NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

Despite lacking the depth of quality teams the Western Conference has, the NBA’s Eastern Conference has some interesting storylines.

The Miami Heat are looking to win their fourth straight Eastern Conference crown and their third consecutive NBA championship.

The Indiana Pacers, who came oh-so-close to knocking off the Heat in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, look for revenge a year later.

The Brooklyn Nets are a collective of former stars hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. The Chicago Bulls have exceeded expectations. The Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards are all new entries to the playoff scene.

In short, the Eastern Conference has newbies, old souls and a pair of heavyweights ready to take the floor in search of a crown. Continue reading

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Dana Eikenberg Resurfaces At Wichita State

Dana Eikenberg has had quite the fall from grace.

Eikenberg was the last Southern Illinois University Carbondale women’s basketball coach to lead the Salukis to a Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship. Two seasons later, she was out the door and off the public radar.

Alas, Eikenberg has resurfaced, in the MVC, no less, as the Director of Basketball Operations for the Wichita State Shockers. Eikenberg joins former top assistant Jody Adams, who currently serves as head coach of the Shockers, along with assistant coach Carlai Moore, who was the Salukis’ top scoring threat when Eikenberg coached the team to its championship run.

In 2009, Eikenberg and the Salukis split ways after a second straight losing season mired by departures and alleged abuse and misconduct. It goes down in the record books as a resignation, though sources indicated the parting of ways came with a negotiated buyout.

(FYI: The first round of allegations was soundly covered by my good friend, and co-founder of The Big Dead Sidebar, Matt Hartwig. You can read about them here.)

Eikenberg has yet to address the media since her departure from Carbondale. I would know, I was the sports editor of the Daily Egyptian (SIU’s student newspaper) and I did everything in my power to get Eikenberg on the record. It was a taste of real world journalism at the ripe ole age of 22. I acquired contract paperwork in a parking lot. Dug up unlisted phone numbers and made phone calls at all hours of the day. Staked out her house for hours at a time.

(Pardon me while I get nostalgic about journalism, because it’s something I legitimately cared about at the time.)

Eikenberg never did respond to any calls, texts or emails. Which was disappointing at the time, and even more so in retrospect. I was always curious to hear her side of the story. At least, some sort of statement in defense of the allegations being lobbed in her direction.

So, where has Eikenberg been between stops in the Valley?

The ex-Saluki head coach served as the president & Chief Executive Officer of Reinvent1 from January 2010 until September 2011. a consulting firm that specializes in “leadership development and support to leaders in the athletic profession, including coaches, administrative leaders and their staff.”

Interesting stuff, to say the least.

With 20 days until MVC Basketball Media day, I can’t help but wonder what kind of buzz is building about this hire, let alone the buzz that would surround an Eikenberg trip to Carbondale.

In any case, here’s hoping Eikenberg truly re-invented herself during her hiatus. And I can’t wait to hear the story behind it.

McDonald’s All-American Games (Part 2)

The McDonald’s All-American basketball teams showcase the nation’s best basketball players on a grand stage before they hit the big time.

Candace Parker and Maya Moore are among the elite women’s basketball players to have participated in the festivities. Surely, in the future, analysts and reporters will look back at these games and highlight a few names participating in this year’s game.

And Ariel Massengale might be one of them.

Massengale is coming off her third straight Class 4A state title at Bolingbrook (Ill.) High School. The Lady Raiders floor general will be taking her talents to the University of Tennessee, where head coach Pat Summitt already indicated her need for production out of the point guard spot after losing to Notre Dame on Monday.

Production is exactly what the Bolingbrook guard brings to the hardwood as she averaged 16 points, seven assists and four steals per game this past season.

Massengale Represents Lady Raiders In All-American Game Skills Competition (via Bolingbrook Patch) Continue reading

McDonald’s All-American Games (Part 1)

The McDonald’s All-American basketball teams showcase the nation’s best basketball players on a grand stage before they hit the big time.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose are among the elite NBA stars to have participated in the festivities. Surely, in the future, analysts and reporters will look back at these games and highlight a few names.

And Brad Beal could be among them. The 6-foot-5-inch guard is headed to the University of Florida where he will play under the tutelage of two-time NCAA title winner Billy Donovan.

The St. Louis product showed off his range in the 3-point contest and his handles in the skills competition, but fell short in both.

Brad Beal Finishes Third In Skills Competition As Senior Takes In All-American Experience (via CreveCour Patch) Continue reading

Bolingbrook Lady Raiders: Third Time Still Charming

Championship celebrations never get old.

Just ask Chicago Bulls fans in the 1990s, who had six summer get-togethers in Grant Park to show off star Michael Jordan and his new hardware. Or check in with the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks, who transformed from hockey players into rock stars and cult heroes when they won the team’s first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

The Bolingbrook Lady Raiders are no strangers to success as their third straight IHSA Class 4A title is just another notch on the team’s collective belt. Head coach Tony Smith’s record during the three-year stretch is a remarkable 83-7.

Since Smith’s arrival in 2001, Bolingbrook is 279-31 with four state championships according to IHSA records.

To put that in perspective, the Lady Raiders are winning at a 90 percent clip. And last I checked, winning nine of every 10 things is a good thing.

It hasn’t even been one week since Bolingbrook clinched its most recent title, yet, the Lady Raiders have their eyes on an unprecedented fourth consecutive title.

Maybe that’s why Mayor Roger Claar invested in a plaque that reads “Titletown USA” for the home of 73,366 residents and one high school basketball dynasty.

Want more? Check out my work following the Lady Raiders at the Bolingbrook Patch website.

Tony Smith: A Leader Of Champions

(Editor’s Note: After taking a week’s worth of mental health days after covering the IHSA Class 4A girls basketball championships, I’m proud to announce the return of some fresh material. Thank you for checking out the site and hope you like what you see.)

To say Bolingbrook High School girls basketball coach Tony Smith is a character would be quite the understatement. While shy in front of a camera or with an audio recorder in his face, Smith is one of the most demonstrative coaches I’ve ever covered.

Last week, Smith led the Lady Raiders to their third straight state championship, defeating Whitney Young in the semi-finals and Zion-Benton in the title game.

Many of Bolingbrook’s wins have been by double digits, yet you wouldn’t be able to tell if you paid attention to his mannerisms and sideline demeanor. He coaches every possession as if it were to decide the outcome of the game. In the huddle, he is demanding and his attention to detail is that of someone who prides themselves on precision.

On Sunday, Smith and the Lady Raiders returned home to Bolingbrook from downstate Normal, where Smith admitted how difficult it could be to play for him. You can read more about the celebration here.

“It’s definitely not easy playing for me. These kids push me every day because I do not want to let them down,” Smith told the assembled crowd in Bolingbrook High School’s gymnasium.

“I appreciate you giving me everything. I used to play ball and I tell you guys all the time, I wasn’t that good. I could not do what these young ladies do every day. These girls deserve everything and they were not given anything.”

Bolingbrook has eyes on an unprecedented fourth straight championship and will return — among others — Morgan Tuck, who received my vote for Ms. Illinois Basketball this weekend.

With a fully stocked cupboard and a never-ending motor, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Smith coach a championship-caliber team again in the 2011-12 season.

Collections Of Randomness: Bolingbrook Lady Raiders Basketball

The Bolingbrook Lady Raiders are taking their talents back to Bloomington, Ill., this weekend in search of the school’s third consecutive state championship.

Bolingbrook is loaded with talent including junior Morgan Tuck (verbal committment to UConn) and senior Ariel Massengale (signed to Tennessee) and is coached by Tony Smith, who churns out champions by the bus load thanks in part to his hands-on coaching approach.

The Lady Raiders take on arch-rival Whitney Young, a Chicago Public League powerhouse program that features its own boatload of talent.

Read more at Bolingbrook.Patch.com: Lady Raiders Roll Into Normal With Eyes On A Third-Straight Title

As I did yesterday, here are some images in black and white.