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Memphis Possibly Going Unbeaten and Taking on Andy Katz: An Interview with Fox Sports' Jeff Goodman

A special, out-of-season treat for the hoops junkies in the house – an interview with the tireless Jeff Goodman, who covers college basketball for Fox Sports. That’s him on the left. We got him talking about everything from the most difficult programs to cover, to battling ESPN’s Andy Katz, to who will replace Billy Donovan in Florida, and perhaps most importantly, we grilled him about the top two stories for next season: OJ Mayo and Memphis.

Q: The whole OJ Mayo debacle about him basically picking USC before they choose him; the kid telling Tim Floyd not to worry about recruiting, he’d handle it; how do you think all of this will end up? Seems like at the minimum, he’s a Terrell Owens. Do you think this is why Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young bolted?

I don’t trust that kid at all. Sure, he’s talented. My take is he ruins the chemistry of a USC team that really had something good going on, but did Tim Floyd really have a choice? He had to take Mayo – just to help give the program credibility. Young and Pruitt probably made the right choice, because this is O.J.’s team from the day he arrives at the Galen Center.

Q: Memphis is stacked. Again. It will go through C-USA unbeaten, and get a top three seed in the tourney. But is this the year the Tigers finally break through?

I’ve been pretty critical of Memphis in the last couple years. Last season I called them Team Mystery because they rolled through Conference USA and didn’t have enough perimeter shooters. This year I am a believer – but because of one addition: Derrick Rose. This kid is the real deal – a pure point guard who can actually make these guys look intelligent. This club could run the table next year and go undefeated. But I just can’t imagine a team from Conference USA winning the whole thing.

Q: A question we love to ask sportswriters – because it’s one reason we left the biz – social life … are you able to have one? Don’t worry about being painted as a homebody … the hours are brutal. Is it tough to meet chicks when you’re constantly on the road, and constantly working nights? How does one walk that fine line?

Here’s all you need to know. My favorite TV shows these days are Hannah Montana and American Idol. I’ve been married for 6 _ years now. When it’s not college basketball season, I have no control over the clicker. I get a better night’s sleep on the road and the hours are brutal – especially because I’m the only moron trying to cover college hoop and basketball recruiting at the same time.

Q: How does one ascend to the college basketball top spot at Fox Sports? Journalism school? Newspapers? Did you get noticed because you started a blog?

My first interview, in all seriousness, was with James Worthy and Michael Cooper over the phone when they came into Boston before my voice changed. I think they must have thought they were doing some little girl a favor. I never, ever worked for the school paper at Arizona (no, it’s not the one in Tempe). Instead, I tried to make some extra beer money freelancing for papers around the country. I took a job with the AP in Buffalo and was promoted to NYC (although no one warned me that it was hardly a perk to work in that communication-challenged office), where I lasted about a year.

I left for a start-up internet site back home in Boston called School Sports, where I got heavily involved with football and basketball recruiting. Then I chose to try and go free-lance full-time and wrote for several publications – USA Today, Washington Post and also Scout.com, where I became one of the few national recruiting guys that could actually report, write and evaluate players (there aren’t many). I also began covering college basketball for the Boston Herald and writing a weekly ACC notebook. Two years ago, FOXSports.com ended up buying Scout.com and it didn’t take me long to show the guys at Fox that my college hoop connections would allow me to be competitive. I’ve spent the last two years at Fox as the senior college basketball writer and I can’t imagine a better situation.

Q: How vital are team message boards to college basketball reporting? Are you on them frequently? Is it like sifting through a garbage dump for your wedding ring?

Some writers are avid readers of message boards. Honestly, I don’t have time to read them all that much. They can be entertaining – and once in a while, I’ll go to a few of the better ones, but the fans of the team sites message boards are delusional and unrealistic much of the time. The worst are North Carolina and Kentucky fans – very thin-skinned.

Q: One of the problems we foresee for pro sports is athletes starting their own blog and talking less and less to the media. This doesn’t seem likely in college, where the programs themselves restrict access. Who are the most difficult programs you’ve worked with? The best?

I’m here in Boston where Curt “The Fraud” Schilling calls home. He’s had plenty of freedom with his blog until he bashed Barry Bonds recently. I don’t think it would fly outside of the pro world because the college coaches wouldn’t allow 17 and 18-year-old kids that much autonomy. Just imagine Joey Dorsey with a blog. Now that would be entertaining.

The most difficult teams to deal with are usually the ones you’ve pissed off. It was tough for me to get much from Texas A&M since I basically accused them of inflating Acie Law’s assist numbers last season. Tubby Smith, from what I’ve been told, won’t be returning my calls anytime soon. Bobby Knight is obviously erratic to deal with, but when he’s in a good mood, he’s entertaining as hell. Coach K is virtually impossible to get with one-on-one – and the rule that UNC freshman can’t talk to the media prior to their first game makes no sense. As for programs that “get it”, Texas SID Scott McConnell and Florida’s Fred Demarest are two of the best in the business.

Q: Going head-to-head against Andy Katz seems like quite the chore; he probably gets handed more scoops than anyone in all of sports because he’s the top college guy at ESPN (though we have followed him since his days at Fresno; he’s always been a dogged reporter). Is that a frustrating opponent? Are you two cordial?

Who? Just kidding. It’s tough to battle with the Worldwide Leader. You know, ESPN.com seems to “learn” just about everything. Katz has been entrenched in the industry a long time, has tremendous sources, terrific exposure on television and he gets after it. However, I don’t think he had all that much competition – especially for news – until recently.

It’s not frustrating at all going up against Andy Katz and Gary Parrish of CBS Sportsline. It motivates me seeing how hard those guys work. We’re cordial – and we actually grew up about 20 minutes from one another (although I think he’s got a few years on me).

Q: Most underrated coach in the country?

Anthony Grant of VCU. I called it the best hire two years ago when he left as Billy Donovan’s top assistant and, for once, I looked smart. This guy is a future star. He’s got charisma and can really coach. I’m not sure how underrated he is these days after he knocked off the Dookies in the first round of the Big Dance, but if (actually when) Donovan leaves for the NBA, Grant should be a no-brainer as his replacement in Gainesville.

Q: This may sound wacky, but Dean Smith won a whopping two titles in 36 years at UNC. Sure, he’s an institution, a legend, he won an assload of games and all that … but isn’t he a tad overrated? The guy was getting McDonald’s All-Americans on a yearly basis, and to us, it seems like he should have won more titles. The best argument against this: ‘you can’t win a title every year.’ Thoughts?

I understand where you’re coming from, but the guy won more than 850 games and went to 11 Final Four’s in his career. If Coach K doesn’t win a national title in the next five years, he’ll only have one more ring in the identical number of years (36) and could go down as the greatest in the history of the game.

Dean had plenty of McDonald’s All-Americans, but they weren’t handed to him. Let’s remember that UNC was in the Southern Conference a decade before he took over – and Frank McGuire and Dean (and Michael Jordan) were the keys to establishing the tradition that exists now in Chapel Hill.

Q: Can you begin to explain Tommy Amaker going to Harvard? Does he really believe he’s that good of a coach where he can go to a program on a level playing field and win?

Harvard had no choice but to hire a minority – and Amaker has the Duke background and an economics degree on his resume. His wife is a former psychology professor and associate dean of students, so Harvard won the press conference with a big name and someone who fits the school’s persona. If you are a kid and have virtually no chance of making money playing this game, wouldn’t you choose Harvard over the other Ivy’s? Plus, these kids have actually heard of Amaker.

Q: Which of these three players should have stayed in college: Afflalo, Wilson Chandler, Daequan Cook?

There is no way Cook is going back to Columbus, but he’s a guy who could be a late lottery pick if he ever learned to play hard. I’ve seen him play for the past four years – and he’s an enigma. He just disappears way too much. I was told by someone close to him that he would have rather transferred than return to Ohio State, but his stock could soar if he came back for one more year.

Q: Brandon Roy will be the next ____ in the NBA.

Chauncey Billups. Roy is just as versatile and is already a more efficient shooter from long distance. Now he just needs to win a few titles.

Q: Which of these three PGs will make the best pro: Singletary, Dom James, T Green?

Singletary. He’s fearless, strong and has really improved his perimeter shot. Plus, he’s an even-keel floor leader who is able to get his teammates involved or score 30 (he had 37 in a rout of Gonzaga).

Q: We long for the day we can work from home. How do you enjoy it? Where the heck are you located, anyway?

Now that my daughter is 3 1/2, it’s much better. We have a cozy (another word for small) house about 20 minutes west of Boston and it was tough to get anything done with her crying in the next room. We knocked down a wall, moved my office downstairs and she is at school (or whatever you want to call it when she plays dolls and duck duck goose) most weekdays. But it’s great from the standpoint that my commute is about 30 feet from my bedroom and the only traffic I encounter is trying to get past my golden retriever.

 

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