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 TheFly35.com. 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.

Photo courtesy TheFly35.com

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.