I was driving to New York on Wednesday afternoon—dodging the snow along the way—when I heard the immortal Mike Francesa (just ask him) explain that the reason Brian Cashman’s speculation that Derek Jeter might someday play centerfield for the Yankees had become a big story was, “because it’s a slow news week. The Super Bowl (or in Francesa-speak, ‘Da Soopa Bowl’) isn’t until next week.”
I guess for a lot of people it was a slow news week. But in my world, the week was full of stories and, no tennis fans I’m sorry to say that Kim Clijsters and Novak Djokovic winning in Australia weren’t that high on the list. Good for them and all but even my three-month old daughter is asleep at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Actually the highlight of my week came out of nowhere. After watching the first half of Duke-St. John’s with my mouth open—God, college basketball is weird this year; almost NO ONE plays well with any consistency on the road—I switched over to watch Manhattan and Marist. Yes, seriously. I know they’ve won eight games combined all year but I’m the same guy who drove to Worcester on Thursday to see Holy Cross play Colgate (combined wins going in to the game seven). Yes, I got paid to do it but, as I’ve said before, I don’t do The Patriot League games for the money.
So, I switched to the Jaspers and Red Foxes.
Manhattan is one of those schools about which I have fond boyhood memories because of the doubleheaders they played in Madison Square Garden: Manhattan would play the first game most of the time; NYU the second. The goal for the Jaspers every year was the same: Make the NIT. Nowadays a 10-win season would be nice.
When I flipped over, Marist appeared to be on its way to a rare win. I was surprised—and impressed—at the size and enthusiasm of the crowd at Marist. Last season they won one game; this season they’ve won four. And yet, the gym was far from empty. Not full, but not empty.
Marist led 59-57 in the final seconds after Manhattan had launched an awful shot with the clock running down. There were 3.6 seconds left when Marist’s point guard (can’t remember his name, sorry) went to the line for a one-and-one that could clinch the game. He missed. Manhattan rebounded and called time out right away. Give the Marist clock operator credit: The time out was called with AT LEAST two seconds left. He got the clock down to 0.9 before he stopped it. Nice try. Feets Brody, the timekeeper in The Garden when I was a kid—dubbed, ‘the Knicks sixth man,’ by Red Auerbach—would have been proud.
The officials went to replay and wound it back to 2.0.
So, Manhattan inbounded. Marist had the long pass—or, as the play-by-play guy called it, “The Christian Laettner pass,” even though Grant Hill threw the pass he was referring to—covered. So the ball came in to Manhattan guard Michael Alvarado a good 75-feet from the basket. Alvarado, who was one-of-six in the game to that point, was in full flight as he caught the ball. He took three dribbles, got to about 60-feet and fired. The ball hit the backboard and dropped cleanly through the net. It had clearly come before the buzzer.
Sitting in my chair, reading some notes as I was about to work from for my book project, I literally jumped to my feet: “WOW, how about that?” I yelled. Even at my advanced age I can still be startled by a spectacular play even in a Manhattan-Marist game. It was cool.
Going back to earlier in the week: As I said, I drove to New York on Wednesday—an intermediate stop en route to Worcester—and had dinner that night with Steve Kerr. Steve is, quite simply, one of my favorite guys, someone I enjoyed getting to know when I wrote about him in ‘A Season Inside,’ 23 years ago. We’ve always stayed in touch but it had been a long time since we had sat down and talked at length. Not surprisingly, Kerr was as smart and funny as ever.
He was excited about the fact that he’ll be calling The NCAA Tournament this year as part of the new CBS-Turner deal. I knew he was going to be doing color the first two weeks but hadn’t realized that he is going to be part of The Final Four announce-team, a Turner add-on to Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg. I’m not planning to watch those games on TV but I think Steve’s presence will be a bonus. Knowing him, he won’t hesitate to disagree with Kellogg when he thinks that’s the right way to go.
When Steve and I walked into Smith and Wollensky at a little bit after 7 it wasn’t snowing yet. When we walked out almost four hours later, it was snowing in buckets. Traffic was at a standstill and the snow was already ankle deep on the sidewalks. I only had a five-block walk but by the time I got inside I looked and felt like Frosty The Snowman. I was completely soaked. Amazingly, by the time I got up, had breakfast and hit the road the next morning, the New York streets had been cleared and the FDR Drive was completely clear. That was NOT the case once I hit the Connecticut line and it was a long trip from there to Worcester.
The only disappointment on the trip was not getting to see Dan Dakich as I had been planning to do. Dan was a graduate assistant at Indiana the year I was there to research ‘A Season on the Brink,’ and we became good friends. In fact, I was en route to meet Dan for lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the morning of January 28, 1986 when The Challenger blew up on take-off. I thought about that on Friday when I realized it was the 25th anniversary of that tragedy.
Dakich is becoming a star at ESPN these days—he also hosts a local radio show in Indianapolis—and the plan had been for us to meet in Bristol since he works in-studio on Thursday nights. Yes, ME in Bristol, do you think the ESPN police might have stopped me at the city line? We were going to have a late breakfast to talk about the old days and more recent days but Dan’s flight got cancelled on Wednesday night and by the time he got in on Thursday, he had to go straight to a radio studio to do his show, arriving a few minutes late.
So, I drove straight thru Bristol. Given the condition of the roads, if I had stopped to see Dan, I might have been late getting to Worcester. And if you’re wondering, yes, I do have regular stopping points en route to Worcester. The main one is a Dunkin Donuts (yes, I DO like the place) off Exit 71 on I-84 a few miles shy of the Massachusetts line. On Thursday, some truck had gotten stuck on the off-ramp though so I didn’t get my coffee or my donut. It made me VERY cranky.
I couldn’t be happier for the success Kerr and Dakich are having. Dakich had some success as the head coach at Bowling Green but really seems to have found his niche in broadcasting. Steve ran the Phoenix Suns for three years and helped them get back to the conference finals last year but was completely worn out trying to commute between Phoenix and San Diego where his family stayed after he got the job with the Suns. Now he’s back at Turner, traveling once a week during the regular season; more during the NCAA Tournament and playoffs and then taking the summer off.
“Haven’t lost a game all year,” he said. “I’m sleeping a LOT better.”
Steve’s oldest son Nick is a high school senior who will play next year at The University of San Diego. I asked him if the son had the father’s shooting touch.
“He does,” Steve said. “Which is good. Unfortunately he also has my quickness, which is not as good.”
When Kerr was at Arizona he described his quickness to me this way: “I have deceptive speed. People think I’m a step slow. I’m actually two steps slow.”
He used that deceptive speed to play on FIVE NBA championship teams—three in Chicago and two in San Antonio. He concedes that Michael Jordan and David Robinson might have helped a bit along the way.
And if you’re wondering, yes, I did watch the golf on Sunday and was glad to see Phil Mickelson play well for the first time, really, since he won The Masters last year. Bubba Watson made two fabulous putts to win. Tiger Woods finishing tied for 44th? Proves very little except that he has work to do between now and April 7th. I would have said the same thing if he had won.
Give me points for consistency.