SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Monday, May 31, 2004

NBA Draft Demographics, and a Tale of Two Point Guards

To show you how much the NBA draft has changed, 24 of the top 50 prospects (on one draft board) are 19 years old or younger. Only 9 of those who are 20 or older are 22 years old. How many of the players who are 19 or younger are ready to play an 82-game schedule in the NBA? How many of them are ready to live on their own? How many of them will have posses the size of the wait staff at the Ruth's Chris restaurants they will frequent on the road once they sign their big contracts? SportsProf has no problems with the notion that many of the top draft picks are so young, but he wishes the coaches who get them well.

And then there are the point guards, where Jameer Nelson, the NCAA player of the year according to some, is rated as the fourth best point guard, with NYC HS legend Sebastian Telfair being rated fifth. Telfair has signed with an agent, which means he won't be honing his craft under Rick Pitino at Louisville, and rumor has it that he already has a big shoe contract. Who would you take? Telfair, at 18, is four years younger, and for what it's worth he is Stephon Marbury's cousin. Nelson, meanwhile, led his team to a magical season. Telfair has great potential, although some scouts have questioned his shooting ability and his upper body strength.

Telfair is projected as a first-round pick, as is Nelson. Both are around the same height, so neither is Shaun Livingston, the 6'7" PG from Peoria, who is touted as having the best court vision since a 6'9" kid from East Lansing named Earvin Johnson. Livingston will go before Nelson or Telfair (he hasn't signed with an agent, and he has signed with Duke). He may be a better pick than Nelson or Telfair, but if I had to choose between someone who has performed under the bright lights (Nelson) and who has made his team better every step of the way and someone who hasn't done much yet (Telfair, although his NYC HS record, and his team's, are impressive), I'll take the college player. Jameer Nelson has paid his dues in a way Sebastian Telfair has not, and in this crazy NBA world, that should count for something.

Yale Hoopster Killed in Car Crash

Yale center Josh Hill, who missed most of last season because of an injury, was killed in a one-car accident late last week near the New Jersey shore. The Delaware native planned on returning to the Yale basketball team this fall. He was a rugged player who gave the Elis a tough inside presence. Last year the Elis' performance slipped a bit, as most observers believe that Yale underachieved. Hill's physical play helped Yale fare well against Penn and Princeton two seasons ago, when there was a three-way tie for the Ivy title and Yale lost to Penn in a playoff that determined who would represent the Ivies in the NCAA Tournament. Even though Hill was not a scorer, I for one believed that last season the Elis missed the spark that he gave the team two years ago when it fared so well. Josh Hill was 22, and he is survived by his parents and two brothers. SportsProf sends his heartfelt condolences to the Yale basketball family. He will be missed.

Syracuse Wins 9th (or is it its 8th) National Title in Lacrosse

If you didn't watch the national championship game in Division I men's lacrosse, you missed a treat, as Syracuse edged Navy, 14-13 before over 43,000 people in Baltimore to win its 9th national title (the reason I suggest that they won their 8th is because some of the articles leading up to this game reported that Hopkins and Syracuse were tied with 7 national titles apiece; I think that the Orange were stripped of a title owing to some recruiting violations, perhaps as recently as within the past 10 years). At any rate, the Orange, the #4 team in the country before the tourney began, got outstanding goaltending (they had something like 16 saves to Navy's 6), which they needed because Navy got the better of them on faceoffs. Mike Powell of Syracuse, who had 5 assists, was named the outstanding player in the tournament. ESPN did a nice job on the telecast, and you can check out a writeup of the game on ESPN.com.

Another great Final Four in men's lacrosse, and another riveting final game.

The Greek God of Walks is in the Majors

You might have missed this tidbit twice, first, if you didn't read "Moneyball" and second if you're not a Boston Red Sox fan. (By the way, while SportsProf enjoyed "Moneyball", he doesn't view it as a transcending baseball book the way he does Lawrence Ritter's "The Glory of Their Times"). Youkilis was cited as perhaps the prime minor-league prospect fitting the "Moneyball" criteria of having a great on-base percentage, or "OBP" as the cognoscenti call it. Anyway, he's been up with the BoSox for several weeks now, playing third, batting second, and the last I checked he was hitting about .280 with a .420 OBP, which, in anyone's book, is and outstanding OBP. Last night, he batted second, went 3-4 and scored 3 runs. Kevin Youkilis -- remember the name.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Algorithm for a Successful Football Coach

SportsProf always has wondered about this -- what makes a successful coach, and, particularly, a successful football coach. SportsProf occasionally reads books by coaches, although he doesn't buy into their management books because it's hard to think that what Phil Jackson or Rick Pitino does translate into the board room or into meetings of top management. They and their disciples may debate me at length on this, but there are limits to sports metaphors.

Still, SportsProf has drawn wisdom from books by John Wooden and Dean Smith, to name a few (and particulary loves the little blue book that Coach Wooden has written that is more a collection of wisdom and good stories than it is a narrative). Anyway, that said, SportsProf just came upon a great quote and wanted to share it with you.

SportsProf reads "The New Yorker", which is an amazing feat considering that many who subscribe to this magazine let their copies pile up in their living rooms because each magazine has more to read that you possible can in one week. Anyway, in a recent edition (I can't remember the date or the title of the article), Adam Gopnik writes of enticing a famous museum curator who once was a defensive backfield coach at Williams College to coach his eight year-old son's flag football team. Gopnik relates that when he asked the curator about why he didn't take up coaching football, the gentleman replied, "Coaching football requires someone who is smart enough to do it well but dumb enough not to realize that any of it really matters." I might not have nailed down the quote precisely, but that's the gist of it.

And it's a great quote. True, some great coaches have coached football, and it's great to quote Lombardi, talk about Bill Walsh's offenses, Bill Parcells' hardass quotient and all the rest, but you have to ask yourself, with all that's going on in the world, is football really more than just another extracurricular activity? Lest we forget other important things in life, like taking your kids for ice cream, helping on a community project to build a playground, volunteering at your child's school, or calling a friend or neighbor in need, football is a game and that's it. Enjoy it, yes, but if you're redecorating your house in your home team's colors, or if you start crying without pretext because your favorite team is having a bad year, please go seek professional help.

Middies face Orange for National Title in Men's Lacrosse

SportsProf was otherwise occupied with Memorial Day weekend activities on Saturday and therefore was unable to watch the NCAA semifinals in men's lacrosse. Over 46,000 people watched the Navy-Princeton, Johns Hopkins-Syracuse doubleheader at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore, setting an NCAA record in so doing. In the first game, Navy never trailed, although the game was tied 3 times, and the #2 Middies beat the young Princeton Tiger squad to advance to the title game (Navy has never won the national title in men's lacrosse; Hopkins and Syracuse have 7 titles apiece, Princeton 6, and, with respect to the Tigers, their 6 have occurred in the past 12 years).

In the second game, Syracuse was facing a Hopkins team that beat it a combined 36-13 in their past 2 meetings, dating back to the NCAA tournament last year. The Blue Jays' lax team is Hopkins only Division I men's team, and they were hoping that they could show that their #1 ranking was justified. It wasn't, as the Orange, as Navy did in the first game, controlled the faceoffs and the ground balls and thrashed Hopkins, 15-9, to force a confrontation with Navy in the NCAA title game on Memorial Day.

The game should be a great one, featuring an absolute stalwart in Syracuse against a very solid, if surprising #2 team in Navy. Syracuse has been there before, but Navy hasn't, and SportsProf wouldn't be surprised if the crowd is a Navy crowd, given all that the Middies will face after they graduate. Syracuse travels well and brings many fans, but it will be hard for the neutral observer (not to mention alums of most schools who play the Orange) not to root for Navy.

Watch lacrosse if you haven't before. You won't be disappointed.

What's Next, Will They Name a Stadium after Rickey Henderson?

This week's "ESPN, The Magazine" has an action shot of the Pacers against the Pistons in the NBA Playoffs in their "Zoom" section, under a header of "All Fall Down, Canseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis." That's no typo, either, they did write Canseco Fieldhouse. For those of you stock market afficionados and for those of you SportsProf readers who are familiar with the insurance business, that should read Conseco, after the insurance company whose stock was once hotter than, well, the sports cars that the typographical error was fond of driving at over 100 mph on Florida highways. Instead, the hip ESPN Magazine called it Canseco, and, last I heard, no one has ever named a field house, arena or stadium after the erstwhile Oakland A's bash brother who had problems with those cars and nightclubs and who will probably remain forever shy of his goal of 500 career home runs. Last we saw Jose Canseco, he showed up at a tryout for the Dodgers in the winter and looked unimpressive. Meanwhile, his former teammate, Rickey Henderson, at the ripe old age of 46 (I think that's it) was working his magic for the Newark Bears. Henderson House kind of has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

Whither the Indy 500?

Did any of you watch the Indy 500 today? Since I mentioned the Beverly Hillbillies in my previous post, did anyone see Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) sing "Back Home in Indiana"? Or does anyone really care anymore? Quick, name one Indy driver. One CART driver? I remember the day when people dropped what they were doing to watch A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al and Bobby Unser, Mark Donahue, Gordon Johncock and all the rest fly around the Brickyard. But no longer. NASCAR has eclipsed Indy racing, and the Indy 500 just doesn't have the cache it used to.

One Week to the Belmont

So much has been written about Smarty Jones that it makes you wonder how good a horse he really is. True, Philadelphians are starved for a winner. Philadelphia has the longest drought of any city with professional baseball, basketball, football and hockey teams -- dating back to the 1982-1983 76ers. And, if that's not bad enough, there has been a good-natured turf battle going on between Philadelphia and its neighbor, Bucks County, as Philadelphia Park, Smarty Jones' home track, is located in Bucks County. Bottom line is that Southeastern Pennsylvania is looking for its first winner in over twenty years.

To make matters worse for this three year-old, the national media has attached itself to the Seabiscuit-like story of the owners, the trainer, the jockey and the horse itself. When Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby, the New York Times wrote of the Smarty Jones team as if they were the Beverly Hillbillies (Philadelphians frequently suffer that fate at the hands of New Yorkers). The coverge was patronizing at best, insulting at worst. But ever since Smarty Jones ran away with the Preakness, even the New York media has been singing the praises of this colt. And, with only five competitors in the Belmont at last count, Smarty does look like a prohibitive favorite to win the Triple Crown.

But remember, in something like six of the eight past years, the media has anointed horses as Triple Crown winners, only to have all six who won both the Derby and the Preakness lose in the 1 1/2 mile third leg of the Triple Crown. So before everyone gets drunk singing the praises of Smarty Jones, please have him run the Belmont and win it. Many go into the Belmont as Triple Crown winners, only to emerge as victims of the Belmont Stakes.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Smarty Jones' Horseshoe Wasn't Lucky Last Night

Perhaps that's why Frank Sinatra sang "Lucky be a Lady Tonight," as it sounds better than "Luck be a Star Horse's Horseshoe Tonight." Billy King, the Philadelphia 76ers' General Manager, took a horsehoe once worn the Belmont and Triple Crown favorite to the NBA Lottery selections last night. The 76ers had a 10% chance of getting the first pick, could sink no lower than 11th, and the odds were that they would end up with the 9th pick. So what happened? They ended up with the 9th pick.

Moral of the story: The lucky horseshoe is probably only lucky when worn by an outstanding thoroughbred.

"Moneyball" and the Joys of Tabletop Baseball Games

SportsProf loved the book "Moneyball" and, like most baseball fans, had read for years about the statistical analyses that some general managers have used to evaluate players. Those analyses are at the other end of the continuum from the metrics that traditional scouts have used. I believe it was in "Dollar Sign on the Muscle" where I read that many scouts use as their final criteria whether a prospect "has got the good face." I suppose that means whether they could imagine him as a major league ballplayer. Not very scientific, but to a degree even the numbers crunchers would have to admit that scouting is part science, part art. After all, a guy who didn't crunch numbers was the Phillies' legendary scout, the late Tony Lucadello, who signed 50 players who went on to Major League careers, including Mike Schmidt. In short, there are various ways to pick out prospects.

That said, SportsProf is amazed that teams didn't use statistical analyses before the 21st century. Reader J.W. spoke of his ABPA league, and SportsProf played Strat-o-Matic as a kid. Strat-o-Matic is a great game, and it tries, in basic and advanced formats (where pitchers and hitters are broken down as to how they would fare against righties and lefties), to replicate what happened during the regular season. (I believe there is a superadvanced version too that might take into account the effect of the ballpark in which a game is played, but I haven't played the game in years).

Here's the point: when we played, we drafted players, and my first year in the league I came in dead last because I drafted purely on the usual numbers that fans read (ERA, batting average). Wayne Garland won a bunch of games in say 1975 or so, so I drafted him, only to learn that his on-base percentages yielded were far worse than pitchers with worse records. When I chose Garland, I thought I had a steal, but I recall how the league veterans were bemused by the pick. They were savvy, and they took the time to figure out which players had good on-base percentages and which pitchers yielded the fewest runners. Sure, it was easy to take Mike Schmidt and Joe Morgan with the first two picks, as their overall numbers were outstanding (Schmidt's OBP was always great), but players like Darrell Evans, the slugging third baseman (and first baseman) for the Atlanta Braves, rose to higher rounds because they got on base a lot. Evans might have hit .240, but he walked a lot, and his power numbers were terrific. The Strat-o-Matic kids loved him -- he was a hidden gem.

Naturally, we thought that everyone in the majors relied on these stats and formed their teams accordingly. Today, Darrell Evans would make huge bucks, but then they probably held his batting average against him and didn't fully reward his on-base percentage. Who knows, had we written up something on what we knew to be true, we could have front-run Billy Beane and his proteges by two decades. Which means that we might have had totally different day jobs.

And I think I read somewhere that Billy Beane played Strat-o-Matic as a kid, and, around the same time as the six of us who played in our league, might have figured out the same thing.

A Plug for Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio

If you have a decent drive to work in the morning, check out ESPN Radio in your area. ESPN Radio's morning show, "Mike & Mike in the Morning" is a first-rate show that is chock full of great information and gets great guests -- both ESPN writers and analysts and also players, coaches and general managers. The hosts are Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic. The former is a level-headed, knowledgeable host, something akin to the sports nerd that we grew up with. The latter captained the Notre Dame football team and played 9 years in the NFL, most of them as a defensive tackle with the Philadelphia Eagles. He's the answer to the trivia question, "On those great Buddy Ryan teams in the late 1980's, who was the other defensive lineman alongside Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons?" Golic is knowledgeable, does his homework and gives the professional athlete's perspective. When you get the chance, check it out. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

That's Why We Don't Quit our Day Jobs

SportsProf is in a Fantasy Baseball League that has 11 teams and only drafts players from the National League. Last year SportsProf's team lost out on the title in the final week. The league has been around for 16 years, and every year we hold a draft (we do retain players), and every year we all sit in the same spot. At any rate, in the off-season, SportsProf and his partner, the good cardiologist, had to make some tough decisions. We're in a league that has a $260 salary cap. If you win an auction for a player, you hold the player's rights for 2 years at the auction price and have to increase his price by $5 each year thereafter.

We had some tough decisions: keep Rob Mackowiak at $1 or let him go, keep Craig Wilson at $10 or let him go, keep Kerry Wood at $28 or let him go, and keep Lyle Overbay at $15 or let him go. Mind you, we read all of the guides, listened to all of the pundits, and even read such erudite publications as Baseball Prospectus. So what did we read? Mackowiak is a journeyman who might not make the roster, Wilson strikes out way too much (we already had decided to keep Geoff Jenkins at $12, keep Adam Dunn at $20, keep J.D. Drew at $15 and cut Cliff Floyd, who would have cost us $24), Wood won't pitch much better and is likely to get injured because of how he throws, and Overbay might be a poor man's Mark Grace, but he won't hit for power and he didn't hit last year and he was worth more like $6.

So what happened? Jenkins is stuck at .260 without much power, Dunn strikes out a lot, Drew goes on the DL a lot, and Floyd blew out a quad in the first week of the season, but now he's back. Meanwhile, Mackowiak has 7 home runs, Wilson was hitting .350 at last count, Wood did get hurt, and Overbay is not "Overpay" -- he had a 17-game hitting streak and is hitting about what Wilson is hitting.

So now we're mired in 6th place, but in the second division, and we'll be chanting the mantra of "Mackowiak, Craig Wilson and Overbay" for the rest of the season.

Don't They Have the Mercy Rule in this Little League?

A friend of SportsProf e-mailed to say that if SportsProf was short on content, he should report that this software executive coached his kids' second-grade Little League team to a 26-3 win last night (in the Dallas area). Which led to a question: don't they have the mercy rule, so that if you're up by more than 10 runs after 5 innings, they call the game? I posed this to a colleague of mine who's a native of the Midwest, who replied, "They don't have the mercy rule down there. It's Texas."

What was Gary Bettman thinking?

Sports commissioners never cease to amaze SportsProf. A few years ago, after the great ending to the Dbacks-Yankees World Series, actually, right after that great ending, Baseball commissioner Bud Selig started talking about the need for contraction in baseball. Instead of letting his beloved sport bask in the glory of a great World Series, he rained on his own parade.

Fast-forward to yesterday, where NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke publicly on the state of the NHL, and about the possible labor version of a Texas Death Match that the owners and players are about to commence. Bettman said that no one should doubt the owners' resolve here. That's all well and good, and perhaps it needed to be said -- again -- but did he need to say it on the first day of the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Did he need to say it right on the eve of a matchup of two finalists for the MVP award in the NHL -- Jerome Iginla of Calgary and Martin St. Louis of Tampa Bay? Did he need to say it on the eve of a matchup between two solid goalies, Kiprusoff of Calgary and Khabibulin of Tampa Bay?

The NHL needs a major shot of something to straighten out its problems. Commissioner Bettman, though, did not help his league's cause by saying what he did when he did it. Instead of talking about labor woes, he should have been extolling the virtues of some very talented hockey players.

Break up the Cincinnati Reds!

Why is it in this era of sophisticated statistical analysis that one team always seems to slip past the pundits, the Sabremetricians, the Vegas oddsmakers and the other kibbitzers of Major League Baseball? Sure, it's early in the season, and some who come out of the gate fast finish poorly (in contrast, most who have bad Aprils end up finishing out of the playoffs, with a few rare exceptions). Still, you have to admire the start of the Cincinnati Reds, who are playing .600 ball and have, at last look, the second best record in the majors behind the underpublicized Anaheim Angels.

At the season's outset, SportsProf told a friend from Cincinnati that the Reds couldn't win so long as Jimmy Haynes was in their starting rotation. Amazingly, two weeks later, the Reds cut Haynes, letting him go outright. So far, the great story of the season has been the Reds' Paul Wilson, who is 7-0. You may not remember that at one time Wilson was the top pick in the draft, by the Mets, and that he, Jason Isringhausen and Bill Pulsipher formed a "can't miss" trio of Mets' prospects. Pulsipher never really materialized (he had perhaps a thermos of coffee in the majors), and the Mets tired of Izzy and traded him to the A's. Wilson had awful arm injuries, and for a while it looked like he never was going to be able to fulfill his promise. Thankfully, through much perserverance, he's off to a fine start. As is closer Danny Graves, who already has 21 saves, and it isn't even June yet. And how many fans thought that Ryan Wagner would take over the closer's role this season? (And how many of you paid too much for him in your fantasy league?).

The hitting has been good too. Junior Griffey has his old swing back, and has 11 dingers. Adam Dunn is still striking out too much, but his OBP is .450. Sean Casey is hitting .379 with an OBP of .425, and all this success despite losing Jason LaRue to the DL and having Austin Kearns hitting .197 so far.

Break up the Reds? Not yet. Will Junior stay healthy? Will Kearns hit? Will the pitching hold? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Beloved Mid-Majors

SportsProf has been thinking about the mid-majors and the recent elimination of the NCAA's 5/8 rule for college basketball recruiting. Basically, the 5/8 rule provided that a college program could offer no more than 5 scholarships in one year or eight in a two-year period, most likely to prevent "overrecruiting". Some programs have run into hardship because of this rule, such as Texas Tech when Bob Knight arrived, and any school that endures a coaching change and a rush of transfers seemingly found itself in a bind because of that rule. So what did the NCAA do? It eliminated the rule, and, ironically, followed the Ivies, which never had the rule applied to them because they don't offer athletic scholarships. The Ivies always have been able to bring in as many players they wanted each year.

What are the practical ramifications? The pundits believe that the mid-majors will suffer because the bigger schools won't have to manage their scholarships as carefully, with the result that they should always have an extra scholarship available for that one player who "just might make the difference." One pundit believes that 200 players who otherwise would go to mid-majors now will go to bigger schools, thereby diluting their talent pool. That may be right, but to me there also will be a boatload of additional transfers.

Why more transfers? Think about it? If you're recruited by an ACC school and get there only to find that you are the fourth two guard, you might want to go somewhere where you can get playing time. Plenty of kids transfer already, and with the bigger schools having the potential to overload and schools already having the right not to renew a scholarship year-in and year-out, more kids will transfer.

As for the Ivies, they routinely bring in 5 kids a year into their programs. Some are bona fide varsity players, others might play another sport, might be practice player material, but still they bring in their 5 kids a year -- or more. Brown, for example, is bringing in 8 kids according to www.ivybasketball.com. That's a lot of kids, but when you read stats like that you don't know how many kids are committed players and how many want to spend more time in the computer lab and join the Young Democrats. In any event, I'm not sure that the lack of a rule has helped the Ivies (Princeton, for one, has had a significant amount of player movement in the past several years -- even with that, the Tigers have won 2 titles in the past 4 years).

So good luck Mid-Majors -- perhaps instead of enjoying a good player for 4 years, you'll now have him playing for you for 3.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Yale Confers an Honorary Degree on Willie Mays

Yale University has conferred an honorary degree on Willie Mays. It's good to see that one of the greatest players ever is getting attention for being something other than being Barry Bonds' godfather. Mays for years had to suffer the indignity of Joe DiMaggio's insistence of being announced as baseball's "Greatest Living Ballplayer" at every function he was introduced. Mays at that time deserved, and, given the taint on his beloved godson, probably still deserves, that title. Way to go to the "Say Hey" kid!

The NBA Draft

Quick, outside Emeka Okafor, who will be the first college player taken in the NBA draft? Who will be the first college senior taken in the NBA draft? How many U.S. high school players will be taken in the top half of the NBA draft? Good questions, all.

SportsProf is not one of those critics who will argue that the NBA draft should be only for upperclassmen (i.e., college seniors and juniors or players who are 21 and older if they don't fall into the ranks of college seniors and juniors). Why? For one thing, the best players should get the opportunity, regardless of age. For another, this sort of thing has been going on in tennis for years, and no one, for example, blanched publicly when Aaron Krickstein of a nice Detroit suburb opted to go pro at 16 instead of staying in high school and then playing college tennis for Michigan or USC or Stanford. No one blanched when the likes of a Pam Shriver eschewed any chance of college to play professional tennis. Of course, I'm joking a bit, but why shouldn't basketball players have the same freedoms that tennis players do?

So what's the difference, really? Every year there are kids who turn pro in tennis, and every year there are kids who opt for the NBA (the former number has to be much larger than the latter). And, in both sports, there are the successes, and there are the failures. Some kids would benefit from college -- either to mature physically or mentally -- and some kids are ready. The bottom line is that if the kids are ready, let 'em play.

Now a discerning reader might point out that the current states of both those sports are rather bad, and I wouldn't disagree. To me, men's tennis hasn't had the draws since the height of the Agassi-Sampras battles, and, quite frankly, those paled in comparison to the era when McEnroe, Connors, Borg and many others battled mightily. As for the NBA, the product is not very good (at least not until the regional semis), and there is too much dilution of talent. The Jordan era was exciting, but the rivalries that existed the in '80's among the Lakers and Celtics (with the 76ers and Pistons mixed in) were absolutely first rate. There really aren't any parallels between the two sports, but neither is a whole lot of fun to watch except when the biggest tournaments -- or the biggest games -- are on the line.

There are many big men being discussed now on various websites, such as the big kid from Korea (who is something like 7'4") and the former construction worker from Brazil who is 6'10", 280 and spent a few years at American colleges. It seems like there are about 20 or so players in their late teens or early 20's who are 6'10" or bigger who are the subject of much discussion. Here's to hoping that a lot of them can play, and that a good subset of them can play down in the low blocks! Gentlemen, the NBA needs you.

Mike Montgomery's Decision, Continued

Coach Montgomery's decision still baffles me, enough that it warrants more scrutiny. Did Coach Montgomery believe that he had taken the Stanford Cardinal as far as he could? Did he think that with the impending exit of Josh Childress it would take him long enough to get another star player of that caliber and that he would be in his sixties before making perhaps his final run at an NCAA title? Or did he think that this would be his only shot at an NBA gig? Or, finally, is it about the money? Living in northern California isn't an inexpensive proposition, so does the Clippers North deal (oops, the Warriors' deal) offer him the final piece of financial security that could let him retire in northern California in absolute comfort? Given that most coaches in the Eastern Conference have been in their jobs for slightly longer than the horse-racing season at Saratoga, what makes Coach Montgomery believe he'll be treated any differently? The Clippers North's players felt that erstwhile Coach Eric Musselman was too hard on them. What about a former college coach, whose authority was absolute? What happens when he wants to kick a twenty-one year-old with a $200,000 car and $50,000 in jewelry and a guaranteed contract out of practice? At Stanford, no one hears about that sort of thing. In the NBA, that grabs headlines, and that can totally cause a team to lose its focus. Not only will the Clippers North not be college anymore, it won't be Stanford, where not only were the players good, they were also rather smart. Of course, Coach Montgomery could prove all of us wrong and have the magic formula for success in the NBA, and here's to hoping that he does.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Stanford's Search for a Men's Basketball Coach

Mike Montgomery did a great job at Stanford, and I'll leave it to others as to what could have motivated him at age 57 to go to the NBA and take on the challenge of the Golden State Warriors (which last won a title in 1975, I believe, when they upset the then-Washington Bullets in 4 straight games behind a pair of forwards named Cazzie Russell and Rick Barry, and which have done not a whole lot ever since). Andy Katz wrote a good piece on espn.com about why Montgomery has left Stanford, and I would encourage you to read it. Naturally, there aren't many places the Warriors could go other than up, and SportsProf wishes the mentor of a school highly thought of for its academics and athletics (SportsProf likes this sort of thing) well.

Speculation will run rampant as to who Coach Montgomery's successor will be, and naturally, attention will first go to former Stanford assistant Trent Johnson, now the head coach at Nevada. You'll recall Coach Johnson led Nevada to the Sweet 16 this past March -- a great feat. Also drawing speculation will be former Stanford assistant Blaine Taylor, now the head coach at Old Dominion, and former Stanford player and current Stanford assistant Eric Reveno.

If Stanford were to go outside this network, who should they look at (that's an unStanford-like sentence if there ever was one)? Ironically, someone who would have been a prime candidate, Joe Scott, the former Air Force mentor who opted to return to his alma mater, Princeton, is out of the running precisely because he already took his next job. Then again, would Stanford really want to tip its hat to an academic rival by hiring one of the two premier keepers of the Princeton Offense (the other being John Thompson III, now at Georgetown)? At any rate, other possibilities should include some folks not, I repeat, not from the West, such as St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, a fine, fine coach if there ever was one, and Penn's Fran Dunphy, who, reports are, was the runner up for the Georgetown job. Martelli knows how to blend all sorts of talent together, and Dunphy would do wonders with the ability to give scholarships (the Ivies don't give them). Perhaps there's a parallel story to Montgomery, at 57, looking for his last hurrah -- Dunphy, a few years longer, getting to show how good he is at a scholarship school.

Stanley Cup Playoffs

I watched with interest as the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7 in Tampa last night to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Calgary Flames. Yes, Tampa does have exciting young players in Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, and yes, Calgary does have Jerome Iginla, and it could well be an exciting series. But will a Calgary-Tampa final excite the national viewing audience that the NHL seemingly has lost? I can't help but recall the exhortation of Paul Newman in "Slapshot," where he urges his team to resort to "old-time hockey." While the NHL can't live in the past, it probably wouldn't hurt it if the finals featured Detroit against Philadelphia, or if somehow the Montreal Canadiens could purge their demons and end up in the finals again. But Calgary-Tampa Bay? Calgary, on the one hand, I can understand, but watching hockey in Tampa Bay should be like watching baseball in Edmonton. The NHL needs a boost, now more than ever. I hope they get it, but I don't think they will.

First Post, Thoughts of the Day

This is my first attempt in the Blog world, and what I will attempt to do is to provide some thoughtful commentary on the world of sports. I'll try not to be partisan (there are enough chat rooms and message boards about anyone's favorite team) or the opposite (I'm not enough Yankee haters, but if you ever listen to WFAN in New York, you'll come to feel that the world is made up of two types of people, Yankee fans and Yankee haters). With that out of the way, here are some thoughts of the day.

First, college lacrosse. It's May, it's time for the Division I playoffs, and, well, this could be the one sport that few know about that more should know about. SportsProf caught most of the Syracuse-Georgetown game, the last Round of 8 playoff game to determine who would join top-seeded Johns Hopkins, second-seeded Navy and sixth-seed Princeton in the Final Four to be played next weekend in Baltimore. (For the uninitiated, the three top lacrosse hotbeds in the country -- at least for men -- are the Central Valley of New York State (near Syracuse), Long Island, and Baltimore. In any event, what ensued at Cornell's Schoelkopf Field (and my apologies to Big Red alumni and relates of the person or family after whom the stadium is named for any misspellings) was a great game, with Syracuse winning 8-7 on a goal with about 5 seconds left in the game. There was great drama in this contest (as, I am sure, the one before it, where Navy eked out a 6-5 win over host Cornell), great play by one of the game's all-time best players (Syracuse's Mike Powell), and a clutch play by a team who is now going to its 22nd consecutive Final Four (Syracuse). It certainly beat watching most of the other sports that were featured on TV today.

The Final Four next weekend has a ton of drama and lots of great stories. Top-seeded Johns Hopkins waxed the Syracuse team 17-5 early in the season, and this season hasn't been the Orange's best (but, even so, the Orange were one of the top four seeds). The second-seeded Naval Academy is bucking for a championship when the country is at war, when many grads will end up in action overseas in a matter of months. Sixth-seeded Princeton has won 6 national titles since 1992 under coach Bill Tierney, who put the Tigers on the map with an unlikely upset of Syracuse at the 1992 national title game at Penn's Franklin Field in 1992. And then there is Syracuse, with now it's 22nd consecutive trip to the national semifinals. Okay, so it isn't as though there are as many Division I lacrosse programs as there are Division I basketball programs, but 22 straight final fours is impressive, even in NAIA Division II tiddlywinks. Check out the action next weekend -- and become a fan if you aren't already.