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Rebounding From a Low Point

The Tigers seek answers after hitting an unexpected bump in the road.

By Jake Lawhead

One of the givens of a 30-game basketball season is that there will be some high points and some low points. Tigers fans, coaches, and players hope that the highest point is yet to come, but they -- and the rest of the country, thanks to ESPN -- may have seen the lowest of the valleys last Friday at UAB.

The Tigers received a 64-46 spanking from the Blazers in front of a national television audience. The game was a 180-degree turnaround from the Tigers' 102-81 victory over UAB in The Pyramid earlier this season.

One thing seems certain: Kelly Wise's importance to this team will never be questioned again. Wise was sidelined for Friday night's game with a strained knee, and his usual double-double was sorely missed as the Tigers shot just 30 percent from the field and were out-rebounded 43-33 by the Blazers, who do not start a player taller than 6'8".

"We learned that without Kelly, we don't rebound as well as we normally rebound," said Scooter McFadgon. "It shows us every game we go into, we're going to have to play hard. We can't expect to win."

After the game, Coach John Calipari stressed that the loss wasn't about Kelly Wise but more about his team's inability to step up.

"I've tried to tell them about revenge games," said Calipari at practice Monday. "It's like Houston coming up. We beat Houston by 25 in the first half of the season. Houston's mentality coming here now is 'If we don't have a herculean effort, we'll get beat by 25.' So they're going to come in with this high-energy effort, and if we come in thinking, 'This is going to be an easy game,' it's UAB all over again. And that's what some of these guys don't understand." And if players didn't understand the concept before, they were certainly informed in more ways than one at Monday's practice.

But before another revenge game with Houston, the Tigers have to regroup and travel for a showdown with Conference USA foe UNC-Charlotte.

After the pre-practice talk, it was business as usual, with an added emphasis on toughness and intensity. Big men worked on post moves against live contact then went through a drill where they take a charge then dive for a loose ball. Guards worked on scoring against aggressive perimeter contact then went through the same charge/loose-ball drill as the big men.

The added intensity at practice may come in handy, sinces Wise is doubtful against Charlotte, as is DaJuan Wagner, who missed Monday's practice attending funeral services for an uncle in his hometown of Camden, New Jersey. Wise practiced exclusively with Coach Ray Oliver on Monday and was wearing a protective brace on his knee.

"With Kelly and DaJuan out, we can't be like 'C'mon, we've got to win this game,'" said Calipari. "Now it's like 'Let's survive, keep it close, and try to steal one.'"

Calipari and his staff are billing the game against Charlotte as a growth opportunity for their team.

"What a wonderful time for some potentially good player to show what they are, what they have, and what their games are about," said Calipari.

The Tigers lost last year's meeting with Charlotte, 83-76, and haven't won in Halton Arena since 1996. Furthermore, Coach Bobby Lutz's squad possesses toughness and a physical style which have given the Tigers problems all year.

"When the stuff got a little crazy in their last game, things got really physical," said Calipari, after viewing the tape before practice. "They bumped all cutters, jammed the ball, bumped the post. Those are exactly the types of games either we're going to step up and be physical or it's a hard game."

Time will tell if the UAB game was a bump in the road or the beginning of a roll downhill.


All-star Dreaming

Amid the dazzle of the game, something real.

By Chris Przybyszewski

PHILADELPHIA -- What to say about the All-Star weekend but that the big game and its satellite events embody the best -- and worst -- of the NBA? The glitz and glamour of the parading stars, their vaulting egos, and the squealing masses of fans swirl together for a tasteless showcase of commercialized celebrity. But something endures despite the artifice. A simple human need finds fulfillment. We need our sports heroes, no matter how flawed.

Philadelphia has a storied basketball history. The University of Pennsylvania's Palestra is home base for the historic Big 5 and the NCAA tournament. The 76ers made Julius Erving and Wilt Chamberlain household names. Only Boston and maybe New York can match Philly's B-ball past. The host city showcased that history last weekend. Larger-than-life images of basketball greats from every era surrounded the palatial city hall and adorned the Avenue of the Arts down Broad Street -- Cousy, Robertson, Russell, Magic, Bird, Jordan, Barkley, the giants of the game.

On the surface, today's players don't seem to measure up. In fact, some of them embody the most arrogant, gut-wrenching excesses of celebrity gone bad that one could imagine. And All-Star weekend -- with its lackluster games, ill-advised celebrity three-on-threes, a dunk contest that has seen better days, and many top vote-getters not even attending the weekend due to injury, real or exaggerated -- is overblown, at best. (Anyone for an All-Star weekend jacket? Only $300.)

But, still, something endures. Adam is a 12-year-old kid from Maine. He's been battling bone cancer for over a year and maybe the cancer is winning. He's here to meet Michael Jordan and get an autograph, maybe a picture, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Adam stands with some close friends in the bowels of Philadelphia's First-Union Center, waiting anxiously. Jordan arrives, resplendent in expensive suit and tie. He chats with the kids and their parents, scribbles his name a few times, and leaves. Wish fulfilled, Adam gleams.

A few minutes later, before Adam and company leave, Shaquille O'Neal walks down the hallway with a smile as large as only a 7'1", 315-pound man can make. O'Neal talks with the kids, asks them why they are there, and all the while signs autographs, poses for pictures, and laughs. As soon as he is gone, fellow Laker Kobe Bryant shows up. Kobe signs and talks, poses for pictures, and laughs with everyone. Then comes rapper Lil' Bow-Wow, somewhat out of place but still a revered personality for Adam and his friends. Bow-Wow also signs autographs, poses for pictures, and chats with the group.

Adam, who is on crutches, wears a baseball cap to hide his head, which is bald from the cancer treatments. The excitement of meeting so many stars is more than he or his parents could have hoped for.

And then Minnesota's Kevin Garnett enters. Sleek and graceful like a dancer, the seven-footer jokes with Adam and his friends, but Adam doesn't laugh. Tears roll down his face as he realizes impossible dream after impossible dream. Garnett stops talking and looks down at Adam, about four feet below him. Garnett reaches down, hugs the boy, and kisses him on the cheek. "Keep fighting," he says. Adam begins to sob and Garnett holds the sick boy for just a second longer, shakes his hand, and then glides away.

Adam recovers moments later, and now the smile on his face is wide and bright. One child -- in the vortex of history and tradition and celebrity and excess -- has found something real.


The Score

NOTABLE:

The Memphis RiverKings need only two more wins in order to match a franchise record for consecutive victories. The 'Kings (36-9-2) are first place in the CHL's Northeast Division and have won nine games in a row.

Security was so tight around the NBA All-Star weekend festivities that Dikembe Mutombo was not allowed into one event until he produced proper credentials. Mutombo is 7'2" and helped lead the host city's Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA finals last season.

According to stats from the NBA, the league features 49 international players from 29 countries and 35 percent of all traffic on the NBA.com Web site comes from users logging on outside the U.S. NBA commissioner David Stern says that he is contemplating overseas franchises.

Horner Flooring on Lake Michigan makes all NBA floors as well as the floors for the NCAA Final Four. The floor that was specially created for the All-Star game cost around $80,000 and was made from 100-year-old maples. After the game, the floor was stripped of NBA paint and will be resold to another venue.

QUOTABLE:

"I've learned a ton since my first day in November, just what it takes to be a professional basketball player. It's not as glamorous, but I'm living my dream." -- Memphis rookie Shane Battier on NBA life.

"I don't think I have to prove anything with these young kids." -- Michael Jordan on why he had no interest in playing for too long in the All-Star game. Jordan ended up playing 22 minutes and scoring only eight points. Jordan also missed his one breakaway dunk in the first half.

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