ATLANTA (AP) — Around the Final Four and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the games.
Presidential parting shot
The formal question-and-answer portion of his news conference had just ended when NCAA president Mark Emmert looked at a reporter and said “I know you’re disappointed, but I’m still here.”
It was a fitting parting shot on Thursday for Emmert, who has faced criticism as the NCAA has revealed it broke its own rules while investigating the scandal involving a Miami booster.
Emmert said dealing with criticism is a part of his job, especially as the NCAA goes through change.
“If you’re gonna launch a change agenda you’ve got to be able to deal with criticism,” he said.
— Charles Odum — http://twitter.com/@CharlesOdum
Coach, player of the year
Michigan guard Trey Burke has been named The Associated Press’ college basketball player of the year, and Miami’s Jim Larranaga has been named the AP’s coach of the year.
Burke wasn’t able to attend the ceremony Thursday, he was with his the Wolverine teammates preparing for the national semifinal against Syracuse on Saturday night.
Larranaga was on hand and spoke to the media afterward.
Burke is the first Michigan player to win the award since Cazzie Russell in 1966. Burke got 31 votes, easily outdistancing Otto Porter Jr. of Georgetown, who had 16.
Larranaga won his award with 29 votes. Jim Crews of Saint Louis was second with 19.
— Noah Trister — http://twitter.com/@noahtrister
Louisville’s ‘great motivator’
Kevin Ware is from Rockdale County High School, about 40 minutes east of Atlanta, and he has returned to Georgia a sudden celebrity.
Ware, Louisville’s sophomore guard, suffered gruesome compound fractures in his right leg in Sunday’s Midwest Regional final win over Duke that sent the Cardinals to the Final Four. He had successful surgery and flew with the team to Atlanta.
Coach Rick Pitino says he’s proud of the way Ware and his teammates have handled the shocking injury.
“I think it’s going to be a great motivator for us,” Pitino said Thursday. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a group of young men the way they acted and cried their brains out for Kevin, and then the way Kevin got them together and the way he reacted.
“Now we are refocused. Kevin’s with us.”
And Ware is a celebrity.
“He’s doing David Letterman’s top 10,” Pitino said before adding with a laugh “I don’t know if he has time for us.”
— Charles Odum
MLK the basketball player
Former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young said Thursday that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was a pretty good basketball player.
Young noted that Thursday marks the 45th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis, Tenn. Young recalled watching King play basketball on courts around Atlanta in the early days of the civil rights movement.
It was necessary to build community support, Young said: “The only place to get to some of the young people was on the basketball court, and they wouldn’t listen to you until you got in the game with them.”
As for King’s skills, Young said, “Even though he was shorter than me, he could handle the basketball. And he could shoot well with either hand.”
— Bill Barrow — http://twitter.com/@BillBarrowAP
Chilly, soggy start
The Final Four coaches made their first appearances in Atlanta on Thursday. Atlanta’s spring weather? That’s still at least a day or two away.
The city is all dressed up for college basketball’s biggest event. Stages are set up and banners have been raised in Centennial Olympic Park, near the Georgia Dome where the games will be played, but the gloomy weather put an early damper on the festive spirit.
Fans arriving early for the Final Four found soggy and cold conditions in Atlanta. The forecast called for temperatures to remain below 50 on Thursday. Low clouds covered the top of the skyscrapers in downtown Atlanta, where all the Final Four activities are planned. Brisk winds and light rain added to the gloom.
At least it’s not as bad as Atlanta’s infamous Super Bowl freeze. An ice storm made travel through downtown treacherous in January 2000 for the Super Bowl between the St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans.
This week’s forecast is more promising. The rain is expected to leave by Friday, when the projected high is 62 degrees. Saturday will look more like spring, with a forecast for sun and a high in the low 70s.
— Charles Odum
Quick quote: “Thrown a ball’
“I have thrown a ball but it’s usually up in the stands and last time I did it, I hurt my arm, so I don’t do it anymore. I literally could not watch that video.”
— Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim on former Rutgers coach Mike Rice, who was fired Wednesday after a video surfaced of him hitting, shoving, throwing basketballs at his players and berating them and with anti-gay slurs.
— Eddie Pells — http://twitter.com/@epells
Mayor’s not-so Final Four
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed owes a friendly apology to Louisville, Syracuse and Wichita State as he welcomes them to the Final Four. The mayor, whose tournament bracket is on public display near the Georgia Dome, correctly had Michigan coming out of the South region, but he had Duke, New Mexico and Miami joining the Wolverines.
Reed predicted that Syracuse and overall favorite Louisville would lose in the Sweet 16. He owes the biggest mea culpa to Wichita, the No. 9 seed out of the West. Reed predicted the Shockers would drop their opening game to Pitt.
— Bill Barrow
Boeheim ‘just a cheap guy’
Rick Pitino says he knows why Jim Boeheim has coached for so long: He’s cheap.
Pitino, who was hired by Boeheim as an assistant at Syracuse in 1976, has since had four college head coaching jobs and also coached the NBA’s Knicks and Celtics while Boeheim has remained at Syracuse.
Pitino says the 68-year-old Boeheim is saving his pennies.
“Jim is coaching a long time because he’s extremely frugal,” Pitino said with a grin Thursday. “He’s just a cheap guy that money means everything to him and he’s going to coach till he’s 90 and hoard away every penny he’s ever made.”
— Charles Odum
Boxers or briefs? Orange or blue?
Michigan coach John Beilein, a native of Burt, N.Y., still has family and friends who might have mixed loyalties when his Wolverines play Syracuse in the Final Four on Saturday night.
Beilein says fans might be keeping some loyalties well-hidden — say under a layer or two of clothing.
“I’ve called an old friend of mine on the way down and said, ‘What color are you wearing?’” Beilein said. “‘Do you have orange underwear on with the blue shirt over the top’”
Beilein said he doesn’t mind if his old friends sneak in a little Syracuse orange with Michigan blue.
“It’s a great thing for everybody to have,” he said. “There’s a lot to talk about after a tough winter, in western New York, central New York. I just think it’s all good. It’s just all good.”
— Charles Odum
Small schools share big stage
The Final Four isn’t the only big game in town. Hello, Metro State. Hello, Drury. We’re talking about you.
And how about a shout-out for Mary Hardin-Baylor and Amherst?
For the first time, the NCAA Division II and Division III national championship games are being held in the same city as the Final Four. In his remarks to the media on Thursday, NCAA president Mark Emmert said “it’s going to be a great experience” to have the smaller schools playing their championship games at Philips Arena, which is adjacent to the Georgia Dome.
It’s part of the NCAA’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Final Four.
Metro State and Drury will play for the Division II championship on Sunday at 4, after Amherst plays Mary Hardin-Baylor for the Division III title.
— Charles Odum
Fast Fact: What’s a Shocker?
As the lowest seed still playing — and one of the lowest ever to reach the final weekend — Wichita State’s nickname is appropriate.
But where did “the Shockers” come from?
University lore traces the name to 1904, when a football manager called the team as the “Shockers” to drum up interest in a gridiron matchup with the Chilocco Indians. He reportedly chose the name because many players spent the offseason harvesting or “shocking” wheat in fields surrounding Wichita.
Wichita State bills its costumed mascot WuShock — who bears a resemblance to a giant, more-intense Bart Simpson — as “a big, bad, muscle-bound bundle of wheat.”
— Bill Barrow
It’s been a memorable week for Rick Pitino.
Pitino is coaching Louisville in the Final Four, and on Wednesday his son Richard was named head coach at Minnesota.
So Thursday’s question for Pitino: Which was the bigger event?
“They’re both exciting,” Pitino said after pausing to consider the question. “I’m very proud and happy for Richard … so it’s been a great week for our family.”
— Charles Odum
More than two dozen small-college and assistant coaches gathered at the Final Four Thursday for a seminar on ethics as the fallout continued following the firing of Rutgers coach Mike Rice.
Talk about timely.
The seminar was scheduled as part of the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ professional development series long before a video surfaced of Rice physically and verbally abusing his players. The seminar was led by Craig Impleman, a longtime assistant coach who happened to marry the granddaughter of John Wooden.
The longtime coach of UCLA, Wooden is one of the most revered coaches in the history of the game, both for his prowess and the for treating others with respect.
One can only guess what Wooden would have thought after seeing video of Rice uttering gay slurs, shoving players and throwing basketballs at them in practices.
The NABC issued a statement Thursday that said its “board of directors does not condone these actions nor does it believe it is reflective in any form or fashion of the conduct of men’s basketball coaches as they coach their teams.
— Dave Skretta — http://twitter.com/@APdaveskretta
Conan hoops it up
Conan O’Brien wrapped up a four-day taping in Atlanta of his show on Thursday.
The 6-foot-4 O’Brien has never played organized basketball but is a big-time sports fan — his favorite teams include the Boston Celtics and Red Sox.
In tribute to Atlanta hosting college basketball’s Final Four this weekend, O’Brien’s guests Thursday night on his show — “CONAN” — that airs on TBS will include NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, college basketball announcer Dick Vitale and music artists Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
— Jonathan Landrum — http://twitter.com/@MrLandrum31
Louisville is making the most of its Atlanta connection with its former women’s basketball star, Angel McCoughtry.
Representatives of Louisville, the alma mater McCoughtry of the WNBA Atlanta Dream, conceived a community service project for the Final Four.
Louisville volunteers will wear T-shirts with McCoughtry’s name and number as they join with volunteers from Michigan, Syracuse, Wichita State and the Dream for a project to help the homeless and feed the hungry.
The volunteers will sort and package clothing and supplies that will later be distributed by Lift Up Atlanta, a local organization, to homeless families in Atlanta. Busses will shuttle the volunteers to the job site at Medlock Commons Self Storage in Norcross, near Atlanta.
McCoughtry was the 2012 WNBA scoring champion.
— Charles Odum
NCAA Finals Watch follows the Final Four games and all the activities surrounding the event as seen by journalists from The Associated Press from across Atlanta. It will be updated throughout the day with breaking news and other items of interest. Follow AP reporters on Twitter where available.