Filling the sneakers of famous fathers is fast becoming a theme at this year’s NCAA Tournament.
The latest son to lace ’em up successfully was Oregon’s Joseph Young, whose highlight-reel performance Friday was a worthy follow-up to all the fireworks and upsets that dominated the tourney a day earlier. Young almost single-handedly lassoed Oklahoma State by scoring 23 of his team’s 26 points during a nine-minute stretch on either side of halftime – lifting the Ducks from four down to eight up – and tied it off with a dunk as vicious as anything his dad, Michael Young, threw down during his days as a member of Phi Slamma Jamma.
”It’s just my teammates trusting me,” Young, the Pac-12 Conference player of the year, said after a 79-73 win. ”They found me, got me the ball, set good screens, and I knocked down open shots. But I really commend my team for getting me open.”
Actually, just convincing Young to bring his talents to Eugene was no small feat. He played his high school ball at Houston’s Yates High – like his father – and then began his college career just down the road at the University of Houston, where Michael Young made his name as a player and was working as director of basketball operations. After his sophomore year, both Youngs left the Cougars program for different reasons. Joseph, already a rising star and intrigued by the run-and-gun style at Oregon and across the Pac-12, lit out for the Northwest and became an instant hit with the Ducks.
Young’s heroics came on the heels two other notable father-son connections from Thursday. That’s when UCLA’s Bryce Alford channeled father Steve’s sharpshooting skills and made nine of 11 three-pointers against SMU, including hoisting a final attempt resulting in the controversial goaltending call that decided the game. Then there was R.J. Hunter’s last-second deep 3-pointer for Georgia State that sealed the upset over Baylor and gave his father, Ron, his greatest coaching win yet.
For all that, a good pedigree is not an absolute guarantee of victory. Witness Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr., whose father, Larry Sr., was a star at Clemson and in the NBA. But his son’s Cowboys got thumped by Northern Iowa, a loss that left the senior center fighting back tears and so devastated at playing his last game that Nance couldn’t speak.
OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE: The wins engineered by Oregon’s Young and UCLA’s Alford did more than simply generate echoes. They helped the Pac-12, which received only four bids, post a 4-0 mark in tourney play so far. The Big 12 conference, which received seven bids and was hailed in some quarters as the nation’s best, was a meek 3-4 by day’s end. That has to rankle the ACC, which advanced all six of its teams to the next round and is probably wondering whether conference member Miami wouldn’t have been a worthier bid recipient than Big 12 entrants Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor.
GEOGRAPHY LESSONS: On any other Saturday, taking in the day’s two marquee matchups would require only a short drive. But this is the NCAAs. So while Notre Dame and Butler meet to decide Indiana’s best this season, they’ll have to do so Pittsburgh. Kentucky and Cincinnati, meanwhile, will stage their version of a border war in almost equidistant Louisville.
SPEAKING OF LOUISVILLE: Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is close to unbeatable (14-1) in the tourney opener when he’s got a ranked team. But opening in Seattle may have left him disoriented. After UC-Irvine’s Anteaters – who, naturally, featured the tourney’s tallest player 7-foot-6 Mamadou Ndiaye – pushed Louisville to the final buzzer before surrendering 57-55, Pitino was pleased to still be playing anywhere. ”We’ve been calling it `madness’ for years,” he said, ”but in my 20 NCAAs, this is the craziest I’ve ever seen it.”
DON’T I KNOW YOU FROM SOMEWHERE? They used to share a cramped office as assistants at Miami of Ohio. Now they’ve built powerhouse programs of their own more than half a continent apart. Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Arizona’s Sean Miller are staging a reunion for the second time in three seasons, this time in Portland, Oregon. The two friends stay in touch and talk often after the season. But during it, the preferred method of communication is text messages. Their last exchange was Sunday, according to Matta, who told The Columbus Dispatch his phone flashed this gem from Miller right after the brackets were released: ”Bomp, bomp, bomp … here we go again.”