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Sunday, June 27, 2004

Six Degrees of Separation (Ivy League Style, with a Nod to the Philadelphia Big 5)

SI published a list of who it believes are the 101 most influential minorities in sports. Among the 101 anointed ones were two members of the Princeton Class of 1981, Steve Mills, who is President and Chief Operating Officer of Madison Square Garden Sports (coming in at #16) and Terdema Ussery, President and CEO of the Dallas Mavericks (coming in at #36).

Mills was an all-Ivy player (a shooting guard) who helped lead Princeton to a share of the Ivy title his senior year and then helped the Tigers engineer a dominating playoff victory against archrival Penn that enabled the Tigers to advance to the first round of the NCAA tournament -- and a date with a BYU team led by Danny Ainge. Some who watched the Ivies closely back in 1981 thought that Mills should have been named the Ivies' player of the year. Among Steve Mills' teammates at Princeton were PG Dave Blatt, assistant coach for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the very dominant team in the Israeli League that won the European championship this past year, and Craig Robinson, who would go on to win two Ivy Player-of-the-Year awards, who currently is an assistant at Northwestern under former Princeton mentor Bill Carmody, and whose brother-in-law, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama, is the odds-on favorite to take the U.S. Senate seat currently held by the retiring Peter Fitzgerald. Look for Craig Robinson to be the head coach of a Division I program within the next few years.

Terdema Ussery did not play a sport at Princeton. He just got elected to his alma mater's board of trustees.

Coming in at #55 is former Penn hoopster Craig Littlepage, who played on those great Penn teams in the early 1970's under Dick Harter (ironically now an asst. for the Philadelphia 76ers under Jim O'Brien, who is former St. Joe's coach and Portland Trail Blazers' head coach Jack Ramsay's son-in-law), and who is currently the AD at UVA (Littlepage had served as an assistant basketball coach and, later, an assistant AD under Terry Holland, was the prime recruiter of Ralph Sampson, and also served as head hoops coach at his alma mater and Rutgers, and he played at Penn alongside former NBA player Corky Calhoun, current NBA assistant Dave Wohl and current Penn AD Steve Bilsky, among others). There may not be a nicer person in all of intercollegiate athletics than Craig Littlepage. Coming in at #92 was the St. Joe's star at the time Littlepage played at Penn, Mike Bantom, who is the NBA's Sr. VP for Player Development. Bantom was a member of the ill-fated 1972 U.S. Olympic Basketball team.

Overall, it's a fascinating list, and SportsProf guesses there are more Ivy connections than meets his eye.

Small world? You bet. Big-time people, absolutely. They may not herald from the "major" conferences, but, then again, it all depends on how you define "major", doesn't it? They seem "major" enough to SportsProf.


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