SportsProf

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

Name:

Not much to tell.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Friday, February 29, 2008

Have the Eagles Signed Asante Samuel?

AOL Sports reports that Comcast SportsNet's Derrick Gunn, a familiar face to Eagles' fans, is reporting that the Eagles have done just that. Click here for the story.

Do I believe it?

Well, the mainstream Eagles' writers have reported only that Samuel is visiting the Eagles first. Another mainstream writer (I believe on ESPN) reports that Samuel's agent has said that the Bucs and Saints are a better fit.

True, it would be a good signing for the Eagles, who also need another safety, a defensive end and, yes, a breakway threat at wide receiver on offense (not to mention a kick returner). What this signing also would do is send a signal to either Sheldon Brown or Lito Sheppard that their roles on the team are changing. What I'm not sure of is what the salary cap hit would be for, when healthy, 3 CBs who have played at the Pro Bowl level in the past. Then again, the conventional wisdom today is that you need at least 4 good corners on your team, so perhaps there is enough work for everyone.

Stay tuned.

The Princeton Alum Who Beat Michael Jordan in 1 on 1

Chris Ballard has a great piece in this week's Sports Illustrated about the exclusive (read: expensive, at a $15,000 matriculation fee) fantasy camp that Michael Jordan used to run and, in particular, a game of make it/take it one on one (to 3 baskets) where, several years ago, to the astonishment of those in attendance, including Coach K, a not even 6 foot former Princeton basketball captain named John Rogers beat one of the greatest players of all time. Click here and read all about it.

Ballard describes Jordan as the most competitive person on the planet. Rogers, who founded the Ariel Mutual Funds Group, is up there, too.

How did he beat MJ? Well, he clearly remembered one of the fundamental principles that his former coach, Pete Carril, taught him -- Play to Win.

Should the Phillies' Ownership Sell the Team?

Bill Conlin of The Philadelphia Daily News suggests that the ownership should sell if they're not willing to face up to the reality that salaries are rising. Conlin's article presents an excellent discussion of the Phillies' ownership and the issues that they'll face in the upcoming years. Conlin posits -- and I agree -- that if the Phillies' ownership isn't willing to face the reality of having to pony up more money for Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels, among others, they might as well put the "for sale" sign on the team. He did indicate that at least two groups are interested, and I would submit that if the ownership group hired an investment bank to sell the team (and, ownership, if you read this, Goldman Sachs has a good group in this area, I've read), they'd draw many more interested parties. One person I'd pitch the team to is Stephen Schwarzman, a Philadelphia area native who has made billions with his NYC-based hedge fund, Blackstone Group. Schwarzman has the big bucks, and, well, Philadelphia is pretty close to NYC. It will take his level of wealth to help keep the team competitive and enable it to win a World Series.

Former 76ers "owner", Pat Croce, is interested and apparently has put together a group. Croce touted himself as the "owner" of the 76ers about a decade ago. While he is very enthusiastic (and fun to hear and see), Croce doesn't have the kind of money it takes to buy a team like the Phillies and only owned less than 10% of the 76ers when he was their president. My hope for the Phillies is that if the ownership were to sell the team, they'd do so to one main, majority owner with the huge dollars necessary to help put and maintain the team at an elite level, as opposed to a syndicate that might have the same fights over cash calls on limited partners that the current ownership group might.

Okay, so the economy is down, but it's seldom down for those with huge bank accounts. The Phillies by no stretch are down, and they'd make an attractive purchase for the right owners. It's always good to sell when you're hot, so if the Phillies' ownership is interested in selling -- ever -- now would be a good time.

Phillies' fans had to endure, as Conlin points out, the silliness of one-time team president Bill Giles saying that the team operated in a "small market." Let's hope that this current era won't be deemed "small minded."

The Eagles Release Mike Mamula

Oops, I meant Jevon Kearse.

Okay, diehard Eagles fans, was there really a difference between the two?

One was an overhyped draft pick, perhaps one of the most overhyped draft picks in the past 25 years.

The other was an overhyped free agent. When the Eagles signed him, there was a huge buzz because of Kearse's physical gifts, but the signing reflected a triumph of hope over experience because of Kearse's history of injuries. The bottom line was that he never dominated the way the team expected him too, and by the end of his career he was a big name who wasn't able to deliver.

The question is, who was the bigger disappointment?

Mike Mamula or Jevon Kearse?

Check out the numbers of both (and with Kearse, his Philadelphia numbers only so as to make an apples-to-apples comparison) and you might be surprised. Either Mamula wasn't actually that bad, or Kearse wasn't all that good.

Or both weren't really that good.

Yet, Mamula's name gets lumped with those of the Edsel, "Ishtar" and the Titanic, whereas Kearse's name, as least while with the Eagles, doesn't. Yet, he probably belongs in a grouping with the likes of bad free-agent signings or acquisitions of other local teams, to wit -- Von Hayes, Gregg Jefferies, Roman Gabriel, Adam Eaton, Chris Webber, and a whole host of other bad deals. The local faithful expected a lot from both Mamula and Kearse, and, in the end, neither delivered the goods.

Discuss.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Will Either Tennessee or Memphis reach the Final Four?

Great point today on ESPN.

Great game last night.

But both teams had trouble at the line.

How does that bode in a tough Sweet 16 game or Regional Final?

Just asking.

Tons of talent on both teams, though.

And what are the diehards in Indiana and Kentucky thinking this morning? Aren't they supposed to be the basketball states?

On the Telecast of the Philadelphia Public League Championship

Communications Tech beat Frankford, 77-73 in double overtime, to take the title.

Here are a few observations about the telecast:

1. Play-by-play man Don Tollefson was plum awful. Even if he's getting up there in years, he still talks like either he wants to be the kid in your high school with the hottest car or aging (and, to some, legendary) Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat. Enough already. Worse, Tollefson talked too much for a play-by-play announcer, eclipsing veteran color commentator Sonny Hill, who knows Philadelphia basketball inside out and is much more interesting to listen to than Tollefson. Worst, Tollefson was an unmitigated pollyanna, using words such as "awesome" and "outstanding" way too much (he praised everyone remotely involved with the game save the people who ran the concession stands). It was a great game, but we could have done with a lot less Tollefson.

2. Penn's Palestra seemed more than half empty, as though it were Penn playing Dartmouth on a Friday night instead of, drum roll, the Public League title game. What was going on with that?

3. The direction was lacking, or was it the cameramen, who had trouble following the action from end to end, with the result that on occasion you didn't get a view of a play near the basket. Would it have been too much trouble to hire experienced camermen for this game, Fox?

Great game, though. The kids played their hearts out, and it was a shame that someone had to lose.

Just Reward for Terry Francona

The BoSox's skipper got rewarded with a lucrative contractd extension and a touching email from GM Theo Epstein.

This is a great story about a good man. With all the bad news out there in the world, it's nice to see that an excellent manager gets recognized -- contractually.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is It Time for Joe Paterno to Retire?

Sam Donnellon of the Philadelphia Daily News suggests that it might be.

I've blogged on this topic before and drew significant flak for the temerity of suggesting years ago that it was time for Joe Paterno to retire. I followed up on that suggestion with this post. I even mapped out a list of possible successors. Okay, it wasn't brilliant, but at least I took a stab at building an applicant pool (and one of those guys is now the head coach at Michigan).

Coach Paterno's contract expires next year. He's in his early 80's, he's still a wonderful guy, but perhaps it's finally time for the Penn State administration to tell Joe Paterno that it's time for him to make a gracious exit and, in the process, draw well-deserved accolades for a lifetime of outstanding achievements. No one wants to be mean or punitive here at all, and if the Penn State administration decides to make a move it must ensure it does so with great respect and dignity -- which I'm sure they've figured out and will do.

The bigger issue, of course, is what Joe Paterno is thinking and whether he'll agree.

And, if he doesn't, what will the Penn State administration do? Will they let the revered coach dictate his future, or will they select a worthy successor and move on to a new chapter (and one that should have commenced years ago)?

It is time for Joe Paterno to retire. The good news is, as Sam Donnellon points out, the Nittany Lions have a worthy successor waiting in the wings, a logical choice of whom all Penn Staters and Joe Paterno can be proud. That fact, alone, should be enough to give the administration courage to force the issue if it needs to and to give Coach Paterno comfort that he'll be leaving the program in good hands.

This is not a case of "Joe must go," but a case of "Coach, it's time to go, don't you really think so now?"

Stay tuned.

Ryan Howard Sets a Record

The Phillies, of course, were hoping that a headline like this would arise during or after a season, and not before one.

Which is precisely what he did, winning his arbitration and getting awarded a salary of $10 million for the season (the Phillies had offered $7 million). It's the first time the Phillies have lost an arbitration (they were 7-0 going into this season), and Howard sets a record for how much a player with his service time has ever been awarded.

The Phillies had been in negotiations for a long-term contract, and published reports indicate that Howard was asking well north of the 7-year, $84 million contract Chase Utley signed last season. The question, of course, is how much north, but you have to believe he's looking for something like 7 years at a minimum of $15 million per year. (That type of deal would take him to when he's 35 years old).

Whatever the case, with his stunning victory today, it would appear that the cost of signing Ryan Howard just went up. Howard doesn't become a free agent until the 2011 season, so the Phillies will have him around for a while. It seems to make sense for the parties to reach a long-term deal now that the arbitrators have put some sort of lower boundary on his value. After all, it's hard to imagine that they'll do an arbitration dance for two more seasons.

To both parties' credit, they acted very professionally during the whole discussion and took pains to keep the back-and-forth out of the media. Howard looked upbeat (and in great shape) in Florida, and the Phillies' brass, even with today's comments, has put a good face on it.

Phillies' fans, of course, have cause for pause, given the messy exits of Scott Rolen (who in my view is wrongly reviled for leaving town when he spoke the truth about the ownership's commitment to fielding a championship-caliber team at the time) and Curt Schilling. So, if they're worried about losing Howard, they have a right to be. Still, something tells me that the current view of ownership squares with the fans' perception of this team -- that the troika of Howard, Utley and Jimmy Rollins is something very special and not to be trifled with. Perhaps that's the never-ending optimism of a fan, but the negativity that existed among ownership, then-GM Ed Wade and Rolen and Schilling seems totally absent here.

And there's one more difference -- it appears that Howard is reasonably happy in Philadelphia, whereas the relationships between the team and Rolen and Schilling, respectively, had deteriorated significantly by the time both were traded. That's a significant difference, and since both parties seem willing and positive, it's more likely than not that they'll get a deal done.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How Tough Was (and Probably Still Is) Henry Milligan?

Hammerin' Hank, the Delaware Destroyer, is an old acquaintance of SportsProf's. He's a Princeton graduate (Class of 1981) and lettered in football (where he started at strong safety for a few years), wrestling (where he was an All-American) and baseball. After graduation, he pursued a career as a boxer and acquitted himself very well on the amateur circuit. He reached the semifinals in the U.S. Olympic trials in 1984, where he came upon a 17 year-old kid from New York who hit like a sledgehammer -- Mike Tyson. If you click here, you'll access a YouTube video from some of his bout with Tyson. Calling the action -- none other than the legendary Howard Cosell.

How tough was/is Henry Milligan?

About as much as he was/is nice.

Which was then and is now -- very.

NBA Brilliance, Part I

Okay, so I'm exaggerating a bit, for two reasons. First, the brilliance doesn't belong to the league, but to a particular team. Second, well, it's not really brilliance, but just smart business sense that combines results with a sense of generational continuity.

Yes, the 76ers are going to offer head coach Maurice Cheeks a three-year contract extension.

Why is this a great move?

First, despite last night's disappointing loss to Minnesota, Coach Cheeks has the team playing excellent team basketball. He's shown that he's adept at developing young players and in getting veterans to buy into his offense, which includes everyone.

Second, he's a class act to top all class acts. Perhaps you don't remember, but before coaching his first playoff game while at Portland several years ago, he came to the rescue of a young teenage girl who forgot the lines while singing the national anthem. She was before a full house (about 18,000 people) and froze. Maurice Cheeks -- before his first playoff game as a coach -- hustled over to the girl and helped her sing the national anthem to a packed house, rescuing the girl and teaching us all a lesson as to why we should try to make someone else's day if we can. Here is the video from YouTube, and it's one piece of evidence that demonstrates what an extraordinary man Maurice Cheeks is.

Third, he was a great point guard for the 76ers, quarterbacking one of the best NBA teams of all-time, the 1982-1983 76ers (with Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Bobby Jones and Andrew Toney). He played the game with great effort and efficiency, and is beloved in the City of Brotherly Love for the excellence and professionalism he brought to the Spectrum every night.

If the 76ers sign Maurice Cheeks to this extension, it's a great day for Philadelphia sports and another step in the right direction for the hometown basketball team.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Phillies' Brass Should Remember a Time-Tested Chinese Proverb

When it comes to tomorrow and Ryan Howard's arbitration, that is.

The proverb is: "You don't always win by being right all the time." Translated, it means that front offices can make compelling cases to win salary arbitrations, and they win them much more often than not. But to do so means potentially alienating a megastar with a great track record (albeit somewhat short), a great professional demeanor and an outstanding work ethic.

And one who might remember this bit of negativity, should it arise, come when he's a free agent a few years from now.

Yes, the Phillies can muster the arguments to save $3 million and pay Ryan Howard "only" $7 million this year, instead of the $10 million that he's asking for. And, yes, neither the Phillies nor Howard created a situation where Howard was woefully underpaid at $900,000 last season while Freddy Garcia made $10 million and hardly pitched. But that's the Collective Bargaining Agreement for you, and it does create inequality. In the long run, Howard will benefit from that agreement, that's for certain. But the Phillies shouldn't necessarily make him pay for collective longer-term blunders that they and other teams have made on long-term contracts.

The Phillies have great arguments to win the arbitration hearing tomorrow. The question is, though, is this something that this team really wants to and needs to win?

Better that the front office spends its energy trying to sign Howard to a long-term deal and finding enough starting pitching to beat the Mets and get to the World Series than to save this precious $3 million.

Because you don't always win by being right all the time.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sign of the Times

I work out regularly in my basement, using a Greg LeMond spin bike and medicine balls. Today, I added a new feature to my regimen, and at breakfast the conversation with my eight year-old son went like this (my wife and daughter were also there).

Dad: Guys, I used something new in my workout today. Can you guess what it was?

Son (with twinkle-eyed smile on his face): HGH?

The rest of the table responded with hearty guffaws.

No, it was a heart strap, one where you run the electrodes under water and then you strap it around your midsection so that the monitor can pick up your heart rate while you're cycling. The kids apparently use these in gym class (not for cycling, but for regular calisthenics), and I thought they'd remember that I had picked one up and intended to use it.

My son had watched SportsCenter this morning, and one of the lead stories was another piece on the tale of Andy Petitte's procurement and use of HGH. Thankfully, we've talked with the kids about the perils of using drugs, so my son's comment was meant to be amusing (one look at my physique and an observer can tell that it is not steroids- or HGH-enhanced). Still, though, it's amazing what kids can pick up while watching programs about what are supposed to be our games and pastimes.

And, at the same time, it's sad that they've had to lose their innocence so early.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dwight Howard is Superman

Click here and see for yourself.

It's a shame that the NBA waited until so late in the evening to hold the Slam Dunk contest, but it was a good show. Howard was superlative, but the dunk I liked best was the "birthday cake" dunk that the Timberwolves' Gerald Green (last year's winner) pulled off in the first round. Green had teammate Rashard McCants put a cupcake with a candle in it on the neck of the rim, and then McCants lit the candle. McCants bounced the ball on the floor, Green zoomed in under it, grabbed the ball with one hand, blew out the candle and then slammed the ball home. The slow-motion replay highlighted Green's artistry and creativity, and while the judges didn't give him a perfect score, the TV commentators were amazed. My guess is that Green has a job waiting for him on the Food Network after he leaves the NBA.

Good fun last night.

The Last Memorable Ivy NCAA Tournament Win

Okay, so there have been so few that all are memorable, but, this game was special. . .

Princeton, 12 years ago, upset defending champion UCLA, a #4 seed to Princeton's #13, in the first round in Indianapolis. Tiger fans will remember Gus Johnson's great call of the game, but more so they'll remember the last Tiger possession, when Steve Goodrich hit Gabe Lewullis on a backdoor pass to give the Tigers a 43-41 lead and the victory. You can check it out on YouTube here. Among the members of that team was current head Princeton coach Sydney Johnson. It was a great game for the Tigers and their fans. It's hard to believe that it's been 12 years since that game.

UPDATE: Pennfan correctly pointed out when I first posted this that the last Ivy win was actually 10 years ago, when Princeton beat UNLV in the first round (and barely lost to Michigan State in the second round). That Tiger team finished 27-2 on the season (losing only to North Carolina and MSU) and rose to #8 in the polls.

What Happens to the Losers' Championship Gear?

Here's what I'm talking about. The Giants won the Super Bowl and immediately donned championship gear. But what would have happened had the Giants' last drive failed? The Patriots would have donned championship gear. Of course they had it ready.

In the end, though, only one set of the gear proves to be correct. Which means that there's a set of gear that's incorrect. Did you ever wonder what happens to it?

Well, after this year's Super Bowl, the NFL sent apparel touting the Pats' perfect Super Bowl season to two small towns in Nicaragua. You can read all about it here. So in case any member of the Pats' organization wants to see a 19-0 season, they should venture to Central America to see the townspeople wearing garb that says it was so.

That's what happened to this year's alternative championship gear.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The "Karate Kid" Approach to Coaching

I attended my daughter's last regular-season 5th/6th grade basketball game today. This was the first year that she played, and, naturally, she was nervous about how well she'd play because some of the girls have been playing for more than three years. She had shot around a bit in a neighbor's driveway (and showed some aptitude) in the past, but she went into this league with almost no experience.

And, no, she didn't emerge as a star. She has a decent athletic frame but is young for her grade (and, as a fifth grader, is probably one of the youngest kids in the league). After having some good coaching, she emerged as a valuable role player who can defend reasonably well and hit a shot in the lane every now and then.

Not too bad for a rookie, especially according to another dad, whose daughter is in my daughter's grade and said that my daughter was much more advanced than his daughter, who is also playing for the first time. The other dad inquired as to what, if anything, we had worked on with her either before the season or during it.

Well, I did a few things, although nothing particularly major. First, I had occasion to be with her at the local Y for about 2 hours right as the season began, and there was an empty part of the gym where we worked for two hours on very repetitive stuff, such as:

running to a spot, catching a pass and shooting it (without putting the ball on the floor);
figuring out what a pivot foot is;
dribbling with both hands;
working a give-and-go with me; and passing off the dribble.

Remember Mr. Miyagi in "Karate Kid" -- "sand the floor," "wax the car", "paint the house" -- well, that's what the two-hour session was all about.

For those who like free-lance pick-up play, it was boring. But for those who like drills, we repetitively drilled on the basics, over and over again. I wanted to give her as much muscle memory as possible so that she could have some sense of what to do out there.

In addition, we drew her offensive set (a 1-4 stack) and diagrammed where the coaches wanted her to be, I told her the lingo of the court (the elbow, the low post, the high post, the wing, etc., although being a fan to a degree, she knew some of this stuff), we watched some games together to talk about the importance of spacing and following shots, and I worked with her on her defensive stance (and told her that if she saw her opponent was virtually one-handed, to block the path of that hand to force turnovers). It wasn't as though we drilled nightly, but when we discussed matters, we discussed them for a while until she got comfortable with them.

The result wasn't that I created the next Sue Bird, but I did create for this purpose a kid who was determined to succeed, who wanted to learn, who wanted to contribute and who wanted to improve. All the catalyst my daughter needed was a foundation of the basics to get started.

The fundamentals, hard work and a determination to improve -- that's the ticket.

For Basketball Junkies

Dean Smith had his "Four Corners", Bob Knight loves screens, and Pete Carril loved his cuts, including the famed backdoor cut by Gabe Lewullis, who ran by UCLA's Charles O'Bannon about 10 years ago (okay, a little longer) to give the Princeton Tigers a first-round NCAA tournament victory over defending national champion UCLA. The latter two offenses have spread widely, but there's now a relatively newer one that has proven successful and is worthy of your attention.

It's called the dribble-drive offense, the brainchild of legendary California HS and JC coach Vance Walberg, who recently resigned from the head coaching gig at Pepperdine, and the offense of Memphis, the #1 college team in the country. Grant Wahl discusses the dribble-drive offense in this piece from Sports Illustrated.

It's a good piece on an innovative offense that, needless to say, requires you to have a bunch of good players who can penetrate. It's spread through the HS and college ranks into the NBA, and the article is worth a read if you're interested in good hoops offenses.

Very Good Story on Ryan Howard

Thanks to David Murphy of The Philadelphia Daily News for writing this piece.

The article focuses on Ryan Howard's pre-season training regimen, his past performance and, of course, his contract negotiations/arbitration. Howard reported five days early to the Phillies' spring training camp after having spent almost two weeks at an elite performance camp at Saddlebrook, a golf and tennis resort near Tampa. Among those in attendance at the camp were Derek Jeter and Ryan Zimmerman. Howard reported to the Phillies' camp 10-15 pounds lighter than last year and in great shape.

I happened to be at Saddlebrook while that camp was going on and saw the workout facility, which is pretty impressive (I worked out at the gym for the relative proleteriat, furthering my resolve to firm up the core and watch the waistline). Some in my group (it was a business meeting) saw Derek Jeter at breakfast; I thought I saw some baseball players at the gym (gee, they were the guys throwing a baseball around), but I didn't recognize any of them. At any rate, this program is all business (and apparently has elite performance trainers from all over the country taking their high-school kids there for intensive workouts too, albeit not with the Major Leaguers).

What does this say about Ryan Howard? First, that he's committed to staying in shape and being an elite baseball player. As "Baseball Prospectus" has pointed out, a cause for pause for baseball teams looking to sign big players to long-term contracts is their girth. Many of us remember that Bobby Bonilla expanded after he signed his then-huge 5-year, $25 million deal with the Mets, and that Mo Vaughn channeled his inner dirigible after also inking a lucrative free-agent deal with the Mets before having his career end prematurely because of a bad ankle that probably had some correlation to his at-least 280 pounds. Second, that he's a true professional, confident that salary negotiations will work themselves out. Some athletes might have shown up in so-so shape or in a bad mood, but not Howard. He's out to prove that he's an elite performer through and through.

And he's done a good job of doing just that.

NBA Stupidity, Parts IV and V

And you thought that the story surrounding the stalled Nets-Mavs deal that would send Jason Kidd to Dallas already had enough silliness to this.

Well, it gets better. (Or worse, depending upon your vantage point).

Why? Because now the Mavs might have to sign the retired Keith Van Horn and trade him to the Nets in order to make the deal work. Why does that make any sense? Probably because of the arcane NBA salary-cap and trading rules that fly in the face of common sense and make David Stern's entertainment empire resemble the U.S. House of Representatives Governmental Affairs' Committee on a good day.

Atop that, you had Jerry Stackhouse, reportedly part of the deal, telling people that the trade was okay with him because the way he figured it, he'd get waived by the Nets and then wait out the mandatory thirty-day waiting period and rejoin Dallas in time for a good playoff run. Say what? Yes, Stackhouse said it, although the Nets deny that they cut a side deal with Dallas in which they assured the Mavs that they'd cut Stackhouse, thereby paving the way for his return to the Mavs. Still, the whole thing is a bad circus.

Yikes! I write this stuff because I used to love the NBA, the teamwork, the athleticism, the passing, the pureness of the game. Today, it's all about money -- for the owners and the players -- and the quality of the product gets lost in the translation. Case in point -- the Philadelphia 76ers at this moment. When they had Allen Iverson, they drew, but they weren't more than a .500 team (except for the year they went to the NBA Finals) because AI cared only about himself. Now they have a team that's won 5 straight, involves everyone on the offense and is playing good team ball, and they're not drawing. Go figure.

There's no glitz in true beautiful basketball. There's bling in basketball that's played for the value of a Top-10 Highlight on ESPN's Sports Center.

I challenge the Lords of Basketball to straighten out this madness and forever prevent the type of goofiness that surrounds this proposed trade.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ed Snider is Right

And I don't agree with him much.

More people should be going to the 76ers' games. They've won 5 in a row, they're tied for 7th for the Eastern Conference's playoffs, they are fun to watch, they play well together and involve all five players on offense, and Mo Cheeks is doing a great job. Okay, so Snider didn't go so far to praise his team's coach, but it's true, and GM Ed Stefanski would be unwise to jettison a local hero for an old buddy just because he can.

The team plays hard, the team looks like it's having fun, and, yes, the team is playing like it is playing hard in practice. Long gone are the days of a barely 6' tall guard going 1 on 5 against the other team, passing as a last resort. True, the local team doesn't have enough talent for elite status, but they clearly are headed in the right direction.

NBA Stupidity, Part III

Leave it to the NBA to not only dilute the quality of what's supposed to be high-level basketball, but also to let a bit player screw up a blockbuster trade. I mean, sorry, David Stern, but what type of business let's a minor player block a huge business deal? The NBA, that's who, because bench player Devean George had a veto of the Jason Kidd-to-Dallas deal because he can protect his "Early Bird" rights. Read all about it here.

"Early Bird" rights?

Sounds bird-brained to me.

Making trades in the NBA is difficult enough to do already, and the whole universe is bizarre because teams don't always like to trade for players who can help them today but for expiring contracts. So, enter Dallas, who actually wants a player who can help it today, and Devean George up and blocks the deal. Not a Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Dwight Howard, but Devean George.

And what makes matters worse is that he wasn't getting good playing time in Dallas, and the trade would have offered him the opportunity to play more and showcase his stuff in New Jersey. So what did he do?

He vetoed the deal. Better to preserve "Early Bird" rights even if you might get few offers precisely because you're riding the pine than to waive them, play and get some good offers.

How much longer are fans of basketball (as opposed to the NBA's entertainment ball) going to put up with this nonsense?

Devean George might have his "Early Bird", and I suggest that in the firmest and classiest form of civil disobedience that basketball fans flip the NBA owners an "Early Bird" of their own.

You just can't make this stuff up.

(And I apologize to all of my readers for overusing the word "stupid" in the past couple of weeks, but it's the most eloquent word I can think of to describe this mess, an ill-advised NHL ad campaign and the activities of certain U.S. Congressmen yesterday).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Would You Want Your Team to Sign Barry Bonds?

Suppose, for example, that Jason Bay gets hurt in Pittsburgh or Pat Burrell goes down in Philadelphia. In the latter team's case, you're supposed to be in a pennant race, and you might not be able to fill in that spot with a rookie or trade for a good player early in the season. So, do you sign Barry Bonds?

Sure, he has baggage, but right now he's not on the front page of baseball news because someone about as likeable, Roger Clemens, is. He also is one of the greatest hitters of all time, gimpy knees and all, and, well, Citizens Bank Park is a real hitters park. Imagine a lineup with Rollins, Utley, Howard and Bonds. Sure, they'll see a bunch of lefties, but these men can flat out hit the baseball.

Do you go for it? Or do you play Chris Snelling?

You made the playoffs last year, you want to go further this year.

Do you sign Barry Bonds?

Will Scott Boras Look Like a Genius?

Follow this logic. . .

Curt Schilling is hurt and could well miss the season (two of his three doctors suggested surgery on his pitching arm). So, the Red Sox need a starting pitcher.

Andy Petitte is caught in some epochal nightmare that only Homer could have scribed. He's at the end of his career, his testimony could bring down his good friend, Roger Clemens, and he could face all sorts of tough questions from the media this season. So, it's not impossible to think that he might decide not to return to the Yankees after all. Which would mean, of course, that the Yankees could need a starting pitcher.

Enter Kyle Lohse, who was going nowhere fast with the Reds last year, joined the Phillies in a late-season trade and actually took more than a step forward for every step backward. Put differently, he could flat-out pitch at times. And, today, he might be the best free-agent pitcher out there.

And both the Red Sox and Yankees might want him and be willing to get into a bidding war for him. Which means that the journeyman putative fifth starter could get third starter's money and a three-year deal precisely because by being unsigned at the start of spring training he benefits from a great case of supply and demand.

Will this happen? Well, if it does, score a victory for Scott Boras.

Even if it's more a product of dumb luck than anything else.

The Circus Was In Washington, D.C. Today

Extra, extra, read all about it. Here.

And we're not talking Ringing Brothers, either.

We're talking the Congressional committee investigating the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN in New York were aghast at the performance of the committee, particular Republicans Dan Burton and Christopher Shays, who, to them, appeared to be attack dogs supporting Roger Clemens. From their reports, the whole committee hearing seemed like a circus.

Of course, that might be defaming the term "circus" and the performers who entertain millions of people every year.

This hearing was far from entertaining. Plain and simple, these Congressmen cannot draw flies for their daily work, so they have to draw attention to themselves by holding hearings on what really should be an internal baseball matter because they know they'll draw media attention. Your tax dollars helped fund today's histrionics, and I daresay that they could be put to better use helping trying to solve a whole host of much more important problems. Yes, I don't want our kids to think that using performance-enhancing drugs is cool. But I also want them to be safe and have a fiscally sound government and be well-educated and able to compete for jobs in an international workforce. Compared to those overarching goals, whether Roger Clemens took steroids is relatively unimportant.

And what was with the visceral attacks on Brian McNamee? The Congressmen who did so should have known better. Any (good) lawyer knows that people with problematic pasts could be telling the truth and so-called heroes could be lying through their teeth. Any (good) lawyer knows that when you take on a matter, you shouldn't assume anything. You should seek the facts and build the case. It didn't seem like that's what certain Congressmen did today.

No wonder why Congress's public approval rating is plum awful.

Or, put in baseball terms, well below the Mendoza Line.

You Can't Fix Stupid

Apparently the comedian Ron White has a routine where he says you can fix a lot of things -- and he lists them -- but you can't fix stupid.

We'll here's an example of why my hometown NHL hockey team appeals only to those who go to games with some regularity.

The ad campaign is called "Vengeance." Reminds me of the final hockey game in "Slap Shot." So where's Ogie Oglethorpe? (I had heard several years ago that he worked at a boutique sporting goods store in NYC). Where is the foil?

Seriously, the Flyers have had 5 guys suspended for dirty hits this year, some of them pretty awful. Jesse Boulerice is no longer with the team, but Steve Downie is (both were suspended for what, 20 games apiece?), and despite the world's ultimate (and worst) homer Steve Coates's professed admiration for the kid's energy, Downie isn't what's right with NHL hockey -- he's what's wrong with it. Boys don't become men because they fight for a living or bully others or rely on brawn when they have little talent or brains. So why take your kids to something like that -- at least more than once?

The NHL isn't doing so great from what I hear on sports talk radio. I hardly heard a mention of it on ESPN Radio when it was aired in my area, and the local station in Philadelphia, WIP, hardly fields talk of it. The Eagles dominate for a good part of the year, and the Phillies fill in when they're good, and they've been pretty good for the past 3 seasons. Even the lowly 76ers, who are actually showing signs of outstanding teamwork, are getting good airplay. The Flyers? They get some, but they are not broadening their appeal.

And this bit of inspired genius won't help.

"Vengeance" is more of a tag line for WWE or monster truck shows, not for a game that wants to be established -- like NHL hockey. After all these years you would have thought that they would have learned something, but they haven't. It's hard to believe that they've taken this tact, and when I saw the ads on TV over the past couple of nights I just shook my head.

Because campaigns like this are stupid, and you can't fix stupid.

The Phillies Sign Kris Benson

But does his contract require that his wife not make a spectacle out of herself?

Good grief -- she'd be more of an attraction for the 76ers' "Guys' Night Out" than for the family fun that baseball offers.

Hopefully the one-time very high draft pick can still pitch. If not, the whole Benson clan will make for a pathetic display.

Philadelphians already have the side show that is Philadelphia's City Council and Parking Authority.

They don't need another.

Bob Knight to Return to Indiana?

If Kelvin Sampson keeps this stuff up, who knows?

Stranger things have happened, haven't they?

And it's probably a safer bet that Knight would return to Bloomington than former IU president Myles Brand, who now heads up the NCAA.

Isn't the irony rich? Brand forced Knight out because he didn't play well with others (Knight's ethics, in case you don't know, are above reproach, and his graduation rate was at the top of the charts). Now his organization is going to discipline his former school regarding a successor to Knight who, while perhaps more mellow, doesn't share in Knight's ethics. (In fairness to Brand, Kelvin Sampson wasn't hired on his watch). Go figure.

So, could this leave the door open for a return for Coach Knight? Would he want to go back? And who would want to walk into a sanctioned situation? Wouldn't a just NCAA remedy be that Indiana has a choice -- go on probation for several years, lose scholarships and TV money, etc., or hire a coach whose ethics are beyond reproach -- Bob Knight? Then again, I think that when Coach Knight bolted for Lubbock not only did he burn bridges with Indiana's administration, he also did so with its board of trustees (many of whom presumably are still there).

Remember, Coach Knight resigned from Texas Tech. He didn't retire.

So the possibility remains. . .

Monday, February 11, 2008

Does Your Local Youth League Have Fiscal Transparency?

Parents in my area pay about $100 a semester to enroll their kids in the local soccer league. The kids get a shirt, a pair of shorts and a pair of soccer socks. The parents purchase the shin guards, cletes and the right-sized soccer ball for use in practice. Parents coach, the town provides the fields, and the traffic is maddening on Saturday mornings. The local organization has leagues for kids of all ages, an elite league where the kids practice several times a week, and then travel teams. The older travel teams venture far and wide, and that leads to a question: does all of our $100 a semester go toward our kids' teams, or where does it go? Does it, for example, subsidize the elite teams that the league fields?

I ask this question because many parents have beefed that the fees are high for what they get. I can't say I disagree with requests for disclosure. The volunteer coaches, parents all, are good, but where is the accountability?

I'm not suggesting that anything bad is going on, but I'd feel more comfortable if I knew there was a meaningful way to confirm that it's all good.

Elite Performance Training for Kids

Is it wise?

I don't know about your community, but I'm surrounded by all sorts of elite leagues, travel leagues and the like, and this stuff starts in the second grade. What ends up happening is that these teams cannibalize the local "rec" or intramural leagues and leave fewer kids for those leagues. I'm also not certain whether the travel leagues for kids this young select kids on the basis of their ability to play or the parents' willingness to drive the kids to the travel games. At any rate, deep down I think that the kids would be better off if we found them field or gym space, give them the equipment and then let them choose sides and play without the influence of parents or referees. The talent really doesn't separate until later, and why risk burning the kids out by overcoaching or overtraining them?

Because, I suppose, some parents just cannot help themselves. And that leads me to the next question I have -- is it wise to send kids to elite performance training? In my neck of the woods, some kids go three times a week to an elite performance gym to enhance their ability to play travel soccer. I don't know who arranged it, but clearly some parents came up with the idea, and then everyone else had to follow suit. I don't know how much it costs, but if you're a travel parent and other kids are going, how can you not send your kid? Of course you don't have to, and perhaps you should take a stand, for your family's sake and for fiscal prudence.

A former professional athlete runs the place, is very good at what he does, and works mostly with high school kids. And that's one thing, but with fourth and fifth graders? It's an interesting concept, but one more reminiscent of East Germany (for those of us who remember that country), the former Soviet Union and the current People's Republic of China.

Is it wise? Is it over the top? I suppose it depends on where you sit. The parents of these travel players probably would argue that those who question their decisions are the parents of kids who don't have the athletic ability their kids do. Sure, there's probably some of that, but other parents might be grateful that they aren't tempted to tear their family lives asunder because of tournaments that cause you to travel through four states on a weekend or ruin their weeknights because their playing tipless taxi drivers for budding middle schoolers in their quest to dominate the regional soccer scene.

Does it have to be like this? Can't kids be kids? Aren't they playing kids' games? Can't it be pure fun for a while longer?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Name for "The Play" in Super Bowl XLII

I've read a bunch of things, and the guys on WFAN have tried to come up with a name for a play that should honor two people -- the quarterback who eluded two defensive linemen who were about to sack him, and the wide receiver who outcaught Lynn Swann or Dwight Clark in the history books and caught the ball on his head (as compared to a star NHL goalie in the playoffs, about whom it has been said, "stands on his head.")

At any rate, I saw a headline on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and I think that they should use the header to describe the play: The "Hail Manning." Why? Because the name honors the cool of Eli Manning, both during his career and during the final drive, and it describes the type of pass it was -- a bit of a prayer, which David Tyree turned into a miraculous catch. I haven't heard anything better to date, so the "Hail Manning" it is for me.

The Wharton School Versus Roger Clemens

He can take on Brian McNamee, he can throw a broken bat at Mike Piazza, he can strike out 20 in a game, he can shmooze the United States Congress, but can he and his team of advocates beat a team of four Wharton School professors?

I doubt it.

These profs just wrote an article in the New York Times challenging Team Clemens' statistical analysis that pitchers improve with age. Great scotch and fine wine might, but these profs seem to suggest that Clemens' numbers are nothing more than a fine whine. Sorry, Roger, but the same folks who taught the Wall Street types who flocked to Yankee Stadium to cheer for you are the same folks who are doing the baseball equivalent of throwing ropes around the big statue of Lenin in Red Square and pulling it to the ground to you. (To take another lesson from the history books, it isn't wise to fight a war on more than one front, either).

So what will become of the Clemens Affair? Has Brian McNamee "Lewinskyed" him by saving bloody needles? What will this demonstration about the alleged misuse of data mean?

Sorry, Roger, but these Wharton School types are pretty smart fellows.

And while the average member of the U.S. House of Representatives may not be a rocket scientist, they hire pretty smart guys to work for them, and my guess is that many of them, at least for the time being, have turned into Rocket scientists.

Stay tuned.

Grading Soccer Goalies

I read a blurb in SI's Faces in the Crowd Section about a young woman who made all-league or all-conference for her play as a goalie for her small-college soccer team. Sounds like a great kid, great school, and a great record. But then I asked myself, how do talent evaluators really know that it's the goalie who is great and not, for example, the team's defensive system or the team's overall play?

For example, a team could be so dominant from the midfield through the strikers that it controls the ball in its offensive zone and shuts out the other team because, well, the other team hardly ever has the ball. Or, the team might have an outstanding defensive midfield, a system that's designed to defend more than attack, and outstanding defenders. As a result, it shuts out opponents frequently. Finally, the team might have outstanding defenders, period, and those defenders constantly deprive the other team of scoring opportunities. In any of these examples, how can you tell whether it's the goalie who is outstanding versus the overall team play, the team's strategy or the team's defenders?

My guess is that the talent evaluators who identified a Brianna Scurry and Hope Solo did so through a variety of metrics and filmwork. How many save opportunities did they get? How many saves did they make? How athletic were the saves? How do they interact with their defenders? How do they position them? How strong is their leg? How good are they at throwing the ball? How good is their decisionmaking? That's my guess, but I'd like to hear from a few soccer experts as to what really goes on.

That's not to take anything away from the young woman from this small college, whom I trust is excellent. I'm just wondering about how transparent the process is, so that the fans really discern who the outstanding players are, as opposed to products of a system that draws them accolades even if they played the role of bystander more than catalyst.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Unbalanced Lines

6 teams with records that are 10 games below .500 are in the hunt for the final 2 playoff spots in the Eastern Conference in the NBA.

In contrast, in the West, two teams with records that are 8 games above .500 are vying for the last playoff spot. Those two teams, if in the East, would be tied for the fourth seed.

Check out Hoops Hype for the current standings.

Honestly, does anyone believe that the Nets, 76ers, Pacers, Bulls, Hawks and Bobcats are worthy of the playoffs? And does anyone think that either of Portland or Houston are not?

But such is the imbalance in the NBA, which means that you'll have some joke first-round playoff matchups, as the Celtics, Pistons and Cavs will be playing terrible teams in the first round. Sorry, but that's the only adjective that I can think of, and why should the fans have to suffer through that when the top 3 teams in the East are excellent and the top 9 in the West are terrific.

Perhaps they should have a rule that has each division winner (6 in all) making the playoffs and then say 10 at-large teams (figuring that the NBA wouldn't be able to live with itself if fewer than half the teams made the playoffs despite an 82-game schedule that should mean something). If that were the case, then Boston, Detroit, Orlando, Utah, Phoenix and Dallas would be in. And the next 10 would be New Orleans, San Antonio, Lakers, Denver, Golden State, Houston, Portland, Cleveland and Toronto (the worst of which is 5 games above .500). Those are the best teams, the playoffs would be great, and you'd avoid travesty in the first round.

If the NBA wants good basketball, then they should consider this proposal in order to eliminate bad teams from making the playoffs.

Penn's Glen Miller Calls Out the Ivy League

If you were to ask yourself, "What Would Fran Dunphy Do?", my guess is that he certainly wouldn't have done this.

Columbia hammered Penn last night in NYC, 74-58, as the Quakers played without their leading scorer, super frosh Tyler Bernardini. Naturally, Penn Coach Glen Miller was frustrated, but he had this to say to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Tannenwald: "We'll have better days ahead," he said. "I would just say to our opponents in the Ivy League: Enjoy it; it won't last long."

History has proven that had Penn or Princeton coaches thought a thought like that, they were ostensibly right, as neither program stays down for too long. But saying it certainly is something else, and we'll find out a little more about how long "it" will last when the Quakers travel to Ithaca tonight to play league frontrunner Cornell, which is 5-0 and the favorite to win the league.

Somehow, I don't think that Penn's legendary coach Fran Dunphy would have made that statement (or even another quote in the article about the limitations of a Columbia player who played well last night).

Locker room bulletin board material? Of course. But is it bragging if you back it up? Penn clearly has a lot of talent, but it's young talent, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the Ivies respond.

But right now, it looks as though all Glen Miller is doing is stepping in "it."

Kudos to Mike and Mike in the Morning

While traveling to Florida on a business trip, I listened to a recent podcast of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio. One of the features focused on Mike Golic, Jr.'s signing his letter of intent to attend Notre Dame on a football scholarship.

Now, normally I don't like it when the media makes itself the story, and I have found fault with ESPN the TV Station for doing just that. But this was different, to me it was special, and it was just great sports radio.

Here's why:

Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg have been together on the air for eight and a half years, and, in that time, they have built a considerable national following and are great companions for morning drives to work (unless, of course, if you live in the Philadelphia area, where somehow ESPN can't find a station or is too wimpy to compete with Angelo Cataldi on WIP). For years we've heard anecdotes about the families of both men, and we've listened to their children grow up to a degree. We've heard Mike Golic tell about running football plays in his back yard and having one of his kids (either Mike Jr. or now-eleventh grader Jake) knock over (and perhaps out) their mother, Chris, and we've heard Mike Greenberg be pretty funny about the cost of a nanny and the difference between a nanny and an au pair. In addition, we remember the days when Mike Jr. was Mikey.

In any event, ESPN had Mike Jr. on the air to announce what was no surprise and hadn't been a surprise for a year, namely that he was going to attend Notre Dame. ESPN the Insider has him rated as the fourth best prospect at center in the country (he's up to 270, which still seems a tad light), and he played his HS ball near Hartford, CT. Still, there was something about the rite of passage that was compelling, the humility of both father and son and the warmth of Mike Greenberg, and it was a nice morning. Mike Jr. struck me as a very poised, focused and mature young man, and Notre Dame is lucky to get him. He seemed like a great kid. And, of course, his father, Mike Sr., is giddy about not having to pay tuition (memo to Mike Jr.: ask for a reasonable set of wheels from mom and dad as a quid pro quo).

Thanks, ESPN Radio, for sharing that moment with us. It was terrific radio.

Princeton Outrecruits Michigan, Oklahoma and Florida for a Fullback/Linebacker

The Princeton football staff is doing cartwheels over landing Greenwich (CT) H.S. fullback/linebacker Jonathan Meyers, who chose the Tigers over the schools I mentioned in the headline (his father played nosetackle for Florida in the early 1980's, and the Gators supposedly were in the hunt, too).

This is a pretty amazing story given how much attention is paid to top-drawer athletes, and the linked article also says that Meyers is a first-rate lacrosse player who wants to play for legendary lacrosse coach Bill Tierney in addition to football coach Roger Hughes. Kudos to si.com's Andy Staples for an excellent article and to Princeton's defensive coordinator, Steve Verbit, for his role in recruiting Meyers and not giving up.

We've all heard stories about the Ivies' flirtations with big-time recruits, and usually the Ivies lose -- for a variety of reasons, such as the cost, the competition, the facilities. But Meyers is different -- his family is wealthy enough to afford the fully-loaded $47,000+ tuition, and he's mature enough to see the value of an overall college experience (because it says here that playing big-time Division I-A football is tantamount to having a full-time job).

Let's watch young Meyers over the next four seasons and see how he fares.

And, if you're a Tiger fan, let's hope that he can draw some other top-notch talent to Princeton.

Matt Henshon and Matt Eastwick Have a Blog

It's called Allerton's Point, and you can reach it by clicking here.

Princeton basketball fans will recall these two players as stalwarts of the Tiger teams from the early 90's that went on to win four Ivy titles in a row (Henshon and Eastwick played with Sean Jackson, George Leftwich and Kit Mueller, and those teams were awesome to watch). Henshon would become a Rhodes finalist if memory serves me correctly, and he served as Bill Bradley's "body man" (or personal chief of staff) during Bradley's run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000.

Thanks, guys, for linking to me, and when I get to updating my template, I'll return the favor.

The Joys of Coaching Smart Players

A few anecdotes:

First, a loyal reader to whom I'll refer as "The Green Mountain Man" sent me a story about an Ivy League football teammate of his. The teammate was an offensive lineman, and his position coach was drilling him on the fine art of a certain kind of block.

Coach: "Do you have a mirror in your room?"

Player: "Yes, coach."

Coach: "Well, then can you practice this in front of the mirror?"

Player: "No, coach."

Coach: "I don't get it. You say you have a mirror in your room but you can't practice this block in front of the mirror. Where the hell is the mirror?"

Player: "It's on my ceiling, coach."

I recall another story from about 25 years ago involving a reserve forward at Oral Roberts, a Philadelphia native named Gerald Johnson. The players were in a shoot-around, and his coach didn't like some long jumpers (there weren't 3-point shots then) that Johnson was taking. So the coach challenged Johnson to take shots that he was likely to take during the game. Whereupon Johnson walked over to the bench, sat down, and threw up a shot.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Must Read: College Hoops by Dick Jerardi

Jerardi writes for The Philadelphia Daily News, and he's a first-rate basketball writer. Click here for an example of his recent work. The lead part of the article -- about tracking how many games college officials work -- is not to be missed. (Can you imagine that one ref has worked 88 games this year already?). Very good stuff.

The '72 Dolphins and Schadenfreude?

Is it true that the '72 Dolphins get together each year when the last undefeated team loses and then offers themselves a champagne toast to celebrate that they're the only undefeated team to win a Super Bowl?

This article seems to differ with that perception, but then I ask this -- what did I see on ESPN over the past couple of days? Wasn't that Nick Buonoconti and other '72 Dolphins raising champagne glasses? That's what it looked like to me.

Are the '72 Dolphins really taking pride in someone else's misfortune, someone else's defeat? That seems to be a corollary to something Truman Capote once said, "Every time a friend of mine does something well, a piece of me dies." If the '72 Dolphins in fact are going to great lengths to toast another team's defeat because it buttresses their legend, it's certainly not the conduct worthy of a champion.

Unless, of course, in the modern era, we permit our champions to act like self-centered fools out of a theory that if they weren't self-centered and focused to begin with, they wouldn't have won the title in the first place and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

The '72 Dolphins were a great team. It's a shame that their legacy is tarnished with reports that the cause of their annual get-together (whether in person or virtual) isn't solely their own historic accomplishments, but another team's failure.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Wake Up the Echoes (Really)

Bill Curry writes on espn.com that Notre Dame is enjoying yet another outstanding recruiting class, one that's ranked 7th in the country by Scouts Inc. We'll know more later, as the results from national signing day begin to pile in.

It's amazing, though, that Notre Dame is faring so well after an awful season that left even Charlie Weis loyalists wondering what was going on in South Bend.

Naturally, this is a great sign for Notre Dame, because regardless of the coaching, you can't win without the talent. So, if the talent is there, now it's time for the Notre Dame coaching staff to show its talent in shaping a winning college football team that can contend for the BCS Championship.

Because that's what the school fathers (pun intended) in South Bend paid Charlie Weis the big bucks to do.

Watch out for those St. Joe's Hawks!

Just when I was beginning to think that the Big Five would not have a team making the NCAA playoffs, I realized that I was being too Villanova-centric. Yes, the Wildcats (ranked #25 as recently as a few weeks ago) have lost 5 in a row and are in a free fall right now, and, yes, Temple looks to be a good team if not a tournament team, and, yes, Penn is 2-0 in the Ivies and until someone dethrones the Quakers, they're the Ivies' defending champs and the team to beat.

Amidst all of this discussion, though, are Phil Martelli's St. Joe Hawks, replete with the Hawk mascot that never stops flapping his wings during a game. Remember several years ago, when the Hawks, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, went to a regional final and barely lost to Oklahoma State? Fast forward a few years, and you have a big front line and quick, talented guards who can shoot the basketball. Ahmad Nivins is a fine front-court player, and 6'10" players Pat Calathes (older brother of Florida's frosh sensation Nick) and Robert Ferguson can shoot the basketball. The guards -- Tasheed Carr, Darrin Gowens, Garrett Williamson, D.J. Rivera -- are quick, talented players in the St. Joe's mold, and, well, the Hawks are 15-5 after thrashing Villanova at the Palestra last night by 22.

In a game called the Holy War. (Which makes me wonder if they played this game at Christmas-time they'd call it the Holly War or the Holy Holly War). The Hawks are big (enough), talented, deep and playing very good basketball.

It says here that they're an NCAA tournament team.

If not a Sweet 16 team.

Contrary View on the Giants' Upset

Okay, so it's easy for me to write this now, but I actually wasn't all that surprised that the Giants beat the Patriots, especially when compared to when the Pats beat The Greatest Show on Turf 7 years ago on Adam Vinatieri's last-second field goal. I honestly thought -- before the game -- that the Giants could win it.

Here's why:

1. I'm an Eagles' fan and very familiar with the Giants. Under Tom Coughlin's watch during the latter part of the season, they seemed to have put it all together. As I wrote yesterday, they were the Colorado Rockies who finished the job. The Giants always seem to play very hard.

2. The Giants displayed two traits in the post-season that were most impressive. The first was the surge of their defensive line, which a) got to the QB and b) masked what only is an average secondary in my book. R.W. McQuarters can't cover all that well, but how many times did he get tested in the post-season? The second was the outstanding play of the offensive line and the ability of the Giants to go on time-consuming drives. Those drives kept the defense relatively fresh (although both defenses were dog-tired by the end of the Super Bowl) and, of course, kept the other team's offense off the field. Taken together, those two factors propelled the Giants to the Super Bowl (along with the steady, mistake-free play of Eli Manning).

3. Based on those two factors, the Giants' impressive streak on the road, the Giants' recent play, and the Giants' recent play against the Patriots, I honestly thought that if they put together the right game plan, they had a good chance of winning. I didn't think they could win by a lot, but I thought they had a good chance.

So, to put it in perspective, yes, it is an upset, because the Patriots were being called the greatest team of all time, were a double-digit favorite, have Tom Brady and, of course, were undefeated going into the game. Yes, all things considered, one of the two or three biggest upsets in Super Bowl history. I'll concede that.

Perhaps, though, where I differ is that I honestly thought the Giants had a good chance to win the game.

And so did they.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Words of Wisdom from a Class Act

Doug Glanville, one-time CF for the Cubs, Rangers and Phillies, had this to say about the competitive nature of baseball players, what their mindset should be and why they should eschew performance enhancing drugs.

It's worth a good read, and it's a breath of fresh air from the discussions we've witnessed recently about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. If you were to go back and look at films of baseball players from 25 years ago and compare them to today, you'll notice a rather stark contrast in body shapes. Twenty-five years ago, stringbeans played the game. Today, those players are fewer and farther between. Now, some have benefitted from enhanced training techniques, while others have benefitted from, well, performance-enhancing substances. The doubts will linger forever, perhaps, about what caused the differences between someone who played in the early 80's and someone who played in the mid 90's. Doug Glanville, Fred McGriff and many others clearly did not use performance-enhancing drugs.

Which makes them all the more worth listening to.

Remember the Tigers!

Princeton men's hoops fans must be downright giddy that the Tigers are 2-0 in league play, having dispatched Dartmouth and Harvard (the latter somewhat easily) in Jadwin Gym (Penn, meanwhile, beat those same schools, both by close margins, and Cornell, the favorite, is 3-0 in league play). While time will tell how the Tigers will fare in league play, the history books already have been written on one of the greatest Tiger teams of all-time, the 1997-1998 team that went 27-2, was ranked as high as 8th in the country, and lost only to North Carolina and Michigan State. Click here to read Jerry Price's excellent article on that team and then take a moment to reflect on how hard it really is to get five outstanding players to play well together and achieve a level of success that this particular team did.

Reflections on the Super Bowl

Here goes:

1. The Giants Were the Colorado Rockies Who Finished the Job. They played like champions, and their d-line should have been named MVP of the game, with no offense to Eli Manning, who played like a champion. The D-line threw Tom Brady off his rhythm and derailed the Patriots' offense as a result. The old adage held true: "offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships."

2. There's Hope for Your Team Next Year, Too. At the end of last season, Giants' fans were calling for the heads of Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, Tiki Barber retired after creating dissension in the locker room, and Jeremy Shockey was, well, being Jeremy Shockey. So, for example, if you're an Eagles' fan, you hope to look back a year from now and say, "A year ago we were wondering aloud how Andy Reid could have continued coaching with all the family distractions, and we were hoping they'd trade Donovan McNabb because he looked like he was through. We're glad both stayed." Bottom line: your team is never that far away from the title in the NFL, whereas in the NBA you could stagnate forever at 35 wins and 47 losses a season.

3. The Giants' Offense Line are Unsung Heroes. They owned the Patriots' defense, pretty much, and outslugged their opponents most of the year. The telling sign for the Giants was that they had time-consuming drives that kept the Pats' old LB corps on the field for a long time, and they controlled the line of scrimmage and protected their QB. This unit was awesome, plain and simple.

4. Sorry Troy, But One of Your Last Lines Was a Loser. Troy Aikman did a good job calling the game, but I wouldn't agree that Peyton Manning was happier for his brother this season than he was for himself after the Colts won the big game last year. After all, the pundits were merciless about his inability to win the big game up until that time, so I imagine that he was downright giddy last year. Not that he wasn't happy for his brother, but he had to have been happier for himself a year ago than he was yesterday for his brother.

5. Joe Buck Actually Wasn't Smug and Annoying. Buck did a good job, too, keeping his sometimes ascerbic and cocky thoughts to himself.

6. As Well as the Giants Played, They Only Beat the Patriots By Three. Yes, the Patriots did disappoint, but it wasn't exactly as though they lost badly. That shows how good a team the Patriots are -- they were outplayed and still almost won the ball game.

7. Tom Brady Did What He Had To Do. Yes, he was treated like a rag doll by the Giants' defense, but with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter he drove his team downfield like a champion and threw the TD pass to Randy Moss. He took an absolute beating yesterday, but he still had the presence of mind to engineer what looked like it could have been the game-winnign drive.

8. Were the Ads a Letdown, or What? I thought Will Ferrell's "Bud Light" Ad was hilarious, but for the most part I thought that the anonymous.com web-based business ads weren't innovative or amusing.

9. Philadelphia Eagles' Fans, Take Heart. That was your defense out there, albeit with better front-seven personnel, that helped beat the Patriots. After all, Steve Spagnuolo, the Giants' defensive coordinator, was the Eagles' LB coach under defensive coordinator Jim Johnson for years, and he coached a masterful game plan yesterday. Spagnuolo will get an interview for the Redskins' head coaching job, and it will be interesting to see if he gets the job. He's certainly a hot prospect right now for the job he did with the Giants.

10. Plaxico Burress is Changing His Name to Nostradamus. Remember when he said the Giants would win 23-17, and Tom Brady wondered aloud how the Giants would limit the Patriots to only 17 points. Well, as it turned out, Plaxico was a bit pessimistic about his team's defense, as they did their WR teammate a FG better.

11. Why Is It That There's Always a David Tyree to Help Your Team Win a Game? His TD catch was a good route, and his catch during the Giants' fourth-quarter drive was a work of art. Great catch by a role player, and that's the type of contribution you need from everyone to win a championship.

12. How Good Is Eli Manning? After all his trials and tribulations, he's good enough, thank you very much, to be called a championship quarterback. He made the plays, held his cool, and did an outstanding job during the stretch for the, yes, world championship New York Giants.

13. Will the Patriots Suffer the Problems that Super Bowl Losers of the Past 7 Years Have and Fail to Make the Playoffs Next Season? That's doubtful, although stranger things have happened. If Randy Moss signs elsewhere (doubtful), if the linebackers show their age again, if they don't add more depth to the running game, and if they suffer an inordinate number of injuries to key people, yes, they could go 7-9, but with Bill Belichick at the helm, that's unlikely. Look for the Pats to reverse a trend and make the playoffs and go deep into them next year.

14. Should Bill Belichick Have Let Stephen Gostkowski Try a Field Goal in the First Half Instead of Punting? I don't recall precisely when this happened, but of course the Monday-morning QBs are saying yes and so am I. I was surprised that he didn't go for the points.

15. How Important Was It for the Giants to Win the Coin Toss and March Downfield on the First Drive? Very. They set the tone for what they would do with that drive. I wasn't surprised that the Giants won, as I thought that if they could embark on time-consuming drives and pressure the QB, they could win. The Eagles showed the NFL in the last month of the season that the Patriots had weaknesses, and, ultimately, the Giants solved the puzzle and won the world championship.

16. Is Michael Strahan a Hall of Famer Now? Yes. I thought he was before, and it's been said that "winners write the history books." Now that he's won a Super Bowl, whatever doubts the voters might have had should evaporate. It was also great to see a class act like Jeff Feagles get his first Super Bowl ring at the age of 41.

17. How Whacked Were the Pro Bowl Selections? Eight Cowboys and only one Giant, you have to be kidding me? While it's a nice party in Hawaii, I'm sure that the Giants will have a lot of fun in their own ways now that the season is over.

18. Who Did I Root For? Ugh. I respect both teams very much, but as a native Philadelphian I've always had a rough time with Boston fans (because of the 76ers-Celtics rivalry) and New York fans (because as a broad, overarching, general rule, they treate anyone not from New York like they need to be de-loused). Because there are more Giants fans within my perimeter, I did root for the Patriots, although I really didn't care about the outcome that much (I'm not a fan of the '72 Dolphins, either, and didn't care whether that streak would be preserved, but a loyal reader is a Miami native who lives in Boston and his best friend is a Giants' fan. Must have been a tough day for him).

It was a great game, one of the best ever, and one of the biggest upsets ever. Congratulations to the Giants and their fans, and my the entire northeastern part of the U.S. get back to work and help the GNP after one week of celebration and/or mourning.

All typos are mine.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

NBA Stupidity, Part II

Read this article about attendance for the Philadelphia 76ers and draw your own conclusions.

Great, the dancing girls are just the thing to put people into the seats, that an all-you-can eat gluttony in certain sections, cigar bars, you name it, the 76ers will attempt to do so because instead of selling quality basketball in a league frequently bereft of it, they're selling a complete entertainment experience. Funny thing is, it's hard to attract a family given a) the price of the tickets, b) the quality of the product and c) the fact that the dancing girls are there in the first place. How does that aspect of the entertainment show respect for women and young girls? Also, in Philadelphia's case, they have a smart-ass public address announcer who doesn't respect the visiting team's players and really displays no talent or imagination, especially when compared to the all-time P.A. announcer the 76ers once had when basketball -- and not glitz -- was everything -- Dave Zinkoff.

Okay, so the quality of the P.A. announcer won't make or break a season. The marketing people are struggling mightily to put people in the seats, and they've been failing miserably. Canning G.M. Billy King was a good first step, as he was in the job way too long and the team showed little for all his efforts. But until the NBA realizes that the product is good basketball and not strip-club glitz and overpriced food, they'll continue to struggle when teams dip in the standings. Again, there are way too many teams and way too many games, and the league cannot deliver night-in, night-out, with a quality product. I happen to like the current team's coach and its grit, but half the guys on the team really don't belong in the league and wouldn't have been 30 years ago.

People hail Commissioner David Stern as the commissioner to end all commissioners, and while he's been good at marketing apparel and moving into China, he has damaged the long-term quality of the product by ignoring it. Bud Selig gets dinged frequently (and I've dinged him too), and perhaps it's because he presided while he had an ownership interest in a team or because he presided during the steroids era, but baseball seems to be in better shape (public scandals aside) than basketball, at least at the top level in the United States. To me, Stern has been in the job way too long and has focused on the packaging instead of the product, and the NBA owners would be well-suited to letting him retire graciously and gloriously at the end of his next contract and putting a commissioner in place who focuses much more on substance and much less on style.

I give the Philadelphia fans credit for not falling for the "creative" marketing. They're voting with their feet, and they're wise to do so.

NBA Stupidity, Part I

It's not news that the Lakers traded a bunch of spare parts and draft picks to the Grizzlies for Pau Gasol, which is a great trade for Phil Jackson and Company. What's news is that as part of the deal, Philadelphia 76ers' volunteer assistant coach Aaron McKie is now an active member of the Grizzlies at age 35.

How did this happen? Because McKie was last a Laker, because his salary was on the books of the Lakers, and because that made him tradeable and attractive in a trade. You have to remember that this is the league where teams don't always trade for players who can help them, they trade for expiring contracts that will then free up space on the NBA's salary cap and enable the team who does so, theoretically, to sign a good free agent. I'm not totally sure on the dynamics that got McKie back into the NBA, but why is the persistence on trading for expiring, big contracts good for basketball?

As for McKie, who knows if he'll last a week in Memphis. As for Memphis, who knows how good Kwame Brown can be (it's doubtful that he'll be more than a bit player), and who knows how good the draft picks will be if the Lakers improve vastly as a result of getting Gasol.

The trade: good for the Lakers, but typical of the strangeness of the NBA.

More Thoughts on Coaching Second Grade Basketball

We had our third-to-last game today, and here are some thoughts at the season is now more than three-quarters over.

1. We worked more on defense than before, and a light bulb went off in me that I shared with the kids, that they absorbed, and then played great defense. I told them to look closely at the person they were guarding, see whether they were right-handed or left-handed, and then instead of being straight across from that person when they got the ball, that they slide to the side of the dribbling hand quickly to cut off the dribble. They did so very well (especially the best players), and the other team had trouble advancing the ball. Why did this work? Because most kids this age cannot dribble with both hands. The other team's coach came over to me and said that one of our best players was the best defender he'd seen all year -- she shut down perhaps the best player on the other team.

2. The other team's coach was a really good guy, encouraging and positive, and before the game we traded notes on the other team's we played. He asked me, "did you play the guy with the clipboard yet?" I laughed, because we had, and that particular coach was actually diagramming plays for the second graders. We played that team well, probably scored 3 fewer baskets in a high-scoring, low-defense affair, but his advantage was that he had better players overall than we did (as most of his kids could handle the ball well, skills that they could not possibly have picked up just by playing in this league this season). My opposing coach today chuckled at the intensity of this coach, and to a degree I had to agree. It's tough enough getting our kids to develop the basic skills, let alone to teach them a 1-4 stack with picks in the middle of the offense. Even though the coach about whom we were speaking was well prepared, we didn't feel we were laggards, and my opposing coach today told me that his team outscored that team, and, after the game, the guy with the clipboard told him that his team hit "lucky" shots. Ugh! Let's remember, guys, it's a kid's game played by kids.

3. There's one drill we didn't run in practice this season that we should have from the beginning, and that was having the kids dribble between chairs or cones or players on the team standing, say, five feet apart. The reason: my team's best dribblers do not look up when dribbling and, as a result, they miss all sorts of passing opportunities. Today we had several kids open down low, but the ballhandlers showed little court awareness. No matter how much we tell them, they have trouble looking up, and they really need to work on this. It got to the point in one quarter where the lesser dribblers were reluctant to pass to one of my best players because he's not good at finding them when they're open. The lesser dribblers need to work on better ballhandling skills, while the better ones need to work on dribbling with both hands and looking up.

4. Catching the ball isn't as easy as you think. Some of the kids who were open didn't convert good opportunities when they had them, because they weren't prepared to catch the ball. Had they caught the ball cleanly (as we teach in our catch-and-shoot drill), they could have taken some good shots. Instead, on a few occasions, the ball hit the floor and a scrum ensued.

5. We're still a bit flat-footed on rebounding, and the kids don't crash the boards as much as they should. We'll keep telling them, but if they do that, they'll get more opportunities.

6. The kids don't remember to keep their hands up on defense, and we tell them constantly. We play better defense than most teams because we keep our hands up most of the time. Keeping our hands up prevents many kids from getting good shots and creates deflections on defense.

7. One drill I'm going to try is a wing drill, where a player dribbles to the wing and then tries to get a pass to a kid who's near the low blocks on the same side. We had opportunities today, but either the kid near the low blocks wasn't in a good position to catch the ball or the dribbler waited too long. We need to make our decisions more quickly.

8. Many of the kids still have no instinct for the game, probably because they have so many things on their schedule and then play video games that they don't watch basketball. You wouldn't believe how much traveling goes on and how many kids don't realize that after the other team scores you must bring in the ball over the endline. We do try to reinforce this, but it's hard. The kids also aren't great about spacing, with the result in one instance that one of my best players had a clear lane to the basket, and one of my other players shadowed her so much that he ran into her. We try to preach spacing, but, again, it doesn't come naturally to some of the kids.

All in all, it's been a lot of fun, because each week you see kids show improvement. One of my kids has gotten better rebounding the ball inside, while another has found more strength and hit a couple of shots. Yet another, who didn't hit a shot today, took five good ones and played great defense. He's one of my best players, and the three other top players have shown improvement and regression on their road to getting better. One needs to play a little more under control, one needs to be more aggressive on offense, and the other one needs to pass the ball more. They'll all get there through more playing and practicing, I'm confident of that. My advice to other coaches out there: keep drilling, keep reinforcing the fundamentals, and your kids will show breakthroughs.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Who Does Johan Santana Think He Is -- A-Rod?

It's 4:04 as I write this, and the Mets and Santana have less than an hour to reach a deal. Will theydo it? Read this and try to figure it out.

Santana has been offered a very good deal. The Mets are not going insane here, but they are stretching a bit to reel in one of the best starting pitchers in baseball (if not the best). If the Mets can't ink Santana, what will happen next? Will the same deal paralysis occur near the trade deadline, or will the Twins trade Santana for fewer prospects because there won't be a way to ink him to a longer-term deal as part of a trade mid-summer? And, if that happens, what will this failure do to the market for Santana after the season? Will the Yankees and Red Sox go at it again? Will Santana command this kind of money again, or, in the wake of what could be another mediocre year by Barry Zito in the best pitcher's park in baseball, will the value for all pitchers drop?

And, if the deal fails now, will Hank Steinbrenner swoop in and make the deal? My Met fan friends said that the Mets had to do this, but don't the Yankees really have to do this deal too?

Hank Steinbrenner pulled an A-Rod deal out of the fire with A-Rod before in a great fashion. Perhaps there's an encore in the near future.

Why Young NFL QBs Fail so Much

A close friend who lives out West heard Steve Young on the radio the other day, and the relay of Young's analysis was quite good. Young's premise is that young QB's either start, get overwhelmed and don't take the time to study properly (after all, they're starting, so why need to prepare so much?) or are back-ups, get bored out of their skulls, don't like to study, and therefore aren't ready when it's their time to start. As a result, most young QBs fail because they're not properly prepared to do the jobs they're asked to do.

He and I discussed our premise, which is that too many times players still get drafted because of their promise than their actual performance. In our view, players who have a demonstrated record of making the plays and have demonstrated a solid work ethic in the past project out well for the NFL, even if they're not the fastest or have the strongest arms. We don't have empirical evidence that this is the case, of course, but they're have been one-season wonders who've been drafted too high and who have failed miserably. Akili Smith comes to mind, of course, but we're pretty certain that they're are others.

You would think that with all of the money NFL teams have at their disposal, some data crunchers (and there might be some who are not actually working for Mitt Romney's campaign) could do a Moneyball-type of analysis to help predict the success of college players in the pros. With the skill positions (and kickers and punters), you can rely on numbers that are readily kept. With the non-skill positions, detailed film work will tell you what you need to know. Then, teams need to assess the kid's work ethic, focus and commitment to the game.

Should it be that hard to maximize your draft picks? Should it be that hard to put enough effort into finding a good quarterback? After all, he's the centerpiece of your team, so you'd think that each team would do the type of analysis necessary to make the choice stick, namely -- can he make the plays at our level, and will he study enough to make the right decisions?

Roger Goodell and Anita Hill Haven't Been Photographed Together

But perhaps the senior Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, thinks they're the same person. Read this and see what I mean.

Don Quixote had his windmill, and Senator Specter every now and then needs a human pinata to swing at. This time, in the midst of a panoply of problems that scream for solutions, Senator Specter is inquiring as to why Commissioner Goodell destroyed the evidence surrounding the Boston Tape Party.

The time Senator Specter has on his hands suggests that his office already has solved the following problems: a) the looming recession; b) the sub-prime mess; c) Iraq; d) providing every citizen with health insurance; e) re-fortifying the coffers that will pay for Social Security and Medicare as the Baby Boomers retire and f) global warming. So, with this newly found free time, the senator has decided to focus on football.

Lucky for us.