Amateur Levels Feeling The Impact of NBA’s 3-point Revolution

Strategy and style have been in the midst of a revolution over the past six seasons as each year, the NBA has broken its record for 3-pointers attempted per game.  As the NBA has taken the 3-point shot to the next level, the impact of basketball’s latest revolution is being felt at lower levels.

Dan D’Antoni is the brother of Mike D’Antoni, the head coach of the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are on pace to take more 3-pointers per game than any other team in league history. In this season, in which the shot is more prolific than ever, Houston has managed to take seven more 3-pointers than the next closest team at nearly 41 attempts per contest. Dan is taking a similar approach at Marshall University where the Thundering heard took the fourth most 3-point attempts in the NCAA this season.  The D’Antoni brothers commitment to the 3-point shot is no mistake. With an increase in efficency from deep, the value of a 3-point attempt is now higher than the value of the 2-point shot.

I sat down with Phil Ralston, head coach of the Geneva Vikings. The Vikings got off to their best start in program history, benefiting from having one of the best shooting teams in the state.  Take a listen to hear Marshall coach, Dan D’Antoni breakdown his approsch by the numbers and my interview with coach Ralston on the changing game and its impact on high school basketball.

 

More Than a Game: NBA Players and Coaches are Taking a Stand in Politics and Social Movements

NBA players and their coaches have been looking to influence politics and social movements more than ever in recent years. Many players who have been credited for influencing the evolution of basketball are now looking to influence dialogue off the floor.

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December 2014, high profile NBA athletes such as Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and the entire Los Angles Lakers team wore black shirts that read “I Can’t Breathe” across the front. The shirts were a reference to the final words of Eric Garner, an African American man who was choked to death by an arresting police officer.  Over the summer, Carmelo Anthony and Michael Jordan joined the conversation on police brutality against African Americans and the targeting of police officers.

LeBron James endorsement of Hillary Clinton during an October campaign rally in Cleveland. James reflected on life growing up in Northeast Ohio, where he was a raised by a single mother. James’ foundation, the LeBron James family foundation has pledged to provide more than 1,100 students with full ride scholarships to college. James cited education as one of the main reasons for his support to Clinton during the election.

Many NBA athletes and coaches have been highly critical of Donald Trump and have taken to both the media and social media to voice their opinions. Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr spoke about being disjointedness in society as well as the leader that was just elected. When President Trump proposed his travel ban Kerr also took a stand, reflecting on personal experience with terrorism.  Kerr’s father Malcom was assassinated by Islamic Jihadists in January of 1984. Steve Kerr’s voice was one of the loudest against Trump’s proposed travel ban.

With more and more members of the NBA community expressing their opinions on American social and political issues, I talked with two NBA reporters to see how players agency has evolved over the years and what their voices mean today. Michael Singer of USA Today. Singer follows the entirle league as a national reporter . Sam Smith is the author of New York Times Best Seller, the Jordan Rules and has been covering the NBA for over three decades. Before becoming a sports writer, Smith was a political reporter in Washington D.C.

Take a listen and here what they shad to say in my podcast below.

Talking Evolution with a Basketball Dinosaur

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At 60-years-old, Dave Corzine is not a dinosaur. But, by basketball standards, it may as well be. Furthermore, old school big men like him seem to be going extinct in the modern, position-less game of basketball. In his 13 season, Corzine averaged nine points and six rebounds per game. He defines himself as a role player and told me how there may not have been a place for a back-to-the basket center like him in today’s game.

Corzine and I talked about the land before the 3-point line, old school big men, revolutionary players, the 3-point revolution, and what it was like to play with Michael Jordan in this first ever edition of the Fouxdini of the Hardwood YouTube series.

Bringing it Back Home: Reflections on the Big East Tournament at the Al

Sunday morning, Mike Flieschman and I met earlier than we ever had to call a basketball game. DePaul did not play until six in the evening but the game was in Milwaukee and we didn’t want to take any chances setting up our live game broadcast equipment. So, we left just before eight and took 94 up to Milwaukee where we would stay until Tuesday night to cover the Big East Women’s Tournament. For two aspiring sports analysts, this was the opportunity of a lifetime.  Sure enough, our time in Milwaukee was one of the best weekends of both of our lives and some of the most valuable experience of our young careers.

We arrived at the Al McGuire Center at 10:02 AM and apart from staying with the night with friends or in-laws we know in the area, we were there until Tuesday night after the nets had been cut down and the stories had been written into the history books. This years story told the tale of two coaches on a collision course to the title game. For DePaul, coach Doug Bruno had just concluded his 31s season, winning his fourth straight conference title. For Marquette, Carolyn Kieger just finished her first winning season. In just her third year, Kieger had turned her mistaken-ridden freshmen platoon into five of the most polished sophomores in the country. Kieger and her young team won it all in front of the home crowd. Mike and I were winners as well, blessed with the experience to cover a championship game.

As my final basketball broadcast concluded, the Al McGuire Center was flooded with streamers as faces streamed with tears. On the losing bench, the resilient Blue Demons who defied the obstacle of injuries all season sat on the bench, head in hands and hearts on sleeves. On the winning bench, 33-year-old Carolyn Keager wiped the tears from her face having just won a championship with her alma mater. Maybe the emotions were contagious because I to found myself with tears in my eyes as I signed off for the final time for Radio DePaul Sports. After arriving home, Mike and I took the weekend to settle back in and then got back together to reflect on our time in Milwaukee via podcast. Enjoy!

Kieger and Golden Eagles Take Championship 100 Years in the Making

The matchup seemed inevitable. Throughout the entire tournament, Marquette and DePaul dominated their opponents in their collision course to the championship, renewing a rivalry going on its 100th year.

Counting men’s and women’s basketball, the Marquette Golden Eagles and  rivalry with the DePaul Blue Demons have met 185 times since their first meeting in 1917. Back then, Marquette was known as the Hilltoppers, paying homage to their original location on a hill between North 10th and State Streets. The Blue Demons were still known as the D-men, a name inspired by their football sweaters back when both schools still had  teams. Since then, DePaul’s name evolved into the Blue Demons from D-men and Marquette nickname has changed from Hilltoppers to the Warriors in 1954.

In 1964, the Warriors hired Al McGuire.McGuire led Marquette to an NIT championship in 1970 and an NCAA Championship in 1977 in his final year coaching the program. Today, the home-court of the Golden Eagles is named after him and the home of Marquette Women’s Basketball is referred to as the “Al” which is short for the Al McGuire Center.

The Blue Demons have their own legend. Ray Meyer was the coach of the DePaul Blue Demons for 42 years. In his first season, Meyer took the Blue Demons to the Final Four in their 1942 – 1943 season. Meyer continued to build his legacy, winning the NIT championship in his third season as coach in the 1945 tournament. In 1979 Meyer and his star, Mark Aguirre journeyed to the Final Four one more time, coming within two points of the Larry Bird led Indiana State Sycamores. Today’s Blue Demons play their home games on Ray Meyer Court.

While the championships and Final Four appearances jump off the page of the history books. One of Ray Meyer’s greatest contributions to DePaul basketball began at his summer basketball camp where a young man named Doug Bruno, who did not have the money to attend camp cleaned the latrines and worked in the kitchens to pay his way through camp.

Bruno built a bond with Meyer built a bond over the years while Bruno developed into a very skilled, and highly recruited basketball player. As teams harassed Bruno into the summer, coach Meyer told Bruno that he would like him to come play for the Blue Demons, offering the boy who cleaned the bathrooms a scholarship to play point guard for the Blue Demons in Lincoln Park.

Bruno accepted coach Meyer’s offer. Red-shirting his freshmen season ,Bruno played from  1968 to 1793, leading the team in assists in 1972. Over those five seasons, Bruno  learned from Meyers’ basketball philosophy, laying the early foundation of his own place in Blue Demons history.

After graduating Bruno coached high school basketball while working for DePaul in the Athletic Department before returning to the Blue Demons as the head coach of their women’s basketball team, led by DePaul’s current athletic director, Jean Lenti-Ponsetto.

Bruno then left to coach professional women’s basketball for two seasons before the league failed and Bruno took an assistant coaching position under one of Ray Meyer’s key assistants, Frank McGrath. Bruno returned once again to the Blue Demons in 1988 where he has stayed ever since, turning the Blue Demons into a national powerhouse. Bruno’s Blue Demons tied for first place in the North Star Conference in his first season back and went to the NCAA and a Big East super power since joining the conference in 2005. In his combined 31 seasons coaching the Blue Demons, Bruno’s teams have reached the NCAA tournament 22 times, won his conference  regular season seven times, winning the last four season titles in succession.

The accolades have joined Bruno in the rare company with his mentor Ray Meyer and and Al McGuire. Today, DePaul hosts their home games on Doug Bruno Court inside the Frank McGrath Athletic Center. The night before the championship, coach Bruno recalled playing against Marquette and reflected on the rivalry.

As of the Big East Women’s Championship game, Marquette held a 73-45 advantage on the men’s side. while the Blue Demons held a 42-25 lead on the women’s side, combing for an overall 98-87 basketball series record in favor of the Marquette.

This season the Golden Eagles were the only team to beat the Blue Demons in Big East play. The Blue Demons however, had never lost before to the Golden Eagles in the post season and now had their star point guard Jessica January healthy for the first time against the Golden Eagles this year.

Marquette though, now has a Doug Bruno to their Al McGuire. At just 33-years-old, Carolyn Kieger has turned the Marquette Golden Eagles into on of the most formidable teams in the Big East in just her third season. Like Bruno, Kieger too played point guard for her alma mater. Kieger started all four seasons for Marquette from 2003 to 2006, playing her way into All-Conference Honors in three seasons. Kieger capped her playing career by being named a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman award, given to the nation’s top point guard in women’s basketball and finishing as the all-time leader in assists for the program she now leads from the sidelines.

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Carolyn Kieger handles the ball for the Golden Eagles. photo courtesy of Anonymouseagle.com

The Golden Eagles and the Blue Demons battled back and forth all night before Marquette was able to finally take control of the game in the fourth quarter, defeating the top seeded Blue Demons 86-78.

Marquette was lifted by their five woman rotation of sophomores who combined for 80 of the Golden Eagles 86 points; Erika Davenport (6), Allazia Blockton (12), Danielle King (14), Amani Wilborn (20), and Natiesha Hiedman (28). Hiedeman stole the show all evening, going six for ten from deep and keeping the Al McGuire Center crowd at a decibel defying volume. Her night was highlighted by a halfcourt buzzer beater at the end of the first quarter to give the Golden Eagles a one point lead and landing her on Sports Center’s Top 10 Plays later that night.

After checking out for the final minute, Hiedeman was embraced by a teary-eyed Carolyn Kieger after playing the first 39 minutes. Kieger may be on her way to having a court named after her as well someday after winning the Golden Eagles first ever post-season victory over the Blue Demons in championship fashion with one of the youngest cores in the country.

 

Kieger could not have been more proud of what her team accomplished, breaking down to tears in the post-game press conference with a freshly cut-down net adorned around her neck.

With Kieger’s five best rotation players all in their sophomore season, the Marquette Golden Eagles are here to stay, and will look to challenge the Blue Demons at the top of the Big East for years to come.

Going on 100, the basketball rivalry between Marquette and DePaul is in excellent health. As coach Bruno said, perhaps Al McGuire was “up there in heaven” watching. The rivalry and legacies of the coaches who have competed have been immortalized, forever stained into the hardwood history as well as their home floors.

DePaul Defense Weathers the Red Storm for Shot at the Big East Championship

The DePaul Blue Demons met the fifth seed, St. John’s Red Storm in the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament looking to avoid a repeat of last year when top seeded DePaul was upset 75-66 by the Red Storm on their homefloor in the same round.

St. John’s came into the game red-hot and confident following a convincing 56-40 win over Villanova, a game in-which senior guard, Aaliyah Lewis exploded for a career high 27 points on 11 of 17 shooting. The Red Storm held the Wildcats  31 percent from the field the night before in an effort where they held their opponent to 50 points or under for the 10th time this season. With a league best, 37 percent opponent field goal percentage, defense was the calling card of the Red Storm all season and the reason they were able to upset DePaul the year before.

Although St. John’s defense was true to form against DePaul, the Blue Demons’ defense was even better. DePaul held the Red Storm to just 26 percent from the field  in their 59-41 loss to DePaul.

“Because we are a team that scores the ball, that likes to score the ball, I don’t think people think of us as a defensive basketball team,” said coach Bruno after the game, “but we’ve always worked very hard to be a good defensive basketball team.”

Coach Bruno credited his assistant coaches and scouts for contributing to what was a tactful well executed defensive gameplan.

“We have great assistant coaches, all of my assistants are great scouts,” said Bruno, so we spent a lot of time examining film and understanding what our opponents’ strengths are weaknesses are..”

Early in the game, St. Johns’ forward, Jade Walker picked up two fouls that kept her to just three minutes in the first half. With their leading scorer on the bench, DePaul went to a zone defense that sent the Red Storm scrambling to find offensive production.

“It was very beneficial to have Jade Walker in foul trouble in the first half,” said Bruno, “that was huge for us.”

With Walker on the bench, the plan was to stop Aaliyah Lewis and force the Red Storm’s worst shooters to shoot the basketball. Crystal Simmons came into the Big East tournament shooting a just 22 percent from the field and 21 percent from the three point line.

“It was a team effort defensively,” said Bruno, “we were able to one man monster, one man  zone off of Simmons so there was always a second player in the paint when Lewis did penetrate, its not like we just shut her down by herself.”

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Jessica January, Amarah Coleman, and Lauren Prochaska (left to right) swarm Aaliyah Lewis in the paint. – photo credit: DePaulBlueDemons.com

The plan worked to perfection.  Lewis followed up her career night with a frustrating nine points on just two for thirteen shooting while Simmons had the second most field goal attempts behind only Lewis. Simmons finished the game with just four points on two of 11 shooting.

Junior point guard, Lauren Prochaska played a key role shutting down Lewis as the primary defender on the cat-quick senior out of Brooklyn.

“It was definitley a team effort,” said Prochaska, “its not I stop you, its we stop they and I think we did a pretty good job, Aaliyah was coming off you know, an amazing scoring night last night so I think everyone did a really good job when it was their turn to step up and defend.”

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Lauren Prochaska on the way to one of her two blocks on Aaliya Lewis. – photo credit: DePaulBlueDemons.com

Prochaska, finished the game with two blocks, both coming in the paint against Lewis and one steal. Amara Coleman also guarded Lewis on the ball, finishing the game with two steals.

Jade Walker returned in the second half but the power forward was held to just six points in her seventeen minutes by DePaul who brought a double team every time she caught the ball in the post. As result, Walker had two of her team’s 18 turnovers and was held to just six points, less than half of her 13 points-per-game average.

“In the second half, I thought we did a good job on getting to Jade Walker with the secondary defender as well,” said Bruno, “when Joe’s game plan coming out of halftime was to go right at us with Walker, I thought we did a good job of getting a secondary defender also.”

While the Blue Demons defense was incredible, St. Johns’ defensive game-plan was true to form, holding DePaul well below their 44 percent field goal average at just 36 percent from the field.

“They’re very tough,” said Bruno of the Red Storm, “they’re really tough defensively, they make you work, very, very hard to score so a big part of our offensive lack of flow must be credited to the St. John’s defense. ”

One player they did not have an answer for though, was Jessica January. After missing all but the first half of DePaul’s conference opener against Georgetown and the team’s final two conference games versus the Villanova Wildcats and the Georgetown Hoyas, January was playing in just her fourth game back from her shooting broken hand.

January, the preseason Big East Player of the Year exploded for her fifth outing of the basketball year with 20 or more points, pouring in 20 points on seven of 11 shooting, including three of her four 3-pointers falling in just 23 minutes of play.

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Jessica January pulls up for a jumper over Aaliyah Lewis. – photo credit: DePaulBlueDemons.com

“Its great to have Jessica January back,” said Bruno, “she just really brings us energy and competitiveness.”

“I’m obviously really excited to be back,” said January, “and like Bruno said, we kinda had a choppy game offensively and I think everyone jus did agood job being aggressive still and trying to take advantage of the easy opportunities we did have.”

The Blue Demons next opportunity will come against the Marquette Golden Eagles in the Big East Championship game. While the Blue Demons have a perfect four to zero record versus their arch-rival in tournament play, the Golden Eagles were the only team to defeat DePaul in conference this season. Tomorrow night’s game will tip off at 8 PM at the Al McGuire Center.

Pirates Sail into Stonewall as Freshman Excels in First-Ever Post-season Game

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Chante Stonewall grabs one of her eight rebounds in front of Seton Hall’s courtesy of DePaulBlueDemons.com

The Seton Hall Pirates defeated the Providence Friars Saturday night to move on to the Big East Quarterfinals against the one-seed, DePaul Blue Demons. After steering the course the night before, the Pirates metaphorically sailed into a wall. There ship was capsized, and sunk on impact. The battle-tested Blue Demons led 26-12 after the first and never looked back. With the game out of reach early, coach Bruno rested his stars most of the night and relied heavily on the bench, and the Blue Demons cruised to a 92-60 victory.

While the Blue Demons dominance was no shock, their leader in scoring and minutes was. Freshman Chante Stonewall averaged just 15 minutes and five points per game this season. Sunday night, Stonewall led the team in scoring and minutes with 28 minutes and 20 points, while adding eight rebounds to her stat line as well.

“Chante is really coming along as freshman and she had some great possessions and some freshmen-esque possessions but I think that amount of experience that she was able to get while Jess was not in the lineup was huge,” said coach Bruno.

Despite 35 points combined from freshman in the game (seven for Kelly Campbell,eight for Deja Caje) and 20 of those coming Chante Stonewall, coach Bruno still saw areas of improvement for the youngest members of the team.

“Chante gave us some good offensive lift off the bench tonight, knocked down those two threes in the first half and really she probably coulda’ had (more) she just sometimes gets a little ahead of herself offensively she probably had two or three more bunnies that she coulda’ knocked down,” said Bruno.

Despite missing a few bunnies, Stonewall went eight for 16 shooting on the offensive end. On the other side of the floor,  Stonewall guarded the perimeter and the post effectively, snatching three steals and adding an emphatic rejection.

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courtesy of DePaulBlueDemons.com

While Stonewall’s performance was the obvious story-line of the night, it was revealed after the game the Tanita Allen, who was honored as the Big East’s Sixth Woman of the Year before tip off, had played with the flu. Despite some sea-sickness, Allen helped fend off the Pirates with three steals, 11 points, two assists, and two rebounds in 21 minutes of play.

“We didn’t know if she was gonna go till right up till game-time,” said Bruno.

The Blue Demons victory moved them on to face St. Johhn’s in the semi-finals. Last year, the Blue Demons held a ten point lead in the third quarter before St. John’s took control of the game and the home-court, defeating the Blue Demons by eleven on their home court in the same round the rivals will meet again this season.