Kurt Helin

Florida Arkansas Basketball

That time Jeff Van Gundy told Billy Donovan he could beat out John Stockton for a Jazz roster spot


Rookie Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan had a 44-game NBA career, playing for Rick Pitino’s New York Knicks in the 1987-88 season. He didn’t see a lot of court time in those games, and his PER of 8.4 suggested more time in the CBA was the call.

Donovan, however, has one incredible draft story.

He was selected in the third round of the 1987 draft by the Utah Jazz, and from the moment of that selection he was a long shot to make the roster. Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman picks up the story from there.

At least one person thought (he could make the Jazz roster). It was Jeff Van Gundy, a graduate assistant during Donovan’s senior year at Providence. Van Gundy started chirping, gassing Donovan up about his chances as he helped prepare him for training camp.

“Jeff’s like, ‘Listen, man. I’m telling you. You’ve got a chance to make this team,’” Donovan remembered. “He said, ‘They’ve got a guy there that’s in, like, his third year named Stockton that I’m not so sure about. He hasn’t played very much.’

“Training camp starts and I call Jeff after, like, the first day of double sessions. I said, ‘Hey, Jeff, remember that comment you made to me about you’re not sure about Stockton? That’s the best guard I’ve ever played against in my entire life.’”

The season before Donovan was drafted Stockton was still coming off the bench for the Jazz (he started only two games) but in 22.7 minutes a night he was scoring 7.9 points a game (with a true shooting percentage of 57 percent) plus was dishing out 8.2 assists to 2 turnovers. He had a PER of 19. Stockton was poised for a breakout (which came the next season).

Van Gundy doesn’t deny that he dissed Stockton, but he’s not exactly taking ownership of those comments either.

“I’m not saying I didn’t say it, but I don’t remember saying anything specifically,” Van Gundy said of his alleged Stockton comment. “If I said something like that, I’m going to blame my sleep deprivation on coach (Rick) Pitino having us work 20 hours a night. That’s the only explanation for such a ludicrous statement like that.”

The old “blame Pitino” trick. That always works (or it used to with the Knicks, anyway).

I’m not so sure how accurate vs. exaggerated this story is in the retelling nearly 30 years later, but it’s a great story none-the-less.

DeMarcus Cousins dropped 91 points at charity game (Eric Bledsoe had 85)

DeMarcus Cousins

The Suns’ Eric Bledsoe was back in his hometown of Birmingham, Al., where he put on charity event helping disadvantaged youth in the area things like backpacks and schools supplies for the start of the school year. There also was music and food at an event in the park that was a nice story of an NBA star going back to help his hometown.

It was followed by a charity basketball game where Bledsoe got his buddy DeMarcus Cousins to show up and play.

And that’s when the show really started.

That Bledsoe went off on for 85 is impressive, but guards tend to thrive in free-flowing, up-tempo, no-defense pickup games because the ball is in their hands.

Big men, on the other hand, tend to have a rough time because those guards don’t feed them the rock. Which makes what Cousins did insane.

Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell sinks backwards half courter, celebrates with Kobe fist pump

Los Angeles Lakers' Bryant celebrates after his teammate Howard scored during their NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Los Angeles

Saturday was the rookie photo shoot, which mainly meant all the top draft picks from June were in one gym goofing off.

That includes the Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell, who knocked down a backwards half courter, then celebrated with a Kobe Bryant first pump. Unless Russell was doing an impression of Brandon Armstrong doing his Kobe impression — in which case he nailed it.

What I really want to see is Russell break that out during the season with Kobe on the court.

Hat tip to Silver Screen and Roll.

Trail Blazers not cool with Pat Connaughton playing pro baseball during offseason

Hoop Dreams

In 2015, Pat Connaughton was drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Nets , then quickly traded to Portland in the Rondae Hollis-Jefferson deal. Connaughton was selected because he can shoot the rock, hitting 42 percent from three at Notre Dame last season, and because he showed off a 44-inch vertical at the combine.

In 2014, Pat Connaughton was drafted in the fourth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Baltimore Orioles (he would have gone higher had he not told teams he was returning to ND to play another year of hoops). The Orioles saw a pitcher with a 96-MPH fastball, one they liked enough to give a $428,100 signing bonus. He pitched a summer of Class-A ball for them and reportedly looked good.

Connaughton’s dream is to go Bo Jackson, playing pro hoops in Portland through the winter, then when that season ended hopping a plane out to Baltimore and pitching for the Orioles.

That’s not how it’s going to go down. Not yet anyway. Here’s Blazers GM Neil Olshey speaking to Ian Thompson of NBA.com.

“That’s not happening,” says Neil Olshey, the general manager of the Blazers. “The conversation we had with Pat prior to all of this was you’re an NBA player now. Being an NBA player is not a part-time job….

“The time when Pat would be going to play baseball is a time when you’re working on your game and getting better,” Olshey says. “You see how valuable July is. During the development phase, when you’re a second-round pick in the NBA and you have a ways to go to have a translatable skill-set in our league, you need Summer League, you need Grg’s camp (run by Bucks assistant Tim Grgurich), you need to spend the offseason in the gym. You can’t do that on a part-time basis.”

Connaughton signed a four-year deal with Portland where the first two years are fully guaranteed — he’s an NBA player for the next couple years. He’ll get the chance to prove he can be one for longer than that if he puts in the work and develops into more than just a shooter (his defense is going to have to improve).

In a few years, if Connaughton has established himself in the NBA and is starting to negotiate a second contract with Portland or wherever, then he may have the leverage to say he wants to try playing some baseball in the summer.

Or, if it doesn’t pan out in the NBA he has an impressive fallback career.

But for now, he’s an NBA player, and Connaughton knows he needed to go the NBA route first because it’s a sport where dynamic athleticism is required, and age will factor into that equation. He admitted as much.

“I couldn’t pursue baseball and come back to basketball,” he says. “It would never work.”

Still, somewhere down the line I would love to see Connaughton be able to do both. America could use another two-sport star.

James Harden vs. Klay Thompson at Drew League (VIDEO)

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets - Game Three

We saw it in the Western Conference Finals: James Harden vs. Klay Thompson.

It happened again this week at the Drew League playoffs out in Los Angeles. The two NBA stars led teams against each other in the pro-am event and put on a little show. Harden dropped 15 points, nine rebounds and nine assists to lead his team to the win.

It doesn’t exactly make up for the playoffs, but Harden will take it.

Hat tip to Eye on Basketball.