Tag Archives: Notre Dame

Five days spent back “in my old life” were super-fun but exhausting. The worst ad placement on a page, ever. And my Final 4 picks: it’s all about Arizona

It’s pretty rare you get chance to revisit who you were in your life previously, and step back in at your current age and life stage, and get a peek at what things would’ve been like.

But I got to do that last week for five glorious days. Back in the late 1990s-early 2000s, I spent three years working at the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News, and one of the awesome jobs I had there (slightly cooler than compiling the Fishing Report) was covering ACC basketball. For a few fantastic winters, about 10-15 times a year I got to jump on Highway I-40 and cover Duke, North Carolina, and N.C. State games up in the Triangle, and I loved it.

I also got to cover two ACC Tournaments at the beginning of March, and that too was tons of fun. Covering up-close the best basketball in America at that time was so, so cool.

I thought then that I’d be doing a lot more of that in my future, but nope, that’s not how it worked out.
When I heard a couple years ago that the ACC Tournament was coming to Brooklyn in 2017, I immediately knew I’d get tickets. What I didn’t know is that my awesome friend Andrew Jones, who I love despite him being wrong on everything politically (Love you buddy!,) would be running a UNC Rivals.com site and ask me to help him out at the tournament.

Turns out Andrew didn’t need that much help, but with the credential he got me I was able to snare four freelance assignments, meaning I was way busier than I thought I’d be.

So for the first time in 17 years, when I had a lot more hair and a lot fewer medical issues, I got to cover the ACC Tournament last week. The verdict? It was an incredible step back in time. And it was pretty freaking exhausting.

Some thoughts from my brain after a few days in a past life:

— Gotta start off with my non-basketball “celebrity encounter.” So one of the teams I was covering was Notre Dame, and after their win Thursday night I went into a mostly-empty locker room  and went to look for Matt Farrell, one of their top players.
I can’t see him right away where his locker is because a very large man in an enormous black and gold Notre Dame sweatsuit is blocking Farrell, laughing and talking with him and gesturing animatedly.

As I get closer and hear the voice, I know it instantly: It’s Chris Christie.

You remember Christie, the awful governor of New Jersey last seen being humilated by Donald Trump right after the election. As I waited about 30 seconds for Christie to stop, Farrell sees me standing behind good ole’ Mr. Bridgegate and points a finger toward me, trying to let Christie know I was waiting to interview Farrell. Christie got the hint and moved aside. (Now if I were truly brave or stupid, I should have loudly announced “Hey, there’s some traffic in here!” But I didn’t)

The next night, Christie was in the locker room again; turns out his daughter is a Notre Dame trainer or something.

— You get free food, actually quite good food, as a media member at big events like this. Several times a day there are complete meals served for us. And yet, without fail, it happened: One day a couple of photographers in the press room were talking and complaining about what was served that day. Are you freaking kidding me? We’re getting paid and getting free food!

— Another thing I noticed: None of the reporters covering the tournament walked around with notebooks and pens. Everyone just used their phones to record interviews, and while sitting on press row just typed whatever notes they wanted to make about the game into their laptops. It was weird but this is the new normal.

— Most often these days at basketball games reporters are seated somewhere high up in the mezzanine, off the floor. But last week I was lucky enough to be assigned to a courtside seat, right behind one of the baskets (so I got some TV time as background, always cool.)
Two things immediately jumped out at me, having not sat on the floor for a game in years: 1, The size and speed of the players seems to have gotten so much more noticeable. How fast every drive to the basket and block is, how quickly the action happens, it’s so much faster than on TV.
The other big thing? Refereeing is really, really hard. I saw a ton of missed calls (mostly offensive players driving and getting fouled) because it was happening so fast the officials either didn’t see it or didn’t think it was enough contact.
But honestly, every game I watched at least 5-6 blatant foul calls weren’t whistled.

–Had a couple of late starting times of games I was covering last week, including a 9:30 p.m. start between Florida State and Notre Dame, and oh yeah, I was covering the game for newspapers on both sides, which meant I was simultaneously writing two stories from separate points of view. While the game was going on.

Ah, deadline adrenaline, how I’ve missed you!

**Next up today, this picture that I saw on Twitter Tuesday made me laugh out loud, hard. Sometimes ad placements are really great on websites and newspaper pages, other times, well, this might be the most unfortunate/worst ad placement I’ve ever seen. Read the headline, then scroll down just a bit…

I mean… if you’re reading that story aren’t you going to freak out completely as you scroll down???

Poor ducks.

**Finally today, March Madness begins in just one day! My bracket is filled, submitted, and I’m expecting to win ESPN’s $1 million any day now.

Yeah, no. This was a very difficult bracket this year, at least for me. I didn’t love too many upsets (although Rhode Island is going to the Sweet 16, and I love UNCW and Fla. Gulf Coast), and I don’t even feel that great about my Final 4 picks. (There are some great first-round games, though, including Dayton-Wichita State (I think the winner will beat Kentucky), and Vandy-Northwestern.)

But alas, here they are: I like Villanova (in a classic Elite 8 over my Duke boys), Arizona, Louisville, and UCLA (even though they play no defense, I just don’t want to pick North Carolina).

And my national champ? Sean Miller and his Arizona Wildcats. They’re playing well at the end of the season, they’ve got size and strength and sometimes, it’s just your time. Miller has had a ton of great teams over the years and fallen just short of the Final Four (he’s been to the Elite 8 four times but never farther.)

It’s the Wildcats’ time. And if it isn’t, you never heard it from me.

 

Duke cruises, Nova and Virginia crash out of the NCAA Tournament, and Izzo is a wizard. And the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” calls C-SPAN

Duke.Okafor

Whew. My eyes are tired and my brain is on overdrive. Four days of NCAA Tournament viewing can do that to you.

But I’m happy, of course. Gloriously happy, that my Duke Blue Devils avoided the upset bug that has plagued them the last few years, and put on a dominating performance Sunday, beating San Diego State by 19.

It was a rare, nice enjoyable and relaxing Duke win for yours truly. Justise Winslow was sensational; he’s the whole key to this team this year. When he’s engaged and making plays in the first couple minutes of the game, they win. When he’s passive and making silly turnovers and being lazy on defense, they lose.

It’s strange because he’s probably the third best player on the team, but he’s definitely the most important.  Great to see the whole team play defense, too, which doesn’t happen often.

Some more March Madness thoughts from a pretty fabulous weekend:

— Tom Izzo and Michigan State. Man, he’s an incredible coach. That game with UVA Sunday was rough on the eyes; tons of fouls, missed free throws, and not many pretty baskets. But this is not that good of a Spartans team, and he’s got them in the Sweet 16 again. Incredible coaching job. For Virginia, just an awful result, to have such a great season end like this. They just couldn’t score at all Sunday, and missed a bunch of free throws, too.

— Not surprised at all to see North Carolina State beat Villanova Saturday night. The Wolfpack have been great and terrible all year, and their “best” is as good as anyone in the country. They’ve got a fabulous backcourt, excellent rebounders, and a pretty good coach in Mark Gottfried.
Now, that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost by 20 in the Sweet 16. They’re just that erratic.

— It’s so great being a fan of this Tournament in 2015, technology-wise. Saturday night, the wife was at a concert, I put the little guy to bed at 8, then had a laptop, an iPad, and my TV on three different games, while toggling over to the Rangers game when one was at halftime. Sure it probably fried my brain a little but it was worth it.

— That UNC-Arkansas game was all kinds of fun to watch. After seeing so many slow-it-down, grind-it-out games in the 50s and 60s, that one was wild. Fast-paced, shooting every chance they got, high-flying, man it was fun. I’m not saying every game should be like that in the Tournament, but we could sure use a few more teams playing that style.

— Hell of a win for Notre Dame Saturday night, out-battling Butler. No points for the last 4 minutes of regulation, but that was old school Indiana basketball. And my man Mike Brey, coaching with a heavy heart after his Mom died earlier in the day. That had to be very tough to do.

— Sorry to see Georgia State and their coach who made a stool famous, Ron Hunter, lose on Saturday. But what a beautiful postgame opening statement he gave about his team, and about coaching his son for the last time. So emotional, so touching… you can tell how much this means to him. Really special.

— Kansas refused for decades to play Wichita State, as the Jayhawks coaches figured there was nothing to be gained (win, and you’re supposed to beat the smaller school in your state; lose and it’s humiliating) but one of the beautiful things about the NCAA Tournament is it sometimes forces  you to do things you don’t want to do.
So we got a Wichita State-KU matchup Sunday, and no big surprise, but the “little school” kicked the big school’s butt. The Shockers have been legit good for years, and dominated Kansas in the second half.
Moral of the story: Play the schools in your state, it’s wimpy not to.

— Some super matchups on tap for the Sweet 16: Notre Dame-Wichita State should be terrific. Wisconsin-Carolina is a total contrast in styles. Arizona-Xavier will be a great game. And can Michigan State keep its roll going against a really strong Oklahoma team?
Can’t wait till Thursday  night.

**Finally today, this made me laugh really hard, and if you remember early 1990s television, you’ll laugh to.

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” had a memorable opening credits sequence, with Will Smith doing a song/voiceover of how a kid from inner-city Philadelphia hit the jackpot, moving to Bel Air to live with his aunt and uncle.

Well, apparently a C-Span caller named Jack from California remembered it too, and he called in and, well, this is perfect…

Manti T’eo and the most bizarre sports story of all time. Thoughts on Lance Armstrong, suddenly a “truth-teller.” And Obama gets serious on guns

teo

So much to get to today, but I have to start with what has to be, without equivocation, the most bizarre sports story of my lifetime.
If you have somehow missed it in the last 18 hours, star Notre Dame linebacker Manti T’eo was revealed in a Deadspin.com story to either have been in on and planned (seems very likely), or been the innocent victim of (not likely), an incredible hoax wherein a girlfriend he talked about movingly and in extreme detail in the past, a girlfriend who was said to have died from leukemia last September, in actuality never existed.

Yes, that’s right. He told hundreds of media outlets in stories personal details of a relationship with a woman named Lennay Kekua, about meeting her at Stanford in 2009, seeing her in Hawaii on vacations, and how tragic and difficult her death was.

Except, such a person never existed, Deadspin revealed. Notre Dame came out Wednesday defending T’eo, saying he had nothing to do with it, and T’eo said in a statement he’s completely a victim here.

I know this all sounds nuts, because it is. Read the original Deadspin story here, and a CNN update here (with bizarre details toward the end from a T’eo friend who said he met Kekua many times). I truly can’t wait to see where this story goes next.

lancearmstrong

**OK, now to Lance Armstrong, who I’ve tried really hard to avoid reading about in the past few days, once it was “revealed” that he sat down with Queen Oprah and told her that, yes, regrettably, he did all those terrible things people said he did, all those things that there is incontrovertible proof he did: took performance-enhancing drugs, threatened cycling officials, coaches and his own teammates, and basically bullied an entire sport like he was  Corleone family member.

And I’m sorry, but are we supposed to give this disgrace of a person “credit” for coming clean now? It’s not confessing if everyone already knows you’re guilty, and there are mounds of evidence proving so.

Lance Armstrong is a disgrace not just because he cheated, and not just because he intimidated and threatened and ruined the lives of many, many people.

He’s a disgrace because he held himself up as a model of what can be done in the fight against cancer, a disease that ravages and kills millions every year. And with all the success stories and heroes that emerge from the cancer fight, he was held up as the No. 1 hero, the paramount success story.

And he’s nothing more than a fraud, wrapped in bicycling clothes. Good riddance to him, and I hope he loses every shred of credibility and esteem he ever had.

On the plus side, hey, it’s nice to see Oprah being relevant again, huh?

**Finally, a few words on Barack Obama and guns. Despite my initial skepticism, he does seem to really be serious this time. Wednesday he proposed 23 executive actions as part of a sweeping overhaul of some of the nation’s gun laws, with a major focus on closing loopholes about background checks.

I don’t know how much of Obama’s plan will pass Congress, but with the NRA continued to absolutely shoot itself in the foot (pardon the pun) with idiotic TV ads like the one above, he’s definitely going to have the public on his side.

Good for him for making a good-faith effort. But there’s still a long, long way to go on gun control.

My first thoughts on the Madness bracket. And our pop culture hits a new point

This was a strange job done by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Usually, I yell and scream about teams they left out, and some awful teams that they put in.

But this year, with the exception of Florida not being deserving (9-9 in a bad SEC, and they still got in) and Illinois or Va. Tech getting unfairly snubbed, I thought they did very well with picking the field of 65.

But man, the seeding of the teams was horrendous. Beyond horrendous. Truly, mind-blowingly bad. Before I get to the things I like about the brackets, and some early upset picks (can’t give you my Final Four yet, that takes a few days of stewing), here are the most puzzling seeding choices:

— I love Duke more than anyone, but they should’ve been a 2. And West Virginia should’ve been a 1 seed.

— Temple at 5, and Cornell at 12, were both woefully underseeded. Both should’ve been a few spots higher

— Gonzaga is way too good to be an 8 seed. And Notre Dame isn’t worthy of a 6 seed. And you’re telling me Michigan State is only a 5?

— Finally, the committee totally went against its own rules. Sometimes it gave teams who finished strong an advantage (like Ohio State getting a 2). Other times it ignored the end of the season (slumping Villanova got a 2).

And they gave Kansas, the No.1 overall seed, the toughest bracket. The top team is supposed to get the easiest bracket, but Duke, the No.3 overall seed, has the easiest road.

OK, now some good things. I love a few of the 4-13 games for upset possibilities. I can totally see Siena beating Purdue, and Murray State knocking off Vanderbilt. The potential is there for some great 2nd-round games, like Michigan State-Maryland, and Duke-Louisville, and Syracuse-Gonzaga.

As for Duke, I absolutely cannot complain. The only team that truly scares me in their bracket is Baylor, a really good team. Villanova’s slumping big-time, Purdue won’t survive Round 1,and Texas A &M is up and down. As worried as I am about some of Duke’s weaknesses that showed in their ACC Tournament win (Jon Scheyer’s exhausted, nobody on the team is shooting well), I think this is the best possible draw to the Final Four I could’ve hoped for.

Three more days until Thursday. Move, calendar, move!

**So you ever watch something on television and think, “Future generations are really going to be frightened about what we found entertaining?”

Well, I had one of those moments Sunday night. I watched the new NBC show “Minute to Win It.”

I feel this might be the dumbest thing we’ve ever put on the air, and this is coming from a guy who sat through two whole episodes of that Paris Hilton-Nicole Richie “Simple Life” show.

If you were fortunate enough to miss it, here’s a quick recap: It’s a game show, hosted by the super-enthusiastic Guy Fieri. They pick a contestant well in advance, and have them learn and practice 10 mind-numbingly bizarre tasks. Then, on stage in front of an audience, the contestant has to repeat those tasks and do them successfully in one minute.

Some of the tasks on the show I saw Sunday? A man had to pick 150 tissues out of a box, one by one, using only one hand. The same man having to bounce a ping-pong ball off three plates, one at a time, and into a fishbowl.

And still the same man, in perhaps my most jaw-dropping moment of the show, having a pedometer stuck on his forehead, must do 125 head-nods in 60 seconds.

If the contestant can complete 10 of these challenges, they win $1 million.

Seriously, this is a sad, sad moment for our culture. I mean come on, pulling tissues out of a box is entertainment? Picking up paper bags with you teeth, like the woman below?

I don’t weep for the future. I weep for the present, that crap like this is put on network TV. And this is coming from a guy who loves game shows!

Somewhere, Wink Martindale watched this and wept silently into his Metamucil.