Friday, March 16, 2018

College hoops' "what could have been"

      Let's rewrite history and suppose Willis Reed and Elvin Hayes -- future NBA stars, Hall of Famers, both from north-central/east Louisiana -- had played basketball for LSU in the 1960s.
      Or pick a future star -- say, Robert Parish, Louis Dunbar, Larry Wright, Calvin Natt, Joe Dumars, Rick Robey, Orlando Woolridge -- and put them at LSU in the 1970s.
      Or Karl Malone delivering as the Tigers' "Mailman" in the 1980s. Or P.J. Brown, like Malone another Louisiana Tech big man who lasted for 15-plus years in the NBA, going there.
      Think they might all have helped LSU's program?
      And today -- this morning -- envision Robert Williams playing for LSU in the NCAA Tournament instead of for Texas A&M. 
      Think the Tigers -- just like all the other men's basketball teams in Louisiana -- would have been shut out of the NCAA Tournament (for the second year a row)?
      We can no more rewrite history than LSU could get those guys in school. 
      But the point is, "what could have been," as suggested a couple of weeks by Dale Brown -- mastermind of the LSU men's program for 25 years.
      Dale, as most anyone who has been around him for, say, 10 seconds, can spin some tales (pick a subject), and among those are his adventures in recruiting over three decades in college basketball.
      He was reacting to our recent blog piece about Parish's statistics at Centenary finally being officially recognized by the NCAA, and in that piece, we mentioned that while Brown recruited Robert for LSU and happily would have welcomed his 7-foot presence, Robert did not qualify academically.
      By Parish's senior year in high school, LSU had just  integrated its basketball program. Among the talent Dale inherited when he became the Tigers' head coach in the spring of 1972 was Collis Temple Jr., a 6-foot-8 forward recruited out of Kentwood, Louisiana, in 1970 by Press Maravich and his staff. He was the color barrier breaker in LSU's program.
Houston coach Guy Lewis with his two big stars
from Louisiana in 1966-68 -- Elvin Hayes and
Don Chaney. Imagine if they had played at LSU
instead of Houston.
      But the barrier breaker could have been Elvin Hayes ... if, as Dale tells it, the "Big E" could have made that choice.
      He could not, of course. In early 1964, Hayes' senior year in high school, LSU was not yet recruiting African-American players.
      He was a still-developing 6-9 forward who averaged 35  points a game and led his Eula D. Britton High School team in Rayville, Louisiana -- 22 miles east of Monroe -- to a state championship in the all-black athletic association (LIALO).
      Was he the best player in the state? Little question. In his team's state-title game, he had 45 points and 20 rebounds.
      But the bulk of the publicity, the white guy considered the state's best prospect, was 6-4 forward Bobby Lane of Isadore Newman High (New Orleans), the do-it-all leader of two consecutive LHSAA (the all-white organization) Class A state championship teams.
      (Oh, LSU didn't get Lane, either. He chose to attend and play at Davidson, N.C., College.)
      Here is the Dale Brown version of Hayes' "what could have been" story.
      In Hayes' fabulous college career at the University of Houston (late 1965 to March 1968), he was the nation's best college player not named Lou Alcindor. A 16-year NBA career followed and included 27,313 points, 16,279 rebounds, one NBA championship, two other Finals appearances and 12 All-Star Games in a row.
      Several years later, he made it to LSU.
      By now, he operated a company that cleaned campus dormitories and he had come to LSU seeking a service contract. He visited with Coach Brown, and that night attended the LSU basketball banquet.
      "He told me it was the first time he'd ever been on the LSU campus," Dale recalled. "And then he got very emotional about LSU. He said that when he was in high school, he really wanted to go to school there and wrote a letter to the LSU coaches. Never heard back from them."
       LSU was a football school always. It did have a couple of basketball highlights -- a pre-NCAA Tournament national championship in 1935 (Sparky Wade's team) and, led by  Bob Pettit (from Baton Rouge, and a future NBA all-timer), SEC championships in 1953 and '54, and an NCAA Final Four in '53. 
       Jay McCreary, an Indiana Hoosier through and through, was near the end of a less-than-mediocre eight years as LSU head coach when Willis Reed and Elvin Hayes came along.
       McCreary ignored Hayes. University of Houston coach Guy Lewis did not.
       It was Lewis and assistant Harvey Pate who recruited Hayes and another Louisiana black-school star, guard Don Chaney -- from Baton Rouge no less (McKinley High) -- and signed them on the same day to integrate the Houston program.
      (Lewis and Pate would bring their talent search back to Louisiana, most notably for guard Poo Welch from LaGrange-Lake Charles in 1969 (after two years in junior college), Dunbar -- best player other than Parish many of us saw in high school -- out of Webster High-Minden in 1971, and "outlaw" Benny Anders from Bernice in 1981.)
      Houston, riding Hayes' turnaround jumper and rebounding prowess, became a national powerhouse.
      In the famous "Game of the Century" -- Jan. 20, 1968, before 52,693 paid at the Astrodome, the first nationally televised regular-season college basketball game -- Elvin and No. 2-ranked, 13-0 Houston stopped No. 1-ranked, 14-0 UCLA, winner of 47 consecutive games over 2 1/2 seasons. Hayes outscored the awesome Alcindor 39-15, outrebounded him 15-12, and made the winning two free throws in Houston's 71-69 victory.
      (That season, Houston twice played Centenary, winning 118-81 in Houston and -- yikes -- 107-56 in Shreveport. Hayes scored 40 the first game, then 50 at Hirsch Youth Center.)
      Houston went to two NCAA Final Four in a row (1967 and '68), and lost to UCLA in the semifinals both years. In '68, the revenge score was a rout, 101-69.
      LSU didn't go anywhere from 1954 until Brown's program finally took hold in 1979 and became a postseason regular.
      Let's backtrack to early 1964 as Hayes was finishing high school. Willis Reed was finishing that spring at Grambling College, about 20 1/2 miles directly south from his hometown of Bernice (which is 73 miles from Rayville).
      Don't know if Willis ever thought about LSU. But what a sensational four-year career he had at Grambling.
Willis Reed: a young star at Grambling College
(no thoughts of LSU in the early 1960s).
Photo from Small College Basketball Hall
of Fame.
      It began in the 1960-61 season when he was the  freshman star center on GC's NAIA national championship team and ended with him as the New York Knicks' second-round NBA draft pick, eighth overall, in 1964.
      And, of course, he helped the Knicks to their first NBA championship in 1970, made the Basketball Hall of Fame, became a team executive ... and a legend.
      LSU obviously never gave him a look. Not in 1960, at West Side High School in the Bernice suburb of Lillie (that is a joke; it's all very rural territory).
      "You can't believe the number of black players who were not recruited before schools in Louisiana were integrated," Dale Brown said in suggesting this post. 
      Oh, yes, we can believe. Those of us who can name many of the great players Louisiana high school basketball has produced know.
      And so, just a sampling from the 1950s through about 1970 when LSU -- and other state schools -- finally followed the basketball integration path first taken by Southwestern Louisiana and Louisiana Tech:
      -- Bob "Lil' Abner" Hopkins, a lithe 6-8 center-forward from Jackson High in Jonesboro who scored 3,759 points (29.8 per game) for Grambling in 1952-56, then played four years in the NBA and was the Seattle Supersonics' head coach in 1977.
      -- Bob "Butterbean" Love (Morehouse High in Bastrop, then Southern University 1961-65, a 6-8 small forward who for eight years was a scoring machine for the NBA's Chicago Bulls).
      -- Lucious Jackson (also Morehouse High, then Pan American in Edinburgh, Texas, which he led to the 1962 NAIA national championship) and then as a bullish 6-9 power  forward helped Wilt Chamberlain and the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers to the only NBA title not won by the Boston Celtics in an 11-year span.
      -- Chaney, a guard, a defensive phenom who started for those Hayes-led Houston teams, then helped the Celtics win two NBA titles and was an NBA head coach for 12 of his 22 years in coaching.  
      -- Wilbert Frazier (Webster High in Minden, Grambling 1961-65), a 6-7 forward who had two pro seasons.  
      -- The players out of McCall High (Tallulah): guard Jimmy Jones (Grambling 1963-67, then a six-time all-star in the American Basketball Association) and three stars on Stephen F. Austin's NAIA power in the early 1970s -- guard James Silas, a top-flight ABA and NBA player for Dallas and San Antonio), forward Surrey Oliver and center George Johnson.
      We could give you a long list of terrific players from Louisiana that LSU did recruit successfully, and a long list of good/great ones that LSU could not sign, who chose another Louisiana school perhaps closer to their homes or decided they wanted to play for an out-of-state school.
      But if you have gotten this far, you have earned an ending. So we will return to Robert Williams and Texas A&M.
      He is the Aggies' biggest star, a strong 6-10 forward who likely will be a high NBA Draft pick. He is that good, has that much potential.
      Coming from Oil City, Louisiana (just north of Shreveport) and out of North Caddo High School, he might have been a natural for LSU.
      No. Although LSU -- when Johnny Jones was head coach -- was very interested and recruited him, Williams apparently always preferred A&M.
      So this NCAA Tournament, in fact today, might be the end of his college career. The Aggies face Providence in the  first of the day's 16 first-round games. LSU faithful can watch Williams and think, "What could have been."  
      Elvin Hayes and Willis Reed probably will be watching, too.


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Speaking of Louisiana College, a lawsuit ... and discrimination (?)

     And so, here is a controversy that I did not expect.
     Is it fake news? No, the lawsuit is a filed fact. But, maybe, one side or the other is not telling the truth. Who the heck knows?
     The e-mail and Facebook note I posted early Tuesday morning turned into a response stronger than anything I have had for quite some time.
     My response to that: Surprise!
     But when religion is involved ...
     In case you missed it, the post was a link to a Feb. 22  Associated Press wire story involving a position on the Louisiana College football coaching staff.
     Here are the lead paragraphs:
     The president of a private Baptist college in Louisiana refused to approve a football coach's hiring because of what he called the applicant's "Jewish blood," a federal lawsuit claims.
     Joshua Bonadona sued Louisiana College and its president, Rick Brewer, accusing them of violating his civil rights.    
     OK, naturally, the Jewish part -- and the charge of discrimination -- drew my attention, and it is why someone directed the story to me. I had not previously seen it.
     But let's be real clear right here: I do not know the story is true, and neither do you. Only those involved know for sure -- and it might take a court case to determine it.
     So I am not being critical. I was distributing the news ... and not anticipating the feedback.
     By the time I got home from yoga/stretching class at noon, there were 14 e-mail responses, one text, and 11 Facebook comments. As I write this, it is up to 24 e-mails and 17 Facebook comments. But who's counting?
     Let's review. What I sent was topped by my personal note ...
     "If this story, and the lawsuit, are valid, it is a sad commentary on a college that through the years has had much respect. Bea attended Louisiana College; I have had friends who were students there, and coaches. Longtime former basketball/baseball coach and athletic director Billy Allgood was tough but much respected and successful. So this is hard to digest."
       From the story: Bonadona, 28, applied for a job as defensive backs coach and said he was interviewed last May by Brewer and head football coach Justin Charles. Later, Charles reportedly told Bonadona that he had recommended him for the job, but the college didn't approve his hiring because of his "Jewish descent," the suit alleges. 
     "Mr. Bonadona asked Justin Charles what that meant, and Justin Charles stated that Dr. Brewer refused to approve Mr. Bonadona's hiring because of what Dr. Brewer called Mr. Bonadona's "Jewish blood," the suit says.
     A couple of facts:
     -- Bonadona, from Baton Rouge, was a kicker on LC's team, graduated from the college and was an assistant coach there in 2014. He moved to another school, but was attempting to return because he was told LC would rehire him. He ended up taking a lesser-paying coaching job.
     -- He was born into a Jewish family -- his mother is Jewish -- and he converted to Christianity while at LC.
     Now about the responses ... because there were so many, I have compiled them in a separate take (sent with this one).
     Heard from many, many old friends, many of them in or from Louisiana, some Jewish, most not Jewish, many critical of LC and the college president, some defensive, some harsh, some mild, some explanatory.
     Going to post three separate responses here, two from old friends who live in Alexandria (next to Pineville) and offer a defense for LC president Brewer, and one from an old devout Baptist friend from Shreveport and Louisiana Tech who lives in Ruston.
     From Bob Tompkins, retired Alexandria Town Talk sports editor/columnist: "I have no 'insider' information on this despite my locale. The truth is the young man was not hired.
     "The school president, who is widely regarded locally as a good, sensible, compassionate man, has refuted the notion that the former LC kicker was not hired for the reason he says he was told by the coach. Many of us locals believe him. He has shown no trace of being capable of making such a decision."   
     From Dr. Stephen Katz, Alexandria resident, anesthesiologist: "I agree that this story was very disturbing. Appears from reliable sources here to have no merit and represents ill feelings from an individual who did not get a job.
     "PS, it is interesting that due to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Jews in the U.S. are considered to be a race in order to prevent discrimination." 
     From Glenn Theis, in Ruston: "My father graduated from Louisiana College and he worked at Guaranty Bank in Pineville the first seven years of my life. I spent a lot of time on that campus and later in high school playing in the state church league championships in basketball. I used to like that school a lot.
      "I take the Baptist Message (the Louisiana Baptist Convention newspaper) and have been really disappointed in the direction the school has taken in recent years.
      "I agree that this is a totally wrong path for the school to take. He [the coach] appeared to be an excellent choice for Louisiana College.
      "It shows that there are people who have wrong ideas and motives in every part of our country. ... Here's hoping we can try to unite rather than argue, call names and fight. It will take some compromise on both sides, but it will be better than where we are now."
      I appreciate that people care so much. Don't care for the anger, but it is a hot-button issue.
      Discrimination of any sort bugs me, and particularly so if it is Jewish-related (think you understand).
      I am not -- not -- saying that LC president Brewer is guilty here. But as the last paragraph of the Feb. 22 AP wire story indicates and as I have been told by what I consider good sources, he can be difficult and has angered people on and off campus. 
      I don't have ties to LC -- other than my wife's couple of years five decades ago. But the response to my post shows that this lawsuit is an interesting topic to discuss.
     A link to the responses:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The responses (and opinions) pour in on Louisiana College

      Here are the bulk of the comments/opinions received after the Tuesday morning e-mail/Facebook post concerning a lawsuit against Louisiana College and its president by an assistant football coach reportedly rejected for consideration because of his "Jewish descent."
      My comment of this response: Happy reading.
      -- "Wow."
       -- "My dad graduated from LC; I met my wife at LC; and Billy Allgood was my baseball coach for two years at LC. So much has changed over the last 40 years. Very sad."
       -- "Incomprehensible. What if Jesus had applied."
       -- "Jesus was Jewish (tribe of Judah). I would think that the school would welcome someone of whom God said, 'I will bless those who bless you, curse those who curse you.' (Genesis 12:3)"
       -- "Sad!"
       -- "I find it hard to believe that this is actually true."
       -- "Outrageous if true!"
       -- "Nice way to treat an alum."
       -- "Doesn't surprise me at all."
       -- "What about federal funding and this is a form of discrimination that would NOT be allowed? Fake news I hope."
       -- "Seriously??"
       -- "I hate stuff like this."
       -- "What!?!"
       -- "This would be so crushing for so many people on so many levels."  
       -- "It gives people who call themselves Christians give all Christians a bad name. You don't win many to Jesus this way. If it is true, LC has a lot of work to do. I hope it is not true."
       -- "Damn, this pisses me off. We live in America. Used to welcome all, no matter what your race, creed, ethnicity, religion, etc., etc. If this is a true and accurate story, and Brewer is behind this, they should fire him and send him on his way."
      -- "I really hope this is 'fake news' and Louisiana College isn't guilty of something so stupid."
     -- "As a Christian, I find this appalling. The president needs to be fired immediately and someone with a true Christian heart (love one another as Christ loves you) needs to be hired. I have lots of family who attended Louisiana College (being brought up as a Baptist in Louisiana that happens!)
        "I hate that the college is being sued when it is the president who made the decision. However, he represents the school and I understand why the lawsuit is against the school. One (pseudo?) Christian man in a position of power is hurting the reputation of an excellent school."
        -- "I did read this recently, and am dismayed by it. Will wait to see how the courts rule, but it is disturbing."
        -- "Wow! Amazing that this still happens, or is happening again, under current American leadership?"
        -- "I am shocked and disappointed, but wondering if the head coach was accurate in his report of the reason for the decision. I attended LC for three years and never saw this type of discrimination. It doesn't even represent Southern Baptist views, so not sure where the policy or view comes from. If that is the policy, even Jesus would not be allowed to coach at LC. I know Billy Allgood and the faculty during his time would not have agreed with the decision."
      -- "If the LC story is true (and I don't think that has been determined, it is beyond reprehensible and in no way representative of the beliefs and attitudes of the Baptist faith. I hope my love and friendship with you is a much clearer representation."
       -- "Very sad if the story is true. In the New Testament, Christian believers are told that we have been 'grafted in' to the root of Abraham. In essence, we have been adopted as brothers and sisters into the Jewish nation and are now co-recipients of all the promises God made to Abraham. That is why true Christians are very pro-Jewish. Unfortunately, there are many 'religious' people who are not true Christians."
        -- "Very sad. Aren't we supposed to expand our views in college?"
        -- "Wow! If this is true, then they need an attitude adjustment. I'm a Southern Baptist girl from way back, but have detested this 'holier and better than you' vibe that so many Protestants (and others) have subscribed to for years. Hope they have a change of heart. [This is] so not right."
        -- "Same thing happens at Baylor. This is going to become more and more common with the religious freedom movement. Another reason to retire some place besides Louisiana."
        -- "It's hard for me to believe that this sort of thing still exists. The president probably has a pointed white hat and robe in his closet. Excuse me, I have to go throw up now."
        -- "This is totally ridiculous! How could they think this would not be challenged?? I am appalled."
        -- "Interesting. This is the kind of thing that made me want to leave Louisiana. I still miss New Orleans, though, and go back every couple of years."
        -- "Gotta love those Baptists. Praise the Lord and pass the offering plate."
        -- "Truly sad but not surprising."
        -- "If there is a dumbass on earth that thinks like that, it would be in a place like Pineville, La. Just when you think we have evolved ..."
        -- "How very, very stupid and anti-Semitic that is, although not unusual in today's crazy world."
        -- "I read this in The Shreveport Times and couldn't believe it!!!!"
        -- "How sad if true."
        -- "That's unexplainable."
        -- "I agree with you, but in case you didn't know Brigham Young requires all its coaches to be Mormon."
        (Researched this, and could not verify it, other than a sentence from a 2004 story in the Daily Herald -- Provo, Utah -- which said: "BYU's head football and basketball coaches must be active members of the LDS Church who have been and will be good role models.") 
        Likely there are religious-affiliated schools/colleges in this country which would prefer -- or even demand -- that administration, faculty and coaches be of that religion.
         But, just two examples, that is not the case at the most prominent Catholic university, Notre Dame, or at the Catholic high school in Shreveport-Bossier, Loyola College Prep.
         Not certain how that applies to this Louisiana College issue, but there you have it.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Toughest story assignment -- it was Love (and death)

     The most difficult, most challenging, assignment of a 45-year sportswriting career? Some stories/columns to choose from, but one stands out.
      It dates 30 years this November, and relates to Jacksonville, Florida, and the Florida Times-Union. And it was about golf, but not specifically.
      It was more about the aftermath of the deaths of four men in a small-plane crash. And the assignment was totally unexpected.
      Reading a book on golf recently brought a reminder. The main character of the latest of John Feinstein's long string of sports-related books, The First Major, (subtitle) The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup, is Davis Love III.
      If you know golf, you know the name.
      He was captain of the winning U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2016, having been chosen for the captain's position for a second time (because his work as captain in 2012, even in a U.S. loss to Europe, had impressed the U.S. Ryder Cup people).
      These days people might not remember Davis Love Jr., father of the son. When I see Davis III, I always think of his Dad. 
      It was his death and three others that made Nov. 14, 1988, a memorable day for me.
      On that Monday morning, I received a phone call from Mike Richey the then-Times-Union sports editor and my longtime friend from our Louisiana days.
      He wanted me to drive to St. Simons Island -- off the coast off southeast Georgia, some 75 miles from Jacksonville -- to do a story on the scene at Sea Island Golf Club.
      That was home base for Davis Love Jr., 53, the nationally known Golf Digest teaching pro/instructor, and two others who went down in the plane -- head golf pro John Popa, 37, and teaching pro Jimmy Hodges, 35, Mr. Love's protégé.
      Also killed: nearby resident Frank "Chip" Worthington, 39, the pilot.
      Obviously, this was a tragedy, a shock to the golf world and to that community on the most prominent, most affluent of the "barrier" islands just east of Brunswick, Ga.
      I was new to the Florida Times-Union, maybe three weeks into the job -- a job I needed after my departure from Shreveport. With the family, we had settled in Orange Park, a suburb just south of Jacksonville.
      Here, other than what was going to be a trip into a sad, stunned scene, was what made it difficult. I knew little about the golf world, I had never been anywhere close to Brunswick, had never heard of Sea Island Golf Club or St. Simons Island.
      I was a stranger in strange territory, about to meet and interview people who were complete strangers to me.
      And I was only vaguely familiar with Davis Love III, then an extremely promising, long-hitting, 24-year-old, fourth-year PGA Tour player with one tour victory, his father's prize pupil and -- with younger brother Mark -- his greatest achievement.   
      Now, expecting a routine work day (my main task was to guide the high school/community athletics coverage), here I was faced with uncertainty.
      Why me?
      We are not sure, can't recall. We think, though, that Mike Richey that morning could not reach our talented main Times-Union golf writer, Chris Smith, who had a good relationship with the Love family. (It was before cellphones, folks.)
      Maybe because -- laugh here -- I was a savvy sports writing veteran (it was my 19th fulltime year, but at 41, I was still kind of young, OK) and had experience, Mike called on me. We had plenty of other really good writers on that staff.
      This was at least 10 a.m., so I rushed to get ready to go. Mike gave me some travel directions and the first place to find -- the Times-Union bureau in Brunswick and the name of that bureau person -- Beth Reese.
      Thank goodness for Beth, who soon added Cravey to her name and moved to Jacksonville, where she remains on the newspaper's news staff. She made my work that day a bit smoother.
      As I recall, when I found the bureau, she showed me how to use the machine to get my story back to the office a few hours later, and because she had to attend a meeting, left me the key to the office. And gave me directions to St. Simons Island.
      It was a 7-mile drive east on a causeway -- marshland all around -- with the Atlantic Ocean close by the resort and residential community.
      It was with plenty of trepidation that I drove to that golf club. Actually, I was not sure of all the details of the plane crash. 
      A link to the full details is below (from a Golf Digest story 20 years later).
      What happened: Davis Love Jr. and his two companions were going to attend the annual meeting of Golf Digest teaching pros at Innisbrook, a golf resort near Tampa. Because they wanted to spend most of that Sunday with their families, instead of driving to Jacksonville to catch a flight south, they chose to have Worthington fly them there -- in early evening -- from the air strip next to the golf course and connect on a Piedmont Airlines flight at 9:30 p.m.
      But the short hop met disaster -- a dense fog and, as it turned out, mixed-up signals from air controllers. Worthington's sight lines were impossible; the plane, a quarter-mile left and 500 feet past the runway's starting point, hit trees 40 feet above the ground. The estimated time: 8:53.27 p.m.
      The plane went "off the radar," but the fog was so bad, the wreckage was not found until daylight the next morning.
      What a loss. What a sad story to write.
      Unfortunately, we -- any of us who write and get paid for it -- do some of our best work when it involves deaths, or tragedy. Many of the strongest reactions to pieces I've written fit this category.
      And it can be a tough task. Thinking about writing this blog, I remembered that one of the toughest assignments I made -- with the suggestion from editor Stan Tiner at the Shreveport Journal in summer 1983 -- was sending young sportswriter John James Marshall to visit/interview Joe Delaney's family after the sensational running back's drowning as he tried to save some drowning young people in Monroe, La.
      John James said it was his toughest assignment, and credited then-Haughton head coach Bobby Ray McHalffey for accompanying him and sitting through the interview. That made it easier, but "easy" is not the right word in these situations.
      For me, the people at Sea Island that awful November day in 1988 could not have been more cooperative and available. 
      Davis Love III and wife Robin were not there; they were on the way back home from Hawaii (and then San Francisco) where he was to play in the Kapalua Open and also make a vacation of it. They had just arrived in Hawaii when they got word the plane was missing.
      Three weeks later Chris Smith went to Sea Island to interview Davis III, and Chris' in-depth story was one of his best.   
      Davis III, who will be 54 next month, continues as one of the PGA Tour's biggest names, a 21-time winner on Tour, one major (1997 PGA Championship), a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee last year.
      Two of his victories came near Jacksonville in The Players Championship (1992 and 2003). We were there in '92 when, three shots out of first going into the final round, he shot a 67 on Sunday and won by four shots.
      Because of what had happened -- with its Jacksonville ties -- four years earlier, I thought that was an especially poignant victory.
      Chris Smith, who now works for the PGA Tour (senior director, business public relations), made Davis Love III and his "team" the focus of the cover story for the Times-Union's Players Championship preview the next year. Another nice story.
       It wasn't that my story for the Times-Union -- published Nov. 15, 1988 -- was that difficult to write. It was mixing the quotes from the interviews and the facts into a readable piece (our sports desk in Jacksonville helped with that).
       It was not an award-winning effort, but it was rewarding just to meet the challenge and get it done, and in plenty of time before deadline. 
       It was one to remember, for sure.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Thanks, NCAA ... your timing is absurd

Robert Parish at Centenary
(The Shreveport Times photo)
     The top part here was written by John James Marshall for the web site (check it out), with the headline: "Out of record book? Parish the thought!"
     It is not often -- ever? -- that "Centenary basketball" and "Son of Sam" gets used in the same sentence. There you have it!
     This is all due to the recent announcement that the NCAA will now officially recognize Robert Parish's statistics while he played for the Gents in the 1970s. As David Berkowitz -- 1970s serial killer in New York City known as "Son of Sam" -- said when they came to arrest him, "What took you so long?"
     The beginning and the end to this story defy description as far as absurdity is concerned. To make a very long story short, back in 1972 when Parish was about to enter  Centenary, the NCAA used a formula based on high school grades and standardized tests to predict a player's GPA, which needed to equate to at least a 1.600. But Parish didn't take the SAT, so Centenary converted his score from the ACT and used that for the NCAA formula. Centenary had done this for the previous two years and nary a peep. But when the No. 1 recruit in the nation showed up, the NCAA took notice and told Centenary that the move was "illegal." (Parish wasn't the only Gents player who this had been applied to.) 
     So the NCAA dropped six years on probation on the Gents -- unless they yanked the scholarships of Parish and four others. Centenary told the NCAA to go jump in the lake.
     (One questions remains more than 45 years later:  Why didn't Parish and the others just take the SAT? It's not like they have to achieve a Harvard-like score.)
     Eventually the NCAA did away with the formula (called the 1.6 rule), but still stuck the hammer to Centenary. There is the favorite (and often misquoted) line by famed coach Jerry Tarkanian, who often said (kind of): "Every time the NCAA gets mad at (UCLA/Kentucky/other big guys), they add another two years' probation to (Centenary/Cleveland State/other little guys). Tarkanian filled in whatever blanks he needed to fit the audience, but the message was clear -- Centenary was getting hosed.
     Parish and others could have gone anywhere else and been instantly eligible, but they stayed on Kings Highway and had a memorable four-year run.
     When it was over, he had 2,334 points and 1,820 rebounds, but you'd never know it because the NCAA did not recognize his stats in its record book. Only two players in the history of college basketball have more points AND rebounds than Parish's totals.
     So what happened? Did someone wake up at the NCAA one day last week and say, "OK, it's been 40 years. Enough's enough?" Were there protest marches outside the NCAA office and they were worried about the PR hit they were taking?
     Actually, to Centenary's credit, the school made an appeal last year to the NCAA seeking "reinstatement." After they woke up the guy in charge of such things, the appeal was granted. And then the NCAA turned around and slapped Louisville around by denying its appeal of the vacated 2013 championship.
     Somewhere out there, Jerry Tarkanian is smiling.
     My take (as a sportswriter who wrote about Parish's high school and college careers in Shreveport):
     Surprised by this, but I am not thrilled about it. It's OK.
      It was so long ago, and the NCAA's "banishment" of the Parish statistics did not hurt his fabulous Basketball Hall of Fame career at all. 
      Don't see that it makes a lot of difference now, except for the principle that the NCAA -- after 42 to 46 years -- is admitting how petty it was in 1973-76.
      Centenary benefited greatly from Parish being in school there, Robert and his family benefited greatly, and so did the basketball fans of Shreveport-Bossier and North Louisiana.
      Can't tell you that Centenary did not break rules in admitting Robert to school. LSU (Dale Brown) and Indiana (Bob Knight) gladly would have taken him in their program, but were clear to Parish's high school coach (Ken Ivy) that he would not qualify academically.
      Still, what the NCAA did to Centenary was best captured by then-Gents athletic director/head basketball coach Larry Little's remark that Centenary was given a death-penalty sentence for a speeding ticket.
      Parish, in those years, got enough publicity to be known in many parts of the nation; I know this because I was the Centenary sports information director his senior season and set up several interviews with writers from other areas.
      Plus, we sent out a flier touting Robert's accomplishments to most major newspapers and college/pro basketball sources in the country, and each week the NCAA statistics came out, we made sure to note where Robert would have ranked in points, rebounds, shooting percentage, etc.
      Centenary showed up regularly in the Associated Press national Top Twenty or Top 25 polls because Jerry Byrd of the Shreveport Journal was on the voting panel in Parish's last couple of seasons and would vote the Gents No. 2 or 3 each week, giving them enough points to wind up in the Nos. 17-20 positions. (For some reason, Byrd's vote was taken away after that last season.)
      Where the NCAA six-year penalty hurt Centenary most -- my opinion -- was not Parish himself, but the team not being eligible for postseason play.
      It is highly unlikely that Centenary had a good enough record and enough victories over prominent opponents to have been selected for the NCAA Tournament, which then had a 32-team field (but no more than one team per conference). But the NIT (16-team field) would have been a strong possibility -- a likely spot, because of Robert's presence -- for Centenary.
      The example is this: In the 1975-76 season (Robert's senior year), one of the teams chosen for the NIT was U. North Carolina-Charlotte (UNCC), featuring Cedric Maxwell and Lew Massey and coached by Lee Rose. That season Centenary beat UNCC in Shreveport and lost by one point at Charlotte in the season's next-to-last game (and Centenary missed a wide-open last-second shot).
      UNCC finished second in the NIT, in Madison Square Garden (lost to Kentucky). 
      The next season UNCC made the NCAA Tournament, and went all the way to the Final Four (lost to eventual champion Marquette, by two points). 
      Maxwell would go on to be a teammate of Robert Parish with the Boston Celtics and be the MVP of the 1981 NBA Finals. Lee Rose would move from UNCC to coach at Purdue, and was back in the Final Four with a Joe Barry Carroll-led team in 1980.
       (Small-world department: The Golden State Warriors made Joe Barry Carroll the No. 1 pick in the 1980 NBA Draft and their starting center, and traded their previous starter. That was ... Robert Parish, who made the most out of being sent to Boston. First year: NBA champions.)
       But, of course, Parish then was still persona non grata to the NCAA, and remained that way through this last week. Yes, a 7-footer who could not be seen.
       We saw him. People in Shreveport and North Louisiana saw him. People all over the country, and the world, saw him -- after he got to the NBA. 
       And now we can even see where he ranked -- officially -- in the NCAA statistics. Like it matters a lot now. 
       If the NCAA had done this anywhere from 1973 to 1976, it would have been a lot more appealing to me. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

If it is Olympics speed skating, color it Orange

      Not as much of an Olympics fan as I once was, and not that interested in the Winter Olympics ... except for speed skating.
      That's right. It is the Dutch in me. The Dutch love speed skating, and they are excellent at it.
      For the past two decades, they have dominated long-track (outdoor) speed skating.
      Give you the facts: At the last Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia, 2014, The Netherlands won 23 of the possible 36 medals in the sport -- men and women combined. Eight gold, seven silver, eight bronze. Domination.
      That included four 1-2-3 finishes, only Dutch people standing on the medal podiums and the Dutch flag being raised on the flag poles, and the Wilhelmus -- oldest national anthem in the world -- being played.
      Loved it. Mom and Dad would have loved it. My Dutch friends -- especially those in that small but marvelous and beautiful country -- loved it.
      Could it happen again? Not likely, but the Dutch team is still deep and talented.
Kees Broekman (photo from a 1955
sports book in Holland; I still have it.)
      And it all began with Kees Broekman in 1952. My first sports hero, the first athlete from Holland -- I was 4 1/2 there then -- to win a Winter Olympics medal.
      He's still a hero there. More on this below. 
      I will watch parts of the Opening Ceremony tonight on NBC-TV -- recording it -- because I like the Olympic pomp.
      Especially like when the Olympic flag is marched in, solemnly, and when the Olympic torch arrives at the main stadium and is fired up. Beautiful sight, always.
      But as for the Winter Games themselves, when is the speed skating?
      Answer: It begins Saturday, and there will be one event each of the first seven days. 
      Good thing is, don't have to watch it all. We can be selective. Because South Korea is so many hours ahead of us, the competition starts at about 5 a.m. here. Not about to get up and start watching. 
      I will wait for the results to be posted. If the news is good (if the Dutch or the Americans do well), I will watch the event that evening on NBC. 
      If not, that's fine, too. Outdoor speed skating, honestly, is not terribly exciting. Two competitors only at a time, and the clock is their main opponent. The grass is growing, paint is drying, watched water doesn't boil , your computer hourglass is spinning (cliches' for b-o-r-i-n-g).
      But it's not boring if you are rooting for the winners. So I watched a lot of speed skating in 2014. Hoping for more of the same.
      (Short-track speed skating -- which is like roller derby -- can be more exciting. It's faster, there is bodily contact at almost every turn, and it doesn't take nearly as long as long-track. But, dang it, it is a contrived sport.)
      For me, the widespread Winter Olympics menu is down to speed skating and ice hockey.
      And even hockey now has its limitations. It was very interesting to watch the U.S. and Canadian teams, and other world powers, matched when they all had National Hockey League players on their rosters. But no more; the NHL pulled out after 2014.
      So the U.S. team is down to mostly collegiate players. They will compete hard, and we'll root them on. 
      What we remember, of course, is that it was a team of U.S. college players who gave us the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980 (Lake Placid) -- the upset of the mighty not-so-invincible Soviet Union team I consider the No. 1 U.S. sports moment of my lifetime.  
      Some of the old standbys that I watched in the early TV days of the Winter Olympics, beginning in 1960 (Squaw Valley, Calif.) -- Alpine skiing, bobsledding, luge and ski jumping -- are in my past. 
       You can have snowboarding, skeleton, freestyle skiing (moguls? The only mogul I know is Taylor Moore), biathlon, Nordic combined, and -- oh, Canada, it's a curling iron.
       Figure skating gets so much attention -- millions of TV viewers -- and used to watch. But it's like gymnastics (and, heaven forbid, the ugly side of it); those sports are so tainted by the judges' national leanings, the beauty of the events does not outweigh the slanted scoring. I'm out.
      It has been six years -- Summer Games in London, 2012 -- since I wrote about the Olympics, and my love for them.
       Now I think that, like so much of American sports, the Olympics are too much -- money, attention, oversaturation, more television hours than anyone can handle. 
        And arguably, too much politics and too much nationalism. 
       I contradict that by saying that I root for the red, white and blue -- the Americans in every sport (yeah, America first!). Except for speed skating and -- Winter Olympics aside, when it applies -- soccer.
       In those sports, my No. 1 country is also red-white-and-blue (the Dutch flag, horizontally from top to bottom) with orange -- the national color, thank you, the royal House of Orange -- as the main uniform color.                
        America has had some speed skating legends -- Eric Heiden (five golds in one Olympics), Bonnie Blair, Dan Jansen (when he stayed on his feet), and, in short-track, Apolo Anton Ohno (who also ballroom danced championship-style on TV). The still-active Shani Davis is our biggest name now.
        The Netherlands' superstar in the sport was Ard Schenk (three gold medals in 1972). But he followed the legacy of my man Kees Broekman.
The silver medalist, Kees Broekman (left), could only
look up to gold winner Hjalmar Andersen in 1952. 
         Kees competed in four Olympics, first at age 20 in 1948 and last at Squaw Valley in '60. Twice (1956-'60) he was The Netherlands' flagbearer for the Winter Games. By then, he actually had moved to live in Norway.
         He really never got close to winning Olympic gold, though. His misfortune was his peak came when Hjalmar Andersen of Norway was the best in the world, a three-time gold medalist in 1952 (that guy was not popular in my house). Kees finished 11 seconds behind in the 5,000, 25 seconds back in the 10,000. Not close.
          And when he finally did win a major championship, the all-around title in the 1953 European Championships, it coincided with the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 night of the massive North Sea flood of the greater part of southern Holland.
          Broekman's skating career carried over into coaching. He was tutoring skaters in Berlin, where he moved, when he died at age 65 in November 1992.
          But some of us never forgot him, and there is a street named for him in Amsterdam. Nice. 
          And he is the first reason why people whose blood sometimes bleeds Dutch orange were blessed with the speedskating gene.       
          Skate on.