Thursday, February 23, 2012


This weekend will be a showcase of the total NBA experience. The NBA All-Star festivities will take place in Orlando, Florida with the very best the game of basketball has to offer. Or will it? The All-Star Saturday Night activities over the past twenty some odd years have brought some of the best memories for me. The slam dunk contest alone has pitted some of the games all-time greats. Who doesn't remember Michael Jordan flying through the air from the free throw line defeating Domonique Wilkens with a big 50 pointer. Those battles are legendary and Jordan came away a winner every time. I can still remember Spud Webb dropping jams and 360 slam dunks and wondering how someone 5'7'' could do such a thing. It was exciting and we flocked to the TV to catch the next great event. The slam dunk contest wasn't the only exhibition that brought memories that have lasted for me. My favorite memory happened in the three point contest and Larry Legend was the man. My friends and I were watching as Larry Bird was down in points and needed to run the last rack to win the championship. Like only a true HOFer could, he proceeded to drain everyone of those shots. He was unconscious, almost in a trance, and as he released the very last ball he calmly strutted away. He walked knowing the last ball was destined for the bottom of the net with his hand high and his finger pointing number one as the ball was still in the air. He knew without even having to see it go through the net that his release was pure and the championship was his. He was so money and what a way to showcase it. The best shooter in the game showed up and proved it. These are just a few examples of why this weekend has been so great for the NBA basketball fan. I just wish it was still like this. The NBA does a great job giving back to the fans and trying to make this weekend relevant. They have added skills competitions, celebrity games, and this year have even added LINSANITY to the mix. (For those who don't know by know Mr. Jeremy Lin by way of Harvard and New York Knicks who has taken the NBA by storm) They are desperately trying to recapture the magic of years past and what has for a long time been a wonderful All-Star festivities and game. The problem now is that the best players in the game like Lebron, Kobe, Durant, Rose, etc. don't want to participate in the whole experience. The slam dunk contest has been tweaked and changed with it now being just a shell of its former self. I can't even tell you how disappointing it is to tell my children that Chase Buddinger is in the slam dunk contest and that he wouldn't even be able to hold Jordan's towel back in the old days. To not have the best athletes throwing down dunks and letting little known players perform is embarrassing for the league that was built on high energy, high athleticism, and great action. I think the NBA does a great job with fan friendly experiences and they are fabulous and should continue but if the best of the best aren't going to participate then maybe scrap the dunk contest all together. The three point contest can still be awesome but the stars of stars need to take a page out of Mr. Bird's book and step up to the three point line and compete. The competitiveness of all NBA athletes is at a high level, but we the fans want to see them breakthrough to the highest level. They deserve to see the best compete. It won't keep me from watching this weekend but I am hoping for yet another memory I can to add to my list of favorites.

I just hope the memory is of an ALL STAR and not an ALMOST STAR!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Enough is Enough

This past evening I watched as the buzzer sounded and yet another Illini Basketball loss was added to their record. The House of Paign has turned into a House of Shame. The days of coming to Champaign and knowing the Illini were going to win their home games now just seems like a distant memory in the rear view mirror that is the Bruce Weber Era. Bruce was lucky enough to coach talent like Deron Williams, Dee Brown, James Augustine, Luther Head, and Roger Powell. His system worked with elite talent who can pass and shoot the basketball and make sound decisions. The product was a National Championship appearance and the expectations of greater seasons to come. This just has not happened. The seasons since Dee and James left as seniors have been mediocre at best. They have gone from talking Final Fours to a group of low level BCS teams on the Final Four Out List who have to sweat out Selection Sunday to see if they will be dancing. Illinois should never be a bubble team. Ever. The fans deserve better. The University of Illinois is ripe for being a national basketball powerhouse. People like to use the term "sleeping giant" to refer to programs that have all the resources and potential, but just needs the right person to wake it up and lead them to the promised land. I feel Illinois had that in Bill Self. He was a take no prisoners recruiter and he showed what Illinois can produce with home grown talent from Chicago as well as national recruiting out of state. If you can recruit Chicago and get the best talent from the state of Illinois you will compete at the highest level not only in the Big Ten but nationally. The problem with Coach Weber is that he is too old school for the current state of college basketball. He plays a slow style of basketball that kids just don't want to play. Kids want to run up and down the court and play a free style of offense. In order to play that style you have to recruit players who have those skill sets. The current Illini players are slashing, driving, and running type of players which would fit to a faster paced offense. In Weber's offense they don't shoot jump shots particularly well and watching them weave and run 30 seconds off the shot clock and then have Brandon Paul throw up a bail out three is just painful. I believe there is talent on the current team but for what ever reason it isn't jelling and that is the job of the coach. I really don't like calling for people to be fired from their jobs, as I wouldn't want that for me, but I also am realistic in the nature of being a Division I head basketball coach at a Top 15 program historically in that this is what comes with it. I really think regardless of what happens the rest of the season it is time new Athletic Director Mike Thomas does what he did for the football program and makes a change. In doing so he needs to find someone who is a fearless recruiter, a young tireless worker, and has an open offensive mind. (It wouldn't even hurt to hire the first African-American coach either.)The key really is finding someone with Midwest/Chicago ties who can lock down the Chicago market and keep homegrown talent in state. We need to keep the likes of North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, etc. from taking our talent elsewhere. It CAN be done just look at the 1989 Flying Illini basketball team and everyone of those players were form the state of Illinois. There is a reason people still talk about them so highly. They were awesome and Illinois produced them. Enough is Enough and the ILLINI NATION can't take it anymore. It is time to change the culture in Champaign and get the Illini a new leader.

Illini basketball has slept long enough and the giant is ready to wake up.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rivalry Week

Man I love a good rivalry!

I was sitting in the comfort of my living room last night when Duke freshman Austin Rivers reminded me just WHY I love a good rivalry.

It was a game where North Carolina was seemingly in control from mid first half on, however; games can change in a heartbeat. Duke was able to withstand this deficit and make a huge run with only 2 minutes and change remaining making it a two point game with just seconds left. N.C's Tyler Zeller was at the free throw line trying to make it a three point lead but he missed the shot and Duke was instantly in freestyle mode with no T.O's. As the precious seconds were ticking away and Duke was down 84-82 it was bringing back memories of mine as a kid of this same situation. I was having visions of Nick Anderson popping a three against "That Classic Bully" Bob Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers in 1989. I was recalling Andy Kaufman nailing a three against Iowa in 1990 that has been permanently tattooed on my brain. This young man was oblivious to the moment and magnitude of what will come in the future of this one shot as he was about to release. It was the difference of either winning and Duke immortality or taking that 8 mile bus trip back home with North Carolina fans having bragging rights once again. It was apparent this young freshman was not going to look for overtime. As the camera scanned the situation I was watching the sea of powder blue throughout the stands as some were cheering and others were just stoic in their gaze. The crowd noise was at a deafening level. History was on the verge of being made as these kids were trying to settle past, present, and future scores. So with North Carolina holding a slim two point lead 84-82 in the waning seconds Austin Rivers let loose the basketball with 1.1 seconds left and watching it float like a cloud. It seemed to hang their for awhile until it fell safely through the net stunning a packed Dean Dome. Duke 85, North Carolina 84. The shot was yet another reminder why rivalries are so much better than a regular game against another opponent. When the ball splashed through the net two things happened. One was the hearts of Carolina Fans everywhere sank into a deep depression and disbelief. The second was the pure emotion that exploded out of the Duke bench from the student athletes to the coaches who were acting like kids again. Only a true rivalry does this reaction occur. Sure Duke could have beaten another team on a last second trifecta but this was different. It was an outcome that will be talked about on Tobacco Road for decades. Their campuses are only 8 miles apart. People use the same stores and you see the same people wearing Duke Blue or Carolina Blue. It just transcends the sport as it is a way of life. Families are brought up either one team or the other or worse families are split with their allegiance. It doesn't just end with these two teams as rivalries have added that little extra over the years in all sports. I can still remember when the Bears beat the Packers 6 days after Walter Payton passed away and they miraculously blocked a chip shot field goal. It would have made all Chicago Bears fans happy had they blocked any other teams attempt but it was especially gratifying that it was against the Packers. This was personal. Years of blood, sweat, and tears. Only a true rivalry brings this out.


Just saying that word conjures up excitement and the wantonness to create another lasting memory.

And I totally have enough room for another tattoo on my brain.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


We have a rematch of Super Bowl XLII.

New England Patriots versus New York Giants.

It was just four years ago the Patriots were coming to Super Bowl XLII undefeated and being touted as possibly the greatest team of all time. Tom Brady was gunning for Super Bowl victory number four putting him in elite company with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl Championships. The Giants were coming in on a hot streak and with a nasty defense. They were playing their best football of the season. The Giants had played the final game of the regular season against New England with the Patriots winning 38-35 and securing a perfect season. The Super Bowl rematch was very different. A defensive battle where the Giants front line attacked Brady all game. He was able to lead the Patriots down the field late to take a 14-10 lead surely securing the championship and immortality. Little time was left for Eli Manning and company to spring the upset and dash the hopes of Brady and the Pats. It was not be for the Patriots that day. It took a crazy scramble by Eli and an even crazier catch on the helmet of David Tyree in the waning minutes to keep hope alive and keep the 1972 Dolphins as the only undefeated team in NFL history. The Giants won that Super Bowl on defense, toughness, and little bit of divine intervention. It also doesn't hurt to have a super clutch quarterback in Eli Manning. He out dueled Tom Brady that day and matched his brother Peyton as a Super Bowl winning quarterback. It was a classic!

Which brings me to this years Super Bowl. Super Bowl XLVI.

This game is setting up eerily similar to their previous match ups. They again met earlier this year and the Giants were able to win with defense and Eli stepping up huge late in the fourth quarter to snatch victory away from the Patriots. These comebacks are beginning to be common place for Eli Manning, especially against the Patriots. Super Bowl XLVI shouldn't be any different.

The Patriots again have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL but it comes with questions. The biggest question coming into the game has been the health of Rob Gronkowski. The All-Pro tight end hasn't been practicing due to a high ankle sprain and he is a serious weapon in the Patriots arsenal. The Patriots love to run two tight end sets and not having both of them fully healthy will alter their ability to advance down the field. The Giants aggressive defense will hound Brady and attack him at all angles. I feel the biggest factor will be the protection Tom Brady has from his offensive line. Protecting Brady's blindside will be a tough task as the defensive front of the Giants has been murderous for the past month. Keeping Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul off of Brady will be a tall order. The Patriots will need to counter the aggressive style of the Giants and use draw plays and screen passes to effectively move the ball. If the Patriots can avoid third and long situations and keep Brady off his backside then the Patriots will score. If not it will be a long night for Mr. Brady.

Conversely, the ability of the Giants to run the ball with Jacobs and Bradshaw will be the key. They will need the clock running as to keep Brady and his offense off the field but also give the Giants defense a much needed breather. The Patriots defense throughout the season has been a bit "soft" but has stepped up lately. Eli is as cool as they come and has been super this whole postseason. He should have no problems moving the ball and finding his receiver corps of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in the very weak Patriots secondary. The Patriots were very lucky against the Ravens having almost let a touchdown score with seconds on the clock and then getting a botched field goal to end it. The Patriots have been good enough when it counts, but good enough doesn't win Super Bowls. It doesn't matter who your quarterback is. Just ask John Elway. He was arguably one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but before he won a Super Bowl he lost badly because his defense couldn't stop anyone and he had no running game. It really does come down to rushing the football and defense. The old saying goes that defense wins championships. This is why I feel it will be same old song for the Patriots.

The Giants will get to Brady a bunch and keep the high scoring offense at bay. Gronkowski will score a TD and Brady will again run one in. Stephen Gostkowski will split the uprights 3 times. The Giants will run the ball effectively and keep the chains moving. They will get TD's from Bradshaw on the ground, Manningham in the air, and a fumble return by J.P.P. The fourth quarter will see saw but clutch play from Eli Manning will be the difference. In the end Lawrence Tynes will kick a field goal as time expires.

The final score New York Giants 24, New England Patriots 23

Eli MVP!