Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New Adventure for Coach Nadel

^
I have been a North Carolina resident for nearly 7 years now, and the single best thing I have done since moving here was agreeing to become the girls basketball coach at The Scholars Academy. It was an amazing 4 seasons, capped by the first 2 conference championships in school history, and I will remember my experience with my Eagles forever.

However, life is not static, and when opportunities present themselves, one must be ready and willing to seize them.

And so, I am excited and honored to have accepted the position of Assistant Women's Basketball Coach at Ardrey Kell High School.



Academically, the school in the south part of Charlotte is one of the best in the state. Athletically, it's one top-notch, too. The Lady Knights have won 4 consecutive titles in one of the most competitive conferences in the state (South Meck 8), and have advanced deep in the NC tournament in all 3 seasons under Coach Jeff Buseick, my new boss.

The Lady Knights won the Hoodie's House Hoops Classic
under Coach Jeff Buseick a few years back.
Coach Buseick is a dynamic, knowledgeable, young coach. I have seen him in action and have been very impressed with his grasp of the game, his passion for teaching and his ability to communicate with his athletes. I am looking forward to helping him any way I can and to learning a ton from both him and his players.

One fringe benefit of building a winning program is it leads to the coach getting a little attention. That's exactly what happened for me, as the hard work, dedication and success of my Eagles led to several high schools inquiring about my availability for next season.

I actually interviewed for a head coaching job at a very good school, but I came away from the experience believing I was not quite ready to take such a major step. Coach Buseick happened to have offered me the Ardrey Kell position just the night before, so I ended up removing my name from consideration for the other job and accepting the AK offer.

My long-term goal is not just to be a head varsity coach but to be a great one, and working with an amazing high school coach and outstanding young athletes will help me see if I have what it takes.

This will not be the first time I will have coached prep athletes. Several years back, I was the assistant softball coach at Charlotte Country Day. I mostly took that job as a favor to the athletic director back then, as I knew next to nothing about coaching softball. It was fun, and it showed me that, personality-wise, I could work with HS kids. But this will be an entirely different experience.

One thing I'll have to get used to: I had my middle-schoolers call me Coach Mike. At Ardrey Kell, they will call me Coach Nadel because that's simply the way things are done there.

Two years ago, I almost left Scholars Academy to be JV coach at Latin High School. It was a very good job at a great school, and I was honored to have been their choice. But at the last minute, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had unfinished business at Scholars and that, with only 2 years as a middle-school head coach, I might not be quite ready for the move.

As it turned out, staying at Scholars was the second-best thing I've done during my time in Charlotte. I don't regret the decision for one second, as these last two years were so rewarding and enjoyable. Those years were crucial to my development as a coach, as I feel I improved in every facet, from preparation to motivation to game situations. A huge bonus: The girls and their parents became like a second family to me.



Still, it was time for this big Eagle to flap his wings. I feel confident that, a few years from now, I'll look back on my decision to join Coach Buseick at Ardrey Kell as another of my best decisions.

Go Knights!

---

Last week, Jack McCloskey, the architect of the "Bad Boy" Pistons who won NBA titles in 1989 and 1990, died at age 91. He also had been the GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves - a team I covered during my AP days - and I got to know him fairly well.



Here's my "Trader Jack" story ...

On Jan. 13, 1993, midway through McCloskey's first season in Minnesota, I wrote a column about team management's general incompetence since being awarded an expansion franchise.

I said this in my 15th paragraph:
Finally realizing that they needed a 'basketball man,' last summer they hired general manager Jack McCloskey, who had helped build Detroit's championship teams. However, the 66-year-old "Trader Jack" was available partly because he had failed to stem the Pistons' slide from supremacy.
One of my duties as AP's Minnesota Sports Editor was that I ran the annual state meeting of newspaper sports editors. In that capacity, I had to line up guest speakers. Near the end of the T-Wolves' 1992-93 season, I called McCloskey's secretary to see if we could get him to join us.

Two days later, he called me, and here is how our conversation went ...

Jack: Thanks for thinking of me, but I have another commitment and I can't do it this time.

Me: Oh, I understand. It was worth a shot.

Jack: Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to get out of it. I'd really like to do it and I hope you'll ask me again next time.

Me: OK, great. I will.

Jack: And one other thing ... That column you wrote about me not being able to stem the slide was complete horse-(bleep). If the Pistons' owner had let me make the moves I wanted to make, we would have won three more titles!

Me: (Stunned silence, followed by ... ) Uh, OK, sorry about that. Bye!

Who knew an NBA general manager read my columns, let alone all the way down to the 15th paragraph?!?!?!

The next time I saw McCloskey, it was as if our conversation had never taken place. He treated me with respect, and vice versa.

He went on to draft Christian Laettner and J.R. Rider for the Timberwolves, but out of respect for the dead - and out of concern that he'll call me from the grave - I won't say a word about those choices!

R.I.P., Trader Jack.
^


Saturday, May 27, 2017

A black eye for me ... a championship for the Warriors?

^
One of the many age groups I umpire involves "machine pitch." The kids are 7 and 8 years old. A contraption operated by a coach hurls a pitch toward the plate, and the kid gets 5 or 6 tries to put the ball in play. The theory is that the machine is more consistent than a human is in "coach pitch," which many other leagues use.

In machine pitch, there is only one umpire. He stands about 10 to 15 feet behind the batter - not behind the plate, but behind the batter's back. Most kids that age swing late, and the vast majority of foul balls go the opposite direction.

Well, in a game I umped Monday, one of the little sluggers really got around on a pitch. The ball was on me before I could react, and it hit me square in the left eye.

In the first photo, that's how the eye looked two hours after contact, despite me getting an ice bag on it almost immediately. Cut me, Mick! 

By Saturday, it looked like a regular black eye, and I could see quite well out of it. In fact, I made my return to the field to ump a game later that day (but not a machine pitch game).


 


I didn't consider myself lucky at the time of impact, of course ... but looking back (pun intended), I really was lucky. The ball could have broken numerous bones, could have blinded me, etc. Also, the on-deck batter was standing a few feet behind me, and if the ball had missed me, it could have hit the kid.

I don't have any answers, but we need to find ways to protect the umpire in machine pitch, and probably to protect the on-deck batter better, too. If this happened once, it could happen again.

In the meantime, I've been hearing all the comments ... and making some, too.

It does get a little tiring saying, "Yeah, you should see the other guy." 

"Cut me, Mick," is a favorite. Also: "Prediction? Pain!" 

I've used "I'd rather fight than switch," as well ... but not a lot of people under 50 know the old Tareyton cigarette ads!




One thing for sure: I'd rather fight than umpire another machine pitch game!

+++

On to a happier subject, the upcoming NBA Finals ...

I am a big LeBron James fan because I love witnessing true greatness. I happen to think he has ascended to be the second-best basketball player ever, and he has closed quite a bit of ground on You Know Who. He does have plenty of haters who wouldn't rank him that highly, but I doubt even they would put him outside, say, the top-10 all-time. 

So we have gotten to watch this guy come into the league as a teenager and grow into one of the best ever, right before our eyes. He usually has risen to the occasion, too, and he unquestionably makes his teammates better. 

The man has made it to 7 straight NBA Finals and 8 overall - including 3 with a Cleveland franchise that, to put it kindly, bit the big one before LeBron existed. Pretty amazing stuff.

I also very much enjoy watching the Warriors play. It's a fun style, and when they are clicking they work so well together. Kevin Durant is unbelievably talented, and he has been integrated nicely into their system.

Even when the Cavs were blowing out Boston and Toronto, they sure were leaving a lot of 3-point shooters wide open. I'm talking, nobody within 10 feet of the shooters. The Celtics and Raptors couldn't make the Cavs pay, but Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson & Co. will.


Offensively, the Cavs also tend to devolve into a lot of 1-on-1 play, mostly by LeBron and Kyrie Irving. It's fine when they are rolling, but it hurts when they aren't - and either way, it leads to stagnation on offense. Golden State also is the better defensive team.

The Warriors had a 3-1 lead in last year's Finals. We can debate all the reasons they couldn't close out the series - starting with the suspension of Kicky McKickerson, and then going on to the heroics of LeBron and Irving. But the Warriors sure looked like the better team most of the series. 


Well, as my son Ben points out, the Warriors have that entire team back ... except they have replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Freakin' Durant!

Barnes arguably was the worst player on the court in Games 5-7 last year. I feel confident saying KD won't be the worst player on the court this time.

Of course, Kevin Love - who missed a couple of games with a concussion last year and otherwise was mostly a non-factor - is relatively healthy this year and playing very well. So it's almost as if the Cavs have added an All-Star, too. If both are at their best, though, Durant is quite a bit better than Love.

I hope I'm wrong because I want it to be a long, great series, but I'm thinking ...


Warriors in 5.
^

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Comrade Trump: Don't Do As I Say; Do As I Don't Do!

^
Comrade Twitler's tweet to Obama in 2013 after Assad used poison gas to kill his own Syrian people:

"DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA -- IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN."

Comrade Twitler's statement this week after Assad again used poison gas to kill his own Syrian people:

"These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of (Obama's) weakness and irresolution."

Times Comrade Twitler put any responsibility on Assad ally Putin in 2013:

Zero.

Times Comrade Twitler put any responsibility on Assad ally Putin this week:

Zero.

Nuff said.
^



Thursday, March 23, 2017

GOP's WeDon'tCare is DOA ... but my NCAA bracket has new life

^
The House GOP had to cancel Thursday's scheduled Obamacare Repeal/WeDon'tCare Replacement vote ... because they don't have enough votes for it to pass.

Dems won't vote for it because it's a draconian plan that gives billions of dollars in tax cuts to the top 0.5% while throwing the middle class and working poor under the bus. Moderate Republicans (an endangered species, to be sure) also worry about that, though a "softening" of some of the most draconian language appeased many of them.

Meanwhile, the right-wing extremists won't vote for WeDon'tCare because it isn't draconian enough. All those fetuses they don't want aborted? Welcome into the world ... but no health care for you!

Ryan, Trump & Co. managed to come up with a lose-lose proposal, one that every national medical society has panned as a potential disaster.

Among the health-related things Trump promised in the year leading up to his inauguration:

++ "We're going to have insurance for everybody."

++ "Everybody's got to be covered."

++ "We're going to come up with a new plan that's going to be better health care for more people at a lesser cost."

++ "You're going to end up with great health care at a fraction of the price."

And then he backs a plan that does none of that. I guess the only campaign promises this so-called president really cares about are the big, beautiful wall and the Muslim ban.

As John Oliver said: "He asked us, 'What do you have to lose?' And we're finding out every day."

++++++

And speaking of Trumpian lies, here's an amazing interview he gave Time - READ IT - in which he defends his many lies by, well, lying some more.

And yet his sheeple are either so gullible or so afraid of him that they just keep lining up behind him. I've never seen anything like it.

++++++

OK, on to something more fun ...

My NCAA tournament bracket is so broken that I've decided to take a mulligan and tee it up again.

Sweet 16

Michigan over Oregon
Kansas over Purdue
West Virginia over Gonzaga
Arizona over Xavier
Butler over North Carolina
UCLA over Kentucky
South Carolina over Baylor
Florida over Wisconsin

Elite 8

Kansas over Michigan
Butler over UCLA
Arizona over West Virginia
South Carolina over Florida

Final Four

Kansas over Butler
Arizona over South Carolina

National Championship

Kansas over Arizona

Somehow, the Jayhawks have mostly flown under the radar. They are too good for that, and I think Bill Self wins his second title.

Unless, of course, I'm wrong.

If so, I'll admit it. Which I guess means I can't be president of the United States.
^

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Destiny Calls ... And My Champions Answer!

^
The questions have been answered ... and the final answer my Scholars Academy Eagles delivered was both resounding and sweet:

We STILL are the champions, my friend ... because we kept on fighting till the end!


To get back to the top, we had to overcome mild concussions sustained by three players. Our captain and point guard, Ritika, indisputably the best player in the league, was sidelined for four games down the stretch, including our first playoff contest. Our starting center, Mary Kate, missed two games, as did our first player off the bench, Emma. In addition, another key player had to deal with an off-the-court issue much of the season.

We entered the season as an extremely inexperienced team; four of the five players who returned from the championship squad had played only small roles in 2015-16. Each of the six newcomers had never played competitive basketball.

And yet these feisty, fantastic athletes stuck together as closely as any group I've coached, swept their way through the playoffs (outscoring our three opponents, 77-40) and earned the right to hoist the Charlotte Gastonia Athletic Association championship trophy again.

They then took the opportunity to blast their coach with Silly String, and I didn't mind the mess one bit!


Rebuilding ... Or Retooling?

Accomplishing something that had never been done is always heady stuff. When the girls captured the first CGAA basketball title in school history last year, the feeling was incredible. Actually, I should say, "feelings."

I felt exhilaration and pride, of course. I also felt relief, because those Eagles were so tall and athletic and experienced and talented that I sometimes worried that only the coach could hold them back. And naturally, I had bittersweet feelings, too. Six of the 11 players were 8th-graders, including four of our best players ever, and I was sad my time coaching them had ended. We had been through a lot together while growing the program from scratch.

At our season-ending party a year ago, several parents talked in end-of-an-era tones. The dreaded "R-word" - rebuilding - was uttered more than once. The parents were nice about it; they weren't saying we were doomed to be terrible or anything like that. They simply were acknowledging what seemed obvious: We were losing several proven performers, and those girls would be leaving behind a team with a lot of question marks.

How can we replace the standouts who graduated? Who will emerge as leaders, both on and off the court? How much will the returning players improve? Will any newcomers make an impact? Will we have good team chemistry? Will the new group respond to coaching the same way the departing players did over the years? Will we be athletic enough and determined enough to implement our aggressive, attacking system? Will the coach be able to adapt and adjust as necessary?

I would be lying if I told the parents that I was sure we would go back-to-back, but I did say that I thought we would have the best player in the league, that at least a couple of our other players would become major contributors, that we would continue to be the hardest-working and most aggressive team in the league, and that we would be very competitive.

Hey, even I can be right sometimes - and I'm glad that this was one of those occasions!

Ritika exceeded even my high expectations, 6th-grader Deirdre emerged as a big-time scorer, Jackie had a remarkable second half of the season, Kaylee was our defensive catalyst, and several others made significant contributions.

It all added up to a 15-2 record, a third straight appearance in the title game and another raucous championship celebration.

I Am Not Worthy

A few days after winning the title, our team gathered again for our postseason party.



I have been at Scholars - a charter school for "highly gifted" students and the No. 1-ranked elementary school in North Carolina, according to a recent study - for four years. Many of these parents have been with me for multiple seasons. In the case of Emma, Mary Kate and Maddie, I was coaching the younger sisters of previous Eagle standouts. The parents and I are comfortable around each other, and they have always been very supportive. One after another, they voiced their gratitude, and it was so nice to hear all those kind words.

After I spoke at length about each of the team's 11 players and revealed our four award winners, Ritika pulled up a chair for me in front of the TV and started an 8-minute video she had made. In it, this year's 8th-graders and stars from previous Scholars seasons spoke about how much I had meant to them.

See the video HERE.

What an amazing tribute. In all of my years on this earth, I don't think anybody has ever made me feel more special. It was all I could do to keep the water works from flowing.

It would not be an exaggeration to call it one of the great nights of my life.

Our Heroes

Front Row (L to R): Kaylee, Jackie, Emma.
Second Row: Ayushi, Meeta, Harshitha, Ritika, Deirdre, Maddie.
Back Row: Adriana, Mary Kate, Coach Mike
Ritika is the only girl to have played all four seasons for me and leaves Scholars as the No. 2 all-time scorer. As a tiny 5th-grader in 2014, she scored the final 4 points to deliver an improbable playoff victory over a team that had defeated us twice that season. Over the ensuing years, she just kept getting better and better and better. As a 6th-grader, she was our first player off the bench, made nine 3-pointers and was one of the main reasons we reached the title game for the first time in school history. She moved into the starting lineup as a 7th-grader, made 11 more treys, and finished third on the team in scoring. And this season, she led us in scoring average (8.5 points), hit 9 more from downtown, kept our offense organized, and led the world in steals at the top of our active 2-3 zone. When her mother texted me the morning of the semifinal game to say Ritika had been medically cleared from her concussion, I immediately told my wife that we were going to win the championship. Ritika will always remember the half-court shot she swished at the final buzzer of a decisive victory - it was NOT luck, as she practices that shot constantly. I, however, will most fondly remember the final basket she scored in a Scholars uniform because of its importance and its style. Our championship game opponent had stolen momentum and had cut a 14-point deficit to 7 with a few minutes to go. Ritika took an inbound pass, used several crossover dribbles to weave her way through defenders, and finished with a left-handed layup that clinched our second straight title. Most high school seniors can't pull off a play like that! For all of her talent and determination, the thing that stands out about Ritika is that nobody who has played for me has loved playing basketball as much as she does. It's fitting that she is in the center of the photo above, holding the championship trophy. Naturally, she won our award for Most Valuable Player.

Deirdre was supposed to be our manager last season, when she was in 5th grade, but she did so well in practice that I promoted her to the active roster. By season's end, she was our top scorer off the bench. Over the summer, I went to see her AAU team play a couple of games, and I knew she would be one of the best players in our league as a 6th-grader. She had grown taller, and her game had grown significantly to include post moves and aggressive dribble-drives on offense, and blocked shots on defense. She led us in scoring with 130 points - the third-highest total during my time as coach - and several of our victories were spurred by her dominating performances. She had one of the biggest plays in the championship game: After our opponent had scored two straight baskets to pull within 3 points, Deirdre grabbed an offensive rebound and banked in a 10-footer just before the halftime horn to give us more breathing room. In addition to being a starting wing for us, she regularly played point guard  on offense and center on defense when both Ritika and Mary Kate were getting some rest. I have been fortunate to coach several talented players, and I correctly predicted that a few of them would become all-time greats for us. With Deirdre, the ceiling is so high that I won't even hazard to guess how good she will be. She earned the Coach's Award for All-Around Excellence.




Jackie was a role player who averaged about a point per game for last year's team. If you watch the video tribute, you'll hear her say some hilarious things about how little she knew about basketball back then. She is a very good athlete and I expected her to take a take a major step forward this season. She did, but at first it was mostly as a super-aggressive defensive player and vocal leader. Despite having a nice outside shot, Jackie was content to defer to Ritika and Deirdre on the offensive end and averaged only 2 points through our first nine games. When the calendar flipped to 2017, we had a game on the very first day back from winter break. We had to play without any practice and also without the concussed Ritika, and we were awful in falling behind 11-0 after 11 minutes. Near the end of that stretch, one of our former players (Olivia, who was there to see her sister Maddie) told Jackie to start looking for her shot and to play with confidence. Hearing those encouraging words from a peer she respected, Jackie became a different player. She finished with 13 points in that game as we rallied to lose by only 2, and followed that up with 18 points in our next game. Over the final eight games, she led us with 9.4 points per game - by far the most astounding transformation I have witnessed from a player I've coached. She was our leading scorer in the playoffs, too. Part of her team-high 12 points in the championship game included a 10-second flurry in which she hit a jumper, stole the basketball and hit another 15-footer to give us a double-digit lead. Always a vocal supporter of her teammates, Jackie emerged as a leader by example and earned the Coach's Award for Leadership.

Kaylee was a little-used reserve as a 7th-grader, when she scored only 4 points the entire season. But she was determined to contribute a lot more this year and her outstanding play, especially on defense, forced me to use her more and more and more. Kaylee became our "pest," hounding the opposing point guard into turnovers and harassing any opponent who dared enter her territory. She wore knee pads so she could dive to the floor without fearing scars and bruises, and she surely led the team in causing tie-ups, gaining us dozens of extra possessions over the course of the season. Kaylee also has a nice shot from the wing and finished fifth on the team in scoring. I preach aggressiveness above all else, so I know Kaylee was happy to get the coveted Coach's Award for Aggressiveness.

Mary Kate was our tallest player and I asked a lot from her. Her main job was to "play tall" - in other words, use her long arms to defend our basket at all costs. A great athlete with good hands, MK also spent many games at the high post of our offense, helping create scoring opportunities for her teammates.

Emma was one of four players who didn't give up after having been cut in previous seasons. In fact, like Kaylee, she had been cut twice yet stuck with it, improved and became a valuable contributor. Emma is a good passer and a real tough kid who battled opposing interior players even though she has a guard's size.

Maddie was our other 6th-grader. Olivia spent three years on the team, so Maddie has been around the program forever , and she has grown to be a nice young player in her own right. She has a good shot, fights for rebounds and has a chance to be a fine all-around player. A lot of potential there.

Ayushi had a great season, especially for somebody who tried out for the team on a lark. "Yoosh" was one of our best athletes, and Ritika's injury forced her to play quite a bit of point guard - she did amazingly well for a girl who had never played competitive basketball. She also has a nice jumper and finished fourth on the team in scoring.

Harshitha was our other 8th-grader, another athletic player who helped put pressure on the opposing guards.

Meeta, one of our two 7th-graders, was one of the best shooters on the team. She finished sixth in scoring and improved as a defender as the season went on.

Adriana, our other 7th-grader, actually was surprised to make the team in November. I liked her athletic ability back then, and I am pleased with how much better she has gotten.



Past, Present & Future

Each team has its own personality and each season has its own vibe.

My first year, I barely knew what I was doing - as was the case for pretty much all of my players - and we figured it out together the best we could. It was a minor miracle that we won seven games, including one in the playoffs.

In my second season, we got a nice talent upgrade and the returning players improved a lot. We went 15-4 but couldn't beat one team - losing three times to them, including the championship game. Although happy we had become legitimate contenders, we left with a feeling of unfinished business.

Last year's team was the envy of the league. To outsiders, winning the title must have seemed easy, but we had several bumps along the way to our 19-2 record.

This year's Eagles were a work in progress, and we progressed well as the season unfolded. We were offensively challenged at times, but we held opponents to 12 points per game - our lowest total in my four years - and the girls worked really hard.

This team required a little more coaching, teaching and mentoring than those of the previous two years, and it was a fun challenge for me. I should be so lucky to have all basketball challenges end in a Silly String shower!



None of us knows what adventures life will bring next. I soon have tryouts for an AAU team I will be coaching this spring, my first such opportunity. Could it lead me in a different direction next season? Well, I certainly will keep an open mind, but I am not in any hurry to leave Scholars Academy - a place that has been so welcoming and supportive, a place filled with smart, motivated, fun kids.

At the start of each season, I give the girls a Player's Guide, filled with our plays, formations, team rules, individual goals, etc. On the cover of this season's guide I put this photo:



One parent saw it and said, "You aren't putting too much pressure on the girls, eh?" My intention was not to put pressure on them but to get them thinking that anything was possible.

So here's to the 2016-17 Eagles. They had a tough act to follow, and they rose to the occasion. They were faced with adversity, and they overcame it. They were determined to create their own place in Scholars Academy history, and they did just that. What a special group of young people!

Of course, with all the good, there is one downside:

It's gonna cost me another 30 bucks to buy a new personalized license plate!
^










Monday, February 6, 2017

Today's High Five: Super Bowl Edition

^
1. I'm still trying to figure out what Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and his boss, coach Dan Quinn, were thinking after they made it possible for Tom Brady to complete the Patriots' incredible Super Bowl comeback.

The Falcons had an 8-point lead and had moved into FG range with 4:40 to play on yet another circus catch by the indomitable Julio Jones. On first down, Shanahan called the only play that made sense: a handoff up the middle. It lost a yard but it let the Falcons kill another 45 seconds. The clock read 3:56 when Atlanta snapped its next play at the New England 23-yard line.

If the Falcons had run two more times into the line of scrimmage, the very worst outcome would have been this: The Patriots would have burned two time-outs before Matt Bryant, Atlanta's nearly automatic kicker, would have attempted a 40-yard (or so) field goal that would have all but clinched the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl victory.

Instead, inexplicably, Shanahan called for a pass. Matt Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss and the Patriots immediately called their first time-out. Now there was 3:50 left and the Falcons were on the fringe of FG range - it would have been a 52- or 53-yarder.

Again, Shanahan called for a pass. This time, the Falcons were guilty of holding, putting them back at the 45 with 3:44 to go, with the clock stopped due to the penalty. Finally, one more pass play was called, and the pass fell incomplete, again stopping the clock. Time to punt.

So now, instead of a likely 11-point lead with less than 4 minutes to go and New England having only one time-out, Brady trailed by only one score, had a ton of time to work with and still had two time-outs plus the 2-minute warning.

Predictably, the Patriots drove downfield, got a TD with plenty of time to spare, scored the 2-point conversion to tie the game and won in overtime.

After the Super Bowl a couple of years earlier, Seattle coach Pete Carroll was figuratively killed by critics after okaying a pass on first-and-goal from the 1 instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch. The Patriots intercepted to clinch the victory.

That decision, however, was nowhere near as bad as the one by Shanahan (and, by extension, Quinn).

The Falcons had the game and gave it away.

It was a heck of a way for Shanahan to end his Falcons career. He is headed to San Francisco to be the 49ers' new head coach, and I have seen tweets suggesting he already should be fired!

2. How many anti-Trump statements were made in Super Bowl commercials? Five? Ten?

All you need to know about the tenor and tone of our country right now is that some of the largest corporations in America spent millions of dollars for the right to rip Comrade Twitler for his unconstitutional, exclusionary, hate-fueled, anti-immigration decrees.

Some will say the Super Bowl is no place for such political statements. I say we must fight this administration's worst instincts and actions every chance we get and with every method at our disposal - and I applaud Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Airbnb and others for taking financial risks to do so.

3. No matter how much the Falcons helped him, Brady obviously deserves credit for orchestrating the biggest Super Bowl comeback ever. Even if somebody is trying to give you something, you have to be willing and able to take it.

Still, let's not forget that one reason the Patriots were in such a deep hole was that Brady had played horrendously for much of the first half. He repeatedly missed wide-open receivers on what would have been big plays, threw behind several receivers on short passes and was victimized by a Pick-6 on as bad a pass as I have ever seen him throw.

The mark of a champion is one who can overcome adversity - even adversity that he created - to emerge victorious.

Tom Brady did just that, cementing his legacy as the greatest quarterback ever.

I'm sure he is proud and relieved to have my endorsement.

4. It still doesn't seem right that, in the most important game of the year, one team can win the game without the other team's offense even having a chance to touch the football.

Nevertheless, I'm having trouble feeling too sorry for the Falcons.

Even after the collapse of the century and even after losing the pre-OT coin flip, they still had a chance. All they had to do was stop the Patriots short of the goal line, and Ryan, Jones & Co. would have had one more shot.

Instead, the Falcons' defense provided so little resistance that Brady never even faced a third down while orchestrating his team's 8-play, 75-yard, championship-winning drive.

It was a well-earned victory for the Patriots, and a VERY well-earned defeat for the Falcons.

5. I was chicken, and it cost me $350.

I have a friend who makes wagers on an online site and I was going to have him place two bets for me. I was going to put $250 on the Patriots and give 3 points; and I was going to throw $100 at the "over" (on the 59 over/under). But when it came time to actually part with my dough-re-mi, I opted not to.

For most of the night, I was pretty darn happy with my decision.

And then the Patriots kept scoring. And the Falcons kept choking. And then the game went into OT. And then the Patriots won by 6, putting the total points at 62.

But that's OK. I actually got to enjoy the game without having to sweat (or swear). A small price to pay, I guess.
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

We Are The Champions ... Again!

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In a satisfying finish to a fun, crazy, adversity-filled but ultimately triumphant season for my high-flying Scholars Academy Eagles, we used a big third-quarter surge Monday to put away our rivals, Fletcher, and win our second consecutive Charlotte Gastonia Athletic Association championship.



Scholars Academy, the No. 1-ranked elementary charter school in North Carolina (and No. 3 in the nation), had not ever reached the title game until 2015 ... but now we're on a roll!

Three straight appearances, including two consecutive championships - I'm so proud of my hard-working, determined Eagles.

When the final horn sounded for our 29-20 victory, we celebrated with hugs and high-fives and laughter and smiles, as parents clicked hundreds of photos. A few of the girls started acting a little weird and then I found out why, as they pulled out cans of Silly String and let me have it!




They later said they had considered the more traditional Gatorade bath but realized the clean-up would have been ridiculous. Another smart basketball decision by my girls!

The game was supposed to have been played last Thursday, but our opponent requested a delay because their coach had to leave town for a family emergency. We of course granted their request. At first, I wished we had played because we had a lot of momentum going after two playoff wins earlier last week. But in retrospect, it was great because it meant the season got to last a little longer!

We have one more team function, our season-ending party on Saturday, and I'll have a more detailed report after that.

Until then, I will bask in the championship glow for a few days ... and I'll keep trying to get all of the Silly String off of my clothes - a small price to pay for such a wonderful accomplishment.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Wow! What A Day!

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I'm thinking that there will be even better days to come, but it will be pretty hard to top Jan. 24, 2017.

To date, it's my favorite day of 2017 ... BY FAR.

++ This morning, I received word that the captain and point guard of my girls basketball team, Ritika, was medically cleared after having suffered a mild concussion that had kept her out of four games. We had managed to win our first playoff game without her thanks to a tough-minded (albeit a little sloppy) effort by the rest of girls, but Ritika is the best player in our league and she makes everybody better. I was happy for my Eagles that she would be returning and, selfishly, happy for myself. But mostly I was happy for Ritika, because I think she loves basketball more than any player I've coached. Sitting out was driving her nuts!!!!!

++ A few hours later, we played our semifinal game and we were outstanding. Ritika was absolutely amazing - watching her, one never would have believed she had been sidelined. She and her teammates dominated our outclassed opponent in every facet of the game. We were up 18-2 when I called off the press in the second quarter, and we cruised to victory to advance to the conference championship game for the third consecutive season. Thursday, we go for our second straight title.

++ Right after our game, the school's boys team played really well to win their quarterfinal game. I was so caught up in the action that I made a few mistakes running the clock for the game. My girls, many of whom stuck around to watch their classmates, now have something they can make fun of me for. Or maybe I should say they have something ELSE they can make fun of me for!

++ Finally, my Marquette Golden Warrior Eagles stormed from behind to beat defending national champion Villanova - the No. 1 team in the country - in a thrilling finish. Students and others in attendance stormed the court to celebrate the "signature win" for third-year Steve Wojciechowski, which came just three days after a huge road victory over No. 7 Creighton. Tuesday was the first time we had beaten a No. 1-ranked team since Dwayne Wade led the 2003 group into the Final Four with an incredible win over Kentucky. Wow!

I'm still flying pretty high from all of the day's excitement, and I'm already looking forward to the rest of what's shaping up as one heck of a week.
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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mad About Vlad For Hall Of Fame ... Plus: 'Roidz Boyz' Bonds & Clemens

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Even with increasing reliance on advanced statistics and technology, Major League Baseball often lives in the past. And that's usually grand, as I'm a 50-something guy with fond memories of eons gone by. Indisputable evidence of the old-schoolness of the game: The Baseball Writers Association of America only accepts Hall of Fame ballots sent via U.S. mail. That's right: No email, no faxes. 

What? They couldn't work out a deal with the Pony Express? Carrier pigeons are on strike?

As a 30-year BBWAA member and a 20-year Hall voter, I dutifully dropped my 2017 ballot in the mail this week, thereby beating the mandate that it be postmarked by Dec. 31. When's the last time you actually mailed something that required it be postmarked by a certain date? For me, it was last year's Hall ballot!

Of course, by necessity, the process of Hall voting also embraces the past. We voters were tasked with analyzing the records of ballplayers who have been out of the game for at least five years. And in the case of the two biggest names on the ballot - Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens - they have been retired for a full decade.

This year, for the first time, the Roidz Boyz got my vote.

Like 99% of intelligent baseball observers, I have no doubt that Bonds and Clemens were big-time juicers. I also have no doubt they were Hall-caliber players. I fully understand and respect why some of (maybe even the majority of) my voting colleagues will continue to ignore the Roidz Boyz. But for me, it's time.

Two years ago in The Baldest Truth, I explained my then-new policy for Steroid Era candidates:


1. If a player is the subject of completely unsubstantiated rumors (think Frank Thomas, who some thought "must be on steroids because he's so big"), I will tune out the noise and consider him as early as his first year on the ballot.
2. If a player is the subject of steroid whispers that conceivably might have merit (think Mike Piazza), I will not consider him as a first-ballot candidate to see if any new information gets fleshed out. If, after a year of additional scrutiny no new information is presented, I will consider him beginning in his second year on the ballot.
3. If a player likely was a steroid cheat but all available evidence showed that he had a Hall-worthy body of work before the juicing began (think Bonds and Clemens), I will consider him but only beginning with his fifth year on the ballot. I want to allow plenty of time before checking that box.
4. If I am convinced that a player could not have compiled his seemingly Hall-worthy stats without him having been a rampant juicer (think Mark McGwire), I will not vote for him because his entire career is a sham.

Simply stated, Bonds and Clemens were two of the best players I saw during my long career as a baseball reporter and columnist. That was the case even before they reportedly started taking steroids. Furthermore, for what it's worth, both have been publicly exonerated - Bonds by the courts and Clemens by Congress.

I suppose I could invoke the "character" clause to keep them off of my ballot. And again, I don't blame others who do just that. But lots of racists and drunks and scoundrels and druggies and cheaters and criminals have been enshrined. Should Cooperstown kick out Ty Cobb? Babe Ruth? Gaylord Perry? The dozens upon dozens of players who practically lived on greenies?

While the Roidz Boyz finally get my votes, a few other tainted former stars do not. I firmly believe that neither Sammy Sosa nor Gary Sheffield would have had Hall-worthy numbers had they not used their tushies like pincushions. As a bonus, Sammy also got caught corking his bat. Cheater, cheater, Flintstones Vitamins eater!

As ballot newcomers, Manny Ramirez and Pudge Rodriguez fall under Rule 2 above. Pudge was the best catcher I've seen and I'll consider him more thoroughly next year. I'm less excited about Manny's candidacy.

Before I reveal all of my choices, let me explain the reasons I didn't check the boxes next to a few other Hall candidates ...

Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, Billy Wagner. Because the save is one of the most overrated statistics in the sport, it's not easy for a reliever to get my vote. He had to have been a transcendent figure (like Mariano Rivera), and/or had to have been a good starter at one point in his career (like John Smoltz), and/or had to have regularly recorded multiple-inning saves (like Rollie Fingers). None of the current candidates met any of those requirements. Hoffman has a decent shot at getting in this year, and I don't begrudge him the honor. This is Smith's last year on the ballot and he probably will fall well short. Wagner has only a slightly better chance at being a Hall of Famer than Joe Borowski does.

Jorge Posada. He was a leader and a winner for the Yankees, but he just doesn't have the stats. Other fine players who don't quite have HoF numbers include Jeff Kent, Derrek Lee, Magglio Ordonez and Larry Walker.

Edgar Martinez. Of those who didn't get my vote, he was the toughest omission because he was a heck of a hitter. However ...

His "similarity scores" on BaseballReference.com compare him to Will Clark, John Olerud, Moises Alou, Magglio Ordonez, Bob Johnson, Matt Holliday, Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neill, Lance Berkman and Ellis Burks. Those guys also were outstanding hitters, but there isn't a Hall of Famer in the bunch. I am willing to vote for a DH (as I showed with my first-ballot vote for Frank Thomas), but Thomas' numbers were considerably better than Martinez's. Edgar never won a pennant and only once did he finish in the top 5 in MVP voting. Mostly, his career stats just aren't strong enough for me; he doesn't rank in the top 120 in HR, RBI or WAR. 

So here are the 7 players who received my check marks on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot:

Jeff Bagwell

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Vladimir Guerrero

Mike Mussina

Tim Raines

Curt Schilling

I already have talked about Bonds and Clemens. Bagwell, Mussina, Raines and Schilling are repeat selections for me, and I discussed them in detail in my Dec. 24, 2013 post. (Read It.) This is Raines' final season on the ballot and he came pretty close last year, so I hope one of his generation's best table-setters gets in at the final buzzer.

Which brings me to Vlad the Impaler ...

After the ballot was released publicly, my son called to talk about a few of the new candidates. "How about Vlad Guerrero?" My knee-jerk reaction: "Maybe, but I kinda doubt it." That's usually my initial reaction unless a guy is an absolute lock, such as Ken Griffey Jr. last year. It's the classic, instant "does he feel like a Hall of Famer" feeling. After I look into the numbers more, though, a candidate's case sometimes becomes more compelling. Such was the case with Vlad.

For example, I always thought of him as a free swinger who struck out a lot. Well, he was a free swinger ... but he never struck out even 100 times in any season and he fanned significantly less often than all 10 of his BaseballReference.com "similars" - including Hall of Famers Willie Stargell, Jim Rice, Billy Williams and Duke Snider. Meanwhile, his on-base percentage was better than the first three and only .001 lower than Duke's. His .931 OPS ranks 34th all-time.

His 449 HR (38th most in history) are the exact same as Bagwell's total and more than the totals of Rice, Williams and Stargell. His 1,496 RBI put him ahead of Rice, Williams and Snider. Guerrero played 16 seasons - the same as Rice, fewer than his other comparables and one more than Bagwell.  - and he didn't go long past his prime. 

In 2010, his next-to-last season, the 35-year-old Guerrero batted .300 with 29 HR, 115 RBI and an .841 OPS to help the Texas Rangers reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. He was 11th in MVP voting - the eighth time he finished at least that high. He won the award in 2004 with the Angels and had four other top-6 finishes (two with the Expos, two with the Angels).

Those who say that he was an error-prone (albeit strong-armed) right fielder and that his career batting stats make him a borderline Hall of Fame candidate ... I can't argue too strongly with them. 

It says here, however, that his statistics give him a solid HoF resume - and drop him on the right side of the border. 

Vlad Guerrero gets my check mark, and I will be very curious to see how my BBWAA peers treat him.
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Friday, December 23, 2016

Not Bowling For Dollars (and other stuff)

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Unless they are playoff games that lead to the national championship, college football bowl games are glorified exhibitions. Always have been, always will be.

So bravo to Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, LSU's Leonard Fournette and a few other college stars for opting out of their teams' meaningless games so they can take a positive step toward what just about every student's goal is: getting a good job after college.



Almost immediately, some coaches, media mopes and other idiots started whining about these athletes' "selfishness."

Funny, I didn't hear that Tom Herman was "selfish" after he bolted Houston to take the Texas coaching job. Herman's move came only a few weeks before the Cougars were to play in the Las Vegas Bowl. Oh, and he left Houston only months after having signed a $3 million per year contract to stay there through 2020.

McCaffrey and Fournette don't have eight-figure contracts to fall back on.

Despite making billions of dollars for their universities, college athletes don't get paid. If one of them suffers a career-ending injury in the TaxSlayer.com Bowl, he goes from being a multimillionaire to being a zero-aire in the blink of an eye. Even more likely: a concussion. And if a player suffers a bad enough concussion to make NFL teams question his long-term health, it would cost him big-time.

So any coach who is outraged or even slightly miffed by the actions of McCaffrey and Fournette is just a run-of-the-mill hypocrite. What else is new? Hypocrites are everywhere in college sports, especially in the coaching fraternity.

Some are predicting that this is just the start and that, in coming years, more and more future pros will skip non-playoff bowl games.

Well, if this is the beginning of the end for the Quick Lane Bowl and the Poinsettia Bowl, so be it. Somehow, America will survive.

+++

And now we go from smart jocks to one who should be smart enough to know better ... but apparently isn't.

What's the deal with Grayson Allen? The dirty Dookie got caught tripping an opponent for the third time in 10 months. Coach K at first wasn't going to suspend him but, after public pressure built, he decided to suspend his best player "indefinitely."



After watching this latest incident, I'm pretty certain Allen needs some psychological help. I am not saying this with the least bit of sarcasm.

He leg-whipped Elon's Steven Santa Ana and then glared at his fallen victim -- as if Santa Ana had been the one who had done something wrong. Assessed a technical foul and taken out of the game, Allen pounded the bench with his hands, screamed and started wailing. I almost felt sorry for him -- almost.

There already are yahoos saying the reason Allen is being suspended is that he is a white kid from Duke and people hate the likes of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and J.J. Redick.

Here we go again ... poor Whitey just can't get a break in this country! Just ask President Tweety.

Face it ... had Allen been a black player at, say, Miami, he'd be called a "thug" and a "punk" -- and many of those defending Allen now might be screaming, "Lock him up!"

I hope Coach K keeps Allen off the court until the kid can undergo several counselling sessions. Allen needs to come to terms with why he keeps doing this and needs to come up with ways to stop.

+++

And speaking of President Tweety ... here's hoping McCaffrey's pro football career begins and Allen's tripping tendencies end before the world gets blown up as a result of Arms Race 2017.

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My Scholars Academy Eagles have reached Xmas break with an 8-1 record. We were unbeaten before losing our last game before break by 4 points to one of our conference rivals. A similar thing happened last season; not long after the regular-season defeat, we beat them in the playoffs en route to our championship, so I'm not sweating it too much.



Since the game, we had a fun team party and then said our goodbyes for two weeks. I hope the girls don't forget how to play basketball!

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I had been so busy with basketball that I hadn't done much writing for Seeking Alpha. I finally got around to doing an article a couple of weeks ago, and I followed that up with my latest piece on the Dividend Growth 50 portfolio that I created and funded.

Feel free to check it out HERE. With every click, I get a penny. And if I make enough pennies, I can buy some fashionable, made-not-in-the-USA Trump ties.

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I have 8 days to mail in my ballot with my Baseball Hall of Fame votes. I plan to give it a lot of thought over the next few days, and that will be the subject of my next TBT.

Till then, Merry Whatever You Celebrate. (Hopefully, life itself).
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