I recently examined how good Kentucky’s defense has been this season compared to the best teams in college basketball history. The piece is in SLAM here.
Naturally, the great UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s (winners of 88 straight! Seven straight national championships!) were part of the analysis. And fortunately two of the best Bruins of this era – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes – provided me with some first-hand insight.
I found out that Abdul-Jabbar considered the best UCLA defense he played with to be different from what UCLA’s media guide indicates. Jabbar’s senior team (1968-69) held all of its opponents to an average of 37.4 % field goal shooting and 63.8 points a game. Those numbers were at 38.4% and 67.2 ppg the previous season.
And yet it’s Kareem’s junior year, 1967-68, which he considers the best college defense he played on. He explains:
“That was our most versatile team. The depth and the good athletes made that our best team. The only loss we had was against the University of Houston because I had a sub par game having spent the previous week in the Jules Stein Eye Clinic with an injury. Everyone counted us out until we had the rematch in the NCAA Tournament and beat them by 32 points.I had kept the Sports Illustrated cover featuring Elvin [Hayes] hanging inside my locker for the rest of the season as a reminder and motivator. Since this was the first loss my UCLA teams experienced I didn’t want it to be a repeat occurrence. It must of worked because I only lost two games during my entire college career.”
I’m not one to argue with an authority like KAJ. It’s very possible the ’68 defense was actually better than ’69 relative to how strong its opponents were. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same kind of strength of schedule metric for teams of this era as we do for more recent teams.
The work around, as I detail in SLAM, is to look at how teams performed purely against Associated Press Top 25 foes. Those specific stats often take work to come by, but they are worth it.
Here are other excerpts from my January interview with Abdul-Jabbar, who recently authored the latest installment of his “StreetBall Crew” series for young adults:
Q: I know many rules have changed since the 1960s, but how do you think that [1967-68] defense would have fared against some of the top teams in modern NCAA basketball?
A) I think we would have been just as dominant as we were in the Sixties. I think the fact that our players had to stay in school and could not jump to the NBA enabled them to learn the game in-depth and the one and done players don’t have that type of complete fundamental preparation.
Q) Do you feel like the best UCLA team you played on would have been athletic enough, overall, to beat a modern elite NCAA team?
A) Modern elite NCAA teams do not feature players who have stayed through their junior and senior years and lack the in-depth competence of a team that has upper classmen. I still think we would have to be considered as one of the best teams that ever played college ball.
Q) On the defensive end, what similarities do you see between the 2014-15 Kentucky team and your best defensive UCLA team? Are there any current Wildcats (or Wildcats on the 2010 or 1996 teams) that remind you of any Bruins on that team (in style of play, physicality or both)?
A) I haven’t seen the Wildcats play recently so I can’t compare them, but I do know that they are dominant team from the way they whipped UCLA and held them to 7 points in a half.
Q) In your opinion, what are the best two or three defensive teams in all of NCAA history?
A) Bill Russell’s 1956 USF team*, John Wooden’s first NCAA championship in 1964 and my UCLA 1968 team are the three best. None of the modern teams would have been able to compete with Bill Russell’s teams or the UCLA teams because they lack the cohesion you get from staying in a program for four years. Bill Russell’s team featured two of the best defensive players that ever played in the NBA, namely Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. The 1964 UCLA team was undefeated – need I say more ?
*I would love to see how this team performed against Top 25 foes. Unfortunately, those box scores appear to be missing as of now. We do know for sure is that USF ’56 was very, very good, holding all foes to 31% shooting and 52 points a game.
Stay tuned for more excerpts from the Jamaal Wilkes interview, and some details numbers from my all-time teams comparison.
An upcoming major motion picture about Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African American to sign an NBA contract and play in an NBA game, will have strong Arkansan roots. Clifton, who grew up near England, Ark. in Coy in the 1920s, starred with the New York Knicks in the 1950s and was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame alongside Nolan Richardson last summer.
The character of native Arkansan Louis Jordan also features into the plot for “Sweetwater.” Jordan, who grew up in Brinkley, Ark., was one of the towering entertainment figures of the 1930s through early 1950s, a star in the music and film businesses with wide appeal across all races. He briefly attended Arkansas Baptist College before heading north, where he ultimately landed in New York City. There, he fell into the same circles as Clifton and Clifton’s mistress, an aspiring blues singer, according to Martin Guigui, the movie’s writer and director.
Rap superstar Ludacris will play Jordan. Guigui said last summer he discussed the project with Ludacris, a veteran of multiple movies such as Fast and Furious 6, and the entertainer told him he wanted to be involved any way he could. Guigui decided Jordan’s character was the best fit for Ludacris’ talents. Ludacris will also be involved in the not-yet-made “Sweetwater” soundtrack, which may feature contemporary hip hop music as well as updates to Swing Era classics.
Actor Wood Harris, perhaps best known for his role as Avon Barksdale in the HBO series The Wire, will play Clifton.
Haters of numbers, shield your eyes.
For the below data dump, I looked at every NBA or ABA player ever, tracking who was born in which U.S. state. Then, I tallied all those U.S.-born players’ combined three point attempts and makes.
Pure, unadulterated bragging rights result:
Ranking Each State’s NBA Natives’ All-Time Aggregate Three-Point Percentage
|1. New Hampshire||773||1,870||41.34%|
|2. South Dakota||1,784||4,397||40.57%|
|20. New Jersey||9,942||28,599||34.76%|
|21. District of Columbia||5,027||14,492||34.69%|
|29. West Virginia||3,517||10,291||34.18%|
|31. North Carolina||9,966||29,386||33.91%|
|33. New York||22,888||68,052||33.63%|
|41. South Carolina||2,702||8,344||32.38%|
|44. Rhode Island||205||662||30.97%|
|47. North Dakota||12||41||29.27%|
|50. New Mexico||19||87||21.84%|
The list below cares not a jot for accuracy. It concerns itself solely with sheer, unbridled quantity.
Yet if that were the only metric, then the big boys – New York, California, Texas – would easily win on account of their populations. So, to even the playing field, I’ve included each state’s population as a factor too.
Ergo, the world’s first and likely last all-time* NBA-ABA per capita 3-point production ranking:
In few realms does the state of Arkansas travel the Middle Way. In politics, we’re among the reddest of the red. In education, we’re near the bottom of nearly all national metrics. Income stats, too.
It’s hardly a long shot to say Arkansans don’t do moderation well.
Except when it comes to producing world-classily average deep shooters. Arkansas ranks No. 25 among 50 states in three-point shooting in the NBA and the now-defunct ABA. That’s an accuracy only ranking, tallied by adding up all three-point makes and attempts by all NBA/ABA players born in each state. New Hampshire, South Dakota and Nebraska are tops here, with New Mexico, Delaware and Wyoming groveling at the bottom. Click here to nerd out more on this stuff, as I did for SLAM.
Looking at only native Arkansans, we see one reason for the state’s supreme averageness is the lack of any elite deadeye gunners. No Kyle Korvers, Hubert Davises, Dell Currys – or even Martell Websters or Anthony Morrows -have ever come out of our state. While Joe Johnson did briefly hold the NBA record for three point makes in one quarter (8), he hasn’t consistently been able to sustain the elite accuracy he showed early in his career with the Phoenix Suns.
Indeed, when it comes to accuracy, the best Arkansan long bomber isn’t even know for being an Arkansan. Mike Conley, Jr., son of Razorback track great Mike Conley, moved in childhood from Fayetteville to Indiana.
14 Best NBA/ABA Arkansan Three Point Gunners
|3 PT%||Made||Attempted||Native Town|
|Derek Fisher||0.374||1248||3341||Little Rock|
|Joe Johnson||0.372||1671||4497||Little Rock|
|Marcus Brown||0.333||13||39||West Memphis|
|Quincy Lewis||0.333||37||111||Little Rock|
|Jeff Webster||0.333||2||6||Pine Bluff|
|James Anderson||0.33||173||525||El Dorado|
|Fat Lever||0.31||162||523||Pine Bluff|
|Dennis Nutt||0.294||5||17||Little Rock|
|Sidney Moncrief||0.284||110||387||Little Rock|
*I don’t consider Jasper Wilson the most accurate NBA Arkansan three-point shooter of all time. He just lucked out with a small sample size. A “not-small” sample size, in the context of this ranking, should probably begin around 200 career attempts.
Notice the rankings only consider birthplace, not where the player actually went to high school. That’s why even the most hardcore NBA Arkansan fan will see unfamiliar names on these lists. And while I technically shouldn’t have included Ronnie Brewer on account of his spending his first four years in Oregon, where his dad played basketball, I couldn’t help myself. Too many Arkansans would want the exception to be made.
Ronnie has never been known as a great shooter, so it comes as no surprise he ranks No. 14 in the
Worst 21 NBA/ABA Arkansan Three Point Shooters
|Jeff Martin||0.282||29||103||Cherry Valley|
|Ronnie Brewer||0.254||90||335||Portland, OR|
|Andrew Lang||0.25||5||20||Pine Bluff|
|Ron Brewer||0.248||30||121||Fort Smith|
|Sonny Weems||0.241||19||79||West Memphis|
|Jim McElroy||0.206||7||34||Cotton Plant|
|Keith Lee||0.167||2||12||West Memphis|
|Archie Goodwin||0.159||7||44||Little Rock|
|Bryant Reeves||0.074||2||27||Fort Smith|
|Joe Barry Carroll||0||0||13||Pine Bluff|
|Michael Cage||0||0||25||West Memphis|
More of a surprise is the depth to which second-year pro Archie Goodwin’s shooting has submarined. Sure, Goodwin’s strength has always been driving to the basket. But he had made strides shooting from deep his senior year at Sylvan Hills and was better than this in his lone season at Kentucky. We’ll see how much he improves with more minutes, and more opportunities to get in a groove.
I should also be noted Sonny Weems has in recent years become a 37% three-point shooter in the world’s second-most competitive league.
Of course, some of the best NBA Arkansans never had a chance to prove their not-so-middling mettle in this realm. Below are mostly native Arkies who either played before played before 1979, when the NBA adopted the three-pointer, or who played but not in the ABA – which used the three from its 1967 get-go.
In the last month the Atlanta Hawks have enthralled the nation as a superstar-less super success story, riding a pass-heavy approach to a 36-8 record and the franchise’s best season since the 1950s. But while Atlanta boasts three All-Stars this season, none of them approach the caliber of Bob Pettit – the hands-down greatest player in franchise history.
Through much of my lifetime, I have known Pettit mostly by reading about his most stunning accolades: record 4x All-Star MVP; 10X All-NBA 1st Team; 50 points and 25 rebounds in the deciding Game 7 of the 1958 NBA Finals.
But, today, thanks to YouTube’s premier early NBA archivist, that changed. The following video helps beam the subtle aspects of Pettit’s greatness and personality into the 21st century. And it opens up interesting questions about the Louisiana native, such as the possibility he was the early NBA’s foremost three-point play maker…
Like Dr. J, Bird, Magic and Jordan before him, there is a timeless quality to LeBron James’ game. Future stars will be bigger, stronger and quicker, but we won’t again see his specific combo of skills, flow and panache.
There is also a timelessness in his life story, a tale of hardship, perseverance and camaraderie which seems to stay fresh no matter how many times it’s retold. With every twist of his career, each rendition gains an extra layer of meaning. The latest example, a 30-minute TV show, premiered Sunday night on Disney X D. It highlights the joyous reception James received from his hometown community of Akron, Ohio as he enters a Savior 2.0 Era leading the nearby Cavaliers from conference bottom dwellers to championship contender.
The show, the first in a series named “Becoming” about the lives of popular athletes, spotlights the neighborhoods in which LeBron grew up and his alma mater of St. Vincent – St. Mary High School. Much of the material will be familiar to LeBron fans – the hard-knock beginnings in a single-parent home, early dominance on the AAU circuit and finding lifelong friends there who would form the nucleus of one of the greatest prep basketball dynasties ever.
While the themes are familiar, it appears this is the first time some of the footage shown from James’ elementary and middle school days has been made public. It helps the video was co-produced by ESPN Films and James’ own Springhill Production Company, which has an office in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. “Becoming” is meant to appeal to younger viewers, but this show’s sharp production quality and rare footage make it worth any NBA fans’ while.
While this episode – which premieres on ESPN November 7 – is the latest LeBron bio, there have been a handful of accounts which involved direct access to James and his inner circle.
Each one offers something new – fragments of anecdotal gold not found in the others that are worth recalling as James and the Cavaliers start the 2014-15 season as the feel-good story of the year. Here are some of the most interesting:
Book: The Rise of a Star: LeBron James
Author: David Lee Morgan, Jr.
Publication Date: 2003
One reason James became so good, so fast, was that a former Division I head coach pushed him early on. Keith Dambrot, former coach at Central Michigan, was James’ high school head coach during his freshman and sophomore years.
Less known is that a woman coached James during his freshman season. Amy Sherry, a two-time MAC Player of the Year from Kent State, was one of two paid assistant coaches on Dambrot’s staff. It has taken 15 years, but the NBA is now following suit. In August, the San Antonio Spurs hired Becky Hammon as the league’s first full-time female assistant coach.
It seemed everyone wanted a piece of LeBron his senior year. He got calls seeking his presence from the likes of The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show , Good Morning America and Live with Regis & Kelly. A packed schedule meant LeBron often had to say “no.”
Comedian Martin Lawrence sought more than just a guest spot, according to Morgan, Jr., then an Akron Beacon Journal reporter. Lawrence’s production company called about a movie Universal Studios would finance. Although LeBron hadn’t yet announced he was skipping college, Lawrence’s movie would star him as a baller going directly into the NBA from high school. “Even LeBron laughed about this one.”
Pre-NBA LeBron was a beast of historic proportions in both high school and the summer circuits. Among his most impressive feats came after his sophomore season, when he dominated two age groups at Pittsburgh’s prestigious Five-Star Camp.
He excelled in his own age group and the one for rising seniors, playing in both leagues’ All-Star games. “No one has ever played in both before LeBron, no one has done it since, and I doubt if anyone will ever do it again,” said Howard Garfinkel, the camp’s longtime director.
Until that point, Garfinkel had seen about 125 players from his league eventually make the NBA. James was in the mix for best prep player he’d ever seen, but another No. 23 edged him out. “I’m not going to say he’s the best, because I saw Calvin Murphy score 34 points in an All-Star game one night, then have to travel to Allentown, where he scored 62 points in 29 minutes the next night in a major All-Star game. On the next level, you have Wilt Chamberlain and Connie Hawkins.”
Murphy, a 5’9” dynamo who would go on to star for the Houston Rockets in the 1970s, became the first Hall of Famer to wear No. 23 throughout his career.
The Spurs have already inked major American pro sports’ first full-time female assistant coach in Becky Hammon. Could San Antonio one day make another new assistant, Ettore Messina, the NBA’s first non U.S/Canada-born head coach? Gregg Popovich is 65 years old and as much as he loves the game he eventually must shimmy off stage.
Originally posted on NBA.com | Hang Time Blog with Sekou Smith:
Ettore Messina had taken a sip from the NBA cup before when he was a consultant on Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers for the 2011-12 season.
This time is like opening wide, throwing back his head and drinking it all in.
“The Spurs,” he said with a grin. “It is a familiar taste.”
A comfortable fit, like a designer Italian suit.
The team with nine international players from seven different countries now adds another bit of overseas flair to the mix with an assistant coach with a worldly resume.
The 55-year-old Italian has won four titles in his home country, four Russian League titles, four Euroleague championships and was named one of the 50 greatest contributors to the Euroleague.
“He’s a smart guy, a helluva good coach and a very interesting man,”…
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