College Basketball Nation: Mark Hollis

The Big Ten hasn't hidden its desire to expand the brand to the East Coast in advance of Rutgers and Maryland joining the league July 1. A new league office is set up in New York City, and television agreements are being worked out with distributors in the region.

But no initiative -- other than bringing in Maryland and Rutgers -- sparked more reaction than the league's announcement that the 2017 men's basketball tournament would be held at Verizon Center in Washington D.C. Since its inception in 1998, the hoops tournament had been held only in two Big Ten strongholds: Chicago and Indianapolis.

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AP Photo/AJ MastThe Big Ten has found great fan support at its championship events.
Concern mounted among fans and others that the Big Ten, through its desire to live in two regions, would alienate its base in the Midwest.

"Our conference is founded in the Midwest, and it's important we continue to understand those roots," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said at last month's administrators' meetings. "While excited to have this new frontier, our foundation is in Chicago and Indianapolis and Detroit and other areas. I just want to make sure we protect our homeland while flanking out to a very important East Coast."

The Big Ten on Thursday let its core fans know it hasn't forgotten about them. The league announced future sites for its football championship game and men's and women's basketball tournaments. All of the events will be held in Indianapolis or Chicago.

Here's the breakdown:

Football championship game: Remains in Indianapolis through the 2021 season. The 2014 and 2015 events already had been announced for Lucas Oil Stadium, and the new agreement covers 2016-21.

Men's basketball tournament: Will be held at Chicago's United Center in both 2019 and 2021 and at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse in 2020 and 2022. As previously announced, Chicago will host in 2015, Indianapolis will host in 2016 and Washington D.C. will host in 2017. Negotiations on the site for the 2018 event continue and an announcement should come later this month.

Women's basketball tournament: New agreement has the event at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse from 2017-2022. As previously announced, the 2015 event will be held at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and the 2016 event will take place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

"We've always intended to use those cities," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told ESPN.com on Thursday. "They've been great partners. We're fortunate to have great fan bases in both places, tried and true success in both of these cities.

"It gives us a lot of stability going forward."

Despite the Washington D.C. event in 2017, Indianapolis and Chicago were always part of the Big Ten's future vision. There were "no surprises," Delany said. But he added that the Big Ten will continue its push to integrate in the East Coast.

"I'd be shocked if we didn't have very deep engagement in both regions," he said. "With the number of institutions, fan bases, cities, I'd expect there to be a rotation."

Our conference is founded in the Midwest, and it's important we continue to understand those roots.

-- Mark Hollis, Michigan State athletics director
There won't be a rotation for the football championship game, at least in the immediate future. Delany still considers the game a new event that needs to be developed, and the league never seriously considered moving the game from Indianapolis in the next cycle.

There was no formal bidding process like there was in 2011, when groups from both Indianapolis and Chicago presented to the Big Ten athletic directors and coaches.

"We're not at the stage of experimentation with respect to indoor quality, the centrality of it; it's a new event," Delany said. "We've been cautious in trying to grow it, trying to understand it. We always thought it will be central. By the time we’ll finish up [the agreement], it will be 11 years there.

"After 11 years we’ll figure out how successful it’s been, how much it’s grown, whether that kind of alternative venue makes sense. But at this point, we're building it, stabilizing it, creating a great brand around it, making it as accessible as possible."

There's no doubt Indianapolis puts on a great event at a world-class facility and has logistical advantages over a site like Chicago. But Chicago remains the hub of Big Ten fans and should gain future consideration, as should other cities like Detroit and Minneapolis, which recently was awarded the 2018 Super Bowl for its new football stadium.

The Big Ten will continue to monitor cities and facilities. Delany gushed about the recent Big Ten baseball tournament in Omaha, which set several attendance records.

"We've got a bowl game in Detroit, we've got hockey [tournaments] in Detroit and Minnesota, great sports towns, great sports venues," Delany said. "We will obviously watch the facilities and events that go there and will stay in close contact with those communities. As this cycle plays out, there will be more communications."

Bottom line: The football title game isn't leaving the Midwest any time soon, which makes sense with only two teams involved and often little time to plan. Big Ten basketball fans should prepare for other tournaments outside the traditional footprint. It's an easier event to move, because all 14 teams and fan bases are involved.

But Thursday's announcement signifies that the Big Ten still knows where its bread is buttered.
1. Texas lost 18 games last season. The Longhorns won seven in the Big 12 and were shut out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since head coach Rick Barnes arrived in 1998. Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis were third and fourth, respectively, on the team last season in turnovers with a combined 112 and are both transferring. Jaylen Bond, who battled a foot problem for most of the season, also left. According to a source, the decisions weren’t solely the players'. Should Texas be worried that these three, as well as NBA-draft-bound guard Myck Kabongo (23-game amateurism suspension), are out of the program? If last season’s freshmen class is on board with the way Barnes wants to play, the answer is no. Ioannis Papapetrou, Javan Felix, Connor Lammert, Demarcus Holland, Prince Ibeh and Jonathan Holmes will be the core of next season’s team. Holland clearly likes the idea of what remains in Austin. He tweeted after a workout on April 30: “Honestly never loved a team like I do now. Feels great when you can get it in, say family on three, and really feel like brothers. #Horns.’’ At the time, Bond, McClellan and Kabongo were all gone. Barnes told his staff that he wants to get back to the teams he has had in the past, with players who will play with toughness and display the passion for winning. According to someone close to the program, despite the defections, the staff has looked at this spring as one of its best in terms of player development. The Longhorns also brought in four newcomers for next season. Texas will be picked in the lower half of the league, below Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State. The onus is on this crew, led by someone like Holland, to propel Texas back to its rightful place in the Big 12, in competition behind Kansas. If these departures are addition by subtraction, Barnes will know early on. If not, next season could seem like a dog year.

2. Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said there were logistical issues that could not be worked out for the proposed Dec. 7 game against Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash., to honor former Spartans coach and Spokane resident Jud Heathcote. So the game is off -- along with the proposed undercard of Washington State versus Montana. Wazzu coach Ken Bone said Idaho had been willing to move a date for the Cougars, but now that is unnecessary. Meanwhile, an SEC official said the league didn’t have criteria for not including Georgia, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee in the inaugural SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Scheduling conflicts and the need to balance the series were why those four schools were omitted in a challenge between a 14-team SEC and a 10-team Big 12. Still, organizers probably could have tried to get star-laden Oklahoma State a higher-profile game than hosting rebuilding South Carolina.

3. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said being away from his family was the reason he is stepping aside from coaching the U.S. under-19 team with Florida’s Billy Donovan and Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart in the world championships June 27-July 7 in Prague. Along with the practice sessions, it becomes nearly a month's commitment. The three coaches won gold a year ago in Brazil with the under-18 squad. Virginia coach Tony Bennett will take Few’s spot on the staff. In an event taking place July 6-17 in Kazan, Russia, Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Michigan’s John Beilein and South Carolina’s Frank Martin will coach the U.S. team at the World University Games. Meanwhile, Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim is diversifying his international basketball career. Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said Ejim will play for Canada this summer after playing for Nigeria a year ago. Hoiberg said Ejim has dual citizenship from the two nations.
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis has had some pretty bold and creative ideas about the start of the college basketball season in recent years. He spearheaded the Carrier Classic. He conceived and executed us this year's excellent Veterans Day game at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. And his latest idea was his most ambitious and his craziest: One day, four games, one stadium, all at once.

Hollis's idea would have seen eight schools play on four different courts at Cowboys Stadium on the opening weekend of the 2013-14 college hoops season. Jerryworld would have been filled not only with fans but troops across the country, a recurring theme with the Carrier Classic and overseas airbase games. In the arena, the Ol' Double J's massive HDTV would have been split between the four games, while four different TV channels would carry the festivities to audiences live.

Believe it or not, of all the insane logistics issues posed by this plan, that last part -- finding a TV network or networks willing to put the games on the air -- was the deal-breaker.

Late last week, Hollis announced the plan was dead, telling the Detroit Free Press that "ESPN, CBS and Turner networks were approached, but there were concerns about "diluting exposure and tying down four networks," Hollis said, at a time of year in which college basketball does not typically receive high ratings," according to the story.

If you pay any attention at all to the current state of televised media, you'll realize how surprising this turn of events really is. In the past five years, as the rise of DVR has shifted TV value toward live sports, and cable networks, conferences and even old monoliths like NBC and CBS (and soon Fox) have clawed their win in on the action, finding someone to air your sporting event has become incredibly easy. Twenty-four hours is a lot of time to fill. And you're telling me Hollis & Co. couldn't find someone willing to push a buzzy, gimmicky one-off college hoops event? Did no one get ahold of Al Jazeera? Really?

Alas, perhaps that's for the best. While intriguing in theory, the whole thing sort of made college basketball seem desperate. Carrier games are one thing, and I'm all for playing overseas, but the problems with the early college hoops season have been addressed by great events like the Champions Classic, which is old-fashioned in so far as its two games are played one after the other. Putting eight teams on the Jerryworld HDTV in November felt a little too gimmicky, a plastic fast food meal toy for people who apparently need something shiny dangled in front of them to watch basketball in the first place.

Let's encourage top teams to play good opponents, and schedule games at campus gyms. How's that for a radical idea?
Of course he isn't. He's Mark Hollis.

In the past five years, when the Michigan State athletic director has an idea, no matter how farfetched that idea is, he usually sees it through to fruition. The Carrier Classic, the Germany army base game, etc. -- these are all things that required some measure of (cliché alert) outside-the-box thinking, and all things that probably had any number of excuses to fail. But they didn't.

So, naturally, when Hollis hears the kind of criticism he received for his latest idea -- wherein eight college basketball teams play four staggered-start games in Cowboys Stadium in front of armed forces -- he does not seem the least bit deterred. From WXYZ.com:
"It's like anything else. It's different. Reaction goes two different ways. Some have looked at it as the 'circus-type' activity that maybe doesn't have a place in college sports," he said. "But sports are supposed to be the diversion. They're supposed to be something that's different."
His phone hasn't been solely ringing off the hook with harassment. His reputation wouldn't merit that feedback. There's been legitimate interest from major programs across the country.
"Some of the reaction was obviously negative, but then I've also had 15 or so basketball coaches contact me and say, 'If this thing goes forward, we want to be a part of it.'"

Well, OK, first things first. Just because college basketball coaches agree to it does not make it a good idea. They just don't want to be left behind. I'm pretty sure if we all started acting like playing Dishonored in my basement was good for recruiting, 15 of the country's most respected coaches would fly in tomorrow. They might hate the idea. But if it's happening, they'll be damned if someone else is going to be there instead.

Coaches' willingness to participate doesn't make it a good idea. Nor is it a good idea because of its sheer creativity. Or because people who don't otherwise notice the beginning of the college basketball season without something shiny to look at can slap, "Hey, sounds cool, why not?" into a blog post next to a picture of Johnny Manziel's girlfriend.

I'm not sure it is a good idea. It is a bit over the top. It does feel like a step in the direction most college basketball fans are probably hoping we don't take; we'd prefer regular old basketball arenas come back into vogue. Even if those things are true, like conference realignment, it's probably going to happen anyway.

But Hollis' plan is also nowhere near worth the amount of scorn it's received thus far. You can dislike the showmanship, and you can call it silly, but let's not pretend it's the end of the sport as you know it. Everybody take a deep breath, huh?

3-point shot: Showcase games in December

December, 11, 2012
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1. Arizona coach Sean Miller said during our ESPNU College Basketball podcast Monday that pushing off the big-time games in the non-conference schedule was key to helping develop the impact freshmen. While a number of teams were playing in November tournaments, Arizona's best games are in December. They had a potential tough road test at Clemson (passed with a win), followed by a monster showdown with Florida Saturday and then the Diamond Head Classic prior to Christmas with San Diego State, Ole Miss and Miami in the field. Meanwhile, Miami coach Jim Larranaga said Monday the 'Canes schedule this month will let them know how good they are in 2013. Miami already beat Michigan State at home and won at UMass, but still has to play undefeated Charlotte, the Diamond Head and scrappy La Salle before the ACC.

2. Butler coach Brad Stevens said Indiana is the best transition team in the country. He may be right and that's why the Hoosiers pose problems for the Bulldogs in Saturday's game in Indianapolis. Butler has a big in Andrew Smith to match up with IU's Cody Zeller. But the Bulldogs will have to stop the transition to have a chance. This game is part of the rotating series with Purdue and Notre Dame. I'd love to see Butler and Indiana have their own guaranteed neutral-site game in Indy every season. "If they ever want to do a home-and-home we'd be all ears,'' said Stevens. "But I understand that everyone has to do what's best for their program.''

3. I love Mark Hollis' innovative streak. Hollis didn't get enough credit for what he did in creating the Carrier Classic last season. He didn't hesitate to sign off on the Armed Forces Classic for the game in Germany last month. But the idea of playing four games at Cowboy Stadium is flawed. According to a number of sources, it would be extremely difficult for television to create the four windows to show the four games at once. Pulling off the television angles for all four games at the same time would also be extremely difficult. Then, of course, the issue of trying to configure how the fans of the eight teams have sight lines could also be an issue. I would never want to discourage Hollis from pushing the envelope. It was Hollis' idea for the 16-team Nike Classic in honor of Phil Knight's 80th birthday in 2017. If he can pull that off in Portland with the elite Nike schools then that would be a memory maker. I'm not sure this Cowboy Stadium example will be doable.
Outside of Wieden+Kennedy, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis might be the best sports marketing professional in the country, even if that's not exactly his job description. At the very least, he is its most enthusiastic.

In the past decade, no one has done as much to promote the college game's early season as Hollis and Michigan State have done just the past two years. In 2011 Hollis and MSU spearheaded the Carrier Classic, a true spectacle, and became a part of the three-year Champions Classic, a marquee season-opening event that was for decades exactly the kind of thing November college hoops was missing. This year, Michigan State took the lead on another Veterans Day project, designing a game against Connecticut at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Now, Hollis wants to do something even crazier: He wants to play four Veterans Day games in one building -- all at the same time. From Seth Davis:
The details aren't finalized, but here it is: Next year on Veterans Day weekend, there will be four -- count 'em, four -- games taking place simultaneously at Cowboys Stadium, site of the 2014 Final Four. The games will begin 15 minutes apart and be held side by side (by side by side) in the giant facility. The purpose is to simulate the madness that takes place during the first week of the NCAA tournament. Only instead of the games taking place in four different cities, they'll be played in one town, under one roof.

"We're going to squeeze everything into a three-hour time period," Hollis told me. "We're talking with eight institutions right now that have a very high interest and have that weekend open, and we're going to partner with the 12 [military] bases that are around Dallas, so we can make it a celebration for the guys at Fort Hood and others."

Before you get all caught up in whether it's logistically doable, well, of course it is. Cowboys Stadium is really big. Its video screen (from what I've heard) is almost oppressively outsized. College basketball courts are small. Inside the building, and on TV, there would be both enough room, and enough space in your ADD-riddled frontal lobe, for all of this to happen.

To be honest, I just spent the past five minutes trying to think of reasons to be opposed to this. I don't want to watch four games at the same time! I want to focus on one! Why are we organizing four-ring circuses in Jerryworld when we could be touring the nation's great on-campus college basketball arenas? Let's play in the Palestra! But I can DVR the games I want to watch later, and the Palestra doesn't have 80,000 seats. The Palestra is smaller than Jerryworld's Jumbotron.

So, hey, if we're going to go crazy with this early season thing -- if we're going to start staging multiple carrier games, even if they keep getting cancelled -- we might as well go all the way.

Maybe one day someone will build an arena big enough to hold the entire NCAA tournament! That "someone" will probably be China, but oh well.

3-point shot: Rob Murphy's right choice

August, 17, 2012
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1. Eastern Michigan athletic director Derrick Gragg had all the leverage with his head coach, Rob Murphy. If Murphy truly wanted to leave for an Orlando Magic scouting job he could but his contract stated he had to pay $210,000 to leave, according to the Detroit News. Multiple sources also confirmed Murphy wasn't going to get out of paying the fee. So, Murphy opted to remain and he did say in a statement that Gragg assured him the school is "continuing on the path of building a strong foundation for our basketball program." Well, that's fine if Murphy wanted to get a strong commitment. But the time to do so isn't in August. Coaches complain all the time when a player opts to transfer at an inopportune time in the spring or even summer. Had Murphy bolted on his staff and players on the eve of the fall semester it would have been even more egregious. Murphy can leave when he wants but there are consequences, especially financially. He also was leaving for a non-coaching position. Murphy will have to work even harder now to show where his loyalties lie this season to those that gave him a chance as a head coach. EMU did win the MAC West Division, but were under .500 overall in Murphy's one MAC coach of the year stint. Had he left in the spring then there would have been time to recover. But not now. He made the ethical choice to stay. Now the onus is on him to show his commitment to this season.

2. Is it me or are more positive things happening for Northwestern than ever before? The Wildcats got 7-foot-2 center Chier Ajou eligible for the season. If he can contribute then suddenly the usually vertically challenged Wildcats would have significant size inside. Northwestern's recruiting has gone exceptionally well for 2013. Coach Bill Carmody is energized as if he just arrived in Evanston. The Big Ten is loaded yet again with potential champion/Final Four teams. But it's hard to dismiss the positive vibes emerging for the Purple and White. Oh, if they can only get into the NCAA tournament just once.

3. The proposed 16-team Nike event in Portland in 2017 to celebrate co-founder and CEO Phil Knight's 80th birthday -- created by Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis -- will be interesting to watch if all the teams sign contracts instead of just offering up firm emails and verbal commitments. Hollis said the reason the two specific Pac-12 schools were selected -- Stanford and Oregon -- is those are the institutions which granted Knight a degree. The other 14 schools invited are: Kentucky, Florida, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Ohio State, Connecticut, Georgetown, Texas, Oklahoma, Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga and Portland. The two eight-team tournaments (remember conference teams can't be in the same event) would be seeded. The organizers (and our bracketologist) have plenty of time to come up with intriguing brackets for the two fields.
Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis' most recent scheduling accomplishment -- the 2011-12 season-opening Carrier Classic game between Michigan State and North Carolina, the photos of which remain incredible -- cemented Hollis's reputation as one of the nation's most creative, outside-the-box scheduling thinkers.

Hollis has a different event in mind for 2012. It may draw less attention than a basketball game on an active U.S. Navy warship, but it is nonetheless a fantastic and laudable idea. In 1963, an all-white Mississippi State team defied a court injunction disallowing Mississippi teams from competing against integrated squads. Instead, the team sneaked out of Mississippi and all the way up to East Lansing, where it went ahead and played its NCAA tournament Mideast Regional semifinal game against Loyola (Ill.) -- which at the time featured four African-American starters -- striking a symbolic blow for the equalizing power of sports at the early crest of the civil rights movement.

Even those familiar with the game may not know it was played in East Lansing (I am, and I didn't) and so Hollis told MLive.com he is hoping to celebrate the game's 50th anniversary with a commemorative game at Michigan State's old Jenison Field House, site of the original matchup:
"The historical significance of that game needs to be recognized," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said Tuesday, before appearing at a fan event in Berrien Springs. "I don't think a lot of people in Michigan are aware that game was played there and we want to make sure that story is told."

"This is the 50th anniversary as you know and Mississippi State and Loyola are looking at some possibilities, as well as we are," Hollis said. "I want to do something that commemorates that facility, so that's what we're working toward. And we're looking at a bunch of different options that make sense."

Great idea, right? Unfortunately, getting the idea past the gestation stage has proved more difficult. (As coach Tom Izzo told MLive.com, "The thought of it is really cool. Executing it is the problem.") Hollis has made attempts to line up both Mississippi State and Loyola for the game, but logistical hurdles remain, and Michigan State itself may now participate in some version of the game, though the opponent is unknown.

The right way -- or at least the best way -- is also the obvious way: Mississippi State and Loyola both need to be on board. Failing that, whatever Hollis comes up with will be an improvement on nothing at all. Fifty years on, the memory of that landmark 1963 game remains as essential as ever.
The Afternoon Links are (intermittently) back, and they are exactly what they say they are. Some days will bring more than others. This is the offseason, after all. If you have a link you'd like included, your best bet is to hit me on Twitter. You can also e-mail your link to collegebasketballnation at gmail.com, or use the submission form here.
  • The Sporting News's Mike DeCourcy reminds us this summer is the first during which players enrolled in summer classes will be allowed to participate in two hours of coach-supervised skill instruction per week. (This is a helpful reminder in and of itself; I had totally forgotten about this rule.) As such, Mike prescribes "summer jobs" to a handful of players seeking to make the leap from good to great, including UCLA's Josh Smith, whose overriding goal should be what Louis C.K. once famously phrased "be less people."
  • Our old friend Diamond Leung caught up with Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis on the possibility of future mind-blowingly awesome Carrier Classic-type events, and the news was promising: "There is nothing solidified," Hollis told Leung. "We’re looking at the possibility of something in '13 in Florida. It’s difficult to tie one of those billion-dollar warships down two years in advance, but if we did so, we’d want to take it to Florida." Among the possible opponents Hollis listed was Notre Dame, and I agree with Mr. Norlander: Notre Dame may not be the most high-profile opponent ever, but when we're talking about a basketball game on an active U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, it doesn't really matter how high-profile the opponent is. (I'd watch the Jesuit boys school Jeff Van Gundy constantly references on NBA broadcasts, provided they were playing on an aircraft carrier. More aircraft carrier!)
  • When Kendall Marshall broke a scaphoid bone in his right wrist during the NCAA tournament, there was talk -- just talk, but it was loud enough -- about the possibility that Marshall could return to the Tar Heels in a week or less. As it turns out, that was never even remotely possible. In an interview with the IMG Academy, Marshall revealed that while his wrist is nearly 100 percent, "... what people didn’t know is that I also fractured my elbow." Marshall has been limited in his draft prep, but is hoping to be ready for full contact at the June NBA draft combine.
  • One of the defendants implicated in the San Diego basketball point-shaving scheme plead guilty Thursday in San Diego to conspiracy to commit sports bribery, conduct an illegal gambling business and distribute marijuana. He faces up to five years in prison and is one of 10 defendants involved in the case, and the whole thing is probably still going to get worse before it gets better, if that's even possible.
  • Kansas guard Elijah Johnson and Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder may be rivals on the court, but they have at least one thing in common: Both are currently recovering from surgeries (Johnson on his knee, McGruder on his foot) undertaken this spring after the conclusion of the 2012 season. Both were limited in their movements in a Memorial Day camp in Kansas City, but both appeared in good spirits, and Johnson is already talking about taking over for senior guard Tyshawn Taylor as his team's primary ballhandler next season: “That’s how I want to embrace it,” Johnson said. “I feel when they get down to the last couple seconds in the game, I want everybody to look at me and feel comfortable. I don’t want people to look at me and not know what kind of mood I’m going to be in tonight. I want my teammates to know that every night I am trying to take them all the way as far as I can, further than we went last year and try to be positive in any situation.”
  • Pat Summitt will receive the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama today -- the highest honor the president can bestow upon a civilian -- alongside Bob Dylan, Toni Morrison and a batch of other noteworthy folks. Well-deserved, to say the least.
  • Hot off the ESPN.com presses: Myron Medcalf laments and analyzes the latest nonconference scheduling trends, in which more and more schools are determined to avoid on-campus matchups in favor of exempt holiday tournaments and other less risky and less costly events. Andy Katz talked to coaches about the art of nonconference scheduling; it's a great look at the motives at work. (My bit on the rivalries I'd love to see survive conference realignment and remain as nonconference games came earlier in the day.) And in case you missed it over the weekend, Dana O'Neil chronicled the efforts of ESPN analyst Sean Farnham to create Hoops From Home, "a nonprofit organization that will bring free basketball camps coached and run by current and past NBA stars to the children of military personnel living on bases all around the world." Dig in, enjoy, you know the drill.
  • Non-college basketball break: There was the 32 and 13 line he put up, another in a lengthening list of amazing 2012 playoff performances, as well as the general athletic disadvantage a hobbled Heat team had over an even-more-hobbled Celtics squad, but it wasn't until LeBron James started laughing at Kevin Garnett's tough guy act that I knew the Celtics had no chance to win this series.
  • Basketball break: Joss Whedon wrote for "Roseanne?" True story! As someone who was 10 years old in 1995, it's easy for me to forget just how popular Roseanne was in the 1990s. But then I watched the first three seasons of "The Larry Sanders Show" on Netflix, and that helped me sort of figure it out. Speaking of which, "Larry Sanders" is the ultimate '90s pop-culture time capsule, from which I have learned two things: The ties were terrible, and the '90s were really weird. That's pretty much it.

3-point shot: Self deserves praise

February, 23, 2012
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1. Kansas is on the verge of a possible eighth-straight Big 12 title. That’s remarkable. The Big 12 has been one of the toughest conferences in the country during that stretch. Bill Self has done a tremendous job with this group, has managed a star in Thomas Robinson perfectly, developed a good complimentary player in the post in Jeff Withey and dealt with an enigmatic but effective Tyshawn Taylor. And remember, the Jayhawks lost their top recruit, Ben McLemore to academics in the nonconference. Self is right there for coach of the year nationally with Mizzou’s Frank Haith, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.

2. The decision to bring Michigan State AD Mark Hollis (as well as Delaware AD and former Georgetown AD Bernard Muir) on the NCAA tournament selection committee was an intelligent decision. Hollis has been one of the best athletic directors in the country in understanding men’s basketball scheduling. Hollis has been a gambler and innovator (one of the creators of the Carrier Classic). He will know how to correctly judge nonconference scheduling. The committee improved in 2012-13 with the Hollis addition.

3. Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas announced he will step down on July 1. The Big 12 should consider NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen for the position. Shaheen, who was responsible for coordinating the NCAA’s move from Overland Park, Kan., to Indianapolis, has been the glue for the NCAA tournament. Shaheen helped negotiate the latest television contract for the tournament with CBS and Turner and is as connected as anyone at the NCAA in college athletics. But he has to re-interview for his job after the Final Four and according to multiple sources the hierarchy at the NCAA wants him out for a change. Shaheen is too valuable in college athletics to be left idle. The Big 12 could use his vision going forward.

3-point shot: MSU talks crisis management

November, 11, 2011
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1. Michigan State coach Mark Hollis said Thursday that earlier this week he met with football coach Mark Dantonio and men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo about the proper protocol in dealing with a crisis, particularly if it’s a legal issue. Hollis said this is in direct response to the way Penn State handled the alleged sexual abuse scandal by a former assistant coach of young boys. “We had to go through discussing things that if something ever happens in negative in nature about how we’re supposed to handle it, react and respond,’’ Hollis said. “These are the challenges for all schools going forward. Something can happen every day and that’s why you hope everyone follows the protocol.’’

2. Akron upset Mississippi State in Starkville on Wednesday night in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. But it doesn’t affect the Bulldogs’ appearance in the event next week in New York. The Gazelle Group, organizers of the event, changed the format after Gardner-Webb upset Kentucky in the same event in 2007. Organizers couldn’t afford to see a team get to New York that wasn’t going to sell tickets or move the ratings meter. That means Mississippi State will be in New York with the other three hosts – St. John’s, Arizona and Texas A&M. A year ago, San Diego State won at Gonzaga in the CBE Classic. But the Aztecs knew the deal and weren’t heading to Kansas City for the CBE semifinals. If the Bulldogs are a factor in the SEC then Akron, a MAC favorite, will have a shelf-life win.

3. Jim Larranaga certainly has a challenge ahead at Miami. Losing Reggie Johnson for the first half of the season to a knee injury was a crushing blow. Taking away forward Julian Gamble with a season-ending ACL injury was another shot. Now DeQuan Jones is out for the season as the NCAA and the school investigate the allegation that there was a $10,000 payment made to get him to come to Miami, as reported by Yahoo! Sports. Miami kept saying there was no change in Jones’ status throughout the fall. But it was clear that this allegation was going to cause some pause to play Jones until he was cleared. The Hurricanes couldn’t afford to potentially play an ineligible player. Now the ‘Canes are down three players from a year ago, making it even more difficult to mount an at-large bid through the non-conference portion of the schedule.

Rain won't force Carrier Classic below deck

November, 11, 2011
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Editor's Note: For Dana O'Neil's game preview, click here. Also, check out a historic photo gallery of basketball being played on aircraft carriers for decades, including a WWII-era shot of a future President.

SAN DIEGO -- A number of sailors, some on and some off duty, milled around the court atop the USS Carl Vinson on Thursday, giddy about getting to watch North Carolina-Michigan State in an unprecedented event Friday.

The sailors, like everyone else involved in this game -- from the president to the Secretary of the Navy to the captain of the ship to every member of the military on board -- will still actually get the chance, regardless of the weather. The threat of rain is diminishing for Friday night, which is a huge relief to those who fretted over what was a more foreboding forecast a couple days ago.

The conditions were so perfect Thursday evening that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said during the team’s shootaround, “We’re playing here. It will be this nice. It’s beautiful.’’

The decision to play the game on the deck, as originally planned, was actually made Wednesday morning, according to the game’s initial innovator, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis. Hollis said a half-set was put together in the hangar below deck. And it was a disaster.

[+] EnlargeUSS Carl Vinson
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireCrews stopped construction on the court in the indoor hangar bay after the area was ruled out. The plan is to go forward above deck.
If the game had been moved below deck, it would have had a totally different feel. Seating was only good for 2,500, rather than 7,000. Hollis said the Navy would have had to set up viewing stations around the ship with televisions. It simply wouldn't have been the same.

“It was like a small junior high gymnasium down there,’’ Hollis said. “No one wanted it to happen.’’

Not the coaches. Not the players. Not the military personnel. No one.

“I had a few of the troops say that if this game isn’t outside, they won’t see it,’’ North Carolina sophomore Harrison Barnes said.

Hollis said there is a rain contingency plan -- simply a rain delay. A number of servicemen from a nearby base volunteered throughout the week, setting up the court and the stands. They put a tarp, just like on a baseball diamond, over the court each of the past three days. A tarp was on the court Thursday night.

“We’ll stop it if there is any kind of moisture,’’ Hollis said. “The biggest concern is the safety of the student-athletes.’’

Those student-athletes certainly don't seem concerned, though.

“This is so special to be the first outdoor college basketball game and anyone who doesn’t play for Michigan State or North Carolina can’t say they played in it,’’ Michigan State senior forward Draymond Green said. “If we went underneath, we couldn’t have said it either.

"You worry about the rain, but I grew up playing outside on the playground, and if there’s wind just shoot it off the backboard.’’

Hollis said a number of waivers had to be granted by the NCAA.

“There were a lot of operational logistics we were dealing with since we had the government, the Navy, the two institutions and the NCAA,’’ Hollis said. “The approval of the uniforms, the long sleeves, the ability to come out a day earlier than normal. There were a lot of things that [Big East coordinator of officials] Art Hyland and [NCAA coordinator of officials] John Adams had to help us get through for all the waivers. We also had to get the endorsement of [NCAA president] Mark Emmert and [NCAA vice president] Greg Shaheen.’’

The setup on the Vinson's flight deck, where normally 39 jets are stationed, ready to be deployed, is as picture-perfect as any venue in the history of the sport. The court sits on the middle of the deck, with the San Diego skyline across the water. The stands, which seat 7,000, are next to the court, with courtside seating for dignitaries that will include President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Barnes
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill It was quite an experience when the players took the court for the first time Thursday.
At one point Thursday, sailors took turns sitting in their seats in their blue-tinted fatigues. The image was akin to an Army-Navy game.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he was filled with pride in advance of the game. His first reaction to coming on board the ship Wednesday was: “Wow. Wow. Every player had their phones and cameras out," Williams said. "No one was talking to each other. Their eyes and mouths were wide open. This is going to be a celebration.

"From the tipoff to the final horn, we’ll be working our tails off for the game. But we’ll be thinking about the smiles on the faces of the people who serve our country. We’re thrilled. It sends a cold chill for me just talking about it. It’s the neatest thing I’ve ever been involved in.’’

North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller said the last time he played outside was in middle school. He said he was a bit worried about his hook shot and sizing up the distance with the potential for wind.

The elements were on everyone’s mind, but not in a negative way.

“I like it out here,’’ North Carolina junior forward John Henson said. “I think we should get the Dean Dome to open up. I’d hate to go down low and miss this experience.’’

Barnes called the whole thing “unreal.”

“There’s no other way to say describe it," he said. "It’s so nice with the sky and the cool weather. There will be such a special aura about this game. No matter how far we go in the tournament, we’ll never see something like this. We’re showing appreciation for the troops, see how they live and this game is put in perspective.’’

Michigan State sophomore guard Keith Appling called this a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I’m only concerned that a couple of my shots get some wind and they could far right or far left,’’ he said with a laugh. “It might be embarrassing with the president in the stands.’’

Nevertheless, this game will be outside, whether there is wind or mist. That much we know.

“Weather is not going to be a factor,’’ Green said. “It’s going to be great.’’

3-point shot: B1G should nominate Hollis

October, 11, 2011
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1. The NCAA is waiting for the Big East to decide if it will hire former UConn AD Jeff Hathaway either to its staff or as a paid consultant so that he can continue as chair of the men’s basketball selection committee. Two weeks ago, the NCAA’s administrative cabinet denied a request from outgoing chair Gene Smith to let Hathaway serve out his term. The league -- preoccupied as it is with expansion dealings -- hasn’t moved on the matter. NCAA executive vice president Greg Shaheen said he is hopeful the Big East will alert the committee as to its decision by the end of the week.

2. No one is trying to save former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe’s spot on the 10-member selection committee. His replacement has to be from the Midwest or South as well as from a FBS conference (the Big Ten, Big 12, MAC and Sun Belt, specifically -- the SEC and ACC already have members on the committee). Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione is a candidate to replace Beebe for a full term. The committee should also consider Michigan State AD Mark Hollis; he’s exceedingly well-respected and created the Carrier Classic game on 11-11-11. The Big Ten should nominate him.

3. Indiana coach Tom Crean needed to catch a break in his tireless efforts to resuscitate the Hoosier program. He didn’t get one with the news that Maurice Creek is likely out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. Crean has improved the talent level at Indiana and finally brought in a top in-state player in Cody Zeller, but he needs a veteran presence to take pressure off the newcomers. College basketball needs this historic program to be relevant. Let’s see how much the Hoosiers will matter this season.

Izzo has access to MSU's Mystery Machine

June, 22, 2010
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With Tom Izzo deciding to stay at Michigan State, the Lansing State Journal has a look into how the school has tried to make life easier for a coach who already gets pulled in so many different directions.

One way of helping out Izzo is by providing him with access to a van that's tricked out so he can watch film during recruiting trips and also make calls or relax while an assistant does the driving.

According to the report:
The van is really a moving office, wired with all the technology Tom Izzo needs to examine game film as he is driven across the state and upper Midwest to see prospective recruits for his Michigan State University men's basketball program.

It is provided by MSU corporate sponsor Joe Serra, owner of more than 20 auto dealerships across the United States including one in Grand Blanc. The price is "lots of love" for Serra including four MSU basketball season tickets, said MSU athletic director Mark Hollis, and the idea is to make life easier for Izzo.

Not that this is the life of luxury hitting the road to catch high school basketball games, but rolling around in a (green?) Mystery Machine-Air Force One hybrid must be nice.

Even better? When your boss wants you to use the private plane more often.
Hollis wants Izzo to use private planes more for recruiting, even though they cost $1,200 to $3,500 an hour.

"I have to push him a little bit to realize time is more valuable than his old-school thought process," said Hollis, who expects to report a balanced 2009-10 athletic department budget of $75 million in July after doing the same for the 2008-09 budget year.
It was a big enough story on its own: Tom Izzo returning to Michigan State, pledging his services for life, making his triumphant return after a too-close-to-call dalliance with his NBA dream. All in all, that's a pretty great story, right?

[+] EnlargeTom Izzo
AP Photo/Al GoldisTom Izzo announced Tuesday that he would remain the head coach at Michigan State.
But of course that wasn't the biggest, or at least most sensational bit to come out of Izzo's news conference Tuesday night. Instead, it was a rather heated spat that pitted Izzo, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis and university president Lou Anna K. Simon against local columnists and eventually the media at large.

There's were two continual themes throughout MSU's news conference: One, that the media had in some vague way victimized Izzo and his family during the nine days the coach spent carefully pondering the merits of the Cleveland Cavaliers job. And two, that "the Internet" -- meaning sports coverage on the Internet, presumably -- was largely responsible.

Yeah, it went there. Fun.

President Simon took the microphone first so she could bust like a bubble. Simon said it was "amusing" so many rumors surrounded the story and unfortunate that "tweets became fact." That seemed a weird one-off, but it was soon followed up by athletic director Hollis who, in the midst of a stirring speech about what Izzo meant to MSU athletics and Michigan at large, saved time to give a brief rejoinder on media ethics in the digital age.

Hollis said that the media was "out of control." He claimed it was capable of doing "some very bad things to our society." He said the media's "race to be first leaves a great deal of pain in its wake." Michigan State journalism students should ask for a refund; the athletic director and school president were giving this stuff away for free.

When it was Izzo's turn at the podium, he made some reference to false reports being hurtful -- he actually told the assorted journalists that "bloggers drive me crazy, and they drive you crazy too" -- but more than anything he seemed irked by opinions rather than any particular erroneous report.

One of those opinions belonged to Detroit News columnist Lynn Henning. On Tuesday, Henning wrote that it might be too late for Izzo to come back to Michigan State. Henning believed Izzo's extended NBA dance proved his heart wasn't in East Lansing anymore. Curiously enough, Henning was the one reporter at Izzo's news conference willing to openly question Simon, Hollis and Izzo's characterizations of the media as careless. Which is where things stopped being polite and started getting real. And kind of silly, actually.

(Read full post)

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