Wednesday, October 31, 2007

1969-1970 was the end of the "glory years"

I have asked many Davidson alums of the 1960's about their experiences in one of the most tumultuous decades of the 20th century. Some have said that small Davidson was often isolated from the decade's craziness. Others dispute that claim by pointing to several student protests against the Vietnam War. But nearly all of the alumni remembered those days for a completely different reason. Davidson had one of the best basketball programs in the country.

When Dick Snyder and Fred Hetzel packed their bags and headed for the NBA in '65 and '66, Driesell didn't abandon his goal of making Davidson a national title contender. By 1968, Davidson had not only rebuilt, it had reloaded.

That year, the Wildcats had one of their best season to date, finishing with 24 wins and advancing to the NCAA Tournament Regional Finals, where they lost their bid for a Final Four appearance to the North Carolina Tarheels. Leading the team was a host of impressive stars like Rodney Knowles, Mike Maloy, Jerry Kroll and Doug Cook. For the latter three players, this would be the first of three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Maloy, Kroll and Cook still hold prominent places in the Davidson record books.

The story of Maloy might be more interesting than that of Driesell. Maloy was one of the first prominent African-American athletes at Davidson at a time when North Carolina still upheld many Jim Crow laws. Maloy became one of Davidson's most prolific scorers and rebounders during his three years at the school.

In the winter of 1968, Maloy became the first Davidson athlete to grace the cover of "Sports Illustrated." He was one of three players heralded as "Challengers to UCLA." By the end of that season, Maloy found himself facing off against the player sitting in front of him for that SI cover shoot: Charlie Scott.

At that time, Scott was a star forward for the Tar Heels. He owns the distinction of being UNC's first black scholarship athlete, yet the history books leave out one important footnote: he wanted to come to Davidson. The legend goes that Scott attended Davidson for a recruiting visit but a local restaurant refused to serve his family because of his skin color. Scott ended up attending Chapel Hill. On March 15, 1969, Scott left one more indelible mark in the history books of Wildcat basketball.

Davidson set a new high water mark in 1969 by recording 27 wins en route to another Southern Conference Championship. After rolling over St. Johns and Villanova in the tournament's first two rounds, Davidson faced a rematch with North Carolina in a rematch of the Regional Final game from the year before.
With under a minute to play and a tie ballgame, Davidson had a chance to use up the clock and hit the game-winning basket. But Kroll was whistled for an untimely charging foul and North Carolina got the ball back.

After a timeout, everyone in the arena knew that Scott would be taking the final shot. With the final seconds ticking away, Scott dribbled to the foul circle and put up a jumper. The ball rippled the net as the final buzzer expired. North Carolina advanced to the Final Four. Davidson's "glory years" effectively ended.

By the end of that week, Driesell had accepted a new job at the University of Maryland. Although the Wildcats were very successful under replacement Terry Holland over the next two years, they faltered in the 1970 NCAA Tournament's first round. During that spring, Maloy left school early to enter the NBA but was cut before the season even started.

A 1972 "Charlotte Observer" article claimed that nearly all of Holland's initial success was due to the remnants of Driesell's recruiting. That same article also noted that many members of Davidson's faculty were not unhappy to see Driesell leave because they were not pleased by the academic sacrifices that seemed to have accompanied major college basketball. It was time, it seemed, for Davidson basketball to head in a new direction.

Between 1974 and 1991, Davidson had a combined record of 177-301. Davidson briefly dropped out of the Southern Conference in 1988. The program needed a major change. It needed a vision once again. That change came with the hiring of a high school coach from Long Island. The coach's name was Bob McKillop, and he would go on to become the winningest coach in Davidson basketball history.

***This is the third article in a four-part Davidsonian series on the 100th anniversary of Davidson basketball.***

Davidson on cover of USA Today

Photo by Chris Keane

The Davidson men's basketball team received yet another piece of national affirmation today as USAToday ran a cover story on the Wildcats. Entitled, "Hoops, Books Coexist," the story highlighted the success potential for the 2007-2008 season while also playing up the unique place that Davidson has in the world of major college basketball.

As a liberal arts college with under 1,700 undergraduate students, Davidson is one of the smallest all Division-I schools in the country. Every fall, prospective students decide between applying to Davidson, Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore and Princeton, and every winter Top 25 basketball programs like North Carolina and Duke fear tripping up against the always underrated Wildcats.

It is also worth noting that the subject of the main picture was the entire Davidson team. They could have easily gotten away with a combination of Curry, McKillop, Richards, Sander...but they wanted the whole team in the picture. That says something about how the Wildcats are approaching this season.

Davidson has always been an odd school, with an honor code, complimentary laundry, both a very Northern and Southern feel at the same time...but for so long, Davidson has also been that school that you've only vaguely heard of. With this USAToday article and a nationally syndicated AP article planned for next week, that storyline might need a little revising.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

English sets record in 2-0 win

Bevin English became the all-time Davidson leader in career shutouts Thursday night when the Wildcats defeated Elon 2-0. Heading into the match, English was tied with current assistant coach Winnie Corrigan and .5 shutouts behind Allison Noznesky.

Davidson's first goal came off a corner kick from Nancy Haskell in the first half. Allison Drutchas had been taking corners in Haskell's stead for the last game and a half, but the move to put Haskell back in her original proved advantageous. The senior tri-captain sent a beautiful ball into the box where Suzanne Sittko sent it caroming off an Elon defender and into the net.

On the night, Davidson put 22 shots while allowing only six. After the Phoenix seemingly got their best shot at tying the game with a direct shot on English, the Wildcat offense was able to respond with a strong attack, some nifty passes and a beautiful finish by Kyri Bye-Nagel to put Davidson up 2-0.

Despite the wet conditions, Davidson was able to control the ball and keep the Phoenix on their heels for most of the game.

It seemed fitting that English would break the shutout record on a night when she was never really tested in the box.

"This record doesn't really belong to me," English said. "The defensive players in front of me deserve a lot of credit. They are the ones who are doing most of the work and they don't get any statistics to show for it."

On this night, Haskell and Chloe King both stepped up with several big defensive stops, while Courtney Hart and Sophie Funderburk helped the Wildcats control the midfield.

English was the already the SoCon's leader in shutouts on the season, and she is now tied with Corrigan for the most shutouts in a single season.

Davidson will now travel to Chattanooga to take on a Moc team that recently fell to Elon 7-1.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

'Cats emerged as national power in 1960's

When Davidson College first started playing basketball, the games were nothing more than friendly matches between classes of Davidson men…a glorified B-league, one might say. That all changed forever in 1907 when a student named James Wendell Rhea decided to put Davidson's name on the line and form a traveling basketball team that would compete against other schools. In the school's first season, a team of six won its first ever game against Guilford College before losing to Wake Forest and Duke. Davidson basketball was born.

For many years, Davidson basketball competed outside of what we now understand to be the general structures of college basketball. The NCAA had only been formed in 1906, and there was no tournament until 1939. Davidson didn't join the Southern Conference until 1936 when the College was invited to join the likes of Clemson, North Carolina, Duke, Maryland and South Carolina. Those teams would not split off to form the ACC until 1953.

Until the late 1930's, Davidson basketball was relatively unheralded. The team mostly played against regional YMCA squads. On the other hand, Davidson football seemed to have been getting all sorts of attention, with stadium improvements and scholarship fundraising to compete with the larger schools in the Southeast. In fact, the "Wildcat" nickname came after a 1917 football game against Georgia Tech.

In 1949, George "Buddy" Cheek put Davidson on the national map when he became the first Wildcat basketball All-American. In his three years at Davidson, Cheek led the Wildcats to a record of 54-25. Three years later, in 1952, Hobby Cobb arrived on Davidson's campus. During four years, he scored 1,424 points and grabbed 836 rebounds. Cobb has since been inducted into the Davidson Hall of Fame and his retired #21 jersey hangs from the rafters. Cobb is still a season ticket holder and tries to attend every Davidson basketball game, home or away.

Although Davidson experienced some team success in the days of Cheek and Cobb, the sport of basketball was still just an athletic exercise meant to stimulate the bodies and minds of the College's student-athletes and supporters. Davidson basketball was not a brand; it was not a reason to know about a small liberal arts school in North Carolina. In 1960, that changed forever.

In the spring of that year, the Davidson administration hired a former Duke basketball player who had never been the head coach of a college basketball program. His name was Charles "Lefty" Driesell. Over the course of his career, Driesell tallied 786 wins. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

When Driesell came to Davidson, he didn't see the restrictions of a small student body. He refused to believe in an attitude of small-time athletics. During his nine-year tenure with the Wildcats, Driesell went to the NCAA Tournament three times and recruited three All-Americans and a number-one NBA draft pick.

Fred Hetzel and Dick Snyder were the first two Davidson stars of the Driesell era. Hetzel ranked eighth in the country in scoring during his senior year and Snyder ranked 14th nationally the next year. Between 1963 and 1966, Hetzel and Snyder helped lead Davidson to national rankings in the AP and UPI polls, as Davidson finished sixth in the nation in 1965. Both Hetzel and Snyder went on to prestigious NBA careers and were inducted into the Davidson Hall of Fame.

The real story of Lefty Driesell was not necessarily what he accomplished as a coach, but how he accomplished it. Although he had a very limited recruiting budget, Driesell knew that he had to travel outside of the Southeast to find some of the nation's best basketball players. He also knew that image was everything. Snyder remembered that Driesell would drive to regional airports around the country and get the parents of his recruits to pick him up, making the families believe that he had the budget to fly around the country. Driesell's recruiting creativity was unmatched even in his own time.

Back in Davidson, Driesell was able to schedule more and more home games at the Charlotte Coliseum for maximum exposure. Driesell apparently would sneak into the coliseum and put up Davidson signs around the concourse entrances to make the Coliseum look like Davidson's home arena. Driesell even opened a pizza parlor on Main St. and encouraged students and fans to mingle with him after games.

Driesell wanted to make Davidson a national powerhouse in college basketball. The 1964-65 Sports Illustrated College Basketball preview issue recognized his merit by selecting Davidson as their preseason number 1 pick. By the middle of the 1960's, Davidson basketball was a national brand, and its stock had nowhere to go but up.

***This is the second piece in a four-part Davidsonian series on the 100th anniversary of Davidson basketball.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Saturday of Redemption

It was a Saturday of redemption for three of Davidson's fall sports teams. Although none of them entered the weekend with a winning season record, the men's soccer, volleyball and football teams all picked up victories over favored opponents.

Katie Pierucci led the assault for the volleyball team as the Wildcats picked up their second straight victory with a non-conference 3-1 win over ECU. Pierucci finished the game with 24 kills on 55 chances. Davidson also benefitted from the return of Sarabeth Peele to action. She had missed several key conference games with an injury, but her return has spurred the recent surge of late.

While the volleyball team was rocking Belk Arena, just 200 feet away at Alumni Field, the men's soccer team was dancing with their second win in three games. The team had beaten Georgia Southern last week, tied Appalachian State with a last-second goal from Charlie Rieter, and pounded Coastal Carolina today. The Wildcats were led by freshmen who scored three out of the four team goals and tallied two assists. The three-game unbeaten streak is the longest of its kind in over two years and men's soccer finally has something to smile about after its 1-10 start.

The football team capped off the night with a surprise 24-21 victory over conference powerhouse Drake. Davidson tied an NCAA record by scoring 3 safeties off of three botched punts. The Wildcats nearly let Drake back in the game with their five turnovers and two extra-point conversion failures, but a Matt Mikrut interception sealed Davidson's win in the final minute. Ryan Alexander recorded 299 passing yards and Ryan Hubbard made 14 receptions for 178 yards. With his 317 all-purpose yards on the night, Alexander set a new Davidson record for most all-purpose yards in a career.

Basketball season might be right around the corner, but these three fall sports teams have refused to quit. Their seasons are far from over.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Rockies on magical run

Last summer, I worked at Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal. Throughout the course of the NBA playoffs, the Journal and Daily published several reports on the TV ratings of the playoffs and the various concerns of all the parties involved: NBA officials, networks, advertisers, etc.

The same articles were practically reprinted for David Beckham, the NHL, the WNBA. All of these fringe sports that ESPN or NBC had invested this money in seemed to not be making good on their return. The SBJ writers delved into all of the reasons why the American sports-loving demographic did not seem to want to turn on MLS or NHL.

When the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks made it to the NLCS, I'm sure that once again networks and advertisers collectively gulped. The Fall Classic would have at least two games on late night television and the National League Championship Series would be a week-long festival of one team that was collectively outscored over the course of the season and another team that had just two All-Stars: Matt Holliday

The only story that Will Leitch and has found in this year's series is the Rockies' claim that as a Christian team, they have been blessed by God. Well the Rockies have now won 20 of their last 21 games and have transformed the city of Denver into a veritable baseball mecca. With last night's dramatic 4-1 victory in the cold Colorado elements, the Rockies stand just one win away from their first ever World Series appearance.

You don't have to ask the Rockies about the low ratings, they could care less if anyone is watching them. That's what sport should be about anyway.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Night with the Cats

Photo Credit: Ross White

The 2007-2008 Davidson basketball season kicked off last night with the third annual Night with the Cats event. This year ESPNU traveled to Davidson to record the event for a four-hour special that will air tonight at 7 on ESPN. Here are some of my thoughts on the event.

---Even though the bleachers were not filled at all, the red seats were packed with energetic, die-hard fans. The 3,000ish fans that attended were very loud when the lights when out to start the event. Student turnout/energy was excellent and both coaches did not forget to court the student body in their respective speeches.

---The minor renovations to Belk Arena included new scoreboards with stat boards, a new three-sided shot clock and a red buzzer light in the frame of the backboard. Everything looked pretty high-class.

---Although I was not looking forward to another version of Dancing through the Decades, the marketing department put together a great script that tied each grouping to Davidson basketball history. With 2007-2008 marking the 100th anniversary of Davidson basketball, that little history lesson was well taken. Despite being biased towards the seniors, I was most impressed with the sophomore dancing group. Curry embraced the spotlight and the "Beckham camera" that was always on him. His roommate Bryant Barr also stepped up big with great energy in the dancing.

---Freshman Ashley Lax was very impressive for the women's team. She caught fire in the three-point contest and hit several big shots during the scrimmage. The women's team was a bit underwhelming with fifth-year senior Katie Hamilton and freshman phenom Chloe Woodington sitting on the bench with injuries. Players like Julia Paquette and Mercedes Robinson will have to really step up and play strong if Davidson is going to compete with the size of its BCS competition this season.

Although the atmosphere was not on par with several of the big schools that Davidson will play this year, there were several great made-for-TV moments:
------During the All State 10,000 shootout, senior student Matt Lewis hit the layup, free throw and three-pointer with plenty of time to spare. His half-court was just barely off the mark and Hubert Davis had a great time talking him up and using that event to get the students involved.
------During the men's three-point contest, Stephen Curry went off in the final round, tallying 23 of a possible thirty points. He finished the last two racks on a tear and there were several great shots of NBA three-point greats Dell Curry and Hubert Davis looking on in awe.
-----Coach McKillop was classy and energetic as always. He used some of the lingo from my recent Davidsonian article in asking the crowd to write their own story as a part of this larger story of Davidson basketball. His best line of the night could have been taken from the movie 300 when he was asked whether Belk Arena was McKillopville. "No," he said. ""

---While the men's scrimmage certainly showed signs of limited practice and jittery nerves, there were a few bright spots.

---Curry seemed to take over in the second part after being shut down in the first ten minutes. He went after every loose ball and scored his only basket after a second-chance offensive rebound.

---The scrimmage was a perfect example of why Jason Richards is a finalist for the Bob Cousy award. He led a team of Sander, Rossiter, Barr and Archambault up against Meno, Lovedale, Curry, Paulhus-Gosselin and McKillop and was absolutely dominant. He made Rossiter look like one of the best big men in the conference (which is no slight to Rossiter who has gotten much better on his own terms).

---Everyone seemed a little bigger and a little quicker, but Meno and Lovedale still had a tendency to mishandle the ball in the paint. Their ball-handling will have to improve dramatically over the course of the next month.

Overall, I thought that the event was better than I had anticipated but not as great as it could have been. The timing was a little off and many people had grown tired and left before the men's portion really got going. I was impressed with the intensity and the habits of all the was as if we all knew when to stand, what to cheer and how to do it all as a collective. That was very encouraging. Finally, I was not too concerned with the relatively mediocre level of play on the court. I doubt that our mistakes were any different than the mistakes that our BCS opponents are making at this point. All that's left is to get this ship where it needs to be by November.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

2007 Men's Basketball: The Culmination of a 100-Year Story

As a sports writer, I have to find and write stories every week. It is a task that I mostly love and always find challenging. I have found that good stories can come in all shapes and forms, but the great ones can sometimes be hard to find until they land in your lap.

I have spent the last four years covering Davidson basketball and writing stories about winning streaks, the sons of NBA greats, coaching philosophies and the Davidson fan experience. I have had the privilege of watching the Wildcats win conference titles on national television, interviewing the players and coaches in press conferences and seeing how Davidson men's basketball has become a national story.

But this column isn't supposed to be about my story. It's supposed to be about you. What role does Davidson basketball play in your college story? Did you sing and help make "Sweet Caroline" the college anthem last year? Where were you when Davidson demolished Big 12 power Missouri in Belk Arena?

Many in the national basketball media are pointing to Davidson as having the potential to be this year's best college basketball story. They look at our academic values, on-the-court accomplishments and small size and label Davidson men's basketball as a great success story. They will use mediums like Sports Illustrated and to spread their interpretations of Davidson's story to the rest of the nation.

Davidson's players will play their own role in this story. Preseason expectations are high, and the players have to make their paper attributes take life on the basketball court. This story could feel very different if the Wildcats struggle in out-of-conference games and get upset in the Southern Conference tournament in March. It could also exceed our wildest dreams if Davidson lands a high seed in the NCAA Tournament and knocks off a team from a power conference.

But again, this story still reside with you. You don't have to wait on us media types to give expression to the plots taking place on the court and in the stands. Add your own layers to this larger narrative. Take a road trip with your friends to a road game when you have a huge test the next day. It really is true that you will remember the experience more than the material from your test. Hold a listening party in your room and take in the eccentricities of Davidson's venerable radio announcer John Kilgo. Show up early to that fanatic.

But like all good stories, the story of the 2007-2008 men's basketball season is not complete without a little background exposition. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Davidson basketball, and the athletic department plans to hold a reunion event to welcome back some from the legends of the program's storied history. With the presence of players like Stephen Curry and Jason Richards and a community's aspirations for NCAA Tournament glory, it seems like a great year to do some reflecting on how Davidson basketball became such a big deal.

Names like Snyder, Hetzel, Gerdy, Cobb and Rucker might look familiar to frequent visitors of Belk Arena. Those are the names on the retired jerseys hanging from the rafters. But most of us look at those dates under the names and realize that we don't know the first thing about Davidson basketball in the 1940's or 1960's or even 1980's and 1990's.

I have decided to devote the next four issues of The Davidsonian sports section, leading up to the D-I opener against North Carolina, to enriching our collective understanding of the story of Davidson basketball. From the days of intramural competition through the glory years of national prominence and the subsequent years of relative insignificance, Davidson basketball has come a long way.

I urge you to expose yourself to a brief piece of our rich history by engaging the larger story of Davidson basketball. But don't forget to take the opportunity to write your own story this year. There's a chance that it could just as glorious as we all imagine.

This is the first piece of a four-part Davidsonian series on the 100th anniversary of Davidson basketball.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The anatomy of the streak

There is a point in every sports fan's life that they realize that there are only so many different storylines in sports (well at least every journalist discovers this). You have your redemption story...underdog story...unlikely hero is bigger than sports story (but if sports is life does this mean that life is bigger than itself? I will save that one for another day).

One of my favorite storylines is that of the streak. Winning and losing streaks are some of the coolest intersections of sports and psychoanalysis. When teams get into these grooves of losing or winning, players, fans and coaches all start to cultivate some really weird habits and reactions related to the team's onfield successes or failures.

Right now, two of Davidson's fall teams are involved in incredible streaks. The women's soccer team has won six straight games including two over SEC powers and three over conference rivals. Two of those six wins came in overtime.

On the other side of the hallway, the men's soccer team has now dropped five straight games and are only 1-8 on the season. Out of those eight losses, three of them were decided on golden goals or last second scores.

The men's soccer team came into this season hoping to rebound from last year's disaster where the team suffered a few tough lossesand mailed in the season. After starting 0-3 this season, Davidson thought that they were back on track with the return of senior leader Aaron West in an overtime game against Dayton. While West scored a goal in that lone win, he was also given a red card and had to sit out against Charlotte a few days later. Charlotte demolished the Cats and the losing streak was on.

Precisely when the men's soccer team thought that they were turning the season around by winning at Dayton, the women's soccer team dropped to their third game of the season in a lethargic match in Colorado against Colorado College. After picking up a win against Mercer, Davidson seemed to be falling back into lethargy in the first half of its next game against Vanderbilt. The early season prognosis was not very bright. But then the Wildcats came out in the second half, got a quick goal, eked out a win in OT and a winning streak was born. The women's soccer team has not lost since that early September day in Colorado.

One of the most amazing things about streaks is all of the crazy ways that teams seem to continue them. With the losses piling on, men's soccer coach Matt Spear began to mix up his lineup to find a winning combination. Starting forward Robby Hoak was held back on the bench for a game and then was put in on the defensive side of the field. The team changed their coming out song to the UEFA Champions League theme. If they had the option, I'm sure they would probably try out new jersies. Yet, all of those small things still have not translated to victory.

Last Wednesday, the men's soccer team hosted nationally ranked South Carolina and held the Gamecocks to only three shots over the first 75 minutes of play. The Wildcats had double digit opportunities on goal and were clinging to a one goal lead. With under 15 minutes remaining, the Gamecocks struck off a free kick and tied the game at one. Minutes later, they put home the go-ahead and took a 2-1 victory. The Wildcats had put forth their best effort and it still didn't translate to success.

Back on the women's side, the confidence of the Vanderbilt and LSU victories upped the team's intensity and they went on to pull out a OT win over then-unbeaten conference rival Appalachian State. During that week, the team's coach had gone out to lunch with several athletic department employees at a local eatery. Davidson has since beaten The Citadel and Furman in conference play. The same group has gone back to the same place every week since then...the superstition of the winning streak.

The men's and women's soccer teams still have several more conference games before the end of season tournaments. The men will keep trying to mess with the karma and get themselves back in the W column, while the women don't intend on changing anything for a while.