Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shaka Is Smart With Legendary Run Through Tourney

It wasn't long ago when Shaka Smart, a 33-year old known as one of the smartest Colonial head coaches for leading VCU on a magical journey, arrived at Siegel Center shortly after 1 a.m. where he was greeted by nearly 5,000 supporters inside the home arena.

It's one thing for a venue to express much gratitude in Mr. Smart, a shrewd head coach whose strategic and motivational blueprints have benefited a refreshing Cinderella tale in sports, but quite another for a cult of optimistic fans to applaud the emergence of talented players. He's a high-profile name in college basketball, simply because he has built a legend for himself by essentially being the focal point of Virginia Commonwealth pulling off one of the largest upsets in tournament history.

This season alone, he declared his citizenship in a town where suddenly the vast majority loves basketball, amazed with a miraculous tale in college hoops, one story that has awed the casual fans and initiated much enthusiasm and emotion in a tournament filled with thrills, suspense and drama. He cherishes it so much, in fact, that he entered the building Monday, gazed at the stands in disbelief and celebrated.

As he walked into view with each arm positioned skyward, for the first time in school history, fans rallied together and erupted a frenzy unlike ever before. By the time he stepped onto the hardwood, for one of the wildest homecoming rallies in bracing VCU for a sensational tourney run which has landed the Rams in the Final Four, the primal screams and cheers reached deafening levels, so loud in which the vast majority probably could have depended on defibrillators. The screams were delivered with aggressiveness, powerful enough to blow off the roof as a raucous crowd rooted in excitement, a wave of felicity sweeping throughout the venue.

Here we thought VCU was the flukiest team in the tournament, or even a program that never was eligible. But, all things considered, Smart and his players fulfilled the unimaginable on the brightest platform before procuring a spot in the Final Four, capturing national spotlight and embarking on a grand opportunity. However, instead of being perceived as the underdogs or the cutest anecdote, VCU is realistically described as a contender, after stunning the world in an upset of Kansas.

The first notion is now, of course, that VCU is no longer afraid to take on a complex match against any team, knowing they can gleam and defeat anybody on any giving night. Secondly, the Rams are worth more than 15 minutes of fame, enthusiastic, electrified and pumped emotionally and physically by Smart showing inspirational videos on a big-screen television, which has routinely become an instrumental plan for VCU's hurried prosperity. And thirdly, the Rams are in position to silence doubters and non-believers, two wins away from shocking the world even greater than the victory over Kansas.

Now, except for one of the smallest schools representing the Colonial Athletic Association, it turns out Dickie V was stunned, just as much as Jay Bilas and the rest of us were blinking our eyes and shaking our heads in disbelief when he sorely underestimated the Rams. His passions and motivations, ironically, are similar to VCU point guard Joey Rodriguez, a 5-foot-10 star player with arguable intangibles to emerge into a superstar. It's not only a reasonable prediction, but a glaring notion that VCU can win it all and can even confidently prevail and endure the joy of winning their first ever title in school history.

It's a discussion most, though not all, are creating a buzz about with the Rams cruising from the First Four to the Final Four. The reality to such a dazzling story is that he is unproven and currently coaches an unidentified program, even though he owns an impressive track record and is 55-20 overall during an awe-inspiring run as VCU's head coach. The so-called Cinderella team is no longer VCU, no longer is Smart ignored but adored in the homeland, particularly respected by the trustees and his players.

After it seems like a mirage, Smart is doing it for the kids, he is doing it for a less noticeable university. That's what Smart wants us to believe, surely. When he takes advantage of the national scene in the Final Four to disclose his proven coaching habits as a well-known coach in America -- selling VCU as one of the noteworthy programs located in Richmond, Va., an overjoyed community waiting and wishing for a miracle come Saturday.

His wife, Maya, is Shaka's biggest fan, a passionate supporter he says, garnering an assumption that he is truly a star in collegiate basketball in his second season of his young career. Why must we not realize how beautiful this story is, even more so, on a day when warmth, celebration and delirium initiated a party in the stands as fans welcomed home the celebratory Rams? The explanation of such a newsworthy season, upon hearing that VCU finished the regular season 28-11 overall boasting a 12-6 record in the Colonial Athletic Association, finishing 4th in the conference, is that Smart is a popular name after all.

So there was Smart in his finest season, particularly when VCU was never projected to advance past the first round but amazingly knocked off the No. 1 Jayhawks. And with that, really, he heard his name chanted "Shaka! Shaka! Shaka!" and also "We want Butler," VCU's next opponent in the Final Four on Saturday night in Houston.

"When we got to San Antonio, we said, 'Why not go to the Final Four?'" Smart said to the crowd. "And now that we're going to the Final Four, we say, 'Why not win the whole thing?'"

It was a genuine privilege for the crowd, cheering and chanting when Smart introduced Jamie Skeen, a clutch performer and the most standout player in the Southwest Regional, and when Rodriguez was announced holding the regional championship trophy above his head.

"All the people that didn't believe in us on Selection Sunday, what are they saying now?" Smart asked the crowd, proceeding in the Rams' rallying since VCU was selected to play in the tournament.

Considering everything, Smart reflected back on the list of teams the Rams defeated in order to reach a convincing climax, all from power conferences, from Southern California of the Pac 10 to Georgetown of the Big East to Purdue of the Big Ten. And suddenly Florida State of the Atlantic Coast Conference was defeated. And then on Sunday, top-seeded Kansas of the Big 12 was pummeled.

Before he takes the floor Saturday night in front of thousands, before he is the center of heavy talk, Smart, is nonetheless the boy wonder at the 2011 Final Four, partly because of his youth and small-college experience. As for Smart, the road to the Final Four, where the Rams will meet Butler, he is raising to greater stakes, already a smart gentleman.

As we had been yearning to, loving a young man with a brilliant coaching style, a strong method, and lastly, a smart mind to guide his VCU players, the Rams have captivated our attention. This was especially a season of fruition, thanks to Smart, now the best available candidate for a coaching vacancy, if familiar with his capabilities to have a large impact on VCU and the university, particularly after qualifying for the Big Dance.

In a youthful sport, it seems, I strongly believe it wouldn't be smart to discount Smart and VCU, a program on a mission, a glorious mission, that is.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Kansas' Date With VCU Embodied the Greatest Cinderella Tale

So this was the year when Cinderellas were born, when abnormal events ruined brackets and turned a compelling tournament upside down and when the suspense elevated obscurity in a mystified sports event that hijacked our consciousness in March.

Believed to be the largest upset in recent memory, if not in tournament history, the Kansas Jayhawks were victimized in consecutive seasons and painfully sustained a heartbreaker against VCU, the darlings no one ever imagined even advancing past the first round, let alone earning a berth in the Final Four. It's fair to suggest, in what has been the craziest and the most erratic tournament in ages, that nobody in our nation picked the eleven-seeded Rams for the Final Four.

For the Jayhawks, favored to raise another championship banner and celebrate with happiness, this was a great challenge for the No. 1 seed, unexpectedly blowing a chance to revive its history and return to prominence among elite programs in America. This time, for a region of much uncertainty and volatility, the Jayhawks encountered a match with VCU, a fascinating date with Cinderella in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The cutest program in the nation stunned Kansas, regardless of being one of the last teams invited into the field of 68 teams.

The darlings ousted the Jayhawks, surprisingly in the national landscape and have perennial talent, depth and heart to defy the logic and rationalize a sense in survival to withstand the odds of aspiration. But in the meantime, our hearts believe VCU is not a pipe dream--winners from the Colonial Athletic Association who reminds us of the insanity in the month of March, when we witness breathless scenes, underdogs and competitors wearing the glass slipper to oddly fool us all.

The oddity in college hoops centers Virginia Commonwealth, a group with much parity and determination that shocked the entire world by trouncing a No. 1 seed in a 71-61 victory against Kansas. Here's where the NCAA selection committee deserves its praise, even though the vast majority slammed the overseers for clearly choosing the Rams in as an at-large First Four entry and then heard the derision and widespread criticism.

But clearly, this wasn't such an awful choice in how the committee underscores the program's eligibility, such as the way VCU made the panel seem wiser while they made the critics seem like fools. Because the Rams probably won't ever again enjoy the pleasure of playing in the Final Four, it does make sense for VCU to take advantage and attempt to hoist its first ever title in school history, another way to represent the smaller conferences with very little adoration, if any.

It is decisive to Kansas' self-absorbed psyche, known for competent odysseys in the tournament and capturing titles, that the university regains its easiest way back into the Final Four picture. Aside from it all, the Rams won it respectively and enjoyed the pleasure in annihilating brackets across the nation. When it ended, Shaka Smart, the motivated coach, jumped wildly in disbelief after he encouraged his players to believe and not be intimidated by the power-conference teams, a strong message that might've led to VCU's successive conquest.

When it ended, the Rams attained national testimony, no longer identified as a fluke. The underdogs, in afterthought, were never a fluke and bullied the Jayhawks that conveyed a statement to the doubters and non-believers across the country. It figures that VCU, now the most wonderful tale in college basketball, is so bittersweet in part of a magnificent upset for the ages, an extraordinary story we relish in collegiate sports. When it ended, though, tears dropped from the watery-eyes of feverish Jayhawks fans, tears dripped gradually from the faces of Kansas' big man Marcus Morris and his twin brother Markieff Morris.

The sight to behold, despite the happiest celebration near the VCU bench, was the Kansas supporters, numbed and saddened in the stands weeping into tears over the wrath of another hurtful letdown. For the record, VCU shockingly emerged as the second No. 11 seed to ever make the Final Four with difficult obstacles. The last team to accomplish such a historic feat was LSU, winning four games by an average of 4.3 points in 1986.

It seems weird, of all teams, that VCU beat Kansas by 10 points to prevail in what clearly was the greatest challenge for inexperience, raw and unknown program out of the Colonial Athletic Association. It just so happens, particularly when it involves the Rams, that the Final Four is an unpredictable event staggering by anybody in their right state of mind. Welcome to the Final Four, a contest of craziness, weirdness and enigma, as we can utter, "Houston, WE HAVE A PROBLEM, well, only for those awry bracketologist and fans with destroyed brackets.

Seen from this tournament alone, if something boosted the energy level and perturbed VCU, it clearly was Jay Bilas' harsh evaluation that VCU never belonged in the competition or had a right over Colorado. It's a good thing, for obvious reasons, that his words as an analyst propelled the Rams to dominate and manage faith, during one of the hottest pursuits done by any team in March. The Rams advanced to Houston by exceptionally beating teams from five major conferences by an average of 12 points.

That's unbelievable.

It wasn't always this beautiful for VCU, from the bubble to the First Four to the Final Four, finally finding their swaggering when it counted to stand as the "One Shinning Moment" in college hoops, an exhilarated tale that forges an inerasable Cinderella story. What matters now, delivering largely for a small university that has never experienced so much triumph, is that VCU is en route to Houston.

"When you have belief in each other and a belief in your coaching staff," Joey Rodriguez said, a 5-foot-10 point guard whose astonishing performance bolstered VCU.

This was no surprise to VCU, an optimistic group of players with the heart and guts to shock the world, courtesy of Smart's philosophy to emphasize that his players were disrespected and lambasted across the country. Inside the locker room, filled with energy and a fiery attitude, he instills the significance of survival and being the underdogs or underestimated by showing motivational videos, an exercise for shunning off the negativity and disregards. The big-screen television, along with the videos, has fueled VCU to attack and perform with much heart, poise and diligence over the course of the tournament, hungry to win the greatest prize in school history and elevate its grandeur as a prominent university in collegiate hoops.

"Once again we felt like nobody really thought we could win going into the game," Smart said in the postgame news conference. "But these guys believed we could win. They knew we could win. And we talked before the game about how nobody else really matters, what they think."

The more surprising scene, evidently on a shocking, mind-blowing afternoon at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas, happened when VCU led in a jaw-dropping blowout and drove to an 18-point lead. It is no wonder Kansas' momentum crashed in the first half, with the Jayhawks rallying to within two points at 46-44 midway in the second half. Even after Kansas rallied and brought an interesting turnaround in the second half, ultimately it wasn't enough to beat the sleepers as a dream all of the sudden turned into reality and a nightmare cast a dreaded scare on the unraveling Jayhawks, beaten and tormented by the underdogs. The Rams, a program that finished fourth place in the CAA, epitomized a vintage defeat. What's next?? The Kansas natives Dorothy and Toby get lost on the Yellow Brick Road?? The Sunflower State becomes the Sabotaged State??

All I know is that VCU believed strongly.

"Our guys have done a phenomenal job putting all the doubters aside, putting all the people that didn't believe in us aside and going out and doing their job."

When it ended, Kansas felt the agony and reflected back on a poor shooting night in which the Jayhawks strangely missed 19 of the 21 three-point attempts. When it ended so emotionally for VCU, the players jived on the court and celebrated in delight by racing near the VCU supporters in the section and were braced for fulfilling the folks with much joviality. Smart, a 33-year old head coach, cut down the nets and thanked the ecstatic VCU fans over the microphone.

His reliable guard, particularly in the previous games, Rodriguez, struggled in a shooting drought but nailed the biggest shot of his lifetime late in the half. With 4:58 left, after Kansas roared back and eased within 57-52, he knocked down a crucial three-pointer to extend the lead to 60-52, clearly emerging as the star of the game.

And ultimately, seen driving the lane with the shot clock winding down, he softly lobbed it near the rim for Bradford Burgess to finish the alley-oop for a 65-57 lead with 1:54 left. What worked, more than ever, was VCU's capacity to play harder, smarter with more composure. As the Morris twins sat in the locker room dumbfounded and disheartened, in an isolated part of the room speechless while dripping into tears, Brady Morningstar had angrily wore a disappointing facial expression on his face and, even though he was stronger than the rest of his teammates, Tyrel Reed was somber after the loss. They certainly didn't have the greatest game, as both Morningstar and Reed combined on 2-for-16 shooting.

Together, by the time it was over, they missed 13 of 28 free throws, including seven of their first nine. More importantly than anything else, it wasn't Kansas typical game plan, nor was it smartness or creativity, but clumsiness and ill-advised shot attempts. It was essentially embarrassing, one of the poorest shooting displays from one of the ideal shooting teams in the nation, ousted by the sudden toughness of VCU, a confident school after defeating Southern California, Purdue, Georgetown, Florida State and then Kansas.

For Jamie Skeen, it was a dream come true and he came through huge for the Rams. He measured his shot timely, faked a shot, fired unstoppably on an array of shot attempts as he felt a hot streak and hit three long range shots from beyond the arch. The components to VCU's hottest streak was clearly from the nine three-pointers in the first half, enough damage that pressured the Jayhawks mentally and physically. After all, there's no joke or flukes when VCU forced an orgy of turnovers, including six by Markieff Morris in the first half.

And it turns out that VCU belongs in the national spotlight by playing with much poise and confidence to upset Kansas on the brightest platform. In essence the Rams certainly belong in the Final Four. But the reality of Kansas has played soft and fearful under Bill Self, a well-respected name who has been unsuccessful in winning the meaningful games, losing to smaller and irrelevant programs.

Among them, Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa and VCU, a number of miss opportunities in recent memory. As expected, Self's Jayhawks faltered greatly, even though he has watched Kansas flub unbelievably against low-seeded competitors and almost were eliminated by Davidson a few years ago, but barely outlasted them in a two-point victory with the reinforcements of Mario Chalmers in the tourney.

Aside from it all, the Rams pulled off one of the nicest upsets in NCAA history. But as Mr. Smart said, "We're not done yet."

No, they are not done yet, but in the meantime, this is one special story. Perhaps, it's too special to implode.

Walker Defines Otherworldly Talent: Huskies On Pace to Cut Down Nets

If March is the month when we have fallen in love with college hoops, when filling out brackets become a common rite, and when we are hypnotized with the infatuation of rooting for the underdog, we can fall in love with Kemba Walker and the UConn Huskies. In another week, of course, Connecticut just might be crowned champs with perennial dominance and natural powers.

Such is Walker, the skilled junior guard who was born and raised to dribble and shoot a Wilson basketball, constantly elevating his ability on the playground. He is, no doubt, the well-known star that natives in Connecticut love to embody, worshipping his finesse and scintillating style as the noble idol in a community where populace adores basketball.

There'd be no reason to ultimately disbelieve or denounce the Huskies given the sudden emergence from a flattered ballplayer, clearly the most popular jock on campus, once and for all, sharpening his draft status to make an effortless transition into the NBA. He is, obviously, a commodity within the NBA, only if he decides to forgo his senior season and declare for the draft.

There's no player having a bigger year, other than Walker, who probably represents the finest, or even the overrated, Big East conference after it wasn't such a splendid season. For now, we are flabbergasted with Walker's remarkably startled effort in such a volatile tournament, where nothing is guaranteed but upsets are meant to ruin our brackets.

Saturday night, that team was Connecticut at the Honda Center, where the Huskies celebrated, exhaled, and felt relieved after Derrick Williams missed three-point attempts that could have won it for Arizona, the near-darlings in the West region. It was close, very close, but Williams, who tried to produce an encore performance and stun the basketball world, missed a three-pointer that he fired strongly. For the Wildcats, a group that had much faith and had been hyped after beating Duke, it was a disadvantage without Williams. This was because he was forced to spend much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, but he finally proved to be a huge factor in the closing moments.

"We were happy when Derrick Williams went outside," said Calhoun.

His counterpart, Jamelle Horne, missed on a shot attempt following Williams' miss when teammate Kyle Fogg secured the ball on a rebound and handed it off to Horne for a memorable miracle to upset the Huskies. Forgive me for speaking, although Arizona was the cutest team for nationally embarrassing and romping top-seeded Duke in a staggering rout, too highly of the Wildcats. It was knowingly that Arizona wore the glass slipper, sending one of the renowned schools back home distraught and heartbroken for being devoid of defending its title.

So instead of the darlings from the desert, we are intrigued to applaud what could be the best program in America, the imagery of the greatest player in college basketball, the attributes of a resilient and versatile ballplayer, dominating the game like Alaskan huskies rule the frigid wilderness. The magical surge late in the season erased the distasteful reflections of a lingering scandal and instead generated a party for a university that celebrated thrills in a one shining moment, escaping the thoughts of adversity.

Back in the Final Four are the Huskies, and suddenly, UConn delivered with a captivating 65-63 win over Arizona in the West Regional final at the Honda Center. This is the team folks had long forgotten, coached by Jim Calhoun, the much-scrutinized man who has been accused as the villain for allegedly keeping a secret or pretending as if he wasn't aware of the NCAA infractions that ruptured a tattered image of the university and painted a fraudulent portrait.

With every victory, the Huskies, for whatever reason, are the hottest team in the tourney and have attracted the eyes of many, ever since UConn's unthinkable streak that included nine straight wins. This is, by definition, the ones with all the momentum and ooze to shimmer and win it all, two wins away from immortality and cutting down the nets in Houston.

For the time being, on this proudest night, Calhoun climbed the ladder and clipped a piece of the net. It was a grand celebration considering that Calhoun saw his fourth Final Four invite, no matter if the mission is not yet complete. The joy suddenly soaked in for Walker, in which he also climbed the ladder and cut a piece of the net, but nobody was more emotional than his sidekick Jeremy Lamb, who cut down his share of the net. Walker’s performance was a dream come true. He finished with 20 points, along with 12 in the first half as the Huskies took a seven-point lead.

"It's a special feeling, but I didn't do it by myself," said Walker, who should be the national player of the year. "Everybody came in, worked extremely hard, and we did a great job of having great chemistry as a team. It's paying off for us."

Early on, he struggled in a rare shooting drought and misfired on plenty of attempts, missing 5-of-6 three-point attempts. He never rendered signs of fatigue or tiredness and constantly downplayed it, but pressed on and led the Huskies in a surprising season. And as usual, he led UConn to victory with other clutch finish by grabbing a game-changing steal late and drilling the shot that shifted the dynamics, a jumper to give the Huskies a five point edge with 1:13 remaining.

While the Wildcats were in an onslaught and harassed Walker with double teams and pressure, nobody expected Lamb, his reliable sidekick, to score in double digits. If anything, the Wildcats stayed alive when Williams drew a series of fouls, collected rebounds, and jumped for two vicious dunks. When he found a groove, he converted on two free throws with 6:36 left that gave Arizona a 55-52 lead, but suddenly, Lamb capped a scorching run with a steal and a one-handed dunk. Throughout the course of this season, it seems that Lamb has matured, a true freshman proven to be a top player.

But much of the attention centers Walker, the finest player these days, particularly if he will be named Player of the Year. That's what he has meant to his team after meaningful victories, potentially wins leading to the brightest prize at the end. Every way, that is, a casual fan can agree with the assessment that Walker is the brand name for the Madness this season.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Kemba Walker Is the Star of Madness, As Arizona Raises Fear

It was a game of the most magical explanation, to prove that the Big East may just be fortunate to possess the dominant powerhouses in the tournament. The conference needed and, oh, sustained a flawless tale, as we can pencil in third-ranked Connecticut for the Elite Eight.

The bliss emanated in Southern California because the Huskies secured a 74-67 win over San Diego State in the West regional semifinals Thursday night and clinched a Final Four berth, for its fourth appearance to the national setting. What it means is that the Big East remains alive because the Huskies handled the challenge, hustled in critical moments, stole national attention and embraced the stupendous sensibility of representing the top conference in college hoops.

And Jim Calhoun, well, felt relieved when the buzzer sounded in the end of a nerve-racking, tense evening in a neutral site, where seas of red were easily noticed in the stands to support the Aztecs. Less than two minutes left, when freshman Jeremy Lamb heaved and sharply hit a clutch three-pointer, a portion of the crowd screamed in bliss.

It was total dominance in the end, and maybe it was a case of believability for the Big East, a justification of allegiance for a conference hit with a debate on whether or not the Big East deserves adoration. The evolution of Kemba Walker is increasingly growing as azaleas bloom in the spring and raindrops fall. He looks like an NBA-ready star, or a lethal scorer with no conscience. It's a good thing Walker is wearing an UConn uniform, prominently the top candidate to win the Player of the Year award when he has clearly led the Huskies deep into the tourney.

If the Big East bias shriveled, when only nine schools qualified for the Sweet 16, it was mainly because no star player dazzled like Walker persists in generating emotion and warmth. It's too large a school to be ignored, especially when the Huskies feature one of the brightest stars in the game, a proficient kid believed to be projected as an NBA magnet and seemingly a surefire centerpiece for a lackluster franchise in the association. At this moment, individuals are obsessed with Walker's stellar performances, fully mindful of the high-scoring displays he produce regularly.

"I'm just trying to do the best I can do," said Walker after scoring 12 straight points for UConn in the final minutes. "Whether it's scoring, talking, getting their confidence up or giving an assist, I'm just trying to do whatever is possible to enhance this team."

What is very well-known in the NCAA Tournament, witnessing plenty of upsets and obliterated brackets while stuck in the middle of insanity, is the lingering drama, controversy and unpredictability, only to freak out a number of devoted fans. By this time, every season, that is, we fall in love with underdogs and miracles, including newly stars in the beginning to a compelling upstart.

All season long, intrigued with one of the most intense performances in UConn's storied NCAA history books, Walker hypnotized an immense audience, from his memorable impact to lead the Huskies to breathlessly five wins in five days, earning the Big East tournament title. Its apparent Walker, the skilled junior point guard and arguably the great name in the college game, preserves more than mild attention when he easily forged a signature in one of the singular achievements ever done.

While a player of his brand is a rarity in the game these days, almost as much as he and Jimmer Fredette are seemingly the only two unconscious scorers in the college landscape and, as a result, has stolen the spectacle, Walker is a superstar with promise and can very well translate his sterling shooting, relentless crossover dribble, and angles in traffic on the professional level.

For a season of unpredictability and strange events, Walker has stolen the season and somehow carried the Huskies to seven postseason wins in 11 days. That is rare, for one player with plenty of abilities to take over single-handedly as if he's a superhuman with magical powers, to score and mentally and physically dominate at will, without even rendering signs of fatigue.

Given the team's strengths and weaknesses, along with too much youth and a malicious scandal that tattered Calhoun's reputation a bit with the storied university, the Huskies raised curiosity as for whether or not they can shimmer and hoist the trophy. Walker is too nice of a tale, not to earn respect for such a gratifying season. In that sense, out of respect of course, he is evidently the best player in the tourney and shines largely in clutch situations.

So, while it's not known which team is favorable to win the tournament and place an identity, a modest one, on the university, we know Walker is a fierce competitor and scored 36 points but also was alleviated by his swingman Lamb, who had 24 to remove much of the tension off Walker. By the time he was done scoring on three-pointers, layups and midrange jumpers and free throws that intensified the feverish crowd at the Honda Center, he had decided the game for the Huskies and looked over to the press table and pulled his jersey and shock his head.

Walker, a 20-year old who developed his game on the playground and translated his skilled effort in the gym, becoming a local star on the local campus in Storrs, has averaged 24 points a game while leading the nation with six game-winning shots in the final three minutes.

"He makes plays, and I just shake my head," teammate Alex Oriakhi said of Walker. "I ask him how does he do that. He just says it's God-given ability. He couldn't explain what he does. It's really amazing what he does. He's truly something special."

Yes, he certainly is something special.

It just so happens that he plays with versatility and resiliency, schooling players with his trickery and high intelligence on the court every time. There is clearly a legitimate winner, once and for all, to determine who is worthy of the national buzz, which includes the national player of the year. And the award goes to...Walker.

Well, in retrospect, at least he is well-deserving in a tight race with Fredette, despite BYU's drastic fall to Florida in the Sweet 16 Thursday night now eliminated from the brackets. Yet, on a night one of the sweetest stories were in the making had San Diego State won, he began slow and missed his first four shots. This time, he was sluggish in the first half, but adapted to the defensive-minded Aztecs, a team normally exceptional at hindering star players.

The best thing that happened essentially on a spectacular night was Arizona's 93-77 stunner of Duke, an upset we never imagined and had been publicly announced. The best upset so far was a regal institution being victimized by the unforeseen Wildcats, one where the university from the desert made national headlines and publicly were advertised as the Cinderellas of March, where the 'Cats endured an uncontested battle and shockingly conquered ascendancy.

There were smiles on the face of Arizona forward Derrick Williams by the time he walked off the court, thrilled after capping the coolest victory to qualify for the Elite Eight. Williams, in the eyes of many, was the star of the night when he buried a 27-foot jump shot. But in such an emotional game, the Wildcats trailed by six.

And then, suddenly, Arizona as a whole celebrated in staggering triumph and point guard Mo Mo Jones stood at midcourt and slammed the ball. A few minutes afterwards, he pumped his fist and screamed to the heavens, electrified over the stunner of Duke. For whatever reason, the Blue Devils were sluggish, weren't scary, weren't fearful and the seniors with experience seemed vulnerable and exhausted.


Don't ask.

A storied team with a history of glorious accomplishments, known as the Blue Devils and college basketball's most prominent program, were bullied like a chew toy and had no response for the roaring Wildcats. Expected to sustain back-to-back glory, the Blue Devils had plenty of elements, many of whom returned from last year's national title class and even a freshman phenom who enhanced the notion of back-to-back happiness with the chances of another title. In one game, where Duke completely collapsed and couldn't match the intensity, balance and firepower of the Wildcats, the Blue Devils were not ferocious but hesitant to exploit a game plan on both ends of the floor, and instead, allowed the Wildcats to crush and steamroll them.

"We earned a lot of respect tonight," Williams said.

The basketball world witnessed the biggest underdog prevail on the greatest of all nights, seeing the Wildcats play like terrifying predators with large fangs and claws, enough to inhibit a pretentious school from reaching the grandest stage. By now, of course, Williams is the heavy talk for leading the stronger team to a transcendent level in the tournament, one win away from a Final Four appearance.

Had it not been for the burgeoning sophomore Williams, the Wildcats probably wouldn't have salvaged its season and could have been packing and sent home. The second half turned into a disaster and Mike Krzyzewski, one of the game's legendary coaches, watched from the sideline weary and perplexed as the Wildcats delivered five minutes into the half.

Later in the half, Jones hit a jump shot to tie the score, collected a defensive rebound and suddenly hit a pair of free throws to give Arizona a lead. From there, unbelievably, the lead punctuated and never diminished when the Wildcats extended the lead on Brandon Lavender's dunk to give Arizona an 11-point advantage.

Soon enough, Williams nearly electrified the building on a tomahawk dunk, bringing thousands dressed in seas of read to their feet. It wasn't long before Jordin Mayes missed a three-point attempt, but Jamelle Horne, a senior forward who committed to the program after signing to play for the legendary name Lute Olson, reeled in the rebound and dribbled to finally levitate and nearly behead Kyle Singler with a mean dunk that pretty much decided the outcome.

There was Olson in the stands, witnessing Arizona coach Sean Miller follow his footsteps and simply employ his creations into the modern generation, staring proudly at Arizona's latest restoration and the 'Cats scoring 19 of the next 21 points in the second half.

And while Duke took an early exit, for unexpectedly struggling, the Wildcats played fearlessly and it helped their cause. The immeasurable reliability of Kyle Irving, Duke's freshman guard after coming off the bench, posted 14 first-half points on five of six shooting.

The only thing is that it wasn't enough to overtake the underdogs for which Arizona wore the class slipper and, quite fittingly, forged a transcendent story, just as much as Walker has done for the Huskies.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Steve Fisher, SDSU Creates a Feel-Good Story in Tourney

He is much too well-respected to be forgotten in this tourney, and respectfully, has been recognized for the recent development at one of the most ambitious universities in college hoops this March. The most powerful person is the local ambassador by the name of Steve Fisher, a cornerstone for San Diego State, considering that the Aztecs have endured 13 losing seasons in 14 years.

Realizing that he is verified as the modest coach on a campus prepared to embrace a miracle, Fisher is nearing a miraculous Cinderella story, especially if the Aztecs upset Connecticut in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA Tournament on Thursday. And while his players are optimistic, in the midst of a radiant dream to expunge all the downfalls in recent memories, Fisher is by far the strongest and spirited voice to truly inspire his players and diffuse the notion of common reasoning.

His presence alone, obviously, exhibits an identity on a basketball program, and since it is ever so true, he's a folksy custodian who has advanced to an all-time high in college hoops. The pedigree seen by San Diego State are signs of an irresistible miracle, which is upon us at a moment when the curiosity increasingly surges for a No. 2 seed in the West, coming off a 32-2 regular-season with a pair of losses against conference rival Brigham Young.

The other night, after a win over Northern Colorado, he finally captured much fame in this tournament and has been at ease ever since. There is, after all, a sense of belief that San Diego State can be the Cinderellas in March and wear the glass slipper by the end of the weekend. And honestly, we need a touching story in college basketball, a very unique tale. This is where the culture at San Diego State has strictly devoted itself to basketball, a school now in love with the game and even Fisher for installing aspiration to legitimize faith in the second decade of the 21st century.

In fact, he transformed the facet of an incompetent institution and eschewed the thoughts of nonsense, once deemed harmless and had been disqualified from experiencing the buzz of the one shinny moment in March Madness. So maybe we are simply growing accustomed to the refreshing portraits San Diego State has revealed over the last few weeks, quickly gaining superiority when much is at stake.

It's finally a marveled program of grandeur and mainly because Fisher is one of the respected coaches in the game. It's not difficult to discern, with its sudden emergence on the court where San Diego State is inconceivably 27-1, ranked fourth in the nation while accomplishing the improbable, that the birth of a basketball legacy is upon us. At this time, we'd be delighted to anoint Fisher for bringing life and belief into a program, the most magnificent basketball program, eager to attain the improbable in a suspenseful month filled with madness and extreme hype.

Not every coach can uplift the culture or personality within a program like the way Fisher has made a large impact on the Aztecs, producing a fairy-tale greater than ever for a university aiming towards the happiest ending. He's thrilled to be thrust in one of the proudest positions, dripping tears of joy and living for the moment, a fortunate moment in his fine career.

But if he has approached the greatest scene in his lifetime, we can suggest he'll mark such a historic journey on his lengthy resume, even if he was fired at Michigan two years before San Diego State hired him, even if he guided the Fab Five to consecutive national championship games losing to Duke in 1992 and North Carolina in 1993 and even if Michigan forfeited 113 wins for the immodest asterisk that hurt the Wolverines image.

The problem in his past is that he is presumably omitted from the record books in Michigan, not acknowledged when a federal investigation revealed that four of his players received more than $600,000 from a bookmaker. His credibility, although his reputation with Michigan was tattered and forgotten immensely, remained flawless ever since the hiring by San Diego State.

So, how serious and dangerous are the Aztecs? I'll dare say they are serious as many of the top-notch teams, many of whom represent the Big East conference. There are times, when well-experience coaches featured in national title events with another team years ago because of craft and knowledge for the game, that he can cleverly translate his consciousness and implant a winning mentality.

That is, no doubt, exactly what happened with the Aztecs, courtesy of Fisher's perspicacity to defy the logic of instrumental factors. The sweetest story in March, thus far, is Fisher's rebirth, of accomplishing a remarkable feat, of engraving a name for himself and of inheriting a place in San Diego State history books by leading the Aztecs to the NCAA tournament in his third season, ending the school's 16-year postseason drought.

The resurrection is maybe the most gratifying, attractive turnaround, when the Aztecs fairly qualified in consecutive seasons for the first time ever with the highest seed. The Aztecs, for what is a beautiful tale written in the spring, are one win shy of clinching a berth to the Elite Eight, and have suddenly reduced nightmares from hideous droughts in the past decade and recent memories.

For sure, he is lucky to have a couple of noteworthy studs, which consist of first-team All-Mountain West forward Kawhi Leonard and stellar point guard D.J. Gay, along with the sound shooter James Rahon, not to mention the Aztecs' flawless post game, a strength that has been a potent part of San Diego State tremendous progress.

"I feel great. I'm excited to be a part of it. I'm proud that I'm part of something that hasn't happened before," said Fisher, who'll be 66 on Thursday. "We've had tremendous support starting with Steve Weber, our president, and everybody around with, 'What can we do to make your job effective? What can we do? What do you need?' They've gone out of their way to try to help. Now that we've won, and this year won to the degree that we have, we've got a lot more people that are involved, in the arena, in the support group, and that feels good, too.

"Everybody likes to be loved, and they're loving this team right now. For me to be a part of it, it feels really good, for me, for the team, for everybody."

It's a good thing, given that the pressure isn't on the Aztecs but UConn entering Thursday's showdown, to be classified as darlings, the cutest, if not, one of the cutest stories. For once, in school history, San Diego State rightfully preserves national attention and Fisher is constantly admired because he reestablished the identity as his players fulfill the expectations, flirting with the likelihood of a Final Four appearance.

If so, then it's fair to suggest he'll be forever mentioned for simply leading the Aztecs to 34 victories, eight more than the prior school single-season record, nationally acknowledged for the first time ever. As for Fisher, once appointed by Michigan AD Bo Schembechler as head coach before the 1989 NCAA tournament to replace his boss, Bill Frieder, he essentially is a charismatic figure.

He's far from a bad coach leading his players in the Sweet 16, particularly when he's kindly talked about. The player he once coached, even though a dreadful mistake brought forth shambles for Michigan, is Jalen Rose, who still talks with Fisher, who call and send his former coach text messages.

Plenty of his players trust in him and personally are ready for the next challenge, aiming to stun the world with an upset over UConn by the end of Thursday night. If it is, some truly believe, the story might be enough to write the most fascinating story to mend Fisher's career.

Folks, a story could be in the making.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unusual March in College Hoops: Untouchable Buckeyes Can't Be Reckoned With

It was a pedigree of arguably the deepest team in the tourney that doomed presumably the cutest story in March - another incredible joyride for a school with a reputation for scaring a top-seed team. This time, however, Ohio State isn't an understatement and George Mason isn't a touching tale to delightfully stun the world, and instead the Buckeyes are a legitimate powerhouse in an unusual March.

So the Buckeyes channel their dominance, maniacally sending a clear statement in the NCAA tournament, reaching a climax and advancing to the Sweet 16 with enough force to rescue parts of obliterated brackets because of what has transpired with all the craziness over a dramatic, mesmerizing weekend for college hoops.

The Buckeyes, the top seed in the East Region, are obviously invincible from the grand scheme of things, and poses a threat for any opponent in Ohio State's path. Now this is a program much too dignified and too dangerous to be reckoned with.

For all of the disregards the Buckeyes have taken, being in a conference worthy of its own television network but no respect with the Big East owning much regards in the domain of college hoops, it was common to ignore Ohio State every season.

You never know about March Madness, especially when upsets annihilate brackets, creating endless chatter near the water cooler at workplaces, and alarming the masses to shun away from a routine task as employees tune in from their computers at work.

Because of Ohio State's craftiness late Sunday afternoon, from the successive jump shots to the fearless drives that bullied George Mason inside to the streaky three pointers that basically slaughtered the Patriots in a 98-66 rout, the Buckeyes advanced to the regional semifinals and were scarier than ever.

The game never came close to a classical ending, but an ugly blowout, and George Mason was no match for Ohio State. The scoreboard read demoralizing results, and as much as the Patriots believed in themselves, not intimidated by the promise and balance the Buckeyes exposed, the No. 1 team overall ended George Mason's aspiration. The delirious crowd screamed and went berserk every time Jon Diebler, Ohio State's career leader in threes, heaved a three-pointer in what became a momentum booster for the Buckeyes.

He looks like an unstoppable robot, built to drill three-point shots -- or a godlike sharpshooter who just can't miss, blessed with luck whenever he shoots. He was wide open from the perimeter for much of the day that would signify his style of play if not his poise and emotion to lead the Buckeyes, along with a five-year senior guard, David Lighty, a floor general who'd recklessly drive into traffic and finish on a dramatic layup.

Because he plays the role of an aggressor, he settled for 25 points and nailed all seven of his 3 pointers from long range, contributing to a well-balanced program molded by the brilliant head coach Thad Matta. In the end, they jubilated, smiled and exchanged bear-hugs, satisfied with probably the most superb and noticeable performance all season, coming when the Buckeyes had a dominant contest before thousands of its fans.

There's no doubt, with glaring evidence, that the Buckeyes are favored to win it all having very little flaws, that they secured ultimately a spotless reputation as the scariest and matchless program in the tourney, reducing the thoughts of vulnerability in a mystic, unpredictable event.

It was made known that Ohio State expunged any possibilities of an upset and inched closer towards its first national title since 1960, ready to encounter an intense bout with Kentucky in the regional semifinals Friday in Newark, N.J. The scene inside Ohio State's locker room was joy, a contiguous feeling that spread throughout the room, as Lighty reflected back on the wonderful memories he had when he was a freshman on the Buckeyes national runner-up team in 2007.

The game wasn't stunning, but it could have been, had George Mason pulled off the George Mason, flashing back to 2006 when the school stunned the basketball world and went to the Final Four as a Cinderella, wearing the shiny glass slipper for one shining moment in school history. But this is not the case, not in the year when the Buckeyes are creative and fundamentally sound enough to shellshock any opponent, not in the year when they are surrounded with depth and experience.

It was evident, then and there, that no team in the tournament can defeat the prodigal or marveled attack by the Buckeyes. There was a point in the game, such as in the early moments, when Ohio State trailed and witnessed a potential scare, playing with the lack of emotion and energy.

At first, from what it seemed, the Buckeyes looked as if they were in a state of confusion, unsure of how to handle the impressive start of the underdogs. It was Saturday night that Cleveland native Lighty treated all of his teammates to his family's church, and nicely pampered them with soul food. By Sunday morning, center Jared Sullinger was singing Miley Cyrus in morning shootarounds, hyped for the sweetest opportunity. And while preparing for the biggest game, no matter if George Mason was unmatched from the opening tip, four Ohio State players were presented their diplomas this morning, on the day they topped it with a refreshing win in Quicken Loans Arena, a neutral site that felt like a homecoming party when primal shouts echoed inside the venue.

In a tournament of bizarre scenes and crazy turn-of-events after the lone No. 1 seed Pittsburgh took an abnormal pitfall in an unusual finish against Butler, after Duke barely survived Michigan and after Louisville faltered to drop in a disappointing fashion against Morehead State, the Buckeyes vindicated that they were worthy of a top overall seed.

And it was certainly a statement made in two games, won by a total of 62 points and amazingly shot 58.6 percent from the field. Fifty-six percent of those shots were three-pointers, even if Ohio State is fortunate to have Sullinger, one of the tallest big men physical and efficient in the middle. More importantly, though, his presence creates open looks for Diebler and Lighty, two skilled shooters who were left uncontested and took advantage of George Mason's laziness to defend the perimeter.

What it was, of course, was Patriots' coaches plans to adjust to Sullinger, trying to slow down the big man, but instead his strategy was inadequate and allowed Diebler and Lighty too much space to work from the arch. The Buckeyes never derailed and had finally found their groove, once Sullinger attacked the rim, once Lighty shot lights out in his hometown, once Diebler drained jump shot after jump shot, as it rained threes in the forecast in Cleveland to outscore George Mason 50-15 over the final 16 minutes of the first half with an action-packed shooting clinic, offensive weapons that showed firepower.

The man off the bench, freshman guard Aaron Craft, controlled the tempo with 15 assists, which allowed the Buckeyes to finish 16 of 26 from three-point land. On the way to halftime, the Buckeyes relied on a 10-0 run to overcome deficiencies early and then a 16-0 spurt, drilling five three-pointers over the final five minutes and took a demoralizing 52-26 halftime lead.

All of this heightens the Buckeyes' confidence in an attempt to reach the Final Four, and pretty soon, Ohio State will travel to Houston if they continue to awe everyone and beat everybody. It would be awful for Ohio State to let a great accomplishment go to waste. For the most part, it's a horrendous feeling to even imagine the Buckeyes losing, when they had such a joyous year. It's only rational to believe that the Ohio State can win it all, right??

At least, that's the way it feels.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The NHL Again Proves It's Incompetent When Handing Out Punishments

Dany Heatley has been suspended two games by the NHL for an elbow to face of Steve Ott in yesterday's game in Dallas. Earlier in the game Ott was trying to stick up for teammate Loui Erikkson who was hit hard and cleanly by San Jose Sharks Douglas Murray. Ott engaged Murray in a fight and with Murray's tremendous size advantage he promptly took Ott to the ice.

Yet, what started out the events of the night happened to Niclas Wallin and to make matters worse there was no penalty on the play or suspension handed down by the NHL. Wallin was skating towards the puck near the glass and had his back to Jamie Langenbrunner who checked him from behind right into the glass.

The hit left Wallin dazed and even though he got up he was not 100 percent and due to the Sharks basically playing 4-5 hockey, it led to the Stars first goal of the game. Wallin skated off the ice and was woozy on the bench and did not return to the game.

That's what began the chain of events that started with Murray's hit on Erikkson. The explanation from Murray was “Well, when it comes to Eriksson, it’s a 50/50 puck." If he pokes it, he’s getting a breakaway, so as far as I remember the situation, I went to play the puck in the body on the same time and I hit him. You never try to hurt a guy, but it’s unfortunate.” 

When watching the replay of the hit, it's clear that Murray's version of the event is correct. Stars coach Marc Crawford stated “That’s one that they’ll have to look at, and I am sure that they will.” 

Recently the NHL has come under fire for soft punishments handed out to players for head injuries and it's understandable that Crawford would feel that way. The problem is the replay does not show a hit to the head by Murray it shows that Murray was going after the puck and hit Erikkson in the chest with his shoulder as he was going for the puck. 

Also, it's important to note that on Murray's hit on Erikkson there was no penalty called on the play. 

Murray was also involved in another play with Tomas Vincour where he got his elbow and hit him in the face and again no penalty was given on the play. That should have been an elbowing penalty and nothing more should have come of it. 

Lastly though Heatley got involved with Ott and was given an interference penalty. As Heatley was skating towards Ott he extended his elbow barely glancing the head of Ott, who took a tremendous dive to the ice and made the elbow look worse than it appeared. 

Where was the penalty for embellishment? Nowhere to be found! How did Ott manage to be on the ground after barely being elbowed? The icing on the cake was the post game interview who whined and complained about the hits the Sharks put on the Stars. 

While it would be understandable that he was upset about Murray's hit on Vincour, he truly had nothing else to complain about. If anything if Heatley is getting a two game suspension for barely grazing Ott? why isn't Langenbrunner being suspended for at least five for the devastating hit on Wallin? 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Kemba Walker Provides Wonderful Feel for Madness with Astonishing Finish

If you discovered or embraced a monumental night on Broadway, a beautiful finish to a feel-good tale, it's because you witnessed an epic conference championship series, one of those unforgettable events of March.

It was an appetizer leading to March Madness, one of the loudest and wildest basketball tournaments in sports, and with the madness ever so closer, we saw what a star from the UConn Huskies is capable of producing to increasingly heighten the intensity and exhilaration.

This was an indicator to specify how virtuous and transcendent Kemba Walker is with madness quickly approaching, albeit the scandal sort of blinded the delightful journey the Huskies are enjoying this season. It's now just a matter of Walker, who is a proficient star destined to lead Connecticut in an ambitious, meaningful NCAA tournament, delivering in the tourney when competition is astounding on the road to the Final Four, on the road to a national title for a school with the notoriety for sensational conquests.

On this night, inside the Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous venue, it happened instantly for Walker earlier in the week at the beginning of the Big East tourney. And then, by the end of an improbable run, he was the most valuable essential for the Huskies' unbelievable 69-66 win to beat Louisville in the Big East championship game Saturday night. The moment would belong to Walker, an extraordinary 6'1" junior guard, for leading the ninth-seeded Huskies to cap arguably the greatest five days a top player and team might have ever witnessed in college basketball.

It's almost as if a dream was impossible, but suddenly turned into reality and spectators were alerted at the Garden as Walker absorbed the spotlight in New York City when it was supposed to acknowledge St. John's recent success. He was, even with hardly any applause in the conference tourney, the reliable star on the hardwood in such a well-respected venue, reinstalling life in the heart and soul of a troubled program.

Andrea Walker watched her son finish the game for the Huskies and exhaled when he jubilated with his teammates on a grand night to win five games in five days, emotionally and physically exhausted. The town belongs to Walker, a kid who was raised in the projects and played on the playgrounds. In early childhood, when he was religiously devoted to the game, he always dreamed of playing in the Garden one day. He was finally given an opportunity to conquer a lifelong ambition and, in the end, his mother breathed and smiled, moved by her son's natural abilities to direct his teammates to a triumphant championship.

"I'm out of words," said Walker, who was fatigued in the end. "I can't describe it. It's just so special but I knew we could do it. I knew it."

Walker is a sensational player and has not finished developing into a stud, but it's precisely elementary to praise him for a breakout season, particularly in the Big East tournament, an event of borderline improbability and unpredictability to urge bracketologists to pencil in UConn as a Final Four favorite.

The optimism is felt and noticed in Storrs, where an ecstatic fan base worships basketball, devoid of a major professional franchise but fortunate to have a top-ranking program known for a successful March nearly each season. It's fine for Jim Calhoun, UConn veteran head coach, to trust in Walker to lead the Huskies to the highest level, charmingly for a chance to embrace grandeur. One of the kind benefits UConn is lucky to comprise of is clearly Walker's presence, a resemblance of Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.

While Walker is a clutch performer with a leadership mentality, scoring 19 points and forcing defensive meltdowns to contribute in Connecticut's game-winning shot on Saturday, the Huskies aren't expected to survive a field of 68 teams. But it would be inevitable not to pencil them in as the improbable underdogs when, in all honesty, they can shimmer in the tourney and dazzle with the aid of Walker's amazing creativity, which at times seems more creative than Apple releasing the latest iPods or iPhones.

The Huskies, as the No. 9 seed in the tourney, remained firm and fantastically accomplished a consequential mark that had never been done before, keeping afloat with five wins in five days to attain a major-conference title. It is, however, a journey that began Tuesday with a win over DePaul and resumed Wednesday with a victory over Georgetown. By Thursday, Walker crossed Pittsburgh's Gary McGhee and eventually he was sent to the floor and allowed Walker to nail the game-winning step-back jump shot to beat Pittsburgh, a shot that will eternally feature on flashbacks on five-day activity.

It's now fitting to excel when UConn will be forced to miss out on the first three Big East Conference games next season in the aftermath of the revelations of infamously contemptible infractions. Every single possession, he orchestrated plays unselfishly for his teammates, which he was very unselfish in sharing the ball and created opportunities for himself as well until the game was over. His work ethic, perseverance, creativity and proficiency gloriously shifted the momentum the Huskies' way, not once losing its mojo to outlast every Big East opponent.

At game's end, the Huskies were crowned champions and Calhoun pumped his fist, proud of his team's accomplishments. Bear-hugs were exchanged and every UConn player rallied around the star of the game, Walker. Everybody was celebratory, except Walker, who was celebratory but not as much as his players. He was exhausted, out of breath and seemed ready to hit the bed for a good night's sleep. He walked off the floor slowly to eventually be the athlete every reporter was eager to chat with in the news conference.

"Now that the tournament is over I can tell you that I was definitely tired," said Walker. "With about two minutes left, I was gassed. But I just wanted to win this game so bad that, you know, my heart took over."

It's certainly normal for the finest player in college hoops to be tired when he relatively played with heart and much vitality and posted 26 points in the opening round against DePaul, dropped 28 the following night after pummeling Georgetown and scored 24 points over top-ranked Pittsburgh. And now, he easily shattered the Big East tournament scoring record with a staggering 130 points as UConn defeated four Top 25 teams in five days. It should come as no surprise that he's elevated his candidacy for National Player of the Year honors.

Better yet, it brought national regards to the Huskies, generating premature madness.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Miami Heat Soothes Woes, Reduce Tears as Lakers Blaze in Flames

When a superstar named Dwyane Wade forced a turnover on a steal and brilliantly delivered to LeBron James for a dramatic dunk that capped the go-ahead point with 1:27 left, an energetic crowd erupted in a raucous, wild frenzy and finally released the successive deficiencies of anguish, humiliation and animosity.

The state of the Miami Heat wasn't impeccable, but an unsolved teaser with the repetition of letdowns and horrific droughts of late that pretty much, sadly, elicited fear and softness for arguably the greatest trio all-time in NBA history. This was an installment for assurance, a cure to aspiration for a much-scrutinized franchise with signs of life in South Beach after all, where a local crowd feverishly screamed fiercely for the Heat.

And not a soul burst into tears.

The array of transition plays in the final minutes symbolized the Heat's revival, not to mention Wade's clutch performance for driving Miami to a decisive 94-88 win over the red-hot Los Angeles Lakers to snap a five-game losing skid and hand the two-time defending champions their first loss in nine games.

The horrifying woes vanished, on a night that Chris Bosh lead in scoring with 24 points, on a night that Mario Chalmers and Mike Bibby shared minutes to combine for 15 points and even on a night that Mike Miller had 12 points to contribute off the bench, grabbing seven rebounds to outplay the Lakers. For all the talk about Wade not getting enough touches, frustrated with his lack of help in the critical moments of the game, he orchestrated meaningful plays down the stretch and had the ball as the clock ticked.

He came in with a much-maligned demeanor, scoring eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter that particularly relieved the pressure and restored faith as the regular-season comes to a close; if Wade takes over the game in the end, it's a better chance the Heat can outduel its tough opponents in the upcoming weeks.

When it mattered the most, against a superstar cast from Los Angeles with size and the best closer in the game currently, the Heat stopped crying, LeBaby earned his name LeBron back and they came alive to play with plenty of heart.

For the Heat, riding a five-game losing streak in bad timing, ultimately, this was a must-have to purge the misery over the course of the last few days; that wasn't the case Thursday night when the Heat avoided widespread derision, taken seriously finally for defeating the Lakers, as Miami wore angry and vindictive facial expressions.

"What better game than this game to get back on track," Wade said after the Heat win.

The Heat, once lifeless, gutless and lethargic, have resurrected before suffocating mightily and minimized the burdens that hunted Miami, drawing plenty of doubts. It just so happens, by capitalizing in a tense, tight breathtaking contest down the stretch, that the Heat were successful in each meeting this season and swept the Lakers in the season series, the first coming on Christmas Day when James and the Heat demoralized L.A. with a miserable rout at Staples Center.

In the wake of the full-blown stories, for three of the high-profile athletes, the Heat were ridiculed after head coach Erik Spoelstra created a media circus by publicly disclosing that several of his players cried hopelessly behind close doors in the locker room following a heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bulls Sunday.

What's really disappointing, even if the Heat assembled the best talent in the NBA last summer for a famous town in America not really known for its sports, is that Miami isn't as advertised and hasn't surmounted to superiority, but has toppled to become vulnerable in a competitive league built with phenomenal star power.

Meanwhile, the Heat, considerably a favorite to claim a berth in the NBA Finals this season, only if they can suddenly compile victories and play as a trio that allows Miami to rule the Eastern Conference, secured its identity and remains shielded from harm. This time, meanwhile, Phil Jackson's psychological mind games only enhanced the Heat's performance level and inspired them to play with much urgency and rid the motionlessness. It was clearly a game Miami desperately needed to rectify themselves of struggles and tone down the criticism.

Before the game, of course, Jackson talked to the media and derided the Heat's offense, referring to it as "X-Box" basketball full of one-on-one. For once, when the stagnant Lakers disappeared in the second-half, the boys from South Beach were pumped and Bosh finally played like a stud. At best, he was pesky in the post, a primary factor early as James was the distributor and pushed the ball down the floor to involve his teammates.

"It's a stubborn group to keep grinding away and continue to put ourselves in that position where you can fail or succeed," said Spoelstra, who can dismiss the speculations slightly of his firing.

By snapping a disappointing losing streak, the Heat proved to non-believers that they can contend with the relevant teams, including the Lakers when the Big Three ended the painful fiascoes.

Yet, in this particularly event, Bosh fulfilled his demand and buried shots in the low post, collecting nine boards for an all-around masterful game. All those Heat players had swagger, played with heart and healed the wounds of further destruction to shun away from a loss that would have mentally and physically threatened the state of Miami, a franchise assembled by the mastermind Pat Riley.

“We had everything riding on this game, to be honest with you,” Bosh said.

Shortly after a shoddy 105-96 loss to Portland Tuesday night, speculations were immense whether Spoelstra is capable of shrewdly guiding the Heat, but in truth, he's not the proper head coach for the job. To retain Spoelstra, when he has no personality or an urge to inspire his players, is a mindless choice for a clever architect as brilliant as Riley.

With any intentions to bring in a powerful voice to be a mentor and instill the fundamentals of urgency and dominance, he'd hire Larry Brown as the next Heat coach, but he plans on holding on to Spoelstra, a weak-minded coach mostly blamed for the Heat's surprising collapse. The demise almost blemished the Heat, but for whatever reason, Riley offered support for his coach on Wednesday.

"It's the media being neurotic," Riley told the Newark Star-Ledger during the preliminary rounds of the Big East conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.

"It's their need to make a story, create a story and make that story come true. And that ain't going to happen. Write it off."

There's no doubt the Heat aren't forgotten, handling the Lakers twice this season as a way to reduce the tears from rolling down their despaired faces. The Heat aren't done yet.

“It feels good to win a game the way you’ve been losing games,” Wade said. “We had to find a way and we did that.”

Gosh, babies grow fast these days. Just like that, the Heat were men—the Big Three we expected all along.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In Bad Travesty, Ohio State, NCAA Not Harsh Enough on Jim Tressel

It's not enough for Ohio State to be America's laughingstock. As in any scandal, one of the paramount football programs in the nation was blinded and the mystery engendered a hideous disturbance, a national disturbance rather in Columbus, dealing with criticism for contemptible infractions that weren't harsh enough in punishing the man in the middle of the widespread travesty to stain Ohio State's reputation.

Most of all, with a phony facial expression in a press conference Tuesday to address that several of his players had received impermissible benefits months before allegations came to light, Jim Tressel admittedly was aware of the incident and had been informed last April. In the immediate aftermath of the revelations in regards of accusations, he absurdly lied and deceived the university for months, refusing to come clean.

I'm still not certain whether to feel sympathy for Tressel or slap him silly after he wrongly stood as a hoax and kept a secret, assuming the scummy plights would hereafter vanish and erase the public anticlimax that surfaced in the early winter when the NCAA suspended five Ohio State players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, for the first five games of the 2011 season for auctioning memorabilia for tattoos. It is well established that Tressel, in his lack of knowledge with his lame excuses, mistakenly believes we are stupid, trying to clean his image before it tarnishes.

Come to think of it, he already has sabotaged his legacy and image to some degree. He needed to be honest and precise in the beginning, but instead he made matters worse. It's almost laughable in a way that the Buckeyes are suddenly known as the Blackeyes, aka Tressel's culprits. What's next?? The Buckeyes will be broadcasted on America's Most Wanted, simply when the program was recognized as one of the most dignified universities in the nation, hijacking the airwaves on the Big Ten Network, a conference that really isn't worthy of its own television network??

So now he's living a lie to escape from the stunning damage, perpetrated to change the way people regard Tressel, once revered for leading the Buckeyes to seven Big Ten titles and the 2002 BCS national championship. But surely the achievements seem as if the Buckeyes were tainted an asterisk, when nearly it feels so convenient to lampoon Ohio State for nearly every incident with Tressel's top star players each season, a frequent pattern that brainwash non-believers to disparage a nationally respected program. When it all came out, when he arrived to a press conference embarrassed and saddened, he said he was "scared" of putting an endless federal drug trafficking case accompanied to the tattoo parlor.

Lame excuse. Sorry, I'm not buying it.

"It was obviously tremendously concerning," Tressel said. "Quite honestly, I was scared."

Maybe had he spoke on the allegations much sooner, he would have enhanced his credibility by telling the truth instead of lying. Rather amazingly, he wanted his to seriously believe that he was an immaculate coach who follows the rules without rebellion or breaking NCAA rules, but he never apologized for evidently violating the rules and not following the protocol.

In a sense that he demands superiority that enables an overbearing and careless demeanor, he truly believes he can escape the harsh reality of sanctions with selfishness as if he's above the NCAA rulers. Eight months later, he's accused of letting down his university, his bosses and NCAA investigators for never telling them that he was aware of two players accepting improper benefits from the owner of a tattoo parlor in Columbus, Ohio.

The latest scandal might have tarnished the program, purging traces of indelible moments over the years at Ohio State, a school that has celebrated with much joy in the past as the symbol of Big Ten football, but currently, it's a program in trouble when the truth finally was revealed. In a strange way, of course, none of this bothers Tressel and, if anything, he says he has always been his own critic.

"I don't think less of myself at this moment," Tressel said.

Consider it a case of disingenuousness, a word heard commonly in college sports these days. From what it seems, we can never assume that a university is clean in the age of sleazes and when players or coaches make poor judgment, seeking improper benefits to enrich the program or even their own lives in general. At risk of sounding like a fraud, on the fringe of a harsher sanction if the NCAA decides to drop the hammer on Ohio State in the upcoming weeks, Tressel simply thought he could remove from the heinous crimes.

Bombarded by questions in the conference, a publicity scene where Tressel was uneasy and too tense to stand before reporters, he never discussed the e-mails and he never told the bleak athletic director Gene Smith or the school's compliance office about e-mails he retrieved from an attorney in April 2010, which were evidence that Buckeyes players had been accepting improper benefits. And for the purposes of this argument, when the issue is whether he was penalized harshly or softly, Tressel mostly was given a slap on the wrist after Ohio State suspended him for the first two games and fined him $250,000.

That's it?? That was soft, not harsh enough.

It appears Tressel is allowed to return from his infamous suspension much too soon, where he'll be back for conference play when competition is steep and the emotions rise publicly within a conference for teams that are in contention against elite programs from a rather overrated conference. It's precisely not fair for him to only miss cupcake games against Akron and Toledo, two home games the Buckeyes will rout, no doubt.

For many years, Ohio State has represented excellent athleticism, but it's not the first time Tressel has been accused or caught for lying, though the latest scandal for the Buckeyes is the worse. It was lies that bruised Tressel's identity, an blemished personality ever since he used an ignorant excuse in defense for Maurice Clarett in 2002 when the explosive running back was suspended for falsifying a police report and took improper benefits and reportedly misled investigators and ever since his former star quarterback Troy Smith received money from a booster.

In fairness, as bad as the scandal seems, he deserved a harsher punishment when Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl lied to NCAA investigators and was suspended for many of the conference games by SEC commissioner Mike Slive. In contrast, football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired by Washington for lying to NCAA investigators, but even though he's verified as a lightning rod in college football, Tressel avoids a significant punishment.

The NCAA has given skeptics and doubters plenty of reason to grasp a sense that they show favoritism towards Ohio State, which is exactly what exemplifies a corroded formula, a mockery to academics and college athletics. It's true, although he's responsible for much of the deceptiveness and bad publicity that has toppled the name brand program, he won't be held liable for lying or expanding the horror.

In his strange way, Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee has no intentions in firing Tressel, in full support of his head coach despite his horrendous mistakes. No matter what has transpired, even if Tressel deceived his bosses and the school, Smith also is supportive in the end of a fragile farce that stained the Buckeyes.

"Wherever we end up at the end of the day, Jim Tressel is our football coach," Smith said. "All the speculation about him being terminated is pure speculation. This case, in my view, does not warrant it."

Quite honestly, how can you trust in a fraud?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Bulls Have a Rose That Blossomed Finally: Watch out for Derrick Rose

He’s the most beloved athletic figure in Chicago currently, and to this point I swear. But in any other town he’s a forgotten rose, such as in a place like Miami, where he blossomed like a rose on LeBron James’ court near the shores of South Beach.

For all the strange folks in this universe ignoring a self-proclaimed Rose, Derrick Rose to be more precise — a relentless point guard who is favored to earn MVP honors this year for such a sensational season with the Chicago Bulls — he is almost unstoppable and hasn’t been denied much too often, with the exception of the Bulls’ loss to Golden State. So there was Rose, in one of his remarkable moments, as the Bulls survived on the road with an 87-86 win over the Heat to wildly send a vital statement to the league. In every way, Rose is the symbol of the Bulls, not to mention that he’s a part of a promising future for the Bulls and is lucky to play for his hometown that pleads for him to serve as a vital element and validate his place in history. You probably wonder what fuels his energy, a habit he adopts in order to preserve his strength and stay efficient without becoming fatigued, so he can race through traffic and finish at the basket. The intensity he produce comes from his fetish for sweets and junk food that he consumes religiously and refuses to turn down.

Either way, that is, Rose has become the face of Chicago at a moment when the Bulls are in contention and putting fear in the hearts of the Celtics, Magic and Heat. Given that he’s in the shadows of Michael Jordan, an all-time legend who still reigns as the greatest ballplayer in Chicago with a statue cast in bronze outside the United Center, Rose will most likely gain a reputation for being the hero for resuscitating the Bulls and reinstalling a sense of aspiration. The popular youngster delivered on Sunday in a matinee against the Heat with 27 points on 12-for-23 shooting in 38 minutes, capping a season sweep of Miami. It’s never smart to dismiss the Bulls, known as the underdogs this season, even if Chicago comprise of a crafty superstar as gifted as Rose.

Nobody believes in the Bulls, now a sensible competitor in the East, weary of being called the underdogs after the recent showdown against the Heat indicated that the Bulls could presumably beat the boys from South Beach in the playoffs when they easily humiliated and defeated their toughest opponent.

The stakes were high for the Bulls, tied for second place in the Eastern Conference, all while trying to anxiously prove to the basketball world that they are for real and can amaze us come postseason with perhaps a best-of-seven series that could be a thriller for the ages.

With the emergence of the Bulls, the reemergence rather, Chicago is suddenly rising to supremacy in the Eastern Conference and Rose isn’t intimidated by anyone — he’s known as a baby version of MJ since he’s not afraid to drive his way inside and finish on a layup. In truth, an aura of dominance and toughness describes Rose’s arsenal, a proficient floor general who leads the Bulls in the post-Jordan era, and simply is a compelling name around the league.

It seems as if the Bulls, even if they don’t survive the postseason, may have removed the Baby Bull label from in front of their names for the first time since Jordan retired from Chicago. It’s a proven franchise built on tremendous talent and stands up to the top notched teams of the Eastern Conference, and many people are suddenly fearful of Bulls.

Few players in our nation can inspire kids, and it just so happens that Rose isn’t only instrumental to the Bulls but also inspirational to children, particularly those who had to grow up in poverty — seeing the way he was raised in a bad side of Chicago. He played pick up basketball in neighborhoods of gang violence, bloody streets, homicides and drugs. In reality, he was raised in the hood but chose the right path and instead had been committed to shooting hoops and playing on the courts, although he resided in a rough environment.

His irresistible play was exposed on the afternoon in a pivotal must-have, during a period when the overwhelmed beliefs persuaded doubters to actually believe in the Bulls. This shifted the mood and uplifted a dormant town out of an atmosphere of bleakness. The defeat marked the Bulls third win against the Heat of the season when Rose, along with Amar’e Stoudemire, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker, have all made strong MVP cases.

What’s more, there’s always one player more worthy of the award, and Rose is clearly that guy. It was a dramatic finish, and fairly unpredictable near the end. It appeared as if the Heat were well on their way to a victory, when the Bulls blew a five-point lead late and trailed 86-84 after Mario Chalmers darted inside for an uncontested layup with 25.8 seconds left. That, however, led to a foul charged against Chalmers and it sent Luol Deng to the charity strike, where he drained one of two free throws with 17.3 seconds remaining. By way of contrast, in the end, Joakim Noah switched onto James and forced a miss, but the Heat rebounded and Dwyane Wade heaved a prayer from the baseline at the buzzer that rattled out. The last-second jumper decided it for the Bulls in a game they really wanted to take and prevailed with much at stake. Fear Rose, known for attacking the rim, surrounded by a reliable supporting cast with Noah and Carlos Boozer. But in this particular showdown, Rose outplayed James and Wade, finding a way to awe spectators with his impressive turnaround.

It clearly was a defensive effort from the Bulls, and they rallied back in the end to win after trailing against Miami. The Heat almost beat Chicago, but Rose orchestrated a late comeback with his hot shooting.

Folks, the Bulls are contenders and aren’t pushovers. Sunday was a reminder, as everyone else worries about the Heat, blinded by the bloom of a Rose.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

NFL Lockout Lurks as Clock Trickles to Midnight: Football in for Eternal Fight?

In this case, if ever there was a time that the NFL was sort of coincidental to an overwrought fairy tale, the labor war happens to be the parallel of a Cinderella sequel as the clock perpetually dwindles towards midnight when the 10 owners on the NFL management council executive committee and the NFL Players Association are not expected to reach a deal before the 11:59 ET deadline Thursday night.

When the clock strikes midnight, with a potential work stoppage looming to delay an entire season by next fall if the two parties cannot compromise and settle an ongoing fight, fans could be deprived of the most popular sport in America, uncertifies and litigates would be allowed to file an injunction to inhibit the owners from locking them out, as well as impel players to file an anti-trust suit against owners.

From the grand scheme of things, it's a real shame that the NFL is battered in a travesty, probably the worst disaster since the 1987 labor stoppage, probably the worst holocaust in sports when two parties ignites an apocalypse, an ordeal rarely beheld within the richest industry in sports. It would figure, for a major sports association after its survival through poor economic times and political wars, that the NFL was considerable enough to save itself from doomsday and recommence next season.

If so, before midnight, consider it a rebound to save a popular sport everybody raves about dearly in our nation, but from the way it stands, the NFL is close to a heinous lockout with the rhetoric of collective bargaining contract uproars. The sad thing is, as a nation watches worried and perplexed with the odds that a season might not exist this upcoming September, when the athletic men are ready and fidgety to return onto the turf, that this rift is over money.

Yes, the two sides are so silly, in which they are wrangling over money. It doesn't take long, hearing disgruntled players and sensitive owners argue over revenue, before it makes me cringe or sick to my stomach as we all should shake our heads in disbelief with the idiocy brainwashing the minds of petulant owners and even the lethargic NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. It's fair for the masses to point fingers at the commish, when he seemingly doesn't care enough to resolve a heart shattering juncture, undermining the spotless image of the NFL.

The nonsense has a large impact on the status of professional football in the near future, killing the heart and soul of advocates in support of the watchful event each season. It's never compelling when a lockout is impending, but it's very mind-blowing that owners are requesting more money than players, athletes the chairmen employ to enrich their organizations.

The latest tableau exposes just how bad the priorities are in the NFL, just how bad the league merely desires the earnings, besides satisfying a large fan base globally. It happens so often that the NFL is suddenly such a powerless business, a testament for which the league no longer has a standard for, unwilling to reshape expediency over money issues. That certainly won't happen really soon in the NFL, not until the two sides approach the matter, be more pragmatic to put a fight to rest and decide to orchestrate a convenient deal.

It seems that simple, right?

Well, apparently not for the owners or the NFL Players Association.

All of this week, thus seven current sessions brought little progress to end a level of distress in a period hardly anybody anticipated to arrive, there has been plenty of meetings with a federal mediator.

The worst-case scenario is, if there is a lockout on the way to threatening the players, that offseason workouts and minicamps will be withheld for an immeasurable standstill. For that matter, meanwhile, if this stoppage last longer than usual or forever, maybe just forever, at the rate of two sides unable to solve their disagreements before deadline, it jeopardizes training camp and preseason. All of this petrifies America, I would assume, being that football is the primary symbol in our sports society, the one sport event culturally adored with scenes of extreme action, drama, emotion and upsets.

Say Goodbye, football. Say adios, football. That is, only if there's not an agreement before midnight.


Seems we are witnessing a fairy tale, without the glass slipper, pumpkin, mice and fairy godmother. On this particular subject, we are observing a hogwash story and it's comprised of owners and the NFL Players Association, the biggest complication disclosed publicly in ages. The farce has reached the point of which it can no longer be dismissed with the NFL being pulled in different directions, a flustering upheaval from week to week and it has led to a tragedy on the prelude for what can become a distasteful impasse.

What's next? Nobody knows.

It's just too much suspense for a situation that resembles a couple of hit drama shows, such as CSI or Criminal Minds, with the unknown of an unsettled, unsure status for a league that has yet found aspiration and the remedy to rescue the NFL from flaws. Hours away from a standoff, and all we hear on airwaves or iPods, when it relates to sports, is that the NFL has approached the dreaded likelihood of corruption.

That is, if the current collective bargaining agreement expires by midnight Eastern time without an extension, but prior to the deadline, the NFL Players Association plans on decertifying as a strategic effort to block a petulant lockout from owners. This is a risky thought for the NFL, even if we can watch reruns of Seinfeld or the Simpsons or tune in to see classic games on NFL Network. The unwillingness to pursue a new CBA deal is tellingly that the NFL alone could lose out on much profit, endure a painful season financially, from limited activities at venues to non-ticket sales to largely a lot of many jobs.

That's an issue that should speak far more than money, at least for owners already pocketing decent amount of money, while the economy gradually seeks a recovery and fans awaits other 16-game season to take our minds off the annoyance of Charlie Sheen or Lindsey Lohan, as football is a cure to humanity. Even DeMaurice Smith, who as the NFLPA director in these crucial times, has done fairly a terrific job negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with NFL owners, but no one has compromised.

Today, on the final day that is, both sides attempt to save the league, now on the verge of serious trouble. If nothing is settled before midnight, Drew Brees can stand up for the union and be a quarterback even away from the field, an intelligent voice for the players' union. Or else, he'll probably end up on the golf course during a stoppage, depending on the length and infamous deal. He was the emotional leader many of nights on the field, and called for solidarity in a game against the Vikings last season when he and Saints players stepped onto the field and pointed their fingers skyward.

Right now, though, the NFL is nearly close to a lockout. The talk of NFL owners unwilling to deal with federal judge David Doty is what each party tends to agree on, following Doty's ruling Tuesday that rejected the owners capacity to receive "lockout insurance" for advanced payments on the NFL television contracts. In the end, of course, if owners refuse to order that current players won't be able to appear on NFL Network's airwaves during a work stoppage, the union will try it's very best to halt interviews from materializing. As for broadcast partners, it's likely that the union will urge players from appearing on television, but in reality, it may not happen.

No later than 5 p.m., the NFLPA is expected to file paperwork with the National Labor Relations Board in an attempt to decertify the union, which seems like a sham to the NFL after filing paperwork with the NLRB.

If there's a nightmarish ending to a fairy tale by midnight, Goodell will be accused of fallacies and inadequacies, described as the meanest villain.