Sunday, November 25, 2007

Swoosh: Isaiah's Swann Song

This week's focus is on the Florida State senior guard Isaiah Swann. Seven games into his final season Isaiah is averaging a team high 16.6 points and 3.9 assists per game while leading his team to a record of 5-2. Swann has improved his game in almost every facet, the most noticeable being his three point shooting percentage. He shot a remarkable 41% from three last season with big Al Thornton diverting the defenses attention. This season, as the teams primary scoring option he is shooting a ridiculous 51% from the three point line. Let that register for a second. On the highest level of college basketball you can play he is making every other three point shot he attempts. That's incredible. If that's not enough for you he is also perfect from the free throw line this season making all 25 of his attempts.

As it might seem, basketball has always come easy to Isaiah Swann . Under coach Dan Harwood he lead Magruder high school (Rockville, MD) to a state championship as a freshman. That's right, as a freshman he was the best player on a Maryland State basketball champion. Apparently, as though he missed the memo on how to be a big time 15 year old basketball player, he was very humble as well. I got a chance to speak with coach Harwood and he told me one of his favorites stories about Swann took place back in 2001, just before Magruder would march through the playoffs for their first state championship. Harwood explained that Swann wasn't playing well defensively in a game against Blair High School, a week before the playoffs were to begin. As a result, he decided that he wouldn't start Swann for the next game but was apprehensive about the move because he wasn't sure how Isaiah would react. Could you imagine if the move didn't work, Isaiah nor the team took well to it, and they didn't play up to their potential? Fortunately for Harwood it worked extremely well. He said Isaiah was actually OK with the move to the bench and clearly the team was as well as they would go on to win it all. Coach Harwood added "The way he handled that. He's always been a great kid."

In high school, the only thing that could stop Isaiah from dominating on the court was his commitment in the classroom. You see, that 01' championship season at Magruder was his second attempt at 9th grade and he was forced to miss a large part of his sophomore basketball season due to academic struggles as well. It is hard to understand why the kid who Coach Harwood said 'worked hard on his game' and 'loved to play' wouldn't do all that he could to stay academically eligible. In fact, I decided to write this story because I remember reading about his issues in the Washington Post, the transfer to Oak Hill, then the move to Hargrave Military Academy, and wondering what would ever come of the talented guard from the DC area. Well I now have my answer. Isaiah Swann is an All-ACC caliber basketball player and most importantly he is scheduled to graduate from Florida State University at the end of this academic year. In addition I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that he will be graduating in good academic standing at FSU. To me this says that Isaiah has taken an improved approach to his education, not just doing the bare minimum to get by. Congratulations Isaiah. Coach Harwood, myself, and the entire DC area are proud of you. Keep doing your thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

ACC Game of the Week (11/18-11/25) - Maryland vs. #2 UCLA

This week's big game takes us to Kansas City, Missouri for the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic matchup between #2 ranked UCLA and Maryland. By the way, does it seem like anyone can sponsor one of these basketball tournaments? I can't wait for the day I'm watching the Gebco Classic (Baltimore, MD) on ESPN and I see this commecial Go Gebco! Disclaimer: If that's not funny to you there is something wrong with you, not me. Anyways, while UCLA appears to be the superior team they are without All-Pac 10 point guard Darren Collison and Maryland's James Gist is averaging a more than respectable 21.5 ppg and 8.5 rbg. While these two players play large roles for their team clearly most of the hype going in is on National Freshman of the Year candidate Kevin Love and deservedly so. The highly ranked freshman is averaging a 20.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in his first three games but this will be his first test against big time basketball competition. Unfortunately for Kevin, Gary Williams has assembled a front line at Maryland that is a bit more competitive than those of his first three opponents (Portland State, Youngstown State, and San Bernardino). Bambale Osby, Jerome Burney, Braxton Dupree, and the aforementioned Gist will prove to be too much for Love and frontcourt partner Lorenzo Mata. Gist is the best athlete either team has inside. Advantage Murlin!

In the backcourt the situation gets a bit more interesting. UCLA will come out with with Russell Westbrook at point guard with smooth Josh Shipp at the two and big time Luc Richard Mbah a Moute running the 3 spot. Westbrook and Shipp have Final Four game experience and loads of talent. Both will get paid in full to play basketball in the near future. Their athleticism and skill set could pose a problem for Maryland's backcourt. Pretty much, Maryland likes to play a lot of man to man and I don't think their point guard Eric Hayes can't check Westbrook, end of story. On the flip side Westbrook doesn't seem that comfortable on the free throw line, which might come back to haunt him in a game that should be close at the end. Hayes is a 93% free throw shooter. Moving to the wing it is fairly evident that Josh Shipp might be the best basketball player on the court at tip off. He's a cerebral basketball player that can get off his shot whenever he wants. To add to UCLA's fire Mbah a Moute is also a very intelligent player. He made a few passes last week that were ridiculous (the good ridiculous). Mbah a Moute doesn't have the ball handling to help as much on the perimeter but he will certainly help on the glass. Advantage Bruins.

My x-factor for this game is Maryland two guard Greivis Vasquez. I'm willing to bet he is one of the few college players averaging over 16 point a game to also put up almost 7 assists and 6 boards a contest as well. Vasquez is a dynamic player and his energy gets his team into the game. He can create this frenzied environment that invigorates his teammates and fans. In college basketball this is huge. I wrote 3 paragraphs about this game and now I'm realizing I only need one sentence. If Vasquez plays big, Maryland wins. Unfortunately I think Shipp's defense will be too much for him and as a result, UCLA will win. Feel free to call me out if you disagree. I'd do it to you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

ACC Basketball Predictions

ACC Basketball is here again and not a moment too soon. There are several intriguing stories this season that will dictate the standings by seasons end. Will Landon Milbourne be the small forward Gary and the terps need to win? Can Kyle Singler (watch, he's number 33) and the other Duke freshmen provide the scoring and athleticism that they sorely lacked last season? Can Virginia maintain the momentum from last year's magical season without J.R. Reynolds?......This is the beauty of the ACC, every team can win on any night. How many conferences can boast that their 10th place team (Florida State) has brought in the nation's fifth best high school center (five star Solomon Alabi)? With that said I give you the the first ever ACC Ballers season preview:

Team Predictions:

1. North Carolina: Their talent, depth, and athleticism should prove too much for everyone else. Watch for Wayne Ellington to have breakout year as a sophomore after a solid first year.
2. Duke: Talent. Singler, Nolan Smith (watch) and Taylor King should be the influx of talent that this program needed.
3. Maryland: Might be high for some people's liking but they have the ingredients of a good acc team. Young but experienced backcourt and a big time front court player in senior James Gist.
4. North Carolina State: Sidney Lowe has infused new life into this program. They've got the talent inside to beat anyone in this conference but point guard play is an issue. Can Farnold Degand be the solution? I'm not sure, but we'll see. Apparently 07' McDonald's All American power forward J.J. Hickson (watch) is the real deal.
5. Virginia: In college hoops, guards win games. Senior Sean Singletary has been the best point guard in the conference for the past two seasons. He'll retain that title this season as well.
6. Clemson: Played a very soft schedule last season and it hurt them come ACC season. James Mays leads the way here.
7. Georgia Tech: They get Lewis Clinch, their leading scorer before his suspension, back to go along with high school All American Gani Lawal.
8. Florida State: Tough team with experienced guard play. They need a big year from Uche Echefu.
9. Boston College: Lost two first round picks on the front line in Jared Dudley and Sean Williams and will have a tough time making up that loss of production. Junior point guard Tyrese Rice will have to do more than ever this season.
10. Wake Forest: Tough off season for the Demon Deacons. They'll look to sophomore point guard Ishmael Smith to run the show.
11. Virginia Tech: Lost two big time guards and now must rebuild. This could be a very long season in Blacksburg as they have to find a way to replace the almost 29 point per game they lost in the backcourt. The heralded freshman from Washington, DC Jeff Allen should contribute inside though.
12. Miami: Jack McClinton, the junior guard from Charm city leads the way. He needs some help though, and it doesn't look like he'll get it this year.