I’m not sure what to say besides I told you so. It feels good to be right. That Heat bench was damn near nonexistent during this series. There was a certain point in the game where San Antonio’s bench had outscored Miami’s bench 30-2.
Lebron balled out so you can’t put this on him. He came out hard and put up 20 first half blocks and impacted the game early on. Well guess what? The Heat were still down by 7 going into the second half.

It was a good all around team game for the Spurs (as usual). Boris Diaw made a sick alley-oop pass to Kawhi Leonard, the Finals MVP. Ginobili made his presence felt the minute he stepped onto the court, mashing on busters like it was 2005.
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan didn’t have the flashiest of stats tonight but they made plays every time the Heat made a small run at them.

Seeing this unselfish, multi-national team put it on the Heat after such a heartbreaking loss was exciting and inspiring. They could have folded up like lawn furniture and let the championship window close, but they fought through it, let it motivate them, and everyone on the team did what it took to improve. Seeing how much those guys appreciate this and seeing how hard they worked to not only get back to the Finals, but to beat that ass in such a convincing manner puts tears in my eyes.

I’ll give Miami and Lebron credit for the 4 year run they have been on, and see no reason why they can’t get back to Finals playing in that weak ass conference they play in. As it is, you never know what the fuck will happen from year to year,and nothing is ever promised. The Spurs played a great post-season and should be remembered for one of the best playoff runs of all time. This was a fun team to watch. Congratulations to the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, and I’m happy for every one of you Spurs fans out there who endured last year’s heart wrenching loss. It’s all water under the bridge. Enjoy this one. You earned it.

Lovable Losers: A new series [originally posted on 8/28/13]

I’ve been a basketball fan since I was about 12. I grew up in Dallas during the Mavericks worst years when they were owned by a guy who ran car dealerships and bowling alleys. The mavericks sucked and though I rooted for Popeye Jones, Tim Leger, and George McCloud to be successful, the brand of basketball they played was not in the least bit entertaining.

This forced me to open my eyes up to the national scene to find out what good basketball was elsewhere. 1992 was a pivotal year for me and sports: The Ticket radio station became Dallas’ first all sports station. The Cowboys won their first Super Bowl since I’d been born. My mom got me a subscription to Sports Illustrated. I had a Sega Genesis to geek out with Madden, Hardball III, NHL, and Bulls vs. Blazers. My obsession with sports began and here I am today, blogging about my favorite teams that did not win a championship (on a Saturday night no less).

There is only one team a year that can win a championship. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, especially when a team is thoroughly fun and the brand of ball is oh so entertaining. But entertaining doesn’t always win championships and doesn’t always bring accolades. So this is my way of honoring those teams that didn’t quite have what it took to win it all, but nevertheless won my heart (Yea I know–shit’s corny but it’s true. I guess I’m becoming sentimental in my old age). This will be a series of installments of teams ranging from NFL, to MLB, to the NBA to NCAA.

To kick this bad boy off let’s reflect on the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns.

Head Coach: Paul Westphal

Key Starters- Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle

Key bench players- Danny Ainge, Richard Dumas, Tom Chambers

This was the first team I watched thoroughly during their playoff run in which they finally lost to Jordan’s (3-peat) Bulls. They were a lot of fun to watch. Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge with their long range threes. Richard Dumas and Cedric Ceballos were athletic slashers who could get to the rim. Charles Barkley of course was just traded to them and made them immediate championship contenders. The America West arena was a raucous place to watch a game with fans that went ape shit every time the Suns dialed one up from long distance.

I can remember the cover of SI that year and the feature story about Barkley (my favorite player in the world not named Chris Webber–the only pair of Nike’s I ever owned were Barkleys) finally having a legit chance to compete for an NBA title. He was at the peak of his game then and looking back its crazy to think that year was as good as he was going to get. That Finals was one of the best I’ve ever seen. Every game was competitive and entertaining. Though many point to that game 6 with the John Paxson shot that sealed the deal, I remember the equally competitive game 4.

Jordan took over at the end of that game (he had 55 pts that night and Barkley fouled Jordan on a layup attempt and couldn’t keep him from making the bucket and getting the And 1. The game was over after that and Phoenix had to eek out a 3 OT thriller just to force game 6. But they were in every game and could have easily won that series had it not been for timely mishaps and missteps which the savvy Bulls took advantage of (but I guess that is what separates great teams from championship teams isn’t it?).

If you go back and look at this roster, its easy to see why they didn’t have the horses to win. The Chicago Bulls had a better bench than they did and the Suns sucked at the center position. It was a 4 on 5 game pretty much the whole time Mark West and Oliver Miller were on the court. I have tried playing with this classic team on Xbox when me and my homey match-up and its a tough one to manage.

Usually I would play small ball with Tom Chambers playing center, Charles Barkley at the 4, Dan Majerle at small forward, Kevin Johnson running point and Danny Ainge at shooting guard. On offense this spread out the floor and opened up the court a bit (its actually pretty fun because there are so many 3 point opportunities). The problem was that defensively this lineup sucked and nobody could protect the rim and fatigue usually forced me to put in West, or Miller. They only went 8 deep and only 5 of those guys were legit offensive threats. So imagine trying to coach this team in real life instead of a video game. Paul Westphal had to get creative with that lineup.

I was incredibly annoyed to see Jordan rip their hearts out, but now with a little bit of hoops knowledge I understand why it didn’t happen for them. They were facing Jordan and Pippen and Phil Jackson, and they just weren’t balanced enough to win. Ce la Vie. I still remember the stunned feeling when this happened.

Bang! Season over that fast.

That would be the closest Barkley, KJ and company would ever get to sniffing a championship with that group. Dumas would never match the stats he put up that year (15.8 pts and 4.6 rebounds per game) and would end up finishing his career in Greece. Ceballos went on to create the “Lake Show” up in Los Angeles with Eddie Jones and Sedale Threatt. Chambers never did much after season and the core players left never seemed to get over the hump.

The Suns would bring in Danny Manning, and Waymon Tisdale to try and bring Phoenix a title, but it never happened. Mario Elie slammed Phoenix’s championship window shut with a 3 pointer in 1995. The Suns had commanding 3-1 series leads over Houston two years in a row and let them slip away twice.

In 1997 Barkley would try to team up with Drexler and Olajuwan in Houston, and that team almost made it to the Finals but someone let Stockton take a wide open 3. Once again Sir Charles was sent home to go fishing.

Though the Suns never won it all on the basketball court, some of the key players found success off the hardwood. KJ is the mayor of Sacramento and much to the chagrin of Supersonics fans was able to help keep the Kings in “Sad” Sac-town. Majerle is the head coach at Grand Canyon University according to Wikipedia. Danny Ainge helped rebuild the Celtics franchise and get them a title in ’08 as the GM (he is in the middle of another rebuilding job as we speak). And of course Barkley is ubiquitous. You see him on commercials, you see him on TNT. He is on every talk show being entertaining. So there you go, as Jalen Rose likes to say,”There is the score on the scoreboard and there is the score in the game of life.”

62 regular season wins and a thoroughly enjoyable playoff run, culminating in one of the greatest NBA Finals I have ever seen; I wouldn’t necessarily call them losers.

Warming Up As It Is Cooling Down [Originally posted on 10/24/13]

There is an excitement here in Lawrence that is hard to describe if you are not here experiencing it. It’s been a quietly slow buildup in this sleepy little town, but you can see the excitement creeping onto the locals’ faces.

You’ll see people here wearing the Jayhawks swag year round–but they seem to wear it with a different fervor now that the basketball season is (nearly) here.

The first game against Pittsburgh State is next Tuesday the 29th. Jayhawks tickets have been notoriously difficult to obtain for non-students and non-big wig donors. I looked up a ticket for KU- Georgetown on Stub Hub and the cheapest ticket could be fetched for a little over 200 dollars.

I imagine a ticket to this first game will be nearly impossible to get if you don’t already have one. The first game I ever went to nearly two years ago, I paid 80 bucks to a scalper. That team wasn’t nearly as hyped as this one–with Andrew Wiggins and the other flock of new athletic faces on this year’s roster.

Over 3,000 people were turned away for “Late Night at the Phog”, an event where the town gets to first see the (both Men and Women) basketball team in action during scrimmages. It’s an open event that is free to the public, but it is first come first served seating. Many people waited in line for over 3 hours, only to get turned away at the door because the capacity was met so quickly (There are many accounts of people saying there was a large rush towards the building doors when they were opened–many people eschewing social courtesies and typical decency to cut in front of the people who were waiting in line).

In honor of the upcoming season (my first here in town) I’d like to reflect on some of the past Jayhawks who left their mark on the town and the team. These were guys who for one reason or another I had to watch their every move on the court. There was something about their game that made me pay attention to them and made me love their style of play.

Honorable Mention goes to :

Brandon Rush was a bad boy for sure. I remember him in two distinct games during his career at KU. One of them was the Florida game they played in 2006 out in Las Vegas (Still one of the best collegiate games I have ever seen–just for sheer number of future NBA players on the floor that night) where Rush hit some timely corner 3’s against that terrific Florida team (With Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Cory Brewer). The Jayhawks went on to win that overtime classic thanks to some big time play from Rush.

F Paul Pierce (1995-1998), G Jacque Vaughn (1993-1997), and C Scot Pollard (1993-1997)

While there is no doubt that three above mentioned players were ill. The reason they make honorable mention is because I was watching a lot of Wolverine basketball during these years. I was blinded by the flash and brash of the Fab Five. Kansas basketball was something I watched if nothing else was on. I remember being aware of Pierce, Vaughn and Pollard (seemed like every other week there was a human interest piece about Scot Pollard and his ‘wacky’ lifestyle).
There was a guy from Duncanville, Texas (also the birthplace of the late Elliot Smith) who had gone to Kansas, Greg Ostertag. This initiated some interest for me, but I really only remember three things during this time period:

1) Kansas having these incredible regular season records

2)Kansas getting knocked out earlier than expected

3) Tearful Roy Williams press conferences.

G Adonis Jordan (1989-1993), G Rex Walters (1991-1993)

This back court was my introduction to Kansas basketball. This was the first NCAA tourney I watched from beginning to end on the little black and white television that I had in my bedroom.These guys were ill. I remember Rex being kind of a grimey little guy–a hustler who could shoot, handle the rock, and a decent passer.

It was fun watching him match up against future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, and Bobby Hurley, who was arguably the best point guard in the country then. Rex held his own. Adonis Jordan originally got lumped in because that was his back court mate. I honestly don’t remember any particular plays by him. I think I just thought his name was cool. I recently tried watching a game from that tournament on that NCAA website where you can watch past games. I had to turn it off because I couldn’t get past how archaic the film footage looked (and those awfully short shorts).

Now that we have the runner ups out of the way, let’s get to it.

G Kirk Hinrich (1999-2003), F Nick Collison (1999-2003)

This Iowa tandem re-piqued my interest in KU hoops and led me down the road to here. Watching them play together was a real treat. I can distinctly remember extending my treadmill workout an extra 20 minutes so I could watch Nick Collison put up a 23 point-20 rebound game against Texas. The game that stands out most to me was the 30-20 he put up against Duke in the Elite Eight. Collison impressed me with his footwork and at how easily he got to the rim. I remember thinking that he was going to be the second coming of Kevin McHale (I was 23 what did I know?).

Hinrich was a bad boy himself. Like Rex Walters 2.0 except he played the 2 guard.He had a sweet stroke and he was a hustler .

He could also get up and punch it on you too. Just ask Lebron.

G Keith Langford (2001-2005)

I liked Keith even before I found out he was a Texan. Bro could finish at the rim. He was fast and he a wicked left handed leaner that reminded me of Jalen Rose. While Collison might be my favorite Jayhawk of all time, Keith was the most exciting to watch. I still to this day think that if Roy Williams doesn’t leave Langford guarding Carmelo Anthony after getting 3 fouls that they win that 2003 championship. Langford was the only one who get easy looks against that Orange 2-3 zone defense.

SF Julian Wright (2005-2007)

Julian is another guy who I thought would have a better pro career. He had great hands, awesome court vision and was one of the best passing big men to come through Lawrence. He was also super agile and could get his own shot anytime he wanted. He could hit the jumper from up in the high post or he could feed it to a cutter along the baseline. If there is anything that will get me excited, it’s a big man who can pass the rock.

Julian also threw down some of the nastiest dunks in Jayhawks’ history.The 2006 Florida game I alluded to earlier was the first time I got to see him play. He put on a clinic that night. Unfortunately he has never been more than a 7th, 8th, 9th man role player off the bench at best. I think had he stayed through his senior year he would have had his jersey retired and been one of the best of all time.

Quick side note: If you ever see a photo of Mario’s miracle shot from the ’08 title game look at the spectators behind the basket and you will see Wright watching the arc of the ball like everyone else at the game. When I first saw this I thought, “Damn Julian got some premium seats. That’s what’s up.” Then I thought, “Wait a minute he should have been playing in this game. It wouldn’t have been that close had he been playing.”

How about that? If Julian stays an extra year maybe Mario doesn’t need to make that shot and becomes a second round pick without all the accolades from hitting that shot. Perhaps ends up somewhere besides Miami and perhaps he isn’t there to hit timely shots when the Heat need someone to step up. Who is to say this doesn’t affect how we look at Lebron’s legacy at this point? Maybe Lebron doesn’t get those championships after all? Who would have thought that Julian’s decision to leave school early could have possibly changed the landscape of the NBA? We could easily be praising Kevin Durant as the greatest basketball player on the planet (though he’s still a close second).

C Drew Gooden (1999-2002)

Drew Gooden is a pretty textbook case of someone who peaked out early. When he left college in 2002, his stock couldn’t have gotten any higher. He ended up being a number 4 pick and unfortunately ended up being a poor man’s Carlos Boozer. Who is to say what happens if he comes back his senior year. I’m sure there was just as much chance of him getting seriously hurt like Nerlen Noels and missing out on the season (and a fatter paycheck) as there was to him leading the Jayhawks to an ’03 title over Syracuse. I watched him destroy so many teams single-handedly that 2002 season where they finally lost to Maryland. That was a tough front line to face with Collison, Wayne Simien, and Gooden (really unfortunate Simien couldn’t stay healthy).

F Darrell Arthur (2006-2008)

Another Texas boy who went to South Oak Cliff High school in Dallas. The fact that he went to a DISD school endured me to Darrell. His game was fun though. He could get up in a second and mash it in someone’s face. I really liked that front line of Darrell Arthur, Julian Wright, and Sasha Kaun. They often had spacing issues in those days, but that high post through Julian was a money play. Darrell was often the recipient of a great pass that led to an easy layup or dunk. He’s in the pro’s now and is a valuable role player in the league. I think Memphis will miss him this year.

G Ben McLemore

The future is wide open for Mr. Ben McLemore. I think he can be a very good player if he can surround himself with the right people. I think at worst he can be a Rudy Gay type player, and at best? Maybe I’ll regret saying this, but I could see him having a Ray Allen type career. He will get his points for sure, but I’m curious how well he will play on the defensive side of the ball, and he will be able to do anything beside score?
I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play last year. When this little golden era of KU hoops is over, we will look at McLemore the same way Texas fans think of TJ Ford. Ford’s signing at UT opened up a nice stream of top recruits coming to Texas and making an impact (including the second best player alive, Kevin Durant).

McLemore was the only thing watchable about last year’s offense. No one else on the team could consistently create their own shot. If anyone else on that starting five had the ball in their possession for more than five seconds, it was almost a guaranteed turnover.

As disappointing as it was to see KU lose that heart breaker to Michigan last year, that squad overachieved (you can say that about the last 2 Bill Self led teams–a testament to his coaching ability).There were countless ugly brick-fests that KU would barely squeak out. They should have lost more games last year and finally their luck ran out when they couldn’t secure a 12 point lead with 4 minutes left. Most of those squeakers that they won was because Maclemore was the best player on the court (with the only exception being the game where Elijah Johnson went crazy and scored 41 points against Iowa State). Trey Burke was the best player on that March evening. Mclemore barely got any decent touches down the stretch and the buzzed went off as Elijah Johnson passed up a layup to throw an errant pass to Naadir Tharpe on the 3 point line. We all know how that ended.

McLemore’s season opened up a pipeline to blue chip recruits coming here to Lawrence and getting in on the action. KU”s stock as dynasty couldn’t be higher. KU has the number one player in the country. The guy anointed to be the “next Lebron and Durant”. There is so much hype surrounding this team and Self would have had his best recruiting class of all time had he not landed Andrew Wiggins.

Lawrence is going to be treated to a cavalcade of talented players during the next 2-4 years.

Wiggins is a one and done and maybe a couple of other players, but there are juniors in high school already eyeing some of the holes that will be left in the next year or two. Also some of the guys not as heavily profiled like Conner Frankamp (Rex Walters 3.0?) will probably be there for the full four years. Kansas will not only be solid for this period, but will be a top 5 team contender as well. We may be looking at a run of dominance that resembles the Roy Williams teams with Pierce, Vaughn, and Pollard.

Andrew Wiggins has already made his mark here and he hasn’t played a second of ball yet. He will undoubtedly be the major force this year but he will also have a lot of help. It will be interesting to see how many more of these impact players will live on in Jayhawks’ folklore.

One thing is for certain, the excitement is only beginning.

Locked and Loaded [Originally posted on 11/7/13]

With all the hype surrounding this year’s team in Lawrence, it sounds silly to say that the Jayhawks may fly under the radar. It even feels silly to even suggest that the Jayhawks are even slightly underrated. Or maybe I just think the Kentucky Wildcats are a little overrated. It seems like every major media outlet has pretty much guaranteed that Calipari’s squad will run unopposed through the rest of the NCAA. Maybe this is a good thing for Kansas. Maybe this will keep them focused and grounded. Maybe the more press Kentucky gets, the more less they will be inclined to over-analyze every jump shot Andrew Wiggins misses.

This is why the pre-season rankings and awards are silly to me. No one has played a single minute of ball and already people are saying this could be Kentucky’s greatest team ever. If history has shown us anything its that the best team usually does not win the NCAA tournament–it is usually the hottest team. Now I don’t know much about this Kentucky team that Calipari is fielding, but I have seen the Harrison twins play. I got the opportunity to watch Andrew and Aaron Harrison win the state title this year down in Texas.

Andrew was phenomenal and has a chance to be the best point guard to ever come out of Texas (T.J. Ford may hold that title for now) and the best in the country this year.

Aaron Harrison struck me as a knucklehead(There was speculation that a video posted by Aaron Harrison saying “F&*$ Andrew Wiggins, we don’t need him.” did not help them in the recruitment of the best hoops prospect since Lebron). His body language got sour when things went wrong. I remember watching him taking lots of bad shots and then hanging his head, sometimes forgetting to get back up court. During a time out, Andrew got onto him for his demeanor and told him to “get his head up and play.”

Enough about the Wildcats, because I’m all about these Jayhawks right now.

Some quick thoughts from the pre-season action:

This is easily the deepest team I’ve seen in the Bill Self era. It’s also easily the most athletic team. The closest thing to a stiff on this roster is Perry Ellis and his footwork has done nothing but improve since his first game as a freshman.

This will go down as one of the most entertaining teams to don the Blue and Crimson uniforms. The way people talk about the late 90’s squads, early 2000’s Hinrich-Collison-Gooden squads, and Wright-Rush-Chalmers teams, people will reflect in awe at this new era of Jayhawk.

People are expecting big things this year from Andrew Wiggins and they should be. I think he will live up to the hype. My prediction is that Jayhawks’ fans will only catch brief glimpse of Wiggins’ basketball brilliance.

Athletically he is off the charts and he can certainly get to the rim. I don’t foresee him having more than a couple 30 point games while he is here in Lawrence. For one, his 3 point game isn’t quite as developed yet (which kind of nixes the Kevin Durant comparison to me–he isn’t as good of a pure shooter. I think his game resembles Kobe Bryant’s if anybody’s. Kobe in his early days was more of a slasher then. People don’t remember how erratic his jumper was the first couple of years. Kobe worked tirelessly to get it as deadly as it is now).
The other reason is that they won’t need him to score that many points. As loaded as they are at the wings and in the front court, it won’t be necessary for Wiggins to have these scoring barrages.

I think the only time we’ll see Wiggins unleash the beast is during late game scenarios when KU needs a big bucket. The team has so many weapons down low on the block I do believe he can easily average 16-20 points per game.
Tarik Black will be a beast on the boards and down low. He reminds me of that kid who played at Florida Vernon Macklin. I think he can be a legitimate force. I heard someone say he was a bit like Darnell Jackson from the last championship team. I’ll take that.

Perry Ellis will be good for at least 16 points 10 boards a game. A real double double machine. I expect him to be a reliable option down the stretch of games whenever the team needs an easy bucket. Depending on how well he progresses, he could be a legit lottery prospect.

I think they will be able to count on Naadir Tharpe and Andrew White for clutch plays down the stretch. Tharpe will make his best Aaron Miles impression while White has the chance to be a better Michael Lee.

And I’m not even sure how high the ceiling is for Selden and Embiid. I think Selden will show flashes of brilliance and Embiid will be a work in progress. He will certainly make a few mistakes along with some outstanding plays. The learning curve for him may be the biggest for this incoming class.

Jamari Traylor has a chance to make an impact whenever he is in the game. He is big, runs the floor well and is an underrated passer. He could play himself into a lottery pick by season’s end.

I like Frankamp (the next Jeff Boschee in my opinion) and Brannon Greene coming off the bench and hitting timely 3 pointers. I think Frank Mason will give Naadir Tharpe a good run for his money by season’s end for starting point guard. At worst he will be a force to reckon with coming out with the second team. I can’t imagine the nightmare match up they will pose with both of them paired together.

I think the key to how far this team advances in the tourney depends on how well Tharpe and Mason can distribute the ball to the rest of the play makers. I’m curious how they will match up next Tuesday with the Blue Devils. I’m sure Coach K is excited to see how they will defend this Kansas squad. This KU squad looks pretty balanced. The front court is pretty physical but the perimeter players on this team will make it impossible to play zone.

I think for every Andrew Wiggins highlight that you will see on sportscenter, there will be 2 to 3 clutch basketball plays made by Andrew White III, Nadir Thaarpe, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black. Something about Selden’s demeanor tells me he is a gamer too.

Not only will this team be loaded this year, there’s a chance they will be an even more of a cohesive unit next year. This is still a super young team. Outside of Wiggins, Selden and Ellis and Traylor, I don’t see anyone else leaving for the NBA (maybe Mason goes but a lot would have to happen between now and April for me to be convinced he’s NBA ready).

This would mean that Greene, Frankamp, Thaarpe, Mason, and Embiid would return to a squad that is already prospectively landing more blue chip recruits. Thaarpe would be a senior next year and tourney history has also shown that veteran back courts can take a team far in the NCAA’s.

We are looking at what could be a mini KU dynasty for the next 3-4 years. Jimmy Johnson said that when he left Oklahoma State for the “U”, it was like trading in a BB gun for an uzi. Self has so many weapons at his disposal (outside of Wiggins) that I’m sure he’s chomping at the bit for a possible rematch with Calipari.

Kansas has the toughest non-conference schedule in the country, so we will know how well the rest of the teams match up with them.

I for one will not miss a single game of this year. I will probably watch more Kentucky basketball this year than I have in my whole life combined.

This Duke game on Tuesday will be like an AAU Nike camp game. I expect an uptempo, high intensity game that will rival anything played in the post season this year.

This is going to be the most fascinating NCAA hoops season in years. Bring on the Wildcats. Bring on the Blue Devils. It’s about to go down.

All I needed to see [Originally posted on 11/13/13

Last night was a nice glimpse into what is going to be a fantastic basketball season. I haven’t been this excited about college hoops since Kevin Durant was a one and done for University of Texas.
The hype dissipated and the truth unveiled itself. Here is what I took away from last night’s Champions Classic:

Julius Randle is the real deal. Bro put up 27-13 and could have had more had Kentucky been able to pass the ball effectively. His footwork is absurdly good for a freshman and he will undoubtedly dominate the paint for the rest of the year.

Unfortunately he doesn’t have much help. I’m sure Andrew Harrison will be fine come post-season time, his brother Aaron on the other hand, I’m not exactly sold on (1-7 shooting, 0-5 from 3 and 2 TO’s). This squad reminds me of some of Calipari’s Memphis teams where they were heavy on length and bigs but short on outside shooting. With no shooters to spread out the floor, teams are just going to collapse on Randle and dare the rest of the team to shoot it.

That being said, I feel like that Michigan State win was an aberration. They are good. They probably should win the Big Ten (I haven’t seen what Indiana or Michigan will trot out this year). I’m not sure that if they played a best of 7 that kentucky wouldn’t win 4-1. The Spartans looked good. I like Keith Appling’s game and Gary Harris and Adrian Payne had great games as well. I just don’t think that kind of game can be replicated. Kentucky looked very lost at times last night and Michigan State had a lot of easy looks, but also took a lot of bad shots that happened to go in the hoop. Of course, like most Tom Izzo squads, they played excellent defense. This alone will keep them in any game against any team.

Andrew Wiggins had a very quiet night at 22 points. I had predicted to some friends that his new haircut meant he was all business. I figured if the beast were going to be released it would be tonight on the big stage. Early foul trouble never let him get into a rhythm and it took a 16 point surge in the 2nd half to get it to 22. This should scare most teams because he hasn’t even gotten loose yet. It’s coming. Just you wait.

One of the reasons Wiggins didn’t have to put the team on his back the whole game was because Perry Ellis has broad shoulders himself. 24 points on 9-13 shooting, 3 steals, 9 boards, and a couple of really awesome hustle plays where he went to the floor for loose balls. In the words of Stephen A. Smith, Ellis “flat out balled.” If Ellis keeps this kind of production up, you can pretty much kiss him goodbye (especially if this year ends with a National Championship).

This may have been mentioned before, but KU is deep. Wayne Selden stepped up and made big plays on both ends of the court. Frank Mason showed no fear whatsoever. If for some reason Tharpe gets hurt or messes up somehow off the court, Mason could end up stealing his job. Mason is super fast and was not afraid to push the tempo. There were times he beat defenders down the court when it seemed impossible to get a transition bucket. He either got to the cup, or got fouled. I was really impressed with how well he played.

Duke is a pretty good team. Rodney Hood showed me something last night and 3 other players got double figures in scoring (Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook, and Rasheed Sulaimon). They only had 10 collective turnovers (KU only had 10 themselves) and they played really well. KU just imposed their will near the end. With all the bodies Bill Self could just throw out there, it seemed like they just wore the Blue Devils down (foul trouble played a small part in that as well–who wants to pay good money to see Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins ride the pine?).

Jabari Parker may have vaulted himself into the number 1 draft pick with his performance last night. Dude’s game is so ill. There were a couple of shots he made last night that made me make faces only reserved for “his airness” Michael Jordan and the second greatest shooting guard to ever play, Kobe Bryant. Jabari is legit. I’m not crazy about making comparisons, but if there were a player in the draft whose games is anything like Kevin Durant, it might be Parker. He can sky, he can shoot, and he can penetrate.

I was so juiced after last night that it took me at least an hour and half to calm down enough to fall asleep. I was excited about the season before I saw Kentucky and Duke play last night. Now I’m just plain hype. Not only will I watch every single minute of KU basketball this year, but I won’t miss too many televised events that involve Jabari Parker or Julius Randle.

Last night felt very close to Final Four Semi-finals match-ups (I know Louisville is ranked #3 but I still feel like it was a very fluky win. Louisville had a lot of help from the officials in both games. Until they beat someone they gets no respect from me). In no way is it clear just how good these teams are or will be come post-season, however; I’m extremely impressed with this Kansas squad.

Kentucky has Randle. Duke has Parker. But Kansas to me has the best team of all the squads that played last night. Duke played about as good of a game as they could have and KU played no where near as good of a game as they are capable of. I think injuries aside, this Kansas team can beat anybody out there. I will not be surprised one bit to see Perry Ellis, Andrew Wiggins, and company, cutting down the nets in April. The beauty of the Men’s game of course is that it will be decided on the court and not in the polls.

New Recruits [originally posted on sportsblog 11/17/13]

KU scored pretty big with the # 4 and #12 rated players in the country in Cliff Alexander (Chicago Curie High) and Kelly Oubre (Findlay Prep).

Alexander is a natural power forward who will add some needed muscle for next year’s front line (the Jayhawks could easily lose as many as four bigs to the NBA draft). He is 6’8, 240 lbs.
Oubre is a 6’7 small forward who looks like he can play some 2 guard as well. His game kind of reminds me of Brandon Jennings. I liked his mix tape in particular because the beats on the video went hard. So I’m going to at least give him props for picking some good music to accompany his highlights.

It’s hard to say how good these guys will be and where they will fit into the lineup next year. I can easily see Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis, Jamari Traylor, and Wayne Selden all leaving for the draft after this year’s run. There will definitely be minutes for Alexander and Oubre will certainly be used as Wiggins’ replacement on the wing.
Now that Bill Self has gotten the two allotted scholarships filled, let’s concentrate on this year’s team.

Basketball Orgasm [Originally posted on 11/17/13 on]

Something told me that I needed to clear my schedule and find a bar to watch the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma Thunder play on Thursday night.

My instincts were correct. It felt like the Western Conference Finals that I wanted to see last year (before Russell Westbrook got hurt and derailed the Thunder’s chances).

The pace of the game was unbelievable. The Thunder started the game off 9 for their first 12 field goals. Both teams had put up 31 in the first quarter.

It’s early in the season but you will find it hard to find a more entertaining game to watch in the regular season.

The referees did a great job of not interfering too much with the flow and the pace was just up and down the court. For every ooh and ahh, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook provided, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry came back with their own sizzling moves.

There were so many sick passes to gush over, great back cuts, and alley oops. Transition buckets were punctuated with good form, whether it was a dazzling dunk, or a step back long distant 3 pointer that seemed to float off the tops of the “Splash Brothers’ ” fingertips.

It was an incredible game that would have still been memorable without the “dagger” 3 by Westbrook, and the game winning jumper by Andre Iguodala.

My only complaint for the night was that we were at a bar that would only played punk music with the TV on mute. I had no idea how hype it was in the Oracle until I watched a replay of the game. I bet it was so loud in there (which may have hyped me up even more than I was–I was practically screaming at the top of my lungs every other play).

I’m almost certain that I may have to skip the Oklahoma State- Kansas game on my birthday in order to catch the Warriors-Thunder rematch on January 17th in Oklahoma City. Then again it may not come to that at all, maybe I can choose both.

Community Quick Hits [originally posted on 11/24/13]

Random basketball thoughts from last week:

1) Indiana’s Paul George must have been inspired by Larry “Legend” the other night against the Knicks. Certain players know how to really dial it up whenever they are playing Madison Square Garden. Anytime Jordan played there you knew he was going for 30 points (at least). Kobe was the same way. If Kevin Durant or Steph Curry go to MSG to play, I’m going to at least look and see if the game is televised. It may be time to add Paul George to the list.

What he did down the stretch of the 4th quarter and in OT against the Knicks was reminiscent of the way superstars take over the game. He played D on Carmelo Anthony and still managed to make tough shots down the stretch. It was pretty hype. I’m all in on the Pacers if they get more bench help. Injuries aside, I’m saying it’s going to be a Pacers-Spurs finals.

2) Most blowouts are boring to watch, but a KU blowout is still pretty fun. Friday night’s game against Towson was exactly the kind of game you want to see if you are a Jayhawks fan. They didn’t play down to the competition. They came out aggressive and when the opportunity arrived they went for the jugular and put the game out of reach.

I don’t expect many teams to lay down for the Jayhawks. In fact, with all the scouts and hoopla surrounding the team, they will probably get teams’ best shot. If I were a junior or senior, I would want to ball out and leave something for the NBA scouts to remember about me. I don’t expect many more blowouts like the one they had against Towson where the game was over 10 minutes in. On a video game you can hit reset or turn the game off. In real life you just have to take the ass whupping. Scouts take note of how well players respond when getting blown out like that–whether a player crumpled up like a folding chair and mailed it in, or if they left it all on the court.

John Wooden used to say that when you are playing basketball, you are not playing against an opponent. You are playing against your best self. I like the way the Jayhawks went into that game aggressive and never let off the gas. That’s the way championship teams approach things every night.

Towson didn’t play particularly well. Everyone seemed to be looking for their own shot instead of moving the ball and moving without the the ball. Towson started out like 1 for 7 in the first half and for every miss, the Jayhawks took the long rebound and pushed it for a fast break. I was hoping that they would hit a 100, but I knew that Towson would probably score more than 16 in the second half.

3) Joel Embiid probably won’t be around for long if he keeps playing like he has been. His numbers have been nice, but you have to watch him play to get the full gist of how good he can be. He flashed some serious signs of basketball brilliance in both games this week.

Against Iona he showed how athletic and graceful he is, impressing me with how fluid his movements were. Against Towson, he made me squeal with a couple of beautiful Duncan-esque outlet passes. Right now on some mock drafts, he is listed as high as #7.

4) Andrew Wiggins made an excellent decision in coming here to Lawrence. Had he gone to FSU, he’d be in the ACC with Jabari Parker. Though this sounds titillating to have that matchup twice in one year (assuming KU and Duke don’t face each other again in the tourney), he’d be playing on a mid-tier team in a stacked ACC.

Could you imagine Wiggins playing for Kenutcky? The Wildcats already have spacing issues with their difficulties hitting the deep shot. Wiggins would have just added to that. Randle commands a lot of space in the paint and there would be little left for Wiggins to work with. How would they have found enough shots for everybody?

Without Wiggins, this would be a pretty memorable team. With Wiggins, this team has a chance to be one of the all time greats. I’m not just talking about KU history either. I think that (injuries withstanding) people will reflect on this team like they talk about 1990 UNLV, the Fab Five Michigan squads, ’91 Duke, and ’06-07 Florida teams with Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford.

It is a long season which makes this talk sound a little crazy. The question becomes will this be one of the best NCAA teams of all time, or will they be one of the best NCAA teams to not win it all? I would hate to one day write a “lovable losers” essay about this team.

Bring on the Demon Deacons!

Good Teaching Moment [originally posted on 12/2/13 on]

The Lawrence Journal World typified the overreaction from Jayhawk nation when it ran the headline: “Paradise Lost” for Friday’s loss to the Villanova Wildcats.

You could tell that early on the boys looked sluggish and the combination of Villanova’s aggression, the dim setting for an “arena” (the ceiling was too low and the room itself reeked of a Las Vegas ballroom lounge), and Kansas’ body language gave me a bad feeling minutes into the game.

I think even Bill Self knew the score. The smirk he displayed during his sideline interviews was priceless. I’m not saying he knew that the boys were being boys on their all expenses paid trip to the Bahamas, but he had to suspect something right?

I’m not alleging that the team was getting ripped all weekend, and thus too dehydrated to compete effectively, but it does make you wonder.

The only guys who were able to bring it consistently energy wise were Joel Embiid and Frank Mason Jr.

Not to take anything away from the Wildcats. They played out of their mind and are a very good team. I would be shocked if they didn’t make the NCAA tournament in March. But they barely won and KU didn’t play even close to what they are capable of playing. I’m not worried in the least bit. I’d rather they lose now in such a manner than go undefeated and lose during the tournament. I hope this weekend teaches the team that they have to bring it every game because every team will be bringing their ‘A’ game to face KU.

From the look of things, they have a lot to work on, even Self himself says “that they got very little accomplished” during this trip to the Bahamas.

Seems like Self still hasn’t quite found his lineup just yet. 3 point shooting has been pretty hit or miss. When Selden, Wiggins, Thaarpe, Black and Ellis are on the court together, there is a bit of cluster going on inside the perimeter. Thaarpe, Selden, and Wiggins still don’t make enough outside buckets to keep defenders honest. Brandon Greene, and Connor Frankamp haven’t been good enough defenders to stay on the court for long stretches of time.

This is too bad because their outside shooting could stretch defenses out a bit and open up the lanes for Wiggins to drive and Ellis to get some space to work inside. Joel Embiid looks like he’ll soon be starting for the team (unless Self wants a legitimate scorer like Embiid to lead the second unit) by mid season. He has worked himself higher up the draft every game. As of the other night, I saw one draft board that had Wiggins going number 1 (debatable), Embiid as high as a number 3 pick, Selden at number 9, and Ellis as a fifteen pick.
Embiid is already my favorite player on this squad and by year’s end could make the pantheon of Jayhawks to ever come through Allen Fieldhouse. I’m digging it. He just needs to learn how to stay on the floor without fouling (Olajuwon had the same problem early in his career–so maybe the comparisons are apt).

Other noteworthy thoughts from last week:

I got a chance to watch some other teams this week.

The Duke-Zona game was interesting. I’m still not sold on Duke as a team. Besides Quinn Cook, Rodney Hood, and Jabari Parker, no one on that Duke team knocks me out. They will be a sweet sixteen team and maybe an elite eight, but the upper echelon teams will work them.

I like Arizona’s squad. Aaron Gordon didn’t particularly wow me as a scorer, but he surprised me with his passing. He’s a really good passer. I was impressed with a few of his dishes throughout the game. Someone (probably Bill Simmons) touted him as another Blake Griffin, but his game reminded me more of a finesse player (think Channing Frye with muscle). He may be the best passing big man I’ve seen on their team since Luke Walton. I could see them beating KU on the right day. Their pg TJ McConnell reminds me of Ohio State’s Aaron Craft and they play great defense. If they face KU in the tournament in March, look out!

Another team that scares me is Oklahoma State. Marcus Smart already has Kevin Durant’s ringing endorsement. I finally got a chance to see him this season the other night against Memphis. It was obvious that they had game planned especially for Smart and it was much more difficult for Smart to get to the rack. Every 3 pointer Smart jacked up was forced and contested and Oklahoma State ended up losing. Smart went 4 for 13 with 12 points and 5 turnovers. He did have a couple of sick assists and still threatened to take over down the stretch.

With Markel Brown, Le Bryant Nash, and Phil Forte, the Cowpokes have a chance to compete for the Big 12 title. I’m not sure if they have enough inside to challenge an opposing team’s big man on a consistent basis. Of course come tournament time, its all about the guard play, and this team may be just as good as the OSU team that went deep into the playoffs with Ivan McFarlin, Joey Graham, and John Lucas running the point. I can’t wait for that January 18th matchup. I’m going to have to find a 2nd job so I can afford tickets.

In the NBA, my award for Jayhawk of the week goes to Xavier Henry who has been down right balling for the Los Angeles Lakers. I’m pretty impressed because he came to Lawrence with so much hype and was even a lottery pick when he left school. I had kind of written him off as a bust. Just goes to show that some players take a little longer than others to develop (another reason why I preach to the Jayhawk faithful to be patient about Wiggins and temper the unrealistic expectations). I’m glad his talent is finally shining through. I’m sure he’s exchanging text messages with Matt Kemp and Blake Griffin about how the women in L.A. are even crazier than ones in Oklahoma City–but man isn’t the weather fantastic.

A quick shout out to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide for blowing their three-peat chances in memorable fashion. Personal fouls, personnel screw ups, poor special teams, and some head scratching coaching decisions helped Alabama to a big fat L. It was amazing to watch A Nick Saban coached team uncharacteristically unravel. When the refs put time on the clock, and the field goal unit trotted onto the field, I could not believe my eyes.

It didn’t make sense to put a freshman kicker out there to attempt a 59 yard kick when he’d only kicked 3 field goals his whole career. The starting kicker Cade Foster had already missed 3 field goals that day. I figured they were going to call the Hail Mary play. That was like watching the end of a video game. I still can’t believe it. I was watching it live as it happened and my housemates thought someone had broken their foot, I was screaming so loudly. It was unreal. I saw the Music City Miracle as it unfolded, and this was much more spectacular than this. In my opinion this beats Kordell Stewart’s Hail Mary against Michigan, and Stanford-Cal’s kickoff return. Incredible. I bet the odds on Saban splitting for Texas now have increased by 33 percent.

Jayhawks go to Boulder and Gainesville this week. Let’s see how they bounce back.

Bowled over in Boulder and Other Icy Receptions [originally posted 12/9/13 on]

Much like most of the people in this region who are experiencing an early visit from the winter, I spent the majority of my weekend indoors. The football games, with the added elements were entertaining to watch, but I wouldn’t trade places with not a player nor fan this weekend. I felt rather lucky to be comfortably lying on the couch, vegging out on what turned out to be a spectacular sports Saturday.

Friday night found me at a buddy’s apartment, sitting in front of his television, praying that the Baylor-Kentucky women’s game did not go into a 5th overtime. Luckily I had taken a nap after work, and hadn’t lost all my juju, but I was worried that the delay would affect the quality of play with the Men’s game–played in a fairly empty JerryWorld.

I was happy to be proven wrong. Not long after tip off, both teams had traded dunks within the first five possessions. It ended up being a really entertaining matchup with Baylor’s front court length being too much for Kentucky.

Julius Randle still put up 16 and 8 but was not able to dominate the game like he had been for the past 2 weeks. Aaron Harrison “the knucklehead twin” had a decent game with 15 points and 6 assists. James Young continued his consistent efficiency with 14 points on 5 of 11 shooting (4-7 from 3 point land).

Kentucky only had 2 points from their bench. That will not cut it against a ranked team like Baylor. All that being said, Kentucky looks like they could be really good come March. This team reminds me of the ’08 Memphis squad that Calipari took to the Championship against the Jayhawks.

They have lots of length (I’m really feeling Willie Cauley-Stein’s game), inconsistent outside shooting, and their free throw shooting is pretty poor. A team can get pretty far with a makeup like this if they are blowing teams out, but the margin is much smaller in tightly contested games against good opponents.

John Calipari is a great recruiter but as X’s and O’s go, he’s been known to get out coached when the talent gap has been even between teams. I keep joking to my buddy, a lifetime Wildcat fan, that as soon as Calipari leaves (because of the inevitable sanctions that will creep up), Travis Ford will be his replacement.

Baylor looked really good. Their front court really impressed me. Isiah Austin and Corey Jefferson really brought it. The point guard Kenny Cherry had a great game as well, pouring in 18 points. I could see Baylor winning a couple of home games against Oklahoma State and Kansas on the right night. Their Achilles heel will be at the guard positions.

Cherry is decent but it took him 15 shots to get 18 points, and they had trouble getting the ball up the court without turning it over. They didn’t get very much production from Brady Heslip, Ish Wainwright, and Gary Franklin (5 pts combined from the 3). They messed up five consecutive pick n rolls during one particular stretch; either not seeing the open big man or messing the pass up altogether.

They’ll make the tourney but will get knocked out by a team with good back court and good head coach with a good zone defensive scheme (Syracuse maybe?). They shoot too many jump shots to be taken seriously as a contender.

*** I got to watch the Duke vs. Michigan game last Tuesday night. What a waste of time that was. If you want to know how Mitch McGary will look in the NBA, just watch the tape of this game. I’m not sure why everyone is so high on him. At best he reminds me of a poor man’s David Lee. McGary looked too slow for Duke’s pressure D and they took advantage of him and the Wolverines’ lack of an elite point guard.That being said he still managed to put up 15 and 14. If he learns how to play D at the NBA level and rebound he can be as good as Nick Collison, an energy and rebounds guy. Maybe I’m wrong, who knows.

Michigan looked horrible. The only one who showed up to play was that Levert’s nephew Caris.Quinn Cook and Rodney Hood got to the rack whenever they wanted to and Michgan couldn’t rotate fast enough to get out on the shooters. Duke made 8 – pointers but chucked up 23 attempts (many of them wide open it seemed). Had Jabari Parker shot been falling the game would have been a blowout. Let me tell you that the game never seemed as close as a ten point deficit. Duke was in control the whole time.

**** Saturday was a highly anticipated day around here. The KC Sporting were in the MLS cup championship and for the first time since I have been here, I was in a bar where the Jayhawks were second fiddle. Sporting fans would be rewarded for their diligence, with an epic win in overtime on penalty kicks.

KU fans were treated to a really exciting, but revealing loss to the Colorado Buffaloes. I liked how krunk the fans were in that building. I have been told that historically, their venue would joking be referred to as “Allen Fieldhouse West” The CU fans represented though. The ball players fed off it and it was definitely a tough environment.

I liked how the Jayhawks handled themselves. They didn’t fold up, they fought back to tie it, and almost came back and won a game they didn’t deserve to win. Wiggins came on in the 2nd half after playing sparingly the first half (picked up a careless reaching foul that put him on the bench very early). He had 16 second half points down the stretch (22 points on 7-11 shooting).

They needed his production too. No one else got close to scoring 20 points. Joel Embiid had only ten points as he struggled with foul trouble. Perry Ellis only had 10 points. Ellis only shot the ball 6 times .The team as a whole shot attempted 20 3 pointers and only made 5 of them. The team also only had 11 assists and were only got 8 offensive rebounds to the Buffaloes 15. These stats will tell you all you need to know about the game and why the Jayhawks were lucky to only lose by 3 points.

They made the Buffs look like a team better than what their ranking (currently unranked) suggested. Guard Jaron Hopkins was the only starter to not hit double digits in scoring. The Buffs found way to find the hole in the zone on almost every possession and seemed to hit every open jumper that was available. They looked in sync down the stretch, making the correct passes and getting the ball to the open perimeter player.

Spencer Dinwiddie (whose mustache and name suggest a future as a high school principal somewhere in the Denver area) played a great game. He had 15 points and 7 assists (3-8 shooting) and seemed to be in on every critical play (save the quarter court heave at the end by Askia Booker).

So bad officiating, foul trouble, and a little bit of luck and heroics conspired to hand the Jayhawks their second loss of the season to an inferior opponent. One could argue that this was the story line to the first loss out in the Bahamas (if you take away the distractions of alcohol, the holidays, the stomach flu, and the Bahamas).

There is no reason for Jayhawks fans to panic. The Buffaloes played out of their minds, good for them. We’ll see how good they are in March. I think this game on Tuesday will be a great revelation of what adjustments the team needs to make. Perhaps that means starting Embiid and Mason and going with a near all Freshman lineup. I’m excited to see how they do in Gainesville.

***** A quick nod to the NBA ballers who went HAM this past week. We’ll call it THACLICKPICKA’s ALL KOSHER ALL STARS for dudes who go ham throughout the week.



SF PAUL GEORGE– Did you see his game against the Trailblazers last week? Bro went HAM!

PF KEVIN DURANT– dude was straight balling against Indy last night. FILTHY!!!

and lastly at

Center from Seagoville, Texas: