While going for my early Saturday morning, end-of-week ‘beauty’ run, I opted to go for my usual residential street route rather than going to a local park where I can jog around the artificial turf soccer field and imagine that I’m running around a football practice field in early August with only the sound of the crickets, getting ready for the fall season. I didn’t jog to the park this morning because it requires crossing a busy intersection at a light. ‘Too early in the morning to concentrate on that move,’ I thought. Better to play it safe. So while jogging through the sleepy residential neighborhood that I always jog through, I crossed a sleepy residential street –never cars there – no need to look. Yeah. A car, thankfully the car saw me or knew that I was in a totally zoned out state which I was. They could have honked but they didn’t. Lesson learned. Next week I’ll jog to that park. Better to engage a known risk than to pretend one is not there when it is. This morning’s lesson was not over though. While jogging back on the home stretch, I heard the shuffling of feet behind me on pavement, then next to me, then —another jogger passing in front of me. I’m 52, but still, my competitive instincts haven’t gone away yet. I could’ve picked up the pace, thought about it, I would’ve had to sprint at my age to catch up but then have nothing left. That’s silly. Thankfully I am older. While continuing on the home stretch at my own slow, turtle-like pace, I decided that next Saturday morning I’ll not only jog to that park but I’ll pick up the pace, too. I’ll try to anyways. Never stop trying, always try to improve, work hard. That’s the American way.
Every year at this time in late July when Redskins training camp opens, I like to look for visual signs in the local papers, any clue, as to how I think the team will do for the upcoming season. What do I know? Still, it’s fun. I don’t trust the coddling, enabling Washington Post sports writers when it comes to covering the Redskins so I look for my own signs. In years past I’ve seen pictures of players lounging in portable water tubs after practice – not good I always thought. Other years it’s been the expanding waistlines and guts of the players – not good either – where’s the off-season conditioning? Other years it’s been players standing around signing autographs for the fans – another distraction that takes away from the hard work on the practice field, but then again maybe I’m out of touch because I think most NFL training camps are open to the public these days. One year when Marty Schottenheimer was coach I saw a picture of players doing the Oklahoma drill – an old school contact drill that tests players’ toughness and conditioning during the heat and grind of August. Good, very good, I thought. The team got off to a slow start that year, losing its first 5 games, but they finished strong to go 8-8. Unfortunately, Schottenheimer was here for only one season due to a power struggle with Dan Snyder. Telling.
So when training camped opened this week for the 2016 campaign, I did my usual perusing through the papers. The first was a picture of Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy running basic quarterback rollout drills, not bad I thought, but maybe a little window dressing for the fans. Then, yesterday while on the Metro coming home from work, I saw it, the telling sign – Coach Gruden smiling on the practice field like a casual walk in the park, joking with the players who were nonchalantly doing stretches on the field – smiles on their faces as well. Not good. The coddling Washington media will tell you the Redskins are heading in the right direction, they’re ‘improving’, they’re settled at quarterback, they have a solid GM, the players are solid, yada, yada, yada. Yet if you’re a legitimate NFL coach, you’re not your players’ best buddy. In fact, you probably don’t want your players to like you. You want them to be working hard (cursing you out in silent struggle while laboring for the next hard earned water break). But not smiling. The Belichicks, the Coughlins of the NFL, they don’t smile, and they don’t chum up to their players. Yet they are respected. And they win. We’ll see.
It’s the first weekend in October. The leaves are starting to turn yellow. It’s rainy, it’s cold…perfect sleeping weather… or just perfect weather period if you’re like me and love the cooler, flannel shirt-wearing fall days.
If you’re a fan of the Auburn Tigers right now, my alma mater, you may be starting to (gulp) think about the upcoming basketball season (which, in their defense, could be pretty good with coach Bruce Pearl and a new set of stellar recruits). With two SEC losses already, the football team is kaput. Across state, the football outlook may not be much better as fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide could soon enough be looking forward to the basketball season and new coach Avery Johnson after this afternoon’s rainy visit to Athens, Georgia. Imagine, the state of Alabama and its passionate football fan base looking ahead to basketball the first weekend in October!
As for the Washington Wizards and their upcoming season, playoff expectations are again high, but I’m not sure the team can contend for a championship built around John Wall. Wall’s up-tempo game, court awareness, and ball distribution may be the best in the NBA; however, he’s still not a natural shooter, a threat from behind the arc like Stephen Curry who drains 3’s like he’s shooting lay-ups (then again, nobody’s like Curry who likely decides whether he wants to swish or bank it in from anywhere, anywhere, within the half court line). Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are good players, Nene can still bring his paint game when healthy, but the Wizards need another scoring threat to contend.
Enjoy your rainy, fall weekend!
As Winter hangs on to its last, cold breath and the sun climbs higher and higher with its welcome sign that spring is indeed on the horizon, the college basketball regular season has come down to its last weekend. Fans of Kentucky and Virginia are no doubt looking forward to tournament play almost as much as the warmer, longer spring days, maybe more. The Wildcats, 30-0, should complete a remarkable undefeated regular season as it hosts the Florida Gators at Rupp Arena this afternoon. Later today, the Cavaliers, 28-1, will play at Louisville in a more interesting match-up on paper. But with the regular season now a foregone conclusion, the more compelling storylines for the top two teams in the country at this point are this: For Virginia, with Justin Anderson to miss additional time due to appendectomy surgery this week, have the Cavaliers decided ‘so be it’ and now plan to move on through tournament play without him? If the last seven games are any indication, the answer is ‘yes’. Virginia is simply deeper, tougher, and more resilient than its parts. They know who they are, they are tested, and they will not be deterred by the absence of one player. If they have to win it without Anderson, they will and they know they can.
For Kentucky, the most talented and maybe the best team in the country, could the Wildcats benefit from a loss before the NCAA tournament? (And thus relieve some of the legacy pressure to go undefeated, last accomplished by the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.) The answer, if you’re a true Kentucky blue blood, and more importantly, if you suit up in one of those vaunted uniforms (no matter how young or inexperienced a player you are ) that spells K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y on the front, is a resounding ‘NO’.
Bring on spring! Bring on the tournaments!
I don’t know about you but I’m tired of the cold and the ice and the crunch of snow beneath my cold feet. Remarkably, I’ve managed to hold onto my scarves, hat, and gloves this winter without a single loss. On that note, Kentucky will not lose its first game either this evening against my Alma mater, Auburn, at Rupp Arena. The Wildcats seem intent on cruising and, scary as this sounds, getting better game-by-game.
Virginia’s identity remains clear at this point: their stifling, pack line defense will carry the day for the remainder of their season. It is truly who they are and if they win games 50-46, so be it and good. It’s often said that defense wins championships, particularly in football, and that’s true, but in college basketball you need a shooter or two who can hit 3’s. The guess is here is that the Cavaliers will continue to ride their defense on cruise control from here on out while, more importantly, getting Justin Anderson ready to come back in March because they’ll need him for tournament play. He’s their best 3 point shooter.
Stay warm, avoid icy spots this weekend, and immerse yourselves in those ESPN shots from various spring training sites with lush green grass, gentle breezes, and warm Florida sunshine! I’m sure Bostonians will.
Coach Rick Pitino and the 9th ranked Louisville Cardinals will make their first ACC trip to Charlottesville this evening for their match-up against the 3rd ranked Cavaliers. This should be a fun game to watch with the suave, high profile Pitino. Louisville likes to play an all-court, full-court press style of play while feeding the ball into physical presence Montrezl Harrell down low in the post. Virginia, if they can handle Louisville’s press, and I think they can, could get easy baskets in transition off the press (think Justin Anderson hanging-on- the- rim- kind-of-dunks). Still, Louisville is clearly an established program with a Hall of Fame coach and the championship pedigree to prove it. Virginia, the newcomer to the national block, must stay disciplined, play their game, and stay hungry, one possession, one defensive stop at a time. Until Virginia proves they can win championships, they are the challenger.
The No.1 Kentucky Wildcats, 22-0, will play later tonight in Gainesville, Florida, against Pitino protégé Billy Donovan and the struggling Florida Gators. Kentucky should win, but never say never playing on the road in a hostile environment against a traditional rival.
Speaking of the Louisville/Virginia match-up, this writer had the opportunity to watch several of tonight’s players up-close back in the April 2012 Capital Classic All-Star basketball at T.C. Williams high school. That would be UVA players Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, and Evan Nolte, and Louisville star Montrezl Harrell (who was clearly the most dominating player during that game).
So much for an “easy” Virginia win against Duke yesterday like this writer predicted. The young Blue Devils looked every bit the championship quality team during the last five minutes, hitting several NBA-caliber three’s after Virginia seemingly had the game in hand (but two’s don’t beat three’s). And where was the stifling Virginia defense that would certainly tire out Duke during the second half? The Blue Devils had open looks around the perimeter during the last five minutes (perhaps Virginia was trying to collapse in on freshman star Jahlil Okafar but the three’s beat them). And speaking of stellar Duke freshmen, kudos to guard and clutch player Tyus Jones who wanted to take the big shot at the end (and delivered). Virginia now has a more meaningful game tomorrow night against North Carolina in Chapel Hill as the Cavaliers will want to reassert themselves with a win and prove that they should remain atop the national stage. Since its Super Bowl Sunday and I laid an egg yesterday, I’ll say that the Seattle defense shuts down Tom Brady and beats New England “easily” today. Enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday!