The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 4, 1997 · Page 36
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 36

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Sunday, May 4, 1997
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THE SALINA JOURNAL BASKETBALL SUNDAY, MAY 4, 1997 D3 COACHING r Pitino intends to decide this week Kentucky coach says money not the issue in considering Celtics job By The Associated Press LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky coach Rick Pitino plans to decide shortly whether he will stay with the Wildcats or take a coaching job in the NBA. "Nothing will happen this weekend," he said. "Tuesday or Wednesday, something will happen." Pitino made the comments during a book signing Friday that drew 'a large gathering of Wildcats fans who implored him to stay at Kentucky. Pitino repeatedly glanced up at the fans, smiled and said, "Thank you." It was Pitino's first public appearance in the state since reports •that he could make more than $40 million by coaching the Boston Celtics. Pitino plans to meet with Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton on Tuesday. Newton said Kentucky was eager to extend Pitino's contract for however long the coach wanted. Newton said Pitino was standing at a career crossroads with either option greatly appealing. "I think he does not want to leave the University of Kentucky; I think that first and foremost," Newton said. "He genuinely likes the place. He likes the job. He likes the winning that goes with it. He likes the players. "He's being presented a career change with a job that's always fascinated him. That makes it very difficult for him to automatically say, 'No, I won't go.' That's the dilemma he's in." Pitino carefully avoided even hinting at which option he might favor. "I don't think there's any intention either way," he said. "I don't want to be wooed. I don't want to be danced around. None of that is going to happen. All I want to do is think a little and (A), put a stop to all of this or (B), move on." Pitino suggested that Kentucky would have the first chance at keeping him. "There will be no dialogue with any NBA teams" before meeting with Newton, he said. "There's a decision to be made, whether I stop all the pro rumors or I move to the professional ranks." At a later book-signing stop, Piti- no added that money wasn't an issue. "It won't make the difference what amount of money it is," he said. "It's either you want to stay or you want to leave. I more than have enough money at Kentucky. ... If I would want to leave someday, it would be for different reasons." Pitino's contract runs through the 1999-2000 season. It pays him a base salary of $150,000, but the total package is worth more than $2 million a year and includes a $1 million bonus for staying until 2000. T NBA PLAYOFFS Suns' Johnson calls it quits By BOB RYAN The Boston Globe BOSTON — Larry Bird Friday night vehemently denied various .reports, including an assertion by ; an unnamed team source in Friday's Herald, that he has been sitting on an offer from Celtics owner Paul Gaston to assume both the head coaching job and the top basketball operations post for the better part of the past seven weeks without giving the man who signs his checks an answer. "No, it's not true," Bird said from his Florida home. ("Gaston) called me in a few weeks ago and asked me if I wanted to be the coach. I said no. Everything else is bull." As for his own immediate future, Bird admitted to being highly intrigued by the idea of becoming the new coach and God-knows-what- else of the Indiana Pacers and said he is close to making a decision. "Indiana has made me a good offer — no, a great offer," he said. "I've known the owners since col- }ege through mutual friends, and I have great respect for (team president) Donnie Walsh. We are definitely talking, and if I decide to do something (other than remain with the Celtics in some capacity), it would definitely be there." Bird is both amused and irritated by the fact that someone inside the Celtics organization would make negative charges. "That's the problem," he said. "I don't know what's going on in the organization half the time. That's one of the reasons I've hesitated going up there to work." No. 33 wasn't 100 percent sure who might have been the source of the Herald story, but he views such behavior as being symptomatic of a very messed-up organization. Bird said the idea that he has been stalling Gaston and has been, according to the story, "using all these (media) people to whine" is ridiculous, since he's been trying to speak to Gaston for some time. I've called Paul three times," Bird said. "We just haven't gotten together." When the owner and the legend finally do speak, it may be an interesting conversation. He is impressed by the Indiana offer (reportedly more than $4 million a year to be the head coach, a percentage of the team, and the promise to take over the basketball operations post when Walsh steps down) and its front office, this despite the fact he remains dedicated to finding a coach for the Celtics. Thirty-one-year old says 10 years enough, retires after Suns' loss By The Associated Press SEATTLE — Kevin Johnson, who helped lead the Phoenix Suns into the NBA Finals in 1993, made it official on Saturday: He's retiring. "If God changes my heart, I'll change my mind," the 31-year-old point guard said Saturday after the Suns were eliminated from the playoffs by the Seattle Super- Sonics. "But I don't see that happening. "God gave me 10 great years. I have no regrets, only highlights," Johnson added. In the finale of an NBA career that began in Cleveland in 1987, Johnson scored 20 points, but shot only 8 for 27 as the Suns were ousted in the opening round of the playoffs for the second straight year. Johnson, who was traded by the Cavaliers to Phoenix during his rookie season for Larry Nance and a first-round draft pick, said he planned to sit down and talk to Suns owner Jerry Colangelo. "But I'm not going to change my mind," he said. "It sounds as if he's made his mind up," Shawn Kemp of the Sonics said. "I expect he'll stick with it." In his 10 seasons in Phoenix, Johnson helped the Suns get into the playoffs nine times. The highlight came in '93 when the Suns lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games. Johnson averaged 16 points, but shot just 29 percent in the Seattle series after averaging 20.1 The Associated Press Kevin Johnson (left) and Rex Chapman of the Phoenix Suns sit out the final minute of Seattle's series-clinching victory in a first-round Western Conference playoff. points and shooting 50 percent in 70 regular-season games. He was named NBA Player of the Month in April when he averaged 23.2 points. In a game against Seattle March 26, Johnson hit a career-high six 3-pointers. It was difficult for him to leave the court for the last time. The Suns' all-time leading playoff scorer got a pat on the head from Seattle's Gary Payton with 2:25 to go. He scored a dozen of his points in the third quarter when the Suns came back to cut a 22-point halftime deficit to six twice. "In the last few minutes, this crossed my mind that this was my final NBA game," Johnson said. "And that was pretty emotional." Johnson scored 12,611 regular- season points in 679 games and 1,942 points in 92 playoff games. He was a three-time All-Star and one of six players to surpass 11,500 points, 6,000 assists, 2,000 rebounds and 1,000 steals. Johnson was hampered by injuries during the last half of his career. He missed the first 11 games of the season while recovering from hernia surgery, but was relatively healthy after that, giving the Suns hope that he would change his mind and return in 1997-98. Bird finds offer made by Pacers attractive Lakers-Jazz series shapes up as a dandy Can the Mailman deliver now that Shaq is back in full force By BOB MIMS The Associated Press SALT LAKE CITY — Can the Mailman continue to deliver his best, now that Shaq is back? How stale will the Utah Jazz be from waiting a week for the Los Angeles Lakers? And just how sick is John Stockton, anyway? Sunday, some 40 hours after Los Angeles claimed a 3-1 first- round playoff victory over Portland, the Lakers and Jazz begin a best-of-7 series to answer those questions. "It's going to be a war. We realize that, they realize that, and they're going to come in here ready," said Karl Malone, who averaged 30.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in Utah's first-round sweep of the Los Angeles Clippers. If it is war, Shaquille O'Neal is the Lakers' biggest gun. He's back, all 7-foot-l, 300 pounds of him, recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him for 28 The Associated Press Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal stuffs over Portland's Arvydas Sabonis during LA's 95-91 series-clinching win Friday. games this season. "We're not going to stop him," said Malone, who will share defensive duties on LA's main man. "We're just going to try to get in his face and make him take some tougher shots." O'Neal's 33 points per game in the postseason is second only to Michael Jordan's 37.3 (Malone is third). The Lakers' center punctuated his return April 13 with 39 points against Utah, including a game-winning baseline jumper. The 100-98 win was LA's only one in four tries this season against the Jazz, but that perhaps is misleading: O'Neal didn't play in Utah's 101-89 home win April 9. "He's probably playing as well right now as he ever has," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "(With O'Neal) they are bigger than we are at every position." Well, not technically. Utah center Greg Ostertag at 7-2 is taller than O'Neal. But Sloan said you can't compare O'Neal with Ostertag, struggling at 2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in the playoffs. "We just hope he'll give us everything he has," Sloan said. The Lakers' star is cautiously optimistic. "If we can just get one of these two at Utah, we'll be in great shape," O'Neal said. "But they'll be ready for us, especially at home." Indeed, the Jazz could call their arena "Fortress Delta Center." Utah has won a club-record 40 of 43 games at home this season, including its last 15. Elden Campbell, who had 27 points in a 95-91 win over Portland Friday, was more upbeat about LA's chances. "They're a very good team, and we'll have our work cut out for us, but it's nothing we can't handle," he said. Jerome Kersey agreed, hoping that Utah's long layoff since eliminating the Clippers 104-92 Monday could work in the Lakers' favor. "Maybe these few days in between will make them fall off a little, but you can't count on that," he said. LA coach Del Harris was hoping he could. "They've been ready, waiting ... and sometimes being off that long can work against you," he said. "I'd like to just keep playing every couple days." However, the rest undoubtedly helped Stockton. Flu kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday, but the Jazz' point guard insisted after Saturday's practice he would be fine for Game 1. T WOMEN'S PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL Two leagues battling for players, fans 1 -year-old ABL not shying away from new NBA-funded WNBA By CHRISTINE HANLEY The Associated Press HARTFORD, Conn. — The American Basketball League got off the ground last fall on a shoestring budget and a bit of old-fashioned trust. It was a grass-roots effort compared with the rival women's league backed by the NBA, which cranked up its well-oiled marketing machine to line up national TV deals and big-time sponsors even before its debut. With its obvious edge, many observers labeled the WNBA as the big sister of the dueling leagues, and assumed it would swallow up the ABL, possibly as early as this year. But that was hardly the case. In fact, in the past few weeks, the league that was expected to be the underdog has signed several top players in its first real bidding war with the WNBA, which begins play June 21. "There's a big shiny locomotive trying to run us down, but the Little Engine That Could is trying pretty well right now," said Gary CavalU, the ABL's co-founder and vice president. The WNBA suffered another setback when Sheryl Swoopes, perhaps its biggest star, announced she would miss most of the inaugural season because she is preg- ML vt. WNBA Teams and cities of the WNBA and ABL: Women't NBA: 28-game schedule beginning June 21. New York Liberty Charlotte Sting Cleveland Rockers Houston Comets Phoenix Mercury Utah Starzz Sacramento Monarchs Los Angeles Sparks American Basketball League: 40- game schedule in the (all and winter. New England Blizzard Atlanta Glory Colorado Xploslon Columbus Quest Portland Power Richmond Rage San Jose Lasers Seattle Reign nant. The former Texas Tech star, who will play for the Houston Comets, is due shortly before the season begins. While the ABL may have pulled off a coup with the recent signings, the WNBA has a plan to create a strong foundation for the future, league president Val Ackerman said. The WNBA also is trying to go global by signing top foreign players, including Russian center Elena Baranova, second in scoring in the Summer Olympics to Lisa Leslie, captain of the gold-medal- winning U.S. team. The ABL, on the other hand, limits each team to two foreign-born players. "Our interest is in having a league that truly represents the best in the world," Ackerman said. Of course, the fact that there are dueling leagues bodes well for the popularity of women's pro basketball. And with the WNBA still untested, it remains to be seen whether the leagues can coexist, or whether a merger will be necessary for both of them to survive. With $4 million in private startup money and verbal commitments from a handful of Olympians, the ABL began on the heels of the Atlanta Summer Games. The league lost $5 million last year but expects to make money by 1999, with help from its greatest asset: its talent pool. Nine of the 12 Olympians and many top college stars have signed with the ABL. "The NBA has a lot more money. They have a better TV contract, but we think they are temporary advantages. If we continue to get the best players in the world like we are, those things will come," Cavalli said. The past two weeks have been especially good for the ABL, with the announcement of a new franchise in Long Beach, Calif., and the signings of Connecticut star Kara Wolters, The Associated Press Player of the Year; Kate Starbird, Stanford's career scoring leader and winner of the 1997 Naismith Award; All-American forward Shalonda Enis from Alabama; and several other top players. Why the ABL? One big reason is money. Despite its TV contracts with NBC, ESPN and Lifetime, and a lot more cash, the WNBA offers lower- salaries. The top three picks in the April 28 WNBA draft — Houston got Tina Thompson of Southern Cal, Sacramento took teammate Pam McGee and Los Angeles selected Jamila Wideman of Stanford — will be paid $37,500 a season, with the salaries dropping to $15,000 for fourth-round choices. Only an exclusive group that includes Leslie and fellow Olympian Rebecca Lobo have lucrative WNBA contracts, reportedly as high as $250,000. "It would be difficult to play on the same team knowing that one player is making $250,000," said Debbie Black, a guard on the ABL's Colorado Xplosion. "Our salaries are a lot more fair," The ABL pays an average of $80,000, setting top scale at $150,000. Compensation packages can push some players' pay a lot higher. Wolters, for instance, signed a three-year contract worth more than $600,000 with the New England Blizzard. But even Wolters and other high- paid ABL players say the pay is secondary. Some players fear the WNBA's 10-week season won't amount to more than a glamorized summer league, and favor the ABL's longer schedule, played in the fall and winter, the traditional basketball season. Being able to play during that time of year — as players have throughout their careers — was very important to many of them, Blizzard general manager Para Batalis said. Mother's Day Buffet Sunday, May 11 Served From 11 a.m.-8 p.m. 8 • Roast Baron of Beef • Pepper Steak with Rice • Baked Ham with Pineapple • Baked Fish • Homemade Chicken and Noodles • Macaroni and Cheese • Mashed Potatoes and Gravy • Tiny Whole Carrots • California Mix • Salad Bar and Ice Cream Bar Included $Q95 Children 5 to 11, $5.95 Under 5, FREE! Reservations for 6 or more accepted. CALL 823-1739 500 CARNATIONS to be given away to Mothers and Grandmothers. First Come, First Serve. Limited Menu Sewed Also From 3 p.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday 8 a.m.-ll a.m. Breakfast Bar 1616 W. Crawford, Salina 823-1739

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