I’m sorry, I’m not sorry

May 12, 2009

Glen “Big Baby” Davis of the Boston Celtics probably saved his team’s season with a buzzer-beating jumper to win Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday in Orlando. Had Davis missed, the Celtics would have been facing a 3-1 deficit and their hopes for a repeat would have been over.
While it’s understandable that Orlando fans wouldn’t be happy about Davis’ winning jumper, it’s unfathomable that one Magic fan demanded and received an apology from Big Baby.
What did the former LSU star do wrong? He had the temerity to celebrate the biggest moment of his professional career by running toward his team’s bench to celebrate with teammates.
En route, Davis bumped into 12-year-old Nicholas Provetti, who had court-side seats and was standing a step behind the sideline as the final seconds unfolded.
Davis didn’t know young Provetti down, but he did — HORRORS — knock the lad’s ballcap off his head.
And for that, the kid’s dad, Ernest Provetti, sent an email to the NBA demanding that Davis apologize.
The elder Provetti said Davis acted like a “raging animal” and exhibited “no regard for fans’ personal safety.”
Of course, Davis apologized, because that’s what we do now if someone’s offended, no matter how silly their complaint.
And, make no mistake, Mr. Provetti — not the 12-year-old — is acting like a spoiled child on this one.
His kid should have gone to school the next day bragging to his buddies about getting on SportsCenter, about having court-side seats, about seeing a Game 4 that ranks as one of the best playoff games of this season.
Instead, his dad makes him out to be a whiney piece of china irrevocably damaged by no more contact that he encounters in the hallway of his junior high school between periods.
Can we cease with the incessant apologies for every infraction, real or imagined? Sometimes, things just happen. Not everything is a lawsuit waiting to happen, or shouldn’t be.
It wouldn’t shock me if Mr. Provetti is an attorney and his kid will become Exhibit A.
He probably has a neck brace on right now.
To complain about Davis, in the excitement of the moment, inflicting any kind of real or imagined damage is ludicrous.
Next time, kid, you and your dad can sit in the nice, safe balcony and watch the game through opera glasses.
In this instance, it’s your dad who’s being the big baby.

It might get worse before it gets better

May 5, 2009

If you’re a fan of Big Ten football, your 401K might not be the only thing that fails to bounce back at the speed you’d prefer.
Here on Cinco de Mayo we’re exactly four months from the start of the 2009 conference season and already there are signs the league won’t be any more competitive nationally than it was a year ago.
You remember last year? Sure, you do….like a recurring nightmare that haunts you every night for, oh, about six years.
The Big Ten’s record in bowl games over the last half-dozen seasons sank to 15-28 following a worst-in-history 1-6 showing last December and January.
The post-season mark was only part of the problem. During the regular season, Ohio State got hammered by USC (35-3), Pitt beat Iowa, Notre Dame, Utah and Toledo defeated Michigan and Michigan State lost to California.
Optimists figured things had to get better in 2009, but the prospects don’t look great for that.
Ohio State lost the guts of the team that went 10-3 when James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Brian Robiskie, Marcus Freeman, Alex Boone, Brian Hartline and Donald Washington departed for the NFL.
Penn State, which suffered its own embarrassment at the hands of USC in the Rose Bowl (38-24), lost most of its offensive line, defensive backfield and wide receiving corp.
There appears no other team capable of keeping OSU or Penn State from being the class of the Big Ten in 2009, so the league could be even worse this year than it was a year ago.
Conference commissioner Jim Delany hopes that isn’t true, but even the guy paid to be the Big Ten’s No. 1 lobbyist concedes that “hoping and wishing doesn’t change reality.”
Delany was a guest Monday on The Big Show on Sports Radio 97.1 The Fan and said of the league’s 15-28 record in bowls over the previous six years: “I think it’s fair to look at any five-year period and draw conclusions. The conclusion you would draw is, we’ve played in a lot of big games and we didn’t win many of them in that time frame.
“I would also say that these things run in cycles. I remember in the 70s and 80s, the conference was primarily a Michigan-Ohio State conference. It didn’t win a national championship in those 20 years. It rarely won a Rose Bowl. It rarely played SEC teams.
“If you look at the last 15-to-20 years, we’ve won a couple of national championships (Michigan 1997, OSU 2002) and we’ve played for five. We’re about .500 against the SEC and a little under .500 in the Rose Bowl. We have four squads — Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin who are capable of playing elite games and winning elite games.”
Michigan didn’t play in the post-season last year for the first time since 1974 and OSU, Penn State and Wisconsin all lost their bowl games.
Since 2003, the Big Ten has gone 3-5, 2-5, 3-4, 3-3, 3-5 and 1-6 in bowls in succeeding years.
That’s six straight years without a single winning post-season record, meaning only three of the league’s coaches (Tressel, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Penn State’s Joe Paterno) were in the conference when it last won more bowl games than it lost.
“We’ve competed, sometimes close, sometimes not,” Delany said. “If Texas would argue that it was one of the best teams in the country last year, then I think Ohio State would have had an argument that it was in the same class as Texas. They weren’t in the same class as USC, and I’m not sure anybody was. But certainly, they did not show up out there. “…I just think we have to take our medicine until we go out and win. Ohio State won four BCS games in row, I think, before it went on the streak it’s on now. They won at Texas, played well against Notre Dame, Kansas State and beat Miami, so I think they have a lot to be thankful for. One way I look at it, as a player more than a commissoner, is that you should never be embarrassed about playing against the best.
“That’s what we do, whether it’s USC in Pasadena, Texas in Austin, LSU in New Orleans or Florida in (Glendale). We’re playing against the best and we’re not going to stop doing that. We’re not playing against the Little Sisters of the Poor in our bowl lineup. We’re moving teams up. You’re going to have patches, perhaps, where you’re not playing as well as you’d like.
“I don’t think we need to apologize for playing for championships. We’re going to keep playing against the best. In a 20-year period, you’re going to have five years where you don’t measure up as well as another five years. I think we’ve accomplished a lot and I think our coaches and playerrs are always looking for the next big game.”
Big Ten teams will have plenty of regular-season opportunities this year to gain some national respect.
Ohio State plays host to USC on Sept. 12.
In other games during the year, Illinois plays Missouri, at Cincinnati and home against Fresno State.
Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue play Notre Dame.
Minnesota plays California; Iowa plays Arizona and Wisconsin goes to Hawaii on Dec. 5.
The Badgers, though, are one of only two Big Ten teams that will play after Thanksgiving.
So, once again, the bulk of the league, and the bulk of its bowl teams, will have extended layoffs before post-season play because of a regular-season schedule that has them playing 12 consecutive weeks with no off week.
That changes next year, when the final week of the regular season falls after Thanksgiving and each team in the league gets a bye week.
“I believe the fact that we’ll be playing after Thanksgiving will help us a little bit,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said. “Now, the season will be prolonged a little. That will help us, but until we go win the big bowl games, we have to keep our mouths shut.
“I tell anybody who will listen, ‘The Big Ten Conference is just as good as any other conference. There are teams in this league who can play with anybody in the country. But on that certain day, we haven’t performed the way we’re capable of performing. I think all the coaches understand that until we go play and until we go win, we have to just bite the bullet.”

A bad dream of a draft

April 28, 2009

Did I dream this, or was Eric Mangini hired to coach the Cleveland Browns? I’m a little fuzzy on that, here in the wake of the NFL draft, given moves by the Browns that suggest Mangini might still be drawing a paycheck from the New York Jets. My guess is Manginius just made his greatest impact as Jets’ head coach some four months after his firing, allowing his old squad to draft USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with Cleveland’s fifth overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft.
Rather than take Sanchez, and use him to engage the Jets, Washington, San Franicisco and probably several other clubs in a bidding war, Mangini deals the pick to New York to move down to No. 17. Cleveland gained New York’s second-round pick, No. 52 overall, and three players to keep company the four other Jets Mangini missed so much since his firing that he signed them in free agency.
None of the Not-So-Magnificent Seven left a glaring hole in the Jets’ depth chart, but they will presumably help Mangini keep his new team from stumbling over itself in drills once minicamp commences. So, that’s something.
Knowing how badly New York wanted Sanchez, it’s a joke Mangini couldn’t pry another No. 1 pick from his old buddy, Jets’ GM Mike Tannenbaum. You just don’t hand a team in your own conference the franchise quarterback it lacks without making them pay a heavy price.
Imagine what Daniel Snyder, Washington’s deep pockets owner, would have surrendered to have Sanchez. Snyder, remember, is the guy who wanted to give the Bengals two No. 1 picks for Chad Ocho Cinco when he was Chad Johnson.
So now the Browns are as clueless as the Bengals.
No, wait…they’re more clueless than the Bengals, because the Bengals at least had the good sense to draft Rey Maualuga. The Browns passed on USC’s heat-seeking missile of a middle linebacker at No. 5, No. 17, No. 19, No. 21 and No. 36. Remember that when Maualuga is planting Brady Quinn/Derek Anderson like a tulip bulb over the next decade.
Mangini blew this draft, taking Cal center Alex Mack in round one and Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie with the first of three second-round picks. Mohamed Massaquoi of Georgia, another wideout, and Hawaii defensive end/linebacker David Veikune were the Browns’ other second-rounders.
Robiskie likely would have been available when Cleveland grabbed Massaquoi, so Maualuga should have been the pick at No. 36. And Pitt running back LeSean McCoy, Utah defensive end Paul Kruger or Iowa running back Shonn Greene would have been better picks than Veikune.
Since the new Browns came back into existence in 1999, they’ve drafted in the Top Five six of 11 years. It’s no wonder, thanks to drafts like this one, which pretty much guarantees they’ll be back draft in the Top Five — and blowing it — again next year at this time.

How Did I Miss This?

April 7, 2009

If you’re a golfer, you’ve no doubt hit an errant shot and spent time looking in futility for your ball in the rough. Then, when your time limit is just about up, you look back over the steps you’ve just taken and your ball is there behind you. I don’t know if that’s what they mean by hindsight being 20-20, but sometimes you can’t see something clearly until you’ve gone past it.
That’s how I feel about the North Carolina’s 89-72 humbling of Michigan State in the NCAA Championship game.
I should have seen that one coming, not because Carolina smoked MSU by 35 points in their first meeting during the ACC-Big 10 Shootout, but because Ohio State throttled the Spartans three weeks ago in the Big Ten Tournament’s second round.
Everything the Buckeyes did to MSU that day at Conseco Fieldhouse, everything OSU used to break to a double-digit lead in the second half and never look back, Carolina exploited for all to see on Monday night.
Invited to shoot from the perimeter, Michigan State couldn’t find the range from the three-point line against either the Buckeyes (3-for-21) or the Tar Heels (7-for-23).
Both teams cut off MSU’s penetration and forced Tom Izzo’s club to be a jump-shooting team, which is not its forte. Witness the Spartans’ 40% shooting against North Carolina and 38% shooting against Ohio State.
Both the Heels and OSU had length, not just inside, but on the perimeter, that gave MSU fits.
Shooting over Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Ed Davis proved just as troublesome for the Spartans as contending with OSU’s collection of similarly-sized, 6-5-to-6-7 wing players Evan Turner, Jon Diebler and William Buford.
While he’s a far different style player than North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson, Turner’s penetration against Michigan State led to the same easy baskets for himself and his teammates that Lawson and others his Carolina blue found once he drove into the lane.
So Michigan State’s season ended much the same, and for much the same reason, as its 82-70 loss to the Buckeyes in Indianapolis.
Had I been paying attention — not caught up in the karma of MSU authoring a fairy tale finish in front of its home folks — I would have seen it coming.

Is that all there is?

March 24, 2009

The loss to Sienna probably marked B.J. Mullens’ final game at Ohio State. The 7-footer came in heralded as the nation’s No. 1 recruit. He started two of 33 games, averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds. He was thoroughly outplayed by 6-9 Ryan Rossiter, who looks like the kid you put a Kick Me Hard sign on in the sixth grade.
Rossiter gave up three inches and 50 pounds to Mullens, but he had 16 points and 15 rebounds and was on the floor repeatedly scrapping for loose balls. Mullens acted, as he has all year, like he was allergic to hitting the floor. He loafed down court early in the game after Rossiter grabbed a defensive rebound. Rossiter scored in transition.
Here’s some advice, B.J.: Go to the NBA. Go now. Take the money and invest it wisely and help your family out of the poverty you overcame to get to Ohio State. The longer you play in college with the zero passion and effort you display, the lower your draft stock will go. Leave, before they find out the natural ability lavished upon you is locked inside a player who hasn’t yet – and maybe never will – figure out that it’s not anyone else’s responsibility to get that ability out of you.
It’s your responsibility.

SO, IT ENDS LIKE THIS

March 24, 2009

The indelible image of Ohio State’s 74-72 double-overtime loss to Sienna in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament appeared on the television screen for just a second or two. It took no longer for that glance at OSU coach Thad Matta — kneeling on the sideline, one hand clasped to his forehead, looking down at the floor — to perfectly summarize what was happening and what would occur the rest of the game.
Matta seemed to be saying, either, “I can’t believe we’re this bad,” or, “I can’t believe we’re this stupid.” He’d have been justified making either statement.
It’s likely about the thousandth time he’s said one or both of those things this season.
He won’t be subjected to such torture again for awhile, now that a 22-11 record is n the books, topped by a loss that underscored every shortcoming of this maddeningly-inconsistent, consistently-maddening team.
Sienna, undersized and out-talented, dominated Ohio State on the boards, 53-37. At the Saints’ end of the floor, there were 51 available rebounds. Sienna claimed 23 of them, including the first five offensive rebounds of the game before OSU put as much as a hand on any of those errant shots.
The Buckeyes committed 20 turnovers against a zone press Sienna ran all season, a press OSU knew was coming and had a week to scheme against.
Ohio State owned a 41-30 lead with 14 minutes remaining and went scoreless for the next four minutes to let all but two points of that lead melt away.
So, we had a failure to rebound, a failure to handle the basketball and a failure to close out a game — problems that arose with numbing regularity – coming together in a perfect storm of ineptitude.
That resulted in defeat on a night Ohio State could have and should have comfortably had it played with any poise, passion or execution.
Evan Turner was outstanding with 25 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. His five turnovers hurt, but that’s an outgrowth of Turner being asked to do everything on a team where everyone around him is fatally one-dimensional.
Jon Diebler was awful, shooting 2-of-12, including 2-of-11 from three-point range.
Dallas Lauderdale and B.J. Mullens were uninterested, combining for 7 rebounds in 56 collective minutes.
William Buford shot 4-of-12, showing for once that he could be dreadful in both halves, not just one.
Jeremie Simmons had four turnovers in 10 minutes.
P.J. Hill had more rebounds (8) than Lauderdale and Mullens combined. As always, Hill gave great effort. But his five turnovers against pressure were critical, and his his failure to foul at the end of regulation — when he was told to do so by Matta — allowed the tying three-point shot that ultimately proved OSU’s undoing.
I am very supportive of the Ohio State head coach and his staff. I have confidence they will adjust to the changing landscape of college basketball that conspired – with injuries and the transfer of Anthony Crater to South Florida – to leave this team woefully short of depth and talent.
Going forward, Matta needs to seriously question taking a potential one-and-done player. I don’t advocate making a policy against taking such players. In fact, I believe you probably need them to win a national championship, and that’s the goal.
But taking Mullens on the heels of Kosta Koufos on the heels of Greg Oden helped get Ohio State from the national title game into this predicament.
OSU fans would have howled had Matta not recruited Mullens, opting instead for Massillon Perry’s Kenny Freese. But Freese is going to be at Xavier for three or four years, and Mullens is likely gone to the NBA after one uninspired season in Columbus.
Basketball recruiting is unforgiving. One mistake, coupled with one early NBA entry, coupled with one unexpected injury, and a program will suffer.

There’s an incorrect perception among Ohio State fans that some “basketball schools” never suffer a down cycle. They did at North Carolina, and Matt Doherty was fired as a result. They did at Duke, not making the Sweet Sixteen for two years. It happens everywhere, with the best programs having the most difficult standards on what constitutes a “down” year.
It’s much, much easier to be great in football year-to-year. In football, players are forced to stay in school for at least three years. In football, you can recruit 20-25 players a year, and if you hit on 50% of your recruits becoming good-to-great players, that’s a fantastic success ratio.
If you bat 50% on basketball recruits, you’re never going to sustain success.
So it’s completely unfair to compare Thad Matta and the Ohio State basketball program to Jim Tressel and the Ohio State football program.
But it is not unfair to expect OSU to be a challenger for the Big Ten title four out of five years, to be a Sweet Sixteen team three out of five years, or to be a Final Four challenger every three-to-five years.
I believe Ohio State has hit and will continue to hit those goals, which makes watching what we watched Friday night all the more frustrating.

The Weekend in Indy

March 16, 2009

    Ohio State’s runner-up finish in the Big Ten Tournament caught me completely off guard. I doubted whether OSU could handle Wisconsin in its opener, let alone stun top-seeded Michigan State in the semifinals. The Buckeyes didn’t just defeat MSU, they dominated the Spartans, leading by as many as 17 points in the second half before coasting to an 82-70 victory.
    That’s right, 82 points — the most by OSU since scoring 91 at Indiana on Jan. 31.
    The win over MSU marked one of the few times Evan Turner received help from both Jon Diebler and William Buford in the same game. Also, B.J. Mullens and Dallas Lauderdale contributed inside, because the guards finally decided the big men were more than decorating accessories for the painted area near the basket.
     OK, that’s the good news of the weekend. As for the bad news…
     The loss to Purdue in the championship game was a very, very winnable game. OSU had 30 minutes to put it away and did not, which proved costly when the Boilermakers finally hit some three-point shots to establish a lead Evan Turner couldn’t overcome down the stretch.
    Turner says he’s coming back next season. I hope he truly feels that way and isn’t talked out of it by his family, friends or agents. The kid could be a monster player if he takes the summer to become a better ballhandler. Right now, he’s a high-wire act as a dribbler. To his credit, though, he is uncanny creating offense for himself. Not since Jay Burson in 1988 has an Ohio State team relied so completely and exclusively on one guy.
    Ohio State didn’t win the Big Ten Tournament, but Turner unquestionably proved over the weekend that he was jobbed in the league’s MVP voting that went to Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas. Lucas plays on a much deeper team than Turner, and MSU won the title by four games, so I get why Turner didn’t win. But if you’re picking the best player in the league, only a blindly-loyal Spartan would take Lucas over Turner.
   Turner does everything for Ohio State. If he couldn’t, this team would be next-to-last in the league behind everyone but Indiana.
   The Purdue loss underscored how weak OSU is at point guard. I love P.J. Hill’s attitude and effort. He gets the most out of his God-given abilities, so I have no quarrel with P.J.
    Jeremie Simmons? Not so much.
    The label on Simmons coming out of Mott Junior College was that he was a combo guard who could really shoot the three and could create for himself and others. The lesson: Don’t believe junior college hype.
    At that level, where the games are frequently in the 80s and 90s, careless turnovers aren’t as crippling. But in the Big Ten, where most every game is a root canal in the 50s or 60s, every mistake is magnified, and Simmons makes too many for my taste.
    He made at least four ill-advised passes in the Purdue game when the target of his pass wasn’t remotely open. Why throw it? Because Simmons is so unnerved by pressure he can’t wait to get rid of the basketball. Good defensive teams smell that like a shark does blood in the water, and Purdue is a very good defensive team.
    The Boilermakers put the heat on Simmons and he couldn’t handle it. Teams in the NCAA Tournament will only intensify the pressure, which isn’t a promising scenario for OSU.
    The other thing that bothered me about loss to Purdue involves freshman center B.J. Mullens.
    Those who listen to The Big Show on 97.1 The Fan www.971thefan.com/live/content/programming/bigshow.html know I have been a big Mullens defender this season. I thought Ohio State should have run its offense through him more this season, allowing Turner, Buford and Diebler to get their offense from passes out of the low post.
    It’s obvious Mullens has monster potential, but it’s just as obvious there’s something keeping him from being the force many expected when he entered OSU the No. 1 center recruit in the country.
    From talking to ex-players who attend practice, from reading between the lines of things Matta and his players say, it’s my suspicion the one thing holding Mullens back is the guy looking back at him from the mirror every morning.
    Anyone who read the excellent story on Mullens in The Columbus Dispatch last week www.dispatch.com/live/content/sports/stories/2009/03/08/bj_mullens_3-8.ART_ART_03-08-09_C1_BDD54JP.html?sid=101 is rooting for this kid to make it big. He appears to have everything he needs for a long, successful career in the NBA, except the inner drive to achieve. Trouble is, that’s the most important part of the equation. It’s ironic that while almost nothing in life has come easily for Mullens, perhaps things in basketball have come too easily.  He’s apparently never learned how hard he must work to access the potential inside him.
    Mullens simply doesn’t display the aggression and desire on the court that he’ll need to make it at the next level, let alone this one. If LeBron James work ethic is off the charts, despite his instant success in the NBA, what does that tell you about how hard B.J. Mullens is going to have to work to make it professionally?
   I’ve heard from ex-players I trust, who have been to practice, that the reason Mullens doesn’t start ahead of Dallas Lauderdale is because Mullens does not work hard in practice. You have to admire Matta for not compromising on his insistence that a player must earn his starting spot.
    Against Purdue, it looked to me like Mullens did not want to be there. My suspicion? Shortly after Mullens first went on the floor, Matta pulled him and chewed him out for allowing Nemanja Calasan to get inside position for an easy basket.
    B.J. turned into Big Jello after that, and the Buckeyes paid the price for it.
    I know some NBA team will draft Mullens on his potential. He’ll make a nice check for the first few years. But that might be the only contract he ever gets if he doesn’t learn how hard he must work to make it in professional basketball. Again, if LeBron works hour upon extra hour to hone his game — in season and out of season — what will be required of Mullens to successfully bang with Shaq, Yao and The Big Ticket?
    I hope someone with Mullens’ best interest is in his ear about that. If they’re not, he could easily go to the league and be back here in Columbus in four or five years.
    Ask yourself, who was a better college player, B.J. Mullens or former Buckeye Ken Johnson?
    Kenny was the Big Ten’s career shot-block leader, two-time conference defensive player-of-the-year and had a better array of offensive moves than B.J. Mullens does right now.
    Kenny never made it in the NBA beyond the journeyman level.
    If B.J. aspires to more than that — and I’m sure he does — then he better have a heart to heart with that man in the mirror.