The Shadow League kicked it with two-time NBA Champion, celebrity basketball analyst and reality show star Kenny “The Jet” Smith at the March Madness Media Day hosted by Turner Sports and CBS Sports at The New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan on Tuesday.
Most of the announcers and broadcasters working the NCAA Division I 2016 Men’s Basketball Championship were in attendance. Charles Barkley, Greg Gumbel, Grant Hill, Ernie Johnson, Clark Kellogg, Reggie Miller, Jim Nantz and Bill Raftery were some of the media mega-weights all eager to offer insight and anecdotes about past and present players, teams and the impact of the tourney.
They also kicked knowledge about the NBA season and the looming playoff race.
The Shadow League: Last year at this very Hilton Hotel, when most people though Kentucky was unbeatable and riding a 30-plus game winning streak, you told me that the Wildcats would probably stub their toe somewhere along the way.
Kenny "The Jet" Smith: Basketball is 40 minutes...for one game..anybody can win. Especially in March. Golden State lost to the Lakers recently, so the most dominant teams can lose one game and that’s what makes March Madness so good.
TSL: Who are your March Madness marauders, the teams that will challenge for the NCAA Title?
The Jet: I think North Carolina will have a great run. They're probably the best team overall, top to bottom, because they have size, mobile size who can defend the perimeter. They don’t have any guys that are like stiffs.
My sleeper is Indiana. I like Yogi Ferrell. He’s a senior guard. He’s little. He can score. The NCAA Tournament usually lends itself to guys like that. He can do what those guards at Villanova used to do. He can control the game like that. If they get past that first weekend, they are going to be hard to beat.
TSL: Speaking of Villanova, they are the No. 2 team in the country according to the USA Today Coaches Poll and Virginia is No. 4. However, I don’t hear anyone picking them to win it all. It seems Villanova and Virginia always have these great regular season showings, but are usually missing something come tourney time
The Jet: Who would you say is a sure fire pro on any of those teams?...(silence)...That’s the problem. That’s what’s missing. They get a lot of really good players, but they don’t have the guy that you look at and say, ‘Oh he’s a seven or 10-year pro.’ They are missing the element of a guy that can in 40 minutes say, ‘I’ll give you 32 tonight.' He might not give you 32 every night, but he's going to give it to you tonight.
TSL: LSU won't make the NCAA Tourney. Does that hurt college hoops this season? We probably miss out on the only opportunity to see freshman sensation Ben Simmons make his March Madness mark before he hits NBA paydirt.
The Jet: It doesn’t hurt the tournament, but as a fan I would have liked to see him play. I expect that he would have elevated his game in that setting.
TSL: It seems that more college teams are riding the backs of freshman these days.
The Jet: Typically, freshman don’t carry teams. It wasn't really until the last five years. Kentucky started all of that madness. They were just fortunate more than anything else, typically because freshman don’t lead you. They were the first to do that. But this year Kentucky is silent. They have a good little team, but Calipari has to coach this year...he has to coach this year.
TSL: As a born-n-bred Queens, NY head, what’s your opinion on St. John’s Red Storm college basketball?
The Jet: " root for Mully, but in this day and age you can’t take chances on kids who you don’t know if you can really count on, for academic or any other reasons, unless you have something in place. I think he had two or more kids that were highly recruited and couldn’t play this year. You've got to have eligible kids. That was probably his biggest downfall this year, but I think he understands that now. It’s like playing spades. I don’t want a one possible book. give me two books.
TSL: Who’s the college basketball equivalent to The Weekend for this season? Who’s killing the game?
The Jet: Buddy Hield. He’s 6-4, solid. He stands out and reminds me a bit of Dwyane Wade...physically. Buddy shoots deeper better but Dwyane goes to the rack better.
TSL: Do you see anybody beating Golden State?
The Jet: San Antonio is in the mix with them. When you watch those two teams play, they both have such an easy time executing what they want to do. Golden State’s only weakness is that they are small but because they can make 3-of-10 threes, I have to make 5-of-10 two-point shots just to stay with you if I’m shooting twos. You go 50 percent and they shoot 40 percent and you lose by three (laughter). And they are decent defensively in the half court."