Sports

Assists a key stat to unselfish, and selfish

Tom Smith, the man who has counted assists at Kentucky home games for the last 14 seasons, learned first-hand how important that statistic can be several seasons ago. A UK player he declined to identify came to the scorer's table before the start of the second half with a problem.

"You all shortchanged me on one assist" in the first half, the player told the stats crew.

Assists, the most subjective of basketball statistics, were in the news last week when John Wall broke the school record for assists in a season.

But what exactly does that mean?

"It means a lot," Wall said. "It means I'm not a selfish player. I look for my teammates. ... That's a key. I can't do it by myself."

However ill-defined, assists are important enough to be one of the most recognizable parts of the Carolina Way. Former Tar Heel Coach Dean Smith insisted his players acknowledge a pass that led to a basket by pointing a finger at the passer and/or nod in appreciation.

All coaches preach sharing the ball, but the NCAA found assists such a poor way to quantify that attribute that it did not recognize it as a statistical category until the 1983-84 season.

Too much subjectivity was involved. Or as the NCAA rules manual puts it, a "fair amount of latitude exists" in counting assists.

The NCAA tries to define an assist. David Isaacs, the official scorer at the University of Louisville, and the NCAA's chief statistician, Gary K. Johnson, jointly decided an assist comes on a pass that contributes directly to a score and is thrown with a "conscious effort" to get a teammate a basket.

In perhaps a surprise, Isaacs and Johnson decided there should be no limit on the number of times the player who catches the pass dribbles before shooting. That would seem to make counting assists an even greater example of fuzzy math.

Isaacs and Johnson reviewed tape of games across the nation and decided assists contributed to 50 to 60 percent of baskets.

For Smith, the toughest decision involves the pass around the perimeter that precedes a score.

"You have to decide if the pass got him into position or he just decided to shoot," Smith said of the shooter. "We had quite a bit of that with the (opponents') zone defenses this season."

Smith, 57, played with Jimmy Dan Connor for Anderson County High. Intending to be a coach, he got a manager's job at UK. But watching then-Coach Joe B. Hall wrestle with criticism and assorted problems in the 13-13 season of 1973-74, he devoted himself to his major of accounting. He's a certified public accountant in Lawrenceburg.

Wall broke Roger Harden's record of 232 assists in 1985-86. Smith counted all the assists Harden got in home games that season and Wall this season.

"Roger was not as flashy as John," Smith said. "But he was a very solid player and wonderful ball-handler.

"With John, it's a pleasure to watch him. He's a guy who obviously likes to play. It's not a chore."

Patterson mentors

Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson is part of another team. It's iHoops First Team, a mentoring program sponsored by the NCAA to help reduce rule-breaking in the recruiting process.

As with UK, iHoops First Team feels fortunate to have Patterson on its team.

"We like to think of First Team as a ministry," said Greg Turner, a former player at Auburn and a leader of First Team since its start in March 2002. "He's just a good kid. We're very fortunate and blessed to have a kid like that."

First Team was born out of the recruiting controversies in the early 2000s (think Myron Piggie and such prospects as the brothers JaRon Rush and Kareem Rush). The Division I Men's Basketball Issues Committee sought ways to minimize the influence of what Turner called "external factors" in recruiting.

A select group of eighth-grade prospects is invited to participate each year. The idea is to teach them what should and should not happen in recruiting.

Turner acknowledged that, even if possible, eliminating an easy target such as summer coaches would not solve the problem. College coaches are part of the problem, too.

"You know as well as I know, when the stakes are raised, the envelope gets pushed," Turner said. " ... It's all about that money."

College coaches are "ultra-competitive," Turner said. "I won't say coaches purposefully cheat. But they know the rules and the gray areas."

First Team seeks to educate the prospects so they're more familiar with the rules.

Final Four debate

As Kentucky marched toward the Final Four, the significance of that achievement sparked debate. Some — usually dressed in blue — cheered UK's return to college basketball's grandest stage. Others expressed concern because of John Calipari's two earlier Final Four appearances being stricken from the record because of rules violations.

Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com was especially vexed.

"Calipari makes the Final Four at one school and the NCAA comes calling," Freeman wrote. "He bolted, fellas, the school tells the NCAA cops.

"He gets to another. Ding, dong it's the NCAA. He has bolted.

"Calipari stays one step ahead of the sheriff. If Bob Marley were still alive, he would sing a song about Calipari."

Freeman acknowledged the protests he expected to hear from UK fans.

"Kentucky fans will flame message boards and threaten to burn down my house, but in their blue and white hearts they know what I'm saying is true," he wrote. "They're holding their noses and enjoying the ride just like many others are.

"Put on a surgical mask and take a deep breath, Kentucky fans. It's your turn to root for your for-now hero while looking over the shoulder and waiting for the NCAA to knock at the door."

Earlier this season, school president Lee Todd expressed confidence a championship banner won by a Calipari-coached Kentucky team would not have to be taken down later because of rule violations.

Assist to Fogler

When looking for a new coach, Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs called on Eddie Fogler for assistance.

Fogler, the former coach at South Carolina and Vanderbilt, helped identify candidates. He even sat in on interviews. As Ray Melick of The Birmingham News put it, serving as "something of an interpreter, making sure the right questions were asked and understood by the candidates" and the answers understood by Jacobs.

Auburn ultimately hired Tony Barbee, a John Calipari disciple.

Jacobs apparently intends to elevate Auburn's basketball profile. Fogler, once a North Carolina player and later assistant coach, gave the process added credibility.

As Melick noted, Alabama has easy access to former coach C.M. Newton when it needs guidance. Hall of Famer Gene Bartow can serve in the same capacity for UAB.

"Who does Auburn have?" Melick wrote. "Charles Barkley?"

Auburn shows its commitment to basketball by building a $90 million arena, which opens next season.

Fogler's involvement is another sign that Auburn takes basketball seriously. He has the trust of basketball people and the prospective candidates for the job know he understands laboring in the SEC, where football is king.

Mock draft

Kentucky players dominate most mock drafts. As the NCAA Tournament began, The Los Angeles Times compiled a mock draft in which five Cats would be taken in the first 13 picks. Here are those mock selections with comments included from Mark Heisler of The L.A. Times.

1. John Wall 6-4, 195, Fr., Kentucky: "Last prospect rated as high was LeBron James."

8. DeMarcus Cousins, 6-11, 270, Fr., Kentucky: "After troubled past, surprised everyone with production. Faded a tad, still deemed risky, making him another one who needs good tourney."

10. Patrick Patterson, 6-9, 223, Jr., Kentucky: "O.J. Mayo's high school teammate, beast inside, handled the move to small forward."

12. Daniel Orton, 6-10, 250, Fr., Kentucky: "Played little coming off knee surgery, but pros know all about him. Big, strong and athletic."

13. Eric Bledsoe, 6-1, 190, Fr., Kentucky: "Compact, athletic, supposedly Kyle Lowry with a jumper."

Draft guru

Tony Gaujot, a sports talk radio guy out of Bowling Green, tabbed Eric Bledsoe as a candidate for this year's NBA Draft long before most other observers.

Gaujot is the host of "Sports Guys," a show on Bowling Green's WBGN, 1340 from 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Gaujot worked as a student manager for WVU in the 1990s. His first job out of college was with the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals in the marketing department. In keeping tabs on basketball, he predicted the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder and promoted Omar Samhan of St. Mary's as a prospect before that became common knowledge.

Charlie Huggins

Charlie Huggins, 76, the father of West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins, did not attend the East Region in Syracuse. It's too much on his nervous system.

"I get all worked up even watching on TV," he said. "My stomach rolls. All the dumb things (the players) do. Don't step to the ball. Throw the ball right to your man rather than away from the defensive man.

"I'll usually go to home games where I can get up and walk around."

If he had his druthers, the elder Huggins would prefer to watch on television.

"I can turn that off and on," he said.

Medical history

Apparently, heredity played a part in WVU Coach Bob Huggins' near-fatal heart attack a few years ago. His father, Charlie Huggins, has had quadruple bypass surgery and five stents implanted.

Bob tries to downplay his cardiac health. But the family wishes "he'd get his weight down," Charlie said.

Smart remark

A reporter approached UK big man Daniel Orton to ask about the smart-guys-versus-dumb-guys storyline going into the Kentucky-Cornell game.

As a bright fellow himself, what did Orton think of that?

"I guess I should have gone to Cornell," he quipped.

Family affair

This year's NCAA Tournament has been a family affair for the family of former UK player Tom Heitz. Of course, he's rooting for the Cats.

Older brother Mike Heitz, who lives in Lexington, played for West Virginia (1968-72) as the program's first 7-footer.

One of their nephews, Brad Miller of the Chicago Bulls, had been cheering for his alma mater, Purdue.

World wide Cal

UK Coach John Calipari plans to expand the reach of his personal Web site, coachcal.com, to China.

His Internet man, David Scott, said negotiations are ongoing to bring coachcal.com to China by the start of next season.

One-man band

The contrasts between UK and Cornell extended to the two teams' radio broadcast teams. UK has Tom Leach and former All-American Mike Pratt.

Cornell has one-man band Barry Leonard. He does the play-by-play call, provides commentary and acts as his own engineer by setting up the equipment.

During the NCAA Tournament, The New York Times did a story on Leonard. "My Andy Warhol moment," he said of his 15 minutes of fame.

The Times' story sparked 200 messages, plus brought his father, Harvey Leonard, 86, to tears, Barry said.

Happy birthday

To one of The Unforgettables, Sean Woods. He turns 40 on Monday.

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