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Monday, July 28, 2014
Dana O'Neil: My dinner companions

By Dana O'Neil

It’s almost time for high school seniors to start filling out their college applications, on which they’ll answer essay questions like the standard -- if you could invite four people, living or dead, to dinner, who would it be and why? That got us to thinking. What if we could host a hoops-centric dinner party? Who would make our guest list?

This week, each of our writers will answer that question. We encourage you to do the same via Twitter using #collegehoopsdinner.

First up: Dana O’Neil

Location: St. Elmo’s in Indianapolis, the old-school steakhouse just around the corner from NCAA headquarters. Our maitre d’, Mark Emmert (the O’Bannon case didn’t go well) shows us to our private table in the back. I encourage him to stick around and eavesdrop.

If I’m going to convene a one-time-only dinner, I’m going to invite people who have bright minds, strong opinions, interesting tales to share, but above all else, people who are entertaining.

Life’s too short to listen to Lon Kruger all day.

John Chaney: I wonder what John Chaney thinks about skinny jeans for men. Seriously, I’m sure he has an opinion because I have yet to find a topic that won’t elicit a Chaney monologue. I dare you to say the word, "Republican" to him. Double dare you, even. That’s why Chaney gets an invite -- every lively dinner party needs a good arguer and Chaney is the best. But his opinions aren’t just rants, though they occasionally may sound that way. They are impassioned pleas, coming from the core of a man whose life began in poverty and segregation. Skinny jeans? I guarantee Chaney thinks they are some kind of pox upon humanity.

Al McGuire: So at some point, I figure Chaney will get around to his vaunted zone defense strategy, at which point I suspect McGuire will counter with an offense to beat it, as designed with salt and pepper shakers and a few pieces of shrimp cocktail. Then the two could exchange tips on how to work a ref. Few did it better than McGuire; few did it louder than Chaney. Maybe Chaney could offer one of the Armani ties he used to yank off his neck to McGuire -- if Armani makes a tie that would match a McGuire jacket. But McGuire makes my cut for more than just his showmanship. Like Chaney, he comes from an era when coaches weren’t muzzled by fears of losing their million-dollar paychecks, so he wasn’t afraid to speak out.

Bill Walton: Walton arrives for a dinner with a case of the munchies, in the middle of Chaney's fury and McGuire's antics. He is Zen. While the other two are going back and forth in living color, Walton will interject with something about the beauty of playing basketball in a meadow. Chaney will turn, his eyes popping, and say something that rhymes with, "What the duck are you talking about, Walton?" But McGuire will stop him because Walton is McGuire, just in hippie version. Before we had Walton opining from his own planet, we had McGuire talking about seashells and balloons. Someone might have to translate this part of the meal for Chaney.

Richard "The Fixer" Perry: OK, so this is where it gets interesting. The man who brought down UNLV, fixed games at Boston College and fixed horse racing doesn’t exactly fit in. Which is exactly the idea. If anyone can get the truth out of Perry once and for all, it’s these guys. The NCAA’s committee on infractions might want to pop in and take notes. So by dessert, we will not only get to the bottom of the UNLV scandal but we might just solve one of college basketball’s age-old mysteries: Was that really Miller High Life in the infamous hot tub picture?

On the menu: This is tricky. We are in a steakhouse because the delicious irony of getting three rabble-rousers and a cheater within a stone’s throw of NCAA headquarters is too rich to avoid. I’m hoping steak is OK for Perry and McGuire. But Walton is a vegetarian and if Chaney can’t get some crabs, there will be trouble. Hopefully our maitre d’, Mr. Emmert, has some connections from his previous career and can get the menu in order.