North Carolina cashed in at the Chase NIT
Brooklyn was in the house last Friday night at Madison Square
Garden. This was apparent because every time North Carolina
junior point guard Ed Cota made a good play, someone in the
crowd shouted out, "Brooklyn in the house." For Cota, who grew
up in the Crown Heights section of that borough, last week's
Chase NIT was his first chance to play in the world's most
famous arena, and he made the most of it. He had 28 points, 15
rebounds and 13 assists as the Tar Heels improved to 6-0 and won
the championship with victories over then No. 14 Purdue and No.
3 Stanford. Cota was the obvious--not to mention popular--choice
for the MVP award. "It seemed like I knew everybody there," he
said afterward. "I gave out 30 tickets, but I could have used a
hundred, easy. It felt like a dream come true."
Moments after his sterling 17-point, 11-rebound, five-assist
performance in North Carolina's 57-49 upset of the Cardinal,
Cota walked over to the stands and hugged his mother, Cecilia,
who merited a few shout-outs of her own. The night before, it
seemed as if all of Brooklyn was in her house. More than two
dozen friends and neighbors stopped by for a Thanksgiving dinner
of lasagna, chicken and ham. ("Ed doesn't like turkey," she
said.) Cecilia cooked the feast by herself, an extraordinary
effort considering that she has had 14 operations on her knees
and hips stemming from a February 1990 auto accident during a
visit to her native Panama. That crash also left Ed's
stepfather, Jorge Cedeno, paralyzed from the waist down.
Ed was in eighth grade when the accident occurred. Cecilia and
Jorge spent much of the following year recovering in Panama,
while Ed lived with his grandmother, Felicia, back in Brooklyn,
where he slipped into a pattern of truancy that lasted almost
two years. He righted himself with the help of Eric (Rock)
Eisenberg, his coach at Tilden High, who later arranged for Cota
to transfer to St. Thomas More Academy in Oakdale, Conn. "I knew
I had to get out of Brooklyn," Cota says. "I had too many
December 7, 1998
Cota was the ACC rookie of the year as a freshman at North
Carolina, and his 274 assists in his sophomore year broke the
Tar Heels' single-season record, set by Kenny Smith in 1984-85.
If he keeps up his pace of 8.5 assists per game through Sunday,
he'll break Smith's career assists record of 768 by March.
While he was home, Cota visited one of his best friends from
Brooklyn, Dee McAarthur, who earlier last month had completed a
six-year term at the Adirondack Correctional Facility in
Elizabethtown, N.Y., for selling crack cocaine. Cota gave his
buddy tickets for both games at the Garden. "I was really happy
to see him. We did everything together growing up," says Cota,
who is thankful for every reminder of where he has been and how
far he has come. "Not too many people I grew up around have had
the opportunities I've had. I feel blessed."
Cincinnati Beats No. 1 Duke
Bearcats Show Their Claws
Two years ago Cincinnati led No. 1 Kansas by 16 points in an
early-season tournament only to collapse in the second half and
lose 72-65, a defeat that seemed to sour their whole season. The
Bearcats found themselves in a similar spot last Saturday,
having frittered away a 19-point lead to No. 1 Duke in the final
of the Great Alaska Shootout. With three seconds remaining and
the score 75-75, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins called for the
play known as Home Run, which began with Ryan Fletcher's tossing
a baseball pass from his own baseline to center Kenyon Martin at
the top of the opposite key. Martin deftly made a touch pass to
a cutting Melvin Levett, who slammed home the dunk that gave
Cincinnati a 77-75 win. "You work on that play in practice, but
you never expect it to work that well," Levett said later. "I
guess a home run is what it takes to beat the best."
The Bearcats, who are now 4-0 and ranked sixth, had built the
huge lead against Duke with their trademark smothering half-court
defense, forcing 11 turnovers in the first half. But they came
out tentatively in the second half, scoring just eight points in
one 10-minute span. "I'm proud of our team because we had a
chance to pack it in but didn't," Huggins said.
The win was especially sweet for Levett, who entered the game
shooting just 28% from the field but nailed 11 of 14 shots to
finish with 25 points--and one home run. Levett had been
pointing to this game since the first day of conditioning drills
on Sept. 24, when he ripped off the cover of a magazine
featuring Duke guard Trajan Langdon's picture and posted it in
his locker. "I've looked at that picture almost every day, and
it wasn't because I like the guy," said Levett after the game.
"We had to travel millions of miles, but we showed the world
we're for real." --Tim Crothers
A Rule Made To Be Broken
Moments after Temple's 60-59 win over Michigan State on Nov. 20,
Owls coach John Chaney shook hands with Spartans coach Tom Izzo
and said, "We beat you on a rule change." Chaney was referring
to the new held-ball rule, which the NCAA's men's basketball
rules committee implemented this season. It stipulates that if
the defense causes a tie-up, the ball is awarded to the defense
regardless of which direction the possession arrow is pointed.
(All other tie-ups are subject to the old alternating-possession
system.) Temple was awarded the ball on tie-ups three times in
the final minutes against Michigan State; without those
possessions, the Owls could not have won. Still, Chaney
disparaged the new rule. "I don't think anybody should be
awarded a game on a draw," he said. "We won on it tonight but
could just as easily have lost."
Early returns indicate that most coaches share Chaney's opinion.
Even Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, a member of the rules
committee, says the rule is "absolutely not working." Exhibit A:
If a defensive player forces a loose ball, grabs it and is
immediately tied up, the ball is given back to his opponent, on
the theory that the offense became the defense when the ball was
turned over. Montgomery says this was not the intent of the
committee. "It has been a disadvantage to us three times
already," he says. "That's not what it was set up to do. I think
it needs a review."
The rule has also drawn criticism because it adds another
element of subjectivity for the referees, which is why the men
in stripes appear to dislike it. After one game last week, five
refs were asked if they liked the new rule, and all said no.
"There has to be a balance between the offense and the defense,"
said one. "I think the balance has changed."
Montgomery isn't ready to bail on the rule yet. There is,
however, precedent for the NCAA to abandon a rule that isn't
working. After North Carolina State won the NCAA title in 1983
by fouling liberally at the end of games, the NCAA put in the
so-called Valvano Rule, making fouls in the last two minutes
worth two shots rather than a one-and-one. Teams started fouling
earlier, making the ends of games interminable, so the old rules
were restored after just two months. South Florida coach Seth
Greenburg would like to see a similar move now: "We're better
off saying, It's not working. Let's toss it out."