Monday, February 28, 2011

Trade Secret

Many sports fans will remember February 21 as the day Carmelo Anthony became a member of the New York Knicks. Of course it was a great trade for the Knicks, but as exciting as the Melo deal was, the acquisition of Chauncey Billups may be the key in the blockbuster trade. Even Lebron James was quoted as saying that he "found it comical that some may have considered Billups to be an ancillary part of the Knicks-Nuggets deal." Maybe the Heat have a Big 3, but now the Knicks have a Big 3 of their own in Anthony, Stoudemire, and Billups.

Amid much consternation, Denver's hometown boy was sent to New York. It was reported that not Melo, but the inclusion of Billups, was the holdup in the trade, mainly because Denver didn't want to give him up, but in the end they did. The Nuggets loss is New York's gain. With an NBA championship ring on his finger, a Finals MVP trophy on his shelf, and having participated in 6 straight Eastern Conference Finals, premier point guard Billups brings a great deal of experience with him.

Billups, who handled the situation with his usual quiet class, IS causing a stir on the basketball court!! In his debut he recorded 21 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and just 2 turnovers in a 114-108 victory over the Bucks.

"Mr. Big Shot" came through once again against the Miami Heat, taking over the game with big 3's and steals. Billups scored 16 points, including a 3 pointer with 1 minute left followed by a steal, which sealed a victory for the Knicks. New York's tenacious defensive attack forced 20 turnovers and held the Heat to 86 points, well below their season average of 102. Regarded as one of the best defenders in the league, Chauncey is already helping the Knicks up their defensive game.

Also promising for Knick fans is the fact that the point guard is a crucial piece in Coach Mike D'Antoni's offense (ever heard of a little point guard named Steve Nash)!! D'Antoni will trust veteran Billups as his floor general, but seeing that he's a 39% career shooter from behind the arc, D'Antoni may also call on him to shoot. It's also important to note that Billups played for Team USA this past summer, and guess who was an assistant coach? None other that Mike D'Antoni!!

Just how crucial Billups is/will be still remains to be fully seen. With all the rumors of a possible CP3 signing in the future who knows, but for now let's face it, Billups knows how to win and he brings that swagger to the Knicks.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SDSU-There's a first time for everything

Kawhi Leonard, D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas, and Billy White, these names don't necessarily have the same impact as say, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson. Of course everyone recognizes the names of Michigan's famous and infamous Fab Five, but at the moment Leonard, Gay, Thomas and White are names that Coach Steve Fisher is focused on.

Fisher ascended into the national spotlight during Michigan's 1989 NCAA title run and of course he's responsible for assembling the Fab Five, those 5 talented, boisterous freshman who provided some of college basketball's most exciting moments. Who can forget Webber's infamous timeout called with 11 seconds left in the title game against UNC, when in fact the Wolverines had no timeouts left?!!

Amidst scandal, Fisher was fired by Michigan in 1997. Shortly thereafter he took an asst. coaching job with the Sacramento Kings, but it wasn't long before the college basketball world came knocking and an opportunity with San Diego State arose. In 1999 Coach Fisher took over an Aztec team that had suffered a losing record in 13 of the previous 14 seasons. Although it didn't look promising, Fisher methodically began turning the program around. It took patience on his part and on the part of the school, but boy has it paid off. Since the 2005-2006 season the Aztecs possess a continuous run of 20+ win seasons.

For the first time in history, San Diego State men's basketball team entered the preseason rankings at #25 and they've worked their way up to #4. That's not this year's only first either, the team set a school record winning 27 games in a season. The Aztecs biggest challenge comes this Saturday in a rematch against leading player of the year candidate Jimmer Fredette and #7 BYU. The Cougars, lead by Fredette's 43 points, won the last contest handing SDSU their only loss of the season. So for those who live in San Diego, this Saturday morning don't fear, it's not an earthquake, it's just Viejas Arena rockin!! The winner of this game will most likely boast a higher seed in the tourney.

Coach Fisher and the Aztecs will be looking for another first this season, their school's first ever win in the NCAA tourney, currently they're 0-6 all time. In only a few weeks we'll see if the Aztecs have what it takes to make a run in the tournament, and if they do we can be sure that Coach Fisher will be guiding their every step as they enter the Big Dance.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Coach Lavin: A Storm's A-Bruin

It's 1996, just 19 months after the Bruins won the NCAA tourney , Steve Lavin, 32, becomes the 11th men's basketball head coach in UCLA history. Over the next 7 years Lavin's Bruins compiled a record of 145-78, went to 5 "Sweet 16's" in 6 years, appeared in 6 consecutive NCAA tourneys, racked up 6 consecutive seasons of 20 or more wins, and the Bruins scored the #1 recruiting class in 1998 and 2001.

At most any other school these numbers would be impressive, but we're talking about UCLA, home to the Wizard of Westwood, 10 national titles in 12 seasons, and a list of accomplishments too long to mention, so as you can see the bar had been set pretty high. Lavin's record as a recruiter was stellar, bringing in players such as Trevor Ariza, Baron Davis, and Matt Barnes. On paper his accomplishments looked good, but he wasn't able to reach the level many expected him to. He'd been haunted by the perception that he lacked a coaching style or that while he was a brilliant recruiter he wasn't up to par in the X's and O's department. He was young and inexperienced as a head coach, which eventually caught up with him.

Cut to 2003, Coach Lavin was relieved of his duties at UCLA and shortly after began his broadcast career at ESPN. Lavin spent his time providing color commentary with partner Brent Musberger, using this arena as a training ground, learning as much as he could about the game.

Now it's 2010, St. John's University hires a west coast guy to revitalize it's program and revitalize it he has. Now don't get me wrong, the Red Storm haven't completely turned around overnight, but they are headed in the right direction. St. John's is 17-9 overall, 9-5 in the Big East and they have caused quite a stir by winning 5 games against teams ranked 15th or higher. There's no more dangerous team in the country than the Red Storm playing at Madison Square Garden.

So what is it about Coach Lavin now? There seems to be a swagger and a confidence to him that hadn't quite blossomed at UCLA. I believe that obviously the maturity that comes with age and experience has something to do with his recent success plus the timing and fit with St. John's is right. But I think it's more than that. I truly believe that Lavin's time at ESPN has had a profound effect on him as a coach. I think spending time really analyzing the game inside and out, plus watching other coaching styles has strengthened his coaching skill set. He made the wise decision to hire mentor and former Purdue head coach Gene Keady as his executive assistant. Sure he's still a great recruiter, according to ESPN St. John's has the 2nd ranked incoming recruiting class, but his growth as a coach is impressive.

Coach Lavin has orchestrated the resurgence of Red Storm basketball. His return to coaching is infused with a passion and vigor that's reflected in the way his team plays and in the way the fans have responded. He believes too that his time as an analyst gives him a perspective on coaching that he didn't have before. He was quoted as saying upon taking the St. John's job, "The last 7 years as a broadcaster allowed me to travel the country as a barnstormer with my partner, observing and studying different styles, different coaches, aspects of game preparation, the game itself sitting courtside, breaking down tape, the scouting reports. This was an extended sabbatical that allowed me to stay close to the game, a little more distant to see things with more clarity and when you come back to the game you bring all that with you to enhance your ability to coach and run a successful program."

Only time will tell if Coach Lavin's time as a student will translate into his becoming a great teacher, but if superlatives were handed out today he would definitely receive the award for Most Improved and be in the running for Most Likely to Succeed!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tobacco Road

Once again it's rivalry week and in my opinion there's no better rivalry than the Battle of Tobacco Road. While Wake Forest and NC State both reside along Tobacco Road, it is the rivalry between the Duke Blue Devils and the University of North Carolina Tarheels that's unlike any other. I mean where else could you find students camped out for months in the tent city known as Krzyzewskiville!! Tobacco road could be called The Great Blue Divide and the question is which blue do you bleed?

8 miles on US Highway 15-501 is all that separates these bitter rivals. Proximity explains some of the rivalry, but it's not just about the two schools being so close together, it's that 2 of the nation's premier basketball programs happen to be just miles apart . UNC a public school, plays in the Dean Smith Center, capacity 21, 750 while private school Duke plays in Cameron Indoor Stadium (referred to by Coach K as the 6th man) which holds an intimate 9, 314. Between these two teams there are 9 national titles (UNC 5, Duke 4), 33 Final Four appearances (UNC first all time with 18, Duke 3rd all time with 15). Plus they've combined for 46 ACC Reg. season championships and 35 ACC tourney championships. In fact in the last 126 meetings at least one of these teams has been ranked in the top 25.

Tonight should provide all the entertainment that usually accompanies this rivalry game as Carolina looks to avenge last season's 32 point whipping by the Blue Devils. After a disappointing last season, the Tarheels finally re-entered the top 25 just this week and are desperate to prove they are back.

Stepping in after the departure of Larry Drew II, UNC's Kendall Marshall has played brilliantly. He promptly went out and set a UNC freshman record with 16 assists. Marshall will go up against former high school rival, Duke's Tyler Thornton. Since the loss of Kyrie Irving, Coach K has been searching for the right combo and he seems to have found it with Thornton starting at the point, allowing Nolan Smith to move to his more natural shooting guard position. Also making his Cameron debut is freshman, and preseason All-American, Harrison Barnes. Barnes, who publicly turned down a scholarship offer from Duke, will most definitely receive jeers from the Cameron Crazies. Over the last 3 games the super freshman has averaged just under 23 ppg. Look for Duke to pressure the Heels back court as they are turnover prone.

Another key to this game will be who controls the boards. Will it be Duke's Plumlee bros and Ryan Kelly or Carolina's tall and long front line. Also keep an eye on Kyle Singler, will Coach Williams and the Heels find a matchup for him?

Through the years this rivalry has provided some of college basketball's most memorable moments, like Jeff Capel's running 37 ft rainbow at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, or Tyler Hansbrough's broken nose, courtesy of Duke's Gerald Henderson. Twice a year one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports takes center stage and I'm sure that tonight will deliver another stellar performance.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Statistics don't lie

It's been a busy week if you're a football fan. With national signing day on Wednesday and the Super Bowl this Sunday many of us are on football overload and LOVING it!! And although it's a new year and a clean slate for all teams, one thing seems to remain the same, the SEC reigns supreme as the conference king of college football. Now this argument doesn't make me very popular among my friends. Hey I may live on the west coast, but this girl will always be a southeastern girl at heart. Plus statistics don't lie.

I started doing research to prove my point and there's plenty out there. In the last 5 years ESPN, Rivals, and Scout have never ranked less than 6 total SEC teams in the top 25 of National signing day classes. In 2009 all 3 media outlets had 10 of the 12 SEC schools recruiting classes ranked in the top 25. This year all 3 outlets have 9 schools ranked.

It's obvious that hitting the recruiting trail pays off. The SEC has won 5 straight BCS championships (no college conference has ever won more than 3 straight college football national championships). Also interesting to note is that 4 different schools have won these five titles (Florida won in '06 and '08). The SEC has won 6 of the last 8 titles and 7 total since the BCS began 12 years ago. As a conference its teams are 7-0 in championship games.

Even in this weekends Super Bowl the SEC reigns supreme with 19 players on the active rosters of the Packers and the Steelers. It would've been 20 if Maurkice Pouncey hadn't been ruled out due to injury.

So why the dominance?...because the SEC schools across the board, do the best job of recruiting those rare athletes that have both great size and blazing speed. Any coach knows this is a winning combination. Now there are a few schools nationally like a Texas or Southern Cal who do this consistently, but no CONFERENCE even comes close to the SEC from top to bottom in recruiting big, fast athletes.

Now for all you Big 10 fans out there, Ohio State is a great program but a step slow for the SEC (see Florida and LSU 2006-2007 title games). Now I know the Buckeyes finally snapped their SEC losing streak in this year's Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, but they're still 1-9 all time in bowl games vs. SEC. And for all you PAC-10 fans Oregon had the speed this year but was outweighed 40 pounds PER lineman on the O and D lines... and was worn down.

So I repeat my premise, statistics don't lie. After accumulating another dominate recruiting class, the SEC is college football royalty and all other conferences are gonna have to try very hard to dethrone the king.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Beginning

Since this is the beginning, I'm gonna start from the beginning, of my love for sports that is.

A giant influence (no pun intended) is my dad. Growing up with a dad who is 6'8" and who played and coached basketball definitely influenced my view of sports. One of the many things that I appreciate about my dad is that he loves to analyze a game and he most definitely passed that trait on to me. For those who watch any game with me, I realize this can be annoying. In fact while most people look forward to Super Bowl parties so they can catch up with each other and watch the commercials, I am the opposite. My favorite Super Bowl was the year when I watched most of the game with just my dad. We tried to out analyze the analyst and each other!!

In the world of broadcasting where entertainment can be king, finding an announcer who really focuses on game strategy is something that was always important come gameday. We loved listening to Billy Packer call college basketball and Madden call football. Gruden and Aikman are a couple of today's favorites. My dad, brother and I are known to call back and forth during games and exchange our opinions. It's a family affair!!

Another influence has to be my grandmother. Debbie is a sports fanatic. She passed her love of the Miami Dolphins and the Duke Blue Devils down to more than one of her grandkids (this one included)!! It wasn't unusual discuss with her Marino's passes to Duper and Clayton or Coach K, Hill, Hurley and Laettner. She was on the sideline of every football game that my uncle played. It's a running joke in our family that for every yard my uncle rushed for in high school and college that Debbie ran every yard with him!! Debbie, thank you for showing me that sports isn't only a guys club:)

As time goes on I'll delve deeper into different sports greats that I have the utmost respect for and my opinions on different topics, but for today I thought a more personal approach was best. Our passions start somewhere, which for me happened to be right at home.