Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Hoosier Hundred Cloak (& Dagger) Room

The reason why many of us found Mike Davis objectionable was because, in the “Pantheon of Memorable Mike Davises,” Mike Davis was only our third-favorite Mike Davis.
And, that was because we couldn’t think of any other Mike Davises to rank ahead of Mike Davis.
As it was, we remembered that Mike Davis was the Oakland Raider DB who made that end-zone interception of that Brian Sipe pass intended for Ozzie Newsome in the waning moments of that AFC playoff game in Jan. ’81 … the pass which broke Cleveland’s heart and secured the Raiders’ 14-12 victory en route to the world championship.
And, we never forgot that Mike Davis was the Oakland Athletic who coaxed a walk from Dennis Eckersley before Kirk Gibson’s “I-don’t-believe-what-I-just-saw!” homer to win Game 1 of the ’88 World Series.
So, while there was a Mike Davis who was either saving Oakland or sinking Oakland, there was never a Mike Davis who won the hearts of Bloomingtonians.

The only reason that I care is because Mrs. PF7 is an Indiana alumnae, which means that she was there for the championship run in ’87 and she was in the gym the night when Knight slid the chair across the court in her direction.
The Mrs. has plenty of dandy behind-the-scenes stories, not the least of which is when she told me about Lawrence Funderburke’s recruiting visit and how he wouldn't go out to dinner with the fellow b-ballers, instead opting for an evening in with a bowl, possibly two, of Sugar Smacks cereal.

While such an anecdote may paint Lawrence Funderburke as someone who was anti-social or aloof, that’s not the mission here. Truth be told, I’d like to reach out to Big Funder (if that is, in fact, what anyone called him) get his thoughts about where he was and what he was doing the day when Sugar Smacks and Super Sugar Crisp became "Honey Smacks" and "Golden Crisp," respectively.
Of course, leave it to Kellogg’s to keep its Sugar Smacks mascot, Dig ‘Em (the cartoon frog), and Post to retain the rights to Sugar Bear to pitch their puffed-wheat cereals.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know … you can’t have cereals with the word “sugar” in the name because sugar became the anti-Christ sometime in the early ‘90s (when America started to go into full-blown denial, as demonstrated by putting a shotgun in its mouth by electing Preisdent Bubba to two terms).
Look … I’m not saying that Bush is appreciably better – it’s just that I don’t think sugar should be stigmatized to the point where parents are psyched out into believing that the cereals they’re buying are either “Crack Smacks” or “Crystal Meth Crisp” just because the word “sugar” appears in bold letters on the box.

Which takes us back to our third-favorite Mike Davis. He definitely seemed to have sugar-sweetened, puffed wheat for brains when it came to various basketball concepts, not to mention b-ball concepts as they pertain to IU.

And, it wasn't the color of skin that seemed like a problem. More like the "thickness" of his skin.

From what we've seen and heard, Mike Davis is a thin-skinned, troubled individual who says things which sugar-smack of paranoia and hypocrisy.
Or stupidity – such as those two gems he had from early in the ‘02/’03 season, less than eight months after he led Knight’s recruits to the NCAA title game.
Davis said, “I think that understanding the pro game is half the battle.
To compound our confusion, he said, “I want Indiana to have more players in the NBA than any other school.”

The first inclination is to laugh and say, “Okay, Coach … that’s a good one. You crack me up.”
Then, when you see that he's serious (well, "serious" in the Mike Davis sense), you want to host the intervention that gets Coach Davis to kick the floor-wax-huffing addiction for good.

The fact that he used the terms “pro” and “NBA” less than one year after those yokels Coverdale and Fife and Odle and Hornsby (along with the mostly-ordinary Jared Jefferies) were the best players on the roster he inherited, well … it was reminiscent of the basketball scene in “Cuckoo’s Nest” [which is the greatest basketball scene in the history of cinema, sorry, Jimmy Chitwood … your elegant jumper for Hickory High can never measure up to Martini (Danny Devito) taking the inbounds pass from McMurphy (Nicholson) and, in one, hot-potato motion, happily and psychotically flinging the ball against the chain-link fence … 30 years later, there’s remains nuthin’ better than to hear Nicholson’s high-pitched ranting and raving in what SHOULD have been the way Davis reacted any time one of his 31 percent 3-point shooters decided to jack one up from 22 feet and hit nothing but chain-link fence].
Yup ... Coverdale, Fife and Martini in a stylish NBA, three-guard offense. Nice guys...scrappers...NBA?

Oh, definitely...

Through the years, Davis’ comments (like the ones above) were usually vapid and his body language was always wrong. For example, it’s almost impossible to forget the expression on his face when, during the final seconds of his upset win over Duke in the ’02 Sweet 16, Fife fouled (Jayson Williams, I think) as he was making a 3 when IU had a 4-point lead w/ :04 or :03 on the clock.
On the replay, the CBS cameras captured Davis’ reaction as the foul was being whistled and the ball was going through the hoop, etc …
Davis acted with such oh-my-god-what-are-you-doing? incredulity at the horror he was witnessing – as if Dane Fife was either committing some act of high treason or, possibly, holding a kitten’s head under water in the bath tub.
Alright already, we know he wears his heart on his sleeve, but that "I'm-about-to-explode-into-tears" look, ummm ... how is that any worse than Knight barking expletives at Fife?
Fact is ... it isn't.
So, settle down, Coach. Remain stoic so as to instill confidence in the lads.
After all, Martini didn’t mean to throw the ball against the fence …

Mike Davis led us to believe that there was a lot of “pressure” to live up to Knight's legacy. With an annual salary of anywhere between $500K and a mil, seems as though Mike should've heeded the words of Inspector Callahan when he slid off his slacks so that the doctor wouldn't have to slice up the pant leg to treat the gunshot wound.
Doc: "It'll hurt."
Harry: "For $29.50, let it hurt."

Mike Davis wore trousers priced higher than $29.50, although that didn't stop him from standing in his pleated pants, gesturing and orchestrating a team which, like Knight's final five teams, was marginally-talented and mostly-disorganized.
What's so pressure-packed about that?
“Pressure” is goin’ to work every day in a coal mine or grinding out a living in a blue-collar job, not putting on a $500 blazer and shouting directions to players who might've tuned you out a month ago.
There's a word for a job like that.
It's called "cush."

I read something recently about how, in terms of the ’02 run to the title game, yes, those were Knight’s players in theory, but it was Davis who coaxed Jeffries, Newton and Moye to come to IU and it was Davis who somehow made Coverdale more than a bench-warmer and it was Davis who got that pretty flower Dane Fife to become more “Dane-gerous.”
What a bunch of B.S.

For anyone who watched Coverdale or Newton or Fife back then (and later Bracey Wright and George Leach), what you saw were guys who could offer anywhere from 15-23 points one night and in the next game, provide two points, no rebounds, five turnovers, no assists and three fouls the next night.
The best case in point came during that ’02 tourney when IU fell into a 16-point hole against Duke and then Coach Shuh-Sheff-Skee said, “Carlos Boozer seems as though he’s scoring too easily; let’s allow our Hoosier opponent to get back into this game by NOT getting the ball to Boozer for the next 15 or 20 minutes.”
When IU beat Kent State in the Elite Eight, the good times rolled when the H-Men sank 15 of 19 from 3-point range (I seem to recall a pass ricocheting off of Odle’s elbow, caroming off Hornsby’s forehead and bouncing off of Fife’s shoulder and into the basket for threeeeeeeeeeee!!!!)

That ’02 tournament run was classic because it was a textbook example of how coaches can out-stupid one another. In the Final Four, when IU went up against Oklahoma, Sooner coach Kelvin Sampson – forgetting that he had four players on his team who were 80 percent foul shooters – figured, “okay, let’s shoot ill-advised 3-balls instead of getting IU into foul trouble.”

Well, some normalcy was established in the title game when the team with the best talent and the best chemistry (Maryland) defeated the team which could not locate its 15-of-19, three-ball mojo.
“Understanding the pro game is half the battle ...” – which is pretty much why Jarrad Odle inked a contract to become the NBA’s next Vanilla Von Dunkenburg immediately after the postgame show.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Jarrod Odle or Patrick Ewing, Jr. … the college game isn’t about living up to someone else’s “legacy” … it’s more about about developing game-to-game teamwork and a level of consistency. The Davis recruits which had no attachment to Knight were not, from what anyone could see, appreciably better than when they arrived in Bloomington.
And, if Davis was so keen on the NBA game, why didn’t he pattern his team’s style of play after the Spurs or the Pistons?
Answer: Because he’s not much of a coach, a judgment which was the sum of his in-game X’s and O’s and the unit on the floor which seemed to accomplish little in practice (except maybe shooting indiscrimate threes).

To wit, two years ago, after the Hooters lost to Illinois in the Big Ten tourney to finish 14-15, Moye said, “It hurts because it comes down to pride. If we were 14-15 and we gave it everything we had this year, I’d be OK with that. But we didn’t.”

Giving it everything you have?
Can Coach help with those principles?
Right … if the team actually has a coach.
And not a bellyacher.

Seems as though matters of pride and lack of intensity – nearly four years after Knight’s departure – would fall squarely in the lap of Davis. The H-Men, as Moye implied, didn’t “give it everything they had” because Coach found it easier to accuse the pressure of high expectations as to why his team was sloppy … or why the low-post players looked lost in the low-post … or why the offense had no flow and took questionable 3-point shots … or why his players couldn't hound the opponent on the defensive end ... or why they would get beaten on the boards …

Mike Davis was run out of town, figuratively, before he ran out of excuses. He could’ve told the Knight Faithful to cram it, taking the offensive with, “Hey, I went to as many Final Fours as Huggins did” or, better yet, he could’ve played the race card and said, “Was Branch McCracken the racist that people like Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson said he was?"

It’s funny, but when referring to those final games of the ’04 season, Davis allowed bench-warmer Mark Johnson to play in the final two games. In the win over Ohio State and the loss to the Illini, Johnson – who had scored 31 points in his IU career – was 7 of 15 from the floor (all 3-point attempts) and was 8 for 8 from the line.
Now, THAT actually was a move which made some sense ... inserting a benchwarmer because the stars weren’t delivering.
Sure, maybe Johnson was playing with a nothing-to-lose mentality, but maybe he would’ve been that way a lot earlier in the season if someone had given him a chance.
And, if Patrick Ewing, Jr. had transferred out sooner.

Aside from the fact that he was a sub-par coach and an inadequate recruiter, Mike Davis actually DID live up to the standards of Knight in the final five years in Bloomington – having a team look out of sync and playing like crap in just about every road game.
All while wearing the peppermint-striped warm-up pants.

Of course, those IU elitists who hang their winter coats and jackets in the Hoosier Hundred Cloak Room (I laughed my ass off when I saw where IU's finest hang their cloaks when the Mrs. took me to my one IU game in Assembly Hall ten years ago) are becoming Nervous Nellies because they're seeing what has happened at Purdue and how swiftly an elite team can become the Big Ten doormat.
Now, they're looking to Steve Alford as the savior.

Alford’s tele-conference on Friday was a real hoot. Every question was met with Alford’s pre-written reply of, “My entire focus and energy is helping my team win a Big Ten championship and get ready for the N-C-Double-A tournament. This is my only concern.”
“Hi, Coach, ummm … Sugar Smacks becoming Honey Smacks and Super Sugar Crisp transitioning to Golden Crisp, ummm … your thoughts?”
“My entire focus and energy is helping my team win a Big Ten championship and get ready for the N-C-Double-A tournament. This is my only concern.”

The situation is interesting for the H-Men of B-Town. Through it all, though, the lingering question lingers still: “How can we give the IU b-ball matter a Steelers’ Super Bowl victory tie-in?”
That’s pretty easy once you consider that, on the front cover of this Indiana Hoosiers Media Guide & Yearbook ‘99/’00 (Knight’s final season) is A.J. Guyton (the Mrs. and I loved that kid) and, on the inside cover (lower left corner) there’s a color depiction of No. 10 D-ing up against Ball State … ANTWAAN RANDLE EL!!!

Antwaan Randle El can tell Mike Davis a thing or two about pressure at Indiana, although, in ‘Twon’s case, it was the pressure of being chased by a Buckeye or Badger or ‘Boiler linebacker and then getting pulverized by the Buckeye or Badger or ‘Boiler linebacker.
‘Twon didn’t say, “Maybe Indiana needs a quarterback more like what they’re used to … y’know, like a Trent Green or a Babe Laufenberg.”
‘Twon just kept pluggin’ away and makin’ magical plays.
When he wasn't running for dear life.

His knack for playmaking did not go unnoticed, which is funny to think about once you rewind your mind to the ’02 NFL draft. After the Steelers spent their first-round pick on guard Kendall Simmons out of Auburn (a perfectly-acceptable selection), the team braintrust raised a few eyebrows by drafting Randle El as a receiver with the 62nd pick in the draft ahead of Pittsburgh Panthers wideout Antonio Bryant (who was chosen by Dallas with the next pick) and Louisville’s Deion Branch (who was taken by New England three picks later).

It seemed like a head-scratcher at the time ... like some sort of crazy ploy to replace Kordell Stewart (a.k.a. "Slash") with "Slash II" or "The New Slash" or "Second Slash" or "National Lampoon's European Slash-cation."

Sorry … my bad.

Although he was in his Indiana jersey at the time, Antwaan Randle El was not eligible to play (a freshman non-qualifier) when the Mrs. took me to my only IU football game (a 37-0 loss at home to Michigan in Sept. ’97).
All I remember about that game against the eventual national co-champs is that by the time the Mrs. and I were hitting the apparel racks inside the Big Red Gift Center, Michigan had pulled starting QB Brian Griese in favor of the garbage-time QB.
Some sophomore scrub named Tom Brady.

For the IU diehards, they remember the ’97 football season as a time when the Hoosier defense had two performers with great talent and great names – Adewale Ogunleye and Kywin Supernaw – but little else.
Of course, that ’97 season marked the first year for a new head coach who made a bold statement when he played God by switching the school colors, thus replacing crimson helmets and crimson jerseys with black helmets and blood-red jerseys.
All that was missing, in the minds of the Hoosier Hundred Cloak Room, was the peppermint-striped pants.

Either way, by referencing the ’97 season, we’ve ended our search for “Who’s Replacing The Guy Who Couldn’t Replace Knight?”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back “one of our own” … MALCOLM “CAM” CAMERON!!!!

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