Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eric Gordon Named To NBA All-Rooke Second Team

Despite finishing 3rd among all rookies in scoring, Eric Gordon did not make the NBA All-Rookie First Team. Instead, the Clippers guard had to settle for Second Team honors, as if that is something to be ashamed of.

Gordon averaged 16 points a game for LA, while shooting 46% from the field and 39% from 3-point range. I thought there would be a chance that he would make the first team considering his consistent production, but there was quite a bit of competition this season among a strong rookie class.

Chicago's Derrick Rose and Memphis' OJ Mayo were unanimous selections to the First Team.

NBA Names All-Rookie Teams

Griffin Brothers Out West Working Out To Prep For Draft

One of the cool things about traveling this great country of ours is bumping into people along the way. I am at SFO right now heading back to LA after covering last night's Dodgers/Giants game.

Just after I finished some breakfast, I ran into Blake and Taylor Griffin. I worked their game last season against USC in LA. Even as a freshman, it was readily apparent to me at the time that Blake Griffin would one day be a dominating figure on the basketball court.

I'm not sure, however, if I expected him to develop into the clear cut #1 pick in this year's NBA Draft, after just two years in college. He is, by far, one of the most athletically-gifted and talented players the college game has seen over the last few years.

I congratulated them on a great season at Oklahoma. They thanked me but said they wish it would have lasted a bit longer. Even several weeks removed from their South Regional Final loss to eventual national champion North Carolina, the guys were still feeling the disappointment of that loss. Such drive to win is what makes a winner, a winner. It's also something every NBA team looks for when drafting lottery picks.

I asked them what brought them to the West Coast. They told me that they were out here working out with the same personal trainer they worked with last summer. I was not immediately familiar with the guy they mentioned, but they told me he definitely knows what he's doing. Considering how well both Blake and Taylor performed this season and their overall body composition, I would have to agree.

As I mentioned earlier, Blake Griffin will definitely be the #1 pick in June, regardless of ends selecting first. Taylor's NBA future is more in doubt. He will definitely get a look from several teams prior to the draft, but he may be better suited not getting drafted. Unless you are a first-round pick, it's oftentimes better to go undrafted so you can decide between various free agent offers from teams. That way, you can pick a situation that gives you the best opportunity to make the team coming out of training camp.

Here's to wishing both of them luck wherever they end up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Should Pitchers Always Hit 8th?

For the first time in his managerial career, Joe Torre batted a pitcher in the 8th spot and a position player in the 9th spot for Wednesday's matchup against the Giants. The move was not an indictment of Juan Pierre or a reward for Eric Stults, but rather an attempt to maximize the RBI potential for Manny Ramirez.

With the Dodgers biggest lineup threat batting in his customary 3rd spot, batting Pierre 9th is almost like having two leadoff hitters back-to-back with Furcal at the top of the order. It gives the team a better chance of having multiple runners on base when Manny comes to the plate after his first appearance.

In fact, Torre considered making the move the last time Pierre was in the lineup.

"In a situation with a player like Juan, he'd be more free to steal with Furcal batting behind him instead of the pitcher," Torre said before the game. "It just makes sense with a guy with (Pierre's) speed."

Some might look at the move as some type of demotion for Pierre, and Torre was well aware of that possibility. Before announcing his decision, he spoke to Pierre privately about it.

"The last thing you want to do is embarrass someone," said Torre. "I explained the situation to him, and he was completely fine with it."

The last time a Dodgers' pitcher didn't bat ninth was on Aug. 15, 1965, when Don Drysdale hit seventh in a 4-2 loss against Pittsburgh. Catcher John Roseboro hit eighth that day and shortstop John Kennedy batted ninth.

While Torre is utilizing this lineup shift for the first time, it is not exactly new to the game. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa has batted the pitcher in the 8th spot several times with the likes of Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols hitting 3rd in his lineups.

Last season, LaRussa even considered batting the pitcher 8th for the entire season, although that never completely panned out.

The mere mention of such a move begs the question: Should pitchers always bat 8th?

Arguments have been made both for and against this non-traditional baseball move. I can see both sides of the argument, and sometimes the argument for one side makes the case for the other.

I believe, ultimately, however that over the course of an entire season, it is more beneficial to have your best hitters (ie. position players) get as many plate appearances as possible, and the majority of statistics back up that belief. But I also believe certain situations call for a certain type of thinking--outside the batters box, you could say.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Great Debate: Kobe or LeBron?

One reason the NBA Playoffs are one of my favorite portions of the sports calendar is because of all the new product that comes out. Whether it's a shoe, a soft drink or a line of apparel, you can always expect some new commercials to debut during the postseason.

Here's a sneak peak of one that just hit the airwaves this week. VitaminWater is capitalizing on a question that is starting to polarize the league: Who's the best player in the NBA.. Kobe or LeBron?

NCAA Transfer Rule Lacks Equality And Common Sense

It seems as though when most people talk about the NCAA, it's always to dog them about something. And for the most part, I don't blame those who call out the all-powerful governing body for collegiate sports. The criticism is oftentimes deserved.

I am not trying to suggest, however, that everything the NCAA does is worthy of scrutiny, but I do believe that its decisions/rules gain so much negative attention sometimes because they often lack common sense or because one decision will seem to contradict another one.

A perfect example is the transfer rule.

According to the NCAA, a transfer from a four-year school to another four-year school is required to sit out a full academic year unless they qualify for an exception. A one-time transfer exception is the most common exception that allows a transfer to play right away. But here's the kicker: the rule DOES NOT apply to Division I football, basketball, baseball or men's ice hockey.

How jacked up is that? So you mean to tell me if Gina the gymnast or Steve the swimmer decide that after a year or two that they had rather compete at a school closer to home or discover that they simply don't get along very well with their coach, that they can compete at another school the very next year just as long as they receive a transfer waiver? Where is the equality in that rule?

The NCAA says the general transfer rule is grounded in the importance of students becoming academically acclimated to their new environment before competing.

Sounds like to me that the education of some student-athletes is more of a concern than others.

The whole idea of the transfer rule popped in my mind recently when I was thinking about all the UK players who will likely leave school now that John Calipari is the new coach. It makes perfect sense and it happens all the time. Calipari did not even recruit most of the kids on Kentucky's current roster. So why force him on them and vice versa? Just like coaches have the ability to leave one program for another, often without penalty, the same should be true for student-athletes.

In his most recent UK Basketball notebook in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Jerry Tipton shared an e-mail he received from NCAA Spokesman Erik Christianson.

"The prohibition on men’s basketball using the one-time transfer exception is centered not only on students becoming academically acclimated but also eliminating any potential ‘free-agent’ market in that sport given its intense recruiting and competitive nature," Christianson wrote.

I understand the point Christianson is making, and I can see where such a rule may have merits. Coaches don't want other coaches trying to raid their rosters every year. However, I believe that if a program fires the coach who recruited the current players and replaces him with someone from another program, then those players should have the freedom to transfer to any school they want and play immediately, especially when you consider that some of those kids are being asked to leave the program anyway.

Why should they be punished if they aren't the ones trying to skip town? Isn't it bad enough that they are being told that they are no longer wanted? But on top of that, you want to tell them that not only can they not play at their current school, but they have sit out a year at their new school too?

Another transfer situation made headlines recently, when Duke point guard Greg Paulus announced that he was considering leaving Durham to play quarterback at Michigan or some other school.

Here is the NCAA's statement regarding that specific case.

"Mr. Paulus has expressed an interest in competing in a second sport at another Division I school after earning an undergraduate degree at Duke University and competing on the men’s basketball team. The NCAA encourages and applauds academic achievement and realizes this is an unique situation and opportunity for Mr. Paulus. Student-athletes seldom have the opportunity to transfer late in their college careers and compete in a second sport after four seasons of competition. The NCAA established a "students first" waiver process to address unique situations and extenuating circumstances such as this that are not outlined in our rules.

If a student-athlete wants to transfer and immediately compete as a graduate student, the college or university they are transferring to would need to seek a waiver, because in most cases they would have to sit out a year before competing under NCAA transfer rules and would not have any remaining eligibility. One of the factors our members have determined is appropriate for a graduate student waiver is if the transfer is academically motivated."

I don't know Paulus personally, nor have I ever even met him, but I seriously doubt this move is "academically motivated." The only talk I've heard about his situation is that he wanted to play football, and plus, the last time I checked, Duke was a pretty damn good school.

Now, don't get me wrong, I don't care if this kid wants to transfer to another school. Good for him. But don't insult my intelligence by saying this decision is "academically motivated." If it were truly all about his education, he wouldn't be trying to play any sport.

And if the "students first" waiver applies to Paulus, why doesn't it apply to the basketball players at Kentucky, who are being told their services are no longer needed? Paulus decided to leave school to pursue other interests. Some of the UK players did not have a choice.

And while their situation may not be unique, it certainly involves extenuating circumstances. If the NCAA can't recognize that reality, it deserves every bit of criticism it receives.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Xavier Henry Keeps It In The Family By Choosing KU Over UK

While it may be somewhat disappointing to the UK coaches and fans, it should not come as a huge surprise that Xavier Henry has decided to go to Kansas instead of following John Calipari to Kentucky. Xavier and his brother CJ were always going to be a package deal. Plus, both their parents played at KU.

Kentucky was willing to take both Xavier and CJ, and it would not have cost a scholarship. As I understand it, the Yankees are paying his college tuition. But what I am hearing now is that Xavier's decision basically came down to keeping harmony in the family. His mother really wanted both of her sons to play at Kansas, and the thought of them playing elsewhere was beginning to cause some drama in the Henry household.

Calipari actually told Xavier's father that they shouldn't let this decision break up the family. Calipari thinks so highly of Xavier and CJ as kids, that if the best fit for them and their family was Kansas, then so be it.

As disconcerting, as this may be for the UK staff, it's not a devastating blow to this year's recruiting efforts. The number one target all along has been John Wall. He may be the best point guard talent in this year's class, and Kentucky needs a point in the worst way.

As one UK assistant coach recently told me, "A good point is the difference between an 8-seed and a 1 or 2-seed!"

Jeremy Tyler Skipping HS Senior Year For The Pros

In an earlier post, I mentioned the widespread belief in NBA circles that Louisville recruit Jeremy Tyler would skip college and go overseas to play professionally while he waits to become eligible for the NBA draft. And that's exactly what's going to happen.

However, I did think he would at least finish high school!

From Yahoo Sports: Jeremy Tyler has decided to forgo his senior year of high school and turn pro.

Yes, high school.

This isn’t some sign of the sporting apocalypse or a teenager with an overvalued sense of worth. It’s a daring, trailblazing yet well-thought-out move that challenges the bizarre way America develops amateur basketball players.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is Anything Sacred Anymore?

"We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times"
---William Orville Douglas

I have long been a supporter of a person's right to keep his/her personal life private--a statement that might seem a bit hypocritical considering that part of my job is to find out as much information about athletes and coaches as possible. Believe me, it's an internal struggle I've encountered for years.

I am of the strong belief that unless an athlete or coach does something away from their respective sport that prevents them from performing that such information should not make its way into public discussion.

" One of the great penalties those of us who live our lives in full view of the public must pay is the loss of that most cherished birthright of man's privacy."
--Mary Pickford

If an athlete gets into a domestic dispute with his estranged wife or gets indicted for tax evasion but doesn't miss a game or a practice, why should such information become public knowledge? Is it really news just because someone might recognize that person's name in a headline?

If a similar situation happens to you and it doesn't cause you to miss any time at work, will anyone outside your family and close personal friends even hear about it? Let alone the whole world? Hell, your boss wouldn't even know about it if it were left up to you, and the same goes for me.

Obviously, I am in the minority on that subject when it comes to my colleagues in the media. It seems as though we hear something about some sports figure getting arrested or sued, but just because it's standard operating procedure, doesn't make it right.

"Privacy is not something that I'm merely entitled to, it's an absolute prerequisite."
--Marlon Brando

The reason I even bring up this subject is due to some recent events in Kentucky, involving Rick Pitino and John Calipari. Let's start with Pitino.

Once the news started to break that there was a possible FBI investigation involving Coach Pitino and/or the Louisville basketball program, I started getting hit up with e-mails asking me if I knew anything about the situation. At first, I knew absolutely nothing about it, and the only reason I started looking into it was because the initial belief that it might involve point-shaving--something that directly relates to the team's wins and losses.

However, as I started to talk to more people around the program, I discovered that this particular situation was more of a personal matter between Coach Pitino, his family, a member of his staff and his estranged wife. Basically, I didn't think it was any of my business what was going on, nor do I believe the fans deserve to know either--even if it does involve a high-profile basketball coach.

I know some of you come to my blog specifically for inside information. I'm sorry, but I just don't think it's my place to share what I have learned about this particular situation. With every news outlet in the Commonwealth following this story, I am sure you will have no problems finding out more about this story with each passing day. It just won't come from me.

"I have as much privacy as a goldfish in a bowl."
--Princess Margaret

There was also an event recently concerning John Calipari and the purchase of his new home. As I told you earlier, he asked my advice on good areas of Lexington to live when we ran into each other in Portland. He had his eye on a particular house in a certain area of town. I knew exactly where the house was, and I had a good feeling that he would end up buying it, but the thought of sharing that information never crossed my mind.

Little did I know that only a short time later, Calipari's address and pictures of his home would not only be published on the website of multiple news outlets, but those same pictures and home information made its way to my mailbox--multiple times--as a forward from friends. I thought both acts were outrageous.

Is anything sacred anymore? I realize he's the coach at Kentucky--making him the biggest celebrity in the state--but he's also a husband and a father. He's not the only person living at that house. His wife and children will be living there too.

Now any time some crazed fan gets the scary idea of showing up at Calipari's house to show his displeasure over a lost game, that fan might encounter someone else at the house instead of Calipari. And what if, God forbid, something bad happens because pictures of his house and the address can be found in less than 5 seconds on a Google search? Who will be to blame? The media outlets who published them or an overzealous fan base who demands any and all information about their favorite teams?

"We must protect our citizen's privacy--the bulwark of personal liberty."
--Bill Clinton

Friday, April 17, 2009

Torre Believes Kemp Could Be One Of The Best Of This Generation

From the time he first entered the majors at the tender age of 21, Matt Kemp has been labeled with potential for greatness. One of the most athletic players in all of baseball, the Oklahoma native always possessed the tools necessary to be a dominant player in the league.

It was just a matter of when his maturity would allow for his greatness. This season could be the beginning of it.

Entering Friday's game against the Rockies, Kemp had hit safely in the Dodgers first 10 games of the year, establishing a .371 average in the process. Numbers that are no surprise to Joe Torre.

"He's come a long way," said the Dodgers Manager. "He's been doing some really good work."

That work actually began in the off-season, long before the Dodgers opened spring training. Kemp stayed in constant contact with hitting coach Don Mattingly during the winter months--the first sign of Kemp's maturation process noticed by Torre.

"Matt has shown more openness this season," said Torre. "Last year, he acted like he knew what he wanted to do at the plate, but after talking to Don in the off-season, Matt is now very open to trying new stuff."

It's easier to try anything new as long as you are relaxed and confident in your abilities. Kemp told me that he probably put too much pressure on himself to perform because of his quick rise to the majors.

"Now I just try to go up there and stay relaxed," said Kemp.

A perfect example of Kemp's new approach came in the season opener in San Diego. In his first two at-bats against Padres ace Jake Peavy, Kemp didn't exactly look like much had changed since last season. But in the 7th inning, Kemp pounded a slider on the outer part of the plate deep over the wall in centerfield, some 418 feet away from home plate.

"There's been just a few guys with his ability," said Torre. "Guys like Alex (Rodriguez), (Daryl) Strawberry, (Mike) Piazza and Dale Murphy would hit fly balls that never seem to come down until they are over the wall. Matt is one of those guys who doesn't have to hit it on the screws to get it out."

Torre played with and against some of the best players of all-time, and he believes that his young centerfielder can develop into one of the top 10 players of Kemp's generation, although he said he would hate to put that type of pressure on his young centerfielder.

But it's always been hard to hide from superstar potential.

Pitino Considering Jumping Back To The NBA?

After telling two of UK's biggest boosters a few weeks ago that he would not feel comfortable leaving Louisville and going back to UK, it appears that Rick Pitino could possibly end up being the new coach of the Atlanta Hawks.

A high-ranking NBA official told me today that the decision-makers in the Hawks front office want to replace Mike Woodson with Pitino.

I tried to confirm this story with someone in Pitino's circle or on his staff. I got two responses. One person said it was news to him. The other said that it's a rumor that's definitely out there, but that it is not true. If it is true, there is great incentive for Pitino's people to dispel such an idea until after the Hawks season concludes. However, it is also fair to state that Pitino has not held any direct talks with anyone from the Hawks organization. Plus, even if he were to talk to someone in Atlanta, it doesn't necessarily mean he would take the job.

Such a move would be somewhat curious on both sides actually. Woodson has done a very respectable job with a roster full of young talent--with particular emphasis on "young." After taking the eventual champion Celtics to a 7th game in the first round last year, Atlanta came back this season and earned the 4th seed in the East by posting a record of 47-35.

But for whatever reason, it seems as though Woodson has been on his way out for the past two seasons. In fact, many people around the league believe that it was the Hawks strong first round playoff showing that saved his job last year. And if Atlanta were to knock off Dwayne Wade and the 5th-seeded Heat in the first round this season, it would make replacing Woodson over the summer even more difficult.

As far as Pitino is concerned, I am sure many people would be shocked to hear that he would even consider going back to the NBA after what happened in Boston. Or better yet, some might wonder why another NBA team would even give him a shot to coach again in the league. As I have said before, trying to figure out what motivates Coach P might require a PhD in psychology.

I have also learned that no decision should surprise you when it comes to Corporate America. There have been many good people who lost their job simply because someone above them didn't like them personally or how they went about their job, regardless of the results.

Pitino might look at another opportunity in the NBA as a means to redeem his last venture into the league. Remember, he guided the Knicks to the playoffs. So, it's not like he can't coach professional players. It just didn't work out in Boston for a couple of reasons.

1) Despite having the worst record in the league that previous season, the Celtics did not win the Draft Lottery. So instead of getting the obvious number one pick that year, Boston had to watch Tim Duncan head to San Antonio, where he would eventually win three NBA titles.

2) Pitino had too many former UK players on his roster. The tactics he used to motivate guys at Kentucky did not fly once those guys were A) making more money than him and B) did not need him to re-up their scholarship every year.

I am sure UK fans will have a field day with the possibility of Pitino leaving Louisville for the NBA. Some will say that Pitino is scared of John Calipari because he knows he would be the underdog in any recruiting battle between the two rival programs. I think "scared" is a bit too strong of a word, but I do know that Pitino and his staff realize their work on the recruiting trail will now have to step up considerably.

Speaking of recruiting, I guess this is as good a place as any to throw in this little tidbit, especially since it relates directly to Louisville. The word around many league offices is that elite 2010 UofL recruit Jeremy Tyler wants to follow Brandon Jennings' road to the NBA. Instead of going to college for one season, several league execs believe that Tyler will go play professionally in Europe for one season before entering the 2011 NBA Draft.

I am not sure if Pitino and his staff are aware of this belief, but if they are, maybe that's another reason he would want to get out of the college game and go back to the NBA. The paychecks are definitely more, and the headaches are definitely less.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Celtics Can't Win Without Garnett

For all intents and purposes, the Celtics season just ended today with the news that Kevin Garnett will not be ready for the playoffs. That sprained knee is obviously worse than the team had originally thought.

Head Coach Doc Rivers told WEEI-AM that the Celtics will enter the playoffs with the idea of not having KG for any games in the postseason.

"He's not going to be ready. After watching him practice, there's no way," said Rivers. "The way I saw him move today, I don't know if he'll be ready."

Garnett injured his right knee Feb. 19 and missed the next 13 games before returning for four, but never playing as many as 18 minutes.

The Celtics had planned to do with Garnett what the Lakers did with Andrew Bynum--get him back for a few regular season games at the end of the season. But unlike LA's young center, KG was never able to get back on the court.

After watching Garnett run at the team's practice facility Thursday, Rivers said he had to shut him down after about 20 minutes.

"If he can't get through biking and working out without swelling and his leg locking, I don't know how you can play in the playoffs," Rivers said. "This was an honest run today, you couldn't make your way through it. The guy's a warrior, you see him try to mask his way through it. But after 20 minutes of running, I don't see it. After today, there's no way he can play."

And without Garnett, there's no way the Celtics can win another NBA title. Sure, they might be able to reach as far as the Eastern Conference Finals on the backs of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but when you are the defending NBA champions, anything short of a successful title defense is a failure.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

MLB Celebrates Jackie Robinson Day

For the first time in Major League Baseball history, every player, coach and umpire wore number 42 today in tribute to Jackie Robinson. Every year on April 15th, MLB honors the contributions of Robinson, not only to the game of baseball but to all of American society.

The sight of every person in uniform wearing number 42 reminded Dodgers legendary broadcaster Vin Scully tonight of a story from when the Dodgers were playing a game at old Crosby Field in Cincinnati.

The team had gotten word before a game in 1947 that Robinson had received a death threat. As you would imagine, the threat was taken very seriously. Extra police were assigned to the game, including snipers on the roof of the stadium.

Before the game in the clubhouse, all the players and team personnel held a meeting to talk about the threat and how they would handle it. To say the sentiment was quite tense would be an understatement.

Scully said that during one especially quiet moment, Dodgers outfielder Gene Hermanski stood up and shouted, "I've got it. I've got it. I know what we can do."

Just as all eyes in the clubhouse turned towards Hermanski, he said, "We can all wear number 42 so they can't tell us apart!"

Everyone soon erupted in laughter for a much needed break in the tension.

Who could have imagined, at that moment, that 62 years later, there would be a game where every player in the league would wear number 42?

Calipari Remodeling UK's Program Inside And Out

In his first few days on the job, John Calipari has been conducting practices at the Craft Center. The workouts have two primary purposes: 1) to see which players can actually play and which would be better suited playing elsewhere and 2) to improve the image of the program with the fans, former players and boosters.

If Coach Cal is anything, he is demanding. He wants every one of his players to be the best they can possibly be, and if he feels they aren't doing what's necessary to reach that goal, he will do whatever is necessary to motivate them. Sometimes that motivation is a pat on the back. Other times it's a kick in the ass.

UK senior-to-be Perry Stevenson recently experienced the latter. During a practice drill, Calipari called out Stevenson for his lack of strength and told him that it would DEFINITELY change before next season.

That comment solicited some concealed laughter from some former UK players in attendance because it reminded them of Rick Pitino. Back in the 90's, such a statement usually meant some long, grueling hours in the weight room with Rock Oliver.

Hearing what Calipari said to Stevenson reminded me of what players such as Henry Thomas, Andre Riddick, Aminu Timberlake and Walter McCarty had to endure in an attempt to pack on the pounds.

The sight of those guys going to McDonald's in the morning and being forced to down 3 or 4 Egg McMuffins along with two orders of pancakes and a 2,000 calorie protein shake used to make me cringe. It would only get worse as the day wore on with their special servings of lunch and dinner at the training table. The day would not be complete without their nightcap of another 2,000 calorie protein shake. It was enough gluttony to make even Brad Pitt throw up.

And it's those memories that would make me feel a little sorry for Perry Stevenson if it weren't for the fact that he should have been in the weight room 3 years ago. Even if you have difficulty putting on weight, as Thomas, Riddick, Timberlake and McCarty did, you can always get stronger.

Much was made about Billy Gillispie alienating so many people around the UK program the last two years--something that was not lost on Kentucky's new coach. While holding these practices, Calipari has extended invites to watch the workouts to various people in the community. If you were fortunate enough to make it into one of these practices, you might see anyone from WKYT General Manager Wayne Martin and WDKY morning anchor Jennifer Nime to former UK Standout Kyle Macy and Claiborne Farm President Seth Hancock.

Calipari's attempt to repair fractured relationships seems to be working quite well, and Hancock is a perfect example. He is said to be so impressed with Calipari and the way he has handled himself in his first few days as UK's coach that Hancock wants to be involved with the program again after distancing himself the last couple of years. And that's great news to Calipari and Mitch Barnhart.

If Kentucky is to race back up the standings to the top of the college basketball world, it would certainly help to have a thoroughbred of a booster in your stable!

SLAM Says John Wall Is Ready To Rock The NCAA

I have been a subscriber of SLAM Magazine for a little more than a year now. When it first came out, I thought it was a little too hip-hop for me. Not that I'm not a fan of the genre--hell, hip-hop came to be during my adolescent years--I just thought the writing and the perspective weren't deep enough for my tastes. All of the articles felt like they were written by fans who were in awe of the athletes.

But like any new kid on the block, SLAM got hip to the real game and evolved under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief, Ben Osborne. The writers now seem to look for angles beyond the headlines and message boards. The perspectives are even controversial at times, but always informing.

Take the latest issue for example. In addition to talking about Brandon Jennings and Ricky Rubio being "Ready To Rock The NBA," this month's edition also features an article on highly regarded recruits John Wall and Lance Stephenson whom SLAM has deemed "Ready To Rock The NCAA."

Writer Aggrey Sam talks about how both teen phenoms came to be two of the best players at their respective positions. You can get more of his take on Wall and Stephenson on his blog, but it's really just a tease. If you want the real scoop, you will have to go out and buy the hard copy.

Here are a few excerpts, though, to really wet your thirst for more Wall knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, Wall is all about being a high draft choice after just one year in college. In the SLAM article, Wall expanded on that thought.

"I see myself in the NBA in two years (from now), playing on somebody's team, trying to lead a franchise to a championship," said Wall. "I just wanna be compared to one of the best point guards--maybe the best point guard--that ever played in the NBA."

So it's obvious that Wall will make his college choice based solely on the question of which coach (and staff) can put him on the best and fastest track to the league. That's why John Calipari and UK fans are so hopeful that Wall will decide that his road to the NBA will lead through Lexington.

I know some people have started to argue if Wall is really that good. It's nothing more than a defense mechanism from people who are worried that he will go to some other school than their respective favorites. Have you ever noticed how great some kid is when he's planning to go to your school, but as soon as he chooses another place, all of a sudden he's a bust? Funny how fast perspective can change.

The SLAM article also includes some very insightful quotes on Wall's ability.

Coach from a high-major college program: "Wall, he's a natural. He has a combination of speed, athleticism and skill that puts him in a unique class."

Brian Clifton, Wall's AAU coach with D-One Sports: "He's playing on a slightly different level than everyone around him. When you look at all his physical attributes and that he understands his job is to distribute the ball--there have been guys who have been as athletic as him, but not as tall, and guys as tall but not as athletic, and guys who have both, but they think their job is jacking up shots and lighting up the scoreboard. What makes John special is that he understands getting his teammates involved is what wins ballgames."

Regardless of what some jaded fans say, the consensus is very clear: John Wall is a rare, special talent. Or as I have been telling people since watching him practice and play in-person: The Kid can straight ball!

The only question remaining now is where will Wall take that talent next on his way to NBA stardom?

Monday, April 13, 2009

John Wall's Maturity Shaped By Tragedy

One of the things that stood out to me while covering the Nike Hoop Summit was that every player on the US team was a good kid. They were respectful and cordial. As I told some of the parents, it was quite refreshing, actually, considering some of the young athletes I have encountered through the years.

For some deeper perspective on the type of kid John Wall is, check out this article about him overcoming tragedy at an early age and how his HS coach has helped him mature. I should have shared this story earlier, but I simply forgot to do it.

There's no question that Wall and his mother are extremely tight due to the adversity they have faced. Some had believed that their relationship would lead Wall to end up choosing Duke in order to stay close to his mother. However, it would appear that becoming the highest possible draft pick after one season in college is most important to Wall.

If that is indeed the case, that bodes extremely well for John Calpari and Kentucky considering the success that Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans achieved in just one season in Calipari's system at Memphis.

But until a kid actually signs his letter of intent and sends it to the school, anything is possible.

Broadcast Legend Harry Kalas Passes Away

We often use the term "legend" a bit too loosely in sports, but that word may actually fall short of describing the longtime voice of Philadelphia sports, Harry Kalas.

While there may be no perfect way to die, how fitting is it that Kalas spent his last moments in a broadcast booth?

Here's the Associated Press story on his passing.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Longtime Philadelphia Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas has died at age 73.

Team president David Montgomery announced the death Monday a short time after Kalas passed out in the broadcast booth before a game in Washington against the Nationals.

Montgomery's voice was cracking as he said that "we have lost our voice."

Kalas had been with the Phillies since 1971 and was known for his distinctive "Outta here!" home run call.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

John Calipari Makes Another Pitch to John Wall And Xavier Henry

I just returned to the Nike Hoop Summit team hotel after dinner with some of the crew from tonight's broadcast, and guess who I see working his recruiting magic near the lobby. That's right, John Calipari.

As I mentioned earlier, Coach Cal and other coaches were not allowed to attend tonight's game between Team USA and the World Team, but he was allowed to contact the players after the game away from the arena. A stupid rule in my opinion, but nonetheless, Cal was there doing what he does best. One would assume that he left a great impression, if only because he was first. I didn't see any other top level coaches at the hotel waiting to talk to these kids shortly before midnight.

The two players hearing Calipari's latest pitch were, of course, John Wall and Xavier Henry. Not only are they two of the top five players in the country, they were also the only players on the USA Junior National Select Team that have yet to announce where they would be attending school next fall. Both players confirmed to me during the game, however, that Kentucky was definitely a leading contender on their respective short lists.

Coincidentally, Wall and Henry were the two brightest stars for Team USA despite its 97-89 loss to the World Team. The X-Man led all U.S. scorers with 22 points, including 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range, which tied the U.S. Hoop Summit individual record for both 3-point makes and attempts. While Wall finished with 13 points, a U.S. Hoop Summit record 11 assists and tied the steals mark with five.

UK fans can only hope Calipari's recruiting magic works on these two future NBA standouts.

Ran Into John Calipari At The Nike Store In Portland

I took my first visit to the famous Nike Employee Store in Beaverton today. It was everything it was made out to be. It is truly an athletic apparel shopping nirvana.

Besides the great prices on Nike gear, the other cool aspect of the store is that you never know who you will run into. While browsing the golf section, I ran into Clippers Director of Scouting Gary Sacks and Suns General Manager Steve Kerr. They were both in town for the Nike Hoop Summit.

A few minutes later, my eye caught a cool looking black velvet Nike sweat suit featuring that familiar blue UK logo. But this suit was not on a rack, it was on the shoulders of new Kentucky assistant coach Rod Strickland. Rod and I met years ago, but I had not seen him in forever. After a quick catchup, I told him to tell Coach Cal to call me. I had yet to talk to John since he took the UK job, and I had heard that Cal was trying to reach me.

Rod then tells me that Cal was also in the store. Cal, Strickland and Orlando Antigua were all looking for deals on Nike gear to take back to their respective families. Last night, the trio attended the Lakers/Trailblazers game at the Rose Garden--the same place where tonight's Nike Hoop Summit will be played.

A few minutes later, I found Cal in the shoe section. It was the first time we had seen each other in about 8-9 months. The last time I saw him, he appeared on a taping of the Best Damn Sports Show.

After a quick congratulatory hug on getting the UK job, Cal looked at me and said, "Can you believe I'm at Kentucky?" Even some two weeks after taking the job, he is still genuinely excited about the opportunity to coach the Wildcats. He said it was his dream job, and he is certainly acting like it.

We spoke for a good 20 minutes. He asked me questions about the past and the future of the program. I told him some of the things I believe will help him be as successful as possible.

Our conversation was quite candid, and thus I cannot share everything we discussed. However, I will tell you one thing I said should be at the top of his priority list: bring back the former players. Since Tubby Smith left Lexington, former players were starting to feel less and less welcome on campus and around the program. From what I have been told, both Billy Gillispie and Mitch Barnhart are responsible. If that is indeed the case, they both should be ashamed.

What makes a great program truly great is the history of the program, and that history should always be embraced. Every kid who comes through that program should know what the former players went through. The past should lead the future--something that has been lost at UK.

Cal completely agreed with me, and you should expect to see some former UK players on his staff. You may have heard about Scott Padgett accepting a job. That is true, but he won't be alone. Expect another former player who won a championship at Kentucky to be involved in some capacity as well.

As I have written here previously, I felt very confident that John Calipari could get Kentucky back in the upper echelon of college basketball. Not only am I even more confident in that belief, but now I think my prediction will come to fruition even faster than I thought.

(Editor's note: Calipari will not be in attendance for tonight's Nike Hoop Summit. College coaches are not allowed to watch recruits practice or play during this current period. However, Calipari plans to talk to both John Wall and Xavier Henry shortly after the game. While he wants both players to come to Kentucky, there's no question that Wall is the more pressing need. Kentucky desperately needs a point guard. The Cats haven't had one since Gillispie ran Derek Jasper out of town.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Team USA Trio Could All End Up At Kentucky

I just returned to my hotel after watching the practices for this weekend's Nike Hoop Summit. I made a point to find DeMarcus Cousins and congratulate him on his recent commitment to Kentucky. He was excited to meet someone who had gone to school there.

After talking about all the positive experiences he should expect while at UK, I asked him flat out if he was going to bring some of his Team USA teammates with him to Lexington. And without blinking an eye, he said he thinks both Xavier Henry and John Wall will eventually sign with Kentucky. Neither player had told him that directly, but based on their most recent conversations, Cousins' gut feeling told him that all three would end up playing for the Cats.

A few moments later, I spoke to Henry. He told me that since he had been released from his letter-on-intent by Memphis, he now had three schools on his final list: Memphis, Kansas and Kentucky. He wouldn't say which way he was leaning, but he did say he was a huge fan of John Calipari's dribble-drive offense. In fact, he said it was Cal's system that led him to sign with Memphis in the first place, in addition to the opportunity to play with his brother CJ.

And speaking of, Henry told me that he plans to visit UK's campus shortly after he plays in the Jordan Brand Classic in New York, and he won't be alone. Both Xavier and CJ will tour the campus and the facilities together. Thus, reinforcing the idea I mentioned earlier this week. Xavier and CJ Henry will more than likely be a package deal.

By the way, PJ Carlesimo told me today that CJ is not just a throw in. The kid can play!

Finally, I got the chance to talk to John Wall. When I first asked him to name the schools on his list, he ran off about half of all the Division 1 programs. Jordan Brand Classic organizers asked Wall to have his list narrowed down to just a handful of teams by next week, but I didn't feel like waiting that long.

I got right to the point and asked him with Calipari going to Kentucky if that meant UK was a strong candidate, and he said "Definitely."

Wall went on to tell me that the reason he would be interested in playing for Calipari is because of his ability to put players on the fast track to the NBA. He mentioned Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans by name, both of whom spent only one season at Memphis before heading to the draft.

I want to reiterate that neither Henry or Wall confirmed to me that they would end up at Kentucky, but if Las Vegas was to set on a line on the chances, UK would be a good bet. I was left with the impression that playing for John Calipari was more important than the school they represent, which of course, is great news for Big Blue Nation.
Be sure and catch the game Saturday night on FSN.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


EL SEGUNDO--Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson will remain in Los Angeles instead of accompanying the team on its road trip to Portland, due to pain and swelling in his lower right leg caused by plantar fasciitis, it was announced today.

The Lakers will fly to Portland following tonight's game against the Denver Nuggets, and will play the Trail Blazers in Portland tomorrow night. The team will be coached by assistant coach Kurt Rambis in Jackson's absence.

Jackson missed the Lakers' first preseason game back on October 7 in Anaheim versus the Utah Jazz. He will rejoin the team for Saturday's practice and is not expected to miss any additional games.

We All Need To Do Our Part To End Driking And Driving

I went to bed last night with the thought of writing a blog post this morning about drinking and driving in response to the recent arrests of some professional athletes for DUI. But before I could even get out of bed, I heard the news about Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart dying as a result of a DUI-related accident overnight.

I had originally planned to call out the likes of Joba Chamberlain, Donte Stallworth, Zach Randolph and Leon Hall. Pro athletes make way too much money and have way too much at stake not to have a designated driver. If you can afford a Rolls Royce Phantom, you can afford a driver.

However, I was also going to point out that pro athletes should not be held to a higher standard when it comes to drinking and driving. When you consider that over 1.46 million drivers were arrested in 2006 for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, you know that doctors, lawyers, teachers and executive VP's accounted for more DUI arrests than professional athletes. Their arrests just don't make Page One of the country's sports pages, nor are they the lead on SportsCenter.

This problem, though, is not about athletes thinking they are invincible. This problem is about all of us thinking something tragic will never happen to us. Well, we all need to wise up.

*In 2007, an estimated 12,998 people died in drunk driving related crashes. Those deaths constitute 31.7% of the 41,059 total traffic fatalities in 2007.

*On average someone is killed by a drunk driver every 40 minutes.

*About three in every ten Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at some time in their lives.

Talk about sobering news. Those statistics, courtesy of MADD, suggest that we are more likely to be involved in a DUI-related accident than to visit a foreign country. More Americans will die this year after drinking White Russians than those who will actually visit Russia.

But don't think this sermon is being delivered without sin. I am not proud to say that I have gotten behind the wheel of my car more than once when I probably shouldn't have. For someone who refuses to co-sign stupidity, I consider those incidents some of the most stupid things I have ever done in my life. I was just fortunate to have avoided tragedy. Now, I am committed to avoiding even the possibility of a DUI.

I just hope the rest of America joins me.


ANAHEIM, CA: Angels Baseball this morning announced the passing of right-hander Nick Adenhart, the victim of a fatal automobile accident in Fullerton, CA. Two other individuals were also killed in the incident.

Adenhart, 22, was a passenger in a silver Mitsubishi along with three others. Fullerton Police reported the Mitsubishi proceeded through an intersection, when a van ran a red light and broadsided the vehicle. A female driver and male passenger were in the Mitsubishi were dead when police and fire department personnel arrived. Adenhart died as the result of his injuries at UCI Medical Center earlier this morning.

No other members of the Angels organization were involved.

Adenhart pitched a masterful six innings in last night's game against Oakland (6 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 SO), leaving with a 4-0 lead before a late-inning rally resulted in a 6-4 Angels defeat.

Originally drafted by the Angels in the 14th round of the June, 2004 draft, Adenhart was in his fifth professional season and made the Angels Opening Day roster for the first time. He opened the 2009 campaign with a 37-28 career minor league record and a 3.87 ERA (506.2 IP - 218 ER). Adenhart made his Major League debut last May 1 against Oakland. At the time, he was the youngest active-roster pitcher in the majors.

Adenhart earned his spot in the Angels rotation via a spring training in which he recorded a 3-0 record and a 3.12 ERA (26 IP - 9 ER) over the course of six starts. During that span, he struck out 18 while allowing only five base on balls.

Adenhart is survived by his father Jim and mother Janet. His family released the following statement:

"Nick's family expresses sincere gratitude for all the help the Angels have provided. He lived his dream and was blessed to be part of an organization comprised of such warm, caring, and compassionate people. The Angels were his extended family. Thanks to all of Nick's loyal supporters and fans throughout his career. He will always be in everyone's hearts forever."

Angels General Manager Tony Reagins issued the following statement on behalf of the club:

"The Angels family has suffered a tremendous loss today. We are deeply saddened and shocked by this tragic loss. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Nick's famil, friends' loved ones and fans."

Memorial services are pending.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Xavier Henry's College Decision Will Be All About Family

Just ran across an article with some good insight on Xavier Henry, one of the top recruits in the country. He originally signed with Memphis, but when John Calipari took the Kentucky job, Henry and his brother CJ were both released from their commitments.

According to their dad, former Kansas player Carl Henry, the two brothers are deciding between Memphis, KU and UK. He doesn't expect a decision, however, until a couple of weeks.

“Xavier is leaving tomorrow for Oregon (and Nike Hoop Summit). After that he goes to New York (for Jordan Classic, April 18),” Carl Henry said. “The only way they could do it is if C.J. and Xavier talk (soon) and decide something between themselves. Our family likes to sit down and discuss things. That’s the way we do things and Xavier will be gone two weeks."

The key word in that statement is "family". In the March edition of SLAM Magazine, Xavier talked about why he chose Memphis, and it had everything to do with family and the opportunity to play on the same team as his brother for the first time.

"We've never had a chance to play together--he was a senior when I was in ninth grade--and my parents really wanted us to stay together," said Xavier. "My whole family is going to move out there (Memphis) next year. We figure, we're gonna split up soon, so this is kind of a last chance to be together as a whole family. I'm looking forward to it."

So it seems pretty simple. Wherever Xavier Henry ends up, that school won't just get one of the top recruits in the country, it will get the entire Henry family.

DeMarcus Cousins Will Follow Calipari To Kentucky

Several news outlets are reporting that DeMarcus Cousins will follow John Calipari to Kentucky. He is the first in an expected line of top recruits Calipari will bring to UK.

I will be working the sidelines on this weekend's Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. The game will feature not only Cousins, but also Xavier Henry and John Wall, both of whom could very well end up in Lexington alongside Cousins.

I plan to talk to all three players Friday afternoon. I hope to share some of those conversations with you over the weekend.

As far as Cousins is concerned, his high school coach, Otis Hughley, said that he was glad Cousins went ahead and made a decsion instead of dragging out the process.

You can read more info here.

Be sure and catch the Nike Hoop Summit Saturday evening on FSN, as I will be interviewing some of these players live during the game. Check your local listings.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


SAN FRANCISCO-- The Los Angeles Dodgers today announced their Opening Day roster for the 2009 championship season. The club also placed right-handed pitcher Jason Schmidt on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 30, to recover from a right shoulder labrum tear. General Manager Ned Colletti made the announcement.

According to Major League Baseball rules, each of the 30 teams had to set their Opening Day roster today by 12:00 noon Pacific time. The Dodgers will make additional roster moves prior to tomorrow's Opening Day game at the San Diego Padres.

The 25-man roster, which today stands at 24 players, as broken down by position:

Pitchers (11):
Chad Billingsley
Jonathan Broxton
Clayton Kershaw (L)
Hiroki Kuroda
Hong-Chih Kuo (L)
James McDonald
Guillermo Mota
Ramon Troncoso
Claudio Vargas
Cory Wade
Randy Wolf (L)

Catchers (2):
Brad Ausmus
Russell Martin

Infielders (6):
Casey Blake
Blake DeWitt
Rafael Furcal
Orlando Hudson
James Loney
Mark Loretta

Outfielders (5):
Andre Ethier
Matt Kemp
Juan Pierre
Manny Ramirez
Delwyn Young

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tim Floyd To Stay At USC

Looks like Tim Floyd had second thoughts about going to Arizona. Considering how much he pleaded with some of his USC players--particularly DeMar DeRozen--during the team's banquet on Tuesday to stay at USC instead of going to the NBA, it was good to see Floyd follow some of his own advice.

Here's an excerpt from the LA Times on Floyd's decision to stay in Los Angeles.

"I listened, I heard what they had to say," Floyd said. "But there is something really special about building your own traditions and your own history."

He acknowledged that in addition to meeting with Arizona, he had also talked to Memphis, saying, "At the end of the day I have a great situation here."

Tim Floyd To Stay At USC

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Tim Floyd Swept Up In The College Coaching Carousel

This off-season figured to be an active one for college athletic directors. Several good coaching jobs were set to be available, and with a few schools recently making new hires, the coaching carousel is currently spinning out of control.

John Calipari going to Kentucky was the big news Wednesday, but later that evening came the news that Tim Floyd was in Tucson interviewing for the Arizona job. A position that became available following the retirement of Lute Olson. Russ Pennell, who was supposed to be an assistant for Olson this season, served as Arizona’s interim coach but was told quite early that he would not be retained on a permanent basis—despite getting the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.

Floyd’s interest in Arizona was quite peculiar to some. It’s not that often you see a coach move from one job to the next within the same conference. Tubby Smith did it by going from Georgia to Kentucky. But certain programs, such as UK, UNC, KU and UCLA, are on a different level. Any coach would want to take that job. Arizona, however, is not exactly one of those schools.

One obvious reason Floyd would leave the beach for the desert would be money. Arizona will always pays its basketball coach more than USC. But even beyond that, Floyd is not exactly a big city guy. He grew up in the Hattiesburg, Mississippi and went to school at Southern Miss and Louisana Tech. Both of those campuses couldn’t fill up LA’s Memorial Coliseum. As much as money is a motivation for any coach, lifestyle is sometimes even more important.

So with Floyd reportedly going to Arizona, two prime jobs are now available—Memphis & USC. Calipari had tried to get Memphis Athletic Director RC Johnson to hire UTEP Head Coach Tony Barbee, who had served on Calipari’s staff with the Tigers. However, Johnson made it perfectly clear Wednesday that he has much higher aspirations.

Missouri’s Mike Anderson would have been a great choice for Memphis, but Anderson—the last coach to hand Memphis a Conference USA loss when he was at UAB—just re-upped with Missouri for another 7 years.

I think Johnson should make a serious pitch at Oklahoma’s Jeff Capel. He’s done a tremendous job in just three seasons leading the Sooners. Of course, having future number one draft pick Blake Griffin certainly helped. But Capel has also shown his recruiting skills are no joke. He currently has commitments from two McDonald’s All-Americans for next season.

Some might wonder why he would leave the Big 12 for Conference USA. Excuse me, but didn’t John Calipari just prove what you can do at Memphis even if you play in C-USA? Final Fours are Final Fours regardless of the conference in which you play.

Sean Miller is another hot commodity on the coaching circuit. Since moving from his assistant role at Xavier to replacing his boss, Thad Matta, Miller has turned Butler into a mid-major powerhouse. But the question is can he recruit the “best of the best” as Calipari said he did while at Memphis—something Tigers fans would certainly expect the new coach to do.

But even if he falls short of Calipari’s recruiting acumen—which he will—Memphis is a hotbed of athletic talent. A coach could recruit nothing but kids from the Mid-South and keep his program perennially in the Top 25.

With coaches and athletic directors all converging on Detroit this week for the Final Four, expect even more coaching news to start spilling out over the next few days.

The John Calipari Era Officially Begins At UK

When Rick Pitino took over the UK program back in 1989, it was the best beginning of a coaching era I have ever seen. John Calipari topped that performance this morning.

He didn't just say all the right things, he said them with confidence yet humility. He seeks immediate greatness, but does not consider himself a miracle worker. He displays a Northeast attitude that's been wiped down with Southern charm.

The only problem with this morning's introductory news conference is that it came two years too late.


People keep asking me if I think Calipari is the right coach for Kentucky. I don't know the answer to that long term, but I think he's a perfect fit for right now.

He is exactly what UK fan, uh I mean, the program needs in the wake of the Billy Gillispie debacle. Fans and, more specifically, recruits need to believe in UK Basketball again. The program has more doubters right now than Congress.

Is Kentucky still one of the best jobs in the country? Do the best players in the country still want to play there? Will the Cats ever achieve the same level of success they experienced in the 1990's?

Those are all legitimate questions right now. And basketball insiders all across the country have been asking those questions for the last couple of years.

It's now up to Calipari to prove that the answer to all those questions is not just a yes, but a resounding one!


As I watched John Calipari answer questions this morning, I couldn't help but to think about UK fan. You know the person.

UK fan cares more about the program than most of those who played for the school.

UK fan finds talking about the Cats more important than discussing their own family issues.

UK fan would rather UK win a national champion than receive a promotion at work.

Yes, that's how devoted UK fan is to the program.

Well, UK fan, did you finally get the coach you wanted? Did you get a coach that can charm candy away from a baby and appear in the right doing in doing so? Did you get a coach that can talk a mean game as well as coach one?

I hope the answer is yes, especially for your sake. You've tortured yourself enough the last two seasons.


I do have one plea for UK fan though.

Please, please, please do not treat this man as if he's some type of basketball deity. His name is John Calipari, not Jesus Christ. Hell, he's not even one of the disciples.

He's just a man who coaches basketball--nothing more, nothing less. I was so glad he said as much during today's question and answer session.

We all know how loving and accepting UK fan can be, but before you start giving Calipari your undivided devotion, how about letting the man earn it? Now, I think he will. He will bring some of the top players in the country to Lexington, and the Cats will win games.. lots of them.

But remember how crazy everyone went over Billy Gillispie? He came to Lexington with more fanfare than President Obama received in Washington, DC on Inauguration Day. And we all remember how the ill-fated Gillispie era turned out.

We all want Kentucky to be great again. But give Calipari the opportunity to earn his greatness instead of just anointing him with it.