A long and fun day of sports

I almost never miss my life as a sports writer. That’s been pretty well chronicled in other spots on this blog.

But I do kind of miss Final Four Saturday. In part for the atmosphere, but also in part for the fun. It was kind of my unofficial start to the golf season.

With the first game of the day beginning at 5 or 6 p.m. (depending of the time zone of the host site) and no pregame access, there’s a good bit of time to kill. So what to do? Make a day in which I would have to cover two games on deadline (even the first game was a deadline event because of Sunday state edition press times) even longer by getting up early and playing golf.

So the goal was to tee off around 9-10 a.m., play 18 holes, grab a quick lunch afterwards, zip back to the hotel, clean up, head to the game, cover two games, write two game stories and finish about 11:30 p.m. At that point, I’d meet fellow reporters in the hospitality room, have a few cold beers and fall into bed totally exhausted. I did this for five consecutive years.

Most years, we played again on Monday morning (though not as early) before the national championship game. A couple of years, I played on Thursday afternoon before things really got going on Friday or I played Tuesday morning before catching a plane back.

In 2003, I played a place called Willowdale CC in Lulling, Louisiana before a night at the Superdome (Kansas crushed Marquette in one semifinal and Syracuse with Carmelo Anthony beat Texas). We were going to play on Monday, but it poured that day. On Tuesday, I played the very solid Money Hill Golf and Country Club across the lake in Abita Springs, LA. I also had a nice lunch at the Abita Brewery brewpub before catching a flight back.

In 2004, my friend Herb and I played a very solid public course in San Antonio called The Republic before heading to the Superdome to see UConn and Georgia Tech win games. I think UConn beat Duke and GT beat Oklahoma State, but I’m too lazy to look it up. I remember flying to Austin instead of San Antonio that year because I got a better fare. I played The Golf Club at Circle C in Austin on Thursday, we played the very strong The Bandit (Keith Foster design) on Monday and I played Briggs Ranch (a Golfweek top 100 modern) before heading home.

2005 saw the Final Four in St. Louis. I played GC at Pevely Farms after landing, Stonewolf GC Fairview Heights, IL on a cold Saturday and Gateway National (which is quite good) on Monday afternoon before North Carolina beat Illinois.

In 2006, the weather was a little sketchy in Indianapolis. I played the quite good Trophy Club just northwest of Indy on Thursday afternoon. On Saturday morning, my buddy Herb and I joined some of the people from AP in playing at Brickyard Crossing, the upscale public course that has a handful of holes inside the track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That was a really cold round. There was no golf on Monday or Tuesday because of cold and rain. That was a bummer because I had a hookup to play at Crooked Stick on Tuesday.

The trip to Atlanta in 2007 was my last Final Four and I got three rounds in. I played  Cobblestone GC, a pretty good public course in the northwest suburbs on Thursday. On Saturday morning, we joined the AP guys and played a place called Eagle Watch GC, which is one of the Cannongate clubs. On Monday, my friend Herb and I played at Wolf Creek, a pretty decent public course near the airport that was designed by Mike Young.

So I’m not going to lie, I kind of wonder where I would be playing if I was in Houston right now. I’m sure I’d be knocking it around somewhere. That doesn’t mean that I wish I was in Houston right now. I’m in a much better place.

 

In honor of the Sweet 16 starting: The greatest team photo ever

I don’t care what anyone says, if there is a contest for greatest team photos ever, everybody is competing for second place.

Why? Because of the 1977 Marquette Warriors.

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get any better than this. Because not only are the tuxes awesome (especially the baby blue), but for you youngsters out there, this team also won the national championship.

I don’t anticipate Marquette winning the title this year (sorry, DeRusha), but I’m not going to miss a chance to post this photo.

Two reads in honor of tonight’s start of the NCAA tournament

If you didn’t know, the newly expanded NCAA men’s basketball tournament begins tonight. These two stories won’t help you win your bracket pool, but it will get you up to speed and make it appear as if you’ve been watching ball all season.

Do you know what three-goggles are? What started in the NBA has made it to the college game. And I’m guessing that flashing the three-goggles will be this year’s version of popping one’s jersey. So, you had better read this story from The Wall Street Journal on the latest trend.

And while I know that CBS considers Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr to be the voice of the tournament, that is a bunch of hogwash.

The voice of the tournament is none other than Gus Johnson. I mean did you hear him scream “COLD BLOODED” after Washington guard Isaiah Thomas dropped the three-pointer to beat UCLA in Saturday’s Pac-10 championship game?

Anyway, here is a good New York Times story on Gus. It talks about his excitment level, his creative way of calling games and his background. I’m not going to lie, I will sometimes watch a game strictly because Gus is on the mic. He just has so much fun. After you read the story, make sure you check out Gus Johnson sound board.

In the words of Gus, it is “pure”.

A random college basketball rant

Welcome to February, the time of the season in which college basketball fans across the country complain and complain about the quality of officiating.

Earlier this week, there was much complaining about a call Tim Higgins made in the Alabama-Vandy game. I’m not going to lie, I pretty much only saw the chatter and didn’t see the call. Maybe Higgins blew it, maybe he didn’t. That’s not what I’m writing about, however.

He was frequently referred to as a SEC ref. Gophers fans talk all the time about Big Ten refs. And it is all hogwash.

There is no such thing as a SEC ref or a Big Ten ref. They are all free agents, independent contractors and work all over the place.

According to bbstate.com, a site that logs where officials work, Higgins has called conference games in the Big East, Big Ten and SEC this season. A guy I know reasonably well who is an official has worked in the Mountain West, Missouri Valley, WAC, MAC, Summit and Big Ten of late.

So that’s it, that’s the rant. There are no conference refs. And I also don’t believe they are out to get certain teams. I truly believe they try to do the best job they can. They are professionals who care about the job they do. That’s why the put up with the nonsense they put up with — the screaming coaches, the crazy fans, the bad travel.

They make mistakes at times. That’s what happens when guys have to make split-second calls and only get one chance to look at it. There’s no HD or slow motion or replays on most plays.

So that’s it. A random rant on a Saturday night.

Lionel Hollins is my new favorite NBA coach

OK, that might be a bit of an overstatement. But I do love his honesty.

Before Hollins’ Memphis Grizzlies played the Timberwolves on Wednesday night, Hollins was asked if he was going to be able to sneak a look at a TV and watch his son, Austin, play for the Gophers.

At that point, Hollins basically called college basketball — especially the Big Ten variety — boring.

Pat Reusse wrote his entire column for Thursday\’s paper on this topic.

I was working at the Wolves-Grizz game last night and heard about the pregame quotes. And while I covered college hoops for a long time, many of Hollins’ feelings mirror how I feel about the game.

Continue reading

Required Reading: How Raf prepares

I feel almost guilty posting this story. I am a fan of Bill Raftery, the college hoops color guy who has a knack of being interesting, informative and fully as hell at the same time.

The Wall Street Journal brings it with a nice and interesting piece on Raf\’s preparation for the games he works.

And it is work. I don’t think many fans and viewers understand the challenge that is live TV. It is tough work describing what you see in real time with your own eyes and providing instant analysis.

Anyway, it’s worth a read.

Do I miss being a sportswriter?

When I see someone I’ve known for a while, but haven’t seen lately, it usually doesn’t take long to get a version of one of these questions:

Do I miss working at the Star Tribune? Do I miss being a sportswriter? Do I miss covering the Gophers?

The answer to the first of those three questions is that I truly miss some of the people at the Star Tribune, but there are very few days when I wish I was still there. I’m very happy with my move out of journalism and I have a new job in which I’m both challenged and feel like I make strong contributions on a regular basis.

The answer to the last two questions could not be clearer: Absolutely not.

The past two weeks have shown crystal clear examples of why I don’t miss covering the Gophers. I simply don’t have the patience to deal with some of the nonsense that happens in the sports world and how the job is pretty much all consuming.

Last week, Gophers guard Devoe Joseph decided to leave the team midseason and transfer. He’s a fine player and his departure certainly hurts Minnesota as the Gophers weren’t exactly overflowing with quality depth in the backcourt.

Players transfer and covering it is part of the job, but this was more challenging than a simple transfer. Joseph had been suspended for several games to start the season. It wasn’t exactly a state secret why for anyone who is at all close to the team, but it would be close to impossible to get someone on the record to say why.

So then you have to figure out what really happened. Was the kid going to be suspended again? Did he get a raw deal from the coach? And I’m sure the beat writers were getting people on both side tossing mud. I would gather the kid was considered by the staff to be a bad kid and a quitter. And I’m sure the parents/AAU coach/posse were putting some of the blame on the staff. Try figuring out the math in that equation. The answer is that it is probably a little bit of both and if you do your job right, both sides probably don’t like what you write.

Last night and today, however, blew me away.

I was sitting at home watching the BCS National Championship game. I might have been enjoying a beverage. Then I heard the news that Trevor Mbakwe was in jail after violating a restraining order. To say I was thrilled to not have to chase that story was such an understatement.

So you have a guy that missed all of last season as felony charges against him were being sorted out AND he has a restraining order against him. My guy Gary Parrish from cbssports.com tweeted today that the kid can’t be THAT unlucky, can he?

It is a totally ridiculous story. If you have a restraining order against you, what makes you think it is even an OK idea to contact that person via Facebook? Really? And what exactly did the guy do to get that restraining order placed against him? I don’t really know Trevor. I talked to him a couple of times when he was still in high school, but I can proudly say that there are no players left on the Gophers who I covered in college.

Because I can’t help myself, I did go on gopherhole.com both last night and a few times today. I know the people who run the site, I know a few posters in real life and I always find it interesting to see what the pulse is.

This story, like the Joseph story, is going to be a delicate balance. There’s going to be people near Trevor who are likely to say that he was just trying to be nice and didn’t mean anything about it. But from past experience, I would be also stunned that if the beat writers didn’t hear from people via email who were killing Trevor and the U because of the alleged actions against women part of the equation. And also like the Joseph case, both sides are probably somewhat right.

The staff knows that winning games would be more difficult to do without Mbakwe so they are fighting for him. A lot of fans feel the same way. And the people who say that a guy was charged with a felony for allegedly breaking a woman’s jaw and who has a restraining order against him might not be the model student-athlete certainly have a point as well.

I’m just glad I’m not playing traffic cop on this story. Because it probably isn’t going to go away. Will he be charged? Does this impact his settlement in Florida? What will the media-phobic head coach say about this? I’m glad this isn’t under my watch.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it certainly seems that college sports teams harbor more knuckleheads than ever. And it isn’t just a Gophers thing. Also this week, an unnamed University of Washington basketball player may be under investigation for a sexual assault. The same thing happened at Michigan State earlier this fall. And don’t even get me started on college football.

While I do cover a few games a month as a freelancer (often in more of a support role than a full responsibility role), I guess I am still kind of a sportswriter. But it is the perfect amount. I do it enough that it isn’t foreign, but also enough to realize that my new life is better for me in so many ways.

I guess the fourth question that I get asked fairly regularly is whether I still follow college basketball? The answer there is also no.

I will watch the Gophers if I’m around. It is my alma mater, I have seen games in Williams Arena dating back almost 30 years, I do still have a little bit of interest there. But I certainly won’t fit my schedule around their games. I’ve watched at least part  of all of the Big Ten games (though the Indiana game was while I was on the treadmill at the gym with no sound). I will probably watch at least some of Thursday’s game against Purdue.

But I watch very little beyond that. I won’t watch random national games, I don’t know which mid-majors are truly good. I know close to nothing about recruiting. That is a huge departure for a guy who could name pretty much every scholarship player in the Big Ten and could break down lots and lots of teams.

I covered the Gophers for seven seasons and missed two regular season games during that span. One was when I was at the Insight Bowl (Mason’s last game). The other was a game at one of the Indiana schools late in the 2007 season. That game was covered by our women’s basketball reporter, who was in Indy for the Big Ten Tournament at that point. I did miss a couple of NIT games because neither I nor the bosses were too excited about them.

Throw in two exhibition games a year and that’s 223 Gophers games. In 99-00, I covered 38 North Carolina games (36 real, 2 exhib). And the two years before that, I covered 68 of 69 University of Cincinnati games (missed one while covering the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl). That’s a total of 329 games in 10 years as a beat writer, a total that doesn’t include random games I saw while working on other stories for the Strib or espn.com or NCAA tournament games as a neutral writer (probably 29 Final Four games alone, plus the early rounds).

That, frankly, is enough. I’m glad I’m done.

These days, I’m way, way, way more likely to watch an NBA game than a college game. There’s a blog post that needs to be written about this topic, but the short version is that I just think the basketball is so much better. After watching enough lopsided college games in which a big conference school plays a hyphenated or a directional team, that’s a nice change. I also grew so weary of games that ended 58-54 that I wanted to poke my eyes out.

To say that I’m happy with the turn my career has made is an understatement. I’m learning a lot, I have a clearer career path, I like the change. It is all good.

And other people can deal with the knuckleheads. And I didn’t even write about Royce White.