NEW YORK — Evan Nolte had no ill intentions when he walked into the New York Knicks' locker room in Madison Square Garden and dropped his bag in front of a locker space, but he still managed to break teammate Akil Mitchell's heart.
On Thursday, Virginia was the recipient of one of the spoils of being the top seed in the East Region at Madison Square Garden — getting to set up shop in the Knicks' locker room. Iowa State, Michigan State and Connecticut were relegated to visiting team locker rooms in the arena.
As soon as U.Va.'s players discovered they would be camping out in the Knicks' sanctuary — a locker-room-in-the-round — a scramble ensued to claim the most coveted space. Mitchell heard Carmelo Anthony's space was located three spaces in from the entrance, but the U.Va. forward made a wrong turn to the left inside the locker room.
"Evan got the good one," said Mitchell, rolling his eyes as he lamented his teammate's good fortune.
While Mitchell actively sought Anthony's spot, Nolte wasn't concerned about it and ended up getting the NBA All-Star's space by accident. It turned out Anthony's spot in the locker room was indeed three spots from the entrance, but it was three spots from the right side of the entrance.
Nolte said he had every intention of trying to get some of Anthony's shooting prowess to rub off from the wood inside the locker room space. On the other hand, Nolte promised at least one distinct difference when he's on the Madison Square Garden floor compared to Anthony.
"I'll tell you," Nolte said. "The ball will be moving around a little more."
Paid to play?
When news circulated this week that Northwestern's football players were deemed university employees by the National Labor Relations Board, and that they have the right to unionize, U.Va. coach Tony Bennett was warned he might be asked about it.
He didn't quite know what to say, but it did remind him of an experience from early in his college days at Green Bay.
"I can remember doing a speech in front of my class as a freshman when I was in college, explaining why I think college athletes should get a stipend," Bennett said. "I remember the class looking at me at the time like, 'You're crazy. What are you talking about?'
"The players do a lot for the game. Hopefully, there's going to be some good things coming, but as far as the specifics on that, I really, truly would be the wrong guy to ask."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was similarly unprepared to answer questions regarding unionization of college athletes, but he had unique concerns regarding how it might affect him on the homefront.
"I just hope my 13-year-old right now isn't negotiating his phone and his bedtime," Izzo said. "So, when I get back (to Michigan), I'm going to have the union boss sitting there telling me what to do."
Odds and ends
Bennett has some pretty sweet memories in Madison Square Garden from his own NBA playing days. As a member of the Charlotte Hornets, he scored a career playoff-high nine points on May 9, 1993, on 4-of-4 shooting from the floor against the Knicks. He drained his only 3-point attempt in the game. … Further demonstrating just how effective U.Va.'s celebrated pack-line defense has been this season, entering Friday night's game, the Cavaliers had held opponents to under 50 percent shooting from the floor in 34 of 36 games this season, and were 30-4 in those games.
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun