Tag Archives: Rick Pitino

Al Michaels’ Question: On Miracles

Years ago, as the US hockey team skated out the clock en route to the greatest upset in sports history, Al Michaels jubilantly asked if we believed in miracles. It was a rhetorical question. One that he’d quickly and further jubilantly answer for himself. Subsequently, movies were made, legends born, and history written.

We’ve heard the stories of Eruzione, O’Callahan, Brooks and the other heroes. But it’s Michaels’ call, that iconic inquiry, that is perhaps most familiar, “Do you believe in miracles?”

A simple question but there’s a reason it serves as the springboard by which we tell this tremendously unfathomable story. Just a fistful of words from the mouth of a 36-year-old during a tape-delayed broadcast. That is what unceremoniously defines America’s greatest athletic achievement. Why?

It’s often confounded me as to what draws us to that hectic outburst. Why it’s revered and recognized, a staple in the lexicon of sport.

The game stands on it’s own merit – you know the story so no need to re-hash. And it’s easy to say that we love, for that brief moment, Michaels stepping out of his broadcaster role and into the seat of a fan. Utterly berserk was the accomplishment, berserk was the call. It no doubt fits the moment.

But something about the question is bigger – if that’s even possible – than the outcome on the ice.

You see, we want to believe. No matter the odds, hurdle, mountain, obstacle, or path, we need to believe. Michaels’ call sits so comfortably with us because he wasn’t asking if we believed in the miracle of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team. He was asking why we were even watching in the first place.

Because we want to sit in front of the television and believe that the Louisville Cardinals were able to flex their fortitude that much fiercer because Kevin Ware was with them while he wasn’t.

We want to believe that Spike Albrecht scored 43% of his season’s points – including 17 in the national championship game – during March Madness, because he, along with national POY, Trey Burke, refused to let the Wolverines return to Ann Arbor sans hardware.

We want to believe that Peyton Siva would perform on the biggest stage in the biggest moments because he’d endured four-long years, regular criticism, and some trying tournament losses. On that stage, Peyton scored 18-points (the most he’d scored in 2013). He grabbed six rebounds, assisted on five baskets, and swiped four Maize possessions.

We want to believe in competition like we saw last night. While so many of us didn’t have a dog in that fight, we were the fight. Our own miracles falling victim to Buckeyes or Illini or Gophers or any of an assortment of other mascots who endured on. Because the fight itself, and one of that caliber, allows us to further believe for one more night.

To believe that Chane Behanan can grab six of the game’s final eleven rebounds. That Luke Hancock can individually outscore the Wolverines 14-1 late in the first half to remind us just how sensitive the finality of this game is.

My dog wasn’t in Atlanta Monday night, but I got to see everything that it could be, should be, and that we want it to be.

No, the miracle Michaels was referencing didn’t necessarily center on the metaphoric defeat of a political philosophy. But somehow that perfect question embodied equal parts political demise, athletic triumph, and the beauty of competition that we embrace from the stands, as fans. Do we believe in miracles, Al? We better. It might be the best shot we got.

What transpired last night embodied it all. Because we didn’t know what was going to happen. We can’t predict the Albrechts or the Wares or the Hancocks. Poetic justice won’t always be served.

But on those rare and beautiful occasions when things do shake out poetically – the shot falls and the senior delivers – we believe a little more. We have to for that one victory we all want.

On a Monday night.

In a football stadium.

In April.

Steve Alford is no April Fools

I love the Steve Alford hire.

I’m watching the Kevin Ware injury on repeat.

I have little interest in what Aaron Gordon has to say tomorrow.

It was about time to get the Oregon cheerleaders off TV.

I will not miss this college basketball season.


Are you kidding me!? Steve Alford was a fallback hire and I will not watch the Ware thing once. If Aaron Gordon says what I think and hope he’ll say dancing will ensue and preferably with an Oregon cheerleader. There are just three games left 🙁

But I really want to dig into this Alford hire.

It came across my ESPN ScoreCenter push notifications at something like 8:50am Saturday on my way to a pickup hoops game. I was driving alone and immediately didn’t know what to do. I headed to social media, quickly, and then to Wikipedia. The Alford page already mentioned UCLA.

Hadn’t he just signed a 10-year deal in Albuquerque?

Alas, Dan Guerrero and Bruins Nation have their man. He has to be. Westwood’s newest coach:

  • 4 Tournament wins in 18 seasons as HC
  • .589 win percentage at High Major Iowa
  • 7 NCAA appearances
  • 3 4* recruits while at UNM
  • Avg AdjT ranking of 181st
  • 1 Sweet Sixteen
  • 0 Final Fours

But I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here. He’s signed, sealed, and delivered and it’s going to be his show. BruinsNation must withhold their vitriol for a minimum three-seasons. In my opinion, at least.

The Howland firing was universally accepted as a necessary change. It doesn’t always look right on paper but a break was necessary. A lot like your college girlfriend.

Alford doesn’t fit all the buzz words like “winning the press conference” or “home run hire” but he does offer a new regime in Westwood which is what the Bruins had coming to them. And while some will tell you that he was hired in desperation, that Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens’ declining led Guerrero to jump on the first available “yes”, I’m not buying it. Who’s to say he hadn’t been in the Pitino and Donovan camps for weeks? Why wouldn’t he have been? You fire the Head Coach of the conference champ and you knew you were going to do this for awhile. Phone calls were made. Interests were felt out. Guerrero had at least an idea of which trees to bark up and at a certain juncture he barked up the Alford tree and here we are.

Change for the sake of change.

Whether he’s a good fit or a successful hire will ultimately boil down to how he fills the left column. History suggests he might struggle to do so.

I say give it time. This hire can can hold the promise of spring after a cold winter.

And it sure ain’t April Fools.

Game Day Morning

The previews have been written and the heads have spoken. The haters have hated and the contrarians have garnered their page views.

Today is game day.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ve taken casual Friday a sunrise early. You’ve tucked in your today-I-want-to-look-like-a-“friend of the program” polo and put on some decent shoes. You got to work early and explained, with remarkable clarity, the impact your opponent’s sixth man could have on the game should they manage to get out into transition. Cheryl, from accounting, was not impressed.

There is, of course, a phantom doctor’s appointment this afternoon. A joke that is only funny to you and that half the office actually believes is true. The other half rolls theirs eyes and mutters something about your general level of maturity. But you have your game day blinders on; your dual monitors adorning more of the aforementioned previews and voices you love or hate. More fuel for that fire.

And when that first meeting arrives, that Outlook reminder that you’re due in suite 205 in 15…then 10…then 5…Now… Yeah that meeting blows.

It’s this eager anticipation for a game in which we have no bearing that we love this. Maybe you’ve moved past superstition or explosive upset, but when push comes to shove, when the date of the game is some day in March (and even more anxiety-ridden if it’s April), there’s an undeniable excitement.

Your opponent may be better than you. And the national drone may dismiss your game as a cakewalk for your Goliath opponent. Their RPI, KenPom, Sagarin, AP, Coaches, and eyeball poll rating is higher than yours.

Again, there’s a brewing excitement.

Because today, it really doesn’t matter what you did in November or who you signed last June. It doesn’t matter that you dropped a pair to RPI >100s or that you edged a ranked team at home in early January.

Today is about one, March is about one, because we’re trying to get it all down to the one, last man standing.

May your Thursday be Sweet.

Cats fans…you remember it:


BB: Andy Katz and the Seven Year Project

It seems like ages ago that the Arizona basketball program was in shambles. Seeking their fourth coach in as many years, then AD, Jim Livengood had been thrice spurned (Calipari, Pitino, Floyd). And not only were they out a coach, there wasn’t much of a roster, either. The 2008 class was thin and the 2009 class? Non-existent.

The cupboard bare, the coaching hunt fruitless, things looked bad in Tucson.

It was then that Andy Katz said it. The senior college basketball writer for the worldwide leader proclaimed the rebuilding job at Arizona a seven year project. The declaration provided Wildcat nation with a lifetime of message board fodder and ensured Katz would forever be buying his own drinks in Tucson.

Wildcat fans were livid. Citing Arizona’s seat amongst the elite collegiate programs, draft picks, national prestige, and pride there was no way in a frozen desert it would take seven years to be good again.

Then Sean Miller signed, Tim Floyd resigned, the twelfth ranked recruiting class fell into Arizona’s lap, and Derrick Williams happened. In just his second year, Sean Miller had the seven-year project one shot from the Final Four. Arizona fans couldn’t serve the crow to Katz fast enough.

But what if Katz was right?

Or at least half right. Today we find ourselves looking at a less-than-talented Arizona squad playing mediocre basketball in a bad conference. This is the type of season that Miller was supposed to be coaching through in year three. This is normal when the aforementioned recruiting blunders and institutional mayhem set back a proud, elite quarter century of basketball.

But normal is not befitting fandom.

So Katz has taken heat at the cost of perspective. The reality is Arizona won the lottery with Derrick Williams and timed their brief demise just perfectly with the dramatic decline of Pac-12 basketball. The whole picture actually supports the fan’s view but Katz’s point isn’t a relative one. Sure, Arizona is back when compared to the rest of the conference. They’ve won a conference title and are back in the tournament. So if you’re truly satisfied with a five seed riding the coattails of a miracle player and following that year up with a “competitive,” you should be leading the charge against Katz.

But if your barometer is UNC, Kansas, Kentucky, and the nation’s other elite programs, the school’s Arizona was once synonymous with, then you can understand Katz’s perspective and the current state of Wildcat affairs.

Take the example of Kyle Fogg. For all of his hard work and perimeter defense, Fogg is not the type of talent that has the sixth most starts in school history. That would place him between Channing Frye (13 ppg/7 rpg/1 apg) and Salim Stoudamire (15/2/2) on the U of A career starts list with an outside shot of sitting alongside Anthony Cook (12/6/1). Fogg’s numbers (8/2/2) are comparable to Chris Rodgers (6/2/2), Jamelle Horne (6/4/1), and Isaiah Fox (3/3).

Stretch comparison? Perhaps, but none of these players are particularly relevant to Wildcat lore and Kyle Fogg will be; a strong indication of the program’s failures in the past seven-plus years. And be clear, by no means am I hanging any of Arizona’s woes on Fogg. He’s a tremendous role player. But he is a significant indication of the rebuilding that was and is in order, not a four year starter at Arizona.

Miller has done a better job than anyone could have imagined – Katz has to top that list – and certainly sped up this rebuild. Just look at his 2012 recruiting class. Arizona is going to be good – very good – but last year was an anomaly. Derrick Williams doesn’t fall into your lap very often. It’s taken three hard working years to secure that 2012 class and more work will come to secure the ’13, ’14, and beyond classes. That work will soon manifest itself on the court.

Until then, remember that Arizona is not trying to be the best team in the Pac-12. They’re trying to be the best team in the country and that’s not going to happen in two seasons. This is a program still rebuilding.

It just may be built in a little less than seven years.