Brandon Jennings, Starring In “Eurotrip”

Prized Arizona PG recruit Brandon Jennings isn’t going to wait for the NCAA Clearinghouse to give the thumbs-up to his recent SAT scores so he can be a one-and-done in Tucson — he’s decided to follow through on his initial thought and will be heading to Europe to burn his one season between graduating and entering the NBA Draft for 2009.

All I can say is: more power to him, and I hope this is the way talented ballers will go in the future.

I love college basketball, but I hate the pretense now required by the NBA that forces top prospects into a year at a big-name university before making millions. Yes, it’s nice to be able to recognize the lottery picks since they spent a year in the NCAA ranks, but is that really better for the game, the universities, and for the players? It’s definitely better for the game, as the NCAA is only game in town when it comes to exposure to pro scouts for American prospects. But it’s not better for the academic integrity of the universities (let us note that university presidents have no problems with this; this is about TV money to them) and it isn’t better for the players who want no part of pretending to be a student any longer.

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Cal’s Tree Hugging Hippie Problem Continues Or: The Saga Of Dumpster Muffin

You’d be forgiven for trying to figure out what the hell a judge’s ruling means for Cal’s plans to build an athletic facility where a bunch of old growth oak trees stand right now, because both sides are claiming victory and nothing’s more confusing than a judicial ruling where both sides think they’ve come out ahead. Ah, such is the morass that is California state law.

Here are the essentials, boiled down: the judge ruled that the university can build its facility there, take down the trees, and kick the tree-sitters out. HOWEVA (SAS-style for a reason), the university has to comply with local zoning and earthquake zoning laws established at the state level, and the activists’ lawyers believe they won’t be able to at all — especially considering that Memorial Stadium already sits on a fault line.  The Alquist-Priolo zoning law of 1972 denies new projects or extensions to anything on a fault line that exceeds 50 percent of its current value. They argue Memorial Stadium is worthless. (I would beg to differ; I don’t think you can really put a price tag on the heartbreak of the Cal faithful at continued mediocrity despite promises of excellence.)

Thus, the Bears may be in the same state of legal buttlock that they’ve been in over the past 18 months while trying to remove people who go by names like “Dumpster Muffin” (must resist cheap, easy oral sex joke) from the trees. People are watching this woman as the arborists and authorities try to get her down (which they did not do yesterday), and as another named “Millipede” bites an arborist and gets arrested.

Only in fucking Berzerkley, people. Only in Berzerkley.

Photo: Bob Larson, Contra Costa Times

The Cost of Mayo May Keep Rising in South L.A.

Naturally, as soon as any high-profile college program is associated with some allegations of NCAA violations, the well of problems will only get deeper until the program is either punished or gets through the NCAA gauntlet unscathed, and in the era of one-and-done, this is becoming even more obvious.

The current allegations surrounding O.J. Mayo and USC are already affecting Tim Floyd’s recruiting class for the ’08-’09 season in damn near record time: the L.A. Times is reporting that top recruit and prep sensation DeMar DeRozan may ask out of his signed letter of intent if any severe penalties are pushed upon the Trojans next season. This is a concern for any program, but quite possibly doubly so for USC given DeRozian’s very public and celebrity-associated recruitment.

College basketball and football coaches have a practice of offering scholarships to players that they are on the fence about or normally would not if that player can bring in a bigger name with them (read Bruce Feldman’s Meat Market sometime; even though it is about Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss and college football, that stuff happens in college hoops, too). To Floyd and USC, DeMar DeRozian of Compton High School is most likely that bigger name landed. DeRozan’s signing of his letter of intent, however, got a lot more notice than usual.

Why’s that? Because as an eighth grader, he happened to be a star on a club team with a point guard named Percy Romeo Miller, who later played for Beverly Hills High School. That club team is run by Romeo’s father Percy, better known to the rest of us as Master P, and his son as Lil’ Romeo. Romeo Miller averaged 8.6 points a game his final season for the Hills, which finished last in its league. By all appearances, DeRozan and Miller seem to be a two-for-one deal. While their respective fathers deny it, DeRozan’s brother Jermaine claimed in the WSJ article that DeRozan was “seduced” by the Millers’ lifestyle — and the father of walk-on Ryan Weatherell believes it, claiming that Floyd told him it was such a deal.

And Rodney Guillory wanted him, too:

Frank DeRozan said Guillory once attempted to recruit DeMar to play for his Amateur Athletic Union team, and when his advances were rebuffed, Guillory told other AAU coaches that DeMar was 15 years old when in fact he was 13. The family then had to go to some lengths to straighten out the discrepancy.

DeRozan is most likely a member of the latest one-and-done class. I got the opportunity to watch DeRozan play when Compton HS came up for a local HS’s tourney a few months back — complete real deal, outshone all of the talent on hand; I don’t expect him to stay at USC more than a year, and if this gets any worse for USC, it might not be done in the Galen Center. Myles Brand is already spewing fire about committing three investigators to college basketball, while spewing bullshit about how college hoops are harder to police than any other sport (try one with an 85 scholly limit, Mr. Brand).

DeRozan’s brother Jermaine told the Times the incident is already serving as a “cautionary tale.” They’ve already dealt with Guillory, apparently, and from their accounts, he doesn’t seem to be a pleasant fellow if he doesn’t get what he wants — and now, DeRozan’s high school coach has Final Four teams calling him, wondering if DeMar might be interested in changing his mind — another tried-and-true late recruiting tactic.

This is going to get a whole lot uglier. Whether it becomes a full exposure of the seedy world behind big-time college recruiting or simply a witch hunt for the athlete and the alleged enabler who got caught by a whistleblower with his own obvious agenda has yet to be seen. Don’t be surprised if those in the media opt for the latter rather than a modern exposure of Bill Rhoden’s Conveyor Belt concept (from 40 Million Dollar Slaves.)

DeMar DeRozan might ask out is USC is punished in Mayo case [L.A. Times]
A Hot Prospect? [Wall Street Journal]
NCAA ramps up enforcement of men’s hoops recruiting [USA Today]
NCAA — Myles Brand — Adds Race to Mayo Mix [Sports on My Mind]

Go On, Take The Money And Run

There will be plenty more dimensions to the allegations against O.J. Mayo that he accepted $30,000 in cash in gifts from a promoter named Rodney Giullory, all revealed in an ESPN report on Outside the Lines yesterday, which featured a former member of Mayo’s circle who allegedly provided receipts confirming this, and accused the management agency of agent Bill Duffy of paying Guillory hundreds of thousands of dollars to land Mayo when the guard was still in high school. But for now, much of the story makes glaze over and sigh.

Yes, this is the second bad money-involved scandal with USC, still trying to eke through the Reggie Bush investigation, and Tim Floyd must feel like he wants to swallow a cyanide pill if the whole “lack of institutional control” is ever brought up by the NCAA.  However, Mayo and Guillory were unlucky enough to have a member of the entourage turn on them. This goes on more often than you think: how many Sports Illustrated profiles do you read where a scholarship athlete at a big-time university has a decked-out off campus apartment, and that description comes mere paragraphs before or after one where the athlete being profiled grew up in very tough conditions?  That kind of dissonance is prevalent, and such payments are probably just as prevalent.  As usual, the allegations are exposed because someone either got caught or someone who used to be on the inside holds a grudge.

The voices of vitriol backing the so-called “purity” and honor of college athletics calling for sanctions against USC always seem to miss the point, although by the NCAA rules, there’s probably a way to get the athletic department for “lack of institutional control.”  That point is: athletes like Mayo shouldn’t even have to be forced to go to college for a perfunctory year in the first place. Yes, the NBA’s age limit is good for college basketball, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good for the athletes.  Either the NCAA is going to have to find ways to pay the players (any other type of scholarship recipient besides athletic has many more options of earning cahs on the side, and some of  the NCAA’s massive profits need to go to those who earn them on the court and field), or both the NBA and NFL are going to have to establish viable minor leagues unaffiliated with academic institutions.

The fake outrage that arises whenever an athlete is accused of receiving cash while on an athletic scholarship grows more tiresome. They’re operating in the framework of a broken system in the first place.

Kansas Chalks Memphis’ Outline On Court

Yes, Memphis did blow this game. You can’t be up by 7 with two minutes left, have the opportunity to put the game out of reach by hitting free throws and missing four of the last five attempts, and you certainly can’t fuck up an obvious chance to foul and force Kansas to intentionally miss a free throw. That said, it means nothing if Kansas isn’t good enough to take advantage of the errata, the wear and tear on a six-man Memphis rotation, and the absence of Joey Dorsey late due to fouling out. And let’s not forget: Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose are two of the team’s better charity stripe guys, hitting at 70 percent or better.

Mario Chalmers’ shot was absolutely incredible. He had a hand in his face and was on the move, and then helped contribute to a dismantling of the Tigers, who appeared as if Chalmers’ 3-point bucket to send it to overtime had inspired spontaneous bowel movements on the entire team (and given Derrick Rose’s diet, that image would have been an utter mess.) The Tigers looked like a dominant, championship team for 38 minutes — but you have to play 40. When you go against a team as deep as Kansas on the bench, it’s hard to compete and follow through, never mind finish, when you’re so dependent upon the starting five.

Chris Douglas-Roberts joined Darius Washington and Dorsey as the latest Tiger whose free throw woes cost his team the game, and while it’s fun to mock coach John Calipari about free throws not mattering, anyone can crack in that situation — especially when exhausted. The final two minutes with the turnovers caused by Chalmers, Rush, and Sherron Collins, along with Kansas’ depth, has Bill Self not only getting the Final Four monkey off his back, but the national championship to add to his resume (whether he uses it to pry more money out of Lawrence for an extension or takes T. Boone Pickens’ oil cash back to his alma mater in Stillwater.)

Let’s not make the errors of, say, Bill Plaschke or Stewart Mandel, and say Memphis chose flash over basic basketball, because outside of the free throws, that’s kind of inaccurate. This whole ideal of purist versus modern reeks of hoops Luddite-ism at its worst, as both the running style and half-court have merit — and, as SI’s recent article on Dribble-Drive Motion proved, there is a method behind the Memphis O’s madness. 38 minutes of basketball will show you that’s not true. Teams will break down when pushed, and it’s proof of how deep Kansas was with blue-chip athletes like Rush and Chalmers, as well as Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun, that they broke down the tough defense and incredible offensive work that Memphis had performed throughout the tournament.

Kansas had its trial by fire when it had to match up with Davidson and keep Stephen Curry from lighting them up. The Jayhawks got out to a massive lead against North Carolina only to fend off a comeback that cut a 20+ point lead to four. This team rolls nine deep and had to use everyone who could get double digits to do so. Kansas beat Memphis because they were able to wear their athletes down, and the Tigers didn’t have the bodies to compensate — thus, Memphis got tired when it mattered most.

Photo: AP/Eric Gay

Should They Stay Or Should They Go?

Your basic evaluations as to which high profile freshmen should be declaring for the Association or should decide to stick around for another season in the college ranks.

Derrick Rose, Memphis – Guaranteed lottery pick, and depending upon the franchise that lands the first overall pick, could go #1 in the draft. Regardless of what happens against Kansas tonight, should punch his ticket to the Association.

Michael Beasley, Kansas State – If you are averaging 26 points and more than 10 boards a game in your freshman year in college in a conference like the Big 12, you are probably ready to go pro. Those are numbers beating Carmelo Anthony’s marks, and if Beasley had someone else to play with outside of Bill Walker the Wildcats might have gotten further.

Jerryd Bayless, Arizona – Already declared, might have wanted to stay another year. It may not be fair or right, but he reminds me a lot of a bit less polished version of Gilbert Arenas (and no, it isn’t necessarily because he wore “0” at Airzona too.)  He’ll probably turn out fine, but a year actually being coached by Lute Olson and a more open offensive system would have been better for him.

Eric Gordon, Indiana – I really don’t know if there was any other choice than for Gordon to leave.  There was too much instability and uncertainty about NCAA violations that Kelvin Sampson left with that Gordon might have been stuck with a school that could be punished severely. He was consistently good in conference, but faded when hitting the Big 10 and NCAA tourneys.

O.J. Mayo, USC – Started out his freshman year flat, got much better as Pac-10 conference play rolled on and grew into his role as leader.  Honestly, he needs to stay one more year and then he’ll be set to go. There are some shot creation situations he could use some more work on, at least from what I could see when I watched USC games this season.

Kevin Love, UCLA – After watching him just get boxed in by Memphis’ front-court tandem on Saturday, he needs to spend another year in Westwood lifting weights and focusing that post game further. The Tigers had players that are the caliber of guys Love will see in the Association — and he just looked kind of schlubby in comparison.

Photo: AP/Matt York

Like A Tiger, Defying The Laws Of Gravity

I’m burnin’ through the sky yeah
Two hundred degrees
That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I’m trav’ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic woman of you

– Queen, “Don’t Stop Me Now”

I’m more than conscious of the mantra that defense wins championships and KU’s dismantling of UNC early in the late Saturday game was a thing to behold. I was watching that game in a sports bar, and our jaws were dropping as the Jayhawks built margins of 20+ points, only to let the Tar Heels back in — but they eventually exposed the biggest weakness in Tyler Hasnbrough’s game: an inability to pass out of double teams effectively rather than try to bully his way in. Plus, the Jayhawks have enough depth to bear offensive struggles by some of their stronger players. I think Bill Self has exorcised his Final Four demon whether his team wins on Monday night or not — at least Kansas has dealt with the specter of Roy Williams’ departure by getting back at its old coach.

But the real impressive assault from Saturday night was the one Memphis performed on UCLA. Darren Collison gave up five inches and major wingspan to Derrick Rose as Russell Westbrook was assigned mostly to handle Chris Douglas-Roberts — this was a situation where basic man-to-man match-ups would be completely useless, as the two guards turned into absolute dynamos of fluid movement on the court — Rose’s gyrations, off-balance shots, and other ephemera to put the full arsenal of NBA-ready moves on display for anyone watching, along with CDR’s acrobatics, including the pictured facial of UCLA center Kevin Love, defined the game. As for Love: being frustrated by Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey should make this perfectly clear for NBA scouts: his game is good, but he needs to spend another full season in Westwood hitting weights and pounding that post game into higher focus.

That said, what’s coming during tonight’s championship game, with another variety of offense vs. defense match-up? If Calipari and his recruits can break down UCLA’s vaunted defensive game, they can certainly do it to Kansas as well, particularly if both guards and Joey Dorsey can avoid early foul trouble. Kansas is a touch deeper than Memphis, and the interesting thing to see will be how much Self goes to Sasha Kaun off the bench to battle in the paint wiht Dorsey. Rose is this team’s own Mr. Farenheit. Memphis might as well be singing “Don’t Stop Me Now” at this juncture, but they’ll be trading it for another Queen standard in the sports world: “We Are the Champions.” This, despite Science Daily providing us with knowledge of a computer system that has predicted 30 of the last 36 Final Four teams — and it’s picking Kansas.

Hey, I always said these picks were ill-advised.

Photo: AP/Matt York