MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE champion Wichita State enters the NCAA Tournament unbeaten and seeded No. 1 in the Midwest region. The last time a Missouri Valley Conference team entered the tournament unbeaten was 1979, when Larry Bird and Indiana State was grabbing all of the headlines in March. The No. 1-ranked Sycamores didn’t come away with the title, though.
“Somebody beat them in that championship game,” said Jud Heathcote during a conversation Monday. “It’s been so long, I can’t remember who is was.”
The 86-year-old Heathcote was joking. The South Kitsap grad who grew up in Manchester was the coach of the Michigan State Spartans that year. The Spartans, with a gangly point-guard named Magic Johnson, beat Bird and the Sycamores in the most-watched game in college basketball history.
Heathcote, who lives in Spokane and has season tickets to Gonzaga games, will be in the stands this week when Michigan State plays its first-r0und East regional game on Thursday. Sparty faces Delaware at Veteran Memorial Arena in Spokane. My weekly Thursday column will center on Heathcote, who is still funny as ever and still consumed by the college game.
JASON HAMMEL OF THE CHICAGO CUBS starts Tuesday night in Surprise, Ariz., against the Texas Rangers. It’ll be just his second Cactus League start, but the right-hander out of South Kitsap High hasn’t been inactive. He’s started a “B” game and went six innings last Thursday against Cubs minor leaguers.
“My first year with the (Orioles), because Florida Spring Training is all (American League) East, I didn’t pitch in a big league game until we’d been through two or three rounds of cuts,” Hammel told MLB.com. “As long as I can get my work in and make sure I’m building the arm strength, I’m OK.”
WAS HOPING ONE-TIME Olympic College basketball coach Ken Bone would get over the hump at Washington State, but too many injuries and lack of depth were his undoing. Seattle U might be a good fit for Bone if Cameron Dollar gets the axe, and it’s been suggested that he might. A lot of people forget that Bone was 77-49 in four years at Portland State, taking the Vikings to the NCAA Tournament his last two years. Bone was 254-97 in 12 years at Seattle Pacific.
Glad to see I didn’t jinx Tyler Baumgartner with this column. The Central Kitsap grad, a senior outfielder at Oregon, was 5-for-11 in a three-game series against USC. Baumgartner was 2-for-5 with a bases-clearing double in a 7-2 series-clinching win on Sunday. He’s now hitting .400 through 19 games. …. Former North Kitsap and Washington State athlete and ex-professional baseball player Jared Prince is an assistant with the South Kitsap baseball team. Prince, who is living in Tacoma and working toward his masters in education at the University of Puget Sound, was also an assistant with SK’s football team. He’s doing his student teaching at South. … Bremerton’s Marvin Williams has missed 12 NBA games this season because of various injuries. The Utah Jazz are 0-12 in those games. His numbers (9.5 points, 5.1 rebounds) aren’t eye-popping, but the 27-year-old forward has become a solid all-around player and leader for the young Jazz. … I was always impressed with Denise Baxter, who announced that she is retiring at Central Kitsap as the girls basketball coach. Her teams always played hard and she had a no-nonsense approach and she didn’t seem to let those bothersome parents (you know the ones) get in her head. Central Kitsap’s lucky to have had her around for 20 years. … Bremerton High grad Jack Evans passed away recently in California. Evans was a member of the 1953 Bremerton High baseball team thet was inducted into the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame. … Former Kitsap Pumas goalkeeper Liviu Bird is now writing about soccer for SI.com, among other outlets. Here’s his story on the Toronto FC after the 2-1 win over the Sounders. … Central Kitsap grad Troy Kelly plays in the Web.com Tour’s Panama Claro Championship in Panama City this week. After a tie for 23rd in Chile, he missed the cut by two strokes in Brazil last week. He plays in the Louisiana Open in Broussard, La., next week, then returns to the PGA Tour, teeing it up in the Houston Open, April 3-6. … Central Kitsap alum Drew Vettleson got a couple more at bats in a Grapefruit League game for the Washington Nationals. He’s 0-for-3 in two appearances with the big club this spring. … UCLA junior golfer Erynne Lee, a Central Kitsap grad who was picked to play in the Curtis Cup, tweeted this from Los Angeles on Monday: “Woke up from a nightmare by an earthquake just now. #frazzled #homesick” … Keep your eye on Ben Tamm, hard-throwing freshman pitcher at Everet CC. The North Kitsap grad was named MVP of fall ball and has got off to a good start for the Trojans.