(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Next Great One?

You've already met Butler's Brad Stevens. The question is whether he remains in Indianapolis or takes his coaching talents to a bigger conference with a bigger stage.

Then again, the Big East is supposed to be the biggest stage, and teams from that conference for the most part disappointed in the post-season (save UConn and Marquette). So, perhaps a stage is what you make of it, and if you make it big, it's big.

In the late 1940's, after a deal with Minnesota didn't work, John Wooden left the Midwest for a UCLA team that played in an old gym that Wooden and his assistants had to sweep and share with other teams. Wooden was in Westwood for 15 seasons before he won a national championship. Fans, devotees and disciples of one-time Cal coach Pete Newell would argue that if the (legendary in his own right) Newell hadn't retired young because all the cups of coffee and cigarettes took their toll and his doctor advised him to quit, perhaps Wooden's legacy wouldn't be as vast and great. Those folks have empirical evidence to support them -- Newell's Cal teams were preeminent in the early 1960's (winning 1 NCAA title and getting to the Final Four at least 1 other team), and from 1960-1964 Cal was 8-0 against UCLA. Of course, that argument comes from the "woulda, shoulda, coulda" school, and Wooden's legacy is almost without peer.

In the early 1980's, when to this day I don't know why Bill Foster left Duke (which he took to the title game against Joe Hall's Kentucky team in 1980) for Northwestern of all places, the Blue Devils were looking for a head coach. I'm sure that they thought of all sorts of established names from big-time programs, but the Duke A.D. took the advice of one of the two or three top coaches in the game at the time, Bob Knight, and hired a relatively young coach from Army with a career record of 1-game over .500, Mike Krzyzewski, and the rest is history.

Hiring Stevens for a big-time program would seem to be a slam dunk without much if any risk. I'm sure that while athletic directors in the six largest conferences will look at Richmond's Chris Mooney and VCU's Shaka Smart, they'll also spend a whole bunch of time figuring out how to pry Stevens out of the Horizon League and into theirs.

Because if there's a sure thing, this guy is it.

And the college basketball world should be thrilled that while Stevens did okay being a pharmaceutical sales rep, he's happier wearing sweats, coaching and teaching.


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