It’s March, and our focus is college hoops, so we’ve convinced ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb to answer a few of our questions. He defends his Duke Final Four pick, talks about what it was like playing hoops all over the world, his feud with Jim Boehim, and a couple of photos of him and his pregnant wife that appeared on his Facebook page. And if you’ve ever wondered who can ball in Bristol and who can’t, he’ll pull no punches.
Q: Tuesday night your Final Four picks flashed on the screen and you had Duke in there. Was that a joke? Do you really think a team that relies so heavily up on the three and has little or no post scoring options can possibly get on a run? Is this more about a weak field in the 3-7 seed range, or do you really believe Duke can make a run?
UNC, Pitt, OU and I UConn are the favorites, but I think Duke, Wake and KU have a run in them. Duke has no center, but they have two pros and a third big scorer with Scheyer at the point. Elliott Williams, David McClure, Nolan Smith and Lance Thomas give Duke far better athleticism than when it had Paulus and Zoubek playing big minutes. Additionally, Coach K has finally shown a willingness to change both his offense and his defense. Are they a favorite? Probably not, but they have experience, 13 top 60 wins (sick number), and are not going down in the first weekend. They are not a favorite, nor do I think I will pick them in my bracket, but I do respect the fact that the Floor Slappers are willing to change.
Q: What was it like traveling the world to play basketball? France, Russia, Israel … which country paid the best? How was the social scene? At the time, did you see it as a stepping stone to the league, or just a really fun job?
Russia pays the best. $100 bills. Dude walks in with a briefcase of money after big wins and has body guards in front and in back packing heat. Rusty LaRue was in Moscow when my team beat his in the playoffs, he told me that in Moscow you can buy a blue light on top of your car and drive down the middle of the street to avoid traffic. I was in Perm, which was gray and depressing, but played with some Lithuanians who were really good and freaking crazy competitive. On days off they would work out for the hours in the gym and there was always a fight.
My team, like most, was owned by a mafia front organization that also owned a restaurant, radio station and casino. Needless to say, there was only one club you could really go hang out in, and my wife and I were just married and we read a lot and almost never gambled. The weather was terrible, the food worse and with the exception of Moscow, the country was a depressing representation of how a government can ruin the greatest wealth of natural resources in the world. BUT, I got all my money, we won all but one game in six months and won two championships, so I guess it was a success.
Israel is like the 51st state. My wife loved living there because of the weather and the laid back atmosphere of Tel Aviv. The clubs there are very cool, the American players from all levels of teams hang out together and with the security everywhere you feel safer there than in many places in the states.
I played in France after a year of broadcasting and I finally “got it” in terms of how to play overseas and strive. I had no car, ate at the same cafÃ© for two months and got into a fight during my last game. If I were ever to return to France, I would have a 6-game suspension before I could play. Apparently calling out “scoreboard” is like telling some Frenchy that his mother wears combat boots. The food is cool, the clubs are ok, but it was during the 50 Cent “In da Club” March 2003-era and I heard that song every game, every night and on every player’s headphones.
The games are fun sometimes, but the crowds can be very hit or miss and coming from a constant sell out in college, you feel more than a little let down playing in glorified high school gyms. It is definitely a job, though the culture is awesome to grow to understand. I learned to speak Russian, can give you plenty of Hebrew slang and never understood a vowel of French, but I have a much greater understanding of all of their cultures, if that is worth something.
Q: At what point do you decide to throw in the towel on your hoops career and start planning for the future? Was there an injury or some grand realization that a pro career wasn’t happening?
I was in Israel, we went a month after 9/11. We loved living there, loved our teammates and the weather, but I struggled with my role, my coach and my desire to try and make it in the states. I left with four games left, went to the ABA and played great and finally hit some shots, but left there to play in the USBL in Oklahoma City for Kareem.
While I was in OKC I started doing more and more radio and realized that I might never play in the NBA or even play in the right situation in Europe.
I was in Oklahoma City filling in for Jim Traber (one of the highest rated PM Drive guys in the country), when my boy Brandon aka “The Weasel” put me on the phone with the new Coordinating Producer of college hoops, who offered me a chance to come in for an audition. He had tried to get a hold of me all summer, but I was in the Lakers summer league and on-air in OKC and had no voicemail or company email. So I go up to ESPN, they offer me a handful of games, I negotiated a deal with WWLS in OKC for a midday show, got 15 ESPN+ (known as ERT) games and five local OSU games and decided to try it for a year.
After Championship Week I went to play in France for six weeks. It was awesome as I had learned a lot from watching and being around the game. When I came back it was the draft that had Lebron, Darko etc. I played against Darko when I was in Israel, played against Pietrus and Diaw in France and knew all the college guys, so I called ESPN, who had just gotten the draft, and asked if they needed any help. They used Bilas and the NBA guys on TV, but gave me a chance on Radio. Apparently it went well as two months later I was hosting “Gamenight” on ESPN Radio. I figured it is the NBA of broadcasting, why force trying to make the NBA, which seemed far fetched.
Q: You famously feuded with Jim Boeheim in 2005 after being critical of the Syracuse schedule. He fired back the insult we imagine you’ll hear probably for the remainder of your life – your use of an unauthorized credit card at Notre Dame, which ultimately led to you leaving the school. Should there be a statute of limitation on that incident? At what point did you get “over” people bringing it up?
Don’t people think after 13 years I have shown that my last two months or so at ND were out of character? What irks me is that I have never shied away from blame for my own transgressions, nor should I, but I also never get credit for anything I have done since. In my opinion it is incredibly unfair to judge me based upon the worst moment of my life when it occurred such a long time ago. Additionally, it is pathetic to dismiss any of my analysis on basketball due to what happened at ND. What am I supposed to do, go into a hole and not have a job because I was charged with a misdemeanor? Really?
Since then I have won community service awards, help lead three teams to the NCAA tournament, lead the country in assists one year, finish second another year, graduated, played overseas, got a job at ESPN and worked my way up the ladder by doing the right things along the way. I actually look at the whole thing as a badge of honor. I mean, I have been able to make it in a very public profession despite an idiotic public transgression … maybe I have to be a little better than some other guys in order to make it? For Jimmy B or Jim Delaney (the commish of the Big 10) to dismiss my work because of my past is as petty as possible. By the way, I was so far off on Syracuse’s schedule that they went out and scheduled up this year and have benefitted all year from their early wins.
Q: Are you able to find time to play pickup ball? Is there any good competition in Bristol? Comprise the ESPN starting five (by position), a sixth man, and a coach.
Yup, decent runs around here. The Southington (ESPN is actually on the Southington line) YMCA has Mon/Wed/Friday runs. Good ESPN guys who are usually pretty young and ambitious. Mark Jackson and Greg Anthony came down a couple of times. You had three of the best passers (GA is like three assists ahead of me all time) in the history of the college game playing and none of us would pass. There is an awesome Sunday game at a local High School that has a bunch of ex-college players from 25-45, great guys, good run and the door closes after 20 guys are in the gym. My wife was in nursing school at St. Joseph’s College, and some of the same guys play there too, but those guys have played together for years and they are miraculous with the trash talk. They vary in skill, like some guys are old and horrible, and sometimes Donny Marshall comes down, but they play every day and are the most fun to play with. There is also a Tues/Thurs/Sunday Espn.com run game that is at like 9 at night. There is an email that goes out and the first 15 to sign up are in, the game is good, nice guys, but I have not gone enough to give a great scout.
Better yet, here is a detailed scouting report of some of the guys you may know on air.
Stan Verrett is an avid golfer who hoops in the winter. He can shoot and that is about it. Remarkably he plays ball with a gold bracelet on his wrist at all times, not sure that is going to fly at his new L.A. gig. NO LEFT HAND.
Ryen Russillo is a bruising 6-foot-5 workhorse who grew up on the tough streets of Martha’s Vineyard and he breaks out the old school McHale post move as often as possible. He does struggle at times adjusting to wearing regular basketball clothing as he grew up playing with a polo shirt and a sweater tied around his neck. Fundamentally and mentally strong, Russillo did nearly end the career of an unnamed ACC women’s baller who interned at the Leader last summer. WEAR AN LBJ JERSEY AND CALL A TON OF FOULS, HE THINKS LEBRON IS THE BIGGEST FLOPPER SINCE VLADE.
Jay Harris- He went to Carolina and it shows in his soft defense. Jay has deep range and he is a bit of a shot nut.
Stacey Dales used to play before she left the company, she was really skilled and she was not selfish in any way.
Karon Barnes- Dude is a PA that averaged like 20 a game at Cornell three years ago. I invited K to some of the other runs and he always delivers.
Robert Villanueva is Charlie’s brother, he works here and is like 6-foot-7, pretty smooth game.
Mike Bucklinâ€” “Buck” is Izzo’s nephew I think, he has a nice little game, fast, good mid range and works with EA Sports so I get all the new games for my 360.
Q: What was your reaction when you heard that Billy Packer would not be returning to CBS, meaning the Final Four would have a new voice for the first time in forever?
Truthfully, I knew months in advance as some of the CBS guys are friends and they said times were changing. I think Billy Packer did an excellent job of conveying his opinion on a broadcast and his uncompromising candor will be missed. I know he was gruff and grumpy, but at least he has a strong opinion. I am looking forward to listening to Clark’s call and I hold out hope that one day the tourney returns in some form to ESPN. It goes without saying that like anyone, I would just once love to be courtside covering the Final Four. My college team came within one game of the FF, and it eats me alive that we never got to play in it.
Q: So about those interesting photos of you and your pregnant wife … did you have to mention to her that you’re a huge deal who warrants 3,000 word stories in USA Today, and on TV nightly, and that kind of thing probably isn’t the best to put on the internet … or did you simply not care, pesky bloggers be damned?
I think living in a neighborhood we call “ESPN the Neighborhood,” we are kind of isolated from how many people consume ESPN products on a daily basis. Kenny Mayne goes to the same Starbucks, Sage Steele is a close neighbor, John Anderson’s wife is also an Oklahoma State alum (as is my wife) and so ESPN is just another job to most people in the area. Additionally there are really no special “talent” perks to those of us who live in Connecticut and so I think we – my wife and I – do not take ourselves so seriously that we think it is a big deal. So it never really dawned on her to not have our friend who is a photographer post the pics on our Facebook pages.
Q: The toughest player you ever hard to guard was … Jamal Tinsley. His handle was so tight and he was too big and long for me to affect him, my best hope was to make him shoot jumpers and he only took mid range shots he could hit.
Q: The next coach to make the leap from mid-major to a big school will be … Randy Bennett, St. Mary’s. They are one win from three 25-win seasons in five years, where as the year before he arrived SMC had two wins. Look out for Brad Stevens (Butler), Dave Rose (BYU) and Ben Jacobsen (UNI) too.
Q: Favorite non-ESPN college basketball writer. Jeff Goodman from Foxsports.com for info and Andy Glockner from SI.com for numbers. Glockner has two IVY league degrees and seems to find teams that we are missing on by using efficiency ratings and algorithms … sometimes I read his stuff and think it is binary code, but he does extensive research that is impressive and though provoking.
Q: Rowdiest gym’s crowd when you were a player. There will never be a place like the old GIA at OSU. The low flat roof and the 6,300 screaming orange-clad faithful literally gave us a headache after every big game. Outside of that, Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State when they had Tinsley and Fizer.
Q: Rowdiest gym’s crowd you’ve encountered as an announcer. Dave Revsine (Now with BTN) and I called a midnight Bracketbuster Game in Carbondale, IL. SIU hosted Hawaii in a Pajama Jam for the students and apparently in that part of Illinois, pajamas are known to contain flasks of hard liquor. Who knew?
Q: USC coach Tim Floyd is … an innovative recruiter and might be the next coach at Alabama.
Q: Who was a better college basketball player, Sean Elliott or Danny Ferry? I am partial to Tom Peabody and Jeff Fryer and the LMU Lions with Kimble and Gathers.
Q: The last good movie you saw. Taking Chance on HBO. Kevin Bacon was outstanding and I was literally moved to tears. I am not an emotional movie guy, but the movie captures perfectly how I feel about those who have fallen in our two recent wars abroad.