Kansas, Kansas, Kansas (Ugh!)

It had to be Kansas. Kansas. Kansas.

Roy Williams may be over the heartbreak and heartache his leaving Lawrence caused in 2003, but it’s just getting worse with me. The tweets, emails and blog posts are already out there, claiming that Bill Self has built a better program at KU than ol’ Roy has at UNC over the last 10 years.

Statistics don’t show that (they’re pretty damn even, in fact), but the fact that Tar Heels have now gone home at the hands of the Jayhawks in three of the last six NCAA Tournaments makes it seem that way to a lot of basketball fans.

Both programs have been great all the way back to the Phog Allen and Frank McGuire eras, each having blip periods that caused them to change coaches. But the last 10 years have been basically even-steven, certainly close enough to disavow any notion that one guy has out-coached the other.

Kansas and Self have won more games and have a better record (300-58 for 84%) than Carolina and Williams (282-79 for 78%), but that is largely due to several factors over that 10-year span.

One, Self took over a Kansas team that Williams left in sounder shape than the one Roy inherited from Matt Doherty. Two, the Tar Heels had one dreadful season in the last 10 years, the 20-17 debacle that followed losing four starters off the 2009 national champions. And, three, Carolina’s overall pipeline to the pros has been better than Self’s at Kansas, which ironically has made it worse for UNC.

Thirteen players have been drafted in the first round during the Williams era, 11 of them who left a total of 17 seasons on the Tar Heel table. Compare that to Kansas under Self, which has produced nine first-round picks,   one who left after one year, two who left after two and another two who left after three seasons. If you add Mario Chalmers, the MOP of the 20008 Final Four who was drafted in the second round, the Jayhawks have lost 10   seasons of eligibility in the last 10 years.

As for the NCAA Tournament, Self and Kansas have been there all 10 years but with less results than Carolina and Williams in nine trips. KU has one national championship (’08) and reached another Final Four (2012) and could still improve on those numbers this season. The Jayhawks have gone out in three regional finals, one Sweet Sixteen (and counting), one second round ouster and two embarrassing first-round upsets (Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and ’06).

Carolina under Williams has those 2005 and ’09 NCAA titles, one other Final Four and three Elite Eight game goners. Sunday’s loss to KU was the third second-round ouster for UNC and Williams, who holds the record of 23 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with at least one victory. Both Self and Williams have won three national Coach of the Year honors at their current schools.

Their conference records are pretty close, with Self winning a few more regular-season and tournament titles in the Big 12 than Williams in the ACC. But, over that 10 years, the ACC has been the better league top to bottom and won three national championships to KU’s one for the Big 12.

So don’t give me that hoo-ha that Kansas has a better program than Carolina. They are both great. What skews the pooch are those three losses to KU in the three NCAA match-ups, and each one has a story to itself.

At the 2008 Final Four at San Antonio, the Tar Heels were a slight favorite over Kansas after winning both the ACC regular season and tournament and losing only two games all season. But this was the first time Williams faced Kansas, the still-angry KU crowd and all the storylines took away from the game itself.

The Heels played horribly, fell behind by 40-12 in the first half and made a late push that fell short in the 84-68 crusher. Williams (wearing the infamous KU sticker) stayed to watch the Jayhawks win the national championship two nights later, only after Memphis did not foul Kansas with a three-point lead and Chalmers’ dramatic bomb sent the game into overtime.

When the 2012 NCAA brackets came out, Carolina was on another collision course with Kansas in the Midwest Regional, hoping to have John Henson back at full strength from the wrist he sprained in the ACC Tournament. Of course, it got worse after Kendall Marshall went down in the second-round win over Creighton. With back-up point guard Dexter Strickland already sidelined by a knee injury, the Tar Heels were left with freshman reserve Stilman White, who played admirably in the 13-point loss to the Jayhawks in St. Louis.

The committee did it again this season, when it was an even worse scenario for Carolina, which lost two sophomores, one junior and one senior from its 2012 starting lineup that when whole was the only serious threat to Kentucky’s national championship. And the suits sent the Tar Heels to Kansas City (which is like playing Carolina in Greensboro).

By then, UNC had made the NCAA Tournament only due to perhaps Williams’ best coaching job of his 25-year career. Reluctantly, in early February, he scrapped his two low-post offense for a small lineup of four guards and little presence in the paint. The Heels launched and made enough three-pointers to turn their season around and get another NCAA bid, but they went to the Dance living by the long bomb, which was enough to give Williams the hives.

And, yes, they died that way, shooting barely 30 percent for the game and giving in to Kansas’ best half of the tournament thus far. So Carolina under Williams is 0-3 against KU and Self. And, since they will never play in the regular season by mutual consent, it will stay that way until the next time they meet in the NCAA tournament.

With at least five guys 6-9 or bigger next season, Williams will go back to the way he likes to play and, sooner or later, he’ll see his old school again. The NCAA committee seems to like that kind of theater for TV.

Even though, as of this moment, we hate it.


All photography in Hoop It Up is provided by Todd Melet.


4/4: A 44-Year Reflection

Today is 4/4 and 44 years ago, that date was one that is defining for a generation.  I’m sure that the classmates and friends I was with also remember it as if it were yesterday.  It was a Thursday evening, and I was in a student government meeting in the Student Center at Howard University in Washington, D.C..  And since it was Thursday – ROTC day – I was still in my uniform.  Before the meeting was over, someone came into the room and told us that someone had shot Dr. King in Memphis.  A hush fell over the room, and a few short minutes later, someone else came back to tell us that Dr. King had been pronounced dead.

We left the Student Center, and before I got to my car a block or two away, I could smell smoke and see flames; Washington was starting to burn.  I got to my apartment off 17th Street NW and was thankful that the fires and rioting hadn’t moved up as far north as I was.  Arriving home, I immediately turned on the TV and heard all of the confusing reports about what had happened in Memphis and what was happening in DC and other cities.

The phone rang, and it was my mom calling to check on me.  I assured her that I was safe, but you know moms: saying so just wasn’t enough.  I told her that I would remain in my apartment and under no circumstances would I venture out.  Being mom, she asked if there was enough food in the apartment.  I told her yes.  I just didn’t tell her that it was Vienna sausages, crackers, noodles, Cheerios and beer (18 was the drinking age back then); my roommate and I could last three or four days at least!

At some point Mayor-Commissioner Walter Washington (DC didn’t have an elected mayor at that point) declared a curfew, and then we learned that the University had been closed.  This was a concern because, back in March, we had missed a week of school when students took over Howard University and demanded reforms and the resignation of our president, James Nabrit. (See “Eyes on the Prize, Episode 11.  Look who appears at 26:30.)

Note also that Easter was April 14th, and we usually had Spring Break then, so would we graduate in June after being out of school so much?  We didn’t know for sure at that time, but they ended up crafting a 2nd semester plan to make up some of the missing days.  As we watched what was happening all over the country, graduation quickly became a secondary concern as we wondered about the future of the United States of America!  Seeing so many cities on fire and seeing the rioting was sobering for sure, but asking how we would fix the frustration and despair behind it all was the unanswered question.

We have seen much progress in the 44 years since Dr. King’s assassination, but every day we see the reminders about how much further we need to go to realize “The Dream.”  Forty-four years from today, where will we as a nation be?


An aerotropolis in North Carolina?

But what about North Carolina airports?

How do our major airports and associated metropolitan areas fit into the concepts for the future of the world’s mega airport cities discussed in the new book, “Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next” by UNC-Chapel Hill’s John D. Kasarda 
and Greg Lindsay? Does any one of our “airport cities” have the potential to be a real “aerotropolis”?

In an earlier column about this book, I promised to try to respond to these questions.

“Aerotropolis” is a word that Kasarda popularized. It describes an airport-city where the airport is hub of a surrounding urban area. The urban area provides nearly “frictionless” connectivity for the airport’s passengers and freight. The urban area’s business, manufacturing, and brainpower élites thrive on the convenient and speedy global connectivity the airport provides.

Several North Carolina airports have some of the attributes of an aerotropolis.

Charlotte stands out in passenger boarding and ranks as one of the world’s major airports in this category. It is a major hub. Some people in Charlotte assert that this major hub status costs them money because tickets cost more than at non-hub airports.***

But, as Kasarda explains, the time saved is valuable in a just-in-time world, more valuable than the extra money spent on tickets. Businessmen can leave Charlotte in the morning, have face-to-face meetings with clients during the day, and get home in time to sleep in their own beds. Close to downtown, the airport is minutes from the major offices. The city’s transportation network makes it convenient for business travelers.

If Charlotte had a stronger freight operation, one that was coordinated with close-by manufacturers and distributors, some people might begin to refer to the city and its airport as an aerotropolis.

Piedmont Triad (Greensboro Winston-Salem High Point) is not even close to Charlotte in passenger boardings, but it already has a much stronger freight operation than Charlotte’s, and it is growing, as FedEx’s operation expands. Kasarda points out that Piedmont Triad is located at a transportation “sweet spot” right in the middle of a network of interstate highways.

The Global TransPark (GTP) in Kinston is, on paper, an ideal aerotropolis with planned room for nearby just-in-time manufacturing and related business. But just because you build it does not mean that they will come. GTP has lacked the priceless and essential interstate access like that serving Piedmont Triad.

The success of the Research Triangle Park inspired the GTP effort. Kasarda was the idea man. Governor Jim Martin provided the initial political muscle. Quoted in the new book he says, “North Carolina has had success with radical ideas when they were able to hold off the critics long enough to get on their feet…When I heard Kasarda’s idea, I thought it would be the next one.”

Comparing the Global TransPark to the success of RTP, the new book explains, “But if one venue in the area has the hallmarks of an aerotropolis, it is Research Triangle Park. What distinguished the two, Kasarda understood belatedly, is that the latter was blessed with both highways and growing cities around it (not to mention flights across the country only ten minutes away). RTP may be an economic engine, but its cogs are able to sleep in their own beds at night.”

The strong Raleigh-Durham (RDU) airport’s close relationship with RTP serves both entities in an aerotropolis-type relationship.

No North Carolina airport city is, by itself, an aerotropolis. But if we could combine in one location the Global TransPark plans, the research and related operations that surround RDU, the businesses and talented people of Charlotte, and the sweet spot location of Piedmont Triad, we would have an aerotropolis that would compete with any in the world.

***Information provided by Federal Aviation administration: 

Passenger Boardings in 2009

 (compare to top-ranked Atlanta 42,280,868):

 CLT 17,165,376    RDU 4,435,624   PTI* 862,679 

Landed Weight (freight) in lbs. in 2009

(compare to top-ranked Memphis 18,928,729,202):

PTI*  558,148,546  RDU  436,497,214  CLT 391,159,184 

*PTI=Piedmont Triad International Airport


Roy To Face KU's Self In Skins Game

Everyone knows that Roy Williams’ favorite off-season past time is golf, chasing that little white ball around his favorite courses all over the country and the world. Williams keeps a list of the top 100 golf courses in America and at last count ol’ Roy had played about 65 of them.

While he is never a phone call or thought away from his basketball team and the latest recruiting target, Williams strategically schedules his golf games from April to October in basically three categories: regular matches with his closest cronies wherever and whenever they can tee it up; carefully planned trips for his so-called Foxhole Gang of long-time friends (sometimes they even bring their wives!) and a few of the hundreds of charity events he is invited to play in.

In the last month, after completing his 2011 high school recruiting class and learning happily that Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller will return for the 2012 season, Williams has been executing all three of his golfing missions. He will occasionally meet three of his local buddies early in the morning at the Chapel Hill Country Club and, riding carts quickly between shots, try to complete a competitive match in record time. His goal is to always be at his office three and a half hour after they tee off (which if you don’t play golf is considered a very fast round).

In the last month, Williams went on a “boys’ golf trip” to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico and a “wives’ trip” to Palm Springs, California. This weekend he is headed back to Kansas, where most of the hard feelings from his emotional departure in 2003 have subsided. He will participate in a Skins Game at the grand opening of the Firekeeper Golf Course at the Fire Brand Casino and Resort outside of Topeka. It is to support the Notah Begay III Foundation, which benefits Native Americans all over the country. Begay, the professional golfer who was Tiger Woods’ roommate at Stanford, designed the Firekeeper course and will play in the Skins Game with Williams, head pro Randy Towner and current Kansas Coach Bill Self, who is a 12 handicap compared to Williams’ 10.

“Trust me, he is a better golfer than me. When I played with him before, he was (better),” said Self, who recalls playing two rounds with Williams when Self worked at Oral Roberts and Williams was at KU.

“It’s a nine-hole Skins match with two pros, one really good player and one hack,” added Self, referring to himself as the hack. “I’ll definitely be the weak link in that group. It should be a lot of fun playing with those three. Of course, Roy will add so much to it. Everybody respects the job he did at KU.”

Self succeeded Williams at Kansas and has had the Jayhawks highly ranked in the last eight years, including the 2008 club that hammered the Tar Heels in the Final Four semis in San Antonio and won the national championship two nights later over John Calipari’s Memphis team. (Williams, lest we forget, has won two NCAA titles since coming home to Carolina).

The following week, Williams is scheduled to be paired with Calipari, who has since moved to Kentucky and has played UNC three times already. Kentucky won in Lexington in 2010 and the Tar Heels returned the favor in Chapel Hill this past December. Then, of course, the Wildcats won the rubber match in the 2011 Elite Eight game in Newark for a trip to the Final Four.

Self and Calipari are the last two coaches to take Williams’ teams out of the NCAA Tournament. The Tar Heels will face the coach and team they beat in between – Tom Izzo and Michigan State for the 2009 national championship – in the first annual (aircraft) Carrier Classic in San Diego on Veterans Day.

So far, no golf game is scheduled with Izzo this summer.

Any suggestions for golf or basketball tips Roy should offer Self and Calipari?


Try a Little Tenderness

Otis Redding’s in my head a lot. The late, great “Big O,” as I’ve always called him. What an incredible talent and he was taken from the world much too soon. If there’s a rock n roll heaven, he’s singing with the band.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Otis was only 26 years old when he died in a plane crash on December 10th, 1967. He left behind a wife, 2 small children, accomplished musicians who would have done anything to keep playing for him, and a world of music lovers who were heartbroken. Some of us to this day. He was just beginning to hit the big time, really, having gained a big following in Europe, and he was starting to “cross over” as they call it, here in the United States. (That means making the transition from R & B star to becoming an artist popular with everyone.) It’s really sad that he had just recorded a song in the studio called “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay,” and he was excited about it. He said he just couldn’t get it out of his head. (I know what that’s like.) Sure enough, it was released soon after his fatal crash, and it shot all the way up to #1. It was the only #1 hit Otis ever had. I’m convinced he would have had more if he had stuck around a little longer.

On December 9th, one day before the crash, Otis and his backup band, The Bar-Kays, performed on a television show in Cleveland called “Upbeat.” They did “Try a Little Tenderness” and here’s a video of that performance so you can witness this dynamic showman in action. The Bar-Kays didn’t show a lot of emotion, but Otis more than made up for it. Just watch this. And turn it up loud!

Just think about this. After doing this unforgettable song on the tv show, Otis and the band played in a Cleveland nightclub that evening. The next afternoon, Otis and 4 members of the band, plus his manager, and the pilot were all killed when their small plane crashed into the ice cold waters of Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin. One of the band members was the only survivor on the plane, and another musician hitched a ride on a separate plane, since Otis’ plane could only hold 7 people. The world lost a huge talent that day. Otis Redding was incomparable.

Otis grew up in Macon, Georgia, and started singing in church as so many great singers do. He toured for several years on the circuit with Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. He was actually employed as the band’s driver, until they heard him sing and eventually got him on stage. The group became Otis Redding and the Pinetoppers. He recorded a song he wrote in 1962, called “These Arms of Mine.” If you’re an Otis fan, you know this one well. It became a minor hit for Volt Records, a subsidiary of Stax in Memphis, and Otis was on his way. He did a lot of touring with fellow Stax recording artists, Sam & Dave (just imagine how great those shows were!) Redding wrote, or co-wrote, with Steve Cropper, a lot of great songs…and back then, not too many artists were writing their own material. He had some great ones: “Mr. Pitiful,” “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” and even “Respect.” Everybody knows that one because Aretha Franklin turned it into a smash hit, but Otis wrote it and recorded it first. My favorite was “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and here’s the studio version of that song.

See what I mean? It just doesn’t get any better than that. In 1967, Otis appeared on stage at the Monterey Pop Festival in California. A whole new audience witnessed his extraordinary talent, and he became an even bigger star. If you’re interested in hearing more great songs by Otis, check out “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember.” And maybe listen to “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay” one more time.

You know, it’s amazing. “Sitting On the Dock…” was really unlike anything else he had ever recorded, and I guess it’s probably his best-known song. And that’s cool. But I prefer the power and the passion of some of his other music. Recently, they released “Otis Redding Live On the Sunset Strip,” a compilation of live stage shows from the summer of 1967, I believe, and it is incredible. What a great show that guy put on! If you want to hear Otis at his best, get that double CD. I promise it’s amazing. Nobody has ever sung with more passion and pure strength than Otis Redding.

Quick story: During the summer of ’67, a friend of mine and I were talking about going to see Otis in concert. He was coming somewhere fairly close to us here in North Carolina. I think it was maybe Fayetteville. Or perhaps it was a city in Virginia…it doesn’t matter. At the last minute, we both found out we had to work, so we couldn’t go. And I remember we said to each other, “This won’t be the only time. We’ll catch the next show.” Turns out there wasn’t a “next show.” Otis perished in that plane just a few months later, and I never got a chance to see him in person. That’s always been a major disappointment. But I’m glad his music is out there for everybody to enjoy. I know I won’t stop listening to it!

What do you think of Otis Redding’s music? And who are some of your favorite artists? I would love to know.


“Aerotropolis.” Is it for us?

“Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

Yogi Berra’s seemingly contradictory wisdom could be a subtitle for a new book about airports and the surrounding landscapes that grow up around them.

“Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next” by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay, catalogs the world’s major international airports, explaining which ones work well, which ones do not, and why. Kasarda is director of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC-Chapel Hill and an early proponent of North Carolina’s Global TransPark.

The authors examine the rising cost and looming shortage of petroleum and the unquestioned detrimental environmental consequences of carbon emissions and pollution. Then they argue persuasively that, not withstanding these factors, the world’s mega airports are here to stay.

Not only here to stay, but also they assert, these large airports and the urban areas that surround them are destined to be the world’s most important centers of population, employment, commerce, industry, enterprise, and creativity for the foreseeable future.
Older airports like Los Angeles, Chicago, and London’s Heathrow demonstrate how such operations can be amazing economic generators and how they are being choked by their very success.

For example, say the authors, “LAX [Los Angeles International] is a case study for how airports are incubators for trade and the cities that spring up to seize it. And then there are the side effects.”

Not only Apple but also “Intel, Hewlett Packard, Sun, and Cisco—long ago began outsourcing work … across the Pacific,” they continue. “Now they wait for airborne freighters to land in Los Angeles with the first samples of their latest holiday smash in the hold.”
Although LAX is booming, “The sprawl encircling it has calcified, and traffic on its interstate arteries…is the most sclerotic in the region.”

Still, the authors say, “LAX will get busier. Its many missteps will be mitigated but never rectified, and the crush on its crumbling infrastructure will worsen until—from a competitive perspective—it finally implodes.”

Newer airports, like those at Dallas, Denver, and Washington’s Dulles avoided some of these problems. More efficient systems inside the airport, better-planned connections to nearby businesses and surface transportation, and room to expand give them the ability to steal economic development potential from their older competitors.

Closer by, and maybe easier to understand, are the economic booms that the airports at Memphis and Louisville created. With Federal Express and UPS making these airports their principal transfer hubs, these cities became ideal locations for distribution centers of “overnight” sellers like Amazon and the warehouses of “just-in-time” manufacturers. As a result, these two cities are “in bloom” again, maybe explaining why the record crowd at the Kentucky Derby last weekend looked so prosperous.

The efficient airport operations and the attraction of related businesses at Memphis and Louisville give clues about the concept of the strange word in the book’s title: “Aerotropolis.” But there is more to it than just an airport and its city. According to Kasarda and Lindsay, an aerotropolis must be “a superconductor, a piece of infrastructure promising zero resistance to anyone setting up shop there.”

This “frictionlessness” is “the product of a whole host of attributes, many of which are invisible: tariff-free zones, faster customs clearance, fewer and faster permits, and a right-to-work workforce that knows what it is doing.”

These things and a surrounding efficient infrastructure “combine to cut costs and red tape for corporations, often at the expense of their employees and the taxpayers, in exchange (theoretically) for greater gains for all down the road.”

Where can these things be brought together? In places like China or Dubai, where decisions can be made overnight by fiat. In the U.S. and other democracies, the pathway to the ideal aerotropolis may be too steep.

And if the aerotropolis is to be the key to future competitiveness and prosperity, we may find that our beloved democracy is an expensive treasure.