NCAA Title Game…KU vs. UK

Monday, April 2nd will set the stage for two of the most winningest programs in NCAA history to face off against each other in college basketball’s biggest stage. There are so many underlying story-lines heading into this game with the rich history of each school. James Naismith invented basketball and then established the University of Kansas basketball program in 1898. Naismith was the mentor to Phog Allen who was Naismith’s eventual successor as the Kansas basketball coach. Allen earned the name “Father of Basketball Coaching” during his tenure at the University of Kansas. Phog Allen also coached for Kansas’ baseball and football teams. Adolph Rupp or “The Man in the Brown Suit” learned the game under Phog Allen whom he played for, and later went on to coach at the University of Kentucky. The rivalry began with coaching.

John Calipari is the coach of Kentucky and Bill Self is the coach of Kansas. I’m a firm believer in coaching is everything. You can only go as far as your coaching brings you. In this case both coaches have done a great job this year to bring their respective teams to the tournament’s championship game. Kentucky is the sexy pick without a doubt. They have been for a majority of the year and why not they are probably the most talented group of kids with a pretty good coach. Then again Bill Self is no slouch and already owns a National Championship title. Who did he get that win against? Oh yea, that’s right it was against John Calipari. Coach Cal definitely has the upper hand in terms of pure talent. Coach Self has the advantage of experienced players. Coach Cal has been known to coach kids who are deemed “one and done”, while Coach Self tends to have most of his players play to at least their sophomore year. I’ll take experience over talent. Talent doesn’t always win championships. The Dallas Mavericks did beat the Heat in the NBA Finals in which the Heat had more talent. Coach Carlisle out-coached Coach Spoelstra. It’s happened before where the less talented team has beaten the favorites. These two coaches know that all too well.

This is a 2008 rematch amongst coaches. Coach Cal had a kid named Derrick Rose, I don’t know, maybe you heard of him. He also had good college players in Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, Joey Dorsey, and Robert Dozier. All of them played in the NBA or still do. That’s 5 players that Coach Cal had that were NBA bound. This Kentucky team is said to have 5 or 6 prospects that will be NBA bound, most notably Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist,and Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, and Doron Lamb. Bill Self has about 3 prospects to be NBA players in Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor, and Jeff Withey. In 2008 Bill Self had Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Darnell Jackson, and Brandon Rush. So the talent tables have flipped in terms of number of stars, but we all know that Coach Cal had the best talent in Derrick Rose. Yea reigning MVP of the NBA Derrick Rose.

Anthony Davis won the Naismith POY award and is only the second freshman to ever win the award. The other guy, Kevin Durant. That’s pretty good company, but Durant was a pure scorer where as Davis is more of a defensive asset with great length and shot blocking ability. Who knows how is NBA career will pan out? He could become a great scoring big man there’s no doubt. Patrick Ewing was drafted because of his defense and wasn’t really known for his scoring during his days at Georgetown and look how that turned out. There’s really no telling once a player makes it to the NBA. I’ll argue til I’m blue in the face that Derrick Rose is a better player than Antony Davis. It’s a point guards game and that’s my biggest arguing point. I’m not taking anything away from Davis because he’s a joy to watch, but you can’t really argue whose better when one has a Naismith POY award and the other has a MVP. Yes it took Rose a few years, but I mean he really blossomed in the tournament in 2008 to become the number 1 pick over Michael Beasley. Boy was that the right pick.

I’m not going to take the sexy pick, Kentucky. What fun would that be? I’ll let everybody else pick Kentucky and let them feel like they knew something I didn’t when they win like it was actually hard to say “Kentucky all day”. Did I mention Kansas is one of my favorite college basketball programs? Did I mentioned I picked Ohio State to win it all? Yea the Final Four game between Ohio State and Kansas really had me torn. One of your favorite schools against a team you picked to win it all. Tough. It’s only right I pick the team that beat “my pick” to win it all. I’ll take Coach Self and his 3-0 record in the Final Four over Coach Cal. I’ll take the experienced players over the young and talented players. It’s not like Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson are scrubs. The teams match up pretty well against each other. The last time these teams met in November Kentucky beat Kansas 75-65 in the second game of the season. Both teams are different teams since that game took place. Tonight should be a fun and competitive game to watch. I’m going Coach Self…All-In.

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The State of Officials

Officiating is a big part of every sport. Calls can change the outcome of a game or the momentum of a team. In America’s big three sports; baseball, basketball, and football, the officiating is very different. Needless to say the referees or umpires hold some weight when considering the outcome of a game. For the most part they make the right calls, but which league really has calling the game down pat.

Let’s start with baseball, more particularly the MLB, or the show as some would like to call it. Baseball is the most traditional sport we have in America. The rules have changed very little from it’s inception in 1869 with the leagues first team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. One of the most notable changes in the rules of recent years is the ability to review home runs via instant replay. Before that the biggest and most distinguishable rule adoption was the Designated Hitter (DH) by the American League, or Junior Circuit, in 1973. Replay is used in the NBA and NFL, but MLB was reluctant to add the use of replay because of baseball being so traditional. Bud Selig, however felt that it would not hinder the game but only aid in making the right call. That’s helping the officials make the right call when it may be hard to determine some 325-plus feet away.

In my opinion baseball does the best job of officiating out of the three sports. Ok so there are some blown calls here and there, but the umpires are only human and everybody, yes everybody makes mistakes. The most notable blown call of late came on June 2, 2010 where umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base which would have cemented Armando Galarraga’s in baseball history by pitching a perfect game. Jim Joyce later, in tears, admitted he blew the call and apologized to Galarraga. At least he was man enough to admit he blew the call and clearly he did miss out on making the right one. Like I said before were all human and humans make mistakes. It happens. Had the call come in a game where someone was not pitching a perfect game I’m not so sure people would remember Jim Joyce for that call.

Baseball has the best officiating because it’s a slower paced game and therefore less likely to continuously make bad calls. The home plate umpire may be scrutinized by fans and even managers, but for the most part I’d have to applaud the job they do. Is it hard to tell exactly where a 98 mph fastball landed? Yea I’d say so. A 12-6 curve ball that makes even a hitter flinch could be hard for an umpire to see, but they do and they do it well. The main reason why I think that MLB does the best job is because they are consistent. Each umpire may have a different version of the strike zone, but they stick to that strike zone. Sure an outside pitch just off the plate may be called a strike. Some umpires are pitcher friendly while others are hitter friendly. When there are 2 strikes on the hitter maybe the pitcher gets a little more breathing in terms of the strike zone. Ever here the phrase protect the plate with 2 strikes? You shouldn’t be looking at close pitches in that situation. At the end of the day MLB umpires do a great job of calling a consistent and mostly justified game.

The NBA and NFL are probably the harder games to officiate with the fast-paced uptempo style of play. I will give the NBA referees a slight edge in difficulty of officiating. There are two factors that make me believe this and here’s why: It’s a fast-paced game in constant movement where referees have to run up and down the floor with the players for the full 48-minutes. Also, the league has been plagued by “flopping” and in real-time it may be hard to distinguish whether it was actually a foul or a player acting to get the call. This is a part of the game that I can’t stand and I think most would agree, especially when it’s pretty blatant. A smaller guard running into the paint with a forward or center in their way, then contact, the larger player falling to the ground, the foul call. I mean come on, that same player who flopped was getting bumped in the post on offense by a big defender and now he’s falling to the ground with slight contact from the smaller opposition.

My biggest gripe with the NBA officials is the lack of consistency. I fully and completely understand that it must be hard to run up and down the court with these athletes and make the right call every time, but at the same time at least call it the same both ways. Like most fans if there are two NBA games on I’ll surf between channels and watch both games. I remember watching one game with the score being fairly close and the game clock around 30 seconds. The team losing was trying to foul a simple touch of the player that received the inbound a foul call was made. Free throws. Flip to the other game almost an identical situation. This time though the defender repeatedly grabbed the other player before a foul call was made taking a good 3 seconds off the clock. A foul is a foul is a foul, no?

Then there is the superstar call. Hey, I get that rookies don’t have the same credibility that veteran players, particularly superstar caliber players have, but sometimes its just ridiculous. Thunder vs. Lakers 2010 playoffs. A defender falls down while guarding Kobe Bryant. Kobe pulls up hits the shot. A whistle. A foul call. Free throws. Wait what? Shout out to Bill Simmons for that one. Where was I? Foul really? His defender was on the floor how could he foul him? Kobe gets all the calls. I dislike Kobe for this reason and it’s not even his fault. I’m not a Kobe hater. I respect his game and can’t deny he is one of the greatest basketball players that I’ve ever seen and that ever lived. I’m not denying that, but when someone gets calls like that and he thinks he should get calls like that since he often wants the foul when he misses, I can’t stand it. On my own New York Knicks I often hear A’mare Stoudemire screaming, “AND 1!!!”, whenever he goes up in the paint. Come on guy that’s not gonna help your case. That’s right in line with flailing your arms and throwing your head back to draw the call. Let the ref do their job and next time you get fouled make the shot and the free throw, I think that’s way more productive than screaming and then slowly getting back on defense with your palms to the sky.

I don’t really have much to say with the NFL, except that they do a pretty good job particularly with all the new rule changes for player safety. They blow calls yea of course. They do a pretty good job thought officiating especially in the playoffs. A lot of no-calls go a long way in the playoffs. More is at stake and it’s a physical game, so I’m glad they let them play. For the most part they are consistent with their officiating, calling a past interference the same way for each team. Good no-calls in some cases. They almost always get false start and neutral zone infraction calls right. Yea there are some games where I say wow they just want the other team to lose. The recently headlining Saints and their whole “Bounty-Gate” scandal was started in their 2009 Super Bowl run. I remember watching the Saints vs. the Vikings in the NFC Championship game and saying wow they are really letting them play as more often than not Brett Favre was on his rear-end. A lot of no-calls in that game, but like I said before they call less penalties in the playoffs so you can’t really get stuck on that game. The thing that bothers me most and it’s not even the fault of the officials is that the league is so invested in protecting their players that it hinders the defensive side of the ball. You can’t hit the quarterback like you used too or you’ll get a fine. Hit a defenseless receiver, yea that’s another fine. Numbers don’t lie and that’s why this season saw 3 quarterbacks throw for over 5,000 yards. Eli manning was only 77 yards away from eclipsing that mark too. Only 2 players before this year have ever done that and Drew Brees was one of them along with Dan Marino. So for 3 players to do that this year is remarkable or is it? Yea it’s a real pass happy league now and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see 3 more people do again this year. Hey that’s not the officials that the rules and the officials are supposed to uphold the rules.

In God We Trust

This past year or so has been a great year for Christian athletes.  There have been many athletes that were or are Christians, but this past year we have seen a surge in their popularity.  Four athletes in particular have made huge strides in their career, two were victims of criticism to their games and the other two won world championships.  The four athletes that I’m talking about are Jon Jones, Jason Terry, Tim Tebow, and Jeremy Lin.

Jon “Bones” Jones is a 24-year-old mixed martial arts fighter from Rochester, New York.  He has the longest reach of any fighter in the UFC at 84.5 inches.  He fought for only four months professionally before being called up by the UFC.  He quickly fought his way to the top and was given a light heavyweight title bout at UFC 128, on March 19, 2011, against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.  Jones won by TKO in the third round to win the UFC light heavyweight title making him the youngest UFC title holder in history.  He has beaten other great fighters including Lyota Machido, Quinton Jackson, Brandon Vera, Matt Hamill, Stephen Bonner, and Vladimir Matyushenko.  Jones calls himself a “hardcore Christian” and grew up a Pentecostal Christian.  He has Philippians 4:13 tattooed on his chest.  The Bible verse says “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  It was his sister’s favorite Bible verse, who battled cancer and life was taken before the age of 18.

Jason Terry, is a 13 year veteran in the NBA, plays for the Dallas Mavericks.  He won NCAA championship at the University of Arizona in 1999 with Mike Bibby.  Before the 2010-2011 season Terry got a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien trophy, the NBA Finals trophy.  Lucky for him, the Mavericks defeated the Heat in the NBA Finals and the tattoo was dignified.  In the post-game interview following their series clinching game in the finals said “My faith, first of all, is in God. And with that comes the confidence, knowing that you can be successful when you play with guys like we have on this team.”  Later tweeting “We played hard and prayed harder its all Jesus..”.  He had to have faith in God to tattoo his biceps with a trophy that he has never won.  Nevertheless he won an NBA championship and has vindication in getting the tattoo albeit prematurely.

Tim Tebow, took the world by storm this past season in the NFL.  “Tebowmania” ran wild across the sports world.  Tebow is famously known for his faith in God.  There’s not much to say about this kid that most don’t already know.  He is a devote Christian.  He was home-schooled as a kid.  He is a Heisman trophy winner.  He is a 2-time NCAA BCS champion.  The NCAA made a rule dubbed “The Tebow Rule”, which banned messages on eye paint.  He often wore bible verses on his eye paint.  In the 2009 BCS championship game he wore John 3:16 on his eye paint and that verse was the highest-ranked Google search within the next 24 hours.  Tebow took over as the starting QB for the Denver Broncos in week 6 and compiled a 7-4 record from then on.  The Broncos finished with an 8-8 record which was good enough to earn a playoff berth.  He led and improbable win in overtime over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the Playoffs.  He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.  The Broncos were later ousted by the New England Patriots.  Tebow had the 2nd highest selling jersey to Aaron Rodgers in the NFL this year.  That’s how rampant Tebowmania was in 2011.  He was highly criticized for his skill set coming into the NFL Draft and especially as a starter of the Denver Broncos, but he continued to win games.  His faith in God speaks in volumes to his belief in his game and in his teammates.  He might be the most prevalent Christian athlete today.

Jeremy Lin started the “Linsanity” that engulfed the sports world and media outlets across the country.  An undrafted point guard out of Harvard was days away from getting cut by the third team in his 2 year career.  He was given the shot to start and the rest is history.  Lin also equates his success and opportunity to his faith in God.  He was sleeping on his brother’s couch while getting his first few starts in the NBA.  The Knicks were just as blessed to acquire Lin as Lin was to get the starting job.  He’s the first Asian-American NBA player and put up numbers that no player had obtained through their first 10 starts.  Lin is an evangelical Christian and  after his NBA career Lin hopes to become a pastor and head a non-profit organization.  He is one of the biggest stories in sports this year and although the “Linsanity” has died down a bit, he still is a great story and devout Christian.