Saturday, December 5, 2009

Woods' quest for perfection should reach beyond golf course

Tiger Woods should be embarrassed and ashamed right now. He was caught in a humiliating situation last week when he crashed his car outside of his Orlando, Fla., area home and was found unconscious by his wife Elin. Woods sustained only minor injuries but the bizarre accident created so many questions and theories -- such as a cheating Woods attempting to escape from his golf-club wielding wife and crashing -- that he felt inclined to address the accident.

That only prompted media sites such as TMZ and National Enquirer to dig further into his personal life and it took only a few days to discover a chilling voice mail message Woods delivered to another woman asking her to call with a "restricted" label to prevent his suspicious wife from checking his cell phone and calling the woman.

It cemented the rumors that Woods had been unfaithful and he released a statement on his website apologizing for his "transgressions."

This should be the end of this story. While Woods is a brilliant golfer, the best of all time and has been a model citizen during a career that began as a child prodigy and continues into his mid-30s, we should not expect Woods to be a perfect role model off the course. Woods was unfaithful and he was sloppy about it, but because he strives to be a perfect golfer and faces constant scrutiny regarding his every move on the course does not mean that Woods should be judged on a level higher than any elite professional athlete.

Are you looking for Woods to help raise your kids? Should he be vilified because he fell into a pretentious trap of flattery and passion that falls men and women? Woods proved he is no different that many people who know who have conveniently found excuses to be unfaithful and in the end, really have no reason for their "transgressions" besides greed and insecurity. Woods proved he has a lot of growing and developing to do as a man, and such evolution is difficult when you have the financial and social means to obtain nearly anything you desire, including seedy women who don't mind being part of the infidelity.

Woods owes his public nothing besides an apology but he owes his wife the promise to become a better man. He should be left alone for that journey because no one can aid his maturation.

This story is much more serious than a millionaire athlete whose unsavory lifestyle was discovered. This is a story of a man who went through the motions, succumbing to pressures to get married, have kids and put of a facade when it was not in his heart, and it has marred the lives of those who loved him the most.

He doesn't need our judgment, he needs our prayers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It's about time to raise the NBA age limit

Of the 30 players selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, all of whom had hopes of being an All-Star, starring in their own sneaker commercial and leading their team to NBA championships, just five signed long-term contract extensions to secure their futures before the Nov. 1 deadline.

For example, Boston's Rajon Rondo, drafted 21st in 2006, signed a five-year, $55 million deal to remain a Celtic until at least 2015.

That means the other 25 were unable to perform to the level to encourage their teams to make a substantial financial commitment. In other words, they were busts, disappointments or failed to reach their potential. Perhaps it was just a poor draft class filled with players who weren't as talented as advertised or lacked the work ethic to develop or maybe these players entered the draft prematurely, seeking NBA riches before they were prepared for the rigors and commitment required to become a standout player.

An increase in the NBA age limit won't prevent these draft failures but will reduce them because it will allow prospective players to get at least two years of college basketball. Right now, the NBA mandates that players remain in college for one season and in many cases, NBA prospects attend college one semester to stay eligible for their freshman season, drop out for the second semester and then began preparing for the NBA draft once their college season ends.

That isn't exactly Doogie Howser type academic passion and that type of lack of commitment may eventually hurt the athlete if the NBA career doesn't pan out. The NBA is filled with players who bolted college early and became successful, but there are also players such as Shawne Williams, Gerald Green and Donte Greene who thought they would be stars and instead are out of the league (Green), banished by their team for immaturity (Williams)or riding the end of a bench (Greene).

The NBA is a heartless operation and hardly has time for prolonged development, so teams cut their losses, as they did with 25 of those 30 draft picks. There are always kids flooding the draft, so the key is to be as prepared as possible for success. Holding kids back another year will give them additional preparation, making them more useful commodities for teams and reducing the slew of draft busts and disappointments that have littered the draft the past few years.

These younger NBA players are crushed when their team refuses to offer a contract extension. Many of them are delusional when it comes to their talent and potential, still believing they are all-star caliber players. The reality that they are barely hanging on is harsh one, and the NBA is running short on patience, especially in this economic climate.

So it's time the NBA protect these players from themselves and mandate they wait another year. The extra time prepping for the highest level could extend their career, and isn't that what we all want?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Let's re-embrace America's Pastime

I can recall my grandfather and I watching the 1979 ALCS between Baltimore and the California Angels, when Orioles center fielder Al Bumbry slipped and bobbled a fly ball that allowed the Angels to tie the game and eventually win Game 3. We watched every pitch attentively, and because of the pace of the game, we had time to make eye contact, react to each pivotal play and of course give our commentary.

While I adored basketball and football, there was something distinctively different about baseball because it linked the young and old. It was my grandfather recalling when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles and his memories of the Negro Leagues, it was my uncle trying to convince me that Tommy Davis and Maury Wills were better than Dusty Baker and Davey Lopes ("no way!" i said), it was every kid on my block being dragged down to the local park by their mother to sign-up for Little League because it was a right of passage.

Baseball is indeed special, but the sport has decided to inject a slow-killing poison in its vein that has dissipated interest in the game, especially with African Americans. Kids don't play Little League much any more. They don't sit with their grandfather and watch the ball game. They don't talk about the game's great players past and present. We have increasingly disregarded the sport and it's unfortunate. Covering Major League Baseball for eight years as a sports writer taught me to appreciate the sport again, from the chess-like strategy, to the marvelous skill of scooping the ball at first base or a catcher easily securing a 98 mph pitch skidding in the dirt.

Josh Gibson (below), Satchel Paige and Jackie Robinson (above) made the game beautiful to watch. We didn't care about end zone dances or high-flying slam dunks. That was for another time. For generations, a portion of our minds embraced the methodical game of baseball. When times were simpler, we used rotary phones, didn't have answering machines and actually spent Saturday playing catch in the park. Back in the day when every little boy (and girls, too) treasured that new glove, bought that special glove grease, rubbed into the Jim Rice imprinted into the center (Oh that was me!) and then broke it in by stuffing a baseball in the glove and sticking it under your bed for a week.

I miss those days. I don't see gloves under beds any more. I don't even know if my little brothers or cousins have ever played baseball, yelled, "hey batta swing" or gulped down a Slurpee after a hard-fought Little League win.

What I do know is those days can return. Little boys and girls can spend their Saturday afternoons playing ball and their nights watching the game with their dad or mom or whomever wants to spend quality time with them. They can explain to their son or daughter the hit-and-run or double steal or the art of hitting to the opposite field. We can push aside the controversies, steroids, bench-clearing brawls and overpaid players and remember when the game meant something to us, and hopefully it will mean something to them.

The playoffs have begun, the best time of the season. Every pitch is intense, every inning critical, every player embracing teamwork because their long-term reputations are being built. Think I am kidding? Every time I saw Al Bumbry when I covered the Orioles and he attended an occasional game, I remember my grandfather and I watching that Game 3 and his error and my grandfather telling me the Angels "should thank that Bumbry."

Regardless of how much I try to push the baseball aside and schmooze with basketball and football, baseball becomes beautiful again, and I remember the good times we spend together and I give it another chance.

That's the allure of the game. Don't you remember? Weren't you there? I know I was. That's why I keep coming back.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is New Mexico the Diversity Homeland?

Our attention should shift to Albuquerque, N.M. this weekend and the annual rivalry game between the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University. We should call it the Convention of African American Division I head coaches because exactly 29percent of the black coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision will present at University Stadium -- New Mexico coach Mike Locksley (left) and New Mexico State coach Dwayne Walker (right).

Only seven black coaches lead Division I teams, just one in the so-called BCS (Bowl Championship Series Division) -- Miami's Randy Shannon. The others are Houston's Kevin Sumlin, Miami (Ohio's) Mike Haywood, Eastern Michigan's Ron English, my old Mass Communication's classmate at UC Berkeley, and Turner Gill at the University of Buffalo.

Of the 120 FBS teams -- the highest level of college football -- seven have black coaches, a depressing number that continues to prove that diversity hasn't spread to all facets of athletics. While athletic directors seem to have no issue hiring black coaches to fill basketball positions, those same ADs hiccup when it comes to filling football posts with black men.

"I have a lot of respect for Dwayne," Locksley said. "For both of us to have our opportunity here in the great state of New Mexico to lead a program speaks volumes for the states, speaks volumes for both administrations and both places."

Yet, both major schools in New Mexico hired black coaches within months of each other, and let's face it, neither job is the envy of the coaching community. New Mexico State has long been considered one of the tougher FBS jobs because of the obscurity of Las Cruces, N.M. and the difficult of competing with Boise State and Fresno State in the Western Athletic Conference. New Mexico has always considered itself as a school that should compete with the major powers but never had the recruiting base to do so. How many premium high school athletes really come out of New Mexico?

So both of these men have been presented formidable tasks of rebuilding programs that haven't been national factors for years, if ever. But these are the jobs black coaches have to accept if they want to enter the coaching fraternity. Eastern Michigan has long been a downtrodden program in the Midwest with 13 straight losing seasons; New Mexico State has had one winning season the past nine years; Buffalo won 10 games in the previous seven years before Gill took over and guided the Bulls to a bowl game last season, considered a miracle turnaround for a program with no tradition.

Sumlin could be the next black coach to get a BCS job as he has the Houston Cougars ranked 17th with a win over then-No. 5 Oklahoma State. But black coaches shouldn't have to orchestrate a major resurrection of a dying program to be considered for a BCS job. Non-black coaches such as Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, Auburn's Gene Chizik, Washington's Steve Sarkisian and Syracuse's Doug Marrone were handed major jobs without previous head coaching experience or success, in some cases.

In other words, some AD liked these guys, were impressed with their credentials and vision and were willing to take a chance and stake their reputation on their success. That's what needs to happen more often with black coaches. So while Saturday's New Mexico State-New Mexico game ranks near the bottom of the college football landscape, we should take notice of the rarity of two black coaches facing each other, and hope that matchups like these happen more often.

I, for one, will definitely take note of what's happening in New Mexico.

Monday, September 14, 2009

We encourage arrogance, so why do you expect humility?

Hopefully, perhaps and quite possibly we have learned first-hand this weekend the perils of out-of-control, excessive arrogance.

But in a sense, it is our fault. We like our icons to talk, to sell themselves, play themselves up. We only want them to be humble when we want them to be humble and then we criticize them for crossing the "vain" line. This weekend, Michael Jordan and Kanye West angered their fans and millions of others with their overconfident and rather petty actions.

Jordan treated his basketball Hall of Fame speech like Martin Lawrence in the infamous "Pretty Ricky" episode of the 90s series "Martin". If you didn't catch that classic segment, Martin attends to his 10-year high school reunion with a checklist of people he plans to avenge for their mistreatment a decade ago. After winning "Man of the Year" from his classmates, Martin essentially disses the award because he admits he never liked any of his classmates, especially arch rival Ricky Fontaine, or "Pretty Ricky," who took his prom date.

Isiah Thomas revived the role of "Pretty Ricky" as Jordan recalled when Thomas and several other all-stars decided to "freeze" him out of the 1985 All-Star Game because they were jealous of Jordan's new-found stardom and felt the rookie hadn't paid his dues. He then added rivals to the list as if he were shopping for a Super Bowl party. Dean Smith for not inviting him to pose for a Sports Illustrated cover, check. Pat Riley for not allowing the Knicks players to fraternize with Jordan before playoff games, check. Leroy Smith for the heinous act of accepting an invitation to join the varsity team at Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C. while Jordan didn't receive one, check.

It was classic Jordan, a summation of a man who was as good as creating motivational tools as dunking on opponents. He listed every one of his adversaries and thanked them for having a part in his Hall of Fame induction.

Less than 48 hours later, West jumps on stage (where is the security here?) at the MTV Video Awards grabs the microphone out country singer Taylor Swift's hands and proclaims Beyonce as the real winner of the best female video. He then hands the microphone back to the shell shocked Swift and then walks off the stage, as if he just solved the health care debate.

This is the only time you will hear me compare Jordan and West, because there is no comparison. One man is the greatest basketball player of all time and image icon, and another is a pretty decent artist who has capitalized on a horrid music market that devours and lauds anything, including "Mary Had a Little Lamb, the remix."

But people have spent the weekend complaining about both acts, and honestly neither Jordan nor West would have been successful with strictly humility. Jordan told friends he would become a shoe icon while he was at North Carolina.

West complained when his "College Dropout" CD was not given prestiguous five-star rating by Rolling Stone magazine and threatened to never to grant a cover story again. We didn't complain then. We kept buying his CDs, calling his stunning acts of pompousness a mere personality trait, not a concern that needed to be addressed.

We seem to live in a society where everybody considers themselves "all that" even if such feelings are conceived or serves as a defense mechanism for insecurity. Humility is frowned upon until the moment we feel as its appropriate and then we expect our artists, athletes and even politicians to immediately know when to say "Aw shucks."

This weekend was a lesson that there is nothing wrong with opting for humility or modesty, even if you privately want to tell the world how great you are. As one wise person told me, when a person constantly lauds themselves and their own accomplishments, they are more trying to convince themselves than anyone else.

We consider our humble icons boring or dry. We relish arrogance and conceit, even sometimes in our mates. It makes them more attractive. But the question is what exactly was attractive about the events of this weekend? I don't heard anyone admiring, just cringing.

It starts with young people judging each other for their material goods and looks, and it ends, unfortunately, with talented artists and athletes unable to control their own emotions because they have been allowed to fester and smoulder too long. It may be too late to save MJ and Kanye West, but this should serve as a lesson for all of us to stop encouraging such behavor and excusing it as genius.

We're smarter than that.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Blount Paid Too Severe of a Price for Punch

LeGarrette Blount should have been suspended for his slug of Boise State defensive lineman Byron Hout on Thursday night following the University of Oregon's 19-8 football loss to the Broncos. Blount had been quoted as saying Oregon would get revenge for its shocking home loss to Boise State last year and obviously he didn't back up those statements.

The Oregon offense was terrible and Blount rushed for minus 5 yards on eight carries. It was a bad night, a disappointing effort and the last thing Blount needed was Hout walking up to him after the game at midfield, tapping him on the shoulder pad and mouthing trash talk. (See video in next post)

Blount reacted by slugging Hout in the jaw, a punch that so clearly connected, saliva could be seen exiting Hout's mouth. It was an ugly scene, filled with bitter emotions, frustration and immaturity. The University of Oregon suspended Blount, who spoke with the media after the game and apologize not only for his punch but charging some Boise State fans who were pelting him with insults while walking off the field, for the rest of the season, thus ending his college career.

Blount is an angry young man who needs help, but robbing him of 11 football games because he snapped isn't the answer. Of course, he deserves a suspension, a hefty one, but it was apparent he was provoked. In sports, you generally never touch an opposing player following a game unless it's to congratulate him for a good effort. Hout slapped Blount on the shoulder pad, which to many who grew up in urban communities, is an action asking to for retaliation.

There was no way Blount should have punched Hout, but let's say Hout keeps walking and never utters a word, does Blount snap? Probably not. He was level headed enough to apologize for his actions just minutes after the incident. The University of Oregon should have taken the weekend to decide Blount's fate, should have approached the kid and gotten his side and then made the call. But what the university did is react to the perception that some angry brotha socked an innocent opponent following a loss, a sore loser who couldn't contain his emotion.

But there is so much more to the story. It's the story of a winning player who sought out Blount to rub his nose in his failures. You are asking a 22-year-old young man to contain his emotions enough when he is jabbed by someone he hardly knows. Without a doubt, Blount should have walked on, swallowed his pride and not defended himself or escalated the incident, but to end his college career when there are college athletes who have DUIs on their record, have been arrested for stealing, assaulting students at campus parties and even assaults against women, but yet are still allowed to play, is a woeful reaction.

Blount's action was of immaturity and emotion, and perhaps an anger management course during a five-game suspension would have been more appropriate, but to take his career away, and then hinder his chances for a professional career because the lone image scouts and general managers will see is the slugging of Hout is unfair. This is needs attention, professional help and in a sense, some encouragement. These are still kids. Even though Blount is a hulking 6-feet-2, 240 pounds with a good right hook, he is still a kid, filled with insecurities, simmering emotions and lacking those social skills for success.

"LeGarrette's hurt," Coach Chip Kelly told the Oregonian. "I think he understands that he made a mistake. I'm sure it's a very difficult situation for him to go through. He cried, I cried. I told him he needs to stay with this football program, and we'll do everything to support him."

Taking his career away isn't the answer. Penalizing him for his actions but teaching and reaching the kid is the answer. The University of Oregon blew this one and let's hope Blount experiences personal growth and success and is able to create new and more positive images. He deserves a second chance.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Before We Criticize, Let's Take Mental Health Seriously

Michael Beasley is a tragic story that could turn into a motivating life lesson because he sought help. The Miami Heat forward, entering his second season, checked himself into a rehabilitation center after some frightening Twitter posts that obviously was a cry for help. Beasley, who averaged 13.9 points and 5.4 rebonds per game as a 19-year-old rookie, has always been known as a little "strange" or "crazy" but recently it appeared he was contemplating suicide.

He Tweeted statements such as "Feelin like it's not worth livin!!!!!!! I'm done" and "I feel like the whole world is against me I can't win for losin"

Luckily, he was coerced into seeking help and Beasley should be applauded for that because many of us assume 1) that rich folks don't have anything that should cause mental health issues and 2) admitting mental health issues means you are weak. Beasley is a hulking man, a millionaire and one of the NBA's most promising players. But even young, rich and handsome folks are capable of experiencing mental health issues.

Too many times we put ourselves in the shoes of these rich men and women and then predict how happy we would be; what we would do with all that money and how carefree our lives would be with the wealth. We are the crazy ones to believe that life would be that simple. Not that I am outpouring with sympathy, but just imagine being 20 years old and rich? Do you recall how many silly things you did at 20 when you were broke? Imagine adding a couple of million to that situation? When you can afford to do more expensive stupid things.

The pressure of having to satisfy family members, friends with sob stories and their hands out (and it's always a loan, never a gift until the money is exchanged) and then have to perform professionally can sometimes be too much to bear for our young men and women. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Delonte West was one of those brothers who was considered "issued" or a "little crazy" and eventually sought help for depression.

We assume that money will erase some of the physical and emotional abuse these young athletes have endured. We assume that money will compensate for a lack of a father in a home or a mother who may have worked so hard, she allowed her children to raise themselves. Twitter and Youtube has allowed athletes to seek even more attention but honestly many of these impromptu reality shows (i.e. Stephon Marbury) are cries for help, cries for someone to pay them attention -- positive attention. Not the type of attention that money attracts, not women who would do anything for a night or buddies who will be down when the cash is flowing, but simple friendship.

And we wonder why athletes equip themselves with weapons in public, pursue eccentric interests such as collecting swords and guns or littering their bodies with excessive tattoos. In their own unique and guarded way, they are seeking attention and comfort.

These athletes lack guidance, lack friends, lack role models and lack the mental capacity to realize they have a problem. So they keep going, hoping money, women and allure will cure their mental ills. And it doesn't. So cut Beasley a break when he exits rehab because thankfully he acknowledged his problem and is addressing it. Too many people don't take mental health seriously, and that is crazy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Burress' atonement and improvement should begin (and end) off the field

We should be hardly concerned or consumed with Plaxico Burress' NFL future after he spends some 20 months in jail for possessing an unregistered firearm that discharged and wounded his leg. I heard ESPN's Marcellus Wiley say that Burress could use those 20 months to develop a program to improve his "skill set" as if the prison in which he is headed features a pristine weight room and football field for ol' Plax to run.

It's the joint man! He's going to jail. Improving his football "skill set" will be the least of his concerns in prison. What Plaxico (pictured above) and many other professional athletes need to learn is how to cope in everyday society without believing it's the Wild West. There appears to be something that these kids are missing once they sign those multimillion contracts but Burress found out the hard way. In the criminal justice system, they are targets, examples to be made of by greedy prosecutors trying to run for public office or earn a pay raise.

The dude who took down Plaxico is probably due a commendation from New York Mayor Bloomberg because he helped take an owner of an unregistered gun off the streets. This disturbing trend of black athletes on the wrong side of the law will continue until these young men learn social skills. It begins in college when they are hunkered together in plush dorms away from the rest of the university community. There is delusion of grandeur, a feeling of invincibility.

I can't blame Plaxico for going into a Manhattan club with a gun, but I can blame him for wanting to go to a club that required him to be strapped. I think it was that prophet MC Lyte who once said, "You ain't guardin' the door, so what you got a gun for?" And she made an astute point. There is no reason to carry a gun and if there is, you probably don't need to be there anyway.

As common citizens, we have all passed on going to a club or nightspot that we perceived as too dangerous. The potential for trouble outweighed the rewards. Our young men have to learn that the streets will eventually bring you down if you keep testing its limits. Burress does not need to improve his football "skill set" while he's away, he needs to improve himself as a man.

Perhaps it's time we start encouraging these athletes to attend summer classes or workshops to improve these skills instead of them running endless patterns or catching footballs. As Burress learned, an NFL career can dissipate quicker than a gun can discharge, but he still has a life to live -- without football. Our men, our athletes are not slaves to their sport. They are people with families and kids who need to set better examples and not pay the price of prison time.

Burress' kids will miss their father and for the rest of their lives have to live with the stigma of their father being an ex-con. Was it worth it? Was packing a gun that night really beneficial? Let's hope that not only the current generation of professional athletes, but the next generation paid very close attention to the fates of Burress and Michael Vick.

The key in this whole game of life is to emerge as a better man. That's what Burress should work on for the next 20 months, and all of his contemporaries should make more of a priority. Sport should be secondary.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life Increasingly Difficult for NBA Free Agents

In previous offseasons, free agency was a season players relished. It was time to get paid; rewarded for years of arduous service under a rookie contract or a deal that was eventually undervalued. Fast forward to Summer 2009, and many veterans around the league are relieved to still be under contract.

For example, Oklahoma City's Damien Wilkins exercised an option on his contract for a final season at $3.3 million, although he was miserable playing (or not playing) for the Thunder. Traded to Minnesota last month, Wilkins is hoping a productive season can earn him a new contract in the $3 million range.

At this point, NBA free agents aren't greedy enough to demand raises; they just don't want pay cuts. Former Boston forward Leon Powe (a Cal grad) just signed a two-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the league minimum. NBA Players Association President Billy Hunter likely won't call to chide Powe for accepting such a deal because he's still in the league under a guaranteed contract. It's gotten that bad these days.

Look at the remaining free agents -- restricted and unrestricted -- still waiting for offers: David Lee, Raymond Felton, Nate Robinson, Ramon Sessions, Allen Iverson, Flip Murray and Wally Szczerbiak. Teams realize they can be patient because offers aren't rolling in for these players. Teams are very protective of their money and offering frivolous contracts. In the olden days -- maybe five years ago -- teams handed out bad contracts like party fliers and eventually paid a hefty free when those players didn't pan out.

So guys with putrid reputations such as Rashad McCants, Stromile Swift and Damon Jones aren't getting much interest, except maybe a non-guaranteed deal and a training camp invite. McCants (pictured above), whose 30-point, one-rebound, one-assist effort in 39 minutes on Mar. 18 remains the most astounding line since Kobe Bryant's 81-point effort against Toronto in 2006, didn't leave North Carolina a year early to be a washout four years later. But a bad attitude and terribly economy is weeding him out of the league.

Eventually, many of these players will find work, but it could be in the NBDL, as a training camp invite, in Europe or maybe at the post office (they are always hiring). But the days where average players cash in on mega deals is over. And free agency is not the beautiful summer locale it used to be. Just the residents now.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Blogging from Pac-10 Media Day

We are in the middle of the initial press conferences for Pac-10 Media Day and there have been no major news or nuggets so far. UCLA linebacker Reggie Carter said he's looking forward to hearing "Rocky Top" and playing at Tennessee.

Other Notes:

*The QB Situations at Washington State and Arizona are not settled yet.

*Steve Sarkisian is an excitable guy and eager to get started at Washington

*UCLA's Rick Neuheisel is high on new QB Kevin Prince

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Vick Deserves a Second Chance

So Michael Vick is now a free man, but is he really free? He will be living with the stigma of his crime for the rest of his days, a man who blew nearly $200 million for a dogfighting ring that may have produced $200,000 at best. The man who slaughtered innocent dogs when they weren't up to the task of being vicious killers of other dogs.

He spent nearly two years in prison, lost his status as an NFL star, role model and leader of the Atlanta Falcons franchise. He is no longer a star, he is an also ran who soon will be looking for a job. He is no longer a role model, except for those young athletes who should stray away from his catastrophic mistakes and not drown in their arrogance and stupidity.

It's time for Michael Vick to have a chance to earn a living and if playing in the NFL is his aspiration, he should be allowed to pursue it. Obviously Vick's plight might be helped by the recent 24-day jail sentence of Donte Stallworth, who killed a man in a vehicular accident while legally drunk in March. Kill a man, get 24 days. Kill a dog, get two years.

It's not fair, but Vick can't think about being wronged because he put himself in this avoidable position. He has to move on and hopefully NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell can allow us all to move on by reinstating Vick immediately. No more suspensions. No more Vick watches outside of his Virginia home. Let the man live in peace because he's already paid for his mistakes and will continue to play with the staunch of being a dog killer.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Welcome to Vegas for the NBA Summer League

LAS VEGAS - OK Folks, we're giving some occasional reports from the NBA Summer League and we already have our first disappointing effort from a lottery pick. Stephen Curry scored 16 points in the first game a 73-69 Golden State loss to Houston. He finished 4-for-14 from the field with seven fouls (10 foul limit) and four turnovers. Curry missed five of eight 3-pointers and dominated the ball in stretches.

It's game one, so don't get too excited, but Curry got off to a slow start.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

McNair Set the Groundwork for Black QBs

James Harris doesn't get the credit he deserves as the trailblazing black quarterback. In my childhood in Los Angeles, Harris was the starting QB for my Los Angeles Rams, and I remember a day he threw for 436 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-28 win at Miami in 1976. Harris, from Grambling State University, was eventually replaced by Pat Haden, a 5-foot-11 spark plug from USC who hardly had the physical tools of Harris.

Doug Williams continued that Grambling tradition by taking the Redskins to the Super Bowl, pushing aside Jay Schroeder and leading the Redskins over the Denver Broncos. Williams was a fine quarterback, but Steve McNair possessed awesome physical skills and a cannon arm. McNair, who passed away Saturday, rejuvenated professional football's interest in the black quarterback.

His success in the NFL paved the way for Donovan McNabb three years later, Vince Young and LaMarcus Russell currently. McNair proved black quarterbacks could be athletic (I think everybody assumed that), have the mental capacity to run an NFL team and be a leader (that was in major doubt for some reason) and had the toughness to play through pain and adversity (which will be McNair's legacy).

McNair might be the first major black athlete to be more regarded for his guile and endurance than his pure physical skills, which were also impressive. McNair is a trailblazer because he made black quarterbacking cool again and open the road for athletic black quarterbacks to be considered franchise players and allowed to utilize their skills in passing and running. No more wide receiver, defensive back or all-purpose player.

Black quarterbacks from high school, college and the NFL should praise McNair today because his skills -- and toughness -- put his brethren in a whole new category -- team leader.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Brockman goes to Kings

No one quite knew where Jon Brockman was going to go but the Blazers took him with the 38th pick and are expected to trade him to Sacramento for former Pac-10 rival Jeff Pendergraph.

More Picks; Rubio to the Knicks?

The Timberwolves have become the home of point guard as they have taken North Carolina's Ty Lawson and have collected three point guards this evening, so a trade has to be in the works. The rumor mill has Ricky Rubio going to the New York Knicks. Atlanta gets its Wake Forest guard three years too late in Jeff Teague at 19 while Utah takes Eric Maynor to learn from Deron Williams.

Chris Paul gets a capable backup in New Orleans with UCLA's Darren Collison while Portland takes Victor Claver, a little-known Spaniard. Sacramento gets Omri Casspi, Dallas takes B.J. Mullens but is expected to trade him to Oklahoma City for Rodrigue Beaubois at 25. Chicago nabs USC forward Taj Gibson; Memphis gets Missouri forward DeMarre Carroll while Minnesota takes Wayne Ellington at 28. The Los Angeles Lakers takes Toney Douglas at 29 but may trade the pick to the Knicks while Cleveland finishes the first round Christian Eyenga.

More picks, no big surprises

Earl Clark of Louisville goes to the Phoenix Suns while Gonzaga's Austin Daye is headed to the Detroit Pistons, who will be tutored by Tayshaun Prince. The Chicago Bulls take Wake Forest forward James Johnson at 16 while Philadelphia has Jrue Holiday land in its hands at 17. Holiday will be a standout player in Philadelphia if can withstand the pressure.

Hansbrough to Indiana

Tyler Hansbrough landed perhaps in the perfect place for him, the Indiana Pacers. He will play in a smaller market that appreciates hard workers and with Larry Bird as a GM. It's a great value pick for the Pacers but they still need a point guard.

Nets get Williams; Bobcats draft Henderson

Althought it appeared he had a guarantee from Charlotte, Louisville Terrence Williams was drafted by the New Jersey Nets, who dealt Vince Carter earlier in the day. And Charlotte stays local by taking Duke standout Gerald Henderson, who should make the Bobcats a freakishly athletic team.

Rapts get DeRozan; Bucks take Jennings

The youngsters continue to get nabbed as the Toronto Raptors get DeMar DeRozan from USC to be their swing man and join Chris Bosh while the Milwaukee Bucks take the talented but erratic Brandon Jennings who could become a franchise cornerstone.

Wolves take Flynn; Warriors get Curry; Knicks nab Hill

Minnesota has some tricks going on here, following Ricky Rubio with Jonny Flynn, this will end the Sebastian Telfair era in Minnesota. The Golden State Warriors break the hearts of the New York Knicks by taking Stephen Curry and then the Knicks follow by taking Arizona's Jordan Hill.

Evans to Sac; Rubio to Minn

Despite rumors that the Sacramento Kings would take Ricky Rubio if available but they took Tyreke Evans and the Minnesota Timberwolves nabbed Rubio, meaning the Timberwolves may have the most marketable player of this draft.

Grizzlies take Thabeet; Thunder takes Harden

OK, we've got the first shocker of the draft as the Oklahoma City Thunder pass on Ricky Rubio and takes James Harden, meaning the Thunder has found its two-man and Russell Westbrook will remain at point guard. OK, so that means Rubio is available to Sacramento.

Blogging while mourning

OK, anybody who knows me knows Michael Jackson music got me through college and he was one of my favorite, so I blog the NBA Draft with an extremely heavy heart.

Washburn's Mock Draft

OK, you guys have read all of the other mock drafts, but here's how things are going to go down:

1) Los Angeles Clippers, Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) -- This is the only sure thing of the night, the Clips don't mess this one up, taking the most dominant college player since Tim Duncan.

2) Memphis Grizzlies, Hasheem Thabeet (Connecticut) -- This makes up for the Pau Gasol trade and allows the Grizzlies to improve immediately defensively.

3) Oklahoma City Thunder, Stephen Curry (Davidson) -- GM Sam Presti decides that he can't pass on Curry's scoring potential and doesn't take a chance on Ricky Rubio.

4) Sacramento Kings, Ricky Rubio(Spain) -- The Maloofs need to make some money and taking a Spanish sensation draws fans and attention to their small-market team. It's a chance worth taking.

5) Minnesota Timberwolves, Tyreke Evans (Memphis) -- The Timberwolves get a physical guard to make up for the loss of Randy Foye and for passing up O.J. Mayo last year.

6) Minnesota Timberwolves, James Harden (Arizona State) -- Minnesota gets the 1-2 combo of the future in one draft and gives loyal fans reason for hope.

7) Golden State Warriors, Jordan Hill (Arizona) -- The Warriors have too many finesse big men as it is and they take a physical one who has toughness and upside.

8) New York Knicks, DeMar DeRozan (USC) -- The Knicks jump on this swingman with crazy potential and he will have time to develop under coach Mike D'Antoni's system.

9) Toronto Raptors, Jrue Holiday (UCLA) -- The Raptors don't let this youngster go and he is the best option at this position. They may get more immediately for a more seasoned player, but not in the long run.

10) Milwaukee Bucks, Jonny Flynn (Syracuse) -- With Ramon Sessions a free agent, the Bucks take this freakishly athletic little man who could make an immediate impact.

11) New Jersey Nets, Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) -- New Jersey gets a hard-working player to team with Brook Lopez because their clock to make the postseason is ticking.

12) Charlotte Bobcats, Terrence Williams (Louisville) -- Word is that Williams has a promise from the Bobcats after two impressive workouts and he is a Larry Brown type of guy.

13) Indiana Pacers, Jeff Teague (Wake Forest) -- While he may be raw and inconsistent, the Pacers can't pass on his quickness, explosiveness and potential.

14) Phoenix Suns, Gerald Henderson (Duke) -- GM Steve Kerr nabs a Grant Hill clone from Grant Hill's alma mater. He is a fine athlete and son of an NBA player.

15) Detroit Pistons, Earl Clark (Louisville) -- The Pistons believe that can turn Clark into the hard worker and superstar he has the talent to be, so they pass on Austin Daye and opt for the more proven Clark.

16) Chicago Bulls, DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh) -- The Bulls have a bunch of power forward but none particularly physical. They could take a shooting guard but none are worthy of 16.

17) Philadelphia 76ers, Ty Lawson (North Carolina) -- Tough pick here between Lawson and Eric Maynor but Lawson is a better shooter and can run Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense.

18) Minnesota Timberwolves, B.J. Mullens (Ohio State) -- He is taken simply because he's 7-feet and the Timberwolves aren't trying to win right now. This may work. This may not.

19) Atlanta Hawks, Eric Maynor (Virginia Commonwealth) -- Maynor is big, physical and steady and exactly what the Hawks need. They take him over Brandon Jennings.

20) Utah Jazz, James Johnson (Wake Forest) -- With Carlos Boozer likely gone, the Jazz used its pick on the tough but flawed Johnson. Paul Millsap takes over at power forward.

21) New Orleans Hornets, Austin Daye (Gonzaga) -- The Hornets take the talented swingman in hopes that he becomes a cornerstone someday, a good value at this pick.

22) Portland Trail Blazers, Brandon Jennings (Italy) -- The Blazers are pretty much set at each position except point guard with the unspectacular Steve Blake is the starter. Jennings eventually takes over.

23) Sacramento Kings, Omri Casspi (Israel) -- The Kings are looking for a more physical big man to join Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson and Casspi likely will stay in Europe for a while.

24) Dallas Mavericks, Chase Budinger (Arizona) -- Mark Cuban gets an athletic swingman who can give the Mavericks aging lineup some life.

25) Oklahoma City Thunder, Wayne Ellington (North Carolina) -- Presti gets a steady shooter for his offense and someone who can help Kevin Durant offensively.

26) Chicago Bulls, Toney Douglas (Florida State) -- The Bulls get the shooting guard to perhaps replace Ben Gordon, who may leave via free agency.

27) Memphis Grizzlies, Taj Gibson (USC) -- He is 24, ready to play in the NBA and won't trip off playing in Memphis. The Grizzlies need a tough guy.

28) Minnesota Timberwolves, Nick Calathes (Florida) -- He is allowed to play a few seasons in Greece and then comes back to Minnesota ready to make an impact.

29) Los Angeles Lakers, Darren Collison (UCLA) -- Aaron Brooks getting into the paint at ease encourages the Lakers to take the speedy Collison.

30) Cleveland Cavaliers, Derrick Brown (Xavier) -- The Cavaliers take the local kid who has tremendous upside and an underdog mentality, a solid pick.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What The Lakers Should Do Now

OK the Los Angeles Lakers returned to the pinnacle of the basketball world after a seven-year absence with their impressive 4-1 series win over the Orlando Magic. General manager Mitch Kupchak, after a series of questionable decisions over the past few years, compiled a championship team with some shrewd deals such as netting Trevor Ariza from Orlando and Pau Gasol from Memphis.

The most difficult task for a general manager is not building a championship team, however, it's retaining a championship team. And Kupchak has some arduous decisions to make in the next couple of weeks for the Lakers to make a serious run at a repeat. Of course, Kobe Bryant and Gasol will be back, but let's look at the entire roster and the prospect of their return or departure.

Kobe -- Actually folks, he has an opt-out clause this summer but he won't exercise that, so rest easy. He is due $48 million over the next two seasons before free agency. How much should the Lakers pay him in 2011?

-- He has two more years on his contract at $34-plus million. He will also be a free agent in 2011.

Lamar Odom -- He's a free agent. He's nearly 30. He made $11.4 million last season. Do the Lakers give him a nice raise? No. They can get another solid player with that money who is younger and more consistent.

Derek Fisher -- He has one more year on his deal at $5 million. You let D-Fish come back and then perhaps he retires for a front office job.

Sasha Vujacic -- Wow, he has two more years on his deal at more than $10 million. Is the NBA hiring? He is stealing money. Kupchak has to deal him.

Luke Walton -- Who signed this guy to a six-year deal? By the time his contract is up, Lil Wayne will be Old Jeezy. Nobody is taking on his contract, the Lakers are stuck.

Adam Morrison -- Maybe I am in the serious minority here, but this dude has talent. Give him the summer and a chance to play a role on this team, and he can serve as a valuable asset.

Ariza -- The Lakers need to make him a priority. He doesn't turn 24 until June 30, Kupchak needs to give him a five-year deal at $45 million, and that deal will eventually become a major bargain.

Andrew Bynum -- He is owed $57 million over the next four years. The Lakers are stuck with his deal and has to pray he improves.

Jordan Farmar -- He has one more year on his deal and the Lakers will have to make a decision by Oct. 31 whether to bring him back for 2010-11. I think they should let him go.

Josh Powell -- He is a free agent and actually not a bad player. Give him a slight bump in salary and bring him back.

DJ Mbenga -- He doesn't make much, but the Lakers can find another backup center who is more skilled. Hey he got a championship ring out of the deal.

Shannon Brown -- Dude can ball and I would replace Farmar with him. He is a free agent. Give him $2.5 million per season and let him flourish.

Phil Jackson -- The one thing that motivates Phil is money, offer him a two-year deal with a raise and let him coach Kobe into his mid-30s.

Tell me what you think!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Where's Brent Musburger's Super Bowl Ring?"

That's what UC Berkeley professor Harry Edwards said to me 20 years ago when I asked why Musburger, then the primary voice of the TV sports following Howard Cosell, was the lone non-player in the broadcast booth during games. African Americans -- in those days -- had to bring major playing credentials to get an opportunity to analyze the game they played. Watching Michael Wilbon dissecting NBA Finals games between the Magic and Lakers should serve as an inspiration to those blacks and other people of color who know the game but have not had the good fortune or talent to play the game.

While networks have hired analysts such Seth Davis (CBS college basketball), Tom Verducci (MLB Network) or Tony Kornheiser (who recently left ESPN's Monday Night Football) to analyze games, African Americans have mostly been left out of this opportunity, creating the perception that blacks couldn't talk the game unless they played the game. Wilbon and Stephen A. Smith before him have dispelled those stereotypes, giving more people of color credibility in analyst positions.

ESPN may be heavily criticized at times for creating the storylines they report, but they deserve credit for allowing black journalists -- such as Jemele Hill and Rob Parker -- to display their sports expertize in debates against the combative Skip Bayless on "First Take."

And adding Wilbon to the booth for NBA coverage was a major step for sports television that shouldn't be ignored. And hopefully there are more people of color who know the game to follow because their voice deserves to be heard. Diversity is beautiful.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Let the High Schoolers Back In

I am not in support of any high school kids -- except maybe those who are once-in-a-lifetime special -- such as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant (not Robert Swift) to go straight from high school to the NBA Draft. But something has to change with this current system that mandates high school players to attend college for one year or be 19 years old and one year removed from high school to enter the NBA Draft.

It should be no shock that kids are finding ways to circumvent the rules either by heading to Europe for a year or cheating to get into school (perhaps the case of Derrick Rose, pictured above) because they have to burn that year anyway, so it might as well be in college. I don't think this was what the rule was designed for. Wishful thinkers like me thought that the one-year rule would allow kids who thought they were ready but weren't to remain in school and even entice those who were ready for the NBA to stay longer because they actually enjoyed college.

Well that hasn't happened as much as I think supporters would have liked. Kids who would have bolted for the NBA after high school are still leaving after one year. Players such as Jrue Holiday, who averaged 8.5 points per game at UCLA, and B.J. Mullens, who was a major disappointment at Ohio State, are staying in June's NBA Draft. They were not affected by the harsh reality that they may not be ready for the next level and are willing to get taken solely on potential.

So here's what we do: We mandate that kids entering school stay for two years, which will allow those preps who just can't wait to enter the draft and those who know they aren't ready to become seasoned for two years. I really don't like high school kids entering the draft, but there really isn't anything we can do about it.

Like tattoos, reality shows and fro-hawks, jumping to the league has become a trend, especially when those shoe piranhas and street agents are telling these kids they are ready. The NCAA and NBA tried keeping these kids away from the chaos, but if they are going to go to Europe, cheat on SATs or drop out after ine semester just to kill time before the NBA Draft, then something needs to change.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

So how should we treat Michael Vick?

Michael Vick was released today from prison, allowed to serve the final two months of his sentence from Hampton, Va. home, where he will be permitted to participate in a work release program, earning $10 per hour at a construction company. So the question is how do we treat Vick following what some perceive as a heinous crime of dogfighting and dog torture?

While I believe his crime was reprehensible and cruel for those innocent dogs, many of whom are used a means of some men trying to justify their manhood, Vick didn't inflict any harm on a human being, didn't slap his girlfriend, didn't kill anyone driving drunk or any other of the inexcusable crimes committed by many athletes who not only didn't serve jail time but are free to play in the NFL or NBA or MLB. We have to ask ourselves, was Vick the victim of a society that was looking to make a rich, arrogant and callous black man pay for his stupidity and viciousness with animals? The answer is yes. In Seattle, two teenagers received 36-week stints and another 72 weeks in a juvenile facility for beating to death a middle-aged man who played the tuba in front of every major Seattle sporting event.

Vick served 19 months, lost more than $200 million and a significant chunk of his career for dogfighting. We definitely know Vick won't be the grand marshal at the Westminster Dog Show or a spokesman for Purina, but we should embrace the man because he served his punishment and hopefully will change his life and is ready to atone for his sins. Let's allow him that right and provide him the second chance we all deserve for our mistakes. And maybe he can provide us some more thrills on the football field and prevent youngsters from following in his footsteps.

Vick's playbook is rather ambitious, yet he is capable of doing a lot more than scoring touchdowns. Let's root him on.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Missing Showtime

You might as well call me old school right now, but it's hard to understand how my peers who grew up in Los Angeles like I did could be such big fans of this current Lakers team, especially when we spent our childhood gloriously watching a team prance to five NBA titles in 10 years -- beating real teams with real stars and not taking days off. These 2009 Lakers play with a sense of entitlement and I am stumped as to why. They took a day off in an embarrassing Western Conference semifinal loss to Houston on Sunday and now fans are fired up after a 40-point Game 5 win over the undermanned Rockets. Remember, this team is lacking two All-Stars in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. We ain't exactly talking about the Fo-Fo-Fo Sixers here. This edition of the Lakers takes plays off, coasts for stretches of minutes off and tends to get bored with opponents and I am still trying to figure out why. Why such a sense of accomplishment for a roster filled with players feeding off Kobe Bryant?

Has Sasha Vujacic been spoiled by his success? I am not sure why. He's averaged just over five points per game over five seasons. Luke Walton doesn't have any championship rings. Neither does Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol or Jordan Farmar. The lone Lakers who have tasted that championship champagne are Bryant and Derek Fisher, so theoretically, the rest of the Lakers should be hungry for that success, not allowing 5-11 Aaron Brooks scorch them for 34 points, including an alley-oop to end a quarter. Before fans start celebrating a semifinal win over the Rockets, let's hope that these Lakers learn a little something from their predecessors about pride. Let's face it, the Bad Boy Pistons, Larry Bird Celtics or Dr. J 76ers aren't out on that court. We're talking Von Wafer and Luis Scola. The Lakers are capable of much better and until I see it, I will dream of Showtime.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What might have been in Seattle?

This blog is a personal one for me, because for three years I watched these two guys combine to make the Sonics at least respectable and potentially a playoff contender with the right compliments. Now, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are facing each other in the NBA's Eastern Conference semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic, far removed from their Seattle past, fighting for an NBA title. Meanwhile, Seattle is an empty NBA shell, with no team, no hope for a team since the state legislature voted down a potential bill that would have refurbished KeyArena and only memories to grasp to.

If the Sonics had retained Allen and Lewis -- Allen was traded and Lewis signed with the Magic within four days in June 2007 -- perhaps Seattle would still have basketball. While Oklahoma City -- formerly the Sonics -- prepares to be a contender in perhaps 2013, Allen and Lewis are seizing their opportunity for championship success now, which is the only thing that really matters. How many times have we seen teams that were supposed to be juggernauts in the future and it never materialized. Chicago was supposed to resurrect the Jordan days with Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler. How did that work out?

Dallas was supposed to push Houston, Utah and San Antonio in the mid and late 1990s with Jamal Mashburn, Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson, but those three couldn't get along. Fact is, that preparing for the future is a smart move but never guaranteed. Proven commodities such as Allen and Lewis potentially bring a much bigger return than unproven rookies who may never reach their potential. Seattle learned that the hard way.

Friday, May 1, 2009

This series is beyond ridiculous

What happens when to talented teams with little discipline and two below average coaches face each other? You get the Atlanta-Miami series, which reached another low point Friday when the Heat beat the uninterested Hawks 98-72. How in the world can two teams come out so consistently flat for a damn playoff game? General manager Rick Sund retained coach Mike Woodson for this season and if Atlanta loses this series, it's quite possible he could be out as coach. The Hawks can't seem to hold their attention on winning back-to-back playoff games since they have become somewhat of an Eastern Conference factor. This club has Mike Bibby, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Flip Murray. Atlanta shot 37 percent and the Hawks and the Heat are taking turns being terrible. Somewhere, LeBron James is playing his Kid-n-Play CD and giggling at the possibility of playing either opponent in the second round.

There may not be a less anticipated Game 7 than Sunday's Heat-Hawks game in Atlanta. NBA playoff basketball has to be better than this.

And I'm changing paragraphs because that Game 7 does not deserve to be in the sam sentence as Bulls-Celtics Game 7 on Saturday.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Be Like Lorenzen? Yep, that's right

Now anyone who knows me knows that I am totally against all of these not-ready-for-prime-time college basketball players leaving school early and joining the NBA. Most of these kids simply can't cut it or just want to join the NBA because they have watched too many LeBron James highlights and think the league is a right. It's not, it's a privilege. You have to be able to play, work hard without much supervision and learn the NBA game without getting caught up with the women, nightlife and family obligations. It's not easy, but if you are going to leave early and stymie your growth for the sake of an early paycheck, do it like Lorenzen Wright.

Now if I told you that Lorenzen Wright had made nearly $54 million in his career, would you believe me? You should because it's true. A player who has averaged double figured in scoring three times in 13 seasons is financially set for life. The key to the NBA is longevity and hanging around for that second and third contracts and that's what these youngsters don't understand. Just ask Patrick O'Bryant or Mouhamed Sene or Rashad McCants or Chris Taft. They made absurd decisions to leave college -- or international play in Sene's case -- for the NBA and they are either out of the league or barely hanging on. None of these guys are 25. Wright is still collecting a check at 33 for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Why? Because he's a center, bigs last longer in the league and he learned how to do one thing well -- rebound.

The question for these youngsters is whether you want the quick check that the rookie contract will provide or do you want to be set for life? Wright left Memphis as a sophomore, perhaps a year too early, but he became a fierce rebounder and team player and realized he was never going to be a superstar, a rare example of humility amongst a professional athlete. So perhaps instead of asking LeBron or Kobe about staying power, these early entries with delusions of grandeur should ask Lorenzen. If you are going to arrive early to the NBA, you might as well stay a while.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Seahawks need to take Crabtree

OK, well the NFL Draft is Saturday, finally. All the hype is going overboard, considering most of these guys never made the expected impact. Let's face it, the NFL is the most inexact of the professional sports draft because most of the players never reach their potential. The league's stars are littered in the lower rounds and regardless how much NFL scouts examine prospects, they always seem to miss the gems. It's hard to believe some of these guys still have jobs.

The Seahawks have the fourth pick and could put all of us to sleep by taking linemen Eugene Monroe (Virginia) or Jason Smith (Baylor) or they can take a chance -- not much of one, really -- and nab Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree, the best player in the draft. Now, I probably would have suggested Crabtree stay in college another year because redshirt sophomore receivers generally take a while to produce (See, Robinson, Koren), but Crabtree is a physical beast and produced at the college level, emerging as the best receiver as a freshman. The Seahawks haven't had a game-breaking player since Joey Galloway, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a reliable receiver but not a game breaker. It's about time Seahawks GM strayed away from his conventional wisdom -- taking overrated lineman, undersized cornerbacks -- and went with the most proven player. We need a little excitement here in Seattle. Let's get Crabtree here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Acknowledging Greatness

If you haven't seen HBO's "Thrilla in Manila," it's a must see for boxing fans, Muhammad Ali fans and definitely those of us who grew up during the Golden Age of heavyweight boxing, the 1970s. It's amazing more than 30 years later how much disdain Frazier still has for Ali and even Larry Holmes throws a jab at The Greatest by saying he was overrated as a boxer. What each legend fails to realize, however, is how much they have profited by being part of Ali's lore. How much would we talk about Joe Frazier now if there wasn't Ali attached to it?

And the painful fact for both Frazier and Holmes is that their greatest boxing victories each occurred over Ali. Let's look at Smokin' Joe's career: Just ask yourself, what quality opponent did Frazier really beat besides Ali in their "Fight of the Century." Remember, Frazier only fought 37 times and his most notable victory other than Ali came over Jerry Quarry or Jimmy Ellis, both second-rate heavyweights. Ali made Frazier and Frazier's remarkable night in March 1971 defined not only his career but his life. You have to credit Ali for a portion of that respect.

Now to Holmes. As we did with Frazier, let's look at Holmes' biggest win other than beating a 38-year-old Ali in 1980. I can still remember my uncle believing Ali was pulling the rope-a-dope until about the 10th round. OK, Holmes' biggest wins besides Ali are over an overrated Gerry Cooney, aging Ken Norton, hard-hitting but little else Earnie Shavers (and Ali beat a younger Shavers in 1977) and contenders such as Mike Weaver and James "Bonecrusher" Smith. Not exactly, Dempsey, Tunney and Jack Johnson. So while it is easy to be critical of Ali because of his current state, Frazier and Holmes have to acknowledge that Ali has put more money in their pocket and notoriety to their name than anyone else.

The Greatest has that kind of power -- still.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Let's remember Lyman Bostock

The tragic death of Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart conjures memories of another Angel player who tragically died in August 1978 after being shot in a car by a jealous husband of one of the car's passengers. Bostock was just 27 years old. After struggling his first month of a large free-agent contract with the California Angels, Bostock offered to give his salary back to management. He was talked out of that by team owner Gene Autry. He batted .336 for the Minnesota Twins the previous season and could have emerged as one of the game's great hitters. It was a tragic loss and we should be reminded that athletes, despite their status and affluence, are not beyond the brutal realities of life. Keep Lyman Bostock and Nick Adenhart in your thoughts.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Geno Auriemma is right

The never-at-a-loss-for-words Connecticut women's coach kept it real Saturday when he basically said that the perception is teams with mostly white players are soft and disciplined and teams with majority black players are perceived to be tough and undisciplined. The Lady Huskies, who are 36-0, take on Stanford on Sunday night in the National Semifinal in St. Louis. While the Huskies are filled with talented African American players, including the brilliant Maya Moore, Stanford's team has mostly white players.

In past years, Stanford has featured an African American playmaking guard such as Nicole Powell or Candice Wiggins, who as a Cal grad I was glad to see graduate after four years of absolutely embarrassing my Bears. This year's team doesn't have that dominant African American player. Redshirt junior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude and freshman Nnemkadi Ogwumike (a future star) are compliments to standout players Jayne Appel and Jeanette Pohlen.

Stanford is hardly a soft team. While Appel has a girl-next-door look, she is treacherous in the paint and an intense competitor. Stanford, because of its high academic standards, has to recruit a different type of student athlete. Just because an athlete is smart or from an affluent area doesn't mean they are soft, however. Auriemma was right. The perception is that Stanford has a bunch of private school girls who hardly like to break a sweat while his crew of African American players are rugged and undisciplined.

While coaches don't like to talk race or acknowledge that stereotypes even exist in recruiting and how teams are perceived, Auriemma did an admirable job of taking on a difficult topic. We don't live in a race-free America nor do we understand completely other environments and communities that are not ours. We live off perceptions. We stereotype. We assume kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are tougher and have more desire while kids from upper class backgrounds should flourish because they have had it easy. We assume black kids from big cities grew up in poverty while white kids from suburbs were reared with two parents, two siblings, a housekeeper and a dog named Sparky.

We assume that every Stanford player has the same monolithic story, as does every player from UConn. Let's hope Auriemma's comments will allow us to look at the Final Four a little differently and force us to do our homework when it comes to learning about those who are different from ourselves.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Washburn's Final Four Picks

(2) Michigan State vs. (1) Connecticut at Ford Field in Detroit (UConn by 4) So the Spartans ruined my bracket and made it all the way to Detroit, a mere 90 minutes from the East Lansing campus. You have to give credit to Tom Izzo, this Michigan State team may not have an NBA first-round pick on its roster and yet it continues to knock off more talented teams as Sunday, when Louisville looked lost and uninterested in a 64-52 decision. The Spartans play great defense, but the one thing I noticed is that they hit every big shot to beat Louisville. They were 8-for-16 from the 3-point line and got 19 points and 10 rebounds from Goran Suton. That won't happen against Hasheem Thabeet, although I am not so sure Thabeet needs to bolt UConn for the NBA Draft in June.

The Huskies won't take Michigan State lightly as Louisville did and the home-court advantage won't be much of a factor. Remember, North Carolina dismantled the Spartans in the same arena in December. Look out for Jeff Adrien, a grown man in the paint, to have a big game and lead UConn to the national title game. UConn 68, Michigan State 59.

(3) Villanova vs. (1) North Carolina (UNC by 7 1/2) The Wildcats could be a team of destiny but it's a stretch to compare them to the '85 bunch that beat Georgetown in one of the bigger upsets in sports history. The Tarheels are playing like a national championship team, breaking down Oklahoma with relative east last weekend. North Carolina is an elite team with Ty Lawson at point guard, so much so that Tyler Hansbrough (above) was the fourth option. That is depth. And while Villanova won't go down easily, the North Carolina players remember how terrible they played in the first half last season against Kansas in the national semifinal. Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham will need to replace Gary McClain and Ed Pinkney as far as heroic efforts to push the Wildcats to the title game, but they will fall short. North Carolina 71, Villanova 66.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Calipari to Kentucky, a good choice

John Calipari taking the Kentucky job is a good move for both sides. There was only so much Calipari was going to be able to accomplish at Memphis as long as the Tigers were in Conference USA. We have learned that if Memphis does not get any competition in conference play, which it hasn't the past few years, it is not going to be able to compete with the major programs of college basketball.

The loss to Missouri in the Sweet 16 proved that. Kentucky needed a charasmtic coach and perhaps the Big Blue faithful are lamenting their treatment of Tubby Smith. Bill Gillespie was a terrible fit at Kentucky and did little with the emmense talent the Wildcats possessed. Obviously Calipari is a sparking recruiter who already knows how to recruit the mid-South as well as nationally. The Tigers' style of play was attractive to prep standouts who want to play in the NBA and the competition against the Southeastern Conference and in non conference will allow Calipari to take the Wildcats to Rick Pitino days.

A good choice for Kentucky.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Washburn's Saturday NCAA Picks

(3) Missouri vs. (1) Connecticut in Glendale, Ariz. (UConn by 5 1/2) The Huskies have looked great in their first three games but they will need to slow things down against the speedy Tigers, who beat Memphis at their own game in the Sweet 16. UConn has enough experience and solid guard play to withstand the Missouri onslaught. The key players to watch at Huskies guard A.J. Price and Craig Austrie and how they handle the full-court pressure. Missouri played a sparkling game against Memphis and it's likely it won't be able to repeat it. UConn 75, Missouri 65.

(3) Villanova vs. (1) Pittsburgh in Boston, Mass. (Pitt by 2) It's an old Big East battle for a trip to the Final Four and Pitts lost to Villanova in January. But this will be different because the Panthers are a team that appears destined for the Final Four. Levance Fields willed the victory over Xavier on Thursday and he and DeJuan Blair will do it again. The Villanova defense stifled Duke but the Blue Devils had no beef inside and that made them vulnerable. That won't happen against Pitt. Pittsburgh 63, Villanova 59.

Washburn's Friday Picks: 2-2.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Washburn's Friday Tourney Picks

(12) Arizona vs. (1) Louisville in Indianapolis. (UL by 9) Does the Wildcats' luck run out in Indy? Or can Arizona's three NBA caliber players continue their unlikely NCAA run? The trio of Nic Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill have finally played well together for a prolonged time, but the Cardinals are on a mission and Terrence Williams is the best player in America that nobody knows about. Arizona won't be rattled by the Louisville pressure because it has endured a treacherous schedule but the Cardinals will prevail in the end. Louisville 78, Arizona 69.

(3) Syracuse vs. (2) Oklahoma in Memphis (Okla by 1) Many folks are picking the Orange to move to the Elite Eight but I think there's something special about this Oklahoma team that will carry it to the Final Four. The Orange have no answer for Blake Griffin besides fouls from Rich Jackson and Arinze Onuaku. They are going to have to rough him up and Jonny Flynn will have to win the matchup with Austin Johnson but the Sooners are a team of destiny. Oklahoma 67, Syracuse 60.

(3) Kansas vs. (2) Michigan State in Indianapolis. (MSU by 1 1/2) The Jayhawks weren't supposed to be here. They lost nearly everybody from their National Championship team but thanks to the coaching of Bill Self and the amazing seasons of Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Kansas lost to Michigan State on Jan. 10, but this is a different team. And the Spartans weren't exactly impressive in the past few weeks, losing to Ohio State in the Big 10 Tournament and then needing some favorable calls down the stretch to beat USC in the second round. This is not a great Michigan State team and it will find that out tonight. Kansas 65, Michigan State 58.

(4) Gonzaga vs. (1) North Carolina in Memphis. (UNC by 8 1/2) The most interesting of the four games because no one knows how Gonzaga will reach against one of the nation's elite teams. The Zags didn't fare so well against Memphis last month, getting blown out at home on national television. But if Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytfelt and Matt Bouldin want to go down as one of the great teams in Gonzaga history, they need to find a way to win this game. The Tarheels struggled with LSU in the second round and are vulnerable. This will be the stunner of the tournament. Gonzaga 69, North Carolina 68.

Washburn's Thursday record: 3-1.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Washburn's Thursday's Tourney Picks

(5) Purdue vs. (1) Connecticut in Glendale, Ariz. (UConn by 6 1/2) The Boilermakers won a rugged game against Washington and now need the Huskies, who have glided in their first two games. Now there is a cloud hovering over UConn because of allegations of recruiting violations of a player named Nate Miles who was eventually kicked out of school. The Huskies should be able to advance easily in this game because they have the superior talent. Guard play is important with A.J. Price and Craig Austrie and Purdue got a lot of our JaJuan Johnson in the second-round win over Washington that probably won't occur with Hasheem Thabeet in the house. UConn 78, Purdue 63.

(4) Xavier vs. (1) Pittsburgh in Boston, Mass. (Pittsburgh by 6 1/2) The Panthers struggled in their first two games and there is no reason why they won't against the skilled Musketeers, who are surprisingly back in the Sweet 16 after losing key players from last year's Elite Eight club. Pitt has yet to play a standout game in the tournament and Xavier's defense and athleticism will make this another close one. DeJuan Blair and Sam Young have carried Pitt but watch out for Xavier's B.J. Raymond. Pittburgh 75, Xavier 72.

(3) Missouri vs. (2) Memphis in Glendale, Ariz. (Memphis by 4 1/2) Get those eyes ready to scan the television back and forth because this will be a track meet between two teams with the same philosophy. Missouri and Memphis both like to run and press and harass its opponents into turnovers and transition baskets. So who will win out? Missouri hasn't been this far since Kareem Rush took the Tigers to the Sweet 16 in 2002. Inexperience should play a role here, especially since Missouri needed a Marquette gaffe from keep from blowing a big lead in the second round. This will be entertaining for 37 minutes, but Memphis will prevail behind Tyreke Evans. Memphis 91, Missouri 83.

(3) Villanova vs. (2) Duke in Boston, Mass. (Duke by 2) Duke really needs this game to redefine its program. The Blue Devils have been quite disappointing in the NCAA Tournament the past several years and need to go far to gain back some respect. The Blue Devils are a different teams that those separated ones with soft guards and no big man. Gerald Henderson brings toughness and Kyle Singler is a talented guard, but they will need to match or exceed Villanova's guards of Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher. Dante Cunningham is a monster in the paint and that will be the difference. Villanova 70, Duke 66.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

NCAA Tournament tip times

Tip (PT) Site Game Play-by-Play/Analyst
4:07 PM Glendale I Connecticut vs. Purdue Dick Enberg/Jay Bilas
4:27 PM Boston I Pittsburgh vs. Xavier Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery
after conc. I Glendale II Memphis vs. Missouri Enberg/Bilas
after conc. I Boston II Duke vs. Villanova Lundquist/Raftery

Tip (PT) Site Game Play-by-Play/Analyst
4:07 PM Indianapolis I Louisville vs. Arizona Gus Johnson/Len Elmore
4:27 PM Memphis I Oklahoma vs. Syracuse Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg
after conc Indianapolis II Kansas vs. Michigan State Johnson/Elmore
after conc. Memphis II North Carolina vs. Gonzaga Nantz/Kellogg

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A sour ending for Huskies, 76-74

The Washington Huskies learned the hard way about playing a poor half in the NCAA Tournament. They spent the entire second half rallying but couldn't make the one play to tie the game, as Isaiah Thomas missed a runner with less than 20 seconds left Jon Brockman couldn't gather the rebound for a putback and Purdue hit its free throws for a 76-74 win.

Purdue is a tough defensive team with players that know their roles, but the real Huskies came to life in the second half. But it was a little too late. Thomas was brilliant along with Brockman but Justin Dentmon had a disappointing final game with five points on 2-for-8 shooting in 27 minutes. And wouldn't Huskies like to have back some of those touch fouls from Venoy Overton in the midcourt that led to free throws.

It seemed that Overton fell too much into the Venoying tag and tried for suicide steals instead of playing solid defense. Also, the Huskies had no answer for athletic JaJuan Johnson, who matched Brockman's girth with length and quickness. Brockman had troubles with some of the Pac-10's more athletic centers such as Jordan Hill and Saturday was the same.

It was a bitter ending to a tremendous season for Washington, and the question is whether will Husky fans be satisfied when their disappointment subsides.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday's Tournament Preview and Picks

(14) Stephen F. Austin vs. (3) Syracuse in Miami (Syr by 12 1/2) Don't sleep on the Lumberjacks, they defend the 3-pointer better than anyone in the nation and could be a tough out for the Orange. Syracuse's record in first-round games isn't exactly sparking, so look for a close game than expected. SFA center Matt Kingsley could be in for a big game. Syracuse 78, SFA 68.

(14) North Dakota State vs. (3) Kansas in Minneapolis (KU by 10 1/2) The Jayhawks have been on upset alert since this matchup was announced and the Bison should put up a fight for at least a half. But this Kansas team is different from those that faltered in first rounds under Roy Williams. Kansas will pull away in the second half while NDSU along with Ben Woodside put up a respectable showing in its first ever Division I Tournament. Kansas 71, NDSU 62.

(9) Tennessee vs. (8) Oklahoma State in Dayton (Tenn by 2) The most even matchup of the day, the Volunteers have a wealth of talent but were wildly inconsistent this season. Tyler Smith is a gifted player but OSU has too much depth and consistency in this one. The Cowboys' James Anderson could be a top NBA draft prospect and this could be his final game at Oklahoma State. OSU 65, Tennessee 63.

(11) Utah State vs. (6) Marquette In Boise, Idaho (Marq by 4 1/2) What to make of Utah State? This is a team that has dominated in the Big West/WAC for years but the Aggies have yet to prove their mid-major worth on the NCAA stage. Playing the short-handed Eagles in Boise could be their chance. Utah State 67, Marquette 66.

(11) Temple vs. (6) Arizona State in Miami (ASU by 4 1/2) The Owls are led by gifted scorer Dionte Christmas but the Sun Devils are playing well and primed for a tournament run. This is a key game for James Harden, who could use a couple of sparkling games to raise his draft stock. ASU will move on. Arizona State 71, Temple 65.

(16) East Tennessee State vs. (1) Pittsburgh in Dayton (Pitt by 20) The Buccaneers have no one to handle DeJuan Blair in the paint and will have to rely on guile and hot shooting to compete. A player to watch is Kevin Tiggs for ETSU, which is not going to be the first 16 seed to knock off a No. 1. Pitt 82, ETSU 61.

(14) Cornell vs. (3) Missouri in Boise, Idaho (Mizz by 13) The Tigers could for far in this tournament and Ivy League teams not named Princeton usually give opposition little resistance in the tournament. F Ryan Wittman should be a fun player to watch against Missouri's pressing defense, but this team lost by 15 to Indiana, which won one Big 10 game. Missouri 86, Cornell 59.

(11) Dayton vs. (6) West Virginia in Minneapolis (WVU by 8 1/2) The Mountaineers are primed for another mini tournament run while the Flyers are one of those teams that scare opponents but never really break through with the big win. Things won't change this time. West Virginia 71, Dayton 66.

(16) Morehead State vs. (1) Louisville in Dayton (Lou by 17 1/2) OK, these teams met in the early season and the Cardinals won by 38 points. Morehead State will play off adrenalin for a few minutes but Louisville, led by Terrence Williams, will not take these Eagles lightly as a No. 16 seed. This one could get ugly quickly. Louisville 88, Morehead State 58.

(12) Arizona vs. (5) Utah in Miami (Ariz by 1) The question for you college basketball fans is whether to be fooled by Arizona's talent or take Utah's consistency. Tough call. This is not the first time the Wildcats had the talent to make a run. Remember Marcus Williams a few years ago? That team lost in the first round to Purdue. However, this is the last chance for a bunch of Cats, and they will prevail. Arizona 63, Utah 58.

(10) USC vs. (7) Boston College in Minneapolis (USC by 2) The Trojans are hot and riding a Pac-10 Tournament title. Cal didn't fare very well in the first Pac-10-ACC matchup of the tournament but this Trojans teams has been to three straight tournaments and are tested. Tyrese Rice will be key for the Eagles. USC 71, Boston College 68.

(13) Portland State vs. (4) Xavier in Boise, Idaho (Xav by 11) The Vikings are a talented club that won't be scared of Xavier because they have played some heavy competition but the Musketeers are rugged and should survive the scoring onslaught of Jeremiah Dominguez. Xavier 74, Portland State 67.

(9) Siena vs. (8) Ohio State in Dayton (OSU by 3) Why does Ohio State, as an eighth seed, get to play a virtual home game in the first round? Doesn't make much sense, but this could be the best Siena team in years and it probably won't make a difference. The Saints have four players who average 10 points or better, including G Kenny Hasbrouck. Siena 59, Ohio State 56.

(13) Cleveland State vs. (4) Wake Forest in Miami (Wake by 7 1/2) Don't sleep on the Vikings, something the ghost of Mouse McFadden from the '86 tournament run exists. This will be a difficult game for the Demon Deacons, but if they are my Final Four pick, they can't lose in the first round, can't they? Wake Forest 61, Cleveland State 59.

(15) Robert Morris vs. (2) Michigan State in Minneapolis (MSU by 17) The Spartans are the best the Big 10 has to offer and they should blitz the Colonials out of Pittsburgh. But watch out for Robert Morris guard Jeremy Chappell. Michigan State could be out in the second round, however, if it doesn't stay focused. MSU 78, RMU 63.

(12) Wisconsin vs. (5) Florida State in Boise, Idaho (FSU by 2 1/2) The Badgers are a vogue pick to go to the Sweet 16 because of their difficult style and stanch defense, but the Seminoles could be a special team primed for a run behind Toney Douglas. No way Leonard Hamilton goes out in the first round with this squad. Florida State 67, Wisconsin 58.

Washburn's Thursday record: 12-4.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday's NCAA Tournament preview and picks

(9) Butler vs. (8) LSU in Greensboro, N.C. (LSU by 3)
The Tigers were one of the nation's best-kept secrets with new coach Trent Johnson but were seeded low because the SEC got no respect this year. Tasmin Mitchell is one of the better scoring guards in the country and the Tigers will have enough to get past the young Bulldogs. LSU 67, Butler 61

(15) CS Northridge vs. (2) Memphis in Kansas City, Mo. (Mem by 19 1/2)
This could get ugly because the Matadors have overcome so much adversity just to make it to this point and the early start along with Memphis' press could take them out early. Look for a big game from Tyreke Evans. Memphis 86, CSUN 61

(9) Texas A&M vs. (8) Brigham Young in Philadelphia (BYU by 2)
Didn't these teams play last year? The answer is yes, and the NCAA shouldn't have matched them up again in the first round. But the Aggies are scrappy and balanced while the Cougars depends on NBA prospect Lee Cummard and a trio of outside shooters. BYU's experience edge the Aggies. BYU 61, Texas A&M 58.

(12) Northern Iowa vs. (5) Purdue in Portland (Pur by 8)
Don't sleep on the Panthers, who used an 11-game winning streak to win the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament. The Boilers will have to grind in this one but the Panthers are going to pull off the upset. Northern Iowa 63, Purdue 60.

(16) Radford vs. (1) North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C. (N.C. by 26 1/2)
The Highlanders can score, so that will make this game entertaining for a while. And while the Tarheels will likely be without Ty Lawson, they should have plenty enough to win a fun game to watch. UNC 103, Radford 84.

(10) Maryland vs. (7) California in Kansas City, Mo. (Cal by 1)
The most competitive game of the day will be a battle of perimeter teams with very little in the paint. The question is who wins the battle between Jerome Randle and Greivis Vasquez. The Bears have more balance and if Vasquez misfires, then the Terps could be in trouble. Cal 70, Maryland 67.

(16) Chattanooga vs. (1) Connecticut in Philadelphia (Conn by 20 1/2)
UConn coach Jim Calhoun said the 16-1 upset is coming and it is indeed approaching. But the Huskies are going to be a mean bunch after losing a 4-13 matchup to San Diego last season. There is no way it happens again. UConn 78, Chattanooga 61.

(13) Mississippi State vs. (4) Washington in Portland (Wash by 5)
Mississippi State is seeded way too low for an SEC Tournament champion but the Huskies are way too physical for the athletic Bulldogs, who don't have a lot of size. Over-under on Jarvis Varnado blocked shots is 4 1/2. He will be impressive but the Huskies will win. UW 70, Miss. State 63.

(10) Minnesota vs. (7) Texas in Greensboro, N.C. (Tex by 4)
The Longhorns could be in for a long tournament run because they have major talent and a veteran scorer in A.J. Abrams. Minnesota is basically led by Lawrence Westbrook and is used to winning ugly Big 10 games. This is a bad matchup for the Gophers. Texas 77, Minnesota 66.

(10) Michigan vs. (7) Clemson in Kansas City, Mo. (Clem by 5 1/2)
The Tigers are a dangerous team because they have so many athletes and play an exhausting full-court press and also have rugged Trevor Booker in the paint. Michigan is back in the tourney after a long absence and its stay will be short. Clemson 71, Michigan 58.

(14) American vs. (3) Villanova in Philadelphia (Villa by 17)
Villanova is a strong team and it also gets to play at home for the first two rounds. That's too much for the Eagles to overcome, although Seattle native Garrison Carr will be a fun player to watch. Villanova 67, American 53.

(13) Akron vs. (4) Gonzaga in Portland (Gonz by 12 1/2)
The Zips were precariously close to losing to 12-seeded Toledo in the first round of the MAC Tournament and probably are a little over their heads. Gonzaga is a motivated team and doesn't want to go out early -- again. Gonzaga 63, Akron 54.

(15) Binghamton vs. (2) Duke in Greensboro, N.C. (Duke by 21 1/2)
Duke will be motivated for this game because the Blue Devils don't want any hints of vulnerability so early in the tournament. A player looking to make a national name for himself will be Binghamton's D.J. Rivera, who led the America East in scoring. Duke 78, Binghamton 62.

(15) Morgan State vs. (2) Oklahoma in Kansas City, Mo. (Okla by 16 1/2)
Todd Bozeman's Bears won't be intimidated because of a challenge schedule that took them all the way to Seattle to play Washington. The Sooners haven't made major noise in the tournament in years and Blake Griffin will want to go out a winner. OU 86, Morgan State 69.

(11) Virginia Commonwealth vs. (6) UCLA in Philadelphia (UCLA by 7)
Don't fall for the trendy pick of VCU. UCLA is a much better team than it showed late in the season and its style is difficult to face for first-timers. The Eric Maynor-Darren Collison matchup will draw droves of NBA scouts. UCLA 69, VCU 63.

(12) Western Kentucky vs. (5) Illinois in Portland (Ill. by 4 1/2)
How many times can you say Orlando Mendez-Valdez fast? He will become a familiar name if the Hilltoppers make another tournament run and the Illini is quite vulnerable without key guard Chester Frazier. WKU 65, Illinois 64.