Western University has one of the most decorated, fictional athletic programs in the history of the NCSA (the National Collegiate Sports Association). If it isn't their consistently top 10 ranked football program, it's their first round draft pick laden baseball team. The one program that used to be on that upper echelon of collegiate fame, the Pete Bell (portrayed by Nick Nolte) coached men's basketball team, fell behind somewhere where the others excelled. Where did they go wrong? How can they find their way back to national prominence? The answer lies somewhere with a couple guys named Slick and Happy.
That's right, kids. Back by popular demand, or from the daunting task of covering this Sixers team day in and day out has taken on us, it's another edition of LB at the Movies. For round three, we went all the way back to 1994. Manute Bol and Shawn Bradley were patrolling the paint inside the Spectrum, a young and impressionable Dave Rueter was on edge about the start of Party of Five, and the nation was confused beyond belief after the "tie" between Bret Hart and Lex Luger at January's Royal Rumble.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Liberty Ballers interpretation of one of the best obscure basketball star casted films of all time, Blue Chips.
Coach Bell is not happy with his team at the end of a nondescript season. What was once a national powerhouse program, the Western University Dolphins were looking at their first losing season since Bell became head coach. In the movie's opening scene, Bell is shown screaming at his team for being the dumbest squad he's ever lead out to the court. Not exactly a morale boosting effort from coach, if you'd ask me. Where are the cliche "I believe in you guys - work hard - something about effort and wanting it more" lines that inspired fictional movie sports teams since the beginning of time?
Bell's not so inspirational talk didn't lead to anything good on the court. The Rick Pitino lead Texas Western University came into Western and cleaned the floor with the Dolphins. You think you're going to go in half-assed and take down the likes of Rex Walters, Chris Mills, Rick Fox, and George Lynch? Not on my watch, Mr. Bell.
Coach Bell became so upset with his team that he took it out on the officials, punting the ball into the crowd leading to an obvious ejection. It's no Boeheim pseudo jacket throwing, but it'll do in this instance.
With only one real athlete on the team, a soon to be senior named Tony, Coach Bell knew a change needed to be made. You can't keep trotting out a team who's best player is failing TV (it's a tough class - you don't just watch the tube) and expect to win.
It was back to the drawing board for the Dolphins coaching staff. They needed top tier talent. They needed the best. They needed Butch McRae (played by Anfernee Hardaway) and Ricky Roe (portrayed by Matt Nover), two of the most highly touted recruits in the nation.
Bell had the upper hand in the McRae courting process as he currently attends the same high school (or is at least from the same area - it's never specifically stated) as the famous TV flunking Tony. With that leverage, Coach Bell was able to get a meeting with Butch's family at his absurdly secured home in Chicago. At one point during the meeting, Butch's grandma was guarding a chair. I'm still not sure how it related to Butch being the go-to point guard Bell promised him, but whatever. Unlike the rest of the programs around the country, Bell feels confident he can land McRae cleanly, no recruiting violations attached.
Next up was sharpshooter farm boy Ricky Roe from French Lick, Indiana. With the help of local legend Larry Bird, Bell was able to get a quick meeting with Roe, who's father was not shy about asking for gifts. Since his credit was so terrible, Mr. Roe needed a way to get a new tractor for the his small farm. If Western University and their friends of the program would supply it, there'd be a good chance at Ricky signing a letter of intent.
But those two weren't all that Coach Bell would court. For the third and final piece, we'll go to Roy Burton for the play-by-play:
"There are implausible scenes... and then there's Nick Nolte's recruiting trip to Algiers, LA in Blue Chips.
In a desperate bid to bolster his struggling Western University team, Nolte heads down to Louisiana to meet up with a go-between/runner named "Slick" (think Worldwide Wes). Slick leads the embattled coach across a swamp (in an airboat) and through thick brush in order to get a gander at Neon Boudeaux (played by the one and only Shaquille O'Neal), who just happens to be engaged in a classic shirts vs. skins battle in an abandoned warehouse.
(For the record, there's absolutely no need to take an airboat to Algiers - it's connected directly to downtown New Orleans by the Crescent City Connection bridge. Perhaps Nolte wanted to avoid the $1.00 toll.)
As 7'4", 300-pound players typically do, the "totally raw, never been coached" Neon dominates his inferior competition with a dazzling array of drop steps and thunderous slams. The rim on the court's lone basket is bent significantly, so it's highly unlikely that the next Dana Barros will hail from the Bayou. I didn't keep track, but I'm pretty sure Shaq scored more points in that 59-second clip than he did during his entire run with the Boston Celtics.
After the game, Nolte tries to convince Boudeaux to take the SAT, a test which Neon (who is now wearing a pair of the most garish jorts in the history of man) claims is culturally biased (which is accurate). The duo then walks past a Pentecostal church in full swing, prompting Nolte to join the congregation in song. For those wondering, this is exactly how 86% of Bob Huggins's recruiting trips end up."
Coach Bell made his visits, but wasn't confident he could land these guys cleanly. One trip to friend of the program Happy would be the moment everything changed for the Dolphins.
Shortly after the visit, Butch's mom got hooked up with a new job that came with her own beautiful office and a brand new house. Ricky Roe got a gym bag filled with approximately $30K in straight cash, homie. His father walked out his Indiana home to find a brand new John Deere out on the lawn. Neon was greeted by an elderly gentleman with a great white mustache there to deliver a fully loaded Lexus, even though he didn't ask for it. Bell crossed the point of no return. He became what everyone assumes John Calipari is.
With three of the best incoming freshman, it wasn't all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows for Western University. Butch became homesick and wanted out. The only thing holding him back was knowing if he left, his mom would lose both her job and house. After Happy's not-so-happy tirade to Coach Bell about the situation, the only thing Bell could tell Butch was "I think you better be at practice on Monday." Not only did Happy and his alumni friends own Bell, but he now owned the players.
It was time for the first game of the new season. With three freshman in the starting lineup, Western University was diving in head first going up against the top ranked team in the country, the Indiana University Hoosiers lead by legendary coach Bob Knight. Calbert Cheaney thought he'd use his fifth season of eligibility to participate, taking a page right of Billy Baron's how-to guide for never leaving college basketball. For whatever reason, Cheaney's point guard on this Hoosiers squad was Bobby Hurley.
I'm not so sure how Hurley could be on board with making this cameo. I get the other actual basketball players teaming up for a fictional school but you can't cheat on your alma-mater to suit up for another school that actually exists. You just can't do it. Hurley throwing away the Duke blue and putting on the IU uniform doesn't sit right with me. You got to be above the money, Bobby. It's the principal of being loyal to the school that made you.
Qualms about uniform donning aside, the game was a slugfest. For about twenty minutes of film time we're subject to dunk after dunk. There's no chance this game didn't set the NCSA record for most slams in regulation. Neon Boudeaux had to have dropped about 42 on dunks alone. Somebody call up Basketball-Reference on this one.
With the game on the line in the final seconds, Bell drew up a perfect play to get the win during a timeout. It was your paint-by-numbers spin move alley-oop you've seen so many times before if you've ever watched Dwight Howard spin to the basket for the catch and throw down. Butch McRae found Neon for the easy slam that brought Western back to national prominence. Unfortunately for the players and fans, it wouldn't last too long.
Feeling a sense of guilt, Bell decided he didn't want to win if this was the cost. He wanted a clean program, not one that the Western alumni paid for. While the director wanted him to come off as heroic and valiant, I thought Bell's actions of the end of the film were selfish and cowardly.
You're telling me because you don't feel right about winning by cheating, you're not only going to out yourself and the school but also the players that didn't know any better? With his admission of guilt, Bell is taking away the rest of these kids' college careers out from under them. No way is the NCSA going to let them play in another game with this dark cloud hanging above their heads. For the rest of their lives they'll be seen as the guys who took gifts and only had one game to show for it, all because the coach had to get on his high horse and admit to doing something that all the top programs in America are guilty of themselves.
Congrats on clearing your conscious, now these kids are screwed unless they can make it in the NBA. Luckily for Butch and Neon, they were able to overcome and get roster spots on a professional squad down the road. Ricky Roe wasn't as lucky as he hurt his knee somewhere along the line and had to settle for running the farm he grew up on.
But most importantly, Tony passed TV.