BOZICH | I Was Right -- and I Was Wrong
Rick Bozich remembers his hits -- and his misses -- in the sports world, including Antonio Blakeney, Brad Stevens, Tubby Smith, Skal Labissiere and more.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Sometimes you double off the scoreboard. Sometimes you ground out softly to second base. Sometime you hit the 30-footer at the buzzer. Sometimes the shot misses, rim, net and backboard.
I know both feelings.
I’ve been right.
And I’ve been wrong.
I WAS RIGHT ABOUT ANTONIO BLAKENEY — One or two University of Louisville basketball fans reached for the Panic Button after Blakeney, a four-star recruit, reneged on a oral commitment to Louisville and switched to mighty Louisiana State in September 2014.
I got it. Blakeney was a guy the U of L staff had pursued all summer (and, yes, I’ve heard the rest of his recruiting story), a player who could deliver big numbers for the Cards. Even Rick Pitino lamented Blakeney’s flip.
But think about it: If a player actually believed that he’d learn more basketball from Johnny Jones than Pitino would he really be a great fit for Louisville’s program?
You know the rest of the story. Donovan Mitchell settled in for two solid seasons in the Cards’ backcourt at two-guard, Blakeney’s position. Blakeney averaged better than 17 points per game for the Tigers last season — on a team that won 10 of 31 games and helped get Jones fired as LSU’s coach.
Mitchell arrived at Louisville ranked as the No. 17 player in the 2015 prep class. He’s ranked the 23rd best prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft by DraftExpress as well No. 34 by Chad Ford of ESPN.
Blakeney was ranked 21st by Scout. He is unranked by DraftExpress and Chad Ford.
I WAS WRONG ABOUT BRAD STEVENS — When Stevens departed Butler for the Celtics in 2013, I was certain he’d move onto the Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger, Tim Floyd flight path.
Work two or maybe three years in the league. Struggle. Lose more games than he won. Succumb to the frustration. Discover NBA guys don’t hunger to be coached.
Return to college hoops ASAP.
Duke, North Carolina, Indiana. Stevens would have a string of college choices.
I could not have been more wrong.
Stevens has been terrific in Boston, moving the Celtics directly to the top of the Eastern Conference without a Bill Russell, Larry Bird or Paul Pierce in his lineup.
This might not be the season the Celtics topple LeBron James and the Cavaliers to make the NBA Finals. But with another string of top draft picks on the way (thank you Brooklyn Nets) Stevens’ chance to deliver a championship moment is inevitable. He’s been great.
I WAS RIGHT ABOUT ARCHIE MILLER RETAINING IU RECRUITS — You could hear the howls in Bloomington when two of the three players in Tom Crean’s final IU recruiting class asked to be released from their national letters of intent after Crean was dismissed a month ago.
Some feared the Hoosiers’ 2017 class would be a pothole.
Enter Archie Miller.
He’s done and said all the right things after taking over from Crean, hiring a solid, veteran staff, including former UCLA assistant Ed Schilling, who should reestablish the IU brand across the state.
One face-to-face meeting with Miller was all that was required for forward Justin Smith and guard Al Durham to reaffirm their commitments to the Hoosiers. Cliffton Moore remains undecided. But Miller has shown he understands how to close.
I WAS WRONG ABOUT TUBBY SMITH BEING A HOME RUN AT MEMPHIS — When Memphis hired former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith to replace Josh Pastner last year, I was convinced the Tigers had returned to the Road to Relevance.
Tubby would do what Tubby did at his five other college stops — win reasonably big and take the Tigers back to the NCAA Tournament.
Players are leaving Memphis as if they’ve been warned the school is downgrading to Division III. Six Tigers’ players have announced their decisions to transfer since the end of the season, including the team’s top two scorers and rebounders from last season.
Smith’s stubborn persistence to make room for his son, Saul, on the Memphis coaching staff led to the demotion of Keelon Lawson from assistant coach to a lesser job.
Poof. After a salty 19-13 season, the Memphis born-and-raised Lawson brothers announced they are going, going, gone to Kansas, willing to sit out one season rather than continue their careers under Smith.
Smith is solid coach with excellent credentials. But the recruiting game has changed — and Smith has been slow to change with it. As columnist Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal has written, it’s a daunting task trying to win at Memphis without the support of local high school kids, like the Lawsons, who have younger brother who is also a Top 50 prospect.
I WAS RIGHT ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF THE CHANGED EARLY ENTRY RULE — These numbers will likely be outdated by the time you read this, but at last count 28 college basketball underclassmen have announced they are leaving for professional basketball while signing with an agent while at least another 30 have said they plan to participate in the draft process while remaining open to the possibility of returning college basketball.
Good for the NBA. Good for the players.
Helping college players make the wisest call was the goal when the league changed the process to give players the opportunity to participate in the NBA Draft combine, ask questions and collect information before finalizing their plans.
I WAS WRONG ABOUT SKAL LABISSIERE’S CHANCES OF NBA SUCCESS — I thought it was a mistake when Labissiere slid to the 28th pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft.
The mistake was that Labissiere was picked too high, not too low.
He failed to prove much during his one season at Kentucky. No real presence around the rim. A jump shot that sometimes went in when he was open. On defense, he was just a guy.
Then when Labissiere declined to play in the games at the Draft Combine, I was certain he’d need several seasons in the D-League or Europe to contribute with an NBA team.
All Labissiere needed was for the Kings to trade DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans.His numbers down the stretch for Sacramento have been terrific.
Labissiere has scored double figures in five of the Kings’ last six games. He had 25 against Houston, which was seven less than his season high of 32 that he scored against Phoenix in mid-March. He’s bumped his season averages up to 8.8 points and five rebounds.
The Kings are convinced they scored a major-first round steal.
They might be right.
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