Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It Must Have Something To Do With The Altitude

In honor of the awesome, Earth-shattering, cataclysmic, historic game between North Carolina and Duke tonight, as well as previously-rolling and 15th-ranked Air Force's ass-whupping at the hands of a decent San Diego State team, I'm reminded of a fun assignment I had in college, oh, about 73 years ago.

For a magazine writing class, or a news writing class (hey - do you remember stuff like that from college? Didn't think so) we were given an open-ended assignment. Basically, come up with your own story, and interview a national media member.

Oh boy.

I had covered the men's basketball team at Colorado State, and I was curious as to why Colorado schools had never really done much in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There were three Division-1 schools; surely, at some point, one of them should have been good enough to make a deep run, right?

So I called up ESPN hoping to have Dick Vitale's verbal stylings turn my brain into applesauce, only to be told that he was unavailable.


Instead I got to chat with Jay Bilas who, to my immediate and scared-shitless surprise, did not mention Duke once. I told him that this was just an assignment for a class and wouldn't be published anywhere, but he seemed so intrigued by the question that we talked for a good 30 to 45 minutes.

The question? Why do Colorado college teams suck so bad at hoops?

Of course, I never got a definitive answer. How can you sum up hundreds of seasons of futility? You can't. Bilas tried, though, and he was very candid, talking about the high school players in the state, the programs' commitments to football, lack of quality coaching, etc. He also mentioned that plenty of other states are in a similar situation.

That conversation was a good seven or eight years ago. Things haven't changed much. Lets take a quick peek at the three schools, and their situations.

AIR FORCE (20-4, 7-3 T-2nd MWC): Well, their tournament history has pretty much come in the last few years, and obviously they're on the way up with former Denver Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik at the helm. But one of Bilas's main points about Air Force is that it's hard to recruit tall, athletic players to a service school. Bzdelik may get his team to do the little things right, but in the Tourney you need talent. Plain and simple.

COLORADO STATE (14-8, 4-6 T-5th MWC): When your school's basketball history mainly consists of the fact that this movie was shot there, well, that's just not epic, you know? When I left, Ritchie McKay had just bolted for Oregon State, and after a few years there he rolled on to New Mexico. Dale Layer has presented some stability, and there have been some solid players (most notably NBA prospect Jason Smith, a 7-foot junior averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and about 2 blocks a game), but the last time they got into the dance was 2003, where they miraculously won the Mountain West tournament and then were immediately rewarded by getting to play Duke. Sweet.

COLORADO (6-13, 2-7 T-Last in Big 12): Hey, it's a football school, you know? The Buffs have produced some talent (NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, born-and-bred in Denver, and the Pacers' David Harrison), but Ricardo Patton has had an up-and-down tenure, and probably won't last much longer. Although the fact that their beat-down of Indiana in the 1997 tourney forced Bob Knight to walk over two miles back to the team hotel in the rain at 1 a.m. was pretty freaking sweet.

It seems like Colorado would have the best chance at actually turning their program around, what with all the parties and money in Boulder. But good news for the Rams and Falcons: the last non-BCS school to play for the national championship? Fellow Mountain West school Utah, in 1998. But even then you had Rick Majerus, Andre Miller and Michael Doleac. That's just an ass-kicking trio right there, friends.

So, all in all, when you find yourself in the Centennial State and you want to check out some hoops, head to the Pepsi Center and check out the frantic musings of Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Marcus Camby and Co. If you have to go to a college game, make sure somebody gets you in for free. And then drink. A lot.

You'll need it.


Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the mighty Roadrunners of Metro State, a Division 2 mini-dynasty when Mike Dunlap coached there!! Hopefully the Buffs can get Bzdelick away from Air Force, or maybe even Dunlap from the Nuggets. Either way, C.U. is a dominant football power, just look at last season!!

Anonymous said...

Here's a guess: I'm from Philly and had some friends visit me here in Colorado.

They noticed the lack of an African-American presence before we got to the baggage claim, let alone out of the airport. That can't help in recruiting.

Anonymous said...

I went to CU during the Harrison years. The games were much more fun than football and they even pulled out some quality wins (e.g. Kansas). I really thought those years (+ Chauncey, and yes, the quality of the weed) would have a better impact on recruiting. The states general whiteness shouldn't effect that, either, look at UW-Madison. I'm going to have to blame Kobe.

Signal to Noise said...

I really thought Chauncey was going to help with CU basketball, and so did all my friends when I was in high school in Denver. I don't think the whole Gary Barnett mess in football helped either -- it tarred all the athletic programs at CU so badly.

As the anon at 2:02 noted, they're going to have to take a shot at poaching Bzdelik, and whomever the future coach may be is going to have to mine Denver proper for all the serious prospects (what few are there.)

Anonymous said...

As a CSU alum I can at least say we have a cool design on our basketball court....that's about all I can say.

Anonymous said...

Patton "probably won't be around much longer" - no kidding. I predict his last game will be the final one of the Big XII tourney. In fact, I'd bet my house on it. How am I so sure?

Cause last fall he announced he'd resign at the end of the season. Great research here, though.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy the "lack of color".

Look at the Seattle area. It has less of a percentage of African-Americans, but a lot more talent even considering its size.

I think a lot of it has to do with the mountains. While kids from other parts of the country are inside in the winter playing hoops, many of us Denver folk are up in the mountains.

Phony Gwynn said...

Yeah, sorry about that. Now that you mention it, I remember hearing about that. I guess that's the point, though - who remembers?

My bad, though.

Commish CH said...

In addition to the three schools, we also have DU, Northern Colo, and Wyoming just across the border in Laramie.

The big reason CU has never been that good is a lack of commitment from the AD. The arena they play in is horrendous, the hoops facilites/offices are at the football stadium, the marketing of the team is lackluster, and the overall "culture" of the program is bad.

The new AD has a big hill to climb to right that with his new hire