Monday, April 16, 2018

A Boston For The Ages

Shocking, stirring, unbelievable, those words fit Meb Keflezighi's stunning victory at the 2014 Boston Marathon.  The 2018 edition of this fabled race doubled down on this notion.  Des Linden's win over a weather ravaged field proves the old adage of preparation beats talent.  And Yuki Kawauchi's win in the men's race simply amplified that.

First there's Linden, a former track standout from Arizona State, who headed straight to the Hansen Brothers' training group in Michigan after college to focus on the marathon.  Linden served notice in 2011 finishing a close but no cigar 2nd at Boston.  Two Olympic teams would follow but Linden didn't have a major marathon title to show for all of her success.

The win came complete with a shocking detour to help Shalane Flanagan after an emergency potty stop.  Linden slowed to help Flanagan make her way back to the lead pack after the 14 second bathroom break somewhere around mile 11.  Linden admitted she was thinking of dropping out and slowing down to help out Shalene got her head back in the game.

The weather God's gave the gritty Linden the kind of  awful conditions guaranteed to lay the Africans low.  Then there's the moment, the moment Des Linden had to know the race was hers.  She had followed Kenya's Glady Chesir in chasing down Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia after the Newton Hills.  Chesir made the mistake of showing weakness by glancing back just before mile 22.  That's when Linden struck, battling awful, freezing headwinds and rain to win in 2:39:54.  Chesir and Daska would drop out leaving second to an unheralded American Sarah Sellers.

As Linden blew away the women's field by more than four minutes, a drama was unfolding in the men's race were respected, but little thought of Yuki Kawauchi was racing his third marathon of the year, unheard in this day and age for world class runners.  Kawauchi was watching Kenya's Geoffrey Kirui falling apart after a massive attack on the Newton Hills.  The Japanese runner, who has run more sub 2:20 marathons (77) than any competitor in history, managed to close a 90 gap that Kirui had built up over the gradual descent leading to the finish.

With around two miles to go Kawauchi had reeled Kirui in and the race was over.  The Kenyan looked to be jogging over the final miles while Kawauchi seized the day winning in 2:15:58, more than seven minutes off of his lifetime best.  For running fans Kawauchi is especially sweet as he works at a regular job and races often, without any sponsorship support. 

Linden victory follows Flanagan's New York City win marking the clear return of American women as a force to reckoned with on the world marathon stage.  And Kawauchi's improbable win ranks on my list up there along with Amby Burfoot's unlikely victory at Boston 50 years ago.  It was a win for a runner who likes to race, not the time trialing marathons we've come to expect at other world majors like London and Berlin.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Small Ball, Winning Ball

Almost four months ago I wrote that the University of Kansas basketball team was one injury away from being a .500 team.  Reflecting back, I'm amazed at how right I was about this team.  It was all about the guards.  But this season unfolded in ways I could have never imagined.

Devonte Graham more than filled Frank Mason's roll as floor general.  Graham proved to be a better fit than Mason with this guard heavy bunch.  He should win the Wooden Award.  No one played more minutes for Kansas since Danny Manning roamed the hardwood.

Then there was the heralded transfer Malik Newman who finally turned into Malik Newman over the last 30 days.  LeGerald Vick was up and down all season.  Fortunately he was mostly up when it counted.  And finally there's Svi Mykhailiuk.  Yeah, he shot great all season and he learned to drive to the bucket but what I think was overlooked was his massive improvement on the defensive end of the court.  Svi's effort on Sunday against Duke's Marvin Bagley was the cherry to his season on defense.

So the guards gave us everything we should have expected.  I never dreamed that Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio DeSouza would be major contributors.  Lightfoot is fearless.  He's got hops and simply refuses to back down on either end of the court.  I was right about Billy Preston.  He never saw a minute and it somehow didn't derail the season.  I was wrong about Doke Azubuike.  It turns out that he has more offensive skills than Greg Ostertag.  Sure, all he does is dunk but he his offensive game is pretty slick. 

The reason Kansas is in the Final 4 is Silvio DeSouza.  His transformation from a high school senior looking completely lost in his first few minutes in January to being a confident, physically compelling post presence is nothing short of miraculous.  Regardless of what happens in San Antonio the basketball future for the Jayhawks will remain bright indeed.  And Bill Self doesn't get enough credit for that.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

For What It's Worth

Estero's Hugh Brittenham leading Fort Myers Kyle Skinner 
All I hear is media silence as a history making season of track and field is unfolding as spring breaks in Southwest Florida.  Hugh Brittenham is setting records.  As of Saturday night it appears the Estero junior sits atop the national outdoor standings for both the 800 and 1600 meter runs.  It's all as a result of an epic Friday/Saturday double at the FSU Relays.

Brittenham has been on fire since the start of the season yet there's been nary a mention in the local newspapers or from the television folks.  Of course, the local sports journalists don't see much to get excited about when it comes to the sport. But when a kid in your own backyard is clawing his way to the top of the national rankings you would think there would be some excitement.

I was surprised Wednesday night when Hugh and his mother Angela stopped by our Wednesday night track workout to check out some shoes and go for a jog.  As we went at a pace that had to be achingly slow for him, Hugh shared with me how his outdoor season was going and I could tell he was really excited by a feeling that he was on the cusp of some big things.  I took note.  I knew he was going to run a fast 800 but I wasn't sure what he could do in the 1600.

Friday went probably as well as he could expect.  Brittenham broke his own school record winning in 1:51.92.  Looking at his splits it appears that with a faster opening 400 he could dip under 1:50 this spring.  He made it clear to me Wednesday that is his primary goal.

I wasn't holding out much hope that he would win the 1600 Saturday afternoon.  He was facing a couple of seniors who had both dipped under 9 minute on Friday in the 3200, outstanding times to be sure.  But Brittenham unleashed a sub 60 final 400 to win in 4:12.02, breaking Eric Montoya's four year old school record by a couple of seconds and marking himself as the best middle distance runner in Southwest Florida history.  Remember, he's only a junior.

I have no idea how fast he can run.  Brittenham doesn't run more than 50 miles a week.  And let's be honest, Southwest Florida isn't the best environment to produce middle distance or distance runners.  The brutal summer weather makes big miles insufferable.  Then there are the lack of hills.  It's pancake flat.  Hills help make great runners.  I think that causes some runners to runners to put in too much quality to make up for the lack of hills.  I'm not saying that's the case with Brittenham.

But based on his progress since his freshman year, I expect big things.  If he can stay healthy, I see no reason why Brittenham can't run under 1:48 and 4:05 his senior year.  If he can accomplish that, it would make Hugh not just the greatest middle distance/distance runner in Southwest Florida history, but it would him one of the greatest to ever come out of the state of Florida.  Heaven forbid he should decide to take a serious crack at the 3200!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

JoJo

I was late to the game as a boy when it came to sports.  I really couldn't give a hoot about professional or college athletics.  That all began to change in the late summer of 1965 when I became aware of an awesome southpaw, Sandy Koufax.  I quickly became fixated on the Dodgers' World Series match with the Minnesota Twins.  Koufax winning game seven on two days rest really started to stir my passion for sports.  But it took a night in late February to really cement my love.

It was a Kansas basketball game.  My family had made the trip to Lawrence from Abilene as my oldest sister was to perform with a high school dance troupe at half time.  I watched the game on television from 9th Street and Wellington Drive in the home of Jack Mason, a family friend.  It was the first time I had ever watched the Jayhawks.  It was the first time I ever saw JoJo White.

The Jayhawks blew out Nebraska that night 110 to 73 and I was hooked. Walt Wesley and JoJo White were my newest heroes. I cried when Kansas lost in double overtime to Texas Western (UTEP) due to an officials call that JoJo had stepped on the boundary on a game winning shot.

I begged my mother for a chance to see Kansas play in person.  I finally saw JoJo and the Jayhawks at Allen Field House in January 1968 against Iowa State.  It was an overwhelming experience.  I sat high up in the massive structure, the players looked like ants scrambling around on the raised court.  I remember watching JoJo take his familiar off center stance at the free throw line.  I remember the public address announcer telling the fans of Phog Allen's presence at the game.  It was about then I discovered that the legendary coach lived across the street from my grandmother, but that's another story.

JoJo was why I was at that game.  I remember how disheartened I was when the team was bounced by Dayton at the then prestigious NIT tournament that year.  And then how when JoJo had used up his eligibility, Kansas couldn't even make it out of the first round of the NIT.  White left Kansas twice being named an All American twice and with a gold medal from the 1968 Olympics.

White went on to enjoy a great career with the Boston Celtics where he helped win two NBA titles.  With his passing Tuesday night most of the obituaries and tributes centered on his place in basketball history and his run with Boston.

I'm here to state without question that JoJo White is the best point guard in Kansas history.  He played for a very good coach, Ted Owens, who ruined more guards than any coach in NCAA history.  Owens believed in feeding the big men and was quick to sit guards who missed open jump shots.  White could have averaged at least five points a game more if Owens had been more lax.

White could defend, almost as well as one of the other great guard's during Ted's tenure, Darnell Valentine.  The only other point guard that belongs in the conversation of these two is Jacque Vaughn.  He was a great distributor of the ball and he could score.  Jacque lacked the defensive chops of the other two.  Others might argue that Kirk Hinrich, Sherron Collins or Frank Mason should rate as number one.  White was the best ever.  He succeeded in an offense that wasn't suited to his skills.  He was a tremendous player in the NBA, something the other five guards we've mentioned can't claim.  And finally, he was a two-time All American, something that none of the others can claim.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ray

Ray Thomas is dead.  Those of my age will remember him as the flute player from The Moody Blues.  He was 76.  Why write about him?  Because I'm angry that he won't be part of the Moodies long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Moody Blues were as big a band as any for a six year run from 1967 with the release of the ground breaking "Days of Futures Past" until the band's "Seventh Sojourn" in 1973.  Thomas only stood behind Jethro Tull's, Ian Anderson, as rock's great flute player.  Go listen to "Legend of a Mind" or his playing on the timeless "Nights in White Satin" and you'll hear some great progressive rock and roll.  They filled a place in British rock just a step behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who.  The band sold out arenas.

For whatever reason, the mastermind of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jan Wenner, hated The Moody Blues and kept them out of the hall for more than 20 years.  A lot of critics found the music created by The Moody Blues just to slick and pretentious.  But beneath the sheen of what was hated were some great songs, most of them penned by Justin Hayward, a couple of nuggets by the late Ray Thomas.

I had the great fortune of meeting Ray Thomas, Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge some 14 years ago when they opened one of their tours in Fort Myers.  It was one of the last tours Thomas was to make with the band as his health began to go into decline.  Ironically, the Moodies will be playing in Fort Myers this month.  I have seen the band more than a half dozen times.  As much as I want to go see them one final time, I won't ante up the money to see them in Germain Arena, where the acoustics are simply awful.

I was looking forward to seeing them, together, with Ray Thomas and hopefully with original keyboard man Mike Pinder, at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Now that won't happen and that makes me very sad.  Ray deserved better and so did his band mates. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Small Ball

Neal Mask
Ranked second in the nation as I write this, the University of Kansas basketball team is just one injury away from being a .500 team.  Kansas hasn't been this thin in the frontline since Neal Mask and Randy Canfield constituted what passed for big men.  Oh, that was the 1971-72 team that featured All-American Bud Stallworth scoring 25.3 points per game.

I can't quite get my head around this year's version of Jayhawk basketball.  K.U. hasn't played a seven man rotation in more than 25 years.  Yes, that will change assuming big man Billy Preston isn't damaged goods due to his choice of automobiles and with the addition of Sam Cunliffe at mid-season.  Then there's the promise of Silvio De Sousa who could also join the team at mid-season which would help bolster the roster of big men.  But we have to live with what Kansas is here and now.

It's all about the guards.  It's hard to believe that Kansas can lose an All-American guard in Frank Mason and look even better in the backcourt,  You could see how much Kansas missed Mason's physicality when the Jayhawks played Kentucky.  Mason could drive the lane and draw fouls with artful ease.  This year the Jayhawks will live by the three and die by the three.

Devonte Graham will surely be an All American this year as Mason was the year before.  He looks more comfortable running the point, not forced to defer to anyone this season.  Syl Mykhailiuk is finally showing what seemed so promising when he was a 17-year-old freshman.  Syl is shooting the ball from beyond the arc with authority and doing a decent job of driving the lane.  He still can't play defense to save himself.

Lagerald Vick continues to show amazing progress for such an unheralded recruit.  His length makes him a defensive marvel, he can shoot from the three ball with ease and he's amazingly competent ball handler.  Vick along with transfer Malik Newman makes for a lethal four guard Jayhawk line up.  Newman isn't the best shooter from the outside but I love his mid-range shooting ability.  The four guards of Graham, Mykhailiuk, Vick and Newman can run teams into the ground.

And then there's the surprise of this young season, freshman guard Marcus Garrett.  He can fit into any of the open spots vacated by the other four guards when they catch a breather on the bench.  Amazingly, he may be the best defender of the bunch.  Garrett has shown no ego when it comes to the offensive end, he only takes the shots that are given to him.  The selflessness is amazing.

Inside is where the Jayhawk's are ripe for exploitation.  The massive Udoka Azubuike can dunk and throw up a weak baby hook shot.  He has almost no offensive tools.  While he clogs the paint and can block shots, he doesn't appear to understand the concept of blocking out for rebounds.  Let's put it this way, he's no Greg Ostertag.

Mitch Lightfoot is Azubuike's lone back up for now.  At just 6'8" he reminds me of Dave Magley.  For those of you who are saying Dave who, Magley was a heralded recruit who became a star his senior season on a bad Kansas team in the early 80's.  Magley was a wing player and like Magley,  Lightfoot is better suited out on the floor but he's doing the dirty work that's being asked of him.

Adding transfer Sam Cunliffe at mid-season only means that Kansas will be able to run and run and run.  If DeSousa is allowed to graduate from high school and joins the Jayhawks then K.U. will get some much needed inside beef for what is sure to be a tough conference run.

Something tells me Billy Preston will never play for Kansas.  After the Cliff Alexander episode and with all of the fallout surrounding the Adidas scandal I think Preston could be gone by the end of this semester.  I hope I am wrong, because with Preston, the Jayhawks will be primed for another run to the Sweet 16 and dare I dream, a trip to the Final 4.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Sin of Sinclair

The death of local television news is coming.  And the Federal Communications Commission is doing all it can to help it along.  Just as the Internet has gutted local newspapers, the FCC is looking the other way as local stations, which use the public airwaves, are rapidly turned into cookie-cutter, profit centers, unconcerned about the communities they are pledged to serve.

I started working in television news in 1978.  The ownership rules limited groups to holding no more than seven stations.  Then President Reagan came along and those rules were loosened to 12 stations.  The FCC also began to look the other way when it came to the rules which forced television stations to share the various voices that made up its community.  Between the FCC and the surge of consultants and the crapola that too many of them offer, local TV news began a decades long slide.

I worked for a "cheap" group, Taft.  Long gone from the television landscape, Taft managed to run good news operations.  Taft was one of the first companies to take advantage of the looser ownership rules.  Flush with cash and great stations in growth markets, it became a target.  The result was a hostile takeover, a splintered group and new ownership left with a billion dollars in debt.

The bulk of the former Taft stations didn't recover from the 1988 financial bombing until FOX, yes Rupert Murdoch's FOX, purchased the group.  It was about this time that station groups run by accountants were swallowing up stations with abandon.  The FCC had further loosened ownership rules so along came Nexstar and Sinclair, buying TV stations at break neck speed.

By the mid-1990's there were only a handful of ownership groups worth a damn.  The stations owned and operated by the networks, Cox, Belo, Gannett, Hearst, and Meredith enjoyed reputations as good groups to be a journalist.  20 plus years later that list is shrinking.  The O and O's are still held in good regard as is Cox.  Hearst saved itself by buying out its shareholders and going private.

Gannett is now Tegna and has joined the race to the bottom with other big groups such as Nexstar and Sinclair.  Yet as bad as some of these groups are, none can compete in absolute awfulness with Sinclair.  The company holds an ultra-conservative bent that makes FOX look liberal.  It has been gobbling up stations for the past 25 years and wants to add even more stations by adding the Tribune group.

25 years ago television groups were limited to 12 stations.  Sinclair currently owns 173 stations in 80 of America's 210 television markets.  The Tribune deal would add 42 more stations to its massive groups.  The FCC stands ready to approve this deal but a handful of conservative groups are howling about the acquisition as are a murderers row of liberals.

The FCC may require Sinclair to sell off a handful of stations to get this deal through, but it will go through.  When that happens, I will wait for the other shoe to drop.  Sinclair is up to its eyeball in debt.  The company came dangerously close to bankruptcy in 2008 when the economy tanked.  The next hiccup in the economy will be Sinclair's undoing.  The viewers won't be the only ones getting screwed.  The stockholders will too.

Sinclair is marching toward centralized news.  They are shuttering local newsrooms and offering "local" news from other stations located miles and miles away from the communities they are mandated to serve.  Look at the ratings of these awful Sinclair owned stations and they without fail rank at the bottom.  The stations are poorly equipped.  The employees, save for upper management, is poorly compensated.  And yet the FCC looks the other way while Sinclair's competitors look and begin to wonder if this approach to "television news" is the way, the future.  It isn't, it's truly the vast wasteland.

But here's the final rub, my television home for 12 years, WDAF TV, is one of those Tribune stations about to be swallowed up by Sinclair.  I think of my work colleagues who have stayed on Signal Hill more than 10, 20, or 30 plus years.  Their world is about to implode.  The debacle of the Bass Brothers in 1988 will look like the good old days.  For those on the verge of retirement, this will be the final shove.  For those who have spent the better part of 20 years at FOX 4 and looked forward to making it their home for the entirety of their broadcast career, I share your heartache.