From the archives . . .

Editors note: This is not "best of Hoop Time." This is just one story we were able to recover from an old Mac disk I found. This piece originally appeared in early Jan. 1998 on the old Hoop Time Web site. I had a job interview in Charlotte and the folks wanted me to stay the weekend to check out the area. Old FOHT (Friend of Hoop Time) Rick Hartzell, then AD at Bucknell, just happened to be working the Carolina at Clemson game that weekend. We hooked up a media pass by working the Rick angle and made plans to spend Saturday driving the rental car down to Clemson for the game. The night before, after the interview that lasted most of Friday afternoon, I decided to drive to Charlotte Coliseum to see a Hornets game. It was spur of the moment. Not being an NBA fan, I hadn't even checked ahead to see if they were in town. Back in the hotel after interview, they mentioned the game during the six o'clock news. I decided rather than sit in my hotel room watching TV, I might as well go see if I could pick up a cheap ticket for the game. The following piece was written about that weekend, in part to cover my job interview tracks since I only mentioned the Carolina game when I asked for Friday off to go to Charlotte. Anyhow, here's how it appeared then, with the addition of a few links.

It would be hard to explain the way I feel about the NBA without finding a way to sneak in a favorite Bobby Knight quote. It goes something like this:
"If the NBA was on channel 5 and they were showing frogs making love on channel 4, I'd watch channel 4 -- even if the picture was fuzzy."
As Knight also pointed out, it isn't so much a matter of disliking the NBA as it is a simple case of being a basketball fan. With its trampoline-propelled dunking mascots and the non-cheering cheerleaders in spandex belly shirts who sit at courtside shaking their pom-poms and whatever, the NBA has gone beyond being a game into the over-hyped world of big money entertainment.

That much was known before plunking a pair of 20's into an independent ticket consultant's hands about three minutes before tip off at the Charlotte Coliseum Friday night. The Charlotte Hornets are off to their best start ever in terms of wins and losses. But the Hornets are no longer packing the 23,000-seat Hive the way they did when the team led the NBA in attendance for four seasons in a row. Even with the Eastern Division leading Miami Heat, with coach Pat Riley, Dream Teamers Tim Hardaway and much-hated ex-Hornet Alonzo Mourning, in town, there were plenty of empty seats. The 40 bucks was only a dollar over the ticket's $39 face value; devalued some by the combination of it being a single seat and the fact that at least 10 other scalpers were desperately trying to dump their remaining inventory with the game about to begin.

It's no wonder the luster has worn off even as the Hornets are on the verge of establishing themselves as contenders. Folks down on Tobacco Road are accustomed to some pretty good hoops. Within a two or three hour drive of Charlotte you can reach over a dozen Division I college arenas, including five members of perhaps college basketball's most elite league -- the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The next afternoon the same $40 would have bought a better seat and a couple of T-shirts with enough change left over for a Coke at Clemson's Littlejohn Coliseum. The bargain buy? Top-ranked North Carolina at No. 21 Clemson.

Don't get me wrong, the Hornets game was not without its pluses. For one thing, I actually saw an NBA ref make a traveling call. That will be something to tell the grandkids about. Hate to admit it, but the guy in the hornet suit who goes off the mini-tramp, does a couple of flips and dunks was actually pretty cool, too. Also saw Glenn Rice put on a Jordanesque show, lighting it up for 42 points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force overtime.

But when Rice took the inbounds pass from Vlade Divac with 1.6 seconds to go and dribbled once before draining the trey from the top of the arc, the Charlotte Coliseum was a little over half full at best. Most of the crowd had skidaddled earlier, when it looked as though Miami had iced it.

Saturday afternoon in Clemson, not one of the 11,200 fans crammed into Littlejohn headed for the doors before the final buzzer assured the Tarheels of a 73-70 win. Even after Carolina took an insurmountable 6-point lead with six seconds to go, the orange-clad Tigers faithful stuck around to see Greg Buckner hit one last trey to make the final score more indicative of the type of game it was.

Littlejohn Coliseum is, by the way, one of the truly great basketball arenas in existence. The 30-year old arena has aged well. Built in the pre-luxury box era, when the function that guided the architect's form was giving fans a great seat instead of today's prevalent raking-in-the-most-bucks-from-fat-cats-and-the-heck-with-the-average-fan school of design, Littlejohn officially holds 10,980. Saturday they squeezed another 220 in and still left a big crowd of disappointed ticket seekers out in the cold, if you can call temperatures in the 60s in the first week of January "the cold."

There were no bargain tickets being dumped out in front of this game, and inside, there was no need for the PA announcer to beg the crowd to make some noise. Come to think of it, I'm not sure I ever even heard the guy after the pregame introductions. You certainly didn't need one of those NBA arena decibel meters to figure out that this place was loud.

Clemson fans aren't quite as wild as Duke's Cameron Crazies, but they are definitely a few levels higher on the intensity scale than the polite, sit-on-their-hands types that make up much of the audience in Central Pa. gyms. For starters, the percentage of students in the crowd seems much larger, though that may be an illusion created in part by the 1,216 who are squeezed together at either end of the floor, standing on the three levels of risers that were added between the baselines and the elevated first row of seats.

There's enough orange attire on hand to outfit an Army of deer hunters. The sea of orange makes life particularly tough on opposing shooters, who have to focus extra hard to see the orange rim of the basket. It also gives rise to a question: Just where the heck does one buy orange bib overalls?
North Carolina plays the game of basketball about as well as anybody. They've been doing that for years in Chapel Hill, and the retirement of Dean Smith has done nothing to diminish the quality of the Tarheels play.

The Heels are ranked No. 1 for good reason. Six of the top seven from last season's Final Four team are back, including junior Antawn Jamison, who led the team in scoring and rebounding a year ago. Guard Shammond Williams was the MVP of both the ACC Tournament and the NCAA East Regional last season and sixth man Vince Carter is being talked about in lottery pick terms.

When that kind of talent plays together as a team, it's tough to beat, as evidenced by the Tarheels' 15-0 start against a schedule that has been fraught with potential pitfalls. Saturday's win was Carolina's sixth over a ranked opponent, all but one of which has come outside of the Dean Dome. It was the Tarheel's fourth straight road game, a stretch that included games at No. 17 Florida State, at Georgia and at No. 21 Clemson.

"Dean Smith told me these games were going to be tough," said NC coach Bill Guthridge, who was an assistant to Smith for 30 years and 785 wins before being named as Smith's replacement prior to this season. "Dean said if we were lucky, we'd win one of the three; if we were good we'd win two and if we were greedy, we'd win three.

"I guess we were greedy," said Guthridge.

Actually, it's been quite the opposite. A big key to Carolina's success has been a lack of greed. With as many capable scorers as the Tarheels have, you might worry there wouldn't be enough basketballs to go around. But this team is unbeaten in no small part because of its unselfish team play.

Against Clemson, North Carolina had 17 assists on its 24 field goals. Point guard Ed Cota dished out 10 against the Tigers -- he leads the ACC; shooting guard Williams is averaging almost five assists per game, fifth-best in the conference.

That's probably the most noticeable difference in the style of play between the NBA and college games. Friday night in Charlotte, neither team shot 50 percent from the field, despite having a collection of, literally, some of the best basketball athletes in the world and despite the NBA's stupid defensive rules that pretty much limit teams to plain vanilla straight-up man-to-man.

That's because, in the NBA style of play, all to often players seem to have made up their mind they are taking a shot regardless of how well defended they might be. Watch an NBA game sometime and you'll see: when NBA teams make three or more passes on a possession, most of the time they will score. Ball movement is the key to finding open shooters and when NBA-caliber players get an open look you'd might as well count it in the scorebook.

But all too often NBA offenses are like black holes-- once the ball is passed it never returns. Some guy catches the ball, then tries to back down his defender while everybody else stands and watches.
As good as Carolina is, don't go filling in your office poll just yet. The Tarheels may be the best team in the country, but they aren't likely to win it all in March.

That's because Guthridge has been unable to develop his rotation beyond his first five and a sixth-man.

Granted those first six guys are as good as any first six in the land. But it's hard to imagine them going through an arduous regular season, a pressure-cooker ACC Tournament and three weekends of NCAA Tournament play without injury, let alone foul trouble. Against Clemson, Guthridge was forced to leave center Makitar Ndiaye in the game with four fouls, rather than play freshman backup Brendan Haywood with the game on the line in the second half. Ndiaye eventually fouled out. Had the twisted ankle that had Carter limping slightly early in the second half been serious, the Tarheels would have been in real trouble.
By the way, hard-core Bucknell fans might remember Williams from his days at Fort Union Military Academy.

All but unrecruited out of high school, Williams, who was raised in Greenville, S.C., about 20 miles from Clemson, spent a post-graduate year at Fort Union, where he blossomed into a blue chip prospect.

Against Bucknell's jayvees that season, Williams scored 8 points and had two assists in a 93-64 Fort Union win.

Folks at Clemson are likely a little sad they didn't see this talent right under their noses. After he scored 24 points to lead the Tarheels past the Tigers Saturday, Carolina is now 8-1 against Clemson when Williams is wearing the blue and white.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

©2005 Hoop Time. All rights reserved.