The Head of the Class

Sept. 14, 2006

By Bryan Armen Graham


Bryan is a basketball editor for and contributes on a regular weekly basis.
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As a Philly native and Penn alum, I've been spoiled rotten with Ivy League titles and NCAA bids for longer than I can remember, a fact that I've never been too bashful to share around the office with resident hockey guru, Dartmouth alum and good-hearted Ancient Eight rival Elliot Olshansky.


But when the basketball world descended on Springfield, Mass., this weekend to celebrate the enshrinement of the latest Hall of Fame class, passionate Big Green fans like our Rink Rat (whose team hasn't made a trip to the Big Dance since the Eisenhower administration) enjoyed a rare moment in the spotlight when favorite son Dave Gavitt was inducted as a contributor to the inner circle of hoop luminaries.


Sure, Charles Barkley and Dominique Wilkins and Joe Dumars might have been the sexier names showcased during Friday's enshrinement ceremonies. But all of their on-court accolades put together don't hold a candle to Gavitt's interminable list of accomplishments both behind and before the scenes, a resume so far-reaching and extensive that it's hard to wrap your arms around.


As coach of Providence, Gavitt led a small Catholic school to eight straight 20-win seasons and a Final Four in 1973. As founder and architect of the Big East, the league's first commissioner established the archetype for the modern-day power conference. As chair of the Division I men's basketball committee, Gavitt oversaw the expansion of the tournament to its familiar 64-team structure and struck the television deal with CBS that has made March Madness a cultural touchstone. As president of USA Basketball at the dawn of the 1990s, Gavitt is credited with conceiving and handpicking the Dream Team, which many consider the best group of players ever assembled. ("I happen to think it was," he admits.)


And so it was a real treat to sit down with Gavitt during one-on-one interviews Friday, as the Portsmouth, N.H., native sermonized on the state of the game in America circa 2006.


From his salad days playing under the late Al McGuire on the freshman team at Dartmouth to his role as Hall of Fame chairman of the board, the ultimate jack-of-all-trades has devoted over 50 years of his life to the advancement of the game. But like any true visionary, the one-time Hanoverian never sees his work as being complete, and cites a number of flaws in today's infrastructure -- including the marginalization of the high school coach's role in player development.


"What we have today unfortunately is a system where the high school coach, who is a real educator, has been kind of taken out of the mix of influence. The money at the NBA level is so huge, why wouldn't a young man aspire to that from a very early age? So there's a kind of get-rich-quick attitude with the whole summer programs, with the shoes and the travel and this and that," Gavitt said. "I believe that this entire generation is getting victimized by this system, and unfortunately too many of them are minorities. The promise of the money of the pros is out there, and so few make it. And those that don't have their college degrees have not completed their education. Even those that do make it, [they] never reach their full potential because they're not mature enough, they haven't been to school and they haven't been coached enough."


Gavitt has spent time working with NBA commissioner David Stern and NCAA president Myles Brand as a consultant, hoping to remedy this problem. The former Big East commissioner cited former conference standouts God Shammgod of Providence and Erick Barkley of St. John's as just two of the system's victims -- great players with unrealized potential that fell by the wayside.


"The roadside is littered with people, with good players, who the system has hurt," Gavitt said. "I could go on and on. I really feel badly that we have a system right now that is flawed. I think that the people that are the losers are the young people that -- when the dream bursts, which it does for most -- don't have an education or a degree to fall back on and to carry them forward in life, and I feel very badly about that."


When asked about the eschewing of fundamentals among today's young players, Gavitt continued to take issue with the system.


"The players of that era, they had played in college. They had played for very significant high school coaches. Larry Bird to this day will say the five greatest years of his life were the years he spent at Indiana State. Magic is [still close] with Jud Heathcote. You heard Charles speak about Auburn today. A lot of today's players don't have that in their background," Gavitt said. "It's harder for coaches in college today because a lot of these kids come up and do the summer thing where they kind of just roll the ball out and take it up and down the court and it's oohs and aahs and not time and score that people focus on. Then the college coach maybe only has the guy for a year or two years. That's why teams that have four-year players like George Mason are very dangerous."


Circle The Date


Dec. 9: Texas A&M vs. UCLA at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim (Anaheim, Calif.)


Nothing gets the juices flowing like a network-televised, non-conference game in early December between a pair of teams that should contend for their respective league crowns. The front end of the Wooden Classic twinbill marks the third-ever meeting between the Aggies and Bruins (and the first since 1971-72). Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie returns most of the contributors from a side that came within a whisper of the Sweet 16 in March, including top-notch point guard Acie Law IV and underrated post player Joseph Jones. Fellow starters Dominique Kirk and Canadian native Marlon Pompey are also back, while newcomers Bryan Davis and Donald Sloan are expected to make a splash. As for the Bruins, the premature departure of Jordan Farmar was a considerable blow. But with Alfred Aboya, Arron Afflalo, Lorenzo Mata and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Luc Richard Mbah a Moute returning to Westwood, the Bruins return enough experience to make a repeat run to the Final Four.




·         Five months after cutting down the nets at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, the Florida Gators received their national championship rings Saturday during halftime of the football team's 42-0 rout of UCF before a capacity crowd of 90,000 fans at Florida Field. Program alums Mike Miller, Andrew DeClercq, David Lee and Dwayne Schintzius were among the 75 former players, coaches, family members and recruits that attended the ceremony.


·         A pair of Niagara basketball players including leading scorer Charron Fisher have been charged with misdemeanor assault stemming from an off-campus attack of a fellow student-athlete last month. While authorities charged Fisher and Stanley Hodge on Tuesday, the players will remain on the team pending a school investigation.


·         Senior point guard Jermaine Maybank is the latest beneficiary of NCAA Rule 2005-54, the newly installed proposition which allows a student-athlete that has earned an undergraduate degree to transfer schools without sitting out a season. Maybank, a point guard who will play for Bob Huggins at Kansas State, averaged 1.2 points and 1.1 rebounds as a junior at St. John's, where he graduated with a degree in sports management this spring.


·         It's all happening: Only 31 days remain until Oct. 15, when teams can open official practice. And just 54 days until the first game of the season tips off, when Maryland hosts Hampton in the opening round of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic on Nov. 7.



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