Month: August 2014

Breaking Glass Ceilings

 

-Associated Press Images

With Becky Hammon, it was never a matter of if she could do it, but rather how and when. She has always been in control of her own path, never allowing outside criticism to define her destiny. For Hammon, external pressure has always been around her. At a young age, there was the physical defense in the paint that stood in her way whenever she played basketball with her older brother and his friends. Little by little, she would learn how to compensate for the lack of size and age difference. She figured out how to use her body as a shield against the much bigger competition as she attacked the basket. In high school, she put on a show for those who watched her play. However, for the most part, she was unnoticed. She never received attention from the premier Division-I programs. Coaches of the high-profile schools did not want to invest the time to go scout her out in South Dakota. For the coaches who did make the trip, they did not have faith in a 5-foot-6 guard playing in the collegiate level. No matter how many points she would put up, they did not feel confident in investing their time and resources in a slow and small guard.

Finally, an assistant coach from Colorado State witnessed Hammon play and was immediately impressed. After the recruiting process, Hammon committed to the Rams. From the moment she stepped onto the court at Colorado State, her presence was felt. In her four years there, she helped lead the Rams to three tournament appearances, including a 33-3 season in 1999. All of this happened while she was breaking and setting new school records. Hammon also broke Keith Van Horn’s record for the WAC all-time leading scorer. When it came time for the WNBA Draft, she was met with the same disbelief and lack of faith that she encountered during the college recruitment process. Despite all that she had accomplished at the collegiate level, coaches did not think she was big or quick enough to last in the pros. She did not let that stop her. She worked her way onto the New York Liberty, a feat that many undrafted WNBA players could only dream of. She started off on the bench for her first few seasons on the Liberty, but worked her way up the ladder, becoming a starter, then an all-star, Olympian, and, eventually, one of the best to play in the WNBA ever. Now, she’s ready to continue exceeding expectations. She has a much bigger role ahead of her now: coaching in a men’s league. (more…)

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The Aftermath

-Washington Post

-Washington Post

Only a few days have passed since it occured, but by now you have probably seen or heard about what happened to Paul George. The gruesome injury has been replayed and discussed on all forms of news media. It was reminiscent of another grisly injury that took place a couple of years ago to Louisville’s Kevin Ware during March Madness. Team USA held an inter-squad scrimmage at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. It gave fans a chance to witness what Team USA had in store for this year’s FIBA World Championships. During the fourth quarter, Paul George attempted to chase down James Harden’s layup. What happened next would shake up the basketball universe. On his way down from trying to block the shot, his right foot hit the stanchion and the awkward landing resulted in an open tibia-fibula fracture. George is expected to miss all of next season as he tries to recover from his injury. This is a big blow to USA Basketball as well as the Indiana Pacers.  In light of recent events, discussions regarding reform to international basketball have reemerged.

Maybe it’s time to go back to how it once was – sending amateur college stars and young guns to compete in the Olympics and other international tournaments. Keep the stars and big names out of it. Owners have anonymously commented on how anxious and nervous they get when they see their highly paid players run up and down the court for international games. However, there’s one NBA owner who is not afraid to share his thoughts with the public when it comes to FIBA, the Olympics, or any other international competitions. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is known for “telling it like it is.” He is never afraid to give his honest opinion and he has been one of the most outspoken people when it comes to changing how the NBA handles international play.

Cuban doesn’t like the risk involved when it comes to watching his players represent their national teams. Dirk Nowitzki, who has been the face of the Mavericks franchise for many years, has recently just retired from international play. However, he has represented Team Germany numerous times. With that comes the wear and tear for being the star of a team with little depth. He has had to carry and lead the Germany squad for years through games, scrimmages, and practices. This is all taking place during the short NBA offseason. With basically little to no time to rest, players who play internationally don’t get that time to reenergize for the demanding NBA season. NBA teams and owners don’t like that idea of players putting in extra mileage for extracurricular activity. The San Antonio Spurs kept Manu Ginobili from participating in this year’s FIBA World Championship for Argentina, citing that he needs to recover from an injury.

While it is rather selfish that NBA teams are in it for their own good, it is very understandable.  Owners who share the same opinions and beliefs as Cuban just want to be able to protect their investment – after all, money talks. Not only do the Indiana Pacers’ hopes for a deep run into the playoffs or even a championship look slim, but Paul George does not come at a cheap price either. George’s contract is worth up to $92 million over the course of five years. It has been reported that he will cost them up to $16.5 million for this upcoming season, which is a lot of money going down the drain. One of Cuban’s main arguments is that FIBA and IOC get all of the money and financial gain. In this case, they are gaining profit at the Pacers’ (and the rest of the NBA’s) expense. The NBA doesn’t get anything from international play. Basically, FIBA and the IOC get to rent high-profile players for free. Cuban is calling for change and that the NBA hosts their own World Cup, where they will be free from the international committees.

Not everyone is against international basketball, and the Indiana Pacers seem to be handling it all like good sports. Team president Larry Bird, who suited up for the blue and white in 1992 as a part of the Dream Team, issued a statement shortly after George’s injury, “We still support USA Basketball and believe in the NBA’s goals of exposing our game, our teams and players worldwide. This is an extremely unfortunate injury that occurred on a highly-visible stage, but could also have occurred anytime, anywhere.” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver seems to be diverging into a different direction than his predecessor David Stern. Stern pondered upon the idea of making Olympic basketball for those 23 years of age and under only. Silver said, “”I don’t anticipate a major shift in the NBA’s participation in international competitions.” However, he did mention that it would be discussed at meetings in September and October.

The NBA needs to calm down. It was an unfortunate injury, and we are lucky that this is the first injury sustained from international play that will require an extended recovery time. Since 1992, when Team USA opened the doors to professionals, players may have had little nicks and sprains here and there, but nothing as bad as a season ending injury. This is just one terrible injury that happened at the wrong time. International play helps build the league’s brand. Look at the impact the 1992 Dream Team had on basketball and the millons of people who witnessed the 2008 Redeem Team take home gold medals. It is exciting to see each country’s best of the best go against each other. There is nothing like seeing NBA superstars like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin etc. team up together. Aside from the FIBA World Championship, the Olympics, and other international competitions, there is no other opportunity to see these great athletes play alongside one another to represent the USA. If you look at it outside of the USA, many stars take great pride in representing their country. Manu Ginobili would have played for Argentina if he could. Dirk Nowitzki did it for Germany for a number of years. There’s a sense of patriotism involved.

If the rules do change and Team USA goes back to fielding college amateurs, it would be a great disservice to basketball. The product would not be as good as it could be; people watch to see the best of the best. Olympic soccer currently has an age restriction, and no one cares about it as much as the World Cup for a reason. The same arguments can be applied to college athletes. Why should they risk injury to represent Team USA? They are playing in college with hopes to make it to the NBA, they don’t have the millions of dollars or the stability that the pros have. One injury like Paul George’s and their draft stock plummets. While the NBA would miss out on millions of dollars, a college player would lose much more. They would not only miss out on a big contract, but also on their future, especially in this day in age, where college basketball is all about the one-and-dones.

One of the main reasons why the 1992 Dream Team was assembled in the first place was to relieve the public outcry. People were simply tired of seeing the USA lose in world competitions at their own sport. If we go back to the way it was, the evolution of basketball is hindered and the sport takes a few steps back.

Get better soon Paul George.

Grabbing the Bull by its Horns

-Forbes/Getty Images

-Forbes/Getty Images

They say everything is bigger in Texas. Especially when it comes to football, there is no doubt that Texas exhibits great pride for the popular American sport. Some even go so far as to say that football is a Texan religion. For the Texas Longhorns’ first-year head coach, Charlie Strong, there is a greater challenge ahead this season. The former Louisville head coach attained recent success, going a combined 23-3 in his previous two years. He will have some big shoes to fill and some great expectations to live up to as he takes over for the iconic former head coach Mack Brown.

Brown resigned at the conclusion of the 2013 NCAA Football season. He was the Longhorns’ coach for 16 seasons. His achievements include a 158-48 record, nine postseason bowl game wins, and two BCS National Championship game appearances (winning one title). Under Brown, the Longhorns finished the year with at least 10 wins for nine straight seasons. After reaching the National Championship game a second time during Brown’s tenure, Texas was never the same.  The Colt McCoy quarterbacked Longhorns fell to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the BCS Title Game. The following year was the first losing season under Brown’s watch; they went a disappointing 5-7 that year. The Longhorns never went under .500 again in Brown’s final three years, but they never rediscovered their glory days of old.

Brown left and Strong was quickly hired as his replacement. The hiring was met with both praise and criticism, especially from Red McCombs, one of the more influential Texas boosters. The University of Texas named its business school after him, he even has a statue inside the stadium. A close friend of Mack Brown, it is reported that he has donated over $100 million to the school. McCombs went on the air and said that the hiring of Charlie Strong was a “kick in the face.” He even went on to say in another interview with a San Antonio newspaper, “I don’t see how they can miss…They can get anyone they want. They can close their eyes and go ‘Eeny-meeny-miny-moe’ and end up with someone good.” McCombs has since apologized for his remarks, but he surely can’t be the only doubter of Strong.

However, Strong has done well so far in managing the pressure placed around him. He has been working hard during the offseason to install his system, as well as trying to gather recruits. Recruiting has not been easy for the first-year coach. Texas is no longer the top dog in the in-state recruiting scene. With the emergence of Texas A&M and the attention that Johnny Manziel has brought to the Aggies during his time there, high-profile recruits have been going to College Station instead. Meanwhile, the Longhorns haven’t been able to secure a top-10 Texan recruit. Strong has found other ways to make ends meet. The Longhorns’ 2015 recruiting class is currently ranked 17th best overall by ESPN.

Change is coming to Texas and it is happening outside of the confines of X’s and O’s; Strong is also keeping tabs on current players while they are off the field. He knows it will not be easy, and he is requiring his players to show the same amount of dedication and focus that he is putting into the program. He not only wants to win and turn around the football program, but also to ensure his players do things the right way. Strong is a no-nonsense guy and he demonstrated that when he took to the podium today and addressed the dismissal of a number of players. He made his core values clear in his first meeting as head coach: be honest, no drugs, no guns, no stealing, and treat women with respect.

So far this offseason, seven players have been given the boot and three more are about to be suspended indefinitely. He confirmed that running backs Joe Bergeron, Jalen Overstreet, and safety Chevoski Collins have been removed from the team. He then announced today that wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander will not be returning. The pair of receivers were arrested last month for sexual assault. These five new dismissals add to the list that originated with fullback Chet Moss and cornerback Leroy Smith. Moss and Smith were let go back in March. Three suspensions are about to be handed to Daje Johnson, Desmond Harrison, and Josh Turner. The trio is expected to be starters this season.

While Charlie Strong has yet to showcase long-term success in his young head coaching career, he seems to be a great fit for Texas. He is exactly what the Longhorns need. They need a tough coach who will whip them back into shape. So far, he has proven that success is not a birthright and that he takes his job very seriously. He has no interest in those who will waste his time or be detrimental to the program. Just as the Longhorns are looking to rediscover glory, he is looking to prove his worth as a head coach. The journey will not be easy, victories will not be handed to them. They no longer have the respect that they once had in the previous decade, and they will be looking to recapture that top spot in Texas. What I admire about Strong is how he cares about his players’ conduct off the field. In a state like Texas where the mindset may be “win at all costs,” he is not cutting any corners. With the right amount of support and patience from the boosters and fans, he can really turn this program around. I am concerned about how much support and patience will he receive from Texas. While he may do what is best for his players, the fans might want his head on a silver platter if he does not get them a 10+ win season. The reaction will be even worse if they come out with a losing record. I wish him success as he tries to right the ship and make men ready for the NFL or the real world. He has a tough road ahead, but it seems that he is unfazed by it all.

The NFL’s Mixed Messages

-CBS Sports

-CBS Sports

The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy states, “All persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League. This requirement applies to players, coaches, other team employees, owners, game officials and all others privileged to work in the National Football League.”

Roger Goodell fell short in his punishment for Baltimore’s running back, Ray Rice. Rice found himself amidst headlines for his actions in Atlantic City. On February 15th, he was arrested for assault in what was a domestic dispute between he and his, at the time fiancée, Janay Palmer. A security camera captured footage of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator.  While there is no video released to the public of what exactly transpired leading up to that event, it was said in the court summons that both Rice and Palmer had struck each other. Since then, Rice married Palmer and court was dismissed as Rice reached a settlement and charges against Palmer were dropped shortly after the initial arrest.

Ray Rice was handed a two-game suspension by the NFL. He publicly apologized for his actions at a press conference saying, “I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life. Me. She can do no wrong. She’s an angel.” Rice appeared genuine and truly remorseful in his apology. On Friday, Goodell publicly spoke about Rice’s suspension for the first time since it was handed down. He praised Rice, “I was also very impressed with Ray in the sense that Ray is not only accepting this issue but he’s saying, ‘I was wrong.’ I want to see people, when they make a mistake, I want to see them take responsibility and be accountable for it.”

While Ray Rice was standing up to his mistakes, Roger Goodell just reaffirmed a big one. Since the news and video first broke out about Ray Rice getting arrested, the NFL has treated this issue more as a PR fiasco than a domestic violence issue. It was viewed as a distraction to the team and something that needed to be swept up and taken care of right away. Palmer and Rice sat side-by-side earlier in the year at a press conference where the world watched Palmer apologize for her “role that night.” Rice kept it more general, apologizing for “the situation he and his wife was in.” The first press conference lacked the honesty and sincerity that the most recent one embodied. It appeared as an attempt to save their star running back’s image.

For Goodell to say that Rice’s punishment is “consistent” with past cases and suspensions is ludicrous. What kind of message is he, as the commissioner of the NFL, trying to send to the viewers? Especially to the female fan base of the NFL, which accounts for 45% of viewers. A number of NFL teams are currently under fire regarding their cheerleading squads, with various lawsuits afoot addressing how severely underpaid they are, or the harassment they face while working. The average NFL cheerleader makes $500-$750 a season, while a team’s mascot can make anywhere from $23,000-$65,000 a year.

Back in 2010, Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape for a second time. Roethlisberger was not charged and was free to walk as there was a lack of strong evidence to really drive the case forward. However, he was still handed a six-game suspension by the NFL for violating their Personal Conduct Policy (which would later be brought down to four games). Where’s the consistency here? How about when Terrelle Pryor was suspended for five-games for what he did in college at Ohio State? Sure, he broke the rules of the NCAA by accepting a few tattoos and gifts, but Goodell never elaborated on why he was given a NFL suspension. Back in 2011, Vikings’ cornerback Chris Cook was suspended 10 games for domestic violence. He was also able to walk a free man after being acquitted in trial. It all just does not make sense. Suspension lengths are all over the board.

Perhaps this will lead to discussion and eventually action on how future punishments should be handled. The NFL needs to develop a standard for all misconduct. While there is a set rule for substance abuse, they need to shed more light on personal conduct issues. Since these matters are not always black or white and can contain a lot of variables, there should be a jury or a panel of sorts to decide on what is appropriate. If a group of people makes a decision, there should be less to fuss over. Right now, the system lends itself to being a monarchy – one man is calling all the shots. He is judge, jury, and executioner. A jury of sorts would remedy this issue. Let Goodell focus on NFL operations, and let the jury enforce the laws. Goodell let the women, who watch and enjoy the NFL, down with his decision, or indecision on how he acted upon Ray Rice’s suspension. It is counterproductive to the NFL’s goal each year to increase the female fan base and target more viewers. How can he say the meager two-game suspension was appropriate, and then have the NFL don pink cleats, gloves, bands, etc. in support of women and breast cancer? Unfortunately, Goodell’s inconsistency in punishing misconduct within the organization makes the NFL’s good-willed gestures appear rather hollow and insincere.