SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

All Hail Leicester City!

I heard a story once about a horse in a race, perhaps the Derby winner, or perhaps the Derby favorite.  I'm telling the story this way without the benefit of having checked it out on Google, but the story was that the favorite was the top thoroughbred of the time, a horse at the turn of the 20th century named Man o' War.  Well, Man 'o War ran the race and lost to a longshot.  The horse's name was Upset.  Because we didn't have television or the internet or even much radio in the day, the newspapers were plentiful and the sportswriters were creative.  And, as the legend has it, the word "upset," traditionally used to mean "turn over," as in "he upset the table," took on a whole new meaning.  To upset, in a competition, is now universally used to mean to pull off a big surprise, a shocker. 

Perhaps now they should change the word again to Leicester. 

Five years ago its star goal scorer, who was 24 at the time, about mid-career for many stars in Europe, was playing in something like a fifth division Sunday beer league.  Their two other stars, even younger, were playing a few years ago either for second- or third-tier French teams.  Promoted out of the English Championship League two years ago, Leicester fought for its life to avoid relegation back to that league after last season.  The team's manager, well, Chelsea fired him twelve years ago.  As for Leicester, well, it was never going to be mentioned in the same breath as Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United or Tottenham.  No, it seemed that Leicester would be lucky to remain in the middle of the table and perennially try to avoid relegation. 

Going into the season, Leicester was a 5,000 to one shot to win the English Premier League.  To do so, it would have had to pass over those six behemoths, plus the likes of a resurging West Ham.  It would be like starting in the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament as, say, Monmouth and beating the legends in succession -- Indiana, UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse and Kentucky.  It would be like promoting say the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs to the National League East and having them win the World Series.   Think about that.

Leicester enjoyed none of the reputation, tradition or money of the six teams I mentioned.  But what they had was belief, heart, chemistry and a tireless work ethic.  It's amazing what a team can accomplish when no one worries about the credit because if no one worries about the credit and simply focuses on the work there ultimately could be more than enough credit to go around.  In contrast, look at Chelsea and Manchester City, owned by gazillionaires with tons to spend on payroll.  The former got old on the back line fast, looked at times rudderless and leaderless and figured out that while money helps, it cannot buy things that propel teams to victory.  The latter suffered from injuries but some of the same issues -- they got older fast, and some of their well paid stars looked overpaid by the season's end. 

It could be the case that, among others, Schmeichel, Kante, Mahrez and Vardy become so expensive that they request transfers so that they can cash in and play in the Premier League or in places like Barcelona, Madrid or Munich.  That remains to be seen.  But, in the here and now, savor this triumph, regardless of for whom you cheer.  Because this triumph is one for the ages, the stuff that a Disney script is made of except that this is true.  Older manager, not a top choice among elite squads, up-and-coming players or several players who played at Leicester because that was the best they could do, all combining to do their best to win one of the toughest soccer leagues in the world as a 5,000-1 longshot. 

Was it an upset?  You bet.

Was it a Leicester?  Extraordinarily so.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The NFL Draft

Analytics have taken over the world, particularly those analytics that can help us predict outcomes.  But I wonder if anyone has done a detailed analysis of the NFL draft and demonstrated how right or wrong teams were in making their picks.  Much of what we have is anecdotal or pronounced, as the massive failures (see Walt Patulski, Tony Mandarich, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf) get significant press while the overall draft gets very little.

For example, conventional wisdom has it that the best drafter in the past thirty years was Jimmy Johnson when he was in Dallas, one of the main stories being that when he was watching film of prospects at Texas Tech, he kept on seeing this undersized linebacker making many plays.  When he asked his scouts about the player, they replied that he was too small and that the coach should watch the players they had identified.  But Johnson kept seeing this linebacker make plays and became enamored of him, so much so that he took the linebacker in the fifth round.  That kid turned out to be Zach Thomas, who appeared in many Pro Bowls and anchored the Dallas defense at middle linebacker.  He was about 5'9", 220, didn't look like he could leap buildings in a single bound or take on the 49ers' offensive line singlehandedly.  All he did was make the plays. 

But how does everyone else do?  I don't know why I said this to my son, but I offered that of the top-10 picks, Jack Conklin of Michigan State will be the most successful.  Why would I have said that?  Well, the one thing I like about Conklin is that he really wants it, started out as a walk on and keeps on improving.  The risk with some of these draft picks is that they have peaked, the money will spoil them, they have injury issues, etc.  Conklin just seems like a riser.  My son didn't ask me who will be a failure, but history tells us that one of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz will not succeed.  Mike Greenberg offered a stat the other day that suggested that only 41% of quarterbacks taken in the first round in the past couple of decades have won a Super Bowl or made the Pro Bowl.  That's telling.

In any event, I felt badly for the young men who traveled to Chicago only to not have their names called.  Myles Jack's health issues are serious, and I don't know what was up with the Alabama Three, the two defensive linemen and linebacker Reggie Ragland, except that I read on Twitter that Ragland has a heart issue that concerns some teams.  Still, it goes to show you that while Nick Saban can coach defense, that doesn't mean that everyone on his squad is a first-round pick.  It just means that they're close, which is pretty amazing in its own right.

The funny aspect of all of this is that somewhere out there is a kid who will go in the fifth round who will turn into Josh Norman or Richard Sherman.  That seems to happen every year.  And somewhere out there is a big fellah who can push people off the line who will go undrafted just because he's an offensive lineman and, well, picking good ones is a risky business.  And he'll go on to have a Pro Bowl career.  For all that analysis and scouting, you would figure that teams would get better at drafting players. 

But they don't. 

Enjoy Day 2 tonight.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Isn't Taking Carson Wentz a Big Risk?

To frame up the argument:

I am not a snob when it comes to schools.  Great players can come from small colleges and there can be big busts from schools in major conferences.  Grambling probably has produced more Hall of Famers in the NFL than many major conference schools.  That said, Grambling doesn't have the players it once did because the major DI schools no longer discriminate the way they used to.  Still, players from FCS schools can and do have good and long careers in the NFL.  There just are not as many of those players as players who come from FBS schools. 

Atop that, how many quarterbacks from Division I-AA or FCS schools have excelled in the NFL?  Phil Simms?  Joe Flacco?  Tony Romo?  The answers is not many.  Atop even that, how many quarterbacks from Division 1-AA or FCS schools have been first-round draft picks?  Anyone besides Ken O'Brien in the quarterback-laden first round of 1983?  Atop even that, how many quarterbacks taken in the first round over the past 25 years have become either Pro Bowlers or Super Bowl champions?  In all likelihood, less than half, probably by some good margin.  (Just recall the 1999 draft, when Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Donovan McNabb went 1-2-3.  Couch was in a pass-happy, innovative offense at Kentucky, Smith was a one-year wonder at Oregon, and McNabb was the real deal at Syracuse.  Two out of those three picks failed).

So what did the Philadelphia Eagles do?  Apparently, a lot of research last year, what with now GM Howie Roseman's having been sent to the football version of Siberia when he lost a power struggle to Chip Kelly.  I would have thought that Roseman would have come up with a premise that you cannot win unless you get a great push on both sides of the ball, so load up on linemen.  That would have made sense, and there are some good offensive tackles and pass rushers available (then again, many first-round offensive line picks don't pan out either).  That theory would have pushed the Birds to trade up for Ole Miss tackle Leremy Tunsill, who is high on everyone's draft board.  He and Lane Johnson would make a fine pair of tackles.  But Roseman did not do that.

What he did instead, smartly, was to figure out common themes among championship teams.  He discovered the Captain Obvious point that if you have a good quarterback, you have a good chance to win a lot of games.  Remember, Sam Bradford was highly touted coming out of Oklahoma, played for some bad teams and kept on hurting the same knee.  Now he's healthy, had a good second half of the year and might be able to call audibles this year, something Kelly had forbidden him to do.  Sounds like a decent plan.

But a healthy, more mobile and more free Bradford apparently doesn't fit into Roseman's formula.  So, he went bold, ignoring the concept that there are bold GMs and old GMs, but there's no such thing as an old, bold GM (see Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore for someone who continues to do things well, even if the Ravens had a bad year last season).  Roseman traded a Herschel Walker's ransom of picks for the second pick in this year's draft, guaranteeing that the Eagles will get whichever quarterback the Rams don't take with the first pick.  And that quarterback right now is Carson Wentz. 

I know, Jon Gruden and Ron Jaworski like him a great deal, but the best body language I got out of Gruden last year was not about the first couple of quarterbacks taken, but about the Raiders' Derek Carr out of Fresno State, who looks like he can be a very good one.  It's hard to know who the next best QB is after Wentz and Cal's Jared Goff, but they don't seem to generate the excitement that someone like Andrew Luck did several years ago.  And, of course, there's the reminder that the Patriots took Tom Brady oh so many years ago in the sixth round, that Joe Montana was taken in the third round and that Johnny Unitas was a free agent.  Times have changed, naturally, but even with all of the diligence around draft picks, teams still fail.

Will Wentz succeed?  Perhaps the quarterback evaluators and the draftniks are right.  Perhaps a kid who has started in about two dozen FCS games and led his team to two FCS championships can make the leap to the NFL and excel.  Or perhaps the speed and complexity of the game might overwhelm him, or the limelight could upset his equilibrium.  Philadelphia, after all, is light years away from North Dakota.  And presumably a lot more intense.

Those in favor of the deal and Roseman will argue that you cannot just fall into line, play the game and take who's there, especially when who is available might not meet your needs.  They have drunk the Sam Hinkie Kool-Aid to a degree and want a franchise-changing bold move.  Those opposed will argue that the team has a good nucleus, that Bradford could work out, and that the Eagles have so many needs why did they elect to bet the bank on the FCS QB from North Dakota State? 

There is no mistaking that Roseman is putting his career in Philadelphia on the line here.  He has generated momentum for himself through a very good off-season and is now parlaying that into this bold strategy.  If Wentz becomes a star, then Roseman's star will brighten too.  If Wentz fails, then Roseman will fail, took, and presumably follow him out the door quickly. 

Interesting times for the Philadelphia Eagles.  Make no mistake, Howie Roseman is taking a very big chance on the Flavor of the Month. 

If it works, he had the courage to unearth a gem.  If it doesn't, he's taken the guy who will make Eagles' fans forget Mike Mamula.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

From Jeff Goodman: About 700+ DI College Basketball Players are Transferring

Some who study education have offered that the high school dropout rate is so high because young people get tripped up on math, cannot contemplate geography and trigonometry and then turn off.  I think that they're onto something, personally, as much of what is taught in schools is taught because it always has been taught, and not because for many it will have any relevance for their vocation (and it hurts their self-esteem).  That doesn't mean that kids should not be challenged to stretch their abilities, it just means that maybe we can identify some strengths earlier and not torture some kids and make them feel worthless or irrelevant.  And much of what many do in life might involve some basic algebra and, of course, basic math. 

So let's do some basic math.  Let's suppose that there are 330 Division I basketball teams.  And let's suppose that there are 15 players on each team (some have more, some have less, and if you have more than a certain number you are talking about walk-ons because of scholarship limits -- again, I said basic, as in back-of-the-envelope, math).  So let's multiply 330 by 15.  That gives you 4,950 Division 1 basketball players.  And let's say, for purposes of argument, that these players are equally divided among first years, sophomores, juniors and seniors.  In other words, let's divide the 4,950 by four.  That gives you, rounded up, 1,238 players in each class.  That would give you 1,238 seniors or players who are using up their eligibility.  So, let's subtract 1,238 from 4,950.  That would give you 3,712 college basketball players out there on the 330 teams.  And let's suppose that some quit the game or flunk out.  Let's just say that those would number about one player for every five teams, so let's divide 330 by 5 and get 66.  Let's subtract those 66 players from the 3,712 and that will give us 3,646 players who could return to their DI basketball teams. 

Now, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman, about 750 players are transferring.  The reasons could vary, from getting a release because of a coaching change, wanting more playing time, the "senior transfer rule" (whereby the senior graduated and is taking his last year of eligibility somewhere else), to getting a release because, well, the scholarships are one-year renewable and the player didn't perform to expectations to unhappiness for whatever reason.  And now let's do the math -- let's divide 750 by 3,646. 

The result -- about 21% of all Division I basketball players are transferring this year.  Now, I know that the numbers are rough, but the current state of play is that kids who have labored hard in many cases want to get playing time in addition to the free education.  Some will be happy sitting on the bench (see Monmouth, the Carolina "Blue Steel" bench from a few years ago and Mark Titus, when he sat on the bench at Ohio State).  Many will vie for playing time and not get it or get enough.  They will keep in touch with their AAU coaches (and, probably to a lesser extent, their high school coaches), who, in turn, keep in touch with the head coaches and lead recruiters at the DI schools.  Especially the schools that "just failed to land" the player who now is seeking to transfer when that player was in high school.  Most teams have openings and needs, and most players would rather take a chance on a different school that offers a better chance at playing time than staying put and seeing their chances of playing erode.  And, again, these are young people, and many high school stars do no want to resign themselves to "practice player" status when they are 18 or 19 years old.  Hence the transfer rate -- 21%.

This is a bit of a mess, isn't it?  The kids get so excited about being recruited only to have a coach leave, a coach get fired, or a glut at their position.  The coaches get excited about the kids, only to find out that someone just doesn't get that he needs development and might have to wait a season or two before breaking out.  Coaches leave, sometimes because they jump, sometimes before they are pushed and sometimes when they are pushed.  Kids should be picking schools because of what the schools offer beyond basketball, but basketball is what identifies them.  And they hear things from family and friends about how high their celing is, which is a height invariably that differs -- sometimes markedly -- from the ceiling that their college coaches ascribe to them. 

But 21% attrition?  Suggests that basketball is more than an extracurricular. 

It's a business.

And one that trades in the futures of teenagers.

Who wins?

The NCAA is at it Again -- More of a Plantation Mentality for Football

The NCAA has banned satellite football camps.  This august body made this ruling in response to numerous protests about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who was holding football camps for high schoolers outside Ann Arbor, in essence going where groups of talented players live.  Many of the major conferences supported this rule, if only to protect their home turf and to get some version of exclusivity over their own backyards.  Hugh Freeze, the Ole Miss coach, got lambasted on "Mike & Mike" on ESPN Radio this morning for allegedly having said that his life is exhausting as it is, and by passing this rule the NCAA helps him sleep in his own bed at night during the off-season because he won't have to hold camps on the road.  Or something like that. 

Another part of the ban on satellite camps is the prohibition on permitting other coaches from other teams attend your camp.  So, for example, every year Ohio State holds a camp for high school players, and that camp has many sessions.  The custom has been for OSU to permit coaches from other colleges -- including the Mid-American Conference, FCS schools and in all likelihood DIII schools -- to attend the camps.  Why?  Because mostly all of the kids at Ohio State's camp will not get a chance to play in Columbus.  As a result, the Ohio State camp would turn into a showcase camp of sorts to give prospects the opportunity to prove to some coach that they were worthy of a full ride, a partial scholarship or even a preferred chance at admission to a college.  That seemed to make sense.  After all, the time parents have to allot to driving their kids from camp to camp is limited, and, in this fashion, the undersized offensive lineman who shows well in Columbus but is not on Ohio State's list might end up with a scholarship, say, to Akron, or getting preferred admission to Kenyon.  Right now, that will not happen any more. 

The sad thing about this is that at a time when college football has had many controversies and problems -- from concussions to scandals to problems with one-year non-renewable scholarships to overly lavish facilities to the unionization attempt by Northwestern players to the fact that most FCS programs lose money -- the NCAA just pours gasoline onto the fire and draws attention to an area that it should have left alone for a while.  As Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic argued eloquently this morning, the NCAA should be about protecting the kids and offering them the most opportunities to shine.  Instead, it opted to protect the oligarchy of programs that wants to protect their own turfs and grossly overpaid coaches who seemingly care much more about perpetuating their own glory and records and job tenure than doing the right thing.  That's the tragedy in all of this.

There are showcase tournaments in other sports.  For example, if your daughter is a great softball player, she'll find her way onto an elite travel team (the very tough if not awful part here is that for the privilege the parents might have to pay $15,000 a year) and end up playing in showcase tournaments in the summer where all of the college coaching staffs attend.  Those tournaments guarantee that your kid will get a chance, in essence, to audition for college coaches around the country.  And, yes, it does involve, in most circumstances, traveling from place to place to hit a good number of tournaments.  The question is, why can't football players go to say a handful of camps to get showcased and then take the rest of the summer to be, well, teenagers.

I was talking with an FCS coach a few years ago about quarterback prospects around the country.  He relayed to me the story of one kid who showed very well at his camp, and he was hoping that he would have an in because of some loose family connections to the school and because his camp was the last camp the kid attended.  Now, mind you, this was a rising high school senior, and he attended about 16 camps in one summer.  The coach marveled that this quarterback prospect's arm was not about to fall off.  I secretly wondered about the toll on the family and the cost to the parents -- in terms of money and family togetherness time.  And for what, really? 

Maybe the kid gets a free ride, but, if he does, the coaching staff will own this kid forever, because that free ride can be yanked year to year.  Or, suppose the kid gets romanced and then the reality of the school differs from what he was shown.  Then what?  Or suppose he gets beaten out?  He could end up transferring.  At some point, when does this kid get off the treadmill that his gifts and his parents and he himself have put him on and start figuring out what he's going to do with this life?  Never mind the possible long-term effects of too many jarring hits to his body and frequent hits to his head.  All so that he can put that he played college football on his resume or because his parents have perhaps something more interesting to talk about at the market than the parents whose kid works twenty hours a week at the market and commutes to school? 

But back to the ruling.  It does not make any sense, and it only hurts the kids, both in terms of their choices and their ability to showcase themselves for coaches at all levels without incurring a huge expense in the summer time.  Is there anything wrong with that? 

The conventional wisdom is that you are supposed to build a house according to its blueprints so that you'll know what it looks like when it is finished and that you'll be able to have a decent handle on your costs and the timeline for completion.  I wonder if the NCAA has any blueprints that its building off of, because it's hard to see a pretty end result coming from a ruling like this. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

On Jordan Spieth

Sadly, Jordan Spieth will be reminded of his +6 at Amen Corner, which includes a quadruple bogey, at The Masters for years to come.  He's only 22, he's had a lot of success, and yet the human mind refers to the negative so much that the sports media will remind him of this every time he has a lead in a major, or, heck, any tournament.  That's the world in which we live.

But you know something, he's young, the young can heal and sometimes quickly, and he'll be fine.  And before anyone starts jeering too hard, think about this -- how many fans are as good at their professions as Spieth is, where they might work hard and be given an opportunity to, well, falter at such a high level?  The answer is very few.

You have to be a great player to get to the position where you can do what Jordan Spieth did yesterday.  A very great player. 

You don't hear about the odd-man out, the last person who made the cut who has to play with a marker, and you don't hear about the players who missed the cut five minutes after they missed it.  You won't hear as much this year about who won The Masters as much as who lost it.  The latter is sad, but in a world where selling stories is key, Spieth's misfortune outweighs David Willett's steadiness.

But as I just said, you have to be pretty great to achieve as much as Jordan Spieth did, even if failure.

And at the age of 22.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Letter to Jay Wright: Please Stay at Villanova

Dear Jay:

First, congratulations on Villanova's national championship.  You are to be commended for crafting a high-quality coaching staff and putting together a very good group of players.  You had a solid core of starters and substitutes that played great during the NCAA tournament and beat a "who's who" in college basketball to win the championship.  You should take some time to celebrate this great accomplishment with your family, your friends, the team and your school. 

It seems like the NBA is interested in your services.  Yes, Phoenix is a nice place, but is the NBA really about basketball more so than entertainment and building character as opposed to coaching characters?   By all accounts -- and I write this with a big smile -- you never will be as good a coach as they say you are now.  In truth, you're probably virtually the same guy you have been in the past five years.  You're certainly not as awful a coach as they said last year, when the fates did not align and you could not get a very talented team to the Sweet 16.  Overall, you're a heckuva coach.

Yes, the NBA is attractive, the pinnacle, but it can be cruel.  They'll mock you for your suits, they'll call you "Joe College," and they'll argue that if people like John Calipari could not succeed, why should you?  You won't have a campus environment so to speak of, you will not command the respect that you do at Villanova, you'll be on the road a ton, and you'll have to do with young players who are still growing up, their agents, their families, the media, and the pressure from the front office to win.  After all, you're the magical Jay Wright, you beat Kansas, Oklahoma and Carolina in succession, so why can't you, with the bad Phoenix roster, beat the Spurs, Warriors, and Thunder.  Heck, if you to go Phoenix, you'll not only have the NBA, you'll have the Western Conference.  Which means, unless they turn around the roster fast, you could be coaching back in college in three years. 

There is precedent for this dilemma.  About 30 years ago I attended a charity banquet on City Line Avenue in Philadelphia.  I forget the charity, but Rollie Massimino was the guest of honor.  Yes, the same guy who coached the Wildcats to their improbable title in 1985, when they only missed on shot in the second half and beat the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas by a point to win the national championship.  The story in the papers -- there was no internet yet -- was that Coach Mass was about to accept the head coaching job of the New Jersey Nets.  The roasting was fun, the deal was all but done, but something was brewing up on the podium.  Some good friends of Coach Mass's -- 76ers legend and coach Billy Cunningham and the late, great Jim Valvano -- were some of the roasters.  And they chided Massimino mercilessly about the perils of the NBA.  While the late Darryl Dawkins was loveable, he really was, he also was a very talented man-child who was hard to coach.  Dawkins, a former 76er, became a Net.  And that prompted Billy Cunningham to ask one of the night's most memorable questions -- "Have you ever been to Lovetron?"  Lovetron was the imaginary planet Dawkins said he habitated.  The audience roared. 

Massimino took the ribbing in good stride.  After the festivities ended, a bunch of basketball luminaries repaired to the bar at the hotel, among them Cunningham and Valvano.  They had a few, and then a few more, and then they talked Massimino out of the NBA and into staying at Villanova. 

Now Coach Mass was an over-sized personality, and he ultimately was blamed (probably correctly) for fracturing Philadelphia's Big Five (subsequently others revived it) because he had to go "bigger time" with his Wildcats.  Ultimately, he made the error of trying to replace the fallen Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV, and, well, it's hard to replace any legend and I would recommend that any coach going into that situation avoid it.  There also seemed to be something about a secret deal he cut with the university president about his compensation that didn't go over so well.  Ultimately, Massimino and UNLV parted company. 

There is a lesson in all of this.  Why, at 54 or so, would you leave for the NBA?  What possibly could you prove there?  You already are a wonderful coach.  You work at an excellent university in a great setting.  You can recruit good kids who are great players there.  And you can win.  It was one thing to see then Penn coach Fran Dunphy bolt the Quakers after his long tenure there.  Dunphy probably was seeking more money than the Ivies can pay but also a chance to see how his skills translated to a school that could contend for a national championship.  But you already have that, Coach Wright, and you've done that. 

But the lesson isn't finished.  You could argue that you could get itchy at Villanova and want to leave for a bigger job.  I have news for you -- you have turned Villanova into a big job.  Oh, yes, the Augustinians don't pay the way the schools where your peers coach pay.  You could get more at Syracuse should they bail on their deal to promote Mike Hopkins should Jim Boeheim retire, or you could wait to replace someone who currently is flailing at a top-ten job and might get fired next year.  That could be the play.  But that's kind of what Rollie did, and it didn't work.  That doesn't mean it won't for you, but why put yourself under all that pressure?

Finally, how much money is enough?  By the looks of it, you make enough coin to buy some pretty fancy duds to wear on the sideline.  So, suppose a place like Syracuse -- where it can be as cold as hell for long periods, by the way -- were to double your compensation.  What would you buy in update New York?  What would you really do with it?

Sometimes the grass can be greener somewhere else.  Sometimes we don't appreciate what's in front of us.  So sure, take a look, talk to the fellows in Phoenix, perhaps even consider wearing light blue pants with white loafers, but then consider what you have and all that you have built.  And then say no.

And hey, you have a helluva team coming back next year, and imagine what this victory will do for recruiting.  You have built a great legacy at Villanova, arguably better than Rollie's.  Now you can add to it.

Again, congratulations on your team's great victory, one for the ages. 

All the best,

SportsProf

Sam Hinkie Resigns at 76ers' GM

ESPN the Magazine rated the 76ers as the #1 team in all of sports when it came to innovation and the use of analytics.  The architect of that innovation was Sam Hinkie, whom they hired several years ago fresh off assisting Daryl Morey in Houston to help the team, over time, develop a perennial contender.  Hinkie, it's well known, created something called "The Process," which involved trading established players, stockpiling many draft picks and essentially fielding a D-League Team Plus for a few years.  The team was the worst in the NBA, so said its record.  Yet the fan were optimistic that with a healthy Joel Embiid and a few better guards next season, they might have a chance to grab the #8 spot in the playoffs.  Charles Barkley opined the same. 

Reports on Embiid are that he's on his way to a full recovery after missing two seasons.  Getting Embiid, the best center prospect since Hakeem Olajuwon, having Jalil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, bringing Dario Saric over from Turkey and having the top pick plus a few others could set up the 76ers to make a good run for the next many years.  Hinkie, the Stanford MBA, was known for keeping his ideas close to him and for running all sorts of metrics-driven simulations so as to demonstrate his points about the future of the team and the value of draft picks.  It all sounded so good.

Yes, this year's team, like last year's, was plum awful.  Yes, they need more players.  But had Embiid not gotten hurt the team would have fared better earlier and been more attractive to free agents.  True, the Embiid pick on Hinkie's watch, was risky.  There's no arguing that.  But few at the time questioned it, even if the risks were known, namely, that big men suffer this type of foot injury and sometimes it ruins their careers.  Bill Walton and Yao Ming are two prime examples.

But, the 76ers were onto something.  Hinkie is onto something.  There's no doubting that.  True, the league was getting embarrassed about how poorly the 76ers were faring, and I'm sure that the highly competitive owners also were losing patience.  If they were, you wonder what the conversations with Hinkie were about how many years they were giving him.  Otherwise, to bring in Jerry Colangelo as an adult in the room and apparently bringing on his much-decorated son Bryan, does not make any sense.  And, if Bryan Colangelo helps turn the team into a winner, the bet here is that he does so on a solid foundation that Sam Hinkie built.

Alas, Sam Hinkie, you are an innovator, someone before his time.  The bet here is that in 20 years all teams will be doing the types of things that ultimately got you either fired, de-emphasized or eased out of your post at the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Trust the Process" might not have worked out the way Josh Harris and Sam Hinkie wanted, but there was something to it.  And, if it were to be called a failure, well, we all learn a lot from failures.  In basketball's case, it would be unwise to toss onto the trash heap everything that Hinkie did.  It would be wise to study it, analyze it and then salvage from it the types of analytics that drew attention to Sam Hinkie as an innovator, as someone relying upon sophisticated mathematics to help determine the type of players he needed to craft a championship team.

Sam Hinkie had the courage to think outside the box.  It might have got him fired, but I would encourage him to keep at it.  He was onto something, and the question now is whether the 76ers' front office can pick up on it, build upon it, and craft a championship contender.

Princeton Men's Lacrosse Coach Fired After On-Field Incident

The national Division 1 championships eclipsed this story, but it's hard to believe.  The story is that Princeton's men's lacrosse coach Chris Bates elbowed a Brown player who was coming off the field during Brown's 19-8 route of the Tigers.  Princeton first put Bates on administrative leave and then terminated him today.

The Tigers are 2-6 this year and at the bottom of the Ivies.  Bates replaced the legendary Bill Tierney, who after winning six titles in 20 seasons opted to go to the University of Denver to build a top program (they won the national championship last year) and be closer to his grown children.  Bates, a Dartmouth alum, had been the coach at Drexel. 

It's unclear, unless you know the congnoscenti of Princeton lacrosse, whether Bates's job was in jeopardy because he hasn't kept the Tigers in the national championship picture and also because of the sub-par record this season.  While Bates might have been feeling all sorts of pressure, it's sad to see that it manifest in his doing what he did.  People are human, and he should be forgiven.  He made a mistake.  The question is the depth of forgiveness and whether Bates will be afforded the opportunity to return to the coaching ranks again. 

The Tigers will begin a national search for a replacement.  That's what they always do.  But if I were athletic director Mollie Marcoux, I would call Bill Tierney and ask him for a few recommendations.  That would be the wise thing to do. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Amazing Feat of UConn's Women's Basketball Team

More national titles than UCLA under John Wooden's UCLA teams (when not every school had a DI program, cared out its DI program or had to endure AAU coaches, showcase tournaments and social media).  Wooden's teams had 10 national titles; Geno Auriemma's UConn teams have 11.  And Wooden's didn't win four in a row, the way the Huskies did last night.

What a feat!  What a record!  Arguments abound and what teams were and were not the greatest of all time, but there is no debate in college basketball right now.  The UConn Huskies have the best program currently and in history.  And at a time when every DI school cares about women's basketball the way they did not say thirty to forty years ago, when the likes of Delta State and Immaculata were major players on the national scene. 

This accomplishment should be celebrated more than it is being celebrated.  Yes, Monday night's championship game in the men's bracket was a great game, and, yes, it had the best ending in 33 years, a buzzer beater for the title.  All that is worth celebrating.  No question.

It's just that there is a great argument for celebrating what UConn did more.