Five Stars Who Stuck Around; Warriors-Rockets Postmortem; Still No Pac-12 DirecTV; Remembering Tomey
With all the controversy over one-and-dones in basketball, it’s interesting to note that the top five players in tonight’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals (with Kevin Durant still out) all played three or more years of college basketball.
Let the record show: Steph Curry—3 years at Davidson, Klay Thompson—3 years at Washington State, Draymond Green—4 years at Michigan State, Damian Lillard—3 years plus medical redshirt at Weber State and C.J. McCollum—4 years at Lehigh.
No question there are players capable of making it big in the NBA after one year of college, or even straight out of high school on occasion, but many need the additional time to mature and develop. Consider that Green averaged only 3 points per game as a freshman at Michigan State and didn’t become a starter until his junior year.
Warriors-Rockets Postmortem: To many observers, including this one, Houston posed the biggest threat to the Warriors this post-season. With Durant out of the lineup, and the Rockets looking to even the series on their home floor, Curry took over the game in the second half and led his team to the series-clinching victory Friday night.
Most of the attention afterward focused on Curry’s incredible 33-point second half performance, and rightfully so. But Thompson kept his team in the game when Curry was going scoreless in the first half, ageless Andre Iguodala hit five three-pointers and played his usual tenacious defense, and the Warriors’ bench came up big.
Thankfully, we won’t have to watch any more of James Harden and co. flopping at every opportunity, building an entire offense around drawing fouls, one-on-one isolation, and flinging threes from the hinterlands. Portland’s amazing backcourt of Lillard and McCollum, which rivals Curry and Thompson for best in the NBA, will pose some problems, but the Warriors should prevail in five.
Shaw’s Lament: While media and college football fans everywhere have long lamented the Pac-12 Network’s woeful lack of distribution—due in large part to its inability to strike a deal with DirecTV—the conference’s presidents, athletic directors and coaches have been reluctant to comment on the record about this sad state of affairs.
But things are changing. The presidents/chancellors at Washington State, Cal and Utah have all weighed in recently. USC Athletic Director Lynn Swann took a few minutes off from signing autographs at memorabilia shows to offer a sardonic “not much we can do about it” comment. And two months ago Oregon Athletic Director Rob Mullens bemoaned the growing “resource gap” between the Pac-12 and the other Power Five Conferences, mainly due to the disparity in TV rights.
Then last week Stanford coach David Shaw said what everyone has been thinking since the Pac-12 network made its debut in 2012. Shaw said a TV deal with DirecTV was “vital” to the success of both the network and the conference.
“We’ve been on the verge of it forever,” Shaw said of a prospective agreement with the satellite provider. “That is huge for us. We have a lot of people that are alumni that I hear from every single year, that say, ‘when is this going to get done?’”
But Shaw isn’t just hearing that from alumni. There is another audience that is much more important.
In the past four or five years, a growing number of top West Coast recruits in football and basketball have opted to shun the Pac-12 and sign with schools whose conferences have bigger and better networks. It happened again last week when D.J. Uiagalelei from St. John Bosco in Bellflower, the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation, opted for Clemson over Oregon.
Earlier this year, the No. 1 recruit in Northern California, De La Salle’s Henry To’oto’o, signed with Tennessee over Washington, Oregon and Utah. Two years ago the nation’s top prospect, running back Najee Harris from Antioch, chose Alabama over several West Coast suitors.
If the Pac-12 can’t keep the recruits from their own backyard, there is no way they can compete with the Alabamas, Clemsons, Georgias, Oklahomas and Ohio States of the world.
And that won’t happen until they have more TV exposure and more TV revenue.
RIP: We lost two fine coaches and quality men late last week with the passing of Dick Tomey and Gunther Cunningham.
Tomey, the winningest coach in Arizona history, also turned around the football programs at Hawaii and San Jose State. He passed away a month before his 81st birthday.
I didn’t know him well, but Dick always impressed me as a high-character guy with a lot of interests other than football. He was beloved by his players, assistants and staffers.
He also was a pioneer in recruiting Polynesian players from Hawaii and the Pacific Islands to the mainland. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called Tomey “the Godfather” of Polynesian athletes, and he was recently named chairman of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
Cunningham, who died at age 72, was a longtime NFL and college assistant who served as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs for two years. Throughout his career he was considered one of the top defensive minds in the game.
He is well known in the Bay Area, having coached at both Stanford and Cal. I worked with Gunther for three years in the 1970s when he was on Jack Christiansen’s staff and I was the Sports Information Director at Stanford.
He was quite a character. Off the field, he was a handsome, charming guy with a big smile and a beautiful family. On the practice field and on the sidelines during a game, he was fiery, intense, temperamental. Gunther’s vocabulary included some of the most creative uses of profanity I’ve ever heard.
Christiansen once described him as “an elevator out of control.”
But it was impossible not to like the man. He had such a big heart. His players learned to look past the occasional eruptions and instead focus on his passion for the game, the quality of his coaching, and his obvious interest in them. Many have referred to Gunther as their second father.
Tomey and Cunningham. Two very unique coaches. Two very fine men. They’ll both be missed.