We will address five pressing questions about the boys and girls basketball scene every week throughout the 2009-10 season.
1. Has any state ever had a showing at the Nike TOC like California?
Quite frankly, no. The TOC is annually the nation's toughest girls tourney, and for four California teams to make the semifinals in the top (Joe Smith) division is unprecedented. According to FAB 50 compiler Clay Kallam, not only had that never happened before, but California teams earned 20 of the 24 semifinals spots in the TOC's six divisions. There are no slouches in this tournament and even from the largest state in the country, 20 out of 24 is amazing considering the national girls game has improved since the TOC began in December 1997.
2. What were the main factors in those California teams doing so well?
Obviously talent on the rosters, combined with luck, is a good starting point, but there is more to it than that. Coaching and experience are bigger factors. All four of the California teams have excellent coaches: Carl Buggs (Long Beach Poly), Kevin Kiernan (Santa Ana Mater Dei), Tom Gonsalves (Stockton St. Mary's) and Jeff Sink (Brea Olinda) all have led previous teams to state titles and are great at adapting their coaching strategy to fit player personnel. These programs also have experience playing at the TOC, and because every game is tough in the Joe Smith Division, the teams that have been in that situation before have an advantage. And don't think the luck of the draw or all the bounces went the Golden Staters' way. In fact, injuries to Poly, Mater Dei and Brea Olinda were well documented going in, and even top-ranked St. Mary's was playing without starter Annissa Garcia because of back spasms. Believe it or not, these teams could be better in the CIF state playoffs.
3. Was Findlay Prep's loss to Northland that big of an upset?
Yes, it was. The result of Dec. 17's 53-52 victory by then-FAB 50 No. 13 Northland (Columbus, Ohio) over top-ranked Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) qualifies as a shocker because for one, the boys from Ohio had opened the season only two days earlier against a team they beat by 26 points, whereas the Pilots already played a dozen games. Second, Northland played without its second-best player, Ohio State-bound J.D. Weatherspoon. The Findlay Prep coaching staff was clearly not happy with the fouls called on forward Tristan Thompson in the second half, including the final one some 25 feet from the basket that put Jared Sullinger on the line for the game-winning points. Still, for a team that came in averaging 97 points per game, scoring 15 in the first half and getting two points total from big man Godwin Okonji was a recipe for disaster.
4. Why does the national media make a big deal of prep basketball routs?
Honestly, we don't know why. There have been huge routs in both boys and girls basketball for nearly 100 years. The situation came to light again when Dallas Academy (Dallas, Texas), which received attention from the likes of national morning talk shows and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for losing a game 100-0 last season, broke an eight-season losing streak with a 34-33 victory Dec. 17 over Johnson County. To us, breaking the losing streak should receive more attention than when the Covenant School beat the Bulldogs 100 to zip in a January 2009 game that ultimately cost Covenant coach Micah Grimes his job. Our theory is that there is something magical about 100-0 that makes it more eye-catching to folks who don't know the sport. Compared to 96-4 or 88-12, there is no difference. We have records of an 82-0 boys basketball game in 1914 and 120-3 in girls basketball in 1996. Wonder if those winning coaches lost their jobs?
5. Did the student in Iowa receive fair punishment for the "suicide taunt?"
Before we answer, a little background. The town of Altoona, Iowa, has been rocked by a series of teenage suicides. A day before a hotly contested boys basketball game between Waukee and Southeast Polk, a Southeast Polk senior killed himself at home, and his unfortunate death was the community's fifth teenage suicide in the past two years. As it often occurs at boys basketball games between rivals, chants from both sides of the crowd reportedly grew cruder in nature as the game wore on. In this case, a student from Waukee was banned from sports activities at school for gestures that included, among others, pointing an index finger to the side of the temple as to mock a suicide. Many in the Southeast Polk student body section understandably were quite upset about the gestures considering the timing, but we don't think singling out and banning one student is the answer to tasteless chants at high school games. Educative and preventive measures, and even banning student bodies if the chanting doesn't cease, are better solutions than singling out one student when this type of activity takes place.