By Bill Campbell
Maybe it’s true that most of us do manage to acquire our 15 minutes of fame, but for Matt Kravchuk, it might have seemed like 15 seconds.
He is the Holy Family University basketball player who, given a chance to reconsider, might have come to a different conclusion.
He is a young 6’7” fringe player who got into a fuss last week with his coach, John O’Connor, which resulted in O’Connor’s no longer coaching at Holy Family.
He was conducting a “combat rebound” drill last month at 5:30 a.m. because he didn’t like the non-competitive attitude he thought his team was displaying.
If 5:30 a.m. seems like an odd time for a college basketball team to be practicing, don’t be surprised. John Chaney coached basketball as long, if not longer, than anyone around here and his Temple teams practiced at 5:30 a.m. almost every day. And Chaney did it without losing his composure and his most successful Temple teams rebounded the basketball in “combat drill” fashion. John Baum was Temple’s leading rebounder for years and his Temple career record was broken just a week or so ago.
Depending on your point of view, Coach O’Connor elected to use an errant elbow, a bit of a shove, or a kick or a nudge – or whatever is his version of the wake-up drill. With a few specks of blood and a few choice words to go along with his displeasure. Which started all the fuss. At that point it seemed clear that Coach O’Connor had over-stepped the lines and the shoes of “villain” seemed to fit. But then came the revelation that the practice had been videotaped – not unusual these days – so that players could see their mistakes first-hand. Somehow the tape was viewed on Channel 29 so that all the public could see as well.
Coach O’Connor appearing on public television and speaking directly to Kravchuk apologized to him after apologizing to the team privately. And then he did so publicly. His apology, however, was publicly rejected by Kravchuk. A fascinating turn-about took place. O’Connor went from villain to victim, especially when Kravchuk haughtily rejected the apology, adding the statement that he had lost respect for the coach and could no longer play for him. It led to a speedy reversal of roles right there before our very eyes. A most interesting transition took place.
Authority and discipline can be delicate things to handle. So can regrets and reconsiderations. This could have been a case of Kravchuk receiving some bad advice and O’Connor’s attempts at toughness going too far. But the most intriguing question might be, how did the tapes of the drill get to Channel 29 and who delivered it? All of this reportedly happened on January 25th. The Holy Family authorities said nothing about it till February 17th and the tapes were aired 2 days later. The story even made “Good Morning America” plus several radio interviews. Kravchuk may wind up playing at a different school and O’Connor coaching a different team. But Holy Family really didn’t need all the publicity that surrounded a thoroughly mishandled situation. All of the parties involved should have known better.
Now how does one address the subject of Villanova basketball? What has happened to the Wildcats? They’ve gone from 7th in the Big East to 11th. The Notre Dame loss was their 3rd straight and their 5th in their last 7 and they’re giving up three-pointers like they’re going out of style. That Number 11 Big East ranking is scary because, if the Cats finish 9th or worse after Saturday’s game at Pitt, they will have to play a first round game in the Big East Tournament that begins next Tuesday. And strange things have a way of happening in tournament first round games. Norte Dame made almost 63 percent of their three’s the other night, had 2 players with 30 points apiece and made 4 of their first 5 three-point attempts. Instead of sitting back on the perimeter, Villanova coach Jay Wright decided to be aggressive and play the Irish tight. It turned out to be a bad decision as Notre Dame just shot the lights out from long range. The Irish led by as much as 25 points in the first half and by 32 later. Wright referred to the game as “just a bump in the road” but the Cats are now 9 and 8 in the league and the road is narrowing wherever they look. In the two big national polls, Villanova now stands at Number 19.
Baseball will be remembered by two completely different developments last week: the elevation of Joe Torre to a newly created position and the death of Duke Snider, the celebrated “Duke of Flatbush.” Torre will become the Major League Vice President of Baseball Operations and the game couldn’t have made a better choice. In over 6 decades of reporting, play-by-play work and editorializing, you accumulate certain heroes in this business. Joe Torre was a good player, a World Series manager and a good, solid person. He’s a hero to me. I interviewed Joe more than a few times going back to his playing days and was always treated with courtesy and respect. I wish baseball had gone all the way and made him Commissioner.
And we will sorely miss The Duke, both as a player and as a broadcaster. He was one of the most under-rated players of all time.
Since the debut of the Year 2011 it does indeed sound like “They’re Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine”.