USA

Coach “K” Reaches 1,000 Wins

Last Sunday, at Madison Square Garden, Coach Mike Krzyzewski became the first Division 1 men’s basketball coach to reach 1,000 wins.

USA Men’s Soccer team and Spurs shoot from Half Court!

Members of Tottenham Hotspur and the USA Men’s National Soccer Team tried their hand at basketball when they took part in the NBA #HalfCourt Challenge at Tottenham’s Enfield Training Centre.

The NBA before the All-Star Game: what do we know?

The NBA breaks this weekend for its annual All-Star game, a game which TCC was fortunate enough to attend last year in Houston.  The All-Star Game, while lacking in the intensity of some regular season games, does allow the best players to showcase their skills and, in some cases, network with their fellow players in a more cordial environment than the “heat of battle” of the regular season.

It also allows us pause for reflection of the first few months of the season and take stock of where we are, particularly looking ahead to the end of the season and the playoffs.  Here are a few of my own observations and thoughts about what has gone on over the past few weeks:

The East is AWFUL: The Eastern Conference is truly playing up to the old “Leastern Conference” moniker.  Four teams are over .500 at the moment: Miami, Atlanta, Toronto (!) and Indiana.  The Bulls and Wizards are only a game under .500 as well.  That means a team with a sub-.500 record will almost certainly get into the playoffs again, where they will likely get smashed by Indiana or Miami.  Milwaukee haven’t even won a tenth game yet.  They are over 30 games back but have only played 50.  Now a lot of teams have both eyes firmly on the upcoming draft class, with Joel Embiid now becoming a likely contender for the 1st overall pick – if he chooses to declare for the draft, which isn’t a given. Teams like New York, however, were not tanking for the 1st overall pick.  They just suck.  Brooklyn have improved somewhat in recent weeks, but the fact remains that they feature a bunch of guys over 30 years old and have a head coach who has no coaching experience.  Without Brook Lopez, it’s hard to see what will surely be Kevin Garnett’s last season ending in anything other than mediocrity.  The fact that Washington, who were so desperate they gave John Wall a max contract, are tied for 5th in the conference says everything.  Incidentally, keep an eye on Washington over the next couple of seasons.  In this sort of conference, they could become a playoff team very easily.

Indiana signing Bynum instals them as favorites: I can’t believe that Miami have seen enough from Greg Oden to make them think he gives them what they need so they have the best chance to beat the Pacers in the playoffs.  After he was unceremoniously dumped by the Cavaliers, I expected Andrew Bynum to be on his way to South Beach if for no other reason that to give the Heat a proper big man to battle Roy Hibbert, who tends to save his best performances against the relatively undersized Heat.  Their last meeting in mid December saw Hibbert in foul trouble and finish with 6 points and 2 rebounds.  With Hibbert out of the equation, the Heat will of course be contenders to beat Indiana in just about any given game, but they cannot expect him to be as ineffective for an entire series.  I seriously doubt that Oden is the guy to stop him, as heartening as it is to see him back playing and playing relatively well.  Unless Miami makes a move before the trade deadline, which I find hard to believe will happen, Indiana are strong favorites to win the East.  They have only lost 2 games at home so far this season.  Only OKC has a similar dominance in their own building.  And, of course, Miami.

The Heat might be coasting, but they are still playing very well: The third year of an attempted three-peat is notoriously tough on players.  The Heat were quite an old team last year, particularly guys like Shane Battier and Ray Allen. Dwyane Wade is not as old, but has serious issues with his knees that have limited him to 36 games out of a possible 49 so far this season.  How will he fare once the season extends to the playoffs?  LeBron has been more or less flat out, but that’s been true for a few seasons now.  The issue of his potential burnout must surely concern the Heat management.  He has, of course, shown no signs of this, but the possibility exists nonetheless.  Despite taking things relatively easy, the Heat are still the second best team in the East by ten games.  Unless something goes disastrously wrong, they should take the East’s 2 seed easily.  Their foes of last season, Chicago, are clearly in the process of rebuilding in the hope that Derrick Rose comes back stronger next season after another year of knee trouble.  That just leaves Indiana in their path towards a fourth consecutive finals appearance.

The Suns are playing out of their minds: There is no good reason for the Suns to be the sixth best team in the Western conference at the moment.  They have four first round picks for the upcoming draft and everyone thought they were going to play out this season and try to rebuild next year.  Instead, driven by the excellent Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe along with a cast of impressive role players, Jeff Hornacek’s team have been on a tear which saw them beat the heavily-fancied Indiana Pacers twice.  Whether or not they decide to trade away some of those picks for experienced players in bad situations (Pau Gasol has been mooted, Kevin Love is another name that makes sense for both parties) or if they keep them and go for a really young team next season remains to be seen but the Suns are fun again and it happened much quicker than anyone expected.

Kevin Durant is a really good basketball player: Paging Captain Obvious.  Captain Obvious to the lobby.  Look, KD has just claimed his 31st 30 point game of the season against the Knicks.  It was also his 7th 40 point game of the season.  He’s the top scorer in the NBA and he’s also the NBA’s best scorer.  It’s not even close.  Nothing he does looks forced.  Everything looks like a good shot.  Durant is probably the leading candidate for MVP and with his OKC Thunder sitting with the league’s best record without the now-long-departed James Harden and the currently injured Russell Westbrook, he is a deserving candidate.  Other guys have of course stepped up in Westbrook’s absence, but this is mostly about Durant.  He’s not the best player in the league, for my money, though.  The way LeBron makes his entire team better eclipses Durant who is more of a lead-by-example guy.  We shouldn’t get too bogged down in the LeBron vs Durant debate just yet, though.  Let’s just enjoy having these two incredible players in the prime at the same time.  As long as they remain in opposing conferences, we could be in for years of classic NBA finals.

Cleveland is a disaster: If you didn’t already read it, read this link.  Luol Deng, traded to Cleveland in a salary dump, has reportedly told a confidante (might want to rethink who you talk to in future, Lu) that the Cavaliers have serious, almost endemic, problems with professionalism throughout the organization.  In LeBron’s final season in Cleveland, the Cavs won 61 games.  They have only just won 61 games since LeBron left.  No names were named in the reports based on Deng’s comments, but it seems that Dion Waiters is a big problem.  No criticism was leveled at Kyrie Irving, the current franchise player, but if anyone is likely to be the one making demands that could challenge Coach Mike Brown’s authority from within the playing squad, it could only be Irving.  Reporters claim that when LeBron was in Cleveland, he was more or less allowed to do as he wished and it has been speculated that this institutional culture has persisted since LeBron’s departure.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that whatever LeBron decides to do this offseason, he is not going to re-sign for the Cavaliers.  Dan Gilbert has a lot of work to do to sort out this mess.  He should start by trading Anderson Varejao to a better team.

Andrew Wiggins is not going to be a stud in the NBA next season: Wiggins was much fancied as the number 1 overall a couple of months ago, but a series of indifferent performances at Kansas and the fact that his team-mate Joel Embiid has overtaken him as the predicted first overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft despite recent comments that he (Embiid) would consider playing at least another year in college to develop his game – Embiid has only played organised basketball for a couple of years – have dropped Wiggins’ chances of being an NBA stud next season to average.  He might well be a one-and-done, but Wiggins has proven to anyone who has seen him this season that at least one more year of college would be really good for him.  I already wrote about the issue of “one and done” players and the list of guys who did not work out at the professional level is extensive when compared to those that did.  Wiggins is not ready for the NBA and a couple of months won’t change that.  Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are probably ready and will probably enter the next draft – Randle almost definitely as no player worth his salt seems to want to stay at Kentucky for more than one season.  Charles Barkley recently spoke on sports radio and said that the NBA should change its rules to force players to stay in school for at least two years, which makes a lot of sense.  This sort of rule would protect talented players like Wiggins who lack the strength, both physical and mental, for the NBA challenge at such a young age.

The Lakers: Anyone see their 4 legal men beat Cleveland the other day?  Unreal.  Forty year old Steve Nash is working his way back after nerve issues ruled him out for the start of 2014.  Thousand year old Chris Kaman was asleep on the bench like a student during finals.  Ryan Kelly (remember that awkward but talented gunner for Duke last season?) has been one of LA’s best players in recent weeks.  They needed to invoke a practically unknown NBA rule to allow Robert Sacre to finish the Cleveland game despite having 6 fouls.  Kobe is due to come back from his “not as serious” knee injury soon, and lets face it, he probably will come back regardless of how good an idea it is.  Pau Gasol is injured and has been linked with a trade to Phoenix, but his injury will keep him out until after the trade deadline, so Phoenix will have no idea how ready to play he is if/when they do trade for him.  Things are a bit messy for the Lakers and the Clippers playing relatively well without Chris Paul doesn’t help.  They’ve written off the majority of their salary cap for next season to re-sign Kobe, so while they do have the money to make a run at an opt-out-free-agent like LeBron or Carmelo Anthony, they lack anything like the resources to put a decent team around Kobe and his new apprentice.  A couple of creative trades might be the only way out of this.  Dr Buss must be rolling in his grave.

Hard-2-Guard inspired by USA trip

Hard-2-Guard ballers representing in PA, USA

Hard-2-Guard ballers representing in PA, USA

A group of 24 boys and girls (13 to 15 years-old) from Phoenix Basketball Club (Belfast) have travelled from Northern Ireland to Mount Aloysius Basketball Camp in Cresson, Pennsylvania. The invitation came from the College President Tom Foley. Tom has close links to Northern Ireland, as he worked with the Peace People in the late 70s and early 80s. Tom was a keen basketball player on the Belfast scene during that time and has fond memories of the friendships he made through the sport.

The Mount Aloysius camp runs from 8am to 4pm each day with 250 young players attending the camp. Head Coach of the camp, Lance Loya, integrated the Irish group into the local setup seamlessly. The trip has included several games with local High School teams, which have been competitive.

The visiting Irish players will travel onto Philadelphia this weekend to play Bonner and Mount Prendergast High School before returning home.

After observing how an American camp is run, Hard2Guard camp Director, Breda Dick, is intending to incorporate some of the ideas into this summer’s programme at Methody and La Salle colleges in Belfast. There are still some places available for each course.

Contact Breda Dick for more information at bredad@msn.com

994271_10151463523192327_890920117_n

Mount Aloysius College

1044344_10151461590512327_403288990_n

Coach Kennedy

1011894_10151457606087327_1223368109_n

Enjoying the sun

601647_10151461137672327_1531851549_n

Working on their handle

1001314_10151464649157327_611570794_n

All-Stars

2012-2013 NBA Finals Preview

The San Antonio Spurs finally found out who they will face in the NBA Finals when the Miami Heat overcame the Indiana Pacers at the end of a grueling but enthralling series that went the full distance.

 

Haslem and Duncan will meet again

 

There is a lot on the line in this best-of-seven series, and not just the honour of becoming NBA Champions.  The two teams, along the the LA Lakers, have been the mainstays of the NBA finals: since 1998 one of the three teams has been involved in each and every finals series.

Both sides have won all their championships in recent memory: San Antonio has four championships from 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007.  Meanwhile Miami won in 2006 and 2012.  The last time the Spurs won the title, it was when they swept LeBron James’s Cleveland Cavaliers.  The Spurs version of the “big three” have won all three of their most recent titles, but, incredibly, Tim Duncan and Coach Popovich have the opportunity to win titles together fourteen years apart, testament to the longevity of either man but particularly to that of Duncan who, at 37, has managed to revive his career that seemed on the wane as recently as three years ago.

 

Young Timmy

 

Timmy has played 190 playoff games, on top of 1170 regular season games.  Then, you have to remember, he also played four years in college.  He averages 20 and 11 for his career, 22 and 12 in the playoffs.

There is no doubt that the Spurs-Heat is an interesting clash of styles.  Whereas Indiana have relied on their big men, much as the Spurs do with Duncan at least, Miami have no real big men.  Thiago Splitter has worked his way into the San Antonio lineup to the extent that few people even remember that DeJuan Blair even exists.  San Antonio has speed in the form of Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard and then their x-factor: Manu Ginobili.  It is perhaps a forgotten reality that Ginobili missed a quarter of this season through injury, such has been his return to form since his return from injury.

On the other hand, the Heat have been somewhat hobbled by injuries over the past weeks.  The most notable injured party has been Dwyane Wade, whose knee issues are well known and perhaps more hobbling than he would like to admit.  He has been joined on the treatment table by Chris Bosh, who has hardly been in the sort of form (16 points, 7 rebounds) a game that are likely to trouble the Spurs too much, particularly as he is the biggest player on the Heat.

The thing is that Chris Bosh seems to like playing against San Antonio.

 

Bosh beats the Spurs in their last meeting

 

Bosh led a LeBron and Wade-less Heat to victory over the Spurs back in March, scoring 23 points.  He’s scored 30 on San Antonio twice as a Heat player, twice more as a Raptor.  Since 2010, he’s never scored less than 17 against them.

Then you have the juggernaut that is LeBron James.  We don’t really need to say too much more about him.  He’s playing at a transcendent level.

Dwyane Wade is, for me, the key to this series.  If he plays like he did against Indiana in game 7, no question in my mind that Miami will win.  On the other hand, if he plays like he did against Indiana in game 6, no question that San Antonio wins.

 

Wade and Manu

 

First game is Thursday night at 8pm central time (that’s 2am UK time).  Get the coffee on!

Conference Finals update

So the Indiana Pacers outpaced the Heat and “stole” game two last night in Miami.

 

Can’t stop Hibbert

 

That Miami cannot guard Roy Hibbert is obvious.  Chris Bosh is not really a defensive player and Chris Andersen is far better as an impact player.  Neither is strong enough to stop Hibbert, who has decent offensive range, doing more or less whatever he wants.

David West also poses problems for Miami.  Udonis Haslem cannot stop him.  LeBron can, but then you have to pick your poison in terms of which player will LeBron not be guarding.  LeBron has oddly been guarding Lance Stephenson a lot this series.  Stephenson showed in the fourth quarter why this is not a good idea for Miami.  He is capable of the odd spectacular play, but aside from one three, he was a total liability with the ball in his hands and the shot clock winding down.

The worry for Indiana will be the lack of exterior offense that Miami has enjoyed so far this series.  Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller (a buzzer beater aside) have struggled to find their range.  That surely will not last in all five cases.  Rashard Lewis is also to be found in the darkest depths of the Miami bench, although his defensive deficiencies will likely keep him as the sixth option out of the aforementioned players.

 

Will Miami stay cold from three?

 

Also problematic for Indiana is their lack of bench scoring: only five points off their bench last night.  Tyler Hansbrough is more than a hatchet man, but at times looks like less.  Sam Young went off injured last night and may not return on Sunday for game three.  Ian Mahinmi…well…come on.

I picked the Heat in 6 here and I’m sticking with that.  I think they’ll split the games in Indiana.  Miami missed eight free throws to go with a ton of threes last night and I don’t expect that to happen again, although I do expect Indiana to pull off one dominant performance in the next two games.  The possibility that Dwyane Wade might miss game time for a really odd looking flying elbow on Lance Stephenson could hurt Miami or it could give them resolve.  We’ll see.

In the Western Conference, after a reasonably long lay off (tv scheduling perhaps almost definitely), moves to Memphis for game three tonight.  San Antonio have really dominated the Memphis Grizzlies at times during the first two games, even if the Grizzlies have counter-punched somewhat successfully.

The Grizzlies will take heart from the fact that the Spurs were in this exact position a year ago and lost to Oklahoma.  They will hope for considerably more offense from Zach Randolph.  The Spurs have been excellent defensively and preventing Randolph from picking up his usual 18 points has been key to their two game lead in the series.  The home team has won 17/20 games between these two sides.

 

Gasol and the Mamba

 

One highlight has been the extended minutes granted to Red Mamba Matt Bonner, who has responded with twelve points in game one and a mighty blocked shot in the second game.  Another highlight has been the sight of Tracy McGrady still involved this late in the playoffs.  T-Mac has played a grant total of seventeen minutes this postseason, but the man who was previously best known for never getting out of the first round must surely be enjoying the possibility of an NBA title at 34 and after a season spent in China.

I think that Memphis will win at least one of the next two games at their place, as they’ll have to if my prediction of Memphis in seven is to stand.  We’ll know more tomorrow!

Double-Double with the ‘Quinn Twins’

They’re known around Irish basketball as the ‘Quinn Twins.’ The two brothers, Aidan and Conor, share the guard spots on the St Malachy’s College Belfast (SMCB) U19 squad and Belfast Star, both of which are coached by Phil Molloy and the well-respected former Irish International, Adrian Fulton.

The boys have had a successful season to-date, winning both the U19 All-Ireland School’s Cup and the U18 All-Ireland Cup with Belfast Star. In both competitions, Conor was chosen MVP. However, it could easily have been Aidan taking home one of those awards.

Quinn's lead together

Quinn’s lead together

The two boys bring leadership to the floor, while they stretch the defence with their three-point range, but most importantly they have a great understanding of the game, which shouldn’t come as a surprise learning from the experienced St Malachy’s/Belfast Star coaching staff. [Two current NCAA players have learned their trade while at SMCB: Paul Dick (Franklin Pierce – D2) and Keelan Cairns (UPenn – Ivy League)]

Check out the video below of the Quinn’s ballin’ during a tournament against at a highly competitive invitational tournament in England.

However, what’s most exciting about these young players is their great work ethic, positive attitude and humility. Check out our video interview below, after they led their team to victory over Moycullen in the U18 National Cup.

Conor and Aidan are entering their final year of school. They’re excited about their future and hope to continue to play the game at the next level – wherever that may be. When I asked Coach Fulton about what will happen to all of the quality players that are being produced at SMCB, his response was characteristic of one of Ireland’s top youth basketball coaches:

“Our job, as far I’m concerned, is to get them to the best level they can play at. If it’s in Ireland, great. If it’s in the USA, great.” – Adrian Fulton.

Conor Quinn attacking the rack in the U19 Schools Cup Finals (2013)

Conor Quinn attacking the rack in the U19 Schools Cup Finals (2013)

Aidan Quinn in his Ireland jersey (Oct, 2011)

Aidan Quinn in his Ireland jersey (Oct, 2011)

 

Aquinas head off for USA Tour 2012

BELFAST – Aquinas Grammar Schools’ basketball teams head off to the USA next week for 10 days to match up against some of Florida’s premier high school and AAU teams. This is the third school tour to the USA following two very successful previous trips.

Twenty-seven players will make their way to the Sunshine state under the auspices of PE teacher and basketball coach Joe McAufield who has established a real basketball culture in the Ravenhill Road school over the last decade. In addition to the twelve competitive games, the boys will participate in a two-day basketball camp, attend an NBA game and spend a day attending classes at a prestigious Floridian High school.

Aquinas’ Boys Basketball – USA Tour 2012

The tour should provide great preparation for the teams for Ulster school leagues, which commence after the midterm break. Last year, the U16 team had a very successful run in the National Cup and also won the Ulster title.  It’s not all about the hoops action – the boys will have some time for shopping and all the theme park attractions Orlando has to offer.

You can follow the tour on Twitter – @AGSbasketball

*The team’s travelling uniform is sponsored by Optilase (UK’s No.1 leading eye surgery clinic) and the Xperience Information Technology group.

Paul Dick: ‘Pre-Season is tough over here!’

I’m back in America after a short visit home, which was great. A big shout-out to Mike Calo and Paddy Junior McGaharan for training with me for the past month.

“I’m excited to see what I can do…”

Pre season is tough over here! We have 7am conditioning every morning, which is consists of us doing the insanity workout. I don’t know if they have it at home but it’s basically involves watching this monster on a screen doing an hour long workout that’s pretty much non-stop. Then we have team lifting with some individual workouts during the day and then pick-up games at night! Pick-up’s great because our coach made a rule defense calls fouls – I haven’t committed one foul in three weeks! I might have to start being a little more generous though because one of the guys on our team knocked out another because he wasn’t calling anything! [Editor: Ouch]

After not playing a full season for two years, I’m really excited to play this year. Now that I’m healthy, I’m ready to give it 100% and really see what I can do. We have 9/11 players returning this season. Last season, our team was ranked number one in our region, won the conference regular season and was ranked 24th in the country. So, there are big expectations on us this year. We’re starting the season off with a scrimmage against the Ivy league team Monmouth. So, that should be interesting to see how many we spank a D1 team by! Haha. I’m joking! It’ll be a nice challenge to have but it’s a pity we weren’t playing a different ivy league team like UPenn. Then I could play against the infamous Keelan Cairns!

I’ll definitely be putting up a lot more posts this year to keep you updated on how the team is doing and maybe I’ll even get the TCC shirt that was ‘posted’ last September! [Editor: Royal Mail have been contacted regarding this misplaced package. Stay strong, Paul]

 –

Paul was the first player featured on The Courtside Collective; he is currently one of only two players from N.I. playing college basketball in the USA. Paul attends Franklin Pierce, a Division 2 school in New England, and is on a full scholarship. He spent last year as a ‘red-shirt’, missing out on an entire season due to a serious foot injury. This year he is back in action and the sky is the limit for the former St Malachy’s College baller. We are happy to have Paul onboard as a regular contributor.

Read Paul’s bio at Franklin Pierce