Office Hours: Second Semester Begins

By David Scott - January 06, 2008

Welcome back to The Professor's classroom. I trust all of you had a nice respite. You're gonna need it.

We're into the conference schedule, with just a smattering of non-conference affairs remaining between now and Tourney time. So that means we're into the nitty-gritty. Time to separate the pretenders from the contenders and better yet, time to start thinking about seedings, brackets and March road trips that will lead us to San Antonio.

Without further ado, The Professor's first official report card of the second semester. As for those of you still whining about your first semester grades, please keep the complaining to a minimum. We don't suffer whiners well...

A: Mario Chalmers, Kansas
Of all the impressive sights The Professor witnessed during Kansas's dismantling of Boston College on Saturday, maybe the most revealing was the scene we spied as halftime wound down just outside the Jayhawks locker room. As the rest of the team took the court to shoot around, the 6-foot-1 junior Chalmers and the 6-8 senior Darnell Jackson stayed back and shared a few moments talking and hugging. Jackson, who had tears in eyes, was on his way to a career-high of 25 points (10 in the second half) but with a few minutes until the start of the second half, he was overcome by emotion at the memory of his grandmother, Evon, who had died in a 2005 car crash in Las Vegas.

"Losing my grandmother," Jackson said quietly after the game, "that like destoyred me. Now I've just got the chance to think about her every day. Even when I run up and down the court she is always with me. Before we went out for the seocvnd half, I was in the tunnel hugging Mario. I just can't stop thinking about her, she's always on my mind. Mario always tells me, you just need to do it for her."

Chalmers, the team's second leading scorer and assist leader, apparently is a team leader in another category as well: comfort.

"We were both very close to our grandmothers," said Chalmers. "You can tell with Darnell that was his favorite person in the whole wide world. (In the hallway at halftime) I told him everything we do this year is dedicated to his grandmother and gave him a little friendly hug. 'Just go out and do it for your grandmother,' I said."

Before returning to the arena floor, Jackson wiped away the tears as he jogged out with Chalmers. It was time to get back to work.

"He's got a free mind for the first time since he's been in college beacuse of so many bad things that has happebned to his family," said Kansas coach Bill Self. "Just tragic things. He's having fun and playing well."

Chalmers said he hadn't seen Jackson get that emotional since last November when Kansas played Florida in Vegas. But he - and his teammates - knew exactly what Jackson needed most. In this case it was a hug and a pat on the back.

"My teammates always look out for me," said Jackson. "They text me and see if Im okay, if i need anything. They're my brothers, I don't have any older brothers."

He does now and that brotherhood may be the very element that gets Kansas past the Elite Eight this yearA-Plus: 21-month-old Will Knight
If you haven't yet seen the video of Grandpa Bob Knight and young Will during the elder's post-game press conference after his 899th career win, then go seek it out. We'll wait here for you.

Great stuff right? How damn cute is that? (The kid, with the pacifier, not the Grandpa with the potty mouth.) And please, don't buy into the haters who are going to blast Knight for swearing with young Will (son of Tim Knight) on his lap. The beauty of the clip is that Knight once again shows he has a better, sharper and more keen sense of humor than 99 percent of the people who cover or follow him.

"You did good," Grandpa tells Grandson as they exit the dais, "you evaded every question they asked."

. . . Grandpa also gets bonus points for reportedly kicking the scorer's table in frustration during the win over UTEP and losing his shoe in the process. Might be time for some velcro-strapped shoes for The General.

A-Plus: Wayne Ellington, North Carolina
Okay, now we remember. Our bad. UNC is more than just Psycho T. There's also the incredibly smooth sophomore Wayne Ellington. With Sunday night's 36-point outburst in the Heels' OT win at Clemson, Ellington (11 of 19 and 5 of 8 from 3-point land) reminded everyone that he is the Tar Heels' most NBA-ready player.

F: UMass Basketball Fans
As a proud alum of the State U., I have to say I was embarrassed by the weak turnout for the Minutemen's home win over Houston last Wednesday. The front-running UMass fans have not latched onto Travis Ford's club and that's a shame. I understand students were on break, but there's no excuse for the Mullins Center to be half-filled for a game against a potential Top 25 team.

Everyone keeps waiting for John Calipari to walk back through that door, but in the meantime they're missing a pretty exciting brand of basketball. Even Houston coach Tom Penders said as much.

Ford admitted to "begging" fans to come to games and for that, every Pioneer Valley UMass "fan" of the Calipari Era should be embarrassed.

A: Memphis Basketball Fans
On the other side of the spectrum are the Tiger fans who heeded Calipari's wishes and gave a standing ovation to Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg on Saturday afternoon at the FedEx Forum. Walberg is the brains behind the turbo-charged system Calipari is running at Memphis and Calipari wanted that to be acknowledged publicly. The fans obliged and then the Tigers went on to rout the Waves.

D: Kentucky
It's only with some mercy that we don't give the team with the No. 226 RPI (through Jan. 5 games) a flat out "F." We actually are starting to feel bad for Billy Gillipsie - despite all those insulating zeroes in his paycheck. Saturday's home loss to Louisville continued the bleeding for the Wildcats and with three losable games in the next 12 days (home vs. Vanderbilt, at Mississippi State and at Florida), Kentucky could easily be 6-10 and 0-3 in the SEC. Ugh.

C: Atlantic 10 Conference
The "sexy" league of the non-conference season, the A-10 is riding high with 4 teams in the RPI Top 20 (through Saturday games) in Dayton (9), Xavier (15), UMass (16) and Rhode Island (18). Two more - Duquense (49) and St. Joseph's (58) are Top 60.

However, the league as a whole only gets to No. 8 in the conference RPI rankings behind the Missouri Valley and just ahead of the Horizon, which are both likely to be two bid leagues. The bottom of the A-10 is laughable with five 170-or-over RPI schools (Charlotte, Fordham, St. Bonaventure, George Washington and LaSalle).

When people talk about top-heavy leagues, the A-10 is the prime example and it could keep them from being a four-bid league.

A: San Antonio Spurs Scout
It was probably a little thing but one you don't usually see during a college basketball post-game press conference. The unidentified scout stuck around and actually listened intently to the post-game pressers given by UMass players including potential NBA pick, Gary Forbes. Too often, the NBA drafts on strictly the playing ability of a collegiate athlete and neglects to understand the importance of things like media interaction and off-court maturity. Most NBA scouts pack up and leave games early to avoid traffic. This gentleman stayed late and did his homework and it's probably a good indication of why the Spurs are the elite of the League.

F: America East Conference
Wow. There are bad leagues and there are BAD leagues. The AE is currently a VERY BAD league. With a conference RPI of No. 28, the league is in danger of having an historically poor RPI year (last year they were a respectable No. 20). In 2001-02, the conference had a 29 RPI, but even then they managed two 20-win teams in BU and Vermont.

This season, the league has just one team over .500 (UMBC at 10-5) while the rest of the league is at least two games below-.500. If Albany and Vermont can't step it up, the AmEast could be on its way to providing play-in fodder for this year's Tournament. (Albany beat Vermont in OT on Sunday to bring both teams to 6-8).

Rook Look - Rodney Stuckey

A weekly check-in with a professional player who was toiling on a college campus last year at this time:

The rookie out of Eastern Washington has now played in nine games and is starting to emerge as a valuable bench player for the Pistons and is averaging 5.6 ppg and 3.0 apg.

Information and quotes from school/conference releases, official websites and wire stories were used in this notes column.

Posted by David Scott at 11:13 PM on January 06, 2008

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