When I saw on Twitter on Wednesday that the Milwaukee Bucks had been sold, my heart sunk a little bit.
I had been a fan of the team my entire life, but a sale by Senator Herb Kohl was inevitable as he continued to age. The rumors had been floating around for months, even years; when, not will, the team get moved to Seattle?
And although I knew Herb Kohl said many times that he would only sell to somebody who would keep the team in the state he represented for 24 years, those who purchased the team had the say when they took over.
So forgive me for recalling dozens of fond memories at the Bradley Center.
* * *
I grew up in Gurnee, Ill., a suburb of Chicago right off of I-94. Our interstate access allowed us to easily take a one-hour trip down to Chicago if we ever wanted to. But it was also just an hour north to get to Milwaukee. It’s because of the proximity to these major cities that in the 1970’s, Six Flags opened a theme park there.
But I grew up in the 90s – when the greatest player of the era played for the team to the south – how on earth did I grow up a fan of a team that has seemingly been stuck in basketball purgatory all my life?
Well I wish I could say otherwise, but I don’t recall going to my fist Bucks game. It’s my understanding that I was still a baby. But what I can remember is that at a very young age, I fell in love with the game of basketball. Get the ball through a hoop: it was a simple yet complex game.
I soaked the game up like a sponge. I wanted to learn about it as much as I could, and my parents obliged. But at that time, money was very tight, and Bulls tickets were an arm and a leg for nosebleed seats. Luckily, Milwaukee afforded a much cheaper opportunity.
Roughly once a year – sometimes twice if it was a good year – we’d make our trips up there. I remember my first jersey was a purple Todd Day jersey that I wore each time with such pride. There was the time that we went with my dad’s co-worker, who had seats right behind the basket. There was another time we sat on the upper level, and two random people we chatted up had a pair of extra tickets and offered us to move to the lower level. It seemed like every trip we made up there as a youngin’ got better and better.
The height of the excitement game right at the turn of the century with a Big Three of Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Sam Casell. The team would eventually go on to lose in the Eastern Conference Finals (with controversy) to the Philadelphia 76ers. But you had better believe not a day went by that year that I wasn’t consumed with the team. May I remind you that this was in the era of dial-up internet so there was no streaming or Gametracker. It got to the point that I would turn on ESPN and just stare at the bottom line waiting for the score to flash by. Most days, the rather poor radio in my room would pick up 620 WTMJ and I could listen to Ted Davis announce the games. I loved it.
Milwaukee started to become progressively worse. First, Ray Allen was traded away midway through the 2003 season. Then that following offseason, Cassell and Robinson were also dealt. Gary Payton left as a free agent and the team only had budding star Michael Redd to rely on.
He was enough for me and my dad to keep going to games. A couple years later, my dad requested the game that we go to. He wanted to see Phoenix and Steve Nash play live. OK, I can’t say no to that.
Nash didn’t disappoint, either. He had 23 points and seven assists that night. But I won’t be forgetting what else happened that night. My Bucks absolutely rolled past one of the NBA’s best teams using a barrage of 3’s. Redd was 6-for-11 from distance, Charlie Bell was 5-of-8. But in the 46-point third quarter, the show belonged to Toni Kukoc. The Croation Sensation was absolute money and was hitting shots he had absolutely no business hitting. It was a stellar night neither I nor my dad have since forgotten.
Unfortunately through high school and college, the number of games quickly dropped. And since moving down to Florida, I haven’t been to the Bradley Center. I watch as many games as I can but it’s just not the same as being there with my dad.
* * *
Not too long after I saw the Tweet of the Bucks sale, somebody else mentioned that a condition of the sale was that the team would stay in Milwaukee. Yeah right, I thought.
Then shortly into the press conference that introduced Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry, I saw the news that absolutely thrilled me. Not only would these two investment bankers invest $100 million into a new arena, Kohl was going to do the same. Yep, $200 million towards a new arena – nearly half the expected price for a new home. My Bucks would not leave Milwaukee anytime soon.
I can’t wait until the new arena is built – I only hope it has the beautiful Robert Indiana-inspired court at the BMOHBC now. Whatever it takes, I’ll find a way to go to a game there that first year. And of course, I’m going to take my dad and buy him a beer, hopefully with another memory to make.
I only hope that one day, and I’m positive I will, to take my own kids there and have them experience the same magic I was able to.
Thank you, but I’ve had enough.
The last time I checked, Cliff Alexander isn’t running for president.
But somehow we’ve reached that stage. Read More…
Run date: 11/25 in Charlotte Sun
CAPE CORAL — The Plantation American Heritage High School boys basketball team might want to consider trying out for the track team come spring.
After all, the Patriots proved they could run and jump Saturday night.
American Heritage used its high-tempo offense and tight defense to run away with an 87-49 victory over North Port High School on Day 2 of the Turkey Shootout at Island Coast High School.
Seven Patriots had at least eight points, led by sophomores Keshawn Evans and Josh Borders who had 13 and 11 points, respectively.
“We kind of ran into a buzz saw today,” North Port coach Curt Allen said. “We turned it over early, and once we showed any sign of weakness passing the ball,
the kind of went to a new level.”
Right from the start, American Heritage, a perennial contender for the state title, created fast break opportunities by getting into North Port’s passing lanes. The result was a 24-10 lead after the first.
The second quarter offered more of the same, and Jeremy Mullings capped the period with a half-court buzzer beater to extend the lead to 54-26. “We weren’t handling the ball well enough to play the way we wanted to play,” Allen said about the pace of the game. “… It forced us to make quick plays, and once we got into a track meet, that was one we were going to lose.”
At the start of the third quarter, North Port (3-1) attempted to control the tempo by slowing down the action, allowing the Bobcats to start picking away at the deficit.
After North Port sophomore Malek Barber picked up a pair of quick fouls — his third and fourth — to force him to the bench, American Heritage resumed forcing turnovers and converting them into fast break points.
“I told him after the game that he was a warrior all weekend but he made some silly fouls,” Allen said of Barber. “He’s going to have to learn.”
Freshman forward Brandon Gonzalez provided one bright spot for North Port. He led the team with 11 points, thanks to his ability to get to the line.
Allen said he thinks the team is right where it should be at this point in the season and has the potential to compete in the district, adding the Bobcats are more of a “hunter, not the hunted” this season.
“I like this group; I like where we can go,” Allen said. “There’s just some areas that we’ve got to definitely get better.”
John Groce said he was working four different jobs when he graduated from Taylor University in 1994.
On Thursday, he got the one of his dreams.
On a risen platform in the middle of the Assembly Hall, Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas introduced Ohio University’s Groce as the next head basketball coach for the Illini.
“I can’t explain to you what the last few days have been like, the chance to be standing up just before you,” Groce said.
“I’m a fit guy,” Groce said. “It was important for me that our family felt like we could plug into a community, be a vibrant part of the community.”
A contract worth $1.4 million per year over five years was reportedly agreed to late Wednesday night.
The coaching staff is still being arranged, but Groce said that some of his assistants from Ohio will likely join him at Illinois. At the time of his introductory press conference, Groce said he had not spoken to Jerrance Howard, who was serving as the Illini’s interim head coach.
“I know he’s a tremendous recruiter and coach and a really good person,” Groce said after the press conference. “I’ve always had great respect for him and his recruiting.”
He added he will try to assemble his staff as quickly as he can but wants to make sure the “right people are on the bus.”
Groce compared his style of play to that of an aggressive boxer. He said the goal is to “knock someone out in each of the 10 four-minute rounds, then come up for air at the end of the media timeout and swing again.” Offensively, Groce said he likes a fast pace, but having depth is key.
“The great thing about this team is that we’re athletic, we have depth, and we can get out there and attack like (Groce) said,” said junior forward Tyler Griffey, who attended the conference. “It should be fun.”
In his four seasons with Ohio, Groce’s teams went a combined 85-56, with a 34-30 record in the Mid-American. His best season came this past year when the Bobcats went 29-8, including winning the MAC Tournament and advancing to the Sweet 16 after victories over Michigan and South Florida.
Groce led Ohio to one other appearance in the NCAA tournament in the 2009-10 season after winning the conference tournament. His team pulled off another upset when No. 14-seeded Ohio topped No. 3-seeded Georgetown in the first round 97-83.
Though his teams have fared well in the postseason, the regular season has been more of a challenge. His best conference finish is third, which came this past season. He finished fifth in 2010-11 and ninth each of the previous two seasons before that.
Before landing at Ohio, Groce served as an assistant under Thad Matta at Ohio State. He was the lead recruiter and instrumental in bringing in Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, all of whom played on the same AAU team.
In the one season with the three standout freshmen, the Buckeyes were national runner-up. Oden went on to become the No. 1 overall selection in the 2007 NBA Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers, while Conley was selected No. 4 by the Memphis Grizzlies, and Cook was taken No. 21 by the Miami Heat.
Groce also coached Evan Turner — a native of Chicago — for one season with the Buckeyes. Ohio State went on to win the National Invitational Tournament that year. Turner swept National Player of the Year awards two years later and was selected as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Effective recruiting in Chicago will be a key focus for the coaching staff in the future, but Groce said the most important aspect was finding “Illinois guys” — players who fit into the culture he hopes to establish — wherever they may be.
Groce has had success with Chicago recruits before, including Turner and D.J. Cooper, who led the Bobcats in scoring this season.
“We have a lot of previously established relationships there, maybe more than what people think,” Groce said. “But I’m looking forward to getting to know (Chicago-area coaches) better than we do now.”
The Illini’s head coaching position opened when Thomas fired Bruce Weber on March 9 with three years and $3.9 million left on his contract. Weber went 210-101 in his nine seasons at Illinois, with an 89-65 mark in Big Ten play.
Illinois originally pursued Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart, but he declined what was believed to be an eight-year deal at more than $2.5 million annually. The 34-year-old elected to return to the Rams for his fourth season.
Thomas also reportedly sought out Butler’s Brad Stevens to fill the vacancy, but Stevens announced Sunday he would remain at Butler.
During his portion of the press conference, Thomas did not speak about either coach but said “the process played out according to plan, and I feel good about the end result.”
Various media reports expected Thomas to hire Groce on Tuesday. When there was a delay, skeptics believed the Board of Trustees may have been involved, but Thomas clarified Thursday it was not the case.
“To say there was a flaw or hiccup in the process because others thought a decision or a press conference was supposed to happen two days ago, that’s not true,” Thomas said.
Thomas said plans to renovate the Assembly Hall are underway and that he hopes to sell the project around summer.
He added that there are also plans to upgrade the Ubben Basketball Complex sometime in the future.
As for the current team, junior guard D.J. Richardson said he believes it will remain intact as is.
“I think everyone’s staying right now,” Richardson said. “Everyone seems pretty humble and having a good work ethic.”
Richardson added he hopes Howard will remain on the coaching staff.
“I love coach Howard; he’s been there since I’ve been a freshman in high school.”
Groce studied mathematics at Taylor University. He also spent time as an assistant coach at Taylor, North Carolina State, Butler and Xavier. He and his wife, Allison, have two sons, who are all eager for the transition.
“We really felt like this was a great community, not only to grow a basketball program but also a family,” Groce said.
Photo and story via The Daily Illini