Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Dancing Colorado Buffaloes

The Buffs are playing in back-to-back NCAA tournaments for the first time since the ice ages. This is an impressive feat by Tad Boyle and his staff and kudos to them. Amongst all of the contenders in the conference to jump into that upper echelon of programs, Colorado was amongst the least likely but don’t tell Tad that. They’re right there as one of the toughest outs. The team they’re dancing with this year has some terrifying pieces that I believe few staffs out there want to prepare for. I mean – as I’m about to get in to – who wants to deal with a 6’6″ point guard? And we’re not talking about Cedric Bozeman.

Why I like them: At this point, who doesn’t like Spencer Dinwiddie? He gets to the rim with ease and draws fouls at faster rate than Marshall Henderson draws haters (17th highest FT rate in the nation). His game is supported by the best role player in the nation in Andre Roberson who may be underrated but certainly not on this blog. I’m also becoming an increasingly big fan of CU’s X-factor, Xavier Johnson. He brings energy and size off the wing that the Buffs miss with Chen on the floor. He’s definitely a difference maker as it’s no surprise they roll when he’s on.

Why I don’t like them: They’re young. Oh so very young and it shows in their inconsistent play. The roll Oregon then lose to Oregon State. They have some great, convincing wins but some frustrating and discouraging losses. Which team will show up in Austin?

Poetic Justice: The Buffs manage to knock off fellow enigmatic-crew, Illinois, and advance to the second round for the second straight year. Facing a very tough and veteran Miami squad, the Buffaloes manage to linger til the waning moments. Down a pair and with the ball, the clock swiftly approaching zeros, Sabatino Chen heaves a three. It drops. Monitors are not reviewed. Buffs to their first Sweet 16 in half of a century.

Best Case Scenario: The Buffs play their sound style of defense and out B1G the Illini. Spencer Dinwiddie indeed gets to the line because Illinois has a propensity to do such defensively. Roberson boards the hell out of the offensive end alongside Josh Scott and they Buffs roll. Against Miami, the Buffs tap their inner, youthful naivety while the veteran ‘Canes lock up under the pressure and immediacy of their fleeting careers. Dinwiddie has an OK game but disrupts Shane Larkin enough to spark offense from defense and awkward-body, Kenny Kadji, has a horrible game with P12 dPOY, Andre Roberson, all over him. The Buffaloes advance – as I said – to their first Sweet 16 since 1963 to face the once again Cinderella Butler Bulldogs. Well this time it’s Askia’s time to shine as he out Rotnei Clarke’s Rotnei Clarke and shoots the Buffs into the E8. The Elite Eight. But this is the unfortunate part of our story where the Buffs run into the Indiana Hoosiers and their depth of talent Colorado just can’t contend with. It’s a glorious run and Tad Boyle kills another bear.

The Dancing UCLA Bruins

What a long strange trip it’s been for these Bruins. From hype to hapless to conference champs we find ourselves looking now at the only six-seed to be expected to lose. Seems about fitting for this team considering the season they’ve endured. Or created. This is UCLA and the story should be about success and not backpacks or job statuses. But that’s the world we live in today. On to Tubby v. Ben.

Why I like them: Who doesn’t like League talent? The Bruins have arguably the NBA’s top prospect in Shabazz Muhammad and when it comes to tournament play (that’s to say win or go home) I’m generally taking the more talented team. Muhammad quickly ups the talent level of your squad. What’s more – and I mentioned this regarding Cal – is that guard play reigns supreme in March and the Bruins have one helluva PG in Larry Drew II. He finished fourth in the nation in assists per game and 37th in assist rate. Thanks in part to his consistent and heady play, the Bruins turn the ball over at just a 16% rate. Not giving the ball up can go a long way in helping them stick around this tournament.

Why I don’t like them: Jordan Adams broke his foot. I love this guy’s game and he will be sorely missed as the Bruins now further lack depth as well as a dynamic offensive threat. He’s a shot creator that aids in opening the floor up for the shooting talents of Muhammad and the Wear family. But he’s gone now, moving Norman Powell into the starting lineup, again highlighting the Bruins’ gross lack of depth. And even though it’s been curbed for a good chunk of the season, the resurfacing of Ben Howland’s job status has got to be some sort of distraction.

Poetic Justice: In the face of a critical fan base and general national tone, Ben Howland rallies his group of UNC castoffs and oft-criticized stars to make a surprising run into the Elite Eight. Howland is retained for another season and Kyle Anderson stays another year as Tony Parker swiftly and surprisingly turns into the standout we’ve expected to see. That went way down the line. But it’d be quite a big deal.

Best Possible Scenario: Larry Drew II, in his first significant tournament time, continues to play the role of on-court leader (a role he’s played fantastically) and helps the Bruins past an athletic but enigmatic Golden Gophers group. They have no answer for Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker plays his best game of the year exposing Minnesota’s lack of size. In the second round (yea, I’m still going to call the “third round” the second round) Kenny Boynton shoots the Gators out of the tournament and Ben’s boys find themselves with a favorable Sweet-16 matchup/rematch against SDSU. And win just because this is a best possible scenario. They unfortunately run into the red hot Michigan Wolverines who are just to tough with their big, talented guards, ending the Bruins’ lovely run on Atlanta’s doorstep.

 

Waxing Seniority: Larry Drew II

With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12′s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.

Drew Murawa is a writer and editor at Rush the Court covering both the Pac-12 and Mountain West. I enjoy his perspective on the Pac and the complex goings on surrounding the UCLA program.

Larry Drew II by Drew Murawa

I don’t like to admit it often (because I like to pretend I can be completely impartial), but I grew up a UCLA fan and have a soft spot in my heart for the Bruins. If I’m covering a game, I’m watching it more as a basketball fan than as a UCLA fan, but the fact is, when I pull up a stool at the bar with some friends to watch a UCLA game, I am going to root – often loudly and obnoxiously – for the Bruins, just as I have done for most of my adult (and I use that tern quite loosely) life.

As such, apart from diagnosing the effectiveness of all UCLA basketball players, I also will always have an opinion about the likability of Bruins throughout the ages. Tracy Murray, I loved. Mitchell Butler, Gerald Madkins, Darrick Martin – all spark great memories. And yet Don MacLean? Sorry, but somehow despite all those points, he never did it for me. Toby Bailey? I’ve got some great memories of the guy, but we just never clicked; I was more of a J.R. Henderson guy, despite his sleepy personality. Cedric Bozeman wormed his way onto my good side in his final season, while Jason Kapono remained on the outside looking in. And, then of course, there are the unimpeachables like Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, Lorenzo Mata, Arron Afflalo and more.

All of which is just preamble to discussing the legacy of Larry Drew II in the lore of UCLA basketball. I’ll admit it: when the announcement came down that he would be spending his final year of eligibility in Westwood after an unceremonious early departure from North Carolina, I anticipated disliking him. The way he quit on his teammates in Chapel Hill, regardless of whatever externalities may have prompted such a rash decision, stuck in my craw. Throw in the facts that I hadn’t seen a whole lot in his game to love and that his UCLA career would be so short, and I was well prepared to push the LDII era to the well blocked-off corners of my mind haunted by figures like Trevor Ariza, Michael Fey and Jerome Moiso.

Well, I’m happy to say that, as I reflect on Drew’s time at UCLA in advance of the Senior Night celebration of his career, Drew’s going to go down on the good side of the ledger. First and foremost, after at least three years of a significant downturn in the artistry of Bruin basketball, Drew was the floor general – and a key cog – in the return to watchability. Sure, plenty of that has to do with the fact that he was fortunate enough to come along at a time when guys like Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson were capable offensive threats at the end of Drew’s passes, but make no mistake – Drew has helped each of those guys achieve what they have.

But there are a lot of other facets to the Drew story that make him likable Bruin. On a team that has often displayed some sketchy body language when things weren’t going right (and sometimes even when it was), Drew has been a rock – a mature leader on a team with some emotional youngsters. And slowly but surely, as the season has gone on, some of that has rubbed off on his teammates as wins have piled up. Then, of course, as I just alluded to, in order to really earn a spot up among the favorites, you gotta make some big plays. And that game-winner against Washington (despite the rest of the game being an abomination against the sport of basketball) was a memorable moment.

But as I look back on Drew’s career from this vantage point, what strikes me the most is one of my favorite storylines in the sport we love so much: personal growth. We first got to know Drew as an 18-year-old kid,  probably a little bit spoiled, with plenty of expectations on his head, expectations he failed to meet out of the gates. After a year playing spot minutes in relief of Ty Lawson on the way to a National Championship, Drew inherited the starting spot as a sophomore and, frankly, was a weak spot until Kendall Marshall usurped his spot in the middle of the following year. And the kid, a continent away from home and experiencing failure for the first time, made an abrupt decision to quit on his team. In other words, he made the type of immature decision that 20-year-old kids like me, and you, and everybody else, makes from time to time. The difference is, he made his decision in the full glare of the public spotlight. And regardless of the reasons for that decision or the story behind it, nothing is ever going to change that decision or make up for it or make it right. And you know what? That’s all right. Because one of the reasons we love sports is to watch redemption. And one of the reasons we love college sports in particular is because we love seeing these kids improve. And one of the reasons we love seniors most of all is because we’ve had a chance to see these kids grow up before our eyes in a crucible of pressure and attention.

And, framed that way, Drew’s career arc is irresistible. Kid was highly regarded as a high school player, with the famous father. Kid signs on with a blueblood program, wins a national title in his first year as little more than pinch-hitter, then repeatedly strikes out over the next couple seasons. Kid disappears from the public eye, woodsheds while he works on his game and works on his life and when kid reappears (at another blueblood, no less), he is a kid no more. He is a leader of the next wave of kids.

As a Bruin fan, Larry, it was damn good to get to know you.

The Dancing California Golden Bears

Mike Montgomery has a touch of a bad rep when it comes to the NCAA tournament. He ranks 31st in tournament win percentage amongst active coaches with at least ten tournament appearances and, despite all those great Stanford teams, has left the first weekend just thrice (1997 S16, 1998 F4, 2001 E8). But I’m not always one to harp on these facts when evaluating a coach’s career. But we’re also not looking at this sorta stuff right now. I will, however, admit to picking against such records and memories in this tournament because completing brackets should be completely irrational.

The Bears are dancing and rematching.

Why I like them: This is March and March loves guards. Cal has two terrific ones in Crabbe and Cobbs who have been dynamite in big games and big situations (see: Crabbe in Tucson, Cobbs in Eugene). These two are not afraid of the moment. Additionally, this game is in San Jose; a drinking-legal CalTrain ride from Berkeley (with a short stint on Bart). Or I suppose fans could just drive, too, but whatever. I encourage them to get there! Another item to keep an eye on – and I really don’t yet know what to make of it – is the fact that Ricky Kreklow returned to significant action last week. He played 18 minutes in Vegas – just his seventh game of the year – and knocked down two threes. He’s a wildcard and I’m kinda into it.

Why I don’t like them: The pieces after that dynamic duo leave something to be desired. Namely, Ty Wallace has cooled off and I don’t love depending upon a freshman difference maker. Or a thin PF, foul prone C, and a former walk-on backing them both up (though he is the Thurmanator). And while we were just starting to have to wrap our minds around the fact – yes, fact – that these Golden Bears were a good, not just hot, team, they went ahead and lost a pair and in unconvincing fashion. Cal is slumping into the tournament and one cannot feel good about that.

Poetic Justice: Revenge. It’s pretty simple here considering Cal had these Rebels all but beat back in December if it weren’t for a missed box out by David Kravish. The Bears will get a second shot in a weird “unavoidable” move by the committee.

Best Possible Scenario: Cal indeed exacts revenge, limiting Anthony Bennett’s touches and forcing the Rebs to shoot an uncomfortable number of threes (looking at you, Katin Reinhardt). This is the recipe New Mexico recently imparted in defeating UNLV. Of course Crabbe and Cobbs show up before an impressive Cal crowd and the Runnin’ Rebels get run out of the Dance. Next up, however, the Bears are unable to shoot their way out of the ‘Cuse zone (the Bears rank 309th in three-point shooting at just 30%) and this battle of witty and snide coaches falls the way of Boeheim.

The Dancing Oregon Ducks

So the team that wins the Pac-12 Tournament garnered a twelve seed. This was immediately reacted to with moderate outrage and addressed by Mike Bobinski on the CBS Selection Show. Look, I understand that the committee’s job is tough and generally see little reason to get too upset at their work. Especially if they can provide a rational explanation. So I was willing to give Bobinski a pass if he had good reason. But this was his thoughts about Oregon as a twelve, “We had evaluated their entire season’s worth of work as belonging somewhere in that eleven range.” I can’t get behind that and I know if you’re a Duck you can’t either. I saw this team beat Arizona, UNLV, and handle UCLA twice. Four wins does not a season make but those four teams are seeded 6, 5, and 6 and the Ducks (just like Ohio State) had just won their conference tournament. Where’s the reward? Alas, the thing I keep coming back to is who’s more pissed off? Is it Oregon for getting the poor and “disrespectful” seeding? Or is it their first round opponent, the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who now have to travel to San Jose and play the angry Ducks?

Side note: Lotta points to be scored should this have been a football game.

Why I like them: This team plays their roles remarkably well and is committed to Dana Altman’s system. I love their depth and the complete roster of players and athletes Altman artfully substitutes. They defend and rebound tremendously well which bodes well come tournament time (see: Vegas, Las). They rank 16th in defensive efficiency nationally.

Why I don’t like them: Ain’t got no shooters! Their eFG% is right around average (49.1% vs 48.6%) and their three point shooting (for better or worse a key to winning this month) is…poor at best. They shoot just 32% from distance. Additionally, the fact that they’re turnover-prone does not help any offensive woes they might encounter.

Poetic Justice: EJ Singler has been the rock of this program and played in every other tournament this glorious month offers. He’s played in the CBI and NIT and now, for the first time in his career he’ll play in the Big One. We’ve already discussed how the program’s season was slighted but wouldn’t it be exciting to see the Ducks win a few for this guy? Or better yet, because of this guy? He’s putting up 15/5/2 over the Ducks’ last four games (including their P12 tournament run) and they could certainly benefit if the native Oregonian could stay hot.

Best Possible Scenario: EJ indeed stays hot and Daymean Dotson does the same, giving the Ducks a shooting threat alongside tournament MVP, Johnathan Loyd. Between this trifecta the offense manages enough muster while Kazemi throttles Le’Bryan Nash and a now game tested and completely healthy, Dominic Artis, gives Marcus Smart fits. The Cowboys aren’t hitting and Oregon takes advantage of their inability to board. The Ducks win this practical home game and semi-host the fourth seeded – and tough – St. Louis Billikens in what would turn into a hard-nosed, grind of a game. Which of course let’s us believe anything can happen. The Ducks match the Billikens in defensive intensity and take care of the rock, winning on a late Singler runner, 58-56. With the Ducks headed to the Sweet 16, Phil Knight buys out the arena and the entire student body is invited to Indianapolis for the Oregon-Lousiville game. Unfortunately the Louisville press is too much for these turnover prone Ducks, ending their season. Though Oregon wins the Nike-Adidas aesthetic game.

Waxing Seniority: EJ Singler

With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12’s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.

David Piper is the editor and founder of Addicted to Quack. He knows Duck sports inside and out and created the web’s top blog for following all things Oregon.

In the spring of 2010, coming off their second straight bottom two finish in the Pac-12, the Oregon Ducks fired their all-time winningest head coach, Ernie Kent. Oregon would take well over a month to name a successor, and in that time, transfer after transfer decimated the Oregon program. In all, five players left Oregon, with no incoming recruits having been signed as Dana Altman took over as head coach in April. Only one of the holdovers was an underclassmen. That player was E. J. Singler.

Singler committed to Oregon even as they were coming off a 2-16 conference season in 2008-09. The Oregon 6A player of the year at South Medford, he was more known for being Kyle’s little brother, although he has been a good player in his own right. He imprinted himself on the team right away, becoming a starter his freshman year, and earning a reputation as a guy who does a little bit of everything—shooting 45% from the field while finishing third on the team in rebounds and assits.

But it was after Altman took over that Singler really began to assert himself. The 2010-11 Ducks may have been one of the least talented Pac-12 squads ever assembled. The roster looked straight out of the bottom half of the Big Sky. Only two players, Singler and Joevan Catron, would sniff the floor on a team that was even halfway decent. But the team ran everything through E.J., who was second on the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocks, and somehow led the team to a 20 win season. More transfers ensued, leaving only two players from the Ernie Kent era still on the team two seasons after his departure.

This season, Singler is the lone remaining player from the Kent era, the lone four-year senior on the roster. In the most tumultuous time in Oregon history, a four-year stretch in which the Ducks fired their all-time winningest coach, opened a new arena after over 80 seasons at Mac Court, and saw 12 players transfer out of the Oregon program, E.J. has been our rock. He has been the one consistent thing about this program, the one face that has seen through the entire time of transition.

E.J.’s numbers are down across the board this season, as he has been battling a pretty bad case of knee tendonitis all year. However, he is still the unquestionable leader of the squad. Despite missing out on the conference title, he still likely has led this team to the NCAA Tournaement for the first time since 2008, and the program back to being respectable. The most anybody can do is hope to leave a place better than how they found it. E.J. is the one player over the last handful of seasons who has really left a lasting mark on Oregon basketball, and the program is in a much better place for it.

Waxing Seniority: Jio Fontan

With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12’s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.

Jacob Freedman is a writer for the Daily Trojan, Galen Central, Neon Tommy, and other USC publications.

There won’t be a Hollywood ending for Jio Fontan. His college career will not wrap up with a celebration on the court. He won’t be hearing his name called by David Stern at the NBA Draft this June.

Instead, his final game at the Galen Center has served as a metaphor for Fontan’s three years as the Trojans point guard on the floor, and emotional leader off of it.

Senior Day couldn’t have started better for the Trojans that Saturday. The Trojans raced out to a 28-9 lead last Saturday against the Arizona State Sun Devils, with Fontan leading USC’s fast-paced, dunk-fueled offense. It was an exciting start, just as Fontan’s tenure at USC was after he led Trojans to the NCAA Tournament in his debut season at USC despite missing the first ten games due to transfer rules.

The Trojans lost in the opening round of the tourney to VCU (which ended up making a run to the Final Four), but Fontan had rekindled his love for basketball in the southern California sun. The ugly drama was finally gone. His nightmare at Fordham, which refused to release Fontan from the program after he averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 assists as a freshman and where he played five games in 2009-10 as a sophomore, was finally over.

From a narrow loss at third-ranked Kansas in his USC debut to a late February win over a Top Ten Arizona squad that propelled the Trojans to an at-large bid, that 2010-11 season was the unconventional honeymoon for Fontan and his new group.

Flash back to Senior Day. Arizona State fought back, but USC still led 41-28 with around 13 minutes to go. Fontan had been guarding ASU’s best player in Jahii Carson, and had already racked up four fouls against the aggressive freshman point guard. Fontan had also sat out nearly eight minutes in the first half with two fouls, and was struggling offensively with seven points and just two assists. But like it had been all season; there was no other option at point guard. Fontan led the team with 33 minutes per game. Down the stretch, it was going to be Jio or bust.

“He’s very competitive at practice and in the games,” USC interim head coach Bob Cantu said. “Guys feed off that and see he really wants to win. Not just winning the game, but winning each possession and each increment on the game.”

Coming out of a dead-ball substitution, Fontan looked to shoot before dishing the ball to Omar Oraby. Oraby’s jumper went awry, but that’s not wat mattered. As the shot clanked off iron, the predominant sound in the Galen Center was a sharp thud as Fontan fell backwards onto the court following his pass. Not good. Not good at all

Fontan got up hobbling, clutching his right wrist tightly and seething to avoid crying out in pain. He got the ball on USC’s next possession, but bent over in agony before Cantu called a timeout and subbed in freshman Chass Bryan for Fontan. No question about it, Fontan was hurt. Again.

Flash back to spring 2011. The Trojans lost three program contributors- Marcus Simmons, Donte Smith and Alex Stepheson- to graduation and lost arguably their best player, Nikola Vucevic, to the pros after the Serbian star declared for the NBA Draft on March 25. Backup guard Bryce Jones had also left the program in January.

With all of that, a repeat run to the tourney was less than a sure thing. But at least then-USC head coach Kevin O’Neill had his trusted point guard at his side. Both coach and point guard believed they could carry this team back to the Big Dance. And then, Brazil.

Fontan had 57 points in two games during USC’s August trip to the South American nation, where the Trojans played against mid-level Brazilian pro squads. But in the third, Fontan was hit on a drive and landed awkwardly. It turned out to be a torn ACL that required surgery. His season was done before it even began. As was USC’s, which Fontan would have to watch unfold from the bench.

Thus began the 2011-12 season as we remember it. Most choose to forget. Fontan’s injury wasn’t the first (Power forward Curtis Washington was declared out of the year the week before Brazil with a shoulder injury), nor would it be the last. Down went center Dewayne Dedmon, down went forward Aaron Fuller, and down went the Trojans’ record. USC finished the season with six wins and 26 losses, the most losses in program history.

The losing was hard enough for Fontan. Worse was having to watch his teammates lose their passion and suffer through loss after loss.

“Just keep fighting,” Fontan said on what he told his teammates. “When you’re going from town to town, state to state, taking losses and some pretty bad ones, you could kind of get lost in what’s the game’s about.” A calm and calculated speaker, Fontan switches the tone from sullen to positive without missing a beat. “It’s about having fun and going out there and trying to make your mark every time you step on the court and compete as much as possible. You don’t want that losing mentality to become the norm for you.”

The season to forget ended with a 17-point loss to UCLA in the first round of the conference tournament. For most of the team, that meant the offseason. For Fontan, it meant the preseason had begun.

“He stayed motivated and saw the big picture, and that’s not easy to do,” Cantu said. “I give him a lot of credit.”

Now 31 games into his final season, Fontan still doesn’t discount the impact of that agonizing tear nearly 19 months ago.

“I have my days where I’m more sore than others, but for the most part I’m good. There’s days where I can feel great and can explode like I’ve always been able to, I just have to learn to adjust and come in strong.”

Now check back in to last Saturday. After subbing out, Fontan has made a quick detour to the locker room before returning with a bag of ice for his right wrist. It turns out he sprained it, but he doesn’t know that yet. Not that it would matter if he did. Four minutes and 33 seconds of game time after hobbling off, Fontan has his right hand wrapped and ready to go.  The Trojans are 6-5 under Cantu at this juncture, and Fontan isn’t letting a sixth loss slide by.

“It’s been tougher for me personally, just dealing with having a year off basketball having to not only be a leader, but getting things flowing for my team to win,” Fontan said before the game. “Luckily I’ve been able to do so during this later stretch.”

Fontan’s senior year has already been rocky. After starting 7-10, USC fired O’Neill, and impacting Fontan on more than one level.

With Fontan living almost 3,000 miles away from his family in New Jersey, O’Neill became Jio’s west-coast father figure. Fontan was just 20 when he arrived to USC. Now he is 23, and thanks to O’Neill’s tutelage, miles more mature and now able to tackle the challenges of life after college basketball.

“He told me to be a professional and have fun on and off the court,” Fontan said about O’Neill’s parting advice to him. Fontan’s one constant of his USC career was gone, and Cantu became Fontan’s fourth coach of his college career.

And just like his roller-coaster senior year, this game would not have the picturesque finish Fontan might have wished for.

Although he left because of injury, Fontan had exited the game with four fouls. Less than two minutes after coming back in, he earned his fifth after elbowing Carson while dribbling the ball up the court. Fontan was protecting his injured wrist, but a swing was a swing. The referees called it a flagrant foul, and Fontan’s day was finished.

Fontan defended himself in the post-game press conference, but his ultimate conclusion was that the referees “made the right call”. The hothead freshman Jio might have rued the call, but this tenured senior knows when to pick his battles.

Like the end of the game once he fouled out, Fontan can’t control how this season will turn out. If J.T. Terrell isn’t finding his shot, if Eric Wise isn’t making paths in the paint and if Dedmon and Omar Oraby aren’t stopping opponents in the post, then there is only so much Fontan can do. For the fierce leader to win, he must rely on the skills of others.

As Fontan gazed from the sidelines, the Trojans withstood a last-second heave by Arizona State to win 57-56. Fontan finished with seven points, two rebounds, and an assist. In his 32nd and final game at the Galen Center, Fontan’s 22 minutes were his fewest total ever on the Trojans’ home court.  In a career deterred by injuries, that final stat seems to make harmonic sense.

No matter. The Trojans won. The metaphor ends here. Now, it’s time for Fontan to wrap up his story at USC. He’s already planning the next chapter of his life.

Fontan has Puerto Rican roots, and was drafted 8th overall by Atléticos de San Germán in January’s Puerto Rican Basketball League Draft. He is on track to graduate, and says he’s likely to explore playing in Puerto Rico once USC’s season is over.

Which is not quite yet. The Trojans enter the Pac-12 tournament as the seven-seed and will face tenth-seeded Utah Wednesday night.

Fontan is still dealing with pain from his wrist, but there’s no chance he won’t be on the court for the rest of USC’s games. His time in Tinseltown is over, but perhaps what happens in Vegas will result in an extra page or two to Fontan’s USC chapter.

 

Reviewing My Event: Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament

Somewhere amidst the blur that is any Vegas trip I received an email from Ticketmaster. The subject line of this email read, “Review Your Event: Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

OK. I will.

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Wow, Ticketmaster drawing the big guns early. Five stars. A year in the making, the move to Vegas came with great anticipation and lived up to the hype.

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Yes. Resoundingly so.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 10.42.57 PMI’d like review as hetouchedtheball.

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Doesn’t matter. Look at the example. Can’t top that title.

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You know how awesome it is when you anticipate something will be terrific and then it is? This wasn’t The Hangover 2, this was The Dark Knight. For a year we’d discussed the excitement of this event and then boom it delivered. The conference has rediscovered itself and just in time (well, at least not in the eyes of the committee with regards to seeding) to make an inaugural splash.

The MGM was accessible and the arena was big enough to house a crowd and quaint enough to get rowdy. Vegas itself is accessible and allowed me to attend this event with a whole lot of friends and enemies.

Particularly I liked the blackout curtains (so Vegas) on the side of the gym sans upper seating. It provided an ominous and dramatic backdrop to the play unfolding below.

Of course not as if this thing needed any additional drama. Day 1 saw games decided by 11 total points. Day 2 saw two overtimes. Day three provided this. And whatever the outcome, a championship is always a blast. Vegas crushed it. The competition crushed it. Frankly, Oregon crushed it. And again, kudos to Johnathan Loyd (MVP).

I bought beers that were more expensive than my ticket (12/12/12); I watched Huskies go nuts over a buzzer beating cover despite a team loss; I waltzed into session 5 with Pat Riley; I interestingly placed no wagers on Pac-12 games; I ran into college friends and blogosphere friends and watched a man pay $20 to kick another man in the groin (prior to midnight); I listened/participated as “U of A” chants drowned out the support of others (then watched/participated as sorrows were drowned); I saw a lot of red that didn’t always have a block A on it (Utah travelled); I made my flight home.

Loved it.

My lone complaint would be that putting the conference title game on at 8pm goes a long way in ensuring your conference gets minimal exposure. That’s 11pm EST and does it come as any surprise that Oregon – the winner of this tournament – was the most hosed on Selection Sunday? The tournament was brought to Vegas to get more people to see it. Let’s make sure that continues to happen.

Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 11.20.35 PMGreat question Ticketmaster. This one’s hard to pick and I loved the Sean Miller press conference. I won’t pick it as my favorite, however, because I’m not entirely sure I want to celebrate it. I will say that I’ve watched it many times and appreciate the way he goes to bat for Solomon Hill and wears the game.

But my favorite – and I’m going to get a little Field of Dreams-y on you here – was watching the Oregon-Washington game. This back-and-forth battle stands alone on its own merits as a terrific basketball contest. But it stands out to me because it wasn’t nearly a capacity audience as we managed to sit comfortably spread out in really whichever seats we wanted. And I got to do that next to my Dad. The rest of our party had chose dinner over the first half and in my blind loyalty to this conference I knew I wanted to see these heated rivals square off in a Pac-12 quarterfinal. So my dad joined me and we sat, like I said, comfortably and wherever we liked. Just father and son. Me and pops.

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I did not sit there.

5 stars particularly if we’re considering the value of the seats. I had tickets to eleven basketball games (4 tickets to the championship) and spent roughly the same amount that I paid to get into Pauley on 3/2.

I would recommend these seats. They’re ambulatory.

They were turquoise and did this really weird adjusty thing where they’d slide back – a light recline, if you will – as you dropped the actual sitting fold into its sit-able position. This reminded me of one of those advancements you find in dated cars that seemed really tight at the moment but over time and with gained perspective you’re like does this actually serve any serviceable function? I have the feeling that kick-under-your-car-to-open-the-trunk thing is the next of these auto-creations. But yeah, the seats were turquoise.

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photo-11

 

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You’re asking me to upload video from a 3-day trip to Las Vegas, Nevada? Screw you.

Review submitted.

 

 

Waxing Seniority: Abdul Gaddy

With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12’s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.

Jack Follman is a writer and editor at PacificTakes. He’s a long time Washington Huskies fan and a native of the state.

People love tragedies. We may act like we don’t, but we do, or we at least find tragedy stories engrossing and sports fans are no different. We don’t love, but are fascinated by the stories of people who had it all and either threw it away or lost it tragically. Case in point, Len Bias and Ben Wilson provided two of the most popular documentaries in the 30 for 30 series 25 years after their passing.

One of the most common and modern Greek tragedies that exists in the world of college sports right now is the 5-star, future All-American recruit who fails to live up to expectations, but particularly those that flame out in spectacular fashion. It seems that if you aren’t going to live up to expectations that it is, in the words of Neil Young, better to burn out than fade away. But what happens to those that fade away? What is their story?

I don’t know if I could think of a better athlete that exemplifies the idea of fading away as opposed to burning out than Abdul Gaddy.

I’m sure no one, absolutely no one, needs to hear about Gaddy’s hype coming out of high school by comparing his position ranking when compared to John Wall’s, but as pretty much every Pac-12 basketball fan knows, he was a big time recruit and to sum it up simply, he didn’t really pan out, but he also wasn’t a bust. It’s kind of hard to carve out an identity as a journeyman player in a sport that only gives you four years, but that’s kind of what Gaddy is. He is kind of like a college version of what Kenny Anderson was in the NBA and for as much scrutiny as he has faced from Husky fans for his inability to become just a little bit less good than the aforementioned Wall they all should have an appreciation for him.

In the transfer-happy world that college basketball has become, it now seems like every player, especially a 5-star type recruit, who isn’t immediately crowned a star at his respective school is out the door to another almost immediately. I’m sure there were numerous times when Gaddy could have done this and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were times when he really thought about doing this, and who could blame him?

But he didn’t.

For whatever reason, good or bad, he stuck it out in Seattle and when this season likely ends for the Huskies early in the NIT or in one of those god awful tournaments that begins with the letter C, Gaddy’s meaningful basketball career will almost assuredly be over and unlike most players who had careers like his, he will be largely remembered by Husky fans and probably not positively.

But I don’t really think that is fair, especially if you think of it this way.

Of the six five-star-caliber players ever signed by Washington, I would say that Gaddy has had the third-most overall valuable career for the Huskies – behind Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter but ahead of Tony Wroten, Spencer Hawes and Martell Webster who never even ended up playing. Maybe I am just searching for ways to sugar coat Gaddy’s career, but the truth is that because of the NBA, Gaddy actually was fairly decent when compared to the other most hyped players that the Huskies have signed.

With all of this said, there is some tragedy in Gaddy’s story and it took place in January of 2011 when he tore his ACL and knocked himself out for the rest of the season. He was arguably performing about as well as he had throughout his entire career and was fitting into the role that fit him best. As a distributing point guard for superb talents like Isaiah Thomas, Terrence Ross and Mathew Bryan-Amaning (Okay, not all superb talents) that could mask his scoring inabilities. The Huskies were rolling and one would have to wonder if having a healthy Gaddy on that team would have pushed the Huskies to a better regular season record and further in the NCAA Tournament in which they were knocked out by North Carolina in a heartbreaker.

So there you go, Gaddy’s story does kind of fit into the neat package that we crave so much and assuredly will gorge on in many segments during the tournament in between the same insurance company and AT&T commercials that are shown repeatedly.

Waxing Seniority: Jason Washburn

With the regular season now wrapped and the Pac-12’s seniors having played their final home games, we’re taking a tour across the conference and bidding this group of seniors farewell.

The Ghost of Jack Gardner has been following the Utah Utes program since his days as a coach and now far beyond. His blog is a wealth of Ute knowledge, nostalgia, and hoops.

The college basketball career of Jason Washburn is a play of Three Acts. We first knew him as the four-star center from Battle Creek, who Jim Boylen recruited while an assistant with Michigan State.  He stood out as the energetic redshirt on the Utah sideline, often standing on his feet waiving a towel. That was the 2008-09 MWC Championship team led by Luke Nevill, Lawrence Borha and a promising newcomer named Carlon Brown.

Things were looking very bright for the future of Utah basketball.  The 2009-10 season was greatly anticipated by the fans.  Washburn made his playing debut in the Huntsman Center in a loss to Idaho. He played alongside Carlon Brown and the 7’3″ returned missionary, David Foster. Another newcomer, Marshall Henderson, also made his debut for the Utes that night with 18 points.  But Washburn stole the show.  He came off the bench and scored 20 points and pulled down 7 rebounds in 26 minutes.  As I said, the future looked bright.

End of Act I.

Washburn never got close to 20 points again for the next two years.  In fact, he only scored in double digits ten times over that period.  He was known to Utah fans and opponents as: 1) Soft; and 2) Enthusiastic.  It was so funny to see him lead the team in energy and cheering while on the bench, but then see him get pushed around by smaller players on the court.  He had no defensive presence, didn’t fight for rebounds and couldn’t finish in traffic.  I admit he was known for some time by yours truly as “Jason Heartburn.”

Yet he never lacked for enthuasism.

Those were Utah’s last two seasons in the Mountain West Conference, and the last two seasons of Jim Boylen’s tenure.  A mass player exodus ensued that spring.  Henderson, Clyburn, O’Brien and Glover all transferred.  We had no idea what our innaugural Pac-12 team would look like.  When the dust settled, we had a new coach, and entirely new roster, a returning juco named Jiggy, the oft-injured Chris Hines . . . and Jason Washburn.

Almost by default, Jason Washburn was the leader of the 2011-12 Runnin’ Utes.  His minutes increased and so did his production.  He was still soft but slowly improved offensively.  But fans didn’t expect much out of him at this point, especially since 2011-12 was a throwaway season.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened — I think it was during the Arizona game in Tucson when something finally clicked. I think Washburn was tired of losing and tired of getting pushed around.  No doubt about it: with just a few weeks left in the season, something suddenly changed.

End of Act II.

Washburn finished the season on a complete tear, which has carried through this year. He’s been a consistent scorer and has had several double-double games.  And his defense has stepped-up big time.  Each time Utah has found itself in a position to win, Washburn is always in the middle of things. There have even been a couple times I believe he would have been the Pac-12 Player of the Week if only Utah could have converted close losses to wins.

Utah fans love him.  But his biggest badge of honor is that opposing fans hate him.  And that just makes us love him even more.

Not to mention his love for the fans and for the school. He recently sat down with the Deseret News and discussed his decision to stay at Utah two years ago when many teammates were leaving:

“There was plenty of times where I was just ready to break down and throw my hands up in the air and say ‘I can’t do this any more’ just because we had so many guys leave . . . Even though I hold no grudges against anyone that left. They all did it because it was best for them and you can’t hate someone for that.”

“I put my head down and fought through the turmoil. Why couldn’t you? If I can take anything from my career I can be proud of myself for knowing that not only did I stick with my teammates and my coach and my new coach, I stuck with this program and this fan base. I know I can walk away proud of that.”

On a few occassions, I’ve taken posession of the body of some loitering Utah fan after a game to congratulate Washburn personally. The guy is genuine and loves interacting with the fans.  He’s the kind of guy you love to cheer for.  For that reason, he has become one of my all-time favorite Runnin’ Utes.

My only regret is he won’t be around next year for a fourth Act — when, I believe, Utah will finally turn the corner.