Posts in Non-NBA basketball
The Sports World is in the Middle of this Weird Period where it Kinda Sucks
IMG_1907.JPG

We’ve entered the lull in the sports calendar where the NFL has given way to spring training and the NBA is in full swing, quickly approaching its always-extravagant All-Star Game this weekend in Charlotte. This should be one of the most exciting times of the year - fresh off a thrilling Super Bowl, the anticipation of spring baseball and new faces on new ballclubs giving way to a captivating playoff race that only The League can provide.

Instead, the Big Game was a flop, highlighted by a sixth championship ring for that guy and that coach and that team everyone is tired of, 100 of Baseball’s biggest free agents remain unsigned, and while the NBA is in the midst of its most interesting Eastern Conference playoff race in almost a decade, the drama off the court has been much better water cooler talk than the action on it.

Hockey may be good, but unless the Blackhawks are going to the playoffs I wouldn’t know.

The Super Bowl was an anomaly. After the highest scoring season in NFL history, fans expected a high-octane match-up with the Rams, one of the league’s best attacks who delivered an all-timer against the Chiefs back in November, and the Patriots, with the greatest player and coach in history gunning for history. What we got was a defensive struggle - both on the field and on the eyes. No one cared if Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck won their record SIXTH Super Bowl together; the game was a slog lacking an indelible moment that gave people a reason to care the next morning. By the time the combine rolls around at the end of the month, the game will almost entirely have been forgotten, and it’s onto next season.

The MLB is in year two of a free agent Cold War. As pitchers and catchers report for spring training this week, baseball’s biggest stars are still looking for homes. It was peculiar a year ago when guys like JD Martinez and Yu Darvish were still unsigned as camp began, even moreso when former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta went until the middle of March before inking a deal believed to be less than his market value.

The excuse back then? Front offices were waiting until the great free agent class of 2018-19 to make a run at the game’s biggest superstars - former MVP Bryce Harper, and star shortstop Manny Machado, with the latter not even costing team’s draft compensation if they signed him.

We’re entering mid-February, and the most noise we’ve heard about either has been via negotiations through the media.

But it’s not just Harper and Machado caught up in the free agent freeze. Closer Craig Kimbrel, former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel, and dozens of other players won’t be reporting to camp on time. The reasons why their future’s are stuck in limbo this late into the game vary, but what was one of the most exciting periods of the year in baseball has become back page news.

While baseball’s hot stove has cooled off, the drama in the NBA has reached a fever pitch. Clubs are building superteams in an attempt to knock the ultimate superteam - the Golden State Warriors - and the ones not competing are clearing cap space for the biggest fish in this summer’s free agency. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the two biggest sharks in the water, are battling their frustration in the media as rumors swirl about their plans to team up with the New York Knicks next year, all while their current teams are on a collision course for the NBA Finals.

There’s also the Lakers: the team that lives and dies by drama. It’s SHOWTIME! HOLLYWOOD! You can’t go a season in LA without drama. Insert the best player in the world and the biggest mover and shaker in sports, and you have a recipe for drama even Shakespeare couldn’t write.

First, LeBron James signs in LA, aiming to become a media and sports mogul and the NBA’s first billionaire. Then, Anthony Davis signs with Klutch Sports, the agency founded by Bron’s good friend Rich Paul. When Paul, on Davis’ behalf, relayed A.D.’s intention to leave the New Orleans Pelicans, all eyes immediately turned to the Lakers, the definitely-but-won’t-be-penalized act of collusion on Klutch Sports’ and the Lakers’ behalf, and whether or not Pelicans GM Dell Demps was really dumb enough to go through with the trade.

Turns out he wasn’t, and not only did the ensuing drama put a stain on Lakers legend Magic Johnson’s record, it may have caused a bigger rift between LeBron, coach Luke Walton and his young teammates openly involved in trade rumors.

All this and we haven’t talked about a single game yet this season.

One team is so far and away ahead of the pack that every season has become a formality to us as fans. It doesn’t matter what the other 29 teams in the league do, no one is stopping Golden State. We’ve given up hope that any team currently constructed - not MVP Harden and the Rockets, or the stacked Celtics, or Kawhi and the Raptors, or the newly-built Sixers core - has a chance of standing up against the Warriors dynasty. The games, and the season, are irrelevant.

As we get closer to March, the universe will get a little more interesting. The first Duke-Carolina game of the year is just nine days away, and in the blink of an eye we’ll be locked into Championship Week and March Madness games on television. The NFL calendar will turn. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, eventually, and day baseball will return. The drama in the Association will take a backseat to the Playoffs; whether or not the games are good or the outcome is predictable is up in the air.

But right now? Sports kinda sucks, and I’m dying for that feeling to change.

2019 WNBA Draft Best Fits

Approaching the culmination of the best WNBA season yet, a hoops connoisseur like myself can’t help but ponder towards the future. With just under a week left in the season, this is the first in a collection of conscionable chunks of conception that envision an even brighter future for the league.

The 2018 rookie class came out swinging & has proven worthy of all the early acclaim. That same excitement towards the potential of all 12 teams getting talent that fills a need should remain with nothing more than a peek at the prospects for the upcoming WNBA Draft Class.

Finessing the list to 12 first round caliber prospects --as there could be as many as 16 available-- took savvy, nerve & a keen eye. Ne’ertheless, here’s some insight into the cognitive dissonance that is the basketball quadrant of my existence. 

Note: The upcoming WNBA offseason provides so much intrigue & potential for change that this will be a blip in hindsight. But for now?

Let’s boogie!

    Indiana Fever

Te’Aira McCowan
6’7” | Pivot | MS State

Affectionally labeled Goof Troop during the early days in Starkvegas by critical fans, McCowan has done the work to shed the label, become a realistic All-America candidate with a ceiling unlike anything the SEC has produced since Candace Parker. The Fever, meanwhile, have struggled to chalk up wins that match the effort & chemistry that ooze from this young, tight unit. Moe Johnson missing the entirety of the season should make for an even more confident return but exacerbated said growing pains. Cappie Pondexter’s addition helped but the reality from my purview is that the Fever have an all star four masquerading as a five. McCowan’s unlimited potential & unteachable size will prove insatiable to a franchise that has been historically small. It also brings full circle [I love circles!] the selection of Victoria Vivians ahead of Maria Vadeeva in this year’s draft once Mike Thibault rightfully drafted a ridiculously overlooked Ariel Atkins. It also frees Candice Dupree to bring her rested, renewed efficiency back to a familiar place... I’ll stop here.

New York Liberty

Kalani Brown
6’7" | Pivot | Baylor

The late addition of Marissa Coleman likely was the cherry on top of a team too talented for an already distracted first year Katie Smith. Per 2018 league standards, effort & attention to detail never waned but too many lulls & defensive breakdowns led to a season everyone involved would like to forget. Nurse, Boyd, Hartley, Rodgers & Zahui B showed they can contribute consistently. Liberty fans may need to start parting with the idea of Epiphanny Prince if winning is important. Adding Brown completely changes the dynamic of the post rotation while allowing the talent on the perimeter another year to figure it out. Maybe some Tina at the three in the future? Either way, as we march towards paying these women better & expansion, it's absolutely vital that this original franchise remains. 

   Chicago Sky

Asia Durr

5’10” | Combo | Louisville

Another confident shot creator to add to a talented group that flourished the second half of the seasons. Durr has the chops to handle the one as Stocks & crew patiently await the return of Jameirra Faulkner in which case Durr can learn the ropes from Allie & Sloot. A guard rotation of Durr, Diamond, Allie, Sloot, Linnae Harper & Kahleah Copper sounds delicious for any coaching staff.

  Las Vegas Aces

Napheesa Collier
6’1” | Wing | Connecticut

Let it be known, many players make sacrifices when entering the UConn modus operandi but Phees’ best years are ahead of her. Pure Sweat legend Alex Bazzell has been getting her right & finetuning skills you may not see regularly until after the NCAA season finishes. Regardless, she could slide into a starting spot for an Aces team that will absolutely need to snag a 2019 playoff spot to continue the momentum they’ve built this season while also securing next year’s All Star game.

   Dallas Wings

Arike Ogunbowale
5’8” | Combo | Notre Dame

Aerial Powers lost favor for reasons unknown. Tayler Hill was headed towards All Star weekend before pregnancy & a torn ACL sidelined her but Fred Williams still refuses to sit a frigid Allisha Gray, who brings plenty intangibles but has struggled to adjust to pro ball in a second year that included no overseas ball. Enter the biggest name in college basketball last season. Hopefully the ties, the comfort level, the confidence will translate to a new starting backcourt that dynamically plays off each other. If Sky returns that is. The same could be said for Coach Fred Williams who has struggled despite adding Azura Stevens & Liz Cambage for absolutely no work except showing up each day. Consider that Dggins-Smith is from Indiana & the franchise is void a star, there could [& should be] major changes on the horizon barring a late flash in the pan. Jenny Boucek would be a perfect fit but may not be interested.

(The above was penned prior to the post-game altercation & subsequent firing of Fred Williams. Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a 2-time WNBA champion in her playing days, will complete the season in an interim role. While this doesn't change the pick, it does change the culture & it was what could be expected. Will be interesting to see if the Wings can clinch the final playoff spot or not. Here's Williams & Diggins-Smith's takes with TMZ.

  Phoenix Mercury

Jessica Shepard
6’4” | Pivot | Notre Dame

A championship pretender before Sancho Lyttle’s injury, the Mercury are another team that would benefit with replacing everyone that wasn’t a regular starter at some point. The bench is a consistent no-show & while Sandy is apparently Taurasi’s biggest champion, she’s run the same offensive sets since 2012 & players don’t have many opportunities to improve. Add in the fact that Phoenix trades away more great players than it creates historically, it’s time for a change. For the Big Three’s Sake. They all deserve better. Bonner fills a gaping hole in Indiana’s lineup in some nightmares also & has made it clear she'd like to be in the same city so that her twins have both parents as often as possible. Here's hoping for the best. 

   Minnesota Lynx

Brianna Turner
6’3” | Pivot | Notre Dame

Brianna Turner can’t be too disappointed with life right now. Natty Championship during her redshirt year with four starters returning, an improved, revamped bench & a spot in the starting lineup that she not only fits perfectly but [finally] allows her to play to her strengths more than ever before. Next up? Learning from the WNBA’s all-time leading rebounder/ring bearer. Oh yeah. Sylvia Fowles is there too. The Lynx will be trying on a new point guard for the first time but had they convinced their legend to retire when her game did, they might be in better shape. We are what we choose to eat however; & this Lynx unit may have bitten off more than they can chew for a repeat. 

   Connecticut Sun

Sophie Cunningham
6’1” | Wing | Missouri

A peer heard this idea & simply replied “that’s sick!” By golly, it is. That’s even considering Bria Holmes adding another layer to this team next season. Cunningham brings the ability to put the ball on the floor. Toughness. Grit. High IQ. In addition to three-point markswomanship. That’s definitely, definitely, sick. Curt Miller might still find a way to cut her or stick her on the bench but the potential for a perfect partnership is there. At least from this height. 

  Los Angeles Sparks

Katie Lou Samuelson
6’3” | Wing | Connecticut

Yes. Being very selfish. Lou is a personal fave & since she’s had to suffer with losing in heartbreaking fashion after not getting a chance to actually win her first ring as a freshman, here’s hoping that she gets the opportunity to play in front of her family in LA while also making sure the Sparks don’t screw Karlie over as they did to begin the season. Magic has ruined the Lakers. I pray the rosary & burn sage he stays far away from the Sparks & Lou’s drafting brings Kobe around more. A Kobe Bryant coached Sparks team is much more likeable & marketable, after Agler retires, of course!

  Washington Mystics

Eziyoda Magbegor
6’4” | Swing | Australia

The greatest enigma to the casual fan yet the prospect with the highest ceiling. The youngest player potentially in the draft, Magbegor took visits & considered coming Stateside this fall to play college ball; heavily leaning Connecticut, before signing with the Melbourne Boomers, prioritizing her basketball career, as she should. Expectations have now become that she’ll enter the draft next season after likely getting to show the world what she can do in the upcoming World Cup setting in addition to a second saddle of the WNBL season after winning WNBL Rookie of the Year honors in Canberra. 

   Atlanta Dream

Kitja Laksa
6’0” | Wing | South Florida

This might be another name that surprises versus those missing but Laksa is pro-ready & likely has been stymied some by the college setting/being a good teammate. At this next level, she’ll likely see more open shots than she ever has as the leader of the second best team in the AAC behind the team that’s been most dominant in women’s college hoops the last ten years. Courtney Williams passed her the torch & she hasn't missed much since. Wholly confident Nicki Collen would enjoy nothing more. 

   Seattle Storm

Marina Mabrey
5’11” | Combo | Notre Dame   

Another of glove-like fits. Marina gets a senior season to show the world that she’s a much more capable ball handler than was given credit prior to the natty champ run. Personally, Mabrey always struck me as a one so everything happens for a reason. Unwittingly adding a layer to her prospects for the professional level that likely doomed her sister --whose IQ & passing ability alone would warrant a spot on my expansion roster even to this day-- should turn out to be the best thing to happen to Mabrey as she closes the door of Fighting Irish Mabreys (Muffett missed & Dara was snatched up by a wary & talented Kenny Brooks). So, if anyone reading this doesn’t think Marina Mabrey is a WNBA player, Smoove challenges you to let him coach said team. Whatever team with her on it. We’ll go from there.

WNBA Bucket Scale: Sparks unseat Sun for top spot in our rankings

LEGEND

Flexes: Qualities the team has shown it can consistently showcase nightly.
Focus: Opportunities for growth
MVP: Most Valuable Player (at time of publication)
X-Factor: Player currently projecting potential to push team to the next level.
Pulse: Player you can look to during any crucial moments of the game to determine whether the team will sink or swim

    i.        Los Angeles Sparks

  • Flexes: Efficiency, defensive intensity, ball movement, FT & FG shooting
  • Focus: Rim protection, rebounding
  • MVP: Chelsea Gray
  • X-Factor: Riquna Williams
  • Pulse: Candace Parker
    • If we’re honest, the Sparks showed us who they were when they began the season with one post & seemingly enjoyed the challenge. As the dust settles, Agler’s Sparks control their own destiny: adding two new, youthful weapons to the fold permanently in Vadeeva & recently resigned sniper & British army knife Karlie Samuelson while simultaneously  restoring the confidence of WNBA single-game scoring record holder in Riquna Williams. If she continues to play at this pace, there won’t be much a team can do to stop this team from moving forward.  

ii.        Phoenix Mercury

  • Flexes: Rim protection, Big 3, ball movement, FT shooting
  • Focus: Rebounding, defensive discipline to three, fouling shooters
  • MVP:  Brittney Griner
  • X-Factor: Diana Taurasi
  • Pulse: DeWanna Bonner
    • This ranking is more indicative of the dominance of the 8-game winning streak than the Mercury’s current pace. This team has reached gut check number two 15 games in & neither response has been positive nor promising. With the recent confirmation of DB’s intentions to be on the same team as wife & former Merc teammate Candice Dupree, if the Merc can’t start taking each game seriously, contention will be an afterthought & the Taurasi-Pitman-Brondello era could end abruptly & disappointingly.

iii.        Connecticut Sun

  • Flexes: Offensive punch, depth, rebounding
  • Focus:  FT shooting, health, foul trouble
  • MVP: Chiney Ogwumike 
  • X-Factor: Jonquel Jones
  • Pulse: Alyssa Thomas
    • Beating the Fever had to feel good but the journey to getting there was much more difficult than anyone in Uncasville would have preferred. Jonquel Jones has struggled to find her way thus far & that’s even considering Alyssa Thomas has missed the last 4 games. Sunday’s game ended as such. Needless to say, JJ will determine just how far this team goes as it has become blatantly obvious how much of a security blanket Chiney Ogwumike is for Curt Miller.

iv.        Seattle Storm

  • Flexes: Defensive intensity, ball movement, offense
  • Focus: The process
  • MVP:  Breanna Stewart
  • X-Factor: Natasha Howard
  • Pulse: Sue Bird
    • Had it not been for an attempt to rest the legendary Sue Bird, the Storm would be the hottest team in the league. That seems to be the biggest issue to this point. Following years on the treadmill of mediocrity, Crystal Langhorne seems to have embraced her new role & its allowed the most underutilized player in the WNBA since she was drafted to finally flourish. Go Natasha. It’s yo world.

  v.        Washington Mystics

  • Flexes: Defensive intensity, FT & 3-pt shooting
  • Focus:  Rebounding, taking care of the ball, rotation.
  • MVP: Elena Delle Donne
  • X-Factor: Lara Sanders
  • Pulse: Kristi Toliver
    • The greatest enigma in the league is now fully healthy which is a scary sight. Tayler Hill seems to have a different calm about her game that comes with time & experience. OGs know that feeling when the game slows down & you start to appreciate that you really can get your shot off any time. The struggle now is defining a rotation & allowing the team to find a consistent rhythm of play.

vi.        Minnesota Lynx

  • Flexes: Rebounding, 3-pt shooting, defending the three, defending champs
  • Focus: Turnovers, FT shooting
  • MVP: Sylvia Fowles
  • X-Factor: Danielle Robinson
  • Pulse: Lindsay Whalen
    • When Whalen is engaged & playing well, the Lynx of old are still present & looming. It just isn’t often that this happens these days. Unfortunately for the rest of the WNBA, the past week was the closest to consistent she’s been. The biggest issue is that she’s essentially become a liability on the floor if she isn’t scoring as her impact has dwindled with age. Her consistency or Reeve’s capacity to mask it will define this season.

vii.        Dallas Wings

  • Flexes: Rim Protection, rebounding
  • Focus: Turnovers, defensive discipline
  • MVP: Elizabeth Cambage
  • X-Factor: Azura Stevens
  • Pulse: Skylar Diggins-Smith
    • Ironically, all the issues the Wings had last season have seemingly been addressed while everything that could’ve been considered a strength before has completely deserted them to date. The Cambage effect. Nevertheless, having a talent as such to lob the ball into & rely on defensively changes everything & the Wings are right on schedule. You want to peak in August. Not June.

viii.        Las Vegas Aces

  • Flexes: Rebounding, youth, energy.
  • Focus: Skill development, health, growth
  • MVP: A’Ja Wilson
  • X-Factor: Moriah Jefferson
  • Pulse: Kayla McBride
    • The Aces have been the most surprising team in the league for me this season for a reason that isn’t surprising at all. Bill Laimbeer doesn’t garner the love & support of every person he meets nor does he desire such. But his understanding, love, & knowledge of the game is immeasurable & he’s got quite a few talented kids out in Vegas, even if the record says they’re “struggling.” Competitively? The Aces have been locked in & engaged every single game. Not the same can be said for every other team in the league.

ix.        Atlanta Dream

  • Flexes: Defense, rebounding, culture
  • Focus: Offense, offense, offense
  • MVP:  Tiffany Hayes
  • X-Factor: Elizabeth Williams
  • Pulse: Angel McCoughtry
    • A recurring theme with some of the more inconsistent teams this season has been in that the teams show very little growth game-to-game. Where other teams lack is in the consistency of their defense & the level of expertise by their head coach before her injury paved the path to Angel’s first POW award since taking last season off. The next step for this team will be finding a balance for the two going forward because the other end of the floor always gives them a chance.

  x.        New York Liberty

  • Flexes: Tina Charles, depth, guards
  • Focus: Rebounding, shot selection, defensive discipline
  • MVP:  Tina Charles
  • X-Factor: Epiphanny Prince
  • Pulse: Shavonte Zellous
    • Katie Smith is a great motivator & has had tons to manage this season that the average first-year coach doesn’t, hasn’t nor should they have to. Nevertheless, this major step backward has to be concerning. Tina Charles is even proving to be human & there’s rarely enough support for the outcome to even matter. Skill development, a defined rotation & consistent effort will go a long way to settling things for this proud franchise.

xi.        Indiana Fever

  • Flexes: Youth, ball control
  • Focus: Rim protection, rebounding, sharing the ball, improvement
  • MVP: Candice Dupree
  • X-Factor: Erica Wheeler
  • Pulse: Natalie Achonwa
    • The Fever are very disciplined defensively & don’t turn the ball over but this team must find ways to generate more possessions every single game then, once that’s done, simply put the ball in the basket. Shenise Johnson’s return will help shift everyone down a slot. Right now, staying the course & remaining positive matters more than win-loss.

xii.        Chicago Sky

  • Flexes: Youth
  • Focus:  Turnovers, defense
  • MVP: Cheyenne Parker
  • X-Factor: Stefanie Dolson
  • Pulse: Courtney Vandersloot
    • Another placement indicative of the level of play in the league versus its current state. Beating the Mercury was a huge way to end a slide for Amber Stocks & crew who seemingly had no clue what was happening to cause it. Stefanie Dolson’s return to health will be crucial as Stocks will finally have the entirety of her roster available.

Smoove’s Dishes of the Week

Point Guard: Jewell Loyd   Seattle Storm

2-Guard: Breanna Stewart         Seattle Storm

Wing: Angel McCoughtry         Atlanta Dream

Pivot: Candice Dupree         Indiana Fever 

Post: Elizabeth Cambage           Dallas Wings  

6th Woman: Riquna Williams    Los Angeles Sparks

Rookie: A’ja Wilson    Las Vegas Aces

Coach: Cheryl Reeve            Minnesota Lynx

Tweet of the Week

Dimeage

WNBA Bucket Scale: Connecticut unquestionably leads the pack

LEGEND

Flexes: Qualities the team has shown it can consistently showcase nightly.
Focus: Opportunities for growth
MVP: Most Valuable Player (at time of publication)
X-Factor: Player currently projecting potential to push team to the next level.
Pulse: Player you can look to during any crucial moments of the game to determine whether the team will sink or swim

  I.            Connecticut Sun

  •   Flexes: Depth, frontcourt talent, competitiveness.
  •   Focus:  FT %
  •   MVP:  Chiney Ogwumike
  •   X-Factor: Shekinna Stricklen
  •   Pulse: Jasmine Thomas

    This is likely the only place you’ll find them at an unquestioned number one, but the 2017 season is over. Minnesota may be the defending champions, but Connecticut is the class of the league. Curt has finally embraced starting his bigger lineup & as Chiney Ogwumike chooses to finally embrace shooting the three, this Sun team feels like a vision from dreams of my own. Developing layers & depth throughout the course of what turns out to be a championship season simply because you’re going about things authentically & organically. Curt Miller has long been one of the best basketball minds there is & the world is getting to see that. The only negative in this equation is that this success has seemingly come at the expense of Morgan Tuck’s minutes.

  II.             Phoenix Mercury

  •   Flexes: Three-headed monster, point guard pairing, GOAT.
  •   Focus: Consistency
  •   MVP: Brittney Griner
  •   X-Factor: Briann January
  •   Pulse: DeWanna Bonner

    Old habits die hard. Some complacency crept into the mindsets of Sandy Brondello’s group after making significant strides from preseason into the first game on the schedule this season. Nevertheless, a few minor tweaks to involve the greatest player of all time more in the offense has proven to be a significant difference. The only team with 3 scorers in the WNBA’s top 15 also carries the best FT% in the league, the best 3-point percentage shooter in the league (January: 62.1%) & the league’s best shot blocker still has plenty of room to grow as they currently rank last in the league in attempts per game. Shoot the ball Merc reserves!!

III.             Los Angeles Sparks (tied-3)

  •   Flexes: A full roster (finally!) Front court continuity & talent, guard play, efficiency
  •   Focus: Integrating Vadeeva, balancing rotation
  •   MVP: Chelsea Gray  
  •   X-Factor:  Masha Vadeeva
  •   Pulse: Nneka Ogwumike

    At last! The Sparks have their entire roster in tow & it only took 7 games. 5-2 feels solid as the only blowout loss came at the hands of a ticked off Seattle Storm team that has since stumbled itself. Nevertheless, Brian Agler’s crew bounced back nicely for a blowout of its own on Sunday as they welcomed the Chicago Sky to town. Masha Vadeeva may not have been in uniform, but she was wholly present in the building for what seems like annual circus visits when Candace Parker matches up against her hometown Chicago Sky. If only she hadn’t been drafted & won championships in the glitz & glamour of Hollywood, she’d consider coming home. As for now? The Sparks should be confidently yet intentionally focused on themselves at this point.

IV.             Seattle Storm (tied-3)

  •   Flexes: Youth, scoring ability, defensive activity, 3-pt defense
  •   Focus: Consistency
  •   MVP: Jewell Loyd/Natasha Howard
  •   X-Factor: Alysha Clark
  •   Pulse: Breanna Stewart

    The Storm have an exquisitely ideal balance of youth & experience. Dan Hughes seems to be 100% dialed in but this team has to find a way to bring it every night. The Seattle Storm championships of old dominated the league for stretches. It's not hard to envision Jewell, Stewie & Natasha Howard doing the same as they spend more time together. However, what can't wane is effort and attention to detail. At this level, you can't make any mistakes. In addition to that, don't you want to get better? If Seattle continues to leave it all on the floor & remain authentic to their brand, this team could shake up the entirety of the WNBA standings for the duration of the season. As opposed to just the first few weeks as we saw consistently under Jenny Boucek.

 V.             Atlanta Dream

  •   Flexes:Defense, turnover margin.
  •   Focus: Putting the ball in the hole,Elizabeth Williams offense?
  •   MVP: Tiffany Hayes
  •   X-Factor: Damiris Dantas
  •   Pulse: Angel McCoughtry

    Shifting integral parts while bringing in new brass was going to be a challenge regardless. Two matchups with an angry Dallas Wings team didn’t help at all. Then, after five games –including preseason—where they broke 80 points once, Nicki Collen’s crew was able to knock off the defending champs while scoring 76 points in a game they didn’t even play that well in. Save the matchup with the hottest team in the league, the Dream HAVE BEEN the league’s hottest team. & Nicki Collen is proving to the world why our panel of one believes she’s the next great name that will push this generation of basketball to the next level. Convincing Angel McCoughtry to play second fiddle & moving All-Star Layshia Clarendon to the bench is a much easier sell when there’s winning involved.

VI.            Washington Mystics

  •   Flexes: Three-point shooting, pushing the pace.
  •   Focus: Finishing defensive possessions with a stop
  •   MVP: Elena Delle Donne
  •   X-Factor: Natasha Cloud
  •   Pulse: Ariel Atkins

    The Mystics have continued to rely on the three-point & it seems they’re going to ride it until the wheels fall off. For the first time in almost three seasons, Mike Thibault is tinkering with his lineup & realistically started his most balanced crew against Minnesota. The outcome was not as desired, but you also don’t expect Elena Delle Donne to only score 8 points every night in addition to Lara Sanders picking up a couple questionable foul calls. Meesseman may not be coming back but Tayler Hill would balance this lineup nicely with her ability to create for herself & others.

VII.             Dallas Wings

  •   Flexes: Talent pool, depth, rebounding
  •   Focus: Three-point shooting, chemistry & taking care of the ball
  •   MVP: Skylar Diggins-Smith
  •   X-Factor: Glory Johnson
  •   Pulse: Liz Cambage

    With only one game this week, Skylar Diggins refused to let her team lose while welcoming back Glory Johnson. Aerial Powers also made her first appearance in what seems like ages. As this team rounds back into health, this is a scary unit. So many athletes with high basketball IQs looking for an opportunity to make their mark. Cambage puts them over the top as a true contender but who will be that consistent number three?

VIII.            New York Liberty

  •   Flexes: Tina Charles, competitive edge.
  •   Focus: Reincorporating the guards, defend the three-point line.
  •   MVP: Tina Charles
  •   X-Factor: Brittany Boyd
  •   Pulse: Bria Hartley

    Katie Smith & crew have to remain encouraged as they’ve had opportunities to win every single game they’ve played in this season, but you have to finish them off. A first-year head coach with young point guards was bound to have a learning curve but the biggest problem for the Liberty remains the same: consistent scoring threats around TC. Bria Hartley came out blazing hot against Phoenix & simply stopped shooting the ball. That can’t happen with championship aspirations.

IX.             Minnesota Lynx

  •   Flexes: Defending champs, four Olympians, experience.
  •   Focus: Developing rotation, taking care of the ball, efficiency on offense.
  •   MVP: Sylvia Fowles
  •   X-Factor: Danielle Robinson
  •   Pulse: Maya Moore

    Endy Miyem’s addition could prove crucial. Without Renee Montgomery, Jia Perkins & Plenette Pierson in the fold, Cheryl Reeve no longer has a bench she can just throw out there to, ad nauseam, maintain. The best thing for all parties involved was for the Lynx to encounter some adversity. It’s tough to imagine it taking four championships for players to start taking playing the Lynx personal but the growth of the league is also pivotal here. The next generation of athletes & coaches have already made their mark in the WNBA & Cheryl Reeve is either going to have to grow this bunch quickly or their plans to ride this crew into retirement might have to adjust soon. Whalen’s game also seems primed for full-time sideline stalking. Nevertheless, the schedule evens out just in time. The Lynx may not be able to recover to home court advantage but the defending champs will have something to say regarding the outcome of the 2018 season.

  X.             Las Vegas Aces

  •   Flexes:  Rebounding, free throw rate, defensive principles & rotations.
  •   Focus: Putting the ball in the hole, taking care of the ball
  •   MVP: A’ja Wilson
  •   X-Factor: Kayla McBride
  •   Pulse: Kelsey Plum

    The Aces continue plugging along, finding ways to be competitive as the team finds their way. Based on the hardship allowance signing of Sequoia Holmes, Moriah Jefferson won’t be back any time soon. That’s unfortunate for all parties involved not named Kelsey Plum. Which is exactly why the rest of her WNBA career depending on how she responds to this stretch. As coaches, we have to stop crippling kids & coach everyone the same. There’s an adjustment period for everyone but it doesn’t look kosher when the alleged all-time leading scorer in women’s college basketball is overmatched in the W for two years.

XI.             Chicago Sky

  •   Flexes: Sharing the ball, spacing
  •   Focus: Rebounding, be disruptive not just present.
  •   MVP: Stefanie Dolson
  •   X-Factor: Cheyenne Parker
  •   Pulse: Jameirra Faulkner

    Most of the Sky’s issues come down to personnel. Stefanie Dolson is an integral piece to everything this franchise is working to accomplish & now, so is Allie Quigley. Dolson didn’t seem like herself to start the season & got worse with each game before going into the boot. Allie tried to shoot her way out of a bad shooting night & that never works. The biggest issue for the Sky right now simply is talent. Astou Ndour & Courtney Vandersloot are impact players except when coming in late directly from playing an entire season with another team. Gotta love the sacrifice & commitment of these most talented women in the world.

XII.            Indiana Fever

  •   Flexes: Youth, effort, game-to-game growth.
  •   Focus: MAKING SHOTS, defensive principles & rotations.
  •   MVP: Candice Dupree
  •   X-Factor: Tiffany Mitchell
  •   Pulse: Natalie Achonwa

    There are no moral victories in professional sports but the Fever are trending in the right direction. Stephanie Mavunga has finally been freed. The sooner the Fever embraces the youth movement, the better. Wheeler, Achonwa, & Alexander have to make an impact at some point. Or why is you here?

Smoove’s Dishes of the Week

Point Guard: Skylar Diggins-Smith Dallas Wings
2-Guard: Tiffany Hayes       Atlanta Dream    
Wing: Angel McCoughtry   Atlanta Dream
Pivot: Chiney Ogwumike    Connecticut Sun
Post: Brittney Griner   Phoenix Mercury
6th Woman: Damiris Dantas      Atlanta Dream
Rookie: A’ja Wilson             Las Vegas Aces
Coach: Nicki Collen      Atlanta Dream

Tweet of the week

Dime of the week

The Barber's Chair WNBA Bucket Scale
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

As WNBA loyalists, season openers spark sprinting out of the gates focused on the finish line. The last few years have unveiled that by coming to appreciate, embrace & thus enjoying the process, everything else becomes that much simpler. & the reality?

Not much that happens within the first two weeks of the WNBA calendar matters in the scheme of things simply due to inevitable roster turnover, the unfortunate reality that is injuries & quite simply, ever-expanding basketball acumen. In the meantime, while there hasn’t been much content from our end until now, you can rest assured this analysis has been born of watching each & every game at least twice.

Thus, the WNBA Bucket Scale.

Your resident hoops junkie Smoove votes twice daily, once before the sun rises & again after, ranking teams 1-12 based on the eye test, film study, statistical analysis & just natural instincts.

Let’s take our first peek

LEGEND

Flexes: Qualities the team has shown it can consistently showcase nightly.
Focus: Opportunities for growth
MVP: Most Valuable Player (at time of publication)
X-Factor: Player currently projecting potential to push team to the next level.
Pulse: Player you can look to during any crucial moments of the game to determine whether the team will sink or swim

  I.            Connecticut Sun

  •   Flexes: Depth, continuity, elite coaching, rebounding,
  •   Focus: Free throw shooting, consistency, leadership.
  •   MVP: Teammates Thomas
  •   X-Factor: Jonquel Jones     
  •   Pulse: Chiney Ogwumike

The Sun have shone since the lights came on & there doesn’t seem to be much anyone else can do about it. Curt finally got through a preseason undefeated, beat his mentor Brian Agler & former employer Los Angeles Sparks, all the while doing what Minnesota has done the last five seasons: impose their will & wait for someone to make them uncomfortable. Free throw shooting hasn’t mattered (yet) but it will & has been shaky to start. Morgan Tuck has also yet to be fully unleashed which leaves to beg whether there’s still another gear for this potent pack of powerhouse hoopers.

 

  II.            Los Angeles Sparks

  •   Flexes: Continuity, decision making, post play.
  •   Focus: Perimeter shooting, rebounding.
  •   MVP: Chelsea Gray/Nneka Ogwumike
  •   X-Factor: Odyssey Sims
  •   Pulse: Candace Parker

Weathering the storm of a single post player has to have the Sparks riding high & Brian Agler still has yet to meet rookie Masha Vadeeva, Cappie Pondexteris trying to find her way & Karlie Samuelson has proven more useful than Sydney Wiese yet is out of the league. Again. Everybody Loves Brian.

III.            Seattle Storm

  •   Flexes: Youth, athleticism, three-point shooting
  •   Focus: Consistency, rebounding, turnovers, focus
  •   MVP: Breanna Stewart/Jewell Loyd
  •   X-Factor: Alysha Clark
  •  Pulse: Natasha Howard

The defense hasn’t been elite but it hasn’t needed to be. Dan Hughes claims to have focused on getting the team to perform offensively but that never truly was the case with Sue Bird on the floor. The biggest difference to this juncture has been the presence of Natasha Howard. Her addition has not only soothed the injury to Crystal Langhorne that would’ve been devastating in years past but also frees Stewie up to not have to cover everyone else’s defensive deficiencies then also grab the board. Dope to see Stewie getting more time on the wing as well. Just because a player can play the post doesn’t mean stick them there. Great coaching means making teams adjust to you. Not the other way around.

IV.            Washington Mystics

  •   Flexes: Three-point shooting, elite coaching, defending the three
  •   Focus: Health
  •   MVP: Elena Delle Donne/Ariel Atkins
  •   X-Factor: Lara Sanders/Tianna Hawkins
  •  Pulse: Kristi Toliver

Mike Thibault went against the grain to create a roster he thought would be ready to contend & also welcome Emma back with open arms next season & all signs pointed towards the pieces being in place to make a confident run. But injuries are part of the game & quite frankly, shit happens. Natasha Cloud was playing out of her mind in her bench Swiss Army Knife role before coming down with kidney stones & word on the tweet is that Elena Delle Donne could miss another week. Staying afloat in this 2018 season could prove Thibault’s most difficult assignment yet.

 V.            Phoenix Mercury

  •   Flexes: Size, weapons, continuity, free throw shooting
  •   Focus: Defense, defense, defense.
  •   MVP: DeWanna Bonner
  •   X-Factor: Briann January
  •   Pulse: Brittney Griner

An entire starting lineup of players for Phoenix is now entrenched in bench roles. [Lei Mitchell (7), Vonnie Turner (4), Steph Talbot (24), Camillierock Little (34) & Angel Robinson (8) started for stretches last season & thus the Mercury were expected to sprint out of the gates. Being the second oldest team in the league & incorporating essentially three completely new pieces to a potent starting lineup, the best is yet to come with this time. Having just beaten Minnesota & Atlanta, that might be tough on the rest of the league.

VI.            New York Liberty

  •   Flexes: Tina Charles, guard play
  •   Focus: Three point shooting, efficiency on offense.
  •   MVP: Connecticut Connection (Charles, Nurse, Hartley)
  •   X-Factor: Marissa Coleman
  •   Pulse: Shavonte Zellous

Katie Smith was very likely either Zellous’ vet in her rookie season in Detroit & even if she wasn’t, being the point guard of a team with championship aspiration, Smith likely had an intimate relationship with the kid who now is the most veteran player on her roster in her first season as a head coach & you can see their influence on each other. As this league continues to grow, situations as such breed confidence & opportunity. Something the Liberty are chasing now finally having their entire roster in the fold & the most impactful, pro-ready rookie. Marissa Coleman’s addition could prove vital to this team’s success as neither Kia nor Kiah seems ready to do what it takes to hold down the five spot on a consistent basis. That 6’2 frame, playing similarly to how she & Alyssa Thomas played at Maryland could prove problematic for Lib opponents.

VII.            Atlanta Dream

  •   Flexes: Pace, defense, offensive rebounding,
  •   Focus: Putting the ball in the hole
  •   MVP: Angel McCoughtry
  •   X-Factor: Layshia Clarendon

  Pulse: Tiffany Hayes

Layshia Clarendon was a WNBA all star this past season. Brittney Sykes could've stolen rookie of the year. Imani McGee-Stafford is the most talented 6'7" big is only allowed 5 minutes of court time I've ever seen in my life. Yet somehow, Atlanta has shown us that this team is its own biggest threat as the identity is stil developing. Nicki Collen is going to be an absolutely amazing head coach & game manager. Darius Taylor is one of the brightest stars in the game. But one has to begin to wonder what's in the water in Atlanta. Consistency alludes every coach they've had thus far.

VIII.            Dallas Wings

  • Flexes: Potent offense, youth, rebounding
  • Focus: Efficiency, taking care of the ball, fouls
  • MVP: Liz Cambage
  • X-Factor: Kaela Davis
  • Pulse: Skylar Diggins-Smith

Always wondered what the Wings would’ve looked like had they played more through Courtney Paris in the post & now, having Cambage back in the fold, even though Aerial Powers, Theresa Plaisance, & Glory Johnson have yet to play a game in its entirety, Fred Williams squad has shown it can get it done in stretches on both ends of the floor. The question will be consistency. Replacing two of last season’s beloved rookies with WNBA caliber players with proven international experience speaks voumes.

IX.            Minnesota Lynx

  •   Flexes: DEFENDING CHAMPIONS, FOUR OLYMPIANS & THE GREATEST WINNER THE WNBA HAS EVER SEEN.       Continuity, experience.
  •   Focus: Defense, bench, taking care of the ball
  •   MVP: Sylvia Fowles
  •   X-Factor: Danielle Robinson
  •   Pulse: Seimone Augustus

What exactly is wrong with the Lynx? It amounts to the changes in the offseason. Will take an in-depth dive later but it boils down to having to figure out a brand new bench on the fly. The only players not starters returning did not play. Rotational players have to learn the Minnesota way, including one player who wasn’t even in the league last year. Still, the Lynx are defending the ball well & while not blocking immaculate block or steal numbers, they don’t foul often. If Reeve’s crew can stop throwing the ball away & get some shots on goal as opposed to turnovers going the other way, they’ll be fine. Hard to lose on a buzzer beater (twice already this season) when the game isn’t close late. 2-7 still looms.

  X.            Chicago Sky

  •   Flexes: Not fouling, getting to the line, equal opportunity offense, sharing the ball, rebounding.
  •   Focus: Taking care of the ball, efficiency
  •   MVP: Allie Quigley
  •   X-Factor: Stefanie Dolson/Cheyenne Parker
  •   Pulse: Courtney Vandersloot

The Sky have proven to the most volatile team in the league & from here down, the team’s struggles mostly lie in the fact that their roster lacks the presence of a proven WNBA winner or generational talent that guarantees a nightly advantage. That is exacerbated by the fact that Stefanie Dolson has been slowed & subsequently missed games due to injury then Allie Quigley, the closest thing to a proven W winner you have goes down. All the while still waiting on two of your most important players. Nevertheless, Stocks has this team playing basketball the right way & believing in each other. All is well. The job is to get better & nothing comes fast but a crash.

XI.            Las Vegas Aces

  •   Flexes: Size, speed, fastest pace in the league.
  •   Focus: Scoring efficiently, three-point shooting, defending the three, free throw shooting, taking care of the ball.
  •   MVP: Nia Coffey/A'ja Wilson
  •   X-Factor: Kayla McBride
  •   Pulse: Kelsey Bone/Dearica Hamby

Halftime breaks have either made or broken the game for the Aces. The journey to contention is a steep one but Bill Laimbeer’s crew has shown much more effective, competent & competitive than anything we saw in San Antonio last year. The best part of it all is that Vickie Johnson gets to see what it’s like up close & personal. That first seat isn’t for everyone but VJ seemed out of her element last year. Imagine Nia Coffey if she’d been moved to the wing last year, as she should’ve. OH! & Moriah Jefferson still hasn’t played a game yet.

XII.            Indiana Fever

  •   Flexes: Youth, taking care of the ball,
  •   Focus: Efficient offense, defense, getting out in transition.
  •   MVP: Candice Dupree/Kelsey Mitchell
  •   X-Factor: Natalie Achonwa
  •   Pulse: Tiffany Mitchell

 Another team that could use an infusion of talent that’s currently sitting on the sidelines. Candice Dupree is a player who absolutely should’ve been on an Olympic roster to this point & has won at the highest level but all required less of her than she’s used to. Having to show up nightly emotionally, physically & statistically to show the rookies the way likely isn’t where she saw her career at this juncture but that’s why we’re not in control. Moe Johnson’s return gives this unit another weapon to match their impressive rookie class. Pokey’s crew will be fine but as last season showed, patience will be crucial.

 

Smoove’s Dishes of the Week

 

Player Awards

Point Guard: Chelsea Gray, Los Angeles Sparks
2-Guard: Jewell Loyd, Seattle Storm     
Wing: DeWanna Bonner, Phoenix Mercury
Pivot: Tina Charles, New York Liberty
Post: Liz Cambage, Dallas Wings
6th Woman: Alex Bentley, Connecticut Sun
Rookie: Kia Nurse, New York Liberty
Coach: Curt Miller, Connecticut Sun

Tweet of the Week

Dimes of the Week

Here's a highlight tape of the best point guard in the league, since we delayed your invitation to the BCN WNBA season.

Come back every Monday for Smoove's WNBA Bucket Scale rankings.

Just Not Enough: How the NCAA is still getting over

Last month, the NCAA appointed Commission on College Basketball proposed sweeping changes to current NCAA policies in response to the FBI’s investigation into mass corruption in college basketball recruiting.

The Commission, which is lead by Condeleezza Rice, took six months to comprise a 60-page report Wednesday that broke down issue in the sport. An excerpt from the report said the following in regards to the current state of college basketball.

“It is the overwhelming assessment of the commission that the state of men’s college basketball is deeply troubled. The levels of corruption and deception are now at a point that they threaten the very survival of the college game as we know it.”

As a result of their findings, the commission recommended 5 changed they felt should be enacted immediately.

1.   End one-and-done rule

The one-and-done rule is pointless, and everyone involved with it knows. It serves no purpose for a player to spend one year in school, which is really one semester. Most one-and done players withdraw from class during second semester to focus on basketball anyway, so to mandate that they delay their professional careers despite being 18 is unfair and un-American.

While many focused on the end of the one-and-done rule, there was one part of their recommendation that should have garnered more attention than it did.

Since the one-and-done rule was created by the NBA, the commission suggested that if the NBA/NBAPA refuses to change the rule that freshman ineligibility will be recommended to the NCAA.

This would basically force players to stay in school at least two years.

2.   Allow undrafted underclassmen to return

Any player who was not selected in the draft and decides against pursuing a career overseas right should be allowed to retain his eligibility and turn to college basketball. 

3.   Allow Agents

This would be a 180 from the current rule, which bans players from any contact with agents before declaring for the NBA draft. The goal of this rule change would be to eliminate some of the corruption found in the FBI’s report by streamlining the certification process, thus allowing the NCAA to ensure players are talking to certified agents and not being misled.

4.   Increase Penalties

This is a scare tactic the commission believes will deter coaches/schools from cheating in the future. A five-year postseason ban as well as possible loss of revenue sharing are a few highlights of the increase, but as long as this remains a billion dollar business, there will be someone willing to bend the rules.

5.   Combat shoe company corruption with summer league of their own

The AAU circuit is currently ran by the three major show companies, and many have accused the three of using their money and influence to lure players to sign with their brands.

In order to stop this, the commission suggested that the NCAA team with the NBA and USA Basketball to develop a summer program of their own. 

While the changes would be much appreciated, they don’t address the real issue with the relationship between the NCAA and its athletes.

Profits keep rising, and the people earning the profits are being shut out of the spoils. 

According to Athletic Director University, D-1 Athletic Directors salaries are now averaging more than $500,000, with AD’s at power 5 conferences (and Notre Dame) pull in over $1 million annually. 

Schools make millions, coaches make millions, Athletic Directors make millions, but if a player gets one two many meals he can be considered ineligible. 

In 2013, the National College Players Association and Drexel University released a study to determine how much college athletes would be worth in an open market. The study borrowed revenue sharing models from the NBA & NFL to calculate the value of collegiate athletes in the respective sports. 

The results were quite shocking. According to the study, the average FBS football player is worth $137,357, while the average men’s basketball player is $289,031 per year.

When this study was conducted, the average player earned $23,031 in scholarship money. 

The days of rationalizing this unfair treatment by suggesting a college education is some mystical accomplishment that you can’t put a dollar amount on. If that was the case, Navient wouldn’t call me three times a week (I don’t have it bro).

I'm not advocating for players to be paid millions, or even game checks. What I am suggesting is a system that creates an account for each player that can be cashed out once a players career is over.

Another solution would be to give players control of their image and likeness in order to earn money. Marquee athletes should be given the same opportunities to make money off their hard work that the Universities have.

And what will the NCAA do about athletes in non-revenue sports who feel like they should be paid too? 

Tell them they played the wrong sport.

Villanova's national championship win may be the start of college basketball's newest dynasty
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

When people talk dynasties in sports, the usual suspects get brought up: the 1990's Chicago Bulls, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics in the NBA; the New York Yankees in MLB; the Steelers, Patriots & 49ers in the NFL.

As silly as this may sound, dynasties are easier to maintain on the professional level than in college.  In college, players have four or five years to play and that’s it; they are done.  In today’s college basketball landscape, that number shrinks tremendously.

Thanks to the One And Done rule implemented by the NBA, college basketball players are in such a rush to get to the league.  So college basketball fans are having to learn new names every year because an influx of freshmen bolt to turn professional.  Fans don’t get to see an Anthony Davis or a Kevin Durant or a Kyrie Irving improve year by year and we are all robbed of seeing potentially great teams or dynasties form.

Outside of the great and once-in-a-lifetime UCLA dynasty in the 1960s and 1970s, college basketball has not had a great tradition of sustained championship runs by many programs. Teams today only need consecutive national titles, or two in three years, to be considered a dynasty these days.  By that definition, there have been a handful of them in the post-John Wooden era: Duke in 1991 & 1992, Kentucky in 1996 & 1998, and Florida in 2006 & 2007.

Now you can add Villanova to this list afeet destroying Michigan for their second national championship in three years.

Getty Images / Tom Pennington

Getty Images / Tom Pennington

Villanova used an eight man rotation for most of the season, and none of them were seniors.  Potentially, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo could leave for the NBA.  Bridges will most likely leave for the NBA, and head coach Jay Wright will definitely receive offers at the next level.  If Coach Wright returns as expected, and any two of those three players return for the 2018-19 season along with the top recruiting class in the Big East, you’re looking at a team who can easily make a run towards a repeat, and an unprecedented third natty in four seasons.

You may not see why or how this is such a big deal but the traditional thought in college basketball is that you win with some type of experience.  Either your team is filled with upperclassmen or you pair a group of talented freshmen with veteran role players and that leads you to a national title or at the least a great season, record wise.  Villanova flipped that theory on its head with some of their most impactful players being freshmen or sophomores, the product of the program’s professional level player training.  Wright doesn’t recruit the “one and dones”, choosing to go after under the radar guys with good character instead; those that put team first and those that are willing to “wait their turn” like Dante Cunningham, Josh Hart, Brunson and DiVincenzo have all done.

Winning consecutive championships or two out of three puts you in an elite category in college basketball.  The pedestal that Villanova would be put on if they won three of the last four national championships would be enormous.  No traditional blue blood program could claim that; not Kentucky or Duke or Kansas.  April 2, 2018 could have definitely been the start of something dominant that no one saw coming.  Unless of course you are a Villanova Wildcat.

There have been no undefeated teams in the history of Division 1 Men’s Basketball since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.  The 2018-19 Villanova men’s basketball team could be the first and officially solidify themselves as one of the greatest teams ever.

Stop the madness: Ramblers run was about the team, not Sister Jean

On Saturday, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers improbable NCAA Tournament run finally came to an end at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines. The 69-57 defeat ended any chance of Loyola  becoming the first 11-seed in D-1 NCAA Tournament history to advance to the Final Four.

The stage was set for the Ramblers to make history, and the build up to Saturday's showdown with the Wolverines lead you to believe that Loyola had a legitimate shot at history.

Donte Ingram’s game winning 3-pointer versus 6-seed Miami, followed by Clayton Cluster’s game winning jumper to knock off 3-seed Tennessee officially anointed the Ramblers as this year's Cinderella story. But the run didn’t stop there.

Loyola came to Atlanta and defeated Nevada in the Sweet Sixteen, and after dominating Kansas State in the Elite Eight en route to the Final Four had all the momentum.

Now with the team putting together such an improbable run, you would expect the media to dig deeper into the background of the players that comprise this special bunch. 

But that didn't happened.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Instead of discussing the teams success, the majority of the focus was placed on 98-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt.

Sister Jean was dubbed the face of not only Loyola basketball, but the entire NCAA Tournament, and while this may be a feel good story to some, it took away the spotlight from the people who have worked hardest to earn it.

The Ramblers finished first in the Missouri Valley Conference with a record of 32-5,  finishing the season shooting 50% from the field and 40% from three point range as a team. The team also boasted the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Richardson.

With a roster that has no top 200 recruits, a star transfer player (Redshirt Junior Clayton Custer) and two players from local historic Chicago Public Schools (Senior Donte Ingram from Simeon and Freshman Lucas Williamson from Whitney Young), there were plenty of storylines the media could have chosen to explore during this historic March.

But while most basketball fans just want to learn more about the Ramblers, the national media went with the low hanging fruit; religion.

People often ask athletes to stick to sports, but they have no problem using their religion to claim a victory. And with a 98-year-old nun being wheeled in after every victory, the legend of Sister Jean grew to ridiculous proportions.

Loyola made Sister Jean available for the media on Friday as the same time as guard Marques Townes, the same player who hit the game sealing 3-pointer in the Sweet Sixteen against Nevada. Instead of interviewing someone who is actually a member of the team, the national media flocked to Sister Jean.

The large gathering for the team chaplain seemed to even catch Sister Jean off guard, who told reporters, “I never imagined two or three [cameras], let alone this large group.”

For most of these players, this was their one and only opportunity to be seen on a national stage, and although they weren't able to become the first 11-seed to play for a National Title, the media has to make a change.

Giving attention to Sister Jean was one thing, but to allow her to overshadow these players says a lot about the priorities of the University and the media. Not only were they shut out from the millions of dollars being generated off this magical run, they’ve became supporting actors in their own movie. 

Villanova puts an emphatic bow on the college basketball season in its national championship win
USA Today via Reuters

USA Today via Reuters

Imagine having your dream taken from your control, re-calibrating your approach, working your ass off then, you wake up to stories of salacious, dishonest & illegal activities as common as the sound of squeaking shoes in an empty gym after a loss. That was me with college basketball this season.

From African-American coursework, to strippers all the way down to impermissible benefits, it all points back to a system built upon the dehumanization & subsequent monetarization of black & brown bodies, the talent within them & the capacity for greatness that comes with it.

When you consider this country was “founded” by an angry twink who decided that since no one had posted to Instagram claiming America as their own, he would stake claim, manipulate its current inhabitants while kidnappingroyalty, who had proven their own volition expanding in their home countries, to tend the land for him, you realize its just par the course.

Considering basketball was first rocked by gambling, match fixing & point shaving in the 40s & 50s, during segregation, how do we plan to victim shame this time?

You, the people, being robbed of Billy Preston, Rick Pitino, De’Anthony Melton, Brian Bowen in what was arguably one of the best seasons ever speaks to the level at which the game currently stands.

Yet those in power, the same people who have fought tooth & nail to keep the proverbial foot on our necks, will never be able to touch the Porter Mosers, John Beileins.

The Jay Wright’s of the world.

Thank BasedGod for that.

John Patrick Beilein, strong name for a strong character. & it’s quite fitting because, for the second time in his career, he took a team that nobody was talking about & made a beeline for the last game of the season.

Never an assistant coach, Beilein has been confidently patrolling the sidelines since 1975 so none of this should come as a surprise or seem to be a fluke.

Players play.

Coaches coach & cheerleaders cheer, right?

Well, Trey Burke seemed on a mission in 2013.

As did Charles Matthews & Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman this season.

Sure, that doesn’t sound like much now but just a small reminder:

Beilein took this job during the final year of scholarship reduction due to the alleged involvement of former players in the Ed Martin scandal.

A guy who has coached at every level- high school, junior college & Divisions 1-3- also has shown a propensity for turning things around, scoring 20-win seasons at 7 different schools, including 4 D-1 schools.

The same goes for Jerold Taylor Wright, Jr.

Nothing happens singularly at any moment in the universe.

Jay Wright went to his college professor advising he wanted to coach college basketball & the support was provided, a year after his college career ended, he became a coach.

Circles are dope because they allow you to hold yourself accountable by never losing sight of where you started while simultaneously continuing to progress forward. It’s virtually impossible to get into coaching this way now.

Being someone who has tried, no degree, no love.

But what degree program teaches you to continue to instruct your kids to play the right way through the entirety of a record-setting Final Four game because you know that this single game isn’t what matters?

What STEM class is going to take you through the psychology of confidently telling college kids who’ve been taught that winning is all that matters, that they played their best game & it just wasn’t enough on that occasion after taking the best team in the country of out its rhythm for the majority of the game?

It’s a beautiful thing neither of these men gave up on themselves & continued to pursue a vision nobody could see but themselves.

To the naked eye, a 17-point loss is a waste.

Personally speaking, there aren’t two better advocates to what basketball is all about.

The beauty of it all is that it shows, if you do it right.

For the first time in months, Villanova looked rattled. Frustrated. The same team that punched Kansas in the mouth & wouldn’t stop, even once the dogs were called off.

Michigan went on to lose by 17 but also put together a gameplanto accomplish that.

On this day? In this moment, it wasn’t sustainable.

The journey is to get there. Villanova has built a product worth seeing every time. If UConn is bad for basketball, Villanova should be deported.

Remember, Donte DiVencenzo was on a redshirt the last time Villanova won a natty.

Last season, Omari Spellman was forced to sit out by the powers that be.

Something tells me North Carolina would be singing a completely different tune without that get out of jail free card.

What Duke used to be & mean to college basketball, Villanova now is. & the thing about Villanova is that you don’t have to have ridiculous test scores to get in.

The real story is in the process. College basketball was at its absolute best this year.

Arizona State going from unranked to top-5 to humming along the bubble.

Duke teasing us with the most talented youth movement since the Power Rangers only to remind us that experience trumps all while signing an even better class with more maturity, consistency & leadership.

Loyola, who gets to call the greatest city in the world home, captivated the nation’s focus & reminded us what this country was alleged to have been about from the beginning. Likely the least recruited team in their bracket 1-12. & one of the last four teams standing.

Bill Self, after losing an All-American caliber power forward to the powers that be throwing rocks & hiding their hand, found a way to beat that exact Duke team when nobody else seemed to be able to & stole a final four bid with the exact same team everyone said the streak would end with in December.

So, thank you Michigan. Villanova. Loyola, Kansas.

Even Duke, Kentucky, Virginia, UMBC, Mississippi State, UCLA, Marquette & St John’s.

Andrew Jones, we got love for you kid. Keep going.

Goodbye DeAndre, Marvin, Trae, Mikal, Mo.

Thanks for giving us the greatest season of college basketball yet.

Welcome Zion, RJ, Shareef, Romeo, Bol, Quentin.

You’re up next. A lot of people will compare you to those that come before & after, but we’re just excited to see what you have to offer this exact moment.

Ironically enough?

The last 6th man to win MOP?

The NCAA says its an invisible man because vacating wins means they don’t have to return any of the profits yet those same exploited athletes are supposed to act as if they never played.

Luke Hancock torched Michigan for 22 off the bench in that game. So even with 116 years of experience, Beilein still has to learn how to scout the entire team & not just a starting lineup.

Something tells me we’ll be congratulating that fella on a natty soon enough. The process has me 100% confident.

But for now, Villanova: Congratulations!

Keep balling on these ninjas, Shinobi Rose.

Notre Dame takes home the National Championship in the greatest women's Final Four ever

Sportswriters, editors, fans, haters, lend me your psyche:

Historically, basketball, the artform, is dismissed as “just a game” & treated as a means of entertainment.

Haphazardly cast aside as if we, the athletes, are simply fodder for the paying fan’s whetted appetite.

The reality is, our childhood drives our future.

Each & every one of us has the capacity to create the future we want & while some of us were allowed the entirety of the spectrum, some were not.

To many, sports are a waste of time. Waste of energy.

Being that this beautiful round ball saved my life, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who owes more to the game.

For years, it seemed, the stigma would just never change.

As time progresses, people learn, processes improve & experience is gained. For decades, our stories as athletes were told through clips, heavy edited & manipulated at the will of the parties tasked with telling said story which typically ends on a tangent unlike anything related to the initial point.

Well, today’s a new day.

In 2018, we are exercising self-love and self-care.

No more clickbait articles written by people who’ve never missed a free throw that could’ve won a game.

Or spent hours in a gym to pseudo-cope with the tribulations & trials that life brings.

The only place that feels safe.

It’s the only place that feels right.

Ask any qualified party & they’ll quickly rebut:

Basketball is basketball.

The best women’s Final Four ever just confirmed this.

 

But Ma Dukes always told me if you can’t improve the silence, keep it to yourself. Improve meaning add value to.

 

Which, for clarity, doesn’t include a tacky sense of humor.

See, there’s an unwritten understanding betwixt us hoopers.

We know that sometimes it is not at all about the crossover move or the dunk that ends up in the highlight.

When you’ve put in countless hours, as with most things in life, one day you see a shift & things are different. Easier even. Sometimes you do a basic R-to-L crossover stunt & the defender stumbles. Great coaching is going to make sure you pick up on that & attack that temporary weak spot. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Great coaching is also going to prepare you for the days outside of basketball. Ultimately? Success is measured in wins & losses but what can’t be accounted for on the stat sheet is in the process. The day-to-day. & for 17 years, this Notre Dame program has operated at peak efficiency.

Pro after Pro. Phenomenal woman after phenomenal woman.

But life has taught me that nothing in this universe happens independently.

Hence the importance of investing everything you have to give to yourself each day.

Just as you would in practice with every rep. Nothing feels worse in the moment than not being prepared.

See, April 1, 2001, ironically 17 years to the date of yesterday’s natty championship game, marked the first time Muffet McGraw got an opportunity to climb the ladder & cut down the nets as the last team standing.

Her point guard, a feisty, never-say-die Midwestern kid with swag before it even existed, had come back for a fifth season --after losing a year to injury--& found a way to will her team to the final four in her hometown of St Louis.

That point guard, bearer of the 33, now sits one chair to her left as her associate head coach & top recruiter.

Together they form a ridiculous battery that also includes the associate head coach of that ’01 team, Illinois’ own Carol Owens.

That battery knows what it’s like to not be prepared because they missed their window six years ago.

Skylar Diggins, the hometown recruit that changed the trajectory forever for the Irish accomplished so much for herself, women’s hoops & Notre Dame, except winning a championship. Three trips to the Final Four. Two natty championship games. Three lessons. All leading up to now.

Diggins, whose Twitter game flourished while her on-court game flashed during a sophomore run to the title game that likely should’ve culminated in a championship. That 2011 team bridged two generations & should have signified Notre Dame’s rise to join UConn & Tennessee as the premier programs in women’s basketball.

Then, Danielle Adams happened. After that, Brittney Griner & Breanna Stewart took over the game & by her senior year, losing in an upset to a UConn team it had beaten three times her senior year, Sky Digg had to move on realizing she missed her window. Apparently, she left it cracked.

You’ve heard the narratives about Notre Dame’s injury. Did you know that Kathryn Westbeld, the current iteration of the number 33, is originally from Kettering, Ohio? A stone’s throw from Columbus, the location of the Final Four.

Everyone was so focused on Kelsey Mitchell’s chance to come home & it was the silent assassin.

The leader whose filled every role asked of her with no complaints.

The kid who has persevered through injury, hardship & constant shifting around her. Westbeld likely never truly got comfortable.

A sophomore season, the first that allows for confidence & opportunity after a summer in the program, saw the player ahead of her leave the program, potentially to return before finally transferring.

Here junior year was marked by splitting starting time with a freshman, who decided she wasn’t happy & transferred to an Oregon program which might have its own trophy case soon enough.

Leading up to a senior season filled with injuries & limited bench support which has required her to play hurt, without practicing & consistently extended minutes.

Wearing 33 & coming home for the final four should have been the sign. Niele knew it too & she had her team prepared.

Prepared to battle to the very last minute.

 

 

 

Which is exactly the reason Mississippi State should remain encouraged. Building a program takes time. Did this team & the players on it deserve a natty for what they’ve done for their university? Absolutely.

Did Victoria Vivians deserve at least one SEC Player of the Year award during her tenure? Absolutely.

Did the best team in the SEC this year win the tournament title? Absolutely not.

Sometimes, things don’t go the way they should. Or, maybe better: the way we think they should.

That’s where your true character is revealed. Being able to realize that everything you accomplished is greater than you areis hard when you are the individual who did the work.

But everything happens for a reason.

Being a Chicago kid who never really fit in or felt right in Mississippi, it finally makes sense.

Having watched Alexis Rack, Mary Kathryn Govero, Latoya Thomas, Chanel Mokango & everyone else in between do everything they could to get to a Sweet 16.

Kendra Grant & Martha Alwal’s careers spanned Sharon Fanning-Oatis’ last days & Schafer’s first.

The seeds were being planted & you could tell when a team who hadn’t been there before lost to Duke in the second round on its home floor seemed upset that their season was over. Knowing they’d let one slip away that they more than earned. & they were right. Duke just got back to same point again this season.

While it would have been amazing to tell the stories of knowing Vivians since she was an 8th-grader forcing pictures to include her teammates, so they didn’t feel left out.

It would have been dope to see Roshunda & Malachi climb the ladder to cut the nets.

Seeing Blair & Morgan embrace knowing they’d completed a dream.

This wasn’t the time.

But the foundation is laid. The culture is there.

Something tells me that, in the same manner ND did Sunday, former Mississippi State players will be collected at the Final Four to support the current form to be treated to their first.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t take 17 years.

Women's Final Four Guide: team outlooks, x-factors, and predictions
UCONN Huskies

UCONN Huskies

Connecticut

Road To Final Four

Def St Francis (PA)140-52

Def Quinnipiac 71-46

Def Duke 72-59

Def South Carolina 94-65

Team Outlook

Another undefeated season in the books & it’s been one that comes with marked less pressure than the one prior. The 111-game winning streak was cool to talk about, but the reality is, every individual season presents its own unique challenges. Part of mysolicitation of basketball as an artform versus a game or sport is in the journey, the process.

Breanna Stewart, Morgan Tuck & Moriah Jefferson were integral in the aforementioned streak & while continuing their legacy was what those kids said & believed they wanted, we all just want our own space, our own story.

This UConn team has scheduled tough, per usual, & rang the bell every time. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Recycled Tweet.

It’s disgraceful that anyone[who has vv likely never had to play the entirety of a 40-minute game at the highest level] feels the need to try & discredit this program every March,but realists know Geno & CD raised the bar. The rest of this year’s final four is indicative of the fact that the game is trending in the right direction.

Just remember, loyal women’s hoops fans:

Most “basketball bloggers,” as KD rightfully knighted thee, write from the perspective of someone who “wants in” on this hoop life & needs to ensure they’re received well by an audience, of their peers.

Meaning, the “cool thing” to do is troll women’s basketball with a politically correct kitchen joke. Jokes on them. Spaces continue to be created every single day & women, explicitly women of color [shouts to Felisha Legette-Jack], are way past due in this country & around the world.

Hate it or love it.

Keys to a Natty

Continue doing the things that have gotten you to the last four 11 consecutive years: playing as a connected unit that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

This season, versus, the parts are super Saiyan. Katie Lou Samuelson seems to have carved out her niche as the stud of the team & is now doing most of the things asked of you in your junior season at Connecticut.

Azura Stevens has helped this team weather the storms it has encountered thus far this season & will continue to be the case going forward. She spoke to the disdain of feeling helpless watching the streak last season & has grown more & more confident in her play with each game this season.

Key to an L

Saniya Chong had a stellar career for the Huskies & has gone on to carve out a niche for a Dallas Wings squad that should be competing at its highest level ever this season but her lack of experience in the big moment hindered her team in their national semifinal upset.

While Geno wants to put it behind them, realistically, he’s the one who hasn’t. With even more talent than last season, Geno continues to stubbornly ride his preferred 6. To their detriment. Suffering myself from shin splints since secondary school, it’s remarkable what Crystal Dangerfield has done thus far on them but any given day, she could simply just not feel up to it.

It will take another perfect storm, but while pundits misguidedly scream shame, UConn is more vulnerable than ever.

The issue is whether other teams can step up when the lights come on.

X-Factor

Kia Nurse was Lou before Lou arrived & has played a different role for this team every single year which is a testament to her will & competitiveness. Which also sometimes get the best of Kia & her senior teammate Gabby Williams.

The struggles for UConn recently have been associated with the weights & pressures associated with the program. Stories are written & interviews are completed & the human factor is forgotten. But if Nurse is able to focus & lead her team towards good habits during the tough times that are set to come, she will leave a champion.

What’s beautiful for Kia & Gabby anyway, is they leave champions regardless. This is going to be a really great weekend.

  James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

 James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame

Road to Final Four

Def Cal State University Northridge 99-81

Def Villanova 98-72

Def Texas A&M 90-84

Def Oregon 84-74

Team Outlook

Another day, another slay.

While UConn hums along at the apex, Muffet McGraw continues to evolve, whether willingly or forced, & her teams always transmuted her fierce, competitive spirit to the 94 x 50 hardwood canvas.

As a proponent of Marina Mabrey, point guard extraordinaire before it became a necessity, this run by she has been a joy to watch.

Also, Arike Ogunbowale has [finally] found the joy in involving her teammates. Jackie Young is a star-in-waiting.

Somebody pay Kathryn Westbeld, please.

Win or lose, this team got everyone’s best shot & everyone picked against them. Another stellar job.

Keys to a Natty

Due to a short bench & the lack of a natural point guard, Notre Dame cannot have an off night.

Realistically speaking? Two hot nights & they could walk away with the team’s first natty since 2001, when associate head coach Niele Ivey was setting the standard & killing the game from the head of the snake as McGraw’s point guard, as she denimly reminded us all.

Key to an L

The other three teams got here based on their capacity to be disruptive & take other teams out of what they do while Notre Dame relies on its zone & knowing player tendencies to try & contain other teams in order to get out in transition.

Of the teams left, ND is the team that controls its destiny the least, which isn’t at all slight or a bad thing.

The best four teams in the land all season got here. Only one can win.

X-Factor

Jackie Young is the one Irish player that could singlehandedly control the entire narrative. A player who has just wants to do everything she can to support veteran teammates, Young reminds me of myself.

Great coaching seeks, acknowledges, & rewards great leaders & selfless individuals.

Thankfully Young has been surrounded by great coaching that can identify, groom & mold these traits.

If McGraw & crew are able to tap into the Jewel Loyd-esquequalities that Young has in her first Final Four, Muffet will be dancing for a lot longer than she likely imagined after watching player after player go down with injury.

Twitter: @A_Hooper25

Twitter: @A_Hooper25

Louisville

Road To Final Four

Def Boise State 74-42

Def Marquette 90-72

Def Stanford 86-59

Def Oregon State 76-43

Team Outlook

This team almost makes you forget that Mariya Moore decided to finish her career at Southern California with her sister.

That caliber small forward between players who have won ACC player of the year in Asia Durr & Myisha Hines-Allen?

Hopefully now you understand why there was some major concerns as to how this team would perform when the lights came on.

Beating Notre Dame is one thing.

The same way UConn did to ND for a stretch in the best women’s college basketball conference ever, eventually you get tired of the bully & you put them in their place.

However, in a one-and-done format, instead of being susceptible to the fact that they’ve seen teams capable of upsets as recent history has proven, Jeff Walz has continued to flex his proverbial muscle as a basketball savant while reminding us he likely has the best personality in the game.

Kudos to this program for taking advantage of the elite recruits who believed in their vision.

Every one of Walz’s classes thus far have been to a Final Four. #Goals Asia Durr turned down Notre Dame for Louisville.

So, nothing that had this season surprised me.

Keys to a Natty

Continuing to throw the first punch, being disruptive & utilizing their length & athleticism defensively to impose their will on teams. The toughest route to the natty belongs to Louisville.

It’s one thing to face a program for the first time but its another to face it when it’s at its absolute peak.

The same could be said in return for Mississippi State, by some, but the reality is, Louisville has been to two championship games & won conference titles in its past.

This MS State team has its tallest player ever & won the university’s first women’s conference championship ever after going to its first final four & natty championship game last season.

Oh yeah. Then, if you beat them, you get UConn.

So being able to continue this trajectory of taking teams out of their comfort zone, creating easy buckets & just letting the Cardinals play to their strengths will be crucial. Louisville’s struggles come when they’re forced to execute in the half court or recover from a deficit.

Key to an L

In both losses thus far, Louisville scored less than 60 points. The only two games they won scoring less than 60?

Versus NC State & Virginia, two programs on the rise, who butter their bread from the defensive end of the floor first, which is a must when you don’t have the elite talent of some of the other teams in the country.

In these games, Louisville was able to win because they simply had more talent than the opposition.

The two losses? UConn & Florida State.

Equal or greater talent quotient, depending on who you’re asking. So, if shots aren’t falling, the Walz’s family can go ahead & break out the skis. The three teams left are all of equal or greater talent.

X-Factor

Sam Fuehring is toughness personified. Basketball saved my life in ways that it seems she can relate & to watch her trajectory change & it show in her game was been an absolute masterpiece to watch. & she’s got to bring her A-game this weekend.

Likely tasked as the primary defender on the 6’7” McCowan, Fuehring will need to be active, engaged & disruptive.

Be physical without fouling & most importantly, attack on the offensive end.

The Myisha Hines-Allen v. Victoria Vivians All-American matchup will cancel itself out as will the Durr v William backcourt showcase.

So, the battle inside will tell it all for these two programs looking to make its mark as the program with “next.”

DENNY MEDLEY-USA TODAY SPORTS

DENNY MEDLEY-USA TODAY SPORTS

Mississippi State

Road To Final Four

Def Nicholls State 95-50

Def Oklahoma State 71-56

Def NC State 71-57

Def UCLA 89-73

Team Outlook

Vic Schafer is the exactly the human that Mississippi State needed to take its program to the next level.

When he arrived in Starkvegas six years ago, this was a program that’s had solid years & solid players.

Struggled a bit to keep great players in the state but if you’ve ever visited Mississippi, you’d understand why.

If there was going to be a player that was going to change the trajectory of that program by staying home, it was always going to be Victoria Vivians.

The kid many remember hating interviews even going back to 8thgrade: starting & scoring 50 points a night with 4 defenders on her.

Adding ancillary pieces with a story to tell & a chip on their shoulders was perfect.

• A tiny, underrecruited point guard from Birmingham that proves heart out measures height every time.

• & on the opposite end of the spectrum, an oversized personality & frame, for a kid who just wanted to be accepted for who she was.

• A transfer looking to redefine family.

• Finally, the stirrer of the sweet tea. A shooter who knew & understood her role would always be bigger than her. The ultimate sacrifice. The ultimate teammate. The ultimate coach’s daughter.

The perfect storm. The only way to end this fairy tale is with a national championship & Vic did the work.

After two years of finding her way, McCowan has developed basketball skills.

Three years of incessant chucking have turned into Victoria Vivians, professional.

& Morgan William absolutely looked disgusted with the idea of scoring the ball all season. Until March rolled around.

Keys to a Natty

Play your game. Of the four teams here, you have the most unstoppable, most imposing weapon left.

6’7” changes the way any team you play approaches the game which means, for stretches, you’ll be able to make a team try to beat you using game plan B or C.

Imposing your will & drawing on the experiences from last year could prove crucial. Mississippi State absolutely had the momentum last season & should’ve won its natty then.

But the South Carolina factor proved too much & this senior class, finally conquered that hurdle this season, to an extent.

The SEC tournament final loss could prove beneficial as Schafer has maintained it didn’t take a loss to motivate his team, but they took one. One where McCowan was stuck on the bench for stretches with foul trouble. Avoid that issue, continue to be disruptive & secure the bag.

If only it were as simple as typing this sentence.

Key to an L

If & when McCowan leaves the floor, Mississippi State has to find a way to play above average or they will not have any success. As confident as this team has looked all season, they looked completely flummoxed on the floor against a South Carolina team it had finally beaten weeks earlier.

Needless to say, this team’s entire identity is tied to McCowan’s presence on the floor.

Still solid, what has opened the door for better offensive production has given in terms of defensive intensity historically for a Vic Schafer coached team.

Daughter Blair & play daughter Morgan “Itty Bitty” William are no slouches whatsoever defensively but redundant in size & in turn, hurt you explicitly when McCowan isn’t there to clean up messes.

The only team left in the tournament to have the entirety of its chances hinge on one player, why not have her be a 6’7” tree of good (offensive rebounds & alley-oops) & evil (blocks & intimidation.)

Goof Troop no more, McCowan might just be a natty champ vv soon.

X-Factor

Roshunda Johnson likely could’ve helped this team win a natty last season & based solely on the hierarchy of Morgan & Blair’s relationship, might have been the odd woman out of the lineup had Vic Schafer continued to play a bigger lineup & doing what many presumed he would in starting Aussie freshman Chloe Bibby.

Instead, Roshunda Johnson has both facilitated Vivians’ best season ever while also becoming the team’s most dynamic two-way player.

McCowan has improved tremendously but still is using her size to her advantage. Johnson can score from all three levels & has also taken on the opposing team’s best perimeter threat every night. She’s played consistently well this season & thus have the Bulldogs.

Picks

  • Mississippi State over Louisville

Expect two fantastic, well-played games by four programs here to stay. Asia Durr may struggle or will kill it in her first experience in the Final Four but don’t expect anything in between. Her 47-point outing in Columbus to beat Ohio State to open the season might be the best indicator but, in the end,, too much McCowan, too much Vivians. Too many Dawgs.

  • UConn over Notre Dame

Labored over this pick more than ever because an offensive juggernaut that wasn’t supposed to be here with nothing to lose & a coach who always believes she has the better team? Sounds like the makings for an upset & it likely would be in the men’s game.

In the end, the short bench & the long season finally catches up to Muffet & Co. But watch out now!

Jessica Shepard & Brianna Turner will be the most exciting frontcourt in the country & if the basketball gods are listening, Muffet will bring her point guards along slowly & leave Mabrey at the one next year. Sounds like a natty champion to me. Remember, Skylar Diggins came to South Bend as a two-guard who just wanted to shoot too. Hi Marina, this is year tape.

  • Mississippi State over UConn

Absolutely a championship or bust season for Vic Schafer as every offensive weapon not named McCowan will be out of eligibility after April 2nd. In addition, McCowan realistically still could leave early. & while the recruiting class coming in gives you shades of this current crop of elite humans, they’re young & these things take time. 3-time MS Gatorade player of the year Myah Taylor hasn’t even seen the floor this season & that’s a complete waste from a program perspective if you don’t bring home the trophy. Tasked with the big bully & on the greatest stage ever, here’s hoping Vic can pull it off. He put in the work to get better once he got the talent, which is where many coaches falter. Too proud to ask for help. To learn. To get better. Tools, talent. Confidence, opportunity. Put up or shut up, Vic. What you got for me?

Ball Don't Lie Ep.12: "F*ck NBA Twitter"

This week on Ball Don't Lie, the guys sound off about NBA Twitter's idiocy and hypocrisy plus touched on Steph & Kyrie's injuries, who's the favorite to win it all, how far can the Cavs go, Loyola's March Madness run, ep. 4 of Atlanta & is Logic a scumbag?

Women's NCAA Tourney Final Four predictions

ALBANY

Credit Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Credit Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Geno isn’t allowed to retire until someone calls me bad for basketball. Imagine taking your job seriously &taking pride in what you do to the point that none of your peers are able to figure out how you do it. Then, he started opening up his practices to show that it’s not some special serum or drills. It’s about believing in your players. Seeing trajectories for them that they don’t even seem for themselves. Challenging & pushing them to get there while striking the delicate balance necessary to support them when life happens off the court. CD gets most of the credit now, then & forever because I couldn’t imagine young Geno trying to support teenage girls. But he knew that. He hired accordingly. The rest is history. History women’s basketball absolutely needs in order to take the steps necessary. Give that man his flowers now.

Lexie Brown & Rebecca Greenwell represent two of the absolute best stories & players college basketball has ever seen. Here’s hoping the way their careers in a manner indicative of such: a competitive, respectable game against the best to do it, outcome not-withstanding. McCallie’s struggled to have her teams ready in the past. These two deserve her best game plan ever.

A’Ja Wilson, Dawn Staley & crew seemed so caught up in everything except what happens in their own gym this season. There still aren’t any real answers for what happens A’Ja Wilson is struggling or off the floor. Your second-best player, while just as talented is volatile & inconsistent. Meanwhile? Felisha Legette-Jack is another example of a black woman slighted for numbers & her team wants to keep playing. Should SC win this game? Could they? Absolutely. Please SC. Prove me wrong again.

Picks: UConn over Duke
Buffalo over South Carolina
UConn to Final Four

SPOKANE

Robert Franklin, AP

Robert Franklin, AP

Harry Perretta is one of the absolute best coaches we have & it was great to see him have his team into the second round with the potential to build on that for next season. Adding to his excitement, & mine, is the fact that Jannah Tucker was recently approved for the capacity to return for a full final season as opposed to playing half, as they had been expecting.

On the flip side of that token, another of the best coaches around the land, & one with a more personal feel, Doug Bruno probably won’t be watching the tape of his team’s second round game. A literal nightmare, considering the style they play. In the end, his defense couldn’t stop the freight train that is Chennedy Carter & the offense that had carried them all game, stalled towards the end. The unsung hero for A&M all season?

Anriel Howard. & they would be at home if she hadn’t come to play thus far. The next game will take a major step up in intensity however. This A&M team also reeks of the 2011 team that stole the ring Skylar Diggins-Smith likely still has nightmares about. Their next opponent? Muffet McGraw & ND.

The bottom of the bracket is intriguing mostly in the capacity of what’s to come. Oregon should be able to cruise after Central Michigan rewarded legend Sue Guevara with an upset win to end Kelsey Mitchell’s career. If the Ducks don’t have an epic slipup, they should matchup with a Notre Dame team that’s actually helped it get better for next season by proving to not be a suitable home for transfer Erin Boley, who’s been tagged the Ducks most impressive player in practice most of the season. Next season, this likely won’t even be a conversation as the teams could meet for a national championship as both will return enough to earn a 1-seed. But this season? 2018? I doubt this unit, as hard as they’ve worked to get here will let Muffet or any of their teammates lose that game & have to shake Boley’shand. Any other one seed, I’d pick against (see below) but this matchup gives Muffet too much motivational text message material.

Picks:Notre Dame over Texas A&M
Oregon over Central Michigan
Notre Dame to Final Four

LEXINGTON

The most predictable of all the regions has been just about such. 9-seed Oklahoma State, former home of starting guard Roshunda Johnson upset 8 Syracuse & Creighton upset an Iowa team playing without its point guard while the rest of the region remained chalk. That should remain the case until the regional final. Mississippi State will go into the game the favorite, could, should & might win this game. It wouldn’t shock me if they did. But this senior class was the one Karen Aston targeted. After years of being on the bandwagon, Joyner Holmes’ situation & the lack of player development over the years have me questioning if she has the right voice to get UT back to national championship games. For her sake, let’s hope so. Because the voice that IS RIGHT is the one she hired to sit right beside her.

Picks:Mississippi State over NC State
Texas over UCLA
Texas to Final Four

KANSAS CITY

Mark Humphrey, AP

Mark Humphrey, AP

Going out on another limb here. But humor me: Louisville put all its ducks in a barrel to beat Notre Dame this year. It accomplished that &has put this program in great position to take the next step within the next five years. His team this season has the makeup to get there too. Except Tara Vanderveer is the Wizard of the West Coast.

She has a team of young kids that she loves coaching galvanized by seniors who would, have & will continue running through walls for them. There’s also ample post talent & depth surrounding Kaylee Johnson that allows her to focus on being a defender & rebounder. Also, Kianna Williams gives Stanford something that’s been missing since Candice Wiggins eligibility expired: a guard who can go get it done, go get a bucket in crunch time. In a game that will very likely come down to the wire, Stanford took its lumps early in the season to be prepared for now. & TVD knows this game like the back of her hand.

The only team to beat Baylor all season? UCLA. Baylor will say they played without Lauren Cox & Kim Mulkey but one could argue that’s the last time they played a team as talented as they are with a coach on her level. That will be the case in the Sweet 16 & it couldn’t come at a worse time

Picks: Stanford over Louisville
Oregon State over Baylor
Stanford to Final Four

NCAA Tournament regional preview
(AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez)

(AP Photo / Tony Gutierrez)

SOUTH

The #1 overall seed went down & quickly thereafter went the team that took them down. The same can be said for the Tennessee Volunteers who advised they planned to head home early.

A set of twin ACC undid 2-seed Cincinnati transfers it couldn’t stop & Arizona, well Arizona’d. Calipari has to be salivating as he has plenty examples in his own region to keep his young unit focused & they believe in each other at the right time after winning the SEC Tournament.

Don’t think I’ve ever seen Calipari respond to a media report this quickly in his life & it’s likely because he sees an opportunity to steal a final four bid with a unit he never imagined being there in January.

It won’t be easy, whichever team wins the underdog matchup will be playing with house money & have nothing to lose. Kansas State’s chances of advances hinges on Dean Wade’s health as 69 & 50 points will not beat this young, athletic UK team.

Picks: Kentucky over Kansas State
Loyola-Chicago over Nevada
Kentucky to Final Four

WEST

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Xavier gambled & lost, opening the path for another team to steal a final four bid & Mark Few’s Gonzaga team seems perfectly poised to take advantage.

Florida State, the beneficiaries of the aforementioned collapse, haven’t played their best but also took advantage of a Missouri team without an identity or a healthy star player in the first round.

A&M-Michigan provides an intriguing matchup as the Aggies likely have the talent quotient to run the Zags off the floor but have struggled to defend the three this season.

Michigan, as a team is due for a hot night but most notably, Moritz Wagner has come out the other side clean with two subpar performance so far during the tournament.

The physicality & heightened stakes of this game seem like the perfect place for Wagner to relax & let it fly. But Mark Few likely still has his most confident group yet with Rui Hamichura getting better every night.

Picks: Gonzaga over Florida State
Michigan over Texas A&M
Gonzaga to Final Four

EAST

(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

(Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

The basketball world will wonder if Wichita State could’ve put some pressure on this Mike Carey West Virginia team at least until the tournament ends, thus far, they’re the only team not named Duke to score 85+ in both tournament games & really haven’t had to play their best. That will not bode well against Villanova, the college basketball equivalent of the Spurs the last few years. They do not beat themselves, usually find ways to win & don’t give a damn who gets the glory.

There’s an absurdly small number of teams that can say this honestly ever & Jay Wright has cultivated that culture as has Carey. Kudos to both. Texas Tech & Purdue are both teams that have dealt with injuries & not being at full strength all season. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, Chris Beard will have his most important player in uniform & that will likely be the difference in the matchup.

Picks:Villanova over West Virginia
Texas Tech over Purdue
Villanova to Final Four

MIDWEST

(Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

(Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

Be prepared for an absolute slugfest or a complete blowout in the Syracuse-Duke matchup. Both teams are at different points in their programs & the team with more to lose also has exponentially more talent. Healthy talent. To be honest, Duke could give Syracuse a few of its players & it should still win this game…. on paper. But that’s why we’re here. That’s why you play the games in March. If this Cuse team is going out, I hope its with a bang & Boeheim shows us some new tricks that are in the bag. If for no other reason than that these kids deserve it. They’ve battled all season to get to a place even their fanbase thought impossible yet, here they are.

The bottom half of this bracket was a lot tougher looking than it turned out to be & the top has featured several teams that were able to stay afloat in mediocre conferences (Kansas, Auburn,) mixed with a couple wildcards that had the capacity to shake things up, even in a minor fashion (Seton Hall, Clemson, NC State. In the end, Kansas has struggled with itself no matter who the opponent & could either use Clemson as a tune-up for the highest seed matchup possible or they could finally see the major inequities exposed to the extent of an L.

Picks: Kansas over Clemson
Duke over Syracuse
Duke to Final Four

 

The Barber's Chair NCAA men's All-American teams

March Madness is in full swing, so what better way to celebrate the month than by acknowledging the best players in the country?

Disclaimer: Two considerations are made for this team:

1. Players production in correlation to team success & laying the foundation for continued growth & success.

2. My desire to coach/enjoyment level of seeing these kids play.

So, inclusion here is the purpose. There’s four teams & 20 guys to be split amongst them. This team is built from the idea of creating an actual team of superhero players in the college game. Let’s get into it.

1st Team

Jalen Brunson, 6’3” Guard | Junior | Villanova

• 19.4 pts 4.7 asts 41% 4FG• Big East Player of the Year• Wooden Award Finalist

Trae Young 6’2” Guard | Freshman | Oklahoma

• 27.4 pts 8.7 asts 86% FT • Big 12 Freshman of the Year • Wood Award Finalist

Miles Bridges 6’7” Forward | Sophomore | Michigan State

• 16.9 points, 6.9 rebs, 2.8 assists, 88% FT

Marvin Bagley III 6’11” Center | Freshman | Duke

• 21.1pts 11.5 rebs 61% FG, 37% 3FG• ACC Player, Freshman of the Year

DeAndre Ayton 7’1” Center | Freshman | Arizona

• 20.3pts, 8.2 rebs,, 62% Fg, 36%  3Fg• Pac-12 Player, Freshman of the Year, All Pac-12 First Team, Defensive Team

I dare you to direct me to a better quintet in college basketball this season. Jalen Brunson has been a starter in 109 of the 110 games he’s played at the Division I level & it shows. Coaches, take notes. Stop sitting freshmen because they’re freshmen.

Trae Young gave us the best freshmen season we’ve ever seen from a guard during the same season that Marvin Bagley III (more on him later) did for the post game. But please, stop with the Steph comparisons. The analysts don’t have anything better to do & old dogs don’t hear well. But I challenge my generation to educate themselves to the capacity that we no longer rely on player comps to get a point across. I can confidently project the thought process I have for any player I speak on. Feel free to @ me.

Miles Bridges is an absolute winner. He didn’t have to come back & did. Here’s to him taking his coach to a title & his talents to the NBA, where he’ll be appreciated as opposed to lied on.

Random Fact: DeAndre Ayton & Marvin Bagley III played high school ball together. Let that sink in.

2nd Team

Devonte’ Graham 6’2” Guard | Senior | Kansas

• 17.3 pts, 7.5 assists, 38 minutes • Big 12 Player of the Year

Kyle Guy 6’3” Guard | Sophomore | Virginia

• 14.1 pts, 50% 3FG, .6 turnovers(61 total turnovers in career)

Trevon Bluiett 6’6” Forward | Senior | Xavier

• 19.5 pts, 5.7 rebs, 25 asts, 42% 3FG, 86% FT

Luke Maye 6’7” Forward | Junior | North Carolina

• 17.2 pts, 10.1 rebs, 44% 3FG

Jock Landale 6’11 Center | Senior | St Mary’s

• 21.5pts, 10.1 rebs, 64% FG, 65% 2FG

This second team is filled with low mistake, high IQ guys who are going to be efficient, effective & elaborate with everything you do. You trust your recruits to spend time with these guys. They’re your team captains in just about every setting they’ve been in.

Here’s hoping Luke Maye ignites a trend across the country. If guys are working hard, they deserve opportunities. Regardless of how many stars ESPN gave them while seeing them in mostly AAU settings only.

3rd Team

Jevon Carter | 6’2” Guard | Senior | West Virginia

• 17.0 pts, 6.6 asts, 2.9 steals• Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year

Keenan Evans | 6’3” Guard | Senior | Texas Tech

• 17.5 pts, 3.0 rebs, 3.1 asts• 2nd in Big 12 in FT attempts

Gary Clark | 6’8” Guard | Senior | Cincinnati

• 13.0 pts, 8.5 rebs, 43% from deep• AAC Player of the Year

Mike Daum | 6’9” Forward | Junior | South Dakota State

• 23.8 pts, 10.4 rebs, 42% 3Fg, 86% FT• Back-to-back Summit League Player of the Year

Keita Bates-Diop | 6’7” Guard | RS Junior | Ohio State

• 19.4 pts, 8.8 rebs, 1.1 asts• Big Ten Player of the Year

The lunch pail & hard hat guys that you absolutely know will bring it every night. Also, Gary Clark is the most productive, valuable player in college basketball. Highly efficient. Terrific IQ. The NBA loves potential & youth but as we transition towards improving the pro model, its time these veteran college guys stop being disrespected.

Imagine if we celebrated CJ McCollum & Malcolm Brogdon as much as we talk about Lonzo Ball & Jayson Tatum.

4th Team

Aaron Holiday | 6’1” Guard | Junior | UCLA

• 20.3 pts, 5.8 asts, 1.3 stls, 43% 3FG

Carsen Edwards | 6’1 Guard | Sophomore | Purdue

• 18.5 pts, 3.9 rebs, 3.0 asts, 41% 3FG, 81% FT

Wendell Carter Jr | 6’10 Forward | Freshman | Duke

• 13.8 pts, 9.3 rebs, 2.1 asts.• 56% FG, 46% 3Fg, 73% FT

Mikal Bridges | 6’7” Forward | RS Junior | Villanova

• 18.0 pts, 5.4 rebs, 1.1 blks, 2.1 asts,• 52% FG, 43% 3FG, 85% FT

Nick King | 6’7” Guard-Forward | Senior | Middle Tennessee State

• 20.9 pts, 8.5 rebs, 39% 3FG

Bright bright futures ahead for every young man on this list, including the only senior. Trials & tribulations make a man stronger, wiser. Nick King has seen his share of adversity so him being able to finish college basketball on his terms, playing at a high level & taking home a conference player of the year, after all the new homes he’s had to adjust to is a story that needs to be heard. One that should be told boldly.

Mikal Bridges has so many tools on both ends of the floor & hasn’t even figured it out yet. Guys like he & Wendell Carter Jr are why I’m working so hard to get to my spot on the sidelines.

This caliber of talent deserves someone who will be excited to go to work with them & create new art with their talent every game.

What teams to watch in men's NCAA tournament
ESPN

ESPN

The number one overall seed wasn’t ranked to begin the year --are we finally allowed to replace the voter’s panel yet?

We never got to see Billy Preston, Mitchell Robinson or Deanthony Melton play this season.

Allegedly, the investigation into corruption in college hoops has been completed yet penalties won’t be handed down until the day after the national championship.

Tony Bennett has built this Virginia program up in a way that many would’ve called a waste of time in this era. Defense first. A commitment to the program, the team above all else. So many other teams around the country are shifting their principles & allowing substandard activity to tarnish their legacy, meanwhile Coach Bennett is trying to bring back glory days reminiscent of short-shorts & players actually wanting to take your head off if it allowed an advantage to the ball.

Let’s slide a little further South: Mike Krzyzewski fought off the one & done model as long as he could. It’s fitting he’s the only coach to be successful with the model, winning a natty in 2015 with Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones & Justice Winslow leading the way. The difference with that team was a balance of experience & veteran leadership. Another of the freshmen, & likely the least successful pro of the bunch has been around every year since & a leader he is not. This team is likely the most talented & dynamic K has ever coached yet it also doubles as the most likely to be upset by a team that shouldn’t even be within 15 points of them. Attention to detail, a capacity for failure & pride is a huge part of success in college basketball. Duke seems to be lacking the entirety of this humble triumvirate.

Before we dive into the real point of this article, let’s make one last jump across the country. For all the confrustration (confusion + frustration) that has been Duke basketball, the hottest take in the country all season has been surrounding the Oklahoma Basketball Sooners & Trae Young. OU seems to have the most polarizing players in both of its high-yielding sports & they have taken advantage of the spotlight associated with it.

Did OU’s second half of the season warrant inclusion in the NCAA tournament over an Oklahoma St team it got run over by twice also swept Big 12 Champ Kansas?

So yeah. Most wide-open field ever.

Spoiler Alert: None of the teams mentioned above appears again in a positive light.

Gonzaga

Zach Collins is in the NBA & Przemek Karnowski could help many of the teams there. Yet Mark Few continues to reinvent himself every season & finds a way to make his team relevant from a national standpoint.

The OG vein of coaches typically bring a style & a system to the table & recruit to said philosophies. The millennial coach, the new generation coach that will have success & soon will become the standard will be basketball purists who enjoy the idea of each season being a piece of artwork. You have to enjoy the journey that becomes the painting that is your season. The demand for a winning culture either cultivates pressure or it creates opportunity. The Zags very likely will be one of the last teams standing again as they rate 6th in the country in defending the two.

New Mexico State/Murray State

To be completely candid, there wouldn’t be any amount of shock if every 12 seed in the tourney advances. The 5-seeds:

West Virginia, Kentucky, Clemson & Ohio State have all been exposed in one way or another. Fast forward to March & the 5-seed is never a gift.

No 5 seed has ever won a national championship & the only two to ever make a Final four (Butler & Michigan State in 2010) had arguments for being under seeded.

These teams find themselves here as they have tons in common: defensive systems committed to being disruptive, elite athletes who have committed to the system & a Buchanan from Mississippi that Smoove had a hand in cultivating before now.

These kids have worked their entire lives for this moment & chose the schools they did for a chance to shock the world.

What are the chances they both advance to the Sweet 16 out of San Diego? You’ll just have to watch & find out.

11-seeds

Congratulations Florida & TCU. You’ve drawn the teams with the most to prove in this year’s tournament without having fully established an identity for yourselves. This is your tape. Regardless of who wins either play-in game, not only are you playing a team of equal or greater talent, but the nerves are gone.

Houston, of its own volition, has the potential to shake up the tournament as a confident, well-coached Kelvin Sampson team has before but looking past Steve Fisher’s protégé would be a mistake. All four 11-seeds could change the trajectory of this tournament but be on the lookout for at least one. My bet?

The Ramblers of Loyola Chicago.

Arizona

The team with the most to prove, the most dominant player in the country on a nightly basis & the coach whose name has been drug through the mud the most over the last 60 days.

This is a team that has every reason to fail. Most bets have them failing & in order to win a national championship, teams have to thrive in adversity.

You have to have the capacity to win ugly games.

Win games with your third or fourth offense.

DeAndre Ayton gives Zona the type of game changing player necessary to accomplish these things.

Not to mention some veteran, frustrated help around him.

Michigan State

Is this the year it all comes together for Izzo & crew to bring home their second national championship? All signs say yes.

The most wide-open season field ever feels a lot like that tournament in 2000 that was filled with upsets & teams playing above their seeding.

That 2000 team had made the Final Four the previous year before losing to Duke. Cleaves could’ve gone to the NBA but decided to return to school. The rest is history.

The NCAA's one-and-done problem is the NBA's fault
(Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

(Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

The One and Done era is a timeframe in which no entity, organization or person wants to take credit for.  No one wants to take credit for 17 & 18- year-old basketball players in America not being allowed to make an honest living for themselves and their families.  When it is worded like that, it sounds worse than the NBA wanting their players to be a year removed from high school to enter their league.

Lots of people have thrown blame on everyone for this rule that the NBA instituted in 2006; agents, the NCAA (whom I love blaming for just about everything but this is not that time) and even the media.  Unfortunately, the blame lies with none of them but with, surprise surprise, the NBA.  More specifically, the front offices of all 30 teams in the NBA.

In the spring of 1995, pre-social media, there was a rumor that a high school senior out of Farragut Academy in Chicago was going to enter the NBA Draft.  Prep hoops back then was not the money hype machine that it is today so high school players weren’t big celebrities like they are today (see Williamson, Zion.). No one nationally had heard of this kid but thanks to these rumors, Kevin Garnett was starting to become a known name.

Garnett would not be the first player to go from high school to the NBA, as Moses Malone had that distinction in 1974, but he would be the first to make the leap in over 20 years. The Minnesota Timberwolves took a risk by drafting Garnett fifth overall in the 1995 NBA Draft but that risk soon paid off as he made his first All-Star team in only second season and looked to be the next evolution at the power forward position.

You may have heard in reference to all professional leagues that “it’s a copycat league”. That definitely fit the NBA from 1995-2005 when, due to the arrogance of the NBA front office execs they ushered in the One-and-Done era that required a basketball player to be one year removed from high school before they can declare for the draft.

Yes, the Timberwolves struck gold with Garnett in 1995, the Lakers did the same in trading for a young Kobe Bryant on draft night in 1996, the Raptors unearthed a diamond in the rough with Tracy McGrady in 1997 and in 2003, drafting LeBron was a no-brainer for any team, especially for the home state Cleveland Cavaliers.  The problem with those success stories during the decade is that NBA execs kept trying to recreate that by drafting high school players at a rapid rate who did not come close to the measurables of the prior four.

See, the problem isn’t that high school players entered the draft, the problem that they were drafted in hopes of being the next KG or Kobe or T-Mac or LeBron; or even the next Dwight Howard, JR Smith or Al Jefferson. But they won’t get someone else in another player, they won’t even get the second coming of another player; however that will not stop them from drafting a high school player high.

Think back to when you were 17 or 18 and the mindset you had. Now imagine one of the biggest organizations or companies in the world notices your talent and offers to make you an instant millionaire to work for them. You will have $10 million dollars in your bank account before you turn 21. The only catch with the job because, of course there’s a catch, is that you have to be the face of the company, improve rapidly, mature much sooner than you’re expected to and don’t do anything to embarrass the company even though you’re a kid. If that catch isn’t met, no big deal, your contract won’t be renewed and you’ll be seen as a bust and your ability to be hired elsewhere will be spotty at best. Sounds pretty unfair to me.

That is exactly what high school players are asked to do when they are drafted into the NBA, especially if they’re drafted in the lottery. Drafting an athlete into your league is risky no matter their age and background. Drafting an athlete that has experience, assumed maturity and has seen ups and downs throughout a brief career is a safer bet than a teenager that can jump high.  Be smarter NBA execs and remove your ego.  High school basketball players should be able to enter the NBA Draft and be afforded the opportunity to provide for themselves and their family. Doesn’t mean they should have the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Reforming college basketball

So... let’s rap:

Imagine a world where the truth isn’t kept from you at all. You’re told from the jump that the system is built to work against you. Not because you’re inferior or unworthy. Simply because you pose the biggest threat. The status quo has remained because it allows for a certain demographic to remain centered. To remain powerful.