Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
We see this story almost every year.
A great example of this is Chris Leak. Here was a guy who did everything he was supposed to do in high school and was highly recruited by everyone, but I wondered then, “What’s the big deal? He’s 6’0 tall. The NFL will never give him a chance. No matter how ‘good’ he is.” As it turned out, he won a national title with Florida, but that was after being a pretty big disappointment under Ron Zook and he really won that title because of Florida’s offense under Urban Meyer, and their suffocating defense and overall team speed. Oh, and Tebow did a lot of damage as a true freshman that year. Heaps has similar hype as Jimmy Clausen (incomplete, although a disappointment thus far) and Chris Leak (won a title, but will not be remembered for that).
Clausen was the golden boy of all golden boys. He was heralded as the messiah. He had tremendous success in high school and even before then he was being tutored by Steve Clarkston. People were making ridiculous claims like Clausen could start for several college programs as a 13-year-old kid, a claim even Clarkston called ridiculous. But that didn’t stop the fawning. Clausen was a boy wonder. He would immediately lead whatever team he joined and become a surefire No. 1 draft pick in the NFL. I’m not sure what the rush is. Why is it necessary to hype a kid when he hasn’t done anything yet? There are scores of kids who were alpha dogs in high school who end up flaming out in college or guys that were superhuman in college who turn out to be nothings in the NFL. It’s a weird phenomenon. Aren’t there enough guys who are actually doing something right now in their leagues that warrant the hype? I understand that an unknown quantity is sometimes more appealing than the known, but that’s mostly because you’ve had a chance to see what you’ve got and pick apart the flaws. With the unknown, all you’ve heard about is how great this kid is, and since you haven’t had a chance to see the kid perform yourself, you take their word for it.
He must be great. Scout.com says so!
Rivals.com has him ranked No. 1 in the Country!
Settle down, please. He’s only a name. You know nothing about him. Unless you have followed a kid’s career to the point of watching all of his games, then there is no way you have any idea if he’s good or not. You only know what other people tell you. It’s ridiculous to get overly excited or overly bummed regarding a recruit. Recruiting matters, but leave that to the guys who actually do the recruiting. We have no idea how much they want a kid or not because, for one, they aren’t allowed to talk about it.
Clausen hasn’t done a thing at Notre Dame that puts him anywhere near the hype that he was generating. I remember reading about him and wondering why he was so hyped up, because he looked undersized. I suppose in college a guy can be successful despite his size, but isn’t this just about getting to the NFL? That’s how I evaluate these guys, and by “evaluate” I mean, watch them through a somewhat educated layperson’s lens. The NFL is not kind to small QBs, it never has been and I doubt it ever will be. Drew Brees is an exception, and a notable one, because he’s been overwhelmingly successful. However, there are so few guys that size who actually get a chance to play or even make a roster. The NFL looks at production in college, but when it comes to QBs, they really, really, really focus on potential. If a QB is considered too small, then these guys have got their minds made up no matter how insane the QB’s stats were in college. Look no further than Graham Harrell. No QB was anywhere near him from a production standpoint over his career, but he went undrafted and probably won’t make any team. That’s the NFL. It’s cruel. But no matter how polished a guy is, if he doesn’t have the physical makeup, it’s usually time to head up to Canada.
I’m very confused as to why these recruiting services continually list these undersized QBs as the top QBs in the country. Is it because they put up great stats? And what about these other QBs who actually have, or project to have, NFL size? Where are they in these rankings? If they are low, why are they so low? Are they always late bloomers? I’m confused by the whole thing.
I know that UW fans are likely crushed by the whole Heaps-going-to-BYU thing, but honestly how much of that is tied to his actual ability? I’m assuming he’s a great high school player, based on what scouting services and Hugh Millen tell me. They ought to know since they’ve seen this guy play and I’ve only seen him play one game (last year’s state title game). He looked very good to me, but like so many others before him, he also looked small. I would have been happy if he signed with UW, but only because of what it means for the whole UW program from a stature perspective, not from an actual production perspective. It seems to me that if people are disappointed that Heaps is not going to play at UW, it’s because he’s a local guy, he’s been hyped up nationally, and UW didn’t get him. I’m bummed about it too, but for perception reasons only.
Even if he is such a highly ranked QB, I’m actually a little relieved that he’s not going to UW. I’m sure he’s as “great” of a kid as everyone says he is, but it sure seems that he (and more likely his family) lacks any true humility. How else do you explain his family hiring a PR firm to handle his announcement? How else do you explain sending a press release announcing that he’ll make his decision the next day? How else do you explain flying to Provo, Utah to make the announcement? And another thing, I’m baffled as to why a player “announcing” where he’s going to school is an event in the first place. Aside from attention (for the player, player’s family, and the school) is there any other reason to do it? I don’t hate the players for doing it, but that doesn’t mean I like it. It’s uncomfortable. Essentially the whole system is in place so that the kid can be lauded and applauded. How strange and empty is that? So I’m relieved he’s not going to UW because he may be talented and poised, he may be a little too poised for my liking. He seems a bit entitled to me and kids like that don’t necessarily turn out to be the best fighters when faced with adversity.
Another reason that I’m relieved that he’s not going to UW is that he may have maxed out already. He’s been coached for so long, does he really have that much more to improve on? Perhaps the reason we’ve seen these scouting services hype players like Heaps is because he is technically better than his peers because he’s had the benefit of great coaching. From what I’ve read, Heaps has been driving to a special QB coach in Oregon for years now, almost every weekend. Obviously he’s going to have a much better understanding of throwing mechanics and reading defenses than some kid who has bad coaching, is less affluent than Heaps’s family, and has less involved parents than Heaps. So, for all we know, Heaps, while very skilled and talented, may have reached his peak. He may not get any better because he’s so prepped now. This other kid may have more talent than Heaps, may have more size than Heaps, and may deal with adversity better because he’s been put in more challenging situations than Heaps, but just hasn’t had the opportunity yet. That opportunity may present itself in college or even later in the NFL.
I only know what I’ve read about Heaps, so I have no insights into his true character. For all I know, he may turn out to be Joe Montana. But I do know that when a kid is given everything he wants so early in life, the end result is not always pretty, in sports or elsewhere.
Take a look at this list of names and you’d do well to calm down about not getting the highest ranked QB:
2002 Rivals.com 5 star QBs
Ben Olson (BYU, then UCLA)
Trent Edwards (Stanford)
Vince Young (Texas)
Marcus Vick (Virginia Tech)
Andy Goodenough (ASU)
James Banks (Tennessee)
2003 Rivals.com 5 star QBs
Kyle Wright (Miami)
(notables: Chris Leak, 4 stars; Jamarcus Russell, 4 stars; Brady Quinn, 4 stars; Matt Ryan 3 stars)
2004 Rivals.com 5-star QBs
Rhett Bomar (Oklahoma)
Anthony Morelli (Penn St)
Chad Henne (Michigan)
Xavier Lee (Florida St)
Matt Tuiasosopo (Washington – chose baseball)
Robert Johnson (Texas Tech)
2005 Rivals.com 5-star QBs
Mark Sanchez (USC)
Ryan Perrilloux (LSU)
2006 Rivals.com 5-star QBs
Matthew Stafford (Georgia)
Mitch Mustain (USC)
Tim Tebow (Florida)
Brent Schaeffer (Ole Miss)
2007 Rivals.com 5-star QBs
Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame)
Ryan Mallett (Michigan)
Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech)
Cameron Newton (Florida)
2008 Rivals.com 5-star QBs
Blaine Gabbert (Missouri)
Dayne Crist (Notre Dame)
Terrelle Pryor (Ohio St)
2009 Rivals.com 5-star QBs
Matt Barkley (USC)
Garrett Gilbert (Texas)
Russell Shephard (LSU)
2010 Rivals 5-star QBs
None (Jake Heaps is a 4-star QB)
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
I thought that the Cleveland team that ran through the regular season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs was legit. Since I didn’t watch Cleveland closely during the year or even during those first two rounds, I didn’t realize that “LeBron at the top of the key, forcing shots” was a play. It’s pretty clear that LeBron is a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10 as a one-on-one (or one-on-three) player. But he’s a 10 when the ball and his teammates are moving. He’s fabulous off of the ball because he’s quick and smart and can get open for easy shots, either on the floor or in the air for ridiculous alley-oops. He’s superhuman at finding other guys open for easy shots. But he’s bad or merely mortal when he freezes at the top of the key while his teammates space the floor and stare at him. It doesn’t work. It didn’t work all series against Orlando and will never work long term. It’s terrible. It’s also aesthetically awful. I love basketball and I absolutely hate seeing this “we don’t trust anyone to do anything except LeBron play” being run. It’s ugly, it’s awful, it’s selfish, and it’s probably the number one reason why non-NBA fans say that they hate the NBA. If that’s all the NBA was, I’d hate it too, but it’s not.
I simply don’t understand why the Cavs would purposefully eliminate their best asset and make LeBron into a one-man team when he’s best at creating. The only good thing that can happen is he makes that awful step-back 22 footer. If he does actually drive to the hole out of this set, maybe he’ll get fouled or maybe he’ll get a layin, but those take effort (which explains why he rarely does it late in games). Also, how easy is that to defend? The other players can simply box out or help on LeBron. It’s much easier to guard someone if they’re just standing and watching, but it’s not easy to guard someone who is moving without the ball expecting a pass if they’re open. I hope they realize that they are wasting LeBron’s true gifts and knock it off next year. Also, since he’s a smart player, he must realize this too. Hopefully he realizes that it doesn’t work and waves the play off when it comes in and just does his thing. What is Mike Brown going to do? Bench him?
All that being said, his teammates were absolutely terrible in this series. I’ve ranted too much about this already. I picked Cleveland to win simply because of LeBron. This is a 30-win team without him.
Contrast that to Orlando, where Jameer Nelson, arguably Orlando’s best player during the year, gets hurt and Orlando is in the finals. If Hedo Turkoglu goes down, then Pietrus would step in and they wouldn’t miss a beat, same for Rashard Lewis. If Howard goes down, then Gortat would step in, no worries. I should have known better. Even though LeBron was wonderful this series, he needed role players to step up. Jordan, for as awesome and dominant as he was, always had someone on his team hit big shots in big moments. LeBron did not have that this series and it’s a shame. Also, as for next year, how do they get over the hump with these four guys taking up space and not doing much of anything to help the team win?
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas – signed through next year, making over $10M (he grabs a stray rebound here and there and hits the occasional 20-foot shot, but is virtually no threat and no force defensively, he’s essentially worthless out there for the low, low price of $10M!)
- Anderson Varejao – signed through next year (player option for this year), making around $6M (I hate him, but I guess he’s not that expensive)
- Sasha Pavlovic – signed through next year, making around $5M (he was used in a strange way this series, and wasn’t effective)
- Ben Wallace – signed through next year, making over $14M (I’ve heard rumblings that he will retire. If he does so, when he’s owed over $14M next year, then I’d be more surprised at that than if my dog, Sully, started talking to me about the weather and that he likes cheese more than sausages).
That’s $35M set aside for next year for guys who give Cleveland no shot at winning. As much as I hate Varejao as a player, he does bring some things (rebounding and annoyance) that may lead to wins, but he’s a zero offensively and that’s where the Cavs had their biggest issues… aside from being completely unable to contend three-point shooting, which is interesting for such a “good” defensive team. Maybe they’re just good until they play a team that can actually shoot and isn’t the least bit afraid to do so.
Now L.A. has role players who have stepped up in the past, in fact recently, so I can certainly see them winning this series. From an athletic standpoint, it seems like the two teams match up well. Odom should be able to defend Lewis better than anyone Cleveland threw at him (with the exception of LeBron for very limited minutes), of course, Gasol starts and will get run ragged by Lewis until Phil makes a change to Odom. Ariza should be able to guard Turkoglu. Kobe will probably match up with Lee/Pietrus. Fisher will attempt to guard Alston (or Nelson, if he plays), who is quicker, but not that dangerous. Bynum/Gasol will match up with Howard/Gortat.
I like Orlando’s chances and I actually trust them a bit more than I trust L.A. because they are super talented and can really shoot the rock, and they are also playing fearlessly. But I can’t shake the matchup problems. Cleveland was either too small (West and Williams) or too slow (Z and Varejao) to contend with Orlando. L.A. does not have that problem.
I originally thought that Orlando was going to win in six, but now I’ve changed course, simply because I looked a little closer. LA wins in six.
On LeBron’s Exit
Here’s what I’ve heard:
- he should have been gracious in defeat
- he should have walked over to Dwight Howard and wished him well in the next series
- he should have addressed the media and answered questions about the series and about his future in Cleveland and the state of the franchise around him
- when he spoke a couple of days after the series ended, we wanted him to say that he was remorseful for not doing what we wanted him to do in the first place
- I’ve heard that even the greats walked over and said good luck and that it’s just part of the game
Look, I’m a fan of good sportsmanship too. I would have liked him to respect the game and his opponents. I don’t know exactly what that means, but an overt handshake and a look saying “you beat me this time, but you won’t next time” or something like that would have been fine. But here’s the thing: I do not like contrived graciousness. I don’t like contrived anything for that matter, but if LeBron was so upset that he lost and couldn’t deal with the situation, why be phony? He acted how he acted. He owes nothing to anyone. I don’t understand how “saying the right things” means that he’s a better person when, in effect, he would have been lying to us. His non-verbal gesture said more than any verbal statement could have. He let us know exactly how he feels.
He’s pissed he lost.
He’s pissed his teammates pissed down their legs.
He’s pissed that he has a coach who can think of no better gameplan than “LeBron, you bail us out.”
He’s pissed that he’s missed another opportunity to mark his greatness by winning a title.
He’s pissed that he played as well as he could play and came up short.
I like that certainty.
I dislike being lied to.
He would have had to suppress his true feelings if he went through some b.s. press conference lauding the Orlando Magic. He would have had to lie to our faces if he said that his team is not to blame for the losses. He would have danced around the subject of 2010 even though he probably knows what he’s going to do (nice touch wearing the Yankee cap when he finally did talk though). I respect what he did. LeBron is no dummy. He knows exactly what his actions meant. He didn’t have to call Danny Ferry and idiot for putting that squad out on the floor with him.
It doesn’t matter to me whether he stays in Cleveland or goes elsewhere, but I do want him to be put in a situation where he has the right complementary players and the right coach who knows how to deal with championship caliber teams. It doesn’t look like Mike Brown has it. Sadly, the one guy that does is in L.A. where he’ll likely nab his 10th ring.
Friday, May 29, 2009
When I’m watching these playoff games on DVR, I often fast forward through all of the pre-game, commercials, some free throws, and halftime commentary. But I always stop to watch the LeBron/Kobe puppet commercials—by the way, why didn’t they get Kobe and LeBron to do the voices? Or did they and they just don’t sound like themselves at all? And I love the slow-mo “Where Amazing Happens” commercials. Since they are showing those in slow-mo, I was able to notice something that I hadn’t seen before during the Kobe-to-Shaq alley oop over Portland. It is an iconic play, obviously, or it wouldn’t be a part of this ad campaign. But it’s iconic not only for the play itself, but also for what seems to be a microcosm of Kobe and Shaq’s relationship, of which there are 7 elements:
- Both were otherworldly talented
- Both played big in big games and big moments
- Both needed each other to make big plays and win
- Both benefited greatly from having the other on the floor
- Shaq needs to be the center of attention
- Kobe wanted Shaq to love him and appreciate his greatness
- Shaq never gave Kobe his love and appreciation sincerely
Anyone who even passively watched these two play together would agree with numbers 1-4 without too much argument. I had my thoughts about numbers 5-7, but after watching this 30-second clip, I feel like I have my proof. After Shaq dunked, watch what happens as he runs back up the floor. He makes the O face with the huge googley eyes. He screams and points to the crowd. His crowd. He never takes his eyes off his adoring masses. You will see Kobe extend his hand for a high five, even pathetically slapping Shaq’s wrist as Shaq races past him—ignoring him completely. Shaq is too busy reveling in his greatness to extend his hand to the teammate who tossed him a perfect pass which enabled him to make the play that everyone adored him for. This one play, this one sequence, sums up their entire relationship. Great play, by two great players, who never could last long-term because they both need to be loved at the expense of all others.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
- 1999: 8 All-Stars out of 29 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Elton Brand, Baron Davis, Shawn Marion, Ron Artest)
- 2000: 1 All-Star out of 29 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: None)
- 2001: 3 All-Stars out of 28 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Pau Gasol, Tony Parker)
- 2002: 3 All-Stars out of 28 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Yao Ming, Amare Stoudemire)
- 2003: 6 All-Stars out of 29 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade)
- 2004: 3 All-Stars out of 29 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Dwight Howard)
- 2005: 3 All-Stars out of 30 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Deron Williams, Chris Paul)
- 2006: 1 All-Star out of 30 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: Brandon Roy)
- 2007: 0 All-Stars out of 30 picks (All-NBA players from this draft: None)
Now let’s take a look at some of the names routinely mentioned as first round picks and see where this perceived “weakness” emanates.
- Blake Griffin – considered by many (not me) as the no-brainer, best player in the draft.
- Ricky Rubio – widely thought to be a fantastic NBA point guard despite slight build and shaky shooting. He’d also be a top 5 pick in any draft the past 10 years.
- Hasheem Thabeet – mock drafts have had him ranked high for years. While I believe that he has several shortcomings, would he have ever been considered anything other than a top 10 pick in the last 10 years? Before you answer, take a look at some of these names, all of whom were indeed top 10 picks in the last 10 years: Danillo Gallinari, ’08; Joe Alexander, ’08; Yi Jianlian, ’07; Brandan Wright, ’07; Adam Morrison, ’06; Shelden Williams, ’06; Patrick O’Bryant, ’06; Mohammed Saer Sene, ’06; Martell Webster, ’05; Channing Frye, ’05; Ike Diogu, ’05; Shuan Livingston, ’04; Rafael Araujo, ’04; Luke Jackson, ’04; Darko Milicic, ’03; Mike Sweetney, ’03; Jay Williams, ’02; Mike Dunleavy, ’02; Nikoloz Tskitishvili, ’02; Dajuan Wagner, ’02; Kwame Brown, ’01; Eddy Curry, ’01; Eddie Griffin, ’01; DeSagana Diop, ’01; Rodney White, ’01; Stromile Swift, ’00; Darius Miles, ’00; Marcus Fizer, ’00; DeMarr Johnson, ’00; Chris Mihm, ’00; Jonathan Bender, ’99. That’s what I thought. The answer is no.
- Jrue Holiday – Here is where I’ve seen the rumblings that the draft begins to get weak. Holiday is an intriguing player who has high value because he can play PG and good defense. I don’t understand the weak commentary.
- Jordan Hill – I like his toughness and size, he has a ceiling to be a Nene-type of player, but he could also bust.
- James Harden – I dislike his game. I see him as a definite bust candidate.
- Brandon Jennings – I have no idea and neither does anyone else.
- Stephen Curry – I love this guy, but he has huge bust potential because he’s so frail and not quick. He definitely could be a better Mike Bibby though.
- Tyreke Evans – Not a fan, but he’s got moxie. I don’t see him busting.
- Jonny Flynn – nice player who will definitely get a chance because of his speed and strength at his position
- DeJuan Blair – he’ll do really well because there are so many finesse big guys in the league and he can push them around.
- DeMar DeRozan – one of my favorites in the draft. He’s got something going on.
- Jeff Teague – If Wake Forest didn’t get trounced early in the tournament, I might have an opinion on him, but I don’t.
- Earl Clark – I don’t like him and see huge bust possibilities. He’s physically extraordinarily talented, but if there are effort concerns about him in college, why wouldn’t he have them once he’s paid? Haven’t we seen this story before? Also, I’m not convinced that he knows what he’s doing on the floor.
- James Johnson – see Jeff Teague
- Gerald Henderson – role player at best. I don't see it in him.
- Eric Maynor – I like him a lot. I see a lot of Andre Miller in him without the ‘tude.
- B.J. Mullens – I’ve got four words for you: B. U. S. T. Come on, there’s no chance he plays meaningful minutes ever, right?
- Ty Lawson – I like Ty, for the same reasons I like Flynn, only Lawson has a better shot (I’d call it a jumper, but it’s really a set shot)
- Tyler Hansbrough – most people think that he’ll fail, so he can’t really bust, can he? I do like his chances more than most, though.
- Chase Budinger – he’s been touted as a lottery pick ever since his freshman year. He’ll be fine because of his athleticism and range.
- Terrence Williams – I’ve always liked him, but I don’t see him ever developing a reliable jumper. If he shot so poorly from 3pt range in college, how is that going to improve in the NBA when the line is much further back? I think I’ve said before that he just needs to establish a consistent release point, but I don’t know if he’ll ever do that.
- Austin Daye – I’ve stated my case against Daye for a long time and I’m very tired of reading how he is one of the most “skilled” guys in the draft. I don’t really get that. I will say that he has a nice looking jumper and can block jump shots, but can he pass? Can he rebound? Can he move? He hasn’t shown any ability whatsoever in college that he can do that. For being so “skilled” he’s painfully slow and has terrible feet. I don’t get him at all.
- Nick Calathes – no idea.
- Gani Lawal – no idea
- DaJuan Summers – no idea
- Sam Young – tough player who can play a role, but not much more.
- Darren Collison – was formerly thought to be a top 10 pick. I see a lot of Darrell Armstrong in him but with longer arms. That’s not too bad.
- Toney Douglas – love him. He’ll be one of the better players in this draft.
- Patrick Mills – tough guy who will play some decent minutes for a good team and a lot of minutes for a team that needs a point guard (and many other things)
It looks like there are around 17 guys that I like in this draft and around 6 that look like they have All-Star ability. Does that make it weak? Sure, I suppose so, but it doesn’t make it any weaker than any of the 9 previous years. Even the 2003 draft, widely believed to be one of the all-time best produced only 15 players worth talking about, of course, included in that list of 15 are four super-duper stars: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, and four good players: David West, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, and Josh Howard, but that year was an aberration. More commonly, the drafts feature players who have similar ability and potential as this year’s class.
The point is, this draft is no weaker than any other year and I’m tired of reading that statement as if it were fact.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Is it possible that we’re seeing a superstar in the making? He’s 23 (turns 24 on Sept. 9). He bound by nothing physically because he’s got terrific size for a 1 or a 2 at 6’6 220. He has a beautiful jumpshot with unlimited range. He has good court awareness and a knack for finding open players (which has been apparent in this series). He’s explosive as hell, possessing a preposterous, but believable when you see him jump, 44-inch vert. (I really wish that he would have flushed right on Kobe’s head last night, even if it was a foul). He’s quick and fast. He’s strong. He’s got it all.
So, adding Chauncey Billups to his life has probably added several million dollars to his name because if he continues on this path of becoming a complete guard he will be a wildly valuable asset. Ever since he’s been in the NBA he’s either been first, second, or third team all knucklehead squad. He shot with no conscience and had no idea how to be a team player. Some switch must have been flipped because he doesn’t resemble, at all, the player that he used to be. He looked like the second coming of Larry Hughes. For those of you out there who have never seen Larry Hughes play, believe me, that’s not a compliment.
I’d like to see him become an even better defensive player and there is absolutely no reason why he can’t be because he’s so quick and strong. I’m excited about watching this dude explode. With his size and skills, I could easily see him averaging 25 points 6 assists 4 rebounds 2 steals through the prime of his career.
Oh, and he comes very cheap (relative to production) with a contract that will pay him about $5.5M through 2010-2011.
If Kenyon Martin really has a broken ring finger on his left hand and isn’t even taping it, then he truly is crazy. Right handed players who are shot blockers often block shots with their opposite hand. I have no idea how he’s doing this without writhing in pain. Broken fingers hurt!
Speaking of blocked shots… the Birdman is on a tear. Shannon Brown has got to know better than to throw up that weak mess.
I, like many others, was disappointed in Melo, but I’ll give him a pass if he had a stomach virus and was yakking. Along those lines, shouldn’t he be quarantined? The stomach flu is so incredibly contagious so shouldn’t we expect someone else to start heaving any second? On both teams? When I was in college, we had some crazy strain of stomach flu run through nearly our entire campus, causing people to expel out of the front and the rear. We dubbed it “The Beast.” It was like the movie Outbreak, except with better acting. Also, instead of some exotic monkey who spread the virus, we presumed that it was a friend of ours who was, and still is, shaped like a perfect square, who exposed everyone on campus. He probably picked up the strain at an exotic porn shop. The point is, as soon as one person got it, nearly everyone got it. I’ve got to think that Melo left some the virus all over the locker room and on the court. Someone else is going to come down with it, trust me.
I would be remiss if I didn’t harangue the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the exception of LeBron, whom I love, I hate their team right now. None of them can do anything. I don’t like Big Z, at all. I’d rather see Joe Smith out there. At least he can bend over and pick up a ball and he’s also shooting the ball really well. As opposed to Z who has been hitting some jumpers, but who doesn’t seem the least bit confident. Smith needs more minutes at the expense of Big Z and a guy I’ve already killed—the much despised Varejao. However, I’ve only railed against his personality rather than his ability, of which he has none, aside from being tall. But here’s the deal, he’s an awful player, who occasionally chases down rebounds, fouls people, and annoys the living hell out of the opposition, referees, fans, and probably his teammates. I loved watching him get beat so badly down the court by his man (Odom) who subsequently flushed it on the other end because he runs like he’s dragging 20 lbs of sand tied to each foot.
Additionally, and I’m not stating anything new here, Mo Williams and Delonte West have been atrocious, and that’s putting it mildly. I don’t see how Cleveland wins this series after watching three games. Orlando looks like the far better team, even without Dwight Howard. If they had Marcin Gortat playing instead of Howard, they’d still be in the same position. Dwight is good, but he’s not the difference maker (Gortat is much, much, much better than I realized, but still not “just as athletic” as Dwight Howard as Reggie Miller would have you believe). Rashard Lewis is playing like he’s getting paid insane money (oh wait, he is). Courtney Lee and Mickael Pietrus are fantastic role players and scorers. I was so wrong about this Cleveland team to the point of embarrassment. LeBron is doing this on his own (his block and alley oop the other night were breathtaking… he was above the square) and it’s really too bad. It’s not as if he’s not passing the ball, he’s doing that with regularity, but his team just keeps missing. Which reminds me, shouldn’t Wally Szerbiak get some run? If there is anything that the guy can do, it’s shoot, and no one else has been able to do it. He needs to play.
I’m fine with LeBron not driving to the hole every single time down the court (although that would be effective, it’s just not possible, he’s be completely spent after 2 quarters of doing that and playing defense). I just ask that when he settles for a jumper that he do so decisively. These jab-step-launching a 20%-chance-of-making-it jumper from 20 feet are not getting it done. It’s times like that when I have to concede to non-NBA fans the following: “Yes, that was a bad shot and makes for bad basketball viewing.”
If they don’t turn it around tonight, it’s curtains and I’m officially bummed about it because I’d like to see him win this year.
Friday, May 22, 2009
- That’s an incredible sport coat, shirt, and tie combo by Mike Brown. Dude looks sharp.
- Is the voice that chants “DE-FENSE” a computer? The same voice announces who scores or who was fouled etc. It’s brutal. He needs to knock it off.
- TNT’s floating camera, which gives me the feeling that I’m hanging by a noose in the rafters, is not appreciated
- SVG looks either like a cop or an old Vietnam vet buddy who is still running heroin out of the country. Or both.
The LA v. Denver game last night started out horribly because it looked like Denver’s players had spent their day off playing beach volleyball, lying in the sun, and blowing into Corona bottles—all while George Karl was trying to coax them back into their hotel rooms. Speaking of Karl, his face was so red and shiny last night that I couldn’t stop picturing him standing in the middle of the street, wearing a Tony Soprano robe, staring directly at the sun for 11 hours. You could have sautéed onions on his dome he was so hot. Also, I feared that his face was going to melt off from the heat (a la Raiders of the Lost Ark) when Denver allowed that inbounds play that went for a Pau Gasol dunk. That was absolutely amazing
Nevertheless, since LA looked terrible to begin game one (and won) and Denver looked terrible to begin game two (and won) I guess that means that starting out playing horribly is an advantage in this series.
I have one last thing about Karl’s appearance (or as I like to call it my “layup line”), his face is small. Really small. But his head is huge. It’s like his facial features are meant for a person with about 1/3 the size of his head. It’s not sweet to have a big head small face. But I guess that’s better than the alternative because you could have eyes on the top of your head, and that can’t look good.
Not sure if you knew this or not, but the TV cameras love Jack Nicholson. Hey, I love Colonel Jessup as well, but my goodness does he look terrible. They showed him sitting there and I couldn’t help but notice how extraordinarily flabby his belly is. It literally hangs down. Look, if you’re fat, it’s ok, but at least have the decency to put out a distended belly, not some horrible skin flap looking thing. I know that you’re old, Jack, but clean it up.
Now, about the game itself. I will continue to profess my love for Melo’s game, except his pouty, not getting back on defense b.s. that he must eradicate immediately. As such, my love is conditional. I’m hard to get. I enjoy watching Pau Gasol in the post, especially when he’s made up his mind that he’s going to score. He’s got great moves and is shockingly quick and aggressive when he wants to be. But then he gets semi-bullied by Kenyon Marin and he shuts down. It’s abundantly clear that you just need to push him around and hack him a little and he hates it. I do like him though, he shoots a great percentage and gets quality and garbage points.
I did not enjoy the officiating, as per usual, especially the 10 second delay blocking call that Dick Bavetta called on Nene (I think) and Kobe doing a full on two-handed shove in Dahnaty Jones’s back, causing him to fall on his face, right in front of Bavetta. Brutal.
A few other things about appearances, I’m doing left handed layups now, Andrew Bynum has the face of 14-year old, right down to the peach fuzz. It looks pretty clear to me that he’s never shaved before. Also, he’s huge. I don’t think he’s the second coming of Shaq or anything, but he’s a very quality big guy that shouldn’t be overpaid but probably will be.
I’ve said before how much I like Chauncey Billups. His game, demeanor, and everything are great. But he is kind of a weird-looking guy. I’ve said for years that he kind of looks like a long-lost Murphy brother, but a more accurate description is this. If, on that evolution scale (fish swimming, then getting on the beach and with its flippers turning into feet, then into an alligator and so on…) Eddie Murphy is the end of the evolution, then Chauncey is like 4-5 spots from him, with Eddie’s brother, Charlie Murphy right before Eddie. He just looks like a less evolved Murphy brother. But hey, I love the guy more than I love Eddie Murphy these days.
Editor's note: On Tuesday, ESPN.com examines the question of whether LeBron
James could play in the NFL. We talked to Bill Parcells, scouts, LeBron's high
school coaches and will have video of LeBron playing high school football.
Let it be known that I posted my take on this yesterday. If ESPN is the “Worldwide Leader” what does that make me?
I smell Cleveland by 15 tonight…
Thursday, May 21, 2009
But here is what I saw ...
A pretty bad game out of Chauncey Billups (and certainly out of J.R. Smith), right down to missing free throws (including two-in-a-row) which was almost jarring to see. He, like Anthony Carter, failed to close out on LA threes and it ended up costing them the game. I don’t see a need to double anyone but Kobe occasionally because Denver’s big guys (Nene, Martin, Birdman) can manhandle LA’s big guys (Gasol, Odom, Bynum) straight up. Of course Gasol and Odom are going to win some battles, but don’t give Fisher, Farmar, and Ariza consistent wide-open threes, because those are the only shots that they can make. I saw too many occasions where Chauncey or some other guard could have at least given a token close-out, but didn’t. They can’t do that again. Those threes got LA back into the game, but if Denver doesn’t shoot terribly from the line, they win that game going away. I’m still confident that they will take this series. I don’t see LA getting that lucky again – of course, I don’t see Kenyon Martin shooting the ball as well as he did the other night either… but I do believe that Melo will continue to indefensible.
I’m surprised that Orlando was able to take that game from Cleveland, but only in the result. These two teams look very even to me, and here I thought that Orlando would be lucky to win one game. I have a soft spot in my heart for Rashard because of the whole Seattle thing, and he really looks fantastic. I love watching him take the ball strong to the hoop, which is enabled by his fantastic jumper. He’s a tough cover at 6’10 and as agile as he is. His defense is bad and always has been, but that’s not where his value is. Dwight Howard is a physical marvel, but I stand by my proclamations that his post game is garbage. I did see a decent-looking running hook shot out of him (with touch) that surprised me, but I only saw it once. He’s mostly a dunking machine, which is working well for him to the tune of 30 points last night… Mikaele Pietrius looks great, by the way. He looks nothing like any Euro player that I’ve ever seen, of course, he’s not white, but still. His mentality is completely different than most Euro players. He’s aggressive and strong and athletic. I like his game and he looks like he could, at the very least, make LeBron work on offensive (and some on defense). He should be playing 35 minutes a game.
Now, to Cleveland… that fourth quarter was disgusting offensive basketball. The four corners, let LeBron hold the ball at the top of the key for 22 seconds jab stepping, and launching a terrible fadeaway 23 foot jumper just isn’t working for me. He was screaming-teakettle hot for awhile, hitting every midrange jumper he tossed up. He also nearly catapulted himself to the ceiling after that backdoor dunk. One other thing, that helpside swat of Howard’s shot was so incredible because you could see it coming as LeBron crept away from his man when it was clear what Howard’s intentions were. I love watching him play… except when they run the four corners offense. Then it’s horrible to watch. LeBron is the best player in the game not just because he can score, but because he creates so much trouble for the other team. Limiting him to that stupid offense hurts their team. His teammates need to be in constant motion to that he can hit them as they get separation from their man. LeBron’s gifts are showcased when he gets easy buckets for himself or his teammates, not when he’s forcing nochance fadeaway jumpers. Those types of shots lead to losses because their deflating and no one else is involved. It’s just a bad scene.
Speaking of LeBron, given that he is 6’8 and anywhere between 260 and 275, couldn’t he play (and excel) just about anywhere on the field in the NFL except offensive line, defensive tackle, tailback, or fullback? Here is how I see it:
Quarterback: He has tremendous court vision and I see no reason why this wouldn’t translate to the NFL. Is there any part of you that thinks that he can’t throw a football 70 yards in the air? He has great anticipation, a key component for a QB’s accuracy. He is commonly mentioned as one of, if not the fastest guys in the NBA. He has great size. He is a great leader. I have no doubt that he’d be a Pro Bowl QB. I say this without pause even though I’ve never seen him throw a football. You see, I know how to spot talent. That’s my gift.
NFL Comparison: Ben Roethlisberger + Michael Vick
Wide Receiver: The position he played as a high school all-state player in Ohio. He has huge hands, unparalleled leaping ability, great size and strength, explosive speed and quickness. He’s a runaway semi-truck when he screams through the lane in hoops, I see him doing the same thing when careening through the secondary. Because he’s so tall, I’m sure that corners would attempt to get up under his pads and jam him, but because he’s so athletic and strong, he’d brush them off and fly by them. Those commercials depicting him playing for the Browns are not far off. He could also be the first player to dunk a football on the crossbar from the plane of the goal line. But would that be a safety if he crossed the goaline but never set foot in the end zone and the ball sailed out of bounds after he dunked? Technically he broke the plane, which would mean it’s a TD and he maintained possession as he was double pumping. Maybe I’ll ask the NFL what they think. For the record, I rule that a TD just for sheer awesomeness. Of course, LeBron would have to long jump 30 feet (or 7 ¾ inches past the WORLD RECORD) in football pads just to get to the back of the end zone, not to mention needing to get above the crossbar to do so. Look, I put nothing past him, not even setting a world record in the middle of an NFL game.
NFL Comparison: Larry Fitzgerald + Andre Johnson + Terrell Owens + Tony Gonzalez (in other words, the best WR in the NFL)
Tight End: For the same reasons that he’d be a great wide receiver, he’d be a great tight end, but would be clearly wasted here. He certainly has the size and strength to do it, but he’d be called on to block too much, which he could do, but it makes much more sense to send him downfield, constantly.
NFL Comparison: Antonio Gates + Tony Gonzalez + Shannon Sharpe
Defensive End: He would be an absolute terror getting after the QB, with his size and physicality. Because he is so fast, he’d have terrifying closing speed as well. Teams would have to game plan around him for sure. Because I don’t know how he tackles in the open field, this is the best place for him because he can just hone in and kill people without having to adjust too much. If you can’t picture LeBron putting a swim moving Jason Smith, dipping his shoulder, exploding into Marc Bulger, and subsequently wearing Bulger’s spine as a boa, then you have no eye for the inevitable.
NFL Comparison: Mario Williams + Julius Peppers
Linebacker: He may struggle here in space and because of his size, offensive linemen may be able to get great leverage on him and shove him around. That being said, since he guards point guards from time to time, I see no reason why he couldn’t handle fleet-footed WRs as well. He has fantastic body control so he’d be able to stay with shifty dudes with no problem. I also like the idea of him leaping over linemen to sack the QB. That reminds me of a story of my friend Josh who, for a time, played QB for his high school freshman team. He was lined up under center playing against North Thurston and took the snap only to be grabbed by his shoulders and yanked to the ground after each subsequent snap. The linebacker was lined up directly in front of the center and kept reaching across and throwing him to the ground. The linebacker’s name? Mike Sellers, who happens to carry the nickname “Big Mike.” Look, if you play in the NFL and the guys around you deem it appropriate to toss “Big” into your nickname, then you are one big S.O.B. At the time, Sellers was a freshman and was probably already 6’4 200+ lbs. As it is, he’s 6’4 285 starting at fullback for the Washington Redskins. I saw Sellers once at a club when we were both seniors in high school. I was 5’11 150 at the time. He was 6’4 245. He did not look like a normal human being, starting with the size of his head, which looked like an oscillating fan crossed with a pumpkin.
NFL Comparison: A much taller Shane Merriman (he’s best suited as a 3-4 OLB).
Defensive Back: He would be the largest DB in captivity, which would be so weird to see. He has such speed and range so it makes sense to put him at FS and just let him completely control the field. QBs would be terrified to throw it anywhere near him because the normal rules wouldn’t apply. QBs would never be able to put touch on a ball because he’d go up and get it everytime. Their only hope would be to throw on a line underneath or go for the deep, deep ball and hopefully overthrow him. I see him being less successful as a CB because while he’s able to stop and start on a dime and cover smaller guys, physically he just won’t be able to keep that up because the other dudes are just closer to the ground. I do like the imagine I have in my mind of him jumping about six feet in the air and picking off passes with one hand.
NFL Comparison: A ridiculously tall Ed Reed
Special Teams: He would be the best FG blocker of all time, again, just like the commercial. He’d be just like Finch in Wildcats, except he’s not a morbidly obese extortionist.
So there you have it. I guess I’ll need to him in EA Sports NCAA Football and let you know which position makes the most sense for him and report back. If you’re wondering, and I know you are, my preferences are, in order: FG Blocker, WR, FS, QB, DE, OLB, TE.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Regarding Vick, I’ve been reading about his imminent release from prison and the possibility that he’ll have to kneel before Zod before he’s reinstated. I’ve also read that if Goodell does reinstate him, that he may make him sit out some games to punish him for what he’s done. I guess because a 23-month prison sentence wasn’t punishment enough. Why does the NFL feel the need to tack on its own extra special suspension? Because he lied to almighty Goodell? Does the suspension have any meaning to Vick? Does Goodell think that this extra suspension will make Vick more remorseful for what he’s done? If Goodell doesn’t want “bad” guys in his league, then he simply should use Vick as a warning to all of the current and prospective players in the NFL and deny him reinstatement. F with me and you don’t play in this league. Plain and simple. This half-assed possible suspension serves no purpose, unless, of course, that Goodell is using the suspension as a passive-aggressive way of denying Vick reentry. He could impose a suspension that is so onerous (eight games, for instance) that would turn off nearly every team in the league because they’d have to sign Vick knowing that he couldn’t play for half of the season. That might essentially end Vick’s chances this year. Plus, if he does come back as a QB, then it would be even more difficult for him to assimilate because, as we’ve been told many times, NFL playbooks are difficult to learn.
That being said, this may not matter to some teams because I doubt very seriously that any team looking at him views him as a fulltime solution at QB. Because of the NFL’s copycat nature, Vick, through a strange twist of fate, may be coming back into the league at the right time. Because of the University of Arkansas’s success running the “Wildcat” with Darren McFadden, and the subsequent success that Miami had with the formation last year, suddenly teams are looking for a guy who can possibly run this scheme a few times per game. To wit, Miami nabbed West Virginia’s Pat White in the second round solely for this purpose. White is essentially Michael Vick. They’re about the same size, both are extremely elusive, and both are left-handed. Of course, White does not have nearly the arm strength that Vick has (or had, we don’t know if he still has it) but he’s far more accurate, and while White is fast, he’s not the Madden-99-speed fast that Vick is (or was). Actually, the guy that Pat White resembles the most is Seattle’s Seneca Wallace. For those of us Seattle fans who want to see more of Wallace, perhaps this the year because Holmgren has departed and the new regime is probably a little less conservative than he was offensively (on a consistent basis, I’m not talking about flanking him out wide for one play in one playoff game). It would be hard for them to be as conservative and impossible to be more conservative. Wallace may actually get some burn this year in certain packages and not just because Hasselbeck is hurt, but because it’s part of the game plan. But I digress…
Back to Vick, he’ll be 29-years-old next month, and I haven’t seen any footage of him running or throwing a football, but suffice to say, he’s going to be rusty. I doubt that he’s anywhere near tip-top shape, I’m guessing that a near superhero-level elite athlete like Vick can rebound with aplomb.
As an aside, with the advent of the Wildcat and Vick’s likely position running such an offense, it’s a good thing that he never had any problems with cats or else his comeback could go awry. Although I suppose that it’s possible that the authorities haven’t unearthed “Bad Pusseeezzz Kat Fightazzz,” the underground mountain lion fighting ring that Vick is financing.
Taking a look at current NFL rosters after the draft and free agency, here are each team’s QB situations.
Arizona. Just as in New Orleans, Vick would go here as a Wildcat specialist. Warner is entrenched (obviously) and to the extent that Arizona still has faith in Leinart, it would be weird if he was pushed out in favor of Vick. I’m wholly unfamiliar with Brian St. Pierre. I doubt that Arizona would make this move. I don’t have much else to say here except that I look forward to them having a letdown year and Anquan Boldin playing for someone else (please).
As a dog owner, I view Vick as a despicable human being and I wish (as he does, I’m sure) that he had the good sense to not commit those terrible acts (dude, a rape stand?), and I hope that he never has a chance to play again, or if he is, that he has to run from a pack of rabid dogs in order to gain reinstatement. As a football fan and a guy who is entertained simply by watching an incredible athlete run as fast as he can, I want Vick back in the game—or to watch a video of Vick running from said dogs, either one.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
While Howard is a phenomenally rare athlete he simply has no ability to shoot the ball in the post, unless he’s attempting bury the ball and rim into the floor. I don’t mean to be too disparaging here, but when I watch him shoot, the first thing that comes to mind is a girl I went to high school with who would shoot without looking at the rim. Honestly, he just needs to slow down, and that may come in time, but we’ll see. As I've said before, I have my doubts.
It’s weird seeing a guy like Big Baby Davis, who is significantly less physically gifted than Howard, have a much more refined offensive game, but he definitely does.
While Howard had great anticipation to block shots and probably earned his defensive player of the year award, a 6’2 Rajon Rondo should not dunk on you. At the very least, Howard should have shoved Rondo’s ass to the ground. In fairness to Howard, he didn’t see Rondo soon enough, but still. It’s not the first time it’s happened.
Another thing that I’ve noticed during this series and many others is the reluctance of some guards to pass the ball when they have clear paths to the hoop for fear of getting their shots blocked. I suppose that they do this because so many guys in the NBA can shoot jumpers at a high percentage. As good as a Rashard Lewis jumper is from 25 feet, it seems like a Rafer Alston layin from 1 foot is better. Maybe he’d get his shot tossed back in his face, it’s still good to challenge dudes at the rim. I say this, but yet I’m sure I’d do the same thing if a 6’10 Kendrick Perkins was staring me in the face.
One last thing: Hey, Boston fans, just because your guys miss shots or something doesn’t go your way, doesn’t mean that your player was fouled, just so you know. Also, nice of these Great Boston Fans to stick around for the end of the game. At least they aren’t frontrunners.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
They are playing great team basketball. They’re making the extra pass and getting easy buckets. Their frontline is intimidating and can finish (although Martin needs to crush some of those layins and remove all doubt that the ball is going through the hoop). They can score in crazy bunches. I just like what I’m seeing.
I also love the way that Chauncey Billups plays. Tom Friend had a cool, lengthy feature the other day kind of explaining why Billups is who he is. I enjoyed it immensely.
There really is no reason not to like the guy, especially since he is so clearly in command of this team and can dress down even the seemingly undressdownable Kenyon Martin. For instance, at the end of the first half Billups waved away Nene as he attempted to set a screen and pointed at Martin. Martin came over, but didn’t do so with much urgency, so Billups took it to the hole, got fouled, and made the shot, he walked toward Martin pointed, and said, “I wanted YOU in the pick and roll, dog.” Martin did not argue, but instead repeated “My bad” several times. Martin was wrong. Billups was right. Martin knew it. It’s almost like he’s a dad out there. He has this way about him where he almost nonverbally says, “It’s not that I’m mad, I’m just disappointed.” Anyway, he’s such a smart offensive player and it’s really clear why his teammates love playing with him.
However, I do not like the way that he played defense on Jason Kidd. Look, we all know Kidd is past his prime, certainly defensively, but he’s still crafty and quick with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by the several occasions where he actually And1 Mixtaped Billups on defense and drove straight to the hole, except he never finished, but that’s a different matter. Another thing is that he, and several Dallas players (Howard, Terry, sometimes Dirk) were left WIDE open on threes. Denver plays very good defense in the post and on drives to the basket, but for some reason they do a really poor job closing out on three-point shooters, which is strange. It’s one of the easier things to do because while it takes effort, the effort required is minimal. They can’t continually do that against a good shooting team and expect to survive (although they just did that, didn’t they? So what am I talking about?)
I’m a converted Melo believer. I’ve wanted to like the guy for a few years now and he’s convinced me that he’s worthy. He’s such an explosive offensive force and is actually showing quite a bit of defensive prowess, as evidenced by his strong post defense against Dirk. Granted, Dirk is not a post player, but Melo did not give any ground and did not bite on Dirk’s many, many headfakes. Since he’s such a solidly built guy with quickness and speed, so it makes sense that he should be a good defender. Actually, the only thing holding him back is effort. He’ll get there though. But his real value, obviously, is his offense. He’s such a strong player going to the hole, his straight-up-and down jumper looks great and when he’s on, it’s like his shot finds the bottom of the net quicker than most. It’s kind of like when people talk about how a ball sounds different when it comes off Josh Hamilton’s bat. Melo’s swishes are just prettier than most.
- I hated PJ Carlesimmo as the coach for the Sonics, but I must admit, he’s a good color analyst. The guy knows what he’s talking about and he doesn’t come across as a jerk that I’d perceived to be. He doesn’t belabor points, he doesn’t seem to have any grudges, he doesn’t over-talk, and he’s been around the league for so long he knows all of the players really well. What can I say? I like the guy.
- Another guy that I like is Brandon Bass. He’s a tough, effort guy with some skills, a decently reliable jumper, and doesn’t seem to be a quitter. He showed a ton of heart down the stretch when the game looked like it was out of hand. Anyway, I’ll say this, even though he’s only 6’7 or 6’8 I’d much rather have him at $2-3M per year (he’s an unrestricted free agent and made under $830K this year) than Erick Dampier at $11M per year through the 2011 season, but that’s just me. But I hammered this point home earlier.
I don’t like the Pepsi Center. It looks fine on TV and I’m sure it’s a nice place to watch a game, but man, it seats over 19K, but the acoustics make it sound like there are far less people in there. It’s like the noise just evaporates. I felt the same way about Dallas’s American Airlines Center (which seats over 20K). Maybe they need to lower the ceilings or something, but it just sounds dead in those arenas.
- Just how disgusting is that Dominos Pasta Bread Bowl? I thought that we had turned into a very carb-conscious society, so how did this make it through testing? What’s next, a baked potato bread bowl stuffed with fettuccini alfredo and topped with croutons with a side of chips? I’m curious to see how these things sell. My guess? Very well.
- I am thoroughly enjoying the "Old School" T-Mobile commercial with Barkley, Magic, and Dr. J. I especially enjoy the poster and video game case depicting a caricature of Barkley playing hoop in red Chuck Taylors and a hospital gown with an IV in his arm. Nice subtle move by the T-Mobile folks. The three of them look legitimately sad about wearing the motion capture outfits. Also, they don’t overact, but instead play it straight up, and it’s legitimately funny. Nice job, fellas.
- I seriously doubt that I’ll be “Meeting the Browns.”
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The only opinion that I really had about Willingham was that he was boring. I recall bits and pieces of his opening press conference at Notre Dame when he was clearly kissing up to the administration by talking about ending practice at a time so that his players could attend church service at “Twelve Noon.” I remember thinking three things: (1) “who says twelve noon?” (2) “Wow, I didn’t know that Notre Dame was so religious,” and (3) “Willingham sounds really, really, really boring.”
He had a great first season with the Irish going 10-3 but got throttled 28-6 by NC State in the Gator Bowl. His next two seasons were massive disappointments at 5-7 and 6-5 which featured several blowout losses (if that wasn’t a harbinger for UW, then I don’t know what was).
He had an OK record at Notre Dame and he may have been fired a little too quickly, but looking back, is that really the case? Wouldn’t he have just dug Notre Dame into a deeper hole? We can only wish that he’d stayed there longer because while Notre Dame thinks that it is better than everyone else, they can’t hold the jocks of non-BCS schools like Boise State, Utah, BYU, and even Fresno State, but that’s another rant for another day. The point is Notre Dame fired him and he ended up at UW where he stood on a program that was mired in a tar pit and did nothing to prevent it from sinking into its murky depths, but instead stood with his arms folded, hand on his chin, wearing his sunglasses and headset.
He had many problems, but here are a few that stood out:
He was never upfront with the media.
Because of this, no one knew exactly what was going on. Not the media, not the fans. Everyone was left to try and interpret his cryptic comments in search of real meaning. In response to direct questions (e.g. “What went wrong with the running game today, why did you keep running the ball up the middle with Chris Polk when he was gaining a yard at best?”), he would “answer” with nonspecific pabulum, such as (and I’m paraphrasing here): “You want to win in the game of football, oookaaay, and when you don’t win, it’s frustrating, but we are all dedicated to winning the game of football.”
Thanks, Ty. So what does that even mean? There is probably one reason why coaches do this and it’s because they abhor the media. But there are different motivations for different coaches. Let’s take two extreme examples: Bill Belichick and Tyrone Willingham.
Belichick pulls the “I hate talking to you people and will say as little as possible” stunt all of the time, but it’s different with him because he wins. He does not want to talk to anyone about his team because it could give a competitive advantage to the opposition (I guess). So he’s curt and boring and he does this so he can get the hell away from the media as soon as possible.
Willingham pulls the same stunt, but has a very different motivation, which is: he has no idea what to say because he doesn’t know what he was doing. Both are strategic moves for the coaches. They want to hold things close to the vest. Belichick does it to protect his knowledge and to protect his team. Willingham does it to hide his lack of knowledge and to blame his team. They behave in much the same manner, but have very different motivations.
A good friend of mine has an uncle who played football professionally and subscribes to this theory about Willingham. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Actually, the more everything makes sense about his entire reign at UW. He wanted to portray a certain image and wanted people to think that he was: professional, stoic, measured, reserved, respected, disciplined, and intellectual. He may actually have been one or two of these things, but these character traits really were a mask. As the Fugees once said, “Yeah everybody wears a mask but how long will it last?” Willingham acted the way that he did with the media, with former players, with fans, and with boosters because under his professional veneer was a shocking abundance of ignorance. He never had any answers so the best way to deal with that is to completely make it uncomfortable for anyone to speak with him. Conversations with people were always short because people got tired of talking to him. So his plan worked. He never had to really explain himself. Now the closed practice thing makes sense, because he didn’t want anyone to know that all he did was walk around practice for a few hours looking like a general (we can only surmise) when really all he was doing was waiting for practice to end so he could go home. I’m sure it seemed like he was just giving his position coaches and coordinators the freedom to coach, but really he couldn’t have helped them in any way because, again, he did not know what he was doing. If he opened practices, then people who actually know what to look for in a coach would know that he was a fraud and he might have been called out even sooner.
We probably never heard about this because his assistant coaches would never sell him out while they worked for him because, hey, he game them their job and loyalty goes a long way. If they badmouthed Willingham, then they’d be labeled backstabbers. If that’s the case, then how do they get hired by the next guy? It’s in their best interest to keep their mouths shut.
For the players, what do they really know? If they didn’t transfer into the program, then Willingham would have been their only exposure to a college head coach on a daily basis. So through no fault of their own, they’re unaware of how a successful coach runs his program.
You have to admit, it makes sense.
He sold out his players.
Several times during Willingham’s tenure he would lead his players to the slaughter. A comment like “We didn’t execute” is code for “Hey, this isn’t my fault, my players suck and didn't do what I told them to do.” I’m a firm believer that coaches should never baby their players and should hold them accountable for things that they do wrong. But a good coach wouldn’t air out his players in public, but rather would kick their ass behind closed doors. I never heard him do anything like that, instead, he employed classic passive-aggressive behavior and essentially talked behind their backs, but in broad daylight, if that makes any sense. Perhaps he was just “sending a message” but the way he acted, frankly, was cowardly. Especially when he, as head coach, is to blame.
Also, when players were hurt or injured, he’d always play it down. Perhaps he was doing this because he didn’t want his players to use injuries as an excuse for bad play, but it still made those players look like fools if they were playing poorly. Instead of them being hobbled and unable to make a play because of a physical malady of some sort, Willingham would trot out his: “We just didn’t execute in the football game” line.
Another thing, I’m not 100% sure he knew the names of all of his players or anyone else in college football. He’d constantly refer to “our running back” or “the young man” or “number X” when referring to a specific player. I could never figure out what sort of mind game he was playing with all of us. Is it like not mentioning a competitor in a commercial and instead calling it “another leading brand?” I suppose that would make sense if he was talking about opposing players, by not wanting to give them credit or something, but he’d often do it with his own players. Was he trying to maintain some sort of weird distance with players in his program? I’m now convinced that there is a more simple explanation. He just didn’t know their names.
Anyway, now he’s gone and I couldn’t be happier, but on his way out he managed to tank swimming right along with the football team. The funds from his buyout would have more than made up for the cost to run the swim team, at least for the next year, who knows what would have happened after that. Willingham could mend a lot of fences if he donated some cash back to the school to save swimming, but he’s probably too professional, stoic, measured, reserved, respected, disciplined, and intellectual to do something like that.
I am overjoyed with the future prospects of this program under Sarkisian though. He’s everything Willingham is not. Personality is one thing and Sarkisian’s got truckloads of it, which is great, but his willingness to engage the media and fans and speak about his team shows me that he is confident and competent in addition to being fun to listen to. If he fails it won’t be because of lack of effort or knowledge, it will be because this program has fallen to such depths that it cannot be revived in five years or less. I’m attempting to temper my enthusiasm, but it’s difficult to do so when reading things about him and the recruiting efforts that he and his staff are taking. He also seems a lot more invested in the program, inventive in his approach to the game, and, to be honest, more trustworthy, than Willingham.
It would be glorious if he could lead them to a bowl game this year, but even the most ardent supporters don’t believe that will happen and are giving him time to implement his scheme, get his players in here, and change the losing attitude.
While I’ve known the schedule for quite some time, I haven’t done the game-by-game thing, so let’s do it now, just for fun. And in case you didn’t know, last year I picked this team to go 7-5. Unbelievable.
2009 Football schedule
- Sat., Sept. 5 LSU – loss (LSU’s purple and gold program is so far ahead of UW’s it’s laughable. The offense is no great shakes, but LSU’s defense will cause all kinds of problems. The speed on the field will be shockingly one-sided.)
- Sat., Sept. 12 Idaho – win (I’m happy to see them back on the schedule, welcome, Vandals.)
- Sat., Sept. 19 USC – loss (but I feel kind of good about this game, the team lost a lot on defense and has a new QB even though their skill players are still great)
- Sat., Sept. 26 at Stanford – win (I’m not confident in this pick, but Stanford has lost a lot and are engulfed in a QB controversy. They also may lose their highly productive RB, Toby Gerhart, to baseball).
- Sat., Oct. 3 at Notre Dame – loss (they are not that impressive, but they weren’t impressive last year and for all intents and purposes held UW under 100 yards of offense last year. Of course that was with Ronnie Fouch running the show…)
- Sat., Oct. 10 Arizona – win (No more Willie “Light Up UW” Tuitama. That’s a good thing.)
- Sat., Oct. 17 at Arizona State – win (They’ve lost a ton of players, including their QB, and were highly overrated last year anyway. I don’t like this team at all).
- Sat., Oct. 24 Oregon – loss (Despite losing quite a few quality starters, they are still far superior than UW at this point).
- Sat., Nov. 7 at UCLA – win (They’ve got huge QB problems, don’t have a stocked cupboard, and Neuheisel doesn’t have them going yet).
- Sat., Nov. 14 at Oregon State – loss (this is a very good team that has a good, experienced QB and explosive playmakers. This game could get out of hand.)
- Sat., Nov. 28 Washington State – win (they were dreadful last year and nothing tells me that they’ll be anything but atrocious next year. They have not solved their QB questions and are lacking across the board and lost Brandon Gibson).
- Sat., Dec. 5 California – loss (another very good team that may just throttle UW).
Final Tally: 6- 6
Look what I just did. I just made fun of myself for predicting that UW would go 7-5 in 2008 and now I’ve made them bowl eligible in Sarkisian’s first year? What’s wrong with me? I’m way too cynical to be such an optimist. But going through this game-by-game exercise you have to admit that it’s possible, right? Ok, maybe I’m being a little too bullish on their chances against the Arizonas and Stanford…nevertheless I’ve now convinced myself that 4-8 would be a disappointment, 5-7 is the most realistic, and 6-6 is attainable.
That’s not too much to ask, right? Right!?
Please let me be right.
I love college football and I need UW to be relevant again because I can’t, in good conscience, leap into the arms of another program next year without feeling dirty. Being just a little too interested in how Georgia is going to do with the loss of Knowshon Moreno and Matthew Stafford just won’t sit well with me.