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December 10, 2002 Columns No Comments

Great Expectations for the NYC Point Guards

by Bill Thayer

It wasn’t supposed to be like this two years ago. By the time the 2002-03 season rolled around, the point guards in the Big East that people were talking about weren’t supposed to be named Knight, Bell and Thomas. It was supposed to be them, it was supposed to be New York City’s Holy Trilogy of point guards, but as Andre Barrett, Taliek Brown and Omar Cook have learned, sometimes life takes a wrong turn.

They entered college the same year, all three McDonald’s All-Americans, all three going to Big East schools in the tri-state region. Barrett to Seton Hall, where he joined friend Eddie Griffin and Marcus Tony-El in what was supposed to be the best freshman class since the Fab Five. Brown went north to Connecticut, where he was going to follow in the footsteps of Khalid El-Amin and lead the Huskies to their second national championship. Cook remained in the city, heading out to Queens to play for St. John’s, hoping to capture the brightest spotlight in the world.

This was going to be the junior year for all three of them. Certainly by then they would have made their marks. They would have fought for all-conference honors, possibly splitting votes for Big East Player of the Year. Two Big East titles and a combined six NCAA Tournament bids should have been theirs, had the pundits correctly seen their future.

It hasn’t quite worked out the way they expected. As Barrett and Brown entered their junior years, both holding down a starting job for two years, Cook continues to flounder after making a poor decision to enter the NBA Draft after only one year at St. John’s. Cook was a member of the Big East third team all-conference as a freshman. Brown helped Connecticut win the conference tournament last year. That’s it. No accolades for Brown or Barrett, no championships for Brown or Cook.

After a solid freshman year, Cook became the poster child for what’s wrong with the NBA Draft as the 19-year-old decided to leave school and pursue his dream of playing in the NBA. Cook was selected in the second round by Orlando, who then traded his rights to Denver. Cook’s run of bad advice continued as his agent, Aaron Goodwin, the same man who helped persuade Cook to enter the draft, could not reach a deal with the Nuggets.

As training camp approached, Goodwin could not reach an agreement and, once camp began, Cook was still not with the team. A week in, and finally a deal was signed. By then, Cook had fallen behind Kenny Satterfield and was playing catch up. He was released by the Nuggets before the season began, but did sign with Dallas in November, 2001. After a short stint with the Mavs, he was released but found his way to the NBDL.

Barrett never knew how tough things would be. Prior to the 2000-01 season, hopes were high for Seton Hall, as the fabulous trio of Barrett, Griffin and Tony-El was joining a team that had reached the Sweet 16 the year before. The chemistry between the three was terrific, each convincing the other to join him in school. Griffin was the big name, the headliner, but Barrett was the glue. The playmaker for the two athletic forwards.

While the chemistry was there between the trio, it wasn’t there with the rest of the Pirates. After one game Griffin had a run in with senior Ty Shine and ended up punching Shine in a locker room brawl that ended up grabbing the attention of the New York media. The Pirates never got back on track and ended up shut out of postseason play. Griffin bolted for the NBA, and while that was tough for Barrett, he and his teammates were rocked when head coach Tommy Amaker left the Hall to take the head coaching position at Michigan.

Brown escaped the spotlight of metro NYC, seemingly hiding away in rural northern Connecticut. What he didn’t expect was The Horde. Expectations at the state school have been enormous ever since Jim Calhoun took over the program in 1986. The Huskies have won numerous Big East titles, regular and postseason, as well as a national title in 1999. Their rabid fan base read all about the three guards from New York and demanded the best from the only that chose to be a Husky.

With no Khalid El-Amin and no Richard Hamilton, Brown’s freshman year was as difficult as anybody’s. The Huskies did not make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997 and Calhoun was rumored to be leaving the Nutmeg State to take the vacant position at South Carolina. The team was never in sync on the court and limped away from the season losing at Gampel Pavilion to Detroit-Mercy in the NIT. One of only four non-conference losses the school has ever had in that building.

But it’s only been two years. There’s still time for each to carve out his own niche.

Cook, who led the Big East in assists in his lone year in school, was named to the All-NBDL 2nd team in 2001-02. He set a league record with 19 assists in one game. This year he had a brief stint with the Boston Celtics before returning to the NBDL. Advocates of the league point to Cook as the reason the league was made, for the kids who didn’t want to be in school but were not ready for the NBA. The 21-year-old still has time to develop his game and prepare himself to be a professional, but without the peer pressure that surrounded him in NYC.

Barrett has taken control at Seton Hall. Although he was never known for his scoring, Barrett led the Pirates in both points (16.9 ppg) and assists (5.0 apg) last year and hit a solid 75 percent from the free throw line. Without Amaker and Griffin around, Barrett had to grow up quickly, but also did not have to deal with the same expectations to succeed as he did his freshman year. This year he was named to the Big East preseason all-conference 2nd team.

Brown captured the hearts of Husky faithful last year in the Big East championship game. With the Huskies leading Pittsburgh by two with 36 seconds left, the Huskies had the ball at midcourt with just two seconds left on the shot clock. The ball was inbounded to Brown, who took one dribble and connected on a 35-foot jumper that rattled in to give Connecticut a five point lead and ice the game.

Brown couldn’t control his emotions and turned and leapt high, even though the Panthers were coming back up the court. For once, something good had happened to one of the three former Bronx-Queens Expressway AAU teammates. Most likely it won’t be the last time they’ll be successful on or off the court.

Assorted Musings

• Quite a week for Notre Dame, who defeated Marquette, Maryland and Texas in a six-day span last week. What I admire about Mike Brey’s team is that they fill in for missing pieces every year. Two years ago Troy Murphy departs, but in steps Ryan Humphrey. This year Humphrey and David Graves leave, but Torin Francis and Dan Miller fill the void. And, from what I’ve seen, they have the heir apparent to Chris Thomas in freshman Chris Quinn. Quinn is a solid shooter and has excellent court vision. Look for the Irish to take the Big East West division title.

• While Chris Duhon and Steve Blake continue to grab most of the attention, the race for the ACC player of the year may come down to a pair of players not well known around the conference. Wake Forest forward Josh Howard (21.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg, including a 31 point effort against a tough Wisconsin defense) and Virginia big man Travis Watson (14.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg). Since the conference race is so wide open, look for the winner of the award to come from whichever team finishes on top.

• Billy Hahn has done a good job of rebuilding La Salle’s program, as they showed by taking Villanova down to the wire. They won’t make the Tournament this year, but look for them to be in the thick of the A-10 race next year. Sharp-shooting freshman Gary Neal will help them be a thorn in the sides of conference foes this year as well.

• Is LaBron James being exploited? Yes. Is ESPN the first to do so? Certainly not. The road for the St. James/Oak Hill showdown on ESPN2 was paved when the St. James’ AD agreed to put their games on PPV, which was a joke of a decision. I will definitely tune in to see the high school game on Thursday night because I want to see what all the hype is about. However, remember one thing: Felipe Lopez graced the cover of SI before his fist collegiate game. So did Scott Bentley (that’s one for your football fans).

• Congrats to West Virginia on their win over Florida. It’s been a long few years in Morgantown, I’m sure Jack Beilein will continue that type of success down the road. He did it at Richmond and I’m sure he’ll be successful with the Mountaineers as well.

• I wasn’t much of a believer in Indiana until I saw what they did to Maryland last week. Bracey Wright is a very special player and just another one of the many talented freshmen around the country. I can’t even fathom selecting a national freshman of the year….Carmelo Anthony, Rashad McCants, Sean May, Wright, JJ Redick, Antoine Wright, Chris Bosh, Torin Francis, Wright, Matt Walsh…the list goes on and on.

• After Cincinnati lost to both Xavier and Dayton, it looks like the best team in Ohio will be decided when those two teams meet in conference play. Sorry Ohio State, just not enough talent this year.

• Why is everybody patting Georgetown on the back for playing South Carolina? When was the last time the Hoyas scheduled a non-conference foe from a major conference? Last one I can think of was when they went to Memphis in 1994. Once every eight years isn’t enough for me.


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