SCREAMIN’ FROM THE CHEAP SEATS : MARCH 6
By Leo Haggerty

DOES ANYONE HAVE A CLUE

BAYLOR WOMEN’S HEAD COACH KIM MULKEY

Before I even begin, let me put this right up front.  What happened at Baylor, with regard to the enormous number of sexual abuse charges that seemingly were ignored, is unconscionable and inexcusable.  All those who know of this, and apparently did nothing to stop it, need to be fired.  Period.

I waited to write my column because I was hoping Baylor Women’s HC Kim Mulkey would hold a press conference to apologize for the verbiage she used a week ago Saturday after posting her 500th career win.  Her choice of words gave the impression that sexual assault was not as big a problem as it was made out to be when she said, “The problems we have at Baylor are no different than the problems at any other school in America. Period. Move on. Find another story to write.”

After having a few days to contemplate about what she said, Mulkey stated, “Awful things happened here.  We failed victims here, but I’m encouraged every day because I see what’s taken place to fix it. And, I just think we’ve responded the way we can aggressively, financially. We’ve admitted our mistakes. My heart goes out to victims. How can I not? I’m a woman. I have a daughter. I’m responsible for how many in that locker room.  In fact, I’m angry that we’ve failed those women. But I’m also encouraged because I see that we’re trying to do better.”

A more thoughtfully put response by the Baylor HC on Thursday. What I want to examine is what led Mulkey to, as we say in the coaching profession, go off the reservation with her comments.  We have other ways of putting it but none of them are acceptable in the field of print journalism.

I believe that this is what transpired. Mulkey may have been informed, by an assistant or a recruit or the parents of a potential member of the Baylor women’s basketball program, that the prospective student-athlete was not coming to Baylor.  The reason they gave was they were told by someone, either an opposing coach or a friend of the family or somewhere in between those extremes, that it wasn’t safe for that young lady to attend the Waco, Texas university.

Ladies and gentlemen, if that thought would prevail around the women’s basketball community, the Baylor program would be in serious trouble.  Mulkey knew that if her program was becoming the victim of negative recruit she would have to react swiftly and she did.

Did Coach Mulkey chose the correct way to address that issue?  Probably not and that’s why she came out and apologized for some of her statements.  She is, admittedly, a very emotional person especially when it comes to Baylor and it showed.

If the above scenario is correct, then I don’t fault Coach Mulkey for her reaction.  I do fault her on the way she chose to bring that into the open.

Coach, next time and I hope there isn’t a next time, run your thoughts by the Sports Information Director and the Athletic Director.  They will probably agree with your thinking and help make the presentation not as abrupt.

WHAT’S HOT

NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE

You know that the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Adam Silver, cannot be happy with this.  The Western Conference is, by far, the more competitive one in the NBA.

Let’s just look at teams with 35 or more wins.  That’s approximately a 10 games over .500 winning percentage which, I think, is an extremely fair litmus test to see how good a team is after about 60 games.

As of today, in the Eastern Conference, there are only four teams have hit that threshold.  The Central Division leading Cleveland Cavaliers lead with 42 and they are followed by the Atlantic Division front running Boston Celtics with 40 victories.  Tied with 37 wins are the Southeast Division pace setting Washington Wizards and the second place Atlantic Division Toronto Raptors.

In the Western Conference, it is really the Wild West. The Pacific Division has two teams, the Golden State Warriors with 51 and the Los Angeles Clippers with 37, that have exceeded the 35 win plateau.  In the Northwest Division, its a dogfight with the Utah Jazz at 39 wins and the Oklahoma City Thunder at 35 wins.  The big winners are in the Southwest with three teams, San Antonio with 48 and Houston with 44 followed by Memphis with 36, above the high water mark.

As you can see, the East leading Cavaliers would be a four seed if the playoffs were today and they were in the West.  That helps the Cavs, or whoever comes out as champions of the East, because they won’t have a truly competitive series until the finals.

However, in the West, you better bring your A-game starting with the first round.  Right now Golden State would host Denver but, with a hobbled or missing Kevin Durant, this becomes a series especially if the Nuggets can sneak a win in the Bay area that would force the Warriors to win a game at altitude in the Mile High City.  And who would want to see a San Antonio-Oklahoma City open round series.

As you can see, you can’t just roll out the ball and win in the West.  To survive and advance, it may take a minimum of six games in each series and that puts a lot of wear and tear on the body.  Plus, that only helps the winner in the East. who will probably be Cleveland, because they’ll get a tired and beat up West Champion.

The NBA has to come up with a way to have better parity between the East and the West.  The problem is what do you do?  Frankly, I don’t have an answer and I don’t think Silver and his staff have one either.  My friends, if you do, get in touch with the powers that be in New York City.  I’m sure they’ll take that call.

WHAT’S NOT

SOUTH FLORIDA MEN’S BASKETBALL

I have to be honest here.  This part of my column I truly wish I didn’t have to write but there’s no way around it.  Under normal conditions, USF cannot hire interim HC Murry Bartow as their permanent Men’s Basketball Head Coach and it pains me to explain why.

Let’s get one thing out on the table right now.  I like Coach Bartow.  I like his style and how he relates to his players as well as his honesty with the media along with a no-nonsense approach to coaching.  Play hard and play smart and be physical.  He is a perfect fit to move the Bulls from the bottom of the heap in the American Conference to respectability.

Sadly, that’s all changed last week and through no fault of Coach Bartow.  South Florida, after an away game at Tulsa and flying back through Houston, left two players at the airport when they departed on their connecting flight to Tampa.

I can speak from experience that checking to make sure all members of the travel party are on the plane does not fall on the Head Coach.  This is a responsibility of one of the assistant coaches who, in the understatement of the year, dropped the ball.

It never should have happened but it did.  Coach Bartow, as the Head Coach, has to fall on his sword and take the blame which he has done.

So why can’t the Bulls just fire an assistant coach and move on with Bartow running the program on a permanent basis?  To answer that, make sure you first read my Does Anyone Have A Clue segment.

If you haven’t, here’s a synopsis.  Every school that is in the running with USF for that blue-chip incoming freshman or junior college transfer will be negatively recruiting against the Bulls and here’s how it would go down.  The coach from another school would say to a prospective recruit, “So you are considering South Florida?  Do you really want to go to a program where the head coach and his staff doesn’t even care enough about their players to make sure all of them are on the plane when the take off?  That could easily be you and how would you feel being left?  That has never happened at (fill in the school’s name) and never will.”

How do I know this you ask?  Because that’s exactly what I would say.  During my seven years of coaching on the collegiate level, I’ve done it and had it done to me.  It’s the dirty part of recruiting but it’s the most effective.  You want to place doubt in the mind of a recruit, but more so the parents,  and that’s what would happen to potential recruits considering USF.

South Florida, if they hire Bartow or not, may never be able to recover from this incident as well as other problems with the biggest one the culture of losing.  It will be at least five years, and probably longer, before the Bulls can convince enough quality players to climb out of the American basement.

Ladies and gentlemen, AD Mark Harlan’s hands are tied on this one.  Even if he thinks Coach Bartow is the best candidate for the job, he has think of the program.  With all the negative recruiting that USF will face by being a bad basketball team record wise, adding this incident may be enough to dissuade those five-star basketball players from coming to South Florida.  That has to be avoided at all cost and that cost may be letting a good coach like Bartow go.

With all this being said, I want you to go back and watch the movie “Hoosiers” and go to the clip where they want to fire Coach Dale (expertly played by Gene Hackman).  The acting Principal (also exquisitely played by Barbara Hershey) knows some things about Coach Dale but gets up and says, “In order to be fair (pause and does not reveal what she knows), I think it would be a big mistake to let Coach Dale go.  Give him a chance.”

Mr. Harlan, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting even though it goes against conventional wisdom.  Give Coach Bartow a chance!

LOOKING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL

NCAA MARCH MADNESS 

OK, NCAA basketball fans. It’s your time of the year. In less than a week, March Madness begins with Selection Sunday and, as the Crystal Ball reminded me with this Bible verse, “Many are called but only 68 are chosen.”  A little play on words by the magical orb but you get the drift.

The Crystal Ball sees, in the not so distant future, the expansion of NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament from the current 68 team format. Another round or two, when it comes to the television revenue that can be generated, makes this an extremely prudent decision if only from a financial standpoint.

The Crystal Ball is still a little cloudy on the specific number of teams that will be added to March Madness and the exact date when this will occur.  It will happen sooner than later because, if there’s one thing that we can be assured of, the NCAA never leaves a Benjamin on the table when it can go in their coffers.

As usual, the Crystal Ball rests.