. The Kings orchestrated a three-way trade hours before Kyrie Irving was selected first overall by the Cavaliers, trading John Salmons to Milwaukee for the tenth pick in a deal that also involved the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bucks then proceeded to select Jimmer Fredette for Sacramento, a player that the Kings heavily considered taking seventh had they stayed where they were. The arrival of The Jimmer allows Tyreke Evans to move to shooting guard as had been widely expected in the month leading up to last night's rookie convocation in Newark, while giving Sacramento a backcourt filled with two combo guards that can score and enable DeMarcus Cousins to become a solid post presence for years to come. The Kings gave The Jimmer some help in the final round as well, picking up swingman Tyler Honeycutt after the UCLA product was expected to go late in the first round; and capped off the night by drafting Washington's Isaiah Thomas as "Mr. Irrelevant," the final pick of the draft.

Washington Wizards - The Wizards were already winners after revising their logo and uniforms. Now, the team in our nation's capital adds a trio of players that can make an immediate impact. Czech center Jan Vesely already did in the eyes of many with his celebration after being announced by commissioner David Stern.

In addition to Vesely, Washington used their second pick of the opening round to steal Florida State's Chris Singleton, a scoring forward that many expected to be a lottery pick. Singleton can also shoot from mid-range and will upgrade a Washington frontline featuring two role players in Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee that are ready to become future stars. In the second round, Washington used their lone selection to take a proven winner in Butler's Shelvin Mack, who led the Bulldogs to two consecutive national championship games. Mack is a combo guard that will give Flip Saunders the flexibility to play him off the ball alongside John Wall, or even at the point when last year's top overall choice is on the bench.

Golden State Warriors - Golden State got the man they wanted all along when they drafted Klay Thompson of Washington State at No. 11. The son of former No. 1 pick Mychal Thompson, Klay is a deadly shooter that reminds me of a cross between Clyde Drexler and former Warrior legend Chris Mullin; and it wouldn't surprise me to see this kid average 20 points per game sooner rather than later. The Warriors also picked up Hofstra's all-time leading scorer Charles Jenkins in the second round to join Stephen Curry and (barring a trade) Monta Ellis in their backcourt while also buying the rights to Jeremy Tyler from Charlotte. Although he only played sparingly in international competition after decommitting from Louisville, Tyler's numbers equate to 32 points and 19 rebounds per contest when they're adjusted for a 48-minute game. If that's not production, I don't know what is.

Denver Nuggets - Denver had their hearts set on Tobias Harris, but had to change that on the fly when the Tennessee product was scooped up by Charlotte at No. 19 and subsequently traded to the Bucks. Denver followed up with two impressive moves, drafting Kenneth Faried three spots later and trading for Jordan Hamilton after the Texas forward was drafted by Dallas at No. 26. Faried, whose national coming-out party came during Morehead State's upset of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament, gives the Nuggets a rebounding presence they desperately need as Kenyon Martin gets older; and Hamilton is a Carmelo Anthony clone that really could become the next big star in the NBA after carrying the Longhorns following the graduation of Damion James two years ago.

Fran Fraschilla - The former St. John's and Manhattan (#mcmbbcoachingsummit) head man proved to be the one real expert on ESPN's draft panel, especially during the second round when international players were seemingly chosen out of a hat as the draft came to a close. This man is a jack of all trades: International expert, color commentator, and still a great coach. With Steve Lavin and Mark Gottfried leaving ESPN to return to the sidelines in each of the last two years, don't be surprised to see Fraschilla get a long look or two in 2012; especially after his inspiring performance last night.

Toronto Raptors - The Raptors had a chance to solidify their backcourt by drafting either Brandon Knight (who went eighth to the Pistons) or Kemba Walker, (taken right after Knight by Charlotte) but went down the international road with Jonas Valanciunas, who may not even get to come to the NBA right away due to contractual obligations in his native Lithuania. Bismack Biyombo (taken seventh by the Kings and ultimately traded to Charlotte) would have been the selection had Valanciunas not been available.

New York Knicks - There are some out there that will say the selection of Iman Shumpert was Donnie Walsh's symbolic way of sticking it to owner James Dolan after their tumultuous tenure together inside Madison Square Garden. The Knicks really didn't need another guard as much as they needed a big man; and with Chris Singleton AND Jordan Hamilton on the board when the NBA's biggest joke of the last decade got on the clock at No. 17, either of those two (not to mention Kenneth Faried) would have made more sense. The Knicks redeemed themselves by acquiring the rights to Josh Harrellson in the second round, but the jury is still out until Shumpert proves he was the right man at the right time for New York.

David Stern - Maybe his reaction last night signifies that the time could be right for a changing of the guard. Stern was booed louder than Alex Rodriguez at Fenway Park by the Prudential Center crowd last night, and the start of the second round was greeted by a loud ovation for deputy commish Adam Silver. Stern got the ratings and the exposure he desired last night; but when you're the authority figure in your league and you're received apathetically by the fans, (see: Gary Bettman...by the way, Bud Selig and Roger Goodell are getting closer to that territory as well) it doesn't bode well for your popularity or reputation. Who knows? Maybe Russ Granik will come back to the delight of certain members of the Daly Dose fan base.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Draft Night: Making Sense Of It All

Despite only playing eleven games in college, Kyrie Irving will be first to meet David Stern Thursday night, as Cleveland Cavaliers will select him first in this year's NBA draft. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

For the first time in a long time, the NBA draft will again become an event at Daly Dose headquarters in Queens.

That's because I'm now regarded as a college hoops "expert" by some people, (and I'm extremely flattered by your amazingly high opinions of me) so I'm feeling the pressure to produce analysis and insights that are fitting of such a lofty tag. Nevertheless, sixty names will be called by David Stern and deputy commissioner Adam Silver (much to the dismay of old-school NBA fans like myself and certain others in the Daly Dose fan base that still clamor for Russ Granik) at the Prudential Center in Newark in just under 48 hours. In a late-breaking development last night, sources confirmed to various college basketball analysts that the Cleveland Cavaliers will select Duke guard Kyrie Irving first overall; opting for the 19-year-old point guard whose lone season in Durham was shortened by injury to the point where he only competed in eleven of the Blue Devils' contests last year. Irving will be the choice over Arizona forward Derrick Williams, who is (in my opinion) possibly the best player in the draft; and also had a national coming-out party against Irving and Duke in the NCAA Tournament, when the Wildcats handily defeated Duke in the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champion Connecticut. So, without any further ado...

1) Cleveland Cavaliers: Kyrie Irving (G, Duke)
Eleven games isn't enough of a sample size to this analyst, but that's why they pay the executives in Cleveland the big bucks. Despite having his talent and brief career sacrificed due to his much-chronicled toe injury, Irving will become the face of the Cleveland franchise and the Cavs' first true point guard since someone named Mark Price took the court at the old Richfield Coliseum; and that didn't turn out too bad for Cleveland in the 1990s.

2) Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Williams (F, Arizona)
With Irving off the board and Ricky Rubio deciding to fly across the Atlantic from Spain, Williams becomes the logical pick for the T-Wolves here. Enes Kanter is also a possibility; but the decision not to pass on a natural athlete the caliber of Williams will be an easy one, as the sophomore can play anywhere on a frontline that already features young stars Kevin Love and Wes Johnson. Look for Williams to slide into the power forward position in an attempt to become Minnesota's long-term replacement for the departed Al Jefferson.

3) Utah Jazz: Brandon Knight (G, Kentucky)
Utah really needs a big man above all else, (and I had them taking Kanter here until the aforementioned Irving confirmation) but in the wake of having traded Deron Williams a few months ago, they instead settle for the latest one-and-done John Calipari recruit that just happens to be the best guard in the draft. Knight's arrival in Utah will also allow for Devin Harris to showcase his true talent playing off the ball, which will give both guards ample scoring opportunities while simultaneously taking pressure off Al Jefferson and Andrei Kirilenko up front.

4) Cleveland Cavaliers: Enes Kanter (C, Turkey)
The Kentucky recruit ruled ineligible before the season even started falls into Cleveland's lap here after the Cavs opt to take Irving instead of Williams in the top spot, contrary to what I had envisioned for the month following the draft lottery. Kanter actually moves up into this spot after yet another developing situation emerged last night chronicling international prospect Jonas Valanciunas' decision to remain overseas next season. The Lithuanian big man was preferred by Cleveland according to several with intimate draft knowledge; but just as Irving could be the next Mark Price, Kanter could also fill the role of former No. 1 overall pick Brad Daugherty as the Cavs' dominant center of the next decade if the Cavaliers decide to keep the pick.

5) Toronto Raptors: Kemba Walker (G, Connecticut)
If Brandon Knight somehow gets past Utah in the No. 3 spot, then he's the pick here unless someone else moves up into the fourth slot to take him. If Knight is gone, however, (as he is here) then Toronto goes instead for the guard who led the No. 9 seed in the Big East tournament on an improbable March run that saw the Huskies win their third national championship. Walker's arrival makes Jose Calderon expendable unless the rookie plays off the ball, which would move DeMar DeRozan into the small forward position.

6) Washington Wizards: Jan Vesely (F, Czech Republic)
Washington trading into the fourth spot to take Enes Kanter can't (and shouldn't) be ruled out either, but Washington will go for the 21-year-old Czech should they stay where they are. Standing 6-11, Vesely will be an inside presence on a Washington team that has already built their backcourt through last year's selection of John Wall in the top spot.

7) Sacramento Kings: Kawhi Leonard (F, San Diego State)
The Kings have had serious discussions about drafting a guard and moving Tyreke Evans to shooting guard, but Leonard is clearly the best player available in this spot. Walker will be the pick if he somehow lasts this long, and Jimmer Fredette will even get a look as well. However, Leonard (despite his 6-7 stature) gives the Kings a swingman that can double as a power forward and be the answer to Chris Webber while giving DeMarcus Cousins a solid frontcourt partner he can also learn from.

8) Detroit Pistons: Bismack Biyombo (F, Congo)
A prototypical boom or bust pick that could either be the next international sensation or even the next Frederic Weis. Biyombo impressed enough in his various workouts last week, but criticisms have also grown just as much. Kemba Walker is atop the Pistons' draft board, and he will be the pick if he's there; but if not, Detroit will almost certainly go for an international player, and if it's not Biyombo, it would most likely be Jonas Valanciunas.

9) Charlotte Bobcats: Marcus Morris (F, Kansas)
Another team that will be taking a long look at a guard, but Morris has been among the most coveted prospects by Charlotte since he announced his decision to forgo his final season at Kansas and enter the draft. Charlotte is already solid in the backcourt with D.J. Augustin and a developing Gerald Henderson, so Morris would be the best fit for a team that could still use some help up front.

10) Milwaukee Bucks: Marshon Brooks (G, Providence)
Brooks' impressive workouts coupled with Michael Redd's liability propels the nation's second-leading scorer last season into the No. 10 spot. Alec Burks will also be drawing interest from the Bucks here, but word is that Milwaukee is really enamored with the Providence product that will be the Friars' highest draft pick since Eric Williams in 1995. Don't be surprised to see the Bulls trade up; and if they do, Brooks will still be the pick.

11) Golden State Warriors: Klay Thompson (F, Washington State)
Golden State may be trading Monta Ellis to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala, but Thompson is the consensus pick here no matter what. Golden State will get the swingman they have been craving for a long time and right the ship here after the selection of Brandan Wright several years ago didn't turn out as well as the Warriors had hoped.

12) Utah Jazz: Jonas Valanciunas (C, Lithuania)
Valanciunas will definitely slide down the board after his announcement to remain overseas, but his fall won't last as long as Aaron Rodgers or Brady Quinn. When he does make his way to the mainland, he gives Utah a solid combo forward/center that could be a poor man's version of Carlos Boozer. If Valanciunas slides even further down, Utah could go for a combination of players from the group of Alec Burks, Jimmer Fredette, or Chris Singleton.

13) Phoenix Suns: Jimmer Fredette (G, Brigham Young)
Chris Singleton will also get a lot of interest from Phoenix if they keep the pick, but all indications are that the Suns will go for a guard if they stay in this spot. Alec Burks could be the choice here as well; but after a positive workout chronicled on YouTube, Phoenix opts for The Jimmer, and the national phenomenon from a year ago will have the privilege and benefit of learning from one of the best at the position in former MVP Steve Nash.

14) Houston Rockets: Donatas Motiejunas (F, Lithuania)
Houston is almost certainly drafting someone for their frontcourt with Yao Ming in the twilight of his career. Motiejunas; who played for Mike D'Antoni's former club in Italy, (Benetton Treviso) has tremendous upside that is getting bigger by the minute after his recent workout, and will fit the bill here. If he arrives in the NBA right away, look for him to form an international "Twin Towers" of sorts with burgeoning star Luis Scola.

15) Indiana Pacers: Alec Burks (G, Colorado)
Burks falls to Indiana after Jimmer Fredette gets scooped up by Phoenix, and Pacer fans will love Burks' versatility almost immediately. Milwaukee could also grab him in the tenth spot, but Indiana is actually the best fit for the combo guard who could draw comparisons to Pacer legend Reggie Miller if he plays off the ball in the Hoosier State.

16) Philadelphia 76ers: Chris Singleton (F, Florida State)
The Sixers solidified their backcourt last year by taking Evan Turner second overall. This time, it's the frontline that undergoes a makeover. Singleton could go as high as twelfth to the Jazz, but falls to Philadelphia in a somewhat controversial pick that will benefit the team by giving it another potent scoring option. Hometown native Markieff Morris and USC big man Nikola Vucevic could also be targets, but both would be considered reaches in this spot.

17) New York Knicks: Tristan Thompson (F, Texas)
Arguably the most intriguing pick after the top three is the one involving the NBA's most scrutinized team. The ouster of Donnie Walsh in the Knicks' front office only spices up the surefire drama, as many assume Isiah Thomas will have a hand in this selection even though he technically is not part of Jimmy Dolan's war room. With the guards the Knicks covet (Brooks and Fredette) off the board, they get the potential steal of the first round in Thompson, a player projected to go as high as eighth after his sensational freshman campaign at Texas. Thompson has an ability to be a perennial double-double player in the NBA; and would not only mature right away, but also be the perfect complement at power forward in between Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.

18) Washington Wizards: Jordan Hamilton (F, Texas)
The Longhorns get back-to-back meetings with David Stern with this selection. Washington is clearly enamored with Hamilton to the point where he is a near-certainty to be drafted in this spot if he is available. The Knicks could also be in play for the junior, but Hamilton getting a second workout for Washington while skipping the chance to show his talent to New York makes him the choice in the nation's capital.

19) Charlotte Bobcats: Markieff Morris (F, Kansas)
Brian Burke strategically manipulated the NHL draft to get Daniel and Henrik Sedin to play together in Vancouver a decade ago. Michael Jordan won't need to conduct an elaborate scheme to get both halves of this set of twins, as the second Morris will be right there for taking to join brother Marcus in Charlotte after the other Jayhawk is already in the Charlotte fold after being drafted ninth; and Markieff will also go a long way in rebuilding the Bobcats' frontcourt.

20) Minnesota Timberwolves: Kyle Singler (F, Duke)
David Kahn has been known to shake it up in recent drafts, (see Ricky Rubio and Wayne Ellington) and this is no exception. However, Singler does add a unique ability to score from mid-range and beyond the arc; but despite his Duke pedigree, he's still a boom or bust pick. He could be the next Dirk Nowitzki, or the next Pat Garrity.

21) Portland Trail Blazers: Nikola Vucevic (C, Southern California)
The seven-footer becomes the latest big man to take his talents to Portland, and the Blazers get to move LaMarcus Aldridge back down to his natural power forward position to accommodate an up-and-coming big man that can rebound just as proficiently as he can score.

22) Denver Nuggets: Tobias Harris (F, Tennessee)
Just as Jordan Hamilton is a near-lock to go to Washington, Harris is just the same with the Nuggets. Denver has made no secret of their love for Harris, and he's what Denver is looking for: A Carmelo Anthony clone. Harris needs to work on his outside shooting, but he does everything else Carmelo has made an All-Star career out of doing after just one year at Tennessee. I still believe Harris would have been better served staying in school at least one more year, as he would have been a surefire lottery pick next year.

23) Houston Rockets: Josh Selby (G, Kansas)
Last year's most sought-after recruit becomes the choice for Houston after the Rockets opt to upgrade their post presence with Donatas Motiejunas at No. 14. Selby is a better choice than the inconsistent Iman Shumpert or Michigan's Darius Morris, whom many believe left Ann Arbor prematurely. Selby can push former Villanova standout Kyle Lowry for immediate playing time, which makes it a win-win situation for the Rockets and their fans.

24) Oklahoma City Thunder: Kenneth Faried (F, Morehead State)
The man that made the biggest impression to me in the NCAA Tournament, considering I had never seen him; yet heard of his through-the-roof potential, Faried is the choice here as Oklahoma City is set at the one, two and three with Russell Westbrook, (or Chris Paul if the rumored trade becomes a reality) James Harden, and Kevin Durant. Faried will also get a chance to start up front for Scott Brooks, especially if Serge Ibaka's playoff form was the aberration some of us feel it may actually have turned out to be.

25) Boston Celtics: Jimmy Butler (F, Marquette)
Let's face it, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce aren't getting any younger; and Marquette has exported versatile players to the NBA even though their second-best (Jerel McNeal; Dwyane Wade is the first of course) wasn't drafted he very well should have been. Nonetheless, Butler is what Doc Rivers (ironically, a former Marquette guy himself) will love: A clutch player who will leave nothing on the court. St. John's fans will be the first to agree with me when I compare Butler to the next Robert Horry, as his overtime buzzer-beater against the Red Storm in 2010 serves as Exhibit A of that analogy.

26) Dallas Mavericks: Davis Bertans (F, Latvia)
The reigning champions will be taking a big for better or worse, but with Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler up front already, Dallas can afford to invest in an international player; bringing Bertans in after he has matured over the next few years. Just look at how Ian Mahinmi turned out: The Frenchman may have ultimately won Dallas the NBA Finals with his coming-out party against the Heat in Game 6.

27) New Jersey Nets: Justin Harper (F, Richmond)
Derrick Favors is gone and Brook Lopez needs help, so this pick makes sense for New Jersey. The Nets kill two birds with one stone by going for the 6-10 Harper, who can rebound and score while also managing to give Deron Williams and Kris Humphries more opportunities to shine.

28) Chicago Bulls: Tyler Honeycutt (F, UCLA)
The first of two picks for the Bulls goes to a swingman that projects to be the shooting guard of the immediate future, teaming with reigning MVP Derrick Rose to form a potent inside/outside duo behind Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer for the team that looks to defend the best record in the Eastern Conference.

29) San Antonio Spurs: Chandler Parsons (F, Florida)
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the NBA already have a valuable 6-10 reserve forward from Florida on their roster named Matt Bonner. What will Gregg Popovich get for an encore, you ask? A player that for all intents and purposes is the next Bonner, and one who will give the Spurs added depth to a bench that will continue to get more time in the sun as the core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili get older.

30) Chicago Bulls: Nikola Mirotic (F, Montenegro)
With Chicago going for Tyler Honeycutt, they can afford to use their second first-round pick on an international player. Mirotic; who at 6-10 has drawn comparisons to a taller (and more offensively proficient) Peja Stojakovic, slides right into a lineup that Tom Thibodeau could use an offensive boost for to complement his world-renowned defense.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Garden Edition

Now with youngest team in school history, Steve Lavin and St. John's will return to Holiday Festival this season in the tournament's new one-day format on December 17th at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

It's just not a college basketball season unless the Holiday Festival is headlined by the St. John's Red Storm inside the venerable confines of Madison Square Garden. Fortunately for college basketball purists and old-school fans, history will once again be repeating itself as the boys from Queens will take their talents to midtown Manhattan in what will be the second trip to the Garden for the youngest squad in program history, with most of these players making their debuts inside the home of the New York Knicks one month prior as part of the culmination of the 2K Sports Classic, an event that will also include Arizona, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.

Following a two-day confluence in which Steve Lavin's NCAA Tournament participants first disposed of Davidson in a hard-fought nonconference matchup before using a second half in which they shot 80 percent from the field to handily upend Northwestern to claim the tournament crown, the reigning Holiday Festival champion Johnnies will take the court at "The World's Most Famous Arena" against Fordham University on December 17th looking to erase the memory of a shocking upset loss that ironically ended up being the turning point of last season's miraculous run. Rutgers will face Stony Brook in the other game of the Garden doubleheader on the 17th, but there will be no consolation or championship game the following day as there was in years past. As tweeted earlier today by college basketball insider Jon Rothstein, the Holiday Festival will now be a one-day event as opposed to the tournament-style affair it had earned its name and reputation as.

On the positive side of this one-day format, it will give all four schools the opportunity to play a game at Madison Square Garden and avoid the embarrassment of losing both contests that has been felt by programs such as Columbia and St. Francis in recent incarnations of the Holiday Festival. However, the ability for teams to say they were fortunate enough to play two games inside one of the most recognizable venues in the world has been taken away. In addition, a traditional Holiday Festival setup could have potentially provided an intriguing matchup between St. John's and Rutgers before the two teams would have collided in a Big East matchup in Piscataway. Adding to the fire would be the fact that the Red Storm and Scarlet Knights would be facing each other for the first time since the controversial ending to their Big East tournament meeting last March, one where Justin Brownlee appeared to step out of bounds and travel while throwing the ball into the crowd in a sequence that was ignored by the officials and subsequently criticized as a result.

Even though the Holiday Festival is no longer a conventional tournament, one thing remains the same: All four programs will still get the opportunity to show their stuff to the Madison Square Garden crowd. Four local schools inside the Mecca of basketball eight days before Christmas. It simply doesn't get much better than this for the rabid college basketball fans out there.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Momo Leads An Upswing Upstate

After leading Arizona to within one basket of Final Four, Momo Jones' homecoming leads him to becoming centerpiece of Iona's MAAC resurgence. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)

Last season, Long Island University defied the odds and finished with the best record of the seven Division I college basketball programs in New York City. The tiny Brooklyn institution gave North Carolina a run for their money in the NCAA Tournament before ultimately falling victim to the Tar Heels, and now another mid-major just outside the city limits is threatening to give LIU some competition as the feel-good story of the metropolitan area.

In a stunning development broken yesterday by my friend Jon Rothstein, (the college basketball insider for MSG, the CBS Sports Network and 1050 ESPN Radio in New York) former Arizona point guard Lamont (Momo) Jones has announced his decision to transfer to Iona College in New Rochelle; and will seek a waiver to play immediately, citing the health of his grandmother as a reason behind his inability to sit out the upcoming season. Jones had also considered Hofstra, Seton Hall, and even reigning national champion Connecticut; but the Huskies were eliminated as a potential Jones suitor when coach Jim Calhoun secured IMG Academy prospect DeAndre Daniels as the final piece of his 2011 recruiting class. Immediately following his decision to leave Arizona, it appeared that Jones would resurface at St. John's; but Jones would not be able to take his talents to the Red Storm due to an NCAA rule that prohibits schools from signing recruits and transfers if a staff member at the new program coached the player in the past for the first two years of the staff member's tenure. Maurice Hicks, who recently completed his first year as the director of basketball operations on the corner of Union and Utopia, coached Jones at Rice High School in Harlem; so Steve Lavin was facing a "one or the other" scenario.

Jones becomes the latest acquisition for Iona coach Tim Cluess and his staff of assistants, led by former Fordham boss Jared Grasso; and will join Scott Machado in the backcourt for the Gaels, who will also return swingman Michael Glover to a team that was widely expected to win the MAAC even before Jones decided to transfer into Westchester County.