Countdown to Rio: HoopsHD interviews 1984 Olympian Leon Wood

Next up on our list of Olympic memories is Leon Wood, who loves the sport so much that after retiring as a player he became an NBA referee.  After scoring 42+ PPG as a high school senior, he demonstrated his versatility by leading the nation in AST as a junior at Cal State Fullerton.  After being selected 10th overall by the 76ers in the 1984 NBA Draft he stayed on the West Coast and won a gold medal with team USA at the Olympics in Los Angeles.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Leon about winning a gold medal and becoming a ref.

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As a senior at St. Monica High School you averaged 42.1 PPG and set a California high school scoring record with 2693 PTS: how were you able to be so dominant, and what is the secret to being a great scorer? My mom went to UCLA so I would take the bus over to Pauley Pavilion in the summer and play against older college/pro players. When I was in 9th grade I got to play against Gus Williams/Paul Westphal/Marques Johnson so going into the school year against my peers I had a lot of confidence. The older guys would slack off me so I got to develop my outside shot.

In 1983 you led the nation with 319 AST at Cal State Fullerton: what is the key to being a great PG? When I transferred from Arizona my coach asked me what my aspirations were. I told him that I wanted to play at the next level and he said I would have to become a PG, which was hard for me to hear after being a scorer for most of my career. However, when you have good players around you who can score, it really allows you to enjoy playing PG.

What are your memories of the 1983 NIT (you had 24 PTS/10 AST in a 4-PT loss to ASU)? I was really looking forward to playing in the postseason as our team got better and better, especially with the chance to go up against my AAU teammate Byron Scott. It was a very close game but they just had a little too much firepower for us.

At the 1983 Pan Am Games you won a gold medal as part of team USA: how were you able to overcome the losses of a couple of great players (Chris Mullin was out after fracturing his foot and Michael Cage had to leave early due to an illness in his family)? It was difficult for me because my own foot injury kept me from trying out but they still named me to the squad. Our toughest game was against Brazil and Oscar Schmidt (the greatest scoring forward I have ever seen) and we only won by a few points. Luckily we had some other great players like Mark Price/Wayman Tisdale/Sam Perkins. Oscar was about 6’8” and could get his shot off very quickly so we put Michael Jordan on him and just tried to lock down everyone else.

In 1984 you won a gold medal as a member of team USA: was it extra-special to play in front of your hometown fans in LA, and where does that team rank among the best that you have ever seen? It was very special: I had to try out along with 80 other guys and Coach Bobby Knight said he would push me to the limit. Each time they announced the cuts they did so in alphabetical order so I had to wait until the very end to see if they would call my name, which was very nerve-racking! We had a 10-game tour against the NBA All-Stars (Magic/Bird/Isiah/etc.) and went 10-0, so we had a lot of confidence going into the Olympics.

After getting drafted by Philadelphia in 1984 you sued the NBA regarding its salary cap and draft provisions, but a judge denied your motion for a preliminary injunction: why did you decide to sue, and why did the judge fail to rule in your favor? My agent knows more about it than I do. The 76ers had 3 1st round picks that year and it was unfair that each of us were forced to sign a minimum deal in order to remain below the salary cap. It was just a procedure to force the team’s hand.

In Game 1 of the 1986 Eastern Conference 1st round you scored 5 PTS and Dudley Bradley capped an 18-0 run by the Bullets in the final 4 minutes by banking in a 25-footer at the buzzer in a 1-PT win on the road at Philly: how on earth were you able to make such an incredible comeback, and were you out for revenge against the team that had traded you away only a few months earlier? Philly traded me to Washington and I set new career-highs in scoring during each of my 1st 5 games with my new team. I was the 1st player to wear a headband before the commissioner said I could not wear it! After Gene Shue was fired as head coach, our new coach Kevin Loughery went with the veteran guys and we went on a roll and ended up making the playoffs. Dudley’s shot was amazing.

In Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals your Atlanta teammate Dominique Wilkins scored a game-high 47 PTS, but Larry Bird scored 20 PTS in the 4th quarter to give the Celtics a 2-PT win to clinch the series: what are your memories of that legendary 2-man duel? Dominique went nuts in Game 6 (35 PTS/10 REB) even though Larry had a hell of a game (23 PTS/11 REB in a 2-PT win), so we went into Game 7 just thinking that if we could win at home we could make the conference finals. I see replays of it on TV every so often. Dominique gave it his all to keep us in the game but Larry just matched him in an old-fashioned shootout: it is rare to have 2 guys involved who played the same position and guarded each other most of the game.

You finished in the top-10 in 3P% twice during your career: what is the secret for making shots from behind the arc? I had been making long shots since grammar school even though we did not have a 3-PT line back then. I always felt comfortable shooting from distance but looking back I would have spent more time working on my mid-range game. It is hard to make them if you come into the game off the bench, but I felt just as good as anybody after I got warmed up.

After retiring you became 1 of a handful of ex-NBA players to become an NBA referee: why did you decide to become a ref, and how do you like it? Some guys kind of talked me into doing that after playing overseas in the Philippines: they thought that since I was an ex-player (like Bernie Fryer) I would make a good ref. I signed up to do it for 1 season at the high school level: I found that I liked it but thought it was too slow. The next year the NBA invited me to work some summer league games: it was kind of funny to end up officiating games involving some of my former teammates! After getting hired/having to make calls and then watch Michael Jordan laugh at me was tough: I was not sure if he was making fun of me or not. Now I feel comfortable because the guys from my 1st few years as a ref have retired, but guys like Byron/Doc Rivers went on to become coaches. Most players go into coaching but the ref gig just fell into my lap.

The Brodeur Rule: HoopsHD interviews Penn recruit AJ Brodeur

Penn has had only had 1 winning season in the past decade so they are in dire need of some good recruits to help restore the program to its past glory. 1 of those incoming freshmen who hopes to make the Quaker alumni proud is AJ Brodeur out of Northfield Mount Hermon School. He committed to Penn after his junior year, then finished his senior year by winning a conference title. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with AJ about why he chose Penn and what he knows about Coach Steve Donahue.

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You received offers from schools like GW/Notre Dame: why did you choose Penn? As the recruiting process started to wind down I began looking closer into each school and concluded that the Ivy League was where I wanted to end up. I narrowed it down to Harvard/Penn/Yale and then took visits to all 3 schools. I chose Penn because of all that it had to offer: location, facilities, city, etc. Coach Donahue just finished his 1st year there and I really bought into his vision and what he is doing. I felt that he could help me become who I wanted to be as a player/person.

Coach Donahue 1st offered you scholarship when he was at BC: how have you bonded with him over the past few years and what makes him such a good coach? A lot of my high school’s own offense was taken from him, so knowing how the system works and seeing that it also works at the college level definitely makes me feel comfortable. He has kept in contact with me and some of my teammates: it has been a good process.

You committed last July: why did you make your decision so early in the recruiting process? My thought process was to commit before my senior year of high school. I had more information than I needed and felt like I was ready to make my decision. It would not have made sense to me to be playing as if I was uncommitted and still wanted to be recruited: I did not want to waste anyone’s time.

You played PF at Northfield Mount Hermon School: what position are you most comfortable at, and what position do you think will be your best fit in college? I feel very comfortable playing the 4 or 5. I played in the post a lot growing up with my back to the basket, but I started to face up more and extend my shooting range during high school. I expect to play the 4 in college but want to play wherever the coach sees fit.

You were team captain as a senior: what is the key to being a good leader? You need good communication skills and have to set a good example: if 1 of these factors is not your strong point then the other 1 can still help. You have to mean business and get things done the right way.

In April you helped lead your team to a NEPSAC Class AAA championship with a 10-PT win over St. Thomas More: what did it mean to you to win a title? I cannot remember the last time I felt prouder: that meant everything to me. We were not expected to do as well this year as we had over the 2 previous years and a lot of people felt that we were past our prime. It was 1 of the greatest experiences that I have ever had.

Penn already has 2 Northfield Mount Hermon alums already on the roster (Jackson Donahue/Colin McManus): are you guys just developing a pipeline from Gill to Philly? That would be nice: I would love to have more NMH guys come to Penn! We are known for sending more basketball players to the Ivy League than any other conference in the country. It is the perfect style of basketball for the Ivy League.

What will it be like to face your former NMH teammate Ian Sistare (who signed with Dartmouth) twice a year? It will be fun to play against him. Ian is the hardest working guy who I have ever met: on the court, off the court, out of season, etc. He makes all of the effort plays.

You also played volleyball in high school: are we going to see you as a 2-sport athlete for the Quakers? I wish! Penn men’s volleyball is a club team but if they were a varsity team then I would seriously consider it. I only started playing volleyball in high school, but being 6’8” definitely helped. The skill set translates directly over to basketball (vertical leap/lateral movement) so it is a good off-season workout.

Your mother played college basketball at North Adams State: who is the best athlete in family? She was a good athlete who also did a little track. We will see if I can pass her at some point over the next 4 years: I have my work cut out for me!

Beamer, Benz, or Betley: HoopsHD interviews Penn recruit Ryan Betley

Penn has had only had 1 winning season in the past decade so they are in dire need of some good recruits to help restore the program to its past glory.  1 of those incoming freshmen who hopes to make the Quaker alumni proud is Ryan Betley out of Downingtown West High School.  He committed to Penn after his junior year, then finished his senior year by breaking his school’s record for career scoring.  HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with Ryan about why he chose Penn and what he knows about Coach Steve Donahue. 

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On Twitter you are listed as “Metta World Peace”: what made you choose that name? I was just hanging out with some friends and we were thinking about funny Twitter names: he was a tough guy on the court.

You were known for being a shooter at Downingtown West High School: what position did you play in high school, and what position do you think will be your best fit in college? I played SG in high school so I think that will be my best fit. I am 6’5” and can shoot, which allows me to be versatile on defense.

You finished your high school career with 1333 PTS, passing Eddie Barton as the all-time leading scorer in school history: what is the secret to being a great scorer, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record? I think that someone will eventually break my record. You have to be able to shoot the 3: it is an easy way to get a lot of points. It also helps if you can get to the rim and make free throws.

You were a 2-time team captain: what is the key to being a good leader? You need to be vocal in the locker room and competitive on the court. I tried to push my teammates to be better.

You received scholarship offers from several Ivy/Patriot schools: what made you pick Penn? It has great history and a great education: I want to study business and you cannot beat Wharton. I can also see myself fitting into their offense very well.

You announced that you were going to Penn in July of 2015: why did you make your decision so early in the recruiting process? I just wanted to trust my gut. I had liked Penn for a while and did not want to miss out by having someone commit before me. After evaluating some other schools I figured that my best option was to go to Penn.

What do you know about Coach Steve Donahue? I know that he is a Philly-area guy. I also know a lot of people who know him so he is a familiar face around here. He took Cornell to the Sweet 16 and coached at BC after starting his career as a JV coach at Penn.

Last month Coach Donahue announced the rest of your freshman class (AJ Brodeur/Devon Goodman/Ray Jerome/Zack Kaminsky/Jakub Mijakowski): which of them do you know the most about, and how much pressure is there on your class to turn things around for a program that has only had 1 winning season in the past decade? I played AAU ball with Devon so I am closest to him, but a couple of weeks ago I was on campus and got to see most of the other guys: the only 1 I have not met yet is Jakub. We got to hang out for a week, which was nice. I do not think there is pressure on our class: our whole team wants to win and we just want to make the team better and return to that winning tradition that the older alums are used to seeing.

You also played golf in high school: are we going to see you as a 2-sport athlete for the Quakers? I will be a 1-sport athlete.

The Hoops HD Report: July Session

Despite it being the offseason, it’s been a rather busy couple of weeks in college basketball, and Chad and the panel go over all of the news and notes.  They begin by discussing the HB2 laws in North Carolina, and how it has already had an impact on college hoops with Albany not being permitted to play at Duke as they were originally scheduled to do.  They discuss whether or not the measure is appropriate considering Duke was so outspoken against the HB2 laws.  The Big Twelve athletic directors appeared to table expansion, but the Big Twelve presidents have decided to go ahead with it.  They discuss that along with some of the possible candidates.  They also delve into the recent allegations of abuse coming out of George Washington and look at what some of the long term consequences of that could be.  Last but not least, David Griggs is running for president!!  All that, and much more….

 

For all you radio lovers, below is an mp3 version of the show….

Nate the Great: HoopsHD remembers the life of Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond

We have already lost so many amazing people in 2016 to violence, disease, and old age, and July is being no kinder with the news that Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond passed away yesterday at the age of 74 after battling leukemia. At Bowling Green he became the only player in MAC history to ever lead the conference in rebounding for 3 consecutive seasons, then continued to prove his rebounding prowess by grabbing 42 in a game against the Pistons in 1965. Rather than just a big guy who hit the boards, he demonstrated his endurance by playing all 63 minutes of a 3-OT game in 1969, then showed off a little of everything in 1974 by becoming the 1st player in NBA history to officially record a quadruple-double. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Thurmond a few years ago, and is proud to share this never-before-published interview below. We send our condolences to his family/friends as we salute 1 of the best players in the history of the sport.

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1 of your Akron Central High School teammates was fellow future Hall of Famer Gus Johnson: how dominant was your team back in the day? Gus was a tremendous player even back then: he was a lot better than I was. 1 year we went into the Ohio state playoffs 1with an undefeated record and played a school called Liberty. They pressed us all game long and we did not have a good scheme to get the ball upcourt, which was our downfall in the only loss of our season.

What are your memories of the 1962 NCAA tourney as a player at Bowling Green (you had 21 PTS/14 REB in a 1-PT loss to Butler)? I do not have a lot of memories but I recall that Butler was an even smaller school than us so were kind of shocked by them. When it is 1-and-done in the tourney if you have an off night and the other team is on then they can pull off the upset, which is kind of what happened.

What are your memories of the 1963 NCAA tourney (you had 16 PTS/20 REB in a 5-PT win over Notre Dame)? That was an eye-opener for me because Notre Dame was a much bigger school. When you play against a team from a good conference they play much rougher so there were not as many fouls called that night. It was a credit to our coach.

You were a 3-time 1st-team all-conference pick and an All-American in 1963: what did it mean to you to win such outstanding honors? It just meant that my career was progressing as an individual, but you cannot get all of those accolades unless your team is successful so it was validation on both of those points. It also showed that I had been practicing hard and that it was paying off. I played with some great players, including Butch Komives/Elijah Chapman.

You remain the only player in MAC history to lead the conference in REB for 3 consecutive seasons: did you realize at the time how prolific a player you were, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record? I had worked hard on my game and began to have some success. I hope the record is not broken…but as I get older it does not matter that much to me!

In February 1965 you set a regular-season record that still stands with 18 REB in 1 quarter vs. Baltimore, and in November 1965 you had a career-high 42 REB in a game vs. Detroit (becoming the only players besides Bill Russell/Wilt Chamberlain to ever have more than 40 REB in a game): what was your secret for being a great rebounder? You have to have the “desire to be a center”. 1 of your jobs is to rebound the ball, otherwise you do not get to go back on offense. You also need to understand little things like the way the ball bounces off the rim, how to get position, etc., all of which I learned from my high school coach.

In Game 6 of the 1967 Finals you scored 12 PTS in a 3-PT loss at home to Philly: where does that 76ers team (who won a then-record 68 regular season games) rank among the greatest teams that you ever saw? There is no question that they were a really good team but we still could have beaten them in that series. Rick Barry never let me forget the time that we ran a pick-and-roll and instead of passing to him and I ended up taking a shot that was blocked by Wilt. I will say to my dying day that it was goaltending but the refs did not call it that way. I could kind of negate what Wilt was doing, which left us in a 4-on-4. By “negate” I am not saying that I could stop him, but I could at least bring down his output.

In February 1969 you set a record that stood for over a decade by playing all 63 minutes of a 3-OT 5-PT win over the Lakers: how on earth were you able to play the whole game without taking a rest? I was the kind of guy who once I started the season and had 10-15 games under my belt I was in shape and could play a whole game. I perfected the art of learning when I could take a breather. Occasionally I would not go as hard on the offensive boards as a I could have but I would do my thing on the defensive boards. When I was playing with Wilt I remember that he played almost every minute of the entire season and that is the mentality I looked to have. After Wilt left our team had no money left for a good backup center so I did not look to go to the bench.

After being traded to Chicago in September 1974 you had 22 PTS/14 REB/13 AST/career-high 12 BLK in your Bulls’ debut (a 5-PT OT win over Atlanta), becoming the 1st player in NBA history to officially record a quadruple-double: how big a deal was it at the time, and were you worried that you had raised the bar too high for your new fans? At the time nobody knew: if my recollection was right it was not even discovered until 2-3 days later! I was trying to prove to the Warriors that they had made a mistake by trading me after I spent 11 years with them. I did raise the bar too high because I was not used to that offense: standing at the foul line and feeding our forwards was not the best use of my talents.

You were named to the All-Defensive team 5 times in a 6-year span from 1969-1974: what was your secret for being a great defender? In high school our coach evaluated us by how we played man-to-man defense: if I scored 20 PTS but my opposing center outscored me then I was a liability to our team. I was not always the highest scorer out there but very seldom did I let my opponent outscore me. My senior year I remember playing in a pro-am game against Bill Russell, who said that it is demoralizing to your opponent if you can score on him and he cannot score on you.

Puppet Ramblings: The “Bathroom Law” Boycott Will Accomplish Nothing!

For starters, I don’t like it when sports, particularly college sports, are used as a political tool by political leaders who have nothing to do with sports.  I obviously love college basketball, but I also love international soccer.  If anything, it is refreshing to be able to not harp on your different political ideologies, but rather set them all aside and collectively enjoy something that belongs to all of us.  This is definitely true with international soccer, but I feel that it is true for all levels of sport, including college basketball.  Given the current climate of this country, we need more shared experiences, not less of them, and for better or worse, sport appears to be one of the vehicles where we can have a shared experience with people who have very different views and opinions, but during that experience feel like we are the same.

I need to say that we, as a staff, do not like to talk politics on Hoops HD.  This is not a political site.  Although we all have political opinions, we do not express them here or use this site as a vehicle for our own political ideologies.  I am not writing this as an attempt to change or criticize anyone’s political viewpoints or opinions, but rather to criticize the methods New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has chosen to use in response to the HB2 laws (ie the Bathroom Laws) in North Carolina.  More specifically, the impact those methods have on the college basketball programs in the state of New York (and Albany in particular), as well as college basketball as a whole.

This past March, Governor Cuomo issued an executive order banning all state sponsored non-essential travel to the state of North Carolina.  He did this, presumably, because he felt that the HB2 laws were discriminatory toward the LBGTQ community and wanted to disassociate himself from that discrimination.  Is this nothing more than disingenuous political posturing on his part??  I don’t know.  Does he actually think this will be effective??  I don’t know.  Did he ever consider how it was possibly unfair not just to the intercollegiate teams in the state of New York, but to the people in the state of North Carolina who strongly oppose the HB2 laws??  I don’t know.  I don’t know what is in his heart or in his head, so I won’t even try and guess.  I will say this, though….

This method is both unfair and ineffective.  Albany was scheduled to open the upcoming college basketball season at Duke, and has now been made to back out of the game.  The only people that are really directly impacted by this are the players and coaches on both teams, and none of them had anything to do with the HB2 laws.  In addition to that, Duke is a private institution, so it is not tied to the state of North Carolina.  Not only that, but as an institution Duke was strongly opposed to the HB2 laws.  I fail to see how not allowing Albany’s basketball team to play at Duke, which is a private institution that opposes the HB2 laws, will do anything change the laws.  If anything, I think that going there and playing the game would create an assembly of people where the vast majority of them also oppose the law, so in a way not going to play the game results in less opposition to the Bathroom Laws, not more of it.

STATEMENT FROM DUKE “DEPLORING IN THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE TERMS” THE HB2 LAWS

Taking this a step further, in addition to Duke being strongly opposed to the laws as you can read in the link above, it is my understanding the majority of the people in the state of North Carolina are opposed to the laws as well.  So, what is accomplished by disassociating yourself with them??  What is accomplished by deciding not to engage them in an inclusive and shared experience such as a sporting event??  I understand not liking bigotry.  I also feel that if you want to combat bigotry, then alienating people who are not bigots (which the vast majority of college students and student-athletes are not), but happen to live in a state with laws that you feel are bigoted, is not the way to go about it.  Rock & Roll, Soul, and R&B acts that toured the Deep South during the Civil Rights Movement accomplished a lot more than they would have by boycotting those states.  Seriously, if Governor Cuomo genuinely feels opposed to the HB2 laws and isn’t just doing this for political posturing, then why isn’t he ENCOURAGING the New York college teams to go to a place like Duke who is also openly opposed to them??  This boycott is unfair.  This boycott is ineffective.  And, to take it a step further, this boycott is arguably COUNTER-productive.  How so??  Well….

We’ve seen sports boycotts before.  The 1980 and 1984 Olympics comes to mind.  I cannot think of a single example where a sports boycott had any sort of a meaningful impact.  Not one.  Now, having said that, I can think of multiple examples of where NOT boycotting had HUGE impacts.  Jessie Owens did not boycott.  Tommy Smith and John Carlos did not boycott.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela seemed to do the exact opposite of a boycott.  Like I said at the beginning, sports allow us to have shared experiences with people that are different than us, and during that event make us the same.  In many cases, it may be the only time we feel that we are the same.  Is that bad??  I sure as hell don’t think so.  If anything, we need more of that, not less of it.  You’re not going to change peoples’ hearts and minds by ignoring them.  You have to engage them.  You have to find common ground.  And, sport IS  common ground.  It’s one of the few common grounds that we have.  It is a shame that there aren’t more, but at least sports gives us something

So, Governor Cuomo, please, keep your political differences out of college sports.  Do not be unfair to the individual student-athletes who played no political roll in the HB2 laws, and who probably disagree with the laws themselves.  Do not deny people with different political viewpoints and ideologies the chance to have a shared experience with one another.  Sports brings us together, and it will do more to make us better than it will to make us worse.  This boycott will accomplish nothing.