Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jeremy Lin comparisons; Notes on the Islanders, swimming, Tiger and NCAA Tournament

Anyone who has ever read this blog knows I rarely write about the NBA. The last time I really cared about the league was about the same time that the Knicks won their second and last title in 1973.

I watched Magic and Bird and Jordan but not with any great passion. Appreciation yes, passion not so much. I think about the only time I’ve ever gotten really excited about a game in the last 20 years was when Steve Kerr made the clinching three pointer for the Bulls in 1997.

I do, occasionally, tune in when I’m home to see just how poorly The Washington Wizards can play on a given night. Most of their games should be on Comedy Central. That said, Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats are worse.

Right now though it is impossible to be a sports fan of any kind and not be aware of Jeremy Lin—I won’t use the phrase Lin-sanity because it is the kind of silly cliché that trivializes something that is truly remarkable. Let’s just say that what the kid is doing is amazing and leave it at that.

Let’s NOT compare him to Tim Tebow because, other than the fact that he is also a devout Christian, the two of them have nothing in common. Tebow was a star in high school who was recruited by just about everyone. He won a Heisman Trophy, was part of two national championship teams at Florida and—whether the so-called experts agreed or not—he WAS a first round draft choice. He’s been a star all his life. The only thing that accorded him any sort of underdog status was the constant braying about his throwing motion. Ever see Jim Furyk swing a golf club? Does he look like a U.S. Open champion?

Tebow has always been a good to great football player. Do I think he’s the next Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Eli Manning? No. But he’s proven he can play quarterback in the NFL just as he proved he could play in high school and then in college and everything about his resume says, ‘star.’

Jeremy Lin? He was right in Stanford’s backyard and the basketball coaches averted their eyes. He sent tapes to all The Ivy League schools and most of them said, ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ Boston College Coach Steve Donahue, who was then the coach at Cornell, readily admits he and his coaches didn’t think he was good enough to play for them coming out of high school.

Lin was offered a guaranteed spot on the basketball team by two schools: Harvard and Brown. He went to Harvard to play for Coach Frank Sullivan and then played for Tommy Amaker after Sullivan was (unfairly) fired by Harvard after Lynn’s freshman season. He was an All-Ivy Player for Amaker—not player-of-the-year—All-Ivy. He was undrafted, cut by two teams and a month ago was playing in the NBA Development League. Only injuries to several Knicks guards gave him the chance he has now converted into stardom.

No one knows if this will be Lin’s 15 days of fame or if he will turn out to be Kurt Warner, who went from bagging groceries to a Super Bowl winning quarterback. Will the league adjust to him? Will the magic wear off when Carmelo Anthony returns and the ball stops moving whenever it touches his hands?

Who knows?

What we do know is this: Lin has come from nowhere to somewhere his entire career. We know that he has made Asian-American proud with his play. The best sign I’ve seen in a long time was being held by an Asian-American the other night: It said, “Who says Asians can’t drive?”

Is Lin being hyped to the max everywhere he goes because he’s Asian-American? Because no one recruited him? Because he went to Harvard? Because he’s a devout Christian? Because he was cut twice?

Yes to all of the above.

Not because he’s with the Knicks—I’m not going to jump back on that bandwagon after all these years; I’ll keep hoping the Islanders can keep improving enough to sneak into the playoffs somehow—but because he’s a great story, I hope he keeps it going. God knows after the lockout and given the general quality of basketball in this play-every-night season, the NBA could use a legitimate feel-good story.

Anything that keeps people from talking about LeBron James for a few days can’t be a bad thing.


Catching up on a few notes:

--Someone asked the other day if I thought the Islanders could make the playoffs. They’re certainly playing better but losing at home to Florida doesn’t help things at all. They’re going to have to win about two-of-every-three from here on in and that’s tough. Last night was a very good win in Winnipeg but tonight in St. Louis will be one of those games where stealing one point would be a huge victory.

--Master nationals in Indy next spring? Now THAT should give me incentive to get into decent shape. Swim all day, gorge myself at St. Elmo’s at night. Perfect.

--To my friend Bill and the other Tiger-does-no-wrong defenders. 1. He said he was playing for the money in Abu Dhabi only when asked and knowing that everyone knew it anyway. On his web site his initial explanation was, ‘wanting to see new places.’ BTW, how’d you like him marking and refusing to get off the stage for Phil Mickelson on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach on Sunday the way every other golfer on tour would have done for another player who is clearly going to win a tournament? Forget me, every single player on tour noticed that one.

--What does it say about the NCAA that it allowed Jeff Hathaway to remain as chairman of the basketball committee even after he ‘resigned,’ as athletic director at Connecticut. I like Jeff personally, I’ve known him since he was one of Lefty Driesell’s managers 30 years ago, but he was in charge of a program that was allowed to play in last year’s NCAA Tournament while on probation and, as of right now, is not eligible for next year’s NCAA Tournament because of glaring academic deficiencies. The Big East created some bogus ‘consulting,’ job for Hathaway this year so he’d still be eligible to be on the committee and retain the chairmanship. If Hathaway had gone off the committee and his spot had been taken by a new Big East rep, the new person would not have been chairman. So, even though there are no politics on the committee—we know this because this is what we are told, right?—The Big East made sure it would not lose it’s chairmanship. Beyond that, after Gene Smith was allowed to remain as chairman last year even while his house at Ohio State was burning to the ground (see Tressel, Jim) it is remarkable that the NCAA would allow Hathaway to retain his chairmanship given Connecticut’s recent track record.

Then again, it isn’t remarkable. It’s the NCAA.

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Back from among the missing, all for the wonderful Super Bowl week

I figure I should write something before I start showing up on the side of milk cartons. No, I haven’t been missing, just buried under all sorts of personal matters that make me wish I could move to Cabot Cove, Maine (even if it is fictional) and be Jessica Fletcher’s neighbor. (Remember, the regulars never got killed on ‘Murder She Wrote,’ just the guest stars.)

So, it is Super Bowl week.

Oh joy.

Did you hear that Rob Gronkowski, like the rest of us, is day-to-day? Did you hear the Giants say the 2008 Super Bowl doesn’t matter regardless of how often the question is asked? Oh, and Peyton Manning is just fine. Or not fine. Without doubt, it’s one or the other. If only I had Rob Lowe’s cell phone number I could find out.

I almost went to this Super Bowl. If Lee Evans had held onto the ball in the end zone in Foxboro 10 days ago I would have gone. If Billy Cundiff had known what down it was and hadn’t rushed onto the field and hooked a 32-yard field goal attempt wide left, I might be there right now. (Question for those who pay more attention than I do: Did ANYONE from CBS notice or mention how late Cundiff came on the field or that the Ravens didn’t use the timeout they had either at that moment or in the endless postgame festivities? If they did, I missed it, but it was certainly clear that Cundiff arrived late and was rushed from where I was sitting).

I would have gone to The Super Bowl if the Ravens had been there and because I love Indianapolis. I obviously have great affection for the place because of the time I spent in Indiana 25 years ago (sales of the 25th anniversary edition of ‘Season on the Brink,’ have been remarkably brisk I’m happy to report) and because it is a very underrated city. Very good restaurants—including St. Elmo’s, the best steakhouse in the country as far as I’m concerned. It is also the perfect place for any major event because everything you want or need is walking distance.

Understand, I have nothing against either the Giants or the Patriots. As I’ve said before, I like Bill Belichick (hey, he even said something funny when his team got to town, saying he became a lot more popular in Indy after he went for it one 4th-and-two a few years back) and, even though I grew up a Jets fan and will continue to suffer with them (and the Mets and Islanders; hey, has anyone noticed that John Tavares has become an out-and-out STUD?) forever, I don’t hate the Giants. In fact, I pull for them at least twice a year. This season, they lost both those games.

But the Ravens presence would have made all the hype and bluster and logistical difficulties of Super Bowl week worth the effort. It also would have been a nice escape from all the fun of the last month. (Note: everyone in my family is healthy. This is about stuff less important but amazingly annoying and exhausting).

I’ve never been big on going to The Super Bowl. As a reporter, it is a waste of time. You’re basically a professional stenographer for a week. I’d rather watch the game at home on TV and go to bed as soon as it’s over. No doubt this is a sign of age. I’m actually starting to feel that way about the Final Four and years ago I would have told you if there was one event I’d go to forever that would be it. Now, not so much, especially since it has been so corrupted by the basketball committee and TV.

So, I’ll go to a college basketball game tonight; go to another one on Saturday; spend time with my family; keep plugging away at this other stuff and be grateful that the winter has been so mild so far. It’s warm enough to play golf. I wish I had the time.

Speaking of golf, I heard a rumor that Tiger Woods played last week. He went to Abu Dhabi, apparently because he likes to see new places. That’s what his website said anyway and Tiger would NEVER say something that was insincere in any way, shape or form. The $2-$3 million appearance fee he got had nothing to do with it. The fact that he has a new contract with Rolex and the tournament in Dubai, where he USED to get a $2-$3 million appearance fee is sponsored by Omega, had nothing to do with it.

(Tiger lovers, I write this just so you can yammer on about how unfair I am to your hero. God forbid anyone should, you know point out who the guy really is.)

Switching to a more pleasant topic: one of my former employers is making a mistake and I’m truly sorry to see it happen. Navy is joining the Big East in 2015, meaning it will be locked into eight conference games a season instead of having the flexibility that has allowed it to schedule itself (along with very good coaching) into eight bowls in nine years.

That means, in theory, Navy will have ONE game to play with on its schedule since it initially said it would keep playing Army, Air Force and Notre Dame. So, those of you who enjoyed those games against Ohio State, South Carolina and Stanford—along with next fall’s game at Penn State—you can forget about that. Navy will HAVE to schedule an automatic win in that slot. What’s more, I saw today where Coach Ken Niumatalolo is already hedging about continuing to play Air Force. He said Army and Notre Dame are absolute musts but Air Force, not so much.

Seriously, Kenny? The best game in college football every year if you care at all about tradition and the quality of the people on the field is Army-Navy. The second and third best games, in no special order, are Navy-Air Force and Army-Air Force. The fact that Navy would even CONSIDER not playing Air Force (and please Navy fans don’t say they didn’t always play pre-1972, that’s ancient and irrelevant history) is proof that this Big East move is a bad idea.

But then, no one asked me what I thought. At least the Army people DID ask me what I thought before their disastrous move to Conference-USA in 1998. They ignored me of course but at least they asked.

I wish Navy nothing but good things but I think, no matter how their various apologists/paid bloggers might rationalize it, this is a mistake. I hope I’m wrong.

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Catching up with Washington Post articles: Maryland's Honor Violation; Navy Steps in the Wrong Direction

Here are two of my latest from The Washington Post --------

When the Maryland basketball team won the national championship in 2002, Gary Williams received hundreds, if not thousands, of letters congratulating him on taking the Terrapins to a place few dreamed they could ever go.

Williams read almost all the letters. Some meant more than others, coming from old friends and coaching colleagues. One stood out. It came from a former Maryland coach.

“Congratulations,” it read in part. “You have now made Maryland the UCLA of the East.”
The note came from Lefty Driesell.

It was Driesell who made the term “UCLA of the East” famous when he came to Maryland in 1969 and boldly predicted he would build a program somehow comparable to college basketball’s most incomparable program.

Driesell came up 10 national championships short of John Wooden but he did put Maryland basketball on the national map, taking the Terrapins to eight NCAA tournaments in 17 seasons, twice reaching the Elite Eight. He left in 1986 in the aftermath of the Len Bias tragedy.

It was Williams, after the disastrous three-year tenure of Bob Wade, who picked up the pieces of a shattered program and made Maryland matter again. Ultimately, he did what Driesell could not do, taking Maryland to back-to-back Final Fours and the national title that brought the kind of joy to the Maryland campus that for years seemed impossible in the wake of Bias’s death.

Click here for the rest of the column: Maryland's Honor Violation


In November 1995, I was standing on the sidelines at Michie Stadium on a frigid afternoon watching the Army football team practice. Al Vanderbush, then Army’s athletic director, was watching with me. In the midst of small talk about plans for Thanksgiving, Vanderbush suddenly said, “Mind if I ask your opinion on something?”

Flattered, I said, sure.

“What would you think about us joining Conference USA?” Vanderbush said.

My answer was instinctive rather than thought-out: “You’re kidding, right?”

Sadly, Vanderbush wasn’t kidding, nor was anyone else at West Point. They thought that being part of Conference USA’s TV package would give them more exposure and more revenue and being part of a league would help in recruiting.

Put simply, the end result was a disaster, culminating in an 0-13 season in 2003. To be fair, Todd Berry, who was hired in 2000 to replace Bob Sutton as coach, and Rick Greenspan, the athletic director who hired him, had as much to do with that record as playing in Conference USA did. But the decision to join C-USA in 1998 led to Sutton’s firing and a fall from football grace so precipitous that, all these years later, Army is still recovering.

Click here for the rest of the column: Navy Steps in the Wrong Direction

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Washington Post columns: Hockey not the same without Ovechkin vs. Crosby; ACC basketball

Just passing along my latest The Washington Post columns from this week.

Maybe it was force of habit, but NBC Sports Network (which was Versus until two weeks ago) decided Wednesday that America’s hockey fans couldn’t live without seeing the eighth-place team in the NHL’s Eastern Conference take on the 10th-place team.

That was the matchup at Verizon Center: The eighth-place Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the 10th-place Washington Capitals. This is the rivalry formerly known as Ovi vs. Sid the Kid.

Both superstars were in the building Wednesday. Alex Ovechkin was wearing his familiar red sweater with the No. 8 stitched in white underneath his name. Sidney Crosby was wearing a very unfamiliar blue pinstripe suit and making small talk in the press box in the minutes leading up to faceoff.

Crosby has played in eight games this season because of lingering concussion symptoms that began a little more than a year ago after he took a hit from former Cap David Steckel during the Winter Classic. Neither the Penguins nor the NHL have been quite the same since. In the opening round of last spring’s playoffs, Pittsburgh blew a three-games-to-one lead and lost in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning — the same team that then swept the Capitals; the same team that Steven Stamkos, currently the league’s leading scorer, skates for right now.
Click here for the rest of the column: Hockey just isn’t the same without Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby


In the spring of 2004, the nine ACC men’s basketball coaches were asked to consider a proposal to add Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College as league members.

The discussion, according to those in the room, was brief. The vote was emphatic: 9 to 0 against expansion.

“It might have been the only 9 to 0 vote we ever had in my 22 years,” former Maryland coach Gary Williams recalled recently, laughing at the memory. “Of course the commissioner and the presidents said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and did what they were planning to do. Our thoughts never left that room because they didn’t care.”

Almost eight years later, it looks as if they should have cared. Consider these names: Iona (which beat Maryland, easily), Wofford, Boston University, Holy Cross, Mercer, Coastal Carolina, Princeton, Harvard (twice) and Tulane. They all have wins over ACC teams this season.

This is the basketball conference in the country?

Click here for the rest of the column: Since expansion, the ACC has been merely another common conference in basketball

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sorry state of ACC football, basketball; Odds and ends: Islanders, PGA Tour starts today, Army-Navy documentary

I have one question this morning: Has West Virginia stopped scoring yet?

It is now fair to say that the ACC’s complete and total humiliation as a football conference is complete. If the league had one very small thing going for it the last few years it was that it had so destroyed The Big East as a football conference by raiding Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, that it could always at least make the claim that, “Well, we’re not as bad as The Big East.”

Actually that might have made a pretty good slogan for ACC football: “Not as bad as The Big East!”

(That reminds me of a bumper sticker that my great friend Tom Mickle came up with years ago when he was the SID at Duke and the school hired a guy named Red Wilson as football coach. Everywhere you went in the fall of 1978 if you were anywhere close to Duke you saw the slogan, “Red Means Go!” Duke went 2-9 that season which, back then, was the worst season in Duke history. These days two wins gets whoever is coaching Duke nominated for ACC coach-of-the-year. The next spring I asked Mickle what his slogan was going to be for Wilson’s second season. “Duke Football 1979,” he said. That sounded optimistic to me).

Anyway, back to the wonders of ACC football circa 2012. The ACC got eight bowl bids this season. The only reason it wasn’t nine was because 6-6 Miami decided to take a chance that by staying home this year it might not be docked a potential postseason berth next season ala Ohio State, which couldn’t wait to send ITS 6-6 team to The Gator Bowl where it met another 6-6 team, Florida. You know the Gator Bowl used to be a halfway decent second-tier bowl. Now it has become a haven for the truly mediocre.

So, the ACC sent eight teams to bowls. Two won: North Carolina State, which managed to beat Louisville—if it were basketball that might be impressive—and Florida State, which came from behind to beat Notre Dame, a team that proved this season it can lose a close game to anyone. (For the record, Notre Dame beat one good team this season: Michigan State. Their other seven wins were over four teams with losing records; one team that is 6-6 and two teams that were 7-6. Impressive).

That’s the list of ACC bowl wins. The fact that the league got two BCS bids is absolute proof of what a farce the BCS is, as if we need any more proof than we already have. Virginia Tech is a very solid program and Frank Beamer’s an excellent coach, but the Hokies beat NO ONE this season and lost twice (soundly) to Clemson, the team that West Virginia is still scoring on as we speak. Yes, Tech kept the Sugar Bowl close before losing to Michigan in overtime. Fine. But any Hokie fan can tell you this is the school’s history the last dozen or so years: They keep it close playing big teams and ALWAYS lose. Sorry, beating Georgia Tech doesn’t count.

I’m writing my Sunday Washington Post column on the sorry state of ACC basketball. In talking to ACC people, the consensus is this: One of the things hurting basketball is the league’s insistence on trying to pump up its mediocre football. If you hire good coaches, you’ll win. If you hire bad coaches, they’ll lose. All the marketing money in the world isn’t going to change that. And the perception that Commissioner John Swofford cares only about pumping up his football dollars while letting North Carolina and Duke do all the heavy lifting in basketball isn’t helping things at all.

ACC people are already saying that Florida State will be ready for the national stage again next season. Of course that’s what they were saying about THIS season before the Seminoles became just another second-tier bowl team and lost to Wake Forest—among others.

Around Washington the joke is that the highlight of the NFL season comes in April. In the ACC it comes in August when the conference somehow lands five teams in the pre-season top 25 thanks to its PR and marketing hype before it all crashes once actual games are played. Virginia Tech will probably come in somewhere between 15 and 22 in the final polls. Florida State may sneak in at the bottom of the top 25.

That’s the list. That’s ACC football: 11 Gator Bowl teams and Duke, which would love the chance to buy tickets to watch The Gator Bowl. Of course Syracuse and Pittsburgh are on the way. Syracuse finished 5-7 this season. Pitt is 6-6 and playing on some god-awful bowl this weekend. Their addition will mean the ACC will have 13 Gator Bowl teams. And Duke—The Washington Generals of college football.


A few quick comments on other topics:

--Has anyone noticed that The New York Islanders have won three in a row and moved within 11 points of the final playoffs spot? (If you’re answer is yes I feel sorry for you. You’re as pathetic as I am.)

--I never root against a Mike Krzyzewski team. But I couldn’t help but feel really good for Fran Dunphy when his Temple team beat Duke on Wednesday. A really good coach but a better guy.

--The new golf season begins today in Hawaii with a grand total of 28 players showing up to play in the (insert car name here) Tournament of Champions. Three of the four major champions said, ‘thanks but no thanks,’ to a week on Maui playing with no cut for several million bucks. You think The PGA Tour needs to take a look at making some changes in this event before NO ONE at all shows up?

--A couple of posters asked how I could know that no new ground was broken in CBS’s multi-million dollar Army-Navy documentary when I said I didn’t watch the whole thing. What I wrote was that I didn’t see anything that broke new ground. People who HAVE watched the whole thing tell me they didn’t see anything new from start to finish. Rather than go back and watch it and give what would no doubt be a biased critique I will leave the final word (for now) to a reviewer who enjoyed the documentary and praised the idea, the slickness of the production and liked the people portrayed. “It does, however, come off as a recruiting film for both academies,” he wrote.

Gee, I’m stunned.

I have nothing bad to say about either academy as people well know. But I DO (modestly) think that the reason “A Civil War,’ resonated with a lot of people was that I did NOT attempt to glorify the players or the academies. Both by their own admission have plenty of flaws. I let them tell their stories. I thought that was enough.

My newest book is now available at your local bookstore, or you can order on-line here: One on One-- Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game