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John Rooke - Thinking Out Loud

Saturday, April 05, 2014

 

Thinking out loud…and wondering whatever happened to Billy Packer?

• Friar fans have an understandably difficult time rooting for UConn…but the Huskies have been more than just a remarkable story in their current run to the Final Four on the men’s side. For the women, it’s old hat. And even though the men have three national titles to their credit, the current team reaching North Texas this week for yet another chance at a championship is nothing short of…well…let’s just say I’m smh

• Two words: Guard. Play. That is all

Shabazz Napier is doing his best Kemba Walker imitation, and DeAndre Daniels has risen to the occasion to make this current Husky team – the same one that lost 81-48 to Louisville at the end of the regular season – a legit threat to win it all. They’ve already beaten Florida this year; in fact, they were the last team to do that…back in December. The Gators have won 30 straight since...

• Could UConn have made a better choice than Kevin Ollie as head coach? Let’s give Jim Calhoun some credit. While some believe PC’s Associate Head Coach Andre LeFleur might have been passed over in the hierarchy to replace a retiring Calhoun, it’s clear the crafty coach knew what he was doing when hand-picking his successor. These things don’t always work out, as you know (a different set of circumstances, but see Chiesa, Gordie). It’s worked out best for everyone, it seems…

• You may know by now that Ollie was born in Dallas, TX, which is in the neighborhood of where the Final Four is being held (AT&T Stadium in Arlington). Ollie’s mother is just days removed from surgery for stage two breast cancer, which she had in Connecticut. Their homecoming is certainly a great story this week

• Years that UConn’s men and women BOTH made the Final Four – 2004 (both won), 2009, 2011, 2014. Hard to hate on that…

• Friar fans, is anyone really THAT surprised this Kentucky team also made it to the Final Four? The team that beat Providence in Brooklyn last December appeared to be one of the most talented young teams anyone has seen in some time…and even though they did struggle a bit during conference play, didn’t we all think this would be a team you wouldn’t want to play later in the season? It’s UK’s 3rd Final Four appearance in the last four years…

Not for nuthin’…but all four of Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting commitments played this week in the McDonalds’ All-American game. Looks like the Wildcats will stay stacked for a while, and give the Friars another unique challenge next season in Lexington…

• And of course, the inevitability of an ever-present Providence connection in big-time basketball continues with Florida head coach Billy Donovan. It is stunning to me, to think that he’s been the head coach at Florida for 18 years…and has already won two national titles (2006, 2007). He might get a third this weekend, which would put him in the company of names like Bob Knight and the aforementioned Jim Calhoun, who also won three. And, it puts him ahead of names like Dean Smith, Roy Willliams and Henry Iba – winners of two each. Whoa

The Orlando Sentinel this week called Donovan Florida’s version of John Wooden. If you know your hoop history, let that sink in for a moment. And gimme another whoa

Mike Stephens (lubbockonline.com)

• And while you’re at it, an “atta boy” for Providence’s Mike Stephens, an employee in the Providence Parks and Rec department who will be working the Final Four this weekend as a referee. Stephens is, as you may know, one of the best officials the Big East has to offer. And Joe Hassett once told me that all basketball referees are terrible – there’s just a level of terribleness that applies. I’ll wager Stephens’ terribleness level is at an all-time low about now…

• I know it’s the NIT, but did you see that Minnesota beat SMU in the finals? The same Minnesota that calls 31-year-old Providence College graduate Richard Pitino its head coach? Pretty cool feat for a young man with a famous Dad…especially since his Golden Gophers beat an SMU team coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown

• It took 53 years for the NCAA tournament to return to Madison Square Garden? Hope it doesn’t take another 53 for it to return again…by all indications, the games at MSG were very well received – although having UConn present certainly helped boost the ticket sales. But with bids for 1st and 2nd weekend sites coming up for 2016, 2017 and 2018 later this year…the Garden should definitely be in the mix. So will the new college hoop hotspot on the map – the Barclays Center in Brooklyn…

• Three weeks ago, the Friars celebrated a Big East championship on the Garden floor…and last week, UConn’s Huskies had a “hat and t-shirt” moment on the same floor after winning the NCAA East Regional. Those facts shouldn’t be lost on any college basketball fan in New England. Who’da thunk that would happen a month ago? That’s big time…

• And apparently, so is college basketball as a whole. The expected economic impact of the Final Four in the DFW Metroplex this week and weekend is approximately $276 million. Sports Business Daily also reported that last weekend’s Elite 8 matchups between Arizona-Wisconsin and Florida-Dayton on TBS were the two MOST watched college basketball games in cable TV history. Are you paying attention, Fox and Big East?

• A little disappointed in the Associated Press naming Bryce Cotton an “honorable mention” all-American. What? There were 15 players in the country really better than he was this year? But not disappointed that URI’s E.C. Matthews was named a freshman all-American. Looking forward to watching him step into the line behind some great players at Rhody…

Tweet of the Week I – from Providence College athletic director Bob Driscoll (@PCBobDriscoll): “Only 2 schools in the country had both basketball and hockey in the NCAA's. Wisconsin with 30,000 students and PC with 3,800. #gofriars”

Interesting piece in the New York Times from Ellen Staurowsky, who teaches at Drexel University, on how Title IX may have NO impact whatsoever on “pay for play” issues now at hand in college sports. The football players at Northwestern who want to unionize could be considered employees within a “commercialized” environment, rather than in an “educational” environment…like women athletes. Oh boy…if this holds true, a whole new round of “women’s rights” issues are sure to follow…

• And for those of you who still think college athletes are still getting a bargain through their scholarships alone – and for the record, I don’t disagree with you – consider these two items from recently completed NCAA competition: 1) Ohio State wrestler Logan Stieber won the NCAA championship at his weight level, 141 pounds, and earned $0. Athletic Director Gene Smith, however, earned an $18,000 bonus in his contract for Stieber’s win, rewarding him for “exceptional athletic achievement.” 2) Kentucky’s coaching staff earned more than $300K in bonuses for Aaron Harrison’s big shot that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. Harrison? Well, ok, probably $0. In reality…well…but maybe you get the point. Just sayin’

• My buddy “Big E” sez his wife is the one who actually made him a millionaire. Before he married her, he was a multi-millionaire…

• Maybe I’m alone, but Marquette’s hiring of Steve Wojciechowski was the wrong move to make for the Golden Eagles. First, having to type his name every time he’s mentioned is a pain…every bit as bad as that of his mentor at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski. But in all seriousness, MU missed the boat here…this is Wojo’s first head coaching job. Expecting him to come in and keep the program at its present high level – or take it to even higher places – is unrealistic at best, and just plain dumb at worst. Money can’t be the issue, as Marquette has one of the highest basketball budgets in the country…

• Best guess? Coaches with experience, no matter the money offered, ultimately passed on working for an interim boss, as AD Bill Cords did the hiring, but won’t be the permanent boss. That’s tough, without assurances…or little “extras” in a contract. Wojo has a name, sure…but MU is now a job that deserves better than a first-time head coach. Then again, four of Marquette’s last five head coaches have come straight from the ranks of assistants. Just can’t help but feel that the Big East also misses out here on a potential signature hiring…

• Every time I see him, to this day, I remember him slapping the floor getting ready to defend the Friars’ God Shammgod in the 1997 NCAA Tournament, and Shammgod blowing by him to the basket. Let’s hope that tradition continues…because the Bradley Center in Milwaukee is PC’s personal Little House of Horrors…

• For all of the banging on the Big East’s post-season…and certainly, some of it is merited…the ACC can’t go unscathed here. This is the 4th straight year the league has failed to put a team in the Final Four, the first such drought since 1958-61. Think about that, Cuse, Pitt and ND fans, while you (verbally) beat up your former brethren…

• Then there’s the debut of the still Providence-based American Athletic Conference on the NCAA scene, and the American fared quite well…as the only conference with teams represented in the NCAA Men's Final Four, the Women's Final Four and the finals of the NIT and WNIT…and the only conference with a winning percentage on the men’s side of better than .750 (11-3, .764 so far) this season, too…

• Last week, it was JaKarr Sampson headed to the NBA Draft. This week, St. John’s announced sophomore center Chris Obekpa has been granted a release from the school and he’s expected to transfer, or perhaps turn pro. That’s a huge blow for a Red Storm team that appeared to be a favorite heading into next season. Former Harvard guard Max Hooper has also been granted a release to transfer from SJU, leaving six open scholarships for next season and no incoming recruits signed. Yet. Was it something Steve Lavin said?

• Comings and goings in Friartown...Brice Kofane apparently made his transfer official this week, as he will graduate next month with a year of immediate eligibility remaining.  Kofane is a good kid, a good student, and will have a much better chance for playing time at a different level.  Hanging around for another year is goaltender Jon Gillies for the Hockey Friars, rather than move onto the pros, according to his Instagram account.  One of the premier stoppers between the pipes in the country, Gillies' return puts Providence on the pedestal for everyone's best shot in 2014-15...

• Good luck to new Boston College head basketball coach Jim Christian, named this week to replace Steve Donahue in Chestnut Hill. He’ll need it. Christian is a 1988 URI grad, where he finished up college after playing two years at Boston University as a Rick Pitino recruit. His teams won 49 games the past two seasons at Ohio University…after a rough four years at TCU…

Bacon On-A-Stick (twitter.com)

• For a third straight week, I am featuring must-have ballpark foods for the upcoming season…and this one I feel I can actually get to. As long as I have the defibrillator handy. Bacon-on-a-stick…brought to you by the Texas Rangers and Globe Life Park in Arlington, TX…

• So the Red Sox have only the 5th-best odds to win it all again this year, at 12-to-1? Odds, Schmods. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers and Nationals all have lower odds on their side going in, and for my money, the Cards are the only team worth worrying about. And that would be IN the World Series…

Bovada set the Sox over/under on wins at 87.5. Seems to me that had best be over…if Vegas thinks Boston is a 12-1 favorite to repeat as champs…

• Teams that scare me as a Red Sox fan…Los Angeles Angels of whatever, and the Texas Rangers. If Albert Pujols is sufficiently PO’ed from last season’s debacle, that could be enough (with Mike Trout’s prowess, of course) to put the Angels over the top. But only if they get past the Rangers, who do have early injury problems but are bolstered by Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, and who seem like they’ve been due to win for the past 10 years…

Frozen Beer (twitter.com)

• It’s not a food, but it is…um…unusual. And I would try it. Also brought to you by the Texas Rangers – who lead the world in strange food offerings – frozen beer. Don’t know why they didn’t put it on a stick like everything else…and call it a beersicle

Baseball predictions are a fool’s folly. Over 162 games, there’s so much that can happen – right for some, or wrong for others – that sometimes not even the strongest teams can survive. A good pick in April can quickly change into a lousy pick by Memorial Day. That being said…I’ll go over on the Sox at 87.5, but the pitching has to stay (relatively) healthy. If it does, they’ll win the AL East again. Brilliant

• Hope you didn’t choke yourself on too much baseball at the start of this season. 17 straight hours on MLB Network got things started last Monday on Opening Day

Jonny Gomes is nothing if not…colorful. Can’t say I’m surprised that no one else wore the RW&B American flag blazers he had made for the team’s White House visit this week…but then again, why would they? Those jackets were so…so…Gomes. I feel certain no one wanted to stand in the way of Jonny being Jonny…

Ortiz & President Obama (aivanet.com)

• Hey! I have a Samsung phone, too. I don’t know if I can get a selfie with President Obama for a few hundred thou…as David Ortiz apparently received for his pretentious pic, but I could certainly come up with something worth a couple hundred bucks…

• We’re talkin’ practice…the NFL has announced when teams can hold their off-season strength and conditioning programs, as well as the “OTA’s” (Organized Team Activities) that somehow, people get all worked up about. Well, fire up the tailgate. Patriots’ OTA’s begin May 27th, and will also run May 29-30, and June 2-3, 5, 9-10 and 11-12. Got all that?

• In case you were wondering…no, the NFL Draft is still a few weeks away. Normally, the Draft has been held sometime during the last week of April, but it has been moved back two weeks to start on May 8th this year. And yes, next year’s schedule will be released soon, probably by the middle of this month. It will be the biggest story of the day – maybe even of the week – and render baseball, basketball and hockey games as afterthoughts…

• Like some others, I was also pretty surprised at much of the fan reaction to Vince Wilfork’s contract hissy-fit recently. The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin did a good job this week of breaking down what Wilfork is really getting out of his new deal with the team…and it’s surprising, even to me…considering I’ve worked for the Patriots for 21 years. There’s just not any doubt, whatsoever, in my mind that part of the reason the NFL has overtaken everything else in this country by popular vote is that ownership ultimately wins. Everything. MLB, NHL and NBA owners could take a lesson from NFL owners about how to run their business like shrewd, conniving misers…and still come out looking like heroes. Maybe that’s why Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban is such a fan?

• Saw where the Patriots were gettin’ jiggy wit’ it this week, taking a look at Will Smith. What? That’s not the same Will Smith? April Fools’ on me…

Tweet of the Week II – from CBS Sports’ Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS): “April Fools’ Day + Twitter = Bad Combination…”

• I’m not really a Tiger Woods fan, but it just won’t be The Masters next week without his presence. On April 1st, the four-time champ announced he had surgery last week on a pinched nerve in his back that’s been bothering him for some time, keeping him away from Augusta. It’s no joke, apparently…

• The one April Fools’ joke I’ll never forget came in 1983, while giving the sports report during morning drive on WOAI in San Antonio…and I traded the Spurs’ George Gervin to the Los Angeles Lakers. I got phone calls from as far away as Poland and Russia on that one. Also got one from the Spurs’ PR director at the time, Wayne Witt, who wasn’t terribly happy with my joke – especially since I was also a Spurs’ employee at the time. So I “untraded” the Ice Man a few minutes later. The Ice Man goeth, and then the Ice Man cameth back. Stupid is as stupid does

• Fun facts to know and tell…did you know that the first athletic “cup” was used in hockey in 1874, and the first helmet was used in 1974? That means it only took men 100 years to figure out the brain is also important…

• It isn’t a surprise that a child of Pat Summitt – the winningest coach in (women’s) college basketball history – has been hired to become a head coach himself. What raises eyebrows is that after two years as an assistant at Marquette, Tyler Summitt is just 23 years old, and has been hired as head coach at Louisiana Tech. In women’s hoop circles, that’s like saying the 23-year-old daughter of Mike Krzyzewski has been hired to become head coach at Boston College…

David Letterman (blogtown.com)

• And maybe the Eagles should have considered that. Coach K and his daughter Jamie did write a book together, "Beyond Basketball: Coach K's Keywords For Success," which was released in October, 2006…

• Could it now be just a younger man’s game? David Letterman announced this week he’s going to retire from the CBS Late Show in 2015. Letterman, once thought to be Johnny Carson’s replacement for The Tonight Show on NBC before the gig went to Jay Leno, has been the Late Show host on CBS since 1993. Dunno about you, but most people I know fell into one of two categories over the past 20 years – you were either a Leno guy, or a Letterman fan. No in-between.  I have been a Letterman fan...

Billy Packer (desales.edu)

• He might have stirred up some controversy in his later years, but I still miss the days when Billy Packer teamed up with Jim Nantz for the CBS telecasts of NCAA tournament games. Ousted from the network after 2008 following 35 years of covering the tournament for NBC and CBS, Packer has only briefly stepped back into the media spotlight since he left, and mostly works on private business ventures. He was, however, interviewed last week about the NCAA’s return to Madison Square Garden, as he had played in the last tournament game held there in 1961, before the NCAA returned this year…

• From the mailbag this week – Rose from Sacramento, CA via email: “What did you think of (baseball) opening day replays?” Rose: Let the record show that Cubs’ manager Rick Renteria was the first to challenge a call (at first base) in the new era of baseball replays. He lost. And I think the game loses, too. In the same game, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle actually won his challenge, getting a “safe” call on a pickoff play at first overturned. Of the five reviews last Monday, nothing took longer than 2 ½ minutes, so that seems like a good start. But to me, the one thing that really sets baseball apart – the human element in officiating – is slipping away like it has in football and basketball. Let’s see how baseball handles this, and whether or not managers will now properly use or recklessly abuse the system in place. Baseball games are long enough…if managers abuse the privilege, not only will we continue to lose a younger generation of fans bored out of their minds by a game’s length, we’ll also start losing current fans as well…

• Interested in having your questions on local RI sports (including the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions and comments to [email protected]. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

• Don’t forget to join us for GoLocal Sports on 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am! Call in (401) 737-1287(401) 737-1287, or text us at 37937…and send email to the show - [email protected] .

 

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Comments:

Great read John thanks for the updates!

Comment #1 by Wally M on 2014 04 05

Wasn't Billy Packer given the boot because of his inappropriate remarks? I don't miss him. In fact, I found him pompous. What I do miss is his banter with Al McGuire, who spiced up the telecasts with his colorful basketball language and outlandish opinions, which clearly irritated Packer. Jim Nance was bland and basically a yes man to Packer.

Comment #2 by joe adamowicz on 2014 04 05

Roooooooke! Great stuff -

Only ? this week is how you can profess to be surprised at fan reaction over l'affaire d'Vince when 2 weeks ago you chided him for his behavior - going so far as to state that either he needed to get with the program and not act like a jerk.

Since that type of reaction is exactly what Volin reported (accurately!) - and you shared it - were u surprised that folks agreed with you?

(If so I guess that is how S from FR must feel most days!)

Great note on how there is a Pitino in a final 4 this year. I guess go Gophers.

Comment #3 by Marty C on 2014 04 05

Marty - just surprised that so many fans also had the "hit the highway" mentality with Wilfork. I thought he'd have more sympathizers. Perhaps Patriots fans are smarter than he (or we) think they are...and they do seem to understand how the regime goes about its business.

Comment #4 by John Rooke on 2014 04 05




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