Wednesday, February 27, 2008


There is a plaque that hangs just inside The Palestra, the legendary basketball arena on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It reads:

"To win the game is great. To play the game is greater. But to love the game is the greatest of all."

That quote may apply to the legions of Division I players that have made history at the Palestra through the years. But nowhere does it apply more than in the relative obscurity of Division III basketball.

There are no scholarships. There is no TV deal. There are no coach's endorsements. And many times, there are no fans.

The players in Division III are the last true student-athletes. They aren't going pro and they aren't getting famous. And they play hoops for themselves, their teammates and the love of the game.

And these guys can play. Really play.

And while the college basketball landscape is dominated by the March to Madness, Bob Knight's bail-out and Kelvin Sampson's compulsive scuzzball behavior history was quietly being made, Division III-style, not forty minutes from that famed plaque at the Palestra.

Ursinus College, in Collegeville, Pa., became the first team in Centennial Conference history to go undefeated in conference play. The Bears hit 18-0 with a 72-69 nail-biter over Muhlenberg on Saturday.

The Bears have an All-American scoring machine in senior Nick Shattuck. They also have an emerging star in junior guard John Noonan.

You will read very little about Nick Shattuck the rest of the way because John Noonan is my nephew and I'm going to brag about him from here on out.

Nick — sorry, dude.

And in keeping with strict BrothersMcc protocol, I am writing this without benefit of actually having seen any of the games — which in no way diminishes my expert opinion and insights. That said ...

John Noonan is the quintessential D-III hoopster.

He was the best player at his high school — tiny Friends Select in Philadelphia. He had the chance to transfer to bigger high schools that played in more competitive leagues but he chose not to. Friends Select was his school and the guys were his teammates.

In the summers, John held his own against some of the best players in the city — many of whom went to D-I schools.

Ursinus, a perennial power in D-III, recruited him. And off he went, tagged as the school's next great player.

And he struggled.

The transition from Friends Select-type competition to top-flight college hoops was a huge challenge. John played sparingly as a freshman — he was tentative. He put pressure on himself. He got frustrated. His jumper deserted him.

But he kept working. He worked hard. Then worked a little harder.

Last year — as a sophomore — John moved into the starting line-up and he showed flashes. But his jumper still was fickle and the team never found its stride, stumbling on a four-game losing streak to end the season a disappointing 16-10.

This year, John Noonan has emerged. And it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. He is playing clutch basketball, shooting the ball like a seasoned veteran and even leads the team in steals. And he makes his free throws.

(Note to John Calipari at Memphis — There will be games that come down to making free throws and it will be your undoing. For the love of God, practice free throws, mister.)

And John Noonan is funny. Which goes a long way in the course of a grueling hoops and books season.

In the final three-game run to history, Ursinus battled the following:

— prior to an 88-62 road win against Dickinson, Nick Shattuck and John were flattened by the flu. John dragged himself out on the court and laid 22 points on them, going 8 for 11 from the field.

— against Haverford, a team Ursinus beat by 30 earlier in the year, John gets whistled for a phantom foul with .08 seconds remaining and the score tied. The player from Haverford College spares John years of therapy and possible mental illness by missing the free throw. Ursinus holds on in OT 82-75.

— In the final regular season game at Muhlenberg, Ursinus survives an excruciating parade to the foul line by Muhlenberg in the last two minutes and a desperate three-point heave to stay undefeated.

The Ursinus Bears were perfect. John Noonan broke out — averaging nearly 15 points a game and even throwing down his first career dunk.

The Ursinus Bears host the Centennial Conference tournament this weekend. They are ranked 17th in the country and #1 in the Middle Atlantic Region. They are on their way to the NCAA tournament.

So, when you're filling out your pools for March Madness and watching games and shouting yourself hoarse, remember D-III — the teams that play out of view, that go to class, that play for the love of the game.

And remember that nice guys do finish first.

Just ask John Noonan — 2008 1st-Team All-Conference

Friday, February 15, 2008


The indie thriller The Lodge will be screening twice at the Oxford International Film Festival which runs from April 10-13, 2008.

I'm in the thing. So, if you've been waiting with bated breath to hang at some wild, woolly college town for a weekend and watch countless films and hobnob with — well, me and the wife, I guess — now's your chance.

Rumor has it there'll be red carpet to be ignored on as well!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Music Geek's Valentine

Hey Folks!!

Here we go … Valentine's Day. Well, this song is for every guy (myself included) who always thought that giving a girl a “mix tape” was a better idea that giving her a dozen roses.

Good luck on Valentine's Day 2008!

Pat & Joanne

This Canadian singer was singing along
When Pat leaned over and whispered to me
If I could write my wife a love song
This is the song that that song would be

And as I stood there in this downtown bar
This idea well it just came to me
When I'd get home I'd pull out my guitar
And lend my voice to all my friends who think music's the key

This is for Pat and Joanne
He just wants to tell you he can't believe he's still he's your man
You bring him love - you bring him peace
He brings you tapes with songs that have yet to be released
And that's his way of saying I love you

Now the songs that played thru every slow dance
That let us boys believe we actually stood a chance
End up on mix tapes that we give you with our hearts
Hoping that you won't tear us apart

And when we find the ones who don't laugh cause we believe
It's truly important to have the import picture sleeve
They're the ones that would hold on to tight
Like an unplayed first release of The Beatle “Hard Days Night”

This is for Pat and Joanne
He out kicked his coverage - he married up - he's a lucky man
Just like all the rest of us
Who music has helped along
Who played our loves a record
Cause our own words never felt as strong
To all the crazy women
Who went with us to some small time bar
Just so we could listen to some guy with an old guitar
Cause that's how we say, 'I love you'

Saturday, February 9, 2008


There is nothing like great theater.

And there is really nothing like great theater that hits you when you least expect it. That presents itself in such a unique and committed way that it makes you want to jump up onstage and share the joy.

And when you factor in that the great theater in question — No Dice from the New York-based Nature Theater of Oklahoma — is a four-hour experimental theater extravaganza — the enormity of the thrill becomes clear.

In the friendly confines of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, OH, the astounding No Dice ensemble takes stylized acting and wildly energetic choreography to a place of high art.

The dialogue was crafted from countless hours of taped phone conversations between company members and their friends and family. The characters are foreigners — until they discard their accents and then their costumes and we realize what we suspected all along:

They aren't foreigners — they are us. And they are making a Herculean effort — using everyday conversations — to make sense of their lives and the world they share. Their interactions are by turns melodramatic, vaudevillian, touching and consistently hilarious.

Topics of dissection — um, discussion — include office work, Russian TV, drinking, dieting, novel punishments for scofflaw actors, Mel Gibson's Hamlet and dinner theater. All explored with non sequiturs, fits and starts and magnificently commited acting.

Then there's the dancing — which is as joyously uproarious as any I've ever witnessed on stage. (I admit, I do not possess a comprehensive mental library of dance numbers on stage but take my word for it.)

The theatrical experience of No Dice ultimately defies any written description. Like any great live experience — it needs to be seen, felt and heard.

However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the truly inspirational commitment by the actors — especially the astounding trio of Zachary Oberzan, Anne Gridley and Robert M. Johanson.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that my lovely, insightful and persistent wife, Lisa, was the driving force to see this show. See, I've been in and seen enough wacky-kooky-hey-look-at-us we're-super-different! experimental theater that I was leery of a four-hour sojourn — possibly into the heart of nutville.

No Dice is a show that restores faith in the power of live theater.

It is an example of what live theater should be.

I wanted to be up there with them.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


I've been a Bobby Knight apologist for years. Yes, it's been with declining conviction recently but nevertheless, there it is.

My brother Trip thought Knight was a dick.

I loved The General's teams when I was growing up — especially the 32-0 '76 team that sealed the deal in Philly. I dreamed of playing for Knight. His teams played tough, hard-ass basketball. They were unselfish and disciplined. They overcame physical limitations. They played hoops the right way. They played hoops that let you dream.

I thought it would be the ultimate challenge — to play under that kind of pressure, to thrive in that demanding cauldron. Even if I was too short, too slow and too earthbound.

Trip reiterated his sentiment that Bobby Knight was, is, and shall be ... a dick.

Even when everyone around me labeled him a bully, an ogre, a jerk off, a dick — I was fascinated by Bobby Knight. Did it really make you a better person to survive four years under him? Could someone be that angry, stubborn nasty and intimidating AND be a fiercely loyal, brilliantly innovative, tough-loving father-figure genius coach?

Maybe, Trip said, but not Knight — because Knight is a dick.

I was mesmerized by Knight's contradictions. I read John Feinstein's amazing book A Season on the Brink and came away wanting to meet Knight and find out what the Sweet Jesus made him tick.

You'll meet a dick, Trip said.

Well, I was too slow, too small and too earthbound a hoopster to ever come near experiencing Knight's particular brand of coaching. And the closer Knight came to Crazy Old Guy status — I mean, his eyebrows have their own zoning laws — the less I was able to rationalize my fascination.

But, even as his behavior became wackier and downright reprehensible, there was STILL a kernel of absorption in this Shakespearean decline. Sure, his teams tanked in the tournament and he was beginning to look more and more like a dinosaur. Yes, he railed like Lear and picked on little guys like Jeremy Schaap, who had the unmitigated gall to not pucker up and kiss his ass.

But he was Knight — maybe the greatest college coach of all time. And he had his principles — twisted as they might get by his temper and pig-headedness. His programs were clean. He cared about the kids. The kids got their diplomas. He was there.

Knight was there — through shitstorms and tornados, through outrage and witchhunts, through his own buffoonery and the exploitation of the media.

Knight hung in. Because it was for the kids. That's what college coaching is, after all. It's for the kids. Isn't that what every coach says?

Isn't that why coaches — in particular Bobby Knight — demand unquestioned loyalty, total obedience and maximum effort?

Because it's ultimately about character. Principles. Ideals. The kids. Jesus Christ, it's about the kids after all!!!!

Except when the coach is a dick.

Bobby Knight quit. He didn't retire. He'll coach again, the pussy. He had a painfully mediocre team at a school that — no matter how you slice it — was, is and always will be an also-ran. And he bailed. He took his red sweater and went home. He couldn't even be bothered to consider the four seniors on his team.

He tortured poor Martin Zeno for four years and then gives him the high hat with a month left. In fact, playing for Bobby Knight has probably 86'ed Zeno's NBA prospects.

And what thanks does Martin Zeno get?

The thanks of a dick.

Bobby Knight can tell everyone that he left to help his son Pat — who took over for Dad as coach at Texas Tech. But Pat was already promised the job whenever Knight was through. Why quit in the middle of the season? Why quit on the team that you browbeat about loyalty and toughness?

Bobby Knight told Jay Bilas of ESPN that he was "tired." And that it had been a "tough season." Okay, Bobby Knight is 67 — that's old but it's not even close to I'm-absolved-of-all-responsibility-for-my-actions old.

Worst of all, Knight told Bilas — "I'm just a basketball coach. I didn't work on curing heart disease or work on a cure for cancer or lead a division into a military endeavor that was a tremendous benefit to the United States. I've been a basketball coach.''

That quote was the killer — because Knight knows it's a lie and built his career on just the opposite.

And Bilas, who simply knows better, let it slide. He didn't have the courage to risk Knight's petulant wrath.

Here's the truth ...

College basketball is not insignificant. Yes, it has ruined some young men and probably hundreds of coaches' marriages. But college basketball has saved countless young men and women and thrilled millions and made millions and is a cultural institution. And I'd like to know this:

If you're just a basketball coach, Mr. Knight, — Why do you lose your shit every game. Why don't you sit on the bench, shut up and read the paper? Why do you write books about the lessons learned? Why do you take young men under your wing? Why does Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski call you the most influential person in his life other than his father?

Because, you hypocritical jackass, you know and I know that you (and every other coach worth their salt) is way, way more than a coach.

I can tell you, unequivocally, that when you sweat and bleed for a coach for three and a half years, you are in it together — to the end. That's just the way it is. That man or woman becomes more than a coach. That person becomes like another parent.

And no amount of wizened verbiage, crocodile tears and rationalization will change the fact that the Texas Tech players will feel that they let Knight down, that they drove him from the arena. That he quit because they weren't good enough.

Is there a worse act to commit in the locker room?

Why would Knight do that to those kids? And then, as a final shiv, why in the name of John Wooden would he leave the door open to the possibility of coaching again somewhere else? I mean, it was so easy to avoid. Just finish the season like a man. Why would The General make such a weak-tit choice!?

Because, in the end, the winningest coach in College basketball history, the towering innovator, the General, the mentor who has shaped countless lives, the man, the myth, the legend ...

... is a dick.

Trip was right.

And that might be the worst part of all this.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Hawk Will Never Die!!

This post is dedicated to Mezz.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Son of a Bitch!

Well ... I recently wrote that a Tom Coughlin-coached team would never win the Super Bowl.

And I received attack-dog, inflammatory emails from otherwise trusted friends who are Giants fans. I will not stoop to revealing their names in this public forum.


CHRIS MURPHY!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm not built that way.

Tom friggin' Coughlin! It's like a Bobby Knight, Lou Piniella and Vic Morrow in the Bad News Bears Gorgon won the Super Bowl.

Look on the bright side, Patriots fans — based on my prognostication — Ray Allen will lead the Celtics to the NBA championship.