Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Florida, the Final Four and more...

Ahhh…the Final Four. It’s always a bittersweet feeling when the NCAA Tournament reaches this point. Sure the Final Four is a great sporting event and this coming Saturday evening promises to be full of drama, booze, and more inane puns from Jim Nantz than you can shake your proverbial stick at. It's also a night that brings into focus the tremendous void that will exist in the sports viewing lives of many of us for the next couple of months.

Softening the blow of this realization for me is the fact that the Gators are still alive and kicking after the tournament’s first two weekends. Something that hasn’t happened since I was a young, drunk undergrad. The feeling this time around is far different than that of the Gators’ last Final Four run in 2000. First, I’ve got a job now and a certain level of responsibility that makes drinking a 12 pack on a Wednesday afternoon something you might label a “questionable decision”. Secondly, when UF made it all the way to Indianapolis in 2000 it was a completely new and foreign feeling to most (if not all) of the Gator nation. Though Florida had made it to the Final Four in 1994, that team was led by Lon Kruger and his vulcan-esque unibrow. By the time 2000 rolled around, Lon and his sparkling personality had moved on to greener pastures at Illinois (Don’t believe me? Just ask Zook.). After Kruger left (actually before) the Gator basketball program once again sunk into the pattern of mediocrity and inconsistency that had been a staple of the University of Florida’s basketball program for as long as anybody could remember.

In 1997, Billy Donovan would inherit a program that was low on talent and downright substandard in terms of support, from both the administration as well as the student body. Donovan made an immediate impact by changing the culture of things in Gainesville. He produced excitement with his style of play and exuberance. He even created a student section that sat right on the floor of the O’Connell Center and was free to any student who wished to attend. The 2000 Final Four run was the final step in Donovan’s model of success that would result in crowds, excitement and expectations of which the University of Florida’s basketball program had never been subjected to.

While Florida is still undeniably a football school, the community and student population have embraced the idea of UF becoming a dominant basketball program which is due (in large part) to the success experienced by the 2000 team. Other than Mike Miller’s buzzer beater against Butler in the first round, my most vivid memory from that run to the National Title game was the scene in Gainesville on the Monday afternoon of the Championship game. Me and some friends of mine decided to go out early and get ourselves a good seat for the game (or so we thought). When we made our way down to the local bars at about 4:30 (for a 9:15 tip, mind you) , we found that we’d already been beaten to the punch by hundreds of other students. We ended up going to 5 different bars that afternoon before we finally found a place to sit with an unobstructed view of a TV. Though Florida would go on to lose that evening, the scene that we witnessed in downtown Gainesville that night was something that resonated throughout the student population.

Though many predicted a “Pitino at Kentucky” like run of success for Donovan after the Gators’ runner-up finish in 2000, it was not to be. A combination of early defections, bad defense, and less than desirable team chemistry conspired to produce a string of NCAA Tournament disappointments. Ultimately culminating in last year’s second round exit at the hands of Villanova and the subsequent early entries of Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. After these events, it finally seemed as though Billy Donovan’s many critics would have ample opportunity to rail against him as the Gators were poised to have the worst season since Eddie Shannon was popping out his glass eye in order to make to scare the bejesus out of some poor student trainer.
A funny thing happened on the way to all of that, Billy Donovan molded a group of unselfish, team first players into a great team. A team that is far more than the sum of it’s collective parts. A team that would lead the University of Florida to it’s highest ever win total in Men’s basketball while winning the SEC Tournament Title and earning an invitation to the Final Four. All those critics who seemed to take such great pleasure in everything that Billy Donovan and the University of Florida weren’t (tough, defensive minded, unselfish…winners) are now left with nothing but a plate full of crow and a date with their televisions this Saturday evening.

Eddie "Columbo" Shannon: Still scaring people senseless across the pond.

A few more UF related tidbits:

- I’m not going to sit hear and tell you that UF is a Cinderella. That’s virtually impossible for a school the size of UF and it’s definitely not a term that applies to a team that was ranked as high as #2 in the country this year. I am going to remind everybody that Florida was picked #45 in the country to begin the year by the very same people who are now labeling UF as the prohibitive favorite in Indianapolis. While not nearly the kind of feel good story that George Mason is, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that a team that lost three NBA Draft picks, and whose leading returning scorer averaged just 7 pts/game, has managed to win 31 games and make the Final Four. Can we all agree that Donovan is a good coach and recruiter now?

- Pat Forde shed some light on Matt Walsh’s departure from Gainesville last spring. This revelation further escalates the eery comparisons between the career tracks of Brett Nelson and Matt Walsh.

Both were stars as freshman and All-SEC performers as sophomores on UF teams that lost in the tournament’s first round. Both had enormous flaws in their games exposed as their careers progressed, especially within SEC play. Finally, both got knocked out by an athletic swingman late in their junior year. At least Walsh didn’t lose his starting job during his senior year.

By the way: For those wondering what Matt Walsh is up to these days, he quit his NBDL team (after being cut by the Heat) and is now “working” at IMG Academy in Bradenton. Good to see things have worked out just as he’d planned them.

While I’m on the subject of former Gators who I don’t miss in the least but, here’s an update on uber-bust Christian Drejer.

- In case you didn’t think that I have enough University of Florida sports on my plate right now, there this: Spring practice opens today for the Gators, officially kicking off the beginning of year #2 in the Urban Meyer Era. Of course, I’m not complaining, on the contrary. I’m actually planning a trip to Gainesville for the Orange & Blue game...I might drink a little while I’m up there too.

- It’s like the gods have decided to give me all my blessings in a one week span, you absolutely have to check out this link. Can you imagine the amount of dadgummits that pic birthed? Similar to Grandpa Bowden, I couldn't be prouder.

- While I’m on still focused on the Gators, enjoy these quotes from David Lee on former teammate (and Gator) James White. We all knew he was a freak, but this is just ridiculous:

- "That was a strange dude. One of the weirdest guys I ever roomed with. He would never take a shower after practice -- he would just come back to the room with all his gear on, ankles still taped, change from his sneakers into Timberlands and just fall asleep until the next day."

- On beating him in the McDonald's all-American dunk contest: "He got the last laugh -- he beat me in Midnight Madness. He went up with his heel on the elbow and through the legs. I still have it on tape -- it was that serious. Only thing his, he can't dunk in traffic. He can only dunk off one foot. Off two feet he dunks like Jackie Butler."

- "I'll give you a quote -- he'll have an easier time winning the [NBA] dunk contest than he will making the League."

Lee went on to say that he thinks White WILL make the League (as a second-round pick), and that his way of dealing with White's bedtime habits (lights, TV and stereo all on) was to basically move in with his girlfriend.

Unbelievable hops, worse body odor.

- With all of the talk about the NCAA Tournament/Final Four, I’d be remiss if I didn’t update the status of my bracket. I went from 7 of 8 in the Elite Eight to 1 of 4 in the Final Four. The one team: UCLA, who (coincidentally) was the team in which I had the least confidence when I was filling out my bracket. Surprisingly, this Gonzaga-esque collapse down the stretch didn’t bother me very much. I obviously had no problem with Florida knocking off Villanova and I’d have to be Satan himself to root for UConn over George Mason. In fact that only game that really bothered me was LSU-Texas, mostly because I was so mad at myself for trusting a backcourt of Kenton Paulino and Daniel Gibson but also because the thought of Florida having to play LSU for a third time (with a healthy Tyrus Thomas) scares the ever living shit out of me. However, that irritation quickly subsided when I heard 325 lb. Glen Davis declare that he had “tapeworms” in his belly. How could I possibly be angry after a quote like that? I can’t.

One last thing about LSU: I’ve gone on record in questioning the overall offensive skill level of Tyrus Thomas and (to a certain degree) I stand by that statement. He has no post moves to speak of and still needs to figure out how to create his own shot. However, his jumper seems to have become far more reliable since earlier in the SEC season and his ballhandling has improved as well. With all of that said, here’s something I’ve noticed the last few games: Unlike many collegiate power forwards, Thomas appears agile and athletic enough to possibly become a 3/4 in the NBA (not that he needs to, he could survive just fine at the 4). If Thomas can continue to expand his game he would become an absolute nightmare on the next level. Too quick and athletic for 4’s and too strong and tall for 3’s. He has Shawn Marion like potential in that regard, though he’s more of a natural 4 while Marion is more of a natural 3.

-Speaking of the NBA, the Orlando Magic have won 4 games in a row. More importantly, they’ve won two consecutive road games and came back from a 4th quarter deficit for only the third time all season last night against the Bulls. While the playoffs are highly unlikely for this club, it’s worth mentioning that the Magic’s current streak has them only 5 games out of the eighth spot in the East. Finally, for those interested in the progress of Darko, here are his stat lines for the last four games:

Points: 12 13 11 13
Rebounds: 8 5 1 7
Blocks: 4 2 1 4

Fact worth noting: Tyler Hansbrough is the same age as Darko. That’s right, Hansbrough is 20 years old. I’m not quite sure how he was able to participate at a public school last year at age 19, but I do think it should be noted that he’s significantly older than your average freshman. Just for the record, I don’t see Hansbrough being all that great in the NBA. He’s a terrific rebounder with limited athleticism and an average set of offensive moves in the post. He also doesn’t have “legit three point range” as one writer claimed after the second UNC-Duke game. Which I can only assume was the writer’s only time watching Hansbrough play, based on said writer’s galling lack of knowledge about collegiate sports. Can you really imagine him being that much better than Nick Collison? I guess what I’m saying is that I’ll gladly take Darko over Hansbrough or any other big guy who might come available in this June’s draft.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

You feel cheated by the lack of pictures? Fine, just don't get Lorenzo Romar started alright?

I'm going to try and make this quick today because Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace are on their way over to watch the Virginia Union game. I've said it already, this year's tournament is as good as it gets in terms of overall excitement and drama. Anybody who can say with a straight face (I'm looking at you Simmons) that these games aren't more fun and exciting to watch than the NBA deserves to be beaten with a bar stool.

I'm absolutely loving this tournament so far. I'm also dealing with way more stress than I'm used to. First off, it's been a while since Florida has advanced this far so I'm having to adjust to the stresses of watching my alma mater in late game tournament situations. Beyond that, there's the tourney pool angle. Unlike (seemingly) everybody I've talked to, I'm enjoying a hell of a run through March thus far. Following up last year's 3 of 4 in the Final Four performance by successfully picking 7 of the 8 team's still alive in this year's tourney (Seriously, fuck you Roy Williams. That comes from me and the folding chair that I'm currently sitting in.) Of course, I can't really brag about my prognosticating skills b/c I've been mere inches away from having my bracket destroyed each of the past two nights. Somehow, I keep ending up on the right side of miraculous shots (Texas, Florida) or unbelievable comebacks (Nova, UCLA). I've also managed to have the increasingly questionable officiating of this year's tourney benefit me and my bracket...for the most part.

As much as I'm enjoying my success, last night nearly pushed me over the edge. If Villanova had lost, then it's would've all ended right there for me as I have the Cats slated to win it all over Texas a couple of Monday evenings from now. I should probably send a personalized thank you note to Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry for keeping me alive against BC. That's the problem though. I shouldn't be stressed out over a damn BC-Villanova game. I was going to be stressing enough over the UF game against Georgetown. Speaking of UF, I'm all for the Gators destroying my bracket at this point. I love money, but not nearly as much as I love the University of Florida. The Final Four or a National Title would be great, but after last night, it's all gravy for me and UF from here on out. I had an awful feeling about last night's game. The pace was slow, Humphrey couldn't get an open look to go down, Roy Hibert was pulling off unbelievable spin moves in the lane. It just all seemed to be coming together for the Hoyas. When Ashanti Cook banked home that shot from the top of they key with 1:29 left, I just figured that it wasn't in the cards for UF. Instead, Crazy Corey Brewer made a miraculous shot that completely changed the game's momentum and ended up pushing UF over the top. I flew off my couch when that shot went down. I also dropped to my knees when Brewer slipped and left Owens open from three on the next possesion. He was just too damned wide open to miss, but miss he did. I've pretty much come to terms with this tournament being the last time we'll ever see Joakim Noah in a Gator uniform, so why not keep this thing going as long as possible? I could certainly use the $300 that I'm in the running for but that can't come close to the feeling of watching this team (that I've believed in since November) make a run at a National Title.

Of course, I wouldn't even have to worry about the moral conundrum that awaits me on Sunday afternoon if it weren't for fucking Marcus Williams and Rashad Anderson. If Washington wins last night (it's tough when your playing against the guys in stripes right Holmgren?) then I'd already have my sister's pool wrapped up. Think about that, if Jensen doesn't foul Williams on the drive, or if Anderson doesn't hit either of those late threes, or if the refs would've called goaltending, then I'd already have won a large NCAA Tourney pool before the fucking Final Four had even been determined. Thanks alot guys. I could've been bragging about this tournament run for years to come. As it is, I picked the UConn-UW game correctly and I couldn't be less excited about it.

I can hear Oakley firing up the blender in the kitchen so I'll leave you with these thoughts before I go:

- If you replaced UConn with Duke last night, every sports reporter and/or blogger in the Western Hemisphere would be spouting conspiracy theories right now.

- I'd like to tell both Rashad Anderson and Ryan Appleby to go straight to hell. One of these guys should've never come to Florida. One shouldn't have ever left. Both of them helped murder what could've been a beautiful victory tour of a weekend for me.

- If UConn wins the National Title, they should just give the trophy to Marcus Williams. I guess Rashad Anderson can get weekend visitation. Rudy Gay, Josh Boone and the rest of those scrubs can take a polaroid of it. Seriously, can you name one player who is so vital to his team's success. They don't come close to winning a single game in the tournament without him. Amazing performace by him thus far.

-While I'm talking about Williams, I might as well mention that he's probably made himself a lottery pick these last two weeks. You know you're good when you can miss half the season for stealing laptops and still work your way into the lottery by mid-March. As for the rest of UConn's team, I wouldn't go near any of them in the draft. Boone and Armstrong have all the offensive skill of Andrew Declerq and I'm pretty sure that Rudy Gay is alot close to Rodney White than he is to Carmelo Anthony. I would spend a second round pick on Anderson though. With his size and stroke, I'd be shocked if he's not coming off NBA benches for the next ten years.

- I was playing basketball this morning and talking about last night's games. As me and my friend Joe were talking about the UConn-UW game, another player came over and said, "How did that end? I had to go to sleep." I wanted to punch this guy right in his fucking face. What kind of single man in his 20's can't stay up past midnight on a Friday to watch sports, much less the damn NCAA Tournament? Did you have to get up early and go dress shopping? If I was this kid's Dad I'd probably cry myself to sleep every night.

- I thought Billy Packer was going to walk on the court and kiss Kyle Lowry on the mouth last night. Can you blame him? Lowry impacts the game in so many ways that you rarely see from a guy his size. I do remember somebody talking about how awesome he was a while back. Who was that?

- I think you saw a major difference between Randy Foye and alot of other great/good collegiate players last night. While he's no more skilled than a Redick or Morrison, he seemed to have a greater strength of will than anybody else on the court last night. Lowry played great but he didn't get it going until the mid-second half. When Villanova was really struggling, it was Foye who kept them in it (nearly singelhandedly). What was even more impressive (to me) was the way in which Foye was doing it. He repeatedly took the ball inside against BC and finished over their big guys. Even after Villanova got back in it, Foye continued to take the ball right to BC. His penetration even allowed Allan Ray to knock dowm a couple of key jumpers late. His game was as impressive a clutch performance as I've seen all year.

- One last thing about Foye. You really have to appreciate him and Ray brining back the lines in the side of your head fad from the late 1980's. We're officially on step closer to the high-top fade. On that note, I'd also like to ask Mike Nardi to get rid of the lines in his hair...and Mike, would you like to show the fuck up at some point in the tournament. Jesus, sack up already.

- Picking a favorite Bill Raftery catchprhase is kind of like picking a favorite form of heroin for me. Too many choices, too little time. If I was forced to pick though, I might have to go with, "A little lingerie on the deck!!"

- Of all the possible reactions after hitting a game winning shot (chest thump, jersey pop, the airplane, etc.), there is nothing, and I mean nothing, as cool as what Kenton Paulino did on Thursday night. Just take a couple of steps toward the sideline and stare at the crowd like the biggest fucking pimp in the room (mean mug and/or crotch grab optional). My Dad always said, "Act like you've been there before." Who knew my Dad was so effin cool?

- Does anybody else love making the obligatory Darryl Hall joke whenever BC's John Oates gets a rebound? I knew I couldn't be the only one.

- No announcer gives you more random facts per minute than Dick Enberg. Within a span of five minutes on Thursday night we learned that Magnum Rolle is named after Magnum P.I. ( I was guessing that that was the brand of condom that broke some 18 years ago...Thanks. I'll be here all week.), Daniel Gibson wears #1 b/c he strives to be the best and that John Beilein molest collies in the offseason. Ok, I made one of those up.

- The NBA could take a tip from some of CBS's musical selections. I heard the Chemical Brothers and Modest Mouse last night...right on.

- I finally figured out what happend to Shelden Williams' forehead...He stole part of Tyrus Thomas' and had it surgically implanted onto his head to make him taller. People from Duke are evil.

- Have I mentioned that my Dad had been nursing a man crush on Thomas for the better part of two weeks now? Can you blame him? Thomas is like Stromile Swift with a brain...and a heart...and some sense of what to do on the basketball court. Other than that, they're like mirror images of each other.

- I'm not sure if anybody realized this (I didn't at first either) but Thursday's Texas-WVU game featured a matchup of complete and total polar opposites in WVU's Kevin Pittsnogle and UT's Brad Buckman. You could even say that they are the bizzarro version of each other. Think about it: Pittsnogle is a highly skilled seven footer known for his deft shooting touch and advanced skill set. He's also highly tattooed, ugly, and was raised in a trailer park in West Virginia. Buckman, on the other hand, is an undersized big man who makes his living by getting boards, setting picks and scoring garbage buckets. Additionally, Buckman is a fairly good looking guy (ngs) with not a single drop of ink to speak of who was raised in a Country Club in Austin by his golf pro father. Frankly, I'm surprised that the weren't both sucked into some alternate universe when they lined up along the blocks next to each other.

March rules.

P.S.- I had some sweet pics for this post (Oakley with the Blender, Hall & Oates, even a comparison b/w Williams and Thomas' foreheads but my computers acting weird and blocking all my pop ups...sorry.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Yaaar!!!! She Blows....

When I was naming/looking for former collegiate players of note last week, I forgot to mention former Georgetown gunner Victor Page. Now I wish I hadn't clicked on this article about him. DE-PRESS-ING...or terribly, cruely funny. It's really your call on that one.

One thing that I forgot to mention on Wednesday was the unbelievable man crush that my Dad has on Tyrus Thomas. He mentioned it to me during the first two rounds of the tourney. I found this remarkable because (a) my Dad could generally care less about individual college basketball players and (b) he seemed to know an awful lot about him. I would've been impressed that my Dad didn't think his first name was Thomas. Instead, there was my Dad last Friday night talking about how active and athletic Thomas is, and even saying "you're lucky he didn't play against UF either game this year." Yeah, no shit old man. Thanks for the tip. I only watch more SEC basketball than 98% of the US population.

After last night's game, I'm pretty sure that my Dad and Dick Enberg are sitting together, penning love notes to Tyrus while sipping on sweet tea. Either that or they are both taking naps...either one. By the way, Thomas is a beast, there's no denying that, but I'm going to get a an awful big kick out of him going in the top 5 in this June's NBA Draft despite the fact that he's about as offensively skilled as your average WNBA Center.

As for last night's games. I can't remember two more exciting finishes back to back during the Sweet Sixteen. Then again, I often find it hard to remember what I had for dinner the night before, so I might not be the best authority to consult on this type of thing. Either way, three of the four games last night were fantastic and they all helped me go 4-0 so far during the tournament's second weekend. As for tonight, I've got UConn, Villanova, and Florida all advancing and I can't win the George Mason-Wichita State game b/c I have the Shockers losing to UNC in tonight's game (whoops). Since I was sitting in third in my sister's pool before last night I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I'd be in pretty solid shape to advance my position if tonight's games play out according to (my) plan. As great as that would be, I'd be more than satisfied with a classic between Villanova and BC and a Gator victory. Oh yeah, and a healthy buzz to go along with it all. At least something is in my control tonight.

This just in: Adam Morrison just lost a game of Halo, threw down his headset and began to sob uncontrollably. What a bitch.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I might hate Blogger more than Pitt...naaah.

I’m going to try and make this quick and painless this morning/afternoon (blogger is killing me). I’ve got a fair amount of work to get to before the week is out and I just found out that I have to go to New Smyrna on Friday for most of the day. I contemplated just saying “Fuck it” and eschewing this post altogether (it’s a little weird commenting on games that are almost a week old), but then I thought about all those kids out there who’ve been eagerly awaiting my wisdom. Much like Barry Bonds, I’m only doing this in hopes of inspiring some young slacker to follow in my footsteps and attain greatness (or mediocrity, it’s up to him…who am I Castro?) for himself.

Without further ado, here’s my first round of Random Tournament Ramblings:

- I’m officially off the UNC-Wilmington bandwagon…forever. Watching the Seahawks go down at the hands of Drew Nicholas and his miraculous buzzer beater was painful enough for me three years ago. After that, I should’ve known better than to pick them to upset George Washington. Instead I figured that I’d be sneaky and pick the CAA team that nobody was talking about against a GW team that might be looking ahead to Duke. My pick ended up working out great…for 30 minutes. Never again will I be duped into picking UNC-W in a first round upset.

- One team that I did manage to learn my lesson with was Pittsburgh. Two years ago, Pitt killed my bracket when I had them slotted for the Final Four. Last year I picked Pitt and Jamie (aren’t you a little old to be going by Jamie?) Dixon to advance to the Elite Eight and they bombed out in the first round. I finally got it right this year as I had Pitt losing in the second round like the spectacularly inefficient offensive team that they are. I’m sure that I’m not the only person who Pitt has managed to screw over the past few years. In fact, I’m willing to bet that I’m in the majority. People look at Pitt’s record, talent, and cromulent defensive play and think, “Hey, this team will be great in the half court pace of the tourney.” I know that I used that line of thinking in the past. Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: Pitt is not a good half court offensive team (and haven’t been for quite some time). When the pace of the game slows and Pitt is matched up against another very good defensive team (of which there are many in the tournament) in a half court slugfest, Pitt’s offensive deficiencies become much more problematic than during the regular season. Pitt can often get away with poorly executed offensive sets and awful shooting percentages within the Big East where they have heavily scouted their opponents’ tendencies and offensive sets. However with the short preparation time of the tournament, Pitt struggles to maintain the same level of scoring defense that they’ve played with all season. This forces Pitt to play more efficient offense and score more than they have all season and puts their players into uncomfortable situations on offense.

- I was as pissed about San Diego State losing to Indiana as the next guy, but should any of us have been surprised by the loss or, more specifically, the way in which SDSU lost? This is a team that is coached by Steve Fisher. I know it’s been awhile since most of us have seen Steve operate under the pressure and scrutiny of an NCAA Tournament game but, really is there a coach out there who inspires less confidence amongst players and fans than Steve Fisher? San Diego State would’ve been better off with Jalen Rose on the bench against Mike Davis. By the way, you have to be pretty damned awful to make Mike Davis look competent on the sidelines.

- I never knew exactly where Bradley was located. In fact, if you would’ve told me last week that the town had been renamed Hersey, Ill. after former Bradley legend Hersey Hawkins, I may have believed you. I did know that Bradley was in Illinois but I never had any idea that was located in Peoria, Ill. I bring this up because I find it amazing, even troubling that this school hasn’t seen more consistent success when you consider that it resides within the same city that has houses Peoria Manual High School. Manual has won 6 State Boys basketball titles within the last decade and have had numerous other appearances in the Illinois Elite eight during that same span. I’m sure that a lot of these kids are going on to play at bigger schools (see: Illinois) but I’m also quite sure that there’s go to be a large number of talented kids who would be able to make Bradley a more consistent power within the MVC. It’s similar to schools like St. John’s and Rutgers’ inability to consistently recruit talent out of the NY/NJ area, though on a much smaller scale.

- I have Memphis losing in the Elite Eight to UCLA, not b/c I particularly believe in UCLA but rather b/c I feel like Darius Washington is one the worst point guards in the entire tournament. It’s not that Washington isn’t talented, but rather that he doesn’t understand the intricacies of the point guard position. Watch him play and you’ll see a kid who struggles to make even the most basic of decisions within the half court offense. It’s not entirely Washington’s fault either. He is a classic “square peg-round hole” case. Washington was a star early in his high school career after he got the better of Sebastian Telfair at the ABCD camp following their sophomore year in high school. From that point on, Washington’s career took off. He led his school to consecutive state championship appearances (winning as a Senior) and scored over 3,000 points in his high school career. He was undoubtedly the best player in the Florida as a senior and even became a McDonald’s All-American. However, he did it all while playing the two guard. I watched him close to ten separate times during his final two years of high school and while he was brilliant as a scorer, he was anything but a point guard. Despite the fact that he, essentially, played the two in high school he was billed as a PG coming out of high school. He wasn’t. He played off the ball a great deal in high school and when he did bring the ball up, it was part of an isolation play designed as a means for Washington to create a shot for himself. As a result of this, Washington struggles between creating his own offense and creating opportunities for his teammates. Washington’s confidence has waned as a result of this struggle and Memphis’ half court offense has been bogged down by Washington’s lack of court sense and overall frustration with his play. Memphis has played far more efficiently down the stretch with Andre Allen at the point b/c he defers to his more talented teammates while also realizing the difference between a good and bad shot. Depending on who is on the court, Memphis may want to think about playing Allen and Washington together (with Washington at the 2) in order to create a quicker pace and inject some much needed confidence in Washington’s game.

- Whenever Villanova is brought up people always mention the four guard lineup. Another thing that often gets mentioned in the next breath is the supposed dearth of serviceable big men the Wildcats have. While Villanova would certainly be more dangerous with a healthy Curtis Sumpter or Jason Fraser, it would be unwise to minimize the affect of Will Sheridan on Villanova’s success. Sheridan (who may the most underrated player in the Big East) consistently holds his own defensively against much bigger men while also managing to provide ‘Nova with interior scoring as well as a pretty reliable baseline jumper that spreads the floor for Villanova’s penetrating guards. While Sheridan is not an elite level big man, he’s much, much better than Roger Powell of last year’s Illinois team. Unfortunately, while the media seemed to fellate Powell at every turn for his “inspired defense and rebounding”, Sheridan continues to fly under the radar as a primary reason for the Wildcats’ success. Other than writing bible verses on his shoes, is there a single thing that Powell did better than Sheridan currently does?

- In other Villanova related news: I’ve read that NBA scouts don’t think Allan Ray can play in the league. Really? While I wouldn’t spend a first round pick on him I do find it hard to believe that he couldn’t carve out a role for himself as a second unit scorer in the NBA. I’d like to meet the NBA scout that doesn’t think Ray can be as good as Eddie House or Troy Hudson.

- I don’t particularly care about the WBC or the NIT but even I was incensed that the Worldwide Leader would continue to show the entirety of Monday’s Notre Dame-Michigan game while the WBC Final was already underway. Don’t you people have like six channels? Couldn’t you have switched ND-UM to the Ocho, or even moved the start of the WBC final to one of these stations? Are you telling me that Women’s College Basketball and the NIT are more important sporting events than the supposed World Championship of Baseball? Evidently so.

- I hate Notre Dame in a completely irrational manner. So much so that I’d punch Chris Thomas (or any other current or former ND athlete, pending size) in his face right now if he walked into my office but even I feel a little sorry for the 2006 Notre Dame Men’s Basketball team. Jesus. Is there a team that’s suffered more heartbreaking losses than them in one season? Mike Brey’s reaction to Dion Harris’ fallaway, three point, buzzer beater summed it all up for me. His frustrations, his anxiety, his utter incredulity. In case you missed it, as he saw Harris’ shot fall through the net on Monday, he just smiled (like the way you smile when somebody hits a bank shot from the top of they key to win a pickup game) and calmly walked over to shake hands with Tommy Amaker. Then he went home and gave his wife two black eyes for forgetting to Tivo The Sopranos on Sunday night. (I made that last part up…or did I?)

- I’m not going to say that I don’t want the University of Florida to make the Final Four. I’d be as excited as any Gator fan if Billy D’s boys were able to make it all the way the National Semifinals (or beyond). However, I’d also be pretty worried that the strong play of the Gators would result in the early departure of any of our tremendously talented sophomore class. Joakim Noah’s recent play (as well as his antics) has made him a darling of the national media as well as a favorite amongst NBA scouts. So much so that, even if the Gators lose to Georgetown in their next game, he may choose to go to the NBA in search of lottery riches. If the Gators were to make it all the way to the Final Four, Noah would be almost certain to leave early. There’s also a fairly good chance that the Gators would lose one of either Corey Brewer or Al Horford to the NBA as well.

You have to feel a little bit for Billy Donovan in all of this. After being burned by the early entries of Donnell Harvey and Kwame Brown (as well as the transfer of James White), Donovan changed his recruiting strategy. Instead of tracking every top 20 recruit like his early years in Gainesville, Donovan began to recruit players who were a little lower on the scouts’ lists in hopes of establishing a more consistent program where players stayed for three or four years. After some initial resistance among fans it finally appeared as if Donovan had struck the right balance between talent and team with this year’s squad. He did, only he did it too well. Projects like Noah and Horford have developed faster than anybody could’ve imagined and may leave Donovan scrambling for big men to fill out his roster in Gainesville as he’s had to do so many times before. I’m sure Donovan would love to make a Final Four this year but I bet he’d be awfully happy to field a full roster of guys next year too when the Gators could be as deep as they’ve been since 2000.

With the Gators getting set to take on Georgetown there’s going to be an awful lot of talk about famous fathers. You could render yourself unconscious by halftime if you did a shot every time the announcers mentioned Yannick Noah, John Thompson, Tito Horford, or Sidney Greene. While all of this is going on, they’ll be another famous father who will go unnoticed. A man well known to all of us. A man whose son has been instrumental in Georgetown’s Sweet 16 run. A man who is probably more famous than all of the other famous fathers combined. The player of which I speak is none other than Georgetown Center Roy Hibbert and his father, Dr. Julius Hibbert.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Take this and call me in the morning...I meant the post.

I've literally been out of the office all day today. I've been working but, save for a quick lunch and poop at my house, I've also been in my car all damn day long. With that in mind, you can expect to see some random tourney thoughts up by some point late tomorrow morning. More than likely you're looking at a ton of scattered thoughts from the four day basketball bonanza that was last weekend. As oppossed to the seering analysis that I usually bring to the table. Oh wait, that's not me I was thinking of.

In that case, you'll actually end up with something very similar to what you see in this space at least once a week. So try and hold back that excitement so you can sleep tonight (or just get pass out drunk so you can sleep tonight) and meet me back here tomorrow for the real tournament coverage that you've been craving for the past two miserable days of work. Until then...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I'm pretty much done working so can I just leave now?

A little more than 24 hours from now, we'll be embarking on four straight days of college basketball at it's highest of levels. The NCAA Tournament is, without a doubt, my personal favorite sporting event in existence today (Okay, it's actually a close second to the India-Pakistan Cricket Tests, but that's a different column altogether). At this point, I've pretty much given up on trying to accomplish any real work today, as my excitement for the next two days of basketball (and no work) has left me as geeked as John and Joe on their way to dinner at the Golden Corral. Seriously, I almost feel pathetic for being as excited about tommorrow as I am, though I think my last two Marches may have something to do with this year's level of hysteria. I'm not even going to start talking about the confluence of events that is this coming Friday for fear that my head may explode due to the sheer anticipation of it all. If you hadn't guessed, I'm ready for the tournament to start (as well as my weekend). In fact, all of this anticipation got me to thinking about tournament's gone by. More specifically, players who made a name for themselves (or increased their profile) with stellar tournament performances. Last year, as you may remember, I set out to find former Weber State star Harold Arceneaux. This year I'm just going to list a bunch of guys who I haven't heard or seen anything from in years. Feel free to add players in the comments section or to educate me on the whereabouts of these basketball vagabonds.

Where are they now? (I'm sure the answer to this question for most of these guys is "Somewhere in Europe", but you get the point.)

Byron Houston
Lee Mayberry
Adonis Jordan
Brian Oliver
Khalid Reeves
Donald Williams
Toby Bailey
Fennis Dembo
Billy McCaffrey
Scoonie Penn
Mark Randall
Scotty Thurman & Clint McDaniel (actually you could probably put that entire Ark. team on here, sans Corliss Williamson)
Byron Mouton
Otis Hill & Lazarus Sims
Ricky Moore
Kenny Battle
Randy Rutherford
Rumeal Robinson
Edgar Padilla & Carmelo Travieso
Jeff Sheppard
Casey Calvary (Hell, I hope)
Tate George
God Shammgod
Ray Jackson & Jimmy Smith
Arthur Lee
Terrell Taylor (See: Casey Calvary)
Lynn Greer
Ed Cota
Alex Jensen
Dametri Hill
Anderson Hunt
Moses Scurry (just for shits and giggles)
Tyson Wheeler
Henrik Rodl (see: Moses Scurry)

Finally, here's one last thought to take with you this weekend. Is March the "month of the man hug"? I submit that there isn't a single month that even approaches the number of man hugs that we see during the month of March. Hell, Championship Week alone probably seals the deal on that one.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

You people get paid for this?

With all of the furor amongst college basketball analysts about the supposed overabundance of mid-major teams receiving at-large berths in this year’s NCAA Tournament, I feel compelled to address the situation. The truth is, we’ve been trending towards this for years now. The NCAA Tournament has become one of the truly elite sporting events in America, along with the Super Bowl and World Series. This rise in popularity has resulted in greater scrutiny towards both the tournament itself as well as its participants.

Starting a few years back, both fans and analysts (well, some of them) began directing some of their attention towards mid-major conferences throughout the year instead of only during Conference Championship Week. As the tournament’s profile has continued to grow, many fans & analysts became keenly interested in the schools and conferences who so often wreak havoc on our collective brackets by ousting the entrants from the larger, tradition rich, power conferences. What fans & analysts soon discovered (upon closer inspection) is that these smaller conferences often have more than one team capable of winning in the NCAA Tournament and that the best of these conferences often merit more than the traditional one (automatic) bid. This shift in thinking can be seen in the formulation of events like ESPN’s Bracket Buster Weekend as well as the increased coverage of mid-major conference tournaments (did you ever think you’d see the MVC Final on national television?). In fact, the mid-major conferences have become so accepted as legitimate forces that most “tournament experts” had been predicting results similar to the ones we saw on Selection Sunday for months now. Despite this, many of the analysts who are most closely aligned with college basketball’s power structure (Nantz, Packer, Phelps, etc.) chose to bury their head in the sand and ignore the continued success of mid-major conferences, both in the regular season as well as the NCAA Tournament. It was these same “experts” who reacted with incredulity when the seedings were announced on Sunday evening. These results were not a shock. In fact, one could make the case that two more mid-majors (Hofstra, Missouri State) deserved entry in the Tournament at the expense of schools like Texas A&M, Air Force or UAB.

What I find most vexing is the assertion amongst these analysts that the mid-major conferences are wholly undeserving of their total number of bids, despite the fact that none of these “experts” have seen a single minute of these mid-major teams in action all year long. The tournament selection process should be based on nothing more than the individual merits of specific teams in a given year, not on tournament history or five year trends. Finally, here are a couple of quick facts that should help to dispel the line of reasoning used by both Nantz and Packer during their verbal flogging of Craig Littlepage during Sunday’s telecast:

- Packer’s main line of logic regarding the MVC being undeserving of four teams in the Tournament was based on the ACC receiving the equal number of seeds. Packer concluded that none of these teams would be able to compete with the rest of the teams within the ACC. While this may be true, the tournament selection process is not about selecting teams based on how their conference’s number of bids corresponds with that of other conferences. Rather, the selection process is based upon the individual merits and overall strength of individual teams. ESPN’s Bracketologist (I’d like to see his degree by the way) Joe Lunardi best illustrated this point late last week when he pointed out that the Horizon League received three bids a few years ago during a year in which the ACC also received three bids. As Lunardi said (I’m paraphrasing), “Nobody would ever say that the Horizon league is as good as the ACC then, now, or forever. What we are saying is that the top three teams in that league (that year) were better then the 4th, 5th, and 6th place teams in the ACC that year.” The same logic applies to the MVC/ACC debate this year.
- Packer (amongst others) made a point to talk about the records of each conference in the tournament over the past five years as a means to support his assertion that conferences like the MVC and CAA were undeserving of their number of bids. To that I say this: It’s been 18 years since the Big 12 won a National Title. Does that mean that we shouldn’t ever give more than 3 or 4 bids to the Big 12? I didn’t think so.

Finally, for what it’s worth, I would’ve taken Cincinnati over Seton Hall.

Friday, March 10, 2006

What the brothas be...reading?

It's Friday and I figured that the majority of the 5-8 people who read this blog were (like me) engaged in some combination of drinking, watching basketball, and boozing it up last night. With that in mind, I decided that I'd put together a post of some articles that I've read and found (at least) mildy interesting throughout the last couple of days. If I'm not planning on doing any work this afternoon (I'm not), the least I can do is pass thegood times on to you. Consider this my gift to your tired/hungover body.

- Chad Ford pissed me off earlier this year when he was proclaiming that Al Horford was being viewed as a lottery pick by most scouts. Can't Ford just stick to finding the next great Euro?

- Of course, NBA scouts are all a bunch of lemmings anyway. How else can you explain this guy lasting until the late second round?

- While I'm on the subject of the NBA, I might as well link to this article about J.R. "Isaiah for the Ladies" Rider. The way things are going for JR these days, you might want to keep an eye out form him at the 2006 World Series of Dice.

- Who would've ever guessed that Kendall Gill's post NBA career would end up being nearly as bizarre as that of Mr. Rider? Certainly not me. Between his classic performance on MTV Cribs a couple years back, his unveiling of the KBC (Kendall's Boys Club) during that episode and his latest career path, it's been a rather strange few years for the former #5 pick in the draft. I hope that George Karl knows the blood is on his hands here.

- As great as the weekend of basketball ahead of us promises to be, there is no denying that this is going to be (far and away) the highlight of my weekend.

- Speaking of highlights, many thought that Xavier Carter was going to be one of the highlights on LSU's 2003 recruting class. It now looks as if his career with the Tigers may be over before it's really ever begun.

-While many Gator fans were heartborken over losing out on Carter, there may have been a full sclae riot had Tim Tebow committed to anyone other than Urban Meyer. Check out the note about Tebow's first day in the weight room at UF near the bottom of this article.

- Dis Vince Young steal a couple of plates of ribs from Jason Whitlock at some point in the past? That's the only logical explanation that I can think of for this?

Finally, I'm going to rent my next car from Avis just to show my appreciation.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Not ten fucking games!

For anybody who has never had the pleasure of attending a Spring Training game, it’s an experience that I highly recommend. Sure, it’s nothing more than a meaningless pre-season game, and you’ll probably only get to watch a handful of players who you actually know anything about, but the experience itself is almost always fantastic. Yesterday was no exception. It was a sunny 70 degrees outside, the kind of day where it seems unfair to be stuck inside at work. Which makes it all the more gratifying to be outside, watching baseball and drinking a few beers.
As for the game itself, the Cards brought a few regulars (David Eckstein, So Taguchi, Junior Spivey, and Chris Carpenter) as well as a number of other guys who may or may not make the major league roster. Carpenter looked to be in mid-season form as he pitched 4 scoreless innings before taking a seat and allowing a stream of guys whose jersey numbers were divisible by 21 to take their shot at impressing Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan. Of course, there’s a reason why these guys are going to be playing in places like Memphis and Peoria in less than a month. Those reasons became painfully clear as the Nationals stormed back to score 4 runs and tie the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. St. Louis eventually reclaimed the lead in route to a 7-4 victory in 10 innings. Before yesterday, I had forgotten just how intimate and enjoyable a Spring Training game can be, now I’m already counting the days until my next game in a couple of weeks.

One last note: St. Louis Pitching Coach Dave Duncan has a kid who plays in the Cardinal organization. I had no idea. I also had no idea that the kid was such a damned monster. He’s got to be at least 6’6”. Evidently Mrs. Duncan isn’t a very petite woman. Either way, young Duncan looks to be a pretty solid player. He certainly looked good while going 2 for 3 with a HR yesterday. I wish I could say the same for Larry Bigbie.

While there is a lot of baseball going on these days (between Spring and the surprisingly captivating WBC) there’s no denying that this time of year belongs to basketball, and basketball alone. With that in mind, here are my most recent batch of basketball (mostly collegiate) related thoughts:

- Without fail, this time of year always reminds me of Spring Break in Key West during my first Senior year of college. Not the entire Spring Break mind you, just the first morning in Key West after our first night in town. A first night that saw, among other things, my friend Roberto throw up on a girl’s feet, me in handcuffs at 4 am, a cop waking me up with his flashlight as we were being kicked out of our hotel room (completely unrelated to me being in handcuffs, by the way), and my roommate Vitas and I sleeping in my 1992 Honda Civic. As you might guess, some of us were spectacularly hungover the next morning when we woke up in my Civic in some random Key West parking lot. I was not one of these people. I felt so good that I managed to eat two Denny’s breakfasts, rent a new hotel room and rent a scooter that morning. Vitas, on the other hand, sat in the shower for about an hour as he tried to muster up the strength for some afternoon drinking. As I sat watching #1 Cincinnati play in the Conference USA tournament that morning, I heard Vitas let loose with what had to be the most violent puking sound that I’ve ever heard. At precisely the same moment, Kenyon Martin slipped awkwardly on the Kiel Center floor and broke his leg. It was as if Kenyon had slipped on Vitas’ vomit. It’s my “Where were you when JFK was shot moment?”, only far less historical and far more boozy.

- I love the Big East Tournament. Absolutely, completely and with all my heart. I’m not from the Northeast and have always followed the ACC more closely (through a combination of geography and TV contracts), but there has always been something about the Big East Tournament that resonates with me. I’m not sure if it’s the location of the tourney (MSG is the Mecca) or the fact that they play games all day long starting on Wednesday, but I’ve always wanted to take a vacation and go to New York for the week to watch the Big East Tourney. Some people dream of going to Paris or Rome. I dream of watching the Big East Tournament and drinking in New York for five straight days…one day soon I’m going to make that happen.

- It’s been so long since I’ve seen Rutgers participate in the Big East tournament that I’d almost forgotten that they were even eligible to participate in it. I’m not saying they haven’t been it at all in recent years (I’m sure they have) it’s just that they are usually eliminated before I even get home from work on Wednesday so I don’t even bother to notice their participation. With that said, I was openly rooting for them to beat Seton Hall last night. Not only do I have a growing man crush on Quincy Douby (and his Cris Carter-esque eyebrows), but I’m also strangely infatuated with the rotation of rotund big men that Gary Waters employs. Actually, though I’m sure that it won’t happen (the Big East is too good), I’m going to continue to hope that can Douby put the Scarlet Knights on his back and carry them to the Big East Championship game (and win it?) ala Randolph Childress and Wake in 1995, right down to Douby re-enacting the classic “No, over here.” move on UConn’s Marcus Williams. Who (coincidentally) happens to be the closest thing to Jeff Mcinnis in a over a decade. Think about it: Good/Great passer playing with an insane collection of talent, average athlete, clever game, good floater, questionable character. In fact, Andre LaFleur might want to keep closer tabs on his wife. I’m just saying.

- Even though I’ve already done it once in this space today and I’m not a big fan of anointing a player as the “next so and so”, I’ll be damned if Steve Novak isn’t the next Matt Bullard.

- I hate Digger Phelps. Amazingly enough, I always seem able to avoid his idiotic ramblings until this time of year when the sheer paucity of non-ESPN college hoops coverage makes it nearly impossible for me to watch basketball without being suckered into listening to his horribly biased opinions. I find it personally offensive that he is paid to watch (presumably) and analyze college basketball. No more than five minutes after the conclusion of the Seton Hall-Rutgers game last night, Digger was listing his reasons for Seton Hall’s abysmal offensive performance when he stopped because he couldn’t remember the name of SHU’s Kelly Whitney despite the fact that Whitney is a senior starter and All-Big East player whose game had just concluded. Personally, I’m not quite sure how Dave Revsine managed to keep himself from stabbing Digger in the ear with his highlighter.

Digger Phelps: Making the dumb even dumber for only $19.95

Considering what we already know about Digger, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his knowledge of the “mid-majors” isn’t exactly encyclopedic. To be honest, it’s downright ridiculous how little that this man seems to know about any school that doesn’t play in a conference with a major TV deal. Here what I’m getting at: When asked on the radio about the number of bids he thought the Missouri Valley Conference deserved, Digger responded, “One, maybe two.” Excuse me? Did you just drink a Gatorade bottle full of mescalin? I’m not one of those people who think that the MVC deserves 5 or 6 teams. However, I do believe that a consistent track record of success in the tourney as well as a conference RPI in the top 6 should count for something more than a pat on the back. I’m paraphrasing here, but Digger’s reasoning went something like this, “I watched the MVC Final (thanks for going out of your way Dig) and there’s just not enough talent to compete there. I mean, Bradly went for 5 minutes in the first half and 7 in the second half w/out scoring. Southern Illinois is a good team, but none of these schools have the athletes to compete with the major conferences.” Really? How would you explain the MVC getting a team into the Sweet 16 for each of the last three years? Of course these smaller conferences don’t have the same caliber of athletes as the major conferences. That’s why most of these kids ended up at mid-majors to begin with. Unfortunately, nobody has explained to Digger that none of these teams will be competing in the decathlon next week. Either that or the concepts of sharing the ball, team defense and solid fundamentals are no longer applicable to a team’s collective chances for success in the NCAA Tournament.

- While I’m harping on the lack of wisdom amongst basketball analysts, I might as well address the whole Amare Stoudemire injury situation. This has really been bothering me lately. Why is everybody acting as if it’s sure thing that he’ll come back at 100% this year? As I see it, the Suns should be hoping that he comes back at 100%, period. If he’s able to come back and be effective this year then that’s just icing on the cake. This isn’t minor surgery that Stoudemire had. In fact, you could make the case the microfracture surgery is to knee surgeries what ACL reconstruction was 15 years ago. Remember, when an ACL tear (depending on it’s severity) was a possibly career ending injury, and even if it wasn’t, still often left it’s victim as a shell of their former athletic self? That’s what microfracture surgery has become. Just look at this list of guys who’ve had this same surgery recently: Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Stephen Davis, Brian Grant, Alvin Williams, Zach Randoplh, Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway. Not one of these guys has managed to regain their previous level of athleticism since undergoing this procedure. Granted, most of these guys are much older than Stoudemire. Age is certainly in the favor of Black Jesus. Yet, you also have to take into consideration how dependent Stoudemire was on his freakish athleticism. We’re not exactly talking about Kevin McHale here. All I’m saying is that Amare’s inevitable return to greatness is far from the sure thing that it’s being made out to be.

- I have to address the Gonzaga situation. Much is made about the media’s love affair with Duke and how they receive preferential treatment from ESPN, the announcers, and even the refs. Well I say, what about Gonzaga? These guys play on ESPN more than any small conference team in the history of collegiate sports. ESPN even went out of their way to broadcast the entire WCC tourney, during primetime no less. They even get to play their conference tourney on their own home floor each year. This stuff wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if announcers didn’t spend half the game falling all over themselves in praise of Gonzaga and Head Coach Mark Few. Who, from what I can tell, just copied the formula that Dan Monson had proven successful during his run at GU. I’m not saying that Duke doesn’t get more credit and praise than they deserve, but at least Duke is doing this stuff in a real conference like the ACC. I don’t care who you are, if you can go undefeated in the ACC then you deserve to have your horn blown (ngs). Personally, I don’t think that Gonzaga could go undefeated in the MVC, much less the PAC-10. Jeez, these guys needed a solid combination of luck and clutch play just to advance past two completely mediocre teams during the semis and finals of the WCC Tourney (have I mentioned that the WCC Tourney was played at Gonzaga?). Gonzaga is a good program that happens to benefit from playing in an average conference, not the a dynasty in the making and certainly not a program that deserves to be mentioned amongst the likes of Duke, Kansas, Michigan State or any other number of schools who consistently churn out 20+ victory seasons and NCAA Tournament victories. I feel very strongly about this. I’m also very confident that I’ll once again be vindicated when Gonzaga loses in the second round to a mid-major with comparable athleticism (Gonzaga’s biggest weakness year-in, year-out and a major reason they’ve been so unsuccessful in the role of the hunted, as opposed to their former role of “mid-major Hunter”) and a huge chip on their shoulder over the inordinate amount of praise and attention being lauded upon Gonzaga. Oh yeah, Gonzaga's nickname is the Bulldogs, not the Zags. Can we stop calling them that? Please?

Finally, I'd like to thank Coach Jim Boeheim for my new catch phrase. You're the man Coach.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Love is better the second time around.

For some reason, I’m not particularly motivated to write this afternoon. I had planned on slapping something together yesterday, but I ended up a getting a little too busy to allow myself the necessary time to craft anything that could be deemed quasi-redeemable. With that in mind, I figured that I’d wait until this afternoon when I’d surely have the necessary motivation/inspiration that I needed. Well I waited, and waited, and waited some more…nothing. I don’t know if it’s that I spent a good portion of my morning writing about a variety of work related topics or that I just don’t have “it” today. Either way, I’m really struggling to think of anything worth writing about.

One topic that has been at the forefront of mind of late has been the significant change in my life since this time last year. Despite my regular hot flashes, I’m not talking about the onset of menopause (not yet at least). Rather the differences that have resulted from my decision to leave my job during May of last year. At this time last year, I was in the midst of a two month period of seven day workweeks and 12+ hour days. This personal hell was also combined with a paycheck so small that I’d have been better served if I’d have taken the opportunity to be a Guatemalan drug mule two summers ago. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was doing all of this work for a baseball team that had no owner, no stadium and exactly zero idea of when either of these inequities would be rectified.

As someone who grew up in Florida, I had always loved the month of March. What’s not to love? The weather is gorgeous, Spring Training sites seemingly pop up every 50 miles, and the NCAA Tournament completely dominates that sports landscape for the better part of the month. It’s safe to say that March was easily my favorite month of the year…was. That’s until I took a job working for a minor league baseball team. A team that also happened to play their home games at a Spring Training site. As anyone who has worked in sports knows, the hours are long and the pay is often bad. That’s part of the deal, and I was prepared for it. However, I wasn’t prepared to be the personal bitch of a major league baseball team for a two month period. A time that would see me perform such tasks as pressure washing, painting, sign hanging and any number of other menial tasks for which I had not signed up. At first I took it all in stride. Perhaps it was the excitement of being “inside” Spring Training, or perhaps it was the lie being told to so many employees like me who were constantly being serenaded with the siren song of a job at the Major League level. Whatever the reason I stayed on for that entire first spring, despite working until 3 am on the night before Opening Day (of Spring) while watching most of the efforts of myself (and my peers) go completely unnoticed.

By the time that last March rolled around, the novelty had long since worn off. Not only had I worked Spring Training (as well as an entire Minor League season) but I’d also been working seven days a week since the day after the Super Bowl. If that wasn’t enough to push me over the edge, I wouldn’t be getting a day off until the 2nd of April and would also be forced to work during the first two days of the NCAA Tourney (for the second consecutive year). March sucked. I hated everything about March. I won’t even bother to tell you how I felt about baseball. I was so over my job and the conditions under which I worked that I wasn’t even leaving my office during the Spring Training games, even though I had access to the best seats in the stadium. Unless I had a specific player that I wanted to watch for an inning or two, I just holed up in my office and worked as thousands of people flocked to the stands above me in hopes of catching a glimpse of their favorite players. At this point, I knew that I wouldn’t be doing my job for too much longer. In a sense, that was a shame. I genuinely enjoyed working with the people I worked with (with, not for) and would realize how much I missed their collective company as the months passed during the summer. However, no level of great company could make up for the enjoyment, social life, wages, and sanity that my employment had robbed me of. I made it through the Spring with a little help from the weather (An unbelievably well timed rain out on Regional Final Saturday which allowed me to watch both the Louisville-WVU and Illinois-Arizona classics) and a healthy supply of urban vegetables. I handed in my resignation in early May, as the thought of another summer wasted in an empty ballpark finally became too much for me to bear.

As anyone who has read this space knows, I bounced around from job to job before finally settling into my current position in late December. I’m exponentially more healthy (ballpark food 80+ nights a year is surprisingly unhealthy…who knew?), happy and wealthy than I was during any time while working in baseball.

As for the month of March and I…Well, we’ve made up. In fact, I’m taking next Thursday and Friday off to watch the first round of the NCAA Tournament (like I did for the previous ten years before I took a job in baseball). As if that wasn’t enough (trust me, it is) I’m also leaving work early tomorrow to catch a Spring Training game (as a fan) for the first time in three years. Guess where I’ll be attending this game? The very same stadium that served as the bane of my existence for a year and a half. I’m not quite sure if that qualifies as poetic justice, but its close enough for me.

Long Live March!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Put THAT in my review !

I'm going to be pretty busy all morning (I'm kind of important) catching up on emails and other assorted kinds of work that I missed out on when I was sleeping the day away of Friday. I also have to leave work here in a little bit in order to take care of a little business. Not exactly the way that I like to ease in to the work week, but I don't have to tell you that the white man doesn't take no for an answer, so there's really no point in fighting it this morning. It's damn near impossible for me to bitter at a time like this anyway. Not after the impossible dream became a beautiful reality last night as the Three Six Mafia brought home the Oscar that has eluded them for all these years. Just goes to show you that hard work and dedication to your craft always pays off in the end. You've struck a blow for true artists everywhere.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

I'm just waiting for my age to catch up with my fashion sense...

So I’m waiting for my lunch at Panera earlier today when I notice an awesome old man sitting down and eating his lunch. Most of my friends know that I’m eagerly awaiting the winter of my existence. It’s not that I want to die or anything, it’s more that I admire the “Fuck it!” attitude that many people acquire once they reach their 60s and 70s. I think it’s hilarious when old people are especially bitter or just over dealing with normal social conventions anymore, and there’s certainly nothing more enjoyable than the fashion sense of many of these geriatrics.

This guy was the perfect example of the kind of avant-garde wardrobe that makes me admire the senile set so much. Allow me to set the stage: Joe Paterno style glasses, a “Jamaican t-shirt” (you know what I’m talking about, it has a bunch a dancing “Jamaicans” on it and it reads “We Be Jammin’ Mon” in red, yellow, & green), a pair of swimming trunks, a pair of white tube socks pulled well over his calves, and a pair of white leather dress shoes ( “Clark: Gift.”). Thank you crazy old dude from Panera. You don’t even know it but you’re an inspiration to me and thousands like me. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, on to some random thoughts that you’re not likely to find in the latest of issue of Southern Living.

- That was a great win for FSU last night and, as Dick Vitale said at least 78 times during the second half, should probably gain them entrance into the tournament. Which could certainly raise the ire of TJ and his fellow Colonial Athletic Association lovers. It’s really too bad if things continue to fall against the CAA during the first two weeks of March because it’s a vastly underrated conference that deserves more than one (automatic) bid. I won’t repeat what’s been discussed by Rob, TJ, Whitney and others, but suffice it to say that the Colonial has as many as four teams who could make a sweet sixteen run if they end up in the right bracket a couple of weeks from now.

As for FSU, is it any wonder that this school has a circus instead of a law or medical school? Jesus, these inbreds couldn’t even wait until the game was over to storm the court. Then, to top it off, they decided to boo Duke for pulling it’s players off the floor for their protection despite the fact that Duke was classy enough to make sure to congratulate the FSU players and coaches before exiting.

I don’t begrudge the FSU students in attendance last night (how was your first basketball game of the year everybody?) for rushing the floor after beating Duke. However, I do begrudge them for being a bunch of drunken lemmings who can’t tell the difference between a clock which reads “00:00” and one that still has 1.9 seconds left on it. Just when I think that it’s not possible for me to hate that school anymore they turn around and amaze me all over again.

Unfortunately for me, last night’s run of upsets did not include the Orlando Magic (shocking I know) who moved to 0-2 on their current 8 game road trip. As discouraging as the thought of taking the collar on this road trip is for me, I’ve been able to take solace in the Magic’s decision to use this road trip as a springboard for more playing time for Darko Milicic. Darko responded to this chance last night with 12 points and 9 rebounds including a sweet spin move in the lane on which he got fouled while still managing to finish with a lefty jump hook. While I’m still trying to temper my enthusiasm on Darko’s potential, his development thus far has already surpassed what I thought we’d see from him during his first few weeks in Orlando. Additionally, his presence has rekindled my waning interest in Orlando’s season. Prior to Darko’s arrival, I found myself putting Magic games on my second TV (it is March) and really only paying attention when Dwight Howard was in the game. However, since the acquisition of Darko I’m setting my Tivo to record each Magic game so that I won’t miss any of his time on the court. Furthermore, if he and Howard are on the court together you could walk into my house with a dead baby on a shovel and I wouldn’t even flinch. I really hope the Magic don’t ruin this for me too, like they’ve ruined everything over the past 9 years.

While I’m talking about young big men with loads of potential, I ought to mention something I saw last night. I was watching the Texas-Texas A&M game when I saw LaMarcus Aldridge unveil a sky hook. I’m not talking a jump hook or any other bastardized version of the hook, but an actual honest to goodness sky hook. I’ve been a little back and forth on Aldridge’s overall potential and even thought that scouts were overrating him a bit, but that was before I saw him unleash a pretty solid sky hook. If perfects that thing, you’re looking at a 10-time All-Star and perennial All-NBA player.

- I think that I need to introduce my girlfriend to Andre Kirilenko’s wife.

- Did anybody else watch the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game on Monday? It was a pretty good game with a great ending but the players at Oklahoma State had me ready to throw a brick threw my TV by midway through the second half. In case you missed it, OSU has a player named Marcus Dove on their roster. Every time that Mr. Dove makes a play, the entire team feels the need to throw up their hands in the shape of bird wings. When I say every time, I mean EVERY TIME. Hit a free throw: Throw up the wings. Get a steal: Wing time. Uncontested dunk: flap, flap, flap. We get it, his name is the same as that of a bird. You’re all very original. No wonder that Eddie Sutton had to knock back two bottles of Boone’s Farm before getting on a two hour flight with these bamas.

- I wanted to tackle the selection of USA Basketball’s initial roster for the World Championships this summer, but decided against it because I’d like to try and devote an entire column to it. I have some gripes about the selection of players as well as a few questions regarding the overall makeup of the team that I’d like to take my time writing about. Hopefully I’ll get something good up by about mid-week. This will be it for me this week though. I’m taking tomorrow off work so that I can rest after what promises to be an eventful night. My friend Jason is getting married on Saturday and we’re taking him out for his bachelor party tonight. It should be interesting. It’s no secret that I love the sauce, as do all of my friends. Furthermore, I’ve been known to ingest a few illicit substances from time to time in my past. Of all my friends, there were a select few whom I could always count on to do whatever it was I stuck in front of their face (like the fat kid in elementary school who would eat anything that you gave him at lunch). Jason was always at the top of this list. Combine that with the fact that Jason is approximately 5’3”, 155 lbs. AND a cage fighter, and you can probably guess that we’ve had our share of ridiculous nights. If you would’ve asked me two years ago what his bachelor party would be like and I probably would’ve responded with something like, “a cross between Mons Venus and John Frusciante’s old house in LA”. That was then, this is now.

Now, Jason’s fiancĂ©e has his balls in the music box on her dresser at home. Now, Jason says that he doesn’t want to attend any strip clubs. We practically had to force him to have a bachelor party at all. I’m still betting that a couple of drinks will bring out the Jason that we all know and love and that he’ll be doing powdered donuts in Lido’s by 1:30 in the morning but, none of us are really sure of what to expect. Well, that’s not entirely true. I expect to be hammered and offensive to everybody in my general vicinity for a solid five or six hours tonight. Hopefully Jason is right there with me.

- Finally, I posted some pics of Tinsely earlier today, but here’s one last one. Notice the white spot on his chest and see if you see the resemblance between that and the South Carolina Flag…and yes, I do realize that I’m a pathetic excuse for an adult.

Wasting time...both yours and mine.

I'm going to try and get back here this afternoon to post about some random items, including the idiots that attend FSU as well as the announcement of USA Basketball's preliminary roster of 22 for the 2006 World Championships. In the meantime, I bought a digital camera yesterday (actually my place of employment purchased one for me, whatever) and I decided to take a few pictures of my dog (Tinsley) last night since the last picture I had of him was from over 3 years ago. I'm pretty sure that nobody even remotely cares about dog, or what he looks like, but it's my damn blog so I'll post whatever the hell I want to post. Enjoy:

Tough Dog, scared of the flash.