Nearly 10 years ago, Richard Konzem stepped out into the muggy New Orleans air, hoping for a Friday night of peace and relaxation with his wife and daughter.
Konzem, a senior associate athletic director at Kansas, had come to the Big Easy on business. The Jayhawks were back in the Final Four for the second straight year, and KU coach Roy Williams was preparing his team to face Marquette in the Louisiana Superdome.
All around the famed French Quarter, the atmosphere was infused with the proper dosage of revelry, basketball and bourbon. Kansas fans in crimson and blue packed the streets. And with the Jayhawks just two victories from an elusive NCAA title, the mood should have been joyous.
But as Konzem strolled out on the sidewalk outside the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, the KU athletic department was in turmoil. Konzem's boss, athletic director Al Bohl, would be fired after the basketball season. And the whispers had already begun: North Carolina coach Matt Doherty had resigned two days earlier, and Dean Smith was gearing up to take another run at hiring Williams.
Before Konzem could even walk a block with his wife, Deb, and daughter, Sally, a familiar face appeared.
Illinois coach Bill Self.
Years earlier, Konzem says, the two men had met at KU when Self was a graduate assistant under coach Larry Brown. The men exchanged pleasantries that Friday night and stopped for a brief chat. Self was curious about the Roy rumors, and the conversation turned to basketball. After 45 minutes, they were still there, standing on that patch of sidewalk in New Orleans.
Memories have a way of turning fuzzy over time, of course. But for nearly 10 years, Konzem has thought back to that serendipitous encounter in New Orleans.
“I remember it like it was last night,” he says.
As the two men parted ways, and Konzem went to dinner, he could not see what was coming.
But he did know one thing: In his heart, he believed Williams would stay at Kansas. But if the unthinkable came to be, Konzem knew this wouldn't be the last time he talked to Bill Self.
“I left that conversation believing if coach Williams left and the Kansas job was open,” Konzem says now, “he was interested.”
Here we are, 10 years later, and the ripple effects from April 2003 are still being felt. This afternoon, Self's Jayhawks will face Williams' Tar Heels in the Sprint Center for a spot in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
…Ten years later, the men that hired Self are no longer at KU. But the story of what could be the most crucial 14 days in Kansas history lives on. It's a tale with roots on the sidewalks of the French Quarter. But it would continue in Lawrence, where an interim athletic director was still trying to figure out which key to use for his office.
“If I would have known that I was going to have to hire a basketball coach,” says Drue Jennings, sitting in his home in Kansas City area, “I would have never taken that job.”
When the phone rang in late December 2002, Jennings was not looking for a job. A Kansas graduate and former CEO of Kansas City Power & Light, he had spent the previous few years caring for his wife, Sue, who had been in the final stages of a long and terminal battle with cancer.
But problems were festering in the Kansas athletic department. Bohl had a tenuous relationship with Williams, and the friction between the two was clouding the basketball program's future.
Chancellor Robert Hemenway called Jennings with a question: Would he consider being the school's next athletic director?
Jennings, a businessman who had grown up in a working-class family in Kansas City, Kan., told Hemenway that he didn't feel qualified. But he would do the job on an interim basis — if Hemenway decided to fire Bohl. During the following months, a succession plan crystallized. The risk of losing Williams was too strong, and Bohl needed to go. But Hemenway would wait until the end of the basketball season.
There was some concern, Konzem says, that Hemenway was waiting too long. The UCLA job would also come into the picture, and some at Kansas feared that Williams could be lured out west.
But Hemenway stayed the course. And the Jayhawks kept winning. In the moments after KU's NCAA title-game loss to Syracuse, with the North Carolina job still vacant, Williams famously told CBS reporter Bonnie Bernstein that he didn't “give a (lick) about North Carolina.”
Two days later, Bohl was fired. He gave a bizarre news conference in his driveway, saying Williams had crushed him “like a dove.”
And two days after that, with the North Carolina still rumors flying, Konzem boarded a plane with Williams and senior forward Nick Collison and headed for a postseason award ceremony in Los Angeles.
When they arrived at their first destination, the Downtown Athletic Club, former North Carolina star James Worthy was the emcee for the evening — and he was ready to talk to Williams about coming home.
It wasn't a total coincidence.
The next day, during a golf outing with Kansas booster Dana Anderson at Bel-Air Country Club, former Carolina All-American Mitch Kupchak showed up to talk shop.
“(Dean) Smith had basically assigned a different Carolina legendary player each day to call or be around Coach Williams,” Konzem says.
By late Sunday night, the traveling party hopped a flight back to Lawrence. For days, Williams had appeared torn by the decision, the same one he'd agonized over three years earlier, when he decided to stay at Kansas.
Nearly 15 years earlier, when Williams had interviewed for the Kansas job, Konzem, then a younger staffer in the athletic department, had ripped Williams' page out of the North Carolina media guide and headed for the airport. Now, as the flight touched down in Lawrence, Konzem looked over at his friend.
“I will remember this as vividly as yesterday,” he says. “I looked over at coach Williams, and our eyes met, and he dropped his head. And I thought, ‘Oh my God, he's leaving.”'
…Jennings, 66, is retired for good now. He spends his days on corporate and private boards — “I think I'm on about eight of them,” he says — and is busy watching his grandchildren grow up.
He spent more than three decades in the Kansas City civic community, a key figure in one of the area's most prominent industries. But after 10 years, his grandchildren mostly know their grandpa as the man who hired Bill Self.
“To this day,” he says, “nobody remembers me for being the CEO for KCPL; they remember me for being the guy that hired Bill Self. A 90-day job.”
On the day Williams left Kansas — April 14, 2003 — Jennings and Konzem sequestered themselves in a KU campus office and went to work. According to Jennings, the early discussions were spent compiling names and deciding on qualifications.
Williams had been such a dominant presence at Kansas. Maybe it would be wise to hire a veteran coach who could handle the burden of following a legend — maybe that coach could bridge the gap to a long-term solution.
“We decided,” Jennings says, “that the best thing to do was to get somebody who was relatively young who could continue KU's traditions.
”And it's not easy to do. The expectation that people have with the basketball coach at KU are pretty lofty. You've gotta try and build a team that people are proud to be associated with.“
The initial list, Jennings says, had 10 to 12 names on it. But Jennings and Konzem kept coming back to Self. He had been at Kansas before, a graduate assistant under Brown in 1985-86. And his roots were in the Big Eight Conference as a player and assistant at Oklahoma State.
According to Konzem, the four-person search committee used former KU players, including Collison and Jacque Vaughn, to gain intelligence from former players who had played for Self. Ten years later, Konzem still has the notes on Self in his files.
”They play defense.“
”He does the right things on and off the court.“
”He's a Big 12 guy.“
In a matter of days, the four-person search committee, which also included Hemenway and associate athletic director Doug Vance, had a short list. Jennings and Konzem wouldn't identify the names, but according to a source with knowledge of the situation, the committee held preliminary phone interviews with Marquette's Tom Crean, Oregon's Ernie Kent and Wichita State's Mark Turgeon. But the conversation with Self stood out.
”Bill wasn't nearly as worried about what he was going to get paid as he was feeling out the territory about what it was going to be like to follow Roy,“ Jennings says. ”And more importantly, he was more focused on what was available for him to recruit with. What were the facilities like?“
Six days after the search began, Jennings was boarding a flight for Champaign, Ill. By Monday — April 21, 2003 — Self was officially announced as the man who would replace Williams.
Ten years later, Jennings and Hemenway are retired, and Konzem is the CEO of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America in Lawrence. But for one week in April 2003, they set out to replace a budding KU basketball legend.
And they found another in Bill Self.
”Has he exceeded expectations that we could have ever imagined?“ Konzem says. ”Yes. It's just crazy how good the guy has been.“
Today, Self will go for his 300th victory at Kansas. And Williams will be on the other sideline.
Ten years earlier, just a few weeks after that fateful meeting in New Orleans, Self arrived in Lawrence. During his introductory news conference, he accepted a symbolic ”coach's chair“ from Hemenway. He held it for a moment that day, paused, and then spoke.
”It feels hot,“ he said.
The KC Star via The Oklahoman
Sunday, March 24:
Pre-Game Party: 1:00pm (Z-Strike)
Kansas Jayhawks Pep Rally: 2:30pm (main stage of the Power & Light District)
Tip Off: 4:15pm or 30 minutes following the conclusion of the LeSalle/Ole Miss game
Can't make it? Follow the game on @KUGameday, listen in on Jayhawk Radio Network.
LJW Photos: Saturday Practice Day
KUAD: Kansas previews North Carolina
KUAD: North Carolina vs Kansas Pregame Notes
Self, who won his 500th game earlier this year — he’s 506-163 in 20 seasons — today goes for his 300th victory in 10 seasons at KU. He’s 299-58.
“There are good players on both teams,” Self said.
The Tar Heels, in fact, start five McDonald’s All-Americans (guards Reggie Bullock, P.J. Hairston, Marcus Paige, Dexter Strickland and center James Michael McAdoo), while KU brings All-American Perry Ellis off the bench.
“They (teams) are tradition-rich, intertwined with coach (Dean) Smith playing on the (KU) 1952 national championship team and him being maybe as innovative and great a leader of a program we’ve ever seen at North Carolina and coach (Larry) Brown being a great player there and winning a national championship here. Coach Williams obviously had 15 great years here, now being the head coach there,” Self added.
“There are some bitter rivalries out there, but I don’t see anything bitter about this at all. What’s unbelievable (is) in the tradition-rich years of both our programs, we’ve only played 10 times, and almost all have been in the NCAA Tournament. They (meetings) are few and far between, so I’m sure the fan base of both programs will enjoy the game.”
“Everyone talks about payback,” UNC forward James Michael McAdoo said, “but they won the game fair and square. We’re just excited to go back and compete against such a great team. A lot of teams are home today and their seasons are over.”
...“Just knowing that we have our primary ball-handler out there on the floor, the person who can get us into our offense, the person who’s very unselfish with the ball, is very big,” said 6-7 junior Reggie Bullock. “Last year was a struggle for us because we didn’t have Kendall to match up with KU. But this year we have our starting point guard, and hopefully that’ll lead to a better outcome.”
…Midway through the season, Williams shifted to a four-guard approach. The move did wonders for the Tar Heels and has them playing their best basketball of the season when it matters most. Williams admitted Saturday that he’s still a little surprised he did it.
“It was scary,” he said. “I was not comfortable with it. I’m still not comfortable with it. I’m comfortable with (former Jayhawk big men) Greg Ostertag, Scot Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collison, Drew Gooden, Wayne Simien, with those kind of post players that you can play two at the same time and maybe even put a third one in there. (Former UNC big men) Sean May, Jawad Williams, Marvin Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, Tyler Zeller, that’s what I’m more comfortable with.”
As for which team will benefit most from the match-up challenge that UNC’s lineup creates, UNC’s Marcus Paige said that could decide this one.
“I think it can go both ways because they have to try to match up with us on the perimeter, but at the same time we have to try our best to match them on the inside,” he said. “Whoever can win that kind of battle is probably gonna win the game.”
…KU freshman Ben McLemore has scored just 26 points in his last three games, but Kansas’ leading scorer still has the complete attention of UNC’s defense.
“I’m up for the challenge,” said Bullock, who revealed that he would start out on McLemore. “We have a similar game. I just have to limit his touches, from getting wide-open jumpers. It’s just going to be my challenge on the defensive end. I’m ready for it.”
Withey stated expanding his shooting range as an offseason goal, and in recent weeks he has shown he met that goal.
“I worked a lot on that this summer,” Withey said. “Coach (Norm) Roberts and I shoot a lot. It’s something I didn’t do really well last year, and a couple of times last year I would get it 15 feet out, but my defender wouldn’t guard me. They would just double T-Rob (Thomas Robinson, now with the Houston Rockets). That’s something I didn’t want to happen this year.”
As usual, Withey will guard and be guarded by a shorter opponent, 6-9 sophomore James Michael McAdoo.
“I feel like he’s great on the offensive end, too,” McAdoo said. “His teammates look to find him. I think that’s a big thing that we just need to limit his touches deep in the post.”
Withey likened North Carolina’s personnel to that of Iowa State, but noted that whereas the Cyclones spread the floor and shoot threes from all five positions, McAdoo does not have that kind of range.
“I won’t have to play out on the perimeter as much, so I think that helps out our team a lot,” Withey said. “That way I can clog up the paint. McAdoo’s a great player. I’m not saying he’s not, but I’ll be able to clog up the paint, help everybody out if they get beat off the dribble. I think we have an advantage on the offensive side. I think we can go inside with Kevin and me. Whenever you play against four guards, you have to take advantage of it.”
LJW Newell: Three reasons I think UNC doesn't match up well with KU
The Kansas basketball team is practicing in front of Bill Self one day at Allen Fieldhouse and the coach is shaking his head. He is smiling. Those are his guys out there, and he loves them. This is a mash-up of blue-chippers and overlooked recruits and transfers that have a special place in his heart, no matter what.
One of them might be the first pick in the NBA Draft. Another is his son. There isn't a guy on this team who's kept Self awake late at night. There isn't a guy on this team to whom Self can't get through. Really, they are a joy.
Just one problem.
"Nicest bunch of kids I've ever been around," he says, and he doesn't necessarily intend it as a compliment.
Self likes mean. Or, at least, he likes guys who play mean. Calls them assassins. Actually, if the cameras aren't around he uses a different word with the same first three letters, and he built much of his success at Kansas on them. Thomas Robinson. Tyshawn Taylor. Brandon Rush. Sherron Collins. The Morris twins.
There is no one like that on the nicest-bunch-of-kids-I've-ever-been-around, so Self is left to cultivate a meanness, and nobody personifies that better than Jeff Withey as Kansas and North Carolina play Sunday at the Sprint Center for a spot in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
…"He's always been a goofy, playing-around kind of guy," KU senior Elijah Johnson says. "But at the same time, two seconds later, he can snap into game mode."
This strange juxtaposition means that a nice kid is one of college basketball's most impactful players. Withey is the Big 12 defensive player of the year and the nation's leading shot blocker. Nearly one out of every six shots the opponent takes when he's on the floor is blocked. You can guess how many of the five others are changed.
This is a reputation Withey has earned. Kansas and Carolina played a year ago in this tournament, you know. Withey blocked 10 shots in KU's Sweet 16 win, but Carolina's James Michael McAdoo still made the odd comment on the day before the Elite Eight that the Tar Heels weren't particularly concerned about Withey. He scored 15 points with eight rebounds and three blocks as KU beat Carolina. So this time, the Tar Heels are plenty concerned about Withey.
…Withey needed to find his inner T-Rob, that assassin quality that Self is so fond of. You'll see it in glimpses. A scream. A stare. A snarl. Withey will go back to being a 7-foot sweetheart after the game, but for two hours or so when the cameras are rolling, the nicest bunch of kids Self has ever been around need him to be someone else.
KC Star Mellinger
“We talked about not letting nerves get the best of us and talked about how this is our last go-round,” senior center Jeff Withey said. “Ben (McLemore, freshman) is probably going to go to the NBA, and we’re all seniors (other four starters). If some things went wrong, we could have been done. Our season would have been done, and we’d never played again at Kansas. We’ve got to be more intense and focused and not let nerves get the best of us.”
Senior Elijah Johnson said the Jayhawks’ frame of mind will be fine for today’s 4:15 p.m., third-round game against North Carolina in Sprint Center.
“Be aggressive, have fun, not be uptight,” Johnson said. “Getting off to a good start. That starts in the morning when we wake up, having fun. You’ve just got to relax. It can be tough if you make it tough. Last night we made it tough.”
KU coach Bill Self acknowledged his squad “tried hard. We were just tight. That game is behind us. I don’t think that game will have anything to do with how we play (against North Carolina) at all.”
“The first game there’s so many nerves going around,” Withey said. “For a 1-seed, you don’t want to make history. You don’t want to be talked about forever. Now that’s over with.”
Sure, the Jayhawks escaped as another No. 1 seed to make it to the Round of 32. That pressure’s gone. However, does that mean all of the nerves, the jitters, the pressures are behind them?
With KU’s next game being against another basketball “blue blood,” against KU’s former coach Roy Williams, in front of a mostly pro-KU crowd, that pressure won’t be easily lifted from the top-seeded Jayhawks.
“We want to go out and prove who’s the bigger and better program,” Travis Releford said. “I feel like there’s a lot on the line.”
Not only do the Jayhawks have to deal with the tension that will build if they’re playing in a tight game in front of their fans that naturally tended to groan as KU failed to extend any true lead against the Hilltoppers, but they also have to deal with knowing that the fortunate results can’t always be there.
Withey likes to look at it from a historical perspective. Recent history, that is.
Just one season ago, the Jayhawks were entrenched in battle after battle as deep NCAA Tournament runs so often go. They cruised against Detroit in the first round, but then came Purdue and a substantial comeback was needed. The Jayhawks were 1-for-13 from 3 against NC State and still won 60-57.
The games where KU doesn’t shoot well, the games that aren’t pretty, almost seem to be when Withey and the Jayhawks are most comfortable.
“We’ve had so many ugly, grind-it-out games that we’re used to them,” Withey said. “We’ve got to make games ugly. We know we can win those ugly games.”
McLemore didn’t ask for this, but the spotlight is his nonetheless.
“It’s not really fair to him, but it’s his responsibility,” forward Kevin Young said. “He’s got to step up to the plate.”
McLemore’s first tournament game didn’t yield a sparkling performance. The freshman guard was 2-for-5 from the floor, a layup and a lob dunk representing his only field goals. He committed four turnovers and never appeared fully engaged, yet the Jayhawks held on for a 64-57 victory.
That’s proof in itself, McLemore said, that KU’s tournament fortunes don’t depend on one player.
“I don’t want to try to think there’s too much pressure on me,” McLemore said. “I’ve just got to go out there and just play my game.
“As you can see, if I’m not having a good game, we can still find a way to pull off a win and still play Kansas ball.”
That was Western Kentucky, though, and next it’s North Carolina. McLemore’s teammates have been telling him not to dwell on Friday’s game, realizing they will need him at his best Sunday against the Tar Heels.
“I think he’s going to come ready,” center Jeff Withey said. “He’s a great basketball player. We need him to be an assassin and help us get points, because he’s the best player out on the floor every time. We need him to act like it.”
Teammates offer encouragement, but none of them can fully relate. KU’s four seniors eased into the college basketball experience, playing minor roles at most until they came of age.
After sitting out last season for academic reasons, McLemore was thrust into a starring role immediately and responded with one of the best seasons ever for a KU freshman. It’s a different kind of pressure, though, when each game has the potential to end a season.
“We can see how someone in his situation would have a hard time in his first NCAA game,” senior Travis Releford said. “When we were that age, we weren’t even out there on the court in an NCAA Tournament game, so for him to be out there trying to make things happen and still trying to keep the same focus that he had throughout the season would be tough on any young kid.”
The only way this meeting creates much of a stink is if North Carolina happens to win.
The bracket suggests the Tar Heels are more flawed as an eight-seed.
Why, Williams, who rigidly plays through his bigs, changed his lineup in early February to incorporate four guards because his team was wobbling toward the NIT. The makeover into perimeter bombers was made after Miami crushed North Carolina 87-61.
“It felt like we lost by 150,” Williams said. “Most coaches develop a style that they stick with most of the time. If you’ve done it for 25 years as a head coach, you’re probably not going to change.’’
Yes, Roy’s been at it 25 years now. He recorded his 700th career win Friday when North Carolina held off Villanova in its NCAA opener. The majority of those victories (418) were achieved at KU.
Some day, probably after he retires, maybe after he gets 15 years in directing North Carolina just like he did Kansas, Williams will be invited back into Allen Fieldhouse. He’ll be paraded, recognized, cheered.
On his terms — not as an opposing coach.
“I will never walk out of that far tunnel,’’ he said. “That will never happen.’’
The NCAA, however, has the authority to send Williams into the Jayhawks’ second home, Kansas City. By doing so, Kansas gets Roy again. Yet, as Self alluded to, it’s North Carolina that merits the Jayhawks’ attention.
“We’ll be very different, with more energy, playing a lot more loose,’’ said KU senior Travis Releford, who went on to add that the Jayhawks must forge their own identity in this particular name game.
“I think it helps, playing North Carolina, but it shouldn’t be determined on the name how well you play.’’
At their shoot-around on Thursday and again during Friday’s win over Villanova, the North Carolina Tar Heels received rousing ovations from an unlikely group of supporters.
For nearly a decade almost anyone who called themselves a Jayhawk held resentment toward former coach Roy Williams for leaving KU in 2003 and returning to North Carolina, his alma mater. But if this week is any indication, Kansas fans have moved on and come to appreciate Williams for what he accomplished during his 15 seasons in Lawrence.
…“Nobody can ever take away that he did a fabulous job and ran a first-class program [at Kansas],” Self said. “Anybody that doesn’t feel that way isn’t real, because that’s the reality of it.
“Since we’ve had a chance to play a couple of times in the tournament, I think there were some story lines [before] that probably aren’t as good of a story line now.”
Self has certainly made it easy for KU fans to move on. By beating No. 16 seed Western Kentucky Friday, Self became the first coach in history to guide his team to four consecutive 30-win seasons.
“It’s the kind of game you always dream about as a kid to play in,” the Tar Heels’ Jackson Simmons said. “It’s Kansas. It’s North Carolina. It’s two great programs that have won national championships. It’s going to be a lot of fun to play in Kansas City on Sunday.”
Fun would be one way to describe it. Intimidating might be another.
The Jayhawks will be playing about 40 miles from campus, and there should be a decidedly darker hue of blue than what the Tar Heels (25-10) are accustomed to seeing in the stands.
“We’ve played in some hostile environments this year,” North Carolina guard Marcus Paige said. “It hopefully won’t have much effect. We just have to worry about what’s happening on the court.”
Daily Tar Heel: UNC-Kansas through the years
KUAD: WBB Kansas defeats Colorado postgame notes, quotes, photos, box score
Even as Kansas continued to hit shots and Colorado continued to miss shots, there was a belief in the Coors Events Center that the Buffaloes would turn it around.
Yet, the seconds kept melting off the clock, CU's shots kept missing the hoop and reality set in.
A special season came to a not-so-special ending on Saturday night.
Back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004, the Colorado women's basketball team was shocked by former Big 12 rival Kansas, 67-52, at Coors Events Center. Kansas will play South Carolina (25-7) in the second round Monday at 7:30 p.m. at Coors Events Center.
CU, in fact, is the first No. 5 to lose to a No. 12 since 2010, when Green Bay upset Virginia. Including Saturday's games, No. 5s are now 62-17 against No. 12s since the NCAA went to a 64-team bracket in 1994.
Kansas, however, was surprisingly dominant against a CU team that had not lost to an unranked opponent all season. The Jayhawks hit 45.9 percent of their shots (28-of-61), compared to 25.4 percent (16-of-63) for CU. KU also matched the normally dominant Buffs on the boards, 42-42.
"I don't necessarily think we didn't match up well," said Jeffery, who finished 0-6 in her career against Kansas. "I thought we matched up pretty well. It's just a matter of getting stops and we weren't getting enough stops, and we weren't executing our offense, so it made it tough for us to stay in the game that way."
KU point guard Angel Goodrich hurt the Buffs all night, finishing with 14 points and eight assists. Forward Carolyn Davis did plenty of damage, too, with 14 points and eight rebounds. Chelsea Gardner (12 points, nine rebounds), Charlicia Harper (12 points, six rebounds) and Monica Engelman (10 points, six rebounds) were also great for the Jayhawks.
The Daily Camera
In midst of the Madness sign up for my Free Throw Challenge benefitting 2 non-profits. Fun-prizes-Allen Fieldhouse!
VOTE for Kansas players, team, and moment in NCAA 75th Anniversary of March Madness (Vote for Wilt, Clyde, Danny, 51-52 Kansas, Mario's Miracle)
Big 12/College News
Marshall Henderson also says only grief he got from fans in Power & Light last night was from #Mizzou fans.
3/24/13, 2:09 AM
Wichita State went 2-20 on Thursday went 14-28 on Saturday #MarchMadness #Shockers
3/24/13, 12:26 AM
Wichita State was down 6 w/ 7:55 left. Their next 9 poss: Made layup, Made 3, Made 3, Made 3, Made jumper, 2-2 FTs, Made 3, Made 3, 2-2 FTs
Among the weird things about this Saturday of the tournament is that we still only know one Sweet 16 matchup. It's Louisville-Oregon. The seven other games that'll be played Thursday and Friday remain undetermined because we have a Saturday winner waiting on a Sunday winner in each case, which means seven Sweet 16 matchups will feature one team playing on an extra day of rest.
Does that really matter?
I don't know.
But it should be noted that this happened in four of the eight Sweet 16 games last season, and that the team with the most rest won three of those four games.
Municipal Auditorium, the most historic place in La Salle University men’s basketball, still stands at the corner of West 13th and Wyandotte Streets here. A breathtaking mix of art deco and curving forms, it remains home to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (N.A.I.A.) Division I national championship and other events. On Saturday, it hosted a cheerleading competition.
Lionel Simmons, one of the best players in La Salle’s history, said he hoped to sneak a look inside the arena before heading home to South Philadelphia on Monday. It was at the Auditorium in 1954 that a team led by the four-time all-American Tom Gola —La Salle’s greatest player and a mentor to Simmons — defeated Bradley to win the university’s only national championship.
A year later, Gola and La Salle returned to the Auditorium and lost the N.C.A.A. final to San Francisco and the future Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Bill Russell. The golden age of La Salle basketball coincided with the Gola years, from 1952 to 1955, and the Explorers have rarely made much of a splash since. Beginning with that 1955 defeat, La Salle went 2-10 in the N.C.A.A. tournament through 1992, when it last qualified, two years after Simmons left for the N.B.A.
So when La Salle received an at-large bid to this year’s tournament, Simmons cleared his schedule and flew to Dayton, Ohio, to see the Explorers topple Boise State, 80-71, in the first round. The victory fell on the 59th anniversary of La Salle’s national championship.
Simmons accompanied La Salle to Sprint Center, four blocks from the old auditorium, for its 63-61 upset of Kansas State on Friday. And he will be in the stands Sunday when the No. 13 Explorers (23-9) take on No. 12 Mississippi (27-8), which eliminated No. 5 Wisconsin, in a West Region game.
“I’m a proud alumnus, for one thing,” said the 6-foot-7 Simmons, a physical forward known as L-Train who set a university-record with 3,217 career points. “I watched the guys struggle. When I left La Salle, I said I wanted to follow the team in the tournament. These are fun times. Very, very fun times.”
Especially back in Philadelphia. LaSalle guard Ramon Galloway received so many text messages Friday night that, he said: “My phone couldn’t even work. That’s how crazy it was.” The university announced viewing parties on campus for Sunday’s game, as well as at three Philadelphia bars, plus alumni gatherings at seven more locations from Washington to New York City.
Hoyas coach John Thompson III is only the third coach in NCAA tournament history to lose five games to a double-digit seed when his team was seeded at least five spots higher than his opponent.
(For those wondering why "five slots higher" was chosen, well, it's because the NCAA record book uses that as its cut-off for list such upsets. It doesn't, however, break down those losses by coach. Either way, this includes losing to an 11 seed or higher in the first round, as well as second-round ousters as 2-10, 3-11 or 4-12 --- among others).
Anyway, here's that rundown:
5: Jim Boeheim (88-91-05-06-11)
5: Bob Knight (86-88-96-00-02)
5: John Thompson III (08-10-11-12-13)
4: Bobby Cremins (86-88-89-93)
4: Jim Harrick (91-94-96-02)
4: Gene Keady (85-86-90-99)
4: Mike Krzyzewski (85-97-07-12)
4: Lute Olson (92-93-95-99)
4: Billy Tubbs (84-86-92-98)
3: Steve Alford (06-10-13)
3: Mike Brey (07-10-11)
3: Jim Calhoun (05-06-08)
3: Billy Donovan (02-04-09)
3: Ralph Miller (80-84-89)
3: Bo Ryan (08-10-13)
3: Kelvin Sampson (91-95-06)
3: Bill Self (05-06-11)
3: Kevin Stallings (08-10-11)
3: Norm Stewart (87-88-90)
3: Eddie Sutton (86-91-94)
One common thread for all of those coaches, Thompson very much included, is they had their share of successful teams over the long haul of a regular season. Georgetown hasn't had a chance to lose such games without being really good for most of the year.
At the same time, no other coach has strung together more than two of these early ousters in a row. The Hoyas are at four years and counting.
This is a program, of course, that hasn't advanced beyond the Sweet 16 since that stunning 1999 Elite Eight run that put it on the map. So why should anyone believe the Zags now with so many missed expectations from the past?
So there were haters, too. Oh, were there haters. They didn't believe the hype. They thought Kelly Olynyk's numbers were skewed by the competition he faced in the WCC. They figured those nonconference wins were blips, not concrete evidence the Zags deserved so much praise.
So just like that, the little school from Spokane was the most polarizing team in the field. You either felt strongly they deserved to be a 1-seed or you felt strongly otherwise. Fair or not, the Gonzaga program was on trial this month. And we, the college basketball viewing public, were the jury.
And then, just like that, it happened -- before we could barely get the argument off the ground.
Just one loss. That's all it took for the Zags to confirm their doubters' suspicions.
Just one L against a Wichita State squad that lost six Missouri Valley Conference games solidified Gonzaga's status as a team that can't be trusted.
The Nos. 3, 4 and 5 seeds had already been dismissed from the West Region. Win Saturday and the Zags were a victory over a 12 or 13 away from that long-awaited trip back to the regional finals. If there were ever a year for the 32-2 Bulldogs to finally prove that they were legitimate national title contenders, this was it. Some of their greatest regional threats had left the building.
And still, the Zags failed. Again.
Don't call them a mid-major program now. Don't place them back into the have-nots category for the sake of tempering the backlash. Don't make excuses (yes, Gary Bell's injury was a factor, but the Zags lost because they refused to guard the Shockers for 40 minutes).
The Zags had everything necessary for a Final Four run, including the easiest path of all the 1-seeds in the tournament. And now they're going home before the second weekend of the Big Dance.
This is the worst loss in the program's history. There's no way around it. Who's to say they'll ever get this opportunity again?
The keys were in the ignition. The Zags just had to drive. Instead, Gonzaga stalled. Again.
And America's heartwarming story became its greatest disappointment. Again.
3/24/13, 12:04 AM
I am a STATE CHAMP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Tyus Jones added another chapter to what already is a compelling, dominant and long-lasting dynasty at Apple Valley. Make that Minnesota high school basketball, too.
And he still has a year of high school eligibility left.
The junior point guard left little argument as to why he is the nation's No. 2-ranked player and top-ranked point guard for his class with an epic performance in the pinnacle game of his four-year varsity career.
He scored 26 points, including 18 of 18 from the free-throw line, had 11 rebounds and eight assists, and was a steadying force for the Eagles in a 74-57 victory over Park Center in the state Class 4A championship game in front of 13,309 Saturday, March 23, at Target Center.
"He became a schoolboy legend tonight,'' Eagles coach Zach Goring said. "He is a closer.''
Aaron Gordon will announce at The McDonald's Game April 3 in Chicago
Last month, the McDonald's All-American Game released its 2013 rosters. The game is a showcase of some of the best high school talent in the country, which this year largely came out of Texas (five players), California (four), Florida (three), and North Carolina (two). Of these 14 players, only five have committed to play at in-state colleges. We wondered: Is this typical of high school talent? Historically, where do high school stars generally come from, and where do they end up playing?
To investigate, I looked at the hometowns and colleges of all 840 McDonald's All-Americans from 1977 to 2012, since the class of 2013 hasn't totally shaken itself out yet. Hometowns were largely based on high school, although if a player went to a religious, private, or boarding school (like basketball factory Oak Hill Academy), I checked to see which state he was actually raised in.* Likewise, I tried to I.D. players who transfered during college, and stick them with the programs they initially played for.
Here are the states that have, adjusted for population, produced the most McDonald's All-Americans:
More here (H/T JayhawkFitness on JayhawkSlant.com)
My 2012 KU Alumni games, 2011-12 Border War, Legends of the Phog, KC Prep Invitational, & Jayhawk Invitational Videos, Late Night in the Phog, and more now on YouTube