Venue found for Banner Boys game

Tucker and the Banner Boys will play their game at Mount Mary College

Former Milwaukee Panthers standout forward Joah Tucker announced that the 2nd Annual Banner Boys Charity Basketball Game has found a home for the 2010 edition of the event.

Originally scheduled to be held at Tucker’s high school alma mater, flood damage from the “Great Milwaukee Flood” caused the floors at Nicolet High School to be too damaged to be fixed in time for the Banner Boys event.

Tucker, on Friday, secured a separate venue for the event, Mount Mary College on the northwest side of Milwaukee.

Mount Mary is located along 92nd street and Burleigh Avenue, just east of the Blue Mound Country Club.  Mount Mary College is a women’s university, and their athletics programs play in the NCAA’s Division III.

The game will feature many players from the Milwaukee are as well as alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

UWM Alumni roster: Joah Tucker, Clay Tucker, Dylan Page, Ed McCants, Torre Johnson, Boo Davis, Ricky Franklin, Myles McKay, James Eayrs, Derrick Wimmer, Chris Hill, Jason McCoy, Marcus Conigliara.

Milwaukee natives roster: Draelon Burns (DePaul), Avery Smith (Milwaukee), Allan Hanson (Milwaukee, Quemont Greer (DePaul), Deonte Tatum (Hawai’i), Dion James, Larry House (Creighton), Marques Lewis (UAB), Fred Durr (Oklahoma Panhandle State), Terrance McGee (Missouri State), Jerry Smith (Louisville), Scott Merritt (Marquette).

The late Lavelle Felton, who died from a gunshot wound last summer, will be recognized at the game.  Felton played in last year’s charity game


Five Impact Rookie Guards

Ever year, the Horizon League gets bigger.  On the Sweet 16 Panther team in 2005, Adrian Tigert was playing center at 6’7” a majority of his time on the floor.  This season, Tigert might get mugged if he were to go down low with big men like Eli Holman, Anthony Hill, Andy Polka and Andrew Smith.  The players aren’t always taller, but they’re bigger bodies, wider and stronger.

The fact of the matter is, however, that the Horizon League has always been a guard-dominated league.  I’ve made the argument that this may be the best collective back court in the history of the conference, and I stand behind that.  Not only is the returning guard corp very strong, but newcomers entering the conference are also of very high quality.  Let’s take a look at five rookie guards that will make an impact in the Horizon League.

Calliste is the Pepperoni Pizza Combo guard

Jason Calliste sat on the bench last season while he watched the Detroit Titans rattle off 20 wins, challenge Butler in two games, and ultimately finish seventh in the Horizon League.  Calliste averaged 24 points and 11 assists as a senior at the Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Growing up in Canada, Calliste honed his skills as a guard by taking thousands of shots and working on passing skills.  Calliste, more than any of the newcomers, embodies the “combo” guard (How appropriate, I just polished off a bag of pepperoni pizza combos). Calliste can run the fast break and a set half-court offense, which should allow Titans coach Ray McCallum Sr. the opportunity to give Ray McCallum Jr. a rest running the point.

McCallum comes into the conference with much fan fare

Ray McCallum Jr. is coming into the league with easily the most fan fare.  While he’s an incoming freshman and not an established college guard like Kaylon Williams, McCallum comes in with quite possibly the most fan fare of any player of Horizon League history.  Fans of the conference will remember the attention Butler got when Gordon Hayward turned down big-time schools for his chance with the Bulldogs, but McCallum’s hype far outstrips even that.  The fact of the matter is that McCallum wouldn’t even have thought of Detroit had his father not been the coach there, and with that comes expectations for him to blow away competition.  His ability to run the point is proven, and he can score from anywhere on the court.  Pairing him with Calliste will more than make up for the departure of Xavier Keeling and graduation of Woody Payne, and making Chase Simon, Detroit’s leading returning scorer, effectively a third heat.

Jay Harris joins an already high-powered Valpo offense.

While Ray Jr. is coming into Detroit as a highly regarded recruit, another top 150 player settled in down a state in Indiana.  Jay Harris is one of the highest-rated players to come into coach Homer Drew’s Valparaiso team in a long time, but many outside of northwest Indiana don’t even know it because Harris was outshined by the commitment of Ray Jr.  Starring for Oswego East in Illinois, Harris averaged a rocking 28.7 points per game for his senior season.

The intriguing thing about Harris is that he is such a high-scoring guard, and he’ll be entering the highest-powered offense in the Horizon League.  There’s not a lot of space to throw the ball along, with Cory Johnson among league leaders in scoring and Brandon Wood atop the list.  If there’s anything you should take to the bank, it is that the Crusaders walk into the 2010-11 season as the odds on favorites to score the most points, and Harris is a big part of that.

Hopkins, flying into a hoop near you.

Butler fans don’t have to go too far to find the home of incoming guard recruit Chrishawn Hopkins, who is a native of the city and attended Manual High School.  Hopkins struggles with defense, and will benefit from the Bulldog coaching staff’s defensive mentality.  If Hopkins can reduce his turnovers, Shelvin Mack will pass the torch to him whenever Mack finally heads to the NBA.  Hopkins will, however, be thrown into the mix early in his college career, and likely will be a part of the Butler rotation.  He’s extremely athletic, can play above the rim, shoots very well from three-point land (42%) and is a numbers junkie; he averaged three blocks and three steals his senior season to go along with 26 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.  He won’t be shouldering the whole load while a freshman, but it’s good for Butler fans to know they have great scoring coming to campus to offset Gordon Hayward’s departure.

Butler fans will remember Williams, who only played 19 minutes in this blowout loss at Hinkle.

The problem with all of these incoming recruits is that we don’t know how they’ll react to the college game.  Many players turn out to be busts because they can’t adjust to the speed of the game, or the complexity.  The difference with the last player on our list is we know he’s ready for the big show.  Kaylon Williams, who transferred into Milwaukee this season, spent last year at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.  The year before that, he teamed up with James Haarsma (sitting out this year at MKE) on the Evansville Aces.  Williams led the Aces and the Missouri Valley Conference with 4.87 assists per game as a freshman before transferring.  He’s a distributor, plain and simple.  The Panthers have lacked a true point guard since Chris Hill graduated in 2006, a four-year span that saw the Panthers led by shooting guards converted to point guards.  Williams has size at 6’4” 185, something that will benefit him on the defensive end against guards in the Horizon League that tend to be strong.

One of the biggest benefits Williams brings to the Panthers is consistency.  The point guard only hit above 10 assists twice at Evansville, but only had one game in which he did not record an assist, a one-point loss at Wichita State where Williams pulled in seven rebounds and shot four of six from the field.

With the way guard play has already been in the Horizon League, and the players added here, suffice to say that the collective back court in the conference could rival any high-major conference.  And that means one thing: we have a really exciting season ahead.


Tonight, I was going to make a post about the status of post players in the Horizon League; specifically, my top 5 “dominating post players” to stir up the discussion among our wildly growing fan base of PantherU (over 1,000 unique readers each of the last three days? THANK YOU FOR THE SUPPORT!)

However, while I was off working for the almighty Walgreens, I missed a major piece of news: the UWM Student Association was condemning the Milwaukee Athletics department, another entity at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, for taking men’s basketball on a trip to Italy this summer, a trip that will cost roughly $160,000.

Where are we going? Wherever it is, athletics and academics are going together. Up or down.

My first reaction, god’s honest truth, was laughter. These guys? The Student Association is getting critical of someone else’s spending?  The second reaction, of course, was disappointment.  Travis Romero-Boeck and his fellow senators took a big step toward making the athletic department what it needs to be at UWM: respected and recognized for its true value to the university.

Today, Travis took a big step back.  I’ll be the first to admit that Milwaukee Athletics needs to tone down its spending; the budget deficit grows every year, mainly because of the lease with the Wisconsin Center District for men’s basketball to play at the U.S. Cellular Arena.  However, Romero-Boeck and the SA are picking the wrong fight, at the wrong time, and they are being awfully confrontational about it.

For one, it’s not the most expensive project currently being undertaken by the department.  If you sidle on over to Engelmann Field, you’ll notice it’s a big pile of dirt right now.  Why is that?  Because the department is spending a boatload of cash to fit Engelmann with FieldTurf, the revolutionary playing surface that will reduce injuries, allow constant play, and drop grounds keeping costs to zero.  So, why is the Student Association not attacking this project?  Well, Michael Moynihan and the women’s soccer staff, along with help from the former men’s staff and others, raised all the money needed to build the new soccer field at Engelmann.  The entire project is funded by private donations.  The SA, instead, is going over the next biggest expense, the Italy trip.  A trip that another university took last year, and by the end result of their season, seemed to work out for them.

Jeter and his staff raised the money for the trip entirely by private donations. What's the problem?

Except here’s the catch: Rob Jeter and the men’s basketball staff, on their own, raised every single dollar for this trip.  Not a single dollar is coming out of the men’s basketball and Athletics budget, or student money, or state tax dollars.  This is a trip paid entirely by private donors who wanted to see men’s basketball players, many of whom come from modest economic backgrounds, obtain the learning experience of the trip, the playing experience against professional teams, and the social bonding with each other and the coaching staff.  Who is Travis, or anyone else, to tell David Nicholas that he can’t spend his own money on this trip?  Or Harris Turer?  Or any one of the donors who donated the six figures needed for the trip?

The experience on the court is obvious; ten more days of practice with the coaches than teams that don’t, and life experiences that many players on the team would otherwise be unable to achieve. Don’t believe me?  Ask someone who is benefiting from this trip.

“Well, I guess to a lot of people this trip seems like a ‘vacation,’ but in fact we have been working harder than any summer I’ve been on campus to tune up for Italy. We will be that much more ready for the real deal once November rolls around,” said redshirt sophomore Ryan Haggerty.  “It’s an opportunity for a lot of us to travel outside of the country who otherwise wouldn’t, and learn a lot about about other cultures as well as tune up our skills on the court.”

Haggerty, who is a preferred walk-on (which means he will receive one year of scholarship over his career), wants the UWM community to back the team in this trip.  “I sometimes feel like people forget we are going to be over there representing not only the US, but also the Horizon League and most importantly UWM.”

It goes beyond just representing the university in Italy.  “The basketball team really wants to be an extension of the university and not a separate entity.  We want the school to support us and we want to support the school,” Haggerty said in closing.

In the press release, the SA media relations person wrote that, “The Student Association has likened the trip to the extravagances of General Motors and Chrysler when asking the federal government for financial assistance.”  Um, no?  If the Milwaukee Basketball program is the car company, who is the federal government?  The SA?  No, the students are paying zilch for this trip.  The university?  Wrong again.  It’s the donors who are sending this “bailout.”  Guess what, guys?  Not your place to tell them anything.  They can spend their cash how they want, this is America.

Look, I like Travis Romero-Boeck.  I know he’s got the best interest of the university at heart, and if it’s his belief that the basketball program would do better financially if they would just stay home, that’s his right.  He’s also wrong.  Of the donations to the trip, they all came on top of money that was already given to the department.  These donors specifically earmarked their money to go to this trip.  All of the money was raised in years past, and donors for the trip are people who give annually to athletics; the money for the trip is in addition to what they already generously donate.

Basketball players will visit places like Lake Como during a trip that most of them would otherwise be unable to take. Donors footed the bill, 100%.

In the press release, the SA states that they want to see “the Athletic Department create a plan this year that would bring the department’s spending in line with its revenues.”  What?  Because men’s basketball is going on this trip, Charlie Gross is just going to sit there with his thumb up his rear end?  Get real.  The SA’s long standing complaint is that the Athletic Department is not putting enough effort into fixing their budget.  Repeatedly, former AD Bud Haidet would walk into meetings with the Senate Finance Committee, only to be rebuffed because he was asking for more money in segregated fees.  I agreed with the SA, with Kyle Duerstein; the athletic department can’t get more money from the students for its budget if they don’t have a plan to eliminate the budget.  I italicize for the budget because I want no question as to whether or not I support the basketball arena.  Of course I do, I was one of the people who put it out there in the first place.

However, Charlie Gross hasn’t even been on the job for a year.  With no finance associate AD since Chuck Lang left for San Diego State three-plus years ago, it’s no wonder we haven’t had our budget cleaned up since then.  Gross is no knight in shining armor, but he is getting our budget in line, slowly but surely.  One way that Gross and Milwaukee Athletics have cut back is in staffing; when Jason Clark left as marketing director to become GM of the Iron, LeVar Ridgeway was moved from his post as head of ticket sales to the marketing director spot.  In his place, they promoted Brian Morgan, who was also a full-time salaried employee.  Instead of hiring a replacement, former men’s basketball manager Dan Meier spent the last year as an intern, pulling Morgan’s old duties.  Now, with Meier and marketing intern Adam Schemm leaving after their one-year appointments, the athletics budget was cut again, with those two positions being combined into one super-duper marketing/ticket sales intern.  There’s one example of a way they are cutting back.

In women’s basketball, we are the only school in the conference with three assistants, a director of basketball operations and a video coordinator.  For most schools, the D.O.B.O. and video coordinator are combined in the Horizon League.  Expect Gross and Athletics to cut one of those positions, combining the women’s basketball position into one.  That will take staff from women’s basketball, but will bring Sandy Botham’s staff in line with her counterparts.  One idea? Promote video coordinator Cameron Tucker to one of the vacant assistant jobs, then combine his job with Nichole Drummond‘s D.O.B.O. position and let her do both jobs, maybe with help from a manager. Or promote Drummond and let Tucker do both jobs.

The point I’m trying to get across is this: Milwaukee Athletics is making moves to cut its budget deficit.  At $1.5 million a year, eliminating a sport would only kick in a couple hundred grand, tops.  Getting Jeter to renegotiate his contract would drop $100k.  Moving to D-II would eliminate all the goodwill and notoriety associated with playing in D-I, and still not cut enough costs.  D-II schools like UW-Parkside still have to shell out money for scholarships, travel, equipment, et cetera.  There’s only one way to get this ship upright, and Travis Romero-Boeck and the SA know exactly what it is, which I’ll get to in a minute.

Bo Ryan gets more love from Illini fans than Milwaukee Athletics gets from the UWM community.

The basketball program has loyal followers; hell, this whole trip is being paid for by those loyal followers.  Just because the basketball program plays with the “mid-major” label, a level where seemingly schools aren’t allowed the same status as “high-majors” like UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Badgers and Marquette University’s Golden Eagles, doesn’t mean a program can’t be successful on the court and off it.  Schools like Creighton average over 10,000 fans per home game.  Butler, whose chief rival is either Wright State or – you guessed it – Milwaukee, was six inches from a national title.  The idea that Milwaukee can’t cut it with the big boys is incorrect.  Will we ever have their budgets?  Hell no.  Wisconsin spends $100 million on all sports, third in the nation behind Ohio State and Florida.  Marquette spends $10 million a year on men’s basketball, second only to Duke University.  Where did all that money go?  Wisconsin had one year, 2005, when they made it to the second weekend.  Marquette hasn’t been past the second round since 2003, when Dwyane Wade triple-doubled them to an ass-whooping at the hands of Kansas in the Final Four.  But there’s something that those two schools have, and we’re woefully empty of, which floats the boat and sets things in the right direction.  Support.

Support is something the Student Association did in June.  They said, unanimously, that athletics is important for this university by sinking $22 million of their funds over the next bunch of years into the arena for men’s basketball.  The gesture, even more so than the money, was what truly made a difference.

Want to play D-II? Here's your crowd. They look ready to donate.

So, suggesting a possible move to D-II just two months after providing that level of support is rather hypocritical, and why? Because Rob Jeter and his coaches raised private money to go on this trip?  Had UW-Madison been $8 million in the hole right now, and Bo Ryan raised money to go to Italy with his team, there’s not a chance in the world that anyone at UW-Madison would question that, or go so far as to challenge it.

For the program to make money, they need to do just that: make money.  And the biggest way to do it is to pull a swing.

A few years ago, Jason Clark negotiated a deal with Time Warner Cable to move Panther game broadcasting from WMLW to Time Warner Sports.  With WMLW, the athletic department paid all production costs for the games to be televised.  By switching to Time Warner, Clark essentially pulled a swing; Time Warner offered to pay for all production costs, as well as pay the university for the rights to show Panther games.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars that were to be put into television production were saved, and hundreds of thousands more were put into our pocket.

The same has to happen again.  However, you can’t get student-athletes to pay into the budget for scholarships.  Rob Jeter won’t pay us $400k to coach.  But we can do one thing:

UWM sinks hundreds of thousands into the Cell every year. Save the money, come home.

Make the move home.  Currently, the U.S. Cellular Arena costs us anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000 to start with each season to play men’s basketball as part of our lease with the Wisconsin Center District.  The number varies based on who you talk to, but the fact is our school pays hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to WCD for the right to play in the Cell.

On top of that, the athletic department shells out two dollars off of every ticket to the WCD, another part of the lease.  That includes students, another piece of information that makes this protest funny.  Not only is the university letting students walk into the door for any sport free, they’re spending hundreds on buses to shuttle students back and forth every game, plus the two dollars for each student ticket to the WCD.  This is not a joke.

On-campus basketball is part of the real college experience, including here at Duke.

For every ten dollar ticket, the athletic department loses two dollars of the money to the WCD.  That’s 20% of the majority of tickets sold.

Of concessions, the university makes nothing; Levy Restaurants and the WCD split the profits.  The Athletic Department makes no money from merchandise sales, because the UWM Bookstore is the one that provides the product and makes the money.  Of parking, not a dime goes to athletics.  The Hyatt and the Wisconsin Center District make the majority of money for parking, as well as some to the city of Milwaukee for street parking if people arrive early.

By accelerating the move home to campus, we effectively turn money we don’t make into money we do make.  Special Event parking will make the university hundreds of thousands of dollars alone.  Before 2004, the Klotsche Center had no parking for its fans.  Now, there are 600 spaces to make serious cash fifteen games a year.  Concessions would net us our own money.  Instead of Levy and WCD making the cash, Levy would be replaced by UWM Restaurant Services and WCD replaced by Athletics.  Tell me Restaurant Services wouldn’t love to run concessions, or even a full-time, 350+ day a year restaurant inside the arena, a la Front Row Friday’s at Miller Park.  Merchandise is not necessarily tied to the move, because the university still makes money through the bookstore.  But the bookstore would love to run an auxiliary station during games where they don’t have to pay for worker transport downtown, and they can lock the door and merchandise is safe instead of packing everything up following every game.

Which brings me to another point.  At UW-Madison and Marquette, and hundreds of other schools across the country, the athletics balance includes money made from selling athletics merchandise.  I don’t think it would wipe out the athletics budget deficit, but how about you start counting the sale of Panther apparel as credit towards the athletic department?  After all, if we go D-II, how many people are going to be buying Panther hoodies then?

The fact of the matter is, athletics can pull a swing by moving men’s basketball to campus.  George Koonce and Kyle Duerstein knew it when they vigorously promoted the arena fee.  Travis Romero-Boeck and the SA understood it when they unanimously supported the arena fee.

How jacked would the campus be for Milwaukee vs. Wisconsin at the Klotsche Center? It's been a sellout every time.

So why don’t we get to the real issue: stop futzing around.  We have the approval for the money, now start the capital campaign to build men’s basketball the on-campus arena that everybody on campus knows will make them money.

The funny thing in all this is the timing.  The money for this trip has been sitting in a bank account for several years because the basketball program was afraid to send the message of extravagance; however, every year this came up.  They’ve known, since the spring semester, that this trip was going to happen.  It was far from a secret; it was public knowledge on campus.  The NCAA allows a program ten days to practice for foreign trips, which schools are allowed to take once every four years.  The press release came Tuesday, after the team had already practiced three of those days.  Don’t you think it’s a little late to cry foul?

What needs to happen, what people need to recognize, is the importance of athletics, specifically men’s basketball, and that fighting its growth is fighting the growth of the university.  UWM will only become what it can be when its people realize that athletics is not their adversary; they should not be jockeying for position at the coffers.  They need to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that a healthy relationship between athletics, academics, and administration can only mean benefits for all involved.

And a healthy relationship can only happen when all parties stop pointing fingers and get down to business.  That business has to be undying support for each other in all our endeavors, because the community has to be on the same page, whether it’s a page on basketball or physics.

But don’t take my word for it. Take it from Haggerty, who knows it has to be support from all UWM for all UWM. “There’s no reason not to.”

Banner Boys Charity game on August 6th

Former Milwaukee Panther standout Joah Tucker announced the Second Annual Banner Boys Charity basketball game on August 6th at 6:30 p.m.

Due to what’s being called the “Great Milwaukee Flood,” the venue will no longer be Nicolet High School, which sustained serious damage to the floors in the building, including the basketball court.

All money made will be donated to the Milwaukee school named after Joah Tucker’s cousin, who died in 2001 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

The majority of players involved are alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but also features Milwaukee natives that played at other institutions.  In fact, the two teams will be divided up in that sense, with UWM grads on one side and natives on the other.  Since there are more UWM grads, the Milwaukee natives side will feature players that fit both descriptions. Namely, Avery Smith and Allan Hanson.

The game is a chance for UWM fans to see their favorite all-time players on the court at the same time while giving money to charity.

On the venue change, Tucker said, “Because of the flood damage to Nicolet, we’re searching for an alternate venue for the event. We don’t have a location locked down quite yet, but we should be set by the end of the week.”

UWM Alumni roster: Joah Tucker, Clay Tucker, Dylan Page, Ed McCants, Torre Johnson, Boo Davis, Ricky Franklin, Myles McKay, James Eayrs, Derrick Wimmer, Chris Hill, Jason McCoy, Marcus Conigliara.

Milwaukee natives roster: Draelon Burns (DePaul), Avery Smith (Milwaukee), Allan Hanson (Milwaukee, Quemont Greer (DePaul), Deonte Tatum (Hawai’i), Dion James, Larry House (Creighton), Marques Lewis (UAB), Fred Durr (Oklahoma Panhandle State), Terrance McGee (Missouri State), Jerry Smith (Louisville), Scott Merritt (Marquette).

The late Lavelle Felton, who died from a gunshot wound last summer, will be recognized at the game.  Felton played in last year’s charity game.

Catch-and-Shoot Monday

Jay Harris is preparing for D-I at Valpo.

– Mark Lazerus of the NWI Times has word on Jay Harris’ preparation for the Valpo trip to Cancun.

– Andy Katz of discusses the fallout from Matt Brady and James Madison University’s failed lawsuit against Marist.

– The NCAA is banning schools from hiring search firms that hook them up with coaches if those firms also handle recruits. The Pump brothers look like a couple of the biggest names hit here.  But let’s be honest, the Chump brothers were part of the ticket-scalping scandals at the Final Four in the early 2000’s as well as with the Kansas Jayhawks earlier this year.

– Colorado State AD Paul Kowalczyk had surgery to remove his cancerous prostate.  Best wishes to the Captain of the Rams.

– Billy Donlon and Brian Gregory, the head coaches of the two D-I programs in Dayton, give their take on developing post players in the mid-major world to the Dayton Daily News.

– Tom Enlund continues his awesome work for the Journal-Sentinel, highlighting Milwaukee’s trip to Italy.

Scheduling takes flight

Flenard Whitfield and the Western Michigan Broncos come to the Klotsche Center for the 2010 Throwback game

Over the past few years, schools in the Horizon League have bolstered the conference’s reputation nationally, mainly based on performance in the NCAA Tournament.  However, the conference’s RPI seems stuck outside the top 10, which is the barometer the big boys in BCS auto-bid conferences use to determine if other conferences are worthy of their attention.

How do we do it?  Getting better is just part of it.  There are two things that have needed to change: teams need to schedule tougher, and they need to win those tougher games.  The fact is, when you lose to tougher teams, your RPI and reputation don’t get hurt as badly as if you lost to St. Francis (it doesn’t matter which one, Youngstown).  If you win those games, that’s when you start boosting your RPI big time, which in turn leads to multiple bids for the conference, which leads to more Cleveland State over Wake Forests and Milwaukee over Oklahomas.

Most Horizon League schools, sadly, don’t get this.  Until this year, thankfully, I had to count Milwaukee among those who schedule D-II regular season games, low-majors in home-and-homes, and the ridiculous 4-for-1, of which we essentially have two.  This season, however, we’ve turned it around.  You know who has had their act together the whole time?  Wright State.

Billy Donlon's Raiders put together a great schedule for 2010-11.

There’s no coincidence that Wright State, despite being a bad rebounding team, has finished as high as they have for many years.  It’s because they test themselves in the non-conference season.  Today in the Pro-Am, Ricky Franklin looked as though his last game against Butler was five years ago.  Why?  Because he’s been playing with NBA talent all summer, and that in turn picked his game up tremendously.  Wright State understands this, and they do not shy away from scheduling difficult games with both high-majors and mid-majors.

Kyle Nagel of the Dayton Daily News (where’s Marc Katz?) wrote an article in today’s paper discussing the Raiders’ non-conference schedule.  Plainly put, it’s excellent.  There’s a hefty amount of tests, a couple easy wins and one potential blowout.  Of the seven games, they have eight potential opponents.  I’ll be breaking them down Cold Stone style:

Like it: Southern, Air Force, Southern Illinois.  With SU, the Raiders get an easy home win to kick off the season.  Air Force is a name school, but one Wright State will easily beat.  Southern Illinois will prove to be a more difficult game, but like Air Force is a name everybody knows; my favorite College Gameday was at SIU.

Love it: Purdue, Oakland, Charlotte.  It’s not just about getting a test, but a test you can win.  Wright State can absolutely beat Purdue, and I hope they get the opportunity, but the possibility of our reigning #2 walking out of Chicago with a 20+ point drubbing is definitely there.  Oakland is just a great game.  With their center back in the fold after testing NBA waters, the Raiders will get a great test game for their run-ins with big front lines at Milwaukee, Loyola and Detroit.  Charlotte is an awesome program with a recognizable name (hint, those of you who prefer UW-Milwaukee, Charlotte is a big name, UNC-Charlotte is not) that fans at the Nutter will enjoy.

Gotta Have It: Richmond, Cincinnati.  What’s not to love about Richmond?  They’re an A-10 program oozing with history, a program that people across the country recognize, and they flat-out win.  After Purdue, this is most likely their toughest game (although Oakland will be damn good), but Richmond is beatable, especially if the Raiders get off to one of their signature bucket-is-an-ocean shooting binges.  Cincinnati is even more so an AWESOME game for the Raiders.  Not only is this a winnable game, but it’s a BCS school in their home state, a 2-for-1 series with a power conference school that doesn’t fill their arena just an hour down the road.  Pack the house in Cincinnati, Raiders.  Pack the house.  A Nut away from Nut, perhaps.

When it all comes down to it, Wright State’s schedule as it stands is the perfect mix of easy games, road tests and difficult-but-winnable contests.

Brandon Wood and the Crusaders got smothered at the Breslin.

We have schools that are scheduling too difficult for their own good.  What does Valpo get out of games with Purdue, Michigan State, and North Carolina?  Sure, the UNC game was ONLY an 11-point loss, but getting drubbed in the other games did not help them prepare for Horizon League competition.  Those games were just lessons in how to lose confidence.

Loyola, on the other hand, is a school that schedules too easy to get anything good out of it.  The school needs real tests, and there are always too few of them on the schedule to get real experience for their players.  Look, Loyola isn’t going to get better by scheduling an easy non-conference docket.  The Ramblers started the season 9-1 in non-conference play.  This was the best record of all Horizon League teams in the non-conference season.  The Ramblers went on to win 5 conference games and finish 8th.  How’d they do it?  Weak scheduling.  Sure, Kansas State is a great team.  But like Valpo, they got their teeth kicked in and got nothing out of the experience.  Bradley and Western Michigan were the only other two teams sniffing the top 150 in RPI, with the Braves at 100 and WMU at 151.

The Rambler plays UT-Pan American twice this year. Yup.

Both were excellent games, and guess what: both were followed by blowout victories.  Loyola has got to realize that in the future, games like their current one season home-and-home with UT-Pan American do the team exactly zero favors.  Fans don’t want to see the game at the Genital, the RPI doesn’t get help even with a blowout victory, and no respect can be gained by beating them.  The fact is that teams that get tested get better; schoolchildren aren’t just given tests to see how their teachers are doing, the tests are designed to help them get better.  And the non-conference schedule is the same for college basketball programs.  Test your team, and they get better.  Let them skip class, their grades will suffer.

So there are opposite ends of the spectrum that don’t truly work for the Horizon League; Valpo’s drubbings don’t help, and Loyola’s low-major and D-II wins don’t do them any favors.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: take a leaf out of Wright State’s book and learn how to schedule, people!

Milwaukee Pro-Am cures withdrawal

Detractors call it unorganized, pick-up nonsense.  It’s not basketball so much as it’s the And One Mixtape Tour.  Is it true?  Partially.  The dunks are frequent, the pace is frantic at times, and the defense is a little lax.  But the fact of the matter is this: if you are a college basketball fan of Marquette, Milwaukee, Green Bay or in general, there is no reason you should be sitting at home on your couch instead of attending the Milwaukee Pro-Am.

Jim Ganzer’s inaugural smash is better than advertised.  I came in expecting to see a lackluster all-star game with no one putting forth the effort.  Of the four games I saw today, not one lacked the heart of a college basketball game.  The best part about the Pro-Am, for the fan, is that this isn’t the Bradley Center, the Resch Center or the Cell.  This is Homestead High School, where the two gyms provide extremely close proximity for the price of admission (a whopping free).  Fans are on top of the action, and the action is excellent.

Meier is working on conditioning and defense this off-season

There are three days left, August 4th and 6th at Homestead lead up to the culmination, a tournament on Sunday August 8th at the Al McGuire Center.  I would recommend making it on Wednesday the 4th and Sunday, because even I won’t be there on Friday the 6th; there’s no way I’m missing the Joah Tucker Charity Game (details coming soon).  Now, some notes on Panthers and other players at the Pro-Am on Saturday:

– James Haarsma, for lack of a better word, is a beast.  6’7” he is not; I would hazard a guess and say he’s much closer to 6’4”.  But he’s wide in the shoulders, extremely strong, and fights for everything on the court.  His hustle in the Pro-Am, where you wouldn’t expect the effort, gives me good feelings about the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons with Haarsma at the power forward slot.  He has a nice, quick jumper that he can hit from the mid-range.  I didn’t see him take a three, but there’s more Pro-Am to come!

– Tony Meier is stronger than he was last year, when he struggled in his sophomore season after a stellar freshman campaign.  He still has the sweet outside shooting touch, canning a wide-open three that broke the back of the opposing team, led by Jarvis Williams of Green Bay.  Meier definitely improved on his conditioning, as he played the full game without coming out.  A funny moment came in garbage time when several dunks in succession by both teams were followed by a lay-up by Meier, who was chided by Lonnie Boga from the stands that he was “Breaking the flow.”  The next time down the court, Meier threw down an excellent jam that got a standing ovation from the Panther section.

– Ricky Franklin played most of the summer with NBA players and prospects, and it shows.  Rick played the point flawlessly for the Athletico team, dishing out several assists and feeding the monster that Darius Johnson-Odom has become.  His play is more crisp, and he looks the part of a pro point guard.  A long pro career awaits him, most likely overseas.

– Joah Tucker has not lost a step since his college days.  His three-point shot seems more reliable and he can throw down like he’s still 22 years old.  In fact, one of his dunks reminded me of the monster jam he laid on James Augustine in the Sweet 16 back in 2005.  Tucker is putting together his Charity Basketball Game that benefits the high school named after his cousin, whom he lost in 2001 to a battle with cancer.  The game is August 6th at Nicolet High School; yes, it will still be there, they will have the floors ready.  Alando Tucker, Carl Landry and perhaps Wes Matthews, who played at the Pro-Am today, may be playing in the game.  You can bank on players such as Larry House from Creighton and Quemont Greer from DePaul to play in the event, as well as a dozen or so former Milwaukee Panthers.

– Jarvis Williams, the Junior College transfer from Green Bay, will be their best player this season not named Bryquis Perine or Rahmon Fletcher.  He is extremely athletic, although he does not have much size to him and may have difficulty banging in the block with big  Horizon League opponents.  Should the Phoenix find a decent post player to take eyes away from Williams, watch out – he can jump out the gym, has an all right shot and hustles as much as Haarsma.

No Milwaukee Pro-Am next weekend, as it’s an off week.  The final two days at Homestead will be Wednesday the 4th and Friday the 6th.  The championship tournament will be Sunday the 8th at the Al McGuire Center.