Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Big Five & The NBA All Star Game

When Jameer Nelson was named an NBA All Star this year, he became just the second former Big Five star to become one since Guy Rodgers in 1967; Temple’s Eddie Jones made teams in 1997, ’98, and 2000. Which raises a question—all the great Big Five players and nationally ranked teams since 1967 and just two NBA All Stars?

That’s just the start of the surprises surrounding former Big Five stars and the NBA’s midseason showcase game. You could win bets all year long with a few of the questions surrounding the Big Five and the All Star game.

A few examples: How many Big Five players went on to become NBA All Stars? (Here's a clue: fewer than 10.) Or, who were the only two former Big Five players to make more than five NBA All Star teams? (That question is an all-time stumper.) How about, which Big Five school has the most? Which has none? And how many of the former Big Five players to make the NBA All Star team could you name?

One thing is clear; the glory years of Philly hoops and the NBA All Star game were the 1950s and ‘60s. At least one former Big Fiver made an NBA All Star game every year from 1951 to 1967, except for 1965. In the 42 years since, the game has featured a Big Fiver just four times.

So who were the seven Big Fivers—that’s right, just seven—to be named NBA All Stars? With thanks to, they were:

La Salle:
Larry Foust: ‘51, ‘52, ‘53, ‘54, ‘55, ‘56, ‘58, ‘59
Jack George: ‘56, ‘57
Tom Gola: ‘60, ‘61, ‘62, ‘63, ‘64

Guy Rodgers: ‘63, ‘64, ‘66, ‘67
Eddie Jones: ‘97, ‘98, 2000

St. Joseph’s: Jameer Nelson: 2009

Villanova: Paul Arizin: ‘51, ‘52, ‘55, ‘56, ‘57, ‘58, ‘59, ‘60, ‘61, ‘62

Penn: None

Anyone could have guessed Arizin was one of the two former Big Fivers with more than five NBA All Star appearances. After all, he was named one of the NBA’s all-time top 50 players. But La Salle’s Larry Foust? Unless you were born in the 1940s or earlier, it’s highly unlikely you’ve ever even heard of one of the Big Five’s most successful NBA stars.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All-Time Phillies Team

In honor of the start of the defending World Series champion Philllies season (what a beautiful phrase!), a loyal reader with the same initials as mine submitted his selection for the best 25-man Phillies team of all time. (Here's a link to the all-time best Phillies in the World Series.) Take a look at Joe R.'s picks—and send along your own thoughts. — John

1B: Ryan Howard
2B: Chase Utley
SS: Jimmy Rollins
3B: Mike Schmidt
LF: Del Ennis
CF: Richie Ashburn
RF: Chuck Klein
C: Bob Boone
Reserves: Infielders (Pete Rose, Granny Hamner), Outfielders (Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox, Johnny Callison) Catcher (Darren Daulton).
Pitchers: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Robin Roberts, Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, Curt Schilling, Cole Hamels, Ron Reed, Gene Garber, Tug McGraw, Jim Konstanty, Brad Lidge

Those Four Little Words

Hey all,
It's time for those four magic words when your team is the defending world champion: pitchers and catchers report! For the world champion Phillies, that day is Saturday. Though it's not my official weekly prediction, I'll say that the Philllies do indeed have pitchers and catchers who report.....

Anyone else have crazy-solid predictions? — John

My equally esoteric prediction is that, now he has a huge contract, Ryan Howard has his worst year at the plate in 2009. — Kurt

[Written while Gray watches "Survivor" in the background]

I predict there will be lying, back-stabbing, and petty, selfish behavior on "Survivor" this season. I also predict, I won't be watching it.

I predict another loss to an unranked team and Wake will no longer be in the top 25.

I predict switching managers halfway through the season isn't going to take Chelsea to the top of the Premier League. (The guy's also the Russian national team coach!)

I predict that Jim will smirk smuggly and Michael will say something wildly inappropriate. (Sorry, Gray just switched over to "The Office.") — Phil

Phil, I like your pick better than last week's NFL Pro Bowl pick. I figured for sure you were going with the over/under on the NBA All-Star game (what's that number, 391?).

I just took Daniel to his first Big Five game (I won't get into the details of who won the St. Joe's-Temple game and whether I played on 8th-grade teams that scored more points in the first half than a certain losing team: 21), so I'll go with another Big Five match-up for my pick. St. Joe's visits La Salle Saturday and recovers a sliver of pride with a double-digit win over the Explorers.

And I'll guess the All Star game has 8 players who score at least St. Joe's first-half point total. — John

Monday, February 9, 2009

Philly's Best NCAA Tourney Hope

Two seemingly inconsequential acts stood out in Villanova’s 94-91 Big East conference win over Providence last Thursday. The first occurred at halftime, just after a Friar slipped past a flat-footed Nova defender, grabbed the rebound of a desperation three-point heave, and scored a buzzer-beating layup.

Nova led, 49-34, but that didn’t stop one Nova player from giving his lazy teammate a quick, disapproving basketball-shove to the chest (it happened quickly and the cameras didn’t linger long enough to identify the two).

Then, early in the second half, Scottie Reynolds was sprinting upcourt on a secondary break when he slowed down to milk the clock, a beat before coach Jay Wright signaled him to do the same thing. What do the two plays reveal? These players are thinking for themselves on the court, playing aggressive but smart basketball, and not overly reliant on their coach.

Those are the teams that make noise come NCAA tourney time. And, if Nova’s recent tourney history is indicative, that noise will come late in the tourney.

Villanova’s current run of four straight tourneys is the school’s longest since the Wildcats went to seven tourneys between 1980-86, a run that included the ’85 title. And in three of the last four, Nova lost to the eventual national champion: Kansas in the Sweet 16 last year, Florida in the 2006 Elite Eight, and North Carolina in the 2005 Sweet 16.

History aside, this team is built for tourney success now. At 19-4, 7-3 in the Big East, Nova wins with an aggressive defense and a varied inside-outside offense led by hard-to-match-up 6-9 forward Dante Cunningham, and equally tough-to-stop junior guard Scottie Reynolds, both of whom have lit up opponents for 30-plus points. They have a solid seven- to eight-man rotation full of scorers with double-digit potential.

Three of their four losses have come to teams currently in the top 10 (UConn, Louisville, and Marquette). The Wildcats won’t beat themselves and they stay close with good teams: their four losses are by an average of less than six points.

Tuesday’s game against visiting No. 10 Marquette is the toughest test remaining for No. 13 Nova, which has won 25 straight at the Pavilion. If the Wildcats win, they’d be favored in all of their remaining games and could finish the regular season with 13 straight wins and a likely 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA tourney.

Put it all together—smart players, aggressive defense, inside-outside scoring, a deep rotation, recent tourney success, and a possible high tourney seed—and you’re looking at a Final Four contender.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Dry Season

This is the annual time of “The Great Blackout”—the one month of the year when I can’t claim the TV at any moment because “The Game” is on. No Phillies, no Eagles, no wish for Sixers or Flyers, no undefeated regular season for the Hawks. And no desire to learn about throw-ins and yellow cards, either—sorry, Phil. I’m going to have to do some digging for my picks this week. Anyone want to take a shot at some games—if you can find something worth pickin’? — John

I’ll stay away from picking Wake hoops games, thank you very much. The latest slump (1 win in last 4 games) has my head spinning. Chelsea hasn’t been all that strong either.

And since the Steelers have won everything there is to win in the NFL, I can’t go there either.

Hmmm....what’s left?....I got it! I’ll take the over (64.5) in the Pro Bowl. But I'll leave it to you, John, to find out if I'm right or not. — Phil

I wondered how desperate might this week’s picks be? Hockey? Even worse, Quebec Nordiques hockey? But no, oh no, leave it to Phil to go to a new low...... — John

You shouldn’t have to dig too far, as one of the surprise teams this year in Men’s College Hoops visits your area.

Syracuse plays Villanova at the bailed-out-to-the-tune-of-$25B-Wachovia Center this Saturday. Despite just eking by Providence in its last game, VU is the hotter team coming into the game. Add to that that VU “takes care of business” at home, and SU is 3-3 on the road, and you end up with a win for the Wildcats, 78-68. — Kurt

I’m going with college hoops, too, a tough matchup that I’ll probably watch: Gonzaga-Memphis Saturday night. I like Gonzaga to go far in the NCAA tourney, so I see this as a good out-of-league test for the Zags. I’ll take Gonzaga in a shootout, 81-74.

Saturday night at 8:00 on Fox is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Budweiser Shootout. I am not sure but I believe this is a car race. I will go with the red car. John, let me know if I am correct. — Dave

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Best of La Salle Hoops

La Salle hoops is extreme to the extreme. Their top five players rank with the top five at any program in the country. Think about that: any other college hoops team nationally. But when those five weren’t around, La Salle teams were barely above mid-major quality.

The best of La Salle’s three national players of the year—only Duke has more—was the incomparable Tom Gola. No player at any other Philadelphia school has stamped his name on a program like Gola. He played on four of the six best teams in school history—and coached another one of the top six—and led the Explorers to an NCAA title, an NIT title, and a second NCAA championship game.

The first team:
1. Tom Gola (1951-55)
A three-time consensus All-American and the ’54 college player of the year, Gola led La Salle to the NIT title in 1952, the ’54 NCAA championship, and a repeat NCAA title game appearance in 1955, a loss to Bill Russell’s San Francisco team. Gola (2,462 points) is the NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder (2,201), but, amazingly, went on to play guard in the NBA, where the 6-6 Hall of Famer was a five-time NBA All Star.

2. Lionel Simmons (1986-90)
Simmons is the third all-time leading scorer in NCAA history (3,217, behind only Pete Maravich and Freeman Williams) and was the ’90 NCAA player of the year. A 6-6 forward, Simmons averaged 24.6 ppg. for his career and led the Explorers to the most wins in school history, a 30-2 record in 1990. Only one player in NCAA history has more points and rebounds combined than Simmons (4,646)—Gola with 4,663.

3. Ken Durrett (1968-71)
In just three seasons, Durrett finished his career as the school’s second all-time leading scorer (behind Gola, with 1,679 points). The 6-7 forward averaged 23.7 ppg. in his career and 27.0 ppg as a senior, when he was a second-team All-American. He was the fourth overall pick in the 1971 NBA draft.

4. Michael Brooks (1976-80)
The second leading scorer in La Salle history (2,628) and 21st all-time in NCAA history, Brooks was the 1980 college player of the year when he averaged 24.1 points, 11.5 rebounds. For his career, the 6-7 forward averaged 23.1 ppg. and 12.8 rpg. and was the ninth overall pick in the 1980 NBA draft.

5. Larry Foust (1946-50)
Foust helped start a 10-year run of success at La Salle as the 6-9 center guided the Explorers to four straight 20-win seasons. He finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (1,464 points) and went on to become the fifth overall pick in the 1950 NBA draft and an eight-time NBA All Star.

The second team:
Larry Cannon (1966-69)
Joe Bryant (1973-75)
Jack George (1950-53)
Ralph Lewis (1981-85)
Alonzo Lewis (1954-57)

The best team: 1953-54
The NCAA champs were led by Gola, the only player to be named NCAA and NIT MVP in his career, according to Mike Douchant’s Encyclopedia of College Basketball (Gola shared the ’52 NIT MVP with Norm Grekin). Gola averaged 23.0 ppg., 21.7 rpg. (third nationally) during the 26-4 championship season. Other top players included Charlie Singley, Frank Blatcher, Frank O’Hara, Fran O’Malley, Bob Maples, and Charles Greenberg.

Other top teams:
1954-55: The Explorers went 26-5 and reached the NCAA title game during Gola’s senior season. They lost, 77-63, to San Francisco, led by Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.
1951-52: The Explorers won the ’52 NIT title behind freshman Gola, and juniors Grekin, and Fred Iehle. The team went 25-7.
1989-90: Lionel Simmons’ senior year team went 30-2 and featured Doug Overton, Randy Woods, Jack Hurd, and sixth man Bobby Johnson.
1968-69: Larry Cannon’s 23-1 team, coached by Gola, was ineligible for the NCAA tourney, but still ripped through its regular-season schedule, losing only to John Roche’s South Carolina.
1952-53: The Explorers went 25-3 when Grekin and Iehle were seniors and Gola was a sophomore.