OK, rest of the world. It’s time to cry “uncle” already.
I’m an American, who appreciates winning, steak, Will Ferrell, and all the rest. But I am tiring of the headlock Team USA has every other nation in. On Sunday, the United States beat Serbia 129-92 in a FIBA World Cup title game that after six minutes held about as much drama as “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” The U.S. has now reeled off 63 straight wins, a run that was cool at first, when we had something to prove in basketball after losing three Olympic games a decade ago. Yes, the whole “Redeem Team” thing was fantastic. Millions of Americans tuned in to see the U.S. make a resounding statement in the 2008 Olympics to reclaim Gold.
Less enthralling was the “Confirmation Team” of the 2010 FIBA World Cup. Or Confirmation Team 2.0, or 3.0. We get it: America is unequivocally the sport’s King once more. It’s clear that since American basketball powers actually put their mind to it, the U.S. simply has too large a pool of hyper-skilled, hyper-athletic players – headlined by hyper-athletic, hyper-skilled young superstars ( e.g. Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis) – that no other single nation can hope to match.
Spain, of course, appeared to pose a threat this summer. They boasted multiple NBA All-Stars, and a roster that in total had logged more NBA games (3,223) than even the American roster (3,213). But the host nation went cold at the wrong time, against a French team with enough athletic wing players to disrupt the Spanish perimeter offense. With far more disruptive, quicker players, the Americans would have beaten Spain too.
Now that the sun is setting on Spain’s Golden Generation, as it already has with Argentina’s, the United States is accelerating beyond the teams that have hung with them in recent years. “If anything, the gap is widening,” ESPN announcer Fran Fraschilla said last week during the Americans’ semifinal win against Lithuania. To the point where no nation poses a legit threat to Team USA at the 2016 Olympics.
France could look best on paper, but they would need four Nicolas Batums to hope to slow a team with firepower including Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Paul George. If the San Antonio Spurs, a favorite to repeat as NBA champions this coming season, were allowed entry they would pose the biggest threat. But despite the Spurs’ Texan roots, they appear unlikely to seek political autonomy any time soon.
Instead of messing with the Olympics, it’s time to form another major international tournament that provides actual compelling and competitive basketball. Provide a venue in which the best players from non-U.S. nations team up by continent. Call it basketball’s “Pan-Continental Cup.”
On their own, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, Ricky Rubio et al won’t beat the U.S. in the coming years. Spain doesn’t have wing players big and athletic enough to defend the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. But with France’s Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw on their side, they have a legit shot. Add long, imposing players like Joakim Noah, an intermittent French national team member, or England’s Luol Deng to the mix, and the U.S. would finally face a foe that rivals it in terms of skill, athleticism and size.
Pan-continental teams work. Look at golf, where the Ryder Cup has pitted a Team USA vs. a Team Europe since 1979. Meanwhile, bowling has its own USA vs. Europe competition. In each sport, over the years, the two sides have proven to be pretty much even.
The idea is already a reality at the youth basketball level. FIBA sanctions the Nike Global Challenge, an annual event in which a Pan-Asian team has competed against other nations including the U.S., and a Pan-African team still does. Another event, the Nike Hoop Summit, goes one step farther: It pits some of the United States’ best high school players against the best similarly aged players from all other nations. Just like in golf and bowling, this setup helps raise the game of both sides and provides better competition. Each side has won three games each in the last six years.
Great work by the folks at Courtside Films, who put together an authoritative summer highlight package on Malik Monk – the springy Bentonville High junior who is developing into one of the most highly recruited players in state history regardless of sport.
Here are two interesting take-aways from an interview in the video:
1. It’s unclear exactly how high Malik can jump these days, but he had a running vertical jump of 42 inches in the eighth grade. He told me last spring he helped develop some of that extraordinary leg power by running through the mud that would form in the rural backyard after it rained.
2. His home – before 10th grade – was in Lepanto, Ark., the Monks’ native town to which Malik gives a shout out in the above video. He also gave an shout out to The Woods, the neighborhood he grew up in (across the street from his cousin, Razorback guard Ky Madden). Finally, he gave props to “SYM,” which is something I want to find out more about.
“SYM” stands the Lepanto friends of Malik and his older Marcus Monk, Marcus told me via text. Marcus Monk, as well their mother Jackie, are definitely at the top of the Malik Monk Inner Circle Hierarchy (which I refuse to henceforth refer to as the I.C.H.)
Back in Lepanto, the family has a lot of close friends and relatives, including the Maddens (Indeed, Ky Madden often Tweets out #sym) and Malik’s brothers Byron and Aaron Scales. On Malik’s Twitter page, Malik pays homage to his cousin Troy Tucker, who died three years ago from complications of sickle cell anemia. Next week, in an interview for Letterman Magazine, I’ll ask him and Marcus more about who/what “SYM” are, but Malik might have thrown out a clue by mentioning two people below:
— Kilam (@AhmadMonk) August 21, 2014
I don’t know who @Dero7_GH is, but it appears that Rod Winkler is a University of Arkansas student who loves himself some basketball. Based on the profile image of his Twitter account, this appears to be the same Rod Winkler who caused a minor stir last January by getting into a heated, impromptu defensive positioning tutorial with Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison after UK lost to Arkansas in Fayetteville:
It doesn’t appear Winkler is from Lepanto (his Twitter feed and this article cite Little Rock as his hometown), but I don’t want to speculate. Maybe he lived in the Lepanto area earlier in life, after all. He probably never lived in Auburn Hills, Michigan, as the following image created by Kentucky Sports Radio of Winkler taking his game to the proverbial next level would have the simpletons among us believe.
Thank you for your explosive dunking, Malik Monk. And so long as you don’t get involved in actual Malice in any sort of Palace, I also give thanks to you, Rod Winkler, for making our world a less boring place.
As far as I know, this is the only version of the 4-page thing available online. Here’s the first half. Below’s the second:
[Below is text not entirely visible in the above and below sections]:
He coached five seasons at Tulsa, going 119-37 for a searing .763 winning percentage. But every great character in American literature faces adversity … faces heartbreak. And so it was for Nolan Richardson.
“It was Monday, right after the NCAA pairings were released (in 1985) and we thought our daughter Yvonne was sick with the flu,” he said. “We were getting ready to play UTEP in the NCAA Tournament…
In the late 1990s, Sidney Moncrief was nominated to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame four straight years. The Little Rock Hall High alumnus wasn’t voted in, though, and now stands as the one of the top two non-inducted guards in the game’s history. “I think in time that will happen,” Moncrief, a former Razorback All-American, told me on the phone today. “There’s a time frame for everything.” Former NBA commissioner David Stern, who’s being inducted today, told me Moncrief deserves to join him one day. I believe such a moment will happen sooner than later but that’s a story for a different time.
In the meantime, let’s focus on a Razorback who got in on his first try: Nolan Richardson. Few Division I coaches not named Roy Williams or Jim Boeheim have won 500 games in shorter time than he did, and nobody before or since has taken the University of Arkansas to the same heights. Tonight is Richardson’s night, and here’s Moncrief’s take on it:
“I was very excited for Nolan. The impact he’s had on the game of basketball and people-wise … It goes beyond basketball; It’s overall impact on people, more specifically when you’re a college coach, it’s all about the young men you are leading and the impact that you have on them. And he’s done that for years. I’m very proud he was [chosen to be] inducted.”
PS – Moncrief now lives in Dallas, where he runs his own business and has written five books. He’s currently working on a book called “Your Passport to Manhood,” the latest in a Passport-themed series. Last season, he worked as a Milwaukee Bucks analyst but he said it isn’t set if he will return to that position.
As you know, Hamburg native Scottie Pippen made the original Dream Team in 1992 and the 1996 Olympic team which grabbed Gold in Atlanta. Pippen made by far the greatest splash of any national team Arkansan, but he wasn’t the first to do so in an Olympics. That honor goes to Gordon Carpenter, native of Ash Flat in northeast Arkansas. And there are plenty others who have made national teams for other competitions. Below, I present the first (and I will bet you $25 only) comprehensive list anybody has ever bothered to assemble on the topic:
1. Gordon Carpenter
Carpenter, a 6’6″, 200-pound big affectionately known as “Shorty,” was one of Arkansas’ first great basketball players. He led Ash Flat in northeast Arkansas to the 1939, upsetting much bigger teams in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, and then went on to star on the University of Arkansas’ first Final Four team in 1941. He led the Hogs to their first undefeated SWC record and ended his college career on the All-SWC team.
He then played for the Phillips 66 powerhouse basketball team, which was technically amateur and allowed him to retain eligibility for international play (the Olympics were then off-limits to paid professional athletes). The Phillips 66 team was on par with the best professional teams of the era, and Carpenter helped lead them to six straight national titles. He made the AAU All-America team each year from 1943-1947 and helped his team qualify to represent the U.S. in the 1948 Olympics by beating the University of Kentucky in a Madison Square Garden (weird, I know).
In those London Olympics, Carpenter had a turn as hero, according to this book. In a game against Argentina, the U.S. was trailing by six points with four minutes to go. Coach then inserted Carpenter and he scored 10 points in two minutes to help the Americans turn the tide and win. The final score of the game was 59-57, according to linguasport.com.
Two years later, Carpenter became head coach of the national team at the first basketball World Championship (now called the basketball World Cup) in 1950. The host nation, Argentina, took Gold and the U.S. took Silver.
A native of Tuckerman in Sharp Co., the 6’8″, 240-pound Barnes trumps Corliss Williamson, Andrew Lang (and so far Bobby Portis) as the most dominant collegian big man the state has produced. He was dirt poor as a child, often playing in socks because his family couldn’t afford shoes. Around 18 years of age, he moved to Oklahoma to finish high school. Barnes then dominated junior college competition for two years, and then did the same at Texas Western. He averaged 29 points and 19 rebounds his senior year, and a few months later became the first of two Arkansans ever drafted #1 overall in an NBA or NFL draft.
Before his pro career, though, Barnes traveled to Tokyo with other top collegians like Larry Brown and Bill Bradley. He was the fifth-leading scorer on the Gold-winning team. In the Finals, the U.S. squared off against the U.S.S.R. Barnes’ speed and agility, like center Bill Russell’s four years before, was a big reason the Soviets could not hang with the Americans.
That team’s head coach was Henry Iba, who happened to the mentor of Barnes’ college coach Don Haskins. Coincidentally, Haskins became the mentor to Nolan Richardson, one of Barnes’ Texas Western teammates. Richardson thought highly of Barnes’ character: “Jim was one of those men who was thrilled to play for their country. He took the opportunity seriously and played every possession hard.”
3, Sidney Moncrief
When it comes to Moncrief and Larry Bird sharing the same court, the headliner will forever be their legendary showdown in the Elite Eight of the 1979 NCAA Tournament. Before these two All-Americans clashed in front of a national audience, though, they had two summers before joined forces to topple other countries.
In 1977, the Little Rock native represented the U.S. in the World University Games (similar to what would be a U-21 competition today). Moncrief helped the U.S. tear through the event, in Bulgaria, with an 8-0 record. He led the Americans with 16 points in the finals against the U.S.S.R.
Undoubtedly, Sid shot the ball at a high clip that tourney. It’s amazing to think that as a freshman, the 6’4″ forward led the entire nation in field goal percentage, as this July 26, 1977 article points out:
NB: You’ll notice one of the assistant coaches was none other than Bill Vining of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia. The national team program wanted coaches from all levels of college basketball, and Vining, being the small college level bad-ass he was, was selected to rep that segment.
4. Marvin Delph
Another one of Arkansas’ famed Triplets, Delph was a part of a wonky 1978 World Championship team made up of neither college or professional players. College players should have filled out its roster but by October – when the event occurred – they were already in preseason and prohibited from competing.
So the U.S. sent a squad made up mostly of Athletes In Action (a religious organization) ballers, and finished 6-4. This isn’t all that bad considering many of the communist national teams were made up of essentially professional players who had state-provided sinecure jobs.
Delph, a Conway native, averaged only 5.5. points in the six games he played. But hey, the U.S. was 5-1 in those games (losing only to the U.S.S.R.), so that’s something.
In terms of basketball talent, Arkansas is in a golden era, producing elite players at a clip not seen in decades. But when it comes to national team recognition, the state is in a bit of a drought. Since 1996, only one native Arkansan has made a U.S. senior national team. In recent years, two of the state’s best young players – Anton Beard and Malik Monk – were in the running to make junior national teams at the U16 and U17 levels but were both cut multiple times. Monk’s most recent exclusion, which occurred last weekend, is the most surprising.
Monk, a consensus Top 15 player in the class of 2016, had a memorable summer torching foes as a headliner with the Arkansas Wings in Nike’s prestigious EYBL circuit (essentially, the Champions League of prep basketball). The 6’3″ shooting guard broke scoring records and put up 40 and 59 points while making a strong case that Arkansas, for likely the first time ever, is home to the nation’s most electrifying high school player*. The Arkansas Wings founder Ron Crawford, who has coached in the U.S. youth developmental system, said last week he believed there was “no doubt” Monk would make the U17 national team.
But after a three-day audition in Colorado involving 33 players, Monk was among the first cut. If the experience becomes a valuable lesson, this isn’t necessarily bad thing for Malik. He strives, after all, to become a world-class point guard, and none other than John Stockton – one of the top point guards of all time – was cut from the 1984 Olympic team. Monk already is one of the most athletic prospects we’ve ever seen at the guard position. Two of the most freakishly athletic forwards in the history of the game, Charles Barkley and Blake Griffin, were also cut from national teams.
Stockton, Barkley and Griffin all bounced back from their disappointments to become NBA All-Star caliber players. For Monk to one day do the same, he’ll have to keep improving. He must become a more consistent shooter and better decision maker, his older brother Marcus Monk said. “He’s really been working on his distribution as far as his passing skills and making better decisions with the ball. He’s improved in that area some.”
But Malik isn’t yet the well-rounded player his coaches and (potential) national team coaches want him to be. In the five games he played in the EYBL Finals, the only standard statistical category he led the Wings in was points (18.8 ppg). He finished second in blocks (0.4) and assists (2.6), third in steals (1.6) and fifth in rebounds (3.5).
Honing shot selection, though, is the biggest task right now. Squaring off against fellow Arkansan KeVaughn Allen, Monk scored 40 points on 14-for-20 shooting against Memphis-based Team Penny. But in the other four games, he shot 11% from 3-point range and 21% overall from the field.
Marcus Monk has been working on helping his brother cut down on bad shots. They break down film of his game to sharpen Malik’s court awareness and make him a better teammate, Marcus said. “It’s more discussion as far as how to read screens and looking at that second and third level of defense. Like a quarterback, you know.”
In early July, Monk had a chance to learn firsthand from one of the world’s most efficient basketball players when he attended the LeBron James Skills Academy. James is “really active with his camp. He takes time with all the players,” recalled Marcus Monk, who attended the event as an observer.
USA Today just released the most up to date financial reports for all 230 Division I athletic programs in the nation. In terms of total revenue, the University of Arkansas sits 14 spots from the top. Ten spots from the bottom you’ll find the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (the nation’s largest intra-university system disparity). In between sit three other Arkansas schools.
I’ll break down these numbers later, but for now, let’s simply celebrate in the splattering of them on the wall.
Take what you will:
No. 14 nationally ($99.77 million revenue)
No. 131 ($16.28 million revenue)
No. 194 ($10.77 million revenue)
No. 220 ($7.1 million)
(PS – Notice how the total revenue plummeted from 2010 to 2011. That’s what an NCAA Tournament appearance and win will do for you.)
How about you, cherished reader? Any numbers jump out as significant or worth extra scrutiny?