East Regional notebook: An apology for Obama

One N.C. State player reached out to the president, while coaches reflected on their own friendships and relationship with Jim Boeheim.

N.C. State guard Anthony “Cat” Barber is locked in for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup against Louisville. 

But only after reaching out to the leader of the free world during the week. 

After the Wolfpack upset top-seeded Villanova in the third round, television cameras caught Barber asking, “The f--- wrong with Barack Obama?” The obscenity was an obvious reference to the president’s bracket, which had the Wildcats advancing to the next round. 

“I’m gonna go out there and just play Cat basketball.”
- Anthony 'Cat' Barber

So Barber reached out to Obama via email this week, and the president replied to say everything is cool. Full steam ahead to the Elite Eight. 

“I just love playing tough games, and I love playing tough opponents,” Barber said. “I’m gonna go out there and just play Cat basketball.” 

Barber is one-third of N.C. State’s potent backcourt trio with Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner. As the eighth-seeded Wolfpack has gone on its unexpected run through the tournament, Barber has played some of his best basketball all season and averaged 15 points and four rebounds. 

But head coach Mark Gottfried said Barber simply has more confidence. 

“Even in school, not that he’s really struggled, it seems like he’s taking that more seriously,” Gottfried said. “Everything seems to be at a more mature level. I’m sure that having a child has created some of that for him. It’s forced him to look at things a little differently.” 

As for how to stop Barber, the sophomore didn’t exactly provide Louisville with any hints. 

Said Barber: “I can’t answer that. It’s kinda hard stopping me.” 

We Meet Again 

Louisville and N.C. State are familiar with each other as conference foes, but Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger share a much deeper connection. 

The latter was at the helm of Illinois when Izzo and the Spartans won the national championship in 2000. As soon as that season ended, both coaches found out they were candidates for an NBA coaching gig with the Atlanta Hawks. 

Although Izzo contemplated the move to the professional ranks, he ultimately turned it down and Kruger left the Big Ten. 

“We talked about it, and as soon as I said ‘No,’ my phone rang and it was him,” Izzo said. “I don’t know how different my life would be. I’d have probably been fired a week later, and who knows if I’d have found another job?” 

Since then, the two have taken much different paths. Izzo has been the model of consistency, reaching his seventh Sweet 16 in the past eight years with the Spartans. 

Kruger left the Hawks in 2003 before joining the New York Knicks for only one season. He then took over at UNLV for seven seasons before winding up at his current destination. 

Oklahoma is the fourth different team Kruger has led to the Final Four, the most in college basketball. 

All that while, Kruger has retained the utmost respect for the program Izzo has built at Michigan State. 

“The accomplishments the players have, the swagger that they play with,” Kruger said. “All that comes as a result of what Tom has done there and the good players that he’s had.” 

Backing Boeheim 

Even though Syracuse is banned from 2015 post-season play, a lot of talk on Thursday revolved around legendary head coach Jim Boeheim. 

One week ago, Boeheim announced that he plans to retire in three years. The announcement came shortly after he was given a nine-game suspension following an NCAA investigation of multiple violations within the SU athletics program. 

After working with Boeheim on advisory boards for years, Izzo said he will always be one of the game’s great coaches. 

“I just know this, that I’ve never seen a guy give more to the game than he’s given,” Izzo said. “You spend 10, 11, 12 years beating your heads in and not getting very far usually, but he has such an appreciation for the game and the players.” 

Meanwhile, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was preparing to have dinner with Boeheim and wife Juli on Thursday evening. The Hall of Fame coach said he has many great memories of Syracuse, whether they involve Boeheim or his own family. 

Pitino also said the SU program will never be the same once Boeheim leaves, but he isn’t buying the three-year timeline one bit, either. 

“He’s too cheap to retire in three years,” Pitino said jokingly. “But I do know this, that he’s a man of great integrity. I worked with him. There’s not an ounce in him that would ever break the rules knowingly.”

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