Friday, April 11, 2008

Moose Season

It never fails ... I have a day with limited Internet access, and all kinds of stuff goes down with ND basketball.

Each deserves its own entry, so I'll start with Gene Cross, the new head basketball coach at the University of Toledo. I'm sure I'm not alone in congratulating GC on his first head coaching gig and wishing him the best of luck. This opportunity is waaaaay overdue for him. He brought an excellent dynamic to Notre Dame the past two seasons, and we saw the results both on and off the court. I certainly hope we have room on the schedule for a home-and-home for Toledo the next two seasons.

This leaves an opening on the Irish coaching staff. While I wouldn't expect Mike Brey to fill it immediately, news comes from the Trib's Brian Hamilton that current restricted-slot Irish coach and CBO Martin "Moose" Ingelsby will fill Cross' spot, at least temporarily.

Let's get the caveats out of the way. BH's article doesn't mention if this promotion is permanent or not. Mike's quote from the article indicates he'll be looking for a new assistant, but doesn't mention whether it's to fill Cross' vacancy or Moose's. Things are vague, and a lot can still happen.

Let me also be crystal clear that I love Moose, both as a player and as a person and as a potential coach. I think he rose above his limitations, so to speak, as a player, and never doubted he'd give everything he had whenever he was on the floor. He had outstanding leadership skills, and his teammates believed in and followed him. I think he'd bring all of those same qualities to coaching, and look forward to the day when he's running a D1 program.

Having said all of those things, things I believe with all my heart, I think moving him up to permanent assistant right now is a bad move, for a number of reasons.

First, Moose needs to get some non-ND experience. His entire assistant coaching career, other than one year at Wagner, has been under the Dome. As someone who loves ND dearly, I can appreciate that characteristic in others. However, if Moose is to become a well-rounded coach, recruiter, and sideline leader, he needs to have a more diverse palate.

In the business world, getting a bachelor's and master's degree from the same school is considered a negative because it's a potential over-exposure to a single perspective. I believe the same would apply to coaching. At this point in his career, Mike should be gently nudging Moose out of the nest, not tucking him in.

Second, the past few seasons have shown us how important diverging points of view are on a coaching staff. When Anthony Solomon left after the Sweet 16 season, Mike promoted Rod Balanis out of the CBO slot and brought Moose home from Wagner. That proved problematic, as Mike now had an entire staff of coaches like him -- offense- and guard-oriented "players coaches" who were more teachers than ass-kickers. The result was three seasons where the results trended downward and the players lacked discipline.

There's nothing wrong with coaching as a teacher. Every staff needs some of that, and you have to be the coach you are or you won't succeed. But every staff also needs someone to be the drill instructor and go to the whip when things start to lag -- the balance of ying and yang. That keeps the balance and helps move the whole program forward.

That's what Anthony Solomon was in Mike's first three seasons, and that's what Gene Cross has been in the last two: the defensive-minded drill sergeant who wasn't afraid to put a foot in someone's ass when required. I don't think it's a coincidence those five years in which the staff had good balance resulted in successful regular seasons and NCAA tournament bids.

If Moose rotates into the assistant coach spot, Mike's back to the same problem he had three seasons ago. He's got a group of coaches whose first thought is offense and who work great with guards. He doesn't have someone to counterbalance his experience and perspective and provide "fresh blood" into recruiting, game prep, etc.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, Mike also needs racial diversity on his staff, especially at a predominantly white school like Notre Dame. It's no secret that the racial makeup of the student body at ND works as a slight negative when trying to recruit African-American student athletes. The football program has had to deal with it for years, and basketball must handle it as well.

Whether it's recruiting African-American players or seeing after their well-being once they arrive on campus, it's important to have someone on the staff who can relate to them on as many levels as possible. I don't believe being a minority on a Caucasian campus isn't the kind of thing a white coach can naturally relate to.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that any of the current assistant coaches or Mike Brey don't have the best interests of all their players, regardless of race, in mind at all times, because it's clear to anyone with a double-digit IQ they do. I'm saying just as you have a broad spectrum of players on your team, you should also have a broad spectrum of coaches. Just as that applies to experience and tendencies, as I addressed above, it also applies to race.

Moose is going to be an excellent coach someday. But if he wants to be the best coach he can be, and ND wants to be the best program it can be, I believe it's best for both sides he continue his growth elsewhere and, just as Cross was two years ago, another batch of "new blood" be injected into the veins of Irish basketball to keep it vital.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

One Should Be Done

"One-and-done" is a familiar term to basketball fans these days. It refers to a player who completes one year in a college basketball program before declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft, a phenomenon made possible by the rules governing draft eligibility requiring a player to be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class before he can declare.

One-and-dones are a hot topic in college hoops. Some coaches embrace them, while others reject them, citing concerns about team chemistry. CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish seems to reject that philosophy, and talks about how they benefit a program.

There's no denying one-and-dones have an effect, and Parrish's list is comprehensive, if not elaborate. Greg Oden and his collective of fellow single-year players got Ohio State to the title game for the first time in my lifetime, which becomes a more depressingly-long time by the season. Carmelo Anthony got Jim Boeheim the title that was the bugaboo of his coaching career synopsis. And now "Melo" has turned around and donated $3 million towards the construction of a $19m practice facility for the Orange, as well he should since no one knows better than a former athlete what his fellow athletes need to succeed.

So sure, one-and-dones can benefit a program.

But what about a school? You know, those buildings outside of the athletic part of the campus where classes allegedly go on?

As familiar with the Syracuse's athletes' needs as 'Melo might be, a lot of folks wonder how familiar he was with that non-athletic part of Syracuse. If you ask some of them, he didn't see the inside of a classroom after the Christmas holidays. "History of Rock And Roll" may have edified Mr. Oden culturally, but it's not clear how it advanced him towards any kind of meaningful degree. And since eligibility for the second semester of the season isn't determined retroactively, no rules were broken in either case because they went into that season fully "eligible".

That's the part of the one-and-done trade-off Parrish doesn't talk about.

What is a school saying when they admit a student who has absolutely no intention of following through on his studies for one year let alone one degree? How do you measure the academic integrity of a place that agrees to look the other way on classroom attendance if it gets them a few more victories on the hardwood? I know the phrase "student-athlete" is a laugh in a lot of places these days, but does the hypocrisy have to be so blatant? And when you look at the list and see respected centers of learning like North Carolina turning them out almost yearly, it almost makes you want to throw up.

The NCAA got a nice boost from the league with that one-year requirement. It enabled them to "showcase" some of the famous players they were losing to the draft, and no doubt make themselves a pretty penny in the bargain. So now is the time for them to step up to the plate and address the rampant academic fraud taking place as a result. Require schools to produce academic progress reports at least twice a month for all student athletes during a season. If an athlete fails on any of those reports, revoke his eligibility until the next report. If an athlete fails to complete a semester of work, revoke his eligibility retroactively.

I realize "normal students" can drop classes whenever they want. But "normal students" aren't on full scholarship and participating in a multi-million dollar activity in which they are ambassadors for their school. The mercenary nature of college basketball is becoming an affront to scholarship and sportsmanship. The NCAA either needs to drop the pretense or start practicing what it preaches.

And to head off the obvious first question, no, I wouldn't like ND to utilize one-and-done players. Notre Dame got to the top 20 in wins and win percentage without using mercenaries, and they should continue to do so. Scholarship means something in South Bend, as evidenced by a 100 percent graduation rate for players who use all of their eligibility. If it stops meaning something, I'd rather they just walk away.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Speed Kills... come to Notre Dame and live forever.

OK, the t-shirt sold during my ND tenure talked about sex, not speed. But it remains my favorite bootleg ND t-shirt of all time. And I thought a slight play on that philosophy could also apply to the Notre Dame basketball teams of recent years.

The good news, though, is the coaching staff appears to be trying to remedy that situation with their recent recruiting. All four of the current freshmen can boast of quickness, even Luke Harangody, who is very fast for his size. Tyrone Nash has good quickness and defensive skills. Ditto Carlton Scott. Both were early targets -- Nash was on the radar long before he decided to prep for a year -- and both will complement the players in the classes that preceded them.

A strong nucleus built on speed gives me hope. ND hasn't had that in the last couple of seasons, and it's showed when they've tried to defend much faster conference teams. It's showed when they've run into offensive gluts against overplaying defenses that can't be made to pay for their mistakes. Negating that weakness is a good step.

That doesn't mean, however, there aren't also concerns. My biggest? The size of this class.

In the last week, ND picked up two surprise commitments: Ty Proffitt, a shooting guard from Kentucky, and Tim Abromaitis, a small forward from Connecticut. To say they came in under the radar is probably an understatement, as ND wasn't even listed with Abromaitis on the recruiting websites, and Proffitt was long considered a Kentucky lean.

Both can also be described as long on potential. Their coaches described them as heady, smart players who leave it all on the court and are leaders on their team. I like to see players like that at ND, because on-court leadership is a key ingredient for chemistry.

But I'd be more willing to reach a little in this class if ND hadn't already used eight scholarships in the previous two classes. I've always been a three-ride-per-class guy, with occasionally going to four if you come across a strong player who wants your program or you know you're going to have to replace an early departure. This will now be ND's third four-man class in a row.

Granted, the vast majority of those eight in the previous classes probably will be strong performers, so there's something to be said for building depth. But four players in this class leaves ND only one scholarship for next season. As was noted on the Pit, if either (a) we get the turnaround we're hoping for this season, or (b) the season is not a success and changes are made, ND is in a poor position to reap any short-term benefits from that via scholarships. The one-man class with Kurz has created a scholarship imbalance that is best corrected over the course of multiple seasons. Now, unless we lose players to the League or other causes (which I never like to see), it'll remain to be fixed.

The last time we had a scholarship imbalance, it was after Digger's last class -- a five-player group, out of which only Billy Taylor scored more than 500 points in his career -- that came right before the NCAA reduction in maximum scholarships from 15 to 13. This left John MacLeod with only four rides to give in his first two seasons, which cost us Raef LaFrentz and a couple other strong players.

I believe, regardless of what happens this season, ND is going to be attracting attention, and I would hate to see them caught in a numbers game. We'll have to see how it plays out.

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