Long Journey Leads McGhee Back To Norman

JOHN SHINN
Displayed with permission from The Washington Times

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) – Aaron McGhee hadn’t seen Lloyd Noble Center until this month since he cleaned out his locker in the spring of 2002. The arena hasn’t changed much, but the area around it has transformed in the 12 and a half years since.

“Campus, everything around it, even just coming here from Oklahoma City, to see the development all around,” McGhee told The Norman Transcript. “It’s a lot different around here.”

Oklahoma opens its arms to all former players when it holds the Legends Alumni Weekend. McGhee was one of the featured honorees as the University of Oklahoma celebrated all 1,000-point scorers in the program’s history.

McGhee wished he’d come back sooner. His home is in Frisco, Texas. It’s only a three-hour drive. But most of the time since McGhee left school has been spent, literally, a world way.

Everyone who dreams of playing professional basketball hopes to do so in the NBA. However, only a select few get to live it.

Most do what McGhee’s done. Apply for a passport, pack the bags and head overseas.

He’s made a living playing professional basketball for 12 years. It’s taken him to Russia, Spain, South Korea, Puerto Rico, China, Philippines, Israel and Ukraine.

“I never would’ve thought I would’ve seen half the things I’ve seen traveling the world,” McGhee said. “It’s been amazing. I’ve been truly blessed.”

It took a while for the appreciative feelings to set in.

McGhee figured he was destined for a career in the NBA. That thought was validated when a couple months after aiding the Sooners’ Final Four run, he was named MVP of the 2002 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. At the time, it was the NBA’s combine.

But the 6-foot-7 forward never found his way onto a NBA roster. Some bitterness came with the slight.

“It bothered me for a while,” McGhee said. “Not getting a fair crack – I felt – to get into the NBA, yeah, it bothered me a little bit. But I learned to let it go.”

He hasn’t signed with a team for this coming season. At 35 years old, the option to retire looms. It was obvious at an alumni game this month at Lloyd Noble Center that talent is still there.

McGhee buried 15 footers at the same rate he did in his final University of Oklahoma game in 2002.

It’s easy to tell at the alumni game which players are still active and which ones are making a living doing something else.

Former University of Oklahoma players and 1,000-point scorers Tony Crocker and Cade Davis have followed McGhee’s path.

Both were headed out of Norman this month to begin voyages to faraway lands. Crocker is off to Israel. Davis is bound for Greece to play for the same team Crocker was with last year.

“Yeah, Cade asked me all about the team and money and the league,” Crocker said. “He’ll have fun. He’ll like it. It’s in a good part of Athens. He’ll love it.”

They’re both getting the same experience as McGhee. Getting paid to play the game they love and seeing the world.

It requires patience and an adventurous spirit.

“It’s a different road because you do bounce around from place to place. You never know how the team will fare and where you’ll wind up the next season,” Davis said. “It’s a waiting game. You have to wait for the next opportunity to present itself.”

Those opportunities have limited their chances to return to Norman. But the alumni weekend is always going to be there when the basketball adventures end.

Cavaliers Introduce Kevin Love




Kevin Love was introduced as the newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers at a press conference in Cleveland on Tuesday. Love was acquired in a three-team deal with the Timberwolves and 76ers.

A New Breed Of Basketball Players Are Chasing The American Dream

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Michelle FlorCruz
Displayed with permission from International Business Times

POTTSTOWN, Pennsylvania — A gym in suburban Pennsylvania doesn’t sound like the most obvious place to be for a young Mongolian-Canadian student with dreams to make it big in sports. But that’s where Jacob Tala spent all of July, perfecting his basketball game.

“You know, we’re descendants of Genghis Khan,” Norma Tala, Jacob’s mother, says excitedly, keeping a watchful eye on the court. She erupts in applause as her son sinks a basket against the Philadelphia Vipers. His purported ancestor’s famous drive to conquer seems mirrored in Jacob’s bid to make it big in a foreign land. He wants to be a basketball star in America, and if he makes it, he will have a small basketball academy in Pennsylvania to thank.

The 17-year old is one of the kids from 12 countries spending part of the summer at Alexander Basketball Academy, a monthlong sleepaway camp for international high school talent from countries ranging from Denmark to China.

Tala is one of the emerging international players who are changing the face of the sport in America, some of them originally from countries, like Mongolia, where basketball has been catapulted rapidly from an oddity into one of the most popular sports.

His parents have achieved the immigrant dream: After leaving their native Mongolia, they are naturalized Canadians, and are currently living as expats in Shanghai, China, where Jacob’s father, Tony, is a successful businessman. Now Jacob, the elder of their two children, is chasing a dream of his own: playing Division I college basketball in the U.S.

Three summers at the camp have transformed “two-point Tala,” a moniker he got after scoring only two points in his entire first summer session, into a prospective collegiate-level basketball player.

The place where he morphed into a contender for American basketball is Alexander Basketball Academy, held on the perfectly manicured grounds of the Hill School, 40 miles (70 km) outside of Philadelphia.

Every summer John Alexander, the camp’s 33-year old owner, and his fellow coach Kevin Breslin, an entertainment basketball player for the Washington Generals — the team that famously tours with, and loses to, the Harlem Globetrotters — bring 45 young men here for a shot at college-level play.

For most international prospects, getting into the American college-basketball system and reaping the benefits of college-level play and exposure is not easy. Typically, NBA scouts only pluck out players who have already had experience in their respective national leagues and have grown a thick enough skin to survive a transition to the NBA. This means young players like Tala would never get in front of an NBA international scout.

Like Tala, the rest of Alexander’s recruits are largely unknown within their countries, let alone internationally. While the NBA is busy looking for ripe talent, the Alexander operation spends its time growing it. “The camp is for students that would probably never have been seen,” Alexander says. For inexperienced kids from around the world, even just getting a chance to be scouted is “unfamiliar territory,” he says.

In four years of operation, Alexander has established himself as a pioneer of a new method of international recruitment. With the help of a dozen coaches, most of whom played college basketball themselves, the Academy houses and trains four teams divided into two levels. Golden Dragon athletes are players with basketball experience and fundamentals, but who need the finesse and exposure to play at a college level; and the Red Dragons, the camp’s younger group, usually are rising high school freshmen or sophomores who are still working on gaining time on the court and learning fundamentals.

Collectively, they are known as Global Squad — and Alexander was once just like them.

Along with his two brothers, Jeremy and Joe, he used to be a high school student playing basketball overseas in China, pursuing hoop dreams long before the now basketball-crazed country was a blip on the NBA’s radar. The process is personal for the three brothers, who went through the same struggles to get noticed by American college scouts while living as expats and playing at the International School of Beijing.

Though they excelled on their Beijing team, they quickly realized college basketball programs weren’t going to notice them in China. After moving back to the U.S., John and Jeremy were able to secure spots playing Division III basketball at Washington College, while Joe, the youngest and the best player of the three, earned a spot on West Virginia’s Division I team. The process wasn’t easy — Joe had to do an additional year of prep school to eventually get noticed by West Virginia. In 2008, his dreams were realized when he was drafted to the NBA by the Milwaukee Bucks.

His brother John says his business is born from his first-hand experience of the setbacks and tribulations of a young player who wants to make it in America and can’t rely on NBA scouts, the people who according to Grantland columnist and former Ohio State basketball player Mark Titus “occupy the most dreaded position in the business.”

Today, while some American high school students are opting out of the NCAA’s famously stringent rules by looking for opportunities overseas, Alexander spends his time developing a business that helps student-athletes overseas go in the opposite direction. For now, John is the Academy’s only permanent, full-time staff member, putting in the legwork year-round, sending information to college scouts, and flying overseas to various international high school basketball tournaments. On these trips John watches kids play and seeks out young talent with the potential to succeed.

That’s how the academy found Jacob Tala, who in 2012 was a 5’7 combo-guard who had just finished the eighth grade at the Shanghai American School. “Have you heard about the Legend of Jacob Tala?” asked Christian Matthews, a former Washington College forward who began coaching with Alexander in 2012. Sitting at a local watering hole where the academy’s personnel gather, fellow coaches chimed in: “You gotta hear this!”

The freshman was the youngest player and one of the smallest at camp that year. At first, Tala stood out for the wrong reasons. “To be totally honest he was a chubby kid. Just wasn’t very good,” Matthews said. That was the summer when he scored exactly one basket. But Tala wasn’t discouraged. He was hungry. He became a gym rat, spending hours before and after school, year round, on the hardwood court, most times by himself. Over the winter holidays his high school gym would close, but that didn’t stop him either. “I would just play outside in the rain and the snow, alone, until it got dark,” he said.

The following summer, Tala came back to be on the Academy’s Red Dragon B team, and showed exponential growth. He was his team’s leader in points and three-pointers, scoring 104 points by the end of the month. Suddenly his dream of going to an Ivy League university and playing for its basketball program was not so far-fetched.

He would be following in the footsteps of Global Squad alumni like Nasser Al-Rayes, a 6’9 Qatari-American center who found himself playing for CalTech, where he enrolled in the mechanical engineering program after leaving the academy. This summer Al-Rayes returned to camp, working as part of the staff, taking game stats for his former teammates and also doing some scouting of his own for CalTech. According to Al-Rayes, two of this year’s Global Squad athletes, Brandon Rogers, a Tokyo-based American, and Yujin Yamamoto, from Osaka, are likely to join him in Pasadena next year.

Cross-cultural and academically successful, these athletes are a unique breed of basketball players, and they are a good indication of the direction where U.S. basketball is headed: abroad. One-third of this year’s first-round NBA draft picks were foreign-born, including the No. 1 pick, Canadian Andrew Wiggins.

International players have grown to be a significant part of the NBA. 39 different countries and territories were represented on NBA rosters during last year’s opening games, a record high for the league that has Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Manu Ginobili and Hakeem Olajuwon among some of its most famous and prolific players.

Some of them, like shooting guard Nik Stauskas, a Canadian of Lithuanian origin, came to the NBA from the U.S. college system; Stauskas played for the University of Michigan.

Hoping to follow a similar path, this summer the Global Squad attended four tournaments, and were easily the most popular teams everywhere they went. Globalized basketball players are still unusual enough to turn heads in America.

Kasper Christiansen, a 6’9 Copenhagen native, for example, is hard to ignore. Aside from his imposing stature, Christiansen has Division I prospects, with schools like Davidson and Michigan — the alma mater of eighth-round pick Stauskas — already asking about the Danish small forward. But at just sixteen, Christiansen still has a long journey ahead of him to be ready for the NCAA, let alone the NBA. By the end of camp, he already had his sights on next year, vowing to bulk up and fill out his tall frame.

Christiansen is hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Dane and Academy alumnus Peter Moller, a combo guard who is beginning his collegiate Division I career this fall at Liberty University, a program he picked over those at George Washington University, Northeastern and Ohio.

Alexander Basketball Academy Danish athlete Kasper Christiansen is one of the camp’s most promising players, with Division I school’s already expressing interest in the forward. John Alexander

As for Tala, the legend continues. This year, just over a week into camp, Matthews and his assistant coach, current Washington College forward Sean Flanigan, noticed Tala was consistently outplaying his Red Dragon teammates. So they bumped him up to the next level: the Golden Dragons, one of the Academy’s two advanced squads, training to be scouted by college recruiters.

Tala still has a lot of work ahead of him to achieve his dreams of playing at a Division I program, but the prospects are there, and Alexander says that some Ivy League programs have already expressed interest in the rising junior.

In the meantime, Tala is keeping a level head.

“When he moved up to the Golden Dragons, you know what he said to me?” Matthews recounted. “He shook my hand, looked at me and said, ‘Coach, it was an honor.’ That’s the type of kid Jacob Tala is.”

Cleveland Cavaliers Welcome Kevin Love to join with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving

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Jason Lloyd
Akron Beacon Journal
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

As another dreary season concluded in April, one wide-eyed team executive stood in the back hallways of Quicken Loans Arena gushing about the possibilities in front of the Cavaliers this summer.

“This thing is teed up,” he said. “It’s ready to go.”

It was difficult to believe given the 33-49 finish to the season and all the uncertainty surrounding the franchise, but as the Cavaliers welcomed Kevin Love on Saturday, all of their most far-fetched wishes came true in what has been perhaps the most magical offseason in franchise history.

The construction of the NBA’s newest Big Three is complete. Love is officially a member of the Cavaliers, a team that once again appears to be a wrecking ball across the league.

The much-anticipated three-team deal involving the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers was completed Saturday, the first day Andrew Wiggins was eligible to be traded after signing his rookie contract.

As expected, the Cavs shipped out Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a 2014 first-round pick (which previously belonged to the Miami Heat) in exchange for Love, a three-time All-Star whose 26.1 points per game last season was a career high and ranked fourth in the league (directly behind LeBron James).

“Kevin joining the Cavaliers represents a very special and unique opportunity for our team,” Cavs General Manager David Griffin said in a release. “At only 25, Kevin has already firmly established himself as one of the NBA’s elite players and his talent, versatility and fit are major parts of our team’s vision for success.”

Love, who turns 26 in two weeks, is a fierce rebounder and arguably the best stretch 4 in the game. He has averaged 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds for his career, but he struggles defensively and was never able to carry the Timberwolves to the playoffs in the competitive Western Conference in any of his six seasons there. That is no longer an issue. Not only is Love moving to the weaker Eastern Conference, but now he’ll also have fellow All-Stars James and Kyrie Irving as teammates.

Love’s arrival had been rumored for weeks. The Cavs and Timberwolves agreed to the framework of a deal weeks ago, but had to wait a month after signing Wiggins. ESPN reported the Phoenix Suns made a late push for Love, but were rejected.

In Wiggins, the Timberwolves are getting a 19-year-old with star potential, but there are also plenty of executives across the league who question if he’ll ever reach superstar status. Cavs executives preferred Jabari Parker to Wiggins throughout the draft process, but were overruled on draft day by ownership.

Nevertheless, the Timberwolves were believed to prefer Wiggins over Parker, so everyone walks away happy.

The Cavaliers are ecstatic to get Love, who could be the final piece needed to end the city of Cleveland’s 50-year title drought. He completes a stunning offseason that began with Irving’s max contract extension and exploded when James announced he was coming home.

The addition of Love means the Cavs have soared from 10th place in the East last season to heavy favorites to win the conference and advance to the Finals for the first time in seven years.

In order to make the trade possible, the Cavs had to surrender the No. 1 pick in each of the last two drafts. That meant including Bennett, who stumbled through a disappointing rookie season marred by injuries and shattered confidence. Bennett arrived at summer league last month slimmed down and searching for the swagger that made him a top pick out of UNLV.

He was blocked in Cleveland by Tristan Thompson and now will be blocked in Minnesota, at least for one season, by Thaddeus Young. The Timberwolves sent Alexey Shved, Luc Mbah a Moute and the pick acquired from the Cavs to Philadelphia for Young, who will replace Love and step in immediately as the Timberwolves’ starting power forward.

Love’s arrival in Cleveland would seem to make a reserve out of Tristan Thompson, who is eligible for a contract extension this summer. Thompson and Shawn Marion, who previously agreed to play for the Cavs this season, appear to be the top two reserves now on a Cavs team loaded with shooting and depth.

Defense remains a concern, but for now, the Cavs can celebrate a stunning turnaround and one of the greatest summer makeovers in league history. They also have room for at least one more small trade if it presents itself.

They acquired the non-guaranteed contracts of Malcolm Thomas, Erik Murphy and John Lucas III from the Utah Jazz last month. Since they didn’t need any of them to complete the deal for Love, the Cavs could acquire a $4 million player through a trade to bolster a frontcourt that still needs a rim protector and insurance policy in case Anderson Varejao gets injured.

Thomas, however, can’t be traded for another month because of complicated salary tax rules.

The Cavs also announced the signing of second-round pick Dwight Powell on Saturday. Powell was acquired in a draft-night deal with the Charlotte Hornets. The day, however, belonged to Love. Both James and Irving tweeted out welcome messages to Love.

James has been vacationing recently in Greece, while Irving is en route to Spain for the FIBA World Cup. He was officially appointed to the roster early Saturday morning, joining Derrick Rose and beating out Damian Lillard for the point guard job.

Love was also expected to be part of Team USA before withdrawing, citing his uncertain future. That future now is clear. He’s a member of the Cavaliers, the newest powerhouse in the NBA.

Kevin Love’s Exit From Wolves Is An Enigma

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Chip Scoggins
Star Tribune
Displayed with permission from MCT Information Services

“I just think that they need to realize that I love being here. I don’t know where the misconception came along, but I love this team. I love this organization, and somewhere along the line it went the other way. I think that wholeheartedly they need to realize that I do want to be here.” — Kevin Love, February 2013

Did you believe him? Did you buy his contrite tone?

That was just 18 months ago, but it feels like a lifetime. Despite all the resentment he carried on his All-Star shoulders, Kevin Love tried to convince fans, media, perhaps even Timberwolves management, that he was willing to make this work.

Maybe he was sincere. Or maybe he was conning everyone. Just saying what he thought people wanted to hear, knowing he would bolt out the door as fast as he could orchestrate his exit.

He’s always been a tough nut to crack. Doesn’t matter now.

Love’s final day as a member of the Wolves was Saturday, when his trade to Cleveland can become official. He’ll leave a villain to a segment of fans, another star athlete who forced his way out of town.

Love’s legacy is more nuanced than that. He became an enigma, a complicated character who showed the best and worst of himself in his six seasons with the organization. His timeline doesn’t fit neatly into one box.

How will you remember him? How should you remember him? For me, that’s not an easy answer.

Let’s start with this fact: He is undeniably the second-best player in franchise history, behind Kevin Garnett, of course. Few would have predicted that outcome the night the Wolves traded for an undersized, chubby forward. Did anyone honestly believe Love would become one of the top 10 players in the NBA?

In that regard, Love’s dedication deserves admiration. He transformed himself and his game. He worked tirelessly in the offseason to lose weight and reshape his body.

He developed his outside shooting touch to go along with his rebounding, making him one of the NBA’s unique talents at power forward. He led the league in rebounding one season and made 190 three-pointers this past season. His long outlet passes are a thing of beauty.

Love gave the organization hope post-Garnett. Remember when he nailed that three-pointer at the buzzer against the Los Angeles Clippers? Felt like the Wolves were on the right path.

Love’s climb to stardom created optimism amid a vortex of organizational missteps and nonsense.

No wonder he got fed up with this place.

Yet, this professional divorce is Love’s creation, too. He undercut goodwill that he earned by becoming increasingly detached through his own mistakes.

His explanation for a broken hand — knuckle pushups — still engenders skepticism. His interview with Yahoo came across as whiny and turned off fans as he unloaded on his contract snub again. His lack of hustle to the defensive end as he flapped his arms in disgust at the officials grew tiresome.

For all his talent, Love earned a reputation as a player who collects stats but couldn’t lead the Wolves to the playoffs in six seasons. That’s not entirely fair. A star should be able to elevate his team, but you also can’t ignore circumstances and talent put around him by management.

But a definite woe-is-me undercurrent existed that seemed to create a disconnect between Love and his team. Love desperately wanted to be the face of the franchise, but he never really figured out the leadership part of it.

Teammates admired his individual talent and how hard he worked to improve, but they didn’t necessarily view him as someone who could rally a locker room in any situation. One comment this season felt particularly revealing.

“For me, I’m allowed an off game every now and then,” Love said following a tough shooting performance. His tone reeked of a guy who felt he is being dragged down by a dead-weight organization.

This ending is unfortunate because Love seemed to genuinely embrace this place at times. His annual coat drive was a heartfelt gesture. Occasionally, he’d tweet a location downtown and ask fans to come meet him. He took out a full-page ad in this paper in February to thank fans for voting him an All-Star starter.

“These are exciting times for all of us,” Love wrote.

Seems hollow now, doesn’t it? Uneasiness over Love’s future always lingered, creating a perception that he had one foot out the door, to the degree that his departure became a question of when, not if. Love moved the needle to full throttle this summer when he informed the team he would opt out of his contract after this season.

Ultimately, he got his wish.

The Wolves will close the book on Love with this trade. Some fans will miss him, others will say good riddance, and that’s a telling conclusion to his six seasons.

Love made himself one of the best players in the NBA, but his legacy here is a complicated one.