Monday, June 23, 2014

The Four Year Bandwagon

What a sight: behold hundreds of American soccer fans promoting their national team during the tournament that makes the world hold its breath every four years. This is not to say that soccer, or football, isn't passionately observed other than during this month-long tournament. Soccer is the most popular sport in the world because it is simple and only requires a stretch of land, markings, two nets and a ball. Simplicity is key, but Americans are spoiled with excess because we always want more, which is why our relationship with the sport is complex: soccer is another one of those sports we can all gather around, but it is also too simple for our tastes.

If you mention football to any American, we'd be thinking of a sport that involves ball movement via hands for the most part. This physical sport has become America's present obsession, a modern day gladiatorial event if you will. However, if you observe what you are actually watching as you tune into Monday Night Football, you may realize that you are not watching too much action at all. For a sport with so much action, there is in reality just about 11 minutes of true actual playing time. Does that mean Americans prefer sports with less movement and action? Not necessarily, but it does mean that the sport is easier to follow. For example, in American football, the ball is so very easy to follow as you know it will go from center to quarterback to offensive specialist or sometimes defensive specialist or harmlessly to the ground. Simple. The sport was built for television because after each play, they can show a replay, fans in the stands, or an attractive cheerleader with a smile on her face even though she is getting paid less than minimum wage. This is because the rules permit the display of extra footage. Pair that with a sport that requires maximum focus to follow a ball shot across the field for two nonstop 45 minute periods and you have two sports whose only common denominator is a green field.

When I was watching a recap of the USA Men's Teams dramatic 2-2 draw with Portugal, former Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy commented that the support the team had was outstanding and that it is great that so many Americans are supporting their soccer team. If this is the image that American fans are giving to the rest of the world, the world will soon realize our bandwagon nature. After winning the opening match against Ghana in dramatic fashion, the USA team had loads of momentum as well as tons of its countrymen willing and able to jump onboard the bandwagon. The next opponent was perfect: Portugal. The team that is headlined by the one players everyone knows: Cristiano Ronaldo. Every guys favorite player to hate because every girl loves him. After the US got off to a horrid start that saw them down a goal, they found their magic in the second half by scoring the equalizer and getting the go ahead goal. The finish line was less than a minute away when Ronaldo got the ball in stoppage time and delivered a beautiful volley that was headed into the net for the equalizing final play of the game. Americans were dumbfounded.

Whether or not the Americans advance further on into the tournament, they don't have what it takes to be a world class opponent in a very, very long time. In fact, they probably won't ever come close to winning the World Cup. This is because Americans are not true soccer fans. Sure, I can understand that a team isn't supported when they are doing poorly, but it is annoying when supporters start randomly appearing when a team does well. Especially after only one game. That's all it took. A win against Ghana and everyone was suddenly sold on the team. Ghana's FIFA ranking entering the World Cup was 37, so I don't see what the big deal is. Instead, after the 2-2 result, Americans were all distraught by the heartbreaker. Their words, not mine. Entering the World Cup, I thought that against Portugal, all the US could do was hope for a draw. I was wrong because in reality, the USA gave a winning effort that was wasted by an incredible late volley. Looking at this game though, three points would have been great, but one point is not something to be ashamed of. Instead of being satisfied with a position of controlling their own destiny, the Americans are upset and quickly jumping off the bandwagon because we can't settle with a draw. In a match that the USA should've lost, leaving with a point should be a huge result that Americans should be proud of. Instead, we were left wanting more.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Best. Throwbacks. Ever.

The Throwback Jersey is an item that should, and oftentimes are, brought back for marketing value in professional sports. The idea of selling a jersey that is old and outdated may seem like a money-pinching strategy; however, there are times when the original jersey and logo should never have been tampered with or replaced. When these old jerseys are brought back, it's right of any fan to purchase this old merchandise chock full of joy, tears, nostalgia, and tons of memories. This blogpost is about the jerseys that I think hold a certain place in the hearts of original, die-hard fans and should be celebrated with the appropriate throwback sporting event.

The Toronto Raptors are a relatively young franchise established in 1995. While they received flack for their raptor logo with its cheesy design, comedic appearance, lack of ferocity and inspiration from the 1994 movie Jurassic Park, the purple jersey the team featured was as good as they get. The front was a royal purple accented by a red highlight around the characters on the front and back of the jersey. What truly added some flavor to this jersey was the black back to the shirt. While the Raptors enjoyed a 2014 Atlantic Division Championship, the team has little history, so a restoration of purple in Toronto would not be a terrible, criticized idea or action.

The funny thing about certain throwback jerseys is that certain ones have been used on a regular basis within a franchise during a time when that team enjoyed the talents of a current day, all-time great. Through this decision of apparel, these jerseys, namely the San Diego Chargers baby blue throwbacks and the New England Patriots red throwbacks have become associated with all-time franchise greats such as LaDanian Tomlinson and Tom Brady, respectively. Though this may not be the intent by Reebok, Nike or the team, fans are slowly and sadly beginning to forget about the other all-time greats who graced these classy shirts as a younger generation has begun to build associations between these jerseys and players they are more familiar with.

The Chicago White Sox current uniform is actually above average as it holds many themes that other franchises with strong traditions possess. They have pinstripes and a logo that looks like it belongs in the original World Series newspaper; however, all of these themes are borrowed. They aren't original, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but the Sox had there own thing going on not too long ago. The red, white, and blue jersey is sort of goofy; however, it has an endearing look to it. The uniform held promise.

One of the best throwback promotions in all of professional sports is the NHL Winter Classic. While this New Year's Day game is oftentimes overshadowed by the Rose Bowl, fans of the teams involved in the Classic are willing to fork over several hundreds of dollars to pick up an outdoor ticket in a baseball or football stadium and a throwback jersey. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks jerseys have proven to be the most successful from a marketing standpoint as many fans from each franchise have one.

The Philadelphia Phillies' throwback hat for their baby blue uniforms was the first fitted New Era 59Fifty hat I ever purchased. It now has sweat stains, foundation on the band from when I let a girl where it (dumb decision), and a sun bleached look to the brim, but it will always hold a special place on my shelf. One of the best features of MLB throwbacks is that they also feature a hat. If you know anything about me, I'm a hathead, so I appreciate any piece of headwear. One of the best features of these throwbacks in my opinion is the cap. Back in the day, hats were more "goofy" for a lack of better words, as they featured more simplistic designs. The intimidation factor of the logo was not evident yet, which is why the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels could don these seemingly childish hats. Whether or not they should continue to wear these hats is a different debate, but it's always nice to see a young fan wear an age appropriate hat while avoiding the obvious anachronism.

The tragic part of looking back at these throwback uniforms is that you realize the the sense of the adage: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Though the franchise may have needed a reboot of sorts by having an excuse of selling more merchandise, the decision itself damages the history the team had. The Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series, only four years after they were introduced as an expansion team. Not too long afterwards, the franchise decided to switch to a sedona red while keeping the same logo for the most part. The St. Louis Rams had a rough go for a majority of the 90's; however, they did win Super Bowl XXXIV thanks to Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. Unfortunately, the greatest show on turf was quick to do away with their uniforms as they went for a navy, gold approach. While the throwbacks may have needed some slight touch ups, they were classy and they did not have to be entirely scrapped.

A few franchises realized the travesties they committed once they got rid of their classic throwback uniforms. In an attempt to fix what didn't need fixing again, they restored the throwback uniform with a more modern feel. The ability in which they were able to execute this decision has varied, but overall, it is a nobel move by the franchise that also brings in loads of revenue as the franchise has an excuse to sell the original jersey, the mistake, and then the newer version of the throwback.
The Toronto Blue Jays were able to restore their jerseys to back to the retro feel of the old throwbacks. On the other hand, the Phoenix Suns' newer jerseys show an attempt at restoring what once worked, but to a lesser effect.

One of the best throwbacks in my opinion belongs to the Baltimore Orioles. The cap tells the story with a goofy looking bird sporting a baseball cap… on a baseball cap. The best part about the entire uniform is that the Orioles decided to bring the uniform back. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it's awesome in all of it's oldies goofiness, don't fix it. Or bring it back. Throwback.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What's Old Is New: The Case for the 2014 New York Jets

The 2014 offseason in the NFL featured a number of changes in scenery for notable players. These offseason moves have most notably bolstered the outlook of the upcoming Broncos and Patriots upcoming seasons as well as dramatically improving the Buccaneers chances of a going over .500. Even the Browns look as though they'll have a ferocious defense, matching the prowess of their AFC North rivals. However, as much fun as all that is, this post is not about the aforementioned teams. It's about the two biggest moves of the entire postseason to the brightest lights of America. That's right, what's old is new: Michael Vick and Chris Johnson are headed to New York and the Jets are headed back to the postseason.

Now if you follow football, you may think one of two things: no, you're stupid or no, those two guys used to be good and aren't anymore. I think all of that is fair; however, one could easily make the case that even if Geno Smith was under center, the Jets have a chance at clinching a wild card berth. He's not the best of quarterbacks, but he improved quite a bit along the way in his rookie campaign, leading the Jets to an 8-8 record and second place in the AFC East. Writing this post, I'm assuming that the 2014 Jets will have an improvement at the quarterback position, whether it's with Smith or Vick at the helm.

Michael Vick, who will be 34 at the start of the season, is far past his prime. Defenses have been rattled by him during his years with the Falcons and at the start of his tenure with the Eagles. However, teams now know what to do with Vick: pressure. The former Hokie has never faired well under blitzes and pressure packages while in the pocket, but Vick's true weapon is escaping containment and gaining yards on the ground. Vick's speed and escapability brings about another concern: injuries. With a year of sitting on the bench, the dual threat quarterback should have relatively fresh legs, but I don't think he'll survive the season. By the time he's forced out, he'll already have the Jets in playoff position. When he finally is demoted and Smith is promoted to the starting job, Geno will have had the time on the bench to truly grasp and learn the game.

So why would I be writing this post if I don't think Vick, the quarterback hauled in by the Jets, won't even survive a season? The truth is, he's not what makes the Jets dangerous. The defense is stout, but the true addition will line up five yards behind Vick.

The best acquisition of the New York Jets offseason is Chris Johnson. Simply put, he is most everything you'd want in a running back. Consistency. Speed. Physicality. Elusiveness. Strength. Chris Johnson is all of that. The former Eastern Carolina University running back has rushed over 1,000 yards in each if his first six seasons in the league. I personally don't think that there's a whole lot more you can ask from any player in the backfield. Surely, he didn't carry himself well with the media and New York has the biggest media exposure in America, but if he can be productive without becoming the main feature of the team, Chris Johnson will flourish. The defense already has to worry about Vick running on them, which will place a linebacker in containment, providing plenty of room for Johnson to have cutbacks and big plays.

So is there reason for optimism in the Big Apple? Most certainly. Can the Jets make something out of a berth to the postseason? That remains to be seen. To put it into perspective, Mark Sanchez managed to get the Jets to the AFC Championship game in his dirt two seasons. The defense was much better; however, it is still a quarterback driven league is what Sanchez did was impressive. Ultimately, Vick is better that Sanchez and Geno Smith has potential. The true difference maker for the 2014 Jets will be the explosiveness of Chris Johnson. It should be an interesting season.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Milwaukee, You're Better Than This

Opening Day is unlike any other. Its festivities hold hope and promise for the new season. Anything can happen. The Chicago Cubs can capture their first World Series since 1908. The Boston Red Sox can win their fifth title in a decade, brushing aside a history of futility. The New York Yankees can once again prove that money wins championships by capturing their 28th World Series. Bottom line, anything can happen.

While the sun on the Opening Day of Major League Baseball can wash away so many memories by offering promise, certain demons cannot simply be forgotten after an offseason. The Los Angeles Angels have yet to return to the postseason despite having an absolutely loaded roster. The Toronto Blue Jays followed offseason hype with a terrible and dissapointing season. And Ryan Braun is still Ryan Braun.

Ryan Braun is the star player for the Milwaukee Brewers. Braun, a former NL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP, has slugged the Brew Crew into the postseason in 2011, but the team hasn't been able to duplicate its success. The outfielder was welcomed by a warm, standing ovation after he took to Miller Park for the first time since an ugly suspension that ended his 2013 season early. Shame on Ryan Braun and shame on any Brewers fan who put their hands together for Braun. 

Now, why the harsh stance? You may recall Braun has been associated with a scandal involving Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) and a Biogenisis Clinic. When asked about his involvement with PEDs after the 2011 Postseason, Braun strongly denied that he ever used PEDs. He added that he was willing to bet his life that the substances never entered his body.

Well, if his word was any good, Ryan Braun would be a dead man.

As it turns out, Braun is a pathological liar since he actually used PEDs a number of times. What gave Braun such confidence to say he never used the drugs was because the sample that was initially used to test him was mishandled to a degree. However, the truth (the actual truth, not Ryan Braun's version of the truth) is that the outfield slugger is and always will be a cheater. He even managed to cheat the system by choosing to drop his appeal for a ban for the rest of the season after the Brewers' season turned out to be a lost cause. 

Enter Opening Day, 2014. While the rest of Major League Baseball is ready to boo and jeer at number 8 when he steps into their batter's box, Milwaukee gave him a hero's welcome. Why? Do they not have any sports coverage in Wisconsin? Well, obviously because they are convinced that Green Bay, WI is Titletown, USA; that you can win a college basketball championship with just white players; and that Ryan Braun is returning from the Heroes' Journey. That's got to be it. Joseph Campbell couldn't have created a better story to fit his frame of the generic hero: Ryan Braun, the Messiah of Milwaukee. The Brewers' hero is great, but hardships present a change and he must leave. While in exile and paying his penance in the land of Florida, the hero discovers something, the elixir to great power and strength. Upon his return, he becomes an even greater hero with his newfound strength, willing the Milwaukee Brewers to the promise land. That must be why Milwaukee fans are so excited to see him again.

Well, here's the thing Milwaukee: I know that recently this fan base came close to tasting the ripe fruit that is a National League Pennant, but do not stoop to the level of a crook, a villain, a liar. Ryan Braun can hit with the best of them. Great. He wants to improve. Good for him. He took PEDs to improve. That happens, people do that. If that was the end of the story to this point, perhaps Braun could be forgiven and everything would soon be forgotten. However, that's not what happened. Through this whole fiasco, we have all learned a little bit about Braun himself. In fact, we have learned a lot. Here is a man who blatantly lies to his fans as well as himself. He could probably convince himself that the Brewers are better than the Cardinals. Anyhow, the Braun situation has told us all too much about his true character. We were all here to see the story unravel, and for that, shame on you Milwaukee. You should be better than this. Just know that the face of your franchise would lie to you, right in your face. Keep that in mind next time you down a Miller Lite to wash away the sadness of yet another Brewers' loss.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Requiem for the 2013-14 Air-Zona Wildcats

It's always difficult to stomach a tough loss. One could resort to blaming the referees or they could just man up and say that it wasn't their night. The pain seeps in more when you look back on all of the memorable highlights and wins of the season, only to come up short in a game. For the Arizona Wildcats, that loss came in the single-game elimination NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.  All of the alley-oops and dunks couldn't lead the team to their ultimate goal: a National Title. It couldn't even lead them to a Final Four berth as they came up short in 45 minutes at the Honda Center. However, the beauty and retraction of the annual NCAA Tournament is that one loss and you're done. On the flip side of that coin, you only need six wins to take home the championship (unless if you are the 2011 VCU squad that went 5-1 only to fall to Butler in the national semifinal). This is a requiem for the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats' Men's Basketball Team's season. Try saying that three times fast. Anyway, as a University of Arizona Athletics supporter, I have followed this team for a number of years. Sean Miller has done a superb job in recruiting athletes to get this team back to where it belongs: the National spotlight. However, Coach Miller has also followed up on the tradition of coming up short in the tournament setting. If you follow Arizona basketball, you might question me on this statement by saying, "Did this guy even see Arizona throttle a No. 1 seeded Duke team in 2011?" Why, yes, I did see Arizona eviscerate an overrated Duke squad by a score of 91-77. The tables turned when Lamont "Momo" Jones pulled up for a transition basket to put Arizona ahead and Jamelle Horne posterized Kyle Singler while Derrick Williams posterized the entire Duke defense. But I digress, because both Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne each missed three point attempts that would have sent the Cats to Houston. That was the last shot that the Wildcats had a high enough caliber team to scratch the surface of tournament success. Under Miller, the Wildcats have lost the Conference Tournament at the buzzer three times in five years and still advent won one since 2002. However, given the animal that is collegiate basketball and the leviathan that is professional basketball, there is that lure that pulls athletes away from the college game oh so early. This creates a rebuilding project every time a season ends, especially for the superior teams, which challenges every coach.

Looking at this 2013-14 squad, I was excited because I thought there was no way they would not win a National title. I was looking forward to a new design on the 2014-15 Arizona Wildcat's jersey that had two stars on the top, one with '97 and one with '14. They were no doubt going to win the 'ship in North Texas. That was almost true, as the Wildcats featured a dominant frontline of seasoned sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski while also welcoming one of the nation's top recruits in Aaron Gordon. The back court featured juniors Nick Johnson and newcomer by way of Dusquene, TJ McConnell. A knock down shooting sophomore Gabe York waited to come off of the bench while an extremely talented and athletic Chester, PA native, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson would come off the bench with him. There was no way they couldn't win. No way. Except for injury.

The first game Arizona lost was a 60-58 nail-biting loss at the hands of the California Golden Bears at Haas Pavilion. A close, regular season loss in the midst of a "Gold-Out" is nothing to hang your head for, but Arizona lost there strength in their front court as Brandon Ashley went down with a foot injury. After the loss, things just weren't the same as the Cats barely beat Oregon at the McKale Center and later lost at ASU. In my opinion, losing to Arizona State deems your football or basketball season as a failure, so I personally wasn't too optimistic at that point. However, Sean Miller managed to change my mindset as the Wildcats demolished the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder by a score of 88-61. They followed up the win by dominating both Cal and Stanford at home, but the fast pace blowouts couldn't keep up. The Wildcats finished their regular season with a loss in Eugene to the Ducks. The Wildcats couldn't turn the tables in the PAC 12 Conference Tournament as they fell to UCLA. Onto the NCAA Tournament.

Despite four losses, the Cats managed to convince the committee that they were worthy of the second overall seed, hence the No. 1 seed for the West Region. After playing an uninspired game against the Weber State Wildcats, I wasn't terribly confident in having them win the whole thing. However, they were fortunate when they placed against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, a fundamentally sound yet unathletic team. The Wildcats toyed with the Bulldogs as they advanced to the Sweet 16, set up for a rematch with the San Diego State Aztecs. In what proved to be a much more physical affair than their first game, the two teams played with drive and emotion with the Wildcats emerging victorious. Arizona would then be set up for a date with the Wisconsin Badgers, a team notorious for having four "white" starters. Again, fundamentals. The Badgers team that I saw was not more athletic. They didn't have a single dunk. I don't remember the last time Arizona did not dunk in a game. However, I digress. The Wisconsin players knew how to play, despite their lack of athleticism. They would have to shoot their arms off because they can't drive well, pass as much as possible because they can't set up their own shot, scoot their pivot feet around just enough so it wasn't a blatant travel, and make good decisions. They did all of that and in turn, beat the two most athletics teams in the tournaments field, Baylor and Arizona. It's tough to accept that.

So, now that the books are shut on this past season, the question begs: what now? After LaQuinton Ross drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer that put a nail in the 2012-13 team's coffin, I was quite upset yet optimistic. I realized that championships can't be won with even the most talented freshman class because those players lack experience. Next year (this year), the team would be much better though. They'd have a nice combination of Grant Jerrett, Angelo Chol, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in their front court. Wait a minute, Jerrett and Chol didn't play for Arizona this year. No, Jerrett was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder and is currently in the D-League and Chol was crying on the bench after Arizona knocked out SDSU from the tournament. Realizing this, I can't help but wonder: What if?

This is what we as fans and spectators of collegiate basketball need to realize. There are so many what if's that dreaming will leave you dwelling on the past. To hardly even play in college as a freshman and then get drafted has become far too easy. To simply transfer and develop for a year on the bench has become far too easy. The counterargument is that the traditional powerhouse programs can just as easily reload with a talented recruiting class. The Wildcats have arguably one of the better recruiting classes in the nation as they will welcome Stanley Johnson, Craig Victor, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Tyler Dorsey, Dusan Ristic, and JUCO talent Kadeem Allen on campus this fall. So obviously, next year's team is going to win the National Title, right? Gordon will be replaced by Dorsey. Stanley Johnson will replace Nick Johnson and score more points. Even if Tarczewski leaves, an ambidextrous Ristic will take his role. Even if either Ashley or Hollis-Jefferson choose to leave for the NBA, they'll be replaced by the Victor-Allen tandem. So all is not lost, the 2014-15 squad still has a great chance at achieving what this year's team didn't accomplish. However, if college basketball has taught me anything, it is that senior leadership and superb guard play is what wins games in March. The Cats won't have that leadership unless players stay. Which they won't. They'll have the alley-oops and highlight dunks again, but they won't hold onto one of their better players long enough to season him into a leader. The players who become the senior leaders are the players who weren't talented enough to be drafted earlier in their collegiate career. If I have learned anything, the vicious cycle will continue. History will repeat itself when Stanley Johnson declares for the draft after he hangs up his custom Arizona-Jordan basketball shoes for the final time when the Cats fall short of the 2015 National Title, just as Aaron Gordon couldn't deliver this year. I'm sorry Sean Miller. It's the way basketball is played in the desert and you'll have to coach with the players' best well-being in mind. Perhaps Miller will capture that elusive Final Four berth and National Title when he replaces Mike Krzyzewski as Duke's next head basketball coach.

May the 2013-14 Wildcat's season rest in peace.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Case for Mr. Turner

If you've watched any college basketball lately, you would have heard of the outcry  against one-and-done collegiate athletes by now. Now that the madness that is the first week of the NCAA Basketball Tournament has passed, a number of traditional powerhouses have experienced an early exit from the dance. With blue-blooded programs such as the Kansas Jayhawks and the Duke Blue Devils watching from home, one can't help but wonder about the effect of underclassmen declaring to play professionally. And I'm not talking about Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. I'm talking about elite collegiate players who are currently underperforming in the NBA such as Ben McLemore and Thomas Robinson, former Jayhawks All-Americans, and Austin Rivers, a former stand-out Duke guard. What if Kansas and Duke had those players still on their rosters? Kansas would be packing their bags to head out to Memphis for the Sweet Sixteen and America wouldn't know where Mercer was on the map because Duke steamrolled them. However, history writes with a different quill and we are forced to write off our brackets with red ink.

So, what does the parity of the NCAA Tournament have to do with the smiling gentleman at the top of this article? Well, first off, let me introduce him. His name is Josiah Turner, a former five star and No. 11 high school prospect ranked by Rivals on Yahoo!

The Sacramento native committed to the University of Arizona to play basketball for the Wildcats under Sean Miller. Unfortunately for both parties, Mr. Turner had troubles with drugs and alcohol. He underperformed during his freshman season at Arizona and was dismissed from the team shortly after the Wildcats were ousted by Bucknell in the first round of the NIT. All was not lost for Turner as he could still be drafted due to his tremendous upside and potential. However, the NBA did not accept Turner initially, leading him overseas to play for a professional Hungarian team. Due to bedbugs and other poor conditions in Hungary, Turner left for Canada to play professionally. With his attitude out of check, he was shown the door after a number of confrontations with his head coach. Now, Josiah Turner is playing in the NBA's Developmental League for the Los Angeles D-Fenders. With a spot on an NBA roster within reach, Turner's attitude has improved and so has his skillset. Just as he displayed his tremendous ball-handling skills in high school, Turner is now impressing at this level with much better decision making than he previously demonstrated in college. Turner would have been a junior if he had stayed at Arizona, but like his fellow recruit and former teammate Nick Johnson, both are on their way to an NBA roster.

So what's the point of talking about Mr. Turner? Am I upset that he didn't stay at Arizona for a few more years? No. If Josiah had a better attitude and stayed away from drugs during his freshman year, he would've been drafted in a heart beat. He was and is that good. However, Turner wouldn't have been good enough to develop into a good NBA player if he jumped straight from freshman year to professional life. That's no knock on his ability as more and more one-and-done players leaving college basketball for the NBA are underperforming. I think it would be better suited for these players who intend on spending one year at college to instead spend that year in the developmental league. Skip college altogether because these young men don't have much interest in earning a degree when they have dunk competitions in their futures. College life also holds too much temptation for some of these young men as they are lured by college girls, parties, and boosters.

It's time for college basketball and collegiate athletics to separate collegiate sports from professional sports. The NCAA champions education and athletics, not athletics over education. By becoming a student athlete, a student would play collegiate sports while being offered a scholarship in return, a win-win situation. If the athlete is so hell-bent on making money as soon as possible, let them be, but send them to developmental leagues that are more professionally oriented than collegiate athletics are. That's the case for Mr. Turner.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Television's Best Couple: Pasch and Walton

If you have stayed up late to watch ESPN broadcasts on the West coast of PAC 12 basketball, chances are you've tuned in on one of Bill Walton's rant on how the Grateful Dead are the best music artists of all time. If you haven't tuned in on one of these games, you may wonder what rock music has to do with college basketball. Nevertheless, the calling of Dave Pasch and Bill Walton of PAC 12 basketball has become intriguing, comical, and ultimately wildly entertaining television.

Bill Walton, the long-retired Portland Trailblazer and former UCLA Bruins all-time great never took the time to care about other's opinions of him. He still doesn't. In his new job, he'll say the damnedest things on air, go off on wild tangents, comment on how wonderful each PAC 12 city is, only to connect the knots in some loose way to basketball. I'll admit, the first time I tuned in to a game which he broadcasted, I thought he was an absolute idiot who doesn't know what he's talking about. I still think that. However, he has become quite entertaining. Like Dick Vitale, he's a commentator who goes off on certain, repetitive tangents in a recognizable voice and fashion. Many people don't appreciate this style of calling a game, but ultimately, it keeps the fan glued to his television. Both Walton and Vitale are respected men who don't take themselves seriously. In other words, they can take the jokes made about them because they realize they are jokes themselves. Do you think Dickie V was yelling, "Oh baby! What a diaper dandy! He's the three 'S' man! Super! Scintillating! Sensational!" when he was a coach? No. He has learned to have a good time (with Duke cheerleaders) by learning to make fun of himself.

While Walton has already mastered this art, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, there needs to be that solid partner who makes sure nothing gets out of hand. Dickie V's significant other is Dan Shulman, a Canadian with a silky-smooth baritone voice by way of Western Ontario University. Shulman has been calling baseball and basketball for ESPN for quite some time now, becoming their primary play-by-play announcer for the biggest of games. With so many broadcasts alongside Vitale, the two have perfect chemistry, elevating the quality of some of the best college basketball games. Walton's partner is Dave Pasch. Pasch, whom I've known for quite some time since he is the Arizona Cardinals' play-by-play radio announcer, has experience with some of the more wild commentators around as he calls the Cards' games with Ron Wolfley, the husky-voiced former pro-football player who uses the most creative analogies in all of football. 

I'm not saying that I've gotten the impression that Pasch likes Walton. The two still have yet to click as Pasch oftentimes needs to bring Walton back to the game when he's talking about something off topic. However, the little verbal fights and arguments that they have are amusing. It's almost like listening in on two fans who are talking and arguing about a basketball game that everyone else is watching. That is what commentating should be. That is entertainment. That is television.

Understandably, calling a game with Vitale, Wolfley, or Walton is no easy task; however, familiarity is key. Walton, still rough around the edges, is only in his second year calling games. Pasch is one of the more-experienced younger voices in sports broadcasting. Putting the two together is excellent for the long term run of ESPN. As games grow larger and larger in coverage, the entertainment quality of the broadcasters becomes more and more important. If Pasch and Walton work together for the long run, the two will develop chemistry. If the two split up, Pasch can go off for bigger and better things while the Walton project doesn't pan out. All in all, starting out on the relatively small-scale broadcasts of West coast basketball is a calculated and intelligent decision by ESPN since they can experiment their next big thing. While the rest of America, especially the East coast, has yet to listen in on this dynamic duo, us PAC 12 fans are enjoying the Pasch and Walton's bickering.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Do Not Storm the Court Against Your Rival

In the last 86 matchups on Tobacco Road between the University of North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke University Blue Devils, UNC holds a 44-42 advantage. This makes for one of the most balanced rivalries in all of college basketball. So here's a question: why would either program storm the court after beating the other?

Now for those of you who believe that court-storming is a fun part of the game for college fans, you are mistaken. It occurs to signify a monumental victory against a powerhouse team that visited your home-court only to lose the game. The nature and idea of storming the court is a nice one; however, it is dangerous for the players and the amount of times has dramatically increased within the past few years. This is why the NCAA may disallow taking to the field in such a frenzied matter and why students should restrain themselves more.

So let me present the question again: why would UNC storm the court after beating Duke? They're one of the most successful programs in all of college basketball history and this win is not monumental at all. Vegas had a line of only three points in Duke's favor and many people chose UNC to come out on top. So was it that much of a surprise that Duke lost AT Chapel Hill? I know I wasn't surprised.

In my opinion, storming the court is almost like saying, "Hey, you're better than us, but we beat you on our turf." You can ask any fan of any team if their team is worse than their rival. You'll be hard-pressed to find many fans who can admit to that and I am certain you won't find any UNC or Duke fan saying that the other team is historically better. For all of the top programs in the country, I don't think you can find one instance in recent memory that they stormed the court. When a team is as good as UNC or Duke, they expect to win every home game.

This is why it is absurd that Tar Heel fans stormed the court after beating arch-rival Duke. The culture of these programs is that you expect to win every game that you play. I know Roy Williams expected to win this game. In conclusion, it is a shame that North Carolina stormed the court against their rival Duke, because they admitted to their rivals who play 8 miles away down Tobacco Road that they are the better team and program.

Have You Ever Wondered about the Wonderlic?

The Wonderlic test has become the standard "quick" logic test used by the NFL during the combine to measure the intelligence of prospect players. It is timed for 12 minutes and has 50 muliple choice questions. The highest score by an NFL player was from Ryan Fitpatrick, a Harvard graduate who got a score of 48 out of 50. John Elway, the former Broncos and Stanford QB, scored 30 on the test. More prominent players, such as Tim Tebow (pictured), have scored alarmingly low. Tebow only got a 22 and NFL RB Marshawn Lynch, who went to UC Berkeley, only scored a 14. Isn't this a little bit alarming?

The Wonderlic test was developed by E. F. Wonderlic in 1936 as a cognitive and personnel test for soldiers in the United States Army. To put into perspective as to how much importance the army places on cognition, a person cannot enlist if they have had a certain amount of concussions. Essentially, their thinking ability is of utmost importance as their decisions can effect the outcome of other people's lives. Doesn't the same apply to football?

The immediate effect of head injuries may not terribly noticeable, but the long term effects have been thoroughly researched and discussed. In this case, I'd be more than concerned if the men lined up on the field score fewer than half of the points of an average janitor (22). 

I'm only in high school and I got a perfect score (50). Marshawn Lynch went to UC Berkeley and got a 14. He's lucky he's in the NFL, because I doubt he'd be qualified to flip hamburgers. I think the NFL needs to place more emphasis on the intelligence of their players instead of putting this test on the back burner. These men are going to war on the gridiron and they can't even think straight.  

The State of Washington Basketball

Take a look at this picture. Just a brief glimpse. You may notice several things: the heads in front of me, the upside down Cougar logo, the players on the court, the "State" on the bottom of the jumbotron, etc. The one thing I do want you to take away from this picture is the student section and attendance, or lack thereof. I took this picture only a few minutes prior to tip-off, and only a few hundred people were sitting in the stands, waiting for the game to begin. 

I don't blame the students for not showing up since it was a weekend afternoon, there was a heavy drizzle outside, and they were probably burying their nose in a book studying... Wait a second, that's exactly why students come to the game. People like to entertain themselves with sports because they are a means of escaping their everyday, ordinary lives. I personally can't think of many places that could benefit from the drug that is sports than Pullman, WA. And it's a possibility too. This season has been a forgetful one, but it also hasn't been the best of seasons for other teams in this area. Now is the time to capitalize on the weakened state of Northwest collegiate basketball. 

Let's take a look at the other schools that WSU has to compete with both on the court and in recruiting. The University of Washington is their main rival, which also has the greatest recruiting capabilities while based in an urban setting. It seems almost impossible to compete with a school that has those tools, yet the Cougs have been able to do so as they regularly snatch a victory from the Huskies. The reality is that the Washington Huskies basketball program is extremely underachieving given the amount of quality players that pass through that program year Ina md year out. They have a number of players that would go on to become stars in the NBA that are from the Metro-Seattle area. However, the last time they made the Final Four was 1953. In fact, the last time they advanced to the Elite Eight was also 1953. So what is wrong with UDub basketball? Like the Cougs, they have issues in coaching. To put it into perspective, both of the State schools of Washington could dismiss their coaches by the end of this season. Lorenzo Romar has put together a number of fine regular seasons, but a of late, they have become a dissapointment to Huskie fans. The advantage they have over WSU is that they can recruit enough talent to save some face. It's time to hire a new coach who can recruit some of those players away from UW.

What other schools do the Cougs have to compete with for the Northwest recruiting pipeline. The two Oregon schools aren't doing particularly well. The Oregon Ducks started off the season on an absolute scoring tear; however, when conference play began, they realized they couldn't win games without defense. On the positive side, Oregon will have no trouble recruiting since they have the Nike headquarters closeby. As a result, they have become one of the recruiting capitals in college basketball, the other being Iowa State. On the other hand, the Oregon State Beavers seem like one of the more stagnant teams in the PAC-12 over the past few seasons. I don't think either team is in the current position to be a serious threat in recruiting if they play the way that they have been playing recently.

The closest recruiting threat that is closet to the Cougs is the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga has been riding their wave of some tournament succes in the late 90s for about a decade now. Given the amount of national coverage that they recieve year in and year out, I actually think that they are a highly underachieving program at this point. Last year, they had a No. 1 seed, but they couldn't even make it past the Round of 32. I think that it is only a matter of time that Gonzaga loses their charm as a successful team from a poor conference. If the Cougs can get a coach who puts together a solid first season, he can expand his recruiting search into British Columbia, just like Mark Few for the Bulldogs. Canada has vastly improved in basketball as of late, and I think that they could prove to be a serious recruiting pipeline for the Cougs.

All in all, the Cougars need to make a push in hiring a coach with a plan and a good recruiting résumé. While other coaches are seeing the end of their tenures approach quickly on the horizon, Washington State needs to be the first to make a move. If they can get the jump on the others, they'll have the best team in the Northwest in only a few years. The time is now. It's time to get the Northwest hooked on WSU basketball. Make a move.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cougs Basketball: Drop the Bone

Checking my phone this morning, I saw that the Washington State Mens' Basketball team was going to host the Oregon Ducks later in the afternoon. As a season ticket holder, it's my duty as a two-year Pullmanite to go to these games and root for the Crimson and Gray. However, I was not looking forward to spending two hours at Beasley Coliseum for a few reasons. Firstly, I was going to have to miss the first half of the Arizona Wildcats' Mens' Basketball game as they would take on Utah. Secondly, I knew the Cougs were going to lose by large margin. And lastly, going to these basketball games has become painful.

Perhaps my standards have been set a bit too high as I grew up in Tucson, AZ and have grown accustomed to successful basketball teams year in and year out. But then again, Pullman has had a few successful basketball teams as of late, coached by Tony Bennett and future NBA stars like Klay Thompson. However, why would they retain a coach who is 21-30 overall in the past two seasons and 5-21 in Pac 12 play in these past two seasons? Let's take a step back away from the poor basketball that has been on the court since I became involved here and look at what this team and program is capable of. The Pac 12 conference is The Conference of Champions; however, football has been on an upward trend while basketball has been placed on the back burner. While this conference does boast the number 1 ranked team in the nation, they only have one team ranked in the AP Top 25 (Arizona). WSU has been spending plenty of money on athletics in order to compete in the conference, giving Mike Leach a large contract, building a beautiful press box at Martin Stadium, and adding a large office building next to the stadium. But wait a second… That money is being spent on football and football alone. Why put your resources into the football team when they have to compete in the strongest conference in the nation? The team has vastly improved as of late which was nice to see, but a New Mexico Bowl berth is hardly something this program can boast about. It is a stepping stone and this team is on the rise, but don't you think it would be a shame to see the Cougs put together one of the best offensive teams in their history, only to miss out on a Pac 12 North title to the powerhouse that is Oregon, to the defensive force that is Stanford, or to the rival that is Washington?

Now where am I trying to get with this rant? The bottom line is that now is the time. Not in football necessarily, since the conference is so strong right now. Rather, the Cougs should focus on building their basketball program. As a matter of fact, they had been enjoying success, even under Bone, as they made it to the NIT Semifinals in 2011. The truth is that this Pac 12 university deserves a better coach for their mens' basketball program. With Beasley Coliseum, a decently sized basketball arena that can get quite loud with 11,671 fans, many players would be more than happy to play in front of such a crowd. Since Pullman is not unreasonably far from British Columbia or Seattle, there are quite a few quality basketball players who wouldn't mind playing as a Coug. However, they would mind if there team was a Pac 12 bottom dweller.

Ike Iroegbu
Que Johnson
This current roster is dealing with being a joke, and it's not all their fault. Sure, you can blame some of these players for not playing as well as they are capable of. However, you can also blame coach Ken Bone for not using the team correctly. For example, Royce Woolridge is not a point guard, he is a scorer. Running the point takes away his opportunities to score, which has greatly diminished his confidence. Instead, Bone should start Ike Iroegbu at the point so that the young freshman from Oak Hill Academy can get more playing time in order to cement himself and get comfortable in this role he'll have for the next four years. I also remember against Stanford, the Cougs had a small lead, but Bone inexplicably took out leading scorer Que Johnson, a redshirt freshman who was absolutely red hot, which took the Cougs out of the game as Stanford got on a big runs and never looked back. They shouldn't hold onto the ball for 30 seconds and then try to score with five seconds remaining. They should play faster with as many guards as possible along with forward DJ Shelton. The Cougs are not good enough to hold onto the ball and play possession basketball. This is exactly why they aren't winning: they aren't scoring points. And how do you score more points? You take more shots. The problem is Bone isn't running the team to their strengths but rather to their weaknesses.

Royce Woolridge
So how do we approach this predicament? Well, the first part is simple: fire Ken Bone. WSU never should have trusted the former Portland State coach with their basketball program. What they should've done was hire a different coach coming from a small program in a more successful conference with consistent success, but also, more importantly, a coach who has tasted success in the postseason. Ken Bone was consistent at Portland State, building a respectable win-loss record; however, he was ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament twice in his last two seasons at PSU. One could argue that a coach who hasn't broken through with a smaller program could easily do so if he had the tools, and one could just as well argue that Bone found success by going far in the NIT. However, one of the more important aspects of coaching is recruiting. Bone is now working with his own players. He is working with players that should be tailored to his system, but the team is performing poorly as of these past two seasons. Last season, they only picked up four conference wins, two surprise wins coming from an LA school sweep. Four wins sounds poor, and it is, but it could've been a lot more. The Cougs were in most all of their games last season. They lost to #10 Gonzaga on a late layup, Washington by two possessions, at Arizona State by four, at USC by four, Oregon State by one, #23 Oregon by two, at Washington by four, and again against Washington in the Pac 12 tournament by two. You may find this as a stroke of bad luck; however, something doesn't add up. The Cougs only had one win that came down to the final moments as opposed to eight losses coming in the last minute. That is not bad luck, that is bad coaching. That is a poor utilization of your own players, players scouted and recruited specifically by the coach, only to come up short at the end of the game. I've heard countless times people exclaim at the end of a Cougs home loss saying, "Oh, we were so close" or, "We'll win next time." I am sick and tired of hearing that. How about we win those games. How about we get a coach who will come up on the winning end of these games.

So what can the Cougs do to stop the bleeding? I'm sorry, but if you are okay with a team that makes SportsCenter by only scoring seven points in a half or getting blown out at home during their "Gray Out" to Oregon by a score of 71-44, you don't appreciate the competitive nature of sports. I'd say this is a culture problem as of now. Hearing those fans who consistently say, "better luck next time" don't realize that there has been a losing culture already slowly settling into this program. It is a weed, a virus, a leach (no pun intended) that will make a program into a joke. WSU is not on the same trend as losing close games. Instead, they are losing only slightly at halftime, before getting blown out of the water in the second half. The Cougs need to make a statement in order to climb out of the bottom of the Pac 12. A statement unlike any other is firing the coach. Even though the Cougs have lost all hope for this season (which is a shame really), they should fire Bone right now as I type this article. Actually, they should have fired him when I was writing this title. Bone has a base salary of $850,000 and is under contract till 2015-2016. WSU would show guts and that they are serious about their basketball program with this firing. An interim coach could inspire some of these players to play better and stay with the program until better things come so that Ike Iroegbu and Que Johnson don't think about transferring away. Another positive about an early firing is that other small time coaches who are looking for that "stepping stone" program will take notice. There are many coaches that would love to spend some time at a Pac 12 program as they build there way up or coaches who are currently assisting but would like to take over the reigns, kind of like Tony Bennett.

Bottom line. Washington State needs to stop fooling around with their future. They are becoming a joke. They have talent. They lose games they shouldn't. They are in a conference where they can be
successful. They aren't making the effort they should to make this basketball program relevant. They have resources. They should make an effort. They should drop the Bone.

Drop the Bone.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Fan-Addict's Power Rankings: NCAAF RBs

1. Ka'Deem Carey: Carey is the best running back in the nation, hands down. He possesses the three most important traits that all of the greats have: burst, vision, and durability. If you'd like to check out any game film of his that demonstrates Carey's rushing prowess, take a look at the Oregon game film. he carried the ball 48 times en route to a 206 yard and 4 TD performance to upset the #5 team in the country. The average of 4.3 ypc during that game may seem pedestrian in the day of explosive running backs in college football; however, Carey brought the fight on every single carry. Towards the end of the game, when it seemed as though the most valuable player of a decent Arizona Wildcat's team should have been resting on the bench, Carey bullied Oregon defenders who were ready to say goodbye to any hope of winning the PAC 12. I understand that Ka'Deem will not be found at the top of many lists for collegiate running backs due to a lack of west coast coverage; however, his career at Arizona is chock full of marquee moments. He has been Mr. Consistency, rushing for 100+ yards in his past 16 games and rushing over 100+ yards in 22 of 25 games these past two seasons. Has he missed a game due to injury? Not yet (knock on wood). If he indeed does declare for the NFL draft, his last season at Arizona was a quality one as he was the reason for most of their wins, finishing with 1885 yards, 19 TDs, and an excellent rushing performance in the Advocare V100 Bowl at Independence Stadium with 169 yards and 2 TDs over Boston College and their Doak Walker winner in Andre Williams. I think he should be the first running back drafted and when NFL GMs watch his game film, he will be the first, taken early in the draft. A late 1st round pick or a 2nd round pick seems to be fair for the Arizona record breaker who can be a durable, consistent workhorse in the NFL.

2. Bishop Sankey: Being the second best running back is good enough to be the second best running back in the nation. That is how strong the PAC 12 is. Sankey, who has already declared for the NFL draft, was actually considered the better PAC 12 running back by many during the early stages of the season by both educated and uneducated fans. Smarter fans mentioned that he had a greater knack for the home run play than Carey while some east coast analysts and lesser watched fans took to the stat sheet to say that Sankey was the better running back. Now that both Sankey and Carey's seasons are over, Ka'Deem has eclipsed Sankey while playing one fewer game. However, 1870 yards is nothing to scoff at, and I hope NFL scouts will watch Sankey's game film against some of the better defenses. He has lacked consistency, with a terrible 22 yard rushing performance against Arizona State, but he also demonstrated a level of vision and explosiveness similar to Carey's against great defenses in Stanford and BYU. I expect Sankey to be drafted in the 3rd round and if he is taken by a team with a solid O-line, he is going to enjoy his fair share of success at the next level.

3. Carlos Hyde: Hyde is an absolute beast. When I watched him play this season, he reminded me a lot  about Chris "Beanie" Wells, a former 1st round Buckeye. I think when all is said and done, he will be a much better running back than Beanie Wells was in the NFL (not that that says much). Through 10 games, he has rushed for 1408 yards this season with 7.7 ypc. That rushing stat line is made even more impressive when you realize that Hyde is not a lil fellow who likes to take the ball on the edge to run. No, he is a bruiser in a stout 6'0", 242 lbs build. He also has excellent balance and speed for a big man, which has given him a knack for finding the end zone. Just take a look at his #SCtop10 run against the Iowa Hawkeyes. I have never seen a big man with as much body control as he displays in that play. Having Braxton Miller as his QB serves as a nice distraction as teams focus on stopping the QB running game as well as Hyde's own; however, you could very well make the argument that Hyde could have more yardage if his team relied on him more. All in all, I think he is strong and durable enough to become a solid running back in the NFL. I expect him to be drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round. Whoever drafts him will have to take some time to clear up his troubled background, but I think he has greatly matured this season.

4. Tre Mason: Mason is a big play running back. He's extremely explosive and produces with the big play. However, I wouldn't take him over the other two RBs in front of him because I think many of his yards can be credited to the scheme that Auburn runs. With a dangerous running QB in Nick Marshall in Gus Malzahn's clever and sneaky offense, a lot of attention is drawn away from Mason on each individual play. With 128 attempts for 848 yards, more than half of his 1621 yards on 283 attempts came when the game's margin was 15+ points, meaning that Mason runs wild when the game is not close. Putting up as many yards as he has in the SEC is impressive, but it's not as impressive when you take the yardage you should be able to take on the ground against lesser teams such as Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic. It'll be very interesting to see how he'll run against Florida State's defense on January 6th. If he can earn big play yardage against Florida Sate, he would prove his explosiveness against a top defense and cement himself a title as an explosive pro prospect. As it is now, I expect him to be drafted in the 2nd round, but used as a third down back in his first season.

5. Andre Williams: People on the east coast may trash me for putting the Boston College product, but I am by no means biased against him. After all, I almost went to Boston College High School. I have a great respect for the university, it's football program, it's head coach Steve Addazio, and it's MVP Andre Williams. However, if you take away his rushing performances against NM State, Maryland, and NC State, all of which possess a mediocre defense, then Williams wouldn't have enjoyed the 897 yard spurt to his 2177 yard total that really catapulted the hype he received late in the regular season. With a hot streak entering a regular season finale against Syracuse, Williams was stonewalled and injured by the Orange defense. With time to get healthy after receiving his Doak Walker Award, Williams was stoned again by a sub-par Arizona Wildcats' defense in the Advocare V100 Bowl to end his collegiate career. I think I speak for many when I say college football appreciated Andre Williams' senior campaign. His story is an excellent one meant for the story books as he has demonstrated determination in his rise on BC's depth chart and on the field as a physical running back. I think he will enjoy some success in the NFL as a short-yardage running back, taken in the 3rd round.