Stampede Radio Announcer Mark Snider's Blog


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The Playoff Push and Veda, Pierre

The playoff push is here, and Idaho will have to make a run at finishing in the top 8 of the NBA Development League without their leading scorer and the league’s top-ranked prospect. Pierre Jackson, whose rights are still owned by the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, is taking his 29 points per game to Turkey, where he will play for one of the top teams in that country.

Veda (farewell, in Turkish) to a guy who many people felt was too small to play basketball at a high level against tough competition. Well, Pierre shattered that belief, showing that he can help a team in many ways. You know his story; National championship at the College of Southern Idaho, NIT championship at Baylor, NBA draft pick who was traded before signing in the NBA. Went to France, but returned to the States for family reasons. A guy whose Twitter handle includes the hashtag #THEYSLEEP, indicating that people have underestimated him at every stop. Idaho Stampede fans always remember his contributions to the team and the excitement he brought to the arena every night. Teºekkürler ve iyi ºanslar teºekkür (Thank you and good luck), Pierre!

But, life goes on for the Stampede and Coach Mike Peck. They must regroup and start the playoff push. As my broadcast partner Ross Cook said before Wednesday night’s win against Maine, it seems as though the Stampede have been playing playoff basketball for the past few weeks. The Western Division is razor-thin, with the top four teams separated by just 2 games. Idaho is in fourth, just a half-game behind Reno. And Idaho is also just a half-game behind the Bighorns for the final playoff spot.

With 17 games left, Idaho controls their own destiny. 12 games are left againt teams in the West (6 vs. Reno, 3 vs. Santa Cruz, 2 vs. Bakersfield and 1 vs. Los Angeles.) The remaining 5 games are against teams from the Central (2 at Sioux Falls, 1 each at Iowa, Rio Grande Valley and Texas).

Idaho has shown the ability to dig deep and win games while short handed. Earlier this month, they best Los Angeles with only 7 players and then on Wednesday, with only 6 healthy bodies, they outscored Maine 25-2 at the start of the 4th quarter to beat the Red Claws, 122-99. Dee Bost, who leads the league with 4 triple-doubles this season (and is third all-time in league history in triple-doubles), continues to play well and has shown the ability to take charge of a game. He also leads the league in minutes played, so the concern will be how he holds up down the stretch. Kevin Murphy, he of the 51-point effort against LA, and Derrick Caracter (23 vs. Maine) are dynamic offensive players who give Idaho an efficient inside-out game.

If the Stampede win a majority against the West, they should be able to land in the top 8 and head into the postseason. But it won’t be easy. LA is loaded, as league’s leading scorer Manny Harris and Shawne Williams have returned to the team from the Lakers. And with Bob MacKinnon as coach, you know LA will score in bunches and lock down defensively.

Reno, with former Stampede assistant coach Joel Abelson in his first season, has turned things around and is playing well. Bakersfield just completed a big 3-team, 5-player trade and is gunning to make up ground.

In the Central, as of this writing, Iowa and Sioux Falls each have 20 wins and are the second and fourth-seeded teams in the postseason tournament.

Will help be coming from NBA affiliate Portland? Hard to say. The Blazers are enduring some injury issues, so they may not be able to spare someone from their roster to help out the Stampede. The D-League trading deadline is approaching (March 7) and so it will be interesting to see where the Blazer front office goes to find some players to help the Stampede in the final push for the playoffs.

Posted 2-11-14

Okay, so now nearly all the teams in the Western Division have about 20 games left, you can hardly squeeze a bounce pass in between them all.

Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Reno are all tied for first with 17-12 records, and the Idaho Stampede are just a half-game back at 17-13. As of this writing, all four teams are in the playoff picture, ranking 5-8 in the seedings.

We’ve seen all season long that the West was one of the most competitive divisions in the NBA Development League, even though the Central had more playoff contenders. Well, that’s changed now, as if the playoffs were to start today, the West would send four teams to the postseason, the Central three, and just one Eastern team, Canton, would qualify.

That makes the current road trip the Stampede are on even more important for the outcome of the season. Idaho split in Reno, and now heads to Santa Cruz and Los Angeles before coming home for one game with Maine on the 19th. Then, it’s back on the road, for contests at LA (again!) and Bakersfield. 11 of Idaho’s 20 games the rest of the way are on the road, including a killer end-of-season trip to Iowa, Rio Grande Valley and Texas.

Funny, isn’t it, how 50-point games are now falling out of the sky in the D-League? First it was Pierre Jackson with a 49-point effort. Then LA’s Manny Harris matched that with 49 (in Boise, no less). Then things went crazy. In the space of nine days, check out the scoring totals: Terrance Williams of LA, 50 on January 31 at Boise. The next night, Idaho’s Kevin Murphy topped that with 51 against the D-Fenders. Three nights later, the Stampede’s Pierre Jackson set an all-time D-League scoring mark with his 58 point effort at home against Texas. Two nights after that, Harris (fresh off his second 10-day contract with the Lakers), marked his D-League return with 56 at Santa Cruz.

Consider this: In the previous 12 years of the D-League (it started in 2001-02 season) there had been only 6 games with a player scoring at least 50. And there’s been 4 this year! Amazing!

Jackson has scored 882 points this season, averaging 30.4 per game. He was leading the league until Harris returned and has lit things up. Anyway, Pierre is 419 points away from setting the D-League single-season scoring record, held by Albuquerque’s Will Conroy, who scored 1,300 points in the 2008-09 season.

Jackson would have to average just a shade under 21 points per game if he plays in every game left on the Idaho schedule.

Besides his scoring, Pierre is dishing it out as well. An 18-assist effort against Los Angeles on February 1st showed his all-around game is coming around nicely, thank you.

Fresh off his third Performer of the Week honor, Pierre is getting ready to play in the All-Star Game in New Orleans. It will be interesting to see how it goes. As you know, the New Orleans Pelicans retain Pierre’s NBA rights, and he’ll get to show his stuff in front of Coach Monty Williams and the Pelican’s front office staff. Williams was quoted recently in the New Orleans paper as saying Pierre’s recent play has “piqued his interest,” although in the same article he confessed to not watching any D-League games. Still, this will be Jackson’s time to shine during All-Star Weekend in the Crescent City.

And teammate EJ Singler will be on the same flight to N’Awlins, as he’ll participate in the 3-point shooting contest. Despite cooling off a bit recently, Singler is still hitting just about 50-percent of his three’s.

Come on out to CenturyLink Arena on Wednesday, February 19, when the Maine Red Claws make a rare appearance in the City of Trees. The Boston Celtics affiliate is 5-0 all-time against Idaho, and has has two of the league’s top scorers. The game is sandwiched between some key Western Division road games as discussed above, and will be an important game for the Stampede.

Posted 1-15-14

Here we are, after the D-League Showcase and near the end of a long stretch of games at home for the Stampede. Since the blazing 8-0 start, the Stampede have come back to Earth a bit, with a 4-8 record. But they finally got over the LA jinx, and have proven that they can win without Pierre Jackson carrying the team.

The last game, on Saturday against the D-Fenders, was in many ways the best game of the season for this team.

Minus Jackson (sore elbow) and double-double machine Rich Howell (flu), Idaho rallied to beat LA, thanks to an outstanding defensive effort. True, newcomer Kevin Murphy scored 39 points, and Reggie Hearn scored a career-high 25, but it was the defense in the fourth quarter that gave Idaho the win.

Consider this: LA’s Manny Harris was coming off a league-best (tied with Jackson) 49 points on Friday night. He had scored only 10 points in the first half, but in the second half, had tallied 28 and was in position to hand Idaho its fourth straight loss to the D-Fenders.

But on five consecutive possessions, with the game close, Harris NEVER touched the ball. And credit mostly Murphy, who was shadowing the University of Michigan product. Idaho forced others to make the plays, and when it came to crunch time, they didn’t.

Another Stampede player who made a real difference was EJ Singler. Back in action after missing ten games with a knee injury, he provided a boost both Friday and Saturday. Friday, he played about 18 minutes, despite being limited to only 15 as he works his way back into game shape. He was allowed to play 20 minutes on Saturday (and actually played 17:50), and while his stats won’t jump out at anyone (7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) he was an outstanding +18. (The plus/minus rating is much like hockey’s +/- rating; you get a plus for having your team score while you’re on the floor, and a minus is given when your team gives up points). In the loss on Friday, EJ was the only Stampede player in the plus category, with a +24.

That means even if he wasn’t scoring, EJ was helping his team in other ways.

Consider Manny Harris’ weekend. You can look at his 49 points on Friday and draw the conclusion that he’s the reason why his team won. There’s some truth to that, but when you go behind the numbers, he was -5. That means his team was outscored by 5 points while he was on the floor. In the Saturday loss, he scored 39 points, but was an astounding -18. He got his points, but didn’t do much else to help his team.

Dee Bost, who leads the league in minutes played, logged all 48 minutes in Saturday’s win, and was a +10, while scoring 22 and dishing out 13 assists. Dee is averaging 41.7 minutes per game (Jackson is a close second at 41), and depending on whose stats you look at, he’s leading the league in assists. The official D-League stats have him at #1 with 8.1 per contest; other stats show him at #2, behind Isaiah Canaan of Rio Grande Valley, who has been recalled by Houston.

There were plenty of heroes on Saturday. Dallas Lauderdale only scored 4 points, but he had a season-best 17 rebounds, and he blocked 3 shots. Kellen Thornton got his first start, and recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

And a lot of credit for the win goes to Coach Mike Peck. With only 8 players available, and missing nearly 48 points per game from his lineup, he juggled the minutes brilliantly. His substitution patterns allowed the freshest legs to be on the court, and he was able to give some brief rest to key players. In all, a huge team win.

For the first time nearly all season, Jackson is not leading the league in scoring. Harris capped off his big weekend in Boise with another 42 Monday night in a home win over Maine. So Harris has moved past Pierre for the top spot. And Idaho has moved back into a first-place tie in the West with Santa Cruz. The battle for top honors in the West resumes this Saturday night when the Warriors make their first appearance at CenturyLink Arena of the season.

Tickets are available, and we hope to see you there at 7:00 Saturday night. The last two games have seen the biggest crowds of the season, and believe me, the fans made a difference. So come out. If you can’t make it, the game will be shown live on Idaho’s Very Own 24/7, digital channel 7.2.

After Saturday, it’s a tough road trip to Rio Grande Valley, Austin and Tulsa, so come to the arena and cheer on your Stampede!

Posted 12-13-13

Well, here we are with the first Snide Remarks of the 2013-14 season. And what a season it’s started out to be!

Through the first 7 games of this season, Idaho is 7-0, and has a game and a half lead in the West Division. Last year, in 7 games, Idaho was 1-6, having won its first game to end an 0-6 slide in Mike Peck’s first pro campaign.

So, what’s the difference? Coming into training camp this year, Coach Peck said it was nice to have guards. Not to knock last year’s team, but Coby Karl was playing out of position as a point guard, and while he could score and distribute, he had his challenges defensively.

This year, Idaho is blessed with a stellar backcourt. Pierre Jackson and Dee Bost have been as advertised, and more. Where to start? Jackson has a D-League best 43 point outing (vs. Springfield) and leads the league in scoring. Bost is tops in the league in assists per game. But don’t think the team is all about the guards.

Richard Howell has recorded a double-double in every game so far, and Dallas Lauderdale leads the league in field goal percentage. Lauderdale was in Boise last season, but didn’t play due to a foot injury.

And the bench has been solid. Peck has received strong minutes from EJ Singler, Antoine Hood, Reggie Hamilton and Jason Ellis.

Some numbers: The Stampede won their 7th game last year on January 26th (104-94 win at Austin as Coby Karl scored 25). So they are more than six weeks ahead of last year’s pace. Through seven games this year, Idaho is scoring 113.7 points per game, when they scored 94.8 per game through seven last year. And defensively, Idaho gave up 105 points per game last year, while this year opponents are scoring 97.6 points per game.

The road trip continues in Fort Wayne, and then there’s a quick stop in Boise to do laundry before getting back on the road for a West Coast swing through Bakersfield, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz. Idaho returns to the friendly confines of CenturyLink Arena on December 27, when the Texas Legends come to town.

One more note from the D-League season so far: The defending champions, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, have picked up where they left off last season. Winners of their last 10 games of last season (regular season), the Vipers have won their first 9 games this season. Combined, the 19-game regular season winning streak has eclipsed the league record of 18 in a row, held by the 2007-08 Stampede. Idaho won the championship that season. So while RGV may hold the consecutive game winning streak record, I’d like to put an asterisk next to it, since the old record held by the Stampede was in one season.

So root for the Stampede to keep it going on the road trip, and we’ll see you at CenturyLink Arena for the next home game on the 27th. Remember, Stampede tickets make great Christmas gifts, so brighten the holidays for the hoops fan in your life.

Posted 3-8-12

Here’s the scenario: Idaho leads Dakota by 2 with 2.1 seconds left, thanks to a Paul Carter rebound and putback. The Stampede have seen a 16-point lead dwindle in the final quarter. All signs point to another disappointing late-game defeat.

The Wizards inbound the ball in the front court. The pass comes to Stefhon Hannah, who had nailed a pair of three-point shots in the final 1:24, including the basket that tied the game with :52 left.

He’s open, but Hannah bobbles the ball and doesn’t get a clean handle on it. Still, he has time to come up with the ball, turn and launch a 3….but fortunately for the Idaho Stampede, the ball bounces off the rim and Idaho holds on for an 86-64 win.

So the question is: Will this victory propel the Stampede into a late-season hot streak that can lift them into the D-League playoffs? We’ll have to see. But after a mind-numbing 94-72 loss at home to Los Angeles on Wednesday night, Idaho has rallied to win two in a row. The first win, a 101-93 victory over the D-Fenders, saw Idaho play perhaps its finest half of basketball this season. Ball movement was crisp, guys were finding the open man for good shots, and the Stampede (mainly Seth Tarver) were driving to the hoop. Seth scored 8 in the first quarter, and his aggressive play set the tone.

The Stampede played great defense in that game, but still had some nervous moments as LA cut what had been a 21-point lead down to 5 in the game’s final minute.

As mentioned, Paul Carter really shined in his performance Sunday in Bismarck. 14 points and a season-best 14 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. With the recent changes to the Idaho roster and the loss due to injury of Marcus Banks and Terrico White, my broadcast partner Ross Cook believes the time is right for Carter to shine. He’s long and athletic, and he can take the ball to the rim. Now, with slashers like Banks, White and Devin Green no longer on the team, Carter is the guy who can take over that role.

In the Wednesday loss to LA, Paul looked lost. 2-7 from the field, 6 rebounds and 8 points in 29 minutes was his line. But he was tentative, and I recall looking at the stats during the game and seeing that Paul had only attempted 4 shots, making only one. For him to be effective, and for the Idaho offense to click, he (or someone) has to attack the basket. The Stampede can’t stand around and, as Ross Cook says, fall in love with the outside jump shot.

Maybe the win against Dakota will be the start of something special for Cater and the Stampede.

Mikki Moore is playing outstanding these days, and it may be just a matter of time before he’s NBA-bound on a Gatorade call-up. Mikki told me the other night that he’s had interest from about 8 NBA clubs, and he’s just hoping that his play in Boise has shown that the veteran (557 NBA games on his resume) has fully recovered from the foot injury that plagued him the past few years.

When you see NBA teams like the Blazers sign Joel Przybilla, and Atlanta inked Erick Dampier for the rest of the season, you’ve got to wonder why Mikki is still in the D-League. Don’t get me wrong…I’m thrilled that he’s playing for the Stampede. But the quality of big men that are being picked up by NBA teams is questionable. Przybilla is 32, Dampier turns 37 this summer. Moore is also turning 37 at the end of this year (November). But come on now, Dampier has played in 6 games for Atlanta, averaging 5 minutes a game, and is pulling down 1.8 rebounds and scoring ZERO points for the Hawks. I think Mikki Moore could at least do that.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Some random thoughts about comings and goings in the D-League:

I see where Lamar Odom’s “assignment” to the Texas Legends lasted all of a few hours. Much was made of the Mavericks sending the 13-year veteran to their D-League team in Frisco for a game over this past weekend. There was some controversy about the assignment; some observers thought it was a “demotion,” while others (including Odom’s agent) insisted that the player had made the request to play with the Legends to get back into the game after missing a while due to personal reasons. Regardless, Dallas felt that they needed him Saturday against the Jazz and recalled him before he made it to Frisco for the shoot-around. He scored 9 points against Utah, and the Legends were left with figuring out how to deal with refund requests from fans who bought tickets expecting to see Odom play.

Must not have been too many disgruntled fans, as the fifth-highest regular-season crowd in D-League history packed the Doctor Pepper Arena with 7,708 fans. Texas (with our without Lamar Odom) is Idaho’s next home opponent, on March 14 and 15).

Speaking of NBA veterans going to the D-League…the Spurs have assigned 8-year veteran T.J. Ford to their affiliate in Austin. But here’s the strange thing: The Toros will only have Ford for practice one day before he’s re-called by the Spurs. And, the Austin team is going to practice at the Spurs facility in San Antonio! So I need someone smarter than myself, and more in tune with the nuances of personnel rules to explain why the assignment was even necessary. Ford is listed on the San Antonio roster, so I can’t see where he would need to go somewhere else to simply practice. A real head scratcher for me. But the D-League gladly put out a press release touting Ford’s assignment as the 45th NBA assignment to the D-League this season. Yet at the same time, the release acknowledged that San Antonio will recall him after one day of practice (yes, Allen Iverson, PRACTICE!).

Final thought: Is tonight’s Idaho game at Dakota the final time the Stampede will play in Bismarck? You’d hate to think so, but it is entirely possible. The Wizards were sold to the Golden State Warriors before the season, and nearly everyone feels that Golden State wants to move the franchise closer to the Bay Area. Where they’d play is still up in the air, but candidates range from San Jose to the Warriors practice facility (like the D-Fenders do…their home games are at the Toyota Center, which is the practice home for the Lakers). Bismarck has been a long-time minor league basketball town, with a history that stretches back to 1995 in the old International Basketball Association. Then came the IBA merger with the Continental Basketball Association, and when the Stampede joined the CBA their rivalry with Dakota was legendary.

If this is the final season in Bismarck, the Wizards are not treating it like they are lame ducks. They currently are 19-16, and the fans have continued to support the team; Dakota is 7th in the league in attendance, averaging 2,671 a game. (For comparison, four D-League teams average more than 4,000 a game – Texas, Iowa and Rio Grande Valley – and the Stampede are drawing 2,447 a night).

It makes sense for Golden State to bring their D-League team closer, but it would be a heartbreaker for the fans of Bismarck, who supported this team through the good times (multiple championships, the most recent being the 2006-07 D-League title). I know that getting to Bismarck is often a challenge, due to weather and cost. So while moving the team helps out others in the league, it leaves Sioux Falls out there alone and would also move another team from the Eastern Conference to the West. Right now, there are 8 teams in each conference, and so if Dakota moves to California, that takes them out of the East...meaning someone would have to move over from the West. Of the remaining teams in the West, Tulsa is the farthest East, but not by much. So maybe the 66ers move over. Or maybe the league adds a team or two to balance things out? Stay tuned.

See you on Wednesday and Thursday, the 14th and 15th, when the Texas Legends come to town. Remember last year? Idaho and Texas came down to the final day of the season in order to make the last playoff spot and the Legends won against Austin in overtime to deny the Stampede the 8th and final post-season berth? Idaho is fighting for their playoff lives these days, so the games against Texas will be critical. See you at US Bank Court!

Posted 2-6-12

Here we are, just past the halfway point in the 2011-12 season, and for the Idaho Stampede, there’s a lot of looking up to do. Idaho is just 2-and-a-half games out of the 8th and final playoff spot, but there are five teams ahead of them: Maine, Canton, Erie, Dakota and Texas. Remember what happened last year? Idaho roared back in the second half of the season to be in contention until the last day of the season. Then, after winning its final contest by 3 over Utah, the Stampede had to wait for Texas to pull out a miraculous, come-from-behind overtime win against Austin and the Legends clinched the final postseason spot. This time around, Idaho looks to have a team that can repeat the second-half success. Coach Randy Livingston is pleased with the 10 guys on his roster, and the addition of Marcus Banks and Devin Green gives the Stampede two things that were missing: An NBA-caliber point guard (Banks) and a slashing finisher in Green. David Bailey is a quality point guard, but his game is different than Banks', who will find that extra gear to blow past a defender. And in Green, Livingston has a 6’7” wing who has the ability to turn a 10-foot shot into a five-footer, and a two-footer to a gimme at the rim. He sparked the team in last weekend’s sweep of Rio Grande Valley by charging to the basket when the Stampede offense was a bit stagnant, and he drew a host of fouls and got to the line. Most of the season, the Stampede have been the ones watching the other team drive and get fouled. Maybe now that will change a bit. And we can’t overlook the outstanding play of Terrico White. In his past four games, he’s scored 20, 20, 19 and 17 points. Overall, he’s scored in double figures in 10 of the 12 games he’s played since being acquired in late December. Let’s take a minute to discuss how Randy Livingston has been working his roster. The two games against RGV looked kind of like a hockey game in the substitution pattern. Instead of one or two guys coming in, Randy would substitute the entire five-man team. And the starting lineup of Bailey, White, Seth Tarver, Mikki Moore, and Paul Carter has been tremendous. When they go out, Randy goes to Banks, Green, Reggie Larry, Tony Bobbitt and Antoine Walker. That second unit has more than held its own. Randy told me they play that way in practice, so it makes sense to have them play as individual units in the games. If the results turn out like they did in the sweep of RGV, it looks like a winning formula. The big thing for Idaho now is to keep these ten players together. The Stampede have used 24 different players this year; they used 21 all last year. By my count, only Los Angeles, with 25, has used more (and the D-Fenders have had 5 guys called up to the NBA). So now, the challenge for the Idaho coaching staff is to get the most out of their players before the NBA or an overseas offer comes calling. Today (Monday) was the first day that NBA clubs could sign players to 10-day contracts. Austin already lost one, with Lance Thomas signing with New Orleans. While most pundits don’t peg any of the Idaho players as “prospects,” I beg to differ. A host of NBA teams have called up point guards this season already. I think if Marcus Banks shows he can get into game shape (he’s not there yet, and when he is…it’s going to be scary!) then he’s a prime candidate for a Gatorade Call Up. He’s an NBA veteran with 348 games under his belt, and could be a strong contender for an NBA gig this season. And with the center position being so weak in the NBA this year, I think Mikki Moore, yes, 36-year-old Mikki Moore, could help out a team in the middle. He has 557 games of NBA experience, and was in training camp with the Memphis Grizzlies before this season started. He told me that Memphis had too many guys with guaranteed contracts, and so he was the victim of a numbers game. The way he’s playing this year for Idaho (10.8 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 62% FG shooting) in his 9 games in a Stampede uniform, I think he’s exceeded expectations. He had to get into shape after a foot injury, but now that he’s fit, he could be an asset to someone in the NBA. Collectively, between Moore, Banks, Walker and Bobbitt, the Stampede roster has more than 1,800 games of NBA experience. Not too shabby. No wonder why Randy Livingston referred to his team as “dinosaurs” in a story in the New York Times. I’ve been impressed with the growth of Paul Carter. He joined Idaho after a stint in the Utah Jazz’s training camp, and while you can see he’s young, he has gotten better. He’s moved into the starting lineup, where his length and athleticism has given the team a boost. An example of how he’s matured: In the Friday night game against the Vipers, he had to sit out long stretches with foul trouble. But late in the game, Randy put him back in, and he made two outstanding defensive plays to get the ball back for Idaho, while not committing his sixth foul. Both plays turned out to be crucial as Idaho held off RGV for a 99-94 win. Now comes a critical 4-game road trip, starting out later this week at Sioux Falls. The Skyforce have fallen on hard times lately, with the worst record in the league and riding a 5-game losing streak. Idaho has played better on the road this year, and they can’t afford a letdown in Sioux Falls. Then it’s on to Iowa, for a date with the Eastern Conference-leading Energy (Iowa beat Idaho, 108-86 in Des Moines on January 30), and the trip continues with back-to-back games in Tulsa and Texas. (Valentine’s Day in Tulsa…sounds like a bad country song…). We’ll next see the Stampede at home on Friday, January 17, when our good friends, the Reno Bighorns invade CenturyLink Arena. Hope to see you there…you know where to get tickets (hint: 388-HOOP or this website.) But if you can’t make it in person, we’ll catch you live on Channel 12 KTRV Friday night, and the FutureCast on Saturday. Posted 1-3-12

Well, the calendar has turned from 2011 to 2012, and the Stampede are in better shape after 14 games than they were last season. You remember, 2-12 to start last season? On the way to a 3-12 record before turning things around and finishing just out of the playoff picture at 24-26, missing the postseason on the final day of the campaign.

The pieces are there, but the Stampede have been extremely inconsistent, something that Coach Randy Livingston is trying hard to correct. The longest winning streak has been 3 games, and the longest losing skid has been that same length, 3 games.

The roster has undergone a significant overhaul, as Cheyne Gadson, Dontell Jefferson and Kevin Galloway have all departed, and Willie Jenkins is out with a broken jaw. In are two guys who survived to the final cuts in their NBA training camps, Terrico White and Paul Carter. And returning to the Treasure Valley is David Bailey, the much-traveled point guard who was CBA Rookie of the Year when he played for the Stampede in 2003-04.

And entering the picture are the first two players assigned to the Stampede by one of their NBA affiliates, the Denver Nuggets. Coach George Karl has sent Jordan Hamilton and Julyan Stone to get some playing time with Idaho. Neither has seen any time with the big club. So Coach Liv will have a challenge getting minutes for everyone on his 12-man roster. With 6 games in 9 days starting Friday in Bakersfield, it will be a luxury for the coach to have flexibility to keep his troops rested. Such is the life of a D-League coach, especially with the Showcase coming up in Reno.

A host of NBA players have been sent to D-League teams in advance of the annual event, as NBA clubs try to get their unused or little-used players some real game action. And with the Showcase’s format, where each D-League team plays 2 games over a 4-day period, it allows NBA scouts and front office folks a chance to see not only how their players respond, but they can check out players from other teams that may wind up filling a need on their rosters.

Random thoughts through the first month-plus of the season:

1. Something has to be done to kick-start the offense. While things have picked up a bit, the Stampede are still next-to-last in the league in scoring. And they are last in scoring differential, averaging 5.2 fewer points per game than their opponents .

2. FREE THROW SHOOTING! Okay, maybe the all-caps was a bit much, but consider this: For the season, the Stampede have made 217 of 334 free throws, hitting 65%. Their opponents are 321-456, shooting 70.4%. Opponents have made 104 more FT’s...that’s about 7 points a game. Idaho is last in the league in free throws made per game. One reason why is that opponents have been more aggressive in attacking the rim, while Idaho has been shooting more from the perimeter. The Stampede are second in the league in fouls committed. Even with 7’5” Will Foster patrolling the paint, other teams are still taking it into the lane and being rewarded with layups or free throws. So interior defense needs to improve.

3. On the ball defense is getting better. Eric Devendorf, primarily known as a sharpshooter, has impressed with his tenacious defense. That is what earned him a roster spot coming out of camp. Reggie Larry, the forward from Boise State, also has impressed with his hustle and effort. He has helped make up for the loss of rebounding machine Jason Ellis, gone for the season with a knee injury.

4. Antoine Walker hasn’t lost the passing touch. For a big man, Toine can thread the needle and make the creative pass to find an open (and sometimes not-so-open) teammate for a hoop.

5. Seth Tarver can play at the next level. According to media reports from the Rose City, he impressed the folks in Portland’s camp before being released. Seth was primarily known as a defender, earning the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year award during his senior season at Oregon State. With the Stampede, he’s developed a more well-rounded game, demonstrating a deft touch from the outside, and leading the team in scoring at 13.4 a game. He’s also shooting 50% from the field. That’s good. The problem is, he’s also shooting 50% from the line. Not so good. But there’s room for improvement.

6. Will Foster is BIG. Real big. And he moves pretty well for someone 7’5”. He has good hands, and his game will improve when he gets more experience. Remember, he didn’t play much in college at Gonzaga, so he’s very much a work in progress. But as they say, “you can’t teach height.” His size helps him lead the league in blocked shots, and he alters a whole lot more.

7. The January schedule is challenging. 4 home games. 6 road contests, including the Showcase. I guess it makes up for the Stampede having 7 of the first 9 at Century Link Arena. The travel won’t be too bad, with games at Bakersfield, in Reno at the Showcase, and then a trip east to play Springfield and Maine. There are more difficult trips, including the March trip that will see Idaho play in Bismarck, Tulsa, Bakersfield and Los Angeles over an 8 day span. Ouch!

My thoughts on the league? Well, the teams that usually are good (Iowa, Austin, Rio Grande Valley) are still good. The teams that have struggled (Sioux Falls, Maine) are still toughing it out. Former Stampede coach Bob MacKinnon has his Springfield Armor team at .500. But the surprise is that his team is only scoring 99.6 points per game, a far cry from his pinball game scoring totals of his Colorado and Idaho teams.

That’s about all for now…but stay tuned throughout the season for more Snide Remarks. Please don’t forget to catch Stampede games on the FutureCast as Ross Cook joins me for all the action. And on Friday nights, you can watch us live on KTRV-12 in the Treasure Valley.

Posted 3-17-11

The season winds down the home stretch, with the Stampede looking to build off the gritty win last night against Tulsa. No, it wasn’t pretty, but I’m sure Randy Livingston and his squad are happy with the 94-85 win over Tulsa. The 66ers came into the game tied for first place in the Western Conference and are standing in the #3 overall playoff seed.

The Fort Wayne Mad Ants currently hold the 8th and final playoff spot with a 19-23 record. Idaho is one game behind, at 18-24. However, the Stampede would have to jump three teams, Fort Wayne, Texas and Austin to qualify for the 8-team post season tournament.

Utah holds down the 7th seed, and they appear pretty safe in that spot. So the race is between four teams for the last playoff berth. As play opens tonight, here’s the playoff race for 8th place:

Fort Wayne 19-23

Texas 19-24 .5 GB

Austin 18-23 .5 GB

Idaho 18-24 1 GB

Here’s what the rest of the regular season schedule looks like for these four teams:

Fort Wayne: 8 games, 5 at home and 3 on the road.

Texas: 7 games, 2 at home and 5 on the road.

Austin: 9 games, 5 at home and 4 on the road

Idaho: 8 games, 4 at home and 4 on the road.

Okay, now let’s look at home and road records.

Fort Wayne: 12-8 at home, 7-15 on the road.

Texas: 13-10 at home, 6-14 on the road.

Austin: 10-10 at home, 8-13 on the road.

Idaho: 9-12 at home, 9-12 on the road.

So, it would appear that Fort Wayne, with the better home-court record and five remaining games on their home floor, would appear to have the advantage as they try to hold on to that final playoff spot. But what about the strength of each teams’ remaining opponents?

The Mad Ants play six different teams, including the best team in the league (Iowa) and the worst, (Sioux Falls). Their opponents record is 111-142, a .439 winning percentage.

The Legends face five teams with a combined record of 102-108, or a .486 percentage. Of those five teams, they include two against Austin and one game each against the top two teams in the West (Rio Grande Valley and Tulsa). But the Legends also have the fewest home games among the contenders for the final playoff spot.

The Toros have the most games left, 9, and their six opponents have played the best this season, with a 154-102 record, for a .602 winning percentage. Austin faces RGV, Tulsa and Iowa among their 9 games.

And the Stampede, with four different opponents left to play, have the second-hardest schedule, as their opponents have a season record of 88-79, a .527 mark. Idaho also has a chance to make the most noise, with six of their remaining 8 games against teams from the West (RGV, Austin, Utah). Each win within your conference is essentially a two-game swing.

Okay, we’ve run through almost all the numbers. What about each team’s season record against their remaining foes? It breaks down this way:

Fort Wayne: 14-8

Texas: 11-10

Austin: 7-11

Idaho: 6-4

Idaho’s 6-4 record is a bit deceiving. They are 4-0 against Dakota, but only 1-4 against Utah. They have not played Rio Grande Valley, and won their only game against Austin earlier this season.

How do I see the matchups for Idaho the rest of the way? Dakota, the opponents this weekend at Qwest Arena, is playing much better than the last time Idaho played them. Coach Rory White’s squad has been hurt by callups and players leaving. But it’s hard to beat a team 6 times in a season, and so the Stampede will have to play with a lot of emotion and intensity to complete the season sweep. The Stampede have won each game by an average of just over 7 points per contest, with the closest game being an 83-80 win in Boise on December 8, which broke Idaho’s season-opening 7-game losing streak.

The Texas road trip will be tough. Rio Grande Valley, the defending league champions, currently holds the top spot in the West. At 110.7 points per game, the Vipers are the second-highest scoring team in the league. And they are tough at home. Idaho would be in good shape if it can split in Hidalgo.

Austin is a team that gives up more points than it scores, and has one of the better point guards in the league, Squeaky Johnson. He should have a good battle against Idaho’s Cedric Jackson. I see Idaho winning both in Austin in close games. The Stampede beat the Toros in Boise back on January 20, 109-95.

Then comes the season-ending games at home against Utah. The Flash have been a thorn in the Stampede’s side this year, winning four of five. Included in those games are a couple of heart-breaking losses in Orem, in games where the Stampede had late leads only to see the Flash rally. Utah is one of only 6 teams in the D-League to have a winning record on the road, and they split in Boise in early December. The Flash present a tough matchup with the Stampede, because they are similar types of teams. Utah is a pressing, physical and fast-paced team with good balance. However, their best player, Orien Greene, has left the team to play overseas.

It could come down to those final contests to determine whether Idaho will qualify for the post season. And frankly, I’d be happier if the games weren’t against the Flash. Utah would love nothing more than to knock out their closest rival, and deny the Stampede a return trip to the playoffs.

We’ll have to see what happens. See you Friday and Saturday nights at Qwest Arena, or if you can’t make it, catch Ross Cook and I live on the D-League’s FutureCast online!

Posted 2-22-11

Greetings, loyal Stampede fans!

I’m back after a long blogging hiatus. Hope you didn’t miss me too much!

I’m sitting here, just finished watching the Stampede fall in their personal House of Horrors, otherwise known as the McKay Events Center in Orem, Utah.

It’s always tough to play in Orem; this season has been no exception. On January 14, Idaho held a 77-59 lead after three quarters, but then was outscored 31-13 in the fourth, sending the game into overtime tied at 90. Utah outscored the Stampede 10-6 in the extra frame, to escape with a 100-96 win. That game featured a bizarre play, when Jermareo Davidson, trying to knock out a Utah free throw that had bounced off the rim (it’s legal this season, folks), knocked the ball back through the hoop. The referees ruled that the ball had cleared the cylinder, and awarded the Flash shooter a two-point basket. That three-point play was part of a 7-0 Utah run that closed out the game to force overtime.

Then, on the 21st, a week later, Idaho could do nothing right, falling behind early and trailing at the half, 59-37. All five Flash starters were in double figures, and the Stampede only shot 35-percent. It took an Idaho 15-0 run to make the score respectable. The loss snapped Idaho’s 3-game win streak.

And then last night, riding a season-best 4-game winning streak, the Stampede led going into the fourth quarter before going cold and letting the Flash win the game from the free-throw line. Idaho was outscored by 8 in the quarter, and the Flash shot 18 more free throws, to end the 4-game streak for Idaho.

The Stampede has now lost 7 in a row in Orem, dating to last season. Fortunately, Idaho doesn’t play in Orem again this year, and the final two games against the Flash will be the final two games of the regular season, April 1 and 2 at Qwest Arena.

Despite the most recent defeat, Idaho is firmly in the hunt for a post-season berth. The Stampede, Austin and Texas are battling it out for the 8th and final playoff spot. Nine home and seven road games remain; the road trips will be tough, as Idaho has to travel to Iowa, Rio Grande Valley and Austin. They also play two games at Sioux Falls, which has the worst record in the league.

Besides the season-ending two games against Utah, Idaho will see Bakersfield four times, Dakota twice and Tulsa once on the home hardwood.

The Stampede have struggled against teams with winning records this season, and of the 16 games left, all but Austin, Dakota and Sioux Falls have winning records. The hill is steep, but the Stampede have shown signs lately that they can turn things around.

Armon Johnson, as of this writing, is expected to be recalled by the Portland Trail Blazers after a 9-game assignment from the NBA club. Over those games, Idaho was 5-4, and he averaged 18.2 points per game. It’ll be interesting to see if the Blazers send him back after the Feb. 24 NBA trade deadline, where it’s expected that there could be a lot of movement between D-League teams and their NBA affiliates.

It was great to see former Stampede great Brent Petway at Qwest Arena today. Now playing for the Harlem Globetrotters, where he is now known as “Thunder,” Brent was so happy to be back in Boise. He told me that he enjoyed his two seasons in Boise, including the championship season of 2007-08. Brent said that he keeps in touch with Coach Randy Livingston and several former teammates, including Jermareo Davidson and Mike Taylor. In fact, Brent told me that the Stampede contacted him to see if he wanted to play for Idaho this season. But Pet said he’s interested in making the Trotters a career, and doesn’t seem interested in trying for an NBA spot anymore. He’s been in camps with Portland and Memphis, and after playing in Greece and France, he’s happy with carrying on the legendary Globetrotters tradition.

You can catch my interview with Brent at halftime of this Friday night’s FutureCast broadcast against Bakersfield. Join Ross Cook and I on Friday; we won’t be on the air Saturday, as the game is the NBA D-League National Game of the Week on the Versus Network.

See you at the arena!

Posted 4-21-10

Snide Remarks: The Post-Season Edition

Well, it could have turned out better, but I guess it could have been worse. Idaho finished the season on a 3-game winning streak to end up at .500. And they finished 2 games out of the playoffs, behind Tulsa, the final qualifier, and Maine, which finished with the same record as the 66ers, but lost out on the tiebreaker.

(Side note: Maine, with Stampede legend Randy Livingston as an assistant coach, was one of the top D-League teams for much of the season before nosediving at the end, losing 6 in a row to miss the playoffs in their first year. They did sell out every game, putting 2,083 fans a night into the Expo in Portland.)

Back to the column:

I’d sum up Bob MacKinnon’s first season in Boise as up-and-down. He started out the season with one of the strongest clubs, bolstered by first-round draft choice Sundiata Gaines, a point guard, and forward Anthony Tolliver, acquired in a draft-day trade. Jeff Graves started at power forward the opening weekend, and then he was lost for the season due to an injury.

Both Gaines and Tolliver only played 14 games in a Stampede uniform before being called up to the NBA. Gaines was signed by Utah, and Tolliver went first to Portland, and then to Golden State, where he signed on for the rest of the season. The Stampede were 9-5 with Gaines in the lineup, and 9-5 when Tolliver played. Without Gaines and Tolliver, and their combined 45.3 points, 16.1 rebounds and 9.4 assists per game, Idaho hit a rough patch, going 6-12 through February.

Cedric Simmons, the former NBA first-round draft pick, was signed in early December, and he made his presence felt. He averaged 14.8 points, 7 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots in his 13 games in a Stampede uniform, before taking a (much better-paying) job with a team in China. He scored 18.7 points a game and hauled in 8.9 boards per night in 20 games with the DongGuan New Century Leopards. That team’s season is over, and now Cedric’s playing for the Greek team Kavala/Panorama.

Lanny Smith, one of the few returning players from last season, provided solid veteran leadership until he was injured and had to undergo season-ending surgery. He took 8.3 points and 5.9 assists with him after playing only 16 games. The Stampede were 11-5 in those contests, so it’s clear to see how his loss hurt.

Mildon Ambres, who averaged 6.5 points per game last season, was one of only 2 Stampede players to appear in every game this season (the other was Bryson McKenzie). He was just honored as the D-League’s first Most Improved Player. Mildon improved his scoring average to 14.5 per game, and his rebounds were up also, from 4.3 to 8.1. And he was a steadying presence (besides hitting some huge shots for the Stampede). Congratulations to Mildon, one of the good guys in sports.

The New Years Eve trade that brought Donell Taylor to Boise in exchange for Mike Gansey turned out to be a good one for both teams, as Taylor lead the Stampede and is finished 4th in the league in scoring.

Coby Karl returned after his season started in the NBA with Cleveland, and then he was picked up by Golden State for a 10-day contract before the All-Star Break. Of course, Coby was signed by his dad’s team, the Denver Nuggets, near the end of the NBA regular season. Although he didn’t get into a game with Denver, they did lock him up for the summer league, giving him a leg up on making the club next season.

Veteran guard Andre Barrett, with 67 NBA games under his belt, was picked up in late January. He averaged 19.3 points and 6.7 assists per game, and demonstrated that he can single-handedly take over a game.

Lance Allred also came back to the Stampede after starting the season in Italy. It took him a few weeks to get back into game shape, but once he did, played pretty well. But an ankle injury after the All-Star break hampered him, and he wound up leaving the team with two games left in the season for personal reasons. I doubt we’ll see Lance back in a Stampede uniform. If he plays again in the D-League (and that’s a BIG if), the Stampede will have to either release him or trade his rights. I think he might be a good fit with the Utah Flash. He lives in Utah, and his game is well-suited to the style played by Brad Jones’ squad. But I’m only guessing. Lance left Idaho averaging 13 points and 9 rebounds a game. For his Stampede career, he appeared in 156 games, starting 127. He averaged 13.7 points and 8.4 rebounds a game, and of course, his contributions during the championship season were immense. Lance averaged a double-double that season. But he definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer, and I wonder whether we’ll see him again.

I could go on and on, but that’s probably not what you want.

So, to wind up, a couple of random thoughts on the league this year:

The teams that are either owned or operated by NBA clubs (Austin, Tulsa and Rio Grande Valley) are three of the four teams left in the playoffs. The other survivor is the top team in the league this regular season, Iowa, which was routed in its first playoff game by 30, then returned to Des Moines and won two in a row to eliminate Utah.

Now comes word, in the Arizona Republic, that the Phoenix Suns are looking at operating a D-League club in a hybrid arrangement like the Houston Rockets have with Rio Grande Valley. Phoenix would put the team 90 miles away in the Prescott Valley, home to a 4,000+ seat arena.

I think this is the wave of the future, with NBA clubs paying about $1 million to run a D-League team’s basketball operations for a 3-year period. The local owners run the sales, marketing and business side of the team. Houston/RGV was the first, and probably not the last to have this agreement. I think the Stampede would look favorably upon such a deal, maybe with Portland, if Paul Allen wants to make the investment, or certainly with Denver, if the Kroenke family makes the move. But Stan, the patriarch, is trying to increase his ownership stake in the St. Louis Rams, and so he may be a bit preoccupied these days.

Other thoughts on the season that was: A record number of Gatorade Call-Ups (40 call-ups of 27 different players). To me, that means two things: 1) A number of NBA teams suffered from a lot of injuries, and 2) The economy made D-Leaguers a more affordable option for teams. It’ll be interesting to see how many stick through summer leagues and earn training camp invitations.

I suspect Gaines and Tolliver, former Stampede stars, will get that chance. In Golden State’s final game of the season, the team was so hard-hit by injuries, it could only dress the minimum number of players (8). Two of them were hurt, and weren’t going to play. But when one player fouled out, and former D-Leaguer Chris Hunter injured himself in the game against Portland, Coach Don Nelson was forced to play two of his hurt guys. They each played only a couple of seconds. Four Warriors played the entire game (48 minutes) and Tolliver, who was one of them, scored 19 and pulled down a game-high 15 boards.

To close, I’d like to thank everyone associated with the Stampede organization for their support this season. Starting with Bill Illet, Steve Brandes, Jinny Giery and everyone in the front office. Thanks to Coach MacKinnon and Assistant Coach Joel Abelson for putting up with me, my questions and quizzes about players and strategy. Of course, the players were generous with their time as well. A special thank you to Stampede trainer Kevin Taylor, who dispensed wisdom and the occasional Tylenol. And thanks to you, the fans, who came by to say “hi,” and let me know you listen to the games or watch the highlights on FutureCast.

Hopefully I’ll be back next season to call an exciting season of Stampede basketball!

Later!

Posted 3-31-10

With three games left in the regular season, the Idaho Stampede find themselves in an unfamiliar position: Out of the playoff picture. For the first time since joining the NBA Development League, the Stampede have failed to qualify for the postseason.

Look for my post-season Snide Remarks entry when I break down the reasons why I think this was such a tough season for first-year head coach Bob MacKinnon and his team.

Coach MacKinnon stressed to me many times this season that once this team had a chance to practice, and play, together, they’d get the hang of things and come around. But for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened.

Down the stretch, they’ve lost 7 of 10 games, and the 3-game sweep at the hands of Utah last week really was the kiss of death to their playoff chances. Win 2 games in Orem, and this team would be battling for a playoff spot this final week.

The losses at Utah give me a chance to gripe a minute about the D-League schedule this season. Top league officials told me that the teams decided that travel costs would be the overriding factor in determining the schedule this year. Okay, I understand teams not wanting to fly cross country to play one game in, say, Portland, Maine or Springfield, Massachusetts.

But can anyone explain to me why Idaho played 5 games in Albuquerque, but the Thunderbirds didn’t play one game in Boise? Or, why Los Angeles, who winds up the season here on Friday and Saturday, will have played 5 games in Boise, while the Stampede only played twice in LA, in the fifth and sixth games of the season in early December?

And the one that sticks in my craw the most is the season schedule with Utah. Now remember, that the Flash are the closest team to Boise, just 388 miles. It’s a very easy (and short) plane trip to Salt Lake City, and not even a bad trip by bus. But of the 8 games between Idaho and Utah this season, 6 were in Orem, and only two were in Boise. And both of those were in December! From a competitive balance standpoint, it seems patently unfair to have six games at their place, and only two here, especially when most everyone figured the Idaho-Utah season series would have playoff implications.

I hope for the league’s sake, owners re-evaluate the costs of travel versus the competitive balance and rivalry issue. I talked with players from other teams, and they had complaints about scheduling, too. For example, Iowa and Erie played each other 10 times. Reno and Utah played 10 times, and Maine and Springfield faced each other every week (or so it seemed). They actually played only 9 times.

Enough of my rant and rave about the schedule.

Game called on account of weather? Reno and Tulsa will have to wait until Sunday to finish the regular season. Their game scheduled for Monday night was cancelled because bad weather in the Reno area prevented the 66ers from landing there. Their American Airlines flight from Dallas was forced to turn around. So Tulsa has a grueling end of the season as they try to lock down a playoff spot. In the final five games of the season, they have to play at Austin, host #1 seed Iowa twice, and then travel after a Saturday game in Tulsa for the makeup game in Reno Sunday night. I don’t see the 66ers surviving that stretch, and I think Reno will earn its first-ever playoff spot.

Alumni Report: Let’s take a quick look at how some Stampede alumni are doing playing overseas.

From last year, Luke Jackson is in Italy, averaging 22 points for Carife Ferrara. Cory Violette, the Bishop Kelly product who was so instrumental in the Stampede’s D-League championship season, is in his second season in Japan, where he’s averaging 12 points and 9 rebounds in 41 games for the Toshiba Brave Thunder.

Brent “Air Georgia” Petway has taken his high-altitude game to both France and Greece this year, playing 6 games for Ilysiakos Athens and 3 with JA Vichy Val d'Allier Auvergne in France. Jason Ellis, the BSU Hall of Famer and rebounding machine, is an 8.1 point/8.3 rebound performer with GasTerra Flames Groningen in Holland.

Mouhamed Sene, who won D-League co-Defensive Player of the Year when he was in Boise, is averaging a double-double (13.6 points, 12.2 rebounds) for Hyeres-Toulon Var Basket in France. He’s also blocking 2.6 shots per game for good measure.

Mike Taylor is playing in Serbia for KK Cryena Zvezda Beograd. Between the Eurocup competition and the Adriatic League, Mike is averaging about 10.5 points per game.

In the next entry, I’ll update the numbers on others who’ve worn the Stampede uniform and have gone on to play overseas.

Hope to see you at U.S. Bank Court at Qwest Arena for the final three games of the season!

Posted 3-17-10

So now it’s a nine-game season.

And it’s a big hill to climb for the Stampede if they want to earn a spot in the D-League playoffs. Last night’s overtime loss to Sioux Falls is one that will stick in the team’s craw for a while. After a Mildon Ambres jumper with :51 left, the Stampede led by 7, 106-99. They held that advantage until the Skyforce’s Leemire Goldwire hit a 3 (after an offensive rebound gave Sioux Falls the ball back) with 38-seconds left.

After that, the Stampede’s possessions went like this: Get tied up for a jump ball, lose possession on a violation during that jump ball; loose ball foul on the play on Donell Taylor; Andre Barrett offensive foul after passing the ball on a break (Idaho made the shot, but it was wiped out by the turnover); blocked shot against Coby Karl with 2-seconds left and the score tied at 106.

Then in overtime, Barrett was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with about a second left and Idaho down 3. Shooting 91-percent from the line going into the game, Barrett missed the first free throw, made the second, and then intentionally missed the third, hoping that Idaho would be able to tip in the rebound and tie the game. It didn’t work that way.

Idaho can look at the free throw line as a big reason why it lost last night. 20-33 (60.6%) just won’t get it done. So now, the Stampede are tied with Reno for 9th overall in the league. The top 8 make the playoffs, with the two conference winners (currently Iowa and Rio Grande Valley, which clinched a playoff spot with last night’s Idaho loss) and then the next 6 best records qualifying for post-season play. Here are the current standings, with Games Behind the final playoff spot: Iowa Energy 32-11 Rio Grande Valley Vipers 30-12 Austin Toros 25-15 Sioux Falls Skyforce 26-16 Maine Red Claws 24-17 Dakota Wizards 24-18 Tulsa 66ers 23-18 Utah Flash 22-20 Idaho Stampede 20-21 1.5 Reno Bighorns 20-21 1.5 Erie BayHawks 18-25 4.5 Albuquerque Thunderbirds 18-25 4.5 Los Angeles D-Fenders 15-26 6.5 Fort Wayne Mad Ants 15-27 7.0 Bakersfield Jam 15-28 7.5 Springfield Armor 7-34 14.5 The good news is that of the nine games the Stampede have left to play, seven are against teams above them in the standings, meaning if Idaho wins them, they in all likelihood move into the playoff picture. But the bad news is that those seven teams have winning records. Tonight it’s Sioux Falls, which has won something like 14 of its last 16, and is 16-5 at home.

Then it’s Tulsa coming to US Bank Court at Qwest Arena for a pair of games this weekend. The 66ers just lost Mustafa Shakur to the NBA, but they are still formidable, sitting third overall in the West Conference. After that, it’s a make-or-break three games at Utah. Idaho is 2-1 against the Flash this season, but with the quirky scheduling this season, Idaho played only 2 games at home against the Flash, and six in Utah. The Flash are struggling at home with a 10-11 record, and if the Stampede are going to make the playoffs, it’s fair to say winning 2 of three in Orem (at least) is essential.

Then, on March 31, the top team in the West, Rio Grande Valley, visits Boise, followed up by the only two games against a team with a losing record, the Los Angeles D-Fenders. LA and Idaho play the final two games of the regular season April 2 and 3 at Qwest Arena. But don’t think the D-Fenders are a pushover. Remember, they forced overtime against the Stampede last week and won it in OT, in a game that once again, Idaho led by 6 late in the game and when it converted only one of two free throws with 23 seconds left, wound up losing in the extra period.

So what’s the answer? I think Coach Bob MacKinnon is still searching for that. He’s had the same team on the floor – by and large – for about 18 games now, and the players are getting familiar with each other. But after winning 7 of 10, the current three-game losing streak has put the postseason in jeopardy.

There have been execution errors down the stretch, some bad decisions, and simply some bad luck (throw in some questionable officiating as well).

The bottom line is this: Idaho is not out of the playoffs; in fact the playoffs probably started for this team about two weeks ago. Every game is like a playoff game from here on out, and if Idaho can get hot and hold leads, it can make some noise. I don’t think any team in the league wants to play this Idaho team in the postseason; Idaho has too many weapons and can steal a short series. But the problem for Idaho is that it has to qualify first, and a bad one-month stretch from January 9, right after the Showcase, to February 9, might cost this team dearly. Idaho was 2-10 in those games.

Let’s see how this team responds to adversity. It all starts tonight in Sioux Falls, where the Skyforce’s play-by-play announcer said that the Skyforce “stole” one last night. Idaho needs to steal one back tonight and then get hot down the stretch to make the postseason for the fourth straight year.

We’ll see you on the radio!

Posted 12-21-09

Hi Stampede fans! Sorry it’s taken so long for me to get this blog fired up for the new season. Lots going on.

So, you’re probably wondering my thoughts on this year’s edition of the Idaho Stampede. Well, to start things out, I suggest you don’t turn away from the action for a moment at Qwest Arena. Coach Bob MacKinnon’s team is pushing the action up and down the floor; when it works, it’s fun to watch.

When it doesn’t work, well, not so much. The not so much hit the other night in Bakersfield, where a capacity “crowd” of 420 saw the hometown Jam win its first game of the season. The Stampede came out flat, and it didn’t get much better…they scored 37 points below their season average and got blown out.

Before the season, Coach Mac said to enjoy Anthony Tolliver while you could, he’d likely be the first Stampede player called up to the NBA this year. Coach Mac had better buy some lottery tickets. He was right on with that forecast, as “A.T.” was signed by Portland. The Blazers have had some serious injury problems, and were granted a hardship 16th roster spot to make sure they had enough players. And Tolliver, who had started in 7 straight games for the Stampede, averaging 20.7 points and 9.9 rebounds a game, fit the bill for the Blazers (ironically, one of two NBA affiliates for the Stampede).

So now, the Idaho roster stands at 9, waiting to see whether the Blazers get enough bodies healthy. If so, the extra roster spot goes away, and it would seem likely that Tolliver would return to Boise. Anthony has played in just one minute of one game, a 102-95 win over Miami on December 20. He didn’t score or collect a rebound, and committed one foul.

So with Tolliver in the NBA, others need to step up for the Stampede. Rookie Sundiata Gaines, widely considered the best point guard call-up candidate in the league, has justified his standing as the Stampede’s first-round draft pick last month. He’s averaging 25.1 points a game, good for 4th in the league. And he’s 2nd in assists, dishing out 8.1 a contest. Gaines has led Idaho in scoring in 5 games, and in assists in 7 of the first 9 contests. And, he’s shooting just under 55 percent from the field (but just 61 percent from the foul line). It looks like the Georgia Bulldog product has found a home in Idaho after playing in Italy last year.

Cedric Simmons, a former NBA’er (first-round pick, #15 overall, by the Hornets in 2006) has a legitimate NBA body. Watching him down on the blocks is something to see. He looks like a man among boys at times. He’s shooting over 55 percent in his 5 games, and is averaging 16.4 points a game.

Earlier I mentioned Gaines’ free-throw shooting woes. As a team, the Stampede shoot 66 percent from the line. Only Erie, at 65 percent, is shooting a lower percentage from the line than are the Stampede. As a team that lives and dies by the outside shot, Idaho won’t get as many free throw attempts as some teams that pound the ball inside. They’re 7th in the league, shooting 271 free throws, but have missed 91 of them.

The debacle at Bakersfield was brought upon by some horrific shooting. Let’s be honest, folks. Very few teams at any level will win a game shooting 9 percent from 3-point range. That’s right, Idaho was 2-22 from beyond the arc. No wonder they wound up shooting a season-low 37.8 percent for the game. For the season, Idaho is shooting at a 47 percent clip, good for 5th in the league. True to the way MacKinnon’s team played in Colorado last year, the Stampede lead the league in field goals made and attempted, in three pointers made and attempted, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounds and overall rebounds. And the Stampede are league leaders in assists and blocked shots (and in personal fouls committed, as well). And of course, at 113 points per game, they lead the league in that statistic as well.

So now, it’s the post-holiday homestand, against Utah, your only chance to catch the Flash in Boise (except for the Showcase). Don’t get me started on this one…my only question is this: Why is it that the closest D-League opponent, Utah (located in Orem), just 377 miles away – or about a one-hour flight – is only playing in Boise twice this season, while the Stampede have to play in Orem SIX times? From a competitive standpoint, it seems like quite an inequity to me. Now, the D-League Vice President of Basketball Operations, Chris Alpert, explained to me that it’s a question of arena availability and controlling travel costs. To a certain extent, I can understand that for some trips, but come on now, Boise and Orem? And, no one has really explained how the Stampede can play in Albuquerque FIVE times this season, while the Thunderbirds don’t play in Boise even ONCE.

Now, it’s not all crying woe for the Stampede. Idaho has played its only two games in Los Angeles for the season, and the D-Fenders come to Boise five times. And Idaho doesn’t have a single game in the East…the easternmost teams, Springfield, Maine (Portland), Fort Wayne and Erie, all come to Boise. And Erie and Maine have to make two trips out here, one for the Showcase and another to play the Stampede. Idaho plays Fort Wayne and Springfield in the Showcase.

Okay, enough of my bitterness. It’s the holidays. Cheer up, Mark!

Here’s something to help you snap out of your eggnog-induced coma: Come to the D-League Showcase January 4-7 at Qwest Arena. Every D-League team will be here, and each team will play two games. It’s a must for every hoops junkie (and those wanna-be junkies). Until I talk with you on the radio (and D-League Futurecast) the day after Christmas (or Boxing Day for our British and Canadian friends, and the first day of Kwanzaa), here’s hoping you and your family have a happy and healthy holiday season. Cheers!

Posted 3-25-09

It’s getting close to the homestretch for the Idaho Stampede and the 2008-09 NBA Development League season. The season ends on April 11, and as things stand right now, Utah would edge the Stampede for the West Division championship. But the Flash hold a slim .001 lead in the standings, and Utah has 11 games left, while the Stampede play 6 more contests.

There’s been a shakeup in the playoff picture, which looks like this right now. Bakersfield has leap-frogged over Dakota into the 6th seed. Albuquerque has moved past Erie for the final playoff spot, and Utah as jumped from 5th to 2nd. Remember, the three division winners and the team with the highest winning percentage will host first-round games:

1. Colorado 29-12 .707

2. Utah 24-15 .615

3. Iowa 25-17 .595

4. Austin 27-15 .643

5. Idaho 27-17 .614

6. Bakersfield 25-19 .568

7. Dakota 23-20 .535

8. Albuquerque 22-20 .524

9. Erie 23-21 .523 .5

10. Sioux Falls 22-22 .500 1.0

11. Reno 19-23 .452 3.0

12. Rio Grande Valley 18-24 .429 4.0

Under this scenario, Idaho would be the fifth seed, and would play at one of the top four teams in the first game. But of course, like I said, there’s a lot of games left to be played. The Stampede play two at home (April 8 and 10 vs. Bakersfield), and four on the road (at Reno, Dakota, Sioux Falls and Utah).

Utah has 7 of its final 11 at home, with road games at Colorado, Bakersfield, Los Angeles and Anaheim. Let’s take a look at the relative strength of each teams’ remaining opponents: Utah’s are a collective 151-149 (.503), while the Stampede foes are collectively 109-99 (.524).

One key may be that the Flash play 7 games in the first 11 days in April, with two back-to-backs, while Idaho doesn’t have any back-to-back games and plays 6 games in 15 days. And, starting with Thursday night, the Flash play three in a row (at Colorado, home vs. Anaheim). Those off-days may turn out to be big at the end. The final game of the season is potentially a biggie: Idaho at Utah. The Stampede own the tie-breaker over the Flash, thanks to winning the season series, which currently stands at 4-1. Obviously Coach Bryan Gates and the Stampede are hoping that the season doesn’t come down to that game in Orem. If Idaho were to win their final six and finish with a 33-17 record, Utah would have to play .900 ball (win 10 of 11) to overtake them.

That’s an awful lot of numbers, and really all Idaho is thinking about now is Saturday’s rematch with the Bighorns in Reno. There’s a score to settle between these two teams, and Idaho wants to avenge the 119-115 loss to Reno in Boise last Saturday.

When the Stampede take the court at the Reno Events Center Saturday, it will most likely be without Nate Jawai. The rookie was recalled by the Toronto Raptors this week, and when I asked Toronto’s Director of Player Personnel, Jim Kelly, whether Nate would be returning to the Stampede, he said it all depends on the health of some of the Raptors’ players. If the Raptors are still shorthanded, Nate will likely stay with the NBA club. Otherwise, he may come back for the home stretch.

But, judging by Jawai’s comments to the Toronto media after he was recalled, he may not be so happy to come back to the D-League. In interviews with the Toronto Sun and the National Post, he equated the Stampede and the D-League with high school, and said he was not warmly welcomed when he arrived in Boise. The only good that came out of the assignment, he said, was that he was able to get into shape after not playing much for Toronto. From the National Post: “Despite the boon to his conditioning, Jawai hopes he has seen the last of Idaho. He said the atmosphere in Australia, where he played professionally last year, was better than it was in the D-League. And after practicing at a Boys and Girls Club in Idaho and working out at a public Gold’s Gym, he is about ready to resume living the NBA lifestyle.” The other good thing, Jawai said, was that he had his own room, and was treated like an NBA player.

In the Toronto Star, Jawai said much the same things, but said the players who were “mean” to him came around in a few days. Still, he said the D-League is a guard-dominated league where everyone just wants to get their points, stats, to get a call-up to the NBA. “I tried to play as much team ball as I could, but with guys trying to get their own, you don't get to see the ball as much,” he said. “I tried to not let that affect me but I got frustrated a little bit because we lost a couple of games when I was there. It looked bad on me because I went in there and they could blame the losses on me. But you just have to take it on the chin and keep going.”

I have to say that I didn’t see this side of Nate when he was here. He was pleasant, and seemed to have a good attitude. Maybe once he got back to Toronto he felt more comfortable speaking his mind. Either way, in his 10 games (9 starts), he averaged about 12 points and 6.5 rebounds a night, and was given a chance to play through foul trouble.

Idaho is hoping to have Luke Jackson back in the lineup, maybe in time for the final two home games on April 8 and 10, and the road game at Utah the 11th, leading into the playoffs. Luke’s been home in Oregon, and has been getting treatment and rehabbing his injured ankle at the sports medicine facilities at the University of Oregon. When he returns, the question will be how much confidence he’ll have in the ankle and whether he’ll be comfortable slashing to the hoop like he was before suffering the injury. Numerous reports suggest that Luke was this close to getting another NBA call-up before he got hurt.

I think Coach Gates’ biggest concerns right now have to be the defensive breakdowns his club has suffered in recent games. Reno was able to get a basket from under the rim off an inbounds play with :01 left on the shot clock the other night; Gates knew what play the Bighorns were going to run, and he yelled instructions to his team before the play. But Reno converted anyway. When it gets to the playoffs, defense wins (unless you’re the high-flying Colorado 14ers, who will try to outscore everybody!). Gates is going to use the days off before the post-season starts, I’m sure, working out the kinks in his defense.

Setting Sun: Enough, already! I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit tired of the NBA Development League pumping up Sun Yue of the D-Fenders. Have you looked at the league’s website lately? Every headline is Sun Yue this, Sun Yue that. In fact, after Tulsa beat the D-Fenders one game last week, the headline was “Sun Yue, D-Fenders edged by Tulsa.” Before Idaho played Los Angeles, the website touted, “Watch Sun Yue play tonight!”

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Sun has injured his knee and will miss 3-6 weeks, and certainly will miss the rest of the D-Fenders’ season. Even with that, there’s currently a link on the D-League site to “Watch video of Sun Yue’s Game.

” I realize that there are something like 3 billion potential NBA fans in China, and the league is hoping to showcase its Chinese stars to that audience. But all this for a guy who averaged less than 10 points a game in six games, and shot under 40 percent from the field? Brutal.

How ‘bout Mike? Congratulations to former Stampede guard Mike Taylor. In a horrific season for the Los Angeles Clippers, Mike had a career-high 35 tonight at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. Of course you know that Mike was the first D-Leaguer drafted in the NBA, and he’s had a frustrating season, missing a lot of time with a hand injury. But against the Knicks, he was 14-20 from the field, 7-7 from the line, had 8 rebounds and 3 assists in his 36:45 of playing time off the bench. And the Clippers won only their 18th game of the season, 140-135 in overtime.

That’s enough for now…hopefully the days off since last Saturday have helped get players healthy and ready for the home stretch. Don’t miss the games at Reno and then the trip to Bismarck and Sioux Falls (better than playing in the Dakotas in January!) on AM 630, KIDO. And we’ll see you at U.S. Bank Court at Qwest Arena for the final two home games of the regular season April 8 and 10 against Bakersfield!

Posted 3-10-09

Now that’s a nice way to kick off the last month and a half of the season! Idaho won its second straight road game, and only it’s second in the last nine away from home, with a dramatic come from behind 105-100 win at Utah Monday night.

Trailing by as much as 21 in the third quarter, Idaho owned the second half, outscoring the hosts, 58-36 including 35-16 in the final quarter. The Stampede took the lead for good with 1:20 to go on a pair of Lance Allred free throws. Foul shooting was a big key in this game, as Idaho was 17-22 in the second half (28-38 for the game) while Utah was only 5-6 from the stripe in the second half, after shooting 18-19 in the first two quarters. Idaho played much better defense in the second, and stayed out of foul trouble.

Luke Jackson continued his strong play, with 29 points, and Mohammed Abukar contributed 21 off the bench.

There’s something about the McKay Events Center in Orem that the Stampede like. During the D-League Showcase in January, Idaho overcame a 25-point third quarter deficit to beat Fort Wayne 99-96. Interestingly, the Stampede took the lead for good in that contest with 1:20 left to play, the same as they did last night against the Flash. In three games in Orem, Idaho is a perfect 3-0 after the two Showcase wins and the win Monday night.

With the win, the Stampede are now 1.5 games up on Utah in the West with two more head-to-head meetings against the Flash, both in Orem. Idaho is now 3-1 against Utah in the season series.

More than anything, I think it was a statement game against a division rival that had won 7 of its last 9 games and was confident and kicking off an eight-game homestand. Coach Brad Jones’ team even had two players assigned from the parent Utah Jazz, Morris Almond and Kyrylo Fesenko, but maybe they disrupted the chemistry more than they helped. Almond did score 22, but only 6 in the second half. Fesenko was a non-factor, with 2 points and 2 rebounds in 7:30 of play.

Now each team has won a game on the other’s home floor, and as things stand now, both are in the playoff picture. In fact, if the playoffs were to start today (and they don’t!) Idaho would be the second seed and Utah the 5th.

Speaking of the playoffs, this season 8 of the 16 teams will make the post-season, with the three division winners and the next five teams with the best winning percentages, regardless of divisions, qualifying for post-season.

So after Monday’s game, the seeding would be:

1) Colorado (Southwest Division leader)

2) Idaho (West Division leader)

3) Iowa (Central Division leader)

4) Austin

5) Utah

6) Dakota

7) Erie

8) Bakersfield

Number nine and on the outside looking in right now is Albuquerque. The unique thing about the playoffs is that the first three seeds, the division winners, get to choose which of the teams that finish 5-8 they want to play. So as it stands now, Colorado would get first choice, and host that one game, Idaho would choose second and host, and Iowa would choose third and host. Austin would play whichever team was left from the bottom four qualifiers. First and second round series are one-game, and the finals are best-of-three, starting on the lower seed’s home court with the final two, if necessary, at the higher seed (just like last year, when Idaho opened the finals at Austin and then played Games 3 and 4 in Boise).

Of course, things could change dramatically over the last six weeks of the season. Colorado leads Austin by just .021, and has played fewer games than the Toros. They’re essentially tied for the division lead, but the 14ers have the top spot based on winning percentage. In the Central division, Iowa leads both Dakota and Erie by just one game. Idaho enjoys the largest division lead at 1.5 games.

As it stands now, the West and Central divisions would qualify three teams each, the Central two. But as I said, a lot can change over the next few weeks.

There’s been a lot of player movement over the past couple of weeks, more than we’ve seen all year. Reno traded its All-Star, Antonio Meeking for David Noel from Albuquerque and acquired Rod Benson from Dakota for Mackay, Idaho native (and Idaho State University product) Jesse Smith. The Bighorns have also said goodbye to Damone Brown (personal reasons – he was arrested in connection with a drug ring in Buffalo) and Gerry McNamara (personal reasons) and now have 98 players on their current roster after picking up Lamar Butler on Monday (waived by Colorado March 5th). And before, they had three Syracuse alums, now they have none.

A number of teams have re-made themselves in an attempt to gain a playoff spot, but for the most part, Idaho has stood pat. They picked up Abukar from Austin for Dwayne Jones and of course, had Toronto assign Nate Jawai. But overall, Coach Bryan Gates has stuck with the core of his team. Still, looking at the lineup these days, it’s a far cry from the starting five that opened the season.

Way back on November 29, Idaho lined up against Anaheim this way: Ernest Scott and Jermareo Davidson at forward, Lance Allred in the middle, and Brent Petway and Coby Karl at guard. Against Utah last night, they started with Petway and Jawai up front along with Allred, and a backcourt of Luke Jackson and Kevin Burleson. Scott is now with Rio Grande Valley, Davidson is with the Golden State Warriors, and Karl is playing in Spain. So only Petway and Allred are still in the lineup, and Brent has shifted to forward.

Of the Idaho opening day roster, six of the original 10 players are still with the team (Allred, Petway, Jason Ellis, Jamaal Tatum, Mildon Ambres and Lanny Smith). Luke Jackson (December) and Roberto Bergersen (January) rejoined the team they helped to win last year’s title, Burleson was picked up in a trade from Iowa in late January, and Abukar came over in the trade with Austin.

Burleson got to see his younger brother, Lyndale, play against Boise State on Saturday night for the University of Nevada. He had 3 points, 3 rebounds and an assist in 26 minutes in the Wolf Pack’s 9-point win over BSU. Of course, Burleson’s other brother, Nate, is a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks. Kevin scored 7 points in the win at Utah Monday, and is averaging 9.7 points and 4 assists in his 10 games with Idaho (6 starts). He’s the kind of veteran point guard that Coach Gates is relying on to settle his young guards down. Jamaal Tatum is more of a “2,” or shooting guard, and Lanny Smith has played well in spots, and is a key defender. But he sometimes dribbles too much and has been inconsistent in running the offense. But both Tatum and Smith were on the floor during the rally at Utah, and they compliment each other well.

Luke Jackson is averaging 21 points in four games against Utah, and against the next three opponents (Anaheim, L.A. and Rio Grande Valley), he’s averaging 15, 20 and 10 points per game. Idaho needs his leadership and all-around strong play over the rest of the season to lock down a playoff spot.

(Briefly) Around the League: Please welcome your Maine Beacons! (Or Crushers!) (Or Claws!) Those are just three of the nicknames that the new D-League expansion team in Portland, Maine will have next season when it opens play. The name-the-team contest is underway now, and besides those three, the other candidates are: The Destroyers, Red Claws (in honor of the late Red Auerbach), Swarm or Trap. Ugh.

Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the NBA has devised what’s being called a “hybrid affiliation” for D-League franchises. Under the plan, NBA clubs control their D-League affiliate without buying them. The parent club would assign coaches and make all player personnel decisions. The cost of this arrangement would be between $300,000-400,000 per season to pay for run the basketball side of the business, including coaches, players and trainers. The local owners would continue to own the club. Right now, all D-League players sign contracts with the league, and the teams hire their own coaching staff and medical personnel.

13 of the 16 D-League teams are owned by local owners, with Los Angeles, Austin and Tulsa being owned by their NBA clubs (L.A. Lakers, San Antonio and Oklahoma City). So under this scenario, it would be possible for one of the Stampede’s two NBA affiliates, Portland or Toronto, to come in and completely run the team, and leave the business side (marketing, ticket sales, PR, etc.) to the existing front office. I don’t know how this would fly with the Stampede ownership group, but I intend to find out.

See you at U.S. Bank Court at Qwest Arena for a key 3-game homestand this Wednesday, Friday and Saturday!

Posted 3-03-09

Well, sorry it’s been a while since I last sent an entry…the “real” job has kept me hopping! So I’ve written a lot to catch up!

But here we are, getting ready for the D-League’s version of March Madness. Idaho enters March in first place in the West, but just barely.

A weekend split at home against Utah gave the Stampede a 1-game lead over the Flash with the next game between the two on March 9th in Orem. The Stampede have a 2-1 lead in the season series, and all three have been in Boise. The schedule for the Flash would appear to favor them the rest of the way; Utah plays 12 of their final 16 games at home, where they’re 8-4. Utah is 11-9 on the road.

The Stampede, on the other hand, has 7 at home and 7 on the road the rest of the way. But, uncharacteristically, Idaho is under .500 away from home, with a 7-11 mark. In their first D-League season, Idaho was 15-10 on the road, and during last year’s championship season, the home mark was 17-8. So this is unfamiliar territory for Bryan Gates and his team. Idaho has lost 7 of its last 10 road games, including 7 of its last 8. If Idaho wants to hold onto the lead in the division and make a charge in the playoffs, winning on the road will be critical. Two road games at Utah, and single games at Colorado and Reno are on the March slate.

The newest Stampede, big Nate Jawai, played his first two games in an Idaho uniform against Utah. And, not a bad showing, considering the 22-year-old played the most minutes in a real game in nearly a year.

The young Aussie was hampered by heart problems that delayed his working out with the Toronto Raptors. He got into just 5 games with the Raptors, played just over 3-and-a-half minutes, and scored 2 points and pulled down 2 rebounds. He made a layup with 1:12 left in a 93-76 home court loss to Cleveland on February 18.

But the Raptors have high hopes for Nate, as Toronto’s Senior Director of Player Personnel, Jim Kelly, told me during Saturday’s halftime radio interview. Toronto likes Jawai’s skills, however raw. He only started playing basketball six years ago, and was Rookie of the Year in the top Australian professional league, the NBL. Playing for the Cairns Taipans, Jawai averaged 17.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and one block per game. He led his team in scoring, and was the 18th leading scorer in the league. He also shot 57.5% from the field, good for fifth best in the league. His 9.6 rebounds a game was second, and he was also 4th in offensive rebounds per game, with 3.3. So you can see he has talent. And that talent will be honed with the Stampede.

Expect to see Nate stay with Idaho for a while, depending on the injury situation in Toronto. He was supposed to be assigned earlier this season, but a depleted Raptors roster force the NBA club to keep him.

Coby Karl update: I’m not sure this is what Coby had in mind when he left the Stampede for DKV Joventut in Spain. He’s played in four games since leaving, and is averaging 5.3 points per contest. He’s averaging 10.5 minutes a game, compared to the 36.8 per game he played with the Stampede. All his stats – shooting percentage, 3-point percentage, assists, rebounds, steals – are down compared to his Idaho numbers. Only at the line, where he’s 9-of-10, is he performing better than he did with the Stampede.

He got the start on February 15th at Granada, and scored a season-high 12 points on 4-6 shooting (2-2 on 3’s), 2-2 from the line and he had 4 rebounds in 18 minutes. His team won the game, 92-86. Joventut is 3-1 with Karl, and currently resides in 3rd place with a 17-6 record. Next up is a March 7 showdown against Real Madrid, who is one game back in the standings.

Cory Violette update: Things are going pretty well with Cory, starting center for the Toshiba Brave Thunders in the Japan Basketball League. He’s 5th in the league in scoring at 16.6 per game, and leads in rebounding with 9.9 a game. Former UCLA star Charles O’Bannon is 7th in scoring (16.3 PPG) and Yuta Tabuse, who was the first Japanese player in the NBA and spent time in the D-League, leads the circuit in assists and steals per game. Unfortunately for Cory, the Brave Thunders are in 6th place in the 8-team league with two games left. The Aishin Sea Horses are the top JBL team at 23-10. Toshiba’s season ends March 7. Might Cory be tempted to return to Boise and try his hand at the D-League again?

AROUND THE LEAGUE:

Lots to talk about, including news about one new team, a couple possible teams and one D-League club in trouble…in no particular order, here goes.

To no one’s surprise, Portland, Maine will be the newest team in the D-League next season. And, while formal affiliation decisions won’t be made for many months, the announcement looked like a Boston Celtics board meeting.

The unnamed team is run by a former Celtics coach, John Jennings. Investors include the folks behind TD Bank North, the sponsor of Boston’s arena. And Celtics officials gave the press conference at a Portland high school a certain green look to things. The Celtics have a relationship with the Utah Flash (thanks, Danny Ainge), but would certainly like their D-League team to be closer to Boston. Portland fits the bill.

Now that Portland’s in, can another Northeast team be far behind? As it stands now, Portland is 644 miles from the next closest team, Erie. That’s a long road trip. Boise to Portland is a mere 2,766 miles away. So, you can see that for travel purposes and to keep costs down, it would be good for the league to have another team or two in that area to help out.

What about Halifax, Nova Scotia? There’s a team in that Atlantic Canada city that draws nearly 3,000 fans a game to the Metro Centre. It plays in the Premier Basketball League, and is on the D-League radar. The Halifax Rainmen, currently 9-7 in the PBL’s Atlantic Division, are a team looking for a stable league. Their owner, Andre Levingston, has already hosted D-League President Dan Reed in his city, and has made no secret of his desire to join the D-League. It came close to happening before this season, but the D-League decided not to expand beyond the new teams in Erie and Reno. But Halifax could be a viable option, and while it’s a 587 trip by land, it can be an easy short flight from Boston.

NBA Commissioner David Stern is reported (New York Times, Nov. 12, 2007) to be backing a Knicks-affiliated team in Harlem, which would follow the legacy of the old Harlem Renaissance, or “Rens.” They were the first all-black team, and started play in 1922, playing their games in the old Renaissance Casino and Ballroom. A new version of the Rens, joined by teams in Halifax, Portland and Erie, could make up a decent Northeast Division.

Former D-League President Phil Evans is heading up a company looking to add a D-League team in the Richmond, Virginia area. The company, SportsQuest, LLC, is developing a $100-million, 35-acre sports and family entertainment center in Chesterfield County. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, Evans’ goal is a D-League hoops team and an ECHL hockey team in their yet-to-be-built 6,000-seat arena as soon as 2011. He’d like the team to be affiliated with the Washington Wizards, who are current the NBA parent club for the Dakota Wizards. Washington, of course, had no comment. Evans certainly knows his way around the D-League, as he led the evolution of the league from an NBA-owned league in the Southeast to the local ownership and a national footprint (based mainly in the western US).

And then, there’s the Colorado 14ers. Currently the second-best team in the D-League, the squad is drawing the fewest fans (not counting the Los Angeles D-Fenders, who don’t sell tickets or count attendance for the JV games at Staples Center).

Colorado’s owners have given up management of their arena in Broomfield, and the future of both the basketball team and the hockey team they own are very much up in the air. The Denver Post’s NBA beat writer has blogged that he hears the basketball team’s demise is at hand. The 14ers are averaging only 1,132 fans per night, and they’re missing a great shot. The team leads the league in scoring with 117.5, and also gives up the most, 114.1. So if you like to see run-and-gun, up-and-down the court basketball, a 14ers ticket fits the bill.

One last note: the fine beat writer covering the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Todd Mavreles of the McAllen Monitor, reports that talks are ongoing between the Vipers and the Houston Rockets to hold part of next year’s training camp at the McAllen Convention Center. And they could play a preseason game at the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, just a couple of minutes away. The Vipers play at Dodge Arena.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Portland or Toronto, the Stampede’s NBA affiliates, held their camp here? NBA training camps generally open in early October, and last about a month. Sure there would be scheduling issues with the Idaho Steelheads, who open their season in October, but I think something could be worked out. The Utah Jazz have historically held a week or so of their camp in Boise at BSU, but that was done in part because their late owner, Larry Miller, owned a series of car dealerships in this area. It will be interesting to see whether the Jazz come back next year. Anyway, Portland makes sense geographically, and Toronto hosted a Stampede player tryout camp before this season, so the relationship with both teams is solid. We’ll have to see what develops.

Posted 2-04-09

The Stampede are coming off a busy week…four games in five nights. Idaho finished 3-2, losing twice to the Los Angeles D-Fenders. One in LA, and one in Boise.

That loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday proved to be costly in more ways than one…it cost Bryan Gates a chance to coach in the D-League All-Star Game for the second year in a row.

The league selected its coaches based on the winning percentage through games of January 27. Entering that afternoon’s contest with the D-Fenders, Idaho was 17-7, for a .708 winning percentage. That was behind Iowa’s .714 (15-6) and ahead of Austin’s .696 (16-7). But the overtime loss to L.A. dropped the Stampede’s record to 17-8, a .680 percentage, now third behind Austin. Had Idaho held onto some of its 17-point lead, the Stampede would have finished Tuesday with a .720 winning percentage, which would have meant Gates and his good friend, Iowa’s Nick Nurse, would have been the opposing All-Star coaches. Instead, Nurse and Austin’s Quin Snyder will patrol the sidelines in Phoenix on Valentines Day.

Idaho will be well- represented at All-Star festivities, as Brent Petway, the reigning D-League Slam Dunk champion, Lance Allred, the H-O-R-S-E champion, and Luke Jackson were named to the team yesterday.

I expected Allred and Petway would be on the All-Star team, and I suspected Luke Jackson would also make the team, but when you look simply at numbers, there are very few Stampede players among the league leaders. That’s a blessing and a curse. Blessing because it means the team is really a team, without any superstars to carry the load. It could be a different guy each night leading in scoring or rebounding.

It’s a curse because of times like these, when individual statistics jump out and highlight someone as a true star. Obviously, had Jermareo Davidson not been signed by Golden State for the rest of the season, he would have earned an All-Star spot. Likewise Coby Karl, who was Idaho’s leading scorer before leaving for a team in Spain.

The Stampede have three road games before the All-Star break; tonight at Erie, and then games at Tulsa on Saturday and Iowa on Sunday. The turnaround from Saturday to Sunday will be tough; a Saturday night in Bixby (outside of Tulsa) and then an afternoon game at Iowa, which is one of the best teams in the league.

Idaho’s record stands at 19-9…20 wins at the break would be a good number. I think that’s possible. Erie gave the Stampede fits in Boise, but the Bayhawks won 7 in a row before falling at Qwest Arena. It’s a winnable game and the first one of the trip. The Saturday game in Tulsa is winnable; the 66ers are only 2-8 in their new arena. Iowa, on top in the Central division, is a tougher challenge. I see a 21-10 record at the break. Last year after 31 games, Idaho was 24-7.

It’ll be interesting to see if newly acquired guard Kevin Burleson gets much playing time on the road trip. He saw only two minutes of action in the weekend games against Los Angeles. He’s now got the benefit of some practice time. Gates told me he picked up Burleson because he’s a “character guy” who’ll fit in to the existing personalities on this team. That’s the way Bryan built this year’s squad; yes, they’re quality players, but they’re good guys too. That’s important to him.

Mike Taylor update: the former Stampede guard, who made history as the first D-Leaguer to be drafted in the NBA Draft, is targeting a late-February return from thumb surgery. He suffered a fracture of his right thumb on December 19th and was expected to miss eight weeks. In 24 games (1 start) for the Clippers before being injured, Mike was averaging 3.4 points and 1.7 assists a game in 11.8 minutes per night. His injury coincided with the first game of a 12-game losing streak for the injury-plagued Clippers, who are struggling this season (10-35, 25.5 games behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division)

AROUND THE LEAGUE:

Three games against Idaho agreed with the D-Fenders’ Joe Crawford, who was named the D-League’s Performer of the Week. In the games against Idaho, Crawford had 26, 29, and 24 points (26.3 PPG), averaged 44 minutes a game, shot 48% from the field, 82% from the line and turned the ball over only 8 times. Nice week.

Bighorns Sold: The Reno Bighorns have been sold. The owners of the Reno Triple-A baseball team, the Aces, have purchased the Bighorns basketball team for a figure reported to be “in the millions.” Nothing is expected to change in the Bighorns’ front office. This is an interesting development, because according to the Sacramento Bee, Kings General Manager Geoff Petrie had suggested to the Kings’ owners, the Maloof brothers, that they would benefit by owning the Reno team, which is the Kings’ D-League affiliate. Joe Maloof, who said Donte Greene’s assignment to the Bighorns was beneficial, said of the D-League, “So, yes, I like it a lot. I think it would be very good for us to have complete control over them (Bighorns) at some point.” Oops.

T-Birds change hands too: USA Today reports that Sam Bregman, a lawyer and prominent Albuquerque citizen, has taken over ownership of the Thunderbirds. He and his wife, Jackie, were formerly minority owners of the team.

CBA DOA: Sound the death knell for the Continental Basketball Association. The league that gave the Idaho Stampede its first home ended its season Tuesday. The victim of the poor economy and massive fan apathy, the once-proud league, the oldest professional league in the country, was down to just four teams: East Kentucky, Minot, Lawton-Fort Sill and Albany. Lawton-Fort Sill and Albany, the teams with the best records, play a best-of-three series in Albany this week to crown a champion. The CBA began play in April 1946 – as the Eastern Basketball League – two months before the birth of the NBA.

Former Stampede (and Boise State) forward Jermaine Blackburn ended the CBA season with the East Kentucky Miners as the league’s second-leading scorer at 20 PPG. He led the league with 2.3 steals a game and had the league high in steals in a game with 7 against Lawton-Fort Sill on January 16. But his team finished 7-7, and lost its last 3 in a row. In the Miners’ last game, a 98-90 loss at Albany on January 31, Blackburn led his team with 26 points.

While the CBA plans an owners meeting this weekend and there’s talk about restructuring the league and coming back, I wouldn’t count on it. I’d look to the Albany team maybe moving into the D-League (to partner with Portland, Maine, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Harlem, NY) as new teams in the Northeast. They could join Erie and give the D-League a 5-team division in that part of the country, and a 20-team D-League. I have some questions about whether Albany would support the D-League, but given the storied history of the franchise, they might be able to pull it off…if the D-League gives them a chance. The Patroons only reported attendance at four of their five CBA home games this past season, averaging 1,116 fans a game, good for third in the four-team league. In the D-League, only Colorado (1,035) is averaging fewer fans. Of course, Los Angeles doesn’t sell tickets and so it lists the official per game crowd as 0. As a point of reference, the Stampede average 2,546 per game, which is 8th in the league. The league average is 2,666.

Next Idaho home game is February 19th against Iowa. Get your tickets now…we’ll see you there!

Posted 1-27-09

What a weekend! First of all, the Stampede played perhaps their worst game of the season (certainly their worst home game) last Wednesday, in an uninspired 105-98 loss to Albuquerque. That game proved to be the final one in a Stampede uniform for Coby Karl, who accepted an offer to play for Club Joventut in Badalona, Spain.

It was a stressful day for Coby, to be sure. And a major distraction for Coach Bryan Gates. Turns out that the Cleveland Cavaliers inquired about Coby’s availability, and offered him a 10-day contract shortly before tipoff against the Thunderbirds. But in the end, Coby decided to honor the commitment he made to the Spanish club. He told the Los Angeles Times that the NBA offer was, at best, two 10-day contracts, and he wants more than 20 days out of his next NBA contract. So he’ll be teammates with Ricky Rubio, perhaps the most hyped European player in years.

Rubio is compared to Pete Maravich, and, after a couple of years in the spotlight is old enough, making him eligible for the 2009 NBA Draft, where he’s expected to be an early selection. Expect Coby to get plenty of exposure to NBA scouts the rest of the season, as NBA teams make the pilgrimage to watch Rubio at work.

It was a scary moment Wednesday night against Albuquerque when Brent Petway and Jason Ellis, both going hard after a loose ball, collided. Ellis got up, but Petway stayed on the ground for a few minutes, and when he finally got up, he looked woozy and didn’t appear to have any idea where he was. It was later diagnosed as a minor concussion, and he sat out the rest of the game, playing only 12 minutes.

So, the shorthanded Stampede (having already lost Jermareo Davidson to a second 10-day NBA contract with the Golden State Warriors – more on him in a minute) had to face the D-League’s highest-scoring team on Friday night with only 8 players. But the team played one its best games of the year in a 129-111 win over the Colorado 14ers (more on the 14ers off-the-court issues later). Coach Gates was pleased with the intensity of his team, and not pleased with giving up 111 points. But Idaho led wire-to-wire, and got great games out of guards Lanny Smith and Jamaal Tatum, who combined for 38 points, 12 assists and only 6 turnovers.

And then, Idaho was down 15 to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants on Saturday night, before blitzing the visitors from Indiana for a 90-80 win. Idaho won the season series against Fort Wayne, after rallying from 25 down in the first meeting at the D-League Showcase in Utah earlier this month. Coach Jaren Jackson told me before the game that his young team is getting better (it had won 7 in a row before losing the night before playing the Stampede) and is learning how to close out games. But the Stampede showed that the Mad Ants still have some learning to do. Idaho held the second-highest team in the league to its lowest points of the season in the win.

One constant for the Stampede in this week of turmoil was Luke Jackson. He was named the D-League’s Performer of the Week, the first Stampede player to earn that honor this season. For the week, Luke averaged 24.3 points, 6.7 assists and played an average of 37.3 minutes per game. He also shot extremely well, 57-percent from the field, 82-percent from the line. Luke is now the Stampede’s leading scorer for the season, at 16.5 PPG (34th in the league).

Don’t look for Jermareo Davidson back in a Stampede uniform the rest of the year – or next year for that matter. After signing two 10-day contracts with Golden State, the Warriors signed Davidson for the rest of the year. Davidson told the San Jose Mercury News: “To me it's like another chance,” he said. “I wasn't sure how the playing time would go, but I just thought to give them what they asked for — mainly rebound, running the floor, block shots and staying focused so I could be ready to play. I've been sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for that chance, waiting for that opportunity to come out and show them right away.”

Davidson averaged a double-double for Idaho, with 16.1 points and 10.8 rebounds a game in his 15 games with the Stampede.

Warrior Coach Don Nelson told the paper, “We figure he's as good as anything we'd get in the second round, and from what they're telling me, we don't have a second-round pick. We got him signed for this year and one additional year, if he can make our squad.”

So, Idaho has 9 players right now. With four games this week, starting with today’s at Los Angeles, it’ll be interesting to see if fatigue sets in. And there’s still the chance that Toronto will send down Nathan Jawai. It looked like he was about to be assigned to the Stampede, but a rash of injuries forced the Raptors to delay his stint in the D-League. The 6’10” Aussie native has played just 5 minutes in two games with Toronto, as he regains his strength and fitness following concerns over a heart condition.

AROUND THE LEAGUE:

Rocky Mountain Low? Not all appears well with the Colorado 14ers franchise. Recent attendance at 14er games in the three-year-old Broomfield Events Center has been grim: 434vs. Albuquerque on January 20, and 834 last week against Bakersfield. That’s a lot of empty seats in the 5,800-seat building. Average attendance this season (including the 0 reported from the January 5 game against Austin) is 1,060. By comparison, Idaho is averaging 2,404 per game. The league leader is Fort Wayne, with 4,082 per game for their 11 home dates.

The team’s owners, Broomfield Sports and Entertainment, who have managed the building, have asked the city or Broomfield to hire someone else to operate the facility. The future of the 14ers appears to be shaky. In a recent story, the Broomfield Enterprise quotes Tim Weins, the principal of Broomfield Sports and Entertainment, who owns both the 14ers and the Central Hockey League’s Rocky Mountain Rage, said both teams will complete their current seasons. Whether they will play after that will be evaluated after the season ends, but Wiens is optimistic at least the hockey team will survive. “I'm quite sure there will be a long term commitment to the Rocky Mountain Rage and we'll look really closely at the 14ers,” Wiens said. Doesn’t sound promising, does it?

Now They Notice: The Sacramento Bee, in a story about Kings players honing their game in the D-League (Reno is the Kings’ affiliate) quotes Kings president Geoff Petrie as saying the D-League is a evolving into a valuable tool. “Going forward, you have some teams that own their own teams, and have control over the coaching, the way you want to play. That may become more prevalent. And it would be a great place to send a veteran player who had been injured and needed to get some rust off.”

Interesting to see Petrie is now such a booster of the potential of the D-League, since Sacramento didn’t send anyone to the league the last two years, and recalled Donte Greene after just seven days with the Bighorns.

From the Cart Before the Horse Department: Officially, Portland, Maine has not been granted an expansion team in the NBA Development League. Still, the Salem (MA) News reports that Cam Twiss will soon be named the operations manager for the franchise. John Jennings, a former Boston Celtics assistant, will be the new team’s CEO, president and general manager. He plans on making the new team a Celtics affiliate (goodbye, Utah Flash!). The paper reports that plans are already well underway to make improvements to the proposed team’s new home, the Portland ExpoBuilding: “We're planning on a lot of new seating, a new floor and will be investing money in the building,” Twiss said. The city, which owns the building, has approved a five-year lease for the team’s ownership, starting with the 2009-10 season.

If Portland is actually on board, that signals additional expansion in the Northeast, where the league would need at least two more teams to make the geography and travel work. Halifax, Nova Scotia wants in, and the word is NBA Commissioner David Stern wants a team in Harlem, NY. Those three cities could join Erie, PA, as the Northeastern division, making road trips more bearable.

Posted 1-9-09

Well, the D-League Showcase in Orem, Utah is over for this year, and for the Stampede, it was a success. They overcame the loss of their leading scorer and rebounder, Jermareo Davidson to a Gatorade Call-up by the Golden State Warriors, and then they rallied in both games to record a 2-0 mark in the Showcase.

The first game, a Tuesday morning affair against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, was the most dramatic comeback of all the 16 games played in Orem. Down 25 in the third quarter, the Stampede clamped down on defense and ratcheted up the offense to win 99-96. Not only was Davidson missing, but Luke Jackson sat out with a concussion suffered in the win over Austin the Saturday before. So, down to eight players, it took the Stampede time to get going. But when they did, the Idaho squad outscored Fort Wayne 60-37 in the second half. Seven of the eight Stampede players in uniform that day scored in double figures, led by Coby Karl’s near triple-double (20 points, 13 assists, 9 rebounds).

The next game, Jackson was back, and the script was about the same. This time facing the Tulsa 66ers, Idaho found itself down 40-34 at the half and took the lead for good on a Karl 3-pointer with 6:57 left in the game. Down the stretch, Idaho outscored Tulsa 16-3 to win going away, 82-68. Karl finished with 30, including 7-10 from beyond the arc. Lance Allred scored 16 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in the win.

It didn’t get much easier for Idaho on Friday. They continued the road trip at Anaheim, where they’d split a pair in mid-December, falling by 15 and then winning by 1. The Arsenal gave Idaho all it can handle, and Tierre Brown’s 3-point bomb with Brett Petway in his face at the buzzer forced the game into overtime tied at 120. Neither side led by much in the extra period, and in fact, Anaheim tied it at 130 with a hoop with :04 to play, before Karl was fouled heading to the basket on a pass from up top, and he canned both free throws for the final 132-130 margin. Idaho shot an amazing 51-91 from the field for 56-percent. Anaheim was able to keep close on the foul line, shooting 43 free throw, and making 37, while the Stampede only went to the line 26 times, converting on 18.

While Davidson was the first call-up to the NBA from the Stampede this season, it seems as though Karl must be close. In the last five games, all wins, he’s averaging 22.4 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 41-69 (59.4%) from the field, 15-27 (56%) from 3-point range, 15-21 (71.4%) from the line. In an interview on NBA-TV during the Showcase, Coby’s dad, Denver Nuggets Head Coach George Karl, said Coby has the NBA skills, but he needs consistency to make it back to the league. He’s scored in double figures in 15 of 18 games, and is playing an average of 40.4 minutes per night.

The long road trip ends with a Sunday matchup at Bakersfield, and then 7 of the next 9 are back home in Qwest Arena. Idaho is 8-0 at home this season, one of only two D-League teams still unbeaten at home (Iowa is 6-0 at home).

Are the Stampede on the way to repeating as the best team in the league? It’s hard to say right now, but last year after 18 games, the Stampede were 13-5 and were 8 games into their record-setting 18 game winning streak. After 18 games this year, Idaho is 14-4, a .778 winning percentage. They’re on pace to win 38 games, which would be a league record. They were 36-14 last year.

Earlier I mentioned Jermareo Davidson’s call up to Golden State. The Warriors have yet to use him in a game, however. The San Francisco Chronicle did a great story on Jermareo when he signed, talking about how a tragedy when he was in college at Alabama affected his life. Here’s a link to the story: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/07/SP2J154H7V.DTL&hw=Jermareo+Davidson&sn=001&sc=1000.

I have to wonder how long before an NBA team realizes the skills of Coach Bryan Gates. The two-time D-League Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year Award winner, Gates is now 83-35 (.703) in regular-season games in two-plus seasons in the D-League. Gotta think he’s on the radar screen of at least one NBA club by now.

Think of it…Gates’ team has the best record in the league right now, and doesn’t have a single player in the Top 16 scorers in the league. He’s got his team buying into his system as the Stampede are playing lock-down defense (leading the league in field goal percentage defense) and are tops in defensive rebounding and overall rebounding percentage. They’re also tops in points allowed, with a stingy 94.6 given up a night.

SMUSH’d: Former Stampede guard Smush Parker, who was playing for Rio Grande Valley in an attempt to get back to the NBA, has left the Vipers for a team in China. Newspaper reports in Texas say the Chinese team has been after Parker for a while, and a sub-par performance at the Showcase apparently convinced him to take the big money in Asia. Parker’s the second Viper to leave Coach Clay Moser’s team for China this season. Forward Kendall Dartez left after 11 games. Parker was the team’s second-leading scorer (17.2) and led in assists with 7.5 a game. Former Stampede Alpha Bangura leads RGV with a 17.6 PPG average. Of course, Coach Moser is familiar to local hoops fans as the former coach and GM of the Stampede, and he also was head man at Treasure Valley Community College. The Vipers come to Boise March 14.

Elsewhere around the league: Reno, which has won straight after a 12-game losing streak, has gotten its first player from Sacramento. The Kings made Donte Greene from Syracuse their first-ever D-League assignment, and he’ll join former Syracuse stars Gerry McNamara and Damone Brown to give the Bighorns a definite “Orange” feel. The expansion Reno squad makes its first-ever visit to Boise this Thursday.

Utah has lost its two Boston Celtics-assigned players, J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker, while picking up Kyrylo Fesenko from Utah.

Posted 12-20-08

Hi again! Sorry it’s taken me so long to get this blog fired up for the new season, but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait.

When we last blogged, the Stampede were coming off the D-League Championship, beating the Austin Toros in three games to claim the crown at Qwest Arena. And now, the players, coaches and front office staff have collected their championship rings.

Coach Bryan Gates will be the first to tell you that last year is in the past, and it’s time to look ahead. And so far, his squad has done so. Even with several returning players (Lance Allred, Luke Jackson, Jason Ellis and Brent Petway) who helped win the title, there’s not been any complacency. The Stampede have started the season 5-1, and are a game behind the surprising (8-1) Bakersfield Jam.

In the past, Idaho’s been more guard-oriented. This year, the early-season strength of this club is the “bigs.” Allred is averaging just short a double-double (16 points, 9.7 rebounds) while newcomer Jemareo Davidson is showing why Idaho made him their first round draft pick (#3 overall) by averaging 18.4 PPG and 12 RPG. Add to that Ellis’ 8.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, and you can see how this team’s strengths are inside. (If you’re doing the math, those three guys are combining for 42.5 points and 30.3 boards a night. Not bad).

Petway’s off to a slow start offensively, but he turned up the defense the other night against Utah, holding the Flash’s NBA-assigned forward J.R. Giddens to a single basket in the Stampede’s 88-74 win. The second players Boston has assigned to the Flash, Bill Walker, went scoreless after suffering a neck injury in the first quarter and sitting out most of the game. The Stampede held Utah to 31-percent shooting, including 11-percent in the fourth quarter.

Of course, Coby Karl has made his return to the site of his collegiate glory a success so far. He’s second on the team in scoring (18.1 PPG) and leads in assists, with 5.3 per game. Coby looks great at times, and even when his outside shot isn’t falling, he’s shown a dynamic first step and has scored on a number of drives to the basket. He’s shooting 52 percent from the field. The question now is just how long will Coby stay before the NBA comes calling.

Jamaal Tatum is showing why he was the Stampede’s first round draft out of Southern Illinois. Of course, he missed last season after suffering an ankle injury early in training camp, but he’s come back strong. He’s averaging just over 27 minutes a game, and Coach Gates has shown confidence in him, letting him run the point during critical times in the game. Tatum scored 28 points in the win against Anaheim in the second game of the season, and then put in 22 last week in the win on the road against Los Angeles. He’s averaging 13.3 points a game and 3.3 assists.

Posted 05-01-08

Wow! What a way to end a record-setting season!

As you know now, the Idaho Stampede have won their first NBA Development League championship, defeating the Austin Toros 2-games-to-1 in the best-of-three Finals.

Although the D-League doesn’t award a playoff or Finals MVP, Cory Violette would have been the winner in my book. He averaged 18.5 points and 12 rebounds a game, and played lock-down defense on Los Angeles’ Jelani McCoy in the Stampede’s second-round game. And in the Finals, Violette kept hitting big shots and getting big rebounds. Maybe his biggest shot was a fade-away, 29-foot three-pointer at the end of the third quarter of Game 3 to give Idaho an 81-69 lead. It was only his fourth triple of the season, and as soon as it went in, I turned to the D-League’s Communications Manager, Larry Berger, and said “I think it’s Idaho’s night!”

The story of the playoffs was, of course, the end of Randy Livingston’s career. A 12-year run is over for the man who was considered, along with Jason Kidd, as one of the top point guards in the country coming out of high school. Then, Randy suffered an injury, and his career never took off. He played more than 10 years in the NBA, and is the career leader in games played for the Idaho Stampede franchise.

I suspect we’ll see Randy’s #32 jersey hanging from the rafters of Qwest Arena soon, along with the D-League Championship banner and the Western Division Championship banner, both won this year.

Now, everyone’s attention turns to next year. (Well, actually the first order of business will be to design the championship rings). What will the roster look like? Who will be back? Will Coach Bryan Gates, fresh off his second consecutive Coach of the Year Award, get an NBA job?

Livingston is out of the picture, but look for him to be on the sidelines as a coach somewhere. Could it be as Gates’ assistant? Might happen, if Associate Head Coach Ray Lopes lands another job as a top college or pro assistant or head coach. Point guard could be Mike Taylor’s, depending on what happens in this spring’s NBA Draft. You know the story by now: Mike left Iowa State after his junior year, and he’s eligible for the NBA Draft. He’d be the first D-Leaguer drafted if he’s selected in either of the two rounds. Mike certainly didn’t hurt his chances with his 27-point effort in the clinching game, including 7-of-10 from beyond the 3-point line. Mike is an exciting young player who tends to get a bit out of control at times, but he can run, has tremendous hops, and has improved his defense and passing. Even if he’s not drafted, I suspect he’ll be on some team’s summer league roster, with a chance of making an NBA club next year.

Idaho should retain his rights, if Mike’s back in the D-League next season.

Brent Petway, winner of the D-League’s Slam Dunk contest during the All-Star weekend in New Orleans, is an athletic player who learned a new position this year. He was in Portland’s camp before this season, and the word is that Cleveland is interested in him. Idaho should retain his rights as well if “Air Georgia” doesn’t stick with an NBA squad.

Roberto Bergersen and Jason Ellis, the Stampede’s Boise State connection, both make their homes in Boise, and should return, if they don’t get a look. Jason, in particular, shined in the last quarter of the season and playoffs, as a monster on the glass and he showed the ability to bury the open jumper.

Cory Violette has done the international thing; he’s looking for an NBA summer league spot. As a Boise native, I would think that if he wants to keep playing next season, he’d do it with the Stampede if he doesn’t make the League. I think the NBA will look at Cory like they looked at Lance Allred; it might take two years for Cory to catch the NBA’s eye, and he could get a call-up during next season.

Luke Jackson is still being paid by Miami, and he impressed during the playoffs with his overall play. He got the big basket, led the team in assists, and did the dirty work on the boards. His numbers weren’t spectacular, but I think Luke showed skeptics that he’s a good all-around player. Remember, he was an NBA lottery pick coming out of Oregon.

Josh McRoberts is property of the Trail Blazers, and if Idaho remains a Portland D-League affiliate, he could be eligible to be assigned to Boise next season. The Blazers are currently evaluating their roster, and I think Josh earned points with the Blazer brass by playing hard in helping Idaho win the title. There was some question about McRoberts’ attitude coming to the D-League, but he said all the right things and was a good addition.

Eric Chenowith probably won’t return. The other two late-season pickups, guard Duwan Rice and center Anthony Washington, could come back, depending on whether the Stampede can protect them in the D-League expansion draft when Reno and Erie come into the league for next season. Chenowith probably won’t be protected, and could go in the expansion draft. Rice was Idaho’s seventh-round pick in November’s D-League draft, and could become backup point guard to Taylor, if both return. Washington, the CBA Rookie of the Year, is a player Gates covets, and he picked him up to get a chance at coming back next season. Idaho may protect him from the expansion teams.

Mouhamed Sene, injured late in the regular season, is no longer eligible to play in the D-League. And with the uncertainty of the SuperSonics, it’s not clear whether Idaho will even be a Sonics affiliate next season (either in Oklahoma City or Seattle).

That’s the roster that ended the season. It will be interesting to see who gets protected in the D-League expansion draft, and after a short rest, Coach Gates will turn his attention to next year’s team. Look for Gates to be active in an NBA summer league, and that will give him a great chance to see young players and NBA draft picks. He’ll be making his list of prospective Stampede players to defend the title.

Elsewhere around the D-League: New Milwaukee Bucks coach Scott Skiles has confirmed that he wants current Colorado 14ers and former Stampede head coach Joe Wolf on his coaching staff. Skiles, who replaced former Stampede head man Larry Krystkowiak on the Bucks’ sideline, was quoted in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel talking about his choices for his staff: “I'm in the process of putting together my staff and I have a high level of interest in Jim Boylan, Lionel Hollins, Kelvin Sampson and Joe Wolf," said Skiles. "I'm hoping in the next few days we can get something resolved.”

The expansion team in Reno doesn’t have a name, logo, colors, or players, but it now has a General Manager. Tony Funderburg will head up the Reno franchise, resigning as GM of the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League, leaves minor league baseball for hoops. With the Grizzlies, he helped set league attendance records, and attracted national media attention for “Baseball’s Best Burger,” an artery-clogging bacon-cheeseburger served between Krispy Kreme donuts.

This is the final blog of the season. I apologize for not updating it as often as I’d like. Turns out the real job got in the way. But I want to take this opportunity to thank the entire Stampede organization, starting with Managing Investor Bill Ilett, President and General Manager Steve Brandes, coach Bryan Gates, and the entire front office and game day staff (thanks, Jinny!) for making this such a memorable season. The coaches and players were always accessible for interviews and to offer insight into the game and strategy. Thanks also for the help of Ryan Williams, who was PR director until he got his call-up to Seattle with the Sonics and the WNBA’s Storm. Then, Jeff Johnson, who was juggling school work with the PR duties, filled Ryan’s shoes and did a great job.

And of course, I want to thank the fans and the players’ families, who told me that they listened, either on the radio or on the web, and offered their comments and feedback. It was a great season, and hopefully, I’ll have the honor of calling another season next year.

Until then, celebrate, Boise! Your team, the Idaho Stampede, in its 10th year of play, is the new NBA Development League Champions!

Posted 04-08-08

It would appear as though Lance Allred has played his last game as a member of the Idaho Stampede. Lance’s second ten-day contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers expired and the Cavaliers signed him for the rest of the season. Not only did he sign for the rest of the season, but the deal is also a non-guaranteed contract for the 2008-09 campaign as well. The Akron Beacon Journal is reporting that by signing for next year, Allred’s rights will be retained by Cleveland, which will likely assign him to their summer league team and invite him to next year’s training camp.

So, if Lance’s Idaho Stampede career is over, he can look back on it and be very proud of what he accomplished. He averaged a double-double this season, made the D-League All-Star Team and won the league’s HORSE competition in New Orleans earlier this year. All this after essentially starting out as the fourth big man last season, who finally got his chance when Peter John Ramos, Jeff Graves, and Mouhamed Sene left the team for one reason or another.

Much has been written and said about Lance, and the struggles he’s overcome to make it to the NBA. No need to re-hash them here. You know about his family history, his hearing disability and his obsessive-compulsive behavior. He’s quite open in discussing those topics. So too, does he discuss the problems he faced playing overseas and the despair that led him to tears in the locker room when he tried out for the Stampede in shoes so poor that they tore up his feet.

I am so happy that Lance has been rewarded for his persistence and hard work. And, despite his somewhat cynical view of the world, he has maintained a good attitude and pretty even keel. He’s always willing to talk with me before games and after games, even if he had another 21-point, 14-rebound night, he’d beat himself up over missing an easy layup that cost Randy Livingston an assist. I’d tell him not to be so hard on himself, and look at the big picture (usually a win and a great game).

I started writing this before the D-League announced their post-season award winners, and I was prepared to make a case for Lance being named MVP of the league. But, that honor went to Sioux Falls’ Kasib Powell. Randy Livingston, last year’s MVP, made the First Team, and Allred was named to the Second Team list. Idaho is just now over the .500 mark without Lance (5-4) and who knows, if he’d been with the team, maybe the division would be wrapped up by now. We’ll never know for sure.

I’ll miss Lance, and I’m sure so will his Stampede teammates. But that’s the reason for the D-League, to give guys a chance to advance. So Bryan Gates will have to work around the roster down the stretch.

Speaking of down the stretch, the best scenario for the Stampede is to win their remaining three games. If that happens, and if LA continues to win, both teams would finish tied in the standings. But Idaho owns the tie-breaker, thanks to their winning the season series against the D-Fenders, 5-3. That would give the Stampede home court advantage in the playoffs, and the best record in the league. Los Angeles and Idaho potentially could each finish with 36 wins. Austin, leaders in the Southwest Division, could finish with 33 wins. No other team can top 30.

The Stampede have appeared to have shaken the doldrums from a 1-4 record recently, winning key contests in Bakersfield and Tulsa. In recent losses, they’ve failed to hold late leads, something that didn’t happen earlier in the year. They had a 19-point advantage over Anaheim on March 21st before being outscored, 25-10 in the fourth quarter. And in the Wednesday loss at Los Angeles, the Stampede held an 11-point third-quarter lead.

So now, Idaho plays the final three games of the season, one more on the road tonight (at Utah) before closing out the season at home April 11 at home against Bakersfield and the 12th against Iowa. The combined records of the three remaining opponents is 53-88 (.376 winning percentage). Los Angeles’s final four games are as follows: Wednesday at Bakersfield, home against Anaheim and they close out the season at Utah. The combined record of their three opponents is 51-85 (.380). Anaheim did Idaho a favor, beating L.A. in overtime the other day, (their first win over the D-Fenders all season) and now Idaho has a one-game lead in the division.

Idaho is 7-0 against Bakersfield this season, 1-0 against Iowa, and 5-2 against Utah. Los Angeles is 6-1 against Anaheim, 4-3 against Bakersfield and 6-1 against the Flash.

This is why the five-point loss to Los Angeles the other day was so critical. Essentially, Idaho’s fate is in its hands, but it won’t be easy.

I think the game against the Flash tonight is a trap game. Utah has won three in a row since losing league leading scorer Morris Almond and starting center Kyrylo Fesenko back to the Utah Jazz. Kevin Kruger, who torched the Stampede for 43 in the Flash’s 109-106 win on March 29, is averaging 29.3 points per game in those three wins. The Flash did have Boston recall Gabe Pruitt over the weekend, so Utah has no more NBA assigned players. Still, the Flash are dangerous, and Idaho needs to be careful. A win gives Idaho a one-and-a-half game lead over Los Angeles.

Where’s Mo? The Seattle SuperSonics announced on April 4 that center Mouhamed Sene was being reassigned to the Stampede, but he didn’t appear in either road contests last week, at Bakersfield or at Tulsa.

Taurean Green, who was assigned to the Stampede by Portland earlier this season and played in four road games, averaging 19.3 points and 9.7 assists, is back in the D-League. But this time, he’s a member of the Colorado 14ers, who were assigned Green by the Denver Nuggets. Denver acquired him in a deadline deal from Portland in exchange for former D-League All-Star Von Wafer. Now, former Stampede coach Joe Wolf is stocking up for the playoffs. His squad currently is a game-and-a-half ahead of Tulsa for the final playoff spot. As things stand now, Colorado would open on the road at Sioux Falls, with the winner playing at Austin.

Posted 03-19-08

Hi again, Stampede fans!

Sorry it’s been so long since my last blog entry. I know you were all waiting with breathless anticipation for my words of wisdom!

A lot has happened to your Idaho Stampede in recent weeks. The team has survived the NBA call-ups of two big men, welcomed back a couple of familiar faces, and has still remained the top team in the D-League. All quite a tribute to Coach Bryan Gates and his crew.

Of course, the big news was the March 12 call-up of Lance Allred by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lance had told me that he had a hunch Cleveland would come calling, since they’d been watching him closely over the past few weeks. Still, it was a long time in coming for the well-deserved promotion to the League.

In Cleveland, Lance has gotten into just one game since his call-up, a scant 18 seconds in Monday night’s loss to Orlando. Still, the experience has to be a good one for Lance, who has rededicated himself this season and his hard work has finally paid off. The Cavaliers have two more games before Lance’s 10-day contract expires, and then Cleveland has to decide whether to sign him again or let him return to Idaho. If they don’t keep him, he could be back in Boise when the Stampede host Utah on Friday the 28th.

Mouhamed Sene played well enough in his 27 games to earn his recall to the Seattle Supersonics. Mo started his final four games in an Idaho uniform, and left shooting almost 54 percent from the field, averaged 9 rebounds a game and 12.4 points per contest. He also blocked 1.7 shots a game, and altered a host of others.

Coming back to Boise are Josh McRoberts from the Portland Trail Blazer for his second assignment of the season and former Stampede big man Eric Chenowith. The former Kansas Jayhawk joined the team last week in Utah, and pulled down four rebounds in his 9 minutes of action. Eric holds the team’s single-game rebounding record with 29.

Idaho’s riding a four-game winning streak, all over the Utah Flash. They won two at home, and two in Orem in come-from-behind fashion. The Stampede also remain at the top of the D-League Power Rankings, for the fourth week in a row. They’re the first team in the league to 30 wins (in 40 games) and all this while not having a single player named Performer of the Week or the Month. And with Lance Allred up in the NBA, no Stampede player is in the Top 10 in scoring or rebounding. It’s truly a team.

Consider Jason Ellis. Biding his time on the bench while NBA assigned players get the minutes, Jason never sulked and always did his work. And it paid off, with outstanding games in Utah when the Stampede were undermanned. The Friday night game saw the Boise State product score 12 points and pull down 7 rebounds. The next night, in a game won by the Stampede 100-99 on a Cory Violette tip-in in the closing seconds, Jason scored a career-high 20 points and got 9 rebounds.

The Stampede play two more on the road before coming home on the 28th to host Utah (again!) They play at Anaheim, against the Arsenal, a team that Bryan Gates says is the most talented in the league. Former Stampede center Marcus Campbell, waived after playing five games with Idaho, is lighting things up for Anaheim, averaging 13.9 points and 9 rebounds a game for Coach Reggie Geary.

After