NCAA

Gaels now a legit mid-major team

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Gaels now a legit mid-major team

An odd thing happened as Mondays Saint Marys-Gonzaga was parrying itself back and forth before a captivated national audience, a thing Randy Bennett has wished for since he came to Moraga.The Gaels started to look, sound and be perceived as one of those mid-majors. You know, like the team they were playing, and Xavier, and Dayton, and Butler. The kind that gets the benefit of the doubt when the conversation turns to who seems NCAA Tournament-worthy as opposed to who does not.Not this team, mind you. This Gaels team was in unless it was blown out by the Zags and caused committee members to review their late-season stumbles. This team had played its way off the bubble, and only a horrific performance could move them back on it.RELATED: Gaels dancing after 78-74 OT win over Zags in WCC championship
And in past years, that would have been enough to send them packing to the NIT. It has happened to the Gaels before, with better teams than this one.But the Gaels and Zags put on a grand performance Monday, showing themselves to be each others equals in talent, heart and smarts in a 7874 overtime win by Saint Marys, and suddenly Bennetts dream, the one that had hit him square in the beezer on at least two other occasions because he and his program werent in enough, seemed to be realized.You see, while NCAA committees are lectured again and again about taking each year as its own entity, it does not. It cannot. Each year brings with it its own assumptions, and its own presumptions, and until this game, there were doubts about Saint Marys worthiness to be included not among this seasons 68, but among the four or five mid-majors who have to play their way out, rather than into, the tournament each year.And though it seems daft to put that kind of load on a game in which both teams really had little to lose tournament-wise, the Gaels had stumbled down the stretch, losing at Gonzaga (always a hard hand to make), at home to Loyola Marymount, and then handled in a Bracket Buster game at Murray State that lots of people across the country watched.Those were three of the Gaels five losses, but because they came in a tightly-packed bunch in February when people who dont typically stay up until 2 a.m. wanted to see their collective mettle tested, the good works of the first two-and-a-half months seemed in jeopardy. One more presumptuous mid-major that couldnt bring the mount home.Instead, they won their last three games, and then faced off with their doppelgangers for what seemed like the 35th time in five years, and in a game that did both schools credit, endured.So theyll probably be a six-seed, maybe even a five. The SI.com projection of them as a seven playing Cal in Omaha in the first round seems far-fetched now. The Gaels are safe and dry, and hoping for the committees next favor, a matchup that will enhance their strengths and wont expose their weaknesses.But more importantly, after eight years of building from soot and taking more than a few shots in the nethers on Selection Sunday, Bennett finally has the program where he always dreamed it could go the elite mid-major level Gonzaga helped trailblaze.This revelation will doubtless make him more expensive for athletic director Mark Orr to keep, and more attractive to schools who havent figured out their own basketball legacies and are perfectly happy to buy one instead. Bennett has more than met his burden of loyalty in Moraga, and nobody would begrudge his leaving.But if he does, the Gaels lose the national traction he helped gain for them, and they are back needing, rather than owning, that benefit of the doubt. He paid for that prize over the years, dearly. Now the question becomes whether he prizes it so much that he is loath to let it go for a career move he has actually deserved for several years now.After all, Monday was a pretty heady night for the program he built, and he can now enter the next phase of his career. Deciding whether to enjoy what hes done after all the years of seeing it dangle beyond his reach, or try and do it all over again somewhere else.Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Memory of the late Bob Murphy will live on the heads of those who heard him

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STANFORD.COM

Memory of the late Bob Murphy will live on the heads of those who heard him

Bob Murphy, who was the voice of Stanford athletics when such titles truly mattered in the Bay Area, died Tuesday after a long fight with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 86.

Murphy was viscerally connected to the university in ways that were once in vogue across the nation but are now reserved only to the Midwest and Southeast. He was a walking ambassador for the school’s athletic history, a familiar face to the army of alums who linked to his voice and presence early and ultimately grew old with him, even when coaches and players and athletic directors came and went with unsettling frequency.

And while his time as the alternate face to Hoover Tower eventually faded, he was still Murph – to be honored and respected by all generations, even the ones who never heard him or saw him. If anyone below the age of 25 asked about him, he was spoken of with the reverence reserved for architectural structures or hundred-year-old trees. He belonged to the place, and the place belonged to him.

He mattered at Stanford, because Stanford is an insular community, watching the world outside with a palpable sense of “Thank God we’re safe in here.” He attended the school, he worked as its sports information director, and he was the radio voice who fought for Stanford when only a few people were listening. He had proven his devotion decades ago, until his devotion became part of the background noise and scenery.

And he didn’t even leave after he became ill, and then absent. Only the most successful coaches and athletes get to attain that omnipresent aura in college athletics, and in truth, Murphy reached more people in the community than any coach or player the school has ever had, simply by being at the place, and of the place, longer and more happily than anyone.

Sometime soon, we suspect, he will be remembered with a statue, either near the football stadium or near Maples Pavilion. He will be bronzed, wearing a polo shirt with the S-with-the-interlocking-tree and glasses wedged against the bridge of his nose. He will be seated, with a desk before him and microphone perched atop it, and there will be a plaque with a Wikipedia-ized list of his contributions.

But without the voice, it will be incomplete. That will have to be recreated inside the heads of those who heard it most often, and cared most what words it carried. It is there where Bob Murphy’s memory will thrive – as someone who defined Stanford in ways that no marketing campaign ever could.

David Shaw is quietly the second-best coach in the Bay Area

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USATI

David Shaw is quietly the second-best coach in the Bay Area

Steve Kerr has been the standard by which all other coaches have been measured in these parts since he arrived in Oakland – rescued as it was from the nine hells of the New York Knickerbockers. He is indeed so good that he is still getting credit for the 50 wins he actually didn’t fully merit – the 39 that belong to Luke Walton and the 11 that are Mike Brown’s.

But this is not to slag Kerr’s record – which even if you eliminate the 55 games he hasn’t coached in his three years because of his back issue is still the best in NBA history – but to remind you that David Shaw still exists, he still is supervising the golden age of Stanford football, and he is just as unavailable to pro teams as he ever was.

Shaw, whose team opens its season on Saturday night in Australia against Rice, has been beneath the radar since the day he arrived, for no better reasons than (a) the Bay Area doesn’t hold much stock in college football and (b) he likes it that way. His excellence is indisputable, but he is also in the perfect place to do his job without any of the irritants that surround most college coaches – media, embittered alumni, NCAA investigators, the late night call from the cops about your outside linebacker overturning a minivan, that kind of thing.

He has worn down all attempts to question him on his next job because, while he could get one at the snap of a finger, he was not infected with the standard coach’s ambition to see and be seen. He has seen the sport’s many excesses and has decided to ward off the ones that directly touch him.

He still believes in the game’s virtues, and can probably be considered a fairly doctrinaire figure on most issues confronting the sport and its practitioners, but does not have to pretend that he is too focused on the job to be interested in mundane things like eclipses, political turmoil, social justice and all the other noxious things that happen outside the cocoon.

But be not fooled. He likes the cocoon that is Stanford, and he has the sense to understand that the chance of a better job existing is almost infinitesimal. He may someday want something more public and lucrative, but until money and fame get a long winning streak going at his house, he’ll sit quietly, the second-best coach in the Bay Area and the first-best at making you not remember that he is just that.