Thursday, April 26, 2012

Here we go again with questonable draft decisions

It seems that kids take a long time to learn from the example of the predecesors and that is especially the case when it comes to college basketball players deciding when to enter the NBA Draft. With the NCAA's newly implemented deadlines, players have until April 10 or Tuesday to make a decision on whether to enter school.

That date was mandated by the NCAA because college coaches complained of being unable to replace those prospects who waited sometimes as late as June to make their decision whether to leave school. So kids are now blindly entering the draft, hoping that they will land in the lottery or first round where they will receive a guaranteed contract. So players such as Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), Meyers Leonard (Illinois), Austin Rivers (Duke) and Tony Wroten (Washington) have already thrown their names into the pool, hoping to entice teams to consider them a potential cornerstone.

But potential is the key word here. There have been countless of players who submitted their names, truly believing they were destined for stardom and now they are barely hanging on or missed their sliver of opportunity to succeed. Xavier Henry, Willie Warren and Josh Selby are names from the past two drafts that were supposed to make an impact. Henry and Selby are clinging on to NBA rosters while Warren is in the NBADL.

Unless the goal of leaving college early was to experience the lavish life of the NBADL, Warren made a mistake leaving Oklahoma three years early and is in the NBADL while Selby and Henry are just guys on rosters, hardly considered building blocks for the future. They are in league survival mode.

The NBA admittedly does not want unprepared players in their league but they have to scout and evaluate those prospects who may be entering the draft prematurely. Unfortunately, the NCAA rules has eliminated the NBA's chance to look at potential draftees before offering suggestions about staying in the draft or returning to school. By the time teams will have a chance to look at players, the decision-making process is over and we'll welcome a new slew of youngsters entering the NBA without much chance to succeed because they are unprepared.
The NBA and NCAA have to collaborate for one uniform rule on draft entry, hopefully one that allows the 19-year-old to avoid the chances of making a decision he will regret for his entire life. There are countless examples of those players who lament their decisions decades later.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pryor is all that's wrong with college athletics


Do you think Joe Paterno breathes daily sighs of relief that Terrelle Pryor chose Ohio State instead of Penn State?

The carnage Pryor left in Columbus, Ohio after his uneven and controversial three-year stint with the Buckeyes may be unprecedented for a college athlete since those chaotic days in the 1980s at Southern Methodist University.

And to improve his chances of entering the NFL's supplemental draft, Pryor attempts to add more embarrassment to Ohio State by admitting he took money from a mentor, something he did not bother to inform Ohio State or the NCAA during their investigations of his activities under coach Jim Tressel.

So basically, to bolster his opportunity to make money professionally, Pryor admitted to more wrongdoings to convince the NFL that he would not have been eligible to play next season for Ohio State. Pryor, a highly recruited quarterback four years ago, was already suspended for the first five games of the season for accepting tattoos and cash for items such as his Big Ten championship ring and other memorabilia.

And instead of sitting out those games, Pryor decided to leave school when Tressel resigned under pressure for not immediately reporting the violations when he was informed by a booster. The NFL has allowed Pryor to enter Monday's supplemental draft, a selection process mostly of college players banished from their programs, but commissioner Roger Goddell informed NFL teams that Pryor must sit out the first five regular-season games for the team that drafts him.

In order words, he carried over that Ohio State suspension to the NFL, penalizing Pryor for his sudden revelation that he accepted money from his mentor. This punishment is more than fair for a young man obviously misguided about his own worth and who appears hardly remorseful for his actions.

It's one thing to accept money during those college playing days to feed yourself or your family and it's another to trade in merchandise for tattoos. Pryor was a pro before he even played his first college game, a legend in his own mind more than willing to choose the program that offered him the most perks. While his talent never quite caught up with his ego, Pryor showed flashes of brilliance at Ohio State but always seemingly made sure to reward himself for his moderate accomplishments.

And in order to continue those rewards, he freely admitted to more misdeeds with little consideration of the program and teammates he abruptly disassociated with when it became apparent that Columbus was no longer a welcome place anymore. So a five-game suspension is a little more than a slap on the wrist for someone who deserves more stringent punishment.

Pryor is a product of a college system that is dysfunctional and the blame should be placed on all sides, his parents for allowing him to believe that was somehow being correctly compensated and the university, which allows boosters and alumni to exploit these young men with little repercussions.

The system is wrecked and only a collective effort from coaches, parents, universities and yes, even the players themselves, will correct it. Until then, players such as Terrelle Pryor will take their chances if a five-game suspension is the most severe of consequences.

Somehow, I think he believes it was worth it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gary Washburn's Mock NBA Draft


By Gary Washburn

Well, the day is here and after some arduous work and research this is the best mock draft we can come up with. But this draft is so unpredictable and bizarre with several prospects who are talented but not quite ready for the NBA. So here's my best guess and we'll talk about these picks in the coming days.

1) CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Kyrie Irving, Duke 6-4, 191

There is so much mystery attached to Irving (above) because he played just 11 college games. But the upside is so tremendous and Cleveland is looking to move forward after LeBron’s abrupt departure, this helps the process.

2) MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Derrick Williams, Arizona, 6-9, 248

The Timberwolves are shopping this pick, but imagine a combo of Williams at the small forward and Kevin Love at power forward. GM David Kahn has bizarre ways but he is building a team and Williams has a polished game.

3) UTAH JAZZ
Brandon Knight, Kentucky, 6-4, 177

The Jazz are also considering Enes Kanter at this position and they are in the position of sitting Knight for a year or two and playing Devin Harris. But this is a key pick that could cause a domino affect with the rest of the draft.

4) CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Enes Kanter, Turkey 6-11, 260

The Cavaliers are looking to move this pick for an established veteran, however, the alternative is a solid big man and legitimate center who could team with Anderson Varejao for rebounds. Yet, he is another international mystery.

5) TORONTO RAPTORS
Jan Vesely, Czech Republic 6-11, 240

This could go in many directions, especially with new coach Dwane Casey carrying a defensive philosophy. He doesn’t want another scorer who can’t defend as in Andrea Bargnani but Vesely’s athleticism is to enticing to pass up and he along with Ed Davis and Bargnani are a strong combo.

6) WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Tristian Thompson, Texas 6-9, 227

Thompson said Wednesday that wants to go to a team that runs the ball, and there is no more perfect of a place than Washington with John Wall. Thompson is a strong character guy who could eventually replace the checkered Andray Blatche.

7) SACRAMENTO KINGS
Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State, 6-7, 228

The Kings are looking to make a playoff run and put fans in the seats to support a new arena and they need a swingman with defensive prowess. He will mesh in well with the team’s younger core.

8) DETROIT PISTONS
Bismack Biyombo, Congo, 6-9, 243

A team without a coach has many options with this pick but the defensive-minded Biyombo brings his lunch pail to the Motor City and eventually takes over for Ben Wallace. But the Pistons are also looking for another swingman.

9) CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
Marcus Morris, Kansas, 6-9, 230

Michael Jordan called this draft the most important in Charlotte history and the Bobcats need an established scorer who can make a splash right away. Marcus is more polished than his twin brother and will make fans forget lamenting the loss of Gerald Wallace.

10) MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Alec Burks, Colorado, 6-6, 193

Burks is a player who could blossom into a star like Paul George the year before. He is a prolific scorer and shooter and has good size. With John Salmons already there, the Bucks don’t need Burks to produce immediately.

11)GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Klay Thompson, Washington, State, 6-7, 206

Thompson proved he could score in the Pac-10 and should flourish in a fast-paced offense, but there are questions about his toughness and character. But the Warriors are a piece or two away from being really dangerous.

12) UTAH JAZZ
Chris Singleton, Florida State, 6-9, 230

Jazz pass up on Jimmer Fredette to get best defender in the draft and someone to take pressure off Al Jefferson. Singleton is long and versatile and doesn’t need the ball much. But he may have to play some center.

13) PHOENIX SUNS

Kemba Walker, Connecticut, 6-1, 184

Phoenix likes to score and an up-tempo style and Walker could become the heir apparent to Steve Nash while playing with Nash as a rookie. This is a little lower than expected for Walker but it may be the best fit.

14) HOUSTON ROCKETS

Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania, 7-0, 245

He is dropping because of a European contract that has committed him to staying with Lietuvos Rytas but he’s worth waiting a year on as a legitimate center and Kevin McHale needs bigs to succeed with the Rockets.

15) INDIANA PACERS
Jimmer Fredette, Brigham Young, 6-3, 196

Larry Bird loves Jimmer and he could be the point guard the Pacers have been seeking for years. Indiana just needs bodies and it seems stacked in the frontcourt, so Fredette is a risk but a smart one.

16) PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Marshon Brooks, Providence, 6-5, 195

With Andre Iguodala being shopped, the 76ers need a new scoring guard who can develop into a standout player. Brooks put up major numbers with little fanfare in the Big East and he’s a good fit here.

17) NEW YORK KNICKS
Nikola Vucevic, USC, 7-0, 260

He is a versatile big man who can shoot from the outside and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, who played for years in Italy, is not afraid to nab a European-born player. And he is a legitimate center.

18) WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Jordan Hamilton, Texas, 6-9, 229
The Wizards take Thompson’s teammate in this spot to fill their small forward void. Washington already has a point guard and center and Hamilton is skilled enough to become an impact player.

19) CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
Donatas Motiejunas, Lithuania, 7-0, 245

Quick. Name Charlotte’s starting center? Kwame Brown and the Bobcats can definitely use a home-grown upgrade. He can score and has NBA size, and Charlotte needs to get serious about developing a big man.

20) MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech, 6-6, 222

The Wolves need swingmen and athletes and they choose Shumpert to team in the backcourt with Ricky Rubio with Wesley Johnson at the small forward. He will find his way into the rotation.

21) PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Kenneth Faried, Morehead State, 6-8, 225

Portland has longed for the athleticism and aggressiveness of Faried and they seem set in most other positions. The Celtics would love for him to slip down the 25, but the Trail Blazers get a much-needed tough guy who doesn’t need the ball.

22) DENVER NUGGETS
Tobias Harris, Tennessee, 6-8, 223

With Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen likely gone, the Nuggets need to get younger in the paint and the inexperienced Harris likes to play defense and is coachable. He should have stayed in school but bailed when Bruce Pearl got into deep trouble in Knoxville.

23) HOUSTON ROCKETS
Reggie Jackson, Boston College, 6-3, 209

Kyle Lowry is a solid NBA point guard but he is undersized and injury prone, so Jackson comes in here to learn the position and give the Rockets some backcourt help. But he has not worked out for teams because of a knee injury.

24) OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Markeiff Morris, Kansas, 6-9, 241

The Thunder like rugged players and Morris is their type of guy. Nick Collison is 30 while Kendrick Perkins showed signs of slowing down after coming over from the Celtics. Morris is a glue player with solid shooting skills.

25) BOSTON CELTICS
Tyler Honeycutt, UCLA, 6-8, 188
If he had stayed another year, Honeycutt would be a top 10 pick, and the Celtics don’t need him to produce right away, but they need a player who can grow into a star. Honeycutt makes the game look easy and he is just starting to scratch the surface.

26) DALLAS MAVERICKS

Jeremy Tyler, Italy, 6-11, 262

With Tyson Chandler as a free agent, the Mavericks invest in their future and they don’t need the inexperience Tyler to perform immediately. And Mavs owner Mark Cuban has no problem taking draft chances.

27) NEW JERSEY NETS
Justin Harper, Richmond, 6-9, 228

With their point guard and center all set, the Nets go after the talented Harper with their only first-round pick. They have to score with this one because they gave so much to Utah for Deron Williams.

28) CHICAGO BULLS

Nolan Smith, Duke, 6-4, 188

What better for Tom Thibodeau’s system than a defensive-minded two-guard? Smith has an NBA pedigree with his late father Derek and he comes from a four-year stint at Duke. He immediately becomes a rotation player.

29) SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Davis Bertans, Latvia, 6-10, 210

The Spurs are all set for one more title run but they could use another big man down the road. Bertains may stay overseas for a year or two but he will be back.

30) CHICAGO BULLS
Chandler Parsons, Florida, 6-9, 220

Parsons is polished and can shoot from the perimeter. The Bulls lacked perimeter shootings and none of their forwards are outside threats besides Luol Deng. Parsons fills a needed role.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Athletes should be more expressive, but also informed


This has been an interesting week when it comes to athletes and social opinions. The killing of Osama Bin Laden sparked celebration from many Americans and reactions from certain athletes who have offered their thoughts on the landmark news and the aftermath.

Two athletes -- the Milwaukee Bucks' Chris Douglas-Roberts (pictured right) and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall -- were chided for their Twitter comments, although they were different. Douglas-Roberts, an astute person who has quite a Twitter following, pondered the celebration of someone's death, especially since Afghans and others in the Middle East were celebrating the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Mendenhall went a little further to not only criticize the celebration but suggesting that we didn't know Bin Laden and knew only "one side of the story."

Douglas-Roberts explained his comments to ESPN and the New York Daily News while Mendendall released a blog explaining his stance, which was misguided at best.

The positive in this situation is that athletes, even the younger ones, are beginning to speak out and notice the world around them besides material goods, women and music. The negative is that sometimes athletes, especially those who don't follow news closely, can give misinformed opinions and therefore face great criticism.

We have seen a generation of athletes pass on having any political opinions that may affect sneaker sales or their marketing image. Athletes who could have great influence on the thinking and the education of their fans have passed for fear making any waves, although some of those won't hesitate to drive while drinking or get caught with marijuana. It's about time our athletes stop being so concerned about their image, but by using the forum of Twitter or blogs comes the responsibility of being educated on the subjects you choose to broach.

That's the challenge for athletes, to enlighten themselves on issues outside of sports. We ask our athletes to be more well rounded, make a statement, offer a thought on their community and when they do, we tend to criticize them because of that opinion. As long as that opinion is concise, knowledgeable and sincere, we can't criticize the effort. We can only choose to agree or disagree.

That is the American way.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The problem with Newton is his father


What should be a memorable and satisfying season for Auburn football has been tainted by the sobering accusations that Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Cameron Newton may have passed on attending Mississippi State because the school did not offer money requested by his father, Cecil, who has not exactly denied those claims.

Newton played last Saturday and was stellar in a 49-31 victory over the University of Georgia, passing for 148 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He is one of the most dominant college quarterbacks in recent years but his father's greed may hinder a great career, just as it did with former USC running back Reggie Bush.

Kids coming out of junior college suddenly don't decide to ask for money to play. They get that idea from somewhere and in this situation, it was Newton's father who decided he was going risk his son's reputation by cashing in on his talents. It's not as if Cameron won't make enough money in the National Football League, he decided a college scholarship wasn't enough. He needed to be paid right now.

And his desire for indulgence could cost his son his reputation and Auburn University football wins. What gives him the right to do that? The parent is not on the football field taking those hits. And he is trying to rob his son's opportunity at a basic and enjoyable college life. He is on scholarship, which means he will live in nice quarters, won't be short of a meal and will have his books and tuition handled. In addition, he is probably the most identifiable Auburn athlete since Bo Jackson or Charles Barkley. And he singlehandedly resurrected a football program that had been reduced to the stepchild of in-state rival Alabama.

Auburn football is significant again, and Newton in the nucleus of that revival, but now it could all be destroyed by a headstrong father who believed he was intelligent enough to circumvent the system. He apparently hired a "representative," who contacted interested schools and said it would require more than a scholarship to attract his son.

Really? Did Cameron actually say that or was this the case of a money-hungry father looking to be compensated, perhaps to clear up a couple of debts while his son pays all the physical dues. Hopefully this is a case of a father perhaps associating with some seedy people who have decided to cause a stir with some exaggerations. Regardless, there is smoke to this fire and Cecil Newton is guilty of poor judgment if anything else.

The question why do parents anoint themselves responsible for capitalizing off their children's success? Instead of sporting a fresh Auburn baseball cap, sitting with the other parents and basking in pride, Cecil Newton tried to sell his son to the highest bidder, sacrificing his son's character and reputation in the process.

The money will be there eventually for Cameron Newton, but unfortunately his own father tried to jeopardize the two luxuries that all of us wish we still had, youth and innocence. Thanks Dad.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The long balls aren't that long anymore


Who knew the decline of the home run would occur this quickly after Major League Baseball implemented drug testing amongst all of its players? The drop has been staggering, with just five players with 30 or more homers as the season reaches late August.

Such numbers so late in the season are reminiscent of baseball in the 1970s, when a 40-home-run season was a career achievement. George Foster's 52 bombs for the Cincinnati Reds in 1978 was a staggering number in that era. Just 20 years later, 52 home runs were commonplace, a rather drab number as home runs piled up like bonus points in a pinball game. Major League Baseball sought an escape from the doldrums caused by the 1994 strike-canceled season and jumped on the home run bandwagon, ignoring the fact that many of its players were injecting chemicals into their systems to enhance their performance.

When the numbers finally reached the point of ridiculousness and many of the game's top sluggers began admitting -- or were forced to admit -- their use of performance enhancing drugs, suddenly a drug testing plan was instituted. Following the embarrassing PED admission of Alex Rodriguez two years ago, it seems the home run has been viewed differently by the average fan and the game has been handed back to the pitchers.

Nearly every week this season there is a near no-hitter while players who aaccustomed to averaging 30 home runs by the All-Star Break -- David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard -- are now trying to reach that mark for the season.

Even more telling is that the league's home run leader -- Jose Bautista -- is a 29-year-old journeyman and former Rule 5 Draft Pick once returned to the Pittsburgh Pirates by the Baltimore Orioles. Bautista (pictured above after a home run) leads the Majors with 37 home runs, six more than his nearest competitor. He had just 13 last season.

Bautista's power rise is a byproduct of hard work and gradual improvement, reasons that we want all players to bash home runs. PEDs should be a solution of the past and these rather ordinary home run numbers show that. With roughly 40 games left in the regular season, there may be just two or three players reach the 40 home run mark, meaning the home run actually has more value because they become more difficult to amass.

Home runs used to be exciting because they possessed the element of surprise. But when players started bopping them at an exponential rate and more and more bombs showed up on "SportsCenter" highlight reels, they became more superficial, more like a video game and less like America's Pastime.

So it's time to appreciate Major League Baseball's return to its roots, before PEDs, before massive body armor allowed players to stand inches from the plate and before pitchers were afraid to throw inside. MLB has gone retro and the game is as real and enjoyable as its been in years.

Let's hope this era lasts.