Bob Smizik: Ask Bob, Bob answers -- IV

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The fourth installment of the resurrected "Ask Bob" series.

Simon Noel: Who were the 10 best high school basketball players in Western Pennsylvania?

I never saw some of the following players in high school. I am basing some of this on their college careers and/or college honors. Here are the top 11.

Dick Groat, Don Hennon, Kenny Durrett, Billy Knight, Simmie Hill, Ricky Coleman, Dick DeVenzio, Dennis Wuycik, Danny Fortson, DeJuan Blair, Norm Van Lier.

• • •

Sean Curran: It is a widely held consensus among the local media that Tom Barrasso was by far the most difficult Pittsburgh athlete to deal with. I was just curious what other athletes have left you with an unfavorable impression over the years.

No question, Barrasso could be a world-class jerk and it’s very popular to portray him as such. However, I would add this: When he was willing, he was one of the best interviews in Pittsburgh sports -- ever. He was extremely bright and highly insightful about the game. He could fill up your notebook with comments that would make your story. You never knew what mood he’d be in, but you hoped he would be a good one because he could really help you out.

I should add that I did not deal with Barrasso on a day-to-day basis, as a beat writer would, but on an occasional basis, as a columnist.

Barry Bonds was a world-class jerk who was a terrible interview. Bonds rarely said anything worth using, although we did. And if he ever had an insightful thought, he never shared it. Greg Lloyd, as I’ve written, was a miserable human being.

For the most part, most athletes try to be cooperative. Some are better at it than others.

• • •

Bob Smizik: Illustrate for us how the sports culture has changed in this country in the past 30 years.

In 1972, I was attending the All-Star Game in Atlanta when another reporter told me Pittsburgh was getting the 1974 All-Star Game. Buzzy Bavasi, the San Diego GM, had casually mentioned it to him. I checked with the Pirates and they confirmed. The next day, I gave the matter one or two sentences in the notes at the bottom of my story. No one bothered to give the story better placement and it received scant mention in the days that followed.

On a Sunday afternoon in 2003, possibly 2004, I received a call from an acquaintance who told me the Pirates were getting the 2006 All-Star Game. How did he know? Someone he knew had a son who worked in an administrative capacity for the Pirates. It didn’t seem like much, but I worked the story all afternoon and had it confirmed by another party. Neither source was exactly golden but I was pretty certain that the story was correct.

To nail it down, David Shribman, executive editor of the Post-Gazette, called Kevin McClatchy, who reluctantly acknowledged the story was true.

Needless to say, this story received considerably better placement that the one in 1972. And it wasn’t just front page at the Post-Gazette. The story was held out of the early press run for fear a TV station might get hold of it. The first trucks out of the building did not carry the story. It was inserted into a later press run that went to close to 100 percent of home delivery.

A few days later, the Pirates held a press conference to announce the story with many of the top local politicians on hand.

An example of how sports-obsessed our country became in a 30-year period.

• • •

Jack Connors: Why is Brandon Knight still at Pitt? Does it have anything to do with the recruiting and lack of development of the guard recruits, Epps/Johnson/Wright/Robinson to name a couple of guards who are not complete basketball players? A top-tier program needs guards who can dribble drive to force a double team and guards who are your go-to guys at crunch time. Pitt has not had a complete guard since Fields left.

I almost disqualified your question, Jack, for your use of the most deplorable term in the lexicon of basketball announcers: dribble drive. There’s only one way to drive to the basket and that’s to dribble. The term is redundant.

As far as his coaching is concerned, he can only work with what he has. You mentioned Fields. If Knight is going to be blamed for others, he should get credit for Fields.

According to Chris Dokish, these are the players for whom Knight has been the lead recruiter: Isaiah Epps, J.J. Moore, Durand Johnson, Chris Jones, Josh Newkirk, Mike Young, Damon Wilson (not signed).

• • •

Dan Falcone: All major pro sports playoffs involve seeding. Let's take the NHL, and say you play hard all season for top seed only to have to face the currently hottest team in the league seeded 8th. Or 2nd vs. 7th, whatever. How about if, instead, the top seed chooses whom it wants to play among qualifying teams: by player vote, coaching staff, front office, however that organization decides? Then the 2nd seed (if not chosen by the top seed) chooses, etc. Not only are higher seeds spared unfortunate pairings they don't deserve, but we have the additional "dis" factor. What do you think?

My first thought was how utterly ridiculous. My second thought was how utterly brilliant. It’s not an idea whose time has come, Dan, but it might.

Your point about avoiding the hot team is an excellent one and the top seed deserves that opportunity. If this idea is ever to be adopted, I can see by a somewhat desperate league seeking to gain attention, I could absolutely see it catching on in the years ahead. The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense.

• • •

Mark Thomas: "I'll do anything I can to make Coach Miller look good and make him happy," says McConnell. "He's taken my game to a place I didn't know it could go." This quote from T.J. McConnell ends the Sports Illustrated article that you recommended a while back. In relation to your coach vs. players article from Friday, can you name any player you’ve come across who had a similar or better compliment for a coach?

What makes that quote all the more remarkable is that it comes from a thoughtful young man whose father is an excellent coach. What a fantastic tribute to Sean Miller. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quote, particularly one so succinct, in which a player gave more praise to a coach.

• • •

Kevin Schafer: Who do you think was the best commissioner in all sports?

If a publishing company came to you and asked you to write a book of your favorite sports stories that you have covered over the years, would you do it?

Did you ever do any type of little league sports coaching when you were young?

If you could be at the Super Bowl, Game 7 of a World Series, Stanley Cup, NBA Championship, or the national championship of a college football or basketball game........which one would you choose?

1. I never spent time around David Stern, the former commissioner of the NBA, but he is the easy winner to your question. He raised the level of the NBA to heights I’m sure many never thought possible. He did for the NBA what Pete Rozelle did for the NFL, only in more difficult circumstances. Always the smartest guy in the room, and he let you know it.

2. I actually wrote a history of the Pirates that was published in the early 1990s. A publisher approached me. I had little interest but the little money they were offering was enough to get me to do it. It sold not particularly well. Would I write another? I will paraphrase Ed Bouchette, who wrote several books, on why he wouldn't want to write another. ''It’s no fun working for five cents an hour."

3. Coaching youth baseball was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying parts of my life. I began in my late-teens in my neighborhood in the city, first with Little League and then Pony League for 11 years. Later, in the 1990s, I coached Little League in-house and travel for five years. Lotta fun.

4. I’ve been to all of those events except the NBA championship. My greatest memories as a sports writer are of the fabulous competition and excellence I saw in the NCAA tournament. The best game I ever saw was Villanova-Georgetown. So the answer is easy: The championship game of the NCAA basketball tournament. The seventh game of a World Series would be second.


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