Tuesday, February 27, 2007

49ers could hit ACC double

For the first time in school history, the Charlotte 49ers could play two "home" games against ACC schools next basketball season.

Charlotte is already scheduled to play Wake Forest in a game at Charlotte Bobcats Arena next season. But 49ers officials are busily trying to finish off the details of a second home game against another ACC opponent, which if completed would also be played at Bobcats Arena.

Sources involved in the arrangements asked that I not identify the school yet. However, I will offer a hint: The school has won a Division I NCAA championship.

Including a home game already agreed to with Southern Illinois and Charlotte's guaranteed Atlantic 10 home games with George Washington, Xavier, Dayton and Rhode Island, the 49ers could have one of its most enticing home schedules next season.

When I can, I will divulge the ACC school in question. Until then, do your own detective work.

- Jim Utter

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Effort doesn't show in win column

PHILADELPHIA – There are many reasons and explanations for the troubles the Charlotte 49ers have had this season, but one excuse coach Bobby Lutz will not accept is lack of effort. Time and again after Saturday’s 81-69 loss at Temple, Lutz talked about the team’s problems with execution but would not criticize its effort.
"Our effort was good today, particularly in the second half. We really went after them," Lutz said. "The ball sure seemed to bounce their way today. We just couldn’t get our hands on it. That may seem to be a lack of effort but it’s just bad luck. Our guys knocked the ball out of each other’s hands twice. We’re trying. We went after it, we just couldn’t grab it and hold on to it."
There is good reason for his belief. Despite bad decisions, missed defensive assignments and ill-timed shots, one thing this team has not shown is a willingness to pack it in. For that – considering how tough this season has been – I give them credit.
The only time this season I would say the team came close to that was the Xavier loss, where it seemed like no matter what the 49ers did, they couldn’t stop Drew Lavender. There was an eerie similarity in Saturday’s game and Charlotte’s inability to stop Mark Tyndale. He didn’t have all wide-open shots. He made great shots, just as Lavender did this month.
I have watched my share of practices this season, early-morning shootarounds – lots of basketball when the eyes of the public weren’t watching. This team works just as hard, just as much – if not more – than previous Charlotte teams which have seen a lot more success.
There is little solace in being rewarded for your hard work by loss after loss. Hopefully, the guys who return next season will remember how difficult this has been and instill in the newcomers the desire to ensure its not repeated.
Jim Utter

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

49ers sharp on both ends

PITTSBURGH -- Charlotte 49ers coach Bobby Lutz promised and Duquesne delivered Wednesday night. Lutz told his team in practice this week if it could keep its turnovers down against the Dukes’ frantic full-court pressing style, the 49ers would get several wide-open looks at the basket. He was right.
Time and again Charlotte made the extra pass to find the open player, and the 49ers’ shooters held up their end of the bargain. De’Angelo Alexander buried 3-pointers from the outside, but also was solid inside, where he made reverse layups and threw down a pair of nice dunks. New stat of the season: Charlotte is 1-0 when it has five or more dunks in a game (E.J. Drayton had two, and Jerell Jamison had one).
Charlotte didn’t necessarily trade offense for defense in this game, either, despite the high score. Charlotte held Duquesne to 42.9 percent from the field, including 30 percent (9-of-30) from 3-point range.
“With their style, if you don’t turn the ball over, (you get) unbelievable looks. We didn’t get as many inside as I would have liked, we got some,” Lutz said. “I was very pleased with our offense. We didn’t practice one set play either day (of practice) because we knew their style wouldn’t allow it.
“We had guys make the extra pass. Carlos played well. This is a big win. This is a big confidence booster.”
--- Jim Utter

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

UNCC students rock the vote

UNC Charlotte students give yourself a hand. You’ve done yourselves proud.
Regardless of the outcome of the student vote on whether the school should start a football program, the participation of the student body has exceeded the hopes of many of the football faithful. As of 8 p.m. Tuesday, 7,517 students had voted – that’s nearly 35 percent of the roughly 21,500 students on the rolls last fall.
By comparison, the highest turnout of student government elections anyone at Charlotte can recall was about 10 percent, and that was several years ago. Also, the largest number of student tickets distributed for a men’s basketball game this season was 3,454 for the Feb. 10 homecoming game against Fordham. The football vote count is more than double that.
No one knows how the students have voted. And I really don’t care. The fact more than 7,500 students have taken the time to speak on this issue is an accomplishment. When I was a student at UNCC, you couldn’t get 7,500 students to agree to miss class on the same day.
When all is said and done on this football issue – voting ends at 9 p.m. Sunday – there will be those who are disappointed the outcome didn’t go their way. But please take the time to pat yourselves on the back for showing student apathy isn’t always a forgone conclusion.

Pulling into basketball with new perspective

It’s back to basketball this week as I have completed my two-week tour of Speedweeks in Daytona Beach, Fla. Charlotte was 3-1 while I was gone, which leaves me wondering if my arrival at Duquesne will be welcomed for Wednesday night’s game against the Dukes.
One thing I noticed about the 49ers while I was away – and sometimes it’s good to get a fresh perspective from the outside – is how much they rely upon offense to carry them this season. Even during some wins, Charlotte still allows its opponents to shoot well from the floor. When Charlotte does win, it seems to be because it is more effective in its offense than the other team.
There have been games when Charlotte has played well on defense, but as the season has gone on, the 49ers are struggling to play good defense for 40 minutes against tough competition. De’Angelo Alexander, Leemire Goldwire and E.J. Drayton are logging a lot of minutes and playing through injuries. But at this moment, what will be made of the remainder of the 49ers’ season lies in their hands.
– Jim Utter

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lutz: Charlotte hurt by offense, defense

KINGSTON, R.I. -- Charlotte 49ers coach Bobby Lutz wasn't just frustrated at his team's defense in an 86-69 Atlantic 10 loss Saturday against Rhode Island. He wasn't happy about the 49ers' offense, either.

The 49ers, who trailed 39-35 at halftime, should have been closer, according to Lutz. "We missed six point-blank shots," he said. "Six!"

But the defense did need work. Rhode Island shot 61.1 percent, including 67.9 in the second half.

The 49ers, who have been a strong rebounding team this season, were outrebounded by the Rams 40-28. Starting forward Antwon Coleman had no rebounds.

When Charlotte reserve Sean Phaler, whose arms are covered in tatoos, entered the game, the Rhode Island crowd chanted: "Sharpee marker! Sharpee marker!"

The game underscored how important 3-point shooting can be. The 49ers rely on the 3-pointer more than any team in the league, but get the least from them: They entered the game leading the the A-10 in 3-pointers made (8.46 per game), but were last in percentage (33.0). Rhode Island led the league in percentage (40.1). For Saturday's game, Rhode Island improved on its 3-point mark, making 50 percent. Guard Jimmy Baron, who leads the A-10 in 3-points made per game and is second in percentage, made four of five. The 49ers made 34.5 percent of theirs, but only 27.8 percent in the second half. For what it's worth, Rhode Island made only 47.1 percent of its free throws.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Phaler has his moment vs. Louisiana-Lafayette

As the Charlotte 49ers were in the process of finishing off Louisiana-Lafayette 80-56 Tuesday, there wasn't much late in the game to keep the fans in Halton Arena interested.

Enter Sean Phaler.

For starters, Phaler is hard to miss. Reed-thin at 6-foot-9, 175 pounds, Phaler sports a series of tatoos on his arms that draw attention pretty quickly. These aren't your garden-variety tats using black ink. We're talking vivid reds and blues, among others.

Phaler is also a different sort off the court. He once won a web page designer contest and the $60,000 that went with it. Problem was, he was in the eighth grade and too young to be eligible for the prize.

Even his route to Charlotte is unusual. He was signed with UCLA by former coach Steve Lavin, but transferred to New Mexico after Lavin was fired. So he transferred to New Mexico, then switched to Fullerton (Calif.) Junior College to be near his sick father. While at New Mexico, Phaler was in a car accident so serious that he had to be cut from the vehicle by the Jaws of Life.
Now, in is first season at Charlotte, Phaler has been plagued with injuries and sickness, playing in just 15 of the 49ers' first 23 games.

But he made the most of his six minutes against Lafayette. First, he swished a 3-pointer, igniting the crowd. Then he did it again. And again, a slight smile crossing his face as he backpedaled down the court. When it was over he had scored 11 points on 3-for-3 3-point shooting. The crowd serenaded him by chanting his name during a timeout.

It was a nice moment for a kid who's had a long journey.

-- David Scott

Charlotte-La.-Lafayette notebook

The Charlotte 49ers' 80-56 nonconference victory Tuesday against Louisiana-Lafayette featured a withering full-court press that the Ragin' Cajuns couldn't cope with.
"They really took us out of our ability to run our offense," said Lafayette coach Robert Lee. "That pressure really didn't allow us to do what we wanted to do."
Charlotte forced 13 turnovers, nine of them coming in the first half.
The most unlikely of them came when forward Courtney Williams slapped the ball away from Lafayette's Derek Gray. Williams lumbered down the floor with the ball and was fouled by Ross Mouton. He made the free throw, giving the 49ers a 30-10 lead.
ODD FOUL: The most inexplicable play of the game came when Charlotte's Jerell Jamison intentionally - and with feeling - fouled David Dees as Dees drove in for a layup. Charlotte was leading 54-32 at the time.
BIGGEST BLOWOUT: The 24-point victory was Charlotte's widest margin of victory this season.
REBOUNDING ROLL: The 49ers continue to hit the boards, outrebounding Lafayette 39-29. E.J. Drayton (eight) and De'Angelo Alexander (seven) led the way for Charlotte, which has a plus-3.5 rebounding margin per game. That's among the best in the Atlantic 10, but nothing near the league's top rebounding team, Massachusetts (plus-8.0).

Monday, February 12, 2007

For Charlotte, it's football or bust

I read with interest, as many of you did, the Observer's story Sunday about the pluses and minuses of adding football to Charlotte 49ers athletics. It is clear that any university that hopes to add football now is going to need large sums of money to do it. It is also clear that as each day passes, the cost goes higher and the prospects become less likely.

Charlotte needs football because, fair or not, conference alignments and future realignments are biased toward football-playing schools.

Anyone who thinks the Atlantic 10 was a step up for Charlotte after Conference USA -- particularly in basketball -- is not taking an objective look at the situation as it exists today. The closest conference rival to Charlotte is a five-hour drive. If you have no local rivals, your next hope is schools that have strong programs and are likely to attract fans based on their success. Those are also lacking in today's A-10. And it seems to be getting worse.

Without football, I believe Charlotte is probably already in the best place it can be. As a supporter of the 49ers, you must ask yourself, "Is this where we want to be? Is this good enough?"

If the answer is no, the addition of football is Charlotte's last, best hope to return to conference affiliation that will include teams with regional ties or national success that will encourage fan attendance in all of the school's sports.

Thatleaves little wiggle room. If Charlotte writes off football, it might as well ask for a application to the Southern Conference right now because the rivalries with nearby schools will be the only hope the 49ers have of attracting attention and breeding success in their athletic programs in the long run.

-- Jim Utter

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Alexander's big game stands out

  • De'Angelo Alexander's big scoring game Saturday for the Charlotte 49ers against Fordham was just the second time since 1991 a Charlotte player had scored at least 35 points. The other time came in 2005 when Curtis Withers (who’s now playing professionally in Turkey), scored 39 against Saint Louis. Alexander, who had 35 against the Rams, scored 34 last season against St. Bonaventure.
  • Forward Jerell Jamison, who started for the first time Saturday and has played in just 18 of Charlotte's 23 games, now has more rebounds this season than starting center Antwon Coleman. Jamison has 70 rebounds, averaging 3.9 per game. Coleman has 60 and averages 2.7.
  • Leemire Goldwire, who had a career-high tying seven 3-pointers in a victory against Richmond on Wednesday, made just 1 of 8 against Fordham. But he was clinically effective at the free-throw line when he needed to be, making eight in a row in the last 45 seconds as Fordham tried to rally.
  • The 49ers have started slowly the past two games - going 3 of 20 to begin the Richmond game and 4 of 20 against Fordham. But they've finished strong, reversing a trend of earlier in the season when they tended to start with a flourish, then fade at the end. "I'd rather have it this way," said coach Bobby Lutz.

--David Scott

Friday, February 9, 2007

Barnett commitment a victory for 49ers

Good work by the Charlotte 49ers in landing Charlotte Victory Christian senior Javarris Barnett. First-year assistant coach Chris Cheeks was instrumental in landing Barnett, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard who turned a lot of heads during the Bojangles’ Shootout in December and immediately attracted the attention of college recruiters in attendance, including Cheeks.
Charlotte, stuck in the middle of ACC country, must battle hard for talented local players. In Barnett’s case, he was a player without statistics of a hot prospect, and he didn’t attend all the camps at which many recruiters judge talent. However, in a tournament against some other top prep players, he shined.
For that, he was worth taking a chance.
In recruiting battles today, perhaps more than in the past, chances have to be taken. Recruiting is a difficult business – you have to be a judge of current and future talent at the same time.
Barnett attracted attention from many major Division I schools. Several turned away once he made it clear he did not want to venture far from home, but coming out ahead of teams such as Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and College of Charleston (and former ACC coach Bobby Cremins) is a good sign for the 49ers.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

NASCAR and 49ers mix quite well

It was good to see Charlotte complete the season sweep of Richmond Wednesday night as I was watching from afar. I started a two-week break from basketball to cover Speedweeks in Daytona Beach, Fla., leading up to the Feb. 18 Daytona 500. I will return to the 49ers beat for the Feb. 21 game at Duquesne and finish out the season. In the meantime, I will continue to keep an eye on the team and recruiting.

Even here in the world of NASCAR there are plenty of Charlotte 49ers connections. Senior walk-on Travis Gordon from the basketball team spent the past two summers interning at Hendrick Motorsports and hopes to work there fulltime after he completes his MBA. Also, some of my best friends on the road during the NASCAR season -- Josh Snider and David Hovis -- are UNC Charlotte graduates. Both are also good friends of NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose sister, Kelley, graduated from UNCC.

Some of my friends in NASCAR find it odd I would work two beats that seem so different -- college basketball and NASCAR. I find the change in sports refreshing.

In some other 49ers news:
* Charlotte 49ers women’s soccer coach Jon Lipsitz received 14 commitments to the team for the 2007 season, to add to 16 returning letter-winners and 10 returning starters. Among the commitments were two players ranked among the top 100 by Soccer Buzz magazine. They are: Katie Davies, a 5-foot-4 defender at Xenia High in Ohio and member of the U.S. National Pool; and Samantha Huecker, a 5-7 midfielder at Oldham County High in Kentucky. She is a two-time state player of the year and also a member of the U.S. National Pool.

* Sabrina Gregory, a junior guard on the Charlotte women's basketball team, was named to the first team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District III team. She has a 3.75 grade point average and majors in math.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Charlotte-Richmond notebook: 49ers impressive on boards

Hidden behind Leemire Goldwire's 25-point outburst in the Charlotte 49ers' 61-46 Atlantic 10 victory against Richmond on Wednesday was a strong rebounding effort. Charlotte's effort on the boards – especially on the offensive end – kept the 49ers in the game when the Spiders ran out to an early 16-6 lead. E.J. Drayton and Jerell Jamison each had 10 rebounds to lead Charlotte, which clobbered Richmond 42-18 on the boards. "I always focus on my role and (rebounding) is my role," said Jamison, who had a career-high night. "My rebounding should give my team a lift." Jamison, a 6-foot-5 senior, also had a career-high rebounding game (six) against Dayton earlier this season. -- The Spiders, who play a Princeton-style offense, led by 10 points early. Frustration might have set in for the 49ers. "You sit there on two points, then four points for a while," said Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz. "The longer it goes, the worse it can get." But Charlotte held Richmond scoreless for 8:49, spanning both halves, during a 19-0 run that saw the 49ers take the lead and never give it back. -- Goldwire's seven 3-pointers – tying a career high – moved him into sixth place on the 49ers' all-time list. He passed Shanderic Downs (179) and now has 185. -- Maybe the A-10 cellar-dwelling Spiders weren't much of a draw. Halton Arena's 9,105 seats were barely half full with a crowd of 5,221. -- David Scott

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Lutz encouraged by effort in practice

Charlotte 49ers coach Bobby Lutz said this week's practices would say a lot about his team after its lopsided loss Saturday at Xavier. Tuesday, after two days of hard practice, Lutz said he was generally pleased with the team's effort.

"Yesterday was a great practice," Lutz said. "Today wasn't quite as good but I thought our second group created some of that. They played well today and that's good because did a better job today of simulating Richmond. Overall, it's been good. I know we're ready to play and we're ready to get that game Saturday out of our system."

Repeatedly Tuesday, Lutz asked his team to pass the ball on offense. At one point he said, "I promise if you pass the ball at least four times, I guarantee you will get a wide-open shot." Lutz no sooner finished when the offense started back, and on the fourth pass, Sean Phaler was wide open on the corner and drained a 3-pointer.

Charlotte's Antwon Coleman, who has a right thumb injury, was able to participate in much of practice. Jerell Jamison (back) went the distance.

-- Jim Utter

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Freshmen, jucos the problem on defense?

Post game thought from Charlotte's lopsided loss at Xavier:

This Charlotte 49ers team, more than others in the past, clearly has difficulty putting 40 minutes together of good defense. Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz likes to utilize changing defenses throughout a game and this year's team is having a hard time adjusting to that. Some games they are better than others. Clearly they can do it at times (look at performance against Saint Joseph's, Massachusetts and George Washington), but sustaining it for the long haul is the 49ers' biggest problem right now.

Part of the 49ers' difficulty this year is because of their reliance on freshmen and junior college transfers. Both have little time to learn the system in the brief preseason. Where transfers from other Division I schools sit out a year (and get a year of practice with the team before they play and a year to get in shape), freshman and jucos are basically thrown into the fire.

The difficult decision a coach is left with is whether giving those players court time, despite their problems, is better for the long haul. Game experience, particularly on defense, is invaluable. So, do you sit them every time they make mistakes or play them for the experience? It's a fine line and Charlotte has been lucky in the past to come out on the plus side more often than not.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Practice update from Cincinnati:

-- Charlotte 49ers coach Bobby Lutz spent a great deal of time emphasizing his belief that Xavier will use constant continual double teams against forward E.J. Drayton in Saturday’s game.
"Why will they do that?" Drayton asked. "Because you’re killing them inside," freshman Ian Andersen yelled out.
He is right.
How Drayton responds will likely be key to the 49ers’ chances. If he is double-teamed, good recognition of that should allow him to find one of Charlotte’s perimeter players open on the outside.
-- Antwon Coleman returned to practice despite a right thumb injury. Forward Jerell Jamison sat out most of practice still nursing a sore back but did some work on stationary bike.
-- Expect a hostile crowd Saturday. The game is a sellout and tickets to the game were found being sold Friday night on eBay.

Is NCAA control of officials the answer?

It’s sad so much time is spent complaining about the officiating this season in the A-10. In my mind, it’s time for the NCAA to take over control of all officiating and end the ridiculous concept of conferences each hiring their own officials. Aren’t they all supposed to be following the same rulebook? If so, why would should the quality of the officiating be any different in the Sun Belt, the Atlantic 10 or the ACC? But it is. It’s time to try the random assignment of officials.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

49ers likely to play Salukis next season

Random observations about the Niners:

-- It looks like Charlotte has secured a home game next season against Missouri Valley Conference power Southern Illinois (18-5, 9-3). Charlotte is 5-1 all-time against the Salukis, with the most recent meeting being the 49ers' 64-59 win in Carbondale, Ill., in 2004 which ended SIU's then 31-game home winning streak (third-longest in the country at that time). The tentative date for the game is Saturday, Dec. 8.

-- Injuries mounting: A total of three players missed practice Thursday. Travis Gordon, who injured his right shoulder and is awaiting a magnetic resonance imaging test, sat out. Joining him were Jerell Jamison (sore back) and Antwon Coleman (injured right thumb).

-- Considering how difficult this season has been and how much E.J. Drayton has meant to what success the 49ers have had, how bad would things be if Drayton had played one more minute in an additional game last season and had been ineligible for a medical redshirt? He gets my early vote for team MVP.

-- Jim Utter