Sunday, May 25, 2008

Notes from the Gibbons tournament

Ryan Kelly was steady throughout.

Mason Plumlee was outstanding when it mattered most.

That was the result of one of the best individual matchups of the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions AAU event Sunday at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

Both players scored 22 points. Kelly, a 6-foot-9 forward from Raleigh’s Ravenscroft High, staked D-One Sports to a nine-point, second-half lead.
Kelly is considering North Carolina, which recently offered a scholarship, along with N.C. State, Wake Forest, Davidson and other schools. Plumlee, the Arden, N.C., Christ School big man who has committed to Duke, scored 13 points in a three-minute period to help Indiana Elite erase the deficit and win 68-62 in a quarterfinal game.

"We didn’t stop playing hard," said D-One guard John Wall. "We just stopped communicating. We weren’t finishing plays like we were in the first half, and that kind of wore down on us."

Plumlee and Indiana Elite were ousted in the semifinals by the Atlanta Celtics. In an all out-of-state final, the Celtics defeated Team Breakdown of Florida 72-62.

But the Tournament of Champions still proved an excellent springboard for talent from the Carolinas:

-- Kelly emerged as a potential McDonald’s All-American, joining Wall and Plumlee in that category. Once viewed as frail, he now scores in the post against even the strongest opponents. He knows how to get his shots and has a face-up game that he said he doesn’t always get to show at Ravenscroft because his high school team needs him in the post.

-- Milton Jennings of Summerville, S.C., scored 47 points in a game for Beach Ball Select on Saturday night. He is committed to Clemson and has a chance to be the Tigers’ first McDonald’s All-American in 18 years.

-- Guard C.J. Harris of Winston-Salem Mount Tabor established himself as an ACC-caliber player. He helped the CP3 All-Stars reach the quarterfinals while teammate and North Carolina commitment Reggie Bullock was out with tendinitis in his quadriceps.

-- In the 15-and-under age group, eighth-grade guard Tyler Lewis of Forsyth Country Day and the Charlotte Royals caught the eye of All-Star Sports analyst Bob Gibbons and others working the tournament. At 5-foot-9, he was the smallest player on the roster, but he is fearless.

-- The United Celtics of Charlotte won their four-team pool over competition from Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan. Charlotte-area talent on that roster included South Mecklenburg’s Ian Miller and John Parham; North Mecklenburg’s Andre Marhold; East Mecklenburg’s Titus Robinson; Evelyn Mack’s Hassan Whiteside; Ardrey Kell’s Miguel Cardona; Myers Park’s Benjamin Cherry; Olympic’s Adam Hunt, and Concord Cannon’s Jarell Eddie.

Other notes of interest from the Tournament of Champions:

-- Derrick Favors, regarded by most as the nation’s top prospect in the Class of 2009, sat out the final 11 minutes of the second half of the Atlanta Celtics’ semifinal win against Indiana Elite.

Favors was called for an intentional foul for flooring Purdue-bound guard D.J. Byrd with an elbow. Favors returned for the championship game and scored 20 points despite foul trouble in a performance that should solidify his top ranking.

-- Duke target Kenny Boynton scored 29 points to lead all scorers in the final game. Boynton made five 3-pointers.

-- Ken Tysiac

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Raleigh forward Ryan Kelly scores 26, shows versatility at tournament

The fans came to Cameron Indoor Stadium mainly to see John Wall on Saturday afternoon in the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions.

Wall is the top point guard in the Class of 2009, a Raleigh resident who appears certain to be North Carolina’s first McDonald’s All-American since Chris Paul in 2003. His D-One Sports teammate, Ryan Kelly, was nearly as impressive.

Kelly, a 6-foot-9 rising senior forward from Raleigh, scored on a variety of hook shots and post-ups from either block. He also made a 3-pointer and drove the lane en route to 26 points in a win over the Arkansas Hawks.

He recently was offered a scholarship by North Carolina and includes Wake Forest, N.C. State and Davidson on his list of possible schools.

“When people see me, they like my versatility and ability to score in a lot of different ways,” Kelly said.

Kelly said he is in the gym every morning at 6:30 to get about 300 to 350 shots up before school. Although he still could add muscle, his timing and vision help compensate for this lack of strength.

Wall is more gifted than Kelly and might make more highlight-caliber plays than anybody else in the tournament. But he also takes plays off on defense and tries to make spectacular passes when simple ones will do.

- Wall’s Raleigh Word of God teammate, C.J. Leslie, committed to N.C. State so early that a lot of people didn’t know what to think of him.

He was barely finished with his freshman season when he accepted a scholarship offer from Sidney Lowe. It’s becoming obvious that Lowe made an excellent evaluation with that early offer. (No. 13 in the class) and Prep Stars (No. 17) both have Leslie highly rated. He’s a 6-foot-8 forward who blocks a lot of shots for the Worldwide Renegades Black team.

He also runs the floor well, attacks the boards and has a good finishing touch on the fast break.

- One of the most impressive performances in the tournament Saturday came from Team Breakdown guard Kenny Boynton of Plantation, Fla.

He scored 19 first-half points en route to 23 in a win Saturday evening. He made five 3-pointers in the first half at Reynolds Coliseum and completed a four-point play with a free throw after one of them.

“For this tournament that’s a first,” Boynton said. “But in other tournaments, that’s typical.”

Boynton may be Duke’s top backcourt target in the 2009 senior class. He said he also is considering Memphis, Texas, Georgia Tech and Florida, and wants to play both guard spots in college.

“I need to get more comfortable at the point guard position,” he said.

He already looks more than comfortable at shooting guard.

- Shawn Kemp Jr., son of the former NBA player, shows potential as a defender and rebounder for the Worldwide Renegades Black.

He also had one nice turnaround baseline jumper in a game Saturday morning at Cary Academy. Though he’s not a top-100 prospect, he’s such a good shot blocker at 6-9 that he could earn himself a high major scholarship this summer.

- Ken Tysiac

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gibbons AAU tournament worth watching

My mother-in-law occasionally tells a story about a fraternity party she attended at the University of Georgia, where none other than James Brown was providing the musical entertainment.

I would love to have seen James Brown before he was the Godfather of Soul. That’s why I enjoy Bob Gibbons’ Tournament of Champions so much every year when it comes to the Research Triangle area, as it will Friday through Sunday.

This is a chance to see top-rate basketball players in front of modest crowds before the average sports fan knows who they are. This is James Brown at a Greek bash in Athens, only he’s matched up in a battle of the bands with Mick Jagger and Willie Nelson.

AAU basketball, which allows teams of high school all-stars from various regions of the nation to compete against one another, has its problems. The kids play too many games (witness North Carolina commitment Reggie Bullock’s tendonitis – an overuse injury).

Some coaches are more interested in gaining influence over the marvelously talented players than teaching and mentoring them. Add sponsorships from sneaker companies to the equation, and AAU can be a cesspool.

But the talent and character of the players usually rises above it. Over the past few years, it’s been a treat watching Greg Oden and Kevin Love lead their teams to titles before they became household names.

This year’s tournament has promise, too. Derrick Favors is the latest in a long line of outstanding Atlanta Celtics big men who have included Josh Smith, Dwight Howard and Randolph Morris.

John Wall of North Carolina-based D-One Sports is a point guard who could be the Derrick Rose of the 2009-10 college season. ACC-committed players include Indiana Elite’s Mason Plumlee (Duke), D-One Sports’ C.J. Leslie (N.C. State) and Beach Ball Select’s Milton Jennings (Clemson).

Putting together the tournament puts Gibbons, the All-Star Sports recruiting guru, on the brink of exhaustion, but it’s a rare opportunity to see so much young talent gathered in one place. – Ken Tysiac

Monday, May 19, 2008

UNC recruit to miss Gibbons event

The Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions this weekend would have been a great opportunity for North Carolina commitment Reggie Bullock to make himself known to fans in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.

A couple of weeks ago, Bullock helped the CP3 All-Stars win the 17-and-under division at the Southern Invitational AAU tournament in Charlottesville, Va. All-Star Sports recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said Bullock was the most valuable player there even though the tournament didn’t name an MVP.

But Bullock won’t play this week as the AAU circuit comes to his home state. He is suffering from tendonitis in his quadriceps and needs time off to heal.

“He’s just been overused,” said Wells Gulledge, who coaches Bullock at Kinston High.

North Carolina fans are excited about Bullock, who is one of the best prospects in the state in recent memory. has Bullock rated as the No. 2 shooting guard in the Class of 2010, and he would have been matched against top prospects from throughout the nation at Gibbons’ event.

But fans will have to wait to see him. Though his injury isn’t serious, Bullock simply needs a break.

“We won the state championship, (and) the next day AAU practice started,” Gulledge said. “Our guys were at AAU practice on Sunday. And the guys that play baseball went to play baseball. And the guys that run track went to run track.

“There’s not really any time that these guys can sit back and have time to enjoy just being regular students.”

Bullock has a bright future in basketball. There’s no reason to jeopardize it before he reaches his junior year in high school.

He is fortunate to have a coach who recognizes that.

– Ken Tysiac

Paul makes NBA games worth watching

When J.J. Redick was pursuing the ACC career scoring record at Duke, I could always count on talk radio hosts asking me what kind of NBA player he would be.

My answer was always the same. It came from the playbook of Billy Packer, who sometimes derides other media members’ constant speculation about the NBA when they are covering college basketball.

“Who cares?” I’d ask the radio hosts.

I didn’t plan to watch Redick in the NBA, because I hadn’t been interested in pro basketball since the Bulls vs. Knicks, Jordan vs. Ewing era ended. After college basketball, as far as I was concerned, a player’s career was finished.

Last season I began substituting “Tyler Hansbrough” for “J.J. Redick” in those radio interviews. Like Redick, Hansbrough might never be a great pro but his magnificent college career has been a treat.

I agree with Packer’s premise that we ought to enjoy players while they’re in college for their contributions to college basketball. But my interest in the NBA also has been rekindled.

Last week, I was asking ACC associate commissioner and former Charlotte Bobcats executive Karl Hicks whether he thought the Utah Jazz had a chance against the Los Angeles Lakers.
He said he thought the Lakers would win the Western Conference semis (they did), but he enjoyed watching the Jazz play. I told them I liked the Jazz, but I prefer watching the New Orleans Hornets to anybody.


Chris Paul.

Hicks agreed that Paul is special. I spent enough time around Paul when he was at Wake Forest to learn that he is a ferocious competitor and a class act at the same time. I was more impressed when he showed up at the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions last year in Chapel Hill to watch the CP3 All-Stars AAU team he sponsors.

Paul could easily send a check and let other people run the team. But the soon-to-be All-Star also devoted his time to helping young players improve their games and character.

At the late Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser’s funeral last summer, I was nearly moved to tears by Paul’s loving eulogy. I couldn’t help thinking how proud Prosser would have been to see the man Paul had become.

If the Hornets defeat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 tonight, Paul won’t be coming to Gibbons’ tournament this year. He will be busy trying to get the Hornets past Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

Even if you’ve been disillusioned with the NBA in recent years, that will be worth watching. I’ve never met the NBA’s MVP (Bryant), but I know the runner-up (Paul) has a social conscience that complements his game.

– Ken Tysiac

Friday, May 16, 2008

North Carolinians love their basketball

If you live in North Carolina and haven’t spent your entire life in a closet, you know how popular college basketball is here.

The NCAA attendance figures released Friday by the NCAA on its official website confirm what you already know.

North Carolina’s average attendance of 20,497 per game trailed only Kentucky. The Tar Heels’ total attendance at all games – home, road and neutral – was 688,940, second only to that of Kansas.

Davidson posted the third-highest attendance improvement as its per-game average ballooned to 6,214 from 3,721. That’s an increase of 2,493 fans per game. Only Southern California and Georgetown showed greater improvement.

In the NCAA tournament, each of Raleigh’s sold-out sessions brought crowds of 19,477 to the RBC Center for the highest attendance marks of any of the eight first- and second-round sites.
Charlotte’s regional at the Bobcats’ home arena had 19,092 fans per session watching North Carolina make its way to the Final Four. That was third best among the four regionals, but the arena was sold out.

The only way Charlotte could have sold more tickets would have been to hold the regionals at Bank of America Stadium.

Come to think of it, if not for the elements, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

For a complete list of the NCAA’s basketball attendance figures from 2007-08, click here.

– Ken Tysiac

Thursday, May 15, 2008

ACC meetings calm in troubling times

The ACC concluded its spring meetings in Fernandina Beach, Fla., this week with the least amount of fanfare in recent memory.


The conference’s TV contracts are in place through the end of the 2010-11 academic year. Any serious tinkering with the ACC’s schedules will come when the TV deals expire, so that the conference can maximize the financial payoff of its changes.

(Speaking of TV, the ACC performed well on ESPN in 2007-08. The league had at least one team in five of ESPN’s top 10 rated basketball games, and the second Duke-North Carolina game was ESPN’s highest-rated game ever. In football, Clemson-Florida State was ESPN’s highest-rated game of the season, and Boston College-Virginia Tech was ESPN’s highest-ever rated Thursday night game).

Don’t be fooled by the lack of action on the ACC agenda, though. There are a lot of national issues, particularly in basketball, of paramount concern.

The NCAA is devoting extra enforcement to basketball. The NBA’s age limit has created a lot of potential for improper relationships between agents and players who are essentially forced to go to college for one year.

Allegations of improper payments to O.J. Mayo before he attended Southern California might just be the first revelations of an epidemic.

(Incidentally, Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips sure looks fortunate that Tim Floyd turned down his job offer five years ago. Instead, Phillips landed Oliver Purnell, who’s almost universally praised for his program building and integrity. Floyd now is handling a huge mess at USC.)

In basketball and football, players are committing to schools at increasingly earlier ages. Kentucky reportedly recently received a commitment from an eighth-grader.

None of these developments is good for college athletics. No matter how placid things seemed for the ACC this week, these are troubling times for the NCAA.

– Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Testing the draft could hurt underclassmen

Karl Hicks won’t give names, but said there have been cases when a seemingly benign process turned out badly for underclassmen who entered the NBA draft without an agent.

There’s a theory that juniors in particular can’t hurt themselves when they go through the pre-draft camp and work out with teams that pay to transport them.

But Hicks, the ACC associate commissioner who’s a former Charlotte Bobcats executive, says players can be “typecast” if they enter the draft too soon and struggle in pre-draft workouts.

“There is a downside, actually,” Hicks said Tuesday. “Student-athletes get out there and work out for teams and get painted with a broad brush in terms of what they can and cannot do.”

That particularly makes sense this year. The 2008 draft is considered strong because of an impressive freshman class that includes Kansas State forward Michael Beasley and Memphis guard Derrick Rose.

The 2009 draft is supposed to be weaker. That’s why going through pre-draft activities don’t make sense for a player like North Carolina junior Danny Green.

Next year he will be a better player, and the competition won’t be as strong. But if he makes a bad impression this year, it won’t be easy to erase. – Ken Tysiac

Monday, May 12, 2008

NCAA tournament expansion unlikely

The idea of expanding the NCAA tournament has a fair amount of support from college basketball coaches.

They make the point that 64 of 119 Bowl Subdivision teams (53.8 percent) played in bowl games last season, and two more bowls have been credentialed by the NCAA for 2008.

Meanwhile, 19.1 percent of the 341 Division I men’s basketball teams reached the NCAA tournament.

“Why is it that football can add more bowls and everybody will be pleased and happy,” said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, “but basketball can’t add more teams to eliminate this subjective, confusing (selection) process?”

“I really think the field needs to be expanded,” said Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio.

Problem is, the Division I men’s basketball committee considered expanding the field two years ago but decided against it. The tournament is one of the most successful sporting events ever in the United States.

Because of that, TV executives and NCAA officials hesitate to tinker with the formula. The only change over the past 23 years has been the addition of one play-in game, which moved the field to 65.

“I can’t speak for the basketball committee at this given point in time,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford, “but they’ve made it clear that (expansion) is not somewhere it intends to go in the immediate future.”

Swofford already has made another sensible argument for ACC coaches and administrators, who are in their spring meetings this week at Fernandina Beach, Fla. They’re upset that the ACC received just four NCAA tournament bids this season despite having the nation’s highest conference ranking in the RPI, which measures winning percentage and strength of schedule.

In a letter sent to the Division I men’s basketball committee, Swofford requested that conference strength be added to the criteria considered for NCAA tournament selection.

“The ACC over the years as it’s been, top to bottom, one of the strongest leagues of all in the country,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt. “Actually that letter, I had a chance to look at it, had some things even I didn’t realize.”

Swofford makes the point that the bottom teams in the ACC were strong last season. N.C. State defeated Villanova and Davidson. Virginia won at Arizona.

If the field isn’t going to be expanded, using conference strength as a rallying point probably is the ACC’s next best option. That would be a good spot for the coaches to focus their energy. – Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Early entries: Beware of cow tongue

Newly hired Duke assistant coach Nate James was served cow tongue as a professional player in Russia.

When he played in Hungary, the food was so bad that he said he found an Italian restaurant and ate spaghetti there every day for six months with former Duke teammate Casey Sanders.
In Japan, he ate rice and noodles for seven months straight.

“You had to get really good with chopsticks,” he said Wednesday as he met with the local media. “If you asked for a knife and a fork, they looked at you sideways.”

James said he has played for eight teams overseas and had well-traveled advice for players considering leaving college early. Sixty-nine underclassmen – including North Carolina’s Danny Green, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson – have applied for the draft.

Some won’t sign with agents and will return to school. Some may not be first-round picks and could end up overseas.

Having been there, James said they’re better off staying in school than playing in a cold gym in Bosnia. Overseas, he said, they could end up sleeping on mattresses with springs that poke them in the back.

James taped his own ankles overseas and sometimes had to go to restaurants to get ice to treat minor injuries.

“The money may be good,” James said. “But you may not be happy.”

– Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

James an obvious pick for Duke

If you’re around Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski enough, you’re bound to hear him talk about what a good teammate Nate James was.

James was a two-time captain who gracefully accepted a move out of the starting lineup in 2001 to allow Chris Duhon to add spark to the Blue Devils on offense. James’ willingness to sacrifice his spot as a starter in his senior season helped Duke win an NCAA title.

“Nate's been the guy for five years (including a redshirt year) that just said, ‘What do you want me to do? I'll do it. I love being on this team, and I'll do whatever it takes,’ ” Krzyzewski said the day before Duke defeated Arizona in the NCAA championship game. “It's kind of refreshing. I mean, we need more guys like that.”

That’s why it’s not a surprise that when associate head coach Johnny Dawkins left for Stanford, James joined Duke’s staff. He had been an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Duke before his hiring was announced Tuesday.

Perhaps just as significantly, Krzyzewski announced that both Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins will be promoted to associate head coach. This was an expedient move to preserve continuity.

Wojciechowski has assisted Krzyzewski since 1999, one year before Collins joined the staff. But Collins is older and has previous coaching experience elsewhere.

If Krzyzewski had promoted just one, the other could have been disappointed, understandably so. This move will preserve harmony on the staff as Krzyzewski moves forward without the quiet, confidence presence of Dawkins at his side.

– Ken Tysiac

Friday, May 2, 2008

Plumlee family dynamics pay off for Duke

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistant Chris Collins were careful about how they recruited Miles Plumlee after Stanford released him from his scholarship.

Plumlee, a 6-foot-10 senior at the Christ School in Arden, changed his mind about Stanford after coach Trent Johnson left the school for LSU.

That made him available to the Blue Devils, but Krzyzewski already had a commitment from 6-11 junior Mason Plumlee, Miles' brother. Before offering a scholarship to Miles, Krzyzewski and Collins made sure Mason wouldn't mind playing on the same team as his brother in college.

"Mason's response was, 'Go for it,' said Christ School coach David Gaines.

Miles and Mason were 63-6 together at Christ School with two state championships, so they're comfortable as teammates. Gaines believes both will fit perfectly into the offense Krzyzewski unveiled last season that spreads the floor and requires post players to handle the ball and shoot 3-pointers.

Gaines envisions Miles Plumlee helping Duke immediately because Gaines said he is strong and athletic enough to guard opposing centers. Miles weighs 230 pounds, and Gaines said he could bulk up to 240 by the time his freshman season starts.

If Plumlee is on the floor with Kyle Singler, he could relieve some of the pounding Singler takes in the post. rates Plumlee as the nation's No. 58 senior.

"Miles is more than likely to have a big impact up there right away," Gaines said.

The boys' attitude toward continuing to play together pleased their parents, Perky and Leslie Plumlee of Warsaw, Ind. Mason has "played up" on Miles' team since they were small boys in YMCA basketball.

As their sons matured into highly regarded prospects, the Plumlees noticed that there were many brothers in college basketball playing for different teams. But recently, the Plumlees noticed that the brothers appreciate each other more.

Mason will explain that Miles is more athletic. Miles tells people that Mason is a better playmaker.

"They've discovered really in the last year or so that they really do like playing together," Perky Plumlee said.

The Duke coaches' sensitivity to that family dynamic helped them land another much-needed frontcourt recruit this week. And with a third brother, 6-10 freshman Marshall Plumlee, also at Christ School it could pay off down the road, too. -- Ken Tysiac