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!