by Franklyn Calle
The NBA and Bacardi teamed up this week and announced the launch of the inaugural Gold Standard Scholarship Program. Slated to provide more than $350,000 in financial assistance to adult students from African-American and Hispanics communities, the Gold Standard Scholarship Program will be partnering with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. Eligible candidates must be over 21 and be pursuing a undergraduate or graduate degree . The program will be available to students throughout the greater New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, and Boston areas for those who have a proven track record of excelling in the classroom and also volunteering their time to better their communities. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund will award 24 selected students with a $10,000 scholarship to help them continue their studies. In addition, four of the 24 selected students will receive an additional $30,000 in financial assistance as national scholarship recipients.
The 24 selected students of the $10,000 scholarship will be announced in March of 2011, while the four national scholarship recipients will be announced in May of 2011 as part of a special event.
In the tip-off ceremony, which was held on Wednesday at the NBA Store in Fifth Avenue, former NBA players Greg Anthony, Rolando Blackman and Felipe Lopez were announced as official ambassadors of the Gold Standard Scholarship Program. They were on hand at the event and answered questions from some of the selected students that were invited to the attend the announcement. The program ambassadors are also expected to help promote the scholarship program throughout the application process and will help honor the four national scholarship recipients in May. NBA Commissioner David Stern, Bacardi USA CEO John Esposito, President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Johnny Taylor Jr., and Senior Vice President of Development & Marketing for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Barbara Breier were also in attendance for the unveiling of the scholarship program.
For those interested in the program, applications for the Gold Standard Scholarship Program are available online at NBA.com/GoldStandard
While at the announcement, I was able to catch up with former St. John’s star Felipe Lopez and CBS college basketball analyst Greg Anthony.
SLAM: Being that now you’re an analyst for CBS college basketball, who is that incoming freshman that people should be on the lookout for this upcoming season?
Greg Anthony: It’s going to be tough to say because you have so many freshmen coming in that can have an impact on the game. You kinda have to wait and see. Nobody knew that when Kevin Durant went into Texas, he would end up blossoming this way. So it’s really hard to say who is going to be that next star because there is a lot of really good players. Jared Sullinger is one kid that I’ve spoken to Thad Matta about and he told me that he is the best talent he’s ever recruited. And that says a lot when they’ve had Greg Oden there and now obviously Evan Turner just left. That’s a guy that I’m really excited to see this upcoming college season.
SLAM: What about the defending champs? They got a kid by the name of Kyrie Irving coming in aside from having their core returning players.
GA: Yeah, Kyrie is an amazing talent. There is no doubt about it. It will be interesting to see how he fits in with Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and the Plumlee brothers. A lot of people got them at number one. I think that Michigan State is a team to keep an eye on. And also I think Purdue, again they are returning everybody and they’re a very good basketball team. I think they’re going to be a lot of great story lines at the collegiate game so I’m excited about that and I’m also looking forward to the NBA games. I’ll be doing some stuff with the NBA this year and NBATV, so I’m excited about that.
SLAM: Aside from Irving and Nolan Smith, Duke will be introducing a new guard in Liberty-transfer Seth Curry, who’s Stephen Curry’s brother and red-shirted last year. How could we expect Duke to use these three guards?
GA (Second from the right): They have the ability to play together. They can all shoot it, they can all pass it, and they can all hit the three, so that makes them that much more difficult to defend. So I’m actually anxious to see how Seth plays after having sat out a whole year because I know I red-shirt a year. That can be a tough transition for you, specially playing with that caliber of talent. But I think he’ll do fine. He has great basketball genes obviously so I’m excited to see him as well.
SLAM: Which incoming NBA rookie should fans have their eyes this season from what you were able to watch in the NCAA Tournament?
GA: You gotta have your eye on John Wall. I think John Wall is a tremendous talent and special player. You don’t see a guy with the physical tools he brings to the table very often and possesses the passion in which he plays the game. His college teammate DeMarcus Cousins is just a monster. If he can emotionally bring his maturity level to the professional level then I think he has a chance to be special. Evan Turner is a kid that I was really impressed with. I thought he had the biggest impact on the collegiate game than anybody last season.
SLAM: How have the offseason moves shaped up this upcoming season?
GA: This year the NBA is going to be exciting. Obviously with what is going on in Miami. Chicago is much improve. Boston. Nobody is even talking about the two defending champs!
SLAM: What are your expectation for Miami?
GA: I think Miami is going to be a great team, no doubt about it. They’ve formed a perfect team. If you ask me right now today who is the team to beat, I would have to say is the Boston Celtics in the East because of their ability to defend the rim and their commitment defensively. They already have an identity and they know who they are. So that gives them a little bit of an advantage. Obviously, Miami has the most room to grow and the most potential to be great, particularly in the Eastern Conference. But Boston and Orlando are also going to be good. And don’t sleep on Chicago because you haven’t seen the best from Derrick Rose. That guy continues to get better and Chicago is going to be one of those teams that people might not be talking about as much but with the addition of Carlos Boozer they can be a very dynamic team this upcoming season.
SLAM: Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony were two all-stars that seemed to be on the move this past summer after the trade demands but that might no longer be the case, what do you expect will happen to those two in the future?
GA: I think ultimately it sometimes depend on what the team does. Remember, a couple of years ago Kobe Braynt demanded to be traded and then his team was able to do somethings that allowed them to get back to the championship caliber. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of impact George Karl will have on the team as obviously he wasn’t there in the postseason last year. But the potential still exists, especially for Carmelo since he is going to be a free-agent next year. We’re going to have to wait and see because you just never know with that kind of stuff until it comes to fruition, but I don’t think Denver wants to trade him so we’re just going to have to wait and see how it all plays out.
SLAM: You said that Boston might be the team to beat in the East. Some people knock them because some their star players are aging.
GA: The things is that they have a lot of talent and also I think they’ve answered some questions. Remember, they brought in Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal to be backups on a team that has been to the finals two of the last three years and won a World Championship. So really I think that they have been able to offset some of the aging that they have with Ray and Paul, and also they have Rajon Rondo who continues to get better. And remember, he’s emerging now as arguably the best player on that team. So they are still going to be a dominant team. They might not be as dominant in the regular season as they were last year but they are a battle-tested playoff-proven basketball team that plays their best basketball once the playoffs begins.
SLAM: What do you feel of the New York Knicks’s offseason moves? Are they a playoff team?
GA: I think they’ve improved. I’ve heard a lot of talks about the playoffs. It would be wonderful to see it, specially for this city. I just think they have improved from where they were a year ago. It will be very interesting to see how Amar’e and Raymond Felton really take them from a leadership standpoint because that’s a very young team and when you have a young team a lot of times the psyche is real fragile. So it will be very interesting to see how they handle the adversity if they go on a three game loosing streak; how do those troops rally? You know, Mike D’Antoni, he’s going to have his hands full.
SLAM: What positions specifically do you feel they should be going out there and trying to improve?
GA: The two areas with the Knicks for me is that they were one of the worst teams in the league in rebound margin differential, meaning they got out-rebounded by over four a game. And when you loose 50 games, that doesn’t mean that you are getting beaten by 30 every night. A lot of times, those games come down to the last possession or a possession here and there. So they have to improve their rebounding. And I also think that they are going to have to get a little tougher physically in terms of committing defensively because offensively they have scored the ball extremely well the last two years but they’ve been getting scored on too much. I think ultimately defensively they are going to have to improve and rebounding wise they are going to have to get better.
SLAM: The Lakers have made some additions of their own and will definitely be in the thick of things again. Let’s say Kobe Bryant gets his sixth ring this season, can we compare him and put him in Jordan’s status?
GA: I don’t see how you can’t compare him to the greats that have already played the game. He has already done that. The question was can he win without Shaq and he’s already proven that. He’s proven his greatness and his competitive spirit. I think he is going to be in the discussion about being one of the greats of all time. But for my money right now, I don’t think there is anybody who’s still on that same level as Michael Jordan. But they’ve said that about other players prior to Michael so we’ll have to let Kobe’s legacy play out.
SLAM: Five, six or seven years from now, how many championships do you expect the Miami Heat to have?
GA: Hey, you hope they get one first (laughs). I think they have a chance to get it. But ultimately until you won it, it’s hard to say. But I expect that team with the talent they have, and Pat Riley and the front office to have a chance to win multiple titles.
Felipe Lopez (Standing with microphone in hand)
SLAM: Your alma mater St. John’s revamped its staff this past summer. What do you feel about the changes in the program?
Felipe Lopez: Well, you know what, I think the program has changed. It brings a new system. It takes some time for the guys to get accustom and used to each other. My expectations are really exciting because of the changes and I think Lavin is guy that is well experienced in the West Coast and now he is now trying to do the same on the East Coast. His legacy and what he brings is something that is going to be attractive to a lot of the young guys that are going to want to come to St. John’s. Everything depends on how we perform on the basketball court. But because of his experience, he is going to put all the right pieces together for the team to be successful.
SLAM: Have you been keeping in contact with the team since you left?
FL: You know what, that’s a good question. I just had a great meeting with Steve Lavin yesterday. I’m in the process of going to St. John’s and meeting with the guys and tell them to bring some of that history back. When I was at St. John’s, we had Chris Mullin coming back every summer. Malik Sealy, rest in peace, came back. We had Walter Berry come back, we had Mark Jackson coming back. So to us, that was a great familiar situation for us to be embraced and pushed ourselves to be where they are.
SLAM: Back in the day, St. John’s would retain all the talent and get them to play at St. John’s but nowadays they really haven’t been able to convince anyone to stay. Kids are also going to high school else where. Why do you feel the culture has shifted so much in New York City?
FL: It’s almost like a hip thing to do. It’s like clothing, you got it going back to the old school now. Everybody feels like being away from where you came from is the hip thing to do now. But when you advise the guys from the city and make everybody understand that this is your hometown, this your backyard. If you become successful here, they are going to love you not just for the four years, they are going to take care of you for a lifetime. For me it was a pleasure to be at St. John’s because now I’m here and I get a lot of respect and recognition because I paid my dues there. So it’s a process where you have to understand that it is a cycle. You go to a school thinking that you are going there for basketball but meanwhile you go there to have the experience of a lifetime.
SLAM: What do you feel in particularly has been keeping kids away from St. John’s?
FL: Winning! You gotta win. Winning makes a lot of difference. Not to knock anybody but when Louie [Carnesecca] was there, everybody wanted to go to St. John’s because we were the top school in the nation. So winning cures a lot of the bad situations.
SLAM: Did you get a chance to know Norm Roberts when he was coaching the program?
FL: Well, I spoke to Norm when I was here but the problem was that I was never in New York for a long period of time. Now I’m here. So now it will be a better situation for me to go there and really see guys and go to St. John’s.
SLAM: Is there any chances of you maybe wanting to join their staff?
FL: You know what, all the opportunities are there. I can not say that because they have a great staff there. But anything can be possible.
SLAM: Playing in Madison Square Garden is a huge selling point for St. John’s. What is the experience like for a college player to call it home?
FL: That is the biggest stage. That is a big selling point. It’s the mecca of basketball. Some guys need and have to be brave enough to handle that. For you to go and dominate there, you are dominating basketball period. People always want to play at the Garden. People are always going to have some memorable moments at the Garden because of the history behind it. And for anyone to make that their home, it makes a big domain for themselves.
SLAM: The Dominican Republic, where you’re from, is known for producing so many baseball players. How do you feel basketball has been developing over there?
FL: It’s growing up there man. We have a squad of guys that have been motivated through basketball. We have Francisco Garcia. We have Al Horford and Charlie Villanueva doing a great job in the NBA so that obviously motivates a lot of the guys and push themselves because they know that there is no limit anymore.
SLAM: Do you keep in contact with any of them?
FL: Yeah. Francisco is my guy. AL Horford, I saw him grow from playing in the national team and taking care of him. Those are two of my main guys. Charlie was a guy that grew up here in New York and stuff like that and through our relationship we have become very close.
(Photo Credit: NBAE)