Blogger Spotlight: Talking NY hoops with Big Apple Buckets


Chicago-area college basketball hoops fans got some bad news this spring.

John Templon, the guy behind Chicago College Basketball, moved back to New York. But it was bad news for just a minute. Chris Burrows replaced him in Chicago – and John began a new blog, focusing on the 11 NY-area teams.

And, as anyone who’s read John’s work at ChicagoNow or at Rush the Court, it’s great stuff. So who better to feature in the latest Blogger Spotlight?

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Q: You recently moved from Chicago to New York, which probably feels like a completely different world in terms of college hoops. How’s it feel to be back to your roots and the NYC metro area? And have you gotten plugged into that college hoops scene yet?

A: I’m sort of doing the transition between Chicago and New York right now. It’s great to be heading back home. The tri-state area has always been where I feel most comfortable and I’m excited to be moving back. The two hoops scenes are radically different. One thing I’ve noticed is that both have a strong focus on high school prospects. There’s a lot of basketball talent in both cities that’s getting away. During my three seasons in Chicago I didn’t see a single NCAA Tournament team, I’m hoping that changes in NYC.

The breadth of the New York scene is incredible. That’s why I’ve decided to limit myself to 11 college basketball teams around the city that fall into the “mid-major” category. Maybe it’s because I grew up with season tickets to Princeton in the 1990’s, but I think that level of basketball has some great untold stories.

Q: The move also meant switching from Chicago Now to a new blog, Big Apple Buckets. How’s the response been thus far?

A: The response has been great considering the fact that I started right as college basketball season was ending. Blog traffic for a college basketball blog typically peaks right around Selection Sunday. Well, a month after that I decided to open up shop. Considering the circumstances it has been an excellent experience thus far. My most popular posts were my look at Sydney Johnson’s move from Princeton to Fairfield and a look at all of prep school Northfield Mount Hermon’s Ivy League connections.

Overall though, things seem to be going as planned. Traffic is growing steadily. (Now if I could get my new Twitter account to do the same.) Starting when I did has given me a chance to sort of get back in touch and learn about the leagues I might not know as much about. While I’ve followed the Ivy League since the age of six, some of the others like the CAA and America East are pretty new to me. Now I have the chance to really dig into the numbers and stories of those conferences without the pressure of writing a ton every day.

Q: Any big projects in the works for summer? I always find I have to start mine before June otherwise the summer just slips away and all this stuff I envisioned just kinda never happens…

A: I really want to look at player development at the mid-major level this summer. Collecting the data for the study is going to be the toughest part and I just need to get started. But the plan is to look at how players go through their careers at schools in the conferences that are typically the top ones right outside the seven major conferences in terms of conference strength (C-USA, MVC, WCC, CAA and Horizon League).

I’ve always found myself wondering if there’s the potential for a player like Hofstra’s Mike Moore to really burst out following the graduation of a star player like Charles Jenkins and I’m hoping this database will help me answer those questions in the future.

Q: So you’re more than doubling your Chicago workload with number of teams? You’re going to be busy watching teams that should have more success. How do you ensure a team like St. John’s doesn’t overshadow everything in terms of coverage? That’d be the easy temptation given all the talent Steve Lavin’s bringing in.

A: Doubling the teams is going to be quite the challenge. I attended 49 games live last season and wrote about dozens more while over at ChicagoNow. I really think that going to live games helps you get a feel for the fans and the atmosphere around the team. With twice as many teams to cover I’m not exactly sure what my plan is going to be, I’ll start scheduling in September with the games I definitely want to hit and the fact that the Ivy League and MAAC regularly play on Friday nights is definitely going to help. I’m hoping to get up to around 60 (or more) games next season if I can.

The St. John’s question is one that I’ve managed to sidestep in the creation of the new site. I’m planning on focusing 99 percent of my coverage on the mids. Occasionally, due to their unique situation as the big boy in the city, I’m sure I’ll touch on St. John’s (the recent Momo Jones situation being a good example), but I doubt I’ll be writing too much about the Red Storm no matter how successful Lavin’s brand new bunch is this season. I’m going to leave that to people like Pico over at Rumble in the Garden.

As for the success. Please let that be the case. Iona, St. Peter’s and Long Island all look like they have the chance to be good next season and Columbia has the potential to surprise some people as well. With so many teams I’ve got to have a few winners.

Q: The mid-major player development question should be really interesting. Every team should have a few candidates for that. Does that mean it’d be easier to target any teams headed for big seasons as well? Or would that require too much broad analysis related to those team’s schedules and conference opponents?

A: I think most of my analysis is going to be on the offensive side of the ball (usage rate, offensive rating, the four factors), so I don’t know how much I’ll be able to determine about team success. That said, once I get the data store I envision that I’ll be able to do some work with similarity scores for teams. Here’s Ken Pomeroy talking about it for players in 2007 and here’s a great piece by John Ezekowitz from last season about teams. Both those posts illuminate some things via similarity scores and I’m hoping that this project can do more of the same.

Obviously there’s a lot of value from getting a standardized data store that you can draw inferences out of and I guess that’s where I really want to start. It’s going to be a good combination of my programming, analytics and journalism background.

Q: How do you approach your blog coverage? Do you let news dictate your analysis? Do you lean toward some teams over others? I mean, let’s face it, some schools and coaches are just more interesting, even past the wins and losses.

A: I base my coverage on a few different things. First, if news breaks about a school that I’m following I try to jump on that if there’s something new that I can add to the conversation. Wins and losses do end up dictating a lot about what teams you cover, but location, especially for someone like me that likes to cover games live, plays a big part too. I went to a lot of Loyola (Ill.) games last season because the Ramblers had a veteran team – that failed to live up to its potential and ended up costing Jim Whitesell his job – and were less than a mile away from my apartment in Rogers Park. On the flip side, I only saw two Chicago State games live last season for two reasons: It was hard to get down to 95th and no matter how interesting the game is it’s hard to get your average reader excited for a Great West battle.

That said, I’m glad I went to those games because schools like Chicago State almost never pop up in the media and there are some interesting stories there. For instance, Tracy Dildy is bringing in six junior college players in his 2011 recruiting class (two are in Juco Junction’s Top 100). In an ideal world I’m a fan of the plucky underdog and that’s what the Great West represents to me in the college basketball world. Moving to New York I plan on dipping down to check out NJIT because I think the Highlanders are a team that’s on the rise under Jim Engles.

Since I’ll probably have to prioritize even more this upcoming season I’m not quite sure what my strategy is going to be next season. I’ll try to get to each of the 11 schools live at least once earlier in the season and then I’ll start adding games based on win/loss records, special events, opponents and ease of schedule. Otherwise I’ll see what’s getting traction in terms of readers and go from there.

That dilemma though is one thing I like about covering a metro area instead of just one team. There’s so much out there and you just have to pick and choose the good ones to really blow out. That’s also why readers at Big Apple Buckets are going to see quite a few link posts, because I’m finding no that there’s often a link that I think is worth sharing with my readership that just doesn’t need me to add another 300 words. (SBNation does this the right way with their Fan Shots.) It’s another great thing about blogging.

Q: Picking and choosing is always tough, even during the offseason. I often find myself wanting to blog more, but I can never decide if it’s because I want to or because I think I should. Sometimes, less is actually more, right?

A: I have the same problem, especially when there’s an idea that could be expanded to all of the conferences I’m covering. It’s hard to find that finish line. When I was writing at ChicagoNow my posts tended to be pretty lengthy (500+ words), I’m trying to go with a slightly shorter, but just as informative style over at Big Apple Buckets. The advantage of starting over I guess.

I’d also say this: I think one of the best things a journalist or blogger can do these days is provide synthesis of all the information that’s available on the web right now. People seem to appreciate you digging out important bits and presenting it in digestible pieces. My small tournament bids posts have always been a fan favorite and I think it’s because it’s a place where fans can figure out all the bids for the NIT/CBI/CIT as soon as you can find them on the web. I’m always trying to think of more things like that I can do.

Q: Favorite player you saw last year?

A: I was really glad that I got the opportunity to see Kemba Walker play against DePaul last season. Yes, it was DePaul, but it was just hilarious the mismatches that he was able to create with his speed on the dribble and shooting ability. What’s crazier is that 31 points on 10-17 shooting wasn’t even that impressive of a game for Walker last season.

In terms of Chicago players my favorites were Geoff McCammon (Loyola) and Cleveland Melvin (DePaul). With McCammon it was his scoring ability. If he was hot that night you always felt like he could drop 40 on someone. Melvin is a long, athletic forward that really represents the future at DePaul. He’s going to be an All-Big East type player for Oliver Purnell as he gets more confident around the basket and gets to play more in that system. Melvin has incredible quickness. He grabbed a number of his own misses just because he moved faster than anyone else on the court.

Q: Best coach/team you covered while in Chicago, both in terms of appeal and in hoops ability?

A: I don’t think your average college hoops fan realizes this, but Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody is actually pretty hilarious during press conferences. He’s not afraid to tell you what he’s thinking. Last season’s Northwestern team was probably the best team I covered while in Chicago, but I want to mention the 2008-09 Chicago State team. With 5’8 point guard David Holston leading the way that Cougars team played one of the most enjoyable brands of basketball I’ve ever watched. A 19-13 record was quite the accomplishment for an independent and I still remember the joy at the Jones Convocation Center the night of their final home game against Houston Baptist and the hope for a smaller tournament bid that unfortunately never came.

Q: How’d you get into blogging and how much longer do you foresee yourself doing it?

A: As the sports editor for a small college weekly during my undergrad days I finished college and missed writing every day, so I started a personal blog. Going to Medill for graduate school I wanted to find a topic I was passionate about and continue that in a more meaningful manner. That became Chicago College Basketball. I really enjoy blogging and I plan on doing it for a long time. It feels good to see someone link to something I wrote or for my site to hit a daily high in page views. I think blogging about college basketball fulfills a part of me that wants to write but on my own schedule and about the topics that I want to explore. Being your own editor is a great feeling.

You can read more of John’s writing at and follow him on Twitter @nybuckets.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

UCLA guard Jaylen Clark declares for NBA draft

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES – UCLA guard Jaylen Clark has declared for the NBA draft, weeks after a leg injury forced him out of the season’s final six games.

The junior from Riverside, California, announced his plans on his Instagram account Wednesday.

“Thank you to UCLA and coach (Mick) Cronin for believing in me,” Clark’s post read. “I’d like to announce that I am declaring for the 2023 draft.”

Clark didn’t indicate whether he would hire an agent ahead of the June 22 draft or retain his remaining eligibility. He has until May 31 to withdraw and be able to return to Westwood.

He suffered a lower right leg injury in the regular-season finale against Arizona on March 4. Clark averaged 13 points and six rebounds while starting 29 of 30 games. He led the Pac-12 in total steals with 78, tying for third all-time in single-season steals for the Bruins.

He was a second team All-Pac-12 selection, was named the league’s defensive player of the year and made its five-man All-Defensive Team.

AP college basketball: and and

Penn State hires VCU’s Rhoades as men’s basketball coach

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State hired VCU’s Mike Rhoades on Wednesday as its men’s basketball coach, bringing in the Pennsylvania native to take over a program coming off its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a decade.

The Penn State board of trustees approved a seven-year deal worth $25.9 million for Rhoades, who is from Mahanoy City in eastern Pennsylvania.

Just a few hours after Rhoades was named at Penn State, VCU hired Utah State coach Ryan Odom to replace Rhoades.

Rhoades replaces Micah Shrewsberry, who was hired away by Notre Dame last week.

Shrewsberry, an Indiana native, was at Penn State for two seasons. The Nittany Lions went 23-14 this season, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and won an NCAA game for the first time since 2001.

Rhoades, 50, was 129-61 in six seasons at VCU, including three NCAA Tournament bids. He also spent three seasons at Rice, going 23-12 in the final year with the Owls before returning to VCU.

He was an assistant at the Richmond, Virginia, school from 2009-14 under then-head coach Shaka Smart.

Odom was 44-25 at Utah State in two seasons, with an NCAA Tournament appearance this season.

He previously spent five seasons at Maryland-Baltimore County, going 97-60. In 2018, Odom’s UMBC team became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when it beat Virginia.

Temple hires Penn State assistant Fisher to replace McKie

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA – Temple named Penn State assistant Adam Fisher just its fifth coach since 1973 on Wednesday.

Fisher’s goal will be to turn around a program that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2019.

Fisher replaces Aaron McKie, who was transferred out of the coaching job earlier this month after four seasons and a 52-56 overall record with no tournament berths. McKie is now a special advisor to the athletic department.

Fisher takes over a team in flux with six players in the transfer portal. Temple has yet to find any steady success in the American Athletic Conference.

Fisher spent eight years as an assistant with Miami before he joined Micah Shrewsberry’s staff last season at Penn State. Shrewsberry has since moved on to Notre Dame.

“I am confident we have found the right person to lead Temple men’s basketball,” athletic director Arthur Johnson said. “We look forward to welcoming coach Fisher to the Temple community and returning to the NCAA Tournament under his leadership.”

Fisher also worked as a graduate manager at Villanova under Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright from 2007-09.

The Owls have traditionally given their coaches significant time on the bench, though McKie’s tenure was the shortest since Ernest Messikomer from 1939-42. The next five coaches all lasted at least 10 seasons, notably Hall of Fame coach John Chaney’s tenure from 1982-2006.

Cal hires Mark Madsen as basketball coach

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

BERKELEY, Calif. – California is hiring a former Stanford star to revive its struggling basketball program.

The Golden Bears announced Wednesday that Mark Madsen was signed to replace the fired Mark Fox following the worst season in school history.

“We conducted an exhaustive search, and one name kept rising to the top – and that’s Mark Madsen,” athletic director Jim Knowlton said. “Mark is a person of high character, high energy, high intensity, and he’s done it the right way. He’s intense. He’s passionate. He loves his student-athletes, and he loves competing. We want an ambassador for this program who is going to make us proud and develop our young men – both on and off the court. I am absolutely thrilled that Mark will lead our program into the future.”

Madsen played at Stanford under Mike Montgomery, who later coached at Cal, from 1996 to 2000 and helped the Cardinal reach the Final Four in 1998.

After a nine-year playing career in the NBA that featured two titles as a backup on the Lakers in 2001-02, Madsen went into coaching.

He spent time in the NBA’s developmental league and a year at Stanford before spending five seasons on the Lakers staff.

Madsen then was hired in 2019 to take over Utah Valley. He posted a 70-51 record in four years with a 28-9 mark this season before losing on Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals to UAB.

“Having grown up in the area, I have always admired Cal as an institution and as an athletic program, with so many of my teachers, coaches and friends impressive Cal graduates,” Madsen said. “We will win with young men who have elite academic and athletic talent and who will represent Cal with pride.”

Madsen is the third prominent coach to flip sides in recent years in the Bay Area rivalry between Cal and Stanford. The Cardinal hired former Cal quarterback Troy Taylor to take over the football program last season and Bears women’s basketball coach Charmin Smith played and coached as an assistant at Stanford.

Madsen is faced with a tough task, taking over a program that went 3-29 under Fox and set a school record for most losses and worst winning percentage in a season.

Cal went 38-87 during Fox’s tenure, ending his final season on a 16-game losing streak. Fox’s .304 winning percentage ranking second worst in school history to predecessor Wyking Jones’ 16-47 mark (.254) in the two seasons before Fox arrived.

The Bears haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and haven’t won a game in the tournament since 2013 under Montgomery.

Adding to the issues for Fox was the complete lack of interest in the program. Cal’s home attendance averaged just 2,155 this season for the lowest mark among any team in the Power 5 or Big East. That’s down from an average of 9,307 per game in Cuonzo Martin’s last season in 2016-17 and from 5,627 the year before Fox arrived.

Cal had the worst winning percentage among any school in the six major conferences during Fox’s tenure. The Bears also were the lowest-scoring team (62.4 points per game) in all Division I under Fox and had the worst scoring margin of any major conference team under Fox.

Brea Beal’s defense lifts South Carolina to Final Four


COLUMBIA, S.C. – Brea Beal is not just South Carolina’s X factor in one of the country’s best defenses but also a four-year lesson in sacrifice and reinvention that may add a second straight NCAA title to her resume.

Beal is generally third when most think of the landmark recruiting class from 2019 led by heralded All-American Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke. But she could have the most critical role at the Final Four, most likely checking Iowa’s All-American Caitlin Clark in the national semifinals.

The Gamecocks (36-0) face the Hawkeyes (30-6) in the second game in Dallas on Friday night, with the winner playing LSU or Virginia Tech for the national title on Sunday.

Beal, who has started 136 of 137 games in her four seasons, and her senior teammates have racked up championships in their time. They have won three Southeastern Conference Tournament titles, have been to three straight Final Fours and are chasing their second NCAA crown.

Beal takes on the opponent’s best player and, more times than not, limits her effectiveness – a role that took Beal time to embrace.

“It definitely came with some hardship, but throughout time I just walked into it,” she said at the Greenville 1 Regional last weekend.

It wasn’t a path Beal envisioned after a celebrated prep career. She was a three-time Illinois Ms. Basketball from Rock Island High School, averaging 20 or more points a game her final three seasons. Beal joined Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings as the only players in the state to earn that award as a sophomore.

Beal expected to make the offensive impact that Boston and Cooke have had with the Gamecocks.

“It’s not necessarily something I was like, ‘I’m this defender, I’m the best defender,’” Beal said. “It came naturally, just as well as offensively, it’s just something you’ve got to be patient and just accept as time goes.”

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley sees Beal’s value as more than what she does on the court. Beal, overlooked sometimes behind Boston and Cooke, didn’t look to transfer in the portal era or complain about her scoring. She has kept her head down, Staley said, and made herself an indispensable part of the undefeated defending national champions.

“It took her time to just really relax and see where she can find spots to be effective,” Staley said. “Now that she’s a senior, she sees it.”

Clark, the Iowa star, would have to be one of Beal’s most difficult assignments. Clark had a triple-double – 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds – in the Hawkeyes’ 97-83 victory over Louisville to reach their first Final Four in 30 years.

Clark is not one-dimensional – “I pride myself in doing a lot of different things for this team,” she said – and Beal understands it will take a team effort to slow her down.

South Carolina has relied on its defense throughout Beal’s time and this year’s run is no different. The Gamecocks lead the country in blocks and rebound margin, are second in field-goal percentage defense and are third in points allowed.

Cooke believes it’s Beal’s defensive focus that has all the Gamecocks looking to raise their intensity on that side of their game. “She’s the one that taught us how to play defense,” Cooke said. “Especially me. Just watching her and the things she does definitely wore off on me.”

Cooke’s offense may be elevating Beal’s game as of late. Beal has scored in double digits in eight games this season, seven of those since the start of February. She had 10 points in a 59-43 win over UCLA in the Sweet 16 and 16 in an 86-75 victory over Maryland in the Elite Eight.

Once considered the most likely of the 2019 freshmen class to play an extra season, the dual threat has been rising in WNBA mock drafts. has projected her getting called seventh in next month’s draft, going to the Indiana Fever in the first round.

Beal isn’t worried about her pro prospects or savoring all she’s accomplished. She only wants to finish her college career with another championship moment – and that means dialing up the defense.

“We’re a defensively minded team,” she said. “When we come to this part of the season, we definitely need our defense from every single individual.”