Marquette's Williams Gets New Deal After NCAA Run
Written by Chris Jenkins, AP Sports Writer Wednesday, 30 March 2011 15:27
Marquette took a chance on Buzz Williams back in 2008, hiring a relative unknown whose name elicited head scratches and shoulder shrugs from fans and alumni in the wake of Tom Crean's disappointing departure for Indiana.
Now that Williams has led the Golden Eagles to the NCAA tournament in all three of his seasons as head coach — including a surprise run to the round of 16 this year — it is clear the school's gamble has paid off.
And they're sweetening the deal to keep him around.
Marquette announced Wednesday that it has finalized a new contract with Williams, who led the team through an uneven regular season to beat Xavier and Syracuse in the NCAA tournament before they bowed out to North Carolina. Terms were not disclosed.
The new deal presumably takes Williams' name out of the running for several high-profile programs looking for a new coach.
"I was given an opportunity beyond my wildest dreams 1,086 days ago and my entire family is extremely humbled and grateful by the opportunity to continue this journey," Williams said in a statement. "Too much attention is given to my position, but I assure you, it's the collective ownership of all of those who impact our program daily, who have developed the culture we currently have. I am thankful to all of those who work so diligently to make our program the success it is today."
Williams was a surprising hire after Crean left in 2008. He had been a head coach for only one season — at the University of New Orleans in 2006-07 — when he joined Crean as an assistant. Since taking over, Williams has led Marquette to three straight NCAA tournaments, is 69-37 overall and 32-22 in Big East play.
Athletic director Steve Cottingham said the new deal recognizes Williams' status as "one of the rising stars" in the college coaching ranks.
"The current direction of the program under his leadership fits perfectly into the mission and values of the University," Cottingham said. "Buzz has done a tremendous job guiding the program to successes both on and off the court and we look forward to that continuing for many years to come."
As speculation about Williams' future at Marquette grew during the Golden Eagles' tournament run, the coach said he would address the issue after the season. Even before the 81-63 loss to North Carolina, Williams reiterated that he was thankful to Marquette.
"Marquette gave me a chance when I had no job," Williams said then. "That's the deal."
Despite the tough loss to the Tar Heels, it was Marquette's best performance in the NCAA tournament since 2003, when Crean's Dwyane Wade-led team made the Final Four.
Williams has maintained the program's success largely through the addition of junior college transfers. But Williams also has reeled in a few marquee players — including Madison native Vander Blue, who originally had committed to in-state rival Wisconsin before coming to play at Marquette.
The new contract is another step in a unique journey for Williams, who got his start in coaching as a student assistant at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas.
He went out to meet every college coach he could from there, then began writing frequent letters to all of them in hopes of getting his foot in the door.
"I didn't know anything about college basketball, to be honest with you," Williams said recently. "But I knew how to say 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir.' I wasn't scared to work, and I knew that being polite and being honest would at least give you a chance."
He eventually landed a $400-per-month assistant job at Texas-Arlington in 1994, and worked his way up the ladder.
"I just knew that the only chance I had as a non-player, as no one that was connected to anybody associated with anybody in college athletics, was to wake up early, be very hard and diligent and effective and efficient in my work, to always tell the truth and to always try to treat people the right way," Williams said.
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Pitt G Gibbs to Declare for NBA Draft
Written by (AP) Tuesday, 29 March 2011 19:56
Pittsburgh junior Ashton Gibbs will declare for the NBA draft, but he will not hire an agent during the process.
Gibbs has until April 24 to formally apply and submit his NBA paperwork. As long as he doesn't hire an agent, he would have until May 8 to withdraw his name without losing his eligibility with the Panthers.
Gibbs, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound guard from Scotch Plains, N.J., has led the Panthers in scoring the last two seasons.
Pitt, a No. 1 seed and the Big East regular-season champions, lost in the second of round of the NCAA tournament to Butler 71-70.
Gibbs averaged 16.8 points this season, a career high, while shooting 49 percent from 3-point range. He had 26 points in a 74-51 first-round win over N.C. Asheville, but finished with just 11 in the loss to the Bulldogs.
Fredette Leads AP All-America Team
Written by Jim O' Connell, AP Sports Writer Monday, 28 March 2011 19:04
Seniors dominated The Associated Press All-America team for the first time in five years.
Jimmer Fredette of BYU, Nolan Smith of Duke and JaJuan Johnson of Purdue, all seniors, were joined on the team Monday by junior Kemba Walker of Connecticut and freshman Jared Sullinger of Ohio State.
It's the most seniors since four made the 2006 team.
Fredette led the nation in scoring at 28.5 points per game while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range, a number more impressive because of the shots he lets fly from well behind the line.
He received all but one vote from the 65-member national media panel that selects the weekly Top 25. The voting was done before the NCAA tournament.
Fredette became one of the most popular players in recent memory as teams that lost to BYU were "jimmered."
"I think that it's a great accomplishment. Unbelievable," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "It shows how good his work ethic is. He's a player who has worked his way into an All-American. What he's meant to our program over the last four years — it's really kind of immeasurable."
He is BYU's first All-America since Danny Ainge in 1981.
"If you go out and play your game and have confidence in yourself, you can accomplish great things," Fredette said. "That's what I've always said in my head, and it's worked out."
Smith, who received 61 votes, averaged 21.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists in leading the Blue Devils to the top of the polls for 10 weeks this season. He assumed most of the ball-handling for Duke after star freshman Kyrie Irving went down early in the season with a toe injury and was responsible for defending the other team's top perimeter player.
"It's been a long process for me, just getting better each year and improving," Smith said. "That's something I hope to share with younger kids coming up. If you put the time in and get better and better and then by the time your senior year hits, you'll start to accomplish some of those individual goals, and that's something that I've done."
Smith is the fifth Duke player to be an All-America since 2000; two of them — Jason Williams and J.J. Redick — were selected twice.
Sullinger burst onto to the national scene by averaging 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds while shooting 53.6 percent. The 6-foot-9 Sullinger, the seventh freshman All-America over the last five years, received 58 votes.
"I felt he was going to have a great impact not just on our program but on college basketball. The productivity he's had throughout the course of the season has really been incredible," Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. "He so much fun to coach. As I've said, if I was starting a team, I'd select him to be our first player."
Walker had a strong start to the season and then capped it with an incredible performance in leading the Huskies to five wins in as many days to win the Big East tournament. He averaged 23.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists and was the leader of one of the youngest teams in the country.
"It feels good, especially because I wasn't a preseason All-American," said Walker, who received 51 votes. "I just wanted to come into the season and try to win as many games as we could. From winning, it really helped me be a better player and just get more recognition."
Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said the 6-1 Walker, Connecticut's first All-America since Emeka Okafor in 2004, was "without a doubt the most important player to his team this season. I can't imagine where we would be without him."
The 6-10 Johnson was Purdue's inside presence, averaging 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. He was the first Boilermaker chosen to the first team since Glenn Robinson in 1994. Johnson returned to Purdue after considering leaving for the NBA.
"Your senior year, you don't want to leave anything out there, and I definitely have no regrets. It worked out," he said. "The only thing I wanted to do that we didn't get done was go to the Final Four. Other than that, we got it all done."
Marcus Morris of Kansas led the second team and was joined by Derrick Williams of Arizona, Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin and Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State.
Fredette and Johnson were both on the preseason All-America team, along with Kyle Singler of Duke, Jacob Pullen of Kansas State and Harrison Barnes of North Carolina.
VCU Fans Celebrate Final Four-Bound Rams' Upset
Written by Hank Kurz Jr., AP Sports Writer Monday, 28 March 2011 19:00
A day of excitement, celebration and delirium wasn't quite enough for VCU basketball fans, who turned out late Sunday night to welcome home their triumphant Rams.
Less than 12 hours after Virginia Commonwealth pulled off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history, fans braved the cold to greet Shaka Smart and his Final Four-bound team.
The Rams' arrived at the Siegel Center, their home arena, well after 1 a.m., greeted by about 5,000 fans inside who were chanting and singing to pass the time until the team arrived.
Smart was the first team member they saw, and as he walked into view with both arms thrust high in the air, the screaming and cheering reached deafening levels, and a chant of 'Shaka! Shaka! Shaka!' soon erupted. The crowd also chanted 'We want Butler,' VCU's next opponent on Saturday night.
When they started the season, Smart told the crowd, many of whom hadn't stopped partying, the Rams' goal was to reach the round of 16, something no VCU team had accomplished.
"When we got to San Antonio, we said, 'Why not go to the Final Four?'" Smart told the crowd. "''And now that we're going to the Final Four, we say, 'Why not win the whole thing?'"
The crowd went wild, cheering and chanting as Smart introduced Jamie Skeen, who was clutching a basketball as the most outstanding player of the Southwest Regional, and point guard Joey Rodriguez, who held the trophy for winning the regional championship above his head.
Smart also introduced Bradford Burgess, whose layin with 7 seconds left beat Florida State in overtime in the regional semifinals, and Brandon Rozzell, whose 3-point shooting has been key all tournament long.
"All the people that didn't believe in us on Selection Sunday, what are they saying now?" Smart asked the crowd, continuing the Rams' rallying cry since they were selected to play in the tournament, then dismissed as undeserving by television commentators.
Smart ran off the list of teams the Rams have sent home, all from power conferences. Southern Cal of the Pac 10. Georgetown of the Big East. Purdue of the Big Ten. Florida State of the Atlantic Coast Conference. And on Sunday, top-seeded powerhouse Kansas of the Big 12.
All but the victory against the Seminoles came by 10 points or more.
About 1,400 students watched VCU's 71-61 victory on the big screens inside the Siegel Center, then poured out onto Broad Street — and main thoroughfare — to party when it was over.
Many, it seemed, came back to welcome the team home.
Before the team arrived, cars driving by the Siegel Center honked, a bus driver pulled up and screamed "VCU, Final Four Baby" into his microphone, drawing huge cheers from the crowd.
The steadily growing crowd chanted and sang popular songs, and cheered itself, too.
"This puts us on the map," said Seaver Woolfolk, 24, a senior psychology major. "You can feel the momentum growing nationally. Everyone is pulling for VCU as the underdog."
Shamiya Dale, 24, was first in line at one entrance, and said she'd arrived at 9 p.m.
Dale said she was working at Sam's Club while the game was going on, and grateful her post in the jewelry department was right next to electronics so she could watch the game.
"It was very exciting," she said, until the Jayhawks closed to within two in the second half. With the crowd growing in front of the televisions, "My heart was beating like crazy, but I didn't give up on them. I knew how hard they play and that they wouldn't give up."
Dale, who graduated in December with a Master's degree in teaching, was among the first to arrive at the Siegel Center, where lines of hundreds of students and fans formed at both ends.
Stephanie Bell came around 9 p.m., too. She said she wasn't able to watch the game until halftime, and while delighted with the 14-point lead, worried as Kansas came back.
"I was sweating bullets when I saw Kansas close that gap, but I knew they would pull through," the 26-year-old, who graduated from VCU in December 2008 said. "I think they thrive off the negative comments, and all the people saying they didn't deserve to be there."
Bell said she rarely makes it to games, but called in late for her 7 a.m. shift on Monday at the Howard Johnson's nearby because she wanted to be part of the celebration with the team.
"It's the Final Four!" she said.
Ryan Darnell, a Richmond native, came to be part of the party, too.
"I was worried," he said, when Kansas got close in the second half. "I was scared the Cinderella story was ending. I felt like it couldn't end then. It just wouldn't be right."
First Four to Final Four: VCU Stuns Kansas 71-61
Written by Paul J. Weber, AP Sports Writer Sunday, 27 March 2011 21:15
Move over, Butler. Virginia Commonwealth is crashing the Final Four.
Two weeks ago, the 11th-seeded Rams so doubted they would get a NCAA tournament invite that they watched Cartoon Network and went out for burgers instead of watching the selection show. Now, all of America will be watching them in the Final Four.
The 11th-seeded Rams are heading to Houston, and final No. 1 seed Kansas is heading home after the biggest March upset in years.
VCU stunned the Jayhawks 71-61 on Sunday, becoming just the third 11th seed to make the Final Four. The Jayhawks had been the last top seed standing, but what looked like an easy path to the final weekend ended in a stunning collapse.
Eighth-seeded Butler, you're promoted to a favorite next week. VCU is the trendy underdog pick this year.
"Once again we felt like nobody really thought we could win going into this game," said VCU coach Shaka Smart, the budding star of the tournament. "Our guys have done a phenomenal job of putting all the doubters aside, all the people that didn't believe in us, and going out to do their job."
VCU guard Joey Rodriguez counted one of Kansas' vaunted Morris twins — Marcus or Markieff — as one of those many doubters. During a pregame captains meeting with officials, Rodriguez said one of the brothers offered him some parting words: "The run ends here."
"We'll see," Rodriguez shot back.
The Jayhawks saw all right.
VCU players, hoisting their Southwest regional champion trophy, poured into the temporary bleachers where VCU's widely outnumbered fans sat in an Alamodome that was otherwise colored in Kansas blue and white.
VCU had sold out its allotment of 1,000 tickets in San Antonio after advancing farther than any Rams team in school history. The weekend before in Chicago, VCU had so many leftovers that Purdue fans scooped them up.
Jamie Skeen led VCU with 26 points, and as the final seconds ticked down, heaved the ball from the free throw line into the stands behind the opposite backboard. His teammates on the bench, who spent the final minutes with locked arms to hold each other back, finally spilled out onto the court, grinning ear to ear.
Kansas players walked slowly off the court. Several, including Markieff Morris, cried.
"Probably the best game they played ever," Markieff said. "Probably the best game ever as a school tonight. We let them. We let them beat us."
Smart was guided from one interview to another wearing the cut-down net around his neck. The cheers for VCU were only interrupted for guard Brandon Rozzell, who stood at midcourt as the crown serenaded him with an impromptu "Happy Birthday."
The celebration even carried to other arenas. In Newark, N.J., where Kentucky was playing North Carolina, the crowd erupted when the public address announcer broadcast the final score from Texas.
"Anything is possible," he told the arena.
It's George Mason all over again, and VCU had an even tougher Final Four path than their tiny conference brethren in 2006.
The Rams needed five wins to go from First Four to Final Four. Along the way, they toppled the Pac-10's Southern California, the Big East's Georgetown, the Big 10's Purdue, the ACC's Florida State and now the Big 12's Kansas.
They'll pick on someone their own size next: Butler.
The Jayhawks? All they did was bully smaller teams to get this far. Kansas never apologized for coasting through a favorable bracket that served up schools seeded 16th (Boston University), ninth (Illinois) and 12th (Richmond).
None of those games tested the Jayhawks, who had been ranked No. 1 this season and had won 11 in row. Then VCU came out and showed it wasn't just another pushover.
The Jayhawks spent the first half not knowing what hit them.
Kansas (36-3) hadn't trailed by more than two points the entire tournament. With five minutes left in the first half, the Jayhawks trailed by 17.
Marcus Morris had 20 points and 16 rebounds, and his brother had 13 and 12. They played in disbelief as VCU, which ousted Florida State on 3-pointers on Friday night, used the long ball to bury the Jayhawks early this time.
The Rams hit 9 of their 12 3-pointers in the first half. Kansas trailed 41-27 at halftime and closed the lead to 46-44 with 13:11 left, but a 10-2 VCU run put the Jayhawks right back where they started.
Smart, the 33-year-old whose enigmatic personality has made him a breakout star, was so animated shuffling in front of his bench that officials shooed him back. Another official later served Smart his first technical all season.
Smart said he used that moment as a motivator — though he had to clean up his language first.
"It was basically forget the refs, forget Kansas, this is all about us," Smart said. "We got to do what we got to do."
VCU (28-11) is the third 11th seed to crack the Final Four. The last was George Mason in 2006, when that Colonial Athletic Association school stunned Connecticut in its regional final. LSU made it in 1986.
The Rams' upset guaranteed a Final Four without a No. 1 seed.
Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Duke didn't even last to the regional finals. Two traditional basketball powers, Arizona and Kentucky, and defending runner-up Butler took care of that.
On Saturday, Smart quoted a line from "Dumb and Dumber" to explain how he felt about his team: "So you're saying we've got a chance?" A day later, he leaned on another old comedy to sum up the Ram's unlikely run.
"Ever seen the movie 'Major League?'" Skeen told reporters. "I can't say exactly what the guy says. But they get in some situations, and there's only one thing left to do.
"Win the whole blank thing."
AP Sports Writer Jaime Aron contributed to this report.
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