Friday, March 30, 2007

Lutz on Phil Jones

I had an extensive interview with Charlotte 49ers coach Bobby Lutz recently and over the next few days, I thought I'd share some of his responses on a number of topics relevant to Charlotte and its athletic programs.

Today's topic: Lutz on Phil Jones

Jones, a highly touted 6-foot-10 center, was declared ineligible by the NCAA before the season started. He remained in school this season, having to pay his education costs on his own.
Can you talk about Phil Jones and his year having to sit out and the effort he's gone through to remain enrolled at Charlotte so he can play next season?

Lutz: "He loves Charlotte. He doesn't want to be anywhere else and that's a positive thing. He's worked very hard, he's working hard in school and doing well. He's working hard doing the things he can do within the rules, which is being in the weight room and play and shoot on his own.

"He could certainly use some practice time and that will be next fall before that happens. He is extremely well liked on campus. The students already talk about him a lot and his teammates like him. He has the chance to become a really good player for us."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bobby Lutz on football

I had an extensive interview with Charlotte 49ers coach Bobby Lutz recently and over the next few days, I thought I'd share some of his responses on a number of topics relevant to Charlotte and its athletic programs.

The first topic: Lutz on football.
What do you think about the possibility of football at Charlotte?
Lutz: "Not only does a decision about football affect an athletic department, but it affects the entire university. I trust Chancellor (Philip) Dubois to make a decision that is best for the athletic department and the university. He will look at the big picture - what is best for all students.
"Having said that, if football can be done well, I am all for it. What I mean by that is if we can financially do it so that it can be successful and it doesn't negatively impact the other sports. That is where the trust lies with Dr. Dubois. Can we do it? I am very confident we will not do it if it takes away from our other sports and only if it will add to the athletic department and the entire university community. I think that it can be a winning situation."

Do you agree that in today's college athletics atmosphere a lot of conference alignments and realignments are geared toward schools that play football?
Lutz: "There is no doubt that conference alignment and realignment is often dictated by football. There are still some programs that do very well in basketball without football. It can be done. But there is no doubt it is part of the landscape and part of the decision-making process nationally, not just in Charlotte." -- Jim Utter

Monday, March 26, 2007

49ers face tough schedule next year

The Charlotte 49ers' 2007-08 men's basketball schedule continues to shape up and it could be one of the toughest the 49ers have faced in quite some time.

The latest addition is an away game in mid- to late-December next season at Hofstra in Hempstead, N.Y. Charlotte defeated the Pride in the 49ers' season opener this year at Halton Arena.

Hofstra (22-10) advanced to the National Invitation Tournament this season, where they lost to DePaul in the opening round. It was the Pride's third consecutive appearance in the tournament.

Charlotte opens the 2007-08 season Nov. 9 against High Point in Halton Arena, then play in an eight-team tournament that includes Winthrop, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Charlotte will also play a home game next season against Southern Illinois, which spent most of this season nationally ranked.

Also: Junior college star Lamont Mack made an official weekend visit to Charlotte. Although no commitment has been made, sources say his visit went extremely well. -- Jim Utter

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Niners looking at basketball transfers?

The addition of former Victory Christian and Myers Park football and basketball player DiJuan Harris to the Charlotte 49ers -- even as a walk-on -- naturally raises some eyebrows about the scholarships the 49ers have remaining this season.

Currently, the 49ers have one available scholarship left. That one is likely to go to 6-foot-7, 210-pound junior college player Lamont Mack, should he commit. Mack is making an official visit to the campus this weekend and a decision on his future could come as early as Sunday night.

Should Mack commit, that means Charlotte is out of scholarships, right? Not necessarily.

There is a strong possibility one (or more) current scholarship players could opt to transfer, making their scholarships available for next season.

In fact, with the way Charlotte assistant coaches continue to work on players that would be available next season, I would consider that scenario far more likely than not. And I would also bet those decisions will be made very soon.

Stay tuned.
  • The dates of the 2007 Paradise Jams tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands have been set, Nov 15-20, 2007. The teams entered: Charlotte, Winthrop, Georgia Tech, Baylor, Notre Dame, Wichita State, Monmouth (N.J.) and Illinois-Chicago. It is possible Charlotte and Winthrop could meet in the first round, which would mark the first ever men's basketball game played between the two schools.
-- Jim Utter

Friday, March 16, 2007

Baseball stadium could bring big names

With the construction of the new Hayes Stadium, obviously there are many exciting changes for the Charlotte 49ers baseball team.

There is a new modern facility for fans, a stadium that will likely host Charlotte-area high school tournaments and the 49ers already plan to bid on hosting the 2008 Atlantic 10 conference tournament.

Charlotte coach Loren Hibbs says the school may one day bid on hosting an NCAA regional as well and thinks the stadium and all its amenities will be a strong recruiting tool.

Hibbs also plans to do his part to strengthen the 49ers' program. He already has games next season scheduled at SEC powers Tennessee and South Carolina. But that's not all.

"We're trying to put together a tournament - either for next year or 2009 - where we can bring a quality team or two in here to play," Hibbs said. "I'd like a four-day tournament, play Thursday-Sunday. People are going to like coming to play in this facility. There is plenty of hotel space right here. It's easy to get in and out from the interstate and airport."

Hibbs said teams such as North Carolina, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech have played on campus previously and he sees no reason that won't continue or increase with the new stadium. -- Jim Utter

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Former 49er returns as opponent

The Charlotte 49ers women's basketball team, which has won 22 of its past 24 home games, will have at least one more game at Halton Arena this season, thanks to an invitation to the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

In an ironic twist, Leslie Cook will also get one more game at Halton, even though she transferred from the 49ers to High Point three years ago.
The 49ers (18-12) host the Panthers (18-11) at 7 p.m. Thursday. High Point is making its first ever postseason appearance. This is Charlotte's fifth in a row and sixth overall.

Cook, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, was a 3-point shooting ace while at Charlotte. She set the 49ers record for number of 3-pointers made in a single season as a freshman, then broke her own record during her sophomore season.

She hasn't slowed down since returning to her native High Point, on the court or in the classroom. She is a 2007 ESPN: The Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-America first team member and is a two-time winner of the Big South Conference women’s basketball scholar-athlete of the year award.

This season, Cook has averaged 10.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game and is shooting nearly 33 percent from 3-point range. Cook was named second-team all-conference while High Point coach Tooey Loy won coach of the year honors. -- Jim Utter

Friday, March 9, 2007

DeVos takes on new challenge

Many of you who have dealt with the Charlotte 49ers' ticket office know Dan DeVos. Some others probably know his wife, Aimee, who is coach of Charlotte's softball team, which is 16-3 this season.

Dan has been around Charlotte athletics since 1993 when he began as an intern in the ticket office. Ever since, he has taken an active and productive role in Charlotte athletics, always willing to lend a helping hand to make all of Charlotte's programs better.

He will take on his biggest role yet, as he was named Friday as director of the Charlotte 49ers Athletic Annual Fund, where he will spearhead efforts to raise funds to reach Charlotte's goal of fully-funding all its athletic programs.

There are few more energetic individuals at Charlotte. I'm sure he will do a great job. He had become so synonymous with the ticket office, I found myself repeatedly asking him ticket-related questions even when a new assistant director of marketing and ticket operations was named a couple years ago.

With Charlotte looking to fully fund the athletic programs it already has, while struggling with a down season in men's basketball -- the bread and butter of the athletic program -- and undertaking a study on whether to add football, DeVos' new job will be a tough one. I'm certain he will relish the challenge. -- Jim Utter

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

More Observations from Atlantic City

With basketball the bread-and-butter of Charlotte athletics, a losing season is extremely difficult for the program and its fan base. No one knows that more than coach Bobby Lutz. The 49ers weren’t as far from having a decent season as some might think. Having Phil Jones (declared ineligible by the NCAA) and Charles Dewhurst (red-shirted after an early season high ankle sprain) would have helped a lot.

I like Atlantic City as a host for the conference tournament. It’s about as good a neutral site as you’re going to get in this league. However, forcing half the teams – including No. 1 seed Xavier – to stay in hotel rooms 20 minutes from the strip pretty much robs the players of enjoying the city. -- Jim Utter

Final: Dayton 81, Charlotte 63

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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The Charlotte 49ers season is over.
The 49ers squandered a seven-point halftime lead and were overpowered by Dayton in the second half losing 81-63 to the No. 8 seed Flyers at Boardwalk Hall. It's the second consecutive season Charlotte has lost its first game in the Atlantic 10 conference tournament.
Charlotte ends its season 14-16, head coach Bobby Lutz's second losing season in nine years as head coach.
Leemire Goldwire scored a team-high 23 for Charlotte, but it was not enough. The 49ers couldn't stop Dayton guard Brian Roberts in the second half.
Dayton (19-11) advances to play No. 1 seed Xavier at noon Thursday in the tournament quarterfinals.

Below are in-game blog entries:

2:56 second, Dayton 69, Charlotte 57, media timeout: Charlotte's Drayton will go to the line for two shots when play resumes. The 49ers' Carlos Williams has fouled out.

4:54 second, Dayton 63, Charlotte 54, media timeout: Charlotte's Carlos Williams will go to the line for two free throws when play resumes after Dayton's Andres Sandoval fouled out. That was Dayton's 10th foul.

6:37 second, Dayton 61, Charlotte 52, media timeout: Dayton's Plummer was called for an offensive foul, his fourth foul of the game. The Flyers' Huelsman is also playing with four fouls. Charlotte ball when play resumes.

7:55 second, Dayton 58, Charlotte 50, Charlotte timeout: Dayton is on an 8-0 run and another Roberts 3-pointer forced Charlotte coach to call timeout.

9:18 second, Dayton 53, Charlotte 50, media timeout: After a missed shot by Charlotte's Carlos Williams, Dayton's Roberts hit a 3-pointer from the wing giving Dayton the lead. The Dayton fans are getting louder. More people seemed to have braved the weather and made it to the building in the second half.

11:36 second, Charlotte 50, Dayton 48, media timeout: Charlotte's Alexander will go to the line for two free throws when play resumes. Daytona used a 10-3 run to take a 47-45 lead, but the 49ers rallied with help from Goldwire, who now has 23 points.

15:32 second, Charlotte 45, Dayton 42, media timeout: Charlotte will have possession after Antwon Coleman's putback got stuck between the rim and backboard a jumpball was called. Dayton's Norman Plummer has been causing the 49ers fits inside.

Halftime observations:
  • Charlotte is getting excellent looks inside but has to make the layups. Jerell Jamison isn't always going to be there to sweep the boards for putbacks. The 49ers don't need to make the easy shots any harder.
  • Dayton guard Brian Roberts leads his team with seven points but the 49ers' defense has been good on him. He was held to just four shots in the first half.
  • Lucky most Charlotte fans planning to attend came Tuesday. The weather has all stranded the teams here at Boardwalk Hall for the time being. The 49ers contingent, sitting near the band, isn't large but it is very vocal. The loudest was on Leemire Goldwire's 4-point play.

Halftime: Charlotte 35, Dayton 28: Leemire Goldwire leads the way with 14 points for the 49ers who ended the first half with a 6-0 run, capped by Jerell Jamison's putback with 48 seconds remaining.

3:29 first, Charlotte 29, Dayton 24, media timeout: Charlotte will go to the line for a one-and-one when play resumes.

6:33 first, Charlotte 26, Dayton 20, media timeout: Goldwire was fouled on a 3-pointer and will go to line for a free throw when action resumes. He has 12 points already.

11:49 first, media timeout, Charlotte 15, Dayton 10. Dayton's Kurt Huelsman missed a jumper and fouled trying for rebound. Charlotte ball.

12:05 first, Dayton calls timeout: Charlotte on a 7-3 run. Alexander had a reverse layup, a open layup underneath by Courtney Williams and 3-pointer from Goldwire.

15:59 first, Charlotte 8, Dayton 7:
De'Angelo Alexander has five of Charlotte's eight points, sandwiched around a 3-pointer by Leemire Goldwire. If the crowd reaches 1,000 in the blizzard outside they'll be lucky.

A blizzard is going on outside and temperatures are in the high teens and low 20s, but Boardwalk Hall is ready to host its first Atlantic 10. Several hundred fans in attendance for the noon tipoff, with Dayton fans having the edge in numbers.

Monday, March 5, 2007

49ers snubbed by A-10 voting

Shocking would be an understatement to describe my reaction to the announcement of the Atlantic 10 all-conference teams on Monday.
I completely understand that it is extremely difficult to get much individual player recognition when the team you play on is struggling and in the bottom half of the conference standings. But let's just think about this for a moment.
De'Angelo Alexander was first team all conference last season. He was the league's top returning scorer and he ended the regular season as the fourth-highest scorer and one of only two players in the league to be ranked in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding. The best he can manage is third-team? You have got to be kidding me.
I can understand somewhat the absence of Leemire Goldwire. He was a scoring threat this season, but exceedingly inconsistent, in part because of his varying roles he played on the team, switching from shooting guard to point guard.
However, the absence of senior forward E.J. Drayton from any of the all-conference teams -- even honorable mention -- is just ridiculous. He was the league's second leading rebounder and nearly averaged a double-double on the year. He was the most consistent player for the 49ers by far.
Clearly, the league's coaches mostly voted on players from the top tier teams. That's fine, but don't pretend this is a recognition of the league's best players. It's more the recognition of the best players on the league's best teams.
And one other thing. How is it the media vote on the preseason teams -- when we have not even seen many of the players, particularly newcomers -- yet at the end of the season when we've witnessed a whole season of play, the voting is done by the coaches? Seems a little like taking care of your own to me.
Perhaps a good showing in the A-10 tournament will take a little sting out of Monday's announcement for Charlotte.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Lutz's special thanks to a special fan

The Charlotte 49ers' six seniors and their senior team manager were all recognized Thursday night during Senior Night activities following the loss to George Washington.

However, coach Bobby Lutz had one more senior to recognize on Saturday. Following Charlotte's regular-season finale win against St. Bonaventure, Lutz took the microphone on the court and thanked the fans in attendance and offered words of encouragement as Charlotte heads to the Atlantic 10 conference tournament next week in Atlantic City, N.J.

Then wrapping up, he asked for one more senior to join him on the court - his daughter, Natalie, a senior at Central Cabarrus High. Natalie, her sister Christine, and mother Janet, are regular fixtures at Charlotte games, sitting behind press row at Halton Arena.

Although a busy high school athlete in her own right, Natalie has never missed a Charlotte home game since her father was named head coach in 1998. Natalie will likely have to break her streak as she heads off to college this fall. She has narrowed her choices to Texas and Florida.

Natalie was obviously caught by surprise and started tearing up as she made her way to the court, where her father presented her a bouquet of roses. It was an unexpected and special moment, shared between father and daughter but witnessed by 49ers fans.

Suddenly, a very difficult and disappointing season didn't seem so bad after all.

- Jim Utter

Friday, March 2, 2007

Jamison doubtful for Saturday

INJURY UPDATE: The X-rays taken of Jerell Jamison after Thursday night’s game showed he does not have a fracture of his left foot, but rather a mid-foot sprain. He remains doubtful, however, to play in Saturday’s game with St. Bonaventure. He did not participate in practice Friday.
ONLY A TWO?: Upon further review – and brought to light during replays on ESPN of the finish of Thursday night’s loss to George Washington – it appears De’Angelo Alexander might have had a foot touch the line on his last-second 3-pointer. So if it was good, it might have only sent the game into overtime rather than handed the 49ers the win. A referee did raise his hand for a 3-pointer, but it could have easily been reviewed after the play.
CLIMBING THE CHARTS: Leemire Goldwire needs five 3-pointers to tie Brendan Plavich (211) for fifth all-time with the 49ers. Goldwire is the sixth player in school history to pass the 200 mark.
– Jim Utter

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Jamison injured in loss

Wrapping it up after Charlotte's 62-60 loss Thursday night against George Washington:

Charlotte senior forward Jerell Jamison went down hard while battling for a rebound and injured his left ankle. He did not return to the game. Jamison planned to get an X-ray after the game to see whether he had a fracture, but Charlotte officials hoped it was only a sprain. The results from the X-ray or Jamison's status were unavailable late Thursday.

With Leemire Goldwire crossing the 1000-point career mark in the first half, he and De'Angelo Alexander have both scored their 1000th point this season. The last 49ers teammates to reach 1000 in the same season were Curtis Withers and Eddie Basden in 2005. In addition to sharing team-high scoring honors with Alexander with 16 points, Goldwire also had a career-high nine rebounds.

It looks like Charlotte will open the 2007-08 season with a home game Nov. 9 against High Point from the Big South Conference. The Panthers are coached by Bart Lundy, a former coach at NCAA Division II Queens in Charlotte. High Point ended its season Thursday night with a loss to VMI in the Big South tournament semifinals. - Jim Utter

Recognizing a senior you may not know

There are six seniors who will be recognized during Senior Night activities following tonight's Charlotte-George Washington game, all of whom Charlotte 49ers should be well aware of: De'Angelo Alexander, E.J. Drayton, Antwon Coleman, Jerell Jamison, Courtney Williams and Travis Gordon. Gordon, a walk-on, is the only fourth year senior in the group.
There is another fourth-year senior recognized for his contribution to the program tonight, one many fans may have seen but might not know -- head team manager Cass Ferguson. Ferguson, 22, is a graduate of West Forsyth High and will graduate from UNC Charlotte with a degree in history. He would like to get into college coaching and hopes to remain in the Charlotte area, but is still working out his plan for next season.
I consider Cass a good friend. He is taking a class about NASCAR this semester (he got bonus points from me for that) and has taken my relentless teasing this with good humor (The best was pointing out he brought a book he was reading for a class on two consecutive road trips but the same page was marked where he stopped reading on both trips).
While at practice Tuesday I decided to interview Cass about his job and ask some questions only he, as the team manager, would likely know:

Q: What does the head manager do?

Pretty much take control of the daily operations of the team. Make sure the team is where they need to be and they have what they need when they get there. There is a lot of unnamed jobs, things that come up at the last minute.

Q: Do you get paid?

I'm on scholarship. The amount differs on how long you've been here and how much work you do. During the summer I may also work at a basketball camp or work in the athletic department office.

Q: Who is the funniest player on the team?

Probably to me it would be E.J. because we have become such best friends. He and I joke around all the time. If not E.J., then (freshman walk on) Kyle Church. He does a lot of the freshman stuff, some of which is kind of goofy, and being a walk on we like to make fun of him.

Q: Who is the most serious player?

Definitely Lee (Goldwire). Lee is always no-nonsense, get straight to the point and take care of business.

Q: Who is the player that requires the most wake up calls?

That would be Antwon and Courtney. No matter how many times I call them, they always fall back asleep. Antwon, I will bang on his door. At times I'll yell, "It's the cops!" Occasionally if they leave the door open I have been known to go in and physically push Antwon out of the bed.

Q: Who is the earliest riser?

No doubt. Ian Andersen. I'll call Ian and no matter how early it is, he will just pick up the phone like he was up for hours and say, "Hey Cass, how are you?"

Q: Who do you have to worry about the bus leaving behind?

In my four years, outside of Curtis Withers, De'Angelo and Jerell Jamison are the ones I worry about the most. They always make it to the bus on time, but they normally get there just as coach (Bobby Lutz) is getting off the elevator and about to get on.

Q: Who is the pickiest eater?

Probably Jerell Lewis. Jerell is the one who gets salads when the rest of us are eating steaks.

Q: Who has the craziest clothing style?

That's probably our two West coast guys, Ian or (Sean) Phaler. When Ian first got here in the summer, I got him all his gear, all his Charlotte T-shirts and shorts and stuff. He said he really didn't like wearing basketball stuff to play basketball in, so the first time I played a pickup game with him, he was wearing a Hooters San Diego shirt or something. He pretty much wore that until we got to official practices and he had to wear the gear.

Q: What player offers you the most help in your job?

Over my four years Leemire may be one of the best assistant managers I've had. Lee always helps me out with a lot of stuff. Just today I went into the locker room and Lee was vacuuming the locker room. Ian is like that, too. If I am folding towels, they might offer to help me. Lee is also the player who has kept me here all the time, taking extra shots after practice.

Q: What was the 49ers' biggest win while you were here?

I have two. The win over Louisville here in my freshman year when they were ranked like No. 7. And also beating Cincinnati on the road. I knew the history of the Charlotte-Cincinnati rivalry when I got here and we had never beaten them on the road. That day was incredible.