ESPN Events: Charlotte

Kansas State, Charlotte far from strangers

November, 18, 2013
PUERTO RICO -- Though they have never met before, Kansas State and Charlotte will have an idea of what to expect when they play at 10:30 a.m. ET Thursday in the opening game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, to be broadcast live on ESPNU. That’s because while the Wildcats and the 49ers might be strangers on the court, their head coaches know each other well.

Kansas State's Bruce Weber and Charlotte's Alan Major first met more than 20 years ago, when Weber was an assistant at Purdue under Gene Keady and Major was a student manager. Major later spent time as an assistant on Weber’s staff at Southern Illinois.

“I’ve known Bruce a long, long time,” Major said. “So regardless of his personnel, I can tell you right now it’s going to be a team that plays very tough man-to-man defense. They’re going to run their motion game really well. They’re going to have a balanced lineup where they’re probably not leaning on one guy to do the damage. And they’re going to be well coached. Without knowing his roster up and down, I can definitely tell you that’s going to be the character of Kansas State.”

Weber has been equally impressed with the job Major has done during his three seasons at Charlotte, improving the 49ers from a 10-20 team to a 21-12 record last season. “Alan Major is a good friend of mine,” Weber said. “He loves basketball, is very dedicated, and has done a great job in trying to reenergize that program. I admire him and his dedication and work ethic and love for basketball. Other than on Thursday, we’ll always be cheering for him.”

Both teams are dealing with a lack of experience during these early season games. Kansas State (1-1) has seven new players (five freshmen and two transfers), which might have been a factor in the team’s 60-58 season-opening loss to Northern Colorado. The Wildcats bounced back with a 71-63 victory over Oral Roberts, led by freshman Marcus Foster’s 25 points.

“I think he’s the second player in the history of K-State to get 25 as a freshman,” Weber said. “He’s been our leading scorer in our scrimmages and one of our better players. And then in the first game, freshman Wesley Iwunda had a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds). He’s a long, athletic player who can get to the hoop and is good in transition.”

Meanwhile, Charlotte (2-1) has an experienced starting backcourt in juniors Pierria Henry and Terrence Williams – who have combined to average 31 points and 12.7 rebounds through the first three games – but the rest of the roster is dominated by freshmen and sophomores. “We’re not quite as deep as I’d like to be, but I like our pieces,” Major said. “They’ve got a great spirit with each other.”


Cary Estes is covering his fourth Puerto Rico Tip-Off. A freelance writer living in Birmingham, Estes spent 15 years working as a sportswriter for daily newspapers, mostly at the Birmingham Post-Herald. Estes has been a fulltime freelancer since 2006 and has continued covering sports for Associated Press,, (NASCAR) and several daily newspapers, including the Orlando Sentinel, Charlotte Observer and Cincinnati Enquirer.

Notes on the Puerto Rico Tip-Off

September, 5, 2013
49ers: With two schools nicknamed the 49ers participating in the 2013 Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the question comes to mind: Why the same nickname for institutions situated on opposite coasts? According to the schools’ athletic websites, the 49ers of Charlotte honor the year 1949, when founder Bonnie Cone successfully fought to make the school a permanent institution. Long Beach State’s “official mascot is the 49er, in honor of the school's founding in 1949 and the fact that the city of Long Beach, like many other cities in California, prospered due to the 1850 gold rush.”

"SOME" Helping Hoya Hands: Georgetown coaches and players could be found pitching in on Aug. 27 in the southeastern corner of the District of Columbia at Independence Place, a housing project managed by SOME (So Others May Eat). “It's a great thing to know they care,” said Cynthia Smith-Lewis, property assistant manager for SOME, about the Georgetown team. “For the families to know that someone is investing in them to help their lives, it means a lot."

Making Coin: Josh Bartelstein, the captain of Michigan's national runner-up squad in the 2013 NCAA championship, spent three of his seasons in Ann Arbor writing the "J-Bart Blog" for the school’s athletic. According to an article posted Sept. 3 on by Eamonn Brennan, Bartelstein "figured out a way to not only archive all that great work, but make a little coin from it, too"—by releasing an eBook about the team. When announcing Bartelstein as the team’s “permanent” captain for the 2012-’13 Wolverine squad last November, coach John Beilein noted that the 2009 Wolverine walk-on was "the most selfless 'team, team, team' guy that I may have ever coached. That young man has the ear of the locker room, and he has the ear of the coaching staff as well."

Four-Peat: Long Beach State posted its 2013-’14 prospectus on its basketball website as the 49ers begin the season in search of their "fourth consecutive Big West regular season championship.” The 49ers matched UNLV as the last Big West school to win three straight regular-season crowns. The prospectus highlighted the return of Mike Caffey, an All-Big West Conference first-team selection. The 6-foot junior point guard was the 49ers' second-leading scorer last season (12.0 points per game).

Puerto Rico celebrates 100 years of hoops

August, 28, 2013
With Puerto Rico celebrating 100 years of basketball, the country's national team captured the Jenaro "Tuto" Marchand Continental Cup by defeating Argentina 89-81 on August 26 in the final game of the five-country round-robin FIBA tournament at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan. Former American collegiate standouts Jose Juan Barea (Northeastern) and Carlos Arroyo (Florida International) paced the Puerto Ricans to a 4-0 record and were named the co-MVPs.

The celebration of 100 years of basketball in Puerto Rico officially began last spring at the Olympic House (the former YMCA building where the first basketball court was located) with a photo exhibition that featured images ranging from the original court YMCA until Jose Juan Barea championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010. Barea was "excited" and thankful about being chosen “to represent a generation of basketball in Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Tip-Off participant Florida State will play at least nine teams that played in last season's NCAA Tournament and may play two of the four Final Four participants. Coach Leonard Hamilton knows it will be challenge for his team. "We are going to challenge ourselves again this season," he said. “The aspect that makes our schedule even tougher is the high number of quality opponents we will play all season long, including in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off."

Michigan announced its 2013-2014 non-conference schedule Aug. 23 featuring an appearance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. "Once again we will have a very challenging non-conference schedule," said coach John Beilein. "As in our previous years, we expect our overall strength of a schedule will be one of the best in the NCAA."

Making the cut: In an Aug. 21 article on, John Goodman ranked the Top 25 X's and O's head coaches. Making the list were John Beilein of Michigan and John Thompson III of Georgetown. Goodman polled about two-thirds (around 250) of the Division I head coaches.

Worthwhile trip: In an Aug. 26 article by Coley Harvey in the Orlando Sentinel, coach Hamilton of Florida State was quoted as saying the Seminoles' two-week trip to Greece "was an eye-opening experience for our guys." During the overseas adventure, the Seminoles "practiced with and competed against the Greek national team.”

Notes on the Puerto Rico Tip-Off ...

August, 21, 2013
Games against nine post-season participants and three defending conference champions from the 2012-’13 season will highlight this coming season’s non-league schedule for Northeastern. Huskie coach Bill Coen, whose team will be participating in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November, knows his team will be tested. “We have a highly competitive schedule that will test and prepare us well for CAA [Colonial Athletic Association] play.” …

Florida State and Michigan will play on Dec. 3 in the 15th annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Wolverines will be at Duke (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN) and the Seminoles at Minnesota (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU) during the first of two days of play. All 12 Big Ten teams and 12 of the 15 ACC schools will participate in the 2013 Challenge, including the three newest ACC members (Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse). Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest will not play in this year’s event, as reported Aug. 15 on …

The “Five Biggest Offseason Storylines” for the Atlantic Coast Conference is now available on as Jason King lists Florida State’s Okaro White as a "Most Important Player." White ranked second on the team in scoring (12.4 points per game) as a junior and shot an impressive 81 percent from the free throw line. The loss of clutch guard Michael Snaer to graduation means the onus will be on White and highly-touted freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes to be two of FSU's top performers. …

VCU will play four Atlantic Coast Conference opponents this season with the Rams facing Virginia, Florida State, Virginia and Boston College with three of the four games on a neutral court. Prior to meeting Florida State on Nov. 21 in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, VCU will play at Virginia on Nov. 12. It will be the first meeting between the Rams and UVA and VCU since 1998 and tips off a two-year home-and-home series between the schools. VCU will play Virginia Tech Dec. 21 at the Governor's Holiday Hoops Classic in Richmond with the Rams’ next game Dec. 28 against Boston College in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at the Barclays Center. The VCU-Florida State contest will be the first meeting between the two schools since the Rams' thrilling 72-71 overtime victory over the Seminoles in the 2011 NCAA Tournament Regional Semifinal in San Antonio. VCU will host Northeastern on Nov. 29 in Puerto Rico. …

Charlotte's recruitment of hometown players was featured in an Aug. 11 “College Basketball Talk” article by Raphielle Johnson: “In many of the nation’s basketball hotbeds, a point of emphasis for college basketball coaches is to keep their area’s top talents home,” writes Johnson. “In Charlotte that’s been a task far easier said than done, however as many players have decided to play their college basketball elsewhere. But things may be changing for Alan Major’s program.”

Conference realignment got you down?

August, 15, 2013
Remember when you had all the conferences down pat? The power leagues were a cinch. But you were also pretty good at knowing who was in the WAC and Sun Belt, too. It even won you a beer or three at the neighborhood watering hole. Now? Not so much. But who can blame you? Realignment happened. Then it happened again. And again. All this movement has left you lost on trivia night. You haven’t won a free appetizer since Charlotte was in Conference USA. Well, now Charlotte is back in Conference USA.

It’s high time you got the conferences down again like you know the state capitals. Bad example? OK, like you know the Houston Astros play in the American League. Oh, really? Yeah, that happened this season. Anyway, back to college hoops. As we gear up for the start of the season and ESPN Events’ seven early-season basketball showcases, there’s a lot to learn. So take this quiz about some of the participating teams, and you’ll be the conference go-to person this season.

Q: If UMass plays Temple in the Charleston Classic, will this be a de-facto conference game?
A: Not anymore. UMass is still in the Atlantic 10, but its longtime rival Temple has moved on to the American Athletic Conference, which used to be the Big East, of course.

Q: If Davidson and UMass play in Charleston, will this be a de-facto conference game?
A: No, but it would be next year! Davidson is leaving the Southern Conference after this season for the Atlantic 10.

Q: True or False? Creighton and Marquette will be able to size each other up for conference play when they play together in the Wooden Legacy?
A: True. Creighton has moved from the Missouri Valley to the re-tooled Big East, which includes Marquette. Georgetown, playing in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, is also in the new Big East. So is Butler, part of the Old Spice Classic field, which spent just one season in the Atlantic 10.

Q: A good showing by College of Charleston in the Wooden Legacy would help what conference’s RPI?
A: Those who gave up on the conference thing a while back might not even know the Cougars moved to the Southern Conference in 1998. But that’s old news. Charleston is a new member of the Colonial Athletic Association, starting this season.

Q: So Charleston will soon be conference rivals with George Mason, which plays in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic?
A: No. George Mason has left the CAA for the Atlantic 10.

Q: That’s where Charlotte plays, right?
A: Wrong. The 49ers, who participate in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, have moved back to Conference USA, which it originally left in 2005. See, that was easy!

Now, keep this blog post handy around the holidays when you’re watching these tournaments. Just think of the money you’re going to win from Uncle Billy. You can thank me around Christmas.

Is it college basketball season already?

July, 24, 2013
For us, that would be an emphatic YES! We're lucky because we -- the ESPN Events team based (mostly) in Charlotte -- get to see upwards of 70 teams up close, much sooner than the rest of the world. But come November, we'll all get a peek at our favorite basketball teams and players and coaches. Which tournaments are you most looking forward to watching (or even attending)? As this is our first blog post, we thought we'd make it a bit interactive and have you vote. Let us know what you're thinking. VOTE