ESPN Events: Doug Wojcik

It’s OK, Thanksgiving can be for hoops, too

November, 20, 2013
Thanksgiving and football go together like oil and vinegar, hot dogs and the Fourth of July, Kentucky and one-and-done star freshmen.

I grew up in Massachusetts, where not only did we sit down and watch the Lions and Cowboys play home games on TV, but we also trudged out in parkas to watch the local high school play its traditional Thanksgiving morning rivalry game. It wasn’t officially the holiday until I stuffed my face, plopped in front of the TV to watch another terrible Lions team and acted like I had dozed off to avoid the annoying relative’s mindless conversation.

But a few years ago, my eye wandered past the gridiron to college hoops, and I admit, I felt slightly ashamed at first. Instead of just that lone Great Alaska Shootout game late-night on the holiday, there were suddenly games spaced throughout the holiday. It didn’t seem right at first, but then I found myself staying on these games a little longer. I’d miss the Lions’ latest three-and-out and no longer did it feel un-American.

Last year I spent Thanksgiving at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, covering Davidson in the Old Spice Classic. I missed just about all of the football that day, but I didn’t really miss it that much. I watched a well-drilled Davidson team and a surprisingly good Gonzaga squad. I watched Bob Huggins rant and rave. I saw three-pointers and dunks and good defensive plays and didn’t really long for the the NFL’s extra point—commercial—kickoff—commercial sequence.

You know what, basketball on Thanksgiving works. “It’s a good thing for college basketball,” College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik said.

And this year there’s plenty to choose from, including Wojcik’s Cougars. I’ll be in Phoenix on Turkey Day, so perhaps you can join me for a Hardwood Thanksgiving. Here's a road map:

10 a.m. for me in Phoenix (noon ET): I successfully avoid donuts 364 days each year, but give in on Thanksgiving. Hey, it’s a diet-busting day anyway, so why not go all out? Join me as I pound mini-powdered donuts and watch a much fitter Marcus Smart lead Oklahoma State against Purdue on ESPN2 in the Old Spice Classic. No doubt some NBA executives will also be watching Smart, who scored 40 points against Memphis this month.

Noon for me (2 p.m. ET): Get the clicker handy. Yes, you’re allowed to take a peek at Packers-Lions, but spend some time on Miami-George Washington from the DIRECTV Wooden Legacy on ESPNU, and Butler-Washington State from Orlando. on ESPN2. See how Miami is faring after losing all five starters from a year ago, and how Butler is holding up after losing coach Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics.

2:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET): Time to race over to the buffet, but be strategic so this buffet not only has white meat, gravy, potatoes and plenty of rolls, but it’s near a TV tuned to ESPN2 and Marquette-Cal State Fullerton from the Wooden. You’ll notice that while Marquette’s Davante Gardner likely beat you to the buffet line, the guy can play.

4:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. ET): I covered Jimmy Patsos when he used the ultimate triangle-and-2 defense to hold Stephen Curry scoreless — and yet lose by 30. You never know what the colorful coach will do, and I look forward to watching him in his first year at Siena try to take down a deep Memphis team from Orlando on ESPN2. It’s OK if you catch the end of Raiders-Cowboys, too.

6:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. ET): Wojcik’s Cougars try to upset San Diego State on ESPNU at the Wooden, while Saint Joseph’s and LSU play in the final game of the day in Orlando on ESPN2. LSU features highly-touted freshman Jarrell Martin, who could be in the NBA a year from now.

9 p.m. (11 p.m. ET): The relatives are likely gone now, so you can settle in without distraction and catch a couple of the nation’s best players square off while picking at the leftovers. It’s Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who has already scored 37 points in a game this season, against Arizona State and speedy guard Jahii Carson on ESPN2. If you dare to miss a Carson fast break, you’re allowed to catch the end of Steelers-Ravens.

It’s just you may forget to click over.

Mid-majors ready for major challenges

October, 25, 2013
There are countless positives for a mid-major program when it knocks off a big-name school, consistently wins 20 games or makes an NCAA tournament run. All the success, exposure and notoriety also produce one negative, however: scheduling headaches. Suddenly the big boys are wary of playing you.

“In my opinion, we’re a true mid-major. When I say that, I mean the kind of success we’ve had in our program, our fan base—we outdraw a lot of BCS schools here,” College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik said. “So in that sense, it’s hard to get home games. Even when you potentially can get a decent series and say you have to go on the road, it may cost you $20,000 to $25,000. When you’re a mid-major, you have to manage that sort of a budget. So these are games I just couldn’t get otherwise.”

Wojcik is talking about early-season tournaments. The Cougars play in the Wooden Legacy in California Nov. 28-Dec. 1, opening with San Diego State, playing Creighton or Arizona State in the second round, and closing with another game against a quality opponent in a field that also includes Marquette, Miami, Cal State Fullerton and George Washington.

“Boy, those are good opportunities for us,” admitted Wojcik, who returns most of the team that went 24-11 last season and lost in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. “It’s a big challenge and it puts a lot of pressure on a team. That’s why you always want to stay experienced and be an upperclassmen team. It really gives you a chance to win some of those games and help your RPI.”

Davidson has seen its Ratings Percentage Index benefit from ESPN Events tournaments in two of the past three seasons. The Wildcats beat Nebraska and Western Kentucky and lost to West Virginia in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2010. Last year in Orlando, Davidson knocked off Vanderbilt and West Virginia before losing to Gonzaga in the final of the Old Spice Classic on the way to a 26-8 season that included an NCAA tournament appearance.

“You can’t put a price tag on how valuable that is to us, in terms of the way it prepared us for our Southern Conference experience, as well as for postseason play,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “That was a sensational experience.”

McKillop, who must replace graduated big man Jake Cohen, plays in the Charleston Classic Nov. 21-24. Davidson opens against Georgia, plays either Temple or Clemson in the second round, and will close against another potential RPI-boosting team in a field that includes UAB, UMass, Nebraska and New Mexico. “We’ve been to Charleston, to Puerto Rico, then Orlando and now we’re back to Charleston,” McKillop said. “And in each case we’ve been able to play high-powered programs on neutral sites in environments that are attractive for our fans, attractive for our players. It’s sort of a laboratory for our season.”

Northeastern in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and Siena in the Old Spice Classic are also in similar positions of facing several high-major teams on neutral floors. Added Wojcik about the opportunities such tournaments provide: “Gosh, as long as we stay even-keeled, positive, move on whether good or bad, I don’t know how it can’t prepare you for March.”