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.