Police brutality and the road to the NBA championship

In anticipation of tonight’s NBA Finals tip-off, One-Bid Wonders’ Noah Perkins and I’m Sorry Mark Jackson’s Quinten Rosborough sat down and chopped it up to preview the Finals.

Noah Perkins, One-Bid Wonders – Pick: Golden State

Thirty-one years ago, in a club rumpus, David Thompson, the ‘Skywalker’, remembered in NBA lore a rung just below icon, was thrown down a flight of stairs at Studio 54. Of course, by 1984 Studio 54 had transitioned from Warhol and coke to Ron Jeremy and, well, lesser quality coke; explaining why one of the biggest fiends in NBA history might have been there in the first place. The knee injury effectively ended Thompson’s career, which had already bottomed out long before.

In the 50 years since Wilt Chamberlin popularized NBA players getting after it at the club, Thompson’s assault is the closest parallel to the NYPD beating of Thabo Sefolosha this past April.

To recap, Sefolosha suffered a leg fracture while out late in Manhattan, ending his season and any hopes that the Atlanta Hawks had of besting the Cavs. Without Thabo’s elite perimeter defense, Lebron was unchecked and could, in the words of Conan, “crush his enemies – see them driven before him and hear the lamentation of their women.”

Given police brutality rates and the general quality of New York City law enforcement, it was only a matter of time before a professional basketball playing Swiss national with no criminal record was flogged by cops at an active crime scene while not being suspected of any wrong doing.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert owes former mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg an eclectic floral arraignment for their impact on the current state of the NYC police department.

Coming from the Eastern Conference, and playing a weakened Hawks team, Cleveland’s path to the finals couldn’t have been made any easier.

Not that it matters. The odds of the Warriors losing the series are somewhere around Iman Shumpert winning a Grammy, Stephen Baldwin winning an Oscar and Roger Clinton winning a presidential election.

Simply put it’s not going to happen.

Golden State is the most complete team since the 96 Bulls. Over the course of Steph Curry’s lifetime maybe five teams have been better – Only definitively The ‘03 Spurs, ‘01 Lakers, and ‘96 Bulls.

The Warriors play the league’s best offense, and most efficient defense. They volume score without match, close out games and have depth not seen since before the merger. The team is deep enough to be afforded the luxury of having Brandon Rush and David Lee on the end of the bench. Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingtson, Festus Ezeli, Mo Speights and Leandro Barbosa make up a second unit capable of beating up on many teams starting five.

The Warriors’ all-to-often unheralded defense is anchored by an elite post defender (Andrew Bogut) an elite perimeter defender (Iggy) and Draymond Green, the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year.

Green is perhaps among the seven or eight most valuable components of any team in the NBA. Golden State only allows 97 points per 100 possessions when Draymond is on the floor. Not surprisingly, he closed the season near the top of the VORP (Value over replacement player) rankings, finishing the year as the second best screen-and-roll defender in the league.

Lest we forget about Bogut, the association’s second most highly rated post defender and rim protector.

Should I even talk about Steph Curry’s historic 3- point shooting?

In the year 2000, Reggie Miller set the previous playoff record with 58 threes made. Steph is on pace to nearly double that. For the full scope of how insane Curry has been – compare his performance in this year’s postseason to playoff snipers from around the basketball universe over the past 30 years:

NBA
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State (2015)
Projected threes hit: 103
Threes hit per game: 4.9
Shooting Percentage: 43.7%

2. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers (2000)
Threes hit: 58
Threes hit per game: 2.6
Shooting Percentage: 39.5%

NCAA Division I
1. Glen Rice, Michigan (1989)
Threes hit: 27
Threes hit per game: 4.5
Shooting Percentage: 55.1%

2. Freddie Banks, UNLV (1987)
Threes hit: 26
Threes hit per game: 5.2
Shooting Percentage: 40%

Liga ACB (Top league Spain)
1. Mark Simpson (1992)
Threes hit: 42
Threes hit per game: 3
Shooting Percentage: 50.6%

2. Jordi Villacampa (1993)
Threes Hit: 40
Threes hit per game: 2.5
Shooting Percentage: 44.9%

Euroleague
1. Juan Carlos Navarro, FC Barcelona Regal (2013)
Threes hit: 23
Threes hit per game: 3.29
Shooting Percentage: 41.8%

2. Sergio Llull, Real Madrid (2013)
Threes hit: 18
Threes hit per game: 3.6
Shooting Percentage: 56.3%

I’d mention Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes but I’m worried about pulling a Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller.

The bottom line is this: The Cavs just don’t match up well with the Warriors. Golden State scores too much, takes away dribble penetration, makes you settle for bad shots and locks down the paint.

No disrespect to LeBron, but King James isn’t a good enough jump shooter to win this on his own.

Kevin Love is out, Kyrie Irving is hurt and J.R. Smith, the guy with the Yelawolf, ‘I knowingly or maybe (benefit of the doubt) unknowingly spread VD’ vibe, is their third option. Things are bleak enough that the team is talking about activating Anderson Varejao (dude hasn’t played a single game this entire season).

Who do you go to if LeBron can’t get going and J.R. is cold? Timofey Mozgov? Iman Shumpert with Klay Thompson defending him? What about defensively, who do you put on Steph? On Klay? Matthew Delevadova? How does David Blatt get the Smash Brothers out of rhythm?

It’s not like we haven’t already seen a supporting-cast-less Lebron fall in the finals before.

Warriors in six, winter is coming!

Quentin Rosborough, I’m Sorry Mark Jackson – Pick: Cleveland

First and foremost, I take offense to your bestowing of the nickname “The Smash Brothers” to an NBA duo that is not at least 50% Earl James “You Trying to Get the Pipe” Smith. He’s earned that title.

Second, and erm… secondmost, yes the Golden State Warriors are good, damn good, and having finally faced a real playoff test in the James Harden’s Houston Rockets, are primed to establish themselves as one of the greatest teams in NBA History. Steph Curry has become everyone’s favorite player, Draymond Green has become everyone’s favorite trash-talker, and Klay Thompson, well…looks alot like Ben Savage.

Lets be real here. The Warriors look unstoppable, as they have all season, and I can’t blame anyone for thinking they’ll make light work of the Cavs on their way to one of the greatest playoff records of all time. But you know which other Warriors looked unstoppable? The Eden Hall Varsity Warriors. And we all know how that turned out.

Look, I’m not saying that the Bash Brothers are going to come out at halftime or anything, but stranger things have happened.

Like the Eden Hall Junior Varsity ducks however, LeBron James will be attempting to do the impossible against improbable odds; he is their Charlie Conway, David Blatt is their Gordon Bombay, and Matthew Dellavedova is their Greg Goldberg, metaphorically speaking that is. All I’m saying is it is not entirely outside of the the realm of the possibility that the Cavaliers shock the warriors and win LeBron James his third title in five years, and force the Warriors into a much-deserved name change.

Over-extended metaphors aside, the Warriors have a real problem they’ll need to address if they want to beat the Cavaliers, and his name is Harrison Barnes. Barnes can not guard LeBron James, particularly once LeBron decides to start operating in the post (which he most certainly will given that he’s ice cold from about everywhere else during the playoffs)

This leaves Steve Kerr in quite the the coaching conundrum then, once LeBron starts to take advantage of Harrison Barnes in the post, what does he do to slow him down? The smart money goes against the Warriors choosing to double team, because that will just lead to open 3s. The more likely option would be switching Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Draymond Green onto him, which would slow LeBron down to a certain extent, but would also make Barnes responsible for keeping Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson off the offensive glass, which as we’ve seen in the playoffs thus far, is quite the challenge. He’s averaging 11 boards per game over his last 10 appearances, and if he can put up those numbers against Pau Gasol and Paul Milsap, just imagine what he’ll do to the 209 lb Barnes.

LeBron James Playoff Shot Chart

For the first time in this years playoffs, the Golden State Warriors are going to find themselves on the wrong end of a mismatch; a mismatch that could just cost them a championship. Cavs in 6. Quack Quack motherf****r.

Jay Kelly – Fighting for redemption

Jason "Jay" Kelly.
Jason “Jay” Kelly.

About a half a mile from Fields Corner train station in Dorchester, there is a beige and green gym surrounded by an array of warehouses. On this Thursday afternoon the only music that can be heard from outside the upstairs entrance, labeled “D.B.C” for Dorchester Boxing Club, are rhythmic Cuban tunes accompanied by the hard breathing of Jason “Jay” Kelly.

Dressed in a grey hoodie and navy-blue track pants, Kelly is alone in the dimly lit boxing club his father began renting about three years ago.

A buzzer goes off every 30 seconds, signaling time left in the practice round. His white and blue sneakers move gracefully as he dances around the red and blue ring at the back of the gym, pretending to trap his future opponent against the ropes.

“I just like the groove, the rhythm,” Kelly says as he cuts through the air with his left jab. But the Irish-American knows the lyrics to each song. Spanish was one of the few classes he excelled in while at Boston Latin high school. The Dorchester-native plans on using it to excite Spanish audiences in future fights.

“Hopefully, one day, when I get big enough and fight in front of other walks of life,” Kelly says.
The fighter’s goal has always been to travel the world and train as one of the best. He sees himself eventually selling out any arena and beating any fighter in the world. Becoming a champion, would mean the prior trials of his parents and his individual failures weren’t for nothing.

“I can beat world title contenders when I can get to that level once I get that experience,” Kelly says. “I believe I have the talent and the ability and the intelligence.”

The 24-year-old has only two professional fights to his name. His upcoming welterweight match against South Boston-native Jimmy LeBlanc (13-25) at the Royale, a Boston nightclub on May 16 will be his first fight in over eight months. But he’s been fighting for the better part of his life.

He left boxing after his last fight to take on a courier job and take on more hours at his family-owned South Boston bar.

Kelly’s comeback fight may not be the competition that he wants but it is a step towards relieving himself of the pressure on his back.

He knows the money his father dumps into the gym would be better spent somewhere else. He knows money would be a second thought if he had stuck with his first career – acting.

But the ring has always provided a path towards legitimacy.

“It’s supposed to be his savior,” says Kelly’s father Danny. “It’s his redemption.”

Round one
Kelly has the skill and fan base to fight some of the nation’s best in sold out arenas like Boston Garden in at least the next four years, according to Artie DePinho, who is promoting Kelly’s upcoming fight. DePinho has promoted for Terrence Crawford, a 28-year-old, who was named Fighter of the Year by ESPN.com.

“Jay’s biggest quality is a fan base, which is extremely important boxing in Boston,” DePinho says.

But Kelly has been used to having a fan base since he was a child. In 1998, four years after his Irish-born father Danny Kelly introduced him to boxing, Kelly was cast in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River to play the child-version of Sean Penn’s character.

St. Williams elementary, now the Cristo Rey high school, even put up a poster of the film in the front of the school building.

“He was the talk of the show for school,” says Julian Del Solar a personal trainer at the Equinox gym in Boston and Kelly’s best friend since grade school.

He was also the pride of the family. Danny remembers being in awe as he watched his son transition seamlessly from playing with the other child-actors to acting terrified as soon as Eastwood said “action.”

“First [audition tape] Eastwood looked at [what] was his and he said ‘this is perfect, this is the one I want,” Danny says.

But Kelly had no aspirations to be a Hollywood star at such a young age. He had never even been in a school play. The only reason he got involved was because scouts were recruiting in Dorchester youth centers.

Kelly’s had around 100 auditions, but besides a short stint on Showtime’s “The Brotherhood” and a United Way commercial, he had little success.

“I thought that I would get more from it,” Kelly says. “Over the years it didn’t really pan out to what I thought it would be.”

He remembers taking four hour drives to auditions in New York City, only to be met with rejection after rejection. By the time he was 18, he realized his acting career had already faded with directors looking to cast child actors to save money.

But boxing had always been consistent. Danny says after taking his three sons to a fight when he was 7-years-old, Kelly was the only one who truly stuck with it.

As a child, he would stay up late to watch every fight on television. When he got older, he studied boxing clips on YouTube more than his schoolbooks.

By the time he was in high school, he was sparring against much older opponents in various gyms in South Boston and Quincy. The teenager had developed power that allowed him to hold his own against much older opponents.

“It was kind of my prime so I kind of had a false sense of security and sense of invincibility,” Kelly says.

At a young age, he lacked discipline and was no more than an amateur-level boxer.

“I didn’t take it seriously at all,” Kelly says. “I was out partying and everything like that. Boxing was just a labor of love for me.”

He was arrested for drinking and smoking marijuana during his time in high school but never saw a court date or any served time.

Kelly’s grades declined at the prestigious Boston Latin high school, which requires potential students to take an entry exam. He transferred to the Fenway high school, mainly because Del Solar was there.

By the time Kelly graduated in 2009, he says his GPA was just in the high 1.0s. He figured he could get a solid career out of the NAVY and did very well on the aptitude test. The test projected he would not serve in combat but rather be a mass communicator, which writes stories about the NAVY experience.

Plans changed again when the 18-year-old Kelly decided to visit Del Solar at his school, the University of New Hampshire. While in a bar, another guy was heckling the two and Kelly, never one to back down from a fight, knocked him out and was arrested. He served no time but his plan of going to the NAVY was derailed.

But his father, Danny, luckily had a friend at the Boston Sports Club in the Fenway area so Kelly started training people as a certified trainer in February of 2010. He finally found his niche: he could still box while making money.

It only took a month for another knock down.

Kelly went out to watch one of his friend’s boxing matches at the Police Athletic League in South Boston and drank a bit too much for it. He didn’t expect to see a rival in the streets outside of the fight.

Kelly says the tension with Sean Provenzano began just a couple weeks prior when he saw the South Boston-native bullying someone outside of his house and intervened.

This time, Provenzano, accompanied by friends, asked Kelly if he wanted to walk around the corner. A drunk Kelly, not thinking of the value of his new job, or the fact that he was alone, agreed.
Provenzano pinned Kelly and beat his face against the concrete. His friends held back an emerging crowd so no one would interfere. By the time Kelly was conscious he would need wire wrapped around brackets attached to his teeth to hold his jaw in place.

“I convinced myself that I would never box again,” Kelly says.

His only source of food was through a tube for seven weeks and he lost 20 pounds. His morale and work ethic quickly declined.

“I just kind of lost interest in anything positive and was just off the deep end,” Kelly says.
It didn’t take long for him to quit the job.

“Actually living with the injury and having to adjust in life, that was the worst I’ve ever seen him,” Del Solar says.

The low point was still to come even after his jaw was unwired that summer. Kelly saw a former friend about to get jumped by a group of guys in Toohig Park in Dorchester on a random summer day. Just like he’s always done, he joined the underdog.

It turned into a brawl but Kelly was able to make it home. Later that day, police came by and arrested Kelly in his home, in front of his family.

“They arrested me in the kitchen and took me out of there,” Kelly says. “[My mother] was just worried about the neighbors seeing. She was mortified and so ashamed.”

Kelly did not serve any time. Breda Byrne refused to give comment for this story.

“It might have been part of what snapped me into it,” Kelly says of the arrest. “God willing, it snapped me out of it and into my old self to do some positives.”

Round Two
Slowly Kelly began working out again with his father’s support. He also started to train children from the community in the club.

Danny spends $2000 a month to rent the space for Dorchester Boxing Club, because he wants to see the sport grow among youth in the community but also because he loves seeing his son train children.
Father and son also work at the family-owned “Whitey’s” Bar, in South Boston. But the investment in the gym hasn’t proved to make money.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m a burden on him because he’s doing it for me but he knows that I think the money would be better spent better otherwise,” Kelly says.

He can’t dissuade his father from the gym but he can train, in hopes of being a prized fighter.
“For me it’s a monetary thing,” Kelly says. “I want to make money off of it. I love boxing, I love to box but not enough where I’m going to be up there taking huge punches for free.”

Danny realizes the gym is costing him money. He also knows a son in Hollywood would have made the family more money.

“But what can you do? You got to encourage your kid to do what he wants to do,” Danny says.

But Danny realized his son still needed closure if he hoped to move on as a fighter.

“I didn’t think I would box again but my Dad thought I would,” Kelly says. Thanks to him and his belief.”

Round three
Provenzano, sporting black shorts and gear, stood opposite from Kelly in the ring inside Dorchester Armory in 2012. It was his first amateur fight back after the wired-shut jaw kept him out for more than a year.

Provenzano was not a seasoned fighter by any means. Kelly doesn’t even know what he did for a living.

Kelly, in white shorts and a red top, remembers surveying the raucous crowd of 600, and wondering if the fans from South Boston really thought his opponent had a chance. He had fallen far too low to not rise to the occasion.

“You have to get real low and everything to try and bounce back from it and to get back in boxing,” Kelly says. “I just started exercises again and this is just something I know how to do.”

Shortly after the bell rung, Provenzano had already hit Kelly so hard, his head was spinning.

“I’ve boxed all sorts of pro fighters obviously, all sorts of different levels of fighters from different weight classes and no one hit me as hard as this kid does,” Kelly says.

Danny remembers an infuriated, anxious Kelly coming back to the corner after the first round.

“Obviously he wanted to kill the guy,” Danny says. “I freaking wanted to kill him myself.”
Del Solar remembers the second round being close and entertaining as Kelly held the bigger Provenzano at bay with his jabs.

“The first two rounds were pretty entertaining,” Del Solar says. “And the last round just got everybody off their feet.”

Kelly knocked Provenzano out and roared to the electric crowd as the Southie-native hit the floor.

“He just set the tone for what boxing really is,” Del Solar says. “They were too old for street fights so they just kind of squashed the beef in the ring.”

But Kelly didn’t just end an old grudge. He restored pride, not to his family, but to himself.
“I would have had to get out of town definitely,” Kelly says. “But the way it played out it was just so perfect.”

Round Four
After leaving after his second win in the summer of 2014, Kelly knew he wasn’t living the life he wanted.

He quit his courier job and took a trip to California and Colorado this past winter, hoping to clear his head and find out what he truly wanted in life. The only thing he could think of was boxing. In fact, he was soon training in the high altitude.

When he got back, to Dorchester Boxing Club in early March he found joy, once again, training kids in the community.

Kelly trained 8-year-old Stephen O’Malley to the Silver Mittens tournament championship. He has trained Dorchester youth since the gym opened.

“I don’t think I’d like to see Stephen with anybody, at any point, other than Jay,” says O’Malley’s father, also named Stephen.

Currently, Kelly isn’t training as much as he would like to. His trainer Billy Conway, of Dorchester, also works at another South Boston boxing gym. Kelly also still works at Whitey’s bar.

Even though he won both of his fights in first-round knockouts and his upcoming opponent has a weak record, LeBlanc is an experienced fighter. The last time he fought a guy who was 2-0, he knocked him out in the first round.

“I think he’s good but it’s just a matter of time before I hit him,” Kelly says. “With [25] losses, it’s just as soon as I hit his chin.”

He thinks LeBlanc will push him away from his strong side and towards his left, which is why Kelly is relentlessly working on his left jab and hook.

“I hit him with the jab, it will make an effect on the fight,” Kelly says. “Mark my words.”

If LeBlanc gets him on the ropes or even knocks him down, based on Kelly’s past, he should expect to get right back up.

“I don’t want to do nothing but boxing to have some sort of legitimacy,” Kelly says.

The fight is just another step for Kelly to traveling as a seasoned professional and maybe even revving up future foreign crowds with a little Spanish.

Tickets for Jason Kelly’s fight vs. Jimmy LeBlanc are available for $40. The fight will start at 3pm at the Royale.

Heaven is a Playground — Making sense of the abomination that is Sin City Saints

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In middle school, the perfect “mental health day” (see: the official playbook for Jewish mothers) started with a bowl of chickarina soup, saltines on the side and reruns of The White Shadow on ESPN Classic — Ken Howard, with his rutty-faced New York-Irish good looks playing a retired Chicago Bull now coaching high school basketball in South Central Los Angeles. And by coaching, I mean combating the societal ills of 1970s L.A. one wayward teenager at a time.

Homosexuality, teen pregnancy, gangs, drugs and Italian kids nicknamed “Salami,” The White Shadow was like a grittier, less Jewish Welcome Back Kotter (although the team did have bench warmer named Goldstein). Fun fact, the growth of basketball in Turkey during the 80s has been largely attributed to the popularity of the show among the Turkish.

Wanting to enjoy the sense of wonderment that a young Hedo Turkoglu must have felt while throwing back handfuls of Lahmacun during episodes of The White Shadow, I spent most of Wednesday binge watching Yahoo’s newest creation: Sin City Saints. By episode three I felt nauseous; by episode six I prayed for the sweet release of death; by episode eight I experienced what I believe Hunter S. Thompson was describing when talking about “the edge.” (It’s generally a bad sign when Rick Fox turns in the strongest performance among a cast that otherwise features Tom Arnold, the chick who played Chief O’Brien’s wife on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the dude who was “The Wiz” on Seinfeld.)

Sin City Saints follows an expansion basketball team in Las Vegas (presumably in the NBA), with the main hijinks revolving around the tech billionaire owner, who is played by the Wikipedia page-less Andrew Santino. The owner, after running over the team’s star player and in jeopardy of losing his club via action from the league commissioner, enlists the help of a New York City based P.R. guru, played by Malin Akerman. Trying to pull off Tasha Yar hair and failing miserably, Akerman is probably the worst part of the show: Her effort is comparable to Rajon Rondo’s in Dallas, which is problematic because she isn’t that great of an actress to begin with. (Think Kaley Cuoco in The Big Bang Theory bad.)

Subplots include the team recruiting Chinese player Wu, who comes with his stereotypically overbearing, perfectionist Asian mother. Said Asian mother sleeping with the team’s star player (the one who was run over) ala Delonte West. The team signing retired player turned burger magnate Billy King, played by Baron Davis, who, unsurprisingly, is not a good actor. Serbian player Arthak bullying the offensively emasculated Asian assistant general manager, and the owners effort to secure taxpayer funding for a new stadium.

Over the course of season one’s entire 192 minutes I did not laugh, giggle, cackle, guffaw, snigger, chortle, chuckle or tee-haw once. The writing and direction (shame on you Fred Savage from the Wonder Years) were so bad they made Blue Mountain State look like Friday Night Lights. Sin City Saints so desperately wants to follow in the footsteps of an Arrested Development, but in the end comes off like every other bit of garbage on network television, sans the one-line witticisms.

Amazon Prime has Transparent, Netflix has House of Cards, and HBO Go has Game of Thrones; I dig that in its infancy Yahoo Screen has free content, but as long as it’s anchored by fecal matter-like Sin City Saints and a Donald Glover-Chevy Chase-less Community it will continue to rank somewhere below Crackle on the hierarchy of streaming platforms.

At least HBO has the NFL themed Ballers, premiering in June.

Heaven is a Playground — Kyle Korver: NBA MVP?

With the NBA Playoffs tipping off, our own Noah Perkins chopped it up with I’m Sorry Mark Jackson’s (imsorrymarkjackson.com) Quinten Roseborough to discuss who the rightful NBA MVP is — or, more accurately, Noah’s highly controversial opinion that it is Atlanta Hawks sniper Kyle Korver. Somehow, Matthew McConaughey is a lynchpin of the argument — give it a read:

Noah Perkins, One-Bid Wonders

I consider myself a well thought out person, one who is willing to listen to reason, and change my opinion when presented with contradictory facts and information. There are few exceptions to this however: Jenn Sterger framed Brett Favre; socks go well with sandals; Six Feet Under is the greatest show in the history of television; and Kyle Korver is the most valuable player in the league this season.

To be fair, as far as “ridiculous” NBA opinions go, I also think Draymond Green is a better player than Blake Griffin.

I’ve had these debates many times: Reactions generally range from the drunkenly violent to the more polite Ivy League-styled lets-ignore-that-guy-he’s-from-Yale type shunning.

What has never happened — what I cannot fathom happening — is someone actually agreeing with me. Which is hard to believe when you dig into the money-ball numbers — Draymond’s advanced stats eviscerate Griffin’s. Not wanting to put everyone to sleep, I will let readers judge for themselves here. For those too lazy to click the link, Draymond’s Value over Replacement Player (the advanced statisticians wet dream) places him at 9th overall in the league; Blake comes in at 19th.

Which brings me to Kyle Korver.

99.9-percent of white players fall into one of three categories: the intrinsically hilarious (think Paul porn-stache Mokeski, Brian fire-crotch Scalabrine, and the name Cherokee Parks); the grotesquely overrated (IE Kevin Love, or, dare I say Larry Bird); and the wildly underrated, pigeon-holed Tiny-Tims of the league (players like Korver and to a lesser extent J.J. Reddick).

Korver is only a smidge, or depending on how you look at it, a Metta World Peace penis-length away from shooting 50-50-90 (field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentage) on the year. Only one other player in NBA history – Steve Kerr — has done that.

I get it, the dude only averages 12 points a game, but that’s all he needs to, what his presence on the court does for the Hawks in terms of spacing the floor is how the team has managed the second best record in the NBA. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said it best: “he averages 13 points per game, right? But you go into the game and you have to treat him like he averages 30, or else it could be 30.”

Per 100 possessions, the Hawks average 110 points when Korver is on the court. Without him, that number drops to 95. During the Hawks 19 game win streak he shot something like 66 percent from 3-point land when a defender was within two feet of him. Remember how good Matthew McConaughey was in True Detective after years and years of mediocre romantic comedies? That’s the kind of career renaissance Kyle Korver is having at age 34 in his 11th NBA season.

The metric we all use to judge value is wins; players not on playoff teams are (unfairly) dismissed from the conversation, which is why I can omit Russell Westbrook. The Atlanta Hawks are the top seeded team from the Eastern Conference; general logic would then dictate that their most important player would be mentioned as an MVP candidate, right? The Warriors have an insanely deep team — swap Curry out for Shaun Livingston, and that’s still a solid playoff team.

I love Dennis Schroder — I love the fact that he is a German dude who reps the Wesley Snipes in Demolition Man look — but let’s be real: can you really see the Hawks led by Jeff Teague and Al Horford as more than the 7th seed without Kyle Korver?

Quinten Roseborough, I’m Sorry Mark Jackson

No. Kyle Korver is not the MVP.

That being said, I too am tired of the white basketball archetype: The crisp chest passes, the high free throw percentage, the protestant work ethic. It’s all a bit… trite.

For as long as I can remember, the game has always had players who have broken the alabaster mold — Gordon Hayward, Bob Sura, Jason Williams. Kyle Korver, however, a mold-breaker he is not.

Kyle Korver embodies every white basketball stereotype known to man, from his remarkable shooting touch to his sub-par athleticism, to his boyishly good looks. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if they remade White Men Can’t Jump with NBA players, Korver would be the unanimous first choice to play Billy Hoyle.

I digress, though. While Korver’s contributions to the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks are quite meaningful, he’s also probably not even the MVP of his own team. A team that with four selections was the most-represented during All-Star Weekend, and whose entire starting five was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month in January.

And yes, while he might be having a McConaughey-like return to NBA relevancy, what’s to say that this year’s playoffs won’t be the Nicolas Winding Refn-directed Lincoln ads that signal the end of any true McConaissance?

Let me put it this way, say Adam Silver were to put all active NBA players into a pool and had each team fill out their roster fantasy draft style, is there any chance Korver goes in the first round? No. So by law, he cannot be the MVP.

I do however, agree with your assessment of the other potential MVP candidates, but you’ve conveniently left one name out of your analysis. Let’s be real here, there is but one true MVP and his name is James Edward Harden Jr.: 27 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, and 6.9 assists per game. All with an improved effort on the defensive end, and the assistance of no additional All-Stars.

If we, the advanced statistics championing, mid-range jumper decrying, basketball writers are Dr. Frankenstein, then James Harden is our Monster; an allegory for our continued obsession with efficiency, the physical embodiment of our endless quest for statistical objectivity. Harden takes what we claim is empirically and veraciously “smart basketball” and turns it into a grotesque combination of drawn fouls, contested jump shots, and loose beard hairs.

But, like Frankenstein’s Monster, Harden’s game too is as awe-inspiring as it is brutally efficient. Over the course of the season, he has established himself as the league’s most well rounded offensive force, a player who from the triple threat, employs his endless collection of moves and counter-moves to render all defenses futile, all to the tune of a top 10 true shooting percentage and a top fifteen assist rate.

Kendall Gray: A man among boys

Kendall Gray. (Courtesy Photo / DSU Athletics)
Kendall Gray. (Courtesy Photo / DSU Athletics)

Kendall Gray is known as the super-athletic beast who roamed Delaware State’s front court — a man among boys who pulled down 30 rebounds in 40 minutes in a regular-season game this year. But Gray, who finished second in the nation in rebounds (edged by 0.1 rebounds per game by UC Santa Barbara’s Alan Williams) didn’t start off this way.

“It’s kind of funny, actually, because my freshman and sophomore years I couldn’t buy a rebound even if I paid for it,” Gray says. “Being around the basket, I learned to get more tenacious in going after rebounds and not just standing around watching and waiting for them to come to me.”

That change in his mindset, combined with a new offensive system implemented by first-year head coach Keith Walker, led to Gray posting numbers of 11.7 points and 11.8 rebounds (12.4 during the regular-season) while shooting 55 percent from the field. Walker took over coaching duties towards the end of last season and switched the Hornets’ Princeton-style offense to an up-tempo system and saw right away that it was perfect for Gray’s game.

“Last year when I took over we had about 10 games left,” Walker recalls. “When I decided to change the system for the last seven or eight games, I looked at the stats and Kendall’s numbers were almost tripled. I think he went from averaging about three rebounds to nine and a half. Then he went from averaging five or six points for us to averaging 12 or 13.

“I laid it down and showed him the numbers and last year the leading rebounder averaged 11.5 or something like that, and I said, ‘This is an accomplishment you can get, this is a goal you can reach.’ He set his sights on that and was able to do it.”

“In high school I was always a great shot-blocker but not a great rebounder, so it was just knowing how to go after the ball and improving how to go after the ball,” Gray says. “I started using my athletic ability to go after rebounds with the best of my abilities more often.”

Kendall Gray. (Courtesy Photo / DSU Athletics)
Kendall Gray. (Courtesy Photo / DSU Athletics)

Gray also recorded a school single-season record 95 blocks this year (83 in the regular-season). He was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, just the second player in conference history to win both awards. He’s also the third player in Delaware State program history to earn Player of the Year honors.

“Being in this conference, I always knew I could win Defensive Player of the Year, but I didn’t know I could win Player of the Year. I just thank God, my teammates and my coaches,” Gray says. “Being around a mentor like Alex Stone, who’s been telling me all year, ‘Man if you go out there and play hard, you can actually do something special for Delaware State.’”

“He’s a great young man, you never hear any problems out of him. He’s very coachable, and he’s still in the learning phase so there’s a sense that his best basketball is still ahead of him,” Walker says. “He’s done some phenomenal things this year, but I don’t think he’s anywhere near his ceiling… It’s very rare that a player would be able to get both awards in any league. It shows how much respect the other coaches in the conference have for Kendall.”

The honor meant more the Gray because he did it for his home school. A military kid for most of his childhood, Gray moved around a lot to wherever his father, Winfret, was stationed. Gray was born in California, moved to Mississippi, and then to Texas, before his family finally permanently settled in Dover, Delaware when he was seven years old.

“The best friends I have now, I met them in the second grade, I’m so thankful to have them in my life,” Gray says. “It’s just a blessing to have the opportunity just to be here and do something in Dover that a lot of people can’t do. It’s a small city so everybody knows everybody and it’s just a great feeling when you can go out and talk to somebody on the street and you’ve known them for years… It’s awesome, just being here representing my family and friends and the state that I call home. It’s great having people in your corner coming to the games and supporting you. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Looking back on his 30-rebound performance in the Hornets’ regular-season finale against Coppin State, in which he also scored a career-high 33 points in a 104-92 win, Gray credits his teammates for pushing him to grab everything in sight.

“My teammates were on the bench saying, ‘You have 12 rebounds at halftime so keep going, you have to get 20 rebounds,’” Gray says. “Then when I had 19 rebounds they said, ‘You have to get 25 rebounds!’ Then I got 25 rebounds and they said, ‘You have to get 30 rebounds!’ It was just my teammates supporting me, them being excited to be there watching me and I couldn’t have done it without them. They pushed me to be the best all season throughout practice and throughout games.”

“I think it’s his athleticism; he’s 6-foot-10, but in practice he works out with the perimeter players and the point guard,” Walker says of Gray’s prolific rebounding ability. “He’s such a great athlete, he runs the floor, has great lateral movement and quickness, and he really goes after the ball combining his instincts with his athletic ability.”

As Gray looks back at where he started to where he is now, he remembers that he didn’t start out as the great player he is now. He let that fact motivate him, and push him to put in the work to be in the position he’s in now: achieving greatness.

“Just being counted out a lot motivated me to be a better player and a better person. I was never a top-100 player in the nation, I was never thought of to be a player of the year, but it just motivated me,” Gray says. “My mom always told me to hold that grudge and prepare yourself for the best and the worst, just in case things don’t go as planned. I just put myself in position to go out there and do what I do best to help the team get victories, and that led me to winning these awards and I’m forever grateful for it.”

Kendall Gray. (Courtesy Photo / DSU Athletics)
Kendall Gray. (Courtesy Photo / DSU Athletics)

Belmont basketball has a blast in NCAA Tournament

Craig Bradshaw backpedaled down the court, turned towards the sidelines, and bellowed out, “I called that,” with a huge smile sweeping across his face.

Bradshaw had just missed the rim by a solid two feet on a 3-point attempt, only to connect high up on the backboard, with his shot ricocheting perfectly into the bottom of the net, pulling his 15th seeded Bruins to within two of second-seed Virginia, 62-60, with 4:26 remaining in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

And now Bradshaw was having a blast.

Belmont would eventually fall 79-67 as the Cavaliers closed out the game on a 17-7 run, but it didn’t for a second diminish their magical year, capped by an improbable run to the tourney.

“First off, we played a great basketball team. Virginia made the winning plays in the last three minutes that we didn’t make, and they deserve to win. They were the better team,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said after the game. “That being said, I’m certainly proud of our team’s performance, I’m proud of their fight and grit and determination and the plays that they made, and we played a great team.

“I don’t have the play-by-play but somewhere in the neighborhood of three minutes we had a real, real chance to win that basketball game and just didn’t get it done.”

Bradshaw led all scorers with 25 points, going 10-of-19 from the field and 5-of-9 from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-3-inch guard, who appeared to be playing at the ankles of the towering Cavaliers, also racked up nine rebounds.

Photo courtesy of Belmont Athletics
Photo courtesy of Belmont Athletics
“I don’t think you ever think you’re going to win the game against those guys, they string together some stops,” Bradshaw said. “I felt good about how I was shooting. We were running a good offense and they just made some good stops at the end, made more winning plays in the end.”

“When Craig plays like he did today and he’s obviously a first team OVC guy and played like that a lot he makes us a way better team,” Byrd added. “He’s fearless. He loves situations like that, that he’s in. Who he’s playing against and the circumstances in the game matter not to him at all. “

The Cavaliers entered the game leading the nation scoring defense at roughly 50 points allowed per game, but according to Belmont senior Reece Chamberlain, the Bruins handled the high-pressure defense well.

“They’re a great team, we knew that coming in, that the shots we normally get were going to come tough,” he said. “I thought we did a great job, and there’s only one stretch in the first half where we kind of got carried away and didn’t run offense but I think overall we did a pretty good job of moving the ball and working in until we got some good shots.”

For the Cavaliers, four players reached double digits, spearheaded by 22 from junior guard Malcolm Brogdon. Justin Anderson, who missed games from Feb. 11 to March 7, added 15 points and five rebounds in the winning effort.

“Well, I think he’s closer than he was a week ago obviously. He stepped back and made a three tonight and that had to make him all feel good,” Byrd said regarding Anderson’s performance.

“Overall he’s their best offensive player I think,” Byrd added. “But the beauty of their team is that you’ve got guys, Brogdon can do that, Gill can have a great game, what did he get, 16? You’ve got a lot of guys on that team that can score 15 or 16 points in a game and up can’t just focus on any one guy. They’re a better offensive team than they get credit for only because they’re such a great defensive team.”

Despite a sour end to the season, the future is bright for Belmont. Graduating only three seniors, the Bruins will return four of their five starters, and their top three scorers in Bradshaw, and rising juniors Taylor Barnette and Evan Bradds, who each played a staring role in getting the Bruins to the NCAA Tournament.

Both Bradshaw and Bradds exhibited excitement when they were asked whether or not they think they’ll return to the tournament next year.

“I don’t think you can say anything for sure but we have a really young team and Mack (Mercer) played great tonight and I’m really looking forward to his development,” Bradshaw said. “Amanze (Egekeze) is the starter, we’ve got really young guys, and I think we’re going to be really good next year. It’s up to us.

“Like he said we are very young. I’m excited, we all work really hard, so we’re just hoping we can work hard enough to get back here next year,” Bradds said.

Will Davis II leads UC Irvine into first NCAA Tournament

Will Davis. Photo Credit: UC Irvine Athletics
Will Davis. Photo Credit: UC Irvine Athletics

Will Davis II went to UC Irvine to win a championship and go the NCAA Tournament. It’s a journey that proved to be far longer and more winding than he had ever expected, but that much sweeter when he eventually reached his final destination.

“It feels great because looking back in 20 years at UC Irvine, you can say ‘oh it was Will Davis, Travis Souza and John Ryan’s class that led UC Irvine to their first NCAA tournament’,” says Davis, a senior forward and First Team All-Conference selection on leading the Anteaters to the first NCAA Tournament appearance in the program’s 38 year Division I history.

“It’s just great to make school history my last year here,” he says, before adding, “it definitely took a little longer than I thought.”

Humble beginnings.

Now standing 6’8” and 210 pounds, Davis was born and raised in Sacramento, Calif., one of Theresa and Will Davis Sr.’s five children. Davis says he was always a big kid with good athleticism, but picked up the game late and was far from a natural on the court.

“I was kind of a late bloomer in basketball because I didn’t play at all in middle school, so the first time I played organized basketball was probably my freshman year in high school,” says Davis, who didn’t make the varsity at Sacramento High School until his junior year and didn’t start until he was a senior. “I played JV my freshman and sophomore years, then I got moved up to varsity my junior and senior years.

As a senior, Davis averaged 11 points and 12 rebounds per game, earning All-Metro League honors, but he received only one Division I scholarship offer, from Air Force. It was then that Davis took a long look in the mirror, and decided that he had not given everything he had to the game, and vowed to get better, enrolling at New Hampton Prep, a prestigious prep basketball program in New Hampshire, while finally “getting serious” about basketball.

“I started getting more serious into working out going into my senior year at prep school, and obviously at college you have a staff that’s around you to work you out more, so that’s been a great experience in my development over the years.”

Playing in the NEPSAC, one of the best prep leagues in the country, Davis’ began to blossom, and scholarship offers started rolling in. But his heart still resided under the California sun, and when UC Irvine offered, Davis took a visit, and immediately fell in love.

“I went to prep school on the east coast in New Hampshire where I got that experience of being in that gray area, but then I decided I wanted to come back to California,” says Davis. “That’s where my family is from and I obviously love to have my family come up for games and that’s been a good experience.”

According to Davis, several coaches from far programs with far more storied histories tried to dissuade him from enrolling at UC Irvine.

“They said ‘why go there when you can come here and win,’” he says, ‘but I thought wherever I’d go I’d win.”

And according to Davis, the reception he received and culture of the program at UC Irvine was unlike any others he encountered during the recruiting process.

“UC Irvine was like a real family experience when I came on my visit here and that was different from the other visits I went on, so that was great.”

Davis made an immediate impact for the Anteaters, breaking the programs single-season record for most blocked shots in a single-season with 55 as a freshman, before smashing his own record with 88 rejections a year later (one more year later and 7’6” center Mamadou Ndiaye would break Davis’ record). As a sophomore, Davis earned the Big West’s award for Best Defensive Player and was named to CollegeInsider.com’s Mid-Major Defensive All-America team.

As a junior, Davis was a preseason first team All-Conference selection, but while he led the team in scoring and rebounds, was not selected for the award. But according to Davis, the far deeper sting came when the Anteaters, who had won the Big West regular season championship, were upset in the Big West Tournament.

“We really thought last year was going to be our year,” he says.

There were times during his senior year when things looked bleak for Davis and his Anteaters, who suffered through a litany of injuries, but Davis vowed not to go down without a fight.

“We’ve had injuries to John (Ryan), Dominique (Denning), Luke (Nelson), Mamadou (Ndiaye) and Alex (Young), so (Russell) Turner came up to me and told me I needed to take on more of a leadership role,” Davis said. “I felt like I could ride into that, being a senior leader on this team and also with Travis (Souza) and John taking on big loads as well.”

Davis led UC Irvine in scoring and rebounds, at 12.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, respectively, while shooting .541 from the floor and .707 from the line to earn Big West First Team All-Conference honors as a senior.

“It was great because last year I was picked in the preseason to be first team all-conference and I ended up not being on it, I didn’t have that well of a conference season last year,” he says. “This year I wasn’t picked, so that was a little more motivation for me to show the conference what kind of player I actually am. I

“It’s given me more confidence that head coaches from other teams vote on it, so it’s something that coaches from other teams have confidence in my ability to play.”

In the Big West tournament, he put the Anteaters on his back, posting double-doubles in all three games, averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds while shooting .667 from the floor to earn he tournament MVP honors and finally punch his ticket to The Big Dance.

“It’s an amazing feeling. This is what I came here to do, and it took us longer than I thought, but that makes it feel that much more incredible,” he says.

Now, Davis is focused on trying to write yet another new chapter in UC Irvine history tonight night when his No. 13 Anteaters team takes on No. 4 seed Louisville tonight in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

“The mentality right now is that we just gotta’ prepare. We know they have a great team and great coach in Rick (Pitino), so we’re not taking them lightly at all, and hopefully we can keep it close.”

NCAA Tournament: Scott Eatherton leads Northeastern to near upset of Notre Dame

 

Scott Eatherton will try to lead Northeastern to the NCAAs. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Scott Eatherton will try to lead Northeastern to the NCAAs. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

PITTSBURGH – Scott Eatherton’s last game in a Northeastern jersey ended in a loss, but true Huskies’ fans will forever remember his team’s effort in their second round matchup against third-seed Notre Dame.

‘They left it out on the floor as you would expect in this type of venue, in this type of environment,” coach Bill Coen said after the 69-65 loss. “I just couldn’t be more proud of this group of young men.”

Punch after punch from the Fighting Irish, the Huskies rebounded right up until the final buzzer of the 69-65 game.

In fact, Northeastern dominated Notre Dame on the boards 33-17. But 16 turnovers, compared to Notre Dame’s 7, cost the Huskies when it mattered most.

Eatherton gave the Huskies hope when he tipped in a Walker 3-pointer miss with 33 seconds left to go.

Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton, a Mass-native, didn’t help the cause when he turned over the ball on a homerun attempt on the next inbounds pass.

Stahl came up with the steal, and without timeouts, Northeastern had one more shot to either tie or win.

The Huskies ran a play to get Walker open beyond the arc for the win, but Notre Dame closed in and he swung the ball right to Ford.

Ford dribbled around a Stahl screen but was stripped by perennial guard Jerian Grant. Two free throws on the other end by Zach Auguste (25 points, 5 rebounds) ended the game and Northeastern’s season.

“We gave a great effort,” said Eatherton. “I don’t think that last play is what cost us the game.

“…There was a lot of turnovers, we just fell asleep on some of their actions that we walked through.”

Eatherton fought through foul trouble throughout the game and brought the Huskies on the verge of an old fashion March upset. But he wasn’t alone.

Sophomore point guard T.J. Williams scored seven points and gathered five rebounds after registering no points in the first half. David Walker had 15 points and four rebounds and Ford has nine points with five rebounds.

Senior, co-captain Reggie Spencer gave Northeastern a huge lift off the bench with 8 points on 3 of 4 shooting.

“He’s one of my better friends on the team,” Eatherton said. “I’m sure we’ll be friends for awhile. I’ve never met somebody from Alabama before so I’m sure I’ll always remember him.

“He’s been a great teammate and a great captain.”

Spencer told One-Bid Wonders earlier in the season that his relationship with Eatherton grew after last year’s disappointing season.

The two made a goal to rebound and they succeeded.

The Huskies won a CAA championship and put the dogs from Huntington Avenue in the national spotlight.

And even as he sat at the post-game podium moments after the loss, Eatherton acknowledged that.

“I’ve had a great season,” Eatherton said. “Got to play under coach Coen, got to play with Davie and some great players and I watched them win a [regular season] championship my first year and this year we did too and we almost had an upset so it’s been a great year and a great career.”

Seth Hinrichs — The quiet leader of Lafayette basketball

Seth Hinrichs. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Seth Hinrichs. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

Lafayette senior Seth Hinrichs spent his entire career playing in the shadows within the shadows of small conference basketball – a gritty, gutty forward who was always a key member of the ensemble cast, but never played a staring role.

He’s never complained. Instead, he’s simply worked harder.

And when the Leopards’ season hung in the balance in Hinrichs, a 6’8” forward from Clara City, Minnesota who averaged 13.1 points per game, stepped into the spotlight.

With four and a half minutes remaining on March 11, visiting American University was on a 19-5 run, and the Leopards were on the ropes, the life sucked out of previously rocking Kirby Sports Center.

That’s when Hinrichs let fly from beyond the arc.

Boom: 56-55 Lafayette.

A few seconds later, Zach Rufer drilled another 3-pointer. With four seconds remaining, and Lafayette leading 65-60, Hinrichs sealed American’s fate when he ripped down a defensive rebound, and the Leopards slipped on their dancing shoes and were headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000.

“He doesn’t hit that shot, we don’t win the game,” says Lafayette basketball head coach Fran O’Hanlon. “He performed like he has in the last four years, he hit some big shots for us.”

In the eyes of O’Hanlon, it was only fitting that the game’s symbolic end came in the form of a Hinrichs’ rebound.

“One thing he always did, he always rebounds, he’s probably our best rebounder, he’s very unselfish in that respect,” says O’Hanlon of Hinrichs, who averaged 5.8 boards per game as a senior, and ripped down 562 rebounds in his career.

Over his four year career, Hinrichs has worn several hats, at different times playing the role of rebounder, low-post scorer, long range marksman and enforcer. And according to O’Hanlon, the two-year captain has never complained, or given anything other than his best effort.

“Since he’s come in, he’s just done things the right way, he has an aura about him, he cares very much,” says O’Hanlon. “You can see what respect the other kids have for him, at the end of the day they voted for him, it wasn’t me who selected him, they voted for him and that’s the guy they want to follow.”

According to Hinrichs, while knocking down jumpshots, pulling down rebounds in traffic, and throwing elbows on the court were second nature, leading the team was a bit of an adjustment.

“I think for me personally, I’ve had to grow as a vocal leader,” says Hinrichs. “Getting on the guys’ case and being vocal weren’t really my things, that was kind of a role I had to embrace more so especially last year continuing into this year.”

That leadership has carried over off the court, where Hinrichs often serves as an academic tutor and life coach of sorts to fellow athletes at the academic resource center.

“He leads on the court, he just works his tail off, I mean he’s so focused on school and basketball, he does a great job in that respect,” says O’Hanlon.

During Hinrich’s junior year, his first season as captain, the Leopards struggled, finding themselves in the basement of the Patriot League after being riddled with injuries all season long. A hobbled Hinrichs was limited to just 20 games, due to injury, really hurting his squad. However, when he did play, he was able to contribute plenty as he still led the team in scoring with 16.3 points per game.

“My junior year I was averaging more because I felt that was one of the things I needed to do in order for us to win,” says Hinrichs.

Entering his final season as a Leopard, Hinrichs’ role began to change dramatically. After two years of being the main producer for the team, Hinrichs saw his touches diminish as fellow forward Dan Trist emerged as the team’s top scorer and go-to offensive option, earning First Team All-Patriot League honors.

As always, Hinrich was unfazed by a changing role.

“I don’t want to say he took a backseat, the only thing Seth cares about is winning,” says O’Hanlon. “His numbers weren’t as flashy as some of the past years, but his whole goal was to win.”

As the season’s end loomed in February, and the Leopards continued to sputter, Hinrichs’ passion to win became even more evident as he and the other seniors on O’Hanlon’s squad began to realize the end was sooner than they realized.

“After playing our senior game against Army, we thought it was the end and it was kind of like this might be our last time playing at home and it kind of hit you where it was now or never if you want to win a championship, if you want to solidify your legacy at Lafayette,” says Hinrichs.

The Leopards struggled to find consistency during the regular season, finishing in fourth place in the Patriot League, going 9-9 in conference play. But after coming close enough to taste the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore, advancing to the 2013 Championship Game only to lose to Bucknell, Hinrichs wasn’t about to go quietly in the final games of his career.

“This a three-game season right now, either you win or go home, the playoffs were the most important week and a half of all year, this is what it comes down to, this is what we work for,” says Hinrichs of the mindset he bestowed upon his teammates entering the Patriot League Tournament.

“We’ve been here before too, we have an experienced group, we know what to expect as well, just kind of relaying that to the guys.”

The Leopards responded with a 25-point destruction of Boston in the opening round, before going on the road to knock off top-seed Bucknell, avenging their heartbreak of two seasons ago, setting the stage for their dramatic championship game over American.

“We’re an experienced team, we’ve been in the championship before, we have the talent to do it, it was just a matter of putting together three good games and I think we did that,” said Hinrichs.

Hinrichs knows the 16th-seeded Leopards will be decided underdogs when they face off against 1-seed Villanova tonight, but he’s determined once again to not let his career come to a quiet end.

“Anything can happen,” he says, “and we’re going to leave everything we have out there.

North Dakota State’s A.J. Jacobson: His mother’s son

A.J. Jacobson. (Courtesy Photo / NDSU Athletics)
A.J. Jacobson. (Courtesy Photo / NDSU Athletics)

There’s a certain satisfaction college basketball fans get while watching a hometown kid competing for his hometown school. Depending on the closeness of the community, the player can be considered the son of an entire city.

In A.J. Jacobson’s case, it’s more like he’s the son of an entire state.

Jacobson grew up in Fargo, North Dakota and is the son of famed North Dakota State women’s basketball legend Pat (Smykowski) Jacobson, the all-time second-leading scorer in the program’s history. Now A.J. is carving his own path for the Bison as a redshirt freshman and second-leading scorer for a team headed to its second straight NCAA Tournament.

“He’s a Fargo kid and in a lot of ways, not to steal a nickname from Fred Hoiberg, but in a lot of ways he’s our Mayor,” North Dakota St. coach David Richman says. “He’s a Fargo kid who’s now playing here and he’s having success. He’s the North Dakota Class A all-time leading scorer, there’s a lot of expectations for him from a lot of people, but none greater than from himself and I think that’s what separates him.”

According to Jacobson, it was always a dream of his to attend North Dakota St., not to follow in his mother’s footsteps, but to truly experience the culture he had watched while growing up in Fargo.

“It was more me wanting to be a part of the North Dakota State family, the culture here is just unbelievable,” Jacobson says. “Obviously, being from Fargo played a role, but I didn’t really think about my mom going here in my decision-making… It’s home to me, that’s why I stayed around here and I love it here.”

But this isn’t your typical story of a men’s basketball player being pushed by his father to achieve the same athletic accomplishments. While Jacobson’s father David is very much part of the reason A.J. is the person he is, it was Pat who was the main part of the reason A.J. is the player he is. She would drive A.J. to the gym and stand under the basket as his personal rebounder, imparting her knowledge onto him.

“She was always pushing me to get better and pushing me to do things that other kids wouldn’t be doing,” Jacobson says of his mother’s influence on his athletic career. “She always said I need to finish with my left hand on the left side of the hoop, she forced me to use good form. She was always in my ear giving me positive encouragement and positive criticisms.”

A.J. Jacobson. (Courtesy Photo / NDSU Athletics)
A.J. Jacobson. (Courtesy Photo / NDSU Athletics)

“There’s no question, I think both his parents were big in making him who he is and making him the competitor that he is,” Richman says. “It’s an extremely competitive family, and that really set the tone and set the stage. Pat, his mom, is the second all-time leading scorer in the school’s women’s basketball history. When you grow up in that environment, you can’t help but pick up some things along the way.”

Playing in the shadow of his mother’s accomplishments, Jacobson says it makes him even more driven to forge his own path and leave his own mark on North Dakota St.

“It’s no pressure really, but it’s a little bit motivation,” he says. “She was one of the greatest players to ever play on the women’s side, and it’s something that I can aspire to be like. But it’s not any pressure, it’s more of a motivating tool.”

Richman saw that drive and motivation first-hand during Jacobson’s redshirt year.

“There was really a want to be great,” Richman says. “A.J. would have a tough practice, as a lot of true freshmen did, and he’d be in the gym at 8 a.m. the next morning working on something he didn’t do well. I think that’s the biggest thing—there’s a drive, there’s a want to not just be good but to be great by A.J., and that makes him special. Obviously he’s got good size at 6’6”, a high level of skill and he’s a really intelligent young man, but make no mistake, his best qualities are his want and his drive to be great.”

A.J. Jacobson. (Courtesy Photo / NDSU Athletics)
A.J. Jacobson. (Courtesy Photo / NDSU Athletics)

This year, Jacobson played a key role in leading the Bison to their second straight Summit League title, ranking second on the team with an average of 11.9 points and shooting 41 percent from three-point range. As one of two in-state players on the roster, Jacobson feels an immense sense of pride in helping to lead North Dakota St. to the promise land of the NCAA Tournament, but that pride isn’t new to him. He feels it every time he puts on his jersey with the letters “NDSU” on his chest.

“I want to go out there and compete for the North Dakota fans, obviously they like seeing a North Dakota kid on the team,” Jacobson says. “I grew up watching North Dakota State, I went to almost every single game I could go to, men’s and women’s. It was a dream of mine to come and play here and I was able to fulfill those dream and obviously it gives me a sense of pride in the culture here, the environment here and North Dakota State in general.”

“He’s grown up here, the community’s always been in his family. He’s been coming to this campus as long as we can remember, watching his mom and coming to our games. There’s no question, it’s a big part of what makes him successful,” Richman says. “Would he be successful at other programs? Absolutely, there’s no doubt in my mind. But here with the understanding of the makeup and the history and passion with him and his family, I think that adds to [the pride he feels].”

North Dakota St. received a No. 15 seed and will face No. 2 Gonzaga in the South Region on Friday. As the Bison go out with intentions to spoil some brackets, Jacobson relishes the opportunity to put North Dakota St., and the state of North Dakota, on the college basketball map.

“Obviously we want to get a win and go up there with a bang,” he says. “But we just want to go out there and compete and play hard and show the country what North Dakota State men’s basketball is all about.”

A.J. Jacobson. (Courtesy Photo / NDSU Athletics)
A.J. Jacobson. (Courtesy Photo / NDSU Athletics)