Friday, August 26, 2011

Burrell Japan's Latest Brand Name

Justin Burrell becomes third player from Steve Lavin's St. John's team to sign professionally, inking a contract with Japanese club Yokohama. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Japan has given us many brand names that we could not even conceive of living without: Sony, Samsung, Motorola, and the like. Now, it's America that gets to return the favor, as the Japanese will be introduced to its newest commodity, a 6-8 bruising power forward called "JB."

After a versatile career that included stints as a starter and reserve; coupled with a Big East sixth man award, Justin Burrell heads to the land of the rising sun. Burrell signed earlier this week with Yokohama of the Japanese league, and follows Paris Horne (Germany) and Dwight Hardy (Italy) from the corner of Union and Utopia into the world of overseas professional basketball.

"I will never forget St. John's, the opportunities they gave me, and the people I've met," said Burrell. "I can't wait to see St. John's back on top of the nation's elite. This past year was an important step. I know everyone will always remember what we accomplished to get everything rolling again." Burrell's coach was equally as praiseworthy of his reserve, one he won't soon forget. "Justin's dominating, physical style of play in the basket area at both ends of the court was key to our success this past season," said Steve Lavin. "He will have a terrific experience overseas."

Burrell leaves the Johnnies as a member of the school's 1,000-point club as well, a milestone in which he was joined by teammates D.J. Kennedy and the aforementioned Horne at various points during the 2010-11 campaign, which was highlighted by 21 victories (six against Top 25 teams) and the Red Storm's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2002. Burrell also recorded 609 rebounds during his tenure in Queens, good enough for 30th on the all-time list.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Viva J-Mitch!

Quite possibly the most underrated player in college basketball last year, former Rutgers star Jonathan Mitchell finally gets his chance to play at next level as he signs with CB Tarragona of Spain. (Photo courtesy of

If you're a frequent visitor to this site, you know how highly I've written about Jonathan Mitchell over his two years at Rutgers after transferring from Florida, where he won a national championship as a true freshman. After an underrated tenure in Piscataway where he consistently improved on a nightly basis while also making his teammates around him better, it was not inconceivable to think Mitchell could be a second-round pick in the NBA draft. However, despite a positive workout with the New Jersey Nets, sixty names were called this past June; and the talented lefty swingman was unfortunately not among them. Never one to give up, the man known around the greater New York City area as "J-Mitch" soldiered on in the attempt of catching on with a team overseas; and two days ago, the dream officially came true.

Mitchell was officially announced in a press release Monday as the newest member of CB Tarragona, a professional team that plays in the Gold division of the Spanish Basketball League. The 6-7 Mitchell becomes the third player from the three local Big East schools to sign a professional contract, joining Paris Horne and Dwight Hardy of St. John's in the overseas ranks after the starting backcourt for Steve Lavin took their talents to Germany and Italy, respectively, after leading the Johnnies to their first NCAA Tournament since 2002.

Mitchell has drawn praise from coaches, teammates, opposing players, fans and media since his days at Mount Vernon High School in Westchester, where he won a state championship and the New York State Player of the Year award under coach Bob Cimmino in 2006 before being recruited to Gainesville by Billy Donovan. Unfortunately among the odd men out in a deep Gators rotation, Mitchell decided to play closer to home when he transferred to Rutgers in 2008. One year later, he became a viable second scoring option for then-coach Fred Hill behind former McDonald's All-American Mike Rosario; who, ironically enough, ended up transferring to Florida this past season and will be eligible to return to the court this year. Mitchell averaged nearly twelve points and just over six rebounds per contest in his junior season while shooting a team-high 89 percent from the free throw line for the Scarlet Knights. The following year, he became the focal point of a scrappy young team that overachieved dramatically, given the fact that incoming head man Mike Rice was walking onto the banks of the old Raritan with very little left in the cupboard following the departures of Rosario, Pat Jackson, and Greg Echenique, who had transferred to Creighton midway through what turned out to be Hill's final campaign in Piscataway.

Averaging 14.4 points per game, Mitchell shot 39 percent from three-point range; and became a campus hero when his four-point play with less than a second left in regulation pushed Rutgers past then-No. 10 Villanova in front of a sellout crowd at the RAC. Mitchell also did many things that didn't show up in the box score every night, further cementing his status as a guy who not only became better at doing a little bit of everything each night; but also one who would never be forgotten anytime soon.

Mitchell is currently en route to Spain as I write this, and on behalf of Rutgers fans, Daly Dose fans, and college basketball fans across the metropolitan area and country, I wish him nothing but the best as he takes the first step toward what should be a long and successful professional career; one that will hopefully culminate in the NBA.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Brooklyn's Finest Now Hoops Royalty

From St. John's to the NBA, Chris Mullin finally takes his place among all-time greats tonight in Basketball Hall of Fame. (Both photos courtesy of Slam Magazine)
A highly touted recruit out of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, St. John's University's all-time leading scorer, two Olympic gold medals, a sixteen-year professional career in which he averaged over eighteen points per game for the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers while possessing a sweet left-handed shot that was among the most lethal mid-range forms in the game, and even a stint in the Warriors' front office; not to mention overcoming personal demons by emerging victorious from a battle with alcoholism that he had waged since his days on the corner of Union and Utopia. You could look at those accomplishments and concur that the man possessing them could be, arguably, one of the greatest to ever take the court. Yet, with all the accolades and all the success, something had eluded Christopher Paul Mullin since his retirement ten years ago.

Until tonight.

In just a few hours, Mullin will take his rightful place among the all-time greats when he is finally enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Die-hard fans of the NBA will also recognize such names as Dennis Rodman and Arvydas Sabonis in this year's class, but there is no question that Mullin is (and deservedly so) the headliner after a stellar run spanning bits and pieces of three decades in which he established himself as the Dan Marino of the NBA in that he was perennially among the best in his field despite the unfortunate lack of a championship at the professional level. Mullin is appreciated all over the country and world, but is still revered unlike few others in his backyard of the Big Apple. In an interview with the New York Post, Mullin's college coach still marvels at the fact that there are people still interested in what his best player is up to, even twenty-six years after Mullin led the then-St. John's Redmen to their second and most recent Final Four.

"I walk down Union Turnpike now and some elderly woman will say, 'How's Mullin doing?'" gushed Lou Carnesecca, who will have the honor of presenting Mullin at tonight's induction ceremony. "He's a true purist, he exemplified the New York basketball player. If there was a game, he was there." Most notably, Mullin was more than just an above average basketball player. For some, he was a hero for being able to succeed in a world dominated by the likes of Jordan, Johnson and Bird.

Before the days of Fatheads and Slam Magazine posters, the world had something called "Wall Stars," made by trading card company Upper Deck; and I can remember the edition featuring the "Dream Team" that won Olympic gold in Barcelona being prominently displayed on my bedroom wall back when I was six years old in 1992, with no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. All the players were there: Jordan, Stockton, Bird, Malone, Isiah, you name them; but front and center right over my bed (and my mother can attest to this) was someone I had idolized from an early age for being among the best and not throwing that in the face of the world: None other than Christopher Paul Mullin. I even had the souvenir Mullin cup from the McDonald's promotion involving the Dream Team that summer, and kept it for quite some time after that.

This past February, with the Red Storm and head coach Steve Lavin soaring to heights previously unseen to the new generation of Johnnies fans, a familiar face came to the Queens campus to film a segment to be featured on SportsCenter; and decided to come down and meet the media that had been in attendance for a routine pregame press conference before the Johnnies' eventual defeat of Villanova two days later, unbeknownst to the crowd at the time.

That was the day I got to meet Chris Mullin, and I will tell you now that everything you hear about him in the coming days, be it in newspapers or in tonight's Hall of Fame induction ceremony is absolute truth. I often joke that seeing the players I grew up watching go into their respective Halls of Fame is a sign that I'm getting old; but seeing Mullin in February (and seeing Dan Marino at Madison Square Garden last year) made me feel like a kid again, one simply in awe of the greatness that stood just several inches in front of me.

Tonight, such greatness is finally recognized; and for Chris Mullin, it's just yet another testament to a career that was beyond complete even without this prestigious honor.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Man Who Should Truly Be Appreciated

Despite what you may hear about him, there aren't many better people out there than Jim Calhoun. (Photo courtesy of WFAN)

Sometimes, you just have to take a stand for what you believe in.

Back in March, I shared my reasons for why Rutgers coach Mike Rice should be appreciated. A month later, I did exactly the same in defense of Bobby Gonzalez; who continues to be ostracized from the coaching fraternity he should once again be a part of. Today, I step to the pulpit once again for yet another man that has become a polarizing figure in the world of college basketball through no apparent fault of his own. A man that has once again made headlines for allegedly threatening to throw his athletic director under the bus amid rumors of the AD potentially having his contract bought out by his university's administration. This man has been regarded as a larger-than-life icon at his institution and across his native region; and whether you love him or you hate him, you cannot deny his astounding success over a Hall of Fame career that includes over 800 wins, three national championships, and a tendency to make even the most educated hoops fan learn something new about the game simply by listening to him.

Jim Calhoun.

A true great in the college basketball world, Calhoun is unfortunately the victim of backstage politics and this society's insatiable desire to hate those who perennially do well in the face of those who wish failure upon them. I can't speak for how some of my other colleagues may view the University of Connecticut head man; but Calhoun has been among the most accessible and affable coaches I have had the pleasure of covering in my four years in this industry, treating me with the utmost respect and providing a straight answer to every question I have asked him over that time. I've garnered a lot of heat from friends of mine for being a St. John's graduate who openly roots for UConn, (except, of course, when they play the Johnnies or my two favorite teams, North Carolina and Michigan State) especially with no shame in this past April's national championship game against mid-major darling Butler; but I have my reasons. Never mind the fact that former Calhoun product Ray Allen has been one of my favorite players since his time in Gampel Pavilion. As I may have said in the past; and as those of you who know me can certainly attest to, personal interactions go a long way with me, and Calhoun's kindness toward me in each of the last three Big East media days have solidified both his reputation as a misunderstood figure in college basketball and my respect for him and his contributions to the sport that I cover.

Yes, Calhoun has become a lightning rod on more than one occasion, creating controversy with even the slightest movement of his mouth while never intending to. He may be in the midst of a $13 million contract that still has four years left on it, and his prior deal was the impetus behind the coach's infamous "not a dime back" press conference. Calhoun was also suspended three games during the impending season as a fallout from the notorious scandal surrounding the recruitment of Nate Miles, an incident that the coach really didn't have much to do with in the grand scheme of things. If you look closer at the Miles fiasco, you'll see that aside from former UConn team manager Josh Nochimson, the main principle involved in the recruitment was former Calhoun assistant Tom Moore, whom I also get to cover on a regular basis now that he is the head coach at Quinnipiac. Recently, Calhoun is making headlines again due to his perceived desire to see UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway forced out of Storrs by means of the aforementioned buyout. Conicidentally, the Miles recruitment could turn out to be Hathaway's undoing after he told the NCAA that he had never seen a coach "so involved in a player's recruitment" before witnessing Calhoun's quest to bring Miles into the Nutmeg State.

Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant insists Hathaway will indeed be bought out, but goes on to portray Calhoun as a factor behind the administrator's impending dismissal. Calhoun has admittedly not seen issues from the same perspective as his beleaguered athletic director most times, but says that although "you're not always going to get along with people," he "doesn't want to see anyone out of work."

Now, when I read that Calhoun quote, I immediately believed him when he said that. Read further into the Jacobs article and you'll see that Calhoun isn't really the reason why Hathaway is on the hot seat. I'm not going to speak for Jim on this one, but I believe I know the coach well enough from my four years of covering him to know that had he really wanted his boss thrown out the door, he would have come out and said so. Maybe not directly, but Calhoun isn't one to shy away from saying what's on his mind. Just consider what he told me last October when I asked him what he expected from his team after being picked in the middle of the Big East standings:

"I don't know if we're going to be a giant. If we're just really, really good when it's all said and done, then I'll be happy."

Usually, coaches try to remain as positive as possible when they have a team that isn't expected to set the world on fire; and this was way before UConn got off to an undefeated start with a win in the Maui Invitational after going through Michigan State and Kentucky, before a 9-9 Big East season, before their improbable run to a Big East tournament championship from the No. 9 seed that saw the Huskies play five games in as many days, before the storybook run continues through the NCAA Tournament and culminated with the coach and star guard Kemba Walker leading the team in cutting down the nets in Houston. Calhoun was brutally honest, almost to a fault.

That same quote can be used to describe Calhoun's career, even after the allegations that landed him in hot water with the NCAA and prompted a crowd of 75,000 at Ford Field to call him a cheater during the 2009 Final Four. Calhoun may not be regarded with the Krzyzewskis, Smiths and Woodens of the world; but if he's just considered a really good head coach by the time he calls it a career, I and many other college basketball (not just UConn) fans will be happy.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Italy Says Buon Giorno To Hardy

Several days after Paris Horne signs in Germany, Dwight Hardy becomes second St. John's player under Steve Lavin to go pro, inking a deal with Pistoia Basket in Italy. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

Dwight Hardy (and Daly Dose superfan Quinn Rochford for that matter) will need to find the Italian translation for "ball screen" in the immediate future.

That's because Hardy, yet another integral part of St. John's return to the NCAA Tournament after a nine-year hiatus, has become the second Red Storm player in the young Steve Lavin era to trade in his red and white colors for a professional jersey; providing further evidence that the miracle run put together by the Johnnies and their ten recently-graduated seniors continues to resonate far away from the corner of Union and Utopia. Hardy's signing with the Italian club Pistoia Basket comes just a few days after backcourt partner Paris Horne became the first Lavin product (and first Norm Roberts product, too) to take his talents to the next level when the versatile guard signed with BG Gottingen of the German Bundesliga. For the Bronx native, the decision to sign with Pistoia Basket, located just outside the historic city of Florence, was made with much more important and unselfish factors than his own success in mind.

“The first thing I want to do is get my mom out of the projects,” said Hardy, whose mother still calls the Bronx apartment building where Hardy was raised home. “That’s all I think about when I’m working out or doing anything with basketball, just provide a better life for my family.”

Hardy won the Big East’s Most Improved Player award this past season while, leading the Red Storm (21-12 in 2010-11) in scoring with an average of 18.3 points per game. He was also considered a Player of the Year candidate in the conference, an honor that was eventually bestowed upon Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbrough. Hardy posted fourteen 20-point games last season, including four games in which he eclipsed the 30-point mark.

Head coach Steve Lavin has yet to comment on this momentous occasion, but fans of the Johnnies can rest assured that the charismatic head man will have nothing but positive things to say about the player that, arguably, had the best breakout season of any player in the country.