On the Rise
Playing in a glorified rec gym, a team of Big Easy natives is leading thelatest rebuilding project in New Orleans
OF ALL themid-major teams that have pulled off upsets in the opening weeks of the season,no squad deserved to celebrate more than New Orleans, which knocked off thenNo. 21 North Carolina State 65--63 in Raleigh on Nov. 18. The 4--1 Privateers,who haven't reached the NCAA tournament since 1996 or had a winning seasonsince 2004, are on their third coach in three years and are still playing theirhome games at the Human Performance Center, a '60s-era, on-campus recreationalgym that seats just 1,200 fans and had only 805 on hand for New Orleans's homeopener against Lamar on Nov. 28. With 9,000-seat Lakefront Arena stillundergoing repairs because of damage sustained during Hurricane Katrina, theplayers also have to do without a proper locker room; they change into theiruniforms in a partitioned corner of a gymnastics hall.
But the Privateerslearned long ago not to dwell on what they don't have. "You have to blockall those negative things out and focus on basketball," says 6-foot seniorguard Bo McCalebb, the reigning Sun Belt player of the year and the team'sleading scorer (20.6 points a game). "All the disruptions have made us alot tougher as players and people, and they have brought us closer as ateam."
Indeed, when theplayers were scattered in the chaos caused by Katrina in August 2005, four ofthis year's five seniors tracked one another down by phone and made a pact."We decided we'd stick together, go to Tyler [Texas, where the teamrelocated for a semester] and finish what we had started," says seniorguard James Parlow. It hasn't been easy. Parlow is from New Orleans, and whilehe stayed with the program, his family lost its home in the flooding and hassplintered to different parts of the country. McCalebb, another Crescent Cityproduct, passed on offers from Oklahoma State and Ole Miss four years ago toremain near his mother, Tara Batiste, who suffers from a heart condition. Whilehe was sitting out two seasons ago as a redshirt because of a thumb injury, hesays several schools contacted his mother to try and get him to transfer."I didn't want to be anywhere else because I love this city and thisuniversity," he says.
Another senior,forward Jacob Manning, sat out most of last season with a foot injury, then wascut by then coach Buzz Williams. But Williams left shortly after that, takingan assistant's job at Marquette in July. Manning approached Williams'sreplacement, Joe Pasternack, and asked if he could rejoin the team. The playerrepaid his new coach's faith in him by grabbing a team-leading nine rebounds inthe 76--65 win over Lamar.
Pasternack is a30-year-old New Orleans native who spent eight years as an assistant to BenBraun at Cal and four seasons before that as a student manager for Bob Knightat Indiana. Aside from an infectious passion for the game, Pasternack hasbrought an emphasis on defense and rebounding—two things New Orleans sorelylacked—as well as an empathy for what his players have been through. Hisparents' house was destroyed by Katrina.
"These kidsare starving for something good to happen," says Pasternack. "Seeingtheir faces after the N.C. State game, I think it gave them a belief in whatwe're doing."
The Privateersstill have plenty to work on, as was evident from their season-high 24turnovers in a 75--60 loss to Nicholls State last Saturday. But Parlow likesthe direction the team is heading. "We're up and coming, and that's goodfor the city," he says. "We want to get New Orleans back on themap."
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Seth Davis's Hoop Thoughts
1 After winning eight of the 11 games in this year'sACC/Big Ten Challenge, the ACC has taken the series nine straight years.Perhaps it should pair up with the Colonial Athletic Association next season tomake things more interesting.
2 Kansas State coach Frank Martin should remove MichaelBeasley's muzzle. Given how much Beasley dealt with the media as a high schoolplayer, it's silly that Martin is not allowing his star freshman to speakpublicly.
3 Roy Williams deserves credit for having NorthCarolina face a tough early schedule. Tyler Hansbrough (right) & Co. haveconsecutive road tests at Ohio State, Kentucky, Penn and Rutgers.
NEW BLOOD McCalebb has endured much but is thriving under Pasternack (inset).
See caption above
GREG NELSON (HANSBROUGH)