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Boswell at Newell Press Conference (and Rides Some Elevators)

Boswell and his wife are out on the Left Coast to attend the Pete Newell Challenge in which Duke takes on Stanford Thursday evening. He went to the Challenge’s press conference, and here’s his report:

We checked into the Claremont Resort in Berkeley yesterday afternoon, which is the headquarters hotel for the Pete Newell Challenge and where both the Duke and Georgia teams are staying. The Blue Devils arrived around 1:30am this morning, after flying in from Portland. Georgia got in yesterday and, in fact, we’re staying on the same floor.

Living with the Bulldogs has led to a number of run-ins in the hallway and elevator with various members of the Georgia entourage. For example, this morning on the elevator with us was Jim Harrick and three small children (his grandchildren), none older than four. One of the kids was in a stroller that Harrick was gripping with white knuckles, another was pressing all of the buttons on the elevators, and the third was screaming his head off. Harrick was telling the distraught child, “Now, now, stop whining.” I admit that witnessing Harrick tell someone to stop whining did bring an ironic smile to my face.

The elevator turned out to be quite the meeting ground. Shortly after the ride with Harrick et al., I found myself on the elevator with Carlos and Renee Boozer, who were still sky-high from their son’s perfect shooting game in Portland. Also, on the elevator was DBR Bulletin Board contributor Juneau Jim.

Anyway, around noon, we headed over to the Oakland Arena, where the games will be played. All four coaches held a press conference with about thirty reporters present and a number of cameramen from Fox Sports and local TV stations. Also at the head table with the coaches were the legendary coach Pete Newell and the organizer of the Challenge, Jeff Fellenzer.

Fellenzer spoke first and remarked that all four coaches have at least 400 college wins. He also noted that eight players in the Challenge had attended Pete Newell’s Big Man camp in Hawaii this year. Fellenzer specifically noted that Carlos Boozer was a camper and, with a smile, credited Carlos’ 11-for-11 performance against Portland with his attendance.

Coach K, who was really looking pretty tired, spoke first and talked about how pleased he was that Duke could be participating in the Challenge. He said it had always been difficult in the past because of Duke’s exam schedule. He gave an overview of Duke’s players, and when he mentioned Shane, Fellenzer said how surprised he was when he saw Shane relaxing this morning by playing the piano in the hotel’s lounge.

Stanford’s Mike Montgomery then remarked that he heard Shane was a music major at Duke and he was learning how to play “Chopsticks” for his dissertation. Montgomery said he showed his team Duke’s performance in the first ten minutes against Portland and said, “See, they are human.” But then he noted that “We made sure they didn’t see the rest of the game or the Michigan game because the way Duke played and dominated they showed they are not human.”

Harrick talked about how he was rebuilding his team and that he hoped that he three to four years they would be competitive. Harrick also mentioned that Georgia was playing a ferocious schedule and that he was the “stupid” one who did the “overscheduling.”

Ben Braun went on at length talking about how great Pete Newell was, but he kept talking in the past tense, which led one reporter by me to whisper, “This sounds like a memorial service.” Braun finally caught himself, probably because Newell was only three seats away from him, and started speaking in the present tense.

Newell then spoke in very kind terms about the four coaches and the powerful tradition the Bay Area has in college basketball.

The floor was then opened for questions, and the first reporter asked Coach K what his biggest concern was about Stanford. He deadpanned, “Their lack of coaching.” He added, “Mike [Montgomery] now has a comedy routine. He must think his team is good enough that he can divert his talents elsewhere.” Coach K then added in a serious tone that it the Cardinal are very well coached, that it would be tough for Duke to handle rebounding against them, and that they had, in Jacobsen and Mendez two “very explosive wing players.”

Other Coach K comments:

On last year’s team: “We were a sprained ankle away from being 18-12.”

On recruiting: “Coaches are much more in harm’s way because we don’t know if a [high school] kid will be there for us and we may end up not recruiting someone who will be there. Most commit the fall of their senior year, but they can switch to the NBA in the spring.”

On kids leaving early: “I think you’re starting to see TV announcers talking more about the benefits of staying and asking ‘Why do you want to sit in the pros?’ rather than saying things like ‘Wow, that’s an NBA move!’… Hopefully, Shane will show kids that you can do both – be a high draft pick and stay four years. Duncan was the last big player to do that. Shane’s not that good, but he can make an impact with kids.”

On Harrick’s comment that 19 of the last 22 NCAA champs had a player from Georgia: “I think Hurley was from Georgia County, New Jersey.”

Finally, we went to a dinner honoring Pete Newell this evening. Among the luminaries were Oscar Robertson (who will receive a lifetime achievement award at tomorrow’s game), Jerry Lucas (yes, he’s still memorizing people’s names), and Jim Plunkett. Tiger Woods and Condoleezza Rice are supposed to be attending the game tomorrow. After the dinner, we hopped on the communal elevator to the room. Yeah, it was still the meeting ground. We were joined by Coach K and Mickie. He was heading up to the fourth floor for a team meeting, but all he was thinking and talking about was Oscar Robertson and how he wished people today understood how much he dominated the sport and brought class to it. Anyhow, more elevator rides tomorrow. Sleep well.