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Sunday, April 5, 2009

Race and (Men's College) Basketball

This notion that to even mention or think about race is bad is laughable. EVERYBODY thinks about it--NOBODY talks about it, and we cross our fingers and hope for the best. The latest colorblind nonsense comes from Dick Vitale et al. In a brave, insightful article in the Orlando Sentinel (,0,3051564.story?page=1), Jeremy Fowler takes on the subject head-on. Among the info he garnered: Two out of 20 starters on the 2009 Final Four teams are white (although both are big name: N.C.'s Tyler Hansbrough and Mich. St.'s Goran Suton). UConn and Villanova have zero whites on the roster.

Here are the p.c. "race doesn't matter" quotes:

"A lot of garbage," ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale called the notion of race playing a factor in basketball success. A coach "shouldn't be coaching" if he recruits with race in mind.

"I've never really thought about it [number of whites and blacks on the team] like that," Florida Coach Billy Donovan said. Donovan said he recruits players "who love the game" and pays no attention whatsoever to their race. It's all about a player fitting a system, Donovan said.

"We don't talk a lot in the recruiting industry about race," recruiting analyst Dave Telep said.

And the one expert whose job is to comment on it: Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport: "People don't talk about race, period — that's why they are uncomfortable with it."

Much of the article is built around an examination of programs with two or more Final Four appearances since 1997, as well as every school in the Southeastern Conference. The findings: in 12 of the 23 schools, men's basketball scholarship signees since 1997 were less than 20% white.

Number of white signees on the 11 teams with 2+ Final Four appearances over those years: Florida: 14
Duke: 14
Ohio State: 13
Kentucky: 13
Kansas: 11
UCLA: 10
Michigan State: 10
Arizona: 9
UNC: 9
Maryland: 7
UConn: 5

A partial list of the white signees of Southeastern Confererence programs since 1997:
1. Vanderbilt: 18
2. Florida: 14
3. Kentucky: 13
4. Arkansas: 11
Lowest number of white signees: Alabama: 2 and LSU: 6

Talking about the numbers is not a sin. People DO notice race. Other players do (Justin Knox, a black player from Alabama, says he has the mentality "you can come out and whoop on" predominately white teams. Chandler Parsons, a white player from Florida, admits: "You look at any school in the past that has had a white guy do well. If you're a white recruit, you look at that stuff.") Refs do. Fans do. Coaches do, despite their protests to the contrary. Recruiting analysts do; they just can't talk about it.

Once more, let me state my conviction that it is the AVOIDANCE of talking about race that is the problem. Talk about it. Be brave. Be sensitive. Be willing to laugh, to be shown you are wrong, to agree to disagree. I may not agree with Jeremy Fowler's implying that Duke and Florida have not done as well the last few years because they've recruited too many whites. But, hey, I'm glad he's expressing his opinions. I commend him for tackling the subject. As for Dick Vitale, keep living in your dream world, BAY-Y-BEEEEEEE! Ignore that elephant in the room, and maybe it will go away.

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