Less Than Perfect
Duke's stunning loss at Florida State exposed several Blue
It rained giants last weekend. Over a wild 36-hour period on
Saturday and Sunday, 12 of the Top 25 teams, including eight of
the top 12, were upended during a seismic stretch in an already
volatile season. No team suffered a greater--or more
surprising--loss than top-ranked Duke. On Sunday night the Blue
Devils fell 77-76 to Florida State, which in amassing a 7-5
record had come up short against such powerhouses as American,
Northwestern and Western Carolina.
Just as the will-Duke-go-undefeated train was starting to gather
steam, the Seminoles revealed that the Blue Devils have flaws. If
the defending national champions are to repeat, they must improve
in three areas.
--Rebounding. It's not uncommon for Mike Krzyzewski's teams to
lack inside muscle--that's the price they pay for a
guard-oriented offense that can outrun and outgun most
opponents--but this year Duke is particularly vulnerable on the
boards. Kentucky had 17 more rebounds when it lost 95-92 in
overtime to the Blue Devils on Dec. 18, and Duke was
outrebounded 84-61 in its first two ACC games. "We knew that was
one area in which they were hurting," said Florida State senior
point guard Delvon Arrington after the game. "They have so many
ways to score that it's really important to limit them to one
The Blue Devils' rebounding deficiencies become magnified when
6'9" junior center Carlos Boozer gets into foul trouble, as he
did against the Seminoles. That's because Duke is getting scant
production from frontcourt reserves Matt Christensen, Nick
Horvath and Casey Sanders, who through Sunday were averaging a
combined 6.4 points and 7.4 rebounds. (That slurping sound you
hear coming out of Kansas is the sound of rugged Jayhawks'
forwards Nick Collison and Drew Gooden licking their chops.)
--Foul-shooting. For a club that has been one of the nation's most
potent three-point-shooting teams over the last two years, the
Blue Devils have a mysterious knack for going cold from the foul
line. They converted a woeful 7 of 19 free throws on Sunday
night, including 2 for 8 over the final 1:30. Junior guard Jason
Williams, who went 0 for 6 against the Seminoles, had shot 43.4%
from three-point range this season but only 64.4% from the foul
line. He has been through free-throw-shooting slumps before, most
notably a six-game, 1-for-18 stretch toward the end of last
season. Duke can ill afford to have its main ball handler be
psyched out at the line late in games.
--Chris Duhon's timid trigger. At the beginning of the season it
was accepted that Duhon and Williams constituted the country's
most talented backcourt. Duhon (8.9 points, 7.7 shots per game),
however, has been too deferential to his running mate, who was
getting a team-high 22.4 points and 15.6 shots per game. Though
he had nine assists on Sunday (he was averaging a team-high 6.5),
Duhon scored only six points on 2-of-9 shooting. With Mike
Dunleavy hobbling on a sprained left ankle, the Blue Devils could
use another scorer.
Duke has plenty of time to address these deficiencies. Indeed,
its biggest problem on Sunday night may have been that it failed
to match Florida State's intensity from the outset. "You have to
attack them like they attack you," said Seminoles forward Antwuan
Dixon, who scored 11 points.
That was a lesson learned throughout college basketball last
week as nearly all the top teams showed they have some
vulnerabilities. As Dixon and his teammates proved, it doesn't
take a handful of magic beans to topple a giant. All it takes is
a well-prepared game plan and the will to see it through.
Miami's Fast Start
Hurricanes Are Gathering Force
Last Thursday, the day after Miami's 79-71 win over No. 24
Georgetown, a visitor dropped in on Miami's practice at the MCI
Center in Washington, D.C.: pro wrestler the Rock, who in a past
life was known as Dwayne Johnson, a reserve defensive tackle on
the Hurricanes' 1991 national championship football team. The
Rock's message was serious, devoid of wrestling smack talk. He
didn't ask the Miami players his signature question, "Can you
smell what the Rock is cookin'?" nor did he bark his familiar
command, "Know your role and shut your mouth!"
The Rock, who told the Hurricanes to stay in school, didn't have
to give that order because coach Perry Clark's charges already
knew their roles. Though lacking a star, Miami began the season
with 14 straight wins, a run that was snapped last Saturday night
with a 76-75 defeat at Connecticut. (It was the first loss by the
Hurricanes' baseball, men's basketball or football team since May
4, 2001, a stretch of 43 games.)
Some of those roles, though, are a bit nontraditional. Two of
Miami's best three-point shooters are 6'10" sophomore Darius Rice
and 6'8" junior James Jones. Miami's best post-up scorer is the
guy who often brings the ball up the floor, senior John Salmons,
who, at 6'7", plays every position but center. "He's an
old-fashioned, 1970s player," Clark says of Salmons. "He's got
old-fashioned post moves, he spins you, he can do everything."
The trio of Rice, Jones and Salmons makes for matchup nightmares
and gives the Hurricanes a balanced attack. Each was averaging
between 13.4 and 13.6 points through Sunday, and each had been
Miami's high scorer in five of the team's first 15 games. But
statistically none had improved dramatically over last season,
which raised a question: What business did a team that went 16-13
last year have being 14-1?
The return of senior center Elton Tyler, who sat out last season
because he was academically ineligible, has helped, but not
nearly as much as the fact that Clark and his players are much
more comfortable with one another. After Clark took over for
Leonard Hamilton in July 2000, he figured he could use the same
tactics he'd employed while coaching Tulane for the previous 11
years. He installed the same trapping defense, even though
Miami's players were used to Hamilton's man-to-man. After the
Hurricanes started 4-3, Clark realized he would have to become
"As I told my staff, it's easier for one to change than for 14
to change," says Clark. "Over the course of the year I
integrated my philosophies into what they were doing." The lanky
Hurricanes--who might lead the country in average arm
length--play a lot of conventional man-to-man and rarely press
or trap, but they're still on pace to set school records for
steals and blocks.
As for the Miami players' shutting their mouths, it hasn't been
a problem; they aren't exactly the most boisterous bunch around.
Salmons is so laid-back that Jones refers to him as "the silent
assassin." Rice, whose uncle is NFL star Jerry Rice, was
valedictorian at Lanier High in Jackson, Miss., and twice
reached the state championship game--in chess. And Jones's
mother and stepfather are both corrections officers, so he knows
better than to give any lip. Instead these Hurricanes let their
play do the talking, and opponents are getting the message. On
Saturday night UConn held a 10-point lead in its own gym with
6:47 left, but the Huskies didn't count out the Hurricanes. "I
knew they were going to come back," said UConn forward Caron
Butler. "They're too good not to, with those 6'9" post guys
Sounds as if he smells what Clark is cooking. --Mark Bechtel
Abuse of Power
Kentucky's Act Is Stone Cold
It's no secret that an imbalance of power exists between college
athletes and the schools they play--and generate revenue--for. A
perfect example of how lopsided the relationship has become is
the stance taken by Kentucky athletic director Larry Ivy in the
case of Marvin Stone.
Over the Christmas break Stone, a 6'10" junior reserve center who
was averaging 5.3 points, decided to leave Kentucky for another,
as-yet-to-be-determined school. When a player transfers, the
college he originally attended often won't grant him a release if
he intends to go to a school in the same conference. Without that
release, a player must sit out two years instead of one. (An
athlete may appeal to the National Letter of Intent office if a
release isn't granted.) Ivy, though, has extended that
prohibition to include any nonconference teams the Wildcats
play--most notably Louisville, which Marvin's mother, Lois, told
Wildcats coach Tubby Smith her son might be interested in
attending. "I had some hesitancy about releasing him at all after
he left in the middle of the season," Ivy said last week. "He put
this team in quite a bit of jeopardy."
Ivy says his decision is consistent with a long-standing policy
at Kentucky, but C.M. Newton, who served as the Wildcats'
athletic director from 1989 to 2000, told the Lexington
Herald-Leader he'd never heard of such a policy. If the
prohibition does exist, it apparently didn't apply to at least
three Kentucky football players and one volleyball player who
transferred to Louisville in the last 14 years. It's also worth
noting that Smith left one SEC school to go to another in 1997,
when he bolted from Georgia to replace Rick Pitino in Lexington.
Unlike Stone, however, Smith wasn't forced by NCAA rules to sit
out at all.
It's odd that Kentucky would be so concerned about competing
against a player of Stone's modest credentials. Ivy's initial
explanation--that he was protecting Stone from undue pressure--is
laughable, and Ivy later admitted the real reason: "We play
Louisville in Rupp Arena in two years. Let's say Marvin has a
great game, and the Cardinals win. Then we get the question, 'Why
would you release him to your rival?' I didn't want to put our
program in that situation."
A better question is why Kentucky gets to decide where Stone can
play in the first place. The authority Ivy is exercising is
granted to him in the "qualified release agreement" provision of
the National Letter of Intent, which all Division I recruits who
receive athletic scholarships must sign. The letter of intent
program isn't run by the NCAA but by the Collegiate Commissioners
Association, which administers it through the SEC.
The way college athletes can alter this imbalance is by forming
a players' association. That's the objective of the Collegiate
Athletes Coalition, which was created in January 2001 by Ramogi
Huma, a former linebacker at UCLA. "Players need to start
demanding that schools respect their rights," Huma says. "I hope
recruits pay attention to which schools treat their players
right and which ones don't, because what Kentucky is doing is
New Orleans's Glass Master
From Venezuela To the Big Easy
While growing up in the coastal town of Barcelona in his native
Venezuela, Hector Romero dreamed of playing basketball in the
bright lights and big cities of the U.S. Imagine his surprise,
when in the fall of 1999 he wound up at Independence (Kans.)
Community College. "All I saw were cows and chickens," Romero
says. "I couldn't speak any English. I was thinking, Where are
the buildings? Where are the people?"
Romero isn't in Kansas anymore. His English has improved
dramatically, thanks to his many hours spent watching television,
and his basketball skills have similarly flourished. Though he
stands only 6'7", Romero, a junior forward at New Orleans, was
sixth in the nation in rebounding (11.2 average) through Sunday,
and his 20.8 points per game was second in the Sun Belt
Conference. The Privateers were a disappointing 5-11, but Romero
had proved his mettle against big-time competition by going for
29 points and 19 rebounds in a 76-60 loss at Florida on Dec. 22.
"I'm always keeping my eye on the ball so I know where it's going
to go," Romero says in explaining his rebounding prowess. Adds
first-year Privateers coach Monte Towe, "He's got big hands, and
once he gets them on the ball, it's his."
Towe first crossed paths with Romero in 1993--though he didn't
know it at the time--when Towe coached Marinos de Oriente to the
championship of the Professional Basketball League of Venezuela.
After Towe was hired by New Orleans last March, he started
researching the top junior college players. He noticed Romero was
from Barcelona and invited him to visit the Big Easy. "When I
picked him up at the airport, he said he used to come to all our
games," says Towe.
Romero, who this season had made 52.2% of his field goals and
70.3% of his free throws, came to the U.S. at the urging of
fellow Venezuelan Diego Guevara, who played his college ball at
Charlotte. After averaging 21.0 points and 10.5 rebounds for
Independence last year, Romero considered attending Charlotte as
well as Manhattan and West Virginia. New Orleans appealed to him
because it gave him the chance to be the primary scoring option.
It also gave him the chance to live in a big city that reminded
him of home. "A lot of South Americans are here, and everybody
eats seafood," he says. "I'm definitely living out my dream."
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL CHAPMAN/BRSP Mike Mathews and the other Seminoles exploited a Duke weak spot, ruling the boards 44-34.
Player of the Week
SOPHOMORE, CENTER, MISSISSIPPI STATE
The week: The 6'9", 265-pound Austin scored a career-high 32
points to lead the Bulldogs (14-1) to a stunning 74-69 overtime
victory over No. 6 Kentucky in Starkville, Miss., last Saturday.
Three of his 25 points after intermission came on his first
career trey, with seven seconds left in regulation, which sent
the game into overtime. Here's his dossier.
Major: Physical Education
Pregame ritual: Listen to Lil' John & the East Side Boyz
Last movie seen (and rating): Scary Movie 2 (5 stars on a scale
of 1 to 5)
Favorite activity when I want to relax: Go fishing with coach
Basketball move trying to master: Shaquille O'Neal's spin move
to get open for an alley-oop.