NCAA Tournament berths leave a lot of coaches smiling

Happy man, Leonard Hamilton. He gets to go to Boise.

Whee.

Mind you, that might depress some coaches. Nothing against Idaho, and nothing against potatoes, but when a guy reaches the final in the ACC tournament, when he's the coach of the year, and when he's in his first NCAAs since Dick Vitale wore dreadlocks, well, Boise seems a little far away from home.

Still, Hamilton is a giddy guy today.

After all, FSU has finally reached the NCAAs, which means all of those fans who usually spend late March discussing Hamilton's head, and how far it ought to roll, are going to find something else to do.

That's one of the coolest aspects of the NCAA Tournament. It seems to make just about the right amount of coaches happy, and it leaves just about the right amount miserable. Compare it to college football, where a great many coaches seem to be disappointed their teams weren't invited to a better bowl.

Whether Hamilton wants to acknowledge the mounting pressure on him or not, Sunday was a big day for his program.

Did that make him the happiest guy in the field? Maybe. Maybe not.

Oh, Sunday had to be a swell day to be Tubby Smith, too. Not only did his Minnesota team get into the tournament, but the team that ran him off, Kentucky, did not. Now, Tubby is a class guy, and I'm sure he won't say anything derogatory in public. In his private moments, however, don't you think he's giggling nonstop?

(Come to think of it, did anyone have a worse Sunday than Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie? Not only is Gillispie under intense pressure as he heads toward the NIT, but elsewhere in the state, Rick Pitino's Louisville team just earned the overall No. 1 seed. Do you think anyone in Lexington remembers where Pitino used to coach? Me, too.)

Also, Sunday was a pretty fair day in the life f Herb Sendek. If you remember, Sendek is the old N.C. State coach who was under pressure despite making five straight tournaments. He's taking Arizona State to the tournament, where they are assured of not seeing his old school.

And then there is Travis Ford, who must be grinning a little himself. Ford is in his first year of coaching at Oklahoma State, and he's in the NCAAs, too. By the way, Ford played at Kentucky. Just thought Gillispie would like to know.

Then there is Wake Forest's Dino Gaudio, who is headed to his first NCAA Tournament. Today, Gaudio has to be thinking about his old friend Skip Prosser, who was the Wake coach when he died 20 months ago. Gaudio, who spent 17 seasons coaching with Prosser, took over.

How about Todd Bozeman of Morgan State? A scandal ago, Bozeman looked like one of the rising stars in coaching, but that was before he was popped by the NCAA for a recruiting violation. Bozeman was out of college coaching for 11 seasons before leading Morgan State's turnaround.

How about Brad Greenberg of Radford, a former director of basketball operations at USF? Greenberg, the older brother of former USF coach Seth Greenberg, spent much of his life in personnel in the NBA or as an assistant coach. Now, at 54, he is finally a hot young coach with a team in the tournament.

Then there is Alabama State's Lewis Jackson. I suspect he's grinning because he's wondering how many sports writers are going to butcher the spelling of his center, the wonderfully named Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsims Jr. (And don't you love the "Junior'' part?) By the way, you can call him Chief.

And so it goes, so many coaches and so many smiles.

Look, I am certain that the name brand coaches, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams and Kansas' Bill Self and Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Texas' Rick Barnes, are happy about being picked, too. But for them, Selection Sunday is like Christmas; it comes once a year. Krzyzewski has made 24 of the last 35 of these, and Williams has made 20 in a row, and Self has made 11 and Izzo has made 12 and Barnes has made 14. Even Mark Few of Gonzaga is a perfect 10-for-10 in his career.

Ah, but the guys who have to be thrilled are the ones that still treat this like a surprise party.

Guys like Russ Pennell, the interim coach at Arizona who kept things going after Lute Olson's retirement. Like Ken McDonald, in his first year at Western Kentucky. Like Jeff Jones, the former Virginia coach who has led American to the tournament. Like Saul Phillips, the second-year coach at North Dakota State. Like Danny Kaspar of Stephen F. Austin and Kevin Broadus of Binghamton and Gary Waters of Cleveland State.

So many coaches, so many smiles.

As for all those coaches who are frowning today?

Cheer up. You could be getting Billy Gillispie's mail.

NCAA Tournament berths leave a lot of coaches smiling 03/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 1:51pm]

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