Sunday, March 26, 2000

Cowboys' Gottlieb forges new image in spotlight




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Doug Gottlieb is off and running. He is lounging on a metal folding chair, his legs stretched out, his hands clasped. But his mouth is on the move and the words pour out at warp speed.

        College basketball's second-leading assist-maker is No. 1 nationally in banter. He's a one-man chat room, a virtual filibuster, a guy who makes Dick Vitale seem terse.

        If you've ever wondered about the definition of white noise, he wears No.44 for Oklahoma State. Doug Gottlieb may never make a nickel playing basketball professionally, but no one has ever talked a better game.

        “I think I'd like to go into television,” he said Saturday afternoon.

        One problem.

        “I have a face for radio.”

        Self-deprecating, analytical, forthright, funny — Doug Gottlieb has all the essential ingredients for broadcast success. Plus, as any good point guard should, he is quick to recognize opportunity. No player in the NCAA Tournament has done a better job of using this platform to raise his profile or repair his reputation.

        Doug Gottlieb began his college basketball career at Notre Dame, became a starter as a freshman, but left South Bend in disgrace. He was accused of stealing credit cards, and forced to pursue his education elsewhere. He landed at Oklahoma State because his father had once been an assistant for Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton, and he has spent the last three seasons forging a new reputation.

        If someone wants a player to speak at a school, Doug Gottlieb is generally the first volunteer. If someone needs a sound bite or a quote or a guest for some low-watt radio show, Gottlieb is the go-to guy. Like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, Gottlieb has repeatedly repaid his debt to society, but is unable to escape the consequences of his crime.

        “I don't like the questions about what happened at Notre Dame,” he said, raising the subject himself. “What were you guys doing five years ago? The way I look at it, that was a long time ago and this is a different life for me. Yes, I made mistakes. But I don't think it should be brought up in every story. I've tried to be judged by the things I've done since then.”

        None of us can choose the specific criteria on which we are judged — what's fair game, what's ancient history — but most of us have the advantage of spending our young-and-stupid years in relative anonymity. The wise young athlete recognizes that life in the public eye affords the chance to influence public perceptions. Doug Gottlieb has seized that chance as if it were a loose ball and shaped an appealing new image.

        Should Oklahoma State subdue Florida this afternoon, and advance to the Final Four, Doug Gottlieb's radio face and his road to redemption will soon be known nationally. If today is to be his last college game, Gottlieb has a great future in basketball broadcasting or in coaching.

        He doesn't figure to make it as a professional player. Though he is a superlative passer, Gottlieb is frequently replaced late in games because he is a horrendous free throw shooter. He has made only 44 percent of his foul shots this season, and shoots barely 41 percent from the field. Opponents think so little of his jump shot that they often leave him open in order to deploy an extra defender in the lane.

        “In a way, it's kind of an advantage,” said Oklahoma State forward Desmond Mason. “It gives Doug the ability to see the whole court.”

        That's one way of looking at it. Another viewpoint is that Gottlieb's shooting shortcomings makes the middle of the court more congested when Oklahoma State is on offense. Gottlieb attempted only four shots (making one) in the Cowboys' 68-66 victory over Seton Hall Friday night. To his credit were 12 assists and seven rebounds.

        “I feel like I have a lot of basketball left in me,” he said. “I'd die 10 deaths watching other people if I thought I could still play. But I'm a team guy. I'd have no problem sitting on the bench, collecting checks.”

        Doug Gottlieb is priceless. It's talk that is cheap.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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