Book Report: Fly 35

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If you want a no-holds-barred, warts and all look at college basketball stardom in the early 1970s, Fly 35 is the book for you. Dave Link, a beat reporter who spent part of his career covering Austin Peay State University basketball, logged quality time with the legendary James “Fly” Williams and got the straight story of a promising basketball career gone seriously awry.

A Brooklyn native, Fly wrote his ticket out of the ghetto with a quick, athletic hoops game. First he went to a small prep school in upstate New York, where he was discovered by then-Austin Peay assistant Leonard Hamilton. Hamilton gained Fly’s services by sheer bloody-minded persistence, waiting his target out through a missed meeting and a long night of carousing. He’s one of several people in Fly’s life who tried, and failed, to curb the charismatic kid’s self-destructive instincts.

Link has the guts to allow his main character to be an anti-hero. Fly is downright unlikable quite often in the book, and we know it’s realistic, because Link went straight to the source for his background information. Fly laid his life bare for Link, fessing up to theft, drug use, infidelity and me-first blowups on and off the court. Link doesn’t spare our tender ears the real locker-room talk, either, which gives the book the real ring of authenticity that so many sanitized biographies miss out on.

There are several reasons a crazy hoop-head should read this book. It’s a true inside look into the days of giant afros, shaggy sideburns and abbreviated gym shorts, and it’s loaded with cameos from sports legends like Marvin Barnes, Adrian Dantley, Digger Phelps and even Bob Costas. There are also relatively obscure people from Fly’s life who really resonate, like Peay coach Lake Kelly, late-night crony Smuffy Ray, and rock-solid friend and teammate Howard Jackson. As much as we bat about notions like amateur purity, program discipline and early entry into the pros, nothing makes it so immediate as reading the true story of someone who lived the life, fell off the wagon several times, and nearly died in the process. No spoilers here, but I will say that Fly’s life story is like a roller coaster, and you don’t know until the last chapter whether he’s going to make it into the final stretch safely, or fly off the track at its highest point.

From what I can tell, Link self-published this book, which is loaded with vintage photos of Fly’s glory days. I bought my copy off of the website If you’re looking to increase your knowledge of hoops history before the season starts, and you want the straight story, check this book out for yourself.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

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VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.