PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- This season's been real warpy in terms of time... early start on the 5th, and now we're staring down Thanksgiving. The Official Wife™ and I are on the way out to go grocery-shopping for what used to be Unturkey day around here (Why, damn you, WHY!?!?!?
) but I said, "Not yet, honey, I've got to do The Boubacar."
So I wish each and every one of you a happy Thanksgiving on behalf of myself, TOW and the li'l orange guy. Don't spend all your time watching basketball, take a few moments and do that dewy-eyed crap about reflecting on what you're thankful for. Me, I'm thankful my wife is home after five months of Navy training (and hasn't had her number called), and that there are a lot more of you out there than there were last year -- thanks for finding TMM, or for just coming back.
There will be a couple of posts here over the weekend for those of you stuck on campus... but for now, enjoy the holidays. Patrick Mills, Saint Mary's.
If you were too busy last night putting shrimp on the barbie or whatever, or you're just not one of the 104 American households with ESPNU, you missed the Saint Mary's Gaels trashing Oregon at home 99-87
. The Ducks, as you may remember, are from the Pac-10, and SMC is a member of the WCC not named Gonzaga. This is what we call an upset.
A young man named Patrick Mills scored 37 points in that game, on 10-for-20 shooting. This is a name you'll hear a lot in this space this season, and for the next three as well, because Mills is currently a freshman and already awesome
. Mills stands 6-feet tall, hails from Canberra, Australia, and is a product of the Australian Institute of Sport. Let's take a moment and put this tremendous performance, and this player, in proper perspective.
Australia is known more for its spandex-clad women's team (the Opals), which has earned the country the last two Olympic silver medals and WNBA star Lauren "Lozza" Jackson. The Boomers, the men's team, don't have any hardware yet but placed fourth in the Olympic medal rounds in 1996 and 2000, and have qualified for every Games since 1972. If you're not impressed by that, consider that there are 213 FIBA members and, as followers of the U.S. team have found out lately, there's a whole lot of basketball to play in order to qualify for the top world competitions.
The country breeds its players with the kind of smooth-running organized sports system we'd be wise trying to emulate and retrofit here in the U.S., considering the problems we've had reclaiming our rightful top position in hoops. Like many serious sporting nations, Australia selects its future Olympians early and whisks them off to a highly-funded, 24/7 sports academy. Down under, it's called the AIS.
The Australian Institute of Sport
has produced names you'll recognize -- guys like Andrew Bogut, former Seton Haller Andrew Gaze and spiky-haired Shane Heal. The vast majority of the Australian players you see at the mid-major level are not from the Institute, they weren't good enough. Because the AIS only admits 14 young men on scholarship per year. That's 14. A year. From the sixth largest country on earth.
And now consider this: Saint Mary's has four
of those guys, not bad for a Moraga, Calif.-based school that's out in what Aussies might call the "woopwoop" (middle of nowhere). In addition to Mills, the school plucked three more from the AIS: forward Lucas Walker, guard Carlin Hughes and Indiana transfer center Ben Allen, currently sitting out his mandated year. Like the LOLGael says: I can has pipeline?
SMC has had previous success with Aussies, one in particular: 6-10 Daniel Kickert practically owns the school's record book, and was present the last time the Gaels pulled an November Pac-10 upset like this, the 2004 Coaches vs. Cancer tourney when they ruined Cal's home pod, went to New York City, and dominated the hoops headlines for a week. I went to Kickert's senior night
in 2006, and the place was going nuts with all the Aussie-Aussie-Aussie going on. Four of those guys? They're going to have to trade their red and blue duds for green and yellow. Lipscomb.
The Atlantic Sun almost had yet another upset last night, as Lipscomb led for 30 minutes before running out of gas against a Big Ten Purdue team in lovely West Lafayette, Ind.. The Boilermakers were held to 32 percent shooting and only escaped because they had 15 fewer turnovers.
They get the across arrow because I spent the weekend with the Bisons (1-5) at the Middle Tennessee tournament, and there was nothing there that indicated they were capable of anything like this. They can't hold on to the ball. They cough up the ball so much that there should be a Lipscomb-brand cough syrup in your grocer's medicine aisle next to the Triaminic. They're averaging 18.5 turnovers a game, that's a full quarter of their possessions. Cough, hack, cough.
But senior Eddie Ard, he of the beautiful high-release jumper, is finally getting hot after a really slow start: he made just 12 shots in hist first four games, then went 8-for-17 on Saturday against San Jose State, and raised his season shooting to 33 percent (or, Purdue-like levels) with 19 point on a 8-for-12 last night. I also think Thomas Pfaff, a 6-8 junior, is going to develop into a very solid A-Sun big man in the next two years. Dude's work ethic is solid, and he can camp out in the paint. SWAC websites.
The common thought about the Southwestern Athletic Conference is that it's a joke basketball league. It's always rock-bottom in the RPI, and it's in the play-in game whenever its historically black counterpart, the MEAC, isn't. Unfortunately, many of the schools in the conference are doing absolutely nothing to combat this, and are unwilling -- or just plain unable -- to get the word out about their athletic programs.
First, let me get the notable exceptions out of the way. The two Alabama schools, A&M
, know what they're doing. State in particular -- their sports information office is the size of my house. Jackson State
is a sports information machine, honed by all the Trey Johnson interview requests they had last year. Southern
has the biggest budget in the league, and spends some of it on making sure its fans know what's up with their teams. And Alcorn State's website
is great, albeit for very obvious reasons that have nothing to do with news releases and everything to do with entertainment. (It's in your head now, and it's not getting out.)
But elsewhere in the league is a web wasteland. Texas Southern gets my vote as the absolute worst website in Division I
. You go there, and... nothing. Then you navigate to the sports page, and there's a giant picture. The men's basketball page, and another giant picture. Once you drill down to some actual info (like, say, who's the coach?), you get this: "The 2007-2008 Coaching Staff has yet to be determined."
Good thing I know that Ronnie Courtney was fired over the summer and replaced by former coach Robert Moreland, who'd been fired before. It's kinda like the Yankees in the Eighties, but in the SWAC and with a lot more losing. But if you think this is an intriguing story and want to get more info about this, sorry... TSUBall.com is not your friend.
The weird part about all of this is that when you actually go to these games, a lot of sports information staffs are absolutely great. Mississippi Valley State
hasn't updated its site in years, but it has specialized jobs and interns and everything, and prints out the nicest name cards
in the conference. Grambling may be understaffed (they let me answer the SportsTicker phone last year during a game), but it's turned the corner recently and has a decent locally-produced site
of their own.
But schools like MVSU, TSU and Pine Bluff
just haven't embraced the web at all, and these are growing pains that 99 percent of Division I athletic departments went through back in 1998. I speak as a fan of the conference first, and a journalist second, when I say that this is an embarrassment for the SWAC. It furthers the perception that the HBCU conference is only D-I to fulfill some racial quota or something. If budgets are that much of a problem, these straggler schools should just call up XO, or CSTV, or whatever, and get a cookie-cutter plug-in solution that would allow them to spend as little time as needed updating their sites.
Maybe more people would care, and caring equals money.
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