NATIONAL TOURNEY PREVIEW: Rookies to Vegas, will off court temptations steer away the Minnesota Bulls' focus?
MN All-Star team Bulls
General Manager Eugene Phelps has spent months painstakingly molding the Bulls into a team that can contend for the title in Las Vegas. After playing on separate teams for several years in the Minnesota Ultimate Hoops league, they form a dream team to represent the birthplace of UH on the big stage in the hopes of keeping the national title in Minnesota, as All-Star team, Saints+, took the crown in Chicago in 2011.
The cornerstone of the Bulls squad is perennial UH All-Star and career 24 and six player, Paris Kyles.
“I may be the General Manager, but when this teams steps on the court, Paris is our floor general," said Phelps. "[Kyles] is the most talented player I have ever played with.”
The roster is full of former collegiate athletes who have been playing pick-up together at the Fridley Life Time Fitness Club for years, but never joined forces on the same Ultimate Hoops team, until now. Everyone who has been around Minnesota UH knows about Kyles, but the team's biggest sleepers may be their front court of, Kevin Gullickson and Mahlon Thomas. Both are new to Ultimate Hoops League, but no stranger to the courts of Life Time Fitness.
The only obstacle between the National Title and The Bulls could be the bright lights of Vegas.
“Managing all the hype is going to be our teams biggest challenge. We have some guys who have never been to Vegas and we are staying on the strip, so the deciding factor on if we win this tournament could happen off-the court.”
“We are a strong athletic team and have the advantage at every position,” Phelps went on to say. “Our strategy going into this tournament is to suffocate all the teams with our stifling defense and everything else will play itself out. We have eight guys who can play defense when they want to, and should be the No. 2 team.”
Why No. 2?
“We have not won anything together yet. If this tournament was in June after we win our league, we could rightfully lay claim to the No. 1 overall seed for this tournament, but since we have not won anything together, we are ok with No. 2,” Phelps said.
The tournament selection committee has their hands full seeding this team.
FROM THE TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR
Contributed by Joe Neuenfeldt
Let's give credit where credit is due. When the National Invitational Tournament in Las Vegas was first mentioned, Eugene Phelps was the first person to contact me about it. He wanted to know who could come, when it was and all the general details (which I didn't even have yet). His Bulls squad was one of the first to pay their deposit and register. And this Recreational Division General Manager used his time wisely and took advantage of the procrastinating of everyone else by getting some big time players to accompany him to Vegas.
I wonder if Phelps being on top of things from the start will be of any advantage in less than two weeks. The other Minnesota team, who shall remain nameless for now, has been scrambling for the last week and a half or so. They are still scrambling. Basically waiting for every single star to perfectly align before committing to two days of basketball in one of the biggest party cities in the country. Phelps and the Bulls have been hanging back just waiting for this tournament to finally get here. Will that lull have any effect on their performance? Does signing up at the last minute really cause a problem for a team? It seemed to work out well for Saints +.
I'm a little confused about parts of Phelps' preview. “Our strategy going into this tournament is to suffocate all the teams with our stifling defense and everything else will play itself out. We have eight guys who can play defense when they want to, and should be the No. 2 team.” Several questions come up from this statement alone. First, the players on their team are not known as stifling defenders. Paris Kyles is one of the best offensive players in all of Ultimate Hoops. Grant Dudinsky is an offensive player only. The Bulls in St. Louis Park have already given up 88 points in one game this season. And the Recreational Bulls are not and have never been a defensive team.
Second Question: If you are physically able to play good defense, why wouldn't you want to all the time? It seems to me that being really good on defense would give you as much joy as being really good on offense. So I don't get why your defensive effort would change from time to time when offensive effort seems to remain consistent. In reality, I don't believe players who say they can do something when they want to. The Defensive POY nominees are typically the same guys season in and season out in Ultimate Hoops divisions. And if you're used to not trying very hard on defense, you can't just flip the switch when you want to. Your conditioning alone will not allow it.
Third and Final Question: The #2 overall seed??? Don't shoot for the moon or anything, Eugene. I mean if anyone has read my other previews thus far, they would see that there are a ton of title teams and franchises in this tournament to go along with a lot of talent. This Bulls squad has exactly zero players coming into this tournament having won an Ultimate Hoops title in the winter. I think any team in the tournament would be ok with the #2 seed. I am not sure anyone in the tournament would be ok with the Bulls being the #2 seed. The results of these players alone simply don't equal that high a seed. And the team is brand new at playing together. That sometimes works out well. But it has to be earned on the court.
TALENT – I don't consider the guy who is the most athletic to be the most talented basketball player. Raw athleticism helps and can take you a long way. But having a high basketball IQ, being versatile and being a guy that can finish are very overlooked categories when determining basketball talent. Having the advantage of having played and watched a lot of Ultimate Hoops Minnesota basketball, I will say that Paris Kyles may just be the most talented basketball player in this entire tournament. He and Brensley Haywood could be the strongest backcourt in the tourney. And they have size in guys like Grant Dudinsky and Mahlon Thomas in the frontcourt. The team is loaded with good basketball players. And I think they will blow out a team or two on May 5th.
TITLES – As good as some of the basketball players are on the Bulls, it hasn't equaled very many titles. Dudinsky has a couple, including the Midwest Regional Tournament as a member of the Rockets. Kyles has one in the fall of 2011 with the Rockets. But that one comes with the biggest asterisk of all time. The Rockets were allowed to play in the Open Division playoffs that season when they didn't even play in the regular season in any of the three leagues that offered Ultimate Hoops. An exception that no one seems to be able to logically explain (except Jason Fawver, who simply tells me to stop whining and then proceeds to whine about everything else). And in the most recent season (winter of 2012), Kyles and Dudinsky (of the undefeated and heavily favored Rockets) lost to Abe Froman in the title. The other Bulls players have never been close to a title. And Kyles and Haywood spent several seasons in UH putting up impressive stats on losing teams. As for Phelps' Rec Bulls, they have a history of playoff underachieving and have never been further than the Elite Eight.
MOMENTUM – It's been a great start to the season for the Bulls (3-0) in a St. Louis Park league that is stacked with talent. If they can get wins against two teams they should beat in weeks 4 and 5 (Average Joe's and Poolboys), that will help their cause. The Recreational Bulls have also started out 3-0. But they haven't played anyone yet and I think they will go down this week to Cobra Kai. Only Eugene Phelps and Grant Dudinsky play for the Rec squad. So I won't hold a loss against them too much. Great starts to the spring for guys that were disappointed at the end results of last Open and Rec season.
LEVEL OF COMPETITION – St. Louis Park Open Division is absolutely ridiculous this season. I am going to say hands down the best competition in the country. And the Bulls are one of the two unbeatens left. Also, Ultimate Hoops Minnesota has typically had the best all around basketball teams of any other market. Two National Tournaments and two titles. In the Midwest Regional Tournament, the Rockets used fundamental play to make the great athletes from Detroit (best out of state team in the tourney) look completely out of their league and like a bunch of whiny streetballers. To put it simply, these guys are facing the best Ultimate Hoops has to offer week after week.
EXPERIENCE – Kyles and Dudinsky certainly have experience in big Ultimate Hoops games. Also, they have guys who played in college, which will keep them calm should they make it far. In Vegas, we play the same rules as Minnesota (college rules). So while the Chicago guys spend a game or two being confused about why there aren't four quarters and are asking at what point teams get into the bonus, it will be business as usual for the Minnesota teams. The fact that Ultimate Hoops Minnesota has offered weekend tournaments similar to this will give them an advantage as well.
DEPTH – Strangely, the only real negative thing you can say about the game of guys like Kyles and Haywood is their attendance. So I think as long as you get them on the plane and to the games on time, the fact that they only have 7 players will not affect them like it will others. Kyles, Haywood and Dudinsky have played in an Ultimate Hoops tournament with 3 games on Saturday and then more the next day. But 7 is still very dangerous. I know they are working on an 8th. But I feel like it's a longshot. Guys like Dudinsky, Phelps and Jiles are role players. Their team cannot afford an injury or to have fatigue play a major factor or they could be done early.
I haven't really even considered the effects of Las Vegas and partying on the performance of the teams from out of state. It, without a doubt, had no effect on the outcome of the Chicago Invitational Tournament. So why would it really matter here? Won't most teams be hungover anyway? And I don't think being a Vegas first timer means much for these guys. They're adults. It won't be their first time drinking alcohol. Just make it to the gym. If you're a GM, do whatever it takes to get your guys there.
Time for my bold prediction. First, I haven't seeded the teams yet. So I am not sure who the victim of this prediction will end up being. Here it is:
The Bulls (who you can count out as a top 3 seed) will defeat the top seed in their pool during pool play on Saturday. It will cause the top seed in their pool to sweat bullets and possibly miss out on playing on Sunday. It is "to be determined" if the Bulls will credit bulletin board material to their big win over a top seed.