ENGSTER: Year nine parallels for Brown, Brady

John Brady's ninth year on the LSU basketball bench is proving to be in the same league with his predecessor's ninth year at TigerTown.

Brady's crew is 25-8 overall, 14-2 in the SEC, as LSU departs for Atlanta for a date with Duke in the Sweet Sixteen.


In Dale Brown's ninth season at LSU, the Tigers closed at 31-5, 17-1 in the SEC, as a magnificent season ended with two defeats in the Final Four at Philadelphia. It was Bob Knight, the best NCAA coach of the 80's, who directed Indiana to victory in the Final Four semifinal and smashed LSU's hopes of capturing its first title on the court.


Now, it's Mike Krzyzewski, the best coach of the 90's, who stands in the way of Brady advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time. Brady is 26-6 in the SEC over the past two seasons; Brown was 31-5 in the conference in his eighth and ninth campaigns at LSU.


LSU is four wins away from a national championship, and no foe will be tougher than Duke. Krzyzewski's machine provides LSU with an enormous challenge and a unique opportunity.  Should LSU prevail, the Tigers should be considered favorites for the remainder of the tourney.


Krzyzewski played for Bob Knight at West Point and is regarded as a coach with Knight's talent minus the volcanic temper. "When you cleanse yourself of a big victory, you may open yourself up to the opportunity for an even bigger victory, "Coach K. notes in what could be discerned as an edict to Brady's Tigers.



Statistician Elliott Kalb has penned a controversial book about the top 50 NBA players of all time. It's called "Who's Better, Who's Best in Basketball?"


The first sentence in Kalb's book opens a robust discussion. "Shaquille O'Neal ins the best of the almost four thousand NBA players who ever suited up in uniform," Kalb opines.


Of the top 50 players ranked by Kalb, O'Neal is No. 1, Bob Pettit is No. 11 and Pete Maravich is No. 47. Five other Louisiana natives are in Kalb's top 50, including Bill Russell (Monroe), Karl Malone (Summerfield), Elvin Hayes (Rayville), Willis Reed (Bernice) and Clyde Drexler (New Orleans). If  this man's opinion is valid, Louisiana, not North Carolina or Kentucky, is the greatest hotbed for basketball in the universe.


Only two other SEC products make Kalb's top 50 players. Charles Barkley (Auburn) is No. 21 and Domininque Wilkins (Georgia) is No. 49. Kentucky has no athletes on this list. So much for the dominance of the Big Blue. The road to NBA greatness clearly starts in Baton Rouge, not Lexington.


Kalb's top five players in NBA history are Shaquille O'Neal (1), Wilt Chamberlain (2), Michael Jordan (3), Bill Russell (4) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (5). Jordan, Russell and Abdul-Jabbar each helped teams to NCAA titles; O'Neal and Chamberlain did not.


"No one is more qualified, more of an NBA historian, more opinionated that am I," writes the supremely confident Kalb.


Curiously, Jordan was No. 1 on several lists of the greatest athletes of the Twentieth Century. He's now relegated to No. 3 on Kalb's honor roll of NBA greats.


It's eye-opening to see O'Neal as No. 1, but more than a few fellow historians object to Chamberlain's status as the second greatest center in the annals of the game.


Wilt's career scoring average is ahead of Shaq's (30.1 vs. 26.7) as is his rebounding average (22.9 vs. 12.0). It's difficult to ignore the 100 point game and 50 point average for a season by Chamberlain, who also led the NBA in assists in 1968 and never fouled out of a game. My vote for No. 1 goes to Chamberlain with O'Neal perched as a strong No. 2 to the man who died on Oct 12, 1999 with more than 30,000 points and 20,000 women in his past.


Kalb makes the case that Shaq deserves top billing because of the obvious gap between him and the No. 2 big man of his era, Tim Duncan, ranked as the ninth best player of all time.  The author maintains O'Neal is dominating his era in a way that Chamberlain certainly did not.


Chamberlain was dogged for most of his career by Bill Russell's Celtics, who collected eleven titles in 13 years. Late in Wilt's run, Willis Reed and the Knicks took a pair of NBA championships at the expense of Chamberlain and the Lakers.


Many players in  Kalb's Top 50 are competitors the Tigers faced in the NBA tournament during the Dale Brown Era. They include Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, David Robinson and Jason Kidd.


Kalb predicts Shaq will win three more league crowns, a remarkable accomplishment if it happens for the 34-year-old warrior of 14 NBA seasons. At any rate, O'Neal and LSU are etched in basketball history.


The only other school in Kalb's Top 50 with three players is Houston (Elvin Hayes, Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon). The Cougar trio was coached exclusively by Guy Lewis while the LSU trio was coached by three different leaders in Brown (O'Neal),

Press Maravich (Pete Maravich) and Harry Rabenhorst (Pettit).


Bob Knight's teammate at Ohio State, John Havlicek, is among the Top 50 NBA players chosen by Kalb. Knight has the distinction of being the opposing and winning coach in the last games played for the Tigers by both O'Neal and Maravich. His Indiana team beat O'Neal in the NCAA Tournament in Shaq's farewell at LSU. Knight's Army unit beat


LSU in Pistol Pete's last game in the 1970 NIT. Maravich was injured and did not play in the consolation game at Madison Square Garden.




Jim Engster is a featured columnist in Tiger Rag and the station manager for WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge. He is also the host of "The Jim Engster Show.," heard locally in Baton Rouge. Reach him at jim@wrkf.org.

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