As a quick FYI to my loyal readers, I am stepping away from my weekly column at RealGM.com. I would not rule out the possibility that I will return someday. But I needed to take a break from the 52-week grind, at least for the time being. I want to re-focus myself and set up some new challenges.
In the early 2000's I went to graduate school at the
University of Illinois. In 2005, my final year of graduate school, my wife and
I had enough season ticket priority to get tickets at courtside. Of course 2005
was a dream season. #1 ranked Wake Forest and Chris Paul visited Illinois
during the ACC/Big Ten challenge and Illinois crushed them. It was the
beginning of the Chris Paul vs Deron Williams’ rivalry, and I got to see it up
close. And then the wins kept coming. Illinois lost just once in the regular season and my wife and I went to 5 of the 6 NCAA
tournament games on Illinois' run to the title game. The night after the title
game loss my wife and
I went to dinner and ran into Coach Bruce Weber who was at the restaurant picking up dinner for his family. My wife said, "Great job coach!" and Weber said
in an incredibly raspy voice, "Thank you!" I will never forget that
In 2007, I started writing about college basketball. I
would watch a bunch of games on Saturday, think of a few statistical things I
wanted to do to entertain myself, and blog about it. I never thought I would
make any money writing about sports. But I owe a huge debt of gratitude to John Gasaway for encouraging me at
Basketball Prospectus, and for continuing to drop my name when he moved to
ESPN. John and Ken Pomeroy not
only invited me to be the third ever author in the Basketball Prospectus book,
they also inspired me by all the creative stuff they had written for so long.
There were others I should thank from this time period. People like Eric Angevine, and Mike Miller who was the voice of
NBC's College Basketball Talk in that day, made me believe that what I was
doing was interesting. And I cannot tell you how many times a link or a tweet
from CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander
came at exactly the right time to encourage me to do more.
In 2011, Chris Reina
from RealGM.com offered me a job as a college basketball columnist. It was a
dream come true to earn money for something I loved. I covered 5 NCAA
tournaments for RealGM.com from 2011 to 2015. I wrote at least 200 weekly columns
in that time span, and probably closer to 250 columns overall. Here is
my digital archive.
My most famous pieces were probably my statistical ones,
one on how star ratings predict player performance. The follow-up, showing the
variation in performance by star rating was also important, as was this
piece on JUCO recruits. But there were lots of unique pieces I wrote in
this time period. Here is an
article I wrote about the timing when coaches lose their jobs. But my
favorite pieces were probably my running diaries of March, starting
with the first day of the major conference tournaments, and wrapping up
with the national title game.
Other dreams came true in this time period. My preseason
prediction model was featured
in ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated. The
Sports Illustrated publication really resonated with me, not only because
my name was on the cover, but because I still have a subscription to that
magazine dating back to when my late grandfather first ordered it for me as a
teenager. I owe Luke Winn a huge
debt of gratitude for pitching my rankings to his editors. I knew when my work
was featured in SI that I had come full circle.
But it also felt like an ending in some way. Writing something
for Sports Illustrated had essentially been my goal since I got started as a
college basketball writer. It occurred to me when that dream came true, that I
needed some new dreams.
I will forever be thankful to RealGM.com for not only giving
me the opportunity to get paid to do what I love, but also for challenging me.
Writing a weekly column takes discipline, and churning out content 52 weeks a
year inspired me to invest in college basketball at a whole new level. Things
change the more you invest in a sport. Today I look forward to events like the
Nike Hoop Summit (the most under-rated high school hoops event), I love the
Thanksgiving tournaments, and I care whether elite freshman live up to
expectations. Twenty years ago, I cared about none of those things.
But I thought my material in 2014-15 became too much of a repeat
of 2013-14. One of the things that happens when you write a weekly column
throughout the whole year is that you tend to find a set of annual topics that
you can use to fill the space. And I was getting angry at myself for writing
the same story every year. A sense of creativity was a key part of why I was
I also have a couple of larger college basketball projects that I
want to work on. But instead of investing in those long-term projects, I found
myself worried about my weekly column. And lately, I have started attending
fewer college basketball games. And that is when I knew it was time for a
change. When writing a weekly column was taking away from my ability to work on
some unique projects and causing me to attend fewer games, I knew I had to switch
things up. I love writing game stories. I love writing recaps. And I am sure I
will do those things again. But for this year at least, you will have to live
with a little less. I am not going to do a Way-Too-Early Top 25 or a Nike Hoop
I will have preseason rankings in the fall. And I am not done
writing about college basketball. If you continue to follow me on Twitter, you
will still see my latest work. But after 5 years covering the NCAA tournament
for RealGM.com, I need to step away for now.