Last night I hosted a radio show that will continue through The Final Four. It is being syndicated by WFAN in New York and it is strictly a college basketball show. Having grown up in New York, I find it dismaying what a wasteland the city has become for college hoops.
When I was a kid, believe it or not, Columbia had good teams. NYU and Manhattan were also pretty good and played doubleheaders in Madison Square Garden a couple of times a month. St. John’s wasn’t a national power but Lou Carnesecca had very good teams. Rutgers and Army were good too. Fordham was almost always competitive and had that one spectacular season under Digger Phelps when it beat Notre Dame in the Garden, lost in overtime to No. 1 ranked Marquette (both in front of sellout crowds) and eventually reached the sweet sixteen.
Yup, Fordham. I like to tease Digger sometimes by saying, “You know Digger, you were a great coach…at Fordham.”
If you liked college hoops there was plenty to watch—and listen to. I was such a junkie that I would LISTEN to games on the student radio stations: WKCR for Columbia; WSOU for Seton Hall; WFUV for Fordham.
Now, as with all things, it’s a lot different. St. John’s has played a majority of its home games at the Garden instead of Alumni Hall in Queens for years now. NYU dropped basketball and then came back as a Division 3 school. Manhattan has had some blips, most recently under Bobby Gonzales, but never plays in the Garden anymore. Fordham has changed leagues twice and is currently buried at the bottom of The Atlantic-10 (winless in league play, two wins all season) and Columbia was last good when, well, when I was a kid. Rutgers and Seton Hall are in The Big East. At least the Pirates are showing progress this season and have a shot to make the NCAA Tournament. Army has had ONE winning season since Mike Krzyzewski left to coach at Duke THIRTY years ago. Ouch.
As a result, especially since the city’s signature team—St. John’s—has been down for 10 years now—I wondered if the show would get ANY calls—since the only place it was broadcast live last night was in New York. (Other cities like DC and Boston for example aired it on tape-delay). When I listen to WFAN, which I often do especially in the car at night and when Steve Somers—easily their best and most entertaining host—is on, I NEVER hear a college hoops call. I mean never.
One of the reasons I enjoy the station is because I can tune it in driving through a snowstorm in January and hear a solid hour of debate on the Mets. Or the Yankees. I can live without the Knicks talk and enjoy the hockey talk—99 percent of it Rangers—and the pro football talk is fine too. There is also ZERO college football talk because New York simply doesn’t have college football, even if you count Rutgers, which is an hour from the city (with no traffic) and people just aren’t going to get that fired up by trips to The St. Petersburg Bowl. Army last had a winning season in football in 1996.
And yet, the phones were lit up throughout the show and there was a good range of questions from the predictable, ‘how far can the ‘Cuse go,’ to people responding to my thoughts on a 96 team tournament to questions about how to fix the one-and-done rule which currently afflicts the sport.
Sadly, no calls about Columbia or Army. There was one about St. John’s. The caller said Lou Carnesecca was under-appreciated. I pointed out that Lou is in the basketball Hall of Fame and was about as beloved as any coach I’ve ever known.
In all, it was fun although the short segments (LOTS of commercials) made me feel rushed at times.
I had two guests: Dan Bonner, who in my opinion is the most underrated college hoops analyst going. Bonner, who played at Virginia under Terry Holland, really gets basketball because he was one of those guys who had to work very hard and learn to understand the game in order to be any good. He’s bright, works extremely hard to prepare and has a great feel for the ebb and flow of a game. (Yes, we’re good friends but if I didn’t think this I’d just keep my mouth shut). The only thing that keeps Dan from being a big star is he doesn’t have shtick. He doesn’t make up words (Clark Kellogg) or scream like a maniac (you-know-who) or repeat the same pet phrases over-and-over (Bill Raftery). He’s just good. Billy Packer without the edge.
My second guest was Mike Krzyzewski. Did I ask him to come on because I’m a Duke grad? No, I asked him to come on because he coaches Duke. (This is a take off on a Jim Valvano line: “Did I recruit Vinny Del Negro because he’s Italian. No, I recruited him because I’M Italian).
Actually I asked Krzyzewski to come on because his team was off last night, because he’s the winningest active Division 1 coach out there and because his opinions are always interesting—whether we agree or disagree.
One subject we got on to was the Hall of Fame. Krzyzewski has been instrumental in setting up a College Basketball Hall of Fame the last five years and yesterday, Christian Laettner, the best player he ever coached, was voted into the new Hall of Fame. That raised the issue—at least with me—about the Naismith Hall of Fame, the one in Springfield.
The politics of the Hall of Fame are shameful. The names of the 24 voters are kept secret, ostensibly because the Hall doesn’t want them lobbied---if you’re qualified to vote for a Hall of Fame you should be able to withstand lobbying—but really because the Hall doesn’t want them to have to stand behind their votes. What a joke.
Ironically, Mike brought up Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams as two people who should be in the Hall of Fame who aren’t. I agree on both and my opinions on Lefty not being in there have been made clear on numerous occasions. It’s a joke. The irony, of course, is that Mike brought up two Maryland coaches and Maryland people absolutely revile him. Trust me when Duke plays at Maryland next Wednesday it will not be a pretty sight. (The game may be great, the fans not so much).
The next show is Tuesday night. I may open it by ripping the Hall of Fame (again) for its ridiculous voting procedures and for keeping Lefty out. He won’t be going in this year either: none of the nominees are college coaches. That’s because the NBA now controls the Hall. Lefty, Gary, Jim Phalen, Herb Magee (who just broke Bob Knight’s all-time record for NCAA coaching victories on Tuesday with his 903d win at Philadelphia University) all come to mind right away.
What a joke. Seventeen days to Selection Sunday.
A couple of notes from yesterday’s posts—many of which were both smart and fascinating.
To my old buddy Poncho: You’re right, I did take shots a couple of Northwestern guys. But you, being the smart Northwestern guy you are know they were NOT cheap shots, just shots…
To the guy who hacked into my Wikipedia—usually something my teen-age son likes to do to mention how cool he is—to claim I applied to Georgetown and didn’t get in and that’s why I have a bias against Georgetown: If I had applied to Georgetown I might not have gotten in; it’s a great school. But I didn’t apply.
I have one problem with Georgetown. It is not John Thompson the elder, with whom I had many battles but always respected and get along fine with now. It isn’t John the third, who I’ve known since he was at Princeton as a player. I like him and think he’s a terrific coach. My problem is simply this: Georgetown has consistently refused to play in a local charity basketball tournament for 15 years that raises an average of $500,000 a year that goes to kids at risk in the D.C. area.
We (the board of directors of the charity) have tried everything to get Georgetown to play: we’ve offered them potential opponents ranging from Maryland (a game that should be played every year in my opinion) to Texas to Holy Cross—with plenty of others in-between. John the elder wouldn’t meet with us at all. Craig Esherick did meet with us but his first demand was that we throw George Washington, which has been involved since day one, out of the event. John the third has met with us and keeps coming up with different reasons not to do it.
So yes, I’m guilty, I have a bias there. But that has NOTHING to do with my AP ballot this week. I’ve had Georgetown as high as, I think, seventh during the course of the season. Until their win at Louisville Wednesday they had gone through a stretch where they lost to an awful Rutgers team; a mediocre South Florida team (at home) and were lucky to beat Providence. Their best wins—Duke and Villanova—were at home. So, for one week when they weren’t playing very well, I gave some smaller schools a nod because I always do that when given the chance. Since my vote—and the polls in general—has absolutely no affect on who gets into the tournament or where they’re seeded—I see no reason not to throw a vote to Cornell or consistently underrated teams like Old Dominion (which, as you recall beat Georgetown in December) or some of the teams in the Atlantic-10 or Missouri Valley Conference. I had a total of TWO ACC teams in the poll last week (I think Maryland is a lot better than people know) and four Big East teams in the top 13.
Here’s my advice: Get over it. And tell the powers-that-be at Georgetown you want your school in The BB+T Classic.
Finally: Thanks to the poster who caught my slip on the GAG line with the Rangers. Brad Park obviously played defense. (I was such a sick fan as a kid I sometimes argued he was as good as Bobby Orr. Okay, fine, I know better now. But Park was great). The GAG line was, of course, Hadfield, Ratelle and Gilbert. I still haven’t completely recovered from Ratelle and Park being traded to the hated Bruins.