Hoosier Hairy Hoops, Xavier's Sixth Man and Complaining About the Reds

On Feb. 5, Bob Knight walked away from college basketball, resigning from Texas Tech in the middle of the season. A week later, it came to light that the NCAA issued five charges of major rules v

Jerry Dowling

On Feb. 5, Bob Knight walked away from college basketball, resigning from Texas Tech in the middle of the season. A week later, it came to light that the NCAA issued five charges of major rules violations against Indiana basketball coach Kelvin Sampson.

The obvious and quasi-ironic guesses ticketed Knight back for Indiana, which finally decided it couldn't put up with his obnoxious behavior in 2000, right about when the university realized he couldn't win big anymore. Funny how that worked out.

One remembers a visit to Bloomington in the late 1970s, brokered by curiosity as to why Knight enjoyed such unbridled support from such nice people. Almost without exception, Hoosiers said, "He wins."

When Knight couldn't win like he used to, he was gone. Hoosiers are honest, and they demand honesty.

That in mind, it's no mystery why Indiana University bought out Sampson for $750,000 last week. The real mystery is that IU hired him in the first place.

From the moment he arrived less than two years ago, it was just a matter of time — very little time — before his dishonesty would bring him down.

Many in the Indiana camp knew they'd bought a bill of goods when they hired Sampson. Inexplicably, Indiana hired him even as the NCAA hounded him over recruiting violations. It was almost as if Indiana couldn't reach closure about Knight without knowingly hiring the most dishonest coach available.

But Indiana forgot that it wanted honesty and remembered that it wanted wins. Sampson won at Oklahoma, producing a Final Four, an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16 between 1999 and 2003. During one four-year stretch at Oklahoma, Sampson won 111 games, more than 27 per year.

"He wins," a Hoosier might have said.

Sampson won this year, too, 22-4 until a secret donor turned up $550,000 so that IU could be rid of him. Sampson apparently made phone calls to recruits even after the NCAA told him he couldn't. He won't be recruiting anywhere else very soon.

· · ·

The Cincinnati basketball hero of the moment is Josh Duncan, Xavier's senior sixth man who is averaging 17.5 points per game in the last two weeks. Since Xavier Coach Sean Miller began using Duncan off the bench for a Dec. 28 game against Delaware State, the Musketeers are 16-1, including their present 10-game winning streak.

It's unusual for a basketball team's leading scorer to begin every game on the bench, but Xavier is an unusual basketball team. No other Division I team has six players averaging double figures in the scoring column. Further, all six XU players have almost the exact same average, hitting 10-12 points per game.

While that kind of scoring balance goes some way toward characterizing this year's Xavier team, Duncan as the sixth man tells the story more deeply. Not only is he a senior, but he's a big man (6-feet-9) who can hit a long-range jumper.

That means Duncan creates match-up problems for opponents whenever he enters a game. It means that for any offensive problem the Muskies encounter in the first few minutes of a game, be it a lack of inside muscle or outside shooting, Duncan is the answer off the bench.

Miller first benched Duncan for obvious reasons. The senior produced almost nothing for most of December — just 28 points and 24 rebounds in 107 minutes (five games) from Dec. 1 through Dec. 22. Generally, through his career, Duncan has produced a point for every two minutes and a rebound for every five. But Duncan hit only 12 of 34 shots during that stretch.

So he began playing from the bench, and it made a difference. The Musketeers right away beat teams from the Big 12 (Kansas State), the ACC (Virginia) and the SEC (Auburn).

Now, during February and going down the stretch, you look at Duncan's minutes and it's always up to right around 25 per game, unless he has foul trouble. He finished a 57-51 win at Dayton Feb. 24 with 21 minutes because of four fouls. Duncan's contribution came closer to light last week after he finished a streak of 16 straight successful field goal attempts over three games.

Generally, basketball teams like their sixth man to be a good scorer so they don't lose scoring when they make their first substitutions. But Duncan isn't just a scorer. He's a scorer who can score from two feet or from 20 feet, so he doesn't have to take shots away from anyone who is producing.

The Musketeers aren't the deepest team playing basketball. But they have the sixth man set.

· · ·

You know it's spring time when Reds fans start calling the local radio station to complain about their two most accomplished players. Just think how much better the Reds would be without Junior Griffey and Adam Dunn.

After all, that $25 million could go to a couple pitchers, because there are so many great ones on the free agent market. If you don't have Dunn and Griffey, that's more playing time for Norris Hopper and Ryan Freel, and you know pitchers will love that because they'll catch more fly balls.

We hear you. But also remember that Hopper and Freel between them won't produce what Dunn or Griffey produce separately. It's true that Griffey no longer is a great defender and Dunn never was one. But do you really come out ahead?

And before we dream about free agent pitching, who's really out there next winter, after the Reds' contracts with Dunn and Griffey have expired (though the Reds have a 2009 option for Griffey)? It's not exactly a Hall of Fame roll call. Once San Diego signed Jake Peavy to an extension over the winter and the New York Mets traded for Johan Santana and signed him to an extension, the pickings grew suddenly slim.

You can sign Ben Sheets, who might never make it through a season whole. Or C.C. Sabathia, which actually isn't a bad idea. If the Los Angeles Dodgers don't exercise their $8.75 million for Brad Penny, he's available. And if the Dodgers don't exercise that option, their general manager should be available, too.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the Reds is watching those two left-handed sluggers go up, back-to-back, against a right hander who isn't quite sure he belongs in the major leagues. Evidently, complaining about those sluggers is another enjoyable aspect.

CONTACT BILL PETERSON: [email protected]

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.