I follow tennis even less than I follow women's basketball (which in my eyes, for anyone who reads this blog, means the sport might as well fade into "bolivian," to paraphrase Mike Tyson). However, I'm covering the Pilot Pen Tennis tournament this week, and I must admit it was pretty cool covering last night's women's semifinal match between Caroline Wozniacki and Flavia Pennetta.
The match was moved to Yale's indoor courts, and the press got to sit on a bench, about 10 feet off to the side of the court. So it was pretty cool to see that level of tennis (the two are ranked No. 8 and 9 in the world, respectively) that close up. (I'll end the suspense: Wozniacki won, 6-4, 6-1).
*** In a UConn hoops-related note, former Huskies walk-on John Lindner is manning the concessions stands once again at the Pilot Pen. John, a Cheshire resident, graduated from UConn in May and is hoping to find a sports-related job: maybe at ESPN, maybe in the NBA (not as a player, obviously).
He also gave me a good little side story. In UConn's blowout NCAA tourney win over Tennessee-Chattanooga last March, Lindner and the other walk-ons got a couple of minutes of run late in the game. He was fouled and got a chance to take a pair of free throws and forever be able to tell people he scored in an NCAA tournament game.
But Lindner missed them both. And when the team filed into the locker room afterwards, someone had written "0-for-2" on the whiteboard to greet Lindner as he walked in.
I don't know, I appear to be in the minority on this one, but I tend not to blame Rick Pitino too much for this press conference he held yesterday. Sure, it's a bit odd, something you don't see very often. But in my mind, there is nothing worse than being accused of things -- particularly vile things -- that you didn't do. It seems to me that Pitino is pretty convinced he didn't do the things that Karen Sypher has accused him of. And it seems to me that Sypher is one of the lower forms of humanity you can find.
Pitino could sell a ketchup popsicle to a person wearing white gloves. He could sell snow to an Eskimo. The man is slick. But he's sold me on this one. He's by far the more believable party in this one, as far as I'm concerned.
Maybe I'm a bit biased. Pitino was once one of my favorite figures in sports, when he guided Providence's miraculous run from the dust heap to a Final Four in his two years at PC, while I was a high schooler in Rhode Island. No, I don't like the way he left PC high and dry (not to mention the Knicks, Kentucky and the Celtics). No, I don't at all like the remarkably poor judgment he showed with Syphers that night at the Italian restaurant (cue the Billy Joel song ... at least he didn't have to endure this punishment). Yes, I did have a brush with fame with him 20 years ago. Yes, I still love hearing the man talk about basketball, whether at a postgame press conference, at the Big East media day or wherever.
But I can't blame the guy for unleashing some anger at yesterday's press conference. If accused of something I know in my mind I didn't do, I'd do the same thing. I'm always amazed at the remarkable restraint shown by some people (the Duke lacrosse players, for example) when it comes to light they were wrongly accused of awful crimes. Can't say I'd be the same way.
The University of Connecticut Division of Athletics, along with its multi-media partner IMG College, will be installing new scoreboards and video boards in the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion for the 2009-10 season.
This scoreboard installation project is being coordinated and managed by TS Sports, an LED installation/integration company. The company’s most recent award was to produce the scoring and information systems at the American Airlines Arena, home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
The new scoreboards and video boards will replace the current boards, which were installed in fall of 2000. The old scoreboard will be removed in September and final installation of the new boards will be in early October.
The state-of-the-art video board displays will be manufactured by Lighthouse Technologies and will be approximately 12½ feet by 23 feet each, more than two times the size of the current video boards in Gampel Pavilion. Each video board carries a pixel pitch of 10mm and contains more than more than 270,000 total pixels, enhancing overall resolution.
In addition to the main scoring and video board displays in each endzone, additional statistical information will be provided on separate displays, including individual and team statistics.
Message boards will also be installed in each of the four corners of Gampel Pavilion just above the concourse, providing new message center locations to display information to fans. These displays are approximately 7 feet by 20 feet each.
“We are pleased to introduce these new technologies in Gampel Pavilion to enhance the game day experience for our dedicated fans,” says UConn Director of Athletics Jeffrey Hathaway. “Our partnership with IMG College has provided us the opportunity to bring these exciting enhancements to our on-campus basketball venue. The new scoreboards represent another way that we can thank our loyal UConn ticket holders who regularly come to our facilities.”
In addition to the new equipment in Gampel Pavilion, and through the UConn/IMG partnership, new baseball and softball scoreboards will be installed for the coming spring (2010) seasons.
In the "Can You Believe First Night is Less Than Two Months Away" Dept., here are five questions (and some potential answers) surrounding UConn this season:
1.) Can the team overcome the loss in production and, perhaps just as importantly, in leadership from Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, A.J. Price and Craig Austrie?
A: They won't be able to completely replace Thabeet's shot-blocking prowess and defensive presence, Adrien's toughness and Price's all-around game. But they'll make up for those losses in other areas. It also says here that the leadership vacuum created by the loss of Price (vocal), Adrien (by example) and Thabeet can be filled. Jerome Dyson has vowed to be a more vocal leader, and he always leads by example with his hard-nosed play. And Kemba Walker, who at times deferred to the veterans last season (much to the coaching staff's chagrin) is a born leader who should embrace the reins as a sophomore point guard.
2.) Who will step up in the frontcourt?
A: With Walker, Dyson and a bevy of talented newcomers, the Huskies should be fine in the backcourt. (Maybe it's time for Donnell Beverly to contribute, too). It's the frontcourt where the most question marks surface.
Gavin Edwards has never started a game in his three seasons at UConn, but the starting power forward position is his to lose this year. He's supposedly bulked up to about 248 pounds, though he'll never replace Adrien's toughness and physicality. Still, I've always liked his offensive game -- he's a good passer, good around the rim and a terrific athlete. Most importantly, his teammates (guards) love it when he's on the floor.
Charles Okwandu, the inexperienced 7-foot junior, is said to have improved greatly over the past six months -- but we've heard that before. Still, with four potential double-digit scorers around him, all he'll be asked to do is provide intimidating defense in the middle (and stay out of foul trouble).
Alex Oriakhi is "built like a blacksmith," according to Jim Calhoun. Ater Majok, a long, athletic 6-10, won't be available until mid-December, but is very talented. Both, however, are freshmen. Jonathan Mandeldove is 7 feet tall.
It says here a few of these players will step up and Calhoun will find the right mix come January.
3.) Can Stanley Robinson put together a consistent season?
A: It hasn't happened yet. He showed flashes of potential as a freshmen and was great down the stretch as a sophomore. After sitting out the first semester last year, Robinson took a long time to find a groove. Once he did, he was one of the more explosive players in the country.
The Huskies will surely be looking for about 13-14 points and 6-7 rebounds a game this season from "Sticks." If he does that, he'll be a first-round NBA draft pick.
4.) Which freshmen will step up?
A: Oriakhi? Majok? Swingman Jamal Coombs-McDaniel? Guards Darius Smith and Jamaal Trice? This is a pretty talented lot. Without question, UConn will need significant contributions from at least a few of them. It says here they will get just that.
5.) Is there a shooter in the house?
A: Not in the zone-breaking, 3-point gunner sense. But then, UConn went to the Final Four last year without one. In fact, when's the last time the Huskies really had one?
Price was their best shooter last year, but he's gone. Dyson can get hot, Robinson, too. Walker can be a better shooter than you'd think and spent this summer working hard on his jumper. Smith and Trice are said to be able to fill it up, as well.
***The Huskies got an unofficial visit on Sunday from Cory Joseph, a 6-3 Class of 2010 combo guard out of Findlay Prep in Henderson, NV.
***What was ? & the Mysterians' only big hit?
***Jim Calhoun will also apparently be making home visits to Josh Selby (Sept. 10) and Tobias Harris (Sept. 12), according to Adam Zagoria's blog.
Whether or not Jeremy Lamb has the skills to play at UConn or any other top-notch Division I program remains to be seen, though by all accounts, the rangy, 6-foot-4 Class of 2010 guard – who is making an official visit to Storrs this weekend – could be a real sleeper.
What likely won't ever be questioned is Lamb's character.
His father, Rolando Lamb, a former standout at Virginia Commonwealth ('85) who played a couple of seasons in the CBA, runs an organization called The Making of Champions. Lamb, who dubs himself America's Character Coach, holds seminars, workshops and conferences and goes into schools preaching to coaches and athletes how to better themselves as people and as role models.
"Being a former professional athlete myself, I have a lot of wisdom and experience to share with them," Rolando said. "People think sports builds character, sports don't build character, it reveals character. The only thing that builds true character is daily consistent obedience to the word of God.
"I get a lot of coaches fussing to me about that, and I simply say two words to them: Dennis Rodman. Hey, he's going to go down as one of the greatest defenders and rebounders ever to play the game, but then I ask the coaches, 'Would you want your son or daughter to grow up to be like him.' You can name a lot of athletes like that …"
"In that situation, Mike Vick has paid his debt to society," Rolando said. "Should he have a second chance? Absolutely. So, hey, let's give it to him."
He continued: ""I believe it's important – to whom much is given, much is required. These athletes who have tremendous gifts, talents and abilities, they have a responsibility to be an example, and to give back."
So does Jeremy, going into his senior season at Norcross (Ga.) High adhere to his father's principles?
"Yes, sir," Jeremy said.
Jeremy averaged about 10 points per game last season coming off the bench and playing behind his brother, Zach, as well as Taariq Muhammed and Denzel Jones. Zach Lamb and Muhammed are both at Miami-Dade C.C., while Jones is at Division II Clark-Atlanta.
Lamb, who was escorted around campus on Friday by UConn assistant Patrick Sellers, is making his first official visit anywhere. He has unofficials slated for Georgia, Auburn and Clemson, and official set for Texas on the first weekend of September. So far, he likes what he sees at Storrs.
"I like the coaching staff, they seem cool. I like the environment: nice locker room, nice arena. It seems good."
Heading up north wouldn't be a problem for the Georgia kid, either.
"I just want to find the best fit. At first, I was second-guessing about distance. But it'd be good."
Lamb is very rangy – OK, let's be honest: he's rail-thin – and knows the area of his game he must improve upon the most.
"I need to get better at finishing around the rim. I get to the rim (well), but I need to get stronger at finishing. I'm a pretty good shooter, and I handle the ball well."
And, it seems, he has great character.
(Quiz time: Who sang the song that gives us the title to this post?)
The 2009 NIT Pre-Season Tip-Off Tournament field was announced today. (Click on the image to the right to see an enlarged version of the entire bracket).
UConn will face Colgate on Monday, Nov. 16 at Storrs. The winner will face the winner of that night's Hofstra-Yale match-up, also at Gampel Pavilion, the following night at Gampel for the North Championship.
The winner of the North Championship advances to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Nov. 25, where it will face the winner of the South Championship – either LSU, Western Kentucky, Indiana State or Milwaukee. And the winner of that game goes to the championship game on Nov. 27. Yup, that means the semifinals and finals sandwich Thanksgiving Day (and, of course, the annual Macy's parade).
Times of games were not announced.
UConn is the No. 2 seed in the tournament. The eight seeded teams are: Duke (1), UConn, LSU (3), Arizona State (4), Western Kentucky (5), Hofstra (6), TCU (7) and Charlotte (8).
Went over to the Golf Club of Avon for the 11th annual Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic this afternoon. Among those playing in the scramble tournament: Calhoun, Ray Allen, Scott Burrell, Dana Barros, Travis Knight, Sam Jones, Dee Brown, Donny Marshall, a bunch of ESPN personalities and many more.
It was hot, but the weather couldn't have been much better. Many of the golf swings could have been better, though not necessarily those of Calhoun and Allen (a 4-handicap), as you'll see in the following videos:
Calhoun hitting a fairway wood:
Calhoun teeing off on a par-3:
Allen smoking a stogie and teeing off on a par-3:
Including a tournament on Sunday at The Mohegan Sun C.C. and a gala event afterwards at the casino, the event raised about $300,000 for the Jim & Pat Calhoun Cardiology Research Endowment Fund for the UConn Health Center. That's down about 20 percent from the norm, but still very strong in this economy.
"We are lucky," said Calhoun, "in the sense that we have great loyalty from the people who show up."
The event has raised about $3.5 million over the past 11 years.
Talked with Calhoun about some basketball news, as well. Here's what we've got:
***There's been some negative recruiting against the Huskies on the summer circuit, but as Calhoun pointed out, "That's every year. Last year it was cancer, this year it's 'I'm going to retire.' I haven't heard much NCAA stuff. We've been upfront with all the people we need to be. We fully expect we'll be fine, but we can't make that decision, obviously."
***To this point, no real progress has been made on Calhoun's contract extension with the university. His current six-year contract, which will pay him $1.6 million this year, expires next summer. It was thought that by now, negotiations would have started on an extension. But save for some preliminary conversations between Calhoun's agent, Jeff Schwartz, and UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway, it doesn't appear much has transpired.
"Nothing that I've heard about," said Calhoun. "I'm not sure why that is. I'm sure something will be worked out, but right now, there's nothing to report."
Calhoun isn't worried, though he'd like to have things ironed out before the 2009-10 season begins.
"I think that would be a good idea," he said. "It's not one of those things, between everything else – recruiting, resolving other situations, etc. – I don't think it's as much as a top-burner issue as it might normally be. And you're also talking about being creative, fiscally, because of the situation in the state.
"For everybody's benefit, it might be better that we have something going forward," Calhoun added. "But, I'm not worried about not being at UConn."
***Calhoun is excited about the upcoming season. He knows Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie will be tough to replace, but he believes several of the incoming freshmen – Alex Oriakhi, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Darius Smith, Jamaal Trice – will be able to contribute right away.
"It would be hard to believe that Alex won't be able to do some of the muscular things we'll be asking him to do right off the bat," Calhoun said. "Darius certainly can play between the one and two. We are going to depend upon them, but we're going to really depend upon, 'Can Gavin Edwards now take his game to maybe a little different level?' And, 'Will Charles (Okwandu) or someone else stand up and be the guy in the middle?'"
***Calhoun isn't too concerned about the leadership vacuum created by the loss of Price and, to a lesser extent, Adrien and Thabeet.
"Jerome (Dyson), when healthy, was always a leader. Kemba, this year, I think, will not defer as much to the older guys. We get on him about that. At times he deferred to them."
Calhoun added that's nothing new in the program.
"Caron was subservient to Edmund Saunders, and there was no reason for it. He was stronger, tougher …"
*** Coombs-McDaniel hasn't been on campus this summer. He's been finishing up work at the Tilton (N.H.) School – a result, apparently, of one of his teachers getting sick and not being able to give him his last grade. Calhoun said the 6-foot-6 swingman "should be" ready to enroll at UConn in September.
***The coach figures Villanova and West Virginia to be the toughest challenges in the Big East this season.
*** As mentioned in the post below, UConn is expected to get an official visit this weekend from Jeremy Lamb, a 6-foot-4, Class of 2010 shooting guard out of Norcross (Ga.) High.
Lamb, who also has offers from Alabama, Clemson, Kentucky, Marquette and Xavier, didn't start last year for Norcross, which had about six Division 1 players and is one of the strongest programs in the nation. He averaged about 14 points per game, however, and was said to be the second or third-best player on the team. A long, rangy 6-4 and 165 pounds, Lamb has been one of the surprises of the summer.
The Huskies should have about another half-dozen unofficial visits over the next couple of weeks, as well. Presumably, those will involve some of these players.
***Funny story from Allen, who was at Calhoun's charity bike ride in June when Calhoun collapsed due to exhaustion and broken ribs.
"The EMT arrives, and the guy is about 22, 23," Allen recalled. "He's nervous already, and now he's going over to Coach to see what's wrong. Coach says to him, 'Here's what you're gonna do …'"
It looks like UConn will be getting an official visit this weekend from Jeremy Lamb, a 6-foot-4, Class of 2010 shooting guard out of Norcross High in Georgia.
Lamb, who has had offers from Alabama, Clemson, UConn, Kentucky, Marquette and Xavier, didn't start last year for Norcross, which had about six Division 1 players and is one of the strongest programs in the nation. He averaged about 14 points per game, however, and was said to be the second or third-best player on the team. A long 6-4 and 165 pounds, Lamb has been one of the surprises of the summer.
Because Norcross started classes today, Lamb is eligible to make an official visit. The Huskies will be getting about a half-dozen unofficial visits in the coming weeks, as well, presumably including some of these players.
Still up after watching A-Rod actually come up with a clutch hit, so might as well blog ...
Jerome Dyson had 37 points and eight rebounds to lead Next Level to a 116-100 win over Looters Magazine Friday night in Greater Hartford Pro-Am action. Ex-Husky Doug Wiggins added 27 points and seven assists. Providence-bound Kyle Wright of Hartford had a triple-double: 24 points, 11 assists and 12 boards. Friar fans will like Wright. Kid can do some things.
In the nightcap, heavily-recruited (including UConn) Andre Drummond (a 6-9 sophomore) had 28 points and 13 boards, but it wasn't enough to prevent Cambyland from falling to Harte Nissan, 122-115.
Here's a story from today's Register about Charles Okwandu, who is set to put behind last year's bad memories (he was ruled academically ineligible on Jan. 31) and become an integral member of the UConn team this season.
Okwandu, who will be a junior this season, has the inside track on the Huskies' starting center position. AT 7-1, he fits the bill, and by all accounts has improved a lot just over the past six months. But then, we've heard that before about UConn players over the summer (from Ajou Deng to Curtis Kelly and all points in between).
With Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Kemba Walker in tow, UConn may not need a lot of offense from Okwandu. But he'll have to contribute some, and with that in mind, Big Chuck has added a hook shot to his repetoire. He watched Hasheem Thabeet develop a fairly effective hook last season and figures it could be a good weapon for him.
(Quiz question: Who sang the song "Hook", which gives us the title of this post).
He's lucky he's not a baseball player. If he was, a massive wave of self-important, righteously indignant columnists and talking heads would be berating us for days, if not weeks, about how he's stained the game, how his statistics are worthless, how the sport is shameful, how ... you get the point.
But he doesn't play baseball, so this will all blow over in a day at the most. What's that, David Ortiz is planning a press conference for Saturday at Yankee Stadium? Guess Lewis is wiped from the headlines already.
Look, I hate the term "double-standard." I'll let the Gloria Allreds and Gloria Steinems of the world overuse that one. But I've truly never seen such a gross double-standard when it comes to how steroids/PEDs are viewed in baseball in relation to other sports. (And don't even get me started on the HGH/PED-infested NFL).
And yes, I blame the media -- of which I am (usually) a very proud member -- for this.
Anyway, that's my rant for the day. Back to college basketball in a bit ...
UConn's SEC/Big East Invitational game with Kentucky on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at Madison Square Garden will be played at 9:30 p.m. and televised by ESPN. The Georgia-St. John's game will precede it at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
On Thursday, Dec. 10, at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, DePaul will take on Mississippi State at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2, followed by Syracuse vs. Florida at 9 p.m. on ESPN.
By now, most UConn fans probably know that A.J. Price has impressed the Indiana Pacers brass with his play in exhibition games, scrimmages, etc.
Pacers coach Jim O'Brien recently stated he believed Price, the 52nd overall pick, "could be the steal of the draft." Apparently, this isn't a bit of O'Brien hyperbole.
We're hearing that Price could be close to signing a multi-year deal with the Pacers. Second-round draft picks don't automatically receive guaranteed contracts, but if Price continues to impress, he could land a two-year deal with an option for a third year, or something in that vein.
Right now, Price is out in Indiana working out every day with some of the Pacers' other rookies (including first-round pick Tyler Hansbrough out of North Carolina, who is nursing an injury that could keep him sidelined for several weeks).
***Also, don't be surprised if Jim Calhoun reaches a contract agreement with UConn within the next few weeks. Calhoun is entering the final year of a six-year deal that runs through June 30, 2010 and will pay him $1.6 million this year.
His new deal would likely be a multi-year one, indicating that Calhoun has no immediate plans to retire. And despite Ken Krayeske and the current economic climate, we'd have to expect a bump in pay. Still, in light of John Calipari (eight years, $31.65 million), Urban Meyer (six years, $24 million) and others, an argument could be made that Calhoun would still be underpaid.
Well, three on Sunday night, anyway. It was a good night for incoming UConn freshmen at the Greater Hartford Pro-Am.
Darius Smith had 27 points and five assists and Ater Majok added 19 points, eight boards and 12 blocks to lead Springfield Slamm to a 135-109 win over Top Dog Entertainment.
Alex Oriakhi had 25 points and 14 boards for Top Dog.
I've been impressed with all three players so far (as well as Jamaal Trice). I think UConn fans are really going to love Smith right off the bat. The kid just seems to be a natural leader and winner. He just seems to have "it" -- whatever "it" may be.
Started as UConn men's basketball beat writer for the New Haven Register in August, 2007. Before that, was traveling Boston Red Sox beat writer from 2004-06 for the Journal Register Co. (which included the Register).