Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Big Milestone For My Favorite Basketball Coach

There are a lot of things I enjoy about being an assistant high school basketball coach. For one, our Ardrey Kell Lady Knights work extremely hard in practice, play all-out in games, get along with each other, respond well to coaching and are just plain fun to be around.

For another, it has been an honor and an incredible learning experience working under our head coach, Jeff Buseick. 

Our 2018-19 season began last week, and we are off to another good start. We're 3-0, and have improved each game.

The second of those victories was the 100th of Coach Buseick's career. Given that he is only in his 5th season, it's quite an accomplishment.

Coach Buseick stands between AK principal
David Switzer and athletic director Brian Knab.

In his first four seasons, our young coach (he's the same age as my daughter) won 25, 24, 24 and 25 games, with four conference titles and three trips to the state Elite Eight. His career record is now 101-21.

Every season presents a unique challenge for a coaching staff, and this one certainly is no exception.

Our top three players from 2017-18 by pretty much any measure -- points, rebounds, assists -- are now in college. We still have a talented team, but just about every player has had to take on a different role. 

Coach Buseick has re-worked our offense to emphasize our speed, aggressiveness, versatility and 3-point shooting. It's been an adjustment, but so far the girls have been up to the challenge. Coach is excited about what this team can accomplish, and so am I.

Last year was a huge jump for me, going from middle-school head coach to being an assistant at one of the best high school programs in the state. I'm still learning so much ... especially how much I still have to learn! I'm lucky to have such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, hard-working head coach as a mentor.

Just like the players, I listen intently during time-outs, too!
Our practices are amazing, demanding and action-packed, with just about every second accounted for. It's truly awe-inspiring watching Coach Buseick get the most out of our team every day, and I continue to be impressed with his attention to detail and organizational skills. 

Based on my decades as an observer of basketball coaches -- from Phil Jackson and Coach K during my years as a sportswriter all the way down to those in the youth rec leagues I now referee -- I believe Jeff Buseick would be an outstanding college coach. 

However, he has said he loves it at Ardrey Kell, the second-largest public school in North Carolina, and his wife Anna also has taught there. Additionally, he is a doting dad to two beautiful daughters. It will be interesting to see how he responds if and when college programs start recruiting him.

After his 100th victory last Friday -- a nice win over private-school powerhouse Providence Day in a Thanksgiving holiday event -- Coach Buseick asked me and my fellow assistant, the wonderful Queen Smith, if we thought he should cancel the Saturday practice he had scheduled.

Unbeknownst to him, the girls were planning a post-practice, mini-surprise party to celebrate No. 100. So Queen and I were like, "Oh no, Coach ... we think the girls can really use the work. We'd better practice." 

Thankfully, he agreed to run a light practice, and he was surprised and touched by the presentation.

A very humble guy, Coach Buseick probably wouldn't like me writing all of this. But tough ... he deserves it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gobble, Gobble! It's Turkey of the Year time again!

Remember 1998? I sure do. MJ's last championship before the Jerrys broke up the Bulls Dynasty ... the Summer of Steroid Sluggers, featuring Big Mac and Sammy ... Wanny's last stand in Bear Country ... my kids excelling on the basketball court ... my dad passing away after a courageous fight against cancer ... and me starting a new phase of my journalistic career as a sports columnist.

Naturally, a lot has changed since then -- far too much to list here. For one thing, I've been a former columnist for nearly a decade now; for another, my former business has been hurtin' for years. (Those things are related, of course.) 

Anyhoo ... one thing that has endured: the annual Turkey of the Year Countdown.

This is the 20th anniversary of me carving out a list of losers, lunkheads, dopes, druggies, cheaters and chokers -- a process I began back in my first year as Chicago sports columnist for the Copley family of newspapers.

For this edition, it would have been easy to select the abusive Michigan State doctor and his enablers, or the Maryland coach who had a player die on his watch, or the sleazy d-bag who had to sell the Carolina Panthers after getting nabbed in the MeToo movement. And then there's the reality show host masquerading as president, who is such a racist jerk that athletes refuse to visit to the White House after winning championships.

But because I don't want this to be too heavy, I'll go a different direction ...


Before I begin this year’s Turkey Countdown, let’s review the previous “winners” (and by that, I mean losers):

Mike McCaskey (1998); Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells and Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron (2002); Sammy Sosa (2003 and 2004); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley (2009); Mark McGwire (2010); Joe Paterno and the Penn State Enablers (2011); U.S. Ryder Cup Team (2012); Alex Rodriguez (2013); Roger Goodell and Ray Rice (2014); Derrick Rose (2015); Pat McCrory (2016); Kyle Shanahan (2017).

Astute readers will note that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did his gobbling in Chicago and/or the Midwest because that's where I was based. The "award" actually got its start under my Copley predecessor and friend, the late, great Gene Seymour. Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.

Now let's get to it!

15. LIONEL MESSI. I don't follow soccer, so I'll take the word of my futbol-fanboi friends who say he is one of the greatest players ever. Whatever. This mighty Argentine icon failed to score on a penalty kick as his heavily favored team couldn't even beat Iceland in the World Cup.

14. JON GRUDEN. Only days after the coach-turned-broadcaster-turned-coach traded Khalil Mack to the Bears, he had the gall to say: "Great pass rushers are hard to find." Although Gruden's Raiders have been laughingstocks, you can't say he hasn't quickly built a winner ... in Chicago.

13. PAUL GEORGE. You gotta love a guy who gives himself the nickname "Playoff P" despite pretty much sucking every time his team has played a series-deciding playoff game. This time, George missed 14 of 16 shots and committed 6 turnovers as the OKC Thunder bowed out meekly to Utah in the first round. More like "Playoff P-U!"

12. MARCUS WILLIAMS. The Saints cornerback arguably made the worst defensive play in NFL playoff history when he let Stefon Diggs score on a 61-yard catch and run (mostly run) to give the Vikings a walk-off win over the Saints. Not only did Williams whiff on Diggs, but his flying body also prevented any teammate from making a play. 

11. JAMES HARDEN. Choke much? To paraphrase one of the great sports quotes ever (courtesy of former baseball player Gary Gaetti): "It's hard to shoot the basketball when you have both hands around your throat."

10. SERGIO GARCIA & JORDAN SPIETH. In 2017, Garcia finally got the major title that had eluded him and Spieth was one of the world's great golfers. In 2018, however, they combined to miss the cut in 13 events, including 4 majors. Sergio's defense of his Masters championship ended on the first day, when he infamously dunked five shots in the drink on No. 15 to card a 13. Thirteen!!!

Still, both Garcia and Spieth did perform well in the Ryder Cup, which is more than I can say for ...

9. PHIL MICKELSON. He got benched by U.S. coach Jim Furyk after he failed in Friday foursomes. In Sunday's singles, Phil was routed by Francisco Molinari in the match that clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe. And those results weren't even the worst of it for Mickelson, who during the U.S. Open ran up to his ball while it was still moving on the green and whacked it with his putter for a 2-stroke penalty. I certainly will not be paying $19.99 to watch this washed up hacker "compete" against Tiger Woods on pay-per-view the day after Thanksgiving; heck, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't watch it if Mickelson paid me $19.99.

8. KEN GILES. The Astros reliever blew a save ... and showed his frustration by punching himself in the face

The closer for Houston's 2017 championship team, Giles was so bad this year that he was demoted to the minors. Then he was traded to Toronto, and he continued being horrible north of the border, too. I guess Canada shoulda built that wall!

7. JALEN RAMSEY. In a off-season interview with GQ, the Jaguars' cornerback ripped QBs such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Jared Goff. Of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, all he would say was they they didn't suck. Fast-forward to this season; Jalen's Jags are 0-6 since a 1-3 start. And just last Sunday, Roethlisberger led the Steelers back from a late 10-point deficit to beat Jacksonville. Maybe now Ramsey will elevate Big Ben, a two-time Super Bowl winning QB, all the way up to "doesn't suck," too.

6. LeVEON BELL. The Steelers running back thought he had all the leverage, so he held out and held out and held out ... until finally deciding to skip the entire season. As it turned out, he didn't have any leverage because his replacement, James Conner, is running as well as Bell ever did for a Pittsburgh team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Bell also gave up $14.5 million ... making me wonder how he hopes to feed Latrell Sprewell's family!

5. VIRGINIA HOOPSTERS. It was bad enough that Virginia found a way to lose to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County -- becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to drop an NCAA basketball tournament game to a No. 16 seed. 

Even worse, the Cavaliers were out-shot, out-rebounded, out-defended, out-coached and out-played from the opening tip to the final horn in losing to UMBC by 20 points. If you didn't know which team was seeded first overall and which was the very lowest seed, you'd have sworn that the mighty Retrievers were the better team. 

4. TY MONTGOMERY. When his Packers played the Rams on Oct. 28, Green Bay return man Montgomery was told to take a knee if he caught the kickoff in the end zone with 2 minutes left and the Packers trailing by 2 points. Instead, he tried to make a "hero" play, fumbled, and Aaron Rodgers was deprived of the opportunity to lead a winning drive. 

Montgomery was said to be upset that he was taken out of the game the previous series, but he denied his mood had anything to do with his insubordination. No matter ... the Packers lost a game they could have won, and they sent Montgomery packing 2 days later.

3. RICK PITINO. It's not all that surprising that the former Louisville coach cheated; he's always seemed like a guy who has lived on the fringe of the rule book. What is surprising is that of all the stink attached to the college game, Pitino is the only one who ended up being flushed down the toilet. He now says he wants to coach again in the NBA, where he already has failed twice.

2. LARRY FEDORA. The North Carolina football coach might merit a spot on this list even if all he did was lead the Tar Heels to a 2-8 record. But he's the runner-up gobbler because of his all-around turkeyness all year long. First, 13 UNC players under his watch were suspended for breaking NCAA rules. Then Fedora said he didn't believe the act of playing football has led young men to suffer degenerative brain disease CTE, despite it being a scientifically proven fact. He doubled-down on his idiocy by saying those who agree with science were "attacking" football -- and America itself. If the sport is weakened, he breathlessly claimed, "our country goes down, too." How does a dim bulb like Fedora keep his job at a prestigious university?

And now ... the 2018 Turkey of the Year ...


The soon-to-be former Cleveland Cavaliers guard pulled off the most boneheaded play of 2018 ... and then compounded his boneheadedness by lying about the circumstances surrounding it.

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals -- which was tied with 4.7 seconds left in regulation thanks to the heroics of LeBron James -- Smith rebounded teammate George Hill's missed free throw. 

Rather than go right back up for what might have been the winning basket against the heavily favored Warriors, Smith inexplicably took off and dribbled rapidly toward midcourt. James frantically called for the ball, then pointed for Smith to pass to Hill in the corner and finally tried to call time out ... but alas, by then the buzzer had sounded.

In interviews after the game, Smith claimed that he knew the score was tied, but television cameras clearly showed him telling LeBron: "I thought we were ahead." (See the 18-second mark of this video.)

Naturally, the Warriors blitzed the downtrodden Cavs in overtime and then crushed them in the next three games to take their third title in four years.

LeBron, who otherwise was amazing all postseason in willing a mediocre team to the NBA Finals, didn't cover himself in glory here, either. He could have been a leader, consoled Smith and vowed to carry the Cavs to victory in OT. Instead, he sat dejectedly on the bench, didn't join the team huddle and ignored his coach's instructions.

Still, this was classic J.R. Smith, whose career has been filled with silliness. He had a miserable 2018 playoffs overall, and he has been horrible so far this season, too. At 33, he is in the twilight of his crazy career.

Smith recently asked for a trade, and it appears he'll get his wish after ripping Cavs management for tanking the season: "I don't think the goal is to win." He actually is probably right about that, but it doesn't make his boneheaded play in Game 1 of the Finals any less boneheaded.

Nor does it make him any less fitting as the choice for Turkey of the Year.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Maybe not a blue wave, but definitely a blue swell: Facts & Observations about the 2018 election

First, lets start with some actual factual facts (as opposed to the alternative facts that Spanky & His sycophants prefer) ...

** Democrats have picked up 30 House seats, and it looks like the final tally (once California is fully counted and a few "too close to call" races get called) will be 34 to 36 added. That means the House will have gone from 235 Republicans and 193 Democrats (with 7 vacancies) to approximately 230 Dems and 205 Republicans.

** Republicans have picked up 1-3 Senate seats. The most likely scenario is 2 (assuming AZ goes to the Dems as it looks now and Fla goes to the GOP as it appears). That means the Senate will have gone from 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats to 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats.

** Democrats flipped 7 governorships, giving them 23. A couple other races might go to recounts/run-offs.

** Dems also have flipped 370-ish statehouse seats in the last year, including 300+ in this election cycle.

Now, a few observations:

++ Dems have made their biggest gains in the House since Watergate. They have a "comfortable majority," so even if a dozen legislators vote with Republicans on a bill, Dems still can play the obstruction game that the GOP perfected during Obama's tenure if they so choose.

++ Democrats also now will chair all the important House committees, including a few that likely will investigate Trump. And not the kind of "investigation" Spanky sycophant Devin Nunes pretended to conduct about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Trump's role in it.

++ Trump actively campaigned for more than a dozen House Republican incumbents who lost their seats, all in districts Republicans have held for years. Numerous other races saw Republicans barely hold on in districts they have owned for decades. Republicans lost seats in red bastions such as Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and Arizona. Additionally, Conor Lamb showed he was no "flash in the pan" after stunningly winning a special election in 2017 for a Pennsylvania House seat in a red district. Overall, there was an obvious anti-Trump backlash in this House election. He said the election was about him, and he lost the House.

++ In the Senate, Trump personally installed his own candidate in the Nevada race, Dean Heller, and that candidate lost decisively to an unknown named Jacky Rosen. Trump or his surrogates made several trips to Montana to try to oust Jon Tester, who won anyway in a red state. Tiny furiously tried to get Joe Manchin out in West Virgina but failed.

++ Whereas several Democratic senators had to try to protect seats in deep red states that Trump won in 2016, the opposite will be the case in 2020, when many Republicans will be trying to protect seats in states that Clinton won. It will be a challenge for the Dems to regain control of the Senate in 2020 due to the givebacks this cycle. Still, it isn't unrealistic to think that, if Trump's disapproval rating remains high, the Dems can flip the 4-5 seats they'll need.

++ Among the governorships Republicans lost were those in Wisconsin and Michigan. The Dems also flipped two House seats in Michigan and three in Pennsylvania.  And Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf also was re-elected governor in Penn. Why are those states significant? Despite Trump's claims that he won in a "landslide," the fact is that he won by about 78K combined votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- three states he might not be able to count on in 2020.


++ In addition to the hundreds of statehouse seats that have flipped to Democrats across the nation, several other states that had huge Republican advantages have seen those advantages reduced. For example, in NC, the Republicans had such a large numerical advantage that they could override any veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. But those advantages have been significantly reduced, and now the Republicans no longer can override Cooper without also getting votes from Democrats.

++ Also in NC, two proposed amendments to the state constitution designed purely to take authority away from the Democratic governor and give it to the Republican legislature were soundly defeated. It was a power grab, and voters saw through it.

++ The major Dem gains in the U.S. House and in statehouses came despite rampant gerrymandering that resulted in amoeba-shaped districts favoring Republicans across the nation. Courts have struck down many of the districts repeatedly as being racist and/or unfair. There are gerrymandering cases currently before the Supreme Court, and it will be interesting to see the rulings.

++ It has been entertaining to hear Spanky & His Sycophants proclaim that it's actually a good thing for the Republican party that the House has gone from a 42-seat GOP advantage to a 35-seat Democratic advantage. Where's O'Reilly's No-Spin Zone when Republicans need it?!?!

++ Trump thinks that he might actually get more things done because Dems in the House will now have to legislate rather than obstruct. Hmmm ... winning the House in 2010 didn't turn the Republicans into legislators; it just made them more effective obstructors, so we'll see how that goes. 

++ Dems, in general, aren't as good at being obstructionists as Republicans are, and I can see something like a major infrastructure project getting approval in the next year or two. Everybody likes infrastructure projects, and the jobs they bring. The Dems are always willing to spend money, as are the Republicans despite their claims to the contrary. 

++ The election no doubt hurt Mitch McTurtle's plan to pay for the Tax Cuts For Billionaires and Military Industrial Complex spending sprees on the backs of seniors, kids and sick people. It also probably will keep millions and millions of people on health care that McTurtle & Gang would rather throw under the bus.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Fun Before The Election Storm

With the midterm elections (and their related angst) just a couple of days away, I thought I'd touch on some of the fun stuff that's been going on the last couple of weeks.



I'm back for my second season as assistant girls basketball coach at Charlotte's Ardrey Kell HS. Practice has started, and we participated in a "Super Scrimmage" yesterday at Providence Day. 

We won 2 of our 3 scrimmage games, but as our great coach, Jeff Busieck pointed out multiple times, the scores really didn't matter in these things. What mattered is that our players' hard work during the offseason obviously is already paying off, as they competed hard and played well together at both ends of the floor. 

I was especially impressed with the individual improvement of several of the girls, many of whom played for AAU teams over the summer and worked tirelessly on their games. Three outstanding players graduated after last season's Elite Eight season -- taking some 75% of our scoring with them -- so we need these ladies to step up their games. We're going to play fast and ferociously, and I like our chances at another conference title.

Here's a photo I snapped of our girls between scrimmage games. Unfortunately, as you can see, it's more than a little fuzzy. I was high up and they were fairly far away. Still, it gives you an idea of how much fun they are.

We have two more weeks of practice to prepare for our season opener on Nov. 20. Can't wait!



We just spent a sensational weekend celebrating Robbie's birthday. It's not very fair that I keep getting older and she just keeps getting more beautiful.

Her actual birthday was yesterday, so we weren't together during the day. I had my team's scrimmages, while she and Simmie were visiting her dad at the assisted living facility. But in the evening, we went out with another couple for a few beers and a nice dinner.

We semi-celebrated it a week ago, when we went to see Hamilton -- what a great time. And then today we went to the Panthers game.

Wow, what movers and shakers we are!



Our gallant lads of the gridiron have reached the midway point of the season at 6-2. A few weeks ago, they weren't looking all that great, but then they rallied from a 17-point deficit at Philly to beat the defending champion Eagles, and they have played very well in home victories over the Ravens and Bucs.

They played nearly a perfect first half today against the Bucs, building a 35-7 lead. Cam Newton was wonderful, his linemen blocked superbly, the skill players surrounding Cam had one great play after another -- especially Christian McCaffrey, who leaped clear over a defender on one spectacular play, and Curtis Samuel, who ran more than 100 yards from one side of the field to the other during a 33-yard TD play on a double-reverse. And the defense was in the grill of Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Photo by Jason Miczek,
The Panthers almost always like to make things exciting, though, and they let the Bucs pull back within 35-28 before putting the game away on a pass from Newton to Samuel in the fourth quarter.

There will be no rest for the weary, as the Panthers go to Pittsburgh in just a few days for Thursday Night Football.

Also today in the NFL, the Saints beat the Rams. The Panther fan in me wanted the Saints to lose, because then my boys would have been tied for first place in the division. But the old Dolphins fan in me was glad to see the previously undefeated Rams lose -- meaning another season will have passed without anybody equaling the incredible achievement of the '72 Dolphins.



I said I wanted to keep this about the fun before the storm, so I won't ramble on about perhaps the most important election of our lifetimes -- a chance to check the power of the most corrupt, dishonest, unstable, incompetent president ever.

So I'll talk about Tuesday night also being the season opener of my Marquette Warrior Eagles.

MU should be a real good team this season. The first AP poll has Marquette second among "others receiving votes," meaning that voters in effect consider us the nation's 27th best team. Also, Big East coaches picked us to finish second behind defending national champion Villanova. Juniors Markus Howard (pictured below) and Sam Hauser are two of the very best shooters in the country, and the supporting cast appears to be solid and deep.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

My lads will get a chance early on to prove they belong with the big boys, as the non-conference schedule includes games against Kansas, either Tennessee or Louisville (in the preseason NIT), Kansas State, at Indiana, Wisconsin and Buffalo.

Also, Tuesday's opener at Milwaukee's brand spankin' new Fiserv Forum is against Maryland-Baltimore County -- which last March became the first 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament (when UMBC ruined millions of brackets by taking down Virginia).

Yep, Tuesday is going to be a wild night of flipping back and forth between the game and various networks' election coverage.

Here's hoping I have a lot to smile about.