Green Circles of Ba$ketball

Basketballs are simply a circular orb made of leather and filled with air.  The goal of the game of basketball is to put the circular orb through a slightly larger circular destination called a hoop.

To win a game of basketball, you must put the circular orb through the circular hoop more times than your opponent during the time allotted for the game. 

A brilliant analysis, eh?  Stay with me, though.

I have come up with this analogy after several days of pondering about the current corruption trial in New York involving payoffs of college basketball players by an assortment of shady characters (head coaches, assistant coaches, middlemen, family members, AAU coaches, Santa Claus, etc.). 

Though not a surprise to anyone, it was revealed on Wednesday that a University of Arizona basketball player named Deandre Ayton may have received payments of $10,000 per month from “someone” to play his one and only year of basketball in 2017/2018 for the Wildcats prior to bolting for the NBA.  As the #1 draft pick of the Phoenix Suns last year, Ayton is paid $733,000 per month (or $8.8 million per year) by the pro league for his services.

From a purely economic perspective, Ayton’s alleged pay while at the University of Arizona was a relative bargain!   However, in college athletics, it wouldn’t have been legal.

Just why would such a highly-recruited high school athlete come play at this particular university?

Money, of course.

It’s not that the University of Arizona basketball program lacks for fans.  U of A has the longest streak of leading its conference in basketball attendance in Pac-12 Conference history (34 seasons) and is second in the country behind the University of Kentucky (40 seasons leading the SEC in attendance). 

With over 14,000 seats filled for about 20 home games per season, the Wildcats men’s basketball team generates about $10 million in profits annually for the university’s athletic programs.  The revenue from the men’s basketball team is used to help defray the costs of other athletics programs (such as golf, swimming, etc.) whose expenses are higher than revenues generated.

Money, again.

The other college program receiving a very negative spotlight during this college basketball scandal is LSU.   About a month ago, it was revealed that “someone” may have offered to pay Baton Rouge freshman, Javonte Smart, an amount equal to the “NBA rookie minimum” (over $800,000/year) to play for his hometown Tigers. 

During this week’s ongoing college basketball scandal hearing, it was revealed that yet another LSU freshman (Naz Reid from New Jersey) may have been offered up to $300,000 to play his one and only season in Baton Rouge. Both LSU players have now entered the NBA draft after only one season in college. 

LSU’s young basketball coach, Will Wade, has turned around the moribund hoops program in just two seasons.   After the team went 10-21 the year before the new coach arrived, Will Wade’s first year record at LSU improved to 18-15.  This year’s second season had the Tigers winning the SEC (for the first time in ten years) with a 28-7 regular season record. 

In the case of LSU, the suspicions are sky high as to how Coach Will Wade has been able to recruit so many high-level basketball players to the program.

I would guess that following the money would be a good possibility.

What will happen?

Most of us would like to think that the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, would bring the hammer down on the universities involved in this growing basketball scandal.  In order to make sure that these travesties never happen again, the NCAA must step-in and do something for the integrity of college athletics, right?

Think again. 

The NCAA makes millions of dollars every season by showcasing these same college athletes in the NCAA’s annual “March Madness” championships, too.  If the NCAA were to seriously police the programs and enforce the rules across the board, the current men’s college basketball tournament would be less financially attractive.

There’s that money issue again.

Since everyone in this scandal (and we haven’t even mentioned the AAU, the shoe companies, and the other shady middlemen) has a monetary interest in keeping the status quo, I suspect that we will (eventually) have more coaches and assistants relieved of their duties by their respective universities very soon (under some indirect pressure from the NCAA to “do something”). 

I also expect that the NCAA rule book (which is already far too voluminous and confusing to anyone other than attorneys) will be gaining another few hundred pages of new rules and then expect all college athletics programs will live by these amended guidelines in the future.  Until it happens again. 

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Every year, there are hundreds of millions of dollars (primarily originating from a number of athletics apparel companies which are subsidizing teams in the AAU, high schools, and college sports in order to advertise their overpriced gear to young potential buyers) being doled out through an incredibly sophisticated web of monetary distribution with each party taking their cuts.

This current college basketball scandal’s complexity reminds some people of the way alcohol continued to be produced and distributed during the so-called “Prohibition” period of the 1920’s and early 1930’s.   Despite alcohol being declared illegal during that period, a sophisticated and secretive market evolved and existed to take their cut of the money being doled out by a nation of willing buyers.

Good ol’ supply and demand. 

Today’s green circles of cash which have been corrupting so-called “amateur” basketball are now so deep that they boggle your mind when thinking about all the participants. 

If no one in these green circles of cash is willing to slit their own financial throats to end the madness, why should anyone be surprised when the next “Aha!” cheating moment in college basketball occurs?

The Sweet 16 of March Madness!

No offense to your brackets, but, for me, this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament has been a bit of a dud for those of us always pull for a few big surprises. 

Sure, the Oregon Ducks have been on a massive roll through the Pac-12 tournament and the first two games of the NCAA tournament. 

Sorry, Oregon.  Your Pac-12 conference Ducks are just not the same type of feel-good small school story as last year’s Loyola-Chicago Ramblers team and their now-99 year old good luck charm, Sister Jean

This year’s final 16 teams are pretty much the expected teams among the big boys of basketball.  There are some good stories, but the sports journalists will have to work a bit harder this year.

Heading into Thursday and Friday night’s games, we have all four #1 seeds left, all four of the #2 seeds remaining, and all four of the #3 seeds still in the tourney? 

Yawn. 

All of the top 12 teams are standing this year after two games!  Add two #4 seeds (Florida State and Virginia Tech), a #5 seed (Auburn) and #12 Oregon, and there’s this year’s Sweet 16. 

However, did you know that Sister Jean’s Loyola-Chicago Ramblers had won the National Championship back in 1963? 

Did you also know that Loyola-Chicago has one more National Championship in their basketball trophy case than this year’s #1 seeds Virginia and Gonzaga, #2 seed Tennessee, #3 seeds LSU, Purdue, Texas Tech, and the University of Houston, #4 seeded Virginia Tech, and #5 Auburn?

So, despite the blue bloods like Kentucky (8 national titles), North Carolina (6), Duke (5), Michigan State (2), and others like Michigan and Oregon with one trophy each, there are ten other extremely hungry teams in the remaining field of 16 who still have the chance to win their first men’s basketball championship.

The good news about this weekend’s basketball schedule is that ANYONE left in this field could still win it all. 

The two “worst” remaining teams (#12 seed Oregon and #5 seed Auburn) both won their conference tournaments to get into the field and are playing a frenetic style of basketball with full-court pressure, sharpshooting three-point bombs, and are scoring points at pinball wizard speed. 

What about LSU, you ask?  Can you imagine the “holier-than-thou” national media screaming about a team which suspended its coach (Will Wade) who won’t even talk to his bosses about a reported wire-tapping of a possible payoff to the family of one of their current players? 

LSU was already playing hard as they dedicated this season to honor one of their players (20-year old Wayde Sims) who was shot and killed in Baton Rouge back in September.  His father (Wayne Sims) had played on the LSU basketball team in the 1980’s for Coach Dale Brown.

This year’s Tigers’ team has nothing to lose at this point.  They have plenty of talent but need to play their best games now if they want to advance. 

If the allegations about Coach Will Wade turn out to be true, LSU’s team should be be approaching each game as if it may be the last NCAA tournament game of their college careers.  The NCAA would likely place LSU on a lengthy suspension from post-season play if the worst is confirmed.

Gonzaga would be a great story, too!  Coach Mark Few has taken this small university in Spokane, Washington to national prominence in the past two decades.

The Zags have made the NCAA basketball tournament for 21 consecutive seasons!  They appeared in the national championship game two years ago but lost to North Carolina.

Gonzaga’s overall NCAA tournament record is now 33-21 and now equates to 61% winning percentage.   By contrast, the Duke Blue Devils lead this year’s field with a combined men’s tournament record of 111-36 (75.5%) followed by North Carolina, which sports a 123-45 tournament record (73%). 

So, your statistical best chances to win it all remain with Duke and North Carolina in a potential finals match-up this year.

I feel hopeful that at least one or two “spoiler” teams will emerge from the pack by the end of this weekend to prevent the Final Four from becoming the second-ever match-up of four #1 seeds in history.     

It isn’t called “March Madness” for nothing! 

LSU W-Hoops!

The LSU Tigers men’s basketball team will enter the Southeastern Conference tournament today without their head coach, Will Wade

Wade has been suspended by the school after a recent revelation that the coach may have been involved (directly or indirectly) in funneling big money (think “NBA rookie salary type of money”) to the family of LSU freshman guard, Javonte Smart.  Smart is from nearby Scotlandville and was Louisiana’s Player-of-the-Year for three years in a row. 

Since legendary hoops coach, Dale Brown, left coaching at LSU in 1997 after 25 years at the helm, LSU basketball has been the third stooge of the LSU sports family.  LSU football reigns supreme (especially financially) followed by the emergence of LSU’s annual powerhouse baseball team.   

Coach Brown was a beloved coach and spokesman for LSU basketball.  He brought LSU to the NCAA Final Four twice (1981 and 1986) and was named SEC “Coach of the Year” four times.

Dale Brown also snagged a young center named Shaquille O’Neal to LSU in 1989 for three seasons (O’Neal later returned to graduate from LSU in 2000).  Shaq’s Tigers had success but failed to advance beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Brown was the Dick Vitale of the SEC.  His quick wit and personality made him a fan favorite in Baton Rouge as his teams packed the P-Mac (Pete Maravich Assembly Center) on a regular basis.

When Brown retired, LSU’s next basketball coach, John Brady, changed to a more deliberate style of basketball (slower paced and lower scoring).  In addition to losing fan interest, Brady’s teams started losing prized recruits who wanted to play in more up-tempo schemes.

Though Brady had some success at LSU during his 10 ½ years as head coach, LSU fired him midway through his final season in 2008. 

In 2009, Brady was replaced by Trent Johnson, who became the first black head of a men’s sport at LSU.   Like Brady, Johnson had some early success but left Baton Rouge for a job at TCU after just three seasons.

Former Dale Brown assistant coach, Johnny Jones, was hired beginning in 2012.  In five seasons, his biggest accomplishment was the recruitment of “one-and-done” freshman, Ben Simmons (who left for the NBA and plays in Philadelphia).  Jones was fired in 2017.

Enter Will Wade. 

The 34-year old coach already had success with programs at Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth prior to coming to Baton Rouge.  He promised to give fans an exciting team to watch and make LSU basketball a winner again. 

In two seasons, he has delivered on that promise.

After the team went 10-21 the season before Wade’s arrival, LSU finished last season 18-15.  This season, the Tigers have just won the SEC regular season with a sterling 25-5 (16-2 SEC) record during Will Wade’s second season as head coach.   

Then the wheels have fallen off. 

In a nutshell, Will Wade may have been caught (wire-tap, that is) discussing possible financial payments for the family of freshman guard, Javonte Smart, with a young middleman “fixer” named Christian Dawkins.   

The calls were secretly recorded by the FBI as part of a federal investigation into college basketball that has resulted in the arrests of several assistant coaches, shoe company executives and others, including Dawkins. 

Dawkins was eventually brought to justice and has been convicted on two counts of corruption in October. 

Uh-oh.

As of today, Coach Wade has refused to talk about the allegation to anyone other than his New York City-based attorney.   Since Coach Wade has refused to talk with his employer (LSU), the university suspended the coach at least until he discusses the matter with the school’s officials.

In a bizarre twist on Thursday, Coach Wade asked to be reinstated for the SEC and NCAA tournaments as he released a statement:

“My legal counsel advised the University that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, or anyone, to submit to an interview under these circumstances.”

Wade said later in the statement: “I love LSU and everything it stands for. What I’m asking for is the right to do my job while exercising my constitutional rights. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Curiously, the coach’s statement did not claim his innocence, either. 

LSU will appear this afternoon in its first game of the SEC Tournament against the University of Florida without Coach Will Wade.  Also uncertain for tip-off will be the primary subject of the alleged payoff, freshman guard Javonte Smart.

LSU’s head coach appears to be in a heap of trouble if this turns out to be true.  It also brings questions about other highly prized LSU recruits like Naz Reid (from New Jersey). 

The coach has delivered on his promises make the LSU basketball team successful again and fans returned to the PMAC again, too. 

Coach Will Wade may truly be a young Pied Piper type of a college basketball coach who can lure gifted players to play at LSU. 

Was the Piper’s pockets lined with plenty of recruiting cash for illegal payoffs? 

If so, LSU basketball will foul-out of college basketball relevance soon, and several heads may roll.  

This may just be the tip of the iceberg.