Thursday, January 21, 2010

'He's Been Getting His Hands on a Lot of Balls'

I knew Jeff Van Gundy wouldn't let me down in ESPN's switch, assigning the NBA crew of Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen to the North Carolina-Wake Forest game and the college crew of Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale to the Jazz-Spurs game, even though I had a feeling this young, struggling Tar Heels team would.

And Van Gundy did not disappoint. He began by blasting the college rule for a charge when a Carolina player slid under a Wake player as said Wake player was in the air attempting a shot, calling it a charge. That was a just a warm-up for his line of the night, regarding Wake Forest's senior center Chas McFarland, who finished the game with 10 rebounds and tipped many, many more: "What I like about McFarland is he's been getting his hands on a lot of balls …" Classic.

And he wasn't done. Later in the game, long after it became a boring, terrible contest as Wake began to pull away, Van Gundy went into a diatribe about how a player who spelled his name Chas can not go by Chase, which is how Chas McFarland pronounces his name, Chase, even though it's spelled Chas. Van Gundy shared with the world that his English teacher in elementary school taught him that the e makes the vowel a long vowel, so his name should be spelled Chase, not Chas, because Chas should be pronounced as Chaz. It was great. It really was. Van Gundy and Jackson have such a great rapport, as Jackson asked the name of Van Gundy's teacher again, he named her again (I can't remember her name, but it was something crazy) and then Van Gundy named the school and its address. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Jeff Van Gundy is great.

North Carolina, on the other hand, is not. With no Ed Davis, the Tar Heels stood little chance of containing a tough, physical Wake team. But it wasn't even the matchup inside that made the difference. It was the guard play. I've watched UNC enough this season to know that guard play is the problem, but I thought these guys would start to get better — after all, Larry Drew II is only a sophomore and Dexter Strickland just a freshman. But I can unequivocally say now that Larry Drew can't possibly be expected to run Roy Williams' fast-paced offense. The guy stinks. Sure, he's fast, but he's not a particularly good ball-handler, and his decision-making is beyond atrocious. I mean, the guy is averaging 3.3 turnovers a game, and of late, has been hovering around the 5 a game mark. Add to the fact that he's only a so-so outside shooter, and it's no wonder this team is struggling.

Roy went from two incredible, smart point guards in Raymond Felton and Tywon Lawson, two players who proved they were ready to handle the rigors of big-time college basketball and national media attention and all the pressure that goes along with being the point guard at North Carolina right from the start. Now I'm not saying Larry Drew can't get there, but he's miles behind where both Felton and Lawson were by their second year. Admittedly, they both got to start as freshmen and mature, whereas Drew played sparingly last season. And I'm not saying Drew isn't capable of getting there — he's already improved his shooting a great deal this season and in just his first year running the show — but he certainly doesn't look as poised, as confident, as good as the previous two point guards who owned the ACC and the nation.

Meanwhile, Wake's backcourt was having a field day. Ish Smith was a blur, reversing the role on UNC, pushing the ball nonstop and generating transition buckets all night long. He finished the game with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, and he basically did anything he wanted on the floor. Plus, his name is Ish. That's tits. Though Van Gundy did poke fun at him, because the guy is a point guard who shoots 44 percent from the free throw line. 44 percent. As a guard. That's not even worthy of making fun of. It's just sad. And embarrassing. And terrible. He should be ashamed of himself. But he's still awesome, and Jackson and Van Gundy were raving about him all night. He combined with C.J. Harris for 40 points on the night, as the freshman sharp shooter gave Wake the outside threat UNC lacks, nailing four of seven threes and making the Demon Deacons a nightmare to guard.

Guards have been Carolina's nightmare all season long — opposing ones and their own.

Now to a more serious note.

Samuel Dalembert has long been a whipping boy for basketball fans around these parts. Through no fault of his own, Billy King paid him an insane amount of money, and fans always like to point out his faults: too inconsistent, moody, undisciplined, foul prone, goaltending habits, spacing out, etc. Watching him go on stretches where he tears up the league and posts double-doubles on the regular makes it even more maddening, because that shows he's capable of doing it but incapable to sustaining it over the course of a season.

But if ever there was a player worth overpaying on a human level, it's Samuel Dalembert. By all accounts, Dalembert is one of the nicest, most congenial gentlemen roaming the face of the earth. Not a single person who has met him has ever uttered an unkind word about him as a person, as far as I can tell. And he's showing just how big his heart is right now, both on and off the court. If you were anywhere near a television last night when the Sixers were taking on the Trail Blazers, you know Dalembert arrived in Philadelphia just before game time because after the team's loss on Monday, he flew to Haiti to do anything he could and didn't get back until just before game time. There's an excellent read by Henry Abbott on it.

Dalembert is using his enormous amount of money to help in any way he can in his homeland, after Haiti was hit with a catastrophic earthquake. Last Friday, he matched all proceeds fans donated at the game against the Kings. Since, he's been getting the word out, making visits, doing all he can. He's proving he's truly one of the good guys in the game.

And the remarkable part about all of this is how he's been able to handle all of this and continue to do his job. And to do it well. Yes, he started his fine play before tragedy struck in Haiti, but he's continued to played at the high level that you'd expect from a $50 million man. Last night, despite running on no sleep and arriving mere minutes before tipoff, Dalembert recorded another double-double in the loss to Portland, posting 10 points and 15 rebounds. It was his 10th double-double of the season, and his fourth straight. He's in the top 20 in the NBA in rebounding with 9.3 a game, and if he can come anywhere close to keeping up his recent pace, he'll finish in double digits in rebounds at year's end. He looks like a new man.

On the court, that is. Because off it, he's still the same gentle giant, destined to make the world a better place. He's doing his best right now, fighting through personal turmoil and disheartening destruction in his homeland to lend a helping hand, all while continuing to give it his all in his day (night?) job.

He may be a frustrating player, but Samuel Dalembert is good people. Maybe right now would be a good time to at least acknowledge that.

Shifting gears again here, I'd like to talk about the toast of the town in college basketball — Temple and Villanova. As it turns out, the leading candidates for A-10 and Big East Player of the Year honors reside in the 215 and 610 area codes. For all the grief I've given Scottie Reynolds over the years for his up-and-down play and sometimes questionable decision-making, the guy is having a flat-out phenomenal senior season for Villanova.

He's been every bit the leader he's expected to be, and he's been so much more. Over the past three seasons, I've chastised Reynolds for not getting one ounce better since the day he stepped foot on the Villanova campus as a freshman. He came in as a very fine player, winning Big East rookie of the year, and continued to be a fine player. But he never seemed to get better. Well, this season he has. He's taken that next step, becoming a truly awesome college player.

The transformation probably began with his shot against Pitt that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. Maybe it didn't but it doesn't matter. Scottie Reynolds has finally elevated his game to a level that has everyone taking notice. Perhaps it was just Scottie needing to grow up, needing to become a man, which he certainly has. Dana O'Neil, former Daily News sportswriter and current ESPN college basketball writer, wrote a great article on just that, which I first was made aware of by Dom at Big Five Post. I suggest you go read it. Every word of it. It's really good.

Just like Temple and Ryan Brooks have been really good. Like, really, really good. Last night, Temple took on Xavier with nothing but the top overall seed in the A-10 on the line. Both the Owls and Musketeers headed into the game undefeated in conference play. I was pretty excited to watch at least some of it. After all, Temple headed into the game at 15-3, had already knocked off Villanova, damn near knocked off Georgetown and was now ready to stake its claim as the class of the A-10. One problem: The fucking game wasn't on. Someone please explain this to me. How is the best team in Philadelphia (yeah, I said best — they beat Nova) nowhere to be found on Comcast when the Owls are taking on the other top dog in their conference, and both are undefeated in conference play? OK, I get that it wasn't on ESPN or ESPN2, there are other games and other big-time conferences, and the Sixers were on Comcast SportsNet. I get that. But, uh, what exactly is the Comcast Network for if not to air games like this? Instead of putting on Temple in a huge game, the Comcast Network aired freakin James Madison-Drexel. Guess how many people watched that game in Philadelphia? Drexel students and alums. That's it. Guess how many people would have opted to watch Temple take on Xavier over just about anything, especially the Sixers? A ton. What a dumb cable company. I hate you Comcast. You really dropped the ball on that one.

Because the evil cable company hates us, we didn't get to watch as Temple got its biggest win since beating Villanova and definitely best victory in the conference this season, topping Xavier 77-72. LaVoy Allen had a monster game with 16 points, 7 boards, 4 assists and 2 blocks. Juan Fernandez continued to add firepower, putting up 15 points, and did his best Pep Sanchez impression with 7 assists and 2 steals. And Luis Guzman even chipped in with 10 points and just one turnover. But again, the Owls were led by senior Ryan Brooks, who scored 22 points on 7-12 from the field and 8-9 from the line while also hauling in 7 boards.

The past three years, Temple has been Dionte Christmas' team. He was the man, he was the go-to guy, he was the leading scorer who terrorized the Atlantic-10. When he left following his senior season, no one knew just where Temple would turn to to replace those points and that leadership. Turns out, they just had to look toward the other starting guard, who has been playing the role of sidekick before this year. With Christmas gone, Brooks has taken his game to new heights. He is Temple's leading scorer at 16.4 points per game, combining with Fernandez to make up for those buckets Dionte took with him. Beyond that, he's also averaging 5.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and nearly a steal a game, contributing with his scoring, playmaking and tremendous defense. Essentially, he's doing it all for an Owls team no one thought would be sitting at 16-3 and undefeated in the conference through 19 games. Yet here we are, with Ryan Brooks leading the way for the best team in the Atlantic-10. Read about his rise here, as Mike Kern brilliantly lays out how Brooks has gone from afterthought to Fran Dunphy's prized recruit.

I guess you can say, between all his scoring, passing, rebounding and deflections/steals on defense, he gets his hands on a lot of balls.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. I love Van Gundy. He makes the games fun. My personal favorite came from him a couple of years ago. Him and Mark Jackson were going at it, and he said "I had to take the SAT to get into college. Who took yours, Mark Jackson?" It's almost like you could see Jackson get mad, but he had to laugh, because it was so damn funny.

  2. I remember that. I try to watch every game that team is assigned to. Van Gundy is by far my favorite NBA announcer. I was hoping he'd coach the Sixers, but he wanted no part of taking on that dreaded roster.