Monthly Archives: December 2011

BB: Nick Johnson is a Winner

Arizona would not have scheduled the Florida Gators if they didn’t think they could win.

They traveled to Gainesville to win and the Gators will travel to Tucson next winter to win. Everyone wants to win but only one team will. Boom: sports fact.

Wednesday night we learned Nick Johnson wants to win.

Amidst the distractions of suspensions, dismissals, starting at point guard for the first time perhaps ever, and playing in one of college basketball’s most hostile environments, Nick Johnson fought.

It wasn’t his best game. He made just two of his eight shots; he coughed the ball up five times including once in the waning seconds of regulation; and he couldn’t stop a sorority girl from getting to her flavored vodka let alone a Florida guard.

And I bet you he’s pissed.

Losing sucks and he sure as hell didn’t want to lose last night. In spite of the distractions, the position he played, and the court he was on, Nick Johnson wanted to win and made no bones about.

It was fun to watch the hoppy young man compete. Sure, he got punched but he wasn’t down. He played thirty five minutes of hard nosed hoops, came up short, and will learn. He’s the poster child for what Sean Miller wants his teams to be: tough, gritty, in-your-face, and allergic to L’s.

So consider me – not shockingly – on the Nick Johnson band wagon. Whether he’s playing his natural two-guard, point guard, or center I want him on my team, competing. Because winners win, and there’s a lot of that in NJ.

And if you’re still not on the bandwagon. Not convinced Johnson wants to win more than others, willing to do anything to get to a final four and earn himself a ring, then at least appreciate this. (UPDATE: watch video below, notice when Johnson sits and when Florida shoots free throw)

In the everlasting words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.” Nick Johnson does just that and I’m a fan.

Be Bigger than your Failures Pac-12 Suspendees

Failure is a painful albeit necessary lesson we must all learn.

I didn’t finish first before finishing last; you didn’t win before you lost; and they couldn’t go before they were stopped.

The recent flurry of suspensions and dismissals throughout the Pac-12 accents the lessons sports are meant to teach us: discipline, teamwork, accountability, hard work. They provide an arena for coaches to teach, players to learn, and everyone to grow.  In few other forums is success, failure and the connectivity of the two so clearly defined.

Therefore, in the pursuit of any great goal – from sales to championships – recognizing set-backs and failure is imperative. It’s a difficult pill to swallow but an inevitable one; one that some don’t have to swallow as often as others.

When you’ve grown up as “the man,” he who could just roll the ball out, lace ‘em up and walk out with a W, what do you have to learn from failure? You’ve never failed, why should you now? Basic tenants of teamwork, like attitude, attendance, and punctuality, are compromised for talent and skills, creating no space for greater learning.

So when that first shot doesn’t fall; when the minutes dwindle and the stats shrink; when practice is followed by lifting not leisure; how does one react?

If you follow the lead of a growing number of Pac-12 players, you act out. You miss practices and buses, ignore rules and coaches, and find your way into a suspension or off the team. You might even leave, providing little-to-no reason for your departure.

But if you want to be great, if you want to be better, grow and learn, you’ll stay. You’ll play by the rules, address failure, and improve. You’ll work. You’ll rely on others and you’ll trust them because your best is their best.

So maybe Dick Vitale is right. Maybe it is time to look in the mirror and see what’s really going on. What direction do you want this to go; how good do you want to be? Or better yet, why are you here?

Failure is not a diagnosis or apocalyptic. It’s a painful opportunity.

If you can’t embrace that, then best of luck to you. You’re going to need it.

And if you don’t want to hear it from me, this guy has something to say about it:

Worst SI Cover Jinx. Ever.

And here it is:

The man who donned the cover of Sports Illustrated’s college basketball (regional) preview is no longer on a college basketball team. Reeves Nelson has been indefinitely suspended (for the second time) from the UCLA basketball team by head coach Ben Howland.

On paper, Nelson won’t be missed. The enigmatic junior was averaging just 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds and had played just 22 minutes in the Bruins’ last two games. He’d missed practices, team flights, and the point.

It’s not as if the writing hasn’t been on the wall. Prophetically, in this LA Times piece, Howland acknowledges that Nelson’s behavior has been “totally uncharacteristic of what [Howland] want from a UCLA basketball player representing this history and tradition.” Howland continued, “It’s something that is going to be dealt with when we get together again. It’s been an ongoing problem the past two years which has gotten worse.”

It appears they’ve gotten together again. It appears it’s been dealt with.

And what I want to believe is that more than just a malcontent has been dealt with. That Howland and his Bruins are turning the corner onto Winning Street and getting back to the place where UCLA is the spot. Where the Bruins are feared, not laughed at; proud, not embarrassing; winning, not losing.

But – and I refer back to the LA Times article – Howland sounds like a defeated man. His quotes lack urgency, his actions lack decisiveness, his team lacks heart. The sour faced coach comes across as hoping, fingers crossed, as his under-skilled, overweight band-o-Bruins go through the motions of a 2011-12 season.

On Josh Smith, “We had high expectations for him, but he didn’t do the work necessary in the off-season to be in the condition necessary.”

This is a player in your program. There are expectations and there is work. One is tangible.

On turning things around, “I believe we’ll be competitive in every game.”

Winners do and losers hope. Has it really come to a belief in effort?

With this suspension, I hope Howland takes himself seriously. To steal from the NCAA, he’s lost institutional control and needs to get it back. It starts with accountability. Reeves doesn’t want to be a team player? Then no team. Smith doesn’t want to get into basketball shape? Then no basketball.

I hope Howland can once again find the bite with all that bark.

If he doesn’t, UCLA fans can look forward to another thrilling coaching hunt – because the football one is going so well.

As for the tattoed bandit? Who knows. He’s packed a lot of baggage at this point and likely wont end up on another college campus. His NBA prospects are bleak at best and he ain’t winning any beauty contests.

Ultimately, you hope for the best for the young man. We’ve all lost our way before – not necessarily in the fish bowl of major college athletics. He has lessons to learn, the kind often learned in team sports. He’s had opportunity on top of opportunity to figure it out, to grow up and thrive in an excellent basketball environment.

That opportunity has been squandered.

And it’s not the SI cover’s fault.

The Weekend That Was: Good, bad, and ugly

I’m not going to go into great detail on this weekend. There were few thrilling games (although Cal-SDSU lived up to its billing), no compelling match ups (although UCLA lived up to it’s train wreck status, more on that later), and not much scoring (only three of the ten participating Pac-12 teams broke the 70-point mark which ain’t gonna earn you free tacos).

The Good: Stanford and Oregon State are good teams – at least by 2011-12 Pac-12 standards. The Cardinal hosted a decent NC State Wolfpack and won, 76-72. It’s become apparent, if you’re following the national scene, that NC State is becoming the token big conference team giving other big conference teams relevant challenges and subsequent W’s. They’ve now played this role for Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Indiana. Quickly, Chasson Randle is good.

Oregon State was particularly tested but did win, handily over Montana. Lately, I’m having to make the unfortunate argument of which teams are good/bad based on their easy victories. The Beavers, more than other teams, are handling the teams they should and are being rewarded for it on pachoops. I’m going to quit this little rant and just say, keep watching Jared Cunningham.

The Bad: For me, the most appealing storyline of the weekend was self-derived. I proposed this question to my nominal but terrific twitter following:While I received no responses, I thought it was a phenomenal question, my failure was in not following up with my own predictions but one had to assume USC would be a good bet. So as you may or may not know, the Ducks beat the hapless but spirited UCLA Bruins in the aforementioned inaugural Pac-12 Football Championship game, 49-31.

That means, per my question, ten teams played gunning to outscore the Ducks’ 49 points.

A little statistical analysis shows us that on three occasions, a Pac-12 team has not eclipsed this mark. ASU put a 44 spot on the Fairfield Stags, Utah lit up Harvard for 47 big ones, and USC – this Championship weekend – blew up for 40 KOs (that’s what I’m going to call USC’s points this season). Not surprisingly, each of these efforts resulted in a loss.

I’m not going to go much further into this statistical analysis because, frankly, it’s not worth delving deep into poor play. I’m more interested in looking at what good, happened.

The Ugly: On Friday, I asked you to tune into the UCLA-Texas game like you were rubber necking on the 405. Early on, the Bruins did their best to prove they weren’t the awkward situation everyone is quickly making them out to be. They were rolling, up 30-19. Then, the lights went out. Sure, that may read metaphorically but I mean it in a literal sense. With just under four minutes remaining in the first half and the Bruins rolling, the lights went out in the LA Sports Arena. For thirteen minutes, the Bruins and Longhorns were delayed (along with a whopping 6,177 fans in 14,500 seats) for 13 minutes. From that point on, Ben Howland’s sorry troupe was outscored 50-29. For more, read this, and know that Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith combined for 6-points, 6-rebounds, and 24 minutes.

POW: As per league headquarters, Solomon Hill was the player of the week. He continues his solid play, a “jack of all trades” who is “playing better than he ever has” according to his coach, Sean Miller. Hyperbole never hurt anyone, but come on...







This Weekend in the Pac-12: The debut

There’s a full slate of games this weekend as 10 of the Pac’s 12 are in action. Of course, Utah is playing so you might argue that only nine are in action but perhaps I’m being too harsh. Here’s linkage to the weekend schedule TV and all. But here it is cut and pasted, too:

Fri., Dec. 2
Washington at Nevada, 8 p.m. ESPNU

Sat., Dec. 3
USC at Minnesota, 1:15 p.m. BTN
Arizona State at Tulsa, 3 p.m. CBS SN
Northern Arizona at Arizona, 4:30 p.m. FSAZ/KWBA
Texas at UCLA, 1:30 p.m. FSN/PT
Utah at Fresno State, 1 p.m.
Eastern Washington at Washington State, 3:30 p.m. RTNW
Oregon vs. BYU, 3 p.m. (20) ESPNU

Sun., Dec. 4
North Carolina State at Stanford, 1 p.m. FSN
No. 24 California at San Diego State, 2 p.m. The Mtn
Montana at Oregon State, 5 p.m. RTNW

Naturally, all times are PST.

Briefly, before I get too far into the weekend preview and after mentioning TV, I’d like touch on the difficulty of watching and preview a post for next week: Larry Scott’s TV deal can’t come soon enough. I’ve already experienced two local football non-televised games (a Cal game and an Arizona game) and I’m now finding it a pain to find much Pac-12 hoops. While ESPN3 was convenient for Tuesdays’ Arizona-NMSU tilt, it shouldn’t take a stroke of Worldwide leader luck to get a West coast game in a West coast market. More to come.

Your weekend preview of Pac-12 games, the debut of this preview series.

Best Game You Can Watch: Texas at UCLA, Saturday 1:30 pm, FSN/PT
As the title suggests, this is the best game readily available for your viewing. We all know the struggles UCLA has had to date but that doesn’t mean they’re not a moderately talented squad. Texas comes to the Sports Arena an intriguing squad, loaded with talent but young talent. J’Covan Brown is filthy and is worth the watch in-and-of-himself. Then there’s the watch-a-train-wreck factor. As previously stated, UCLA appears as likely to implode as Reeves Nelson is to getting a new tattoo so maybe you should rubber neck and watch this car accident like it was in the middle of the 405.

Best Game You Can’t Watch: #24 Cal at San Diego State, Sunday 2 pm, The Mtn
Fristly, what the shit is The Mtn? I’ll answer: it’s the Mountain West Sports Network that won’t be airing the game in the Bay Area. This terrific game, featuring arguably the two best (I see you Gonzaga) teams on the West Coast, will be viewed by only a select audience. Preliminary searches show that the game is not even available on any Comcast Bay Area channel. But let’s get to the hoops and why, if you can, you should watch. San Diego State is 8-0 against the Pac-12 over the last 3 seasons (that includes 4 wins over Utah). Needless to say, Steve Fisher’s group has owned the Conference of Champions and it’s time to put them back in their rightful place: at the beach. Cal is more talented than the Aztecs who are coming off a tough home loss to Creighton. SDSU’s Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl (I guess that’s better than Cox Arena?) get loud and rowdy so the veteran Bears had best bring their A game. As an added anti-bonus, traveling to San Diego isn’t even a bonus as the weather forecasts in both SF and SD are identical. Look it up.

Game not to watch: The only game not televised this weekend is Utah at Fresno State. And for good reason. These two powers are a combined 4-9, are the 180th (FSU) and 294th (UU) highest scoring teams in the country, and both have played (and fortunately beat) teams who don’t even have linkable team pages on – the same company that employs Rick Reilly and Craig James. Perhaps the networks are doing us all a favor keeping this one blacked out.

Garbage Guide:

  • Remember when Minnesota went to the Final Four? Neither does the NCAA. But feel free to ask Jan Gangelhoff to write about it.
  • Washington State is in fact better at being Eastern Washington than Eastern Washington. Mapped it. However, this could be an “if a tree falls in the forest” argument.
  • Rick Barnes: take your 16 NBA Draft picks and win something someone would care about.
  • Maybe because the Fresno State game isn’t on TV, they’ll be better suited to throw the game.
  • Ok, this may not be trash talk, but Steve Fisher is increasingly looking like John Wooden:

While They Were Sleeping: Let ’em sleep, watch a video

Stanford 72, Seattle 49: Stanford rolled yet again and appears to be asserting themselves as a team that knows how to do such. I know they’ve been playing inferior talent that they’ve beat up on, but I can’t help but be impressed. Teams often over look early, lesser opponents and, especially if you look at the atrocious Pac-12 losses, you can’t take anyone for granted. Dawkins’ squad is playing stern and tough, a lot like their coach looks (peer deep into those eyes: shivers). One thing that made this game interesting is the Pac-10 historical undertones. Seattle is coached by Cameron Dollar of UCLA lore. Doing some research, Dollar was on the losing end of this UCLA-Stanford game in 1997 (the Bruins would later avenge that loss, 87-68). Regardless, Dollar has the last laugh as he’s a 1995 National Champion. He’s also the same Cameron Dollar who assisted Lorenzo Romar for seven years and, in his first season at Seattle, beat Oregon State. The dude’s all over the conference. Anyhow, this game wasn’t worth much of a watch but know that Stanford is quickly becoming a team to look out for. Heads up.

With only one game going on in the conference last night and it being Friday and all, here’s some video linkage. Enjoy:

While They Were Sleeping: Coaching rants and low riders

USC 56, UC Riverside 35: You hate it. I hate it. Kevin O’Neil loves this crap. He’s got his strewn together squad of transfers and misfits playing just how KO wants. Like the low riders of San Francisco’s Mission (follow that link, good stuff from my buddy Trevor Traynor) KO’s got his boys “slow and low.” Slow: 60.4 possessions per 40 minutes is the fewest in the conference and 341st fewest in the country. Low: 57 points per game is the lowest in the conference and 326th lowest in the country. That’s KO ball. If you’re looking for flashy in the Galen Center, watch the sweatered cheerleaders or KO’s red, glistening dome or Lane Kiffin’s wife. But hey, winning is winning and KO can get that done. Somehow this has turned into a Kevin O’Neil review so back to last night’s game. The Trojans held UCR to just 11 points in the second half which is impressive regardless of how bad an opponent they’re playing. Offensively (giggles), the reigning Pac-12 POW, Maurice Jones, scored just 6 points while struggling from distance (0-6 from three) but dished 7 assists. Impressively, in such a defensive struggle, the Trojans committed just 10 fouls.

Washington St 69, Grambling St 37: Perhaps basking in the glory of the hiring of Mike Leach to guide their maligned football program, Ken Bone’s squad took it to GSU (On the topic of Mike Leach, consider this: he’s about to make $2.2M a year in Pullman, WA. That’s a a 360% raise from what Paul Wulf was making. That pay increase is all Larry Scott and his new TV deal. More to come). In this battle of large breed cats, the Cougars held the Tigers to 25% shooting and just 16% from three. That said, maybe the Cougs had less to do with the poor shooting than we’re giving them credit for? Grambling is now 0-6 and shooting a sweltering 27% as a team, the worst shooting percentage in college basketball. But here’s a Grambling fun fact: sophomore guard Rondale Lucas, through six games, has played every minute but eight. He’s the smallest of the Tigers at 5’10” but is second in rebounding (5.7 rpg). But enough about the SWAC, we’re about the Pac and Brock Motum is rolling. Dare I consider a “Brock for POY” campaign? He went for 11 and 10 last night and is averaging 15 and 7 thus far. I’m telling you, keep an eye on the Motum.

Colorado 64, Colorado State 65: Rivalry fail here. The Buffs, just as we thought they were maybe turning a corner, go and lose to their arch rivals. I suppose one could chock this up to the fact that often rivalry games are a toss up, but Colorado really had a talent advantage here and squandered it. Of course, it never helps to shoot 45% on 29 free throw attempts. Think that makes a difference in a one point game? Also, the high flying Andre Roberson scored all of one point in thirty three minutes.  He did grab twelve boards but when there’s NBA hype, you gotta score more than one point. Sigh – this was yet another Pac-12 fail.