20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

What is the Answer About Iverson?

You have probably heard the reports that the Philadelphia 76ers are trying to trade Allen Iverson. You probably have also heard that Iverson may or may not be injured and may or may not have been able to play in last night's game against the Washington Wizards; the team held Iverson out and the 76ers squandered a 20 point lead, losing 113-98. So why haven't I made a lengthy post about where Iverson will end up and what it means? Simple--there is not a story yet, other than the facts that I listed above. I don't understand why it is necessary to speculate about things that are not yet known. Why not simply report the news as it happens and analyze it then? ESPN spent more time during last night's coverage talking about what might happen with Iverson than actually covering the two games that it telecast, in the process making at least one embarrassing mistake. Sam Smith writes in today's edition of the Chicago Tribune that ESPN reporter Jim Gray was "duped" by an "imposter" when he reported that Iverson had told him that Iverson said he would like to be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves. What, was Rich Little on line one? What is the rush to report a story that isn't even a story? We're not talking about potentially life saving information that the public needs to know immediately (not that misreporting such information would be such a great service, either, but at least in that case a sense of urgency could be understood). I am very interested to see where Iverson lands and what that move will mean not only for his new team but also for the Sixers as well--but I will wait to analyze the deal until there is actually a deal to analyze.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:43 PM

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Wade Carries the Weight, Lifts Heat to 93-91 Overtime Win Over the Kings

Dwyane Wade must feel very lonely at times. Shaquille O'Neal is on the shelf and the rest of the Heat often play as if they have already sailed off into the sunset to enjoy last year's championship. Wade must now score, rebound and create shots for others for Miami to have any chance to win. On Thursday night, he did all of those things in spectacular fashion, narrowly missing his fourth career triple double (32 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) and scoring seven of the Heat's eight overtime points as Miami escaped Sacramento with a 93-91 win. Scottie Pippen had to do that kind of thing for nearly two years while Michael Jordan was retired and Kobe Bryant has been doing that since O'Neal signed with Miami; it will be interesting to see how long Wade's game and his body will be able to carry such a heavy burden. Wade missed a shot that could have won the game at the end of regulation but made the most of his overtime opportunities. Mike Bibby led the Kings with 20 points and Ron Artest played despite back spasms, contributing 15 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals but shooting just 5-13 from the field, numbers that are unlikely to persuade anyone that he should be the focal point of the offense.

Udonis Haslem's two jump shots gave Miami a 4-0 lead to start the game but then the Heat did not score again until Wade's dunk more than six minutes later. Fortunately for the Heat, the Kings only led 10-6 at that point. Wade scored six points and had three assists in the last four minutes of the period, helping Miami to take a 22-17 lead. The teams nearly played to a draw in the second period, with Miami in front 42-38 at halftime.

Wade scored eight points and had three assists in the third quarter as Miami stretched its lead to 68-60. Bibby scored 10 of the Kings' 22 points in the quarter. Artest scored back to back baskets at the start of the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 68-64 but Miami slowly pulled away and Wade's jumper put the Heat up 83-71 with 3:59 left. Miami seemed to have matters well in hand but then the Heat's offense and defense seemed to die at the same time, enabling the Kings to run off 10 straight points in three minutes. Alonzo Mourning hit two free throws to put the Heat up 85-81 with just :41 remaining in the quarter but the Kings tied the game on Kevin Martin's jumper and two Brad Miller free throws. Wade missed his initial chance at glory as time ran out but he did not miss much in the overtime: he scored the first seven points of the extra session and the Kings were kaput after that. Stretches like that when great players take over games are special and demonstrate why basketball is like jazz: both forms of expression allow for group harmonies as well as individual solos. Basketball differs from sports such as football and baseball because it involves intricate teamwork yet also leaves space for a great player to leave a tremendous mark on the game almost singlehandedly at times.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:09 AM

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Pistons Avenge Last Year's Blowout Loss in Dallas, Beat Mavericks, 92-82

The Detroit Pistons' motto on Thursday was not "Remember the Alamo" but rather "Remember the blowout." Last year, the Mavericks not only handed the Pistons their first loss--they embarrassed them, 119-82, in Detroit's only visit to Dallas. Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince combined to score just 22 points in that game. Each player almost matched that total by himself on Thursday in the Pistons' 92-82 win over the Mavericks. Prince led Detroit with 20 points and Wallace pumped in 19, including 5-8 shooting from three point range. Dirk Nowitzki had 29 points and nine rebounds for Dallas, but most of his teammates had subpar outings as the Mavericks shot just .419 from the field and were outrebounded 44-36. Jason Terry scored 17 points on 7-13 shooting but had four turnovers and only three assists, while Josh Howard had a double double (12 points, 12 rebounds) but shot just 5-16 from the field.

TNT ran some interesting graphics during the first quarter. One showed that Dallas ranks third in the league in first quarter scoring at 28.6 ppg, while Detroit is 19th at 23.8 ppg. Another pointed out that Detroit ranked second in the NBA in apg last year (24.0) but is just 12th (20.7) this year. Finally, considering Dallas' quick starts it is not surprising that Howard (7.9) and Nowitzki (7.6) rank third and fourth in the NBA in first quarter ppg. Of course, Murphy's Law states that after such graphics are shown that the first quarter of the game must play out in a completely different fashion than the numbers would indicate. Most NBA games go back and forth but Detroit took control of this contest almost from the beginning; Dallas never led after the 7:20 mark in the first quarter and Detroit was ahead 29-20 by the end of the first period, a margin that almost completely reversed what the two teams had been averaging previously.

Detroit led 52-44 at halftime. Richard Hamilton had a team-high 12 points and Wallace had 10, while Nowitzki and Howard scored 12 each. During the second half, TNT's Steve Kerr and Reggie Miller discussed the impact on Detroit of losing Ben Wallace and signing Nazr Mohammed. Miller pointed out that Detroit's rebounding and offensive rebounding numbers have not dropped off dramatically, while Kerr countered that Wallace's value cannot be measured in numbers alone. Wallace was the heart and soul of the Pistons, argued Kerr, adding, "These guys aren't as tough or nasty as they were last year."

Nowitzki scored back to back baskets to start the third quarter, cutting the Detroit lead to six, but the Pistons gradually pulled away, pushing the lead to 70-54 at the 4:59 mark. The Pistons still led by 16 (76-60) at the end of the quarter.

Antonio McDyess' jumper to open the fourth quarter made the score 78-60 but then Dallas ran off nine straight points and trailed only 78-69 at the 8:31 mark after Devean George's three point play. Dallas got a steal on Detroit's next possession but just when it seemed that Dallas might get back in the game, Billups stole the ball and scored on a layup. That play seemed to settle the Pistons down again and Detroit eventually pushed the margin to 88-74. Then Dallas scored seven straight points in less than two minutes and had a chance to pull within five when Jason Terry went to the free throw line with 1:17 left. Terry only split the pair, though, and then Prince converted a three point play to put the game out of reach.

Detroit's win is impressive but it is also important to remember that the Pistons just had back to back losses to Charlotte and Portland, two of the league's weaker teams. Kerr noted that Dallas is just the third team with a winning record that Detroit has beaten this year. Time will tell if the Pistons are really better off without Wallace.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:53 AM

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Larry Bird Turns 50, Suns and Nets Each Score More Than 150

It looked like "typographical error Thursday" but the numbers are in fact correct: Larry Bird celebrated his 50th birthday and the Phoenix Suns defeated the New Jersey Nets 161-157 in double overtime.

NBA TV devoted a whole day's worth of programming to chronicling Bird's extraordinary career. For those of us who grew up watching Dr. J, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, it is hard to believe that Bird is really 50 years old. TNT added some nice touches in its opening segment before the Detroit-Dallas game, as Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith offered their recollections of playing against Bird. Of course, TNT had to have a little fun, juxtaposing highlights of Smith stealing the ball from Bird with ones of Bird getting the best of Barkley on several occasions. Barkley joked that you could never get a referee's call in the Boston Garden before turning serious and saying that Bird and Magic belong on the "Mt. Rushmore" of sports figures from their era. He added that they saved the NBA and brought it to new heights and that every time he sees either one of them he thanks them for making him the person he is today.

Johnson admitted that he had a "distaste" for Bird until they had an opportunity to spend an afternoon together shooting a commercial for Converse; then they realized that they actually have a lot in common and could forge an off-court friendship despite their fierce on-court competition. Smith added, "They (Bird and Magic) showed what competition is all about...if you had a distaste (for your opponent), as Magic put it, you still competed fairly." That is such an important point. Playing hard and trying to win does not have to involved cheating or being disrespectful to your opponent. What is the value of a victory that is achieved unfairly or that involves disrespecting your competition? If you disrespect your opponent then you are also disrespecting the game and your own victory. That is something that the steroids cheaters, the taunters and the cheap-shotters (the Tennessee Titans football player who stomped on another player's head, to name just one of many) don't understand.

I didn't get to see the Suns-Nets game but, as Suns' Coach Mike D'Antoni suggested afterwards, it probably will be on ESPN Classic pretty soon. Just looking at the boxscore is fun: Steve Nash had a career-high 42 points, 13 assists and six rebounds; four Suns scored at least 23 points and Boris Diaw added 16 points and 14 assists; Jason Kidd had 38 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists, his 78th triple double, which tied him with Wilt Chamberlain on the career triple doubles list; Vince Carter had 31 points and nine assists, while Richard Jefferson had 25 points and eight rebounds; the teams combined to launch 224 field goal attempts and made 121 of them (.540); despite the frenetic pace and the two extra sessions, the teams combined for only 29 turnovers. That was truly a throwback game to cap off a throwback day during which NBA fans looked back to the 1980s, when Larry Bird was in his prime.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:06 AM

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Warner Brothers NBA DVDs Trivia Contest, Part II





















On November 21, I held a trivia contest that awarded three Warner Brothers DVD sets plus the Greatest Moments in NBA History DVD as prizes. My next trivia contest will award the Detroit Pistons 1989 Championship: Motor City Madness DVD set to the first person who correctly answers the following two part question:

On June 19, 1988, Detroit's Isiah Thomas set the all-time NBA Finals record for points in a quarter (25). Whose record did he break and how many points did that player score?

Also, I will award a Greatest Moments in NBA History DVD to the first person who correctly answers the two part bonus question. Please read the Contest Rules that are listed below the bonus question. Good luck!

Bonus question:

Who set the ABA record for most points in one quarter of a Finals game and how many points did he score?

Contest Rules:

1) Previous winners are ineligible for the prizes that they won before. In other words, "Illest" cannot win either prize because he won all three DVD sets and the Greatest Moments DVD in the previous contest; "Vednam" is ineligible for the Pistons DVD set but is eligible for the Greatest Moments DVD.

2) Answers must be submitted in the "comments" section of this post.

3) To win, your answer must include one of the following: your real name, your email address or the name of your blog/website (I can't mail a DVD to "anonymous").

4) To win a prize you must be the first person who correctly answers both parts of the question; if one person is the first to correctly answer both parts of both questions then that person will win both prizes.

5) One entry per person per question (this eliminates random guessing).

6) Contest winners' names will be announced in the "comments" section of this post and in a separate, new post on 20 Second Timoeut's main page; the contest winners will also be contacted via the email address or website information that they provide.

Note:

All of the DVDs featured in this contest and the previous contest--plus DVDs about the NFL, NHL and college football--can be purchased at the Warner Brothers website:

www.probasketballdvd.com

posted by David Friedman @ 1:44 AM

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Ben There, Done That: Ben Gordon Scores 31, Bulls Rout Sixers, 121-94

Shhh! Listen closely--do you hear that rumbling in the background? That is the sound of the Chicago Bulls, who have been stampeding through the league since Thanksgiving. On Wednesday night, the Bulls won their sixth straight game, blowing out the listless Philadelphia 76ers, 121-94. Ben Gordon led the Bulls with 31 points in only 33 minutes. Luol Deng had a double double (21 points, 10 rebounds) and shot 9-11 from the field, while Ben Wallace contributed 12 points on 6-8 shooting, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. The Bulls shot .615 from the field and outrebounded the Sixers 43-29. Allen Iverson scored 25 points for the Sixers with seven assists and seven turnovers but he did not play at all in the fourth quarter because of back spasms. ESPN's Greg Anthony and Tim Legler repeatedly pointed out one of the main differences between the Bulls and the Sixers: the Bulls feature constant player and ball movement, while the Sixers give the ball to Iverson and hope that he can create something positive.

Chicago jumped out to an 18-6 lead by the 6:13 mark of the first quarter--and then things really got bad for the Sixers: Ben Gordon replaced Kirk Hinrich. Gordon scored 17 points in the next 5:33, more than the Sixers managed to put up in the entire first quarter. Chicago led 39-16 at the end of the first period. Anthony mentioned that teams come back from this kind of early deficit in the NBA, but even he didn't sound like he really believed that Philadelphia could make a serious run against Chicago. Iverson had just four points on 1-5 shooting from the field.

Iverson scored seven points in the first three minutes of the second period as the Sixers got within 43-25 but then Chicago began to pull away again. The Sixers made another mini run late in the period to cut the lead to 59-43 but the Bulls led 69-48 at halftime. Iverson shot 4-7 from the field in the second quarter, scoring 16 points and finishing with 20 in the half; he also had six turnovers, two of them on offensive fouls. Gordon had a quiet second quarter, adding just four points to his incredible first quarter total. The Bulls' 69 points are the most that the team has scored in a first half this season.

The third quarter was basically a replay of the second quarter: a token Sixers run, a larger Bulls response and Chicago led 96-70 at the end of the period. Iverson went to the locker room with back spasms prior to the start of the fourth quarter--probably a result of having to carry around so much dead weight this season. Any hope of a Sixers comeback limped to the locker room with him.

The Sixers dropped to 5-12 and have lost five straight games, while the Bulls improved to 9-9. Philadelphia is still in contention in the (sub-) Atlantic Division (just two games out of first place!) but the real story here is that the Bulls are beginning to play like a cohesive unit. Wallace, according to some, is a hindrance on offense, but the Bulls have scored 100-plus points in eight straight games and their 121 on Wednesday is a season-high. His defense and rebounding fuel the team's fastbreak and against the Sixers he even showed the ability to score on drives and jump hooks; obviously, Wallace shooting 6-8 from the field will not happen on a nightly basis, but the Bulls have plenty of offensive weapons. What they needed was someone to provide a defensive/rebounding presence in the paint and Wallace has been doing just that in recent games.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:56 AM

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ESPN's NBA Coast to Coast Discusses Ron Artest, the Importance of Passing from the Post and the Ben Wallace Effect

On most Tuesday nights during the NBA season, ESPN2 airs a program called NBA Coast to Coast. The show features live "look ins" on the night's NBA action wrapped around commentary by several NBA analysts. Mark Morgan hosted the most recent edition, with Greg Anthony, Tim Legler and Bill Walton providing in studio commentary. Marc Stein and Ric Bucher also chimed in via satellite remote during some segments. The three most interesting discussions concerned low post/high post passing, Ron Artest and the effect of the Ben Wallace signing on Detroit and Chicago.

The passing segment was a real treat--and probably an eye opener for viewers who are too young to remember when Bill Walton was a dominant center in college and then for the 1977 NBA Champion Portland Trail Blazers. Walton stood on the studio's demonstration court and began by saying that although Yao Ming is scoring and rebounding at a good clip there is one area in which he could improve: passing. Then Walton moved to the low post and someone from off camera began feeding him passes in the post. As soon as Walton caught the ball he effortlessly delivered passes to imaginary cutters, showcasing over the head flip passes, bounce passes and over the shoulder passes, among others. Walton described how a good post passer can be the hub of a smoothly functioning offensive machine. Then, Anthony and Legler joined him on the court. They executed screens and cuts away from the ball and Walton passed to one or the other as he became "open." Walton emphasized that the other players must not simply stand around; they should constantly move, putting pressure on the defense, and the post player must be able to make accurate, pin point passes when a cutter becomes open. Some "extras" came on to the court as post defenders and Walton demonstrated how a post player should use his elbows to protect the ball, lean into the double-teamer (instead of fading away) and whistle the pass right over his ear in a way that the defender cannot block it.

Next, Walton moved to the high post and showed how a good post player can use well timed pivoting moves to screen defenders and open lanes for cutters. Walton said that Boris Diaw is the best active player at performing such moves. Walton's wheels have been gone for decades, but this segment showed the eyes and hands that at one time helped to make him the best player in the game.

Ron Artest has been grumbling recently that he is not getting enough touches and that Sacramento's offense should be run through him. Stein and Bucher noted that this should not surprise anyone because Artest was originally brought in to be the team's best player and because one of the problems that he had in Indiana was that he felt that he was the best player on the team but played a secondary role to Jermaine O'Neal on offense. Anthony and Legler agreed that no one should be surprised at Artest's complaints and basically said that Artest is right: he is the best player on the team and the offense should be run through him. Legler said that Mike Bibby is a jump shooting point guard and Kevin Martin is inexperienced, so neither one should be the focal point of the offense at Artest's expense. Walton added that Artest plays well and says the right things when the team is winning but as soon as there is any form of adversity "all heck breaks loose."

Artest is probably right, but here is a good thought experiment: what would most NBA analysts say if a certain Lakers guard publicly complained that he does not get enough touches and the offense should be run through him to a greater degree? Would the response be that this player is right, that he is the best player on the team and should get the ball more? Or would the answer be that this player is selfish and only cares about his own statistics? My take is that a team's best player should handle the ball the most and create shots for himself and his teammates based on the situation and the deployment of the other team's defense. If the opening is there for him to shoot a high percentage shot, then that is what he should do; otherwise, he should draw a double-team and create an open shot for a teammate. It makes no sense for a team's best player to go through long stretches when he does not touch the ball.

One of the live "look ins" was Portland's 88-85 win in Auburn Hills versus the Detroit Pistons. Zach Randolph overpowered the defense to score the decisive basket and Rip Hamilton shot an airball three pointer as time ran out. Anthony said that Detroit misses Ben Wallace in critical late possessions when the Pistons have to get a stop. Legler added, "He makes up for a lot of mistakes. He enables you to gamble defensively and gives you extra possessions with offensive rebounding. Detroit is still the best team in the Eastern Conference but when you lose to Charlotte, New Orleans and Portland at home, you still have issues." Walton said, "Detroit is a team that does not come to play against inferior opponents" and he declared that Wallace's signing with Chicago has hurt both teams.

I think that Anthony hit the nail on the head. Detroit's "liberation offense" is great for 40 minutes or 45 minutes but to be an elite NBA team you have to be able to make crucial defensive stops. Without Wallace, Detroit is less able to do that. Legler's point about offensive rebounding is important as well. I don't understand why so many people only look at Wallace's scoring average or limited shooting range and completely ignore the numerous extra possessions he creates with his offensive rebounding; opponents have to deal with Wallace on the glass, which opens driving lanes for other players. By the end of the season, I don't think that too many people will be talking about Wallace's signing hurting the Bulls.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:15 AM

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Stepping Up in the Playoffs

NBCSports.com has just published my article titled "Stepping Up in the Playoffs," which discusses one of my statistical pet peeves: comparing a player's career regular season and playoff scoring averages to determine whether or not that player "steps up" in the playoffs. The flaw with this approach is that each regular season generally has a roughly equal effect on a player's scoring average but playoff seasons vary widely in length. Also, a player's best scoring regular seasons may not coincide with the seasons in which he played the majority of his playoff games. "Stepping Up in the Playoffs" examines a method of "adjusting" playoff scoring averages to account for these factors and looks at how this adjustment affects the scoring averages of several prominent players. You can find the article here:

Stepping Up in the Playoffs

posted by David Friedman @ 12:05 AM

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

NBA Leaderboard, Part II

There have been some changes at the top in the NBA since I posted Part I; see the notes in each category for further details.

Best Five Records
-------------------

1) Utah Jazz, 15-4
2) Orlando Magic, 14-5
3) San Antonio Spurs, 13-5
4-5) L.A. Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, 12-5

Cleveland and New Orleans have slipped from this group since Part I, while the Dallas Mavericks vaulted into the top five with a 12 game winning streak after starting the season 0-4.

Top Five Scorers (and a few other notables...)
------------------

1) Carmelo Anthony, DEN 32.2 ppg
2) Allen Iverson, PHI 31.6 ppg
3) Michael Redd, MIL 29.6 ppg
4) Joe Johnson, ATL 28.3 ppg
5) Vince Carter, NJN 27.7 ppg
6) LeBron James, CLE 27.4 ppg
7) Dwyane Wade, MIA 27.3 ppg
8) Gilbert Arenas, WSH 26.1 ppg
9) Kobe Bryant, LAL 26.1 ppg

Anthony is still on top, Iverson and Redd switched places and Joe Johnson moved up one spot. Vince Carter is quietly having the highest scoring season of his career. As expected, LeBron and Wade are knocking on the door to the top five, while Bryant's 52 point game moved him into the top ten; he sprained his ankle on Monday night and only scored 21 points, so it remains to be seen how much that injury will affect his availability and scoring totals in upcoming games.

Top Five Rebounders (and a few other notables)
----------------------

1) Dwight Howard, ORL 13.5 rpg
2) Chris Bosh, TOR 12.2 rpg
3) Carlos Boozer, UTA 12.2 rpg
4) Tyson Chandler, NOK 12.2 rpg
5) Kevin Garnett, MIN 11.9 rpg

7) Tim Duncan, SAS 11.0 rpg

14) Yao Ming, HOU 9.8 rpg

21) Ben Wallace, CHI 8.8 rpg

The top five is the same except for Chandler replacing Emeka Okafor, who dropped to eighth. Duncan has maintained his position, while Yao and Wallace are both dropping. Howard's average declined slightly, but his lead over Bosh increased.

Top Five Playmakers
----------------------

1) Steve Nash, PHX 10.8 apg
2) Jason Kidd, NJN, 9.4 apg
3) Andre Miller, DEN 9.3 apg
4) Chris Paul, NOK, 9.2 apg
5) Deron Williams, UTA 8.9 apg

The top five has remained the same, but the order has changed. Nash retains the top position, while Kidd increased his average by nearly 1 apg and moved up from fifth to second. "Starbury" still ranks 27th.

Note: All statistics are from NBA.com.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:43 AM

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Dwyane Wade is Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year


Sports Illustrated has selected Dwyane Wade as its 2006 Sportsman of the Year. He will be featured in the cover story of the December 11 issue. On December 14, Sports Illustrated will hold a party in his honor in New York and award Wade a sterling silver trophy made by Tiffany & Co.

Wade is the youngest of the six NBA players to be honored as SI's Sportsman of the Year; the previous five NBA players were Bill Russell (1968), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985), Michael Jordan (1991) and Tim Duncan/David Robinson (2003).

posted by David Friedman @ 6:23 AM

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Legends of Basketball Creates Special Articles Archive

Legends of Basketball, the official website of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA), recently created a special page featuring my articles alongside contributions by the Plain Dealer's Cleveland Cavaliers beat writer Branson Wright and Sam Amico of Pro Basketball News. Here is the link:

Legends Spotlight

posted by David Friedman @ 3:51 AM

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Greg Oden Makes His Much Anticipated College Debut

Odin is the primary god in Norse mythology, a divinity of war, death, poetry and wisdom. Ohio State fans are looking for a different kind of quadruple double from freshman Greg Oden: points, rebounds, blocked shots--and an NCAA Championship. Oden has been sidelined by a torn ligament in his right wrist but he made his much anticipated collegiate debut on Saturday, producing 14 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in 23 minutes of play as the Buckeyes overwhelmed Valparaiso, 78-58. Oden's wrist is still not completely healed--he shot his free throws left handed--but he showed that he can already have an impact defensively and on the glass. Ohio State is a very good team even without Oden--the Buckeyes were 6-1 before Saturday's game--and Valparaiso is hardly a powerhouse but it is pretty clear that a completely healthy Oden could potentially make the Buckeyes a special team.

Oden has a bright future ahead of him but if you are interested in learning more about how Oden became a top prospect then you need to check out Uncaged: The Rise of Greg Oden, Mike Conley and the National Champion Lawrence North Wildcats, a new book by Dave Krider, J.R. Shelt and Scott Freeman. Krider has covered high school sports for 45 years, Shelt served as an assistant coach at Lawrence North from 2001-2006 and Freeman has written about sports for Atlanta magazine and other publications in addition to authoring biographies of the Allman Brothers Band and Otis Redding. Dean Smith wrote the book's foreword, declaring in his opening sentence, "Jack Keefer is the only basketball coach in the history of Lawrence North High School, so a book about the dynasty of the program is actually one detailing the greatness of Jack as a coach as well as the talents of the young men who have played for him."

Oden was twice honored as National Player of the Year as he and Conley led Lawrence North to three state championships and recognition as the 2006 national champion by Sports Illustrated, USA Today and the Associated Press--but Oden was hardly an instant success as a basketball player. He stood 5-8 as a fourth grader, which attracted the attention of local AAU coach Jimmy Smith. Oden told Smith that he had never played organized basketball and Smith soon realized that Oden was not lying: "He really didn't understand the game. He did not know how to shoot and couldn't dribble. When he got a rebound, he would travel. He would stand in the lane and be whistled for three seconds." When Oden finally made his first basket in a game there was one problem--he shot it in the other team's hoop. Oden spent most of his fourth and fifth grade seasons on the bench but he worked relentlessly on his game.

Success came a little bit quicker for Conley, whose father won the 1992 Olymoic gold medal in the triple jump and whose uncle played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Conley displayed a fierce competitive streak at a young age--when his father showed him a tape of his second place finish in a race versus 1984 Olympic silver medalist Kirk Baptiste, Conley burst into tears, stunned and disappointed at the thought of his father losing.

Oden and Conley first teamed up as sixth graders on an AAU team coached by Mike Conley, Sr., the younger Conley's father. Oden was now 6-2 but his game was still a work in progress, while young Conley was a budding star. They soon became friends and developed an on-court chemistry that led to AAU titles, high school championships--and may very well bring an NCAA basketball championship to Columbus.

The hardcover version of Uncaged sells for $22.95 and is available at major bookstores or can be ordered directly from SportsPublishing L.L.C. by calling 1-877-424-BOOK (2665) or by visiting www.SportsPublishingLLC.com

posted by David Friedman @ 12:51 AM

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