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Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on February 24, 2012 at 11:06 pm

COLLEGE BASKETBALL “STUFF”

BLOOD IS THICKER THAN…Wouldn’t want to be a head coach at the University of Illinois…first, athletic director dispatches football coach and now has basketball coach Bruce Weber in his firing cross-hairs… it’s the same old story of a boss wanting “his own people” in leadership posts…despite Thomas’s micro-managing and refusal to support his coach in mid-season, Weber’s Illini tem still may wind up with 20 wins and a .500 record in the Big Ten…plus, his squad played in the national championship game only two years ago

IT’S A RAINY NIGHT IN KENNESAW…At the bottom of the Atlantic Sun Conference is Kennesaw State – still winless in league play at 0-16 under its first-year coach….but across town, first-year coach Ron Hunter aims for 20 victories with Georgia State in the Colonial, which had six 20-game winners last season and may have five this year…plus, the Colonial has advanced two teams (George Mason and VCU) to the Final Four the last six years

CAPITAL COLLAPSE…a once-proud basketball program now struggles to reach.500…Siena, located an air-ball away from Albany is 12-15 and in 6th place in the 10-team MAAC…the Saints are 7-9 while crosstown rival Albany is 17-13 in the America East Conference…problem with the Loudonville, N.Y. school is it can’t keep a coach: Fran McCaffrey left two years ago for Iowa…other defectors include Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech, George Mason), Mike Deane (Marquette), Louis Orr (Seton Hall) and John Griffin (St. Joseph’s)…another Jesuit school (Xavier) with a search committee on staff is Xavier, which has also lost five coaches to the “bigger” time: (Pete Gillen) Virginia, Skip Prosser (Wake Forest), Bob Staack (Wake Forest), Thad Matta (Ohio State) and most recently, Sean Miller (Arizona)…only six other college programs have “lost” more basketball coaches than both Siena and Xavier.

GOLDEN YEARS TARNISHED…what has happened to Oliver Purnell at DePaul? The Maryland-Eastern Shore native went 7-24 in his first season there and is 11-12 this year. His combined Big East record is 3-26. The results in Chicago are unlike Purnell’s resume, which includes stints at Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson. Three times, he was named “coach of the year” – each time in a different conference. In his last year at Radford, he was 22-7.  At ODU, he won 20 games in two of three seasons, advancing to the postseason each time. At Dayton, he won 20 or more games in five seasons with just as many postseason visits. At Clemson, his Tiger teams played in the postseason 6 of 7 seasons. He won 93 games in his last four seasons at Clemson before being granted a 6-year contract extension. But two years later, he bolted to DePaul. OK, Purnell is 0-6 in NCAA Tournament play, but still…the ACC may be “hell” if you aren’t Duke or North Carolina but playing Georgetown, Syracuse, Marquette, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville on a nightly basis isn’t much easier.

ANYONE REMEMBER BRUCE HORNSBY? If you do, you know that Bruce loves the game of basketball and frequently would play pick-up games (against the advice of his talent agent) in his hometown on or near the campus of William & Mary. Nowadays, Bruce’s son, Keith plays for NC-Asheville, which leads the Big South Conference with a 19-9 record, 14-2 in league play.

CAMPUS JEWEL…the Rotunda may be the cornerstone of the University of Virginia campus but the John Paul Jones basketball arena is special. Recently, I watched the Cavaliers trounce Maryland before a sellout crowd of 14,500. In the “end zone” lobby is a Hall of Fame, which honors the Cavalier hoop greats – Buzzy Wilkinson, Barry Parkhill, Wally Walker, Jeff Lamp, Ralph Sampson, Sean Singletary and Cory Alexander. The JPJA dwarfs neighboring University Hall, where the Cavs played until 2006. “You could put that building inside this one,” said Parkhill, after the game.

WHAT HAVE I DONE? First-year coaches with a season to mothball include Mark Montgomery (3-23 at (Northern Illinois), Mike Longeran (9-18 at George Washington), Mike Jones (6-23 at Radford), Brian Gregory (9-18 at Georgia Tech), Lewis Preston (3-26 at Kennesaw State) and Pat Skerry (1-29 at Towson)

SECOND-YEAR NO BETTER…Buzz Peterson is 9-18 at NC Wilmington. One of his team’s losses came to Towson, which is 1-29…Peterson, again may be moving on…he’s had six head-coaching jobs in 12 years…Chuck Driesell, Lefty’s son, is hurting at the Citadel with a 6-22 mark… former Temple guard Mark Macon is 1-26 at Binghamton

NAVY SINKING…the Midshipmen basketball team has lost 20 straight and 24 of the last 25 under first-year coach Ed DeChellis, who previously coached at Penn State for seven years…the Mids are young with just three seniors on the roster and one with scoring punch – Jordan Sugars (11.7 ppg) from Winchester…meanwhile, fellow Patriot League member American is 18-10 and in third place

LARRANAGA STILL A WINNER…Jim Larranaga, the former coach at George Mason in his first year at  Miami, is 16-10 and in sixth place in the ACC with a 7-6 league mark…outside of losses to North Carolina by an average of 13 points, the Canes other league losses have been close: to Virginia (by 1), to NC State (by 5), to Florida State (by 5) and to Maryland (by 5)…Miami also has defeated (then #5) Duke by four in overtime in Durham

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LET ME GET THIS STRAIGHT Ross MacCallum

In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on February 15, 2012 at 5:05 pm

LIN-SANITY & SKIN-SANITY

The Washington Wizards could have Jeremy Lin right now. In reality, every team in the NBA could have Jeremy Lin right now. They all passed on him. All of them.

And, it’s through pretty much shear dumb luck that the Knicks are even the proud owners of Lin at the moment. Because, like the Warriors and Rockets before them, the Knicks had no idea what they had parked on the far end of their bench. Heck, they had him down in the D-League for a game in January.

The All-Ivy League, Harvard grad went undrafted in 2010. And then he mostly spent time on the bench of his hometown Golden State Warriors and ultimately the New York Knicks until injuries, a little luck, and some really rotten play by the Knicks gave Lin the break he needed.

Wizards fans know Lin all too well — 23 points, 10 assists in a 107-93 Knicks’ win on February 8th — Lin’s first-ever NBA double-double.

More serious Wizards fans, if there are any, will recall the 2010 Las Vegas Summer League. Lin, then auditioning for the Dallas Mavericks, outplayed Wizards rookie guard John Wall in their first head-to-head meeting. Wall would be named the Most Outstanding Player of the Vegas League, but was he really just the bigger name?

After all, John Wall was the number one overall pick in the ’10 NBA Draft after a single season at Kentucky. The “can’t miss” guy. The “gotta have him now” guy. The “face of the franchise for years to come” guy.

And now, a season and a half into his NBA career, Wall is the point guard, the quarterback if you will, of a struggling franchise that fired its coach after a less than lackluster start. Wall might be at the point where he realizes that he needs to “realize” his potential. Maybe Lin’s emergence is the alarm clock Wall has needed.

Until Lin got the call off the bench in the midst of a lousy Knicks game with the Nets on February 4th, he had barely been getting single-digit minutes in a handful of games. Since that night, Lin has simply and inexplicably exploded. He helped New York beat the Nets, and the Knicks haven’t lost since. And, the guy from the far end of the bench has not scored under 20 points since Mike D’Antoni gave him what nobody else had been willing to give him—a chance. Jeremy paid the coach back less than a week later when he dropped a career-high 38 on Kobe and the Lakers.

John Wall, in that same 6-game stretch, delivered games of 9 and 14 points. And, Wall has only been able to put together back-to-back 20-point games twice this season.

What I’m getting at is: Talent is really hard to judge… in advance.

Wall looked the part of the all-everything point guard in high school and college. Athletic. Unstoppable. Great dance moves. You get my drift.

Lin, on the other hand, looked nothing like the prototypical point guard despite some really nice performances (he scored 30 in a narrow loss at UConn). Asian-American. Not known for the greatest moves on the court (just ask Jeremy ,himself). Harvard-grad (I read where even Harvard initially regarded him as a Division III talent). You get my drift here, too.

So, how did the NBA, and every major college outside of the Ivy League, completely miss the most exciting thing the sport has seen this century? How did Jeremy Lin go from getting cut on the first day of training camp (new Warriors coach Mark Jackson never even took a look at him), to getting waived on the night before the season opener by Houston, to getting signed by New York as a third-string insurance policy, to playing in the D-League, to turning the Knicks…THE KNICKS… into winners, to watching his #17 jersey fly off store shelves, to being the biggest sports sensation from here to Beijing?

I suspect that roughly 29 NBA owners would like their GMs to explain that right now.

Which brings me to the Redskins…

So, how exactly does Jeremy Lin segue into the Skins?

Well… as we have just seen, talent scouting is not an exact science which is precisely why the Redskins can’t simply bank on finding their “Jeremy Lin” in the upcoming NFL draft.

The Skins desperately need a new “point guard.” They can try to trade up with the Rams, mortgage the future, and get their hands on Robert Griffin III, or they can sit back and hope that a Kirk Cousins, Brandon Weeden, or a Ryan Tannehill falls into their lap.

No matter which approach the Skins take, it will be fraught with peril. Unproven, untested, un-everything is the only way to describe whichever quarterback prospect they choose to draft. Even Peyton Manning wasn’t a “sure thing” when he came out of Tennessee in 1998. Remember Ryan Leaf? It was a 50-50 gamble. Manning or Leaf? The Colts got it right. The Chargers… not so much.

Fourteen years later, of course, Manning is the proven player, the known quantity. Which is why it makes incredible sense to go after him, if he and the Colts choose to part company. Naturally, due diligence is required when it comes to assessing Peyton’s road to recovery from the four neck surgeries and passing the physical. But, Peyton Manning gives the Skins the best chance to win now because whichever college QB they draft (and they absolutely, positively must draft a QB!!!) is a “Ryan Leaf” until he proves otherwise.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at: www.aberdeentradingco.com

SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan

In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on February 3, 2012 at 6:32 am

“STAR-LIGHT” IS BLINDING

It’s sad we really don’t know today’s professional athlete. But how can we? The hero-worshiping sports media is too busy glorifying their subjects to see they are human beings with feelings and insecurities just like the zealous fans who wear their jerseys and drink beer in the stands.

The stars make millions. They drive Bentleys, not Corollas. They date models, not the girls next door. They eat at 5-star restaurants, never opting for a burger at the local tavern. So what. Excessive jewelry and sunglasses can’t hide their pain, their fears, their self-doubts that one bad break on the field and they, themselves will be sitting in the stands after a day of selling insurance.

The Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton recently was spotted in a bar, drinking. “Relapse” the headline screamed. But nowhere in the ESPN story was there a mention of what happened last spring, when Hamilton playfully tossed a ball into the stands, where a man stretched and reached for the would-be souvenir. He missed and fell to his death. His school-aged boy also missed — he never got the ball and lost a father.

But the media was too busy covering up how Hamilton might have felt. Stories were written about how Hamilton should and would continue to toss balls into the stands. Even the widow of the deceased agreed. “All’s well in the baseball world of Josh Hamilton,” we were told. After all, his team was in the World Series. He was on national TV and ready to sign a lucrative contract extension. Why wouldn’t he be celebrating?

But the media experts could not personify what happened that day in Arlington, Texas. No one bothered to put himself in the cleats of Hamilton. They were too busy watching him hit home runs to realize what was going on inside his head. Who knows how many drinks Hamilton has had since that incident? Odds are Hamilton didn’t opt for a lemonade the night of the tragedy. The better story would have been a “sit down” with Hamilton’s accountability partner, nee babysitter, about how one copes with something like that. How did Hamilton manage to focus in the batter’s box? How could he concentrate while tracking a ball in the outfield? What did he feel when Rangers fans yelled, “throw it up here, Josh” during pre-game warm-ups? Hell, how did the man even sleep?

Another recent headline on ESPN’s web site read, “Stars Align” with a picture of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Bryant (I prefer to use his last name since we’re not friends) had his trademark grin which told me, somehow he really isn’t hurting over his divorce. When it was announced two months ago, there were old pictures of his ex, shown in a girly, dress-up outfit at a Lakers home game. On her finger was the $4M ring Bryant bought her after being cleared of a rape charge in a Colorado hotel a couple years back. All the readers knew was Bryant’s apology came with jewelry. The ring was described in detail. What wasn’t was the Bryants’ efforts to save their marriage. The human side was ignored since the media experts were too busy with the glitz. There was a child in the picture too but we never heard about her feelings either. “Hey, he’s a star and she’s a babe with a shiny rock on her finger. What else needs to be known?”

During Super Bowl week, you’d think Peyton Manning was playing on Super Sunday. There was more written about his medical status and where he was going to play next year than was about Eli, who actually was playing in the sport’s biggest game. That’s the problem with media hordes camping at the team’s hotel for 7-plus days. They are bored and lower their standards (if that is possible) to write about such things as what songs are on the players’ Ipods. Do these writers actually have Journalism degrees? Peyton has played 14 years and won a ring but he still couldn’t avoid the minions of the media who could not wait to interview him. An unselfish sibling would have said, “Talk to Eli. He’s playing on Sunday, not me.”

Manning has had repeated surgeries on the vertebrae in his neck. Nowhere did I read about the intricacies of that procedure. The lemmings in the media were copying what others wrote and harping on when their idol would return to the playing field. Priorities, I guess. I know about such a procedure. Six years ago, I was on my way to the hospital for “pre-op” before having my spine fused between vertebraes L4 and L5. I was lost and poked my head in a vacant office. A nurse was there. We talked briefly. When she asked who my surgeon was, I told her, which drew a big smile. “He operated on my husband,” she said. “He had vertebrae in his cervical area (neck) fused,” she said. “We were worried because the cervical area of the spine controls breathing.”

Hmmm, I never read this about Peyton. Now, stop and think about Peyton taking a blind-side shot to the back. The man could die on the field but of course, we’ve never read this. Instead, we’re treated to what it would be like to have the Manning brothers in New York. Or, maybe Manning-to-Washington will rescue the hopes of a coach who is a winless September away from being fired.

Ahh, life. Sad sports journalists are so driven by fantasy they can’t report what’s really important.