Madness is in the Air

From: J.B. Sawyer
To: D.B. Riego
Date: Monday, March 11, 2013

Dear Sir,

In the spirit of March Madness I thought it might be fun to spur a little debate. I have a challenge for you if you are game?

You must select a player from your most hated school (I am of course using the term loosely) that fits each category.

Best Player
Most Hated Player
Player You Would Have Like On Your Team

The player must have played at the University (and possibly attended classes) from 1998 through 2013. You do not need any facts or statistics to back up your case, just a pure unadulterated hatred of the institution, which I know for you will not be a problem. I will kick off the fun…

Best Player – I am not sure this is even a discussion at State. If it is, it begins and ends with one Julius Hodge. Hodge led some of the best Pack teams of the last 20 years and was a quote machine, once telling teammate Cam Bennerman, “When you’re hungry, you eat; when you’re a frog, you leap; if you’re scared, get a dog.” He famously commented on the possible shower scene at the Roy Williams’ prison camp. He was also one hell of a player. He led the Pack to an ACC tournament final in 2002 and 2003 and the Sweet 16 in 2005. He was the 2004 ACC Player of the year and was robbed of the 2002 ACC Rookie of the Year by this guy. Hodge led a team that beat UNC and Duke in the same week, which doesn’t happen often at State, and for that he is the Best of the Best at State.

Also Considered: Illian Evtimov, Marcus Melvin, Scooter Sherrel, Engin Atsur, Javi Gonzalez, Ryan Harrow, Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell – I am just kidding about all of these …

From: D.B. Riego
To: J.B. Sawyer
Date: Monday, March 11, 2013

Best Player – The interesting thing about this question is that it seems heavily skewed in your favor at first glance. And, certainly, relative to the players that have walked through the doors of the ESRBCPNC Arena, there is a strong bias toward UNC. BUT … but … I just took a walk down memory lane and looked over the rosters from the last fifteen years and … let’s just say the last question (Player I would have wanted on my team) is going to be very hard for me to answer, and only partly because it’s hard for me to give any player that donned baby blue a clean slate. Seriously … there haven’t really been as many players as you’d think that would be worth getting past their terrible taste in blue – especially given the question doesn’t give me any wiggle room on coaching (i.e. am I only getting the one player and his heralded skill set but he still has to play in Herb’s offense, or with Sid’s band of Got ‘Em, Now What misfits?). Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough about Question #3, time to get down to brass tacks and answer the first question.

There are really three players that answer these three questions – one player answers exactly one of the questions, the other two could probably be used interchangeably for all three for various reasons. The best player in the last fifteen years to don the baby blue is, without a doubt, Tyler Hansbrough. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if a player can jump out of the gym, shoot lights out, and run like Darrell Green down the floor – or even if he can’t do any of these things! Basketball IQ is a powerful thing and when you match that with Tyler’s hustle – when his contact lenses were in – there was no one better. The guy dominated the intangibles column throughout his career, scored enough to carry you guys when he needed to, and by golly that kid could hit some free throws. It’s one thing to find yourself saying “ah he was in the right place at the right time” a couple of times a game or maybe even if a guy has a whole game like that, you just chalk it up as the basketball Gods shining their light on the guy for the game. But Tyler was in the right place at the right time on seemingly every single freakin’ play. The guy was incredible and you know that he worked hard to put himself there so with Tyler you had that perfect combination of a player with natural ability, incredible work ethic off the court, tenacious but controlled aggression on the court and, when he wasn’t going all Psycho T on somebody, he looked like he was having fun, too. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a clip of Roy somewhere singing Best I Ever Had to Tyler after that 2009 national title game.

Also Considered (But not necessarily in this order): PJ Hairston, One of the Falcons1, Ty Lawson, Sean May, Raymond Felton, Kris “Mouth” Lang, Jason Capel, Ed Cota, Brendan Haywood. How many of these do you think I’m serious about?

From: J.B. Sawyer
To: D.B. Riego
Date: Monday, March 12, 2013


I appreciate your candid response and I know how very hard it was to write that about the legend that is Tyler Hansbrough. As you state, our list of players during that era is probably not as great as we Tar Heels like to think, and Handbrough is really the only transcendent player of the last 20 years at UNC. His jersey hangs out front at the Dean Dome and I own two of his jerseys that my son and I occasionally don for big games.

While picking State’s best player was easy, this is much harder. It is so hard in fact that I am going to cheat. While a couple State players come to mind, Evtimov, Damon Thornton, CJ Leslie, TJ Warren and Rodney Purvis I don’t really hate them (there is no way not to piss you off with this comment) because they never consistently beat UNC. I think Purvis and Warren could get there, but they just aren’t there yet. So, I am going outside the boundary of our game and select your current AD, Debbie Yow.

Debbie Yow is by all accounts an accomplished woman, and if I had a daughter she would be a remarkable role model. Yow began her career as a women’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky and then entered athletics administration at Saint Louis. She guided the Maryland athletic department from 1994 to 2010 and oversaw the golden years of Maryland Athletics (its sounds funny saying that). However, you will not find a Maryland fan alive that likes her based on their belief that she bankrupted their athletic program (this may actually be an endorsement as they are the worst fans in the ACC and will soon be the worst in the B1G). She left in 2010 to take the job at NC State and has since hired 8 new coaches and implemented this as an official web page. My disdain for her stems from the constant pandering to an already irrational fan base with letters to the ACC and phony awards. Talk of refusing the status quo and Alabama recruits is annoying for a program that probably has some steps in between and for that she gets my vote for Most Hated Player/Person affiliated with the basketball program.

Your move sir…

From: D.B. Riego
To: J.B. Sawyer
Date: Monday, March 13, 2013

I’m not even sure how to respond to whatever that non-sense is that you just sent me so I’ll take this opportunity to comment on your Hodge pick for Best Player. Undoubtedly, Jules is the pick for us and while guys like Hickson and Powell might have technically had better NBA careers, Hodge gave the most – not only in production but also in heart. I love that he’s still so devoted to our program and is such a hardcore fan. I also love that he has such a great relationship (on Twitter, at least) with some of the guys from Chapel Hill that he played against. Just a great personality for us, something that doesn’t really come along too often.

Speaking of great personalities, I have to admit that this question of Most Hated player isn’t exactly as easy for me to answer as it might seem. Honestly, my disdain for the Tarheels has always had more to do with the fans, many of which fly too closely in my circle of influence for comfort, present company (more often than he realizes) INCLUDED. Just kidding, you’re pretty reasonable. Anyway, all of that said, there is one guy that always comes to mind and he’s a guy I never could quite get even an inkling of compassion for and that guy is Rashad McCants. What is that guy’s deal? Besides the obvious (prison? really?), I’m not even sure I have anything rational to base this on, the guy just rubs me the wrong way. He could shoot, I guess he could score, which certainly doesn’t help when all you want to do is watch the guy build a house of bricks when he’s playing your team (or any other for that matter), but I’m not sure the scoring is even what gets to me. He just seemed like he felt entitled, like the world owed him something – and not knowing much about his background, maybe it did/does – but sheesh. Like I said, no real evidence for my argument, but at least I didn’t call out your water boy or something ridiculous like you.

Dishonorable mentions: Joseph Forte, Kris Lang

Now, who’s the guy you wish you could have had on your team – let me guess … TJ?

From: J.B. Sawyer
To: D.B. Riego
Date: Monday, March 19, 2013

I apologize for the delay in responding, but I spent the weekend thinking about the Player I Would Must Like on my Team, and I as you can imagine, its not easy. We didn’t really discuss the matter of timing or fit, for instance would you pick a player you liked, but who would not have started for your team. Do you pick a player that you didn’t like, but who fit well into your team? These are all important questions.

I am first going to talk about the contenders and then make my selection which will almost assuredly piss you off. As you guessed correctly, I have had a long running (well, like 6 months) love affair with one TJ Warren. He is the classic “one that got away,” at least that is what UNC fans will have you believe, the point is he wanted to go to State, told Roy and Roy took Brice Johnson. Having seen both play this year (I think Brice has promise, but he is currently a black hole) , any fan that says Roy picked Brice over TJ is an idiot. TJ is perfect for Roy’s offense, he is tall, can run, rebound, and he is a natural born SCORER first and foremost. This guy will be the focal point of the State offense next year (if he doesn’t go pro) and he will average 20-10. This guy will is a beast.

The next candidate was Scott Wood who lit up Greensboro this weekend. UNC rarely has a shooter of Wood’s quality and he would have helped stretch the defense to open the paint for Zeller, Henson, and McAdoo. The only issue of course…he doesn’t play much, if any defense, and as any good UNC fan knows that is a recipe for a lot of time next to Roy.

Finally, I chose Lorenzo Brown. He was built to run Roy’s offense with his quickness, strength, and vision. Also, and most importantly, he could have filled in for Kendall last year after he was assaulted in the Round of 32. This would have of course meant Banner #6 as we stuck it to Kensucky!

I look forward to revisiting this in the Fall for football.

Go Heels!

From: D.B. Riego
To: J.B. Sawyer
Date: Monday, March 21, 2013

I should have known that this was all one elaborate trap you set so you could troll me with your Zo pick and Banner #6 proclamation. Remind me not to participate in the fall when we do this for football.

In all seriousness, the point you raised about context is dead on – I was going to say the same thing but my sticking points were coaching, the relative culture of success of the program, and the level of reverence a particular player attains on campus. First, let’s tackle coaching. Let’s say I make things boring and take Tyler as both my “Best Player” and “Player I Would Most LIke On My Team” (not an unreasonable choice or approach, and I almost did but let’s be honest – it’s a cop out). Do I get Psycho T running around the perimeter making swing passes for one to two years in Herb’s offense (or is he part of the Triple Towers Triumvirate with Brackman and Costner)? Better yet, is Psycho T the focal point of whatever we’re calling the Sidney Lowe tax-free, dearth of a point guard offensive era? Of the three coaches in the era we’re focusing on, Herb has arguably the best resume and yet Tyler would have been useless in Herb’s offense. And heaven only knows what Gott would do with him. I shudder even thinking about it. But he (Hansbrough) would certainly feel good about himself, that’s for sure.

The other two contextual considerations I mentioned kind of go hand in hand. Individually, we may have had some players over the years that could have played for you but where would they fall in the list of all-time players coming out of Chapel Hill? In some ways, doesn’t that actually change the mentality of the player by humbling them a bit as they take their first step on to the Dean Dome floor (hopefully this happens in enough time to keep them from going all “moneyball” on you)? For example, let’s say Kendall Marshall decides to follow in Javy Gonzalez’s footsteps in leading the Pack Attack. To put it mildly, N.C. State doesn’t have a long history of highly touted point guards (as a side note, isn’t this one of the truly puzzling aspects of the Sid Lowe era? That he, a former point guard himself, wasn’t able to coach up a great point guard?). So Kendall comes in and immediately averages a few dimes a game, maybe gives us some right time and place scoring bursts and starts a pace to do to Fire’s assist records what Scott Wood did to Ice’s trifecta record. He’s an instant celebrity on our campus. But on yours, where he’s following not just a long line of great Carolina point guards, but so many All-Americans in general, he’s just the next in a long line of loved and adored Tarheels. But relative to all of those former greats is he truly revered? (In this parallel universe, “The Wrist” never happens and thus the admittedly clever “Pass Fir5t” social media explosion is DOA). Just look at the pedestal we put CJ, Zo & company on at the beginning of this season (err, make that the end of the last season) and all they did was make it to the Sweet 16! The culture of winning is non-existent at N.C. State (face it, Pack fans, it’s true!) and I think that has an effect on the players that play there, regardless of how much natural talent they possess.

But. There is one. There is one who’s talent, position, and natural athleticism could have transcended all of this (ironically a point guard – it HAS to be a point guard given our particular set of contextual challenges) and that ONE player I would most liked to have had play for the Pack is Ty Lawson. I remember watching him go coast to coast several times and just thinking that speed like that with a basketball was obscene. More than that – his quickness paired with his body control is other-worldly. I remember we talked about the differences between Kendall and Ty one time and I think you said it best – Kendall moves the ball quickly up court with perfect passes, Ty did it with his feet and handles. I think that’s the one guy whose talent and natural athletic gifts would have been enough for Herb to just roll the ball out onto the court and said, “Screw the Princeton offense, just go play, boys” and that Sid couldn’t ruin with his NBA “what can I do, I’m just the coach?” mentality. And oh my, what a Gottfried team could accomplish with a guy that has talent AND is interested in running a team? Unreal. So as much as I hated the fact that he donned the Tarheel baby blue, there’s no doubt I would have loved to have had Ty running with the Pack. (Not to mention it has the unintended, yet much appreciated benefit of erasing a National Championship for the Heels! How’s that for trolling!?!)

Honorable Mentions: Tyler Hansbrough, Kendall Marshall, Jason Capel.

I can’t wait for football when I get to pick Brandon Spoon for all three categories! SPOOOOOON!

Go pack!

  1. During the Harrison Barnes years, D.B. thought it was funny to come up with “falcon” nicknames for the other players on the squad. Kendall was the Maltese Falcon, Zeller was the White Falcon, Leslie McDonald was the Flat-top Falcon, and John Henson was the Muppet Falcon.