Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of 2007

Blockbuster Movie of the Year: 300

I saw this movie last March during Spring Break. By the end of the Southern Conference tournament, all I could think about was the image of the Spartans kicking the Persian messengers into the pit. In October's "Night with the 'Cats", Coach McKillop invoked the passion and emotion of 300.

Hubert Davis: Is this...McKillopville?

Bob McKillop: (pause) THIS IS DAVIDSON!


Underground Movie of the Year: Once

This movie wins the award for most money brought in with proportion to money spent. The creators took a real-life band (The Frames) and decided to make a modern-day musical with their songs contextualizing a love story where two lovers find so much truth in each other that they actually are strengthened to return to their former significant others. Give Glen Hansard and his band props for showing that there is nothing more beautiful than a soundtrack to real life, as portrayed in a movie.


Song/Dance of the Year: Soulja Boy's "Crank dat Soulja Boy"

Although Davidson has since banned the song for its less than savory lyrics, the Soulja Boy took the country by storm this summer. Stephen Curry did it on ESPNU during the "Night with the Cats," the Davidson soccer teams did the knock-off "Crank dat Spiderman" version, and even Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan got in on the action. Hopefully it's not too late to Crank dat Wildcat. Yuuuuulll!



Video Game of the Year: Guitar Hero

With its life-like plastic guitar and classic hits, Guitar Hero took the nation by storm by letting gamers young and old have the experience of playing that classic guitar solo. Except that instead of only using the air, we now had a real plastic guitar with buttons and everything. GH3 was a huge holiday hit at the video game stores and the new Rock Band game, where apartments can have a singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer all going at once, looks to be the next huge innovation in interactive gaming. Guitar Hero II was so popular with the men's soccer team over the summer that they put all of the game's songs onto a disc and used the playlist during their warmups.


Best game of the year: Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Oklahoma

Although this game was nearly a full year ago, it did happen in 2007. The repercussions of Boise State's incredible comeback by converting a 4th and long on a hook and ladder and then winning in OT on a two-point conversion statue of liberty (after scoring on a halfback pass) were tremendous. In the same way that George Mason had rocked the major conferences of college basketball by making it to the Final Four, Boise State opened the door for non-traditional powers like Hawaii, Kansas and Central Florida to receive recognition on the national level.

Because of the primacy of this game and the number of crazy plays that went down at the end, I had to give it the edge over the close runner-up for game of the year: App State-Michigan. Although the Mountaineers pulled off the unspeakable upset in dramatic fashion, the stage of Boise State's win was larger. Plus EA Sports followed it up by putting Zabransky on the cover of NCAA 08. If Armanti Edwards is there next year, then we'll rethink some things.


Book of the Year: Stephen Colbert's "I Am America (And So Can You)"

Leading up to the writer's strike in the Fall, everything that Colbert touched turned to gold. He had Ben and Jerry's best-selling ice cream of the year (named Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream). He turned an accidental breaking of his wrist into an excuse to produce "Wriststrong" bracelets which ended up raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for wounded veterans. And his hilarious book, I Am America (And So Can You) was the top audiobook on iTunes for many weeks running. Colbert even tried to run for President in the South Carolina primary, but the Democratic party refused to put him on the ballot. At that time, polls had him placing fourth in the state, right behind John Edwards. Colbert was named as the AP Celebrity of the Year.


Internet Video of the Year: The Dramatic Chipmunk

Search Dramatic Chipmunk on YouTube to find all of the hilarious modifications to the original clip. I would have put Miss Teen South Carolina as the recipient of this award except that I didn't want to perpetuate any more bad stereotypes about my home state.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 Bojangles Shootout

I just returned home from working at the 2007 Bojangles Shootout put on by Dell Curry's Athletes United For Youth foundation. The high school basketball tournament in Charlotte featured some of the best schools from around the country including St. Benedicts (New Jersey), Moeller (Cincinnati), South Atlanta, and Abraham Lincoln (Brooklyn). The tournament also featured several regional teams including Charlotte Christian, Victory Christian, Charlotte Latin, Hopewell and West Charlotte.

Working as a statistician, I had the opportunity to see most of the tournament's games at midcourt alongside Davidson's assistant SID, Lauren Biggers. Here are some notes to supplement all that Langston Wertz and his crack Charlotte Observer staff have already put together.

-Like Wertz mentioned in today's blog, the tournament should be moved to the campus of UNC-Charlotte. After arriving at the Marvin Ridge site on Friday morning and witnessing the final two days of action, I was a little embarrassed that I hadn't heard of this tournament before. The main gym was absolutely packed for the afternoon and evening games, and many people weren't allowed in on Saturday night because of a fire marshal's warning.

-The stars were out and shining over the course of the entire weekend. Steve Smith and Dell Curry were very visible throughout most of the tournament as the headliners of the Athletes United for Youth foundation. But former Panther Brentson Buckner decided to stop by to take in some of the action so they made him a celebrity judge during Saturday's slam dunk competition (I assume they had worked that out beforehand, but Buckner was definitely just hanging out). Top media and scouts were also on hand including writers from Rivals and Dave Telep from Scout.com, Billy Packer from CBS, Steve Wojo from Duke, and Bobby Lutz from UNC-Charlotte.

-The notables in the stands did not outshine the notables on the court, however. Samardo Samuels, the #7 recruit in the class of 2008 who has signed with Louisville, led the nation's best high school team, St. Benedict's, to the National Tournament championship. St. Benedicts also had strong play from Greg Echenique, a 6-8 junior getting looks from Duke and North Carolina. Derrick Favors, a 6-9 junior at South Atlanta, got the most individual pub throughout the entire tournament. While I admit that he was flanked by a team with relatively less talent, I was still somewhat unimpressed with his play in relation to the hype. Against St. Benedicts and Samuels, he didn't use the triple teams that he saw to get his teammates open looks, and he barely saw the floor due to foul trouble in the second half. Favors did play very well against Jeanette on Thursday sporting a line of 42 (points), 20 (rebounds), and 12 (blocks). But I also know that the stats guy working that game was giving out blocks on plays in which the defender was also charged with a foul. He will make a great college player in a few years, but he has some room for improvement.

-The best game of the tournament was definitely the Local championship game between Charlotte Christian and Victory Christian. Seth Curry led Charlotte with 15 points in the third quarter with a tear that most Davidson fans would have found very familiar. Wanting to pave his own path, Curry has signed a letter of intent to attend Liberty in the fall. Davidson also signed a contract with Liberty setting up a two-year series where the Curry brothers will be able to play against each other. Curry was helped by teammate Carson Sullivan who scored 18 points in the championship and was named Tournament MVP. As a junior with excellent grades, Sullivan is beginning to get looks from Liberty and Charleston Southern. If Davidson could up their emphasis on conservative Southern baptist religion, maybe they would be a potential.

-The Tournament was a fantastic display of the richness of the basketball tradition in the Piedmont of North Carolina. Everyone from the staff, volunteers, performers, refs, coaches and fans exuded an immense enthusiasm for the sport and the role it plays in the lives of kids and adults. I was really struck by how much play Davidson seemed to be getting throughout the entire tournament. Whether it was a fellow staffer asking about where I went to school, a kid in the stands wearing a Stephen Curry jersey, or yet another article talking about the Curry dynasty, Davidson and its incredible program was on everyone's lips throughout the tournament. That fact continues to show how Bob McKillop and Davidson have become a factor in Charlotte once again.

-During a break between games, Dell mentioned to those in the staff room that this tournament is always hard because many fans always seem to get on him about paying off the refs. During Stephen's senior year, he led Charlotte Christian to a title and was named Tourney MVP. This year, Victory Christian fans were frustrated with the physical game and the fact that their star point guard, Andre Cornelius, could not hit the broad side of a barn. Cornelius led his team to an early first half lead with some tremendous passes, but his jumpshot was off in the second half when Charlotte made their run. The most emotional point in the game came off an inbound when Victory Christian made a steal and hit a layup. The refs blew the whistle at the end of the play because the clock operator did not start the clock. The basket was not counted and VC fans lost it, shouting accusations that Curry had paid off the entire staff.

-A more serious fiasco almost transpired in the semifinal game between Moeller and Lincoln. Lincoln had the ball down by 4 with seven seconds remaining. They ran up the court and promptly hit a three-pointer. Except that the clock operator did not start the clock. In high school rules, the clock does not stop after a made basket under a minute so presumably, Moeller would have been able to run out the time without inbounding. Instead they had to throw in with three seconds and a 1-point lead. After a free throw made and missed, Lincoln had the ball back with two seconds down by two. A half-court rolled around the rim and came out. If that shot would have gone in, the intense Moeller fan base would have gone berserk (as it was, their obscenely uber-serious 8-man coaching staff let the press table hear it after the game).

***Photo by Charlotte Observer's Robert Lahser***

Saturday, December 29, 2007

SoCon North Division

Chattanooga

While Davidson likes to flaunt its rich tradition of basketball, no Southern Conference school can hold a candle to the basketball history of UT-Chattanooga. The Mocs' men's and women's teams have each won 24 conference titles and have been in the title game in most other years. Two years ago, the Mocs took a young team, after graduating a conference championship class the year before, and returned to the title game as a five seed. And we won't talk about how dominant the Chattanooga women's team has been over the years.

But last year, the Mocs fell on hard times. They finished 6-12 in the conference and were bounced by Davidson as an 8 seed in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. They finished eighth in the league in scoring offense, and their top scorer, Keddric Mays, finished just 11th overall in the conference in points per game.

With Mays and Casey Long lost to graduation, fans in Chattanooga had little to look forward to in 2007-2008. The Mocs were picked to finish fourth in the preseason polls while most of the outside attention of the Conference went to Davidson and UNC-Greensboro. But now, at the end of December, the Mocs sit with the conference's best record of 3-0 (7-4 overall). They have knocked off the College of Charleston and handed Elon its own conference loss of the season. They also came within six points of knocking off regional rival Tennessee.

This year, little known Stephen McDowell has stepped into the scoring role and has averaged over 15 points a game. He has been joined by fellow junior Nicchaeus Doaks who has averaged over 12 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. As a team, the Mocs have shot 48% from the field and averaged 81 points a game. Only five of Chattanooga's fourteen players have hit less than half of their shots taken (compare that to nine players for Davidson).

Davidson has struggled to play well in Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena over the years, sporting just a 2-5 record in that building since 2000 (that includes Davidson's 1-1 record in the 2005 SoCon tournament in McKenzie Arena). The Mocs have averaged nearly 40 rebounds a game this year. Combine that number with their high shooting percentage and it shows that most of those rebounds must be coming on the defensive end. Davidson will have to play very crisp basketball in order to sweep the season series with the Mocs this year. Chattanooga looks to be back to defend their basketball tradition.

Elon

When the Elon Phoenix joined the Southern Conference several years ago, most conference fans complained about adding another basketball cupcake. The tiny school from Burlington, NC has a gym that doesn't even seat 1,500 people and a basketball program with little notable history. But two years ago, Elon found themselves at the top of the North division and playing in the SoCon tournament semifinal game against Davidson. The Wildcats bested the Phoenix and sent them back down to the road of mediocrity as they put together an atrocious 7-23 record while going 5-13 in the conference last year.

Little more was expected from Elon this year, but they have been a pleasant surprise so far, putting together a 3-1 conference record with their only loss coming at Chattanooga. The Phoenix have been led by returning starter Ola Atoyebi who has averaged seven rebounds and fourteen points per game. He has been helped by senior guard Montell Watson who has averaged just over 10 points a game.

While Elon was one of only a handful of teams to beat Appalachian State last season, they dropped an embarrassing loss to Davidson in front of a home crowd that was louder for the Wildcats than the Phoenix. Davidson's first matchup comes next week when they travel up to Burlington for a late 9 p.m. tip.

Western Carolina

The Western Carolina Catamounts were counting on this year to be one in which they moved out of the basement of the Southern Conference. The Catamounts have not won a conference title since 1996, but they looked to compete in a weakened North Division because of returning star forward, Nick Aldridge. Aldridge would have been a shoo-in for Conference Freshman of the Year in 2007 had it not been for some guy named Curry.

But less than a month into the season, word came out of Cullowhee that Aldridge was gone. Personal issues between him and the staff and players led the school to cut ties. All of a sudden, the Catamounts did not have an identity. Role players were forced to produce and they were unsuccessful. After starting 2-2 with a two-point loss to Cincinnati, the Catamounts have gone 2-6 with their only wins coming against first-year D-I programs N.C. Central and Presbyterian.

Stepping in to fill Aldridge's shoes has been 6-6 sophomore Brandon Giles and 6-2 freshman guard Michael Porrini. Both have averaged double digits in scoring while Giles scored 46 points in Western's two conference losses against College of Charleston and Elon.

Appalachian State

Through the middle of last January, App State thought that they had become the most dominant sports program in the Southern Conference. The school had wrapped up back-to-back football national championships, and had rolled through their basketball season picking up wins against Virginia, Vanderbilt, VCU, and defending SoCon champion Davidson.

But then, they lost...to Elon...at home. Then, in the SoCon semifinal, star Virginia transfer Donte Minter had the chance to send the Mounties to a finals rematch with Davidson. But he missed the free throw. App State lost to CofC, went on to the NIT and got blown out in the first round. D.J. Thompson graduated and then everyone started watching football again. Not that football was ever questioned as the premiere sport up in Boone, but after a stunning upset of Michigan and a third straight national title, fans could care less about a Mountaineer basketball program trying to find an identity.

So far this season, it has seemed as if the players don't care much either. App State now sits 0-2 in the conference and 5-6 overall after dropping games to Davidson, San Jose State, Georgia Southern, and East Tennessee State. Against the Wildcats, App gave up 39 points to sophomore sensation Stephen Curry while star forwards Jeremy Clayton and Donte Minter struggled to produce offensively.

But then Appalachian State went and messed up all the trends. They went out on the road and beat SEC power Arkansas on the Razorbacks' home court. Donald Sims, a young point guard who had pretty much averaged the same amount of points as he had turnovers, went off for 24 points including 4 threes. He only turned the ball over once and managed the game perfectly for Houston Fancher's squad. Minter, a player who had underachieved ever since he arrived in Boone, scored 20 points and pulled down nine rebounds.

The Mountaineers have shown that they have the talent to make noise in the North Division. But only time will tell if they can play well consistently, and draw enough fan support to create a menacing home court environment.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

SoCon South Division

With the conference season about to begin in earnest, I have compiled some short notes on every member of the SoCon and their season thus far. I will publish an entry or two on every team leading up to Davidson's Jan. 3 game with Georgia Southern. I will start with the South Division in this post.

Georgia Southern

The Eagles are currently 8-2 with a perfect 2-0 mark in the Southern Conference. Their conference victories came at Furman and hosting Appalachian State.

The Eagles' biggest out-of-conference win of the season came against Alabama-Birmingham. Georgia Southern held UAB scoreless for four-plus minutes down the stretch as they turned a four-point deficit into a seven-point lead. The Eagles hit 11 of 12 free throws in the final minutes to pull out a two-point victory.

Georgia Southern finished last season in the bottom half of the conference with a 7-11 league record including an overtime loss at The Citadel, 74-69. They lost to the College of Charleston in their first game of the conference tournament.

Although the Eagles lost Donte Gennie and his 16.2 points per game, they returned 6-8 forward Louis Graham and their floor general Dwayne Foreman. This season, Graham is in the top 10 in the conference for both scoring and rebounding while Foreman has averaged 6.2 assists per game (second in the conference behind Davidson's Jason Richards).

Davidson plays the streaking Eagles at odd times during the conference slate: during Christmas Break on Jan. 3, and at the beginning of Spring Break on March 1.

Last season, Davidson trailed GSU in Statesboro by nine points at halftime. However, Jason Richards scored a career-high 32 points including four three-pointers and twelve free throws to give Davidson a 101-92 victory. GSU's Graham scored 26 points while Foreman dished out a game-high 11 assists. Davidson's Thomas Sander hit three three-pointers in that game. The 6-8 forward has only hit four threes in the entirety of the 2007-2008 season.

Wofford

The Wofford Terriers have surprised a few people around the Southern Conference with their 7-4 start and one-point victory over North Division rival UNC-Greensboro. Wofford now stands third in the conference with a 1-1 record after dropping a road game at Elon.

The Terriers responded by defeating the Purdue Boilermakers and winning the Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Classic by besting Texas Southern and Bethune-Cookman.

This Terrier season comes in true form as Wofford continues to be the Southern Conference's most inconsistent squad. Last year, the Terriers knocked off Cincinnati and barely lost to College of Charleston before going 5-13 in the conference with a loss at The Citadel.

Their fortunes have largely been determined by the play of their two stellar guards: Shane Nichols and Drew Gibson. Both players are incredible outside shooters, but they have had very little help from their teammates in the past, and the Terriers usually fall when they are held under 15-20 points apiece. Throughout their careers, both players have missed games due to injury, and Nichols' 15.3 ppg this season is not registered among the conferences' leaders because he has only played in six games.

The Terriers seem to be a different team when playing in tiny Ben Johnson Arena on their campus in Spartanburg. Wofford is 4-0 at home this season and they went 7-5 at home last year with near misses against Davidson (83-78), Western Carolina (81-75), and The Citadel (74-71). In the last seven years, Wofford has held an average winning margin of 7.8 over Davidson with a 4-2 record at Ben Johnson Arena. Davidson will travel to Spartanburg on Jan. 12, the Saturday before students return to campus from their holiday break.

College of Charleston

The College of Charleston Cougars will wrap up their last holiday set of games in the old John Kresse Arena on December 29 and 30 when they host JMU, S.C. State and Mercer in the "Jim 'N Nick's Cougar Classic." The Cougars have come perilously close to knocking off two BCS powers, losing to Florida State and South Carolina by a combined eight points. They are now 4-6 with a 1-1 record in the conference (their sole loss came at Chattanooga, 86-70).

The defending conference runners-up, the Cougars have seen increased production from point guard Tony White Jr. who currently leads the team with 13.8 ppg and 3.1 apg. Last year, White backed up all-conference standout Dontaye Draper who completed his eligibility last spring. Combining Draper's absence with the off-season defection of upper-class forward Josh Jackson, College of Charleston's Bobby Cremins has had to look to his incoming players to make an impact.

Andrew Goudelock has averaged 12 points off the bench while shooting a team-best 44% from the field. His immediate impact has helped to overcome the slow start from returning letterman Marcus Hammond. The junior averaged over 7 points a game last year as a starting guard, but he is only shooting 30% from the field and scoring 5 ppg this season.

Davidson has had College of Charleston's number over the last few years. The Wildcats won all three matchups last year and are a collective 8-1 against CofC over the last four seasons. Out of those eight victories, three of them came in thrilling fashion with Davidson hitting a last-minute shot to win the game.

The Citadel

For a team with 13 freshman and an injury to one of two returning lettermen, The Citadel Bulldogs have done well to go 4-6 to this point in the season. Pat Conroy's team has a victory over county rival Charleston Southern and "good losses" to teams like USC, South Carolina and Washington State. The Bulldogs played conference-favorite Davidson tough for one half two weeks ago.

The Bulldogs have played some of their recent games without returning local senior forward Demetrius Nelson. Nelson missed the matchup with Davidson due to a stress fracture.

With Nelson out, Conroy has seen increased production from sensational freshmen Austin Dahn and Cameron Wells. Wells currently ranks third in the conference with 15.5 ppg. He is also averaging 3.4 assists per game.

Although The Citadel will probably finish ninth or tenth in the conference once again, they have a very talented young team that could sneak up on some conference opponents and possibly win a game in the conference tournament being played in their hometown.

Furman

The disaster that is the 2007-2008 Furman Paladins first reared its ugly head on March 2, 2007 when the Paladins managed only 15 points in the first half of their SoCon semifinal game against Davidson. No player outside of graduating seniors Moussa Diagne, Eric Webb or Robby Bostain obtained anything more than garbage points, and Furman was absolutely humiliated after Teddy Valentine threw out Diagne from the last game of his career.

Furman made several off-season improvements to their home gym in Greenville but that has not helped a team that has yet to win a game this season. Furman's 0-10 record (0-3 SoCon) includes embarrassing losses to USC Aiken and Utah Valley.

The Paladins have been led by freshman Justin Dehm who has averaged 9.6 points per game so far. Returning letterman Tony Anderson is one of two Paladin players with a positive assist/turnover ratio, but he has only scored 29 points in ten games played.

Davidson has only lost to Furman once since 1995. That loss came at Timmons Arena in 2006 as the Paladins ended Davidson's nation-leading conference winning streak. Without a scorer averaging more than 10 points a game, it doesn't look like the Paladins will find much success against Davidson or any other team in the Southern Conference this season.

The Story of their Friendship and Love for DC BBall

I come to you this Christmas Day eve with the story of two men. Their story has already been told to many by their friends, and CSTV's Josh Herwitt. Now Michael Kruse has gotten into the act. Bro Krift and Tripp Cherry are just two normal people. But when it comes to Davidson basketball, nothing can keep them from what they love so dearly. In yet another stirring article on why Davidson basketball is so stirring, so transforming...so real, Kruse has immortalized Cherry and Krift for their undying loyalty to each other and to the basketball program that Bob McKillop has built over the last 19 years.

"In the department of Davidson fandom, there's a funny but not altogether untrue test: The merely casually interested are separated from the truly totally committed by weeknight trips to spots on the map of the South like Statesboro, Ga., and Johnston City, Tenn.

Bro and Tripp passed the test.

[...]

This is a story about being a fan. This is a story about being a friend. But mostly, this is a story about the sort of stuff that makes people do things like drive 25 straight hours to watch 40 minutes of college basketball.

The good stuff.

The stuff that matters."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Thoughts from Raleigh

-I had the privilege of getting to see Friday's game from yet a new vantage point: the N.C. State student section. My roommate got tickets from an N.C. State friend and we were able to sneak in with his I.D. While I know that it was a holiday break game, I was mostly unimpressed with State's fans, especially their students. The crowd was pretty silent for most of the game and the N.C. State students in front of us never did figure out that we were Davidson fans. They projected their taunts after the game to the couple sitting in the row behind us. After Curry air-balled his first shot, they yelled "air ball" every time he touched the ball. When he broke the 20-point barrier, one student loudly exclaimed that maybe their strategy was not working. The line of the night came in our pre-game Bojangles tailgate when one of my senior friends said that "just because we're here doesn't mean we should act like idiots."

-The connections that have been forged through Davidson basketball are really quite amazing. I found an old friend that I hadn't seen in years in the arena concourse while the Davidsonian editor from my freshman year ended up sitting right behind me. This basketball team has been the emotional and physical rallying point of Davidson friendships for many years and I hope that it will continue that way.

-Boris Meno has been scrutinized to a T this year for his less-than-stellar performances. Many, including the FSN announcing crew, have already taken their shots at Boris for his 0-5 night from the three-point land. "That's not his shot," goes the outcry. While Meno's three-point percentage is significantly lower this year, most of that does not come from what plagued him on Friday. Against UCLA, Meno took shots off the elbow and in the corner which were not in his license. However, Meno is fully licensed and encouraged to shoot the open three from the top of the key. That shot opens the lane for backcuts and gets taller defenders out of rebounding position. Meno was simply long and off his touch. I was more disappointed in Meno's several missed opportunities right under the basket, when he didn't feel the defense to know when to go up, or when he let simple passes go through his hands. Those are mental mistakes that exams, brutal competition, and expectations have made more common.

-Stephen Curry "looks" like a ball-hog....or an NBA player. It is hard to criticize a guy that consistently scores 20+ and responds to hecklers chanting "air ball" by hitting go-ahead threes in the final minutes...so I won't. Everytime, he steps on the floor, Curry has to decide how to attack without being a ball-hog...how to lead without hurting his team. The line between freedom and responsibility is thinner than ever before. But I'm putting the "Curry" problem on the shoulders of the only man whose shoulders are big enough to handle it: Jason Richards. The fact of the matter is that Stephen Curry can score 30 points every night if he always has the ball in his hands. And yet, his scoring proficiency has not translated into success because it hasn't been supplemented by offensive production and threats elsewhere. Being the undisputed leader of this team, Richards has the responsibility of getting Steph his twenty, pulling down 10-15 for himself and finding those all-important baskets from everyone else that will ultimately put Davidson back in the wins column. I felt like Richards did an excellent job of that in the second half...but once again, it takes a full 40 minutes for Davidson to beat an ACC team.

-The saddest part of watching Davidson so far this year has been seeing what Thomas Sander has gone through. Sander is only averaging 3.5 field goals a game and is shooting 53% from the free throw line. He seems to have lost his defensive discipline at times this year as he has constantly been in foul trouble (he leads the team with 30 fouls and has fouled out twice). Last season, McKillop called Sander the General of the defense because he played relentlessly and was consistently disciplined, always drawing charges and forcing big men into bad shots. This year, he is jumping and reaching for blocks instead playing for the charge or the rebounding position. As we saw against N.C. State, this strategy is failing badly.

Wildcats still locked out, fall to NCSU 66-65

Closer. Bob McKillop's Wildcats are closer. Their 1-point loss to preseason Top 25 N.C. State did not completely transpire until the final 3.9 seconds when Gavin Grant gave the Pack a 66-65 victory with two free throws. Yet Davidson heads into the long, cold run of 18 brutal conference games with very little consolation. They now have six losses on the season and only one OOC win against a D-I opponent. The Wildcats have fallen a long way from their highly publicized romp on the outskirts of the Top 25. No one is competing with Kevin Cary and myself to get interviews anymore.

In their most recent loss to the Wolfpack, Davidson was once again led by their fantastic backcourt of Stephen Curry and Jason Richards. The two combined for 43 of Davidson's 65 points. Curry still ranks eighth in the country with 24.6 points per game, while Richards leads the nation with 8.7 assists per game.

Davidson recovered from a slow first half by shooting over 50% from three-point land in the second. Bryant Barr finished with three big trifectas, while Curry had seven, including the go-ahead shot with 43 seconds remaining in the game.

The image of this season continues to be one of an elusive puzzle piece. Although no team ever plays a perfect game, Davidson has always seemed one puzzle piece short of pulling off the big upset. Against North Carolina, they couldn't hit layups. Against WMU, Stephen Curry was taken out of the game with foul trouble. Against Duke, the team could not hit their normal percentage of free throws. Against Charlotte, Davidson could not play effective perimeter defense. Against UCLA, Davidson gave up dumb turnovers and allowed too many transition points. And against N.C. State, the entire Wildcat frontcourt was held to 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Yet, despite recognizable lapses from Davidson throughout each of these games, one can point to a specific play in each one where the opponent beat Davidson. UNC, WMU, Duke, Charlotte, UCLA and N.C. State all rose to the challenge at the end of the game and punched the Wildcats in the mouth with a gutsy play. Gavin Grant was shooting 65% from the line going into Friday. Yet, he went 8-8 and hit the game-winners with everything on the line and 3.9 seconds on the clock.

Over the last four years, Davidson has benefitted from a rising tide of college basketball where smaller schools have significantly caught up to larger programs in terms of player quality and the ability to make every game interesting. Davidson is one of several case studies of mid-majors who don't let national powerhouses push them around.

And yet, within these big games we have also seen examples of how hesitant the powers that be (major college AD's, NCAA, ESPN...) are of letting everyone feast at the table. Davidson is a great story, but they aren't supposed to really beat all those teams. Davidson is a few layups, bad fouls, and nagging injuries away from being the number 1 team in the country. A school with a gym that seats less than 6,000, a student body that worries more about homework than Stephen's autograph, and a lineup that doesn't exceed 6'8" should never be #1 in the country. So we aren't. The doors remain locked, and the ACC Store still sells its product and won't have to worry about competing with t-shirts featuring a "hopelessly outdated charcoal drawing of a cat head."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weekly Wrap-up

As many of you have already seen from the Dson Bball Blog and the message board, there is a new 'Cat in town. The blog's name is Lefty's Legacy and it is run by some Davidson alums from 4th Watts and Base Rich. Although the blog is still in its infancy, I still like its tumbling format. The quote feature is pretty cool.

I want post that, unless otherwise noted, all images used on the site now come from Davidson volleyball coach, Tim Cowie. You can find some of Cowie's photos that are available to purchase here.

This week all eyes turn to Raleigh, N.C. for Davidson's game with the N.C. State Wolfpack. I won't be doing a live writeup, but I will post some observations on Saturday at some point. Although Davidson suffered a 4-5 record from a very tough front end of a schedule in November and December, it means the Wildcats get to relax a little throughout most of their holiday break. In the past 5 years, Davidson has sported a less-than-stellar 10-11 record against D-I opponents over the holiday break. If you take out last year's 5-0 mark, that number becomes even more discouraging. This year's holiday break extends so far into January that the Wildcats will have already played six games before students get to see them again on January 19th against Chattanooga.

Speaking of the Chattanooga game on the 19th, fans should begin to make plans to come to Belk Arena for both that game and the Feb. 16th game against Furman. On the 19th, Davidson will honor players and coaches that have helped build the Davidson basketball program over the last 100 years. While legendary coaches Lefty Driesell and Terry Holland will be in attendance, fans will miss out on seeing Davidson legends Mike Maloy, Fred Hetzel and Derek Rucker who will not be attending. On Feb. 16th, Davidson will honor another class of inductees into its Hall of Fame. The class of 2008 includes soccer goalie Alex Deegan '95, Steve Heckard '65, Rodney Knowles '68, and Carolyn Kirsch '97.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wildcats break out in 2nd half to down The Citadel, 95-74

"If we don't become consistent, we will just be a shooting star, not a shining star. As a mid-major there is the chance to be a flash in the pan. We want to be like the programs who have done it consistently."

Bob McKillop's program took another step towards becoming a consistent mid-major power after blowing open the second half against The Citadel in the second SoCon game of the year. The Wildcats won 95-74 and improved to 2-0 in the Southern Conference.

Davidson was tied with The Citadel at 39 at halftime, but an offensive explosion led by Jason Richards' 15 points pushed the Wildcats ahead for good. Richards finished with 21 total points and 9 assists. He hit six three-pointers on the game.

The Wildcats played without Stephen Curry for most of the first half. He was hit in the mouth and needed seven stitches. He came back out wearing a #25 jersey and scored 13 second-half points to go along with six assists. Curry finished with 20 points for the seventh time this season.

The story of this one might have been the play of Bryant Barr. Barr finished with 23 points on six three-pointers. Last year, he hit a career-high seven three-pointers at The Citadel and at one point was shooting 13-16 against them for his career.

Davidson's second half run was sparked by aggressive defense and transition scoring.

"We told ourselves that we needed to make defensive stops. We came out aggressively and it worked out well for us with some transition points," said Jason Richards.

Davidson blocked a total of seven shots on the game and their defense forced 18 turnovers on 11 steals. Andrew Lovedale tallied four steals on his own.

"When you don't get stops, you are digging yourself out of a hole. Our defensive stops were key in getting creating scoring opportunities," McKillop said.

Richards' 21 points was his second highest output of the season. His 23 points against Western Michigan in November was a career high. Richards missed his first two shots of the game, but then went on a tear, hitting seven straight.

"Jason was shooting the ball well in practice and I expected that he could have a big game tonight. He's the backbone of this team," McKillop said.

Fans who left the game will be surprised to see the final score when they get home. The scoreboard reported that Jason Richards scored 22 points on seven threes. However, the scoreboard and statistics operators accidently recorded a three-pointer when Richards hit a layup. Davidson's final margin of victory was only 21 and not the scoreboard's 22.

Davidson will next face N.C. State on Dec. 21 in Raleigh.

Davidson 95 Citadel 74

Welcome to the live blog on this 13th day of December. The Citadel Bulldogs have arrived here in Davidson, NC. It's been a balmy week in central N.C., but a cloud cover and a little rain has cooled things off tonight.

The Citadel will probably be playing without senior star Demetrius Nelson. A native of Johns Island, S.C., Nelson was averaging 14.6 ppg so far this season. A sore foot has been hampering him in recent weeks.

Davidson will be without starting forward Max Paulhus Gosselin for the second straight game. Paulhus Gosselin sat out the game against UCLA with a sore back and Will Archambault started in his place. Archambault knocked down two three-pointers in Davidson's losing effort.

The Citadel is 3-4 heading into tonight's game with wins over Charleston Southern and Webber International. Their losses came against both USCs (South Carolina and Southern California).
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This one has a pretty tired feel right now. The Wildcats missed their cue to come out of the tunnel (end of the opening riff of "Welcome to the Jungle") and most of the upper deck is empty right now. Students have exams starting tomorrow so they might be a little lethargic tonight. Speaking for myself, I will try to limit the egregious spelling errors tonight, as I have been staring at a computer screen writing papers all week.
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I have been having bad luck with this wireless the last two games. Stephen Curry opened the scoring with a three on Davidson’s second possession. He was called for an offensive foul by Teddy Valentine on Davidson’s first possession. The Citadel is wasting all the time off the shot clock which makes things easier for me.
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16: 08 D 9 C 5
Davidson is attacking the paint really well so far tonight. Curry with some shots and Sander with a big layup off of an inbound. And then another off of a J-rich assist. This wireless business is killing me. I will plan on typing it out on a Word document and posting at halftime. Soooo frustrating.
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13:44 D 11 C 7
Another turnover for The Citadel on offense. The Dogs have no rhythm at all. They are significantly smaller at most positions than Davidson. Curry and Barr have given up open looks to get the ball inside. Excellent decision-making…knowing that our frontcourt has a significant advantage.
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12:21 D 18 C 9
Curry with seven after a floater from the top of the key. This Wildcat team looks really good. And they’re having a lot of fun. They were cracking smiles and singing along to the music during warm-ups. And it’s also good to see Barr and Archambault playing in the paint. That time Barr got a three look and hit it. Precision.
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11:53 D 18 C 9
Davidson is continuing the type of play that exhibited in the first fourteen minutes of the UCLA game. They are keeping the defense off-balance by making quick passes before the defense can react to the previous one. Gotta love the action going on in the paint and the unselfishness by everyone on the court.
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10:00 D 25 C 14
Boris Meno has gone over the back a few times tonight without being called for it. He is so tall, however, that he isn’t making contact but rather just elevating over the top of people. And Bryant Barr is lighting up from three. That’s three on the game. The Citadel remembers his career high 7 threes against them last year.
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9:00 D 25 C 17
Stephen Curry takes on elbow to the face and is now bleeding from his lip. Brendan McKillop comes into the game for the first time in SoCon play. Ray Beltz is out on the court wiping up the blood and Steph is at the end of the bench trying to get it to clot. It doesn’t look serious at all.
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6:48 D 27 C 21
J-Rich found Andrew Lovedale on the inside and Richards has 4 assists. Curry is heading to the locker room to get his lip fixed up. Bryant Barr is in the game along with Jason and Brendan. Barr has been smiling all game. Thomas Sander draws a foul on Neven Zeravica, and then Sander gets called for one three seconds later. It’s getting hairy in the paint. And when things get contentious, Sander always seems to be right in the middle of it. And the Citadel won’t go away.
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5:00 D 29 C 24
McKillop calls a timeout as Davidson gives up another Citadel three. The Wildcat D was pretty out of position on that possession and their offense is hurting right now with Curry still on the bench. Richards missed a couple of shots on a possession that ended with a Rossiter tip-in. Davidson’s rebounding is outstanding, but I’m still a little worried about Richards’ jump-shooting.
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4:00 D 31 C 29
And The Citadel ties it up with yet another three. Meno gives Davidson the lead back but this game is much closer than it feels. The crowd is really silent here. Really silent. Thank goodness the Wildcats are getting second chances because they are shooting 13-28 from the field with tons of good looks that are rimming out.
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2:31 D 34 C 34
Jason shuts me up by hitting a big three from the top of the key but The Citadel comes back and scores again. They are 6-8 from 3 point land. So much for winning a pushover game before exam time. This will be a tough test for Davidson not to get flustered and think about that losing streak. If The Citadel keeps this close down the stretch, Davidson might get frustrated with memories of the close games that they couldn’t pull out.
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Halftime D 39 C 39
Davidson ties the game at halftime with their patented “last play before half backdoor screen.” Davidson converted on the same play in the 2006 SoCon tourney when Jason Morton cut The Citadel’s first-half lead to 10 after the Bulldogs led by 18 in the first half on ridiculous threes. This game is eerily similar. Who will play Matt McKillop in the second half? My money is on William Archambault.
The Citadel is shooting 7-10 from three land. Davidson isn't bad on their 16-32 from the field with their eight offensive rebounds. The Wildcat perimeter defense will need to step up in the second half. They are missing MPG and especially Curry.
I just found out that Davidson's wireless router is out. All of the media are running around on their cell phones in here. I will post the rest of my live blog immediately after the game and a post-game story with quotes after that. Let's hope that Davidson is 2-0 in the SoCon at that point.
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19:00 D 42 C 41
The wireless is working and Curry is back in the lineup so a few things are looking up. J-rich hits his third three of the game. Thanks for making me look bad Richards. I'll start talking about how bad Thomas is next. Coming back out from the media room, I overheard a Davidson assistant tell an employee to get this crowd loud, because it is dead.
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18:00 D 45 C 41
Yeah Sander. This thing is working. Thomas made a transition dunk that put Davidson up three. The defensive intensity is back a little with Curry back in. McKillop certainly ripped into them at the half.
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15:40 D 55 C 49
Jason Richards hits his fourth three of the game. Some Davidson fans have been calling for someone other than Curry to step up and lead the team in points for one game. We might get to see that tonight. Archer hits a three! Davidson has now hit 9 threes on the game. And then Curry gets a basket off of a Lovedale steal. The offense is rolling.
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15:06 D 58 C 49
Another fast break for Davidson and Curry hits a three. Everything is falling now. I'm a bad observer on this game as I just now noticed that Curry is wearing #25 since his 30 jersey was covered in blood. I would say that he could go up to the bookstore and buy one of his new replica jerseys but those are all red. Too bad.
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12:45 D 66 C 51
J-Rich hits his fifth three and he now has 16 points to go along with 7 assists. Davidson is still having trouble with free throws. That will be a point of emphasis before their next game with N.C. State. Andrew Lovedale has been quiet with one rebound and two points. But his defense has been pretty quick and intimidating as flies around the paint.
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11:18 D 72 C 53
Barr for consecutive threes and Belk Arena finally wakes up. Barr has six threes so far, one short of his career high. He has 20 points on the game. Barr is now 13-16 from three against the Citadel in his career at Davidson. Davidson has outscored the Citadel by 19 in the first nine minutes of the second half.
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10:46 D 72 C 56
I have had the pleasure of sitting next to John Kilgo during this game and have gotten to hear him call a game for the first time this season. I must say that is very enjoyable. I was briefly checking Davidsoncats.com at one point and noticed that Kilgo saw that I was looking at the Kilgoisms thread. I quickly minimized the page. What a great story about the Big Cat and his moving seats on the plane.
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7:57 D 80 C 58
And Barr is looking for three number 7. Don't think he doesn't know. He's still smiling. Davidson's defense and rebounding has been fantastic. Meno with some huge offensive rebounds and finishes. He now has 9 points on the game. Curry seems a little perplexed that two people have scored more points than him so far.
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4:40 D 87 C 64
Barr comes out to a standing ovation. I've gotten a few good viewing angles on some of Jason's excellent passes. His court vision is incredible. He finds Lovedale inside who gets fouled on a layup. Kilgo thinks Jason should get an assist for that.
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2:55 D 92 C 67
The two "boxer" students who stand in the front row behind the basket now have two new additions. Starting this season, they have a ninja and a Cat in the Hat. At this point, they are the only students still standing up. Richards with another three, his sixth of the game. Curry is happy that the Citadel is still hitting shots. It means that he can stay in the game and get some more points. As I write that, he gets a steal, goes behind the back and finishes at the other end. Curry has 18 and is going to the line. You know that he wants to score 20 for the seventh time this season (I think? That's off the top of my head).
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1:50 D 96 C 70
Curry hits them both and we are a little happier in stats land. Now people will start looking at that spread (did I say that out loud?). Brendan McKillop draws his father's wrath as he fouls the Bulldogs on an out-of-bounds play with 1 second on the shot clock. And Davidson is getting into the shot-blocking game.
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Final D 96 C 74
Bond, Civi and Nelms get some playing time here at the very end. Davidson might not get the four points needed for 100 with this lineup on the floor. Nelms with a travel. Bond with a really bad shot after Nelms got outrebounded by a smaller man. These guys still need some work. But the story of this one was the second half explosion. 57 points in the second half with huge points from Barr, Richards, Meno and Curry. The defense shut down The Citadel's long-distance attack and Davidson gets a well-earned SoCon victory at home.

EDIT: Davidson officials changed the final score after the game from 96-74 to 95-74. I'm not going to go back and change the score updates within the live blog to reflect that.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Interview with Jason Richards

The Davidsonian recently sat down with Wildcat point guard Jason Richards. Richards talked about this year's expectations, the team's media attention and leading the nation in assists.

The Davidsonian: This team has had more media coverage this year than at any time in the last several decades. Do you have any particular approach to handling all of these interviews and press conferences?

Jason Richards: We actually had a media specialist come in at the beginning of the year to help us handle the pressure and give us tips on how to address them. I think it was really helpful for a lot of our guys who had never experienced that. Going in, Coach McKillop knew that we would have a lot of coverage this year. It’s been great for the program and the school as a whole.

D: Has there been any type of question that has gotten on your nerves the most this year?

JR: They always ask me why I did this or that. And it’s kind of hard to answer those questions sometimes. They also try to get me to only talk about myself and my own performance, but we all want to put it back on the team and talk about our group as a whole. That’s what Davidson is about.

D: I remember some times when they would ask you and Thomas Sander to specifically talk about Stephen Curry. Did that ever get on your nerves?

JR: No. None of us care who gets the media attention as long as we’re winning. Steph is a great player so of course he’ll get some attention. But we love him and we always give him a hard time in the locker room about it.

D: What do you think about these TV announcers who call you “deceptively quick?”

JR: Well, that’s their interpretation of it. I’m not going to tell them how to call the game. I guess it’s kind of a bonus. I’m obviously not the quickest guy out there when we’re playing these teams with really quick guards. But I really don’t care what they say because I’m only worried about how I’m playing.

D: You guys went to Coach before the year and said you wanted to take on this tough schedule. Do you feel like it’s backfired at all? Do you feel comfortable where you sit now?

JR: I mean we’re not comfortable per se because you go into every game wanting to win. But as you say, we went to Coach and we told him that if we were going to be the best, we had to play against the best. We went up against UNC, Duke and UCLA and we played them all tough. We showed the nation what we’re capable of. But we also got exposed in some places. That’s something that Coach always talks about: learning from your weaknesses. So that’s great. We’re heading into conference now and I think this experience will really help us down the road. Ultimately, it’s all about who’s playing the best basketball in March.

D: Two years ago, you guys lost some really tough out-of-conference games over the break and then you stumbled a bit when you reentered conference play and finished 10-5. How do you avoid that trap this year?

JR: Well it’s hard to say what that trap really is. We know that every game in the SoCon is going to be tough. We can’t look past anyone. The Citadel game on Thursday is a big game for us because we really want to snap this three-game losing streak. But Christmas is a time where we don’t have class, we can focus on basketball and I think we’ll come out of it ready to go.

D: A lot of people talked about how crazy the students were at the Bobcats Arena this year to the point that it was almost a home away from home. Although they are very different, how would you compare playing in Belk Arena and Bobcats Arena?

JR: It’s really different. Belk is a special place. It holds, what, 6,000? It’s small and it’s really loud in there with the fans and that really helps us. Playing at Bobcats Arena was an unbelievable experience. Obviously our fan turnout really helped us. But there were still a lot of Duke and UNC people there, so we’re looking forward to playing at Belk where it’s all Davidson red. We are really excited about some great home conference games in Belk and I think that the students are excited too.

D: I notice that after a whistle or a foul, you will crack a smile and have a nice little conversation with the referee. What kind of things are you telling him?

JR: I never really say anything in particular, but you need to talk to the refs throughout the game. You get a sense of how they’re going to ref the game. It’s fun to joke around every once in a while, but you do have to be careful about what you say.

D: What’s the craziest thing that you’ve ever heard a fan yell at you or the team?

JR: You try to block it all out but you do hear a lot of stuff on the court. We hear all the stuff about Steph: “go back to high school,” “it’s past your bedtime.” When I was a junior, I heard some stuff about my sister being better than me, since she was a McDonalds All-American. But I’d say that my favorite was when people chanted “daddy’s boy” to Matt McKillop.

D: Is there any road venue that you particularly like playing in around the Southern Conference?

JR: Well they’re all really great and exciting places to play. But I think that the College of Charleston has one of the best atmospheres. They pack that gym and the students are right on top of you. So I always get pumped about playing there.

D: You went from being a backup with little playing time during your freshman year to now being the nation’s leader in assists. You’ve been called one of the best point guards in the country. Talk about that journey.

JR: I’ve shocked myself. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that it would have turned out like this. But Kenny Grant taught me a lot. He really taught me the system and helped me through my ups and downs. As far as what I’ve accomplished this year, I have to put it all on my teammates and our coaching staff. They have confidence in me and have helped me out through the tough times. But it’s unbelievable. I’m just going keep doing what I’m doing. I’m having fun with this, and that’s really the point.

It's been a great four years to be a Wildcat

This article was published in the 10/12 edition of the Davidsonian. That issue was my last as editor. I had been writing for the Davidsonian since January of my freshman year.

I have been dreading this article ever since I was selected to be a sports editor two years ago. I knew that eventually I would have to write my last column for The Davidsonian, but somehow the actual assignment just snuck up on me like Exit 30 flying up on I-77.

In the past, sports editors’ last columns have included lists of things that Davidson needs to change, lists of people to thank or even apologies to all of the teams and people whom they didn’t cover adequately.

In that light, I will quickly say thank you to every coach and every player who has taken time out of his or her busy schedules to give us a quotation or two for an article. Thank you to all of the people at Sports Information who have given us pictures on the fly and kept us updated on late Tuesday night games. Thank you to all of the writers who have put up with me over the years. Thank you to all of the editors here at The Davidsonian, especially Suzie and Patrick. You guys have had to hear me talk about the immense importance of sports for too long now. Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who has ever enjoyed reading the articles in the sports section over the years. Your encouragement and feedback has been invaluable to me.

So here’s to the last four years of sports at Davidson. When our senior class walks across the stage in May 2008, it may be one of the most successful athletic classes in decades. The trio of seniors from the women’s soccer team finished as the all-time winningest class in the program’s history. The football team put together consecutive winning seasons for just the second time this decade. Athletes from the cross country, track and swimming teams have etched their names in the record books for years to come. If the men’s and women’s basketball teams continue their winning ways in the Southern Conference this year, both groups of seniors could smash through records both for individual and team performances.

But when all of us are long gone, and the players, coaches, uniforms and facilities morph into something that we hardly recognize, and the records are broken by Davidson athletes with more talent than we’d ever thought possible, we will still have our memories. We will still have those stories of what it was like from the fall of 2004 until the spring of 2008. Here are a few of the stories that I will always remember from my time here.

During my four years here, I have never won an intramural game. During my freshman year, our flickerball team was the only one to go winless. Later that year, I broke my ankle in just the second game of the intramural volleyball season. The team went on to win every game without me. During my sophomore and junior years, I coached women’s flickerball teams that struggled when I showed up to coach (once again, they were a collective 4-0 when I couldn’t make it).

Last winter, my B-league intramural basketball team did not win when I showed to play. In the first round of the playoffs, we trailed 20-1 at halftime, but went on a 20-2 run while I sat on the sideline. I came back into the game in the final minute, and we missed the game-winning shot. The only thing that I could barely claim as victory came this year in open-league flickerball when our opponent didn’t have enough people to field a team.

In the last four years, I have traveled with the men’s basketball team around the eastern seaboard. I have watched the team win close games, lose close games and evolve into the high-powered program that we all know and love today.

However, the best part about these trips wasn’t just the games; it was the experience and the stories. After Davidson lost in the semifinals of the Southern Conference tournament in 2005, I joined six random Davidson students in a barbeque spot in downtown Chattanooga and drowned my sorrow with soda. (We were all underage at the time.)

The next year, I drove Jackie Pitzer and Joseph B. Adams through the farms of Ohio en route to the site of Davidson’s NCAA tournament game. I still don’t really know how Davidson’s mail lady, the head of the College Republicans and the sports editor all ended up in the same car.

Immediately after crossing the state’s border, a cop appeared and flagged us down for speeding. Right when it seemed that we would get off with a warning, I mentioned that we were going to cheer for Davidson in the NCAA tournament. He looked up and tersely said, “Ohio State is going to kill you guys. Here’s a ticket.”

I have watched Davidson football tie an NCAA record with three safeties in a game. I have watched the men’s soccer team force a tie with under five seconds remaining in a game. I have watched the women’s soccer team knock off the SEC in one weekend. I have watched the women’s basketball team advance to the postseason for the first time ever, and I’ve seen more game-winning shots from the men’s basketball team than I can count on my hands. I have sat next to Michael Wilbon at the NCAA Tournament and told him where Davidson is. I have asked Tyler Hansbrough whether Davidson students had anything to do with him not scoring a field goal in the second half of the Nov. 14 game.

Most importantly, I have been able to spend the last four years with some great friends getting to do what I love.

Thank you.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Still having fun?

Last week, Michael Kruse asked if we were still having fun.

Yesterday, I watched Davidson take on college basketball's most storied program, and I had seen the Wildcats answer some very important questions. In the first half, they moved the ball, shot it well, found inside looks and attacked loose balls. But then something happened...they started turning it over, making bad fouls in transition and taking bad shots. I thought we had answered our questions. But ultimately, it was just another "coulda" loss to a Top 10 on national television.

Are we still having fun?

The other day, Stephen Curry was walking around campus with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times. They walked into the Lula Bell Houston Laundry where Steph explained how the whole process worked. To many outsiders, Davidson's free laundry services seems like just another weird quirk to add to this already quirky school. As Steph demonstrated where he would usually drop off his dirty clothes, Carol Belk walked up to him and gave him a big hug and a word of encouragement. The reporter quickly noted this and started spinning a story in her head for how Curry is loved and embraced in such a small community. What this, and so many other stories, don't mention is that all of us here at Davidson receive our own embrace. It's not just Stephen Curry that people know. Everyone knows everyone, and we all support each other through that. Davidson is a really special community with special people to keep it that way.

Are we still having fun?

As Davidson jumped out to its 18 point lead yesterday over UCLA, I received numerous calls on my cell phone from rabid Davidson fans watching around the country. As I periodically check my stats for this blog and see the numbers of Google searches that merely say "davidson basketball," I continue to be amazed at the growing popularity of this team. As my Dad can no longer wear his Davidson shirt around Charleston without having some random stranger ask him something about our basketball team, I know that we have something special. As national reporters continue to call for interviews with a team that is now 3-5, I know that Davidson's name has become associated with the big time.

Are we still having fun?

Not long ago, I read a post on Davidson's message board that said that there is no difference between this year and any other year of Davidson basketball. I completely disagree. From one standpoint, I could argue that this year is better because of the attendance numbers, media attention, marketing clout, etc.

But I would also argue that this year is unlike any other year in Davidson basketball because we're on the verge of replacing fun with a drive for professional success. Davidson fans seem to need that NCAA tournament victory like their lives depended on it. Back in high school, I felt like my life depended on my high school football team winning the first round of the playoffs my senior year. I never played in a game where I had less fun. And of course, we were upset on a last second TD.

There was a time in the past when Davidson players stopped having fun. They were 10-5 in the Southern Conference and did not look like a team with seven seniors. But then Coach McKillop wobbled into practice completely wrapped up in duct tape. "You aren't playing loose!" he yelled as one of his assistants unwrapped one layer. "You are playing not to lose!" he screamed as they took off another layer. "You aren't having any fun!" he exclaimed as he ripped through the final shreds of tape, grabbed a ball and nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key. That year, Davidson went on to sweep the tourney and win the automatic bid.

Are we still having fun?

Over the course of the next two days, I have to write my last ever article for the Davidsonian. I am going to take the time to recount how much fun I have had in the last four years. Fun in winning, fun in losing. Fun in being a part of something exciting, competitive, but ultimately noble. Davidson athletics are noble, and that is a part of what makes them fun.

Are you still having fun? I hope so...because I am.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Davidson's Stephen Curry written up in LA Times

The Davidson Wildcats will be welcomed to the California coast Saturday morning with yet another mention in a national news source. The LA Times ran a feature on Stephen Curry today. The article played up Davidson's small size where a lady at the laundry (did we mention that Davidson has free laundry?? get over it already, we pay for it in the tuition) knew Steph to come give him a hug and wish him luck in California. The story then goes on to play up the old line about how many ACC schools missed out on Steph, only for the prolific scorer to end up feeling at home in little Davidson. The image of Davidson continues to be circulated around the country this year...but the Wildcats need to reaffirm their hype by playing the type of basketball that made them so successful last season.

Saturday's game against UCLA will be Davidson's third contest against a Top 10 squad this season, and it will come as a part of a huge festival, celebrating the life of John Wooden and UCLA basketball as a whole. On Friday night, Davidson participated in a banquet where all of the participating schools shared highlights, gave brief speeches and displayed team paraphernalia. In many ways, the schedule is eerily similar to the type of routine that Davidson would have in an NCAA Tournament game. This will be yet another step towards gaining the confidence to compete and win on that Broadway stage. Except that this one has a little more of a Hollywood feel to it.

Photo by Brian Westerholt

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Davidson 68 Charlotte 75

I apologize for not getting the live blog up tonight. My wireless internet did not work in Halton Arena for some reason. I did take notes live as the action happened and am posting them here. Sorry again.

17:59 D 2 UNCC 3
This is horribly bad basketball right now. Charlotte’s bad field goal shooting is rearing its ugly head. They’ve missed some free throws badly as well. Unfortunately it seems like its contagious. Goldwire opens the scoring with a three pointer. We all remember what he did two years ago.

15:38 D 4 UNCC 9
Bobby Lutz took this whole green out thing a little too far. He’s wearing a green coat and looks like a leprechaun. The 49ers don’t have much of an offensive rhythm outside but they do like jacking threes. That’s three now. Stephen looks a little flustered offensively. This is a very hostile crowd. Much more so than at Bobcats. There were two ways that this thing could open for Davidson. This is the bad way. Jason Richards has all Wildcat points on two drives to the paint.
49er sign of the night (it looks like it’s the only sign): Communists wear red.

13:55 D 10 UNCC 11
Davidson’s shooting looks really bad tonight, and I have to wonder if this ball isn’t a little overinflated. It has taken some odd bounces and I have never seen a ball jump around the rim like it has tonight. But an overinflated ball didn’t play bad defense on that last possession as Davidson gave up a wide open dunk. Curry hits a three and the refs give Davidson a few calls and these Charlotte fans are a little upset. They aren’t very creative.

11:31 D 17 UNCC 12
Thomas Sander is heading back to the Davidson locker room. Didn’t see him get hurt at any point but Boris and Andrew are doing just fine (Lovedale with a big block last possession). The 49ers are not challenging on rebounds at all. It seems like Davidson has calmed down a little and are getting into their rhythm. Stephen Curry to the line after the media timeout. Davidson is winning the battle for loose balls but are playing in control at the same time. Bryant Barr gets some more time at the spot after Archambault picked up two fouls.

9:14 D 23 UNCC 19
Stephen Curry missed his first of two free throws and a Charlotte player stepped into him to box him out (thinking it was 1-and-1). No violation was called and McKillop is pissed. Richards gets some rest and Davidson turns it over. Lovedale with another big block. Sander is back in the game which is a good sign for Davidson after the locker room trip. MPG hits his first three for the year on an assist from Sander. Curry turns the ball over bringing it up and Richards is back in. Steph is definitely better at the 2.

7:57 D 23 UNCC 21
Wilderness has been a non-factor offensively (as I type he makes a nice layup, way to jinx it, Will). Davidson’s in the bonus now on a touch foul at the perimeter. Sander lost another opportunity for a layup or foul shots by waiting too long on the inside. He got called for a travel. And the “gold-dusting” dancers take the floor and are not bad on the eyes at all.

6:28 D 28 UNCC 24
I was worried that Davidson wouldn’t bring too much of a crowd here tonight. Everyone with whom I spoke was studying for something or other. But the Davidson sections are pretty filled up. They are getting drowned out, but every seat is filled. A loose ball play on the sidelines and Coach McKillop is playing defense again. Unfortunately he got called for a loose ball foul. Davidson has slowed up on offense as Curry misses another jumper. They aren’t getting the inside looks that they did against Duke (I don’t believe I just wrote that). Curry for three!

3:48 D 31 UNCC 27
Curry picks up his first foul 15 minutes in. I can deal with that. And I get another co-assist with Hill Overton on a loose ball to the sidelines. Davidson’s shot selection is pretty poor. Steph got it near the sideline, pumped, backed up even further and launched a bomb that clanged off. We can do better than that. Another set of threes, Sander hits one and Barr misses another. They aren’t getting much field goal possession either. Richards picks up a silly charge foul trying to create space on the perimeter and draws jeers from the crowd as he flashes a smile walking back down the court.

1:52 D 33 UNCC 29
Leemire Goldwire hits an outside shot that was originally called a three. Then they change it to a two. Fans are upset. Bad possession for Davidson that time as Charlotte extends the defense…Curry breaks it to an open Max who tried to force the ball inside. But the Wildcats got back on defense and made a huge play on a dunk, forcing the ball out of the rim.

1:00 D 34 UNCC 35
Richards has been on the bench more than normal this game. I’ve been impressed with our ability to elevate. Meno has been jumping out of the building to get offensive rebounds and tips to extend possessions. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough weight to battle inside straight up. Curry has 12 right now but he has not been driving or getting shots off close to the basket. With this pressure defense, I think that would be a better solution than getting Boris the ball 10 feet from the hoop. Goldwire with a huge three to give Charlotte the lead.

Halftime D 36 UNCC 35
Curry fed a wide-open Rossiter on Davidson’s last possession to give the Wildcats a lead going into halftime. That was really important after Goldwire’s big three. Halftime stats show Davidson winning the rebounding edge 27-16, including 9 offensive. Meno already has 8. Curry leads all Davidson scorers with 12, while Goldwire has 13. Davidson is shooting 12-31 from the field while Charlotte is 12-30, but the big difference is in 3-point attempts. Davidson is 5-19 (Curry 3-8) against Charlotte’s 6-12. The Wildcats also have 9 turnovers against Charlotte’s 5…I was not expecting that stat heading into today. Another worthy stat comes in the minutes category…Richards with 14 while Curry has 20 (Goldwire has 19). Richards had two fouls and a couple of bad turnovers. The Wildcats will need him leading the attack in order to get this offensive thing going again. Curry just seems frustrated when he’s making the initial passes and bringing the ball up the court.

16:59 D 40 UNCC 42
Max is coming out after a really bad start. Missed shot, turnover and a foul in three possessions. And Charlotte is on a mini-run. There is a lid on the basket in front of us. Nothing is going in. Archer in and makes a great decision to give up a three and shoots the ball inside to Boris who scores. And Boris gets a dunk! Wow, that looked more difficult than ones that he’s missed (I hear a “he looks goofy when he runs” from behind me).

15:55 D 40 UNCC 44
Davidson looks like they don’t know where their offense is going to come from right now. Archer was scared to shoot that time and drove only to pick up a charge. Charlotte, on the other hand, seems completely comfortable with their game plan and the scoreboard reflects it. I really thought that Charlotte’s poor field goal shooting and Davidson’s rebounding advantage (which has been very significant so far) would keep the Wildcats in the lead. Davidson has every reason to be leading right now (decent calls from the refs, second chance opportunities) but they can’t get the ball to go in the basket.

14:06 D 40 UNCC 45
Jason Richards picks up his third foul on a charge. The last possession he was called for a walk. This offense is completely out of sync right now. The team is bizarrely inconsistent, they can make runs at UNC and Duke but they can’t figure out how to attack Western Michigan and now Charlotte. Barr has playing a lot of time at the three. That is really bad that Max and Will are not contributing much at all.

11:50 D 43 UNCC 47
Max back in to guard the shorter Dijuan Harris while Richards guards Wilderness. Steph hits a runner in the lane that came all the way out and fell back in. Steve gets called for a questionable moving pick on the perimeter and we’re at the media timeout. I wont say that I don’t think Davidson is capable of coming back in this one, but they need to find a rhythm on offense. The 49ers have been picking up points here and there and Goldwire isn’t far from another three-point tear. Davidson can’t let them get away in this hostile environment.

8:39 D 43 UNCC 47
Both teams are in the bonus as Harris picks up his fourth foul away from the ball. But Sander misses the free throw. I haven’t seen a Davidson team struggle with free throws this much in my years here at the school. Steph made a nice back cut but was met at the rim and his shot was way off. Jason airballs a three and Steph misses one next time down. Jason has been very very cold from outside going all the way back to the Night with the Cats event where he got blown out in the three-point contest. Davidson has only scored seven points this half. This is a really ugly game. I have to wonder if Charlotte’s play isn’t a bit contagious.

7:38 D 51 UNCC 49
And Archambault fouls out. What a rough game for him. Five fouls, no points. Davidson won’t be able to fully reach its potential until they get his situation figured out. Curry with two huge threes and he’s preening a little bit. The red fans upper in the dark reaches of this place are going nuts. Curry has 20 points. No two-point shots. It really doesn’t take much to take momentum away from a team that scores 14 points in the opening 13 minutes of the half. That’s why Charlotte has had so much trouble with teams like Monmouth this season. One or two big shots and that collective momentum is shot.

5:10 D 56 UNCC 54
Coley III knocks down a huge dunk and Boris gets called for an offensive foul. Then J-Rich gets a steal and a finish. This game has picked up offensively. Lots of swings of mo. Should be interesting in the final few minutes because I don’t either team will pull away.

3:39 D 58 UNCC 58
Sander misses the second of two free throws and Davidson keeps missing out on opportunities. The 49ers are also putting more pressure on the glass as they have challenged for several long rebounds off of missed three-pointers from Charlotte. If this were Duke or even Western Michigan, Davidson could easily be down by double digits, but all of Charlotte’s open shots are rimming out. I think that free throws might end up deciding this one. In the past, that would be encouraging, but I’m beginning to wonder whether that’s the case this year.

2:20 D 60 UNCC 67
Two huge threes by Goldwire and then an acrobatic finish and-1 for Coley and this thing is quickly running away from Davidson. That’s nine Niner points on three possessions. Davidson doesn’t have that much time.

1:00 D 65 UNCC 70
Goldwire hits another three-pointer and MPG answers on the other end with his second three of the game. But Davidson will need to get a defensive stop or two to come back to win this one. Somehow, I feel like the intangibles of this place might keep Charlotte up for the rest of the way. Davidson is having a rough week.

:55 D 68 UNCC 70
Curry with a huge three-pointer. And this will be the test…can Davidson come back to win at the end? Can they make the shots that Ellington and Paulus hit in weeks past? This is a huge defensive possession. Charlotte’s Mack took an ill-advised three-pointer last time…another one here would help.

:32 D 68 UNCC 73
Leemire Goldwire played the role. And Davidson gets put down by another unconscious type of shot in the final minute. The Wildcats need some huge plays to pull this one out. This really sucks to see all of these teams play so well in the final minute.

Final D 68 UNCC 75
J-Rich misses a three and the Davidson bigs couldn’t put it home. No one has said it so far b/c they thought that close games against UNC and Duke would be good anyway, but I think that this team is a bit broken down now. They don’t know how to win…even against teams that they can beat. I won’t be writing it up later tonight so this will have to suffice. Davidson now will stand on the court to watch UNCC take back the brain on a stick. I apologize for the technical difficulty and not being able to publish this live. It’s going to be a long trip to California on Friday.

'Cats fell short, but answered important questions

Published in The Davidsonian on Dec. 5, 2007. Photos by Evan Mintz.

Now it is December, and the Wildcats are 3-3. Davidson has seemingly been on a rollercoaster of momentum beginning with the start of the second half against North Carolina, dipping into despair after losing at Western Michigan, rising up to new heights with a convincing road conference victory at Appalachian State and then coming to rest somewhere in the middle with a frustratingly close loss to Duke. The Wildcats have been ranked in the nation’s top 25, dropped out of the vote-getting all-together and then climbed back into the “also receiving votes” category this past week.

Going into the season, Davidson fans had high expectations for success. The media has projected such things as a Wildcat appearance in the Sweet Sixteen, and Stephen Curry ’10 has been mentioned in most experts’ list as one of the best shooting guards in the country.

Heading into the second half of the team’s out-of-conference slate, this team still faces several unanswered questions. I, however, want to pause and point out exactly what we have learned so far in this topsy-turvy start to the season.

We all knew that Curry was a great talent, but after seeing him against both Duke and North Carolina, I was convinced that he was the best player on the court both times. Curry was the game’s leading scorer against North Carolina (24), even though he shot a horrendous 2-12 from three-point land. Against Duke, Curry was hampered by foul trouble on several dubious charging penalties, yet the sophomore still managed to score 20 points and keep Davidson within striking distance. Curry even showed his potential for the torrential destruction that could be unleashed on the Southern Conference when he scored 38 points against Appalachian State. The only thing stopping him in that game was fatigue. Averaging 25 points a game, Curry ranks sixth nationally.

Although Curry has been unstoppable against opposing defenses, he has not been able to lead Davidson above .500 through these first six games. We have seen that most of the burden of leadership actually falls on the shoulders of stud point guard Jason Richards ’08. While no one player or play can ever be totally blamed for any one team loss, one could easily look to Richards’ poor first half (0-5 FT shooting) against Duke or his uncharacteristic six turnovers against North Carolina to see that his play could have been the tipping point in the ’Cats’ favor. Heck, Curry scored 38 points against Appalachian State, and the Wildcats still only won by 11 (Richards went 1-9 from the field).

Although Richards has displayed a few lapses in consistency so far, his hand in leading the Wildcats can be seen from every angle. Richards’ 12-point, five-assist effort in the second half against Duke kept the Wildcats close while Curry rode the bench with foul trouble. Richards’ assist numbers (9.0 per game) are tops in the country by a large margin and his average of 33.5 minutes per game shows how indispensable he is.

The Wildcat frontcourt is vastly underrated. While Curry and Richards get all the press in the national media, the Wildcat frontcourt of Boris Meno ’08, Thomas Sander ’08, Andrew Lovedale ’09 and Steve Rossiter ’10 have played extremely well thus far. Although fans like to remember a missed dunk here or there, they often forget the innumerable displays of athleticism that this group has displayed against some of the nation’s top talents.

Last year against Maryland, this group was outscored 36-15 and outrebounded 30-19. The Wildcats had no answer for the Terps’ interior attack and the final result showed the discrepancy. However, against North Carolina this season, this group held Preseason Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough without a field goal for the entire second half. They outscored Duke’s frontcourt 38-19 and they helped give Davidson the edge on the offensive glass. In Southern Conference play, they held Appalachian State’s Jeremy Clayton and Donte Minter to a combined 11 points and made them turn the ball over seven times. Although they are mostly undersized in comparison to many BCS teams, this group has shown that they can battle with the best and come out on top.


Finally, we have learned how far the seriousness of this program has come. There once was a day when Davidson reveled in the opportunity to play on television and the TV game was always circled on the calendar. This year, the Wildcats play 15 of their 29 regular season games on TV, with a chance that regional networks might pick up a few more games during the season. There was also a time when Davidson fans came home and celebrated losses to Duke and North Carolina when Davidson was within a possession or two in the final minute. Now fans expect Davidson to beat ACC teams and are unwilling to accept anything less than a victory…as a victory. However, the expectations of fans extend beyond message boards and water-cooler talk. Over 3,000 fans showed up at Belk Arena on holiday break to see the Wildcats wallop N.C. Central. Bobcats Arena was filled to its capacity as North Carolina and Duke fans witnessed a proverbial sea of red nearly overcome the venue with Wildcat cheering.

We have learned a lot about this team and this program in these first few weeks of basketball. The Wildcat players and fans have a remarkable seriousness of purpose this season, and that has shown through against the traditional powers on a national stage. The Wildcats still have many questions to answer in this next stretch of schedule, but they have fulfilled many expectations so far.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Davidson Show: Will Bryan's Sports

This is the sports segment from this week's Davidson Show (produced by Austin Bell). I narrated the Sports segment as you can see. These highlights were filmed by Austin Bell.