Monday, January 31, 2011

Roundup of the week -- Steve Kerr, one of my favorites; Worcester; an almost trip to Bristol (yes, Bristol); all topped off by an amazing shot by Manhattan Sunday

I was driving to New York on Wednesday afternoon—dodging the snow along the way—when I heard the immortal Mike Francesa (just ask him) explain that the reason Brian Cashman’s speculation that Derek Jeter might someday play centerfield for the Yankees had become a big story was, “because it’s a slow news week. The Super Bowl (or in Francesa-speak, ‘Da Soopa Bowl’) isn’t until next week.”

I guess for a lot of people it was a slow news week. But in my world, the week was full of stories and, no tennis fans I’m sorry to say that Kim Clijsters and Novak Djokovic winning in Australia weren’t that high on the list. Good for them and all but even my three-month old daughter is asleep at 3 o’clock in the morning.

Actually the highlight of my week came out of nowhere. After watching the first half of Duke-St. John’s with my mouth open—God, college basketball is weird this year; almost NO ONE plays well with any consistency on the road—I switched over to watch Manhattan and Marist. Yes, seriously. I know they’ve won eight games combined all year but I’m the same guy who drove to Worcester on Thursday to see Holy Cross play Colgate (combined wins going in to the game seven). Yes, I got paid to do it but, as I’ve said before, I don’t do The Patriot League games for the money.

So, I switched to the Jaspers and Red Foxes.

Manhattan is one of those schools about which I have fond boyhood memories because of the doubleheaders they played in Madison Square Garden: Manhattan would play the first game most of the time; NYU the second. The goal for the Jaspers every year was the same: Make the NIT. Nowadays a 10-win season would be nice.

When I flipped over, Marist appeared to be on its way to a rare win. I was surprised—and impressed—at the size and enthusiasm of the crowd at Marist. Last season they won one game; this season they’ve won four. And yet, the gym was far from empty. Not full, but not empty.

Marist led 59-57 in the final seconds after Manhattan had launched an awful shot with the clock running down. There were 3.6 seconds left when Marist’s point guard (can’t remember his name, sorry) went to the line for a one-and-one that could clinch the game. He missed. Manhattan rebounded and called time out right away. Give the Marist clock operator credit: The time out was called with AT LEAST two seconds left. He got the clock down to 0.9 before he stopped it. Nice try. Feets Brody, the timekeeper in The Garden when I was a kid—dubbed, ‘the Knicks sixth man,’ by Red Auerbach—would have been proud.

The officials went to replay and wound it back to 2.0.

So, Manhattan inbounded. Marist had the long pass—or, as the play-by-play guy called it, “The Christian Laettner pass,” even though Grant Hill threw the pass he was referring to—covered. So the ball came in to Manhattan guard Michael Alvarado a good 75-feet from the basket. Alvarado, who was one-of-six in the game to that point, was in full flight as he caught the ball. He took three dribbles, got to about 60-feet and fired. The ball hit the backboard and dropped cleanly through the net. It had clearly come before the buzzer.

Sitting in my chair, reading some notes as I was about to work from for my book project, I literally jumped to my feet: “WOW, how about that?” I yelled. Even at my advanced age I can still be startled by a spectacular play even in a Manhattan-Marist game. It was cool.

Going back to earlier in the week: As I said, I drove to New York on Wednesday—an intermediate stop en route to Worcester—and had dinner that night with Steve Kerr. Steve is, quite simply, one of my favorite guys, someone I enjoyed getting to know when I wrote about him in ‘A Season Inside,’ 23 years ago. We’ve always stayed in touch but it had been a long time since we had sat down and talked at length. Not surprisingly, Kerr was as smart and funny as ever.

He was excited about the fact that he’ll be calling The NCAA Tournament this year as part of the new CBS-Turner deal. I knew he was going to be doing color the first two weeks but hadn’t realized that he is going to be part of The Final Four announce-team, a Turner add-on to Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg. I’m not planning to watch those games on TV but I think Steve’s presence will be a bonus. Knowing him, he won’t hesitate to disagree with Kellogg when he thinks that’s the right way to go.

When Steve and I walked into Smith and Wollensky at a little bit after 7 it wasn’t snowing yet. When we walked out almost four hours later, it was snowing in buckets. Traffic was at a standstill and the snow was already ankle deep on the sidewalks. I only had a five-block walk but by the time I got inside I looked and felt like Frosty The Snowman. I was completely soaked. Amazingly, by the time I got up, had breakfast and hit the road the next morning, the New York streets had been cleared and the FDR Drive was completely clear. That was NOT the case once I hit the Connecticut line and it was a long trip from there to Worcester.

The only disappointment on the trip was not getting to see Dan Dakich as I had been planning to do. Dan was a graduate assistant at Indiana the year I was there to research ‘A Season on the Brink,’ and we became good friends. In fact, I was en route to meet Dan for lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the morning of January 28, 1986 when The Challenger blew up on take-off. I thought about that on Friday when I realized it was the 25th anniversary of that tragedy.

Dakich is becoming a star at ESPN these days—he also hosts a local radio show in Indianapolis—and the plan had been for us to meet in Bristol since he works in-studio on Thursday nights. Yes, ME in Bristol, do you think the ESPN police might have stopped me at the city line? We were going to have a late breakfast to talk about the old days and more recent days but Dan’s flight got cancelled on Wednesday night and by the time he got in on Thursday, he had to go straight to a radio studio to do his show, arriving a few minutes late.

So, I drove straight thru Bristol. Given the condition of the roads, if I had stopped to see Dan, I might have been late getting to Worcester. And if you’re wondering, yes, I do have regular stopping points en route to Worcester. The main one is a Dunkin Donuts (yes, I DO like the place) off Exit 71 on I-84 a few miles shy of the Massachusetts line. On Thursday, some truck had gotten stuck on the off-ramp though so I didn’t get my coffee or my donut. It made me VERY cranky.

I couldn’t be happier for the success Kerr and Dakich are having. Dakich had some success as the head coach at Bowling Green but really seems to have found his niche in broadcasting. Steve ran the Phoenix Suns for three years and helped them get back to the conference finals last year but was completely worn out trying to commute between Phoenix and San Diego where his family stayed after he got the job with the Suns. Now he’s back at Turner, traveling once a week during the regular season; more during the NCAA Tournament and playoffs and then taking the summer off.

“Haven’t lost a game all year,” he said. “I’m sleeping a LOT better.”

Steve’s oldest son Nick is a high school senior who will play next year at The University of San Diego. I asked him if the son had the father’s shooting touch.

“He does,” Steve said. “Which is good. Unfortunately he also has my quickness, which is not as good.”

When Kerr was at Arizona he described his quickness to me this way: “I have deceptive speed. People think I’m a step slow. I’m actually two steps slow.”

He used that deceptive speed to play on FIVE NBA championship teams—three in Chicago and two in San Antonio. He concedes that Michael Jordan and David Robinson might have helped a bit along the way.

And if you’re wondering, yes, I did watch the golf on Sunday and was glad to see Phil Mickelson play well for the first time, really, since he won The Masters last year. Bubba Watson made two fabulous putts to win. Tiger Woods finishing tied for 44th? Proves very little except that he has work to do between now and April 7th. I would have said the same thing if he had won.

Give me points for consistency.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Washington Post column: "Hofstra's Charles Jenkins and Mo Cassara making the most of their chances"

Here is the article for today's The Washington Post ---------

As soon as the final buzzer sounded this past Monday night, Charles Jenkins turned and sprinted in the direction of the Hofstra student section, his arms in the air, the joy written all over his face. A few feet short of the railing that separates the students from the court, he took off and did a Lambeau Leap into the arms of his fellow students.

"It was such a great feeling to come back that way, to fight from that far down and win," he said a few days after he had scored 35 points in Hofstra's 92-90 overtime victory over James Madison - a game in which the Pride trailed by 15 points in the second half. The students "stuck with us even when we got way down. They were still chanting 'defense' when we weren't playing very much of it. I just wanted to share that moment with them."

In many ways, Hofstra's comeback victory was a microcosm of this season for the team and the entire school. A little more than a year ago, Hofstra announced it was dropping football because it was swamped in red ink trying to compete on the division I-AA level. Last March, Tom Pecora left after nine seasons as men's basketball coach to take the Fordham job. He was replaced by Tim Welsh, a hire greeted with great enthusiasm because Welsh had enjoyed success in the Big East while at Providence and great success at Iona prior to that.

That joy didn't last long. One month after he was introduced as the new coach, Welsh was charged with driving while intoxicated when police found him asleep at the wheel of his car at a stoplight at 1 a.m. on April 30. He resigned three days later.

"When Coach Pecora left it was really tough," Jenkins said. "He was the one who recruited me, who I'd played for, who I'd become close to. Then I was really happy when Coach Welsh came because I liked him a lot. All of a sudden, he was gone too."

Click here for the rest of the story: Hofstra's Charles Jenkins and Mo Cassara making the most of their chances

Monday, January 24, 2011

Playoff weekend, including focus on Rex Ryan and the Jets, analysis on Cutler too quick; Update on new book

The New York Times had a perfect headline at the top of its sports front this morning: ‘Bluster Busters.’ That’s exactly what the Pittsburgh Steelers were on Sunday.

That said, reading and hearing all the comments about how Rex Ryan needs to shut up, made me laugh. First of all, Rex isn’t shutting up anytime soon. It just isn’t who he is and I’ve never met anyone in any walk of life who is successful trying to be someone who they aren’t. Hell, I’ve tried to do it on a few occasions and failed miserably.

I like Rex and it isn’t because the Jets were my boyhood team. I got to know him well in 2004 when I wrote, ‘Next Man Up,’ and liked him from day one. I still remember sitting in the Ravens war room—much to the horror of GM Ozzie Newsome who to this day shudders when he thinks of my presence in his draft room—when the Ravens turn finally came up on the draft board. (They had traded their No. 1 pick a year earlier to get Kyle Boller, a rare Newsome move that didn’t pan out). As soon as the team ahead of the Ravens made their pick, I heard a loud ‘WHOOEE!’ come from the room across the hall where all the assistant coaches were located.

It was Rex. The Ravens had a list of 150 players ranked from 1-150 and the highest player left on the board at that moment was Dwan Edwards, a defensive lineman. Always ‘true to the board,’ he would be Newsome’s pick. That meant two things to Rex: he had gotten a player he thought could help his line and he had beaten out the other position coaches to get his player chosen first. Yes, coaches on the same staff DO compete with one another at times.

Edwards never turned out to be much of a player—Bob Sanders, who the Ravens would have taken if they’d been able to move up six picks, which they came within seconds of doing, DID turn out to be pretty good—but that was my first exposure to Rex’s genuine enthusiasm. Without doubt he was the best-liked coach on the staff and there was no doubt he would become the defensive coordinator when Mike Nolan left at the end of the season to become the head coach in San Francisco.

So, Rex is going to be Rex. Of course there an old saying in sports, ‘it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.’ The Jets haven’t done it—win the Super Bowl—in Rex’s two years and I have no doubt he’s going to be hammered in some quarters for not delivering on his promise. There’s also no doubt that something went wrong between warmups and kickoff on Sunday because the Steelers kicked the Jets butt in every possible category for the first 29 minutes of the game.

Let me step back for a second though and put on my Jets-fan cap: Does anyone want to bring back Eric Mangini? Even when the team was good during the Mangini –‘era,’ there wasn’t a whole lot of fun going on was there? Mangini makes Bill Belichick look like Rex. Two years; no playoff victories (one appearance) and zero laughs. Rex? Two years; FOUR playoff victories and about a million laughs.

Even if I’d never met him, I’d take Rex in a heartbeat. Herm Edwards was (is) a terrific guy but he got to how many conference championship games? If you want, I can go back through the whole sad history. The only Jets coach you can POSSIBLY make a case for being better than Rex since Weeb Ewbank retired is Bill Parcells and he fled after a couple of years to write the eighth installment of his ongoing series, ‘My Final Season.’ I think the 12th installment comes out in another year or so.

As for the NFC game, was it just me or did it feel a little bit like the JV game? Don’t get me wrong, I think the Packers have a great chance to win The Super Bowl. Any team in any sport that plays lousy and still advances is very dangerous. Aaron Rodgers was awful on Sunday. The only reason the Packers won was because Jay Cutler was worse before he got hurt and the Bears were never all that good to begin with. Lovey Smith did an amazing job to coax 12 wins from that team.

One note on Cutler: I’m not a fan of his. I think he’s arrogant and obnoxious and he’s an interception waiting to happen at any key moment. That said, to question his knee injury is unfair. Unless there’s real evidence that he was faking it, people should shut up. None of us knows how someone ELSE feels when they get hit or are in some kind of pain—especially playing in zero degrees with Clay Matthews bearing down on you. Those who question someone for saying they’re hurt should try doing that one time in their lives.

I do have one question on the Packers: Am I the only one who continues to be amazed at how players risk disaster by show-boating? B.J. Raji made a great play when he intercepted Caleb Hanie and went in for a touchdown but what was he thinking holding the ball out before he got to the goal line? If Hanie had arrived a step earlier he might have knocked the ball loose from him on the one-yard line. Ridiculous? Really? As in it has never happened in the past?

And when will defensive backs learn that when you make an interception with the lead and the other team is out of time outs in the last two minutes you GO DOWN. And yet, there was Sam Shields running around after the last interception with everyone screaming at him to get down—which he finally did. Again, the only way you can lose the game at that point is if you fumble while being tackled. Again, tell me it has never happened in the past and I’ll withdraw the comment.

I have no idea who will win The Super Bowl. But if the Steelers win there had better be a lot more people putting Mike Tomlin in the same sentence with Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells than with Tom Coughlin and Bill Cowher. The guy is really good at what he does and often doesn’t get credit because he’s, well, no Rex Ryan.

You have to be yourself, right?


One note on the book I’m currently working on about my 25 years of writing books. A number of people have asked if who I’m writing about is a secret. Not at all. You can probably guess if you’ve read my work at all in the past. The book begins with Bob Knight because that’s where my book-writing career began. It also ends with Bob Knight. In between I write about some of the famous people I’ve known: Dean Smith, Jim Valvano, Mike Krzyzewski, David Robinson, Steve Kerr, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova, Tiger Woods (there’s a Tiger story that MAY surprise you) Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and others. There are also lots of stories about not-so-famous people I’ve known but who I’ve liked and found fascinating. Have I spoken to everyone mentioned: almost. Have I spoken to Knight? Yes. As I said, the book ends with him—just don’t read it expecting hugs, kisses or tears when you get to the finish line. They come earlier.

This week's AP ballot

Here is my lineup for this week's AP poll, the 12th edition:

1)      Ohio St.
2)      San Diego St.
3)      Pittsburgh
4)      Duke
5)      Texas
6)      Kansas
7)      BYU
8)      Connecticut
9)      Villanova
10)  Missouri
11)  Purdue
12)  Syracuse
13)  Texas A&M
14)  Notre Dame
15)  Minnesota
16)  Wisconsin
17)  Kentucky
18)  Washington
19)  Vanderbilt
20)  Xavier
21)  Florida St.
22)  Missouri St.
23)  Illinois
24)  Utah St.
25)  Coastal Carolina

Thursday, January 20, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Gas Man, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. We started off talking about Ron Franklin and ESPN, the onto basketball tournament hopes of Maryland and the Big East bunch, including talking about specifics on Pitt, Syracuse, Villanova and several others on their recent great success.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Thursday morning at 11:05 ET, I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  This week we spent a great deal of time talking about 'The Morning Drive,' Golf Channel's new morning show, as well as other duties I have with the network this year, all which led Tony to badgering me about my clothing.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show


Also, Wednesday evening I joined The Gas Man in my weekly spot at 8:35 ET.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This week's AP ballot

As conference play is settling in, there is starting to be more shuffling from week to week.  The following is my ballot for this weeks poll:

1)      Ohio St.
2)      Syracuse
3)      Kansas
4)      San Diego St.
5)      Pittsburgh
6)      Villanova
7)      Duke
8)      Texas A&M
9)      Connecticut
10)  BYU
11)  Texas
12)  Kentucky
13)  Michigan St.
14)  Purdue
15)  Missouri
16)  Louisville
17)  Wisconsin
18)  Washington
19)  Arizona
20)  Temple
21)  Saint Mary's, Calif.
22)  Notre Dame
23)  Southern Miss.
24)  James Madison
25)  Coastal Carolina

Monday, January 17, 2011

One of the most enjoyable things I do—Patriot League basketball games, a Sunday trip to Bucknell

I know most of the sports world is talking football today and I get that. I’m still recovering from The Baltimore Ravens collapse in Pittsburgh on Saturday and from the shock of seeing the New York Jets put their money and their talent where their mouths were on Sunday. (No foot jokes here).

Let me say one thing as a fan NOT as a neutral observer: the holding call on the Ravens fourth quarter punt return for a touchdown was a joke. The call was, at best, borderline, but in fact it was worse than that because a good official looks at a borderline block and says to himself, ‘did it affect the play?’ If so, MAYBE you throw the flag. If not, you don’t throw it and there’s no way that block affected the play.

Okay, enough whining. The Ravens blew the game with the three turnovers in the third quarter and giving up the 58-yard-pass late in the fourth. I thought the officiating was lousy. It is not the reason the Ravens lost.

Now, onto what I really want to talk about today: my trip Sunday to Bucknell.

I know there are dozens of you—maybe—who want to hear all about it.

Here’s what you need to understand: there’s really nothing I enjoy doing more at this point in my professional life than Navy football games on the radio and Patriot League basketball games on TV. I mean that in this sense: I still LOVE to write much more than I like doing radio or TV even though I think I’ve become reasonably good at the radio and TV stuff through the years. Writing is what I do and I love writing for The Washington Post and The Sporting News and, for that matter, this blog. I make most of my living from writing books but I also LIKE writing books, which makes me very lucky.

All that said, I really enjoy the niche that I have at Navy and in the Patriot League. I’ve done Navy football for 14 seasons now and this is my ninth season doing Patriot League games on TV. What makes it so much fun, quite simply, are the people. I’ve written before about my respect for the people at Navy—and at Army, I just don’t spend as much time up there—and how I’ve enjoyed watching the football team play so well the past eight seasons under head coaches I like for entirely different reasons: Paul Johnson won games and made you laugh; Kenny Niumatalolo wins games and makes you cry because he’s so sincere and dedicated to the kids he’s coaching.

The Patriot League is different. I’ve had an association with the schools in the league for 12 years now, dating to ‘The Last Amateurs.’ The TV package actually came about in 2002 when a (then) independent producer named Billy Stone approached me and asked if I’d be willing to do color on a package of Patriot League games he was thinking of trying to sell to DirecTV. Billy had already sold an Ivy League package and, after reading ‘Last Amateurs,’ thought a similar package might work for The Patriot League. His one caveat was that he wanted me involved.

Which was, to say the least, flattering. So we launched the package in January of 2003. I did the first two games with Jack Corrigan who then left to become the voice of The Colorado Rockies. He was replaced by Bob Socci, who has been my partner on Navy football for 14 years now. Working with Bob is a delight because he’s always prepared, he’s good at what he does and because he puts up with my humor and wisecracks with good humor of his own about 99 percent of the time.

The one-time we had a true on-air dispute—we argue often but almost always in good humor—was when I angrily said that I didn’t think President Bush should be at the Army-Navy game in 2004 when he was un-necessarily putting the young men he was glad-handing in harm’s way in Iraq. Bob didn’t see the issue as political: The President was the commander-in-chief and he had a perfect right to be there. I understand his point-of-view (I even understood it then) but the war made me SO angry at that point I just couldn’t see it that way. When The President returned to the game a couple of years later Bob and I made a deal: he wouldn’t bring up the president if I didn’t and vice-versa. So, we left it to our sideline reporter Pete Medhurst to talk about The President tossing the coin and I kept my big mouth shut.

I digress. Working with Bob is just one of the things I enjoy about The Patriot League package. Believe it or not, I look forward to the drives to the games—okay maybe not to Colgate when it is snowing but if it isn’t Hamilton is a pretty little town and I like the old-style warmth of The Colgate Inn. When I drive to Bucknell on a clear Sunday morning like yesterday, it’s a pleasure. I am an absolute creature of habit: I make two-stops each way: on the way up for gas in Thurmont (not far from Camp David) on Rte. 15 and at the Dunkin’ Donuts just outside Harrisburg for coffee and (now) one donut (powdered). On the way back I stop at the McDonald’s that’s right next to Dunkin’ Donuts (no French fries anymore, sigh) and then at a Rutter’s gas station just below Harrisburg—the door tweets like a bird when you walk inside.

It is almost exactly three hours to the minute each way. It’s actually a very pretty drive—first through the mountains going from Maryland to Pennsylvania. Then, say what you want about Harrisburg, but when you get to the T where you turn left to follow Rte. 15 and look across the Susquehanna River at the capitol building and downtown Harrisburg it’s quite pretty. The drive the rest of the way with the river on your right almost the entire way is about as scenic as any this side of The Pacific Highway.

I roll in the front gate at Bucknell, drive to the stop sign and circle to the back entrance, parking my car right next to the TV truck. These days the package is on CBS College Sports. There have been times when the 15 steps to the back door can be treacherous.

After all these years I feel as if I know about half the people who come to The Sojka Pavilion by name. Pat Flannery’s not the coach anymore, but he’s still around and I get to spend time with him while I’m up there. Most of the people who worked at Bucknell when I did the book still work at Bucknell. The same is true at all of the league’s schools. Whenever I go to do a game it feels a little bit like homecoming for me.

We had a terrific game on Sunday. Bucknell was up 14 in the second half but Holy Cross rallied to tie before Mike Muscala (who is a big-time player) hit a shot with 1.4 seconds to play to win the game for Bucknell. The funny thing about that play was that the shot was clearly a three and the officials, who had a very good game, called it a two. If Holy Cross’s last shot—a squared-up 30-footer had gone in there would have been quite a brou-ha-ha. The officials might still be looking at a replay.

They weren’t though and we got off the air exactly on time at 4 o’clock. I said my goodbyes—we may very well be back at Sojka for a flex game late in the season or for a conference tournament game—changed into sweats to drive home (another habit) and wheeled out of the parking lot at exactly 4:30—a little more than five hours after I pulled in.

I had three hours to drive and a smile on my face.

This weekend I’ll make the equally-familiar drive to Army. I could tell you where I’ll stop on that trip too but enough is enough. I’ll stay in one of my favorite hotels, The Thayer, and eat dinner with some of my Army pals on Friday night at Loughran’s in Newberg which has sawdust on the floor and prime rib that’s so good I don’t eat red meat all week so I can eat it without guilt. On Saturday Christl Arena will be packed for Army-Navy.

The atmosphere will be great. The game will be fun. And then I’ll be back in the car going back down The Palisades Parkway. Honestly, I can’t stand cold weather anymore. But going to Patriot League basketball games, seeing all the people I see and making those familiar trips to places filled with warmth makes it a little more bearable. Actually a LOT more bearable.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Washington Post articles from this week - 'Seattle basketball is on a long journey back to full Division I status' and 'Darryl Webster goes from Coolidge to GW to proud father of a Harvard man'

Just catching up on posting the two Washington Post articles from this week, the first on Seattle University basketball and the second on Darryl Webster.


It was a blip on the college basketball holiday landscape, one of those scores that might cause people to squint their eyes in surprise for a moment before moving on:

Seattle 59, Virginia 53.
For the Cavaliers, the Dec. 22 loss was certainly a surprise but, given that it came two days after a narrow escape against Norfolk State, probably not a shock. It did end a five-game winning streak and it came at home against a school most of the 8,679 fans at John Paul Jones Arena might not know from the gone-but-not-forgotten Seattle SuperSonics.

"We took one on the chin," was the way Virginia Coach Tony Bennett described it.

For Seattle, a school that played under the name Chieftains in its glory days back in the 1950s but now calls itself the Redhawks in its new incarnation, it was far more than that. It was evidence that the often-Sisyphean feat of moving back into Division I is not impossible. The rock may not be up the hill, but it is closer to the top than people may think or know.

"If you looked at the budget we have and the planning that's been done you would stop and go, 'Wow, these guys are serious,' " Seattle Coach Cameron Dollar said after the biggest win in his two seasons as the Redhawks' coach. "We know we've got a ways to go, but a win like this shows all of us the potential that is there."

In the past 30 years, more and more schools have tried to make the jump to Division I, tempted by the huge dollars that can be made by reaching the NCAA tournament. Of course, what most presidents and athletic directors miss when they line up to collect that money is that there are now 346 teams in Division I and 68 NCAA tournament bids. Do the math.

Seattle, however, is not your typical Division I newbie. It has, to say the least, a rich basketball history. In the early 1950s, Seattle became the first and only team to beat the Harlem Globetrotters, back when the Globetrotters played real games. In 1958, led by a pretty decent player out of the District named Elgin Baylor, the Chieftains made the Final Four, upset top-ranked Kansas State and then lost the championship game to Kentucky when Baylor was forced to play with an injured rib. From then until 1980, Seattle had 27 players drafted by the NBA, the greatest of them being Baylor, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Lakers.

Click here for the rest of the column: Seattle basketball is on a long journey back to full Division I status


For all the stories about what can go wrong in college athletics, there are still occasionally stories about what can go right.

One of those stories unfolded Saturday afternoon at Smith Center, when Harvard came to town to play George Washington. The Crimson pulled out a 67-62 victory to up their record to 12-3, rallying with its two leading scorers on the bench with injuries that occurred during the game.

Christian Webster, Landon Class of 2009, started at shooting guard for Harvard. He came into the game averaging 14.1 points per game, making him the second-leading scorer for the Crimson, and had eight points in 14 minutes when he felt a sharp pain in his hip during a scramble for the ball inside.

Even with treatment, he could barely walk back up the steps from the locker room at halftime, so he sat on the bench, eyes rimmed in red from the pain and from frustration at not being able to play in his homecoming game.

But as Harvard rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit, no one cheered harder for the Crimson than Darryl Webster, Coolidge High School Class of 1982 and GW Class of 1986, proud father of the injured Harvard sophomore with the sweet shot and the calm demeanor. A few rows up from the Webster family sat Gerry Gimelstob, who Darryl Webster would tell you was largely responsible for his son being on the floor in a Harvard uniform.

"I was raised by my grandparents," Darryl Webster said as people began to file into the gym. "My grandfather never got beyond the fourth grade. I was lucky to graduate from high school. I had a 2.0 grade-point average and bad SATs. But Gerry took a chance on me. I came here and got into the remedial education program before my freshman year.

"Even then, it was a struggle at first. Gerry had a rule we had to go to study hall every day or come here and run around the building at 5 o'clock in the morning. I went to study hall. Sometime my sophomore year, the light went on. I had never really like to read. All of a sudden, I loved to read. It changed my life."

Gimelstob was in his first year as George Washington's coach when he recruited Webster. "The school hadn't really been recruited the inner city in D.C.," he said Saturday. "I thought to be successful we had to recruit there. There was too much talent right on our doorstep to not give it a shot."

Click here for the rest of the story: Darryl Webster goes from Coolidge to GW to proud father of a Harvard man

Monday, January 10, 2011

This week's basketball ranking:

Here is my ballot for this week’s AP poll:

1)                  Duke
2)                  Ohio St.
3)                  Syracuse
4)                  Kansas
5)                  Pittsburgh
6)                  Villanova
7)                  San Diego St.
8)                  Purdue
9)                  Notre Dame
10)              Texas A&M
11)              Connecticut
12)              BYU
13)              Missouri
14)              Temple
15)              Kentucky
16)              Texas
17)              Illinois
18)              Washington
19)              Saint Mary's, Calif.
20)              Oklahoma St.
21)              Cincinnati
22)              UCF
23)              Florida
24)              Virginia Tech
25)              Coastal Carolina

NFL wildcard weekend at its finest; Looming labor issues; Plead to AP football voters

I am not the biggest NFL fan in the world by any stretch of the imagination. I pay attention—you can’t do what I do and not pay attention—and I think the season I spent with The Baltimore Ravens in 2004 has left me with a pretty decent understanding of what players and coaches go through during a season and how the league works.

But it isn’t as if I build my fall Sundays around being at a game or making sure I’m in front of the TV from 1 p.m. until midnight. I still make it to Baltimore when I can to see the Ravens play and to stay in touch with the people up there. I wouldn’t be caught dead going to the stadium formerly named for Jack Kent Cooke because getting in and out is so painful and because sharing a stadium with Little Danny Snyder just isn’t something I need to do at this point in my life. (Note to Redskins fans: I am awed by your loyalty. Many of you showed up for the completely meaningless finale against the Giants and when I was picking my son up two hours after the game ended I heard a traffic report that said, ‘it’s still pretty heavy getting to the Beltway on Arena Drive and Central Avenue.’ TWO HOURS! You people really deserve much, much better than you are getting).

All of that said, it is impossible not to acknowledge just how damn good the NFL is to watch. Once you wade through the un-ending hype and build-up and expert projections and all that other garbage that is dispensed during the week, the GAMES are fabulous—even with the never-ending barrage of TV timeouts. Serious question: How do YOU occupy yourself when a team scores, TV goes to three minutes of commercials, the scoring team kicks off and then TV goes to another three minutes of commercials? If Tony Kornheiser was here he’d say I write a book. He exaggerates. Maybe a chapter or two.

This past weekend the NFL began its playoffs with four wild card games. One produced a stunning upset of The Super Bowl champions; one produced an amazing finish; one was compelling until the final seconds. Only Ravens-Chiefs was a dud and as someone who likes the Ravens, I was fine with that.

My pal Kornheiser—yes Tony this is your day to appear in the blog—was chortling on the radio last week about the fact that the Seahawks making the playoffs at 7-9 is proof that the BCS isn’t as bad as people like me saying it is. Bad teams shouldn’t play for the championship and in the BCS that never happens. Talk about missing the point. To begin with, there’s almost no way a sub-.500 team would get into an eight team playoff in college football or even a 16 team playoff. There are 120 teams in Division 1-A, not 32.

But let’s just say for the sake of argument that The Sun Belt champion got into the playoff with a 5-7 record. So what? Even if they somehow won a game, so what? There have been sub-.500 teams in the NCAA Tournament and last I looked it was a pretty good event. There have been sub-.500 teams in the NBA playoffs and—until they changed the rules on doling out points in overtime games—in the NHL playoffs too. The Mets made The World Series in 1973 with an 82-79 record.

Maybe—maybe—the NFL should tweak the system so that the team with the better record always gets home field. You can certainly make the case that the 7-9 Seahawks should have played AT New Orleans and the Saints almost certainly would have won playing at home. But two other road teams with better records managed to win this weekend so it certainly isn’t entirely unfair.

The point is that the magic of postseason is the underdog who gets a second chance. You think it’s BAD for the NFL that the Seahawks won on Saturday? I don’t. Is it BAD for college football that TCU went 13-0 and had no chance to play for the national title? Of course it’s bad. It’s a joke. (Note: This is the part in the blog where I annually plead with my brethren who vote in the AP football poll to PLEASE vote for TCU regardless of who wins tonight to send a message to the frauds running the BCS. Like last year with Boise State I will be ignored. What ever happened to the days when reporters were willing to take a stand or go out on a limb? Nowadays everyone just wants to play along with the power brokers so they can get hired someday by ESPN).

Back to the NFL: The long-winded point here is there has never been a sports gold mine in history like this league. For all its faults and issues, it has put together a product that the public finds irresistible. That’s why, in spite of all the sabre-rattling on both sides, I do not think there will be a serious work stoppage next summer or fall. Maybe a few days of pre-season camp or even an exhibition game or two—losing two exos might be Roger Goodell’s way of proving they are un-needed in his bid for an 18-game season.

Goodell has become a lightning rod because, unlike Paul Taglaibue who never met a serious decision he couldn’t find a way to run from, Goodell has been out there since he became commissioner. People may not like everything that he does and he’s clearly management-oriented (why not, they pay his huge salary) especially when it comes to doling out punishments.

But he’s a very smart guy. So is DeMaurice Smith, the new head of the player’s union. Both men have exchanged some fairly strong rhetoric in public but I honestly believe when they get into a room together and the golden goose is in any kind of serious jeopardy, they’re going to find a way to keep the golden eggs coming. Management will find a way to get richer while the players will find a way to stay rich and save face.

That’s the interesting thing about all these collective bargaining disagreements. It is ALWAYS management that wants to rewrite the rules, that insists it needs more money while the players make less. You see, for all the talk about how selfish and greedy players are, what they really want to do is PLAY. Sure, they want to play for as much money as possible and they will always take the best deal—which they should. Their window to make huge money is a small one—especially in football.

Owners always want more. In most case that’s how they got so impossibly rich in the first place, by always wanting more, by always getting the best deal for themselves. After that first billion you really MUST make the second billion. Whenever there’s a work stoppage—and more often it is a lockout and not a strike—the public screams about the selfish players. More often than not, the players are just trying to hang on to what they’ve got. It is the owners crying poverty and screaming for cutbacks. Have you listened to David Stern moan about how much money his owners are losing and how contraction is possible? You think that’s NOT sabre-rattling at its finest?

The NBA might have a work-stoppage simply because it wouldn’t cost the owners that much money and might (ala hockey in 2005) save them some money. That would not be the case in the NFL. Everyone would lose if any part of the regular season was lost.

I don’t see it happening. I think Goodell and Smith know that they’ve been given a license to print money. My guess is they won’t stop the presses when it really matters anytime soon.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Gas Man, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Thursday morning at 11:05 ET I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show. Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.  
Click here to listen to the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show


On Wednesday, I joined The Gas Man from Seattle in my normal time slot of 8:25 ET.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Washington Post column - In Randy Edsall, Maryland takes safe route; will it also be scenic?

The following is an article for The Washington Post ----------

After spending two weeks getting through the embarrassing way Ralph Friedgen was kicked to the curb, Maryland football fans braced themselves for his replacement to be named and were greeted by . . . Randy Edsall.

Randy Edsall?

No one is saying Edsall can't coach. Clearly he can. As Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson said in his introductory remarks, Edsall took what was a division I-AA program and built a solid, consistent winner at Connecticut. He graduated a majority of his players and he took U-Conn. to a BCS game (where it got blown out) this season.

Edsall is a solid, safe hire someone who should be successful, given the good players Maryland has.

But is his resume much different than Friedgen's? Edsall is just about everything Friedgen was except for being 11 years younger and considerably trimmer. He's not going to sell tickets with his personality no matter how many Terrapin Clubs across the state he speaks to, and he probably has a lot of players wondering what Life After Fridge is going to be like after he ordered them to take off their caps and do-rags in their first meeting Sunday night.

Maybe Anderson got confused and thought he was back at Army when he hired Edsall. There is no do-rag issue there.

Click here for the rest of the column: In Randy Edsall, Maryland takes safe route; will it also be scenic?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

This week's AP vote:

The following is my ballot for this week’s AP Top 25….

  1. Duke
  2. Ohio St.
  3. Kansas
  4. Syracuse
  5. Pittsburgh
  6. Villanova
  7. San Diego St.
  8. Texas 
  9. Purdue
  10. Missouri
  11. Kentucky
  12. Texas A&M
  13. Connecticut
  14. BYU
  15. Notre Dame
  16. Georgetown
  17. UCF
  18. Kansas St.
  19. Vanderbilt
  20. Cincinnati
  21. Butler
  22. Illinois
  23. Temple
  24. Michigan St.
  25. Cleveland St.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On to 2011…can 2010 be topped?; After Auburn and Ohio State cases, NCAA should just burn its rulebook; Friedgen for Edsall?

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. Hectic holidays as they say. I hope everyone out there had good health and good times and did not become just a little bit worn out by family time.

So, it is on to 2011, although it will be hard-pressed to top 2010.

After all, on New Year’s Day 2010 how many of us predicted the following:

--Tiger Woods not winning a single golf tournament anywhere, anytime, anyplace all year.

--The Saints winning The Super Bowl; The Giants winning The World Series; Butler coming with an inch of winning The NCAA basketball championship and Graeme McDowell, Louis Ousthuizen and Martin Kaymer winning major titles.

--LeBron James making perhaps the worst marketing decision any athlete has made since Andre Agassi looked into a camera and said, ‘image is everything.’

--The New York Yankees targeting a big-money free agent and NOT getting him.

--The Detroit Lions finishing the season on a four-game WINNING streak.

--The Washington Redskins turning their season into a soap opera/circus.

Wait, I digress. The Redskins becoming a soap opera/circus is as predictable as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer winning major titles in tennis and The New York Islanders battling for the top draft pick.

So much has changed in sports through the years, so much has stayed the same. I tend to hang onto traditions, which is why I watch The Rose Bowl every New Year’s Day regardless of who is playing. This year’s game was great and seeing TCU hang on to win was gratifying to all of us who think the BCS Presidents should all be put to sea in a rowboat for the good of all mankind. Yes, that includes my new best friend Gordon Gee—even though he did tell Pete Thamel of The New York Times that he was planning to eat crow for dinner after TCU’s win in Pasadena. Of course he was eating it in a fancy New Orleans restaurant getting ready to watch Ohio State play Arkansas sometime in January—who among us knows when the college season actually ends these days. (Unrelated note: The college season is now so long that Pittsburgh will be playing under its third head coach since the end of the regular season when it finally plays whatever meaningless bowl it is playing in this coming weekend. Talk about a long season).

Back to Ohio State for a moment. I really think it is time for the NCAA to burn its rulebook. After all why bother having rules if you are going to make up different rules to suit yourself every time something happens involving a major (read moneymaking) school.

Look, we can debate the fairness of the rules forever. But here are the facts: Cam Newton WAS ineligible according to the rulebook. It says if you or any representative (that would include your own father) solicits money, you’re ineligible even if you never receive a dime. The NCAA says Cecil Newton solicited money from Mississippi State. That’s the end of the story. EXCEPT the NCAA says, no, even though it isn’t in the rules, since we believe the player knew nothing (just like Sargent Schultz knew nothing) he’s okay to play. I would ask Auburn fans one question—because I have nothing against you or Cam Newton or Gene Chizik and your former AD David Housel was one of my all-time favorite people in sports: Do you think for one second if your football team was 6-6 and playing in whatever bowl Kentucky is playing in that Cam Newton would have been eligible? If you say yes, PLEASE call me so I can sell you this beautiful plot of oceanfront land I own in Nebraska.

Now we have the case of The Ohio State Five, one of whom happens to be the team’s biggest star, quarterback Terrelle Pryor. They have been found guilty of selling memorabilia, getting discounts (at a tattoo parlor for crying out loud) and receiving ‘special treatment,’ a real NCAA no-no. Again, are the rules silly? Perhaps. But the NCAA says the violations are serious enough to merit a five game suspension.

Now, we can sit here most of the day and make the argument that what Newton went un-punished for is a lot more serious than what the Buckeye Five are being punished for but that’s not the point. The point is this: If they’re guilty, they’re guilty—they go to jail NOW not next September. Except the NCAA, apparently after being lobbied by The Sugar Bowl, says it is okay for them to play in The Sugar Bowl and THEN sit out the first five games of next season. Here are the five games: Akron and Toledo at home (I think they can get past those two); at Miami—coming off a 7-6 season with a new coach—Colorado (another new coach) and Michigan State—perhaps a tough game but a home game too. When do they become eligible again? For the game at Nebraska. What a shock.

Personally, if I was Pryor, all pledges to come back aside, I’d bolt for the NFL as soon as The Sugar Bowl is finally over. This isn’t new stuff for the NCAA by the way: back in 1991, it declared Nevada-Las Vegas ineligible only to move the penalty back a year because, um, UNLV was the defending NCAA champion and had everyone back and CBS really needed The Rebels eligible for ratings.

This is what the NCAA does and then it sits back and claims it has never, ever done anything wrong or done anything with the bottom line in mind. Oh please.

Meanwhile, on more pleasant topics: It was wonderful to see Air Force and (especially) Army win their bowl games although disappointing to see Navy lose. Still, all three had great seasons, combining for a record of 25-14. If you don’t think that’s a remarkable feat at military academies in times like these, you aren’t paying attention.

Maryland also won its bowl game—the Terrapins earning the right to travel 10 miles to downtown DC to play in frigid RFK Stadium in return for their 8-4 bounce-back season. The game was the last for Coach Ralph Friedgen, who was un-ceremoniously fired 10 days before the game by new Athletic Director Kevin Anderson. Basically Friedgen, who was 75-50 in ten seasons at Maryland, was fired for not selling enough tickets. Gee, what a surprise that Maryland people don’t get all that excited about ACC football.

Anderson had a plan though that seemed to make some sense: Bring in Mike Leach with his scorch-the-earth offense and mouth. Controversial, sure, everyone knows what happened at Texas Tech but if Leach won and threw for 500 yards a game no one at Maryland would care. If nothing else he would bring national attention to the school.

But Anderson was apparently overruled by the academic side of the school. Leach, they decided, carried too much baggage. And so, to replace Ralph Friedgen, Maryland hired…wait for it…Randy Edsall, who has done a fine job at Connecticut the last 12 years—just as Friedgen did a fine job at Maryland for the last ten.

Wow. The wolves are already at Anderson’s door and he’s been at Maryland for four months. I guess in the end, 2011 isn't going to be all that different than 2010.