Thursday, June 25, 2009

Water wet, AAU ball still sucks

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on AAU basketball and how it doesn't prepare players for college or professional basketball. Even former AAU star Michael Beasley admitted that the he didn't learn anything about playing defense during his time at DC Assault (made famous to casual fans by the Curtis Malone references in the Washington Post Gary Williams hatchet piece earlier in the year) he couldn't remember participating in any defensive drills during his time in AAU basketball.

None of this is new of course. AAU basketball is not about basketball, it is about exposure and promotion. There are some coaches out there that do help improve players but the majority are merely looking for ways to line their own pockets. Many players spend years playing AAU basketball and arrive in college knowing next to nothing about playing the game because the guys "coaching" them don't know much themselves. The influence of high school coaches has continued to wain as AAU basketball has succeeded in professionalizing the youth basketball scene. High school coaches like Morgan Wooten and even current Montrose Christian coach Stu Vetter might be a thing of the past in the coming decades. Many high school coaches don't even have any clue what is going on in the college recruitment of their players and that is a sad development.

The college game has certainly suffered the ill effects of the corrosion of fundamental skills that has resulted from the proliferation of AAU basketball. It is probably true that some of the athletes that come out of AAU basketball are as impressive as players from any era but very few have the skill set or knowledge of the game that even a marginal college player had twenty years ago. I had to laugh when Rudy Gay's mentor/handler/bagman Anthony Lewis tried to take credit for Gay being in the NBA by teaching him "not to settle for easy shots." when he was a 13 year old. He isn't the only fool and charlatan who actually believe that they are helping these kids.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The ACC in the NBA Draft

I was looking at 82games.com to try and figure out if the trade the Wizards made was a stroke of genius or a horrible mistake and I found some interesting draft analysis. According to the admittedly simple formula that they used, taking into account only average points, rebounds and assists then comparing it to the average stats of players taken at the same pick in the draft, for players picked from 1989 to 2008 Maryland ranks just about in the middle of the pack.

During that period Maryland produced an impressive 16 players drafted in the NBA. Only fellow ACC programs Duke (28), North Carolina (22) and Georgia Tech (19) produced more NBA draftees. 82games also broke down the players into categories based on the sum of the average rebounds, points and assists the player produced over their career. A player over 20 points was considered a "star", over 15 "solid", over 10 a "role player", over 5 a "deep bench" and below 5 a "bust." Out of those 16 picks Maryland produced one "star" who by the numbers would have to be Steve Francis (29.7) since 82games doesn't indicate the individual players in each category.

Solid professionals:
Walt Williams
Joe Smith (career numbers just short of "star" status)
Chris Wilcox

Role players:
Tony Massenburg
Juan Dixon
Steve Blake

Deep Bench players:
Jerrod Mustaf
Keith Booth
Obinna Ekezie
Laron Profit
Terence Morris
Lonny Baxter

Busts:
Evers Burns
D.J. Strawberry

James Gist has yet to play in the NBA.

Burns is just under "deep bench" status and Strawberry has not been playing long enough for this to be a fair conclusion. Of the "deep bench" players Mustaf played the most minutes in the NBA followed by Morris but Profit actually had the longest career.

Tony Massenburg is the personification of an NBA journeyman having played in over six hundred games from 1991-2005 with over a dozen teams. Dixon has settled into a decent career as a role player but his statistics have declined over the last few years so it is unclear how much longer he can continue. Steve Blake didn't play much in his first few seasons but has really come on as a true point guard. He could work himself into the "solid" catagory with a few more decent seasons.

Smith, Williams and Wilcox were all high draft pics with Smith being the best professional of the three. To some degree all of them have been professional disappointments given expectations but only Wilcox has been a true flop. Smith and Williams have very respectable professional careers even if they didn't meet expectations.

According to this ranking Duke deserves its reputation for putting out substandard professional players. Out of the 28 players drafted since 1989 (most in the ACC) Duke has four who never played in the NBA (again most in the ACC) and four players labeled as "busts"(most in the ACC). Only Arizona (9) has more players who fit into the category of busts or guys who never played in the NBA. To be fair Duke does have more "stars" than even North Carolina during that period but 16 out of their 28 draftees were buried on the bench or never even made it to the NBA. For all the elite players that North Carolina has produced the Tarheels produced just as many mediocre pros and guys who never get out of their warmups.

Wake Forest gets the nod for the best program in the ACC at producing players who succeed based on where they are drafted but then again they only had seven players drafted during that time and the majority of their success is based off of Tim Duncan and Chris Paul. Programs like Iowa State and Utah have produced just as many or more professionals during that time.

Overall the ACC is clearly the best college basketball conference at producing NBA players. If you want to get to the NBA playing in the ACC at one of the better programs is a good way to get there but it won't do you much good to play at Virginia, Clemson, Florida State or one of the former Big East programs since almost 2/3 of players drafted out of the ACC have come from either Duke, UNC, Georgia Tech or Maryland.

A little food for thought for high school players.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Vasquez Returns

Maryland fans got the best possible offseason news when junior guard Greivis Vasquez announced he was coming back for his last year in College Park. Vasquez will certainly etch his name near the top of many all time lists among Maryland's greatest players if he has a halfway decent senior year, he is already in the top 10 in several categories. More importantly his return will go a long way in helping to get the Terrapins to back to back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since the year after the National Championship.

With Vasquez on the roster this team certainly should contend for an NCAA birth but could also make some noise in regards to the ACC regular season title. Almost every other team was dealt a major blow by graduation or early defections to the NBA. Vasquez is the best returning guard in the ACC while no team in the league possesses the talent and depth of Maryland's returning backcourt. The frontcourt is still an unknown but the arrival of James Padgett and Jordan Williams will give Gary Williams more flexibility than he had last season. If Padgett and Williams can merely be effective then this team will be significantly better than it was last season. I would expect a top four finish in the ACC regular season for the first time in seven seasons.

Wake Forest was dealt a severe blow when guard Jeff Teague stayed in the draft. Duke became even less athletic with the departure of Gerald Henderson, who was really their only dynamic player. North Carolina endured another mass exodus after the second national title under Roy Williams and while not devoid of talent is in rebuilding mode. Clemson was hurt by the bizarre departure of Terrence Oglesby and Florida State must find some backcourt replacement for Toney Douglas. In short Maryland was one of the few decent teams in the ACC that was not significantly weakened in the off season. With Vasquez the Terps are a legitimate threat to win the ACC with a favorable schedule.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Maryland's 2001 Football Team Among ACC's best

Buster Sports' Andrew Jones has ranked Maryland's 2001 ACC Champion squad as the 24th best team in ACC history. Not a bad distinction for that group. The "Cinderella" cliche gets used way too much in sports but this group certainly fit the criteria. After five straight wins, including the season opener over North Carolina, the Terps travelled to Georgia Tech for one of the classic games in Maryland football history. Kicker Nick Novak tied the game with a 46 yard field goal as time expired in regulation and then went on to kick the winning field goal in overtime. It was the first win over a ranked opponent for Maryland since 1990, a streak of 33 straight losses. Maryland lost to Florida State two games later but still captured an ACC crown in a thrilling game against N.C. State to close the season 10-1. It was the first time since the Seminoles joined the ACC that they did not finish the season as ACC champions.

The 2001 squad set a myriad of season records and has to be considered one of the best teams in Maryland history. Led by consensus All-American linebacker E.J. Henderson, who was voted both ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in a landslide, it was a team built around a rock solid defense and a steady, mistake free offense. Running back Bruce Perry had the best season of his career and quarterback Shaun Hill was an ideal fit for Friedgen's option attack.

The season ended with a 56-23 rout in the Orange Bowl at the hands of a Florida squad that probably should have played in the national title game but that didn't diminish the accomplishments of the 2001 team. They helped to usher in a rebirth of Maryland football from the dismal decade of the 1990's when the Terrapins became perennial doormats in the ACC. It began the greatest three year span in Maryland football history during which time the Terrapins won 31 games. Fans who had not endured the futility of the previous decade cannot fully appreciate how low the program had sunk and the 2001 season was so unexpected and dramatic that it had the aura of magic.