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Nation's best school basketball team deserves praise, not scorn

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Political Contributor
  • Roland Martin's old high school has nation's best basketball team
  • Rick Reilly of ESPN wrote a column blasting coach for running up the score
  • Roland Martin says there's nothing wrong with the way team plays

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin, a CNN political analyst, is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith," and the forthcoming book, "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable Network and host of a one-hour Sunday morning news show.

As a columnist, I'm used to writing things that offend other folks. It comes with the job. And there are times when I have responded to what other folks in the media will say and write. Again, it's just what we do.

There have been a number of things I've read and heard over the past few months, but one that has totally ticked me off is the recent column by ESPN's Rick Reilly in the March 22 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Reilly uses his column to personally attack Greg Wise, the boys head basketball coach at Jack Yates High School in Houston, Texas. In the despicable piece, Reilly tries to link Wise with a fight in the parking lot after Yates destroyed archrival Booker T. Washington. Apparently shots were fired, and in Reilly's world, it's all tied to Yates beating them 132-68.

So I wonder if Reilly blames Gary Williams for Maryland upsetting No. 4 ranked Duke, this leading to fans going bonkers -- some say riot -- and 28 people getting arrested.

I've seen folks fight after one-point losses; that's just what happens when dumb folks talk trash in the parking lot. They either duke it out with fists, or these days, pull out a gun to make their point.

Reilly then has the gall to say that the school district in Houston needs to intervene to "stop" Wise, even suggesting that Yates Principal Ronald Mumphery should "grow a pair." So what do you propose Rick? Tell him not to blow other teams out? So the next time we see a 59-0 or 77-0 score in football, are we to scold the coach and tell him he will be suspended if his teams keeps scoring points?

Should Bob Stoops have been put on administrative leave when his Sooners destroyed my Aggies 77-0? In fact, last year Oklahoma beat my Aggies 65-10. Hey, Rick, wasn't 45, 50, 60 or even 70 enough for Stoops? Why 77 points?

The Reillys of the world will remark that, "Oh, these are poor high school students. Their self-esteem will be hurt by this." Bullcrap, Rick. Yes, Yates has blown teams out by 50, 60 and even 100 points. When you're good, it happens.

Let me be clear: I'm not objective on this issue. I graduated from Yates in 1987, where I attended the Magnet School of Communications. I watched Yates in 1985 win the football state championship by going undefeated and blowing out teams every week. That team set a state record for most points and set about another 20 records. They were just as dominating in football as this year's basketball team.

What wimps like Reilly object to is Wise teaching his team to press, press and press. Yates used this strategy to win the Class 4A state championship last year, and this weekend will try to win another title. They play all 15 guys and rotate them in and out. They wear the opposing team out, forcing them to commit turnover after turnover. On the side of their championship rings is the slogan, "32 minutes of hell." It's similar to what Nolan Richardson's Arkansas teams were nicknamed, "40 minutes of hell.'

Guys like Reilly love to jump on the poor souls campaign. But I learned a long time ago that when you put on your uniform and lace 'em up, you stand a chance of getting your butt kicked. That's all a part of the game.

What guys like Reilly also don't understand is that their words matter. And by writing such a horrible piece about Wise, he is creating an impression in folks' mind nationally about Wise, and that can hurt him down the road.

Right now I'm reading Rus Bradburd's book, "Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson." It tells the story of the famed Arkansas coach and the battles he had to fight to reach the top of the college basketball world. Bradburd tells the story of a number of black basketball coaches who never got a shot at the major jobs because of their race. He writes about how coaches like Richardson were denigrated for the frantic style of play, and assumed it was all about talent and not about coaching.

But he also told an interesting story of how so many talented coaches at historically black colleges never got a shot at major Division 1-A coaching jobs because of their won-loss record. They were forced to take guaranteed money games against more talented teams, so when it was time for the NCAA tournament, the teams had poor records, and that didn't reflect well on the coach.

Bottom line: The record of the coach played a role in getting their next job. And sportswriters, as Bradburd writes, tend to shape the views of the public based on what they write, and that can be damaging to anyone's career.

Folks, for any college looking to revive their basketball team -- Richardson took a dormant Tulsa team and won the NIT title and led them to the NCAA -- Greg Wise would be a great hire. His team finished 34-1 last year, and this year they are 32-0, and with two games left, can claim back-to-back titles.

Are you telling me that a coach who is 66-1 in two years should be, as Reilly wrote, "dipped in seal butter and dropped into a polar bear's cage?" No! He should be celebrated for being successful. The game is about winning, right?

Not only that, Yates has a great group of kids (I've met most of them). They study, are polite, don't get into trouble and are all-around good kids.

At the end of the day, they are damn good and folks like Reilly just don't like it.

By the way: Reilly, who ESPN pays a ton of dough, wrote this about Wise: "He tried to break the record for most 100-point games in a row (and failed)."

Rick, you are dead wrong. This past weekend, Yates scored 100 points for the 14th consecutive game, tying the national record set by Hobbs of New Mexico team in 1969-70. (On Thursday night, they scored 106 points to set the new national record.)

A simple fact check would have discovered that. It's no surprise Reilly was entirely wrong about Yates' Greg Wise. He could not even get this basic fact right.

Rick, use some of that fat ESPN money, stop reading what others write about Yates, and take a simple trip down to Houston to see this mighty Jack Yates team in person.

You might learn a thing or two about a team that is full of class and the pride of Third Ward. I'm proud of these young men, and even more proud of their coach, who is a role model to them.

Isn't that what we want our coaches to be?

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Roland Martin.