Sunday, January 4, 2009

UDM's Basketball Blueprint Found At Cleveland State

DETROIT -- No one familiar with the University of Detroit-Mercy's lackluster basketball fortunes this season would attribute the Titans' struggles to anything other to the usual growing pains of rebuilding a once-proud program from the ground up. Titan coach Ray McCallum faced an opponent Saturday afternoon in Calihan Hall led by a coach well-versed in turning the task of rebuilding into an art.

Gary Waters and the Cleveland State Vikings ventured into the Motor City and earned a 53-44 decision over UDM, one of Waters' 607 wins as either an assistant, associate or head coach in the venerable coach's path through college basketball that dates back to Ferris State University in 1974. Waters left Ferris in 1989 and joined Ben Braun at Eastern Michigan. In his second season with the Hurons, Waters was followed Ferris State to Ypsilanti by former Troy High standout Marcus Kennedy, who transformed a Mid-American Conference contender into an undisputed league champion in 1990-91.

Three years alter Waters helped recruit Royal Oak Dondero center Theron Wilson to EMU. Wilson, who had previously been at Detroit King, lived with John Bancroft's family at the corner of Catalpa and Maplegrove in Royal Oak and turned the Oaks into Oakland County's best team. With Ben Bancroft, who later played at Albion, and Jason Beverlin, who went on to pitch for the Detroit Tigers, Dondero found itself in the state's Associated Press Top Ten poll. Later Wilson would lead EMU to a 1996 MAC title. Eastern became the first school in 55 years to top Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament when the Eagles defeated the Blue Devils 75-60 in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. John Bancroft, now retired, is best remembered for the many years he coached track & field in the Troy school district. Ironically, Troy High basketball coach Gary Fralick is a former Oak.

But I digress. Before Braun left EMU for California in '96, Waters accepted the head post for five seasons at league rival Kent State, followed by another five-year stint at Rutgers. For the past two seasons, Waters has led the Vikings, who defeated Syracuse in the Carrier Dome earlier this season on a 60-foot three-point heave released before the game's final buzzer to break a tie score. Last season Waters flipped a team that had earned a 10-21 mark the year prior into a 21-win squad that earned an NIT appearance. Now McCallum is being asked to do the same thing at UDM.

"Ray's already got some things in place," Waters said after the contest. "I think he'll be good next year, frankly. There's three things you have to do when you take a job. You have to change the culture, which means making sure kids know they have to work. You have to bring in some talent, which he's started to do, and third, sometimes you have to get rid of some people, clean house a little bit."

Waters has witnessed 405 losses to accompany his 607 wins mark in his various roles as a bench leader in college basketball. Waters worked his 1,000th game in Cleveland State's fourth game of the season, a 72-62 win over Saint Leo on November 24 in Miami, Florida.

REPLAY'S SAVING GRACE: Saturday's contest saw CSU with a 34-20 halftime lead, but only after a UDM basket at the buzzer, initially flushed down as good by official Tim Fogarty, was waved off. UDM guard Thomas Kennedy drove the left side of the lane and floated a soft running lay-in attempt that fell short of the basket. Titan forward Michael Harrington clutched the errant attempt and tossed in a bunny.

The interesting aspect wasn't that the shot counted in the face of a apparent red light prior to the shot leaving Harrington's hands, but rather the reasoned, even calm response from the Cleveland State bench. In the era prior to replay, the reaction would have predictably been one of near-unanimous rancor to the decision, but because the CSU coaches knew the officials would use the replay resources available to them thanks to SportsTime Ohio, the coaches actually walked off the floor without knowing the shot would be waived off.

FOUL BY NUMBERS: As an official, writer and overall fan of the game of basketball, I've never subscribed to the theory that team fouls must be even or near-even to represent a fairly-called game from the crew of officials assigned to working the game.

Saturday UDM was on the short end in the first half of the fouls, first by a 7-4 count and later by a 9-6 tally. The UDM faithful behind the team bench belabored the point against the silence of the arena, filled with a few hundred fans for the contest. What floors me is how the foul count has become the harbinger of fair officiating standards. To me, this illustrates the level of paranoia that accompanies basketball. Nine-and-six is just one scant call away from eight-and-seven, as close as the count can be to being considered even.

In the second stanza it was the Titans that benefited from a 10-6 foul count in the first 15 minutes of the half. Not surprisingly, it was the UDM following that offered little critique of the officiating while the CSU contingent assumed the role of the vocal victims. For the game, Cleveland State was whistled for 21 fouls to UDM's 18.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, due August of 2009 from Arcadia Publishing.

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