Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Perspective on recruiting from George Mason

Thursday March 30, 2006

I’ve always appreciated college professors who can get over the institutionalized academic snobbery and realize how cool it is to have college athletics just a short walk away. In these professors you usually find a good sense of humor, sharp wit, intelligent observations, and the ability to relate to students much better than colleagues who resent athletics. Because they’re intelligent and typically experts in their fields, you sometimes get interesting perspectives on things when these professors apply their academic passions to questions of pop culture and sports.

George Mason’s law and economics programs are pretty well-known and regarded especially in conservative and libertarian circles. A couple of their more well-known economics professors, Peter Boettke and Alex Tabarrok, have an article in Slate where they compare the assembly of the GMU economics department, the GMU basketball team, and baseball’s “Moneyball” principle – the science (or art) of finding undervalued players.

Professor Todd Zywicki, of GMU’s law school, has further thoughts on the subject and a key observation:

Larranaga suggests that even now the big-time programs probably wouldn’t really want any of these GMU kids because they are not the individual superstars with brilliant talent that those teams are looking for. So it is not that somehow those programs “missed” these kids, but rather that those programs have a different model of talent acquisition. It is only when melded together in Larranaga’s system, with the emphasis on the way in which their individual skills complement one another within the system, that their total value is maximized.

I can see that. Especially now that you can’t even plan the composition of your program three or four years down the road, many schools just look to fill up on the best talent and see what happens from year to year. If you try to take a longer-term approach, your power forward has left for the NBA, the point guard has transfered to get more playing time, and the nice mix of players you were trying to craft has fallen apart. You’re stuck with marginal talent and no synergy.

This is the risk Dennis Felton currently must take at Georgia. He is recruiting post players for 1-3 years down the road hoping that they will fit into a program of established guards and role players. If the posts don’t pan out or something happens to the progression of guards currently in the program, the plan is seriously jeopardized. But this is the strategy Felton must use, because the superstars just aren’t coming to Georgia (for now). He’s got to trust his vision and hope their skills working together make the team better.

We come across this question often at Georgia, particularly during football recruiting. Georgia football is in a position to recruit both the nationally elite prospects (the superstars) and also the prospects who might not have as much talent but were leaders on winning programs or have some sort of exceptional work ethic or character. How often do we hear, “give me a three-star kid who wants to work hard and play for Georgia over some five-star prima donna?” (Of course, we usually hear that only when the superstar is considering another school and it’s time for the sour grapes.) Still, there have been plenty of examples lately at UGA (David Pollack and Thomas Davis come to mind) where above-average but not necessarily superstar prospects find a niche to maximize their value. We know how inexact the science of ranking prospects can be.

PS…This fact mentioned by Zywicki is just stunning: “Will Thomas (of GMU) and Rudy Gay (of UConn) both went to high school in Baltimore and…Thomas’s teams are now 8-0 playing against Gay’s teams in their careers.” Wow.

Post #2

Thursday March 30, 2006

Chad Simmons of UGASports.com reports that Mark Richt has picked up his second commitment for 2007 – DE Conrad Obi of Grayson, Ga. Always a plus to get a quality in-state player, but check out this list of offers: “Obi already had offers from Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and some others, but he was waiting on this Bulldog offer.”

The recruiting decision is more difficult for some than others, and that frustrates fans who think that the team should only recruit those who really want to be a Dawg and that those prospects shouldn’t dare hesitate on that decision. Of coure that’s not realistic, but Obi is a commitment that should make those fans giddy. He’s an outstanding prospect, waited on a Georgia offer after hearing from some of the top programs in the South, remained in-state, and got his decision overwith early in the process to be able to concentrate on his senior season.

Post Poor broadcasting work

Monday March 27, 2006

OK, one more thing about the “game I wasn’t going to discuss”. ESPN’s Mike Patrick and Doris Burke went on and on about a possible 5th foul against Tasha Humphrey that was credited to Megan Darrah. They, particularly Patrick, mentioned the foul and the supposed gift of a call at least a dozen times down the stretch. According to Patrick, Humphrey absolutely HAD picked up her fifth foul. To support this claim, they ran (one time) a replay of a play on which no foul was called. That’s right – they were looking at and ranting about the wrong replay. What’s worse is that no one on the production team reviewed this pivotal call and showed the proper replay (on which Darrah was very much involved) or at the very least slipped word to the talking heads that the call was a lot less controversial than their blunder made it out to be.

The job of the broadcast is to tell the story of the game, and they whiffed on this one. They didn’t just fail to tell the story, they told a wrong and misleading story.

Post Sickening

Monday March 27, 2006

I just can’t go very far into the Lady Dogs’ loss last night. Just heartbreaking. Andy Landers put it best.

“We didn’t lose. You lose when you go out and don’t apply the ability and talent that you have to the challenge that is ahead of you. There’s no shame in getting beat. The shame is in not fighting the fight.”

Amen. I don’t want to talk much about the game, but I must say something about Alexis Kendrick. Sunday night’s start meant that Kendrick had started more games than any other Lady Bulldog. From the moment she stepped on campus, she earned a starting position. In what turned out to be her final game, she played like the senior leader she was.

It wasn’t just that Kendrick scored 14 points or was a perfect 4-4 from beyond the arc. It’s when those points came that mattered. She had two three-pointers early on as Georgia built a lead. But early in the second half, UConn stretched its lead out to seven points, the largest margin they would have. Kendrick hit her third three-pointer to start a 7-0 run which would tie the game and start the back-and-forth heavyweight fight that ended the game. Then on Georgia’s final offensive series an offensive rebound was kicked out to Kendrick on the left baseline, and she buried what seemed like the biggest shot of her career.

It’s been a tough senior season for Kendrick. She hit an early-season gamewinner against Santa Clara, but that was her only basket of that game on a frustrating night. That’s more or less been the tale. Kendrick’s high-profile mistakes at the end of the LSU game in Athens were more the stuff of a shaky freshman than a veteran senior. She has struggled to find her place on offense this season while Sherill Baker flourished. But in the NCAA Tournament, Kendrick ended her Georgia career looking very much like the McDonald’s All-American that arrived four years ago. She nearly had a triple-double in Georgia’s first round win over Marist, and she came up with big play after big play on offense and defense last night.

Alexis is resilient, independent, smart, athletic, kind, and humble. She has survived four years 3,000 miles away from home without much of a support structure away from the team, and in the process she wrote herself into the Georgia record books. She was a rock that Coach Landers depended on to hold the team together on the court, and she did it every night and never missed a start. She has transformed from a shy role player to a confident woman who will be successful in any area of life. Last night’s loss was heartbreaking and a tough loss to get over, but Kendrick and fellow senior Sherill Baker can walk away knowing that they gave absolutely extraordinary efforts in their final game and played up to the standard of excellence they created in four incredible years at Georgia.

Post Lady Dogs headed to 16th Sweet 16

Thursday March 23, 2006

There have been 25 NCAA women’s tournaments. Georgia has appeared in 23 of them. In those 23 trips, Georgia has now advanced to the regionals (Sweet 16) 16 times. It’s an amazing feat of consistency matched or bettered by less than a handful of programs.

Georgia advances to the 2006 Sweet 16 with some hard-fought wins over a pair of double-digit seeds. Neither Marist nor Hartford matched up with the talent of Georgia, but both had reasons to be confident. Marist gave Georgia a lot of trouble in a game in December 2004, so they weren’t intimidated. Hartford had just defeated a Temple team that had beaten Georgia earlier this season.

But Georgia’s talent won out in the end both times. In Tuesday’s game with Hartford, you could see the energy drain out of the underdogs as Georgia turned up the defense and went on a 15-0 run behind the play of Hardrick and Baker. It must have been demoralizing to see Georgia still blazing fast and creating turnovers while the fatigue of two tournament games caught up with Hartford.

Sherill Baker is doing her best to shed the “defensive specialist” label. She can’t shoot a sick 12-of-16 (most of which were jumpshots) and continue to have the improvement in her offense overlooked. Tasha Humphrey summed up what makes her different and special on one play in the second half – she drove from the perimeter (how many posts can even do that much?), did a spin move to create space in the lane, and instead of shooting an open mid-range shot, she in one motion came off the spin move to find Sherill Baker cutting to the basket for an easy catch-and-shoot layup. Call it vision, court-awareness, basketball smarts…it’s just there.

Tasha has piles of double-doubles now. If she ever records a triple-double, that third stat is likely to be assists. When some true centers and post players arrive in or return to the program, Humphrey could be a devastating distributor of the ball. Whether it’s from the high post to other interior players or an inside-out pass to the perimeter, she can sense where the open shot is and get the ball there.

Now in the Sweet 16 the Lady Dogs get into a situation where their talent advantage is no longer as great. UConn doesn’t have the otherworldly superstars of some of their powerhouse teams of the past decade, but they still have plenty of weapons. It’s ridiculous that people are talking about a “down” season for UConn when they have won 30 games and earned a #2 seed.

So while we congratulate them for getting this far and for some stellar performances in the first two games of the tournament, there have been some weak spots in those wins:

  • Slow starts on defense. Whether it was the adrenaline of the tournament or Georgia’s own lapses, both Marist and Hartford matched Georgia on offense for at least the first half. Shots were half-heartedly contested, and Hartford was even shooting well over 50% until Georgia turned up the defense in the second half. Though Tasha Humphrey had a tremendous game against Hartford in most areas, Landers had to call a first-half timeout to light into her about soft defense. I understand the limitations: Georgia’s depth situation prevents aggressive defense for 40 minutes. Exhaustion sets in, and foul trouble isn’t easy to overcome. Still, UConn likes to come out with guns blazing, and playing from behind is not a situation Georgia wants to face in this game. They need to set a defensive tone early and especially prevent Strother from catching fire.
  • Unforced turnovers. For the amazing control of her hands Sherill Baker shows on the defensive end, she too often loses control in the transition offense. One such turnover killed Georgia’s big run against Hartford and keyed a small rally by the Hawks that was fortunately short-lived. With points at a premium in this stage of the tournament, easy transition chances can’t be wasted. This was a problem in the SEC Tournament as well. Against Hartford, Georgia generally took much better care of the ball in the second half and gave Hartford very few chances to get out and run. Let’s hope that continues in the first half of the UConn game.
  • Contributions from everyone. The win over Hartford was a three-player show. Baker and Humphrey stood out, but Hardrick was also key in the win. Darrah had two points on 1-of-7 shooting. Kendrick didn’t score. Chambers was still in a bit of post-suspension hangover and had seven points, far below the level at which she was playing towards the end of the season.
  • Alexis Kendrick needs to play like a senior leader. Alexis played much better against Marist, coming close to a triple-double. As she struggled against Hartford though, her minutes increasingly went to Hardrick. Points have been at a premium for Kendrick lately, scoring 27 in the entire month of February. She didn’t score at all in Georgia’s final two regular season games. Of course Alexis brings so much to the team other than scoring. She doesn’t look for a lot of shots. Her defense is typically solid, she can rebound, and she runs the offense under control – just what you hope for in a point guard. But without much of a scoring threat from all but three positions opponents will have the opportunity to help on Georgia’s shooters, and Georgia’s execution is made more difficult. Kendrick is going to get some open looks, and whether or not she can provide the kind of contribution she had in the Marist game might have a big role in deciding how her Georgia career ends and her next career begins- the WNBA draft isn’t far away, and this is the biggest stage there is.

UConn can be beat, but they are still plenty good and as strong as any team Georgia has faced this year. A Georgia win will require much more steady play than they have shown so far in the tournament, and they’ll need stronger contributions on offense from some key starters. This game is a great opportunity for the Lady Dogs. With all of the good that has happened in this season of adversity, they still lack the big landmark win that would turn a nice season into a very memorable one. Getting that win over UConn in their own home state and advancing to within sight of the Final Four would be one of the biggest accomplishments in the history of this tradition-rich program.

Post I didn’t know Bill Hartman

Friday March 17, 2006

A lot of people remember the late Bill Hartman, who passed this week, as Georgia’s kicking coach during their run of great kickers from the 1970s through the early 1990s. I don’t, since that was about the time I became a fan. But of course Hartman was much more to the program than just an assistant coach, and that job was just one step along the way in a life that took him from All-American football player at UGA to a soldier in WWII to a long career alongside Vince Dooley to a strong force heading up the GSEF and fundraising efforts in the 1990s for the school he loved so much.

I didn’t know much about Hartman. But I do know three things…

1) When Herschel Walker begins a parade of Bulldog greats to visit you in the hospital, you’re someone special.

2) Former Bulldog kicker and Hartman protegee Allan Leavitt once graciously gave me a Jack Davis print commemorating Hartman’s infamous on-field incident with Uga. Leavitt treated it as if he were giving a sacrament.

3) During my last season in the Redcoats, we broke with the tradition of spelling G-E-O-R-G-I-A after halftime and instead spelled H-A-R-T-M-A-N to honor the coach who had been basically forced into retirement by NCAA rules. It was the first and only time I had seen an honor of that magnitude while at Georgia.

I think I get why now.

Post New standard-bearer for academic integrity

Thursday March 16, 2006

So Tony Cole has resurfaced. Good for him. If anyone deserves a second seventeenth chance, it’s the oppressed and misunderstood Cole.

But the real money quote comes from Robert Morris faculty athletics representative Larry Dionne. Remember, this is a faculty representative…supposedly from the academics side of things.

Asked if he was aware of Cole’s past, Dionne said, “I am aware of it a bit, but I don’t need to know all the details. My job is to make sure he is academically eligible, and he is.”

Very nice – right from the Dave Bliss (no, not that Dave BLiss) school of “look the other way”. (Unfortunately I’m sure there are several Bulldog fans who wish that our admissions folks didn’t “need to know all the details” about the athletes they admit.) And if “(making) sure he is academically eligible” ever becomes a problem up there at Robert Morris, perhaps some new blood on the faculty might be in order.

When Robert Morris gets hauled into court in the wake of Cole’s latest stop in his heroic cross-country pursuit of academic opportunity, Mr. Dionne will wish he paid a little closer attention to those pesky details about Cole’s past.

Post Felton gets 4th commitment for 2007

Tuesday March 14, 2006

Justin Young of Rivals.com Basketball Recruiting reports that East Hall’s Walter Hill has committed to play basketball at Georgia for the 2007-2008 season. Hall is a developing 6’5″ small forward who had offers from Georgia and Alabama and had begun to get attention from all over the South. Though Georgia’s recruiting has focused on the frontcourt, they also need that classical swingman who can handle and shoot the ball outside but is also a leaper who can get to the basket. When you think about recent Georgia players in that mold, you think of Jumaine Jones, Jarvis Hayes, Shandon Anderson…will Hill be the next explosive Georgia small forward? Here’s another article on his commitment from the Gainesville paper.

Post Lady Dogs heading to Trenton

Monday March 13, 2006

As I had hoped, the selection committee saw a very strong season from Georgia with no bad blemishes and rewarded them with a #3 seed.

Much will be made of the location disadvantages – Marist, Temple, and UConn won’t have to travel far at all – but to be honest, I’m very happy with the seeding. If you had asked me before the selection which four teams in the field I’d like to avoid, they would have been UNC, Tennessee, LSU, and Oklahoma. The bracket sees to it that Georgia wouldn’t face any of them until the Final Four.

I’ll go deeper into the bracket after a night’s sleep, but Georgia is in a pretty favorable position as I see it now.

Post Dawgs against postseason teams

Monday March 13, 2006

The NIT bids are out, and Georgia was shut out as expected. The 1-7 end to the season after starting 14-8 was just too poor to merit postseason consideration.

As you might guess, the record against NCAA-bound teams isn’t good. The Dawgs played six NCAA Tournament teams and posted a 1-10 record against them:

  • Kentucky: 0-2
  • Tennessee: 0-2
  • Florida: 0-2
  • Arkansas: 0-2
  • Alabama: 1-0
  • LSU: 0-1
  • Nevada: 0-1

Georgia played five NIT-bound teams and posted a much better 5-2 mark against them:

  • Old Dominion: 0-1
  • Vanderbilt: 1-1
  • South Carolina: 2-0
  • Clemson: 1-0
  • Western Kentucky: 1-0

All of those NIT teams, except Western Kentucky, are seeded in the upper half of the NIT bracket. So while Georgia didn’t earn an NIT bid this year, they certainly showed they could play with the better teams in that tournament. I think that would have not been the case a season earlier. Another win – just one more – probably would have put Georgia over the top and earned them an NIT bid. The return to .500 is a nice first step, but a postseason berth – even in the NIT – would have been a really nice achievement to take from this season and build on next year.

Post More help for the offensive line

Friday March 10, 2006

OK, enough of the basketball navel-gazing for a second. UGASports.com reports that South Carolina lineman Clifton Geathers signed a (late) letter of intent with Georgia. Clifton is of course the brother of Bulldog alum Robert. We’ll see on which side of the ball and at which position he ends up, but regardless this is a big cherry on top of the recruiting class.

Post Lady Dogs Baker, Humphrey, and Kendrick honored

Friday March 10, 2006

The State Farm Wade Trophy is the player of the year award in women’s college basketball, and only Georgia and LSU have two players among the 12 finalists. Senior Sherill Baker and sophomore Tasha Humphrey have been named finalists. Humphrey has been an All-American since she stepped on campus, and so her selection isn’t much of a surprise (though still a huge honor that shouldn’t be taken for granted). But Baker’s selection is a great personal triumph for her and recognition of the growth of her game during her four seasons at Georgia.

The Wade Trophy winner will be announced along with the Kodak/WBCA All-America Team on April 1 during the Final Four in Boston.

Also, Baker and Alexis Kendrick have been selected to participate in the WBCA All-Star Challenge. This is the sport’s equivalent of the Senior Bowl – a chance for the best seniors to show their stuff for the upcoming draft. Baker is already expected to be a first-round pick, but this is a big opportunity for Kendrick. She has been a rock-steady point guard and invaluable leader, but she has been kept out of the spotlight this season while her teammates put up the points.

Hopefully both will be unable to participate – the event is also held during the Final Four weekend in Boston (because the WNBA draft is held the next week).

Post Congrats to Mike Mercer

Wednesday March 8, 2006

The SEC has had a freshman all-conference team for 19 years, and Mike Mercer is now the 7th Bulldog to receive that honor. Mercer’s teammate Levi Stukes in 2004 was the last Georgia player to be named to the freshman all-SEC team.

Post Great college sports prank

Wednesday March 8, 2006

It’s a shame the creativity of most SEC students stops around the “You suck!” plateau of taunting. Even the Cameron Crazies are a good bit less creative now and act more as if they are going to see Rocky Horror than a basketball game.

For the really good pranks in sports you usually have to leave it to the eggheads. MIT and CalTech have set the standard. Cal-Berkeley and Stanford figure in the strangest (and some would say greatest) finish to a college football game.

This time, it’s Cal’s turn again. They hosted Southern Cal in basketball recently, and both teams are competing for the Pac 10 title – it was a big game. Some Cal students created an online persona – a UCLA student named “Victoria” – and began instant messaging Southern Cal player Gabe Pruitt. By gametime, Pruitt had given “Victoria” his phone number and arranged a date.

As for what happened next…

When USC guard Gabe Pruitt took his first trip to the free throw line early in the game, the Cal student section hollered in unison: “VIC-TOR-IA, VIC-TOR-IA,” and then yelled out a telephone number. Pruitt glanced back at the crowd in horror and bewilderment before clanking his free throws.

It turns out that a couple of mischeivous little bastards from the Cal student section had been IM’ing with Pruitt all week under the identity of “Victoria,” a fictional UCLA hottie, and Pruitt was eagerly anticipating a date with this nubile co-ed back in Westwood after the game. In preparation for the date, Pruitt had handed over his digits, which the Cal student section recited back to him in unison.

Pruitt, a 79% free throw shooter this season, missed both shots after the “VIC-TOR-IA” chants began, and hit only three out of 13 shots the whole game. Cal beat USC by 11 for the season sweep, in part due to the Cal fans’ devious psy-ops.

Brilliant. Meanwhile students everywhere else are impressed with themselves for yelling “SIT DOWN” whenever someone fouls out.

Post Not many bad losses here

Wednesday March 8, 2006

To emphasize my point about the Lady Dogs having zero bad losses, each team that beat them either won their conference tournament or is ranked in the top 10 right now.

• Baylor: Top 10 team, still alive in the Big 12 tournament.
• UCLA: Won the PAC 10 tournament.
• Temple: Won the Atlantic 10 tournament.
• LSU: Top 5 team
• Tennessee: Top 5 team, won the SEC Tournament.

The only problem is that these are still losses. It would be a lot more impressive if they could count a win among that group.