Monthly Archives: December 2009

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, CORNELL BASKETBALL DESERVES YOUR RESPECT

                                                                                    Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Cornell came in to Madison Square Garden on December 21 and beat St. John’s of the Big East, 71-66, to win their first-ever Holiday Festival. The reaction in New York, focusing virtually only on St. John’s, a struggling team in recent years trying to regain their past glory, was “How can St. John’s be any good when they lost to Cornell?” One “expert” even said that, just when St. John’s was getting some votes as a top 25 team, they go and lose to Cornell. Cornell!!!” As if it was some kind of punch line.

CORNELL IS FOR REAL THIS SEASON

As often happens, people are slow to realize what’s happening. Especially in college basketball. In fact, St. John’s is making a comeback. They are better than they’ve been the last few seasons. The powers-that-be at St. John’s have been beyond patient with coach Norm Roberts in today’s world of you’d better win now. Hopefully, he holds on.

But whether anybody knows it or not, Cornell is for real this year.

While Penn and Princeton seemed to have won the Ivy League title every year for what seems like the last 30 years, unbeknownst to most, Cornell has been the Ivy League Champion the last two years. And their roster isn’t an Ivy League roster. They have a seven-foot center who can play. They have the son of an NBA player who can shoot the lights out. They have a point guard who was the Player of the Year in the Ivy League two years ago as a sophomore. And they have an excellent shooting sophomore who was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season.

While St. John’s was getting some top 25 votes last week, it says here that Cornell will be a top 25 team before the year is out.

THREE SENIORS WHO CAN REALLY PLAY

Senior Ryan Wittman has been getting most of the publicity for Cornell. The son of former NBA player Randy Wittman and already the second all-time leading scorer in Cornell history, Ryan Wittman lit up Davidson for 29 in the first round of the Holiday Festival at MSG, including a game-winning deep three at the buzzer to beat Davidson in overtime. While limited to 10 points in the final, Wittman is a deadly shooter who commands so much attention that it gives others open shots. Now averaging over 18 points a game and making plenty of big shots, he’s also commanding attention from NBA scouts. Whether he can make it at the next level is an open question, but you get the gist that he’s much more than just a good Ivy League player.

Senior Jeff Foote is the sleeper in the group, but he’s also now commanding the attention of the scouts who are showing up to watch Wittman. A seven-footer who can play, Foote is averaging 14 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. His coming out party might have been at the Garden, where he was the Holiday Festival Tournament MVP by averaging 17.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in the tournament.

Senior Louis Dale is the point guard who runs the show for coach Steve Donahue. He was the Ivy League Player of the Year two years ago as a sophomore, no mean feat, even in the Ivy League. Dale is cool under pressure and scored the game-tying basket in the last second against Davidson in the first round of the Holiday Festival to send the game into overtime. Dale is solid all around, averaging just under 10 points, with just over five assists and three rebounds per game.

OTHERS HELP AS WELL

Sophomore Chris Wroblewski was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last season. He shoots 94% from the foul line, is a good three-point threat and is averaging 10.9 points a game.

Senior Jon Jaques was the surprise star of the win over St. John’s, going 7-8 from the field (including 5-6 from three-point range) to lead Cornell with 20 in the Holiday Festival Final.

Cornell even has a senior, Mark Coury, who started for Kentucky two years ago and transferred to Cornell. Coury was 3-3 off the bench in the win over St. John’s.

WHO HAVE THEY BEATEN?

Coach Donahue has intelligently scheduled a bunch of road games early on this season. Cornell has answered the bell: they have a seven-game winning streak and have road wins at Alabama, UMass, Toledo, Drexel and Bucknell in addition to their two MSG wins. Ivy League teams just don’t do that. In addition, they have road games at La Salle and at Kansas (yes, Kansas) in the next two weeks.

Their two losses have been in the Carrier Dome against top team Syracuse and at home to a better-than-you-think Seton Hall squad.

NCAA TOURNAMENT FACTOR?

Well, Cornell probably has to win the Ivy to get the automatic bid because it’s hard to believe that the committee would give an at-large bid to an Ivy. Harvard is good this year and could give Cornell a run for its money.

But it says here that Cornell wins the Ivy, is ranked in the top 25, gets a higher than normal seed (for an Ivy) and beats somebody in the first round in March. Maybe two wins.

And the seniors go out in a blaze of glory.

We’ll see what happens.

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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BRIAN KELLY TWO-FACES HIS WAY OUT OF TOWN; CINCY PLAYERS RIGHT TO BE LIVID

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

So, it was the worst-kept secret in America – Brian Kelly was leaving the University of Cincinnati and was going to be the next coach of Notre Dame. It’s old news: the hot college coach bails on his team and leaves town, this time before a BCS bowl game, to take the next big job. And, while Notre Dame clearly isn’t the job that it once was, it’s still a BIG JOB. So, it’s OK, according to Kelly, who is “grateful” to the players at UC “for what they gave me.” Has this desertion been going on for decades by college coaches just looking to move on up? Absolutely.

WHAT DID THE PLAYERS THINK?

But, thankfully, for once, the Cincinnati players aren’t grateful for what Brian Kelly did TO them. Here’s a sampling:

Star wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, who pretty much won the Pitt game and cemented Kelly’s chances at Notre Dame: “The game of college football is starting to shy away from the college football part, trying to become big coaching contracts and so on and so forth, and that shouldn’t be the way the game should be played.”

Tight end Ben Guidugli: “You know, before a big BCS bowl game, Sugar Bowl, playing against Florida, almost a National Championship game, and to have him kind of turn his back on us here at the end after we’ve come this far, the players were just pretty much disappointed really. He actually came in there and wanted to thank all the players for putting him in the position that he’s in to get this. The players didn’t accept it too well.”

Defensive end Alex Daniels, correctly bitter: “We were the ones out there doing it. Not him.”

Amen to all of that.

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED BEHIND THE SCENES?

Apparently, according to various reports, Brian Kelly has always had his eye on his prize: the Notre Dame job. While coaching at places like Grand Valley State and Central Michigan, maybe it wasn’t a realistic possibility. But once he went 34-6 at Cincy and Charlie Weis, for whatever reason, fell flat on his face, well, it became the perfect storm. Of course, he never bothered to tell any of his players anything. In fact, here is reportedly what happened:

Apparently Mardy Gilyard, who sure looked like a pro against Pitt, said that, before the Big East championship game against Pitt (probably the biggest game in the history of Cincinnati football until they play Florida), Kelly told him that he wasn’t going anywhere.

Also, apparently at a team meeting this past Monday, Kelly told his players that he was going to meet with Notre Dame and listen to what they had to say. He also told them that they would be the first to know what he was going to do.

Apparently, they were the last – and maybe that’s what put these players over the top.

ESPN’S EXPERT PANEL

ESPN had a fantatstic college football panel of Pat Forde, Paul Finebaum and Wendell Barnhouse to discuss the matter. When moderator John Barr asked what about the ethics in college football with the move of Kelly to Notre Dame, Finebaum correctly stated that “ethics and college football [insert basketball here if you’d like] shouldn’t be in the same sentence.” But they all essentially said that this is the system.

Shockingly though, when asked, essentially, if the players had a right to be this angry and vocal, these panelists essentially lost their focus. Finebaum, arguably the best commentator on college football in the country, said, essentially, that these players are the same kids who “hold press conferences” when they are in high school and “throw their hats” at the camera to show what college they will attend in the fall. Forde said that he wanted to know how the Cincinnati kids felt when Kelly came to them from Central Michigan, implying that Kelly did to the Central Michigan kids then what he’s doing to the Cincinnati kids now.

Well, wait a minute!

Unless these guys have proof that, for example, Gilyard and numerous other players signed letters of intent and broke them or affirmatively lied to coaches or did something unethical or illegal, you can’t paint all of these kids with such a broad brush.

And unless Forde knows that the Cincinnati kids were aware of the whole Central Michigan “I’m leaving” factors from Brian Kelly, he can’t paint these kids with such a broad brush either.

How did this get so out of hand?

Surely these panel members must have played on team sports at some level and must understand that the Brian Kellys of the world sell unity and teamwork and all for one and one for all. Surely these guys have been on teams or covered teams where they can see, in the locker room they can FEEL, the feeling that occurs between a coach and his team to make them rise to greater heights (you know, the sum is greater than the parts).

The Cincy players bought it hook, line and sinker. And then, a few weeks before the biggest game of their lives, Brian Kelly left town.

WHAT ABOUT THE SANCTITY OF THE CONTRACT?

I’m laughing, of course, when I type that last headline. For decades, there’s been kind of an “it’s OK to better yourself” belief among college coaches. When criticized vehemently over the years, that led to clauses in contracts where coaches could leave for only certain jobs or coaches could buy themselves out of their contracts or some other legal way to technically get out of their contracts.

College coaching has, for decades, been a Movin’ On Up mentality. The college players, of course, are the ones who are injured. Charlie Weis walks away with eight figures. Brian Kelly walks in with eight figures. Somebody will get a chance at Cincy, which is now a very good college jobs. And the players, rightfully, walk around with that “who can you trust?” mentality. And their concerns are dismissed with a “this is the way it is” or, my personal favorite, “it’s been like this for a long time.”

WELL, THEN, CHANGE THE SYSTEM

Pat Forde has a good idea espoused by many. Since recruiting in December is the reason why these coaches “have” to leave now, why not push back the national signing day in February to mid-March? I would go further and ban recruiting between Thanksgiving and the last bowl game.

But since that last sentence is unrealistic, why not make all of the bowl games one or two weeks after the regular season is over? Why not, finally, step away from the absurdity of having teams play in an all-important bowl FIVE or even SIX WEEKS AFTER THEIR LAST GAME?

That is as dumb (maybe dumber) than the BCS.

HOW ABOUT THIS SOLUTION?

Maybe we can have Congress come in, install an eight-team playoff, play one less regular season game and have the meaningless bowl games AFTER the National Champion is decided in mid-December. At least then you will have teams playing in mid-season form for a National Title.

And for those who think Congress shouldn’t be involved (an excellent point), remember that the Congressional hearings in baseball, whatever you think of them, really paved the way for some semblance of a clean-up of baseball (and while I think that Jose Canseco had more to do with the clean-up than anyone or anything – he has more credibility in the steroids matter than anyone (and yes, I know that’s funny), Congressional intervention helped lessen, but not eliminate, the problem).

Baseball is still recovering from that fiasco. But college football, from coaches jumping teams to the existence of the BCS to the absurdity of 42-day layoffs, still has its collective head in the sand.

Here’s hoping that somebody with a brain (and some power) can fix the system.

WHAT WAS BRIAN KELLY’S RESPONSE TO HIS PLAYERS’ CRITICISMS?

Well, it was pretty funny. Kelly said, at his Notre Dame press conference:

“I’m forever grateful for the players at the University of Cincinnati; for what they gave me. They gave me this opportunity here at Notre Dame. Their work on the field gave me a great opportunity for my family. And for that, I’m forever grateful.”

Now, here comes the good part:

“But transition is difficult. Emotion gets involved and I only wish all of them the very best.”

Emotion gets involved? You think? That’s exactly what Brian Kelly sold his kids on at Cincinnati. That’s exactly what they bought into. That’s exactly what they swallowed hook, line and sinker. And that’s exactly what helped them go 34-6 at Cincy.

And now they are supposed to forget about it and wish him good luck at the job they helped him get?

The football players at the University of Cincinnati were 100% right in their reactions to their coach leaving town. With or without him, they are going to have a very difficult time against Florida.

But it says here, rather than remotely criticize these players, the “powers-that-be” should change the entire system. And if it takes Congressional intervention, so be it.

We’ll see what happens.

© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.