Monthly Archives: January 2011

Judge leaves the court

If it isn’t bad news, it’s no news for Kansas State’s basketball team.

Wally Judge

Wally Judge, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who was one of the nation’s top high school recruits in 2009, has decided to leave the Wildcats’ program. Coach Frank Martin made the announcement during his Monday news conference, saying that Judge told him he wasn’t having fun and thought it was time to try something different.

Losing isn’t fun and K-State has been doing more of that than expected this season. At 2-5 in the Big 12 and coming off a disappointing 90-66 loss at Kansas on Saturday night, the Wildcats have been one of the country’s biggest disappointments after being ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll.

Judge came to Kansas State from Arlington Day High School in Jacksonville, Fla., and played during the summer with the DC Assault, one of the country’s top AAU programs out of Washington, D.C. Rivals.com rated him as the No. 18 high school prospect in the country and he drew obvious comparisons to Michael Beasley, another DC Assault alum who helped put Kansas State back on the basketball map during his one season with the Wildcats in 2007-08.

The Assault has been a great recruiting pipeline for K-State thanks to Wildcats assistant coach Delonte Hill, who coached the Assault from 2001-03 and has continued to use his strong AAU connections. But two other Assault alums, Dominique Sutton and Ron Anderson, have transferred from Kansas State. Two others, junior forward Jamar Samuels and sophomore guard Rodney McGruder, also played for the Assault.

McGruder and Judge were summer teammates for three seasons and are close friends. It’s logical to wonder what McGruder must be thinking as his buddy departs.

It’s logical to wonder what all of Kansas State’s players think. And it’s also logical to wonder how much Martin’s intense behavior has to do with these defections and the struggles of the team.

Martin deserves all the credit heaped upon him for last season’s run to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats were one of the most exciting teams in the country on both ends of the floor. That team looked like it fed off of Martin’s abundance of emotion.

This one doesn’t and never has.

The disparity between Martin’s howling and growling on the sideline and the Wildcats’ sleepy, lackluster play is palpable. The coach has not been able to get his team to even approach its potential, never mind reach it.

I only interviewed Judge a couple of times, but he seemed like a real down-to-earth kid. Remember, he missed a few games earlier this season for what Martin said were personal reasons, so it’s possible that those have never been resolved and that Judge is leaving for reasons that have nothing to do with Martin.

Still, don’t you wonder what’s going on behind closed doors with this team?

Judge’s departure makes an already think front line even skinner. Samuels, senior Curtis Kelly and sophomore Jordan Henriquez-Roberts are the only big guys remaining. And Kelly has been in and out of Martin’s doghouse all season. Against Kansas, Kelly had a miserable first half and spent much of the end of the half and the entire second half on the bench. He has not gained traction at all after a promising junior season that led to him being named to the All-Big 12 preseason team.

Samuels has been inconsistent, too. And Henriquez-Roberts just isn’t ready to be a Big 12 contributor yet.

It’s always something with this team. The volatility of the season has been the story of the season.

Judge played only 17 games and made 11 starts. He averaged only 15.2 minutes, 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds. From a statistical standpoint, his loss isn’t devastating.

From an emotional standpoint, we’ll see. Judge arrived at Kansas State as a “can’t miss” recruit. I remember where I was when I found out Judge had made a commitment to the Wildcats, that’s how big of a deal it was. I don’t know of anyone who thought he would be another Beasley, those players just don’t come along very often.

But everybody thought that getting Judge to come to K-State was another recruiting coup for the Wildcats, more evidence that the DC Assault pipeline might never dry up.

Losing Judge hurts a program that has suffered all season in its public relations. With each bit of bad news, more questions surface. Can Martin pull things together? Are there big problems inside the program? Is Martin sick of his players and are his players sick of him?

Some of this represents the natural fall-out from not meeting expectations. Things are tense in Manhattan, no doubt about it. If ever a team needed to lighten the mood, this is that team. Unfortunately, a light mood is unthinkable at the moment.

You know Jimmer now

Jimmer Fredette. If you hadn’t heard of him at this time yesterday, you better have heard of him by now.

The one and only Jimmer Fredette

He’s the BYU guard who scored 43 points Wednesday night in the Cougars’ win over San Diego State, which I saw in non-high def on the CBS College Sports Network. At least I saw as much of it as I could make out in non-high def.

Call me spoiled, and you’re probably correct in doing so, but if a sporting event isn’t in high def in these technologically-advanced times, it’s really irriting to me. So, Cox, let’s work on getting CBSCSN in high def. OK?

Now, back to the game. Fredette was unbelievable. He caused me to utter several exclamations, most of which weren’t vulgar. Fredette’s game, after all, is anything but vulgar; it’s a thing of beauty.

He scores from anywhere, any time. His cross-over gave me a headache. His toughness is incredible. Did you see that scratch that spread from his back to his arm as he left the court for halftime Wednesday night? It looked like he had run dead-on into a barbed wire fence.

Fredette scored 43 of his team’s 71 points in a 13-point victory, which means he scored a tad more than 74 percent of the points that San Diego accumulated.

And, rightly so, the country is buzzing a day after. Fredette is the talk of the basketball world. Never mind that he’s been doing this kind of stuff for the past three seasons; his performance against the fourth-ranked Aztecs, before a packed house in Provo, Utah, and a big national TV audience (I hope most got to watch in high-def) catapulted him into legendary status.

Jimmer’s story only feeds the legend. He’s from upstate New York and had only two offers to play college basketball, from BYU and Siena. He was a role player for the Cougars during his freshman season, but when he got more of a chance to play two seasons ago he blew up.

Fredette is no secret amongst those who pay close attention to college basketball. But because BYU’s games are not often on ESPN, and because the guys who talk about basketball on ESPN can’t get their minds off the East Coast, he hadn’t become a household name despite having one of the best names in sports.

Jimmer? Is there another Jimmer anywhere in the world? Who names their kid Jimmer?

Well, here’s what Fredette told “The Sporting News” about how he got his name:

It’s basically from my mom. She has a lot of Jameses and Jims in her family, and James is my real name. But she decided she wanted to make it unique, so she added the extra “m” and “er” to the end and started to call me Jimmer from birth. She wanted everybody to call me that. She would always tell my teachers, and if she’d hear someone call me something other than Jimmer, she’d yell at them, say, “His name’s Jimmer. Call him Jimmer.” So, that’s how it started and it’s stuck. I really like the name, and I think a lot of people enjoy it.

* Tiger Woods is back at it today, playing - and playing pretty well – in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. It’s one of his

Tiger Woods

favorite courses and, judging from what others are writing about Woods, he’s in a much better place mentally than he was a year ago.

Of course, it’s difficult to imagine where a worse place would be, but that’s beside the point.

We love predictions, and many are taking a shot at forecasting Woods’ season. This morning on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” radio show, the two hosts were asked whether they would take the over or under on Woods’ major tournament victories if the number was set at 1 1/2. It’s a great question and both took the under.

I’ll take the under, too, just because I don’t see Woods, or anyone else, winning two majors. But it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. Let’s not forget how dominant Tiger was on the PGA Tour before his transgressions.

You know how driven he is and how much he’d love to go out and have a 2011 season for the ages. I laughed this morning when I read an accounting of Tiger’s mental state that used his Twitter postings as a gauge of how the guy seems to be doing pretty well.

Really? We know judge people’s stability on their tweets?

As somebody who manages to put his best foot forward on Facebook, I highly doubt that either social media outlet provides an accurate assessment of one’s emotional well-being.

Even so, I do expect Woods to have a big season. But I don’t really need Twitter to help me come to that conclusion.

A sports writer’s memory

Watching Fredette play Wednesday night got me thinking about the most exciting players I’ve seen in person. He’s one of them, although I watched him struggle in the NCAA Tournament’s second round last season against Kansas State.

Dave Stallworth back in the day

I decided to limit my choices to current and former Wichita State players and I would have to say it’s Dave Stallworth, without question.

Now, I was just a lad who knew nothing about sports writing (you’re saying I still don’t, aren’t you?) when Stallworth played during the early- and mid-1960s. Some of my memories are a little foggy. But Stallworth was a 6-foot-7 gazelle. He could handle the basketball, pass it and shoot it. He had guard-like qualities, but was a fierce rebounder.

He and Fredette aren’t that much alike, but there are similarites. Fredette, though smaller, attacks the basket the way Stallworth did. He has no fear. Fredette is easily a better shooter than Dave the Rave, but Stallworth wasn’t a slouch.

Because he played so long ago, Stallworth doesn’t get enough credit as one of the best college basketball players in history. Fredette didn’t either, but I suspect his performance against San Diego State is causing people to take notice.


Wichita State’s trap game?

I’m a little basket-balled out, not unusual for such a long and arduous season. And I’m just a sports columnist, so imagine how the coaches and players must feel during the dog days of late January.

WSU's Gabe Blair goes high for a basket

It’s a tough times for teams not named Ohio State to find consistency. You see it everywhere. Which is why, I guess, I have such a strange feeling about tonight’s Wichita State game at Southern Illinois.

The Shockers are clearly the better team. SIU is still trying to find its mojo from a few years ago. I’m surprised at how far the Salukis have fallen. At 4-5 in the Valley and 10-10 overall, they are the epitome of mediocrity.

So why do I have this strange feeling?

I’m not sure, really. Just one of those things. I haven’t had it for any of the Shockers’ road games to date and they’re 4-0 on the Valley road.

* Looking forward to finally seeing “The King’s Speech” tonight. All of my friends who have seen the film rave about it, and I mean all of them.

Going to movies is something I love to do, but don’t get the chance as often as I’d like. I have, however, seen six of the 10 movies nominated yesterday for Oscars. Here they are, with a breakdown – percentage wise – of their chance for a victory.

127 Hours – 5 percent

The Fighter – 15 percent

The Kids Are All Right – 2 percent

The Social Network – 30 percent

True Grit – 5 percent

Black Swan – 5 percent

Inception – 3 percent

The King’s Speech – 30 percent

Toy Story 3 – 3 percent

Winter’s Bone – 2 percent

Obviously, I’m on the fence about whether “The King’s Speech” or “The Social Network” wins the Academy Award. What’s really funny is that I haven’t seen either movie. So what am I doing picking the Best Picture winner? Good question. I will see all of these movies – “The Kids Are All Right” and “The Fighter” are movies I also haven’t seen – before the awards ceremony in late April. That’s my vow as a wannabe movie critic.

Some quick hits:

  • I don’t know whether to feel sorry for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are 8-37 and have lost 18 games in a row, or to just think they’re pathetic. Since losing at home to LeBron and the Miami Heat way back when, this team has tanked it big time.
  • Connecticut supporter and benefactor Robert Burton strikes me as the type of kid you loved to run into on the playground during grade school. What a spoiled brat.
  • It was fun to see such a good basketball atmosphere last night in Boulder for the Kansas-Colorado game. Former Shocker assistant Tad Boyle has lit a fire under the CU fan base. Can he keep it going?
  • Here’s why Facebook and texting is cool and why I’m not ashamed to admit I’m into both. A little while ago, I received a FB message from former Wichita State center Paul Miller, who is playing professionally overseas. It was just to chit-chat a little bit. Then, just now, I received a return text from another former Shocker, New York Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey, about doing an interview. Am I name-dropping? Yeah, I suppose so.
  • I will be home tonight in time to watch the San Diego State-BYU game. I don’t care if I’m feeling basketballed-out or not; that’s a game I have to see.
  • I don’t care how much new news comes out, I’m still sick of Jay Cutler and I’m not convinced he couldn’t have sucked it up and played in the second half of the NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers.
  • My favorite musician on the planet, Don Henley, is apparently making a country record in Nashville while the Eagles are on a short hiatus before leaving for the Far East. Henley is collaborating with former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, with whom he has worked with extensively in the past. Reportedly, Ronnie Dunn of Brooks and Dunn fame and Allison Krauss of Allison Krauss fame have recorded with Henley on his upcoming record. Exciting. Even though I’m not a country music fan, I’d listen to Don Henley sing the phone book.

My Facebook Friend

Janice Louise Newman

Newman

I’ve met Louise once, which she’ll address in a bit. She dated a friend of mine from the newspaper for years and she’s been really active in Wichita’s fitness circles, which probably explains why I haven’t seen her that often. She also worked with a really famous person, who unfortunately just passed away.

It’s good to be the Facebook friend of someone who has obviously led an interesting and cultured life and here is what she has to say about it all:

Have worked in the field of health and fitness for 35 years, moved to Wichita to open an upscale all ladies health club called “Mademoiselle Spa”…obviously everyone knows I used to work with Jack LaLanne and was featured in some of his early exercise videos and did 20/20 with him and Hugh Downs.

You’re my FB friend because we have many mutual friends at the Eagle and when I met you at Mort’s you said you thought I was around 40 years of age, which means you were about 15 years off….you were my new best friend that night, ha!!

Some Steelers-Packers history

It’s amazing to me that through all the years, and with the successes of the franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers haven’t played more meaningful games.

The Steelers and Packers have played 32 times, starting in 1933 when the Steelers were the Pirates. Green Bay won the first eight meetings between the teams; Pittsburgh won for the first time in 1947, 18-17.

But for the most part, either one or both teams have been mediocre when they met.

During Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl season in 2005, the Steelers beat Green Bay during the regular season, 20-10. But the Packers were only 4-12 that season.

In 1975, when the Steelers won a championship (their second in a row and second of what was to be four during a six-year stretch) and were 12-2 in the regular season, Green Bay was 4-10. Pittsburgh beat Green Bay that season, 16-13.

And during the Packers’ Super Bowl run in 1967, when they were 9-4-1, they beat a 4-9-1 Steelers team, 24-17.

Both Pittsburgh and Green Bay were outstanding during the 1995 season, when the Packers won their regular-season match-up, 24-19.

Pittsburgh won the AFC championship that season and Green Bay lost to Dallas in the NFC title game. Both teams were 11-5 during the regular season.

Well, the Steelers and Packers are playing a meaningful game at Cowboys Stadium on Feb. 6 – the Super Bowl. And it should be a classic.

But will it be as dramatic as the last regular-season game between the two in 2009. In Week 15 of that season, the Steelers needed a late touchdown to beat Green Bay, 37-36, in Pittsburgh. There were 36 points scored in the fourth quarter of that one and both quarterbacks – Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger – had crazy games.

Rodgers completed 26 of 48 pass attempts for 383 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted.

Roethlisberger was even better, completing 29 of 46 pass attempts for 503 yards and three touchdowns. Again, no interceptions.

The two combined to throw 94 passes that day without a pick. There were only 125 rushing yards in the game to go with 848 yards through the air.

Hard to fathom we’d get that kind of a game in the Super Bowl because both defenses are so good. But both defenses were good in 2009, and the offenses combined for 73 points.

* I think this is a difficult year for Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall. He hasn’t told me that and I haven’t really asked. I just think it has to be.

He has a good team. The strength of his team is depth. There is no player who stands out among the rest with the possible exception of senior forward J.T. Durley.

For Marshall, it hasn’t mattered much which five players are on the court at a given time. He’s done a good job dividing minutes among 10 players. But the Shockers don’t have a star and I would think a coach would be much more comfortable knowing there’s a player or two on his team who can put the rest of the guys on his back.

Marshall, meanwhile, has to figure out which combinations work best in a given game. That’s why you saw guards Demetric Williams and David Kyles, who had played key minutes before, on the bench for all three overtimes during Wichita State’s win over Indiana State on Saturday night at Koch Arena.

The WSU coach felt more comfortable with Joe Ragland and Toure Murry in the game, based on what he had seen previously.

You would think that Kyles and Murry, because of their experience, would be ahead of Williams and Ragland. And that in crunch time of a huge game, those would be the two guards on the floor.

Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy, which is why I’ve said numerous times that while quality depth is a good thing to have on a basketball team, it’s just as important to have two or three players, at least, who stand above the rest.

I’m not sure Wichita State has that on a consistent basis, which has made the Shockers a fascinating team to try and figure out. You never know who’s going to play well on any given night, which makes Marshall’s job so intriguing.

It’s an interesting team, to say the least.

A Kansas State reprieve

First things first about Kansas State’s basketball team. Lose those uniforms. Go to the biggest dumpster you can find just outside Bramlage Coliseum and toss those things.

I’ve seen a lot of basketball uniforms in my life and the ones K-State wore during it’s Big Monday game against Baylor are the worst. It’s not even close. What where those things?

They were some sort of gray with a really bad fabric on the back that made it appear that each Kansas State player was sweating profusely through their jersey. The purple trim was difficult to see. I hoped to put up a picture here but can’t find on online so soon after the game. Consider if a public service that I’m not posting a photo.

As for the game, the Wildcats got a win they desperately needed. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t artistic. But it was a 69-61win over a dangerous Baylor team that never got its star player, guard LaceDarius Dunn, out of the gate. Dunn, a dangerously streaky shooter who has made both K-State and Kansas pay over the years, was just 4 of 17 from the field and hit only three three-pointers.

Give a lot of credit to Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen, who drew the defensive assignment on Dunn. Pullen made it very difficult for Dunn to find credible shots and even though the Baylor senior took a lot of shots, more than a few were ill-advised.

Pullen also scored 17 points, tying freshman Will Spradling for team high honors. But Pullen, despite his 18 ppg average, is really struggling offensively. He was just 4 of 13 from the floor against Baylor and is shooting just 38.8 percent (33 of 85) in six Big 12 games.

Sometimes, Pullen tries to do too much. Monday night, he got a lot of help from Spradling, whose 17 points were a career high, and from sophomore Rodney McGruder, who recovered from an awful performance at Texas A&M on Saturday, in which he didn’t score, to score 12 points.

The Wildcats were shaky. They could have led by 20 at halftime, but let Baylor stay too close. And when the Bears rallied to within one point in the second half it was difficult to not start thinking the worst.

But Kansas State hit a flurry of three-pointers to stretch its lead and was never in serious danger down the stretch. The Wildcats are still a precarious 2-4 in the Big 12 with a road game coming up at Kansas on Saturday.

The most optimistic outlook for K-State is that they somehow figure out a way to go 10-6 in the Big 12, with losses at Kansas and Texas. But that would require the Wildcats to win road games against Iowa State, Nebraska and Colorado and to beat Kansas and Missouri at home.

Obviously, Kansas State isn’t out of the woods, but a loss to Baylor could have had major negative repercussions. At least now K-State can go to Lawrence feeling a little better about itself against a Jayhawks team that hasn’t exactly been dominant on their home floor and lost its 69-game Allen Fieldhouse winning streak Saturday against Texas.

Not a Cut(ler) above

Although it hasn’t made the national news that I know of, I dropped a little Facebook hate on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler Sunday night after the Bears lost to Green Bay in the NFC championship game.

Jay Cutler looking like he so-often looks.

I questioned Cutler’s manhood and even called him a disparaging name. Many of my Facebook friends “liked” my status, which in the world of Facebook is like being told you have a pretty smile.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve lashed out at Cutler. Over the years, I’ve come to have a disdain for the man, even though I’ve never met him and rarely heard him talk.

It’s his body language. It’s the “I’ve got something better to do” way he conducts himself. The guys drives me bananas because he looks – looks, I say – like he doesn’t care.

I remember a speech class I took many years ago at Wichita State. We spent a week or so going over body language and its role in communication. Now, I don’t remember everything taught in that class – I’m not really even sure I went that often – but I remember the instructor emphasizing the importance of non-verbal communication in day-to-day life.

It’s one of the reasons I whistle when I walk down the street.

Anyway, Cutler’s non-verbal communication is terrible. He always looks like he doesn’t care. He looked like he didn’t care Sunday after he left the game after one second-half offensive series. We’ve learned today that Cutler did have an injury – a sprain of the MCL in his left knee.

In questioning Cutler’s toughness, I minimized the 57 sacks he took this season, of that he’s been able to bounce back from concussions. I dismissed the support of his teammates, and especially unquestionably-tough linebacker Brian Urhlacher, who defended Cutler to the hilt.

But teammates were the only football players to have Cutler’s back. Quite a few used Twitter to blast him, wondering how anybody could voluntarily leave a game of such magnitude unless they couldn’t walk.

Cutler could clearly walk. In fact, he stood on the sideline, looking mostly uninterested whenever the cameras showed him. That is the most maddening thing about Cutler – his seeming indifference.

I read on the “Sports Illustrated” website today that tears welled up in Cutler’s eyes when he was told about the tweets coming from other NFL players after he left Sunday’s game. The writer of the piece was steadfast in his belief that Cutler would have been on the field if his left leg would have allowed him to be.

But Cutler defenders are a minority. I’m guessing that if you took a poll of Bears fans today, at least 75 percent would question Cutler’s toughness and probably hope somebody else is quarterbacking their team next season.

It’s really fascinating how much of a divisive figure Cutler has become. If you haven’t ready Rick Reilly’s column about Cutler at espn.com from last week, you should. It’s an amazing piece if only because of its venomous bent toward Cutler. I can’t think of another professional athlete who has drawn so much ire because of, essentially, the way he carries himself.

Is Cutler aloof? Or is he just a sourpuss? Is he shy or distant?

Let’s not forget that when Cutler was in Sunday’s game against Green Bay, and supposedly healthy, he was pretty terrible. Before leaving the game, he completed only 6 of 14 attempts, threw an interception and had a passer rating of 31.8.

How bad is 31.8?

Well, consider that Bears back-up quarterback Todd Collins, who played two of the worst series in NFL history, had a 39.6 rating. And he didn’t complete a pass in four tries, two of which were nearly intercepted.

Chicago didn’t have any life until third-team quarterback Caleb Hanie came on late in the third quarter and led a couple of touchdown drives. Hanie, out of Colorado State, showed more emotion in a quarter than Cutler has shown since he arrived in Chicago from Denver before the 2009 season. In a city known for its sports passion, Cutler is a mime without the makeup.

Today, Bears coach Lovie Smith is defending his quarterback and berating those players from around the league who took their shots without knowing the extent of Cutler’s injury.

My point is this: Those players wouldn’t have come after Cutler if they respected him. Do you think Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers would have been so harshly criticized if they had been forced to leave their games Sunday? No way.

Then again, can you think of any injury, short of broken limbs and concussions, that would have forced Big Ben and Rodgers – or even the New York Jets’ Mark Sanchez – off the field?

Would a sprained MCL have done it?

My Facebook friend

Steve Davis

Steve Davis

I was in the car business for 30 years. I was the General Sales Manager for Saturn of Wichita in ’08 when General Motors pulled the rug out from under all of the Saturn dealers around the country. My wife (LeeAnna) had been in the real estate business for 8 years so we decided to form The Davis Group @ Keller Williams Signature Partners, where we do both residential and commercial real estate.You and I are FB friends for a lot of reasons: We are both dedicated SHOCKER fans (BL: well, I’m really not a fan, per se);, and I’ve read your columns for years.We met probably 20-25 years ago at a Chamber function.What I like most about you is the fact that you will speak your mind regardless (that’s something we have in common). I don’t feel anybody should sugarcoat what’s on their mind. A reader will never know what’s going to come out of your mouth or how it will come out. Sometimes on the edge and always an interesting point of view.


Kansas goes down

The streak had to end sometime, but the Kansas Jayhawks didn’t want it to end the way it did Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. Not against Texas. Not in a battle of Big 12 Conference co-leaders. And not playing as poorly as KU did in the second half, really in the last 30 minutes.

After building a 15-point lead early, Kansas went flat. And the Jayhawks kissed goodbye to their Allen Fieldhouse winning streak, which was ended at 69 games.

How?

Texas took the game to Kansas, offensively and defensively. In the second half, especially, KU had no answer for Texas’ offense and no answer for Texas’ defense. The younger Longhorns played smarter and with more self-assurance. It was a strange sight watching such a young team – UT starts two freshmen and a sophomore – stay the course in the face of such early adversity.

KU, obviously emotional after the death of sophomore forward Thomas Robinson’s mother Friday night, was great early. But the Jayhawks hit a brick wall. Robinson told KU coach Bill Self he wanted to play against Texas, and Self abided. But the 6-foot-8 Robinson never got anything going after early foul trouble and finished with just two points and five rebounds.

Give Texas credit. The Longhorns sent a message as to how good they are Wednesday night, when they won at home by 21 points against a very good Texas A&M team. Still, who expected Texas to finish off KU’s streak in Allen Fieldhouse?

Not to mention end the Jayhawks’ unbeaten streak this season at 18. KU, ranked No. 2 in the country, likely will fall a few spots in the upcoming poll. It’s not a flawless team. Self was disappointed that the Jayhawks stopped attacking the basket offensively in the second half.

Other concerns:

What’s with freshman Josh Selby? He’s not playing well, certainly not like the sensation he was proclaimed to be. I’m guessing he’s just now paying for the late start he had to the season while waiting for clearance to play from the NCAA. He looks completely out of rhythm.

Mario Little made way too many mistakes for a senior to make and sophomore guard Elijah Johnson was so bad early that he didn’t see the floor in the second half.

KU’s inability to defend Texas guard J’Covan Brown is glaring. He scored 28 points against the Jayhawks last season in Austin and followed that up with 23 points Saturday.

Self, who didn’t think the Jayhawks attacked enough offensively, noticed the difference in the number of foul shots taken by the two teams. Texas went to the line 31 times compared to only 18 for Kansas.

But if Kansas isn’t attacking the way Self likes, doesn’t it follow that the Jayhawks would shoot fewer free throws?

The difference was Texas’ ability to make free throws. A 65 percent shooting team for the season, the Longhorns made 25 of their 31 attempts Saturday, 80.6 percent

And, finally, while I’m not one to chastise officials, I thought referee Doug Shows tried to steal the show. He became the center of attention and I thought some of his calls were unnecessary. Not that he helped one team or the other, he was just too much.

Pity for the non-sports people

I went to lunch yesterday with a friend, a female friend, who doesn’t like sports.

I don’t think she ever made a conscious choice not to like sports, that’s just the way things happened. I also don’t believe she believes her life is less enjoyable or meaningful because she doesn’t care about sports.

People like that fascinate me, and I have a lot of friends who really couldn’t care less about sports. I seek them out sometimes, because my life is so much about sports that it’s nice to get away from it all. I believe the correct term for me is Renaissance Man. But I digress.

This weekend, I will feel sorry for everyone who doesn’t like sports. Because this is one of those weekends, especially for those of us who live in Kansas, made for sports lovers.

Of course, there are the AFC and NFC championship games, both of which are off the chart with intrigue. I’ll get to those in a minute.

But on Saturday, all three of our college basketball Big 3 in Kansas (like it or not, Big 12 snobs, I include Wichita State in this) are playing big games.

WSU is at home against Indiana State after two tough home losses in a row. The Shockers didn’t lose a home game last season and now they’re fighting it at Koch Arena. Indiana State is the Missouri Valley Conference’s hottest team, having just handed Missouri State its first conference loss in Terre Haute on Wednesday night.

In Lawrence, the second-ranked Jayhawks take on a really, really good Texas team that is 15-3 and dangerous. And while KU’s Allen Fieldhouse winning streak is at 69 and counting, the Jayhawks have had some close calls at home this season, most recently against Nebraska.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Wildcats of Kansas State head into enemy territory Saturday to face twice-beaten Texas A&M. I would never write the previous sentence for the newspaper because, well, it’s schlocky and over the top. But part of the fun of a blog is that I can draw outside the lines once in a while. Back to K-State . . . the Cats are really struggling. On the radio show this week, K-State coach Frank Martin said his team is starting to come together. I didn’t see it Monday during a loss at Missouri, but perhaps Martin will turn out to be a prophet.

My picks for the Big 3 college basketball games go like this:

Wichita State 69, Indiana State 65. I think it will be another tough game for the Shockers. Indiana State is a much better team than anybody gave it credit for being.

Kansas 85, Texas 78. This will be entertaining, up-and-down basketball. I think KU has a little too much.

Texas A&M 64, Kansas State 57. I wish I could pick the Wildcats, who desperately need something positive to happen.

* I’ll be at the Indiana State-WSU game, but will definitely be watching the others.

I’m looking forward to seeing Texas, a team I’ve seen for only about a half of basketball all season. The Longhorns’ best players are young; leading scorer Jordan Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 forward, is just a sophomore. He averages 19.7 points and 7.1 rebounds and is an outstanding three-point shooter.

Joseph and Thompson

Two freshman, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, also start. They grew up together in Toronto, Ontario, and played at Findlay Prep in Nevada. Thompson committed to Texas coach Rick Barnes early and Joseph waited until after last basketball season to commit to Texas.

The 6-8 Thompson averages 13.1 points and 7.7 rebounds. He’s mostly a back-to-the-basket type of player and makes 53.8 percent of his field-goal attempts. He gets to the free-throw line a lot, but is shooting only 49.2 percent (64 of 130).

I’m looking forward to seeing how those three young guys, and especially the two Canadian freshmen, handled Texas’ first major conference road challenge in such a hostile environment. There’s no doubt Texas has enough talent to beat Kansas; I’m not sure the Longhorns’ young players are ready for the atmosphere, though.

* It’s been a passive week leading up to the two big football games Sunday. Nobody on either team is saying much, which isn’t like the New York Jets, for sure. My son, Jeff, made a point today that he doesn’t like it that the Jets haven’t done much yapping. He thinks they’re out of their element when they’re civil and good sports.

It’s a strange new sports world, folks. And in this world, Jeff’s observation actually has some merit.

Most of the so-called experts are picking Pittsburgh, at home, to beat New York. It’s understandable; the Steelers are great defensively and Ben Roethlisberger has been in this spot numerous times as a quarterback. The Jets’ Mark Sanchez hasn’t.

But Sanchez has won big playoff games on the road, four of them to be exact. In those games, he has beaten Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Not that it’s been a Sanchez duel with those guys, but he’s been good enough to help the Jets win.

I just have a feeling the Jets are going to the Super Bowl. To do so, they have to beat Pittsburgh. Jets 21, Steelers 17.

In the NFC, I’m going Green Bay all the way. Bears lovers point out this game is in Soldier Field and Chicago’s defense is playing so well. All true.

But how about the Packers’ defense? How about Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the best quarterback left in the playoffs in my opinion?

I like the Pack in this one and I don’t expect it to be particularly close. Green Bay 24, Chicago 10.

Shock Talk

Jamie Hull I Sr. I Softball I 3B-P

Jamie Hull

Hull batted .293 with six home runs for Wichita State last season. But this season is all about improving as a team – WSU was 22-31 last season. A native of Irving, Texas, Hull is majoring in communications and hopes to serve an internship at KSNW in the Fall.

Q: What do you plan to use your degree to do?

A: Actually, I’m planning to do a lot of the things you get to do – blogging, Internet, doing things in a newsroom. I’m in a Studio B class right now, anchoring and doing that kind of stuff.

Q: Who are your favorites on the air right now?

A: I don’t really have a favorite play-by-play person, but I do follow Erin Andrews. She was a softball player, also, and she became an even bigger star on “Dancing With the Stars.” She’s probably one I watch more than anybody.”

Q: Who would you pick if I said you could have dinner with any three people?

Ellsbury

A: Oh boy, that’s tough. I would say Jacoby Ellsbury from the (Boston) Red Sox. I’m a huge Red Sox

Robert Pattinson

fan and I can never tell anybody why because I do not know. I have been a fan since high school, though. Maybe it’s their tradition. I didn’t like the Yankees and since I’m from Texas I like the Rangers. But they were never very good and when I started watching the Red Sox, they were just so much fun to watch.

Then maybe Meg Ryan. I’m a huge movie buff and one of my favorites is “When Harry Met Sally.”

Then, how about Robert Pattinson? He’s the whole “Twilight” thing.

Q: What’s something about you very few people know?

A: Probably that I’m a really big animal lover. If I seen an animal die in a movie, I cry immediately. People probably don’t know that because I don’t have any of my animals in Wichita. I have two dogs and a cat in Texas and I’ve had many more in my life. It’s always a big traumatic experience when one of them dies.




Remembering KU’s national championship

I apologize for the abbreviated blog post today, but there’s been a lot going on. I’ll return tomorrow with a lot of takes, including my thoughts on the AFC and NFC championship games.

On Saturday, I’ll be at the Indiana State-Wichita State game at Koch Arena, but I’ll be blogging here on Kansas’ big game against Texas at Allen Fieldhouse, so watch for that.

Earlier today, I interviewed New York Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff for a column that will appear in Saturday’s paper. I’ve made a couple of runs at getting ahold of Westhoff this season, to no avail. Then I hear back from him three days before the Jets meet the Pittsburgh Steelers with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Funny how things work sometimes.

I’ll leave you with a Thursday regular feature here on the blog, one of my memories about my career at The Wichita Eagle, which is going on 37 years now. I know, I don’t look that old. Yeah, I get that all the time. As always, thanks for reading:

A sports writer’s memories

Somebody asked me today whether I’ve ever been to a Super Bowl. I haven’t.

Then it hit me that I had never been to a World Series. Or an NBA Finals game. Or the World Cup, not that I would ever go to a World Cup.

And I’m Mr. Sports Guy?

Why in the world haven’t I been to a World Series? It doesn’t make any sense because I love baseball as much as anyone on the planet.

And why not a Super Bowl?

Well, I’ve never been assigned to cover one. And now, at my somewhat-advanced age, it just seems like a big hassle. I enjoy watching the Super Bowl with my friends and family, in the comfort of my home or somebody else’s home. Somewhere I can dip my chip into some salsa and open a fresh bottle of beer.

So, what cool events have I covered?

I’ve worked six Final Fours. Watching Kansas win in 2008 has to rank right up there, especially the way it ended with the Mario

Mario Chalmers takes the big shot

Chalmers shot that sent the game into overtime.

In case you weren’t aware, we have deadlines in the newspaper business. That’s so we can get the paper delivered to your doorstep (or thereabouts) at a very early hour.

The kind folks at The Eagle pushed back the deadline that night, to something like midnight. Or maybe it was 11:45. But it was significantly later than normal.

Then the game, already long because of television breaks, went into overtime. Thrilling as it was, I started to worry a little bit. When was this thing going to end?

You know, the creative process takes some time to evolve. It doesn’t just roll out of me.

Anyway, I don’t know exactly when the game ended, but it was late. And there wasn’t much time to throw together a column, especially after dropping by the interview room to hear what Chalmers and KU coach Bill Self were saying.

But as a writer, you just get into that zone. You know how much time you have, and you just write. You don’t look up and the words just seem to appear. I’ve always enjoyed writing on deadline because there isn’t too much time to think. You’d think thinking would be a good thing, and it usually is. But when writing on a tight schedule, thinking can be overrated.

I wasn’t as high on adrenalin as KU’s players and coaches, I’m sure. But I had the same kind of buzz going that night, knowing that I was writing a column about the biggest event I’d covered in all my years in the newspaper business.

Here’s the finished product:

SAN ANTONIO – Twenty years ago, it was Danny and the Miracles. In
2008, it’s Mario’s Miracle. Everybody knows two miracles are better than
one.
Kansas won an improbable national championship at the Alamodome on
Monday night, beating Memphis 75-68 in overtime. And although it wasn’t
like 1988, when Danny Manning put a 6 seed with 11 losses on his back
and carried it through the NCAA Tournament, it was just as amazing.
KU trailed by nine points with 2:12 to play in the second half.
Memphis could have – should have – locked up the game at the free-throw
line. But we all know what happens to the Tigers at the free-throw line.
And then, with time running down and nothing coming together
offensively with a three-point deficit, Chalmers pulled off the shot Max
Falkenstein’s great, great, great grandchildren will be talking about.
He had the ball on the right side of the basket, more than 20 feet
away. Memphis defenders surrounded him as he dribbled to his left. Two
Tigers jumped at him as the basketball left his hands. And it was pure.
From the moment the shot started to fly, everybody in the building – all
43,257 of them – could tell where it was going to land. Even the people
in the cheap seats – far, far away.
It landed in the net. And it forced an overtime that Kansas, still
riding the emotion of Chalmers’ shot, dominated.
What a scene as the final seconds wound down. I saw Falkenstien, the
KU broadcasting legend who gave way to new blood three years ago,
looking down with a smile on his face. I saw a trombone player in the
Memphis band leaning against a wall because he couldn’t support his
worn-out body any other way. I saw Manning, 20 more years showing in his
face, hugging the players he now coaches as a KU assistant. I saw
streamers and confetti coming down from the ceiling as KU players ran
around the court hugging one another and trying to decide, after such a
physical, fast-paced game, if they really had the energy to celebrate.
I saw Bill Self, the KU coach, nearly break down when he was handed
the championship trophy. He gritted his teeth and held off the tears,
but you could tell that this was the emotional high point of his
coaching life.
Let’s see, he got past the Elite Eight for the first time in five
tries. He beat the polarizing and hugely successful coach who preceded
him, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, in the national semifinals. And then
he hoisted the biggest trophy in college basketball, bringing it to
Kansas for the third time.
Take Tuesday off, Coach.
And while you’re at it, tell those Oklahoma State people to kiss
your behind for the distraction they’ve created the past couple of
weeks. I know it’s your alma mater and all, but unless Boone Pickens is
ready to name the state after you, which he apparently has the power to
do, stay where you are to coach basketball. I have a feeling the powers
that be at Kansas are going to stuff your wallet nicely in the next few
days.
You’re at Kansas. You don’t want to be at Oklahoma State. No
disrespect intended, but if you were to even grant OSU an interview, the
ghosts of James Naismith and Phog Allen would play a perpetual game of
late night one-on-one in your driveway, never allowing your family to
sleep.
So stay put. And create a few more miracles like the one that rose
from the ashes Monday night.
Kansas looked whipped after a 10-0 Memphis run put the Tigers up
54-47 with only 5:10 to play. Suddenly, Tigers point guard Derrick Rose,
held in check up to the 12-minute mark of the second half, went on a
tear. He scored 14 points in eight minutes and the Tigers were rolling.
But they missed free throws. Chris Douglas-Roberts clanked the front
end of a one-and-one with 1:11 to play. Then he missed two with 16.8
seconds remaining. Rose hit only 1 of 2 with 10.8 seconds left, setting
up Mario’s Miracle.
“I got a good look,” Chalmers said.
A good look? What I think Chalmers saw was an ocean tide coming his
way as Memphis defenders scurried to get to him. Obviously, there was a
small opening, but just to be able to find it in such a crucial spot
defies logic. To actually get the shot to go down makes no sense. And
for it to be so soft and pure – well, that’s what miracles are made of.
The shot, though, barely raised Chalmers’ blood pressure. He reacted
after the game as if the shot were made in the third practice of the
season against walk-ons. Self, however, gave it historical perspective.
“That’s probably the biggest shot ever made in KU history,” Self
said. “It’s a remarkable play, remarkable. Mario has no memory. The next
thing that happens is the only thing he’s ever thinking about.”
You could see what Chalmers’ shot did for his teammates. It was an
instant jolt of energy and they came out in overtime sizzling.
Memphis was a three-day leftover in the extra period. Chalmers’ shot
shocked them as it shocked everybody. The Tigers had nothing in their
tanks, although a deep three-point shot by Douglas-Roberts with 57
seconds left in OT did make it a 71-68 game.
Chalmers, though, didn’t throw away his Superman’s cape after the
miracle shot. He made a couple of free throws with 45 seconds to play to
give KU a cushion. Memphis wasn’t to score again.
I assume the KU fans who were here will get back to Lawrence in a
week or two, once the celebration of this one finishes.
Kansas beat a great team in Memphis, a team that had lost only once
all season. It wasn’t like Memphis wasn’t good Monday, although once
again KU’s defense was outstanding. If there has been a theme to this
postseason for the Jayhawks, it has been that their defense has locked
down very good offensive players and made them look just OK.
It’s hard to fathom that so many Kansas fans for so long held Self
at arm’s length. At first, they didn’t like the hard-nosed, tough style
the Jayhawks were playing. Then they gulped when Self’s teams lost
first-round NCAA Tournament games to Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and
2006.
Self, though, weathered the storm. Now he’s in the winner’s circle
with his team, carrying the grand prize back to Lawrence thanks to
Mario’s Miracle and a whole bunch of smaller miracles that make up any
championship season.

To pay or not to play Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols is making me nervous. The whole contract situation – Pujols can be a free agent after the 2011 season and the Cardinals are supposedly working to make that not happen – is completely up in the air.

Pujols and his people have established a deadline for a new contract to be reached, at the beginning of spring training. That’s about four weeks. So if a deal isn’t reached by then, the assumption is that Pujols will test the free-agent waters after the 2011 season and the Cardinals will just be one of the teams bidding for his services.

I’m a Cardinals fan and Pujols is the best Cardinal I’ve ever seen. I’m not old enough to have seen much of Stan Musial; I became a Cardinals fan in 1963, when I was 8 and Musial was in the final season of his career.

Pujols is the best hitter in baseball, maybe in the past 40 years. Too strong? Maybe, but I’m a Cardinals guy.

Anyway, my unease about his contract situation is causing me to be paranoid. Is it possible the reason St. Louis signed Lance Berkman to a one-year, $8 million deal this off-season is because the Cardinals’ brass knows they won’t be able to sign Pujols and might look to trade him during spring training?

If that’s the case, Berkman swings to first base and the haul the Cardinals get in a Pujols deal, which should be substantial, fills in at some other spots.

Then again, would Tony La Russa have returned as manager if he thought for a second his team would be without Pujols in the No. 3 spot in his batting order?

I’m going back and forth about how I feel about all of this. It bothers me to read that Pujols was short and unfriendly to fans during the Cardinals’ showcase weekend in St. Louis recently, where he charged $175 per autograph. He has also been abrupt with the St. Louis media, the same media that has treated him like a king.

So, how would I feel if I turned on my computer some afternoon and found out that Pujols had been traded? Or that Pujols and the Cardinals had cut off negotiations on a new contract?

I’d feel sick. I’d be scared to death that he’d sign a big contract with the Chicago Cubs and lead them to three straight world championships. I’m a worse-case-scenario guy and I can’t imagine anything worse than Pujols in a Cubs uniform.

I guess the only thing to do is wait this out and see what happens. I can’t go negotiate with Pujols or call other teams to get a feel for what they might be willing to give up. Remember, too, that a trade only works if the team acquiring Pujols can sign him to a long-term deal.

My gut feeling is that Pujols signs a contract to stay in St. Louis. I just wish it would have happened yesterday. This is excruciating.

* Wichita State’s Feb. 18 Bracket Busters game is a source of some intrigue. Who will the Shockers play at Koch Arena?

It won’t be Utah State or Cleveland State, two recent BB opponents. But it could be George Mason, which played at’ WSU in a Bracket Busters game in 2006. It was a memorable game. The Patriots won a fantastic game and used the momentum to make a historic run in the NCAA Tournament, beating Connecticut to reach the Final Four.

George Mason also knocked Wichita State out of the NCAA Tournament in ’06, beating the Shockers in the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C.

ESPN, which is behind Bracket Busters, doesn’t like to schedule re-matches. But George Mason-Wichita State would be a good one, especially since it has been five years since their last meeting. The Patriots are 12-5 in the Colonial League, probably on the outside looking in at an at-large bid. But of the potential WSU opponents in Bracket Busters, they have some appeal. So do James Madison and VCU, two other Colonial powers.

My Facebook friend

Renee Clark

Renee Clark

Renee is just cool. That’s the best word to describe her. Always upbeat, from what I can tell. Not that I’m in her inner circle, by any means. But when I see her, she’s upbeat and personable. Here’s some information about Renee and our enjoyable Facebook friendship:

My name is Renee Clark. I am a personal trainer for GetFit Personal Training, LLC…my very own company! You can check out my website at www.getfit-personaltraining.com (Is that ok Bob to advertise my business in your blog???) I am also married to the greatest guy around…not to take away from how amazing Bob is by any means…his name is Steve Clark. We have four kids who keep us very busy and a one-year-old little grandson named Braxton. We are also HUGE Shockers fans. I think we might bleed black and gold. We have really enjoyed making basketball and baseball games a great family past time.
So how did I become Bob’s Facebook friend? Honestly I don’t recall. I have known Bob much longer than he has known me. I mean who hasn’t read his inspiring, thought provoking, even emotionally riveting articles over the years? (Bob: I paid her to say that). I have always enjoyed seeing what pot he may have stirred with his next article! A mutual friend, Dr Kim Taylor, who many may have heard on her occasional guest spots on Bob’s radio show, introduced us and we just became fast friends! I love Bob’s sarcastic charm and enjoy sharing comments with him on Facebook! I am pretty sure Bob probably asked me to be HIS friend on Facebook though because I am just that cool!