Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"Heaven Is A Playground" by Rick Telander Review

A while back, I posted a list of my top ten high school and college basketball books. Along with that, I naturally got some great recommendations for other books I would enjoy (with lots of good ones especially from KraigW)... one great recommendation was The Last Shot by Darcy Frey, and another was Heaven Is a Playground by Rick Telander.

It was a fantastic book, and if you haven't read it, you should. I was a little slow getting into it at first, because there were so many characters. By the end of the book, I came to realize that was the beauty of the book - there were so many characters, so many storylines, so many stories and people intersecting all at one place, the playground.

Ostensibly, the book was in many ways about Fly Williams, a streetball legend that starred at Austin Peay, but never really could control himself (or allow himself to be controlled) to really became a great player in the NBA, which certainly he had the talent to do. He was a guy that had many chances, but ruined them all. Deep down, it seemed, he wanted to make it big, but more that that he didn't want to leave what he had in Brooklyn, because that was the only life he knew.

The most interesting part about the book to me was seeing how the guys did when they got out of Brooklyn, and went away to college. Some guys thrived, some guys came right back home because things were too different. Telander writes:

"Listening to the conversation I have to wonder what college really is like for these Brooklyn youths. Away from neighborhood confines for the first extended period of time, thrown into university environments dominated by whites with little comprehension of street behavior, the players must find themselves in a strange land. Perhaps their whole personality changes to fit the surroundings; perhaps they return to smaller groups of similarly displaced blacks. At the larger, more cosmopolitan schools the change probably is not so dramatic. But at the Austin Peays and Murray States and St. Francises and Fairfields, where Rodney sends most of his players, the social climate occasionally must be so at odds with the experiences of ghetto life as to seem totally bizarre, if not incomprehensible."
Telander goes into more detail also in an excellent interview with Bethlehem Shoals (which you should also read):

We see kids go off to school and get flat-out homesick. They're going to an Ivy League school or a state school that they've always wanted to get into, and people are saying, "Oh man, it's great," and then they come home. Because part of them is comfortable with what they did before, and we all feel that. I was lucky that I had finally gotten over most of that, but I still needed my rootedness -- knowing that I could go home. That's how the book ended, with me going home. I'm saying goodbye to everybody even if they're asleep. Music Smith is just passed out on the bench. I knew some of these guys I would never see again, and some would die, like Music did. He's a nice guy.

That was always there: These are real people who are torn between real choices and real oppression that we all feel, the world's holding you back and yet the world's saying go.
All in all, it was a book that was written about streetball players in 1973, but you get the feeling that more things have stayed the same rather than have changed. As Shoals wrote, "Both of its time and pointedly timeless, Telander's highly personal ethnography captures a moment in history, while at the same time providing the definitive take on inner city basketball."

Judging by the content of this blog, I am confident in saying that anyone who reads this site, will enjoy this book. It's that good.

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Two Montana State Players Arrested, Suspended

From Gidal Kaiser, two Montana State players have been arrested and suspended indefinitely from the team. They are forwards Tre Johnson and Jeff Budinich, who were arrested and charged with two counts of criminal trespass into a vehicle and theft.

An officer found them walking on Alderson Street and spotted a GPS unit sticking out of Johnson’s pocket, according to court documents. When asked if the GPS was his, Johnson told the officer it was not. Budinich agreed to talk to police and admitted that he and Johnson had entered two parked vehicles and had stolen items from inside them. They were both taken to the Gallatin County Detention Center and held on $1,820 bond each. They have since been released. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Johnson was a starter and at times their best big man last season, leading the team in rebounding with 6.2 per game. Budinich was a three-point specialist big man off the bench, and provided a nice and different dynamic to their offense.

You have to wonder what was going on in their heads to be caught up in something like this. Both are juniors to be, so you can't really blame it on youth. It was just a dumb decision, and now they will pay the price for it.

For Brad Huse, he has to be wondering what else could possibly happen with this group of players. Last season, wing man Jamie Stewart was academically ineligible after the first semester. Antonio Biglow had academic issues crop up at his junior college, and missed all of last season. Xavier Blount was injured in a bar fight. Shawn Reid left the team after the season. The NCAA gave Mohamed Fall the shaft. This is just another instance of something going wrong off the court, and too many more of these incidents, and Huse can't really afford anything else to happen as he tries to win enough to keep his job.

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Top Departing #1: Damian Lillard

With the throes of the offseason all around us, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the 20 best players that are departing from the Big Sky, either due to graduating, declaring for the draft, or transferring.

Not that there was any doubt at all about who would occupy the top spot, but at least now it is official - Damian Lillard of Weber State is the best player leaving the Big Sky Conference this season. But what a season and a career he had.

He was the Big Sky Player of the Year for the second time in his career. I argued repeatedly throughout the season that he was the best PG in the country, and he justified that argument by the fact that he was the #6 pick in the NBA draft and has looked the part (and more) in early summer leagues.

Lillard averaged  24.5 ppg this season, also pitching in five rebounds and four assists. He led the conference in scoring despite being a very unselfish offensive player. He always looked to get other guys involved, and would only start to take over if necessary. He was off the charts in efficiency, with a 63.5 TS% despite a very high usage rate.

He took care of the basketball and had an excellent A:TO ratio. His TO Rate was among the best in the country for elite PGs. He got to the stripe almost at will, and made the most of his chances there. He shot the three ball well, and had a nice midrange game. Frankly, he did it all.

Damian Lillard was perhaps a once in a generation talent in the Big Sky, and I am thrilled that his best year happened to be the year that I started blogging about the Big Sky. I feel pretty fortunate for that, and I think all followers of the conference feel pretty fortunate to have gotten to watch Lillard play over the past four seasons.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Top Departing #2: Chehales Tapscott

With the throes of the offseason all around us, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the 20 best players that are departing from the Big Sky, either due to graduating, declaring for the draft, or transferring.

Chehales Tapscott for Portland State was the stat sheet stuffer in the Big Sky last season. He averaged over 14 PPG, over nine rebounds per game (to lead the conference), about two assists, two steals, and a little over a block per game. He led the conference in rebounding despite the fact that was a 6'5'' power forward.

I asked before the season if he was the best big man in the Big Sky, and I think he showed the answer to be a resounding yes. He did a ton of things to help them win ballgames, and he (along with Charles Odum) was a big reason why they finished with a winning record and gave Weber State a run for their money in the tournament semifinals.

Offensively, he became a lot more efficient. He shot 57% from twos, and didn't take too many threes (shooting a respectable 31%), and improved his free throw percentage to 74%. He shot 175 free throws on the season, getting to the line almost six times per game. His true shooting percentage was 60%.

He increased his rebounding percentages this season as well. His DR% was top 100 in the NCAA, and his OR% was just outside there. His block and steal percentages increased this year as well. He was seventh in the Big Sky in block percentage, and third in steal percentage. He was a man that did it all.

Tapscott was one of the most entertaining players to watch in the conference, simply because you didn't know what he might do on a given night. He should (in my opinion) get a look at playing overseas, because he has a skill set for that if he wants to pursue it. He was the best post player in the conference, despite the fact that he was 6'5''. He was huge for Tyler Geving in terms of rebuilding the PSU program.

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Interest in Danny Cheek

I am a bit behind on this, but wanted to pass along some interest in former Northern Arizona guard Danny Cheek.

As seen on Parsing the WAC, he has received a scholarship offer from Texas State. Cheek was a fairly highly touted recruit coming out of high school, but did not play much as a freshman. He left NAU shortly after the year.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Top Departing #3: Charles Odum

With the throes of the offseason all around us, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the 20 best players that are departing from the Big Sky, either due to graduating, declaring for the draft, or transferring.

The first part of Charles Odum's game that made him unique was the fact that he was a 6'0'' shooting guard. He could play PG for stretches, but he was most effective playing off the ball. The second thing that made him unique was that even though he was a an undersized two guard, he was so good at getting into the lane and scoring.

As a junior, he shot 58% on two-pointers. Last year, as a senior, he bumped that up to 61.4% inside the arc. Those are the percentages of an efficient big man, and the fact that he did that at his size was really remarkable and spoke to his great efficiency. From the outside, he shot 34% on threes - good enough to keep defenses honest.

Along with being able to score in the lane, he was great at getting to the free throw lone and converting. His FT rate was 59th in the country, and he was 3rd in the Big Sky in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He made 83% of his freebies once he got to the line. Added all up, he was an extremely efficient player in his time at Portland State, and his TS% of 64.9% was good for 20th in the country.

Odum was a unique player, and he was a focal point for the Vikings as they got back to the Big Sky Tournament. He was one of the most efficient guys in the Big Sky, particularly remarkable for his great work inside the lane. That is why he winds up at number three on this list.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Thoughts and Prayers Needed for Colorado

As you no doubt have seen, there was a shooting this morning in Aurora, CO, killing 14 people and wounding at least 59 more. It is the very definition of senseless killing.

It also hits a little too close to home for me. From roughly October 2010 until October 2011 I lived about 10 minutes from that theater. I have seen more than one movie there, and have been to the mall right next to the theater at least a dozen times, probably more. I have literally driven by it hundreds of times. Suddenly, the news became far more real.

The Denver Metro area obviously is no stranger to this type of thing, after the Columbine shootings. It will bring back many bad memories for residents here. If you have any spare thoughts or prayers, please send them the way of the victims, their families, those still being treated, and those affected by it.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Departing #4: Kyle Bullinger

With the throes of the offseason all around us, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the 20 best players that are departing from the Big Sky, either due to graduating, declaring for the draft, or transferring.

If you look solely at last season, you might say that Kyle Bullinger is ranked a little too high on this list. If you look at the basis of his whole career, you might say that Kyle Bullinger is ranked a little too low on this list. So it goes.

Bullinger had a great career for Weber State, but unfortunately his senior year probably did not go exactly how he would have planned, as he missed some time due to injury, and was clearly still affected by the injuries even when he was able to return. After averaging 11.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG as a junior, his averages dipped to 6.2 PPG and 4.7 RPG as a senior.

Perhaps the biggest effect of injuring his elbow was the fact that he never got his shooting back. After shooting 43% from downtown in 2010-11, he was at just 30% last season. He was less comfortable going to the basket as well, and he went from being a great third option (behind Damian Lillard and Scott Bamforth) to being almost an afterthought on offense. That is a shame, because it definitely did not represent his talent or what he meant to the team.

Even with the injuries, it is probably fair to say that Bullinger was the toughest player in the Big Sky. He was only 6'6'' but he was a very good defensive rebounder. He had games with 16, 13, and 10 rebounds in his first five games of the year before he got injured. There was nobody better from the three spot in the conference at that. He was also a hard-nosed defensive player, which continued to be true after he returned. He did a lot of intangible things for Weber State.

Kyle Bullinger did not have a dream senior season, but he was a fantastic player for Weber State during his time there as well as being the consummate student-athlete. He got better as an offensive player in his first three seasons, and could always be counted on for defense, rebounding, and toughness from the three spot. He twice earned All Big Sky Conference honors during his career.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Big Sky Conference Unveils New Logo

The Big Sky Conference unveiled their new logo at the Summer Kickoff Party yesterday, which was said to be a "dynamic and exciting new expression of the Big Sky Conference brand."

It features the color of the sky (two blues and white), the sky element itself as well as a visual progression within the logo from the ocean up to the mountains, then down to the plains. The mark presents all of elements within a fresh new retaining shape that demands attention and stands apart.

“A dream finally came true with the rebranding of the Big Sky Conference,’’ said league Commissioner Doug Fullerton. “We have a fresh and exciting new logo, new colors and a new league mentality. All of which speaks to the fact that we represent the dreams and aspirations of our alumni, student-athletes, institutions, and communities.”
With the addition of North Dakota and Southern Utah, the Big Sky has 11 members, plus two football-only members. With the additions, they wanted a new logo.

I don't love the logo, but I like it a lot and think it is an improvement over the old one. I like the coloring and the mountains in the logo (of course, I am sucker for mountains in anything). It is perhaps a little too simple for my tastes, but I still like it.

What are your thoughts and impressions of the new logo?

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Top Departing #5: Chase Grabau

With the throes of the offseason all around us, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the 20 best players that are departing from the Big Sky, either due to graduating, declaring for the draft, or transferring.

One of my favorite players to watch in the Big Sky this year was Chase Grabau for Idaho State. He was one of the most versatile guys in the conference, and really had some big games (especially during the Bengals nice win streak during the middle of the year).

He is not a guy that jumps out at you athletically or with any one skill. That is not his game. What he did well was everything... he was a solid and efficient scorer when needed, he rebounded well, was an above average passer, and he made things happen on the defensive end. Next to perhaps Portland State big man Chehales Tapscott, he was the premier stat-sheet stuffer in the conference.

He averaged 12.3 PPG, and did it nicely. He shot 58% from twos, and 37% from threes. He made 76% from the charity stripe, and shot over four per game. Simply put, he was a great complementary piece on offense (and occasional focal point), because defenses had to account for him at all times, and he did not take bad shots. His true shooting percentage was a stellar 61.9%.

He averaged 5.2 rebounds per game, with a 13.6 DR%. That is solid for a 6'5'' wing man. On a team without a lot of great rebounding big man, he was huge helping in this department. Another thing that the team lacked at times was guys that could generate offense for others, and he helped there also. He posted a 21.1 ARate, getting over three dimes per game. Defensively, he had almost two steals per game.

Grabau was never a guy that would overwhelm you or take over a game the way a guy like Damian Lillard did. But he was a guy that you knew every night what you were going to get. Even if he wasn't shooting the ball well, he would find ways to impact the game. On a team without much depth, Grabau was huge for them all year long.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

North Dakota Coach Brian Jones Signs Contract Extension

It was reported last week that North Dakota head coach Brian Jones has signed a contract extension that goes through at least the 2014-15 season, and includes options that could keep him as head coach through the 2016-17 season.

North Dakota is entering the Big Sky with some momentum, having won two straight Great West titles. That success was rewarded for Jones, who looked a couple seasons ago like he had a chance to be on the hot seat.

UND Athletic Director Brian Faison says Jones' base salary is $86,364, with several bonus incentives for accomplishments such as conference championships.
Jones has a nice returning group, and has signed three players to shore up the frontcourt, which was North Dakota's biggest area of need. UND will have a chance to make some noise early in their tenure in the Big Sky. They ranked eighth in my very early Big Sky rankings for next year three months ago, but there is a good chance that they will move up those rankings when I update them.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Top Departing #6: Cliff Colimon

With the throes of the offseason all around us, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the 20 best players that are departing from the Big Sky, either due to graduating, declaring for the draft, or transferring.

After the 2011 season, it seemed like there would be a few candidates to be the PG for Eastern Washington last season. However, Cliff Colimon quickly grabbed the starting spot during the summer, and proved to be one of the most reliable players in the Big Sky.

He was a solid creator offensively, notching a 31.0 ARate, while posting a pretty good 20.0 TO Rate. He had five assists per game, one of the best marks in the Big Sky. EWU was a team that was generally good at taking care of the basketball, and Colimon was a big part of that.

He averaged 16.5 PPG last season, also one of the top marks in the conference. He was good at getting to the stripe, and took almost five freebies per game, making 81% of them. He shot a stellar 36% from three-point range... enough to make defenses have to guard him, because he made two of them per game. Despite being small, he helped on the glass, and grabbed almost four boards per game.

A senior PG is a great luxury, and one that Jim Hayford enjoyed in his first season with Eastern Washington. Colimon was one of the best in the Big Sky, and it will be a challenge for EWU to find anyone that can bring his consistent performance.

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Happy Fourth of July and 100,000 Posts

We will be traveling back to North Dakota this week, so I will not be posting. I figured it is good time to take a blog break... the middle of the summer is not exactly a hopping time in the Big Sky (as shown by the lesser page views, posts, and comments), so hopefully nobody protests too much! :)

Also, wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone that has read, commented, sent stories, and everything else... This blog has been up for about exactly one year (my first post was July 3, 2011), and the blog just passed over the 100,000 page views mark. Thanks to everyone!

Hope everyone has a great holiday week!

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