Each of John Feinstein’s books on college basketball has brought characters into the mainstream of the sport.
In his latest, “The Last Amateurs,” Feinstein spends a season in the Patriot League, giving a look at a league where scholarships are not the norm and thoughts of NBA careers are almost nonexistent.
The best seller has already created a new cult hero among college basketball fans in former Holy Cross player Chris Spitler.
Spitler was a walk-on to the basketball team as a junior and then-coach Bill Raynor told him he was on the team because of his attitude and work ethic but he would not play.
Midway through the season, the Crusaders were in last place in the Patriot League. Spitler was reading a basketball magazine on a bus trip and it ranked the Patriot League last among the 31 Division I conferences and it got Spitler to thinking.
“Let’s see, if I’ve got this straight. I’m the worst player on the worst team in the worst conference in Division I. Wow! I’m the worst Division I player in the whole country!”
Spitler would use his status as a come-on line at parties, asking women “Hey, do you know who I am?”
“The answer was usually something like, ‘Yeah, you’re a loser, trying to hit on me,”’ Spitler said. “And I would say, ‘Aha! I’m not just any loser. I happen to be the worst Division I basketball player in the country. Now what do you think of me?”
Feinstein said Spitler, who now works in the business field, has kept in touch since the book came out.
“He told me that most guys become a better player after their careers end but he’s actually getting worse,” Feinstein said last week. “He said he got an e-mail from a guy who said they have a rec league team that stinks and since he stinks, would he want to play?”
OVERTIME DAY: There are no official records kept for stats like this but the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic had a final day that would be hard to top.
On last Friday, the eight-team tournament concluded with a day that gave fans their money’s worth and plenty more.
The seventh-place game was normal with American University of Puerto Rico, the Division II host school, beating Florida Atlantic 77-60.
Then it started.
In the fifth-place game, Youngstown State beat Northern Iowa 79-76--in double overtime.
In the third-place game, Washington beat Clemson 77-76--in overtime.
In the championship game, Cincinnati beat Alabama 77-74--in overtime.
That was 20 extra minutes of basketball, an early Christmas present for the few people who were there for the last three games.
QUICK REMATCH: Youngstown State defeated Northern Iowa 79-76 in double overtime last Friday for fifth place at the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic.
Both teams had the next week off before opening play in the Oneida Bingo and Casino Classic in Green Bay, Wis.
Against each other.
That’s right. Seven days and 70 degrees later, the Panthers and Penguins meet again.
“I guess we’ll have plenty of tape to watch,” Youngstown State coach John Robic said after their 50-minute battle.
SPACED SCHEDULE: Princeton will have plenty of time to work out any problems it has in practice.
The Tigers (4-7) lost to Penn State and Rutgers on Tuesday and Wednesday in the ECAC Holiday Festival, and don’t play again until Jan.12 against Cornell. The next night they play Columbia, then have another 16 days off.
That’s two games in 34 days after two games in two days.
First-year coach John Thompson has a dilemma, however, as nagging foot injuries to starters Nate Walton and Mike Bechtold mean full-squad practices may not be possible during the long layoff.
“In many regards, it is a much-needed break,” Thompson said. “Those guys need a break, they need to rest and they need to get healthy. We have a few other nagging injuries but those guys have to be in the mix. I’ve said numerous times we don’t have a margin for error. ... It is a double-edged sword, it is good and it is bad. We’re a group that needs to practice. We’re a group that needs the repetitions in practice. At this point, clearly the health is more of an issue than the execution.”
ARNOLD RETIRES: Longtim coach Murray Arnold has retired for health reasons.
Arnold, 62, stepped down at Stetson on Wednesday, citing recent tests for a heart condition, diabetes and progressive kidney disease.
Assistant Derek Waugh was promoted to acting head coach.
Arnold started his college coaching career at Birmingham Southern in 1971 and was there until 1978. His other stops included Tennessee-Chattanooga (1980-85), Western Kentucky (1987-90) and Stetson (1998-2000). His final record as a head coach was 407-221, including 4-4 with the Hatters this season.
Arnold coached in high school and college basketball for 40 years and was an assistant with the Chicago Bulls in the 1985-86 season.
TEAMMATES DOMINATE: Six sets of teammates highlighted the midseason list of the top 30 candidates for the John Wooden Award.
The schools with two nominees for the player of the year award were: Michigan State (Charlie Bell, Jason Richardson); Duke (Shane Battier, Jason Williams); Arizona (Loren Woods, Michael Wright); Stanford (Casey Jacobsen, Jarron Collins); Illinois (Cory Bradford, Frank Williams); and Tennessee (Vincent Yarbrough, Tony Harris).
The others on the list were: Casey Calvary, Gonzaga; Kenny Gregory, Kansas; Eddie Griffin, Seton Hall; Udonis Haslem, Florida; Brendan Haywood, North Carolina; Joe Johnson, Arkansas; Kaspars Kambala, UNLV; Jason Kapono, UCLA; Mike Kelley, Wisconsin; Terence Morris, Maryland; Albert Mouring, Connecticut; Troy Murphy, Notre Dame; Robert O’Kelley, Wake Forest; Kareem Rush, Missouri; Kenny Satterfield, Cincinnati; Preston Shumpert, Syracuse; Jamaal Tinsley, Iowa State; and Brandon Wolfram, Texas-El Paso.
The Wooden Award will be presented April 7.