For the last 35 years, Marty Blake has been identifying top college and international talent as the NBA’s Director of Scouting. A former general manager of the St. Louis and Atlanta Hawks in the 1950s and ’60s, Marty will be sharing thoughts and observations from the road as he crisscrosses the country identifying top collegiate talent throughout the season leading up to the 2006 NBA Draft in June.
THE CITY BY THE BAY
As Delta Flight #532 started to descend into San Francisco International Airport, I tried to jump-start my memory.
When was the last time I visited San Francisco? More importantly, when was the first time?
I think my inaugural visit might have been as one of the team managers of the Fort Benning (Ga.) Base football team. I believe we played the Alameda (Calif.) Coast Guard or Naval Base team. It was the first of three games our team would play in consecutive weeks. The second was at Oklahoma City against Oklahoma City University, who had a half back named Andy Victor (I recall) who was a big-time runner. And the third, which I remember more vividly, was in Memphis versus the Memphis Air Transport Command Eleven. That game was played on a Saturday afternoon in either late September or early October at Crump Stadium – an arena named for a famous Tennessee politician, known affectionately as Boss Crump.
It was an extremely hot and humid afternoon with the temperature around 105 degrees. The home team had little depth and their main offense was built around the Hapes brothers. Merle was the better of the two and he later played for the New York Giants in the National Football League.
The Benning team could have beaten most college squads easily. Most of the starters were members of the great West Point teams of the early 1940s. In fact, virtually all of the 1944 National Champion Army team was currently stationed at Benning and most were starters. The team was coached by Bill Meek, who had coached at Tennessee and later coached at Houston and Utah with a stint or two in the pro ranks.
The line included All-Americans John (Pinky) Green and Allie Joy at guards; Dick Pfitzer at one end, and two tackles who later played with the Brooklyn Dodgers football squad. Green later coached at Florida and Vanderbilt.
The backfield was Bob Walterhouse at quarterback with Max Minor, Bobby Sauer and Boby Chabat at the other spots.
The two most famous Army players of that era were Doc Blanchard and Glen Davis, both of whom were juniors in the fall of 1945 and who would eventually continue their All-American runs that season.
I don’t remember the scores of these games but the Benning team simply rolled over most opponents.
I managed to get the sponsoring committee to put us up at the famous Peabody Hotel in Memphis, where the ducks came out of the elevator twice daily, and still do, to the delight of onlookers.
I again visited this city during Bill Russell’s collegiate career. His talent was plainly visible. One of his teammates, Mike Farmer, a defensive whiz who could also knock down the outside J and would play for the St. Louis Hawks, was later an assistant coach for us. He also was the head coach of the Baltimore Bullets in later years.
But I was here to watch college basketball and my schedule listed five games in five days – four against top PAC-10 teams.
I was accompanied on this trip by Gene Opet, a friend of 50 years, from our college days in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He attended King’s College and I attended Wilkes. He is a Golden State Warriors season ticket holder; has retired from an executive position with IBM and knows hoops. He covers the California Summer League each year and took in the new Las Vegas Summer League which featured half of the NBA’s teams last July. He is very knowledgeable about virtually every college team in the West.
Game numero uno on Feb.16 found the University of California (Berkeley) hosting Arizona, a team that has been struggling in the PAC-10 this season. They were 15-9 overall and 8-5 in the conference but they were coming off two good wins last weekend versus Oregon and Oregon State. The reinstatement of the senior Chris Rodgers might help.
Arizona is a very athletic team that had bested Cal 60-55 at home last Jan. 21. But this matchup was a different story.
The Golden Bears have a big front line built around their 6-8, 255-pound sophomore Leon Powe. Against the Wildcats, Powe scored repeatedly in the low block, hitting 10 of his 14 field goal attempts with a variety of inside moves. And when he wasn’t hitting twos, he usually was fouled and hit the same amount from the line, 10-of-14, en route to a game-high 30.
He also grabbed 10 rebounds, six of them off the offensive glass.
Another sophomore, 6-11, 245-pound DeVon Hardin, was a force in the middle blocking four shots.
Cal’s big front line virtually eliminated whatever fast break opportunities the visitors had. Arizona could not penetrate and Powe and company controlled the boards.
Cal’s guards, however, had a number of fast break chances and forced the Arizona defenders to commit too many fouls on penetration. The senior Arizona guard Richard Midgley was 9-of-10 from the line while his heir apparent, the junior Ayinde Ubaka, hit 5-of-6.
Cal shot 16 more free throws than Arizona (34-18) making 26 to the visitors 14 and won 75-66 for its sixth straight win. With Arizona State coming in two nights later, it appeared a seventh was a strong possibility especially since they won at Tempe 86-58 last Jan. 21.
But a very young Arizona State team, with only one senior on board, overcame a Golden Bear 27-21 halftime lead to force two overtimes and finally earn a 65-64 triumph.
All four of the games I saw on this journey were exciting but this one was special.
The Arizona State coach, Rob Evans, who has done a wonderful job here in rebuilding this program, will look to continue that trend as his underclassmen improve, including the freshman forward Jeff Pendergraph, a 6-10, 210-pounder from Etiwanda High School (Calif.). He is fifth in the PAC-10 in FG percentage (.507) and is 9th in rebounding (6.3 rpg). His 11 rebounds last Thursday topped both squads.
Their backcourt leader is the junior point Kevin Kruger, whose father, Lon, served college stints at Illinois and Kansas State and headed the Atlanta Hawks for a few years.
Lon is now head man at UNLV.
Kevin plays a dual role, both point and two guard, and must lead the NCAA in minutes played. He is their primary ball handler and played all 50 minutes in this game.
He is 9th in the conference in scoring (14.5 ppg) and his 39 minutes played sits atop the PAC-10. He averages three long ball scores per game and his 72 makes from 3 are first in the league.
Incidentally, Cal’s Powe tops the conference in rebounding (9.8 per game) and is first in scoring (19.9 ppg).
Against State, he was doubled and fouled virtually every time he had the ball and made 13 straight free throws before tiring at the end. He and DeVon Hardin had 20 of their team’s 29 retrieves but Cal was outrebounded by the smaller visitors, 36-29. And that included a six-point margin off the offensive boards.
Cal is still powerful enough to make a run at the top spot in the PAC-10 and would be a dark horse in the upcoming NCAA race.
The same holds true of Arizona and they showed their true colors Sunday afternoon against Stanford.
They are especially adept at triggering a fast break built around the senior forward/guard Hassan Adams; a couple of juniors, 6-10 Kirk Walters and 6-10 Ivan Radenovic, a big man from Serbia and Montenegro, and the freshman, 6-7, 205-pound Marcus Williams. Williams is the only freshman ranked among the league’s top 20 scorers at 12.1 ppg.
The senior power forward, 6-10, 220-pound Matt Haryasz of Stanford, is the PAC-10’s sixth-leading scorer (16.9 ppg) and is second in rebounds at a 9.0 per game pace.
Two other seniors, Dan Grunfeld (Ernie’s son) has not completely recovered from an injury that sidelined him last year, but in Thursday’s 82-69 win over Arizona State, hit for a career-high 31 points and converted 11 straight free throws. He is 16th in the conference in scoring (12.4 ppg) and 13th in rebounding (5.2 rpg).
Another senior, the guard Chris Hernandez, averages 14.1 ppg (good enough for 11th place in the points race) and his .906 mark from the charity stripe is among the top ranks in the NCAA.
He shoots .488 from three and against Arizona hit three quick threes before Wildcats coach, Lute Olsen, shifted his team from a zone defense to a man-to-man.
Hernandez was hot all game, scoring 28 points and hitting 7 for 11 from beyond the 3-point arc.
A late spurt by Arizona held off a roaring comeback by the home team and handed Stanford its 10th loss of the season against 13 wins. The final was 76-72.
Arizona had too much depth for Stanford, and, as we stated earlier, is an extremely gifted athletic unit.
Adams ranks third among PAC-10 scorers (17.6 ppg). He is one of the most athletic of a large athletic senior class.
Adams and Radenovic each tallied 23 with Hassan leading both teams with 21 field goal attempts (he made 10 of them, mostly on breakaways and drives), with Ivan scoring 8 of his 10 field goals and hitting 7-of-11 free throw attempts)
Stanford made a hurricane effort in the final two minutes but fell a few buckets short.
Monday’s trip-ending clash was a resumption of a bitter West Coast Conference rivalry between the Santa Clara Broncos and the San Francisco Dons in the Bay City.
The aforementioned Mike Farmer joined me for this game and old friends Barry Thompkins and Dan Belluomini were calling this event for Fox Sports, as they did the two California games last week. Belluomini is a former Dons head coach as was Jim Brovelli, who now does color commentary for San Francisco. Farmer was an assistant coach of his alma matter during the 1980s.
Mike, who turned 70 recently, will retire at the close of this academic season, having been a member of the school’s physical education program for many years. He has scouted this area for us in recent years and may do so next season.
Monday was Senior Night for the Dons who were also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the legendary USF 60-game win streak (Dec. 17, 1954 through Dec. 17, 1956).
USF was tied for third in the West Coast standings while Santa Clara was the eighth place team. As expected, the game was a war.
The visitors roared to a 30-11 first half lead but then USF outscored them 20-10 the rest of the half and eventually tied the score late in the contest, at 60 all. The score was tied two more times the rest of the way before Santa Clara took advantage of a number of free throws by the senior power forward, Travis Niesen, who hit 10-of-12 attempts (5 of 6 down the stretch).
Niesen, who will be a two-time All-Conference pick, led all scorers with 31 while the freshman two-guard, Drew Shiller, led USF with a career-high 23, hitting five three-pointers in nine tries. The junior guard, 6-0 175-pound Armondo Surratt, is a transfer from Miami, FL where he started in his freshman and sophomore years. Having redshirted last year, he scored 21 markers including 3-of-7 from three point range, but had to attempt 20 field goals to reach that goal.
Shiller’s total was his career-high.
All in all, four nights of exciting basketball. Every game was a battle and some interesting players to catalogue for the coming years.
Marty Blake's Top 10 College Teams
- Connecticut – back on top
- Villanova – should be tough in postseason
- Duke – must bounce back in the ACC Tournament
- Memphis – still breezing along
- George Washington – has won 18 straight but needs “Pops” (Nana Mensah-Bonsu)
- Gonzaga – has clinched another West Coast Conference crown
- Ohio State – maybe the latest big surprise of the season
- Tennessee – several tough loses but still atop the SEC
- Florida – big people may prevail in SEC
- Kansas and Illinois in a tie
Looking to Move Up: Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Georgetown (Big East); Washington, California, and Arizona (Pac 10); Michigan State and Iowa (Big 10); Texas and Texas A&M (Big 12); maybe Southern Illinois University from the Missouri Valley