Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Johnny Manziell and NCAA Corruption

The whole Johnny Manziel fiasco has become the rampant celebrity gossip talk of the sports world.  But many are ignoring the real issue that this saga has presented to us, not about Manziel, but about college athletics as a whole.

Manziel was suspended for the 1st half of Texas A&M’s first game of the 2013 Football season for violating the “Spirit of the Law” concerning his signing of autographs and memorabilia.  The NCAA informed Texas A&M that they had not found evidence that Manziel had received money for signing thousands of items in random hotel rooms during the winter months of 2013.  Of course, the NCAA came to this conclusion within a couple weeks after Manziel’s parents had retained the services of a power, well-known lawyer. 

This is where college athletics showed their true colors.  Since most college athletes do not have the family or financial resources to attain such legal representation, many athletes over the years have received suspensions and schools have had to “vacate” past wins, loose scholarships and receive bowl bans over other “violations”.  While none these violations equal any actual felonies or misdemeanors in the court of law, the NCAA has bi-laws and regulations that are in place to “protect” the student-athletes.  So while these same athletes are not allowed to have jobs during the athletic season or use their fame for profit, the schools and NCAA can make as much money as they want.  But there is no Congressional investigation into the “monopoly” that is college athletics, because there is money involved and they are part of the in-crowd. 

Let’s look back at another athlete who did not have legal representation and was punished by the NCAA.  Former Oklahoma State Wide Receiver Dez Bryant was considered a candidate for the Heisman Trophy in 2009.  But the NCAA suspended him for the rest of the season because he “failed to disclose” he had lunch with former NFL Superstar and current NFL Network TV personality Deion Sanders.  Apparently, because Bryant had associated himself with some with an indirect connection to the NFL and “lied” about it, he violated his Amateur Status and was then deemed ineligible to play college football.

But what if Bryant’s family had the money or he had the resources to attain a powerful attorney, would he have been ruled ineligible?  If his college was a private school (Oklahoma State is part of the public college system in that state) and had an athletic department who would hire an attorney to represent Bryant on his behalf (similar to what happened at Auburn with Cam Newton during his breakout, Heisman Trophy season) then what would have happened?

The reality is that this propaganda about “We are here to protect the kids” from the NCAA and the schools who say “We really care about this kids as people” is a total farce.  Universities and the NCAA are institutions of Business that offer a service to educate people who they deem “qualified” to attend and enroll.  The absolute disregard for precedent or justice by the people who run these institutions is a disgrace.  Whether it is the mishandling of the investigation into potential violations at the University of Miami or the “see no evil, hear no evil” disgrace that was the Mike Rice situation at Rutgers or the NCAA making money off the likeness of athletes on the covers of video games that have the official NCAA stamp on them, the concept of a moral high ground is an absolute joke. 

Manziel is a blue-blood, member of the upper class in America, he thinks he can get away with anything, that he is “above the law”.  The NCAA always punishes schools and athletes they deem are “guilty” because they can’t defend themselves or because they cannot stand before an independent arbitrator to plead their case.  Whether its Dez Bryant, University of Southern California, or Southern Methodist University, there is a common theme: if you are not in with the blue-bloods or elites, you are definitely going to get punished for your “transgressions”.

 Is Dez Bryant the only collegiate athlete to have lunch with someone associated with a professional sports organization? Nope.  Was USC the only school to ever have a player whose family received favors from a prospective agent? Nope.  Was Miami the only school to ever have students receive money from “supporters” of the athletic program? Nope.  Was SMU the only school who was “paying” players to come to their school?  Nope.  But these were the ones who the NCAA decided to investigate.  The reality is that for every school or athlete who is caught and punished, there are two others who get away with the same or similar violations of the NCAA bi-laws.

So instead of people asking the US Congress to get involved in the affairs of professional sports organizations like the NFL and MLB over steroid testing, why don’t they instead investigate the NCAA and its member institutions who claim to have the best interests of the student-athletes in mind, when in reality, it’s a flawed system that is more interested in the financial bottom line than the well-being of these so-called student-athletes.  There’s no investigation into why USC received punish for the actions of the family of a member of their football team.  No investigation into how the NCAA is making money from the likenesses of their student-athletes in video games or selling of their jerseys on their website.  No investigation into the debacle at Rutgers University with the Mike Rice fiasco. 

Obviously, the people who scream the loudest “We want to protect their children from those who would take advantage of them” are actually the ones who really don’t care an ounce about them.  Yelling and screaming is for those who want attention or to justify their existence.  It doesn’t matter if its Politicians, University Presidents and Athletic Directors, or the “powers that be” at the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Modus Operandi seems to have a common theme: They do what they need to do to stay in positions of power and influence, while making as much money as possible while not being held accountable for their actions. 

So the next time you see Johnny Manziel pop up on your tv, just remember, he gets to continue to play football because he had the resources to afford him legal representation, while many other athletes are not so fortunate.  Have fun explaining this one to your kids.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 NFL Draft Review: AFC East

Now that the NFL Draft is over and the dust has settled, it is time to look back at who what drafted and how each team is affected.  Today I review the teams from the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills
Good Picks: EJ Manuel (QB – 1st), Robert Woods (WR – 2nd), Kiko Alonso (LB – 2nd), Marquise Goodwin (WR – 3rd), Dustin Hopkins (K – 6th)
Questionable Picks: Duke Williams (S – 4th), Jonathan Meeks (S – 5th), Chris Gragg (TE – 7th)
Grade: B

Review: Under new Head Coach Doug Marrone, the Bills are looking to rebuild and they took steps towards being a better team in 2013.  Woods and Goodwin are both talented yet underrated Wide Receivers while Alonso is a good Linebacker in pass coverage.  Picking Manuel in the 1st round may have been a reach for Buffalo but Manuel was considered one of the top Quarterbacks available in this year’s draft and he can be a good NFL starter.  Both Williams and Meeks are safeties who lack real good Play Recognition skills but they can contribute on special teams.  Hopkins is one of the top Kickers coming out of college this year.

Miami Dolphins

Good Picks: Dion Jordan (OLB – 1st), Jamar Taylor (CB – 2nd), Will Davis (CB – 3RD), Jelani Jenkins (LB – 4th), Mike Gillislee (RB – 5th), Caleb Sturgis (K – 6th)
Questionable Picks: Dallas Thomas (OG – 3rd), Dion Sims (TE – 4th), Don Jones (S – 7th)

Grade: B+

Review: Miami has continued a trend this offseason of re-tooling their defense.  Jordan is one of the top pass rushers in this years draft and Miami sees him as being able to pair up with Cameron Wake the way Von Miller did in Denver with Elvis Dummervill.  Taylor and Davis are both talented Corner Backs who have fluid hips, good football instincts and are solid tacklers.  Jenkins is an underrated Linebacker who seems to be in on almost every play and he had very good “football speed” and closes in on the ball carrier quickly.  Gillislee can be a “poor man’s version” of Reggie Bush for the Dolphins this season.  Thomas is a good teammate and works hard but his blocking footwork leaves something to desired while he struggles to create good leverage in pass protection.  Sims is a Tight End who average hands and average blocking skills but is an above average athlete so he does have potential to develop.  I would have given the Dolphins a higher grade if they would have done more to address their biggest need: Offensive Line talent and depth.

New England Patriots

Good Picks: Jamie Collins (OLB – 2nd), Aaron Dobson (WR – 2nd), Logan Ryan (CB – 3rd), Josh Boyce (WR – 4th)
Questionable Picks: Duron Harmon (S – 3rd), Michael Buchanan (DE – 7th), Steve Beauharnais (LB – 7th)

Grade: C+
Review: The Patroits in past years have gotten good value in the mid to late rounds of the NFL draft but this year they made some interesting picks to say the least.  Collins is a good pass rusher but he is still alittle raw with his tackling technique.  Dobson is the perfect Wide Receiver for the Patriots offense, he can play in the slot and on the outside due to his speed and great hands.  Ryan is a Corner Back with good football instincts, can play man or zone coverage and is a solid tackler.  Boyce is one the best slot receivers in this draft class, he has good hands and great burst off the line of scrimmage.  Both Harmon and Beauharnais are defenders who average football speed and they take awkward angles when trying to track down the ball carrier.  They may be best suited for special teams work.  Buchanan showed flashes that he could be good in college but he struggled at times against team with very good offensive lines like Wisconsin and Ohio State.

New York Jets

Good Picks: Dee Milliner (CB – 1st), Geno Smith (QB – 2nd), Brian Winters (OG – 3rd), Tommy Bohanon (FB – 7th)
Questionable Picks: Sheldon Richardson (DT – 1st), Oday Aboushi (OG – 5th), William Campbell (OG – 6th)

Grade: C+
Review: With new GM John Idzik the Jets are changing personnel to fit his vision for the team.  Dee Milliner is the best Corner Back in this draft class.  Milliner has excellent football instincts, can play man defense against any receiver in the league and he is a very good tackler.  Smith is one the top Quarterback prospects in this draft and he is the Jets new QB of the future.  Brian Winters is a phenomenal athlete for a offensive line, he has good agility, great strength, good footwork and has the potential to be a Pro Bowl Guard in the NFL if he works hard enough.  Sheldon Richardson is a head scratching selection because he is best suited as a Defensive Tackle in a 4-3 defensive system, not the defense the Jets run.  While Richardson has good potential in college he did not play well or consistent against elite competition in the SEC.  Aboushi and Campbell are offensive lineman with average strength and had trouble defending the pass, especially when they had to make quick decisions aginst heavy-side blitz packages.  Tommy Bohanon is one the best all-around Fullbacks to be drafted in years.  Bohanon is a great run block with excellent strength and leverage; he also is quick and can be an asset in the passing game.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

My 2013 Mock NFL Draft

With the NFL Draft coming up this week, I wanted to preview the draft by performing my own 2013 NFL “Mock” Draft.  Unlike the guys you see on the major sports networks, my mock draft is not who I think each team will draft but who I think they should draft, according to need and how I rank/value each prospect is accordance with that particular team and their system.  So here is my selections and why

1.  Kansas City Chiefs: OT Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M)
With the Chiefs opening the door for OT Brandon Albert to leave for Miami, they have an opening at Left Tackle.  Joeckel is the most NFL-ready Offensive Lineman in this year’s draft.  His footwork and blocking skills are top notch and he will only get better because how hard he works and studies. 

2. Jacksonville Jaguars:  DT Shariff Floyd (Florida)
New Head Coach Gus Johnson has a defense that works best with versatile players.  Floyd is a freak athlete who can line up on the defensive line as a Defensive Tackle, Nose Tackle or 3-4 Defensive End.  Floyd’s experience playing in the SEC also makes him an NFL ready starter who doesn’t need a lot of polishing while he also has a high ceiling talent-wise.

3. Oakland Raiders: OT Eric Fisher (Central Michigan)
The Raiders lack depth on their offensive line and with the acquisition of Matt Flynn to play Quarterback it would help if they invested in keeping their new QB’s protection.  Fisher is a talented but raw offensive tackle who has unique combination of strength and athletic ability.  For a team in “rebuilding mode” you have the luxury of being able to select a player with great potential who needs to refine their skills and Fisher fits that mold.

4.  Philadelphia Eagles: DT Star Lotuleilei (Utah)
Chip Kelly has brought a lot of change already to the Philadelphia Eagles and one of those changes is defense scheme.  A “hybrid” 3-4 requires having defensive lineman who can handle taking on offensive guards and centers.  Lotuleilei was a great defensive lineman at the collegiate level whose skills are comparable to Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens: Excellent strength, suprising speed and agility, and excellent pursuit to the ball. 

5. Detroit Lions: CB Dee Milliner (Alabama)
The Lions had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last year and they play in a division where they have to face Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler twice a year.  Milliner is the top defensive back in this year’s draft.  He is a great man coverage cornerback who is a good tackler and has very good instincts.  He could start right away for the Lions to start the 2013 season.

6. Cleveland Browns: OG Chance Warmack (Alabama)
While the Browns are unsure who will be their starting Quarterback for the 2013 season, one thing for sure is they need help protecting their QB.  Warmack is an NFL ready Guard who has great strength, good footwork and top level experience while playing for the National Champion University of Alabama.  Warmack can do more than protect a QB, he is also a great run blocker.

7. Arizona Cardinals: S Kenny Vaccaro (Texas)
With the Cardinals releasing Pro Bowl Safety Adrian Wilson, so to say the Cardinals have a need at the safety position is definitely an understatement.  Vaccaro is a talented safety with very good ball skills and has great football instincts.  Some have compared his style of play to Ed Reed.

8. Buffalo Bills: QB Ryan Nassib (Syracuse)
New Bills Head Coach Doug Marrone is known as a great offensive minded coach and for coaches like him they need a Quarterback who can run their offense.  Well there is no better option than to draft the last player who ran your offense.  Nassib broke Syracuse records while under the guidance of Marrone.  Nassib has good arm strength, great at looking off defenders, good athlete and knows Marrone’s system and expectation.  Just like how Ryan Tannehill had success in Miami with his old college coach I think Buffalo can have the same, if not better success, by selecting Nassib.

9. New York Jets: OLB Dion Jordan (Oregon)
The Jets need a pass rusher.  The Jets need Outside Linebackers who can play in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense.  Jordan fits both of those needs for the Jets.  Jordan is one of the top athletes and top defensive talents in this year’s draft.  His skill set reminds me of DeMarcus Ware although he might be quicker than Ware.

10. Tennessee Titans: OT Lane Johnson (Oklahoma)
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchack was a long time offensive line coach before become a head coach and Johnson is the type of player with great potential who needs work on his raw abilities.  Muchack has always liked to develop Offensive line and with a guy like Johnson who is versatile, very good Football IQ and open to be coached up, this selection is a perfect match for team and player.

11. San Diego Chargers: OG Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina)
Philip Rivers is among the top ten QB’s in the NFL but he does his team no good if he doesn’t have protection.  The Chargers had numerous injuries to their offensive line last season and need depth.  Cooper is an offensive guard with good leverage, great blocking footwork and has the potential to be a 10 year starter in the NFL. 

12. Miami Dolphins: TE Tyler Eifert (Norte Dame)
Coming into his second season as a starting NFL Quarterback, Ryan Tannehill needs offensive weapons.  While he already has a deep threat receiver (Mike Wallace) and a position receiver (Brad Hartline) the Dolphins are lacking a talented receiving Tight End.  Eifert is a prototype TE for today’s NFL.  He has good speed and great hands for a TE while also has good football instincts to get open for his QB.  Eifert would fit right into the offensive system the Dolphins have.

13. New York Jets: WR Tavon Austin (West Virginia)
The biggest, most glaring weakness of the Jets offensive from last season: no big time playmakers.  Tavon Austin is the most explosive offensive player in this year’s draft.  He has good hands, great speed, excellent agility, and could start game one as a slot receiver for the Jets in 2013.  Austin can also be a return specialist on kick offs and punts since he is always a threat to score with the ball in his hands.

14. Carolina Panthers: DE Barkevious Mingo (LSU)
Since losing Julius Peppers to free agency a few years ago, the Panthers have had trouble with their pass rusher and ceiling off the edges on wide running plays.  Mingo is an excellent athlete who has good ball pursuit skills.  If he is utilized correctly he can be a disruptive force on defense and draw double teams that will allow his teammates to make more plays.

15. New Orleans Saints: DE Bjoern Werner (Florida State)
New Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan runs a defensive 3-4 scheme that relies on the guys upfront to put pressure on the opposing Quarterback and create havoc in the backfield on running plays.  Werner is a unique football talent who has great strength, good agility and quickness and has a knack for being a menace for opposing quarterbacks.  Even though he has only been playing organized football for a few years he is open to being coached and has the potential to be a Pro Bowl caliber player.

16. St. Louis Rams: DT Sheldon Richardson (Missouri)
The Rams have a lot of talent and depth at multiple defensive positions except D-Tackle.  Richardson is a good tackler with great agility and footwork.  His biggest weakness in college was that he was the best defensive lineman on his team and opponents would game plan to shut him down.  With very talented defensive ends on the Rams, opponents will not be able to focus solely on Richardson anymore, opening the door for him to excel in the NFL.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers: ILB Alec Ogletree (Georgia)
Steelers are in need of youth on defense, especially at linebacker.  Ogletree is one of the top inside linebackers in this year’s draft.  He is a great tackler with excellent football instincts and has great pursuit.  He will fit in great with the Steelers and in short time could be their top linebacker and lead the team in tackles.

18. Dallas Cowboys: S Matt Elam (Florida)
New Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin runs a Cover 2 defense.  That type of defense thrives when it has talented defensive backs in the secondary.  Safety is a position that is thin for the Cowboys.  Elam has a nose for the ball, whether as a ball-hawk as a pass defender or a land-shark as a run stopper, Elam can do it all.  He is an excellent athlete with great instincts and would be a great fit for the Cowboys.

19. New York Giants: LB Jarvis Jones (Georgia)
Due to the injury bug the Giants lacked playmakers on defense.  Jones is one of the top defensive players in this year’s draft.  He is a dynamic athlete with a nose for the ball.  He is a great tackler, has good instincts, and is excellent in pursuit.  He can stop the run and blitz the opposing QB.  Jones will not be expected to start immediately so there will be no major pressure on him which will allow him to excel even more in the NFL.

20. Chicago Bears: OG Kyle Long (Oregon)
A glaring weakness for the Bears in the couple seasons has been their offensive line.  While the team has upgraded the Tackle position through free agency they still need depth at Guard.  Long is a versatile OG with great footwork and was one of the top Guards in the Pac-12 the last couple seasons.  He would provide much need depth for the offensive line and if he has a good training camp could be in line to be a start week one of the 2013 season.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: OT DJ Fluker (Alabama)
The Bengals do not have any major areas they need to fill in the short term.  In the long term they need depth for the future on the Offensive Line.  Drafting Andre Smith in 2009 did not work out for the Bengals.  Fluker is different than Smith in that he has a better work ethic and better footwork than Smith.  Fluker is underrated as an offensive lineman in a draft that has many O-Line prospects.  Fluker will be a good addition to the Bengals, providing depth to a team that is trying to get back to the playoffs for a third straight season. 

22. St. Louis Rams: WR Robert Woods (USC)
With the departures of Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson via free agency, the Rams need to replace their top two wide receivers from last season.  Woods is the best all-around WR in this year’s draft and he is also the most NFL ready since he played in a pro-style system at USC.  Woods is a great route runner who has great hands and underrated speed.  He could be a starter for the Rams week one of the 2013 season.

23. Minnesota Vikings: CB Desmond Trufant (Washington)
In a division where the Vikings have to deal with a plethora of super talented wide receivers such as Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson and more, the Vikings need more talent in their secondary.  Trufant is a talented Cornerback who has fluid hips, very good speed and is great at defending the deep pass.  In order to make the playoffs this season the Vikings are going to need more from their defense and Trufant will help them at least slow down their opponents.

24. Indianapolis Colts: DT JesseWilliams (Alabama)
The defensive tackle has been weak point for the Colts for over a decade.  They were able to hide their lack of depth this past season when they changed to a “hybrid 3-4” defense.  But it is time for the Colts to address this need with a play who can play either Nose Tackle or Defensive Tackle.   Williams is underrated in this year’s draft because he wasn’t a “star” at the combine or at any of the collegiate “all-star” bowls.  But Williams has the track record from his time playing at Alabama as one of the top defensive tackles in the SEC.  He has very good strength and is great at recognizing a play and reacting to it.  His football IQ is high so he can have an impact for the Colts in the 2013 season as a rookie.

25. Minnesota Vikings: WR Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee)
With the loss of Percy Harvin, the Vikings need a dynamic playmaker on offense and special teams.  Patterson is the perfect replacement for the Vikings.  His great speed, agility in space and knack for getting open Patterson would be a great compliment on offense to Adrian Peterson and Greg Jennings.

26. Green Bay Packers: DT Akeem Spence (Illinois)
While the Packers do not have any major needs they could use more depth on the defensive line.  Spence is listed as a Defensive Tackle but he can play all three positions on the D-Line in a 3-4 defense.  Aside from his versatility Spence is good at shedding blocks and batting down passes along with stopping the run.  He also plays well next to talented lineman; he played next to current San Diego Chargers starter Corey Liugett in college.

27. Houston Texans: WR DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson)
With the recent injury history of star Wide Receiver Andre Johnson the Texans need more talent and depth at receiver.  Hopkins is a dynamic playmaker on offense with very good speed, great hands, and excellent leaping ability.  He caught 18 touchdowns this past season so he knows how to score.  He would be a great weapon for QB Matt Schaub.

28. Denver Broncos: DE Ezekiel Ansah (Brigham Young)
The Broncos are a team set at almost every position so they have the ability to pick the best player available.  Ansah is a unique talent who played Defensive End in college but may be converted to an Outside Linebacker in the NFL.  Head Coach John Fox has a history of finding roles for talented players who may not have a specific position but can make an impact on the field.  Ansah is still raw but he is very athletic and can tackle.

29. New England Patriots: WR Terrance Williams (Baylor)
The Patriots are lacking depth and experience at Wide Receiver.  They need someone who has starting WR experience who can play both out wide and in the slot.  Williams is a great route runner with good hands and excellent change of direction speed.  He is a tall receiver compared to some of the receivers the Patriots have had over the years (i.e. Welker, Edelman, Stallworth, etc) so he is a unique fit for the Patriots offensive scheme.

30. Atlanta Falcons: CB Jamar Taylor (Boise State)
The Falcons biggest weakness is in their secondary and they need more depth at Cornerback.  Taylor is an underrated CB who has very good play recognition skills, excels in man-to-man coverage, and has the speed and quickness to keep up with most wide receivers in the NFL.  His years of experience as a starter in college also shows he has real-time game experience and has seen many different types of offensive schemes.

31. San Francisco 49ers: DT Jonathan Jenkins (Georgia)
Needing to add depth on their defensive line, you have to sign and draft the right types of defensive line who can play and excel in a 3-4 defense.  Jenkins is perfect for the 49ers as a Nose and Defensive Tackle.  He is surprisingly athletic and quick for a guy listed at 345 pounds.  He is a good tackler and can shed blocks on run defense while on passing downs he can deflect passes and take on multiple blockers opening up holes for his teammates to get to the opposing Quarterback.  Jenkins would be a good fit for the 49ers.

32. Baltimore Ravens: LB Kiko Alonso (Oregon)
With the retirement of Ray Lewis and Darnell Ellerbe leaving via free agency the Ravens need to fill depth at inside linebacker.  The NFL has become a passing league where speed and athleticism is as important on defense as play recognition skills and tackling ability.  Alonso fits those needs as he is one of the top ILB in this year’s draft against the pass while also being a very good tackler.  Alonso also has experience playing in a “hybrid 3-4” defense so he is use to lining up in different ways on defense.  Also, the Ravens are looking for “character” guys and Alonso is known as a good leader in the locker room

Monday, April 1, 2013

Steve Alford is the man for the job

There was a great deal of chatter this weekend about the hiring of former New Mexico Head Basketball Coach Steve Alford to take over the same position at the prestigious UCLA basketball program.  Eleven National Championships is nothing to sneeze at, UCLA has more history in just their basketball program than most school entire athletic programs combined.

But note the word “history”.  The reality is that in the ten seasons that Ben Howland was Head Coach he led the school to the Final Four three consecutive seasons.  There were those who disliked Howland’s recruiting or felt he wasn’t a “UCLA man”.  Well congratulations, UCLA hired another guy who isn’t a former Bruin or a California guy.  John Wooden isn’t coming back to coach anytime soon and Howland wasn’t the coach who delivered the results wanted.

Hiring Steve Alford was one of the best options for UCLA for many reasons, yet I want to start with why the other “popular candidates” would not have been the right choice.  In order to have a successful basketball program at UCLA you need to be able to recruit the fertile region of Southern California while presenting a positive image of the school.  Popular “Mid-major” coaches such as Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens and Andy Enfield all are excellent coaches but none of them have recruiting connections in California.  This was the major problem with the hiring of Howland over a decade ago, he had to learn on the job; recruiting California is different than the northeast or Midwest.  Basketball to California is like Football to Texas: it’s the king of all sports.  And those kids and parents who have a crazy passion about basketball looked at a guy like Ben Howland as an outsider.  Both Smart and Stevens are great at maximizing the potential of their players and finding diamonds in the rough, but neither guy is known for their recruiting ability.  UCLA is about results, recognition, and headlines.  Enfield is the best recruiter of the three “hot name” coaches but he doesn’t have the west coach recruiting connections.  Also, Enfield just began head coaching a few years ago, he doesn’t have much of a resume except that he is a “basketball lifer”.

This is where Alford comes in and shines about the rest.  During his tenure at New Mexico he did recruiting in Southern California and has familiarized himself with the area, schools and people.  Alford also has the ultimate weapon in recruiting: championships.  Alford was a starting player in the 1980’s winning a National Title under Bob Knight at Indiana and as a member of the Gold Medal winning basketball team in the 1984 Olympics.  When recruiting big time players, being able to walk around with that kind of Cache means you got a hand up on many coaches.

Also important about Alford is his background as a coach.  While he hasn’t had great postseason success at Iowa or New Mexico, he does have the ability to “resurrect” dying basketball programs.  Before he got to those two schools neither one were known as “winning” programs.  The truth hurts UCLA alumni and fans: your basketball program needs some “resurrection”.  Somewhat apropos considering Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this past weekend, UCLA basketball for some people is a religion (i.e. football in Texas).  I am not saying Steve Alford is a “messiah” of any sort but he has the coaching and recruiting ability as well as the basketball acumen to take UCLA and make it great again.  Only time will tell if his qualifications for the jobs add up to results.  But one thing is for sure, he is definitely a very qualified candidate.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

NCAA Tournament Results & Aftermath through the perspective of My Bracket

So after a crazy last week and weekend I have finally had time to breathe and review my NCAA Tournament Brackets.  Going 24-8 in the main opening round of the tournament (now known as the “2nd Round”) I am in rarified air considering most people’s brackets are busted.  I have all my Final Four predictions intact.  But I still got some games wrong, so lets review the College Basketball weekend and the aftermath:

My Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, Miami, and Florida

Obviously I didn’t exact take a major “risk” in my original Final Four picks by selecting a 1 seed, two 2 seeds, and a 3 seed but so far I am safe. 

Louisville because I believe they are peaking at the right time.  Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are finally playing up to their potential while Giorgi Dieng has atleast one block in seven of Louisville’s last eight games.  There are few teams in the NCAA tournament who have the combination of talented guards and aggressive front line big men to give Louisville problems.  The two biggest threats to Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, Michigan State and Duke, are set to play each other in the Sweet 16.  While Oregon will give them a good game, I see Louisville getting the win because they have better overall skill players.

I have been on and off the Ohio State “bandwagon” for the last few years.  I picked them to come out of the West Region this year is because I felt the bracket was weak.  Gonzaga proved to be the weakest number 1 seed (losing in the Round of 32) while the 3 seed( New Mexico) , 4 seed (Kansas State) and 5 seed (Wisconsin) all  lost in the Round of 64.  The only teams left standing in Ohio State’s way to the Final Four are Arizona, Wichita State, and LaSalle.  Not exactly “Murder’s Row”.  If Ohio State plays up to their potential, they will be in the Final Four.

Aside from the fact I have been a “U” fan for years, the University of Miami has never had great basketball program.  Head Coach Jim Larranaga has changed the basketball culture at Miami and has led a group of upperclassmen to a place where the school has never been before: a major basketball program that has a chance to win a national title.  Standing in their way at this time are two athletic, Big East tested schools (Marquette and Syracuse) along with the pre-season national title favorite (Indiana).  The road to the Final Four is not an easy one for the Hurricanes but I believe Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Durand Scott, and Rion Brown are up for the challenge.

Florida Head Coach Billy Donovan is one of the most successful and seasoned Head Coaches in college basketball today.  At times the Gators have underachieved this year but in the Tournament they have really come to play after the “embarrassing” loss to Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament Finals.  Florida has won their first couple NCAA tournament games by an average of 23 points.  Florida Gulf Coast has had a good run but I think Florida has a more experienced coach and the athletes to neutralize the FGCU Eagles playing style.  While both Kansas and Michigan pose interesting matchups for Florida I believe the Gators have the team and the right head coach to be able to handle either of those teams in order to get to the Final Four.

I was wrong about: Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Missouri, Colorado, UNLV

Obviously I am not some super genius because I was wrong about these matchups just like the other 50 percent of America.  Here is what I learned by these mistakes:

-I underestimated Wichita State, thinking since they had a few kids graduate; meanwhile Pittsburgh played underwhelming basketball and did not have enough offensive firepower to catch up after they got behind.   Proving it was not a fluke, Wichita State also went on to defeat number 1 seed Gonzaga.

-Did anyone, truthfully, believe Wisconsin would loose to Harvard?  The Badgers have solid talent and a very good coach Bo Ryan.  Watching Wisconsin struggle to execute their offense and hit jump shots was surprising.   

-Kansas State was one of the most athletic and underrated teams in the NCAA tournament field.  But   La Salle came into this game after winning the opening round/play-in game with the attitude that they could win any game.  A confident underdog is always dangerous and Kansas State didn’t play up to their potential.  And I was the guy who had Kansas State reaching the Elite Eight; that was a bad call.  Congrats to a hard working, talented La Salle team that got to the Sweet 16.

-Missouri and Colorado were two athletic teams that were considered top five teams in their respective conferences.  But both struggled against teams that presented bad matchups that they could not overcome.  It appeared both teams went into desperation mode and got away from what got them into the tournament.  But the two schools that defeated them, Colorado State and Illinois respectively, didn’t make it past the round of 32.

-UNLV had the dubious task of facing a team they defeated during the regular season at a “neutral site” that is within driving range of that opponent’s campus.  It was practically a home game for the California Bears and the weakness of UNLV was exposed: traditional point guard.  With all of their great skill players the Rebels had no one to run the offense and no one stepped up to be a leader on defense. 

I was right about: Florida Gulf Coast,  Oregon, Michigan, Marquette

-Why did I pick FGCU to make it to the Sweet 16?  Because I thought their style of play matched up well against Georgetown, San Diego State and Oklahoma.  With excellent athletes, good defense, and high intensity offense translates to many opponents because they do not have a surplus of NBA talent.  Also, FGCU beat the Miami Hurricanes earlier this season.  They passed my “eye test” and maybe I was one of the few people who thought so.

-Oregon was seeded so low by the NCAA committee it was pathetic.  Oregon was inconsistent through out the season, but part of that was due to injuries.  What Oregon had that their opponents Oklahoma State and St. Louis didn’t have was aggressive rebounders.  Oregon was very underrated and they showed they did not deserve to be a 12 seed after being one of the top teams from the PAC-12 this past season.

-Picking Michigan and Marquette wasn’t exactly a major reach since they are 4 seeds and well-known good teams.     But there were those who doubted them because they had tough matchups.  Marquette had to survive near defeats to Davidson and Butler.  Meanwhile Michigan showed that they are ready to handle any challenge put in front of them.  Having talented guards and forwards are the staples of what has gotten Michigan and Marquette this far.  It will be interesting to see if their talent can help them continue their journey in the NCAA tournament.

Minnesota and UCLA fire their head coaches, but why?

I was not too surprised when UCLA fired Ben Howland but I didn’t agree with the move.  Howland, who had a run of three straight Final Four appearances but there were those in the administration at UCLA who felt Howland had overstayed his welcome and he was not what they school wanted in the long run.  But who will take the position?  VCU’s Shaka Smart is not leaving Virginia and Brad Stevens is happy to stay at Butler.  I also do not see FGCU’s head coach leaving no income tax and suburban Fort Meyers, Florida for Los Angeles.  UCLA will have to do an exhaustive search to find a coach who can be the coach and recruiter than is needed to match the reputation and history of UCLA.

Meanwhile Minnesota fired the best caliber head coach in the school’s history.  Tubby Smith helped resurrect the reputation of the Minnesota basketball program that was marred by scandal in the 1990’s.  Smith brought credibility to the basketball program and the school.  But they school did not put out the work to support him.  The facilities have not been upgraded in over a decade while Smith is having to recruit against great basketball programs like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Indiana.  Firing a great coach like Smith makes me question the perspective and outlook of the Minnesota athletic department that over the last ten years had struggles in many of their team sports’ programs.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh loses in the first round with a team that had more talent on their team than UCLA and Minnesota but their head coach Jamie Dixon loses in the first game in the tournament.  Dixon gets a long term contract extension.  Smith wins a game in the tournament with Minnesota but he gets fired.  Something is wrong with this picture.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Top Ten Thursday: Top Ten NFL Free Agency "Busts"

The NFL Offseason is here and free agency has had some surprises already.  But I cannot escape the memories of past free agency “busts”.  So, its Thursday and its time for my Top Ten for the week.  Lets review my list of Top Ten NFL Free Agency “Fails” from past off-seasons.

10. Jeff Garcia (Left the San Francisco 49ers, Signs with Cleveland Browns in 2004)

After being selected to the Pro Bowl three times in four years, Garcia was a hot commodity when he hit the free agent market in 2004.  The Cleveland Browns coveted a talented starting Quarterback after years of debacles at that position.  But signing Garcia to a 4 year, 25 million dollar contract didn’t fix anything.  Garcia was 3-7 as a starter and played mediocre.  Garcia showed though that the problem was the Browns, not him, because he resurrected his career in 2006 when he played stellar football for the Philadelphia Eagles then became a Pro Bowler again in 2007 in Tampa under the guidance of QB guru Jon Gruden. 

9. Ahman Green (Left Green Bay Packers, Signed with Houston Texans in 2007)

Green was a consistent performer in Green Bay rushing for 1,000 yards six times in seven years.  In 2007 the Houston Texans were still in the “football wilderness” trying to find the key to being a winning team in the NFL.  They thought one of keys to winning would be a good running back.  But when Houston gave Green a four year, 23 million dollar deal they did not know that Green would never again rush for more than 300 yards in a single season.  Maybe with a last name like “Green” he was only meant to ever be successful in “Green Bay”.  Of course, getting older and playing a position in the NFL that gets a lot of punishment might be a better explanation for Green’s career downturn.

8. Desmond Howard  (Left Green Bay Packers, Signed with Oakland Raiders in 1997)

After leading the NFL in Punt Return Yards and Touchdowns, Desmond Howard had a breakout game in the Super Bowl.  His 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown set the tone for the Packers as they would win Super Bowl XXXI.  That offseason Oakland Raiders pursued Howard hard and signed him to a four year, six million dollar deal.  While this is the smallest deal of the “fails” on this list, what made Howard’s tenure in Oakland a “bust” was the fact that the Raiders tried to convert Howard in to a playmaker at Wide receiver.  And the Raiders failed.  Interesting that Howard would return to the NFC after two seasons in Oakland and THEN he got selected to the Pro Bowl as a member of the Detroit Lions in 2000.

7. Nnamdi Asomuga (Left Oakland Raiders, Signed with Eagles in 2011)

There was a time in the NFL when Asomugha was in the discussion as one of the top defensive backs in the NFL.  After an season with eight interceptions then three straight Pro Bowl selections, Nnamdi was considered one of the top free agents available in 2011.  Asomugha got paid by the Philadelphia Eagles but that investment didn’t pay off on the football field.  Despite snagging four interceptions in two seasons Asomugha played average at best and never lived up to the hype of him as an elite cornerback.  He got beat on numerous plays and after two seasons the Eagles released him back into the world of free agency.

6. Elvis Grbac (Left Kansas City, Signed with Baltimore Ravens in 2001)

Elvis Grbac was coming off the best season of his career and a Pro Bowl selection.  People in the media thought Grbac was entering the prime of his career.  The Baltimore Ravens were looking to upgrade at Quarterback after Head Coach Brian Billick expressed his frustration with the previous starting Quarterback Trent Dilfer even though the team just won the Super Bowl.  When Grbac arrived in Baltimore he made the bold statement “This is a great team…I am going to make it better.”  Instead, Grbac played mediocre throwing 15 touchdowns and 18 interceptions and was outplayed by older, backup QB Randall Cunningham when Grbac got injured mid-season.  After losing in the playoffs, the Ravens asked Grbac to restructure his contract to help the Ravens with cap room, Grbac was indignant and the Ravens released him.  Shortly thereafter, Grbac retired unceremoniously. 

5. Larry Brown (Left Dallas Cowboys, signed with Oakland Raiders in 1996)

Another Super Bowl MVP who got a payday from the Oakland Raiders.  In Super Bowl XXX Larry Brown had the great fortune of being the “other cornerback” opposite of Deion Sanders and because the Steelers didn’t gameplan to avoid Larry Brown, he ended up with 2 interceptions and a Super Bowl MVP.  So when Larry Brown was given a five year, 12.5 million dollar contract, Brown should have given Deion Sanders a cut of that money.  Brown had more interceptions in that Super Bowl than the rest of his career, 2 in the Super Bowl, 1 in next three seasons.   

4. Alvin Harper (Left Dallas Cowboys, Signed with Buccaneers in 1995)

Another Dallas Cowboy who couldn’t perform up to the expectations of a big free agency contract.  After four seasons in Dallas Harper signed a four year, 10.6 million dollar contract and was expected to be the Buccaneers top receiver.  In two seasons in Tampa he caught three touchdowns total and was out of the league within four years.  Harper found out how hard it is to rack up big statistics and win games when you don’t have Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith as teammates.

3. Dana Stubblefield (Left san Francisco 49ers, Signed with Washington Redskins in 1998)

From 1993 to 1997 as a San Francisco 49er Stubblefield was a Pro Bowl selection three times and recorded 15 sacks in 1997.  In 1998 he received a six year, 36 million dollar deal under the expectations he would continue to be a great player.  Instead Stubblefield had a total of seven sacks and 87 tackles.  Underwhelming numbers for a guy who was making an average salary of six million per year.  Ironically he returned to the 49ers after being released by the Redskins and in two seasons Stubblefield produced a total of seven sacks and 53 tackles.  Seems like he should have never left San Francisco.

2. Jeff George (Left Minnesota Vikings, Signed with Washington Redskins in 2000)

Another free agency bust for the Redskins happened a couple years later when they didn’t realize Jeff George was “fool’s gold”.  After a surprising 12 game run in Minnesota when George racked up 2,816 passing yards and 23 touchdowns in just 12 games, he got “rewarded” a four year, 18 million dollar contract and the starting QB job in Washington.  He proceeded to throw 7 touchdowns, 9 interceptions in 8 games over two seasons and had confrontations with members of the media and the Redskins coaching staff.  The former number one overall draft selection has not played in a NFL regular season game since 2001.

1. Albert Haynesworth (Left Tennessee Titans, Signed with Washington Redskins in 2009)

For the Redskins, Haynesworth was more than just another free agency “bust”, he was an epic failure after signing a seven year, 100 million dollar contract.  Within three years Haynesworth found himself on the outside looking in as NFL teams banished him for his lack of work ethic, bad character, and his poor performance.  After being selected to the Pro Bowl in two consecutive seasons and racking up a total of 14.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, Haynesworth was obviously only in it for the money.  He made sure he worked the system and got around 42 million of that 100 million dollar deal he signed.  Apparently buying boats and criticizing other players was a better use of Haynesworth’s than playing up to expectations or his abilities.   

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday Sports Round Up: NFL Free Agency

Day 2 of NFL Free Agency and even a "Sports Geek" like myself is having trouble keeping up.  So I am keeping this as round as simple as possible...

Wes Welker heads to Denver

Whatever the breakdown in the relationship between the New England Patriots organization and Wes Welker, that breakdown turned out to be a benefit for the Denver Broncos.   According to reports Welker will be a new target at the price of 12 million over 2 years.  Not a bad deal for a guy who has been one of the top 5 receivers in the league for the last several years.  You think Peyton Manning had a great year last season just wait and see what Peyton does with Tom Brady’s ex-favorite target.   

Danny Amendola Replaces Welker in New England

Amendola has been compared to Wes Welker and the comparisons are abit uncanny.  Both went to Texas tech University, started their NFL careers as talented Special Team return specialists who were converted in talented Wide Receivers who led their former teams in receptions.  And, of course, both guys are under 6 feet tall.  But at 27 years of age, Amendola was considered to be more valuable to the Patriots compared to the 31 year old Welker.  Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh Daniels featured Amendola when he was head coach in St. Louis so it is easy to think that McDaniels told management that Amendola could replace Welker in their offense.

Reggie Bush enhances the Lions offense

The Detroit Lions made a major upgrade by signing Reggie Bush to a 4 year, 16 million dollar contract.  The Lions, who have been in search of a talented, consistent running back since the retirement of Barry Sanders, have finally landed a talented running back with a track record.  The last couple seasons Bush has grown as a player on the field and in the locker room showing his value as starting NFL running back.  The Lions have upgraded their offense by gaining a balanced offense and taking pressure off QB Matthew Stafford and record-breaking WR Calvin Johnson.


Mike Wallace gets paid in Miami

Watching Mike Wallace’s press conference was comparable to listening to a guy who is exciting about getting a nice, new car for his birthday: “Im excited to be here”, “I love the south”, “This offense is going to be exciting”, “Good, young group of guys”, and my favorite “next season is going to be exciting”.  With his new money, Wallace should definitely buy a Theasaurus.  Meanwhile, this is a solid move for the Dolphins in get one of the top speed receivers in the NFL who can stretch the field and has a track record of scoring touchdowns.  But losing Reggie Bush means the Dolphins need help at running back but whether they address that need through free agency or the draft, only time will tell.

Buffalo Bills show Ryan Fitzpatrick the door

After giving him a chance as a starting quarterback the last couple seasons the Bills were dissatisfied with the Harvard graduate who had almost double the interceptions compared to touchdowns during his tenure in Buffalo.  The irony is that Fitzpatrick had trouble with consistency while playing for an offensive minded coach in Chan Gailey.  Ultimately, their new head coach Doug Marrone wanted to start fresh so expect the Bills to draft a quarterback in this years draft and don’t be surprised if that QB drafted is a guy who ran Marrone’s offense at Syracuse: Ryan Nassib.  Meanwhile, expect Fitzpatrick to have a future as a solid backup QB somewhere in 2013.


Chip Kelly sends a message in his first NFL offseason

After releasing Nnamdi Asomough, Cullen Jenkins, and Mike Patterson, the Eagles have signed Nose Tackle Isaac Sopoaga, Cornerback Bryant Fletcher, Safety Patrick Chung, and Tight End James Casey.  What do all of these new Eagles have in common?  Versatile and talented players who did not demand big money while being willing to buy into Kelly’s vision for the 2013 Eagles.  After leaving the University of Oregon the big question was how would Chip Kelly handle the NFL and the simple answer is he is taking a page out of Patriots playbook concerning free agency.  Kelly, who was brought in many years ago to consult the Patriots on the best way to utilize their hurry up offense, seems to have taken some tips; especially the idea that big name stars are not important to be a winning team.  Converting a roster to compliment Kelly’s offense and defense systems is always a process that takes some bold moves to make happen.


Is it “Culture Change” or “Rebuilding” in Baltimore after winning the Super Bowl?

Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retire, Danelle Ellerbe and Paul Kruger bolt for “greener pastures”, Anquan Boldin was traded away for low value draft pick, and Ed Reed is testing his value in the free agency market.  We hear all the time from the sports media about how “great” and “smart” Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is and his track record shows he is a good talent evaluator in the NFL draft.  But Ravens fans have to wonder “what is the plan” because the Ravens have been unloading players as opposed to rebuilding for another run at the Super Bowl.  If the Ravens miss the playoffs next season the fans and media will point at Joe Flacco’s 6 year, 120 million contract as the reason why the team couldn’t afford any talent that was needed to win football games.

So who is left in free agency

Well as of early Wednesday night, there is still a plethora of talent to be signed in free agency.  2012 St Louis Rams Steven Jackson and Brandon Gibson are seeing what is out there for them away from the team that drafted them.  Multiple time Pro Bowlers James Harrison and Charles Woodson looking for new teams as their careers begin the reach the “twilight years”.  Talented young cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Sean Smith are seeing how much teams value their services.  Menawhile talented veterans with some miles on their careers, Dwight Freeney, Adrian Wilson, Bernard Pollard and John Abraham, all looking for new homes after their old teams considered them “expendable”.  And of course, Greg Jennings and Ahmad Bradshaw are two former Pro Bowlers who have had injury issues in the past that are hanging over their heads as they search for new football homes.  The NFL landscape is constantly changing as the balance of power shifts as players pick new homes and teams have to worry about salary cap restrictions.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday Sports Round Up: Anquan Boldin, Percy Harvin, and New Jersey High School Basketball

"Back to work Monday" and its time for me to talk about whats on my mind in the sports world:

Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin get traded to the NFC West

The Baltimore Ravens may have won the Super Bowl but the San Francisco 49ers just made sure they won’t repeat in one of the biggest steals in NFL history.  The Ravens traded Boldin to the reigning NFC Champions for a 6th round pick.  Yes, the Ravens trade a 3-time Pro Bowler who has seven receiving touchdowns in 11 playoff games and for his career has 772 receptions, 10, 165 receiving yards and 58 Touchdowns for a sixth round draft pick?!?  This is insane!  This comes on the same day that Ravens “franchise QB” Joe Flacco said “Without him, we don't win the Super Bowl. He's a huge part of this team and someone I want to see back” and his teammate Torrey Smith tweeted “This business is BS at times”.

Meanwhile, the 49ers rival in the NFC West the Seattle Seahawks traded a first round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings for wide receiver Percy Harvin.  The deal is contingent on Harvin signing a contract extension.  Viking MVP Running Back Adrian Peterson reacted to the trade by stating: “The best all around player I ever seen or you'll ever see! Goes to Seattle! I feel like I just got kicked in the stomach. Several times!!!,"  Harvin, a one-time Pro Bowler who has dealt with physical issues over the last few years is still in his mid-20’s and has still not reached his potential yet.

So the question is why would two franchises trade two Wide Receivers who were very popular with their teammates, both former Pro Bowlers, get such drastically different forms of compensation in return?  There’s an old saying “A product is worth what you are willing to pay for it”.  The reason the Vikings got a first round pick in return for Harvin is because the Seahawks were willing to “overpay” for him.  I know Harvin is a super talent but even the Buccaneers in 1987 only received a second and fourth round draft picks from the 49ers for future NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young. 

On the flip side, Boldin is only in his early 30’s and is one of the top wide receivers in football yet Baltimore only got a sixth round draft choice for him.  Yet the Ravens traded a third and fourth round draft picks to the Arizona Cardinals in 2010 for Boldin, who at the time was the second best receiver on the Cardinals roster.  So when did Boldin’s value depreciate so rapidly?  I doubt that the best the Ravens could get in return for Boldin was a sixth round pick. 

The reality is that Smith is right, football is a business.  But even “good” business people make bad decisions.  The Ravens gave up a top tier wide receiver that is getting paid below market value salary for mediocre compensation while the Vikings traded away a top tier talent to the highest bidder.  The real winner in all of this is the 49ers while the biggest loser is the Ravens.  Funny how fast fortunes can change.  The Ravens won Super Bowl 47 with Anquan Boldin but they also enabled the 49ers to potentially become a dynasty by giving him to them and this all happened with the last six weeks!


Atlantic City High School Boys and Ocean City High School Girls win state titles

Congratulations to Atlantic City Boys and Ocean City Girls for their state championship wins on Sunday.  As both teams head in the New Jersey Tournament of Champions, each team has unique challenges ahead them but seasons that should be celebrated.

Ocean City won big on Sunday over Jefferson Township 50-37, the first time they have won a state title in school history.  It was truly a team effort as their star player Julia Duggan sat out most of the first half due to foul trouble.  Seniors Mary Kate Mateer and Natalie Landi both stepped up big for the Lady Red Raiders.  Mateer scored 14 points in the first half while Natalie Landi finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.  Landi also hit a 30 foot 3 point at the buzzer as the 3rd Quarter ended that was like a dagger demoralizing Jefferson Township while energizing the Ocean City fans.

This is the ultimate team victory.  OCHS girls’ seniors step up this season after last years’ team failed to win the state title.  While last season’s team was more talented, this year’s Ocean City girls really came together as a unit and got stronger down the homestretch when they were forced to learn how to win without their star Julia Duggan.  Freshman Nicole Piergross and Olivia Briggs had big contributions throughout the season while senior Katie Johnson provided great leadership.

Atlantic City Boys’ road to winning a second consecutive state title was accomplished also when their guys came together as a team.  Head Coach Gene Allen got his team to buy into a system where he would play 10 players each game and would apply a full court press defense that I would refer to as “40 minutes of Hell-Light” (since the style reminded me of Nolan Richardson’s 1994 University of Arkansas team)  Many of the players for ACHS would have been star players if they were at other schools but Dayshawn Reynolds, Ga-Bril Chandler, Isiah Graves,  Dennis White, and Jahleem Montague all decided that winning a state title for the second straight season was more important than putting up big statistics from game to game.  Also, ACHS receive consistent contributions from players off the bench such as Tashard Reynolds, Dezja Chase, and Lamar Thomas all season long.  On Sunday Atlantic City came from behind and beat Linden High School 6-0-54, capping off a 29-1 season for the Vikings.

As both teams head into the New Jersey Tournament of Champions Ocean City Girls and Atlantic City Boys should take pride in their accomplishments this season.  For those unfamiliar with New Jersey’s setup, the easier comparison is the NJTOC is similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament Elite 8.  Whether they either school wins or not, getting into the NJTOC is a major accomplishment.