Courtesy NC State Athletics Communications

NCAA forgot about a legend with its 75th anniversary team

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ATLANTA — So the NCAA quietly released their “All-Time March Madness Players” on Friday. I don’t think they meant to release it quietly, but that’s the NCAA for you. When it comes to embarrassing a player for collecting an unwarranted fries and Coke, they can make a whole lot of noise. When it comes to announcing something cool like an all-time NCAA Tournament team, they can’t get anyone to pay attention.

In any case, I’m going to list the 15 players below in alphabetical order. I believe there’s an obvious omission. See if you can spot the player I’m thinking about:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor at UCLA)

Larry Bird, Indiana State

Bill Bradley, Princeton

Patrick Ewing, Georgetown

Grant Hill, Duke

Magic Johnson, Michigan State

Michael Jordan, North Carolina

Christian Laettner, Duke

Jerry Lucas, Ohio State

Danny Manning, Kansas

Hakeem Olajuwon, Houston

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati

Bill Russell, San Francisco

Bill Walton, UCLA

Jerry West, West Virginia

Now, remember, this is only supposed to be for players during the NCAA Tournament. Do you see the missing player? Heck you probably see a bunch of missing players … but there’s one I think rises above.

Before I get into that, let’s talk for a moment about Michael Jordan. I believe that he’s the greatest basketball player in the history of the game — I see good arguments for Wilt and Magic and Abdul-Jabbar and Russell and I think LeBron James, if he maintains this level for a while longer, will have a powerful argument too. I still think Jordan’s the best.

With that said … what in the heck is he doing on THIS list? Yes, Jordan at North Carolina made the jump shot that ended up as the difference against Georgetown in the 1982 championship game (though you will remember that Georgetown had the ball with a chance to win and Fred Brown threw the pass away). But Jordan was a freshman then and was probably the third best player on that team behind James Worthy and Sam Perkins. He averaged 13 points a game during that tournament. Not exactly legendary stuff.

The next year, North Carolina was shocked by Georgia in the regional final — Jordan did score 26 in the loss on 11-of-23 shooting, but he also fouled out of the game.

The next year, North Carolina was REALLY shocked by Indiana in the regional semifinal — that was the game when Dan Dakich famously got in Jordan’s grill, spooked him somehow, and Jordan scored just 13 on six-of-14 shooting.

I”m sorry, am I missing it? How in the heck does this get Michael Jordan on the all-time tournament team?

It gets him on the team because he’s Michael Jordan … and people get lazy about their history. Jordan was a superb college basketball player — he won the Wooden Award his junior year. But he wasn’t a legendary one. Remember, he WAS the third pick in that NBA Draft. The legendary stuff came later, as a pro in Chicago. When the ACC named Jordan the best conference’s best player over the last 50 years, real ACC aficionados shook their head in dismay. It was a ridiculous choice. And now, when the NCAA makes a list of the best tournament players and includes Jordan, well, it’s the same thing all over again.

The worst part is, the player who is forgotten is the player Michael Jordan himself idolized.

* * *

When it comes to being remembered and celebrated, David Thompson pretty much had everything stacked against him. He was in the last class of players to be ineligible as freshmen — so he lost a year when he might have already been the best player in the country. He also lost one postseason when his N.C. State team was declared ineligible  … this because of some remarkably petty rules violations involving the Thompson recruitment.*

*Thompson was so heavily recruited, he actually put TWO schools on probation — N.C. State and Duke. There were always rumors that he received a boatload of money and cars and everything else — maybe he did. But the ACTUAL violations at N.C. State were so minor, you almost can’t believe they stuck — the violations included housing during a basketball camp (Thompson, apparently, slept on the floor) and playing in pickup games with an assistant coach. The ACTUAL Duke violation was a sport coat given to him for graduation.

Perhaps more than anything, Thompson played his three college years when the NCAA made the dunk illegal. There is no telling how many classic David Thompson dunks were lost to time. Thompson had a 44-inch vertical jump. They would say about him that he could grab a quarter off the top of the backboard and replace it with two dimes and a nickel. He was probably the greatest dunker on earth — in the ABA he was one half of a legendary dunk contest against Julius Erving. Dr. J eventually won with his now-famous jump-from-the-foul-line dunk, but many people who watched them both all night would say that Thompson’s dunks were superior and had he not missed one of them, he would have won the contest.

In any case, he had only one dunk in college. We’ll get back to that one.

Thompson was more than a dunker, though. He was an unstoppable scoring machine. He was a defensive force of nature. His sophomore year, his N.C. State team went 27-0, and Thompson averaged 25 points, eight rebounds and he made 57% of his shots. They might have been the best team in America. They did not get to go to the NCAA Tournament to prove it — and UCLA won its seventh consecutive national championship.

The next year, N.C. State played UCLA in the regular season — and got destroyed by 18. Thompson was overwhelmed by the moment. But this time, they were allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament. And Thompson had a tournament for the ages.

In the regional semifinal against Bad News Marvin Barnes and Providence, Thompson scored 40 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, played all 40 minutes and led N.C. State to a 92-78 victory.

Two days later, the Wolfpack played Pittsburgh. When Louisville’s Kevin Ware had that horrible injury against Duke over the weekend, many people remembered the terrible Joe Theisman injury because they were both so horrible to watch. But a much more apt comparison was David Thompson against Pittsburgh. He had taken a shot and felt like he was fouled. When there was no call, he grew angry and chased down a Pittsburgh player to block his shot.

He took off — he would often say he never jumped higher. Thompson’s leg connected with the shoulder of a teammate Phil Spence, and he crashed to the floor. There was blood everywhere. He was knocked unconscious. As the Kansas City Star’s Blair Kerkhoff — who was there as a young N.C. State fan that day — would say: “Everybody thought he was dead.” He was taken off the court on a stretcher. He needed 15 stitches.

One week later, in the national semifinal game, David Thompson was back to play against UCLA. He scored 28 points. He grabbed 10 rebounds. But perhaps what people remember more than anything was that that twice — TWICE — he blocked Bill Walton’s shots. And N.C. State beat UCLA in double overtime — the first time UCLA had lost a tournament game in eight years.

Thompson completed the miracle by scoring 21 in the final as N.C. State beat Marquette for the national title.

It is beyond my understanding how that remarkable series of games could not land David Thompson on the All-Time Tournament team. He dominated the game. He came back from an impossibly gruesome injury. He ended a dynasty. He won a championship. Nobody in the history of the NCAA Tournament has ever done anything like it.

But … David Thompson wrecked his life after he left N.C. State. He averaged 30 points a game his senior year and won the Naismith Award. In his last game, he found himself open on a breakaway and he threw down a ferocious dunk. It meant a technical foul, but Thompson didn’t care. It was the right way to end the career. He didn’t know then that, in many ways, he really was ending a career.

Thompson was the first pick in the NBA Draft and the ABA Draft. And, he really was a dominant pro basketball player his first four seasons — he averaged 25.8 points a game, wowed many with his fabulous dunks and amazing blocked shots, and might have been the best player in the league in the 1977-1978 season. He signed a massive contract (well, massive for the time). But he had a serious drug problem that was getting worse every year. He could not handle his fame. He rather famously fell down the steps one night at Studio 54, badly hurting his knee. He tried to come back. He was not able to make it back. His life descended even further into a drug-addled hell.

In time, David Thompson found some balance in his life. He found faith. He reached out to help kids so that they would not make the same mistakes he made. I went to a couple of his sessions with kids. He would start by saying:

“How many of you have heard of me?”

Only a handful of kids would raise their hands, and those — I thought — out of kindness.

“OK. Now, how many of you have heard of Michael Jordan.”

Every hand in the place would shoot up.

“Well,” he would say (with a little sadness in his voice, I thought) “I was Michael Jordan’s hero.”

In so many ways, David Thompson’s basketball career was a story of what might have been. But, that doesn’t nullify what he did. He has a real argument as the greatest college basketball player ever. And, if they are going to make lists like these, they shouldn’t put the best names. They should put the right players. David Thompson should remembered.

Look at the list again: Jerry West was once a Final Four MVP even though his team lost. Oscar Robertson was an amazing player who put up amazing numbers but could never quite lead his team into the national championship game. Michael Jordan hit an NCAA Tournament game-winning shot. Larry Bird played in one NCAA Tournament and was amazing, but in the championship game he shot 7 for 21 and his team lost. These players and other are on the NCAA list not because of their NCAA tournament heroics but because, years later, in the NBA, they became legends.

David Thompson squandered his years later. But by then he was already a legend. And it shouldn’t be forgotten.

No. 4 Maryland refocuses, slows down No. 18 Purdue

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon watches from the sideline during a break in play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Purdue, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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No. 18 Purdue and No. 4 Maryland exchanged leads for most of the first 33 minutes before the Boilermakers scored five straight points on layups by Rapheal Davis (who was fouled on his make) and Caleb Swanigan. Purdue was getting the touches it wanted around the basket, and Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins weren’t doing a whole lot to keep it from happening either.

Turgeon called a timeout to get his team back in sync defensively, and as a result Maryland went on a 9-0 run that ultimately led to their winning by the final score of 72-61.

Maryland’s big men, Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone, did a much better job down the stretch of keeping Purdue from getting the ball inside to senior center A.J. Hammons. Hammons finished the game with 18 points and ten rebounds, but only two of those points came after Maryland’s 9-0 second half run. But keeping the ball from getting inside is just as much about the players defending the passers as it is keeping the big(s) from getting to his preferred spot.

Defensively Maryland took away the passing angles and essentially made Purdue’s guards make plays, something they’ve struggled with at times this season. That led to far too many perimeter shots for Purdue, which shot 3-for-23 on the day from beyond the arc. Add in the fact that they attempted just five free throws as a team, making two, and areas in which the Boilermakers can benefit went neglected in College Park.

By comparison Maryland was able to make a habit of going to the foul line, shooting 24-for-27 from the charity stripe with Rasheed Sulaimon and Melo Trimble combining to go 17-for-19 on the day. The foul line helped Trimble make up for an off day from the field, as he shot 2-for-12, but the sophomore’s ability to work off of ball screens ultimately opened things up for Maryland even with his shots not falling.

Add in the fact that Sulaimon (21 points, ten rebounds) and Carter (19 points, seven rebounds) were able to pick up the slack, with Diamond Stone adding 12 points and six rebounds, and it’s easy to see why Maryland was able to turn things around down the stretch.

Maryland’s been a good defensive team this season, but they got away from that for a significant portion of Saturday’s game. A key timeout to get the team refocused paid off, the the Terrapins defending at a level that made it incredibly difficult for Purdue to get anything going. And as a result, Maryland remains within a game of leaders Iowa and Indiana in the Big Ten title race.

Darryl Reynolds shines, Kris Dunn struggles as No. 3 Villanova beat No. 11 Providence

Villanova forward Darryl Reynolds (45) dunks the ball in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Villanova, Pa. Villanova won 83-58. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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Replacing the injured Daniel Ochefu, who missed his third straight game as the result of a concussion, Darryl Reynolds finished with a career-high 19 points and 10 boards as No. 3 Villanova went into Providence and knocked off the No. 11 Friars, 72-60.

Josh Hart chipped in with 14 points and 13 boards (seven of which were offensive), Kris Jenkins notched a double-double as well and Ryan Arcidiacono added 16 points for the Wildcats, who improved to 10-1 in Big East play, keeping them all alone in first place in the league.

Perhaps the most impressive part of this win, which wasn’t quite as close as the final score would indicate, is that Villanova did it while shooting just 5-for-22 from three. The Wildcats have been reliant on the three during this recent run atop the conference, and on Saturday, they won by controlling the the glass and the paint.

Reynolds’ performance was something else. This is a guy who entered the game averaging just 2.3 points and a reputation for being little more than the reason that Ochefu played so many minutes, but it got to the point on Saturday that he was being double-teamed in the post to get the ball out of his hands. That’s pretty remarkable.

As if the fact that Villanova, playing without their best rebounder, grabbed 12 offensive rebounds and totally controlled the defensive glass.

 

Much of that is likely due to the fact that Ben Bentil, the 6-foot-8 forward for the Friars that is the Big East’s leading scorer, was dealing with an ankle injury he suffered at DePaul earlier this week. He finished 20 points, but much of that came in the form of jumpers and shots at the rim while his two rebounds was much more indicative of the impact that he was able to make with his ankle.

But what was really concerning for Providence was that Kris Dunn was downright awful. He shot 4-for-15 from the floor, committed six turnovers and simply made the wrong decision too many times. Yes, he was likely pressing due to the fact that Bentil was injured and Villanova’s defense was keying on him, but it’s not exactly comforting to know that this is what his floor is.

He’s Kris Dunn.

He’s going to be keyed on by defenses every single time he steps on a basketball court.

He has to be better than he was today.