Final Fours are finished, but the basketball beat goes on.
In Boston, it’s a downbeat. Point guard Kyrie Irving, one of the NBA’s most dynamic players, is out for the balance of the season due to an infection in his already surgically repaired left knee. On Saturay he had two screws removed from his kneecap that were inserted in 2015 after he fractured the kneecap in the NBA Finals. Two weeks ago he had had a tension wire removed to alleviate pain in his knee.
That’s a big ouch for the Celtics. Irving was averaging 24 points per game, two points above his career average, and was easily the best player on the Boston roster.
Irving’s departure dooms whatever hopes the Celtics had of making a run to the NBA Finals this season. Those hopes took a blow last October when Gordon Hayward dislocated his ankle in the first quarter of his first game in his first season with the Celtics. Still, despite other injuries, the Celts fought through the regular season, spent time in first place, and will most likely start the season as the second seed in the Eastern Conference. They are 54-25 after beating the lowly Bulls Friday night. Three games remain in the regular season.
If there is any good news in all of this, the Celtics say Irving’s knee is sound, and everybody expects him to make a full recovery. And Hayward is well on the rehab trail with his dislocated ankle. Their return, not to mention Marcus Smart’s return from thumb surgery, should give the Celtics hope for a championship run in 2018-19.
In Kingston, the mood is definitely upbeat in the wake of David Cox’s hiring as head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Rhode Island. Although lacking head coaching experience, Cox served as Dan Hurley’s top assistant and was the ace recruiter in his four years at Hurley’s side. During that time URI went from also-ran to Atlantic-10 champion and two-time winner in the NCAA Tournament. Cox deserves some of the credit for that resurgence.
You could say that Thorr Bjorn, URI’s athletics director, took the safe route in promoting Cox after Hurley left for the University of Connecticut. He is a familiar face around the program, and the players like and respect him. His compensation package – a guaranteed $700,000 per year – is attractive but modest in the big-time college basketball world of 2018. Mike Krzyzewski of Duke makes $8.98 million and John Calipari of Kentucky $7.45 million, according to USA Today. Another 12 coaches make at least $3 million annually.
The only thing Rhode Island has in common with Duke and Kentucky, however, is the color blue.
Bjorn told Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal that he talked to a dozen coaches and came up with a list of four finalists. Cox was a finalist from the start and was promoted on Wednesday. His formal introduction occurred Friday.
The hiring process took at least one startling turn. Last Monday, the website GoLocalProv reported that Bjorn had reached a tentative agreement with the disgraced coach Rick Pitino but URI President David Dooley rejected the deal. Tuesday, URI vigorously denied the report and said it did not talk to Pitino or extend an offer to him. GoLocal stood by its story and did not run the URI denial. On Saturday GoLocal published an interview with Bob Terino, a long-time URI booster and insider, who suggested that conversations had taken place with Pitino, not only this time but when he resigned from the Celtics and URI was looking to replace Jerry DeGregorio. Pitino went to Louisville at that time.
It is important to note that the GoLocal story Saturday does not mention specifically who from URI spoke with Pitino. The piece remains sufficiently vague.
Bjorn is gambling that Cox can draw on his 21 years of experience in basketball to produce a winner on the court. If he stumbles, cynics will be sure to pounce and compare him to DeGregorio, the super recruiter for Jim Harrick who was a super flop as Harrick’s successor.