What’s Up With Sports in Philly? — Spring 2018 Edition

Philly Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers are in Fourth place, that’s fourth with a FOUR, in the Eastern Conference. Not eighth or seventh or even sixth. Fourth Place, just one half game behind the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Not only did they make the playoffs this year, they look to make a push past the first round.  Not too shabby, huh?  As Joel Embiid said, “Trust the Process!”

And of course the Eagles just won the Super Bowl. And the Phillies are adding to their roster like there’s no tomorrow. “Win Now!” right! And the Flyers are in the running for a wild card berth in the NHL playoffs. So if you’re a Philly fan, what’s not to like?

As wonderful and as astonishing as the Eagles Super Bowl win was, the Sixers are looking better and better with every successive win as they try to keep up with their football brothers in the miracle winning season category. How far can the Sixers go in the post season? Just how good are these guys, namely Embiid, Simmons and now Markelle Fultz? Did I mention that Fultz is back? Whoa Baby!

I am a student of winning teams. After years of study, I have concluded that what highly successful team possess that marginally productive teams lack is chemistry. The  Eagles definitely had it. And we see where that got them, right? And the Sixers have it too. They absolutely have “IT”.

And so the conclusion is this; dare we say that sports in Philly is trending the right way?

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Always Believe In The Underdog!

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Loyola-Chicago’s Lucas Williamson, Nick Dinardi and Christian Negron, from left, celebrate winning a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game against Kansas State, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Atlanta. Loyola-Chicago won 78-62. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

 How can you NOT root for Loyola-Chicago?  They just beat Kansas State and won their way to the Final Four in San Antonio. They’ve turned the 2018 NCAA Tournament into the Loyola-Chicago Invitational. And they’ve got Sister Jean!  What’s not to like?

Loyola-Chicago’s coach, Porter Moser, is the ultimate X’s and O’s kind of guy. He’s all heart with a good head on his shoulders, to boot. He genuinely cares for his kids, and he is a genius when it comes to the game of basketball. Backdoor cuts leading to layups are part of the brilliant game plan he drew up these last two weekends for his upstart underdog team.  Yes, the Ramblers are for real!  They are going to the Final Four for the second time since 1963 when they won the National Championship.  Wow.

 “Unlike the other mid-major 11 seeds that made the Final Four (particularly George Mason in 2006 and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011), this Loyola team looks particularly dangerous. These last two weeks weren’t about a hot shooting run or pulling off a series of mega-upsets. Loyola simply played to its level in every game, got a little bit of late-game good fortune and could be a real threat to get to the championship game”.http://www.wwltv.com/article/news/nation-world/loyola-chicago-takes-down-kansas-state-to-continue-historic-run-to-final-four/507-531843318 For the Ramblers didn’t make it here by accident — they are 31-5, after all — and are a result of a perfect storm of coaching, talent and long hours.

“We understand why people are rooting for us,” guard Clayton Custer said. “It’s why people love this tournament. They love rooting for teams that they don’t see all the time, and maybe they picked us in our bracket. But we know we belong here. We know we deserve to be here.” I love it. 

You just gotta believe.

Why I’m Glad Kentucky Lost  

Kansas State Bruce Webber
Kansas State Coach Bruce Weber and Xavier Sneed

Kansas State just beat Kentucky 61-58 in the 2018 Sweet 16 in Atlanta. And I’m glad.  All week, Kansas State basketball players heard about how they had no chance against mighty Kentucky. College basketball experts said John Calipari’s team was bigger and better than Bruce Weber’s. They said Kentucky steam-rolled through its first two NCAA Tournament games and had an easy path to the Final Four playing in the friendly confines of Philips Arena while K-State got here on luck as much as it did on talent.

 Of all the teams that made it to the Sweet 16, K-State had by far the least respect. So I’m so happy for Kansas State, but not for the reason you think.

I should be glad for a positive and not a negative reason, right? I mean, I should be glad Kansas State won and defeated Kentucky for the first time EVER. But I’m not, at least not really.

I don’t like Kentucky.  I don’t. I don’t like what they represent or what they stand for. Coach John Calipari relishes the fact that he runs a “one and done program”. This year, he started five freshman who will all leave college after only one year.

Blue chip freshman, a.k.a. the best high school players in the Country, fight for the right to play for and wear Kentucky Blue. Why? Because they can and are encouraged to play one year for Coach Cal and then jump to the pros. It’s a known fact and a proven way for some, I said some, to go to the pros and cash in. And the list is long. Nearly 30 former Kentucky players line NBA rosters, with a few teams carrying several Wildcats. And many if not most of them are one and dones, including Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel and DeMarcus Cousins, just to name a few.

 And if that isn’t enough, Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari announced on Wednesday that every member of his basketball team that is eligible — including the walk-ons — will declare for this year’s NBA Draft.

The announcement sounds shocking, even by the much-maligned Kentucky coach’s standards. And here’s my point: while this system may work for Calipari and the players that are successful in the NBA, is this what college basketball is all about? The Kentucky “system” is certainly not the model or the formula for success for your base and basic college basketball program. Period. 

Kansas State may not have one player who will go on to play in the NBA, much less be successful at the professional level. And that’s fine. March Madness, especially this year, is meant to pit the haves against the have nots. This year above any other year in recent memory, the teams with future NBA talent are destined and doomed to fall to the UMBC’s and the Loyola-Chicago’s and the Kansas-States of the world who have their one shining moment in the NCAA Tournament. And I’m glad.

So, let’s end on a positive note. I’m glad that Kansas State, a Nine Seed and understated underdog, defeated a heavily favored No. 5 Seed in Kentucky, with all of that potential NBA talent and all of those NBA factory prodigies. They won a barn burner of a game that went down to the wire. They won with grit and pluck and spunk and coaching. Good for them. I’m glad. In my humble opinion, this Kentucky team was full of egos and hubris and dare I say prima donnas. They felt that they should win just because. 

And so maybe, just maybe, this Kentucky loss will send a signal that staying in school for more than one year is preferable to going for only one year. In other words, what is the real reason you go to college? In sum, the Kentucky system of being an NBA factory is not the preferred solution for college basketball.

Are The Raptors For Real?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Dallas Mavericks
Toronto Head Coach Dwane Casey

Who respects the Toronto Raptors?  I said the Toronto Raptors. You know, the NBA basketball team with the best record in the Eastern Conference?  You never heard of ’em?  My point exactly. My guess is you’re not alone.

After years of playoff futility and failure, the questions about the realness of the Raptors remain and linger like a low lying fog. Are they really real? Can they win when it counts? Toronto can’t seem to get past Cleveland in the playoffs, but that may change this year.  In a 2018 Playoffs tune-up, tonight they play a Cleveland Cavalier team curtailed by injuries. But LeBron is still the best LeBron he can be, and Kevin Love is back, so we’ll see an Eastern Conference Finals preview that should go Toronto’s way.

As good as their two stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and the supporting cast are, I really like their head coach Dwane Casey. He seems to shoot straight and run a tight ship, and that’s what it’s going to take for Toronto to become a veritable winning team.  

But back to Toronto. Can they prove to the NBA world that they indeed have what it takes to beat the best player in LeBron in the post season? We’ll see. Cleveland is clearly not the same Cleveland they once were, but don’t count them out, just yet.

And so the lesson is once and again clear; as believers, we need to be real and genuine and authentic and unfeigned. Or else we won’t convince gainsayers or naysayers or doubters or detractors of the faith.

If we don’t deliver on what we believe, we don’t stand a chance at showing an unbelieving world that God is really real. We must defend the faith, and without being tried and true and bona-fide, we run the risk of appearing, or worst yet being, false and fake and phony. And we won’t win the world to Christ.  

March Madness: Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds

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“Nothing feels better than this,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “Nothing. Sweet 16!”

UVA made history. So did UMBC and so did Loyola-Chicago and so did Buffalo. UVA was the first No. 1 Seed to lose to a 16 Seed. Likewise, UMBC has the distinct honor of being the first 16 Seed to upset a No. 1 Seed. It’s never happened before, and we all thought that it never would. Correction: we didn’t believe it ever could. But it did.

Loyola-Chicago, an 11 Seed, defeated Miami, a Six Seed, and then turned right around and defeated Tennessee, a Three Seed. Madness.   Buffalo, seeded 13, THIRTEEN!, beat Arizona, a 4 Seed — in the first round. And that’s just for starters.

Xavier, another No. 1 Seed, is gone. North Carolina and Cincinnati, both No. 2 Seeds, are gone too, and so is Michigan State, a No. 3 Seed. Notice a trend here? Houston beat Michigan – no wait, Michigan actually won! And on a buzzer beater by a freshman, no less! Goodness! And it’s going to snow tomorrow night! Talk about March Madness. There was barely a bad game in the tournament. Yes some were tough to watch because of poor officiating and spells of sporadic shooting, but all in all, it’s seems to be the year of the underdog. We could talk all day about UMBC beating UVA, but how about Nevada’s win?

Josh Hall converted an offensive rebound for the tiebreaking basket with 9.1 seconds left as University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) erased a 22-point deficit in the final minutes of a stunning 75-73 victory over Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. UNR’s stirring comeback — the second-largest in tournament history — came just two days after the seventh-seeded Wolf Pack rallied from 14 points down to beat Texas 87-83 for its first NCAA victory since 2007.

The Wolf Pack (28-7) move on to an all-upstart South Region semifinal matchup with 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago (30-5) on Thursday. Cincinnati, the No. 2 seed, never trailed until Hall’s tiebreaking basket but watched its lead disintegrate as it failed to make a basket in the final 5:45.

Nothing feels better than this,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “Nothing. Sweet 16!”

This year, perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, there have been more upsets, comebacks and turnarounds than you can shake a stick at. We’ve seen epic victories, historic collapses, and a little of bit everything else in between. It’s so much like living in the Bible days, it’s scary. It’s almost as if the Bible is coming off of the pages, or up out of your smart phone. The holy writ says that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. That’s what we’re seeing here.

It’s so spiritual, it’s so mystical, and it’s so applicable to everyday life in general and to our lives in specific that we have no choice but to stop and take note. How are the teams who no one picked to win winning with reckless abandon?   

I submit that we must acknowledge the otherworldly dimension of sports. But before you dismiss this notion, hear me out.  Not everyone believes in prayer, but those that do believe that faith and works actually work together for good. Mix some elbow grease in with a good game plan and teamwork and a technical reason for how David defeated Goliath and, viola, you get Loyola-Chicago winning two games in this tournament, and  UBMC trumping over an overconfident and (shall we say overly arrogant?) Virginia team that swears by its “system” come what may.

Miracles do happen on ice and yes, on the hardwood. You may not be a believer, but after this weekend’s upsets, comebacks and turnarounds, I don’t see how you can’t be.

Every Team Needs A Sister Jean

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Who is Sister Jean? Meet Loyola-Chicago’s Spiritual Guide and Biggest Fan

“It’s hard to call Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt an overnight sensation. After all, she’s been following basketball at Loyola University-Chicago for more than a half century and said she saw the Ramblers win the NCAA title in 1963. But thanks to television, the internet and social media, the 98-year-old nun has become a media darling.

With victories against Miami and Tennessee in the NCAA Tournament, the Ramblers are hoping for more spiritual guidance when they face the winner of the Cincinnati-Nevada game in next week’s Sweet 16.

Here are some things you might not have known about Loyola-Chicago’s inspirational leader.

Praying for victory: As the basketball team’s chaplain since 1994, Sister Jean begins every prayer the same way: “Good and gracious God.” But if you’re thinking she does not invoke the deity for a little help to win, think again. “I ask God to be especially good to Loyola so that, at the end of the game, the scoreboard indicates a big ‘W’ for us,” she told The New York Times. She ends every prayer with an emphatic “Go Ramblers.” Judging from some of the shots Loyola-Chicago has been burying during this tournament — Clayton Custer’s game-winner against Tennessee comes to mind — these prayers have been answered so far.

She’s a Hall of Famer: Loyola-Chicago inducted Sister Jean into the athletic department’s Hall of Fame in 2017, making her the 173rd member to be enshrined. Born in San Francisco in 1919, Sister Jean played basketball in high school.

Good scouting: Every season, Sister Jean researches the boxscores of upcoming opponents, using her sharp eye for detail to point out flaws in the Ramblers’ next foe. Coach Porter Moser found a manila folder on his desk on his first day as coach, according to NCAA.com. Sister Jean had compiled a scouting report on the Ramblers to help the new coach. “She lights up every room she goes into.” Moser told the Times. “She’s always smiling. She has an energy about herself. I connect with that.”

She has her own bobblehead: Loyola-Chicago held a bobblehead promotion night for Sister Jean in 2011.

Super sneakers: Sister Jean has a pair of maroon-and-gold Nike sneakers that she wears during each game. Two names are stitched on the sneaker’s heels: “Sister” on the left heel, and “Jean” on the right.

It’s been quite a ride for Loyola-Chicago, which has knocked off two highly touted programs. Now, the Ramblers will have to go against Sister Jean (they hope to prove her wrong) in the Sweet 16: She picked the Ramblers to lose in that round”. http://www.fox13memphis.com/news/trending-now/sister-jean-doloresschmidt-5-things-to-know/717742144 

UVA Coach Tony Bennet: “You Enjoy The Good Times, and You Got To Be Able To Take The Bad Times.”

Once again, sports personifies our favorite professor giving us a sound lecture on how to live life.

UVA Coach Tony Bennett was gracious in defeat. And in defeat he needed grace. Critics derided him for the loss, saying he didn’t do enough for his team or say enough to his team as they went down in defeat to a red hot UMBC team that could do no wrong.

For as humiliating as this must have been for Bennett, the coach handled himself with dignity in the moments after the loss.

The fact is that Bennett was right on the money on this point: “when you enjoy the good times you got to be able to take the bad times.” Amen brother. Here’s the rest of the Coach Bennett post debacle, I mean post game, interview:

“A week ago, we’re cutting down the nets and confetti is falling,” Bennett said. “And then we make history by being the first 1-seed to lose. I’m sure a lot of people will be happy about that, and it stings. But, trying to tell the guys in there, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoy the good times, and you got to be able to take the bad times.”

And this wasn’t the first time Virginia struggled as the No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers trailed by five at halftime in 2014 to Coastal Carolina but went on to win 70-59.

“When you step into the arena and you’re in the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with that,” Bennett said in the interview with CBS. “That’s the job.”

And in another interview, Coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse came to Bennett’s defense and balanced out the situation with these sage words:

“They pay this guy about $10 million, which they’re to renege on, which is great for a university to do, you have a signed contract with a guy and then say, well, he yelled at his players. That’s — 350 coaches are going to get fired tomorrow for that.

Come on, the tournament is — I’ve lost in this tournament, everybody has. I’ve looked at the list of bad losses, and I couldn’t believe we weren’t even on it. But Mike Krzyzewski has lost, I’ve lost, Roy Williams has lost, Bill Self has lost. Dean Smith lost. There’s nobody that hasn’t lost.

I think you could easily make the case that Tony Bennett’s way overachieved in the regular season and they played like they probably are in the tournament. You could possibly make that case. This year’s a little aberration, obviously. That was a bad — but the other losses, you know, it’s a tough tournament.

And really good coaches, good teams get beat. Tom Izzo is one of the best tournament coaches ever, and I sat there two years ago and watched Middle Tennessee beat them. They played a perfect game. We beat Middle Tennessee the next game by 30, by 30. It’s just basketball.

We lost to Vermont and the next day Tom Izzo, next game Tom Izzo beat Vermont by 20. It’s just the game. It’s a crazy game and the tournament’s a crazy thing. We all know that. We all say that, but then we don’t follow through on that.”

Well said, Coach. Well said.