College Basketball Nation: Green Bay Phoenix

Don't forget about Keifer Sykes

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
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Keifer Sykes kept mistiming his lob.

Or when the pass to himself was good, his approach to the rim was off.

[+] EnlargeKeifer Sykes
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY SportsKeifer Sykes averaged 20.3 ppg last season for the Phoenix.
 Only a few of the college and high school players at the CP3 Elite Guard Camp last month paid attention while he tried to pull off his first few dunk attempts.

The camp roster listed him as 6 feet tall -- his height surely bolstered by growing out of his early '90s flattop. Sykes had already shown hints of his freakish athleticism despite being the shortest college guard at the four-day camp. They'd come to expect a show from Sykes, and when it became clear exactly what he was doing, the semicircle of players began to swell.

That's when it all came together. Sykes chased down a high-arcing lob to himself, jumping to catch the ball in air, and in the same fluid motion, threw down a one-handed windmill dunk.

It prompted “Ooooohs” from a crowd that included Phoenix Suns guard Isaiah Thomas and newly drafted guard Elfrid Payton of the Orlando Magic. It moved Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, who brought his camp to his hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to seek Sykes out for a high-five. (And it should behoove you to Google, “Keifer Sykes self alley-oop.”)

Yet, this barely managed to produce a smile from Sykes.

He’s clearly pulled off dunks as entertaining as that one. He's just clamoring for a bigger audience.

Sykes, a Chicago native, is a rising senior with the Green Bay Phoenix. He’s as well-known in those parts as any athlete not wearing a Packers uniform can be. The mayor of Green Bay presented Sykes the key to the city in June.

That's what averaging 20.3 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds last season in leading the program to its first regular-season championship since 1995-96 will get you.

Butler got acquainted with his toughness during his freshman year. Blood gushing from his head after a collision, he re-entered the game after getting stitches. It wasn’t enough. Sykes had to stop playing two other times because of blood continuing to flow from the wound. He finished the 80-68 win -- with his head taped up -- scoring 14 points with seven assists having played in three different jerseys.

They know all about Sykes in the Horizon League. He has been first-team all-conference the past two seasons and was voted player of the year last season. He was even recognized by The Associated Press nationally as an honorable-mention All-American.

But Sykes’ talent should be celebrated more throughout college basketball. The only reason it isn’t is probably because Green Bay has yet to play in the NCAA tournament during his tenure.

The past two seasons, the Phoenix were eliminated in the league tournament. When Sykes was a sophomore, they lost on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to Valparaiso. When he was a junior, armed with the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage, they squandered a late lead and lost in overtime to Milwaukee.

When you don’t regularly play on national television or in front of crowds reaching 10,000, it’s easy to get overlooked.

Obviously, there’s no guarantee that the Phoenix would have pulled off an upset in the NCAA tournament had they made it. But consider this: Sykes scored a career-high 32 points in a 69-66 loss to Wisconsin, who made the Final Four as a 2-seed. And he lit up ACC champion Virginia, which secured a No. 1 seed in the tournament, with 21 points and 10 assists in a 75-72 win.

Sykes has proven he performs well on the big stage. Keep him in mind when it’s time to shine the spotlight this season.
Things are bubbling here on Selection Sunday Eve. What’s going on? Here’s what’s happening in “others” world …

The Watch was always a little more bullish on Louisiana Tech than most. The Bulldogs' Dec. 30 road win at Oklahoma kept looking better and better as the season rolled along -- rare was the bubble team with that good a nonconference road win. After Friday's convincing C-USA semifinal win over Southern Miss, we didn't want to count the Bulldogs out. But even the most optimistic La. Tech touter couldn't overlook its brutal schedule numbers -- an overall schedule in 220s and a nonconference schedule in the 280s -- or its loss at awful East Carolina on Feb. 20. By Saturday's conference tourney final against Tulsa, La. Tech still lagged behind most realistic bubble teams. After its loss to the Golden Hurricane in El Paso, Texas, it's hard to imagine the committee finding a way to wedge them in among a crowded bubble group. The Bulldogs have a bright future under coach Mike White, but the immediate future holds a trip to the NIT.

And so the "others" bubble action comes to a close. This year's NCAA tournament is going to contain a wealth of dangerous mid-majors, but nearly all of them had to win their conference tournaments to get in. For a variety of reasons -- conference realignment chief among them -- the lack of relevant mid-major tournament resumes was noticeable throughout the past two months. We're left with just BYU and Green Bay. The Cougars are right on the cut line and Green Bay seems in need of a minor committee miracle. Both have been sidelined all week, sweating things out, helpless to change their Selection Sunday fate.

BYU: Earlier in the week, we wrote that BYU "had some sweating to do" after its WCC final loss to Gonzaga, but we assumed the Cougars would probably be OK. We're far less sure now. On Wednesday, BYU learned that guard Kyle Collinsworth tore his ACL in the WCC finale, and will (obviously) be unavailable for the tournament. There are plenty of examples of the selection committee considering key injuries and seeding accordingly. But what about the actual selection? Does Collinsworth's injury invalidate the things the committee would have favored about its resume (wins at Stanford and vs. Texas on a neutral court, mainly). Does it downgrade BYU from one side of the bubble to the other? We weren't totally sure the Cougars were going to get in in the first place, which makes isolating any given selection variable even trickier. There's no good template here. Anything could happen.

Green Bay: We offered a warm Bubble Watch welcome back to the Green Bay Phoenix on Thursday, who had become something of a mid-major cause célèbre since their semifinal loss to Milwaukee in the Horizon League tournament last week. That's not why they came back, of course, it's merely worth noting as the committee gets down to business in Indianapolis this weekend. No, Green Bay is back on the page because it's not clear there are that many bubble teams with better resumes. Yeah, the Horizon League was rough, and yeah, Green Bay's major claim to fame -- its win over Virginia -- came at home, in December, back when UVa wasn't playing nearly as well as in the two months since. But it does have a reasonable RPI (high-50s) and a reasonable nonconference SOS number (also high-50s). And if the committee takes a long look and thinks the Phoenix are worthy, some of the usual considerations and comparisons could fall away. This one might come down to subjective preferences, to the strength of argument between committee members, maybe all the way up until the final few hours of selection on Sunday afternoon.

And over in the SEC …

The Volunteers' loss to Florida in Saturday's SEC tourney semifinal officially closes the SEC bubble books. Where does the league stand? Tennessee looks like a solid inclusion right now, even if we can't go all the way and lock the Volunteers up. But Arkansas' loss to South Carolina on Thursday might well have been a killer, and Missouri hasn't looked like a tournament team -- either on the court or on its nitty-gritty sheet -- in weeks. This looks like a three-bid league.

Tennessee: Tennessee could have locked its bid up if it had managed to hold on Saturday against Florida. The Vols nearly did. They led the Gators by 10 late in the first half, after all, and were in winning position until forward Jeronne Maymon fouled out with less than five minutes to play. As he walked off the court, Maymon said something to official Pat Adams that Adams didn't like and hit Maymon with a technical. Adams stared the player down for a few seconds afterward. Maymon's foul was bad, and his decision to question it was, too, but the technical looked like textbook officiating bluster. Florida gradually ground the Vols out from there. But even without the win, Tennessee should get in the NCAA tournament. The Volunteers have a top-25 schedule figure, bolstering their otherwise solid RPI and overall SOS numbers, plus a neutral-court win over fellow bubbler Xavier and that 30-point blowout of Virginia earlier in the year. What's more, the committee should like what they've seen in recent weeks: The Vols have played their best basketball of the season down the stretch. It's a big, talented, dangerous team with a totally impeachable resume. But we think they'll get in.

Check out full details on teams on the bubble here.

BPI Talk: Duke is not a top-25 team

December, 17, 2013
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The Duke Blue Devils came into the season as a preseason Final Four contender, but after losses to Kansas and Arizona and a one-point win over Vermont, the Blue Devils are ranked No. 31 in BPI.

Duke's BPI game score in its six-point loss against Arizona (ranked No. 4 in BPI) was higher than two of its wins (vs East Carolina, vs Vermont). Other than its wins over No. 40 Michigan and No. 63 Alabama, Duke doesn't have any other wins over teams ranked in the top 180.

Duke has the best adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, but its adjusted defensive efficiency ranks 101st.

Is Wisconsin the best team in college basketball?

The Wisconsin Badgers rank No. 1 in BPI after starting 12-0 with five wins over top-50 BPI teams -- St. John's, Florida, Saint Louis, West Virginia and Virginia. Their five wins against top-50 teams are the most by any team. Kansas and Davidson are the only other teams that have even faced five top-50 teams.

Wisconsin has the 11th-most difficult schedule according to BPI. Seven of their 12 wins are against top-100 opponents and none of them are against teams outside the top 175.

The Badgers have been successful playing a slow pace (17th-fewest possessions per game). Two of their three worst BPI game scores this season have come in the two games in which they played at the fastest pace (at Green Bay, vs North Dakota).

Michigan State barely cracks the top 25

The Michigan State Spartans, previously ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, come in at No. 24 in BPI. The Spartans only have one loss, but it was by far their worst BPI game score and it came against their second-best opponent (No. 23 North Carolina).

Why else is Michigan State's BPI lacking? The Spartans have five wins against teams ranked outside the BPI top 100. Three of those wins are by 15 points or fewer, including two by single digits, and one of the five wins is against No. 338 McNeese State. Also, they haven't played a single true road game yet.

Welcome to the top 10, Saint Mary's

The undefeated Saint Mary's Gaels are ranked No. 8 in BPI, and it's not due to any wins over top-notch opponents. The Gaels haven't faced a single top-50 team yet, but five of their eight wins came against top-100 opponents and six of their eight wins are by double digits.

Saint Mary's has performed well against top-100 teams, posting a BPI game score higher than 95 in four of those five wins.

Why isn't Pittsburgh ranked yet?

The Pittsburgh Panthers are ranked No. 9 in BPI but aren't in the top 25 in the AP Poll. The Panthers are 10-0 with each of those 10 wins coming by at least nine points and nine of the wins coming by at least 17 points.

Pitt doesn't have any top-50 wins, but the Panthers do have two wins against teams just outside the top 50 (No. 51 Penn State, No. 55 Stanford). Their three best BPI game scores came against their three best opponents -- Penn State, Stanford and Texas Tech (No. 110).

Pitt is one of seven teams ranked in the top 20 in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, along with Louisville, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kansas and North Carolina.

BPI Rankings
1. Commissioner Mike Aresco pulled off a shrewd but intelligent move when he made sure the new American Athletic Conference offices stayed in Providence, R.I. -- where the Big East staff has been based. The majority of the staffers are family people and didn't want to leave Providence. If the league office were to move, the staff might be more apt to look elsewhere or be plucked away by the new Big East. That hasn't happened, and the new Big East is still without a commissioner or staff. Meanwhile, the American has the same people running its operation. The American released its logo Thursday and it has a chance to catch on. The league is taking care of its business. Its basketball tournament sites should be announced in the next few weeks and the favorites are Memphis, Tenn., for the men and either Hartford, Conn., or Uncasville, Conn. (at the Mohegan Sun Arena), for the women.

2. Two Wisconsin-Green Bay players released statements through the school Thursday after spending the past month wondering if head coach Brian Wardle would be dismissed due to verbal-abuse allegations. Keifer Sykes and Alec Brown said: “We are really happy that the investigation is over, and we are excited about playing together next season for Coach Wardle and our other coaches. This has not been an easy couple of months for our team and coaches to go through and we are ready to move forward. The character and communication in our locker room is really good right now, and we are focused on getting better this offseason and contending for a championship next year.” Lost amid these investigations are the players who were held hostage by uncertainty. Wardle was cleared of mostly everything, though he must have an adviser with the team next season to watch what occurs. UWGB has a legit shot to win the Horizon League.

3. New Mexico State will be the last team standing from the traditional WAC in 2014. The Aggies aren't 100 percent certain where they will be in basketball in two years. New Mexico State can't get in the Mountain West, and needs to find a way to get into Conference USA. That's the perfect fit for the Aggies, who have a historical rivalry with UTEP. If they can't move, coach Marvin Menzies' squad should get an NCAA bid or compete for a berth every season. There really is no excuse in such a weakened WAC.
On April 16, Wisconsin-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle was the subject of a formal complaint sent to the university chancellor by the parent of a basketball player. Gina Cougill, mother of senior forward Brennan Cougill, wrote a scathing letter to chancellor Thomas Harden accusing Wardle of "bullying most of the players," including her son, whom Gina Cougill said suffered from depression. She accused Wardle of dismissing depression as a "distraction."

It was news, bad news -- the school barely had time to open an internal investigation before a copy of the letter was shared with the Green Bay Press-Gazette -- but the Cougills weren't even the first family to accuse Wardle of mistreatment. In fact, the parents of former center Ryan Bross were the first to file a complaint with Harden's office. Their complaint wasn't made public, though, so whatever damage it could wreak on Wardle's reputation, if the allegations are true, for the moment was deferred.

That moment is over. Today, Bross made his own complaints public to the Press-Gazette's Rob Demovsky, and they aren't pretty -- literally or figuratively. They include allegations that Wardle used anti-gay and other derogatory slurs; told Bross to have sex with a girl to improve his performance; and ugliest of all, this story about a preseason workout drill known as "boot camp":
"Coach Wardle told me to stop being a p---- and to go into the woods," Bross told the Press-Gazette. "So I went into the woods and took a crap. I came back and he was like, 'Are you all done? Are you OK? Are you done being a p---- now, Ryan?' because they thought I was faking it, but I wasn't. So I kept running the hills. I finished one hill. I came back down, and I told them I was not feeling well again, and (Wardle) made me run another hill again because he told me that I was being a baby and that I was letting down the team and I was letting down myself, and that I was letting down everyone."
Bross continued: "I got down to the bottom (of the hill), and Wardle told me I was a piece of s--- and that he had never seen such a big p---- in his life and that I was the biggest piece of s--- he had ever seen."

It is important to note that Wardle issued a statement to the Press-Gazette, calling the version of the events in the newspaper "inaccurate":
"I can assure you the well-being of my players is foremost in my mind at all times," he said. "I cannot comment on the specific allegations under federal privacy laws. I can say the version of events [the Press-Gazette is] reporting is inaccurate. I have fully cooperated with the Independent Investigator, as have our players and coaches. I fully expect the eyewitnesses to these allegations you are reporting will contradict the version you are reporting."

It is also worth noting again that these are all merely allegations, and it is now the job of Harden and his independent investigator to get to the bottom of them. We don't know what is true in the complaints filed by Cougill and Bross.

But we do know this: Former Rutgers coach Mike Rice changed the game. For coaches and administrators everywhere, there is now zero room for lapses in oversight, no forgiveness from the public for physical and verbal abuse. There's even a tendency -- if not an outright willingness -- to react on behalf of players being treated poorly by an overzealous coach. Whether any of this new paradigm will apply to Wardle and Wisconsin-Green Bay remains to be seen, but the stakes are high.

Video: Valparaiso's buzzer-beater

March, 9, 2013
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Ryan Broekhoff's last-gasp 3-pointer gave top seed Valparaiso a 70-69 victory over Green Bay in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament.

ESPN.com's Horizon League preview

October, 26, 2012
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Before we get to the Blue Ribbon team-by-team previews for the Horizon League, here is Eamonn Brennan's quick wind sprint through the league:



Blue Ribbon's in-depth previews of all nine Horizon teams: Insider

Cleveland State
Detroit
Green Bay
Illinois-Chicago
Loyola (Ill.)
Milwaukee
Valparaiso
Wright State InsiderFree
Youngstown State
Dana O’Neil broke the story on Friday night. By Saturday, it was all over. Newly hired Villanova assistant coach Doug Martin was just-as-newly fired after a school investigation -- and Dana’s background work -- revealed Martin had included massive inaccuracies in his résumé, inaccuracies which were then posted to Villanova’s website when the hiring was announced.

“Inaccuracies” is a polite way of saying Martin lied. What, exactly, did he lie about? An entire four-year career at Wisconsin-Green Bay that, lo and behold, never actually happened:
According to a statement issued by Villanova when Martin was hired last week, Martin “played collegiate basketball at UW-Green Bay for coach Dick Bennett from 1991–95.”

However, Green Bay has no record of Martin playing there. He is not listed on the all-time roster, and Andrew Gavin, Green Bay’s director of athletic communications, said via email, “I do not have a record of a Doug Martin playing here and looked through our stats from each of those years as well.”

While on the phone with ESPN.com, Gavin checked hard copies of both regular-season and postseason media guides from the 1990–91 through the 1994–95 seasons. The name Doug Martin did not appear on any rosters or in any statistics.

Meanwhile, former UW-Green Bay coach Dick Bennett said Martin “certainly didn’t play for me,” and former star Jeff Nordgaard helped debunk Martin’s LinkedIn page, which claimed he was a four-year letterwinner at Green Bay, as well as “captained team my senior year.”
“I didn’t play with anyone by that name,” Nordgaard said. “So unless he changed his name …”I was team captain then."

In fact, Martin, who left his position as associate head coach at Paul VI High School in Virginia to join the Wildcats, was merely a four-year letterwinner at Viterbo, an NAIA school in La Crosse, Wis., from 1990–94. He played in 87 games and scored 222 points in those four years, according to the school’s athletics records. But Martin appeared to have kept the Green Bay ruse up for a while; the same information was listed on his bio on his former high school’s website.

Given the nature of the deception, Villanova coach Jay Wright was forced to cut ties (obviously), and he would have been well within his rights to publicly throw Martin under the proverbial bus. After all, he was tricked. That’s embarrassing. But Wright didn’t go apoplectic. Instead, in a statement released Saturday, Wright said he had “always known Doug to be a good person and a good coach,” that he had “taken responsibility for his mistake and will move on successfully,” and that the school wished Martin well. The end result is a feeling that, yeah, Martin made a bad mistake, but that’s all it was, and it’s probably best if everyone learns from it and moves on.

I agree! But before we do that, can we please hammer one thing home? Good. This one goes out to college assistant coaches, I guess, but really to anyone applying for a job doing in any chosen field:

It’s 2012.

Pretty much everyone has the world’s information in their pocket, in their laps, in their cars, accessible at any moment and capable of answering nearly any question. Even if UW-Green Bay’s stellar athletic communications director hadn’t answered ESPN.com’s calls, it takes one Google search (say, “UW Green Bay men’s basketball”) and one click (“History/Records”) to pull up this PDF, which offers a year-by-year statistical accounting of UW-Green Bay hoops back to 1969–70. A quick Google Chrome keyboard command -- CTRL-F -- opens a finder window, where typing “Doug Martin” or “Martin, Doug” reveals no matches. I just did all that in the matter of 30 seconds. It took me longer to write this paragraph.

In 2001, when George O’Leary’s leaky résumé got him quickly sent packing from his dream job coaching Notre Dame football, I suppose the Internet hadn’t yet reached its full potential. It was possible to see how O’Leary, who always got away with it before, could have thought no one would ferret out and verify the connections, or lack thereof. But that was 2001, and O’Leary still got caught within days. Why anyone, in the year 2012, would think himself capable of forging a large part of their professional biography -- particularly to acquire a high-profile job like assistant basketball coach at Villanova -- is beyond my limited powers of understanding.

Over the weekend, ESPN analyst Dan Dakich joked on Twitter that “60–65 percent” of college hoops assistants were “scrambling today.” I really hope that’s all it was -- a joke. Because if not, it's stunning and sad and kind of weirdly hilarious, and the lessons learned from the Curious Case of Doug Martin -- that it’s not the 1970s anymore, and just because you say you did something doesn’t make it true -- need to be absorbed.
Speaking of backlash, let's get one thing out there right away: "Call Me Maybe" is, on its merits alone, an almost perfect pop song.

In the past three months, I've seen Justin Beiber and his cool-kid friends lip dub it to death. I've seen friends -- hip hop fans -- belt it out in bars. I've heard it approximately 7.6 million times, in every imaginable context. I should be sick of it, but I'm not. Catch me in the right mood, hit me with that earworm chorus, and I might even sing along.

[+] EnlargeUWGB
Courtesy of UWGB athleticsGreen Bay hopes its unique pitch to recruits will stand out from the rest.
What am I sick of? Every female I'm friends with on Facebook (which is like four, but still) titling their photo albums "Call Me ... Summer 2012!" or "Hey I Just Met You, This Is Crazy!!!" or other variously over-exuberant things. That needs to stop. I'm also sick of every "Call Me Maybe"-based lip dub and synchronized car dance, from Harvard baseball to SMU women's rowing and everything in between. When someone spends this much time in iMovie, we've officially reached maximum meme density. It's time to move on.

With all that said, you have to give the Green Bay men's basketball program some points for timeliness and creativity. As discussed early in the week, Friday is the first day under the NCAA's new contact rules, which deregulate previously strict contact requirements and allow coaches to call and text recruits in unlimited fashion. Green Bay's staff was looking to stand out from the gathering swarm, so their coaches, including head coach Brian Wardle, turned to Carly Rae Jepsen for inspiration.

According to spokesman Andrew Gavin, the staff was "trying find a creative (although corny) and timely way to use current pop culture to get a kid’s attention and stand out when they might be getting bombarded with texts and pictures from coaches." Consider the mission accomplished. Wardle's "call me!" look is an absolute winner.

Whether it will help the Phoenix land recruits is another matter entirely. But in entertained yours truly on a Friday, for whatever that's worth. And at least Wardle didn't make a lip dub. We can all be appreciative of that.
Player of the Weekend – Deividas Dulkys
Dulkys poured in a career-high 32 points in Florida State’s 90-57 blowout of North Carolina on Saturday, the Tar Heels' worst loss of the Roy Williams era. Just how unexpected was Dulkys’s performance? His previous season-high was just 16 points, and he’d scored 32 points in his previous nine games combined. Dulkys went 12-14 from the field, including 8-10 from 3-point range.

Filling Up the Stat Sheet – Maalik Wayns
Cincinnati outlasted Villanova despite a memorable game from Wayns. The junior guard finished with a career-high 39 points to go with 13 rebounds and six assists. It’s the first 39-13 game by a Big East player since Marquette’s Steve Novak in 2006. The only other major conference player with a 39-13-5 game in the past 15 seasons was Luke Jackson in 2004.

Bench Hero – Pierre Jackson

Baylor walked all over Oklahoma State with a 106-65 win to improve to 17-0 entering tonight’s matchup with Kansas. Once again, Jackson provided a huge boost off the bench, finishing with 18 points and eight assists. Jackson is one of only eight major-conference players averaging 12 PPG, five APG and three RPG. And he hasn’t started a game all season. In fact, his 12.3 PPG ranks second among power six conference players who haven’t started a game. Only Syracuse’s Dion Waiters (12.9 PPG) ranks higher.

Block Party – Alec Brown
Brown blocked more shots on Saturday than 276 teams. The Green Bay sophomore blocked 11 shots in a 57-56 comeback win over Wright State. It’s the most blocks in a game this season. The Phoenix went on a 20-3 run in the second half during which Brown had four of his blocks. The 11 blocks set a school record, as well as a Horizon League record.

Ugly Stat Line of the Weekend – John Henson
Henson went 0-for-7 from the free throw line in North Carolina’s loss to Florida State. That’s the most free throw attempts without a make this season. He’s the only ACC player in at least the past 15 seasons to attempt that many free throws without connecting on one. The last major conference player with a worse game at the line? Tennessee’s Ramar Smith, who went 0-12 in a game in 2007.
Longtime readers might remember the name Eric Valentin. In January, the 5-foot-4 Green Bay walk-on set a new world record for the number of half-court shots -- eight, believe it or not -- made in a minute.

That was Valentin's first and really only video exposure in the college hoops webosphere. That is, until today.

As Yahoo!'s Jeff Eisenberg reported last night, Valentin was the recipient of two things at Green Bay practice yesterday, both of which you can see in video form in the previous link. The first was a prank: Green Bay coach Brian Wardle chastised Valentin after the team's first conditioning session, telling the guard he spent too much offseason time at his job and too little time getting conditioned for the upcoming basketball season. Just as Valentin looked fully downtrodden, the coach revealed present No. 2: A full-ride scholarship to play basketball at Green Bay in 2011-12. As he told Jeff:
"Honestly, he got me pretty good," Valentin said by phone Wednesday. "I actually didn't know what was coming. Then he handed me a piece of paper, I saw 'grant in aid' at the top and I knew it was a scholarship. I saw a bunch of money fly back into my pocket, all the money I spent on tuition and books. That was a great feeling."

You have to love the image. If only every parent could get their kid to visualize college tuition as money flying back into their pockets.

Valentin's story could practically serve as a sequel to "Rudy." The diminutive guard didn't reach the five-foot mark until well into his high school career, making his dream of playing college basketball an unlikely one. But Valentin contacted the Green Bay program, met Wardle for an interview, and inspired the staff to take him on as a walk-on.

Now in his senior season, Valentin is no longer just a four-year player (and a world-record holder, which is pretty cool in its own right). He's also a scholarship member of his team. Financially, that's huge. But it's also a symbolic payoff of hard work. Very cool.

The numbers you need to know

February, 22, 2011
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Inside the numbers behind Monday’s top performances:

1. Kansas’ 92-65 win over Oklahoma State was brought to you by the letter M. Markieff and Marcus Morris scored the Jayhawks’ first 12 points, ensuring they’d never trail in this one. The Morris brothers ultimately combined for 42 points on 15-for-23 from the field. Meanwhile, Marshall Moses scored 27 points for the Cowboys, one game after being held scoreless while battling an illness. Monday’s 27-point loss was the worst of the Travis Ford era at Oklahoma State, and the largest margin of defeat for the Cowboys since a 30-point loss to Marquette in 2007. Oklahoma State still hasn’t won in Lawrence since 1989.

2. Philadelphia natives also came up big in Syracuse’s 69-64 win at Villanova. Scoop Jardine scored 20 points on 7-for-11 from the field. Compare that to the January meeting with the Wildcats when Jardine shot 1-for-8 on his way to two points. Rick Jackson again came up big against Villanova with 18 points, while Dion Waiters contributed seven off the bench. In all, those three served up 45 of Syracuse’s 69 points. Last month, they only managed 24 points against Nova. Jardine and Waiters, who were a combined 3-for-20 in the first meeting, shot 52.9 percent on Monday.

3. Valparaiso’s hopes of winning the Horizon League regular season title took a hit on Monday. The Crusaders lost 81-80 in overtime to Green Bay. With the loss, Valpo fell a game behind Cleveland State and a half-game back of Butler. It was Senior Night at the Resch Center, and it was a senior who stepped up for Green Bay. Bryquis Perine hit the game-winner with 11 seconds to go in overtime. In the first 30 minutes of the game, Perine only had two points. But he finished with 20, including seven of his team’s nine in overtime.

4. Texas Southern improved to 13-1 in the SWAC with a 58-55 overtime win over Mississippi Valley State. The Tigers won despite a 35.1 field goal percentage and getting outrebounded 43-35. So how’d they do it? Turnovers. MVSU committed 33 of them, the second-most in a D-I game this season. The Delta Devils are averaging 17.7 turnovers per game this season, fifth-most in the nation.

5. Coppin State shot 60.0 percent from the field in an 89-72 win over Delaware State. That’s the Eagles’ best shooting performance since November 2003 against Loyola Marymount. Michael Murray chipped in a career-high 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting. He’s scored 27 combined in his last two games, after entering that stretch with 49 points on the season. It was a rare decisive result for Coppin State. Five of its previous eight games had either gone to overtime or been decided by two points or fewer.
Even if you're a hardcore hoops head, it's unlikely you've ever heard of Green Bay guard Eric Valentin. That, friends, is about to change.

Why? Because Valentin is a world-record holder, and not just in any old record. As of this week, Valentin is the new world record-holder for half-court shots made in a minute. Valentin hit eight -- yes, eight -- half-court shots inside 60 seconds, which topped the previous record of seven set by a student at Washington State last April.

And yes, there's video. And yes, that video is as awesome as you'd think. Observe:

Thrilling stuff. It appeared Valentin was struggling, but a late rally -- not to mention the last-second run-off make -- redeemed the video and earned him a rather obscure, but totally enviable, Guinness World Record. And how cool is it that Valentin knows whether or not a half-court shot is going in? It's like a free throw. In fact, I'm pretty sure Valentin's half-court shot percentage is higher than Kansas State's free throw mark.

Anyway, a new bar has been set. Notice to bored undergrads everywhere: Your move.

(Hat tip: FanHouse, The Dagger, all five people who sent this to me, etc.)

New Faces, New Places: Brian Wardle

October, 4, 2010
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The manual still sits somewhere in Tom Crean’s office.

Five years old now, it’s nonetheless as viable and useful as it was the day Brian Wardle created it.

Technically it’s a how-to manual, made at Crean’s behest, for Wardle’s successor at Marquette. A Director of Basketball Operations for Dummies, if you will.

It also could serve as Wardle’s résumé.

“He was [one of] the all-time leading scorer at Marquette, and when he came to work for us, he was arranging for the bus pickups. But he never complained,’’ Crean said. “He’s very real. He’s got a big personality, but he’s also very real. He learned how to do things from the ground up because he knew that’s how you had to learn.’’

Here’s what Brian Wardle is: just 30 years old and a brand-new head coach at upwardly mobile Wisconsin-Green Bay.

Here’s what Brian Wardle is not: ill-prepared for or overwhelmed by the job.

“The one knock on me I know is, can he get it done? He never has before? Only time will tell with that,’’ Wardle said. “But one thing about me, as a player and throughout my career, I am very thick-skinned. I’m very confident in what I bring. People are going to question me and I know that and I don’t care. I have a great vision in mind; I’ve had great mentors. I’m ready to do this.’’

And Wardle, who spent his past five seasons as an assistant at Green Bay, has his vision set on a bar placed fairly high in the hoops hierarchy.

Green Bay is not aspiring to be just another good mid-major. It’s aspiring to be the next Butler.

After their Final Four run, the Bulldogs have redefined mid-major power for every team in the country -- but even more, for the ones who also call the Horizon League home.

And don’t think people aren’t watching and copying. When athletic director Ken Bothof was in the market for a new coach after Tod Kowalczyk left for Toledo, he made a conscious decision to stay within the program.

“With young assistants, the question is always, ‘Are they ready?’ Bothof said. “Well, because Brian was here, I had an opportunity to get to know him and evaluate him, not just as a coach but his ability to communicate and to talk to him. Does he have a plan? A vision? And he does.’’

Wardle doesn’t plan on becoming the next Brad Stevens any more than he intends on mimicking Kowalczyk or Crean. He will do things his own way, in his own style.

That, however, doesn’t mean he won’t use Butler to sell the Phoenix.

“I will absolutely piggyback on what they’ve done,’’ Wardle said. “When you’re recruiting, you sell what they’ve done because they’re in our league. They’ve found good, tough kids who played well together, rebound and have done it the right way. If they can do it, why can’t we?"

Green Bay has been close recently, racking up a pair of 22-win seasons in Kowalczyk’s past two years. But the goal for the Phoenix now isn’t just racking up more wins; it’s finding a way to unseat Butler.

The direct route is finding better players, the diamonds in the rough or the sleepers that others passed on.

The indirect route is finding subtle ways to make the team you have better. Wardle and Kowalczyk are both branches of Crean’s tree, with similar coaching philosophies. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t places to tweak.

Wardle already has zeroed in on his emphases -- rebounding and better defense. Last season, the Phoenix ranked seventh in the 10-team Horizon League in rebounding margin (-1.1) and fourth in scoring defense, giving up a respectable 66.9 points per game that Wardle believes can still get better.

He wants his players to have a passion on the defensive end and will reward them for their efforts.

“I tell my guys all the time, I’d never ask you do something I wouldn’t ask my daughters [ages 3 and 1] to do,’’ Wardle said. “If they play basketball, I expect them to guard somebody and get in their face. I expect my players to do the same.’’

And like his daughters, if his players behave well, they will be rewarded.

“I’m going to get in you and get on you, but then if you do something right, I’m going to sprint over and chest bump you,’’ Wardle said. “If a guy goes above and beyond, if we get a great rotation or guard the dribble, I’m going to get fired up and I want my players to get excited. That’s how you build a good defensive team.’’

It’s all part of the plan.

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