Stop The Madness! — 2020 Edition

“So he changed his behavior before them; he pretended to be mad when in their presence. He scratched marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard.”

1 Samuel 21:13

It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s senseless and nonsensical, ludicrous and illogical that a top 10 team like the University of Maryland Terrapins would suddenly play their worst basketball of the season at a crucial and critical time when everything matters the most.

The Terps are now 23-7.  They’ve lost three of their last four games, and they looked bad doing it every time.  They lost to Ohio State 79 -72 on Sunday, February 23rd. Then they barely beat Minnesota 74 -73 on a buzzer, beater prayer of a shot by Darryl Morsell after being down by 16 at the half. And if that wasn’t enough, Maryland hosted the ESPN show “Game Day” – GAME DAY!  — for the first time in decades at the Xfinity Center in College Part on Saturday, February 29th and STILL  lost 78 – 66 to Michigan State.

Most recently, as in Tuesday night in Piscataway, NJ, the Terps played Rutgers University. This was, or should have been, a “gimmie’ game, i.e., a win with little or no or not so much effort expended against a lesser opponent.  Rutgers is unranked and has not beaten Maryland in years. But it is the month of March, and here’s where the madness begins.

With the Big Ten regular season championship on the line, and the Big Ten Tournament looming, the Terps fell behind early, continuing another troubling trend, and trailed by as many as 11 points just past the midpoint of the first half. But by halftime, Maryland trailed by only six points, 35-29. The Terps could have stayed in the game with a few solid possessions. Instead, Smith missed a shot on the team’s first possession of the second half, and Cowan couldn’t hit an open three-pointer on the next. Maryland let Rutgers’s lead swell to 13 points less than three minutes into the half and never truly threatened again.

It’s March, and it’s time for madness. As part of the Wednesday morning melancholy mop up, the Washington Post posted this headline: “Maryland Is Left Searching For Answers After Another Dud Against Rutgers.”  Head coach Mark Turgeon said this about his team’s maddening performance: “It’s really frustrating that we did not match Rutgers’s intensity. I think it’s just the weight of everything. There’s been great weight on us all year. … But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to go get it.”

And that’s just it. Feeling sorry for yourself never works. So, get over your last loss, and get back up and get back going. Because repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result, is just  . . . March Madness.

Brett Brown Is Goin’ Down

Eastern Conference Semifinals - Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers Head Coach Brett Brown is wearing a frown, because his team is going down. Winning in the playoffs may be the least of his concerns, as his team can’t seem to figure out how to win with the roster they’ve got in the regular season.

Brett Brown has got ta’ go. Period. That’s NBA speak for this dude is running the Philadelphia 76ers into the ground. Philly has two of the best young talents in the game in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and yet these same Sixers are stinking up the house. And who is to blame? Leadership, a.k.a., the head coach.

Brett Brown has overstayed his welcome in Philly. Period. He can’t seem to motivate or stimulate or activate this team’s talent so that they can win on the road and against rival teams that are now ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. And that’s the coach’s job, right? To lead his team to victories and to plead for his stars to give their all and to read the emotions and psyche of all of his players so that he gets the most out of them. But none of that is happening.

Brett Brown is not getting the job done. Period. Some say that the combination of Embiid and Simmons and Horford is a failed experiment. But I contend that it’s the coach’s job to merge the mix and not make a mess. The Sixers are playing carelessly and like they just don’t care. And that’s sad, because Philly fans and all true sports fans the world over, want a winner. And more importantly, they want to see effort and energy and a consistent work ethic. None of those are even remotely evident in Philly when it comes to the 76ers. Not even.

Oh well. I said it here first. Before you even think of trading Simmons or somebody else, consider benching Brett Brown. He’s the one that should be sent packing. Years ago, I told my two sons this: either lead, follow, or get out of the way. Since the Sixer’s head coach is not leading, there is only one other viable option.

The Philadelphia Inquirer may have said it best:

“Since their 121-109 win over the Bucks on Christmas, the Sixers are 8-10 overall and 1-6 against the Pacers, Heat, Raptors and Celtics. For the season, they are 1-2 against the Pacers, 1-3 against the Heat, and 1-2 against the Raptors.

So, yes, things are well past the point of dire, and you get the sense that the locker room feels it, too. You can see it in the Sixers’ body language on the court, and you can hear it in the words they speak off it. After a blowout loss to the Celtics in Boston in Saturday night, somebody asked Tobias Harris when it would be time for the Sixers to get concerned about their place in the standings.

‘About 10 games ago,’ the forward said.

And the most disconcerting loss of the season had yet to come. It would arrive two days later, on a Monday night in Miami, against a team whose home crowd still seemed to be sleeping off its Super Bowl hangover. By the end of a 137-106 loss, the solution to fixing the Sixers seemed startlingly clear: Go back in time and don’t change them in the first place.” https://www.inquirer.com/sixers/sixers-trade-targets-nba-deadline-al-horford-josh-richardson-ben-simmons-20200204.html

Unfortunately, Jimmy Butler aint’ coming through that door. That ship has sailed. The moral of the story is this: the Sixers need to man up and play with heart and spirit and figure out a way to win with the team they’ve got now. Otherwise, somebody’s gotta go.

Kobe Bryant: Too Soon To Die, Too Late To Say Goodbye  

kobe-bryant-and Gianna
Kobe Bryant and His Daughter, Gianna Maria Onore, 13, were both Killed in a Helicopter Crash on Sunday,January 26, 2020.

Not many people demand attention. Kobe Bryant did.  And now he’s gone. Today, President Trump tweeted about Kobe’s death … saying, “Reports are that basketball great Kobe Bryant and three others have been killed in a helicopter crash in California. That is terrible news! “

 Yes it is.

Kobe Bryant’s untimely death hurts just as much if not more than Whitney’s in February of 2012 or Michael’s in June of 2009. Of all the unexpected and sudden, unforeseen deaths in recent memory, this one really hurts.

Tragic accidents are brutal.  Tragic accidents are unforgiving. And tragic accidents like Kobe’s are humanly impossible to deal with. They rip your guts out, punch you in the throat, put you in a choke hold and then stand over you and demand that you sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs with a smile on your face.  After a loss like this, there is no earthly way to recover or salvage our sense of sensibility other than to look to heaven for repose.

Kobe was LA, and Kobe was the Lakers. He was admired and loved or just respected or downright hated by everybody. Everybody had an opinion about him, because his life on and off of the court demanded attention.

Kobe was one of the great, greats, not only in the NBA, but in sports history. He is one of the greatest basketball players of all time, and will go down as one the NBA’s most revered scorers and defenders. Kobe’s resume is full of an embarrassment of riches. He made 18 All-Star teams during his 20 year career with the Lakers. He was a first-round pick in the 1996 draft, winning 5 NBA championships, 2 NBA Finals MVPs and he was the league MVP in 2008. He was on 15 All-NBA Teams, 12 All-Defensive Teams and led the league in scoring for two seasons. He ranks fourth in the NBA for all-time regular season scoring and all-time postseason scoring. Kobe also repped USA in a number of Olympic appearances.

Within the storied Lakers franchise, he is listed with a long list of the greatest that ever played the game. The Lakers have won so many games and so many championships. From Jerry West to Wilt Chamberlain, to Kareem Abdul-Jabar to Earvin “ Magic” Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal and now LeBron “King” James. Over the years, the Lakers organization learned how to do one thing, and that is make it to the NBA Finals, and then win championships. And Kobe was a champion who won and lived like one.

And so we weep with them that weep and mourn with them that mourn and pray for Kobe’s wife Vanessa and the entire Bryant family. 

Unfortunately, this sad story got even sadder when it was learned that Kobe’s daughter Gianna Maria Onore — aka GiGi — was also on board the helicopter and died in the crash … She was only 13. We’re told they were on their way to the Mamba Academy for a basketball practice when the crash occurred. The Academy is in nearby Thousand Oaks.

Kobe is survived by his wife Vanessa. Together, they had four daughters — Gianna, Natalia and Bianca and their newborn Capri. Kobe and Vanessa got married in 2001 after meeting in 1999.  He was only 41,  and he played 20 of those years with one team, one basketball family, the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe is also “survived” by many Lakers who already miss his presence on court, and now will miss him in their lives.

In Kobe’s 41 years, he was much more than a legendary basketball player. He was a husband, father, friend and mentor to so many who still play in the “Association,” aka, the NBA. His iconic impact on the sport and his indelible imprint on the lives of athletes worldwide may never be fully known.

Kobe Bryant; too soon to die, too late to say goodbye.

 Farewell, Kobe.

The NBA: Not Bad Anymore

Lebron_James__The_King_.

If you’re not watching the NBA this season, you need to give me a good reason. Because I’ll give you three reasons you should be watching, NOW:

#1: There are at least ten teams who have a legitimate shot at winning the championship, and this is my list, in my rank order: 

  1. LA Lakers
  2. Milwaukee Bucks
  3. LA Clippers
  4. Philadelphia 76ers
  5. Toronto Raptors
  6. Boston Celtics
  7. Denver Nuggets
  8. Dallas Mavericks
  9. Houston Rockets
  10. Miami Heat

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the revamped Lakers are a blistering 17-3. The Lakers have a legitimate shot at shooting down the entire league en route to another ring for the King. However, there are a few teams (nine to be exact) who would gladly like to go head to head with the Lakers in a seven game series, and one of them plays in the same city and in the same building. Does the name Kawhi Leonard ring a bell, anyone? 

#2: The West is not the best. The Western Conference AND The Eastern Conference are offering up games that are literally much see TV in this early season. My Sixers seem to have righted the ship as they are now 15-6. The Boston Celtics are playing better than expected and the Raptors surprising everybody. And then there’s Giannis.

#3: The Season and the Playoffs are too long, and so the NBA is toying with the idea of changing the season schedule, whatever that means. So if you don’t watch now and don’t watch out, the NBA could tinker with the way things are, and there’s no guaranteed that things will be better.

 

So you better watch out, you better not cry, you may want to pout, and I’m telling you why —  you need to watch the NBA . . . now.

Juwan Howard and the Revival of Michigan Basketball

Juwan-Howard-cries-at-first-news-conference
First year Head Coach Juwan Howard has Michigan at No. 4

 Juwan Howard is the new head coach of the Michigan Men’s Basketball team. For those that don’t remember, or just don’t know, Juwan Howard is best known for his years as a member of the “Fab Five” coached by Steve Fisher 25 years ago.

Yes, it’s been twenty five years since Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Chris Weber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were the best starting five freshman ever assembled. Hence they were hailed as the Fabulous Five Freshman, and will be forever be remembered as the Fab Five that reshaped and reformed college basketball. There were high expectations for his talented team, as it was only three years removed from the Glen Rice team that had won the NCAA basketball championship.

Howard and the Fab Five had chemistry. They were good, they were gaudy, and they were sometimes garish. Unfortunately some also saw them as goats, because they did not win a national championship.

However, “Howard and the Fab Five 1992 Michigan basketball freshmen changed the landscape of culture of basketball across all levels.”  For instance, “when the five freshman showed up in Ann Arbor in the fall of 1991, the style began to change. Jalen Rose instituted the move to long shorts. While Michael Jordan had begun the move to long shorts, Jordan’s were still above his knees. The Fab Five wanted the long shorts like Jordan, but only longer. Coach Fisher relented. The players would add black socks to complete the look.” https://historyrat.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/juwan-howard-and-the-fab-five-the-templates-for-modern-athletes/  

I like Juwan. I do. And I’ve always liked him. He’s always had poise and composure and a peace and a calm that you don’t find in every basketball player, much less every person. And certainly part of his stamina stems from his story. Juwan is from the South Side of Chicago, and was raised by his grandmother. “The day he signed his letter of intent, his grandmother passed away. Coaches Steve Fisher and Brian Dutcher became his new family. For Fisher and Dutcher, Howard became the lynchpin to help get other recruits. He helped recruit Jimmy King and then Howard lent his talents to help recruit Ray Jackson.”

“When he played, he never envisioned that he’d get his opportunity to come back as a head coach, 25 years after his departure after the 1994 season. But that’s precisely what happened, with Howard’s hire being announced in May, despite him never having been a head coach at any level before this.

And, when introduced as the mew head coach at Michigan, it was almost too much for Howard to handle.

The tears started flowing well before he took the stage to give his opening remarks and answer questions, as Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel introduced his family, sitting next to him in the front row. By the time Howard made his way to the podium to receive a maize Wolverines jersey as the 17th head coach in program history, he was thoroughly wiping tears away from his eyes.”

AP MICHIGAN HOWARD BASKETBALL S BKC USA MI
Juwan Howard overcomes with tears of joys as he is introduced as Michigan’s new men’s basketball coach, Thursday, May 30, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Mich. The former member of the Fab Five has a five-year contract that will pay him $2 million in his first year. The former Miami Heat assistant coach replaces John Beilein, who left to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio) ORG XMIT: otkco102

If there was ever a coach I’m rooting for, it’s Juwan Howard. Jalen Rose, who recommended Howard for the job, said that during their college days, Juwan was always the adult in the room. High praise.

And tonight previously unranked and now No. 4 Michigan plays No. 1 Louisville.  It’s sounds like a mid-March madness game and it’s just December.

Go Blue!

 

Down Goes Duke! Stephen F. Austin Defeats Duke in an Upset for the Ages

Stephen F. Austin Defeats Duke
Stephen F. Austin hands No. 1 Duke its first non conference home loss since 2000

It’s one of the most heartening and heartwarming, feel-good sports stories of the year, at least for everyone who hates Duke. Yes, this one is being celebrated by non-Duke fans everywhere.  Little, lanky, Lilliputian Stephen F. Austin State University just defeated Duke 85 – 83 in overtime at Cameron Indoor Arena.  Unbelievable.  In other words, Stephen F. Austin (SFA) just became Cinderella personified and made a pre-Ball appearance in November, and she’s lookin’ girly good.  

It’s a long ways off from the madness of March, folks.

First of all, where IS SFA anyway?  I had to look it up. SFA is a public university in Nacogdoches, Texas. Yes, Nacogdoches.  Seriously.  It’s in East Texas.  SFA was founded as a teaching school and now has 12,614 enrolled students. And now this pint sized David just beat juggernaut Goliath with a sling shot and a stone.

As sports fans, this is what we live for. This is why every sports fan should go to church every Sunday (before or after the game). And this is how the theology of sports points us to the mystery of Godliness.

Upsets, comebacks and turnarounds is what Heaven is all about. God is the God of the underdog. Our Lord came to upset the negative status quo. The King of Kings is orchestrator of all comebacks, and the Root and Offspring of David is the one who turns every pitch black and hopelessly bleak situation all the way around, for good.

Here’s how we know: Duke was favored to win by 27 points. Stephen F. Austin was not just in the game, but they outscored Duke in the paint by a mile. That doesn’t happen every day, not even when Duke plays a RANKED opponent. 

After the historic game, here’s what Coach K had to say:

“They were better. Bottom line,” Krzyzewski said. “They were tougher than we were. They played with great poise. And we helped them. You can’t give up 64 points in the paint. We don’t even give up 64 points. And we gave up so many layups. You go 11-of-24 from the foul line in the second half, it’s just a recipe to lose. So we weren’t deserving of winning. That team was deserving of winning, and they won.”

If you’re wondering why this game, this upset win, is such a big deal, here’s what ESPN had to say:

“No. 1 Duke suffered its first loss of the season in stunning fashion Tuesday as the Blue Devils lost an overtime stunner at the buzzer to Stephen F. Austin, 85-83, in an absolutely wild ending at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke became the third No. 1 team to lose this in NOVEMBER, seeing its 150-game non-conference home winning streak snapped by Stephen F. Austin senior forward Nathan Bain’s coast-to-coast layup at the overtime buzzer. The Blue Devils entered the game as 27.5-point favorites, making the Lumberjacks’ win the biggest Division I upset of the past 15 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Duke took a 15-point first-half lead, but SFA — which had just lost to Rutgers and finished below .500 last season — came all the way back in the second half to take the lead in the final minutes. The game went into OT when Duke’s Cassius Stanley missed a contested midrange jumper at the buzzer.

Stephen F. Austin was able to secure a loose ball under Duke’s basket and then senior forward Nathan Bain drove the ball the length of the floor and banked in a layup just as the buzzer sounded.

It’s easily the biggest win the history of Stephen F. Austin. The team never backed down from Duke down the stretch of regulation and throughout overtime before this layup won it.” https://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/28172273/duke-college-basketball-latest-no-1-casualty-stephen-f-austin-pulls-ot-stunner

And there it is: there’s the epiphany and the theophany. The revealed Truth we are to live and learn is this – in the face of a big, bad, bully, never back down. Darkness will be defeated by the light, and right will overcome might. When all hell is breaking loose, never ever give up.

Never give up. You can make it! Your dreams are your ticket out, and your dreams can come true. Just ask Nathan Bain and the Stephen F. Austin University Men’s basketball team.