Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Duke changes basketball start times

From Duke:

Three early season contests at Cameron Indoor Stadium have changed start times beginning with the opening round of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Duke will still face Coastal Carolina on Monday, Nov. 16 in a 7:00 p.m. tip-off on ESPNU, while Charlotte and Elon will now play at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday’s championship game remains a 6:00 p.m. start time with the consolation game following at 8:30 p.m.

Duke’s game against Radford on Saturday, Nov. 21 has been moved to a 2:00 p.m. start time and will be shown on ACC Select.

Single game tickets will go on sale on Monday for Countdown to Craziness (Oct. 16) and Findlay (Nov. 3) as well as regular season games against Gardner-Webb (Dec. 15), Long Beach State (Dec. 29) and Pennsylvania (Dec. 31). Ticket prices are to be determined by seat location.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Coaches lose a friend in troubled times

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski spoke for a lot of coaches when he said Myles Brand was a “true friend of college basketball.”

Losing Brand, the NCAA president who died Wednesday afternoon of pancreatic cancer at age 67, is a blow to the sport and its coaches when they need a friend more than ever.

In almost seven years as president of the NCAA, Brand constantly sought input from college basketball coaches who’d often been demonized by the NCAA leadership. College basketball’s long, sordid history of exploiting athletes who often failed to get their degrees was a black eye for the NCAA that Brand sought to heal. But even as he built the Academic Progress Rate system designed to withhold scholarships from sports programs who failed to meet benchmarks in the classroom, Brand worked with coaches rather than blaming them for all the sport’s flaws.

“The game made great strides as a result of him looking at things out of the box - trusting coaches, trusting players and making appropriate changes that have brought along more dialogue than there has ever been about our game,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “He will be missed as a man, he’ll be missed as a leader and he’ll be missed as a friend.”

Coaches said it wasn’t fair to punish programs for players in good academic standing who left early for the NBA draft or transferred to get more playing time at another school. Brand listened, and the APR formula no longer penalizes programs in those cases.

Ironically, Brand earned coaches’ respect after he rose to national fame in 2000 while president at Indiana by putting volatile basketball coach Bob Knight on a zero-tolerance policy after a former player said Knight choked him during practice.

Four months later, Brand fired Knight after a freshman at Indiana accused Knight of grabbing him. Two years after that, Brand became NCAA president.

Brand spoke at N.C. State last fall as part of the Millennium Seminar Series, which later became the center of controversy because of the way Mary Easley, the wife of former Governor Mike Easley, was hired to land speakers.

On that evening in the Stewart Theater on campus, Brand explained his view of how academics and athletics can complement each other. He said athletics teach life skills and help schools become engaged in the community and beyond.

He recalled taking the subway to Ebbets Field to watch Jackie Robinson play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and said Robinson’s breaking of the baseball color barrier encouraged social justice long before integration took place on a large scale in the United States.

That’s why Brand believed in the marriage of athletics and academics along with the many college basketball coaches he befriended. But the lure of easy money has put that marriage at a crossroads, at least where college basketball is concerned.

There’s so much money to be made off young basketball players even before they get to college that street agents may have eclipsed overzealous boosters as the most insidious force in the sport.

The NBA’s age limit, which critics say has forced some basketball players with little interest in academics onto college campuses for a year, is a source of consternation among coaches. Should they recruit top players who aren’t interested in attending class? It’s difficult to win big if they don’t.

At the heart of the matter is the question of why players with enough talent to make millions of dollars should play for the price of a scholarship when the NCAA is getting $6 billion over 11 years from CBS to broadcast the NCAA Tournament.

John Calipari is making about $4 million a year to coach Kentucky, and other coaches are making multiple millions, too. The NCAA paid Brand $1,610,340 in the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2008, according to tax records.

With all this money out there, it’s no wonder that young basketball players are surrounded by handlers hoping for a payday of their own. The money endangers the principle of the student-athlete and jeopardizes college basketball as a result.

It won’t be easy for Brand’s successor to guide college basketball through these turbulent waters. More than ever, basketball coaches could use a friend who has high principles and is willing to listen.

They lost one on Wednesday.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Top recruit Harrison Barnes in action (See video)

Harrison Barnes says he can sense the push and pull, blue against blue, building like a rising tide.

Barnes is considered the best high school basketball player in the country. At 6-foot-8, the senior has the skills — the sweet perimeter touch, the ability to slash and finish, to rebound, his hops, ballhawking quickness, his instincts — that has made him something of a legend in his hometown of Ames, Iowa.

Full story

Monday, September 14, 2009

UNC-Albany time change

From UNC:

The Dec. 30 basketball game against Albany is now scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and will be nationally televised by ESPNU.

The game was originally slated to start at 7:30 p.m.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cameron gets facelift, seat reconfiguration

Duke has reconfigured the seating at Cameron Indoor Stadium and is giving the arena a facelift with a new press table and fresh paint on the seats in the upper part of the basketball arena.

The school announced the changes Sunday afternoon in a news release. The 5,649 seats in the upper arena have been painted blue, and the brass railings will be refurbished before the start of the 2009-10 season.

Duke’s graduate students now will be located in seats at both the north and south ends of Cameron, which is set to begin its 70th season as the Blue Devils’ home arena. The change was made to place some of Duke’s most energetic fans behind both baskets and give opponents a difficult shooting background in both halves.

Cameron’s total capacity of 9,314 won’t change. Undergraduate student seating will remain the same, and graduate student seating will increase slightly, according to team spokesman Matt Plizga.

Undergraduate students will remain in their traditional lower-arena courtside location behind the media. The new media table was designed to decrease crowding in the first row of the student section and to provide aisles for reporters to get to their seats so they don’t have to climb over the media table.

The new media table also will include 90 feet of LED technology for scoreboard material in the middle and advertising on both ends.

Duke also created premium seating for sponsors, donors, alumni and prominent guests located on padded blue seats directly behind the scorer’s table.

“The fresh new look of the building does not compromise any of the traditional aspects that have long made Cameron Indoor Stadium the pinnacle cathedral for college basketball within our country,” Duke athletic director Kevin White said in a statement released by the school. “Needless to say, given these upgrades, we are all extremely excited about the upcoming season."

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he loves the new look of the arena.

“Getting the graduate students behind both baskets, while keeping our undergraduate student section courtside, will create even more of a home court advantage for the team,” Krzyzewski said in a statement. “We are fortunate to have the best fan base in the country, so to be able to enhance the gameday atmosphere is very exciting.”

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, September 10, 2009

McCants wants to change perceptions

As a starter on North Carolina’s 2005 national championship team, swingman Rashad McCants earned the reputation as an athletic scorer, a determined winner — and a moody player. The latter is a stigma that followed him to the NBA, and that he thinks has helped keep him unsigned this offseason, despite the fact that he has averaged 10 points, 2 rebounds and 1.3 assists over four pro seasons.

“I was always tough-skinned and hardworking, and I didn’t really care what people said about me, because I knew my ability,’’ said McCants, who was drafted 14th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves after his junior year, was traded to Sacramento last season, and is now a free agent. “But now, after five years, [that reputation] is still around, and it’s still haunting me from getting a job and being successful.”

After having a heart-to-heart with former Tar Heels Makhtar Ndiaye, Shammond Williams, Vince Carter and Terrence Newby in Chapel Hill last week, the Asheville native decided he wanted to try to open up to both Tar Heel fans – and potential NBA bosses. In a wide-ranging interview with The News & Observer on Thursday, he explains why he thinks he gets a bad rap, how he feels about former coaches Matt Doherty and Roy Williams, the genesis of the ailment that caused him to miss four games his junior season, and why he didn’t need a psychologist his freshman season.

McCants plans to work out with the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday:

Q: What do you want fans to know about you, and what do you want NBA teams to know about you?

A: I’m definitely not a goody-two-shoes type of guy. I do have a persona about me that I want to uphold, that I’m a hard worker and I am a trash-talker, I do have confidence. But I’m not a bad a guy. I’m not a guy who thinks he’s better than anybody else. I’m a winner. I know what it takes to win; I’m confident in my ability to win. I do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Q: What do you think is the perception of you, among NBA teams?

A: It’s kind of a re-ocurring conversation of people saying I’m moody, and have a bad attitude. It’s kind of hard to believe … but I’ve always been a winner, so it’s hard for me to take losing well.

Q: Did your “moody” reputation from UNC follow you to the NBA?

A: Unfortunately, I think it probably did. And I think ‘moody’ is a word you can use about anyone .. you don’t wake up and feel the same every day. When I was in college, I was very young, and ambitious and talented, and I wanted to do a lot of things. And it started off where people thought me and Matt Doherty had issues – where my first year, I played pretty good. I could have done better, but once the 'scoop' became a public dispute where I was supposedly getting him fired and all this stuff, it kind of tore down my innocent wall of being just a regular Carolina player, to one with an attitude, to uncoachable – and that was unfair, because no one knew exactly what was going on.

Q: So what was going on?

A: Right before Matt Doherty got fired [in 2003], everybody was given the opportunity to say, ‘if he leaves, are you going to stay, or you going to go if he stays?’ And I believe I was one of the few who said that even if he goes, I’m going to stay here because I came for Carolina; I didn’t come to this school or a coach for a situation, I came for a tradition. So when all this stuff came out, I didn’t understand how all this onus could be put on one person [me] instead of the complete team as a whole.

Q: Do you feel like you got the short end of the stick, in that respect?

A: I’ve always felt that way, but I dealt with it because I always felt like I was taking the pressure off the whole team. And I felt like, when Dennis Rodman was playing with the Bulls, he took the pressure off the team by putting all the pressure on himself; he could handle it. And so it made the team more successful. And I think when you have one player handling all the controversy, it’s on the player, not the team – and that’s the role I pretty much played when I was in college. … That’s why I’m a little bit bitter about not having a job right now, and being labeled – when truly, I’m the one that took everything on my back. I was always tough-skinned and hardworking, and I didn’t really care what people said about me, because I knew my ability. But now, after five years, it’s still around, and it’s still haunting me from getting a job and being successful.

Q: Do you feel like you’ve been embraced by Carolina fans? Do you want to be embraced more?

A: I think the Carolina fans are amazing. Even going back, I just get teary thinking about the times I had at Carolina. I feel like, personally, there aren’t a lot of other college basketball players that embraced the fans like I did. I took control over the fact that fans can give you more juice than anything. My interactions with the fans, even today, keep me motivated to just keep playing.

Q: How is your relationship with your 2005 teammates now?

A: Probably the only one of those guys that I’m only close to now is Marvin [Williams]. We keep in touch throughout the year … when I was in Minnesota, I was the farthest away out of those guys – Marvin was in Atlanta, Raymond [Felton] and Sean [May] were in Charlotte. They were a little closer [to Chapel Hill] … I’m in the Midwest, and it was a lot harder for me to come back, and do things I wanted to do to stay in contact with these guys. … I talk to Raymond every now and again when I’m in Charlotte, or talk to Sean every now and again when I’m in Chapel Hill, but the only real one I keep in touch with is Marvin.

Q: What does it mean to you that Makhtar Ndiaye, Shammond Williams and several other former UNC players reached out to you over alumni weekend?

A: It means that they actually care about my progression as a player and a person, and that they feel that I’ve been wrongly treated. And to hear that from another perspective is amazing; it’s amazing to feel appreciated, that guys [four] years later are saying, ‘Man, you’re so good – how are you not on a team right now? It’s unfair to you, it’s unfair to us as fans of yours to not see you playing right now.’ So that alone, to me, is just breathtaking?

Q: What are your feelings today about Roy Williams?

A: Roy Williams, to me, is a person who really helped me change [my] perception when he got there; he gave me a fresh start. He actually gave me a lot of confidence my sophomore year; I averaged 20 ppg that season. … Coach just told me to be aggressive, and he had confidence in my ability to take over games, and to help my teammates. He put my scoring ability out as a strength, and a powerful strength, for me. I’ll always honor Coach Williams for that, and the fact that he told me to my face, ‘I’m here this year, and we’re going to make the tournament. We’re probably not going to go all the way, but next year, we’re going to win it all.’ And that’s what we did.

Q: Are you close to Williams; do you still speak to him regularly?

A: Of course. Every time I’m in town, we sit down, talking 45 minutes to an hour, just catching up. My phone number is constantly changing, so he’s always chasing my number down.

Q: Does it bother you that there’s a perception out there that you had a difficult relationship with him at Carolina?

A: That’s totally been taken the wrong way. Any player that’s supposed to be a leader and is not doing his job, there’s going to be a conflict, and that was my conflict. I didn’t know if I was supposed to be a leader. And coach told me that ‘you’ve got to lead by example – you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.’ And I wasn’t doing that. But once we had that conversation, it was pretty much easy from there.

Q: What are your feelings today about Matt Doherty?

A: I have tremendous respect for Coach Doherty, because he gave me the opportunity to play at North Carolina, and I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me that opportunity. Despite what anybody says about us bumping heads, we always had conversations about Michael Jordan, James Worthy ... and guys who could have averaged this, could have averaged that, but it was all about the team. With all of these conversations we used to have, he understood that my first three months playing ball [at UNC], I was actually leading the ACC in scoring, and it was something he didn’t want me to get overzealous about. He wanted to make sure I stayed humble, in being that good, that early. I think everyone took that out of context, and they started saying that we were bumping heads, all of that. But he was just trying to humble me, and not let it get to my head.

Q: Is it true that Coach Doherty once took you to a psychologist when you were at UNC, and did you bump heads over that?

A: That is something that happened, and I think that’s just because Coach didn’t get to know me as a person – he never sat down and had a conversation with me, and I think that, with me, I’m not as easy to read as a lot of other people. Any mistakes I make, any facial expressions or body language I have is always toward myself, not anybody else. I’m a perfectionist, I like to do things right all the time, so anytime I’m wrong, I want to fix it, and I want to figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing. And that would be a [miscommunication] between me and Coach Doherty, because I would make a mistake, I would come out, he would think I was mad at him, when I was just mad at myself. There was never a conversation that I had, like with Coach Williams, where he could understand where I was coming from, so that’s where the psychologist came in. And I had a sit-down with him, and as a young guy, I didn’t understand it. I didn’t think I was crazy or anything, and that was my perception at the time, that you see a psychologist because you’re crazy, because you have a problem.

Q: Did you need a psychologist?

A: I consider myself a highly intelligent person. And even talking to the psychologist, he was wondering why I was in there talking to him. After that conversation, it reassured me that I was far from being unstable as a basketball player, it was just that the coach didn’t take the time to get to know the real me. I think that any coach, if they have a question, they should come and ask me … that we should have a conversation, and take the time to understand where the other is coming from.

Q: You missed four games during the 2005 title season because of an “intestinal disorder.” What happened? And was it really an intestinal disorder?

A: There was never any real diagnosis; no one could say exactly what was wrong. I can say that I got over it pretty quick. It came about once I found out my mom was diagnosed with cancer … but I did feel better after after about a week, and it hasn’t been a lingering problem.

Q: Is there anything else you want to add, or clear up, for fans or NBA teams?

A: I feel like I haven’t been able to reach my potential the last four years, and hopefully there’s a team out there that will allow me to showcase my true talent, and not judge me on heresay, or what someone else has heard, or what someone else is saying – but judge me on the fact that I’m a hard worker, and I want to win.

Friday, September 4, 2009

UNC celebration more than a game

CHAPEL HILL -- For a moment Friday night, the Four Corners offense returned to North Carolina.

The fact that it was being run by 2009 Naismith Award winner Ty Lawson – and against 1978 National Player of the Year Phil Ford, who was coaching the opposite team – was just another memory to add to 100 years worth in Tar Heel blue.

"It's kind of a good play – a lot of space and all that,'' Lawson said after his Blue Team lost to White, 113-92. "I see why it worked back then."

Although the event was billed as UNC's "Professional Alumni Game," it really marked the ultimate family reunion at the Smith Center.

Yes, there was a game featuring 19 of Carolina's current professional players. But more than earning any bragging rights, the night was about kicking off the Tar Heels' year-long celebration of the century anniversary of Carolina basketball.

Which meant commemorating the past, enjoying the present, and looking forward to the future.

"I'm feeling goose bumps already,'' 2005 Final Four MVP Sean May, who led the Blue team with 21 points, said before tipoff.

Which was understandable.

There was soon-to-be-inducted Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan sitting with former coaches Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge, plus current UNC coach Roy Williams and Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown, at the scorer's table.

There was Carolina Panthers all-pro defensive end Julius Peppers – who played both football and basketball at UNC — sitting on the bench, decked out in one of the 100th anniversary uniforms specially designed by Nike, even though he couldn't play.

There were Raymond Felton, Brendan Haywood, Marvin Williams, Antawn Jamison and Jerry Stackhouse, starting for the White Team; and Vince Carter, Jawad Williams, Dante Calabria, Sean May and Ed Cota starting for the Blue Team.

(Which couldn't have been easy choices, considering the likes of Rashad McCants, Lawson, Jeff McInnis and Danny Green came off the bench.)

Light moments were in abundance: Just before tipoff, Green (a starter on the '09 title team) performed his patented "Jump Around" dance, and former teammate Mike Copeland came out of the stands to do the accompanying shirt-pluck. Not to be outdone, Blue Team guard Shammond Williams (who played on the '97 and '98 Final Four teams) came off his bench to show off his moves, with his former teammate, Makhtar Ndiaye coming out of the stands to do some copycat shirt-plucking of his own.

"Shammond surprised me,'' Green said after he led the White team, and all scorers, with 22 points. "I didn't think he had those kind of moves."

Poignant moments will be remembered, too: Side by side in the first half, Bobby Frasor and Stackhouse stood up in tandem at their bench, poi nting at the assist man after one of their teammates scored.

It just goes to show that some habits never change in Chapel Hill, no matter the graduating year of the player.

"I've heard guys who have won national championships for other schools ask what it's like to be part of the Carolina 'family' – because it's not just a group of guys, it's a family,'' former UNC player Buzz Peterson, now head coach at Appalachian State, said before the game."…Tonight shows what that's all about."

The 2009 national championship banner was unveiled at halftime to the roar of the sellout crowd, and another banner commemorating UNC's nine Naismith Hall-of-Famers – including Jordan, who will be inducted next weekend -- was unfurled during the second half. Proceeds from the event were donated to the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Among those also in attendance: Four-time All-America Tyler Hansbrough (who was resting a shin injury), plus former players Ademola Okulaja, Doug Moe, Hubert Davis, Donald Williams, Serge Zwikker and George Lynch. John Kuester, Ford, Dave Hanners, George Karl and Pat Sullivan all served as bench coaches. Multiple recruits – including Harrison Barnes, the top prospect in for the freshman class of 2010 – were on the sidelines.

And they all enjoyed the show as Carter threw down some familiar athletic dunks, Green hit 3-pointer after 3-pointer, and Lawson brought back the Four Corners offense, at least for one play.

"I had to look at the score, because [my team] was up, but they were still running it,'' said a grinning Ford, who was the maistro of that offense in his day. "That was funny … and it was great to see it again. Another good memory."

-- Robbi Pickeral

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

North Carolina reorganizes staff

Joe Holladay will move from an assistant coaching position on the bench to the administrative director of basketball operations role on North Carolina's basketball staff for the 2009-10 season, school sports information director Steve Kirschner confirmed Wednesday.

Holladay has been a member of coach Roy Williams' staff for 16 seasons, including seven at North Carolina. He will enter a three-year rotation along with assistants C.B. McGrath and Jerod Haase during which which one of the three will serve as operations director and the other two will work on the bench in any given season.

Previously McGrath and Haase rotated between the operations and bench coaching positions on a yearly basis. Another assistant, Steve Robinson, will remain on the bench each season.

"As Coach (Williams) said, we just have a deeper bench now," Kirschner said.

Holladay, 61, joined Williams at Kansas before the 1993-94 season after 23 years as a high school coach, teacher and administrator.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

FIU in opener after all for Tar Heels

In what comes as no huge surprise, Florida International has decided it will play North Carolina on Nov. 9 in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament, according to the Associated Press, as previously scheduled.

The Golden Panthers raised a ruckus last week when the schedule was announced, saying they wanted to play Ohio State in the opening round of the event and were angered that the event's organizer, The Gazelle Group, had switched games. FIU got its legal department involved, and even threatened to pull out.

Such a decision would have been costly, though, considering that after its opening games, FIU was set to host three home games in the tournament. The NCAA allows tourneys like this one to count four games as two in the overall “games-played” tally. So if FIU had pulled out, it not only faced legal ramifications for breaking a contract, but the prospect of losing revenue by only being able to play two games in place of the tournament – if it even could have found opponents.

FIU, which held a news conference Tuesday afternoon to announce its decision, signed the tournament contract before it hired new coach Isiah Thomas.

UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner said in an e-mail, "We're glad the matter is resolved and look forward to the start of the season."

-- Robbi Pickeral

N.C. State scraps new jerseys

After receiving negative feedback from fans, N.C. State has scrapped a new design for its men's basketball jerseys, athletics director Lee Fowler said Tuesday morning.

Last week, N.C. State displayed its new jersey design on its Twitter site, http://twitter.com/PackMensBball. The jersey featured a small "NC" on the front and a much larger "STATE" underneath.

Fowler said it was an attempt by coach Sidney Lowe and assistant Monte Towe to re-emphasize the "STATE," which was the only word on the jerseys during their playing days.

The response from fans on the Twitter site was overwhelmingly negative.

"The students didn't like it," Fowler said.

N.C. State instead will use jerseys similar to those from last season, Fowler said. The jerseys are provided by Adidas, which has an apparel deal with the school.

Ken Tysiac