A few more hoops dinner parties

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they’ll answer essay questions like the standard: If you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking. What if we could host a hoops-centric dinner party? Who would make our guest list?

This week, each of our writers answered that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.

Jeff Goodman asked some prominent coaches for their lists, and here's what he got:

Rick Pitino

Location: Il Mulino in downtown New York City. I’d have Veal Milanese.

Cawood Ledford: He was the voice of Kentucky basketball, and I became close friends with him.

Billy Donovan: Love him like a son. We always have a great time together.

Jerry Tarkanian: Has been a friend for 40 years and is one of the best this business has ever seen.

Bob Huggins: He’s just plain fun, but I’d need to rest up for about two weeks before and afterward.

Shaka Smart

Location: At my house so no one else is around. There’s no noise, no crowd, no one asking these guys for autographs. I’d have them to myself and cater in soul food. I’d hope the dinner goes as long as possible.

Nolan Richardson: He’s my No. 1 guy. If I only had one, he’d be the guy. He had the most dominant pressing teams ever, and they were terrific on the offensive end also. I’d love to steal some ideas from him.

Dean Smith: When I was in college thinking about getting into coaching, he was the guy. As I learned about coaching, he was the innovator, and it was incredible how much people stole from him. He didn’t get enough credit for being such an innovator. So many things we think of now as common sense were done by him.

John Chaney: When you talk about coaches as mentors, people who help mold and build young men, I don’t think there was anyone better.

Len Bias: I’ve seen all the tapes and highlights, and I coached with two people in Oliver Purnell and Ron Bradley who were assistants on that team. So many people say he was a better college player than Michael Jordan. We know so much about the other guys who have gone on to stardom in the NBA, but we know very little about him as far as his makeup as a player.

Bruce Pearl

Location: That’s easy. A barbecue at my house.

Mark Emmert: Because of the changing landscape, I’d want to tell him how much good there is going on in college campuses in terms of educating student-athletes and how they aren’t treated differently anymore. He’d be proud of the fact that they go to class and are held accountable. I’d also like to ask him what he thinks the future of the NCAA holds and also apologize for my mistakes and let him know how devastating it was for my family, my coaches and my program to go through what we did.

Rick Pitino: He’s the best I’ve ever gone against. He knew what I wanted to do, why I wanted to do it and how to attack it. It was like he was in our huddle.

Shabazz Napier: I’d like to tell him how proud I am of him and ask him how he developed his swag. He really matured and represented his school and the sport well.

John Wildhack: He’s the one at ESPN who took a chance by hiring me. He’s also the one who told me to get back into coaching and get a return investment for ESPN by making the SEC better. He gave me a great opportunity and then put me to work.

Josh Pastner

Location: Caffe Luna Rosa on the beach in Delray Beach, Florida. It’s awesome -- good food and a great view. But my favorite food is in Memphis. I’d want to jump around to a bunch of spots in Memphis.

Lute Olson: He gave me the opportunity to play at Arizona and be able to stay on the staff, work for him at a very young age and be a part of a national championship. He’s the greatest practice coach in the history of the game.

John Calipari: He brought me to Memphis, and I was able to learn a lot from him. He gave me an opportunity to be a part of the greatest run in college basketball history, even if it was only for one year. Without him, I wouldn’t have a shot to be the head coach here.

R.C. Johnson: He took an unbelievable leap of faith hiring me at just 31 years of age to follow a guy like Calipari. He gave me the keys. It was an unreal leap of faith. Thankfully, everyone turned it down too.

Tom Bowen: My current athletic director. He’s one of the best ADs in the country -- if not the best. He’s allowed me to have an unbelievable contract and continue to employ me. He’s extremely innovative, and I’m grateful and thankful to him for all he’s done.
It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they’ll answer essay questions like the standard -- if you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking. What if we could host a hoops-centric dinner party? Who would make our guest list?

This week, each of our writers will answer that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.

This was incredibly difficult, but the reporter in me ultimately came out -- and that’s why I chose four individuals (after being spurned by William “World Wide Wes” Wesley) who are no longer with us, people whom I never had an opportunity to truly get to know, people who have incredible stories to tell.

[+] EnlargeGuy Lewis and John Wooden
AP Photo/Ed KolenovskyJohn Wooden, seen here with Houston's Guy Lewis before 1968's "Game of the Century," would make for some winning conversation.
Location: My house in Massachusetts. If I want to get the truth out of these guys, no one else can be within earshot. We'd find a way (for Jimmy V) to bring in Italian food from the North End in Boston, but there is no chance that anyone is going to interrupt this dinner for anything besides a bathroom break.

John Wooden: I got a chance to meet the most successful coach in NCAA history on only two occasions, and both were extremely brief. He was considered as brilliant a mind as there was when it came to basketball, and he won 10 national titles in the span of 12 years. I’d love to hear stories from back in the day … especially those that pertained to him and my next guest.

Sam Gilbert: The former UCLA booster was ordered to disassociate from the program in 1981, and he died in 1987. Papa Sam later became a sports agent and was connected to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and other UCLA stars. Just imagine the stories with him and Wooden at the table. It would be incredible to find out exactly what Gilbert did -- and exactly what Wooden knew. They are both gone now, so maybe they'd pour their hearts out with everything that went down. I’m not even sure I’d want two more people at the table.

Len Bias: I’d want to invite at least one player, and Bias is so intriguing to me. He was going to be the guy who took the mantle from Larry Bird as the star of the Boston Celtics, but he died in 1986 -- two days after he was drafted with the second overall pick -- because of a drug overdose. I vividly recall watching him torch No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill for 35 points his senior season, and it would be interesting to hear his stories -- both on and off the court.

Jim Valvano: I’d need someone to lighten it up, make people laugh, and no one was better at that than Jimmy V. He’s as entertaining of a college coach as there has been in the past few decades, and it would be interesting to talk to him about how his legacy has grown since he passed away.


C.L. Brown: My dinner companions

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they'll answer essay questions like the standard: If you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking. If we could host a hoops-centric dinner party, who would make our guest list?

This week, each of our writers will answer that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.

Location: 60 West Bistro and Martini Bar in Louisville, Kentucky, where a caricature of my likeness, along with a hundred others, rests on a Maker’s Mark bottle on the wall. Good drinks, good eats, good atmosphere. No table needed. We would sit at the bar to include the occasional input from bartender Rob Baker, whose drive-by humor often leaves you laughing moments after he has already moved on to another patron.

Clarence “Big House” Gaines: He deserves admission based on having one of the coolest nicknames in college basketball history. But that is not why I would invite him. Watching his teams at my mother’s alma mater Winston-Salem State was my introduction to college basketball. Had Gaines, who passed away in 2005, coached in a different era, he probably would have been lured by a Division I power and been as celebrated and recognized as anyone. Instead, he spent his entire career -- from 1946 to 1993 -- at Winston-Salem State. He won the 1967 Division II national championship with a team that included Earl Monroe, and when he retired with 828 wins in 1993, he was second only to Adolph Rupp.

David Thompson: All basketball junkies have that one player from a previous generation they wish they could have seen play live. Thompson, during his time at NC State, is that player for me. I can remember countless barbershop conversations (more like I would silently soak up the older guys arguing) that played out like the boxing dialogue from “Coming to America.” Whenever the North Carolina fans among the patrons would bring up what Michael Jordan was doing in Chapel Hill, there was always someone who countered with, “You must not remember David Thompson.” Thompson could just as soon fly over defenders as he could dribble past them wearing a No. 44 jersey that happened to match his vertical leap. He was in fact the man who inspired Jordan to fly.

Don Haskins: If for no other reason, I would like to tell Haskins thank you. He always deflected credit for having the courage to start an all-black starting five, but in 1966 that couldn’t be taken for granted. The impact of Texas Western’s (now UTEP) upset of Kentucky in the national championship game can never be underestimated. It helped usher in the integration of programs in the South like Kentucky that still resisted the idea. Haskins would also be my link to the early days of college hoops, having played for Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State).

Ralph Sampson: Back before the 3-point line allowed guards to take over the game, having a big man like the 7-foot-4 Sampson meant your team dominated. It’s still surprising that Virginia never won the national championship during his tenure. (The Cavs did win the NIT title in 1980.) Few players can relate to being a living legend the way Sampson was. He seemed to carry with grace the burdens of the spotlight from being one of the most heavily recruited players ever through his playing years. I once stood in line, with virtually an entire coliseum, trying to get Sampson’s autograph. Like a flock of sheep, the crowd followed his every move. I haven’t seen a college player set off a frenzy like that since.

On the menu: I’ve never had anything on the menu I didn’t like; in fact, eating there got me to like Brussels sprouts. I’ll have the shrimp burger and imagine everyone would find their stomachs satisfied. Surely Big House wouldn’t complain.
It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they’ll answer essay questions like the standard: If you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking, if we could host a hoops-centric dinner party, who would make our guest list?

This week, each of our writers will answer that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.

Location: Kopp’s in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, off North Port Washington Road. That’s the best one. Why Kopp’s? Well, you won’t find a better burger in America. Yeah, you might track down a tasty gourmet burger downtown or somewhere in the suburbs. But Kopp’s is for everyone. It’s the place you MUST go if you want a taste of Milwaukee. The bonus? Amazing custard. Plus, it’s so loud in there. Everybody will be chit-chatting about the Packers and the Brewers and the Packers some more, so my side convo with a few guys who know what it’s like to climb above the rim won’t bother anyone.

Darvin Ham: There are some interesting possibilities, especially when you activate the “dead or alive” clause. But I want to know what it’s like to fly, since I can’t dunk anymore (ever). And these guys can convey that feeling. I picked Darvin Ham because his backboard-shattering dunk was the greatest sports moment of my youth. So I’m watching a matchup between North Carolina and Texas Tech in the 1996 NCAA tournament and then, BAM! Ham catches the rebound and dunks so hard that the backboard breaks into shards of glass. It was so ferocious and explosive. What was it like to smash the rim over Serge Zwikker and Antawn Jamison? Zwikker and Jamison literally covered their heads and ran. How does it feel to silence a crowd like that? Talk to me, Darvin. But don’t dunk on me.

Jerome Lane: “Send it in, Jerome.” Probably the greatest call and dunk in NCAA history. Bill Raferty immortalized that 1988 dunk with his line. But give Lane credit for being the guy who created the magic. I want to hear from him. Describe that moment. How did it feel to rip the rim off its frame and shatter a backboard in what might be the play that defines an entire era of college basketball? I need to know these things. Also, did he ever send a sympathy card to the Providence guy he embarrassed and kneed in the face? C'mon, Jerome. Tell me.

Harold Miner: He has avoided the spotlight for many years. That “Baby Jordan” nickname and the subsequent NBA struggles affected his legacy. So it’s easy to forget how good he was in college. He is USC’s all-time leading scorer, and he was an All-American during his time at USC. Plus, he had mad dunks. Dunks for days, man. Miner was an acrobat. Just ask any USC or UCLA fan about the time he maneuvered through three Bruins and finished with one of the nastiest dunks you’ll see. Maybe he’ll open up at a table with a bunch of guys who can relate to those feats.

Montrezl Harrell: How did the Louisville junior end up in this group? He shattered his SECOND backboard of the year on Sunday. We know he can’t duplicate that in a real game with real rims -- he broke both backboards in off-campus matchups -- but he’s still one of the most ferocious dunkers in college basketball today. Last season, his 98 dunks established a Louisville record. I saw him last month at an event in Louisville. When you see him walking among the mortals, he looks like something that Marvel created. We need someone to represent the current game at this function. So Harrell gets an invite. Just don’t break the table or the chairs, man. We gotta eat first.

On the menu: We’ll keep it simple. That’s what I love -- we all love -- about Kopp’s. Nothing fancy or complicated. Double cheeseburgers -- with mayo, ketchup and lettuce -- and fries for the entire crew. Vanilla custard cones when we’re finished with the meal. And it’s on me, fellas. I just want to sit back and listen to these dunk tales.
It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they’ll answer essay questions like the standard -- if you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking. What if we could host a hoops-centric dinner party? Who would make our guest list?

This week, each of our writers will answer that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.

Location: Alinea in Chicago. I lived in Chicago for six years, and while I found a variety of ways to spend too much money on food, I never managed to put in the reserve-months-in-advance effort required to splurge at one of the world's most renowned restaurants. What better excuse than this? As a bonus, the avant garde "food" and exacting presentation would surely force my dinner companions out of their respective comfort zones. A round of taffy helium balloons for the table, please.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJohn Calipari's gift of gab surely would keep any dinner conversation lively.
John Calipari: The first invitee needs no introduction and only minimal explanation. No one in college basketball is as fascinating. There's also no one more exacting in his public persona. Every utterance is on message. It would be fun to get behind the Great Wall of Brand for an evening, to pick Calipari's brain through 22 courses of strange food. I'm not sure if it's even possible, but it would be fun.

Bob Knight: I have a deep fondness for "Midnight in Paris," Woody Allen's 2011 treatise on the pleasures and pitfalls of nostalgia. In the film, Owen Wilson's Allen stand-in "Gil" finds himself transported by some magical force to 1920s-era Paris, where he meets Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, etc. If this idealized dinner is my "Midnight in Paris," the General is my Papa -- boisterous, irascible, in open intellectual disagreement with everyone around him. Putting him and Calipari at the same table might be a recipe for angry glares and awkward silence. Or it could lead to passionate discussion about the game and the culture that surrounds it.

James Naismith: Since this group can be anyone alive or dead, and I've already used my "Midnight in Paris" analogy quota, I think it would be fascinating to transport Naismith to the modern day and plant him in front of two coaches who symbolize distinctly different swaths of what his modest creation eventually became. This is a man who once told his protege Phog Allen that basketball couldn't be coached, only played. What would he think of what the game has become? What would he think about Knight's militaristic style -- one that became a template for thousands of coaches in the latter half of the 20th century? What would he think of Calipari, who is always five years ahead of everyone else? What would be more confusing: Modern basketball or taffy helium balloons?

Bill Raftery: This is as easy as these selections get. There isn't a table in America he wouldn't make better. Industry tales of Raftery-led dinners will reverberate through time. His legend is already secure. His services are especially required for this outing, though. What this table needs, amid all the time travel and heady verbal sparring, is an irrepressibly funny Raftery enjoying a beverage and poking fun at everyone for taking themselves so seriously. Presumably he'd make fun of whatever Naismith was wearing before saying "Ooh, just having fun with ya, Jimmy!" If heaven is real, it looks a little bit like this.

Dana O'Neil: My dinner companions

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they’ll answer essay questions like the standard -- if you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking. What if we could host a hoops-centric dinner party? Who would make our guest list?

This week, each of our writers will answer that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.

First up: Dana O’Neil

Location: St. Elmo’s in Indianapolis, the old-school steakhouse just around the corner from NCAA headquarters. Our maitre d’, Mark Emmert (the O’Bannon case didn’t go well) shows us to our private table in the back. I encourage him to stick around and eavesdrop.

If I’m going to convene a one-time-only dinner, I’m going to invite people who have bright minds, strong opinions, interesting tales to share, but above all else, people who are entertaining.

Life’s too short to listen to Lon Kruger all day.

John Chaney: I wonder what John Chaney thinks about skinny jeans for men. Seriously, I’m sure he has an opinion because I have yet to find a topic that won’t elicit a Chaney monologue. I dare you to say the word, "Republican" to him. Double dare you, even. That’s why Chaney gets an invite -- every lively dinner party needs a good arguer and Chaney is the best. But his opinions aren’t just rants, though they occasionally may sound that way. They are impassioned pleas, coming from the core of a man whose life began in poverty and segregation. Skinny jeans? I guarantee Chaney thinks they are some kind of pox upon humanity.

Al McGuire: So at some point, I figure Chaney will get around to his vaunted zone defense strategy, at which point I suspect McGuire will counter with an offense to beat it, as designed with salt and pepper shakers and a few pieces of shrimp cocktail. Then the two could exchange tips on how to work a ref. Few did it better than McGuire; few did it louder than Chaney. Maybe Chaney could offer one of the Armani ties he used to yank off his neck to McGuire -- if Armani makes a tie that would match a McGuire jacket. But McGuire makes my cut for more than just his showmanship. Like Chaney, he comes from an era when coaches weren’t muzzled by fears of losing their million-dollar paychecks, so he wasn’t afraid to speak out.

Bill Walton: Walton arrives for a dinner with a case of the munchies, in the middle of Chaney's fury and McGuire's antics. He is Zen. While the other two are going back and forth in living color, Walton will interject with something about the beauty of playing basketball in a meadow. Chaney will turn, his eyes popping, and say something that rhymes with, "What the duck are you talking about, Walton?" But McGuire will stop him because Walton is McGuire, just in hippie version. Before we had Walton opining from his own planet, we had McGuire talking about seashells and balloons. Someone might have to translate this part of the meal for Chaney.

Richard "The Fixer" Perry: OK, so this is where it gets interesting. The man who brought down UNLV, fixed games at Boston College and fixed horse racing doesn’t exactly fit in. Which is exactly the idea. If anyone can get the truth out of Perry once and for all, it’s these guys. The NCAA’s committee on infractions might want to pop in and take notes. So by dessert, we will not only get to the bottom of the UNLV scandal but we might just solve one of college basketball’s age-old mysteries: Was that really Miller High Life in the infamous hot tub picture?

On the menu: This is tricky. We are in a steakhouse because the delicious irony of getting three rabble-rousers and a cheater within a stone’s throw of NCAA headquarters is too rich to avoid. I’m hoping steak is OK for Perry and McGuire. But Walton is a vegetarian and if Chaney can’t get some crabs, there will be trouble. Hopefully our maitre d’, Mr. Emmert, has some connections from his previous career and can get the menu in order.
At Rucker Park in New York, people sat on rooftops and climbed trees to watch Julius Erving play. In Louisville, Kentucky, Artis Gilmore would pull up in his fancy car, still wearing his fancy suits, and just ball. Kevin Durant first measured the worth of his game on the D.C. playgrounds, and Arthur Agee chased his hoop dream in Chicago. The Philadelphia outdoor courts once boasted a who's who of the city's best ballers, and in Los Angeles, playground legends with names such as Beast, Iron Man and Big Money Griff played on the same concrete as Magic and Kobe.

That was then, a then that wasn't all that long ago.

Now? Now the courts are empty, the nets dangling by a thread. The crowds that used to stand four deep are gone, and so are the players. Once players asked "Who's got next?" Now the question is "Anyone want to play?" And the answer seems to be no, at least not here, not outside.

Playground basketball, at least as we knew it, is dying.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Also see:
The New York Times headline could hardly have been more dramatic were it written in 1942 atop Ernie Pyle's byline. It read, "Brandon Jennings Sends Home a Warning from Europe." It sounded dire.

“I’ve gotten paid on time once this year,” Brandon Jennings, the No. 1 prospect in the 2008 class and the first player of the one-and-done era to eschew college basketball in favor of an overseas contract, said in an email to The Times. “They treat me like I’m a little kid. They don’t see me as a man. If you get on a good team, you might not play a lot. ... I don’t see too many kids doing it. It’s tough man, I’ll tell you that. It can break you.”

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Mudiay
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsGuard Emmanuel Mudiay, the fifth-ranked player in the Class of 2014, announced July 14 that he will play a year overseas. He's headed for China.
Jennings ended his lone season with Lottomatica averaging just 7.6 points, 1.6 assists and 20 minutes per game in the Euroleague, and just 5.5 points in 17 minutes per game in Italy's Serie A. He declared for the NBA draft, and when it came around, the top prospect in the 2008 class didn't even show up on time. No one wants to be Brady Quinn.

At which point, of course, Jennings was promptly drafted 10th overall. He showed up to the draft late and blew kisses to the crowd. In his first season, he scored 55 points in one game, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's single-game rookie scoring record. Last summer, he signed a three-year, $24 million contract with the Detroit Pistons.

On July 14, SMU commit Emmanuel Mudiay, the fifth-ranked player in the Class of 2014, announced that he would forgo the college hoops search for a one-year gig overseas instead. According to multiple media outlets, Mudiay will play in China.

The question is: What took so long?

From 2008 until last week, years in which anti-amateurism rhetoric has become deafening, only one notable prospect, then-17-year-old Jeremy Tyler, followed Jennings' path, skipping his final year of high school to play the 2009-10 season in Israel. He lasted 10 games before coming home. Every other top American high school prospect in the one-and-done era has rejected the Jennings model. Even "rejected" feels too strong: You can't reject something if you never consider it in the first place.

But why not?

"The competition in Europe right now is so high-level," ESPN resident international basketball expert Fran Fraschilla said. "The top clubs in Europe are so good. And the coach's job is to win. It's not to develop talent. It's not like it used to be, where we'd just send the American guy over and he's automatically the best guy on the court. Those days are over."

From a distance, the effects of globalization -- both in the world at large and basketball specifically -- would seem to work in the American prospect's favor. There are more clubs and leagues around the world than ever before. In Spain and Italy, top clubs invest in developmental programs at a level near their soccer counterparts. Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia surface a handful of prodigies every year. Formerly poor countries, like Russia and China, have emerged as economic powerhouses willing to spend big on Western athletic attractions.

The world is smaller and more interconnected. You can Skype with your family and run into NBA scouts at the regional airport. There is no risk of getting lost overseas. If you can play, scouts will find you. They have been watching you since you were 15, anyway.

In reality, these trends have worked against the adventurous American teenager. Top Euroleague clubs field teams full of hardened veterans. Even homegrown phenoms have a tough time cracking the lineup. (FC Barcelona 19-year-old Mario Hezonja, a 6-foot-8 Croatian small forward projected as a top-10 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, averaged just 6.1 minutes in Euroleague competition last season.) The best European teams are more talented and well-organized than ever, and their leagues have risen with the sport's popularity.

But there are also more leagues, period, than ever before. And many of them still fit the old hinterlands stereotype: poor coaching and sketchy organizations situated in some of the more imposing parts of the world. The classic horror stories -- delayed checks, riot police, questionable living arrangements -- are still plentiful.

Which makes for a difficult paradox: The clubs a young American prospect and his family would feel the safest signing with are also the ones with much bigger fish to fry. The places where he could play right away -- and maybe have a chance to be a star -- are scary to old heads, let alone teenagers.

What then? The key, Fraschilla said, is to find a "sweet spot." A club where the competition is good, but not too good. Where the coaches need talent, even if it's just there for one season. Where the player can actually develop his skills and make some money without hating every minute of his life. Such places do exist. France might be the most notable candidate. But the choices are intimidatingly vast.

Whatever the reasons for Mudiay's decision -- and his family has insisted it has nothing to do with his questionable post-Prime Prep eligibility status, though that seems increasingly unlikely -- such is the challenge he and his family now face. And that quest comes prepackaged with all of the obvious risks: injury, poor performance, emotional and cultural isolation and, after it all, declining draft stock.

"Sure, people may know you already," Fraschilla said. "But you can't go overseas and be horrendous either."

Six years ago, Jennings proved the international path was both possible and prohibitively daunting. He made it out, but not before he warned everyone else to stay home. Prospects have diligently heeded his advice.

Mudiay is the next test. Can he find the sweet spot?

UPDATE: This post was published a few minutes before Tuesday's news broke on Mudiay's decision to accept a one-year, $1.2 million contract with the Chinese Basketball Association. (How's that for timing?)

So: Is China the sweet spot? There is upside, besides the tidy $1.2 million deal, to the idea. For starters, Mudiay will dominate most of his competition. The Chinese league is flush with cash (and enthusiasm) but short on talent. Whether it's the best place for actual development is another issue. China's coaching and infrastructure are widely seen as far below the American and European standards, and they are frequently characterized as suspicious of imported basketball thought. How much does that matter, if it all? Will Mudiay's coach push him in the right ways? Will he be treated as a sideshow? And what about the sociocultural dynamic? The language barrier? Will any of that matter?

Mudiay found playing time and money in China. That's a scarce combination in international basketball, for all of the reasons outlined above. But China is a daunting, almost impressive journey for an 18-year-old to embark on. Stay tuned.
By the time Florida's Chris Walker was cleared to play last season, it was difficult for the freshman to have any sort of real impact. Walker played in just 18 games and didn't even average five minutes.

He's still being projected as a lottery pick for the 2015 NBA draft.

That's why he's all wrong for this particular list of sophomores to watch. Much time is spent following the most talented players and their journey to the pros; consider this equal time tracking the players most likely to develop while staying around a few seasons.

These 12 sophomores should make big improvements from their freshmen seasons -- just not substantial enough to leap right to the NBA. The players were all ranked in the top 100 of the 2013 class by RecruitingNation, but played less than 10 minutes per game as freshmen. (The one exception was Marc Loving, who averaged 10.9 minutes.) Most important, these players will likely all be back as juniors:

[+] EnlargeLuke Fischer
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsAfter transferring from Indiana, 6-foot-11 center Luke Fischer will be eligible to play Dec. 14.
Luke Fischer, forward/center, Marquette. First-year coach Steve Wojciechowski must be plenty glad Fischer got homesick after just 13 games at Indiana and decided to transfer. Fischer will be eligible in December, which can't come soon enough for the Golden Eagles, who lost their top three rebounders and lack the size that the 6-foot-11 Fischer brings.

Tre'Shaun Fletcher, guard/forward, Colorado. Fletcher suffered a knee injury and missed 14 games as a freshman. When healthy last season, he proved to be a reliable reserve and his role should expand next season.

Conner Frankamp, guard, Kansas. The Jayhawks are looking for the stability at point guard they never seemed to get last season. Frankamp could provide it, not to mention add another shooter to the lineup. He'll have his chance to start at point if he can beat out Frank Mason and Devonte Graham.

Anton Gill, guard, Louisville. Gill's offensive skills weren't questioned, but as strictly a shooting guard, he wasn't versatile enough to work his way into the backcourt rotation. He still figures to be coming off the bench, with Terry Rozier and Chris Jones starting, but Gill will make an impact this season.

Isaiah Hicks, forward, North Carolina. Hicks appeared in every game as a freshman for the Tar Heels, but mainly played out of position at small forward. This season he should be returning to power forward, where he should establish himself as the Heels' top frontcourt reserve.

Kuran Iverson, forward, Memphis. At this point, he may be best known for being related to Allen Iverson. That claim to fame should change next season, when the Tigers no longer have such a guard-centric lineup. Iverson could help make the wings the strongest position on the team.

Matt Jones, guard, Duke. Coach Mike Krzyzewski believed in him enough to start him four times, but Jones has to rediscover his confidence after shooting just 29 percent from the floor. If he doesn't, he could find himself buried in a roster that just got a lot deeper with the incoming freshman class.

Marcus Lee, forward, Kentucky. Lee showed how effective he could be with his 10-point, eight-rebound performance in just 15 minutes in the Elite Eight game against Michigan. But his toughest competition is arguably the Wildcats' crowded frontcourt. It's hard to envision how he'll get enough playing time to stand out.

Marc Loving, forward, Ohio State. LaQuinton Ross' decision to turn pro left the Buckeyes sorely lacking in scorers. Here's where Loving will have a chance to make a big leap from his freshman season average of 4.4 points. He'll likely find himself in the starting lineup after appearing in all 35 games last season but starting none.

Elliott Pitts, guard, Arizona. Even with the departure of Nick Johnson, the Wildcats will still have a crowded backcourt. Pitts proved to be a 3-point threat from off the bench last season, shooting 39 percent from deep. That and his 6-foot-5 frame could help him crack the rotation more next season.

Tyler Roberson, forward, Syracuse. Playing behind C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant meant Roberson had to wait his turn. His lone start last season came when Grant was injured. But after averaging 2.2 points in 8.1 minutes per game, Roberson will be needed to help the Orange solve their scoring woes.

Ish Wainright, guard/forward, Baylor. The Bears lost three of their top four scorers, including 3-point sharpshooter Brady Heslip. Wainright doesn't have the same range that Heslip had, but his size and length bring versatility to the lineup. At 6-foot-5, he can play multiple positions and has the potential to be a lockdown defender.
Fans with tattoos commonly get their favorite team's logo or maybe its mascot, but rarely do they tattoo an image of the head coach on their body.

But that's exactly what 28-year-old Richard Miner asked for Wednesday when he walked into Tymeless Tattoo in Baldwinsville, New York, and had tattoo artist Kyle Proia ink his best Jim Boeheim on Miner's leg.

"I'm a lifelong Syracuse fan," said Miner, a chef at a barbecue restaurant in Syracuse. "He's done remarkable things for the program for more than four decades."

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3-point shot: Early-entry draft process

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
Andy Katz talks about changing the NBA early-entry process, using a 30-second shot clock, and making transfers sit out for a year.

3-point shot: Phil Martelli's idea

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
Andy Katz discusses how Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli would like to shake things up for the NIT Season Tip-Off.

3-point shot: Preseason NIT shuffling

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
Andy Katz talks about the ramifications of a reduced Preseason NIT field and more Emmanuel Mudiay fallout.

3-point shot: Mudiay spurns SMU

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
Andy Katz discusses Emmanuel Mudiay's decision to spurn SMU for overseas basketball, Georgia's roster and George Washington's nonconference schedule.
A season ago, Southern Methodist was good. Not great, but pretty good. It was, first and foremost, the product of Larry Brown's coaching -- a cohesive collective on the defensive end, yet another display of the trademark defensive groups Brown had produced almost nonstop at the NBA level for two decades. The Mustangs were always in the right position. They never made anything easy.

Despite the 17th-best per-possession defense in the country, the Mustangs missed out on the NCAA tournament. The reason was fairly straightforward: Their offense didn't travel.

In seven losses to fellow American teams -- one of which was a first-round tournament loss to Houston -- Brown's team managed better than a point per trip just once (at South Florida, when it scored 71 points in 70 trips). Only one of those losses was at home. On their home floor, the Mustangs could occasionally be thrilling. When they traveled, even to the neutral conference tourney confines of Memphis, they were devoid of creativity and edge.

Emmanuel Mudiay was going to be that guy. Not anymore.

On Monday, Yahoo! Sports reported that Mudiay was considering moving overseas to begin a professional career right away. Later Monday, ESPN's Jeff Goodman confirmed that Mudiay's decision was already made. A source also told Goodman that the decision was bolstered by a concern about his amateur status.

"The NCAA is on him," the source told Goodman. "And he's worried."

In a statement to SI.com, Mudiay said the decision was about beginning his professional career, and ending his mother's struggles, as early as possible.

"I was excited about going to SMU and playing college basketball for Coach Brown and his staff and preparing for the NBA, but I was tired of seeing my mom struggle," Mudiay said via a statement his brother, Stephane, provided to SI.com. "And after sitting down with Coach Brown and my family we decided that the best way for me to provide for my mom was to forgo college and pursue professional basketball opportunities. I am grateful for Prime Prep coach [Ray] Forsett for developing me into the player and man that I am and I am also grateful for Coach Brown's guidance and his support. This has nothing to do with my eligibility in any way."

It's a strange turn of events, given the relatively late date. And because of Mudiay's decision, he no longer needs to prove anything to the NCAA, which in turn means we may never know the extent of the NCAA's inquiries into his status.

What we do know is this:

1. It's an incredibly difficult thing for a teenager to try to make it abroad as a professional basketball player, but it is hardly impossible. Brandon Jennings is the obvious example, but as new World Cup fans may have learned these past few weeks, much of the world's elite soccer talent make the same trips at much earlier ages. Likewise, few question Mudiay's talent. Brown, in fact, called him "the most special point guard I've ever seen at that age." It's surprising more players this good don't choose this path, whatever the actual impetus.

2. This is a huge blow for SMU.

In our Way Too Early 2014-15 Top 25, we -- and many other outlets -- listed the Mustangs as the No. 11 team in the country. That had to do with the talent Brown had returning this season, which includes pretty much every key player from a squad that played deep into the NIT. But the real reason was the opportunity to combine that talent with Mudiay, a preternaturally gifted, hugely physical scoring point guard. The Mustangs had worked tirelessly the past few seasons to shore up their hometown star; he was the recruit who would make good on the expensive hiring of Brown three years ago.

Now? SMU will still be good. It should be better. But a top-10 team? Top 15?

There will be plenty of questions, and plenty of think pieces, about this talented young person deciding to forgo college for the Wild West of international basketball. We'll get to all of that eventually, I guess. Where pure college basketball is concerned, it's a massive blow to SMU. It needed offense. It needed a star. Brown needed a college edition of Allen Iverson. Mudiay might have been that. Now we'll never know.