Are Kentucky Freshmen Hurting SEC Basketball’s Overall Rankings?

In November and December, Big Blue Nation struggles more than other blue blood programs. 

Kentucky consistently starts more freshmen than any other program in the nation. It’s been this way since John Calipari arrived seven years ago and instituted a philosophy which embraces the “one and done” m.o. of so many of today’s high school prep stars who have designs on NBA riches and fame.

Playing this many Kentucky freshmen has, for the most part, panned out well on the backend of seasons. In the Calipari era, Kentucky has gone to four Four Finals and won a championship. But freshmen, no matter how gifted, take time to gell. And so, on the front end of seasons, Kentucky underperforms relative to nation’s other best programs.

That is, since 2011-12, Kentucky has “only” won 61.3% of its November/December matchups against non conference, Power 5 opponents. That’s at the bottom of the recent best of the best, as you can see below.

Duke: 20-6 (.769)

Villanova 15-5 (.750)

Kansas: 24-9 (.727)

North Carolina: 17-10 (.630)

Kentucky: 19-12 (0.613)

Below is a breakdown of each program’s season-by-season records. All data is taken from

Kentucky In Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 3-2

2015-16: 3-2

2014-15: 6-0

2013-14: 1-3

2012-13: 1-4

2011-12: 5-1

Kansas in Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 4-1

2015-16: 3-1

2014-15: 5-1

2013-14: 3-3

2012-13: 4-1

2011-12: 5-2

North Carolina in Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 3-2

2015-16: 4-1

2014-15: 3-3

2013-14: 2-1

2012-13: 1-2

2011-12: 4-1

Duke in Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 3-1

2015-16: 2-2

2014-15: 3-0

2013-14: 3-2

2012-13: 4-0

2011-12: 5-1

Villanova in Non-Conference Early Season Games vs. Other Power 5 Conferences

2016-17: 3-0

2015-16: 3-2

2014-15: 4-0

2013-14: 3-1

2012-13: 2-1

2011-12: 0-1

Kentucky’s early-season struggles have hurt the SEC’s overall cachet as a basketball conference.  Consider Kentucky has been the league’s marquee program these last six years, while other SEC programs don’t play nearly as many high-profile early-season games. If Kentucky struggles to rack up significant wins pre-conference, because it more often loses head-to-head matchups with the titans of other conferences, then few other SEC teams have schedules which give them a chance to make up the difference.

So, the SEC’s strength of schedule ratings as a conference (relative to other conferences around the nation) suffers. This is one factor in the reason the SEC might have been underrated as a basketball conference until this March Madness, when three SEC teams broke into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986.

Look for SEC programs to raise the number of their high-profile early-season games soon. The league office has mandated that in the coming years each program must play non conference opponents with a three-year RPI average of 150 or above.

Comparing Steph Curry’s OT Masterpiece to Best in NBA & NCAA History

Curry’s 17-point detonation was one for all-time … and all-places.

After missing a potential winner at the end of regulation in Game 4 of the Golden State-Portland series, Steph Curry became visibly frustrated. On the bench, he slammed his hands together, clearing irked he’d missed a 10-foot running bank shot down the right side.

A game-winning shot there would have added some gleam to Curry’s already historic season. Instead, because he missed it, Curry ended up burnishing his legacy while strengthening his case for the greatest offensive season in basketball history far more than he could have with a mere game winner.

In his first game back from nearly three weeks off with injury, Curry filleted the Trail blazers to the tune of 17 overtime points — a perfect prelude to the announcement today that he is the first unanimous MVP in NBA history. A late, clinching stepback three-pointer left Portland owner Paul Allen doing this:

As you can see below, Curry’s performance set an NBA record for points scored in a single overtime:

Most points in OT, NBA history

Steph Curry 17 2016 vs. Portland
Gilbert Arenas 16 2006 vs. L.A. Lakers
Earl Boykins 15 2005 vs. Seattle
Butch Carter 14 1984 vs. Boston
Dirk Nowitzki 14 2009 vs. Chicago


NB: The previous scoring record for a postseason overtime was 13 by Clyde Drexler.

This feat is amazing enough on its own. Even more amazing, though, is that the record would stand at the NCAA basketball level, too, where so many more players have had a chance to do better in so many more games. Roughly four times* as many Division I games as NBA games are played per season, according to research provided by

Since the 1995-96 season, there have been 109,667 college basketball games and an estimated 26,000-27,000 regular season and postseason NBA games.

According to official NCAA records, the Division I record for points in an overtime period is shared by two players:

  1. Howard’s Ron Williams, who scored 17 points in the first OT of a win against Norfolk State in 2003
  2. Temple’s David Hawkins, who scored 17 points in the second OT against Massachusetts in 2004.

Essentially, scoring 17 or more points in a single overtime is really, really, really hard. The NCAA has had five-minute overtime periods since 1908, and yet it’s only been done twice before.

That Steph Curry could achieve this against a defense roughly four times more imposing than anything Norfolk State or UMass could summon, in the thick of a pressure-packed road playoff game, after recovering from an ankle injury, doesn’t seem human.

It’s possible that Curry is simply stretching the bounds of what we as fans imagine should be possible on a basketball court. Where he goes, others will eventually follow, right?

That’s not a given. The one player in the NBA who probably comes closest to Steph Curry’s long-range shooting abilities and handle — Damian Lillard — looks to be as much en fuego Curry’s match as Clyde Drexler was en fuego Jordan’s equal. Maybe a much better version of Lillard will ascend through the pipeline in the coming years, but I doubt it. The more I watch Curry, the more he appears to be a transcendental type of talent that may not come around but once a century at best.

Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were these kinds of talents, too. It’s been nearly 60 years since they burst onto the national scene, and we have yet to see two other big men who can as thoroughly dominate their opposition.
No little man has come close to destroying opponents in the myriad, potent ways Curry can. If anyone doubted this heading into last night’s game, their silence is deafening now.


Season-By-Season Comparison Of History’s Greatest College Basketball Players

From Cleveland’s Kevin Love to Houston’s Trevor Ariza to Oklahoma State’s Russell Westbrook, UCLA has no shortage of alumni playing important minutes for competitive teams in the NBA this season. The NBA fans who closely follow the game, whether by watching, fantasy sports or online betting, know there’s a good chance Bruins will play roles on some of the teams making the deepest runs in this year’s playoffs.

When it comes to deep postseason runs, no Bruins, however, have ever stood as tall as Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That’s certainly the case in the NBA playoffs, as the 7’1″ Walton bagged the NBA Finals MVP en route to leading Portland to the 1977 title. And who can forget what Abdul-Jabbar did on the biggest stage? Twice the 7’2″ center won the NBA Finals MVP (in 1971 and 1985) while winning six championships overall.

As great as Walton and Abdul-Jabbar were in the pros, they were even more impressive while playing college ball for UCLA. Both won the NCAA player of the year award in each of the three seasons they were eligible for it. Walton won two of three NCAA Championships in those years, while Abdul-Jabbar won an NCAA Championship in all three seasons he played varsity (freshmen were ineligible in the 1960s-early 1970s).

In men’s NCAA basketball, few players can touch Walton and Abdul-Jabbar when it comes to a combination of titles and statistical dominance. In fact, to get appropriate comparisons, we must go to women’s basketball. Here we find players who won Player of  the Year just as many times as Abdul-Jabbar (Cheryl Miller) and a superstar who has won more NCAA Championships (Breanna Stewart).

But how do all these all-timers stack up mano-a-(wo)mano? Let’s break out the spreadsheet, folks, and see. Below are the stats for the all-timers’ first season*.


Year One

Player Season PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
Lew Alcindor 1967 26.4 66.70% 65.00%
Sheryl Swooped 1992 21.6 50.30% 80.80%
Cheryl Miller 1983 20.4 55.10% 73.70%
Bill Walton 1972 20.3 64.00% 70.40%
Lisa Leslie 1991 19.4 47.80% 67.60%
Brittney Griner 2010 18.4 50.36% 68.44%
Maya Moore 2008 17.8 54.30% 74.30% 42.00%
Chamique Holdsclaw 1996 16.2 46.80% 71.30% 23.30%
Breanna Stewart 2013 13.8 50.80% 77.70% 33.30%
Diana Taurasi 2001 10.9 44.40% 87.80% 38.60%

*In all the cases above this means freshman year except for Abdul-Jabbar and Walton (where it’s sophomore) and Sheryl Swoopes (junior year since she was a junior college transfer).

Year Two

Sheryl Swoopes 1993 28.1 54.60% 86.80%
Lew Alcindor 1968 26.4 61.30% 61.60%
Brittney Griner 2011 23.03 54.32% 77.67% 50%
Cheryl Miller 1984 22 57.00% 75.20%
Chamique Holdsclaw 1997 20.6 49.80% 66.70% 34.00%
Lisa Leslie 1992 20.4 55.00% 69.70%
Bill Walton 1973 20.3 65.00% 56.90%
Breanna Stewart 2014 19.4 49.70% 77.40% 34.30%
Maya Moore 2009 19.3 52.10% 78.00% 39.80%
Diana Taurasi 2002 14.6 49.40% 82.80% 44.00%

Year Three 

Player Season PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
Cheryl Miller 1985 26.8 52.80% 69.60%
Lew Alcindor 1969 26.4 63.50% 61.20%
Chamique Holdsclaw 1998 23.5 54.60% 76.50% 22.00%
Brittney Griner 2012 23.23 60.88% 80% 50%
Bill Walton 1974 20.3 66.50% 58.00%
Maya Moore 2010 18.9 51.50% 79.00% 41.70%
Lisa Leslie 1993 18.7 55.80% 73.50%
Diana Taurasi 2003 17.9 47.60% 81.50% 35.00%
Breanna Stewart 2015 17.6 53.90% 80.50% 31.30%

Year Four 

Player Season PPG FG% FT% 3PT%
Cheryl Miller 1986 25.4 60.90% 75.30%
Brittney Griner 2013 23.83 60.68% 71.15% 0%
Maya Moore 2011 22.8 52.40% 84.30% 38.40%
Lisa Leslie 1994 21.9 55.80% 68.70%
Chamique Holdsclaw 1999 21.3 51.90% 70.70% 14.30%
Breanna Stewart 2016* 19.4 57.90% 83.60% 42.60%
Diana Taurasi 2004 16.2 45.60% 79.50% 39.00%

*Through first 37 games. 

From an offensive standpoint, players like Cheryl Miller and Abdul-Jabbar on different planets than the likes of Breanna Stewart. This  disparity is so vast I believe it destroys Stewart’s argument for G.O.A.T. despite her team’s unprecedented four-year run.

Now let’s see how these players stack up rebounding, passing and more defensive stats.

Year One

Player RPG APG BPG SPG Team’s Win % Games Played
Bill Walton 15.7 0.00 0.00 0.00 100.00% 30
Lew Alcindor 15.5 0.00 N/A 0.00 100.00% 30
Lisa Leslie 10 0.67 2.60 1.43 60.00% 30
Cheryl Miller 9.7 3.48 2.39 3.48 93.94% 33
Chamique Holdsclaw 9.1 2.08 0.58 0.94 88.89% 36
Sheryl Swoopes 8.9 4.75 1.00 3.44 84.38% 32
Brittney Griner 8.49 1 6.37 0.51 72.97% 37
Maya Moore 7.6 3.05 0.00 1.66 94.74% 38
Breanna Stewart 6.36 0.97 2.06 1.14 89.74% 36
Diana Taurasi 3.2 3.30 0.88 1.18 91.43% 33

Continue reading Season-By-Season Comparison Of History’s Greatest College Basketball Players

Biggest Disparities Between Men’s & Women’s NCAA Basketball Programs

When it comes to dual success at the highest levels of men’s and women’s college basketball, the Connecticut Huskies are in a class of their own. The university’s two programs have combined for a total of 166 NCAA Tournament wins, higher than the totals from the men’s and women’s teams of any other university. Still, though, the disparity between these two powerhouses is larger than many would expect.

The Connecticut men have won four national titles and been to seven Elite Eights since 1999. This year, though, the program has fallen on hard times with a 10-11 start. A fifth national title this spring seems highly unlikely. Connecticut has only a 450 to 1 chance to win the 2017 NCAA Championship, according to these odds. That’s worse than Auburn’s or Seton Hall’s.

Still, overall, four titles and seven Elite Eights is really good. Yet it’s nowhere near good enough to keep pace with coach Geno Auriemma’s juggernaut. Since 2000, the women Huskies have won nine national titles and made 15 or 16 Elite Eights. This kind of extraterrestrial success translates into the fourth-largest disparity in Division I NCAA when it comes to women’s program success relative to their male counterparts.

The highlighted column in the below chart shows the difference between the Connecticut men’s NCAA tourney all-time total in wins (58) and women’s all-time total (107) is 48. In terms of gender success gap, that trails only Stanford (57), Louisiana Tech (61) and Tennessee (104)

sports seer 2

*Above data, drawn from, is current through April 1, 2016.

If you’re interested in parity, it appears no major college program does the Title IX thing better than the Maryland. The men Terrapins have an all-time NCAA Tournament record of 41-25 while the women clock in at 42-23. Both have exactly one national title.

So, what about the men-dominant programs?

Good question, arbitrarily inserted headline.

It’s no surprise that the blueboods of college basketball are at the top of the list when it comes to men’s program-to-women’s program win disparity. Much of this is a function of the fact that the men’s NCAA Tournament started in 1939 while the women’s version started in 1982. A four-decades-long head start in winning usually builds pretty large gaps.

So we see a situation in which some very good women’s programs like Duke and North Carolina are still in the Top 7 in terms of disparity because of the strength of their counterparts.

Biggest Gaps Between Successful Men’s Programs and their Female Counterparts

Sports Seer Graph

It may surprise some fans that so many of these men’s juggernauts have not yet been able to find a way to cultivate more success for their female counterparts. Some female programs, like Kentucky’s, have made strides in recent years but it’s hard to close the gap when

a) the men’s program’s even higher levels of success widens it year by year

b) In the 1980s, much smaller programs like Louisiana Tech and Old Dominion took up a disproportionate share of the available NCAA Tournament wins

c) Since then, Tennessee, Stanford and Connecticut have swallowed up a much larger share of all available tourney wins. That trio of programs has been far more successful than any men’s trio over the same amount of time.

In essence, the women’s teams at the top of my first chart play a big role in making it so hard for almost all other women’s teams to develop serious momentum.

“I’ll tell you how far you can go” – Geno Auriemma

Perhaps that begins to change this weekend. The Syracuse women’s team has made it the Final Four. This marks the first time that an historically sub .500 NCAA Tournament program (e.g. Indiana, Michigan, Arizona, Villanova, Cincinnati) has made it this far. To win the title, though, the Syracuse women would likely have to beat Connecticut in the championship round. That’s a very tall order, but doing so may create enough shock waves and recruiting momentum to help start closing the chasm between the Syracuse men’s and women’s teams.

Unless, of course, the Syracuse men steal said thunder and win it all this year, too.


For more about the juggernaut Huskies, check out my piece on the first Arkansan to receiver a scholarship offer from Auriemma’s program. 

How Will Arkansas-Little Rock Handle Purdue’s Size?

The biggest question heading into today’s Arkansas-Little Rock–Purdue matchup is a question of bigs: How will the Trojans, whose starting center is 6’11” and 210 pounds, will handle a powerful Purdue front line that goes 6’9″, 7’0″ and 7’2″? How quickly both sides’ bigs get into foul trouble will play a large role in deciding this NCAA Tournament first-round game in which almost every online college basketball sportsbook lists Purdue as a favorite.

“We’re going to have to double team some,” Trojans head coach Chris Beard told Dan Dakich this week. “We’re going to have to take some chances with some single guards. We do have two big kids on our roster. Lis Shoshi is our starting center. He’s a junior college transfer, he’s a good player. He had an offer from Minnesota and Texas Tech, so we beat some big schools on him.”

Beard added, “Then we’ve got a big fifth year transfer, Daniel Green, who played at Wake Forest for four years. Daniel’s about 6’10” so we’ve got 2 guys that I think can match up decently, but other than that, now we’re starting to play 6’4″, 6’5″ undersized guys … so we’re going to really try to help our guys in coaching and game planning.”

For perspective from the Boilermakers’ corner, check out these excerpts from Purdue beat reporter Nathan Baird. Baird spoke with Trey Schapp of the Buzz 103.7 FM earlier this week:

Q: If there is a recipe for Little Rock to try to beat Purdue, what should they try?

Nathan Baird:“[Purdue] came into the season I think with some cautiously high expectations. They had a lot of talent back from last year and added a really good power forward freshman in Caleb Swanigan, who was a national recruit for that mix. I think that this season played out about how I expected. I thought that they would be about a 26-, 27-win team, and that’s right in the ballpark they’re at. Some of the things that you would traditionally associate with Purdue basketball in terms of a blue-collar work ethic, tough man-to-man defense, those sort of things — at least here in the Big 10 sometimes that’s kind of what they’re known for.

What they’ve sort of flipped the script with is adding that power forward in. They play a traditionally big lineup. They’ve got two 7-foot centers. They’re kind of interchangeable. One’s better than the other, but the backup is pretty good, too, and  Swanigan next to that as power forward. That’s a really tough combo for a lot of teams to try to match up with. That’s the really big thing going into a tournament like this is how are these other teams … Very few teams are going to have that kind of size and skill combination in the front court. How are teams going to try to match up with that?”

Q:Nathan, with all that length, do they have much athleticism?

Nathan Baird: A little bit. They’re not a very fast team and they’ve gotten in trouble a couple times against teams that are throwing zone press or something out there. They’ve got a couple guys that have some athleticism. Their starting point guard, or most of their point guards are probably two of the more athletic guys they have – P.J. Thompson and Johnny Hill.

They’ve got a guy named Vince Edward who’s the “3” 6’8″ forward. He played the “4” last year as a freshman and has moved over this year. They’ve got some of that athleticism, but they’re not an essentially quick team. They pick their spots as far as transition. They like to get out and attack and be opportunistic that way. But they don’t really necessarily push the tempo as a matter of their identity.

At the same time, the 7-footers they have aren’t stiffs. A.J. Hammons was a first team All Big 10 player. He’s the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year. Really athletic around the basket, has really become a lot more skilled, has a lot of post moves there, has even pulled the team out more toward the perimeter this year for the first time.

His backup is a sophomore who’s 7’2″, 285 pounds — a kid named Isaac Haas from Alabama. As [Purdue coach] Matt Painter said the other night, if I played him 35 minutes a game, he’d be first team All Big 10. Unfortunately, he can’t play that much. He’s probably a 16-18 minute player at the most, usually, because Hammons gets the bulk of those duties just because he’s such a defensive player, especially in the second half. It’s not necessarily that they’re especially athletic, but they’re pretty skilled and they do a lot of little things right.

Q: How deep is Matt Painter’s bench and how do you think the Denver altitude might affect the game?

Nathan Baird: They go about nine deep and they’ve really got multiple options at each position. Again, they are a bigger team. They rely on those big guys to play a lot of minutes. What’s an interesting angle here is some of those guys I’ve already mentioned – Vince Edward, who’s a 6’8″ guy, Caleb Swanigan, the 6’9″, 250 power forward, and Isaac Haas, the behemoth that they have as a backup center – all of those guys played in Colorado Springs last year in various camps, Swanigan and Edwards with USA Basketball and Haas as part of the PanAm Games tryouts.

Some of their biggest guys, ones who would be maybe the most vulnerable to the altitude, you would expect, all have some experience playing at altitudes. Even if it’s just limited experience. I think that’s going to help them a little bit this week.

All four of these teams are going to have to adjust to it. I don’t know how much of an advantage it’s going to give anybody. The fact that those three guys in particular, for themselves, know how to adjust to it… I was talking to them after the game yesterday and basically said, ‘That first day, you’re out there running, and man it burns. It hurts. You can definitely feel it.’ It’s going to be a matter of just playing through that and not letting it affect you, getting it out of your mind. That could be an advantage for Purdue, just because those guys know what they’re feeling, know how to get through that.

Some of your big guys can shoot the ball a little bit, and that can be an advantage. If you can take those seven-footers and Swanigan and pull them away from the basket by being able to make shots from the perimeter, teams have done that and won.

Iowa was a tough matchup with Purdue that way. They beat them twice. The first loss of the year was at Illinois and Illinois did some of those same things. Some other teams have done that. If you can take one of those 6’9″, 6’10”, 6’11” kind of guys and those guys can hit shots from the perimeter and make Purdue’s seven-footers come out, it opens things up for the whole offense, because now you don’t have that guy protecting the rim and you can get in there other ways, too. You don’t have to score just from the perimeter that way.

That would be one way. The other way is Purdue has been susceptible to high turnovers. It’s not necessarily just one thing, it’s they’ll have travels and a moving screen and then just throw a ball out of bounds… Teams have not only turned them over, but then created offense off of those turnovers. If Purdue wants to make a run in the tournament,  against most teams, they’ll be the first ones to tell you, they’ve got to take care of the ball better than they have in some of their other big games this year.

Q: What was Matt Painter’s reaction to the 5 seed and going up against a 12 in a team like Little Rock?

Nathan Baird: He was pretty nonchalant about it. He’s a really pragmatic coach. He’s not the guy who’s usually very demonstrative. There’s times where we’ll ask about something that’s going on in college basketball and he’s very quick a lot of times to say, ‘Well, I haven’t studied that myself. I don’t want to say something.’ I give him credit for that. Here’s part of his reasoning: If we were a few spots higher up on the seed list, then maybe you could swap us and Iowa State and then we’d still be the 4. There’s not really a difference there.

He and a lot of other people, and obviously up here we’re going to say this, but they think the Big 10 as a whole was underseeded. In fact, Painter said, ‘I think Indiana should have been a 3 instead of a 4.’ I had to say, ‘Actually, they were a 5.’ He was like, ‘Oh, really? Wow.’

Then he really got bummed out. Everyone thought Michigan State was going to be a 1 and they ended up a 2. Again, it’s razor-thin between a 4 and a 5 on the seed list. I think sometimes fans don’t necessarily look at that.”

Hilarious Jesters: One of the South’s First Integrated Men’s Basketball Teams

Below is the second of a two-part series about the Hilarious Jesters, a traveling team of former college players who broke racial barriers in the early 1960s. Most stories of integration in the South of this era highlight African Americans entering white worlds, but in this case the Jesters featured a couple white players  playing on a primarily black team vs. all-black teams.

The Little Rock-based group initially included core African-American players such as Chester Lane, Marion Rice and John Davis, as well as McPherson. McPherson later brought Ray Paladino aboard, along with another white player, Charles Taylor. As I mentioned the article, originally published in Arkansas Life, this group scrimmaged against high-level talent such as Harlem Globetrotter extraordinaire Geese Ausbie and NBA player Wayne Yates.

Likely central Arkansas’ first semi-professional integrated basketball team, the Jesters competed primarily against all-black squads of players hailing from communities such as Marked Tree, Marion, Clarendon, Holly Grove, Newport, England, Altheimer and other areas southeast of Little Rock.

McPherson says he had little trouble playing all-black opponents in front of all-black crowds: “First time I did something like that, I was a little bit nervous about how it would turn out, but shoot, nobody ever said a cross word to me.” Lane, however, remembers it slightly differently, recalling fans and even players who occasionally hurled racial taunts at the white players. It never got physical, though. A few times, the Jesters also played all-white teams in areas such as Benton, Conway and Menifee, and the taunting flowed the other way. “Sometimes it was nice, and sometimes we got a little razzing,” Lane says.

McPherson and Lane’s friendship centered on competition, whether basketball, chess or pingpong—which McPherson had learned from Poles while he was stationed in Europe. The two played pingpong in gyms before practices and games, and at Lane’s home, but Lane never visited McPherson’s home, even when he invited him. One day, McPherson called him out on it, asking Lane why he always had an excuse to avoid visiting. Lane said he believed his presence as an African-American man wouldn’t be welcomed by McPherson’s southwest Little Rock neighbors. “They’ll look down their noses at you,” McPherson recalls Lane saying. Lane didn’t want McPherson to experience negative feedback from his community on account of his presence. McPherson understood, appreciated Lane’s desire to protect him and never pushed the point again. “I felt like that was true friendship,” McPherson says.

Despite their name, the Hilarious Jesters provided serious competition for whomever they played. McPherson and Lane were both guards, but while McPherson specialized in shooting, Lane was an outstanding ballhandler as a result of a hip injury he had suffered while playing semiprofessional basketball after college. The injury limited his mobility, but Lane was able to compensate by developing his dribbling skills, McPherson says. “He could almost make a ball talk.”

The team didn’t profit from its games, although it occasionally got gas money and free meals through postgame picnic potlucks. Mainly, they played for love of the sport. Lane recalls a typical outing: a group of the guys jamming into a couple of Oldsmobiles, heading off to play a night game in some small northeast-Arkansas town, pure exhaustion setting in, his wife, Janet, taking the wheel for the long road back.

The Jesters folded after only a couple of years. The players’ lives had gotten too busy for the fun, unpaid times to last forever, but they left a legacy that has endured. By the 1970s, sports would be almost completely integrated, along with most spheres of Arkansas society. There can be little doubt that of the hundreds of all-white and all-black crowds who saw this integrated group of ballers play throughout the years, there would have been some men and women who would have seen in them a sign of a more hopeful future. McPherson, though, says he never thought about trying to change society. “I’m not trying to blow my horn. Race has never been an issue with me,” he says. “I was just playing ball, and color didn’t matter.”

Lane went on to coach high school basketball in Clarendon, then at Arkansas Baptist College in the 1970s. McPherson, who by the mid-1960s had four children, was on his way up the corporate ladder at Horner Boxes in southwest Little Rock. He stayed in the game by playing for corporate-sponsored Amateur Athletic Union teams and later refereed games at all levels, including AAU, high school and college games. Indeed, he recalls once refereeing an Arkansas Baptist game while Lane coached there.

Still, by that point, the friends no longer had the time to hit the courts. They had continued playing pickup at MacArthur Park and Dunbar throughout the 1960s, but those days are long gone. Occasionally, though, someone remembers them.
McPherson recalls, years later, running into a black man around town who knew him through basketball circles. The man told him he appreciated how, unlike other whites, McPherson didn’t act scared or hesitant around blacks. “We always thought you all had been afraid of us, and—little did you know—we were afraid of y’all, too,” he explained to McPherson. “It meant a lot for you to reach out.”

Nowadays, McPherson lives in Alexander and Lane in Sweet Home, south of Little Rock. They talk a few times a year and have attended a few reunions together for their old basketball buddies at Abe’s Ole Feedhouse in nearby Benton. One former on-and-off-again Jester, James Bledsoe, has died, but the others still make it. Granted, the bounce in their step is gone—Lane now enters the restaurant in a wheelchair, and many others limp—but they still know how to let the good times roll. They laugh, reminisce and joke about the old days while picking out fried catfish and hush puppies in the buffet line. Geese Ausbie, true to Globetrotters form, is still prone to clown around with servers, McPherson says.

Through it all, not a word about big-picture stuff like race relations and the group’s small but significant role in tearing down walls is ever uttered, McPherson adds. He refuses to acknowledge his own likely status as a pioneer. “I don’t want to make an issue of something now that wasn’t an issue then. That was not my intent.”

In November, his hope was to attend a basketball game at Philander Smith that would be attended by some of his old basketball buddies. Lane’s health had been off and on, so McPherson offered to stop by his old friend’s house and give him a ride.

As before, just a little pickup.




To read more about the Hilarious Jesters and Arkansas sports history in the content of race relations, make sure to check out the first part of the above article. 

Joe Barry Carroll, a No. 1 NBA Draft Pick, Straight Up Became a Fine Arts Connoisseur

Formerly “in the paint”; Now into painting.

Next month, Fort Smith native Jahlil Okafor could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. If he is, the 6’11” center will be the third Arkansan native to go No. 1 in a major American team sport since Joe Barry Carroll in 1980. Okafor spent his childhood in the Ft. Smith area before moving to a bigger metro area in Chicago. Carroll, meanwhile, spent some of his elementary school days in Pine Bluff before his mother shepherded her large family to Denver.

There, among the Rockies, Carroll grew to seven feet tall and became a prized recruit. He then became a legendary player at Purdue, leading the Boilermakers to the 1980 Final Four while racking up 26.3 points a game.

I’ve written about Carroll’s lofty place among NBA Arkansans in multiple statistical categories, but I hadn’t seen much about his roots in Arkansas until the following news showed up in my inbox.

It turns out Carroll has become both a painter and writer who has been contemplating his Arkansan roots. Now living in Georgia, Carroll will return to his home state this fall for an exhibit in Little Rock:

“The Historic Arkansas Museum will host the contemporary art exhibit, “Growing Up . . . In Words and Images” by NBA All Star, Joe Barry Carroll. The exhibition will open in Historic Arkansas Museum’s Trinity Gallery for Arkansas Artists during 2nd Friday Art Night on September 11 from 5 to 8 pm. The opening reception will include a gallery talk with Carroll and a book signing in the Museum Store. 

The exhibition will include paintings from Carroll’s memoir coffee table book of the same name. The colorful and evocative acrylic and mixed media paintings have been described as “folk” and “impressionistic.” The paintings explore what Carroll refers to as “shared humanity”—childhood, dreams, family ties, southern culture and self-discovery.  In “Growing Up,” Carroll’s southern-comfort prose reveals the life of a boy who seemed “to not be enough of any one particular thing to be the right thing.”

Born the tenth of thirteen children, Carroll was raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Denver, Colorado, where his mother supported the family as a domestic worker, fry cook, and eventually a nurse’s aide. He dreamed of saving the day for his family and writes, “Every time I witnessed my mother’s defeat and difficulty as another dream died, I resolved to make it all better one day.”

Carroll led the Purdue University Boilermakers to the Final Four in 1980 and graduated with a degree in Economics. Carroll was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1980 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He would go on to play for Milano (Italy), the Houston Rockets, New Jersey Nets, Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns. Carroll is now a wealth advisor, philanthropist, painter and writer.

Historic Arkansas Museum is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 – 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission to the galleries and parking are free; admission to the historic grounds is $2.50 for adults, $1 for children under 18, $1.50 for senior citizens. The Historic Arkansas Museum Store is open 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 – 4 p.m. on Sunday.”

Carroll, it turns out, had the seventh-highest scoring performance in NCAA Tournament history in 1980. Interestingly, the number one player on that list – Glen Rice – apparently was born in Jacksonville, Ark. before moving to Michigan as a baby or toddler. 

In the early 1980s, Carroll was one of league’s best men while playing for the Golden State Warriors, which is now the favorite to win the NBA Finals according to sports handicappers. He averaged more than twenty points per game in seven seasons there and made the All-Star Game in 1987.  Overall, Carroll played 12 seasons with a career high average of 24 points in the 1983-84 season. 

Below is more about Carroll’s wide-ranging past, via his official biography:

Continue reading Joe Barry Carroll, a No. 1 NBA Draft Pick, Straight Up Became a Fine Arts Connoisseur

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Old-School UCLA vs. New-School Kentucky

russell block usf
“Talented Tommy Heinsohn gets his hook shot swatted into the third row of seats of Madison Square Garden” thanks to Bill Russell. (From the 1956 University of San Francisco yearbook)

I recently examined how good Kentucky’s defense has been this season compared to the best teams in college basketball history. The piece is in SLAM here.

Naturally, the great UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s (winners of 88 straight! Seven straight national championships!) were part of the analysis. And fortunately two of the best Bruins of this era – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes – provided me with some first-hand insight.

I found out that Abdul-Jabbar considered the best UCLA defense he played with to be different from what UCLA’s media guide indicates. Jabbar’s senior team (1968-69) held all of its opponents to an average  of 37.4 % field goal shooting and 63.8 points a game. Those numbers were at 38.4% and 67.2 ppg the previous season.

And yet it’s Kareem’s junior year, 1967-68, which he considers the best college defense he played on. He explains:

      “That was our most versatile team. The depth and the good athletes made that our best team.  The only loss we had was against the University of Houston because I had a sub par game having spent the previous week in the Jules Stein Eye Clinic with an injury. Everyone counted us out until we had the rematch in the NCAA Tournament and beat them by 32 points.
        I had kept the Sports Illustrated cover featuring Elvin [Hayes] hanging inside my locker for the rest of the season as a reminder and motivator. Since this was the first loss my UCLA teams experienced I didn’t want it to be a repeat occurrence. It must of worked because I only lost two games during my entire college career.”

I’m not one to argue with an authority like KAJ. It’s very possible the ’68 defense was actually better than ’69  relative to how strong its opponents were. Unfortunately, we don’t have the same kind of strength of schedule metric for teams of this era as we do for more recent teams.

The work around, as I detail in SLAM, is to look at how teams performed purely against Associated Press Top 25 foes. Those specific stats often take work to come by, but they are worth it.

Here are other excerpts from my January interview with Abdul-Jabbar, who recently authored the latest installment of his “StreetBall Crew” series for young adults:

Q: I know many rules have changed since the 1960s, but how do you think that [1967-68] defense would have fared against some of the top teams in modern NCAA basketball?

A) I think we would have been just as dominant as we were in the Sixties. I think the fact that our players had to stay in school and could not jump to the NBA enabled them to learn the game in-depth and the one and done players don’t have that type of complete fundamental preparation.

Q) Do you feel like the best UCLA team you played on would have been athletic enough, overall, to beat a modern elite NCAA team?

A) Modern elite NCAA teams do not feature players who have stayed through their junior and senior years and lack the in-depth competence of a team that has upper classmen. I still think we would  have to be considered as one of the best teams that ever played college ball.

Q) On the defensive end, what similarities do you see between the 2014-15 Kentucky team and your best defensive UCLA team? Are there any current Wildcats (or Wildcats on the 2010 or 1996 teams) that remind you of any Bruins on that team (in style of play, physicality or both)?

A) I haven’t seen the Wildcats play recently so I can’t compare them, but I do know that they are dominant team from the way they whipped UCLA and held them to 7 points in a half.

Q) In your opinion, what are the best two or three defensive teams in all of NCAA history?

A) Bill Russell’s 1956 USF team*, John Wooden’s first NCAA championship in 1964 and my UCLA 1968 team are the three best. None of the modern teams would have been able to compete with Bill Russell’s teams or the UCLA teams because they lack the cohesion you get from staying in a program for four years. Bill Russell’s team featured two of the best defensive players that ever played in the NBA, namely Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. The 1964 UCLA team was undefeated – need I say more ?

*I would love to see how this team performed against Top 25 foes. Unfortunately, those box scores appear to be missing as of now. We do know for sure is that USF ’56 was very, very good, holding all foes to 31% shooting and 52 points a game.

Stay tuned for more excerpts from the Jamaal Wilkes interview, and some details numbers from my all-time teams comparison.

Joe Kleine Breaks Down Bobby Portis’ Post Game, Discusses North Carolina


I had the chance to talk to the Razorback legend for a North Carolina-Arkansas mini oral history which runs on Sporting Life Arkansas today. Kleine, who recently finished his eighth season as an assistant coach with UALR, was pivotal figure in leading Arkansas to an historic 1984 win over No. 1 UNC. I couldn’t help also ask him about what will happen in Saturday night’s second round game between the programs, in which Arkansas has a shot to break into its first Sweet 16 since 1996.

Q: What’s your take on the Tar Heels?

A: I think they’re talented. Especially Marcus Paige –  he’s a really good point guard. Any time you’re pressuring as much as Arkansas does, a really good point guard worries you. Because he gets through there, he can cause a lot of trouble.”

Q: Bobby Portis has had a great season, you agree. In order for him to take his game to the next, where do you think he must most improve?

A: I’m a little leery to critique him because I’m not there, seeing him every day. These are things I’ve noticed just one or two times – in his post play, as with all young post players, he’s got to develop a counter move with his left hand.

I’ve seen him do some things with his off hand but he’s got to get the point where he can put it up over his shoulder with Taken by Marc Henning of marcfhenning.comhis left hand as well as he does on the other side. Still, I love his face up game and his rebounding. He has a tenacity there that is a really, really good sign … He just has to continue to work on his face up game, get to the point where he can drive as well with his left hand as with his right.

Q: Sounds like he would do well to spend a little time in Hakeem Olajuwon’s post-up training academy.

A: I’m 53 years old, and I would be well served by spending time in that academy. That man is simply amazing.

Q: How good can Bobby be?

A: Worst case scenario, for Bobby Portis, I see Joe Kleine – a guy who can play a long time in the league, can spot shoot, can defend. Whether he can be a big time scorer, that remains to be seen. His ability to score against bigger, taller, more athletic guys is going to be indicative of what kind of career he’s going to have.

Q: Overall, who do you expect to win on Saturday night?

A: You could make an argument either way. You’ll have two good teams playing on edge, that have a lot to lose, with a lot of emotion. It’ll bring out the best in both of them … I’m a fan of Arkansas – that’s gonna push me toward them. I wouldn’t want to make a living having to pick the outcome of that game.

Q: UALR head coach Steve Shields was just let go. It’s hard for me not to ask: What are your plans now?

A: I want the job. I’ve thrown my name in, I’ll put that way.

Ranking All 46 NBA/ABA Arkansan Three-Pointer Shooters

In few realms does the state of Arkansas travel the Middle Way. In politics, we’re among the reddest of the red. In education, we’re near the bottom of nearly all national metrics. Income stats, too.

It’s hardly a long shot to say Arkansans don’t do moderation well.

Except when it comes to producing world-classily average deep shooters. Arkansas ranks No. 25 among 50 states in three-point shooting in the NBA and the now-defunct ABA. That’s an accuracy only ranking, tallied by adding up all three-point makes and attempts by all NBA/ABA players born in each state. New Hampshire, South Dakota and Nebraska are tops here, with New Mexico, Delaware and Wyoming groveling at the bottom. Click here to nerd out more on this stuff, as I did for SLAM.

Looking at only native Arkansans, we see one reason for the state’s supreme averageness is the lack of any elite deadeye gunners. No Kyle Korvers, Hubert Davises, Dell Currys – or even Martell Websters or Anthony Morrows -have ever come out of our state. While Joe Johnson did briefly hold the NBA record for three point makes in one quarter (8), he hasn’t consistently been able to sustain the elite accuracy he showed early in his career with the Phoenix Suns.

Indeed, when it comes to accuracy, the best Arkansan long bomber isn’t even know for being an Arkansan. Mike Conley, Jr., son of Razorback track great Mike Conley, moved in childhood from Fayetteville to Indiana.

14 Best NBA/ABA Arkansan Three Point Gunners

3 PT% Made Attempted Native Town
Jasper Wilson* 0.429 6 14 Camden
Mike Conley 0.376 630 1677 Fayetteville
Derek Fisher 0.374 1248 3341 Little Rock
Joe Johnson 0.372 1671 4497 Little Rock
Fred Jones 0.353 346 979 Malvern
Jimmy Oliver 0.34 17 50 Menifee
Marcus Brown 0.333 13 39 West Memphis
Quincy Lewis 0.333 37 111 Little Rock
Jeff Webster 0.333 2 6 Pine Bluff
James Anderson 0.33 173 525 El Dorado
Scottie Pippen 0.326 978 3002 Hamburg
Fat Lever 0.31 162 523 Pine Bluff
Dennis Nutt 0.294 5 17 Little Rock
Sidney Moncrief 0.284 110 387 Little Rock

*I don’t consider Jasper Wilson the most accurate NBA Arkansan three-point shooter of all time. He just lucked out with a small sample size. A “not-small” sample size, in the context of this ranking, should probably begin around 200 career attempts. 

Notice the rankings only consider birthplace, not where the player actually went to high school. That’s why even the most hardcore NBA Arkansan fan will see unfamiliar names on these lists. And while I technically shouldn’t have included Ronnie Brewer on account of his spending his first four years in Oregon, where his dad played basketball, I couldn’t help myself. Too many Arkansans would want the exception to be made.

Ronnie has never been known as a great shooter, so it comes as no surprise he ranks No. 14 in the

Worst 21 NBA/ABA Arkansan Three Point Shooters

Jeff Martin 0.282 29 103 Cherry Valley
Ronnie Brewer 0.254 90 335 Portland, OR
Andrew Lang 0.25 5 20 Pine Bluff
Ron Brewer 0.248 30 121 Fort Smith
Sonny Weems 0.241 19 79 West Memphis
Jim McElroy 0.206 7 34 Cotton Plant
Cory Carr 0.167 5 30 Fordyce
Keith Lee 0.167 2 12 West Memphis
Archie Goodwin 0.159 7 44 Little Rock
Jeremy Evans 0.143 1 7 Crossett
Wil Jones 0.143 12 84 McGehee
Corliss Williamson 0.136 6 44 Russellville
Caldwell Jones 0.123 7 57 McGehee
Major Jones 0.111 1 9 McGhee
Bryant Reeves 0.074 2 27 Fort Smith
Jeff Taylor 0 0 1 Blytheville
Jerry Rook 0 0 2 Jonesboro
Gaylon Nickerson 0 0 2 Osecola
Charles Jones 0 0 6 McGehee
Joe Barry Carroll 0 0 13 Pine Bluff
Michael Cage 0 0 25 West Memphis

More of a surprise is the depth to which second-year pro Archie Goodwin’s shooting has submarined. Sure, Goodwin’s strength has always been driving to the basket. But he had made strides shooting from deep his senior year at Sylvan Hills and was better than this in his lone season at Kentucky. We’ll see how much he improves with more minutes, and more opportunities to get in a groove.

I should also be noted Sonny Weems has in recent years become a 37% three-point shooter in the world’s second-most competitive league. 

Of course, some of the best NBA Arkansans never had a chance to prove their not-so-middling mettle in this realm. Below are mostly native Arkies who either played before played before 1979, when the NBA adopted the three-pointer, or who played but not in the ABA – which used the three from its 1967 get-go.

Continue reading Ranking All 46 NBA/ABA Arkansan Three-Pointer Shooters