Art’s Angle: It’s Outside AND Inside

If Marcus Paige’s return can keep the Tar Heels’ motor running on all five cylinders, this team is not overrated and can go a long way.

Marcus Paige's return

Marcus Paige’s return to the hardwood was a success. (Photo by Todd Melet)

Paige’s presence in short pants against Maryland Tuesday night energized the entire building, got the near-capacity crowd up early and often and, most important, stoked the UNC big men to play their best collective game of the season. The “bigs” are juniors and seniors, and their time is now.

Make no mistake about it, whether the Tar Heels get to Houston for the Final Four, and hang another banner, will depend far more on the play of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks than their senior All-American guard. They must have Paige playing well, for sure, but when it gets down and dirty in the NCAA Tournament you need big tough guys to rule the paint.

Carolina has two of the most skilled big men in the country in Johnson and Meeks. Johnson can score from anywhere and the slimmer, quicker Meeks works the baseline and basket for first and second shots. But they often don’t play hard enough for long enough. Coaches judge players by their “motors” and for Johnson and Meeks that sometimes means cruise control.

Hicks, the first sub in the post, can be more physical than the starters and probably needs a few more minutes to polish his once-raw game. But the Heels don’t lose anything in passion play when Hicks is in the game. His mistakes are mostly those of aggression.

UNC vs. Maryland 022

Big men Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, and Isaiah combined for 32 points and 18 rebounds against Maryland on Tuesday night. (Photo by Todd Melet)

Against Maryland, Johnson, Meeks and Hicks combined for 18 rebounds (6 each) and 32 points. They were slightly below their collective season average, but the Terrapins are the biggest and best team the Tar Heels have faced so far. Roy Williams called it a tournament-type game in the Smith Center, and that’s the kind of opposition you meet, and must beat, in the post-season.

Most impressive about the big three playing a total of 70 minutes was that none of them seemed to take plays off, a habit of Johnson and Meeks that drives Williams crazy. Maryland might have shot 51 percent, but 45 of its 81 points came from the three-point line and the foul line. Johnson, Meeks and Hicks held the opposing big men to 24 points and all stayed out of foul trouble.

The guard play on both ends was spectacular from Paige’s 20 points and four three-balls to Joel Berry’s 14 and three treys. Nate Britt’s minutes were reduced to 10 but he made two big baskets and three assists. Six-game starter Theo Pinson, down to 18 minutes due to Paige’s return, contributed six points and four rebounds. Justin Jackson, adjusting to playing small forward, got started late but finished with 9 points, 3 assists and five steals, some of them leading to Maryland’s best player, Melo Trimble, turning it over eight times.

The Terps can light it up from downtown and, led by Trimble and former Dukie Rasheed Sulaimon, erased comfortable Carolina leads three times like lightning. Trimble, no relation to former Maryland star Jap Trimble from the Tom McMillen-Len Elmore era, has the quickest release in college basketball. But after making 12 of their first 22 three-pointers, they tired and missed their last four from the arc. That preserved the last lead for the Heels, who went cold at the foul line and clanked 7 of their last 9.

No one player, or two, wins a national championship. The best teams have both star players and role players and all of them, as a famous NFL coach likes to say, do their jobs. The Tar Heels are quick and talented and tall. But how tough they are, especially down where the dirty work is done, will determine if they are still playing basketball in April.

Art’s Angle: Does Honor Absolve Smith?

The U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) will be bestowing an annual award that honors the late Dean Smith given “to an individual in college basketball who embodies the spirit and values represented by Smith,” according to the official release Wednesday.

What a marvelous idea, akin to what has been proposed by various people since Smith retired in 1997. UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham told Media Relations Director Steve Kirschner two years ago that such an award should be initiated. Sports Information Director Emeritus Rick Brewer, perhaps the closest person to Smith outside his personal and basketball families, suggested it to sportswriter and former USBWA president John Feinstein at the 2015 ACC Tournament.

When brought up at the organization’s next meeting, it passed “in 30 seconds,” according to current President Pat Forde, who with Feinstein and columnist Dana O’Neil were in Chapel Hill Wednesday to make the announcement. The USBWA has since worked with Kirschner, Cunningham and the Smith family to frame out the parameters of the award that can go to a coach, non-coach, presumably a former player, “both male and female, from all divisions of the NCAA and NAIA.”

There was a lot of joy and sincere sentiment at the press conference, also attended by Smith’s widow Linnea and son Scott. There was also a touch of hypocrisy.

Apparently, any writer with a regular column in print or on-line who pays dues can join the USBWA, which has had hundreds of members since being  founded in 1956 and names an All-American Team each year and also gives out annual national awards for Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Courage.

The USBWA has no control over what its members write, and many of them have had UNC in their gun sights for years over the academic scandal. Some have refused to believe the scandal is an aberration of what was long hailed as a model athletic program, the problem started in the old African American Studies (AFAM) department and was taken advantage of by a relatively small percentage of Tar Heel athletes over an 18-year span.

Forde has been one of Carolina’s harshest critics, banging out columns with sweeping accusations and indictments, suggesting that UNC might before due process self-impose penalties like vacating a national title. He was the headline subject of one Tar Heel blog entitled, Pat Forde Can’t Stop Talking About North Carolina’s Academic Scandal. In that piece, Forde said of Marcus Paige, the Academic Player of the Year in college basketball:

“And the brainiac junior also is tasked with being the erudite face of a program that has become a national laughingstock because of an 18-year academic scandal that undercut the school’s previously strong reputation.”

At the time of Forde’s quote, “an 18-year scandal” went back to 1996-97, when Smith was still coaching the Tar Heels. So Forde was asked if getting behind the Dean Smith Award somehow exonerates the Hall of Fame coach from any involvement in the eyes of the USBWA.

“This is independent from the scandal,” Forde said. “It is everything Dean did away from basketball.”

Asked again if this particular honor absolves Smith and we may never see his name mentioned in another story about the scandal (after this one), Forde said, “We wouldn’t put Dean Smith’s name on an award if we did not feel his character deserved it.”

Frankly, the rush to judgment from the ABC posters is to be expected. But from an organization of the best basketball writers in the world, well, that speaks to the sometimes unhealthy competition of the 24-hour news cycle. And it isn’t likely to stop whether the NCAA throws the Tar Heels in jail or says it’s “all good” and let’s P.J. Hairston come back and play his last two years. Either way, the reactions will be strong.

What the scribes say about Carolina Basketball, good and bad, will always go back to Dean Smith because he took a team in rubbles when no one else wanted the job and created a paradigm that every other program in the country, including Duke, sought to emulate. And now it is coached by one of his deepest disciples, a man who credits everything he knows about life and college basketball to his mentor.

So while UNC and the Smith family should be thrilled about this off-the-court recognition, and its charitable association with their Opening Doors Fund, I am happy it is another step in restoring a reputation that Dean Smith helped build.

Art’s Angle: Not So Poor Ol’ Roy

If UNC extending Roy Williams’ contract through 2020 – with a hefty compensation bump – doesn’t speak to the confidence Carolina has about men’s basketball avoiding serious sanctions from the NCAA, then what else can it do?

The Tar Heels don’t want another washout recruiting year while the NCAA process grinds to an interminable conclusion. That Williams and any of his players were not cited in the recent Notice of Allegations and the basketball program was not charged with “academic fraud” has left experts who have studied the NCAA for decades convinced any sanctions against UNC men’s hoops will be light.

In other words, no past victories or championships vacated and no future post-season bans coming. There is no way on God’s green earth that Carolina would have extended Williams if it believed anything to the contrary. Remember, Butch Davis was whacked because he hired John Blake who violated NCAA rules galore.

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Williams already lost one 5-star recruit, Kinston’s Brandon Ingram to Duke, over the uncertainty before the NOA came out. Three of the top ten seniors from the high school class of 2016 are from North Carolina – 6-10 Harry Giles (#1) from Winston-Salem; 6-1 Dennis Smith, Jr. (#4) from Fayetteville; and 6-8 Edrice Adebayo (#8) from Pinetown – and all have been offered scholarships by Williams, who can now walk into their homes with more confidence than he had last year when he could barely get anyone to come visit the campus.

Of course, Williams can’t guarantee any of the recruits anything before the Committee on Infractions passes judgment, but Ol’ Roy will be armed with enough documentation that compares Carolina’s NOA to, say, Syracuse’s and NCAA precedent in similar cases that should offset rival recruiters who spend more time talking trash about the Tar Heels than they do pushing their own programs.

That, and his long-term contract extension, should help convince recruits who have UNC high on their list to at least wait until the spring signing period (as Ingram did), by which time the whole NCAA mess should finally be over and done with.

UNC has until August 20 to respond to the Notice of Allegations, and the NCAA has 60 days to respond to the response. That moves us into late October. Then the Committee on Infractions hearing must be scheduled, after which it takes 6-8 weeks for the COI to render its decision. So Carolina should know its fate before the end of the 2016 season and well before the April signing period commences.

Williams has said he would like to coach “6 to 10 more years” and this contract extension brings him to a month shy of his 70th birthday. So he could go even longer. That is not old for coaches these days. Jim Boeheim is already 70. Mike Krzyzewski is 68 and, of course, the ageless Larry Brown is 74 and still fielding contending teams at SMU.

The contract itself, not counting bonuses, looks to be worth more than $2.5 million right now, including what Williams gets from Nike and for his radio and TV shows from Learfield. Keep the team’s APR (Academic Progress Rate) above 975 and just make the NCAA Tournament and that’s another 100k. Win it all and ol’ Roy’s cumulative bonus could max out at $925,000. Including escalators through 2020, Williams will be making well north of $3 million by then, plus bonuses.

If this makes you want to vomit, it is about half of what John Calipari and Rick Pitino earn and not even one-third of what the King of the World takes home from Duke. I agree, it’s an obscene income for the profession, but it’s also the market value for Hall of Fame coaches and, believe it or not, Williams is still at the low end of that particular scale.

As we all know, Ol’ Roy is a good old boy from the mountains who, upon getting the head job at Kansas, kidded that he was making more money than he thought they printed. When he returned to UNC, he told Dick Baddour that he did not want to go backward, meaning just pay him what he was making at KU. That was 12 years ago, and coaches salaries have really gotten out of hand since then.

Making two million and living a pretty frugal lifestyle, Williams only paid attention to his competitors when their deals were all printed up in a USA Today chart or some of his coaching buddies told him he was way behind guys who have never been to a single Final Four (Roy has seven), let alone won two national championships. The Memphis coach, Josh Pastner, was making more than Williams before this latest raise. I know, Josh who?

So as I’ve debated with some people, including faculty members, who believe the whole college athletic thing is out of control, we’re not sure how we got to where we are in Division I. But we’re here, and to be competitive on the field and court, you have to stay competitive in every other way, as well.

[NOTE to the Wolfies who read this site more than their own: Before you start upchucking about taking easy classes to stay competitive, check what kind of cow-dung courses some of your jocks take.]

A friend said recently that last year Williams was recruiting with both hands tied behind his back, and this year it will be only one hand tied. Hopefully, if the timing works out and the recruits agree to wait, not-so-poor Ol’ Roy will be free at last in plenty of time to reload for his next run.

Men’s Basketball Tips Off November 8

GREENSBORO – ACC basketball will certainly be getting a lot of national exposure in the 2013-2014 season. Of the 149 games, 83 of them will be aired nationally as ACC Commissioner John Swofford revealed on Thursday.

And the Tar Heels will be getting their fair share of attention as usual. Carolina will be featured in one of the two “Saturday Primetime Presented by DIRECTV telecasts” and College GameDay in the ACC when UNC heads down Tobacco Road to face Duke in Cameron Indoor on March 8.

The Tar Heel regular season tips off at home with a contest against Oakland on November 8. A possible matchup against Louisville looms in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament in November, and the scheduled showdown in the Dean Dome with the University of Kentucky Wildcats on December 14 are two no one will want to miss.

With the new additions of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the league, the ACC has only strengthened its reputation as the nation’s strongest college basketball conference.

Three of the top five winningest programs in NCAA Division I basketball history are now in the ACC. And the league is getting the exposure that reflects that kind of pedigree.

2013-2014 UNC Men’s Basketball Schedule

Good Business by Harrison Barnes & UNC

It’s hard not to be impressed by UNC sophomore, Harrison Barnes  on the basketball court. 

And then – there is the business side of Barnes.

A friend sent an article to me yesterday and while reading it,  I decided I had to share it with the readers of Good Business because of the excellent lessons it includes:

  • tailoring  pitches to the prospect
  • the importance of managing your own personal brand
  • and a few specifics on how to do it

Below is an excerpt and link to the article.  I hope you enjoy it the way I did.  Thanks to Jason Zengerle for the great article.  Thanks to UNC coaches for taiiloring their recruiting approach in just the right way so that Harrison Barnes could share his B&B talents with us.  And to Harrison for doing that in such an impressive way.

Here’s a excerpt from Moneyballer by Jason Zengerle

In the fall of 2009, Harrison Barnes was the best high-school basketball player in America. But the 17-year-old from Ames, Iowa, was more than just a hoops phenom. An honor student with a 3.6 GPA who, when he wasn’t honing his jump shot, would practice Bach and Chopin on his saxophone, Barnes was something of a renaissance man. So the college-basketball powerhouses trying to recruit him tailored their pitches accordingly.

Read more

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Happy Duke-Carolina Day

Some treat it like a national holiday.  Meetings get cancelled.  People head home early.  Traditions abound.

One of my traditions for Duke-Carolina Day is to re-visit the story of that especially famous game back in 1974.  Not just because it’s famous, but also because of its benefit for people in business who are frequently faced with tough goals and deadlines.   Many managers, teams and individuals give up or stop too soon.  I’ve certainly done it many times. Pushing to the end (and preparing for it) is both an art and a science.  Well demonstrated in the story below.

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of talking with former Carolina basketball player and coach, Phil Ford.  We were looking  lessons from basketball that could be applied in business.  It was fascinating.  So many parallels, so many instructional and inspirational lessons, that the interview became the basis for a mini-audio e-book for business.

At one point during the interview, when we were talking about the importance of preparation and practice, I asked Phil about that famous aforementioned game. At the time, he had committed to Carolina but was still a senior in high school and was watching it at home on television.  With only seventeen seconds left in the game, Carolina  was losing by eight points.   Most everyone thought it was over.  Phil certainly did.   In fact, he turned off the television and went outside to wash his father’s car. 

While he was outside, Carolina fought back to within two points.  And then…..with only  three seconds left in the game, Walter Davis (look for #24 in picture below) took an at-the-buzzer-shot from 25 feet away. 

He made it!    There was no three point shot then.  So the game was tied.

Phil came back into the house and watched Carolina win during overtime.

Phil said that the players could pull off amazing things like that in extremely high pressure situations because of practice where  Coach Dean Smith would say something like, “Okay- let’s pretend it’s the last 5 minutes.”  He would put the time and the score on the clock and they would play from there. The whole thing would be videotaped and critiqued.
Phil said he couldn’t think of one thing that happened in a basketball game that they hadn’t gone over in practice.  
Coach Smith prepared the team with a vision and a plan.   The plan was practiced.  Over and over.  So that in a game, during a time out, when everyone else thought it was over,  Coach Smith reminded the team of the many times they had run through the exact same situation before,  giving the team belief and confidence that they could push through. 
It didn’t always result in a victory but without the final push (and the prep for it); there would have been no chance.
Practice, rehearsal, role plays, videotapes, critiques…good for business and basketball.

Let’s hope our team has done enough of it for tonight.

And then – what about you and your team?   What kinds of things do you do to prepare and be ready to push if needed?

Photo: From The Dean’s List.  Used with permission from author, Art Chansky.