Pass the clipboard

I may have mentioned that I grew up in Kentucky. Consequently, when our family gathers for the holidays, we don’t usually argue about politics; we argue about basketball. Which recently led to another argument about the University of Louisville and its recent troubles.

After finally firing Rick Pitino, UL hired assistant coach David Padgett to run the program as interim coach. For $800,00 per year. I’ve said that my preference as an alum is that the University shut down basketball completely for 3-5 years and then start over. I understand that’s probably unrealistic. But I do think the university should at least wipe away all traces of the Jurich/Pitino regime until a new, squeaky clean coach can be found. Not that there’s any evidence that Padgett was involved in all the skullduggery; but the program needs a completely clean sweep.   News reports indicated that the University president said (paraphrasing here) that they wanted to appoint somebody who was already familiar with the players because UL expected to be good this year.

The points presented to me were that UL went as far as it should go in house-cleaning, and bringing in an interim coach from outside the program would penalize the current players who – so far –  have not been accused of any wrongdoing. And that a coach unfamiliar with the players and their program would have little chance to effectively lead the team.

Regarding the last observation, I countered that it’s just basketball. Nobody has invented new plays or defenses in a long time. Most teams run pretty much the same stuff. Danville coach Brian Barber told me that his team runs one out-of-bounds play called “America”.

“We call it that ‘cause everybody in America runs it,” he said.

All of which started me thinking about the relative importance of coaching in basketball. I’ve been playing, watching, coaching, and refereeing basketball my whole life (though, obviously, well below the major college level).   Robert_Timmons_(basketball_coach)

What are the major recent innovations in the game? The Pack Line Defense? Land sakes, it’s so complex. You have to play off your man to within 16 feet of the basket unless he has the ball. That’s it.

The VCU “Havoc” defense? Um, it’s a press. You play defense for 90 feet instead of 45. Thirty years ago Arkansas ran the same thing, but they called it “Forty Minutes of Hell”. Quick, somebody run some computer simulations!

The Triangle and Motion offenses are like fifty years old. They’ve been running the pick and roll for about a hundred years, and, when executed properly, it still works.

One time I asked veteran Indiana high school coach Ron Hecklinski how you tell the difference between a good basketball coach and a bad one. He said it basically comes down to who can get his team to play harder. Whether it’s through fear of running sprints after practice or adoration of the coach doesn’t matter. If two teams are equal in talent, the team that plays harder usually wins. If they’re not equal in talent, then the lesser team has to play a LOT harder to win.  

I’ll concede that some coaches make better in-game adjustments than others, but I also think it’s really hard for an outsider to make that assessment. Just judging the effectiveness of a strategy move based on results is dicey. It’s awfully tough to isolate the variable. Did the coach change defenses? If so, was the other team ready for it? How did they adjust? If it was such a stroke of genius, why didn’t the team start out in that defense?  

I think coaching has a much greater impact on football and baseball. In the latter, the manager is potentially making decisions prior to every single pitch. Moving fielders, calling pitches, considering pinch hitters on both his or her own team as well as the opposition. In football, the playbooks run to hundreds of pages, with blocking schemes changing every play.

None of which necessarily makes these games more compelling to watch than basketball. It’s not that much fun to watch somebody think. I do believe that basketball coaches in particular get too much credit and too much blame for team performance. The game just moves too quickly for coaches to make the micro-changes during each play that might accumulate over the course of the game.   



Basketball handicapping 101

Over the past two years I’ve run a college basketball pool for some of the poker/fantasy football group. We each post an entry fee and then pick five college basketball games each week against the spread. The winner and runner-up split the pot.

In a desperate effort to avoid repeating my futile and embarrassing performance, I started developing my strategy early this year. Like, a week ago. After re-reading a book on sports betting, I calculated my own power rating for each of the 351 NCAA teams in order to cipher point spreads for each game.

Photos taken at Las Vegas.

There was an interesting blog entry on recently about the differences in home court advantage between teams. At the end of the day, Pomeroy said you can’t calculate this with much certainty, then he proceeded to list his HCA for each team. Which feels like a tease. But, like any degen gambler, I’m going to ignore his warnings and use it as an adjustment anyway. At least for a few weeks to see how it goes.

I also decided to concentrate on four conferences. Big Ten, since I watch a lot of those games anyway. And then three mid-major leagues in the Missouri Valley, Mid-American, and Ohio Valley. I’m hoping that the point spreads won’t be as accurate for the smaller schools. I don’t plan on betting any games where the sportsbooks’ spread is close to mine; I’m looking for games where there’s a disparity.

So I plan to post some of my spreads for games in these pages. If I start winning, maybe I’ll finally get my dream job: hanging around Churchill Downs and giving my selections to other people to bet on.

For Friday, November 10, here are the spreads I’ve calculated:

Indiana minus 16 vs. Indiana State

Southern Illinois plus 5.5 at Winthrop

Ball State even at Dayton

Miami (Ohio) plus 4 at Fordham

Bowling Green plus 9 at Drexel

Missouri State minus 2 at Western Kentucky 


With the opening of basketball season, it’s time for me to start showing up at book fairs and basketball tournaments to try to sell some books while avoiding eye contact with strangers. First up is the Christmas Hobby and Gift Show November 8-12 at the Indiana Fairgrounds.

Other writers have told me that this is a great venue for local authors, and especially books about sports. The attendance skews heavily female, and one guy told me that they frequently want to buy books for husbands/fathers/sons so they’ll read more. Because men are dumb and have short attention spans. So I’m hoping I can get rid of the last copies I have to sell. I’ve been thinking more lately about another book, and selling out* would get me to the break-even point financially.

I think I’ve learned a lot about the publishing process, but I’m still not willing to write on topics just because a book might be a money-maker. Writing fiction would be convenient, because I could do it all from home. But even though I don’t need book sales to make a living, I would like for at least a few people besides my family to buy copies. I’ve also been reading a lot of Richard Russo lately (“Nobody’s Fool”, “Everybody’s Fool”, “Bridge of Sighs”, etc.) who sets the bar impossibly high for fiction. That guy is just so good, I feel like anything I could write would be embarrassingly bad by comparison.

My sports-themed book idea would require a lot of travel. Fun, but expensive. My other non-fiction idea is completely removed from sports, so maybe I’ll go that way.    


*Selling out of books, yo. I’ll never sell out on certain strongly-held positions. Like opposition to the designated hitter rule, or the superiority of rye bread over white.



Baseball season fades into basketball

So it comes down to this. Final week of the baseball season, and we have the Houston Astros against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Serious. (For some reason I always think of the Astros as the Rastros. Evidence of my early and ongoing obsession with the Jetsons.)


I’m contractually obligated to root for the Dodgers since they’re a National League team, though the Astros are a great story. From 2011 to 2013, they lost 100 games in each season, but then built their team patiently and slowly. They have only the 18th largest payroll in MLB and many of their key players rose through the Houston farm system (including Correa and Altuve). They made key free agent deals this season only when it was obvious they could contend for the championship.

In contrast, Los Angeles has the highest payroll in baseball. The Dodgers are generally around middle of the pack in free agents. They’re not as much fun to watch since Vin Scully retired, and they enjoy a huge media market. All of which makes them a less compelling rooting interest.

But the pitchers bat. It says here, Dodgers in six.  














I’ve been interviewing the head basketball coaches at Butler and Ball State in the run-up to the start of hoops season for magazine articles. Frankly, I’ve never been a big fan of Butler. I’ve never had any real connection with the school, other than living in the same city.  

But over the past twenty years or so, Butler coaches have consistently won there without any hint of scandal, and then moved on to bigger jobs. Thad Matta to Xavier and Ohio State. Todd Lickliter to Iowa. Brad Stevens to the NBA. Chris Holtmann to Ohio State.  

After Holtmann left, Butler hired LaVall Jordan as head coach. Jordan played at Butler, then assisted at Butler, Iowa and Michigan before becoming head coach at Milwaukee. After a single season there, the Butler position came open and he won the job at his alma mater.

When I met with him in his office at Hinkle Fieldhouse, he acted like he had all day to talk. As usual, I’d asked his staff for 15-30 minutes, but Jordan didn’t seem to be watching the clock. He asked about my family, talked easily about the transition, and spent about 45 minutes with me.

The only time he seemed uneasy was when I asked him whether Butler’s playing style would change. Over the last fifteen seasons, kenpom has rated the Butler offensive tempo higher than 200th in the NCAA only once.

He shifted in his seat. “Well, what do you mean by style?”

“In terms of offensive tempo,” I said.

“Well, we’ve always been opportunistic here,” he said. “But valuing the basketball has been a staple. We’ve always been rated pretty highly in fewest turnovers, and that won’t change. If it does, we’ll have to have some conversations.

“And playing unselfishly has always been a staple, I don’t see the way we play changing that much.”

Which sounds like a “no” to me.

He was much more comfortable talking about the variety of experiences he’s had as an assistant, and giving credit for his development to other people.

“I’ve been fortunate with the type of people I’ve been around,” he said. “They’re all great human beings. With Barry Collier, it was instilling values and holding people accountable. Thad was an unbelievable motivator, who just had a gift for getting guys ready. Todd was terrific at team building…..he got lot of respect from the locker room because players knew he cared about them. Brad’s (Stephens) organizational skills are off the charts. Coach Beilein is a great tactician. I really learned how to run a program from him.

“I still lean on them all now. The nice thing is, they’re just a phone call away.”


By the end of the interview, I was starting to warm up to Butler a bit. They play in a great venue (Hinkle Fieldhouse), and they’re a lot closer to my home than Bloomington. While it’s clear that Jordan has no intention of becoming Horace Broadnax (who still hasn’t returned my call), I still think I’ll try to catch a couple of games.

We have met the enemy, and it is us

We’re not the team. You’re the team. We’re only the equipment – like the jockstraps and the helmets.”

Phil Elliott in “North Dallas Forty


It’s easy to demonize Rick Pitino for what he’s done to the University of Louisville. Especially for me. I never liked the man, and haven’t been a fan of UL basketball since he arrived in my hometown. But I can’t say I saw this coming. I just hated that 1) he was a University of Kentucky guy, 2) he had prior NCAA problems, and 3) in replacing Denny Crum, the school chose to go with a quick fix “star” instead of growing the program with an up-and-coming coach or Crum assistant. To be perfectly candid, it probably also had something to do with the natural animus a Kentucky boy holds for a slick-haired, fast-talking New Yorker.

Particularly galling in his case is all the “shock” he voices at every scandal. He was shocked when the woman he had a ten-minute affair with on a bar table wanted more money after he paid for her “health insurance” (which was just enough to pay for an abortion). He was shocked that strippers and prostitutes were provided to recruits in the athletic dorm. He was shocked that shoe company money was being passed to a recruit.


But the source of tawdry behavior in organized sports goes much deeper than a few desperate, greedy coaches. It’s also easy to blame summer basketball. It’s relatively unsupervised. Sure, there are coaches and tournament/team coordinators. But most of those people have a profit motive in getting the best teams, the best players on their team or to their event. I’ve heard more than a few calls for abolition of “AAU” basketball.

But even this is somewhat misplaced. AAU is a different animal than the elite shoe company sponsored events. While I was writing the book, several coaches told me that AAU is now considered more of a second-tier summer basketball program. Some highly ranked teams may appear in a few AAU-sponsored events. But If a kid is truly a Division 1 prospect, he typically plays on the Adidas/Nike/Under Armour circuit because there’s more exposure.

So how about the shoe companies? Ah. There it is. Filthy lucre. According to ESPN, Louisville has a ten-year, 160 million dollar contract with Adidas. That’s a lot of money, and it’s not even in the top five. Pitino has the richest college basketball coaching contract in the country, good for 7.76 million per year. Over $2 million of that comes directly from Adidas. So why wouldn’t he think of them as his employer?

Fact is, the shoe companies are doing what businesses do. Spending money (on grassroots and college basketball) to make money (selling shoes and apparel). I’m no lawyer, but apparently the ones at the Department of Justice believe passing laundered money to a recruit is a crime. Nobody seems to object to shoe companies paying colleges and coaches to advertise their product, though. And, on the surface, it seems like an open, honest exchange between the shoe company and the school would be a win-win. The product gets exposure, and the college gets money that it could – theoretically, at least – pass on to students in benefits or lower costs.  

What about the players and/or their families who are trying to get an advance on their anticipated pro career? To be sure, there are a lot of grown-ups with their hands out. One coach told me that many elite players have “handlers” as they travel the summer basketball circuit. The handlers – sometimes family, sometimes not – control access to the kid and influence financial decisions. There is no structure for monitoring or supervision of those people.

Reporters contacted the mother of the recruit apparently involved in the Louisville scandal, and she said “I don’t know anything about that.” Wouldn’t you expect an innocent person to deny that it happened? Something like, “Hell no, we didn’t get any money”?

But if I was a top-tier athlete seeing everybody around me making money from my talent, I think it’d be easy to justify taking a piece of the action. Coaches, shoe company employees, tournament organizers. Even the school recruiting me – especially the school recruiting me – is making money hand over fist. And I can’t have an I-phone out of it?

So who does that leave to blame, and what do we do about it? This commercial exchange of talented kids ends up debasing the player, the institution, and all of the adults scrambling to grab a scrap that falls from the table.

This week I refereed a youth soccer game with a guy from Holland. Before the game we started talking about youth sports and the differences between the US and Europe.

“You guys take it so seriously over here,” he said. We were putting on our thirty-dollar referee shirts, adding our badges to the pocket (annual renewal fees of $60 and $80 for high school and US Soccer, respectively). We watched as kids in uniform warmed up for their game ($300-$500 annual league fee). We each had envelopes in our bags with $50 cash for officiating sixty minutes of youth soccer.


“You know what you get for refereeing in the Netherlands?” he asked. “You get a coupon for a free beer. Half the time the referee doesn’t show up, and a parent officiates with a couple of volunteer linesman. Everybody has played the game over there, so it’s not a problem to find somebody.

“Most people play for ten or fifteen years, then referee for five years after they stop playing. I mean, the really good players are identified and go to academies. But not most kids.”

Maybe the enemy is us. I say this fully acknowledging that I am a part of the problem. I write about and referee sports, and get paid for both. I don’t know that I’d do either one for a beer, though I have on occasion done them for free. But maybe we shouldn’t be making youth sports so formal. Maybe kids don’t need $150 basketball shoes. Maybe they shouldn’t be traveling to other cities to play soccer when they’re eight years old. They see parents yelling at coaches, coaches yelling at players, and everybody yelling at the officials. What are they supposed to think? That it’s play time?




Awkward sports celebrity encounters

Last week I mentioned my visit to Cincinnati to see the Arizona Diamondbacks play the Reds. I collect autographed baseballs, and I’m too cheap to pay $100 or so at a card show to get a signature on a twenty-dollar ball. So when I go to a major league game (especially if I’m by myself), I enter the ballpark as soon as the gates open and stand close to the dugout to try to get signatures. (I’m starting to re-think this. I’m often the only adult, and I feel a little silly standing there with a bunch of twelve to fifteen year old kids asking for autographs.)

At the D-backs game I got a ball signed by Archie Bradley. He’s a relief pitcher, but has good stuff and will probably be back in a rotation soon. He was friendly and gregarious, signing for everybody that asked, taking pictures with kids, and chatting amiably. He seemed to enjoy all the interaction, and jogged back to the clubhouse after signing dozens of balls, hats, cards, and random scraps of paper.

Shortly before game time, Zack Greinke came out of the dugout and slowly walked over to the crowd, eyes down. Greinke is one of the best pitchers in the game, but he has a reputation as something of an iconoclast. He rarely signs for fans and allegedly suffers from a personality disorder that includes fear of crowds. Somebody in the crowd behind me said they’d read that his current contract includes a requirement to sign autographs.

Zack Greinke looks on during batting practice.

He came to the line and moved toward me, slowly signing whatever was held out to him. He didn’t make eye contact with anybody, and ignored questions from kids. I didn’t see him look up at me, but as I held out a baseball and sharpie he skipped around me. After signing a total of less than ten autographs, he slowly walked back to the dugout.

I have no problem with a player signing only for kids. It’s reasonable to assume that an adult is getting a ball signed as an investment, and I can understand resenting somebody making a profit off your signature. And I can’t say I think players “owe it to the fans” to sign autographs. They’re paid to play baseball, and some of the same fans they sign for today will be booing them tomorrow if they go hitless.

But I started thinking about how hard it is for some people to interact with strangers. Hell, it’s hard for me, and I don’t have a bunch of people crowding around me whenever I’m in public.

One night when I was an usher at Victory Field in Indianapolis, Indiana University basketball coach Tom Crean was seated in my section. I always liked Tom Crean. There are a lot of stories (several from my own kids) of him accommodating fans, helping regular students and generally being a good person. But there was always an awkward side to him. After IU clinched the Big Ten championship in a game at Michigan, he started yelling at a UM assistant coach in the post-game handshake line. The object of Crean’s ire had been at IU under Kelvin Sampson and was involved in recruiting violations that led to sanctions against the Hoosiers. But, ultimately, the misbehavior had resulted in IU hiring Crean. So why bring it up then? Who does that?  

As an IU fan, I recognized Crean at the ballpark immediately. I greeted him and he nodded at the ground, handing me the tickets for him and his son. After I wiped down the seat I said, “Good luck, Coach!” He silently handed me a nice tip and sat down. During the game, kids constantly came up to him and asked for signatures. He always obliged them, smiling, chatting, and taking selfies. He was clearly more comfortable with kids than adults. Or, at least, more comfortable with kids than with me.


Again, like I said, I get this. Sports fans – especially basketball fans in Indiana – are not an understanding bunch. The same hand patting your back tonight could well be typing a venomous diatribe about your 1-3-1 defense tomorrow. And I think Crean had it especially tough. He has some odd facial expressions, and he often wore pants pulled up to his sternum. Indiana fans probably set their expectations too high after Crean convinced Cody Zeller to come to Indiana in his second year. Last season after he was fired, it was hard to find many fans sorry to see him go. People would say “Sure, he’s a great guy, but…”.

A lot of people want to be famous. But I think some people are famous because they’ve focused on a particular talent with such intensity for such a long time that their social skills were neglected. Some of them started three lengths back in that respect anyway, which probably led to them focusing so intently on a particular task. It must be a special kind of hell to be really good at something you love that results in daily encounters with something you dread.

From now on, I’m just going to bite the bullet and pay for player signatures. If a guy is getting money to sit at a table and sign, I’m willing to encroach on his agoraphobia.    


Paul George Leaving? That’s a shame. Any baseball games on TV today?

I’m not sure what to make of all the outrage over Paul George leaving the Indiana Pacers. If you don’t follow the NBA in general or the Pacers in particular, George will be a free agent at the end of the 2017-2018 season. A few days before the NBA draft, his agent informed the Pacers that he will not sign with the team after his current contract expires and he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers in his home state.

Paul_George_Pacers (1)

He didn’t say he was holding out. He didn’t say he wasn’t going to play hard. He didn’t say he hates living in Indiana. But the internets went nuts. One sporting goods store gave away all of their Paul George jerseys. People posted video of flaming PG jerseys online, and his basketball ability was suddenly considered “third-rate”, and there was a lot of “good riddance, we don’t need him” on Facebook.

I don’t claim to be a huge NBA fan. I go to two or three games a year when I get free or reduced-price tickets. I watch them on TV occasionally. At least up until college basketball starts. Then I watch them after the NCAA tournament until major league baseball begins. So maybe I shouldn’t expect to understand the anger from die-hard fans.

Spoiler alert: that doesn’t keep me from having an opinion. So here goes:

Paul George is a temporary employee of Indiana Pacers, Inc. As such, he’s looking out for himself, just like Pacers, Inc. protects its own interests every time they sign a contract. Did the Pacers give him a lifetime contract or pay him more than he asked for out of loyalty? Of course not. They’re a business trying to make a profit. They will pay a player as little as possible so they can pay other good players to improve their team and win. To make money. Not for the greater glory of the state of Indiana; to make money.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. But neither is there anything wrong with Paul George trying to get what he wants, whether it’s more money or winning an NBA championship, or just getting paid to play for his hometown team.

People around here like to lionize Reggie Miller because he spent his whole career with the Pacers. They seem to forget that, at one point, Reggie was making noises about wanting to play in New York. He also didn’t take long to list his Indianapolis home for sale and move back to California after he retired.

It’s fun to pull for professional teams, and I understand how easy it is to identify with great players and start to imagine that they owe loyalty to a team, a city, to us. But the fact is, loyalty has to be a two-way street. Otherwise, one of the parties is being played for a chump. So good luck to PG, both this season and the rest of his career. And good luck to the Pacers.

But not to the Lakers. I hate those guys.


The NCAA has announced penalties imposed on the University of Louisville basketball program as a result of stripper-gate. The University will have to pay a bunch of money, and the NCAA will vacate their 2013 National championship along with their wins from 2010-2014 and their 2012 Final Four. The program will be on probation for four years and Head Coach Rick Pitino is suspended for the first five games of the 2017-18 season.


The University – currently led by an interim president since the idiot governor fired the prior president and the entire board of trustees – has vowed to appeal the penalties, believing they were excessive. Pitino has sent a letter to boosters asking them to keep their chins up (and, presumably, keep donating) and trust the appeals process.

I really don’t understand this strategy. Seems to me it’d be more effective to blow up the program and start over immediately with a new AD and new coach. But maybe the interim president has been told he’s not really in charge. Pitino is doing what Pitino does, which is aggressively promote himself. But as long as he’s there, the program will be a punchline and treated like Exhibit A in What’s Wrong With College Sports in Particular and America in General.


Catching up with Coach Wash

The last time I watched Phillip Washington run a practice, it was in the Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet High School gym during the 2015 Indiana high school basketball tournament. He was getting his team ready to face Cloverdale and Park Tudor in the 2A Regional Finals.

Now, on a cold snowy night in March of 2017, I watch as he puts grown men through many of the same drills with much of the same passion that he displayed during Attucks workouts. Washington is now coaching the semi-pro Indianapolis Blaze of the Central Basketball Association.  He claps his hands, yells out instructions, and urges the players on as they scrimmage five-on-ten.


The drill works like this. Team A inbounds the ball against a press by Team B. If Team B steals and scores, they inbound against a pressing Team A. But if Team A gets the ball to midcourt, Team C starts guarding in the front court, trying to steal and score at the other end. Any team that makes a basket gets the ball back, and has to start all over against backcourt pressure.

Washington’s whistle is little more than a fashion accessory in this drill. Players wrestle for the ball out of bounds, crash into each other on drives to the basket, and bear-hug in the post. Finally, one team scores its sixth point and the coach orders the other ten players to the end line for “towel drills”, where they sprint to each line on the court and back. Not just endlines, free throw lines, midcourt; every line on the court, including those marked for volleyball.

Several players protest, claiming mistakes in scorekeeping. Washington answers them, but as they keep arguing he tells them “Enough. That’s it. Just stop.” He blows the whistle and the players, still grumbling, start running the lines.

“Everything we do is competitive and we play for a consequence,” Washington says. “Yesterday the new guys beat the guys from last year, and they were mad.”


Washington chuckles. “They were really mad. No conversation after practice, they just put on their clothes and left. Grown men, very angry.”

“But they respect the process. They know it helps keep them accountable.”

After the 2015 season, Washington was a candidate for the Anderson High School job, which would have been a jump to 4A as well as a triumphant return to his hometown. Another coach was selected, and Washington returned to Attucks. But early in the season, the IHSAA determined that Attucks had used ineligible players in summer league games and Washington was eventually removed as head coach. The following spring, Anderson High School re-opened the head coaching position and hired Washington, but before the season began he was charged with DUI only blocks from his home. The Anderson school board removed him as coach, though he still works there as a teacher.

When we spoke over the summer, Washington told me he thought he was finished with high school coaching. But now he’s not so sure.

“It’s a possibility,” he says. “I miss it. But I didn’t realize how much time I was taking away from my family….I miss the interaction with the kids and growing a team.”

CBA players pay a league fee to participate in the 8-game season, and they get a chance at exposure to scouts from the NBA D-League and International teams. According to the league, over sixty CBA players have signed professional contracts to play overseas or in the NBA since 2013. The league features teams from Baltimore, Bowling Green (KY), Ft. Wayne, Illinois, Nashville (TN) and Mississippi. The players aren’t paid, but get training dates with International pro teams, video highlight packages, and exposure to high level competition.

And the coaches get exposure as well. Due to the brevity and scheduling of the season, a CBA coach can work around college and high school coaching jobs.

“If this can open doors to a college coaching job, that’s my ultimate goal,” Washington says. “If it does, that’s the direction I’ll go.”

Whatever the outcome of the season, the team looks to be vintage Coach Washington. Active, loud, swarming defense. Quick shots. Constant communication on defense.

The Blaze roster includes the 2016 CBA scoring leader in Anthony White and former Butler University standout Chrishawn Hopkins. Washington also seems excited about the new additions to the team.

“Ja’Rob McCallum from Marion (HS) played for University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee,” he says. “He’s going to play a major role.

All of the drills and running during practice aren’t for show. At Attucks High School, Washington’s teams always played with a frantic desperation that was fun to watch and easy to root for.

“I want to play fast and be all over the floor,” he says.

The Blaze open the 2017 season at 6:00 PM on Friday, March 25 at the Broad Ripple High School gymnasium against the Mississippi Eagles.    

Festering through midwinter

Pitchers and catchers report to major league camps next week. I love baseball and I’m looking forward to its return, though it feels like the Cubs just won the World Serious a week ago.       baseball_in_the_snow-2

I’m always conflicted this time of year. We’re deep in the college basketball conference season, with March Madness (and my annual Vegas trip) in just a few weeks. This is the time of year when I’ve mostly lost interest in the NBA and I’m tired of Midwestern winter. So I start catching up with MLB news, assessing the value of trades and free agent signings, checking the calendar for potential road trips to baseball parks, and working on my strategy for betting season win totals. But it’s also still college and high school basketball season, so I have to watch those games. (Well. Not have to, exactly. But what’s the alternative? Cleaning the garage? Ho ho. I think not.)

The big news in Pirateland is that the club is moving its outfielders around. After trying all winter to trade face-of-the-franchise Andrew McCutchen, the Bucs have resigned themselves to keeping him (at least until the trade deadline at the end of July). McCutchen had the worst DRS (defensive runs saved) in MLB last year, and also produced the worst batting average and OPS (on-base plus slugging) of his career. The Pirates announced they were moving Cutch to right field and putting Starling Marte in center.

I expect a bounceback year offensively, and McCutchen accepted the change like the class act that he is. Shortly after Pittsburgh announced the move, Cutch tweeted a photo of Roberto Clemente playing right field. As I’ve said before, it’s always more fun to root for good guys. And Andrew McCutchen is one of the best.


Last fall the Indianapolis Indians announced their plan to extend the protective netting behind the plate all the way past first and third bases. Gan, Jack, and I share Indians season tickets, and the new net will be between our seats and the field.

Now, we’re not as nimble as we used to be. So the net is probably a good thing. We’re often distracted during games, drinking beer and making stupid wagers (“I bet the catcher’s throw to second after the warmup pitches will be in the dirt”), and none of us baseball_diamond_in_snow_-_panoramiowant to take a foul ball in the noggin. (We’ll still be able to make a play on pop-up foul balls over the net. Jack actually caught one like that with his belly last year.)

But before renewing our tickets, we went down to the ballpark to check out the view from our seats and see how distracting the net would be. As usual, nobody wanted to make a decision, so we decided to discuss it over a beer. Or beers.

“We can just fester through this season,” Gan said. “Then if it’s too distracting we can change next year.”

“Fester?” I said. “Whadda ya mean, fester?”

“You know, fester. Just get through the year.”

I’ve always said that I don’t read enough books, but most of my friends read even fewer. After an argument about the etymology of the word fester (and another beer), we decided to keep the same seats. I don’t like looking through the net, but I’ll probably get used to it. And when I take one of the grandkids to the game, I won’t have to worry about making an error and having them get hit by a foul ball.


Over the last two weeks of January, the Savannah State Tigers rolled to a six game winning streak, beating MEAC foes both at home and away. They’ve since lost two straight, but they lead the nation in tempo with 81 possessions for every 40 minutes. They also boast the shortest average possession length in NCAA Division 1 (12.1 seconds). The Tigers’ record currently stands at 10-14, but, with five games to play they still have chance to break .500 on the season. And I’m pretty sure most coaches don’t want to face them (though their players probably do).  



One coach enters, another leaves

I went to Jeffersonville High School over the holidays to sell books at the First Annual Ted Throckmorton tournament. The event featured a pretty good lineup with Northeastern entering play at 7-1, Indianapolis Scecina (6-1), under-performing-but-always dangerous Indianapolis Cathedral, and undefeated Danville. Regular readers will note that Danville was one of the four teams featured in Thirty-Two Minutes in March. Coach Brian Barber had told me last spring that they were scheduled to play in a tournament in Jeffersonville over the holidays, and that I should drive down and sell some books.


On the first day, most of the Indiana teams played schools from Kentucky. In the earliest game, Northeastern swamped Fox Creek Christian (KY) 85-45. Fox Creek had only six players, and one of them fouled out….in the first quarter. I didn’t get to see much of the game since my table was in the hallway just outside the gym, but when I peered around the corner I saw a lot of gassed, dejected players. When the team left, I saw their frustrated coach lead them out to the parking lot and slump into the driver’s seat of the school van. I tried to look the team up online, but since Kentucky doesn’t seem to have their own John Harrell, I didn’t learn much. According to MaxPreps (which varies wildly in accuracy since it’s updated by fans), Fox Creek has won only once this season.

Later that morning, the Danville Warriors bested 7-1 Henryville in double overtime. I’d spoken via text to Coach Barber before the season after seeing a number of references to his hospitalization on Twitter. He’d told me he had a serious medical issue, and that the Throckmorton would be his first game back. I looked in on the Danville game as much as possible, and, as the score indicates, it was a tight, hard-fought contest. When Danville was leaving for their hotel, I caught up with Coach Barber at the door to see how he was doing. He looked drained and had obviously lost some weight.

But, as usual, Barber was friendly and jovial. I said “Ho-hum, another easy Danville win.” He laughed and shook his head, talked about how exhausting it was as his first game back. I didn’t stay for the rest of the tournament, but the Warriors apparently responded to their coach’s return. They ran the table over the next two days, beating Scecina by twenty and Northeastern by four, then winning the championship 56-55 over Cathedral.

Danville is now 11-4, and Barber is headed to yet another winning season there, his seventeenth in 18 years. In their other two games in Jeffersonville, Fox Creek lost to Henryville by 55 and to 4-5 Forest Park by 36. Lawrenceburg, KY is only 53 miles from Jeffersonville, but I can only imagine how long the ride seemed.


Over the past weekend I ejected a coach from a basketball game for the first time. It was a Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) game. For fourth graders. I won’t identify the school, but here’s what happened:

From the tip-off, the coach was shouting “FOUL!”, “TRAVELING!”, “DOUBLE DRIBBLE!”, etc., every time he saw (or imagined) a foul or violation. Late in the second quarter during a dead ball I said, “Coach, I’ve heard enough. We will make the calls.” He said, “I’m just coaching my team.” (I don’t understand how calling out your opinions on calls qualifies as coaching your team, but, OK.) I said “That’s fine, but you need to stop officiating from the sideline.” He said “OK, OK”, and, for the most part, complied.


Late in the third quarter, there was scramble on the floor for a loose ball, and my partner and I both immediately stopped play and signaled for a jump ball. One of the players was lying on the floor crying, and the coach stormed out across the floor, screaming at me, “MY PLAYER GETS HIT IN THE FACE AND YOU DON’T CALL A FOUL?” I immediately whistled a technical foul, and then walked over to the player and coach. The coach then looked up at me and yelled, “YOU GIVE ME A TECH FOR CHECKING ON AN INJURED PLAYER?” I said “No, I gave you a technical for your behavior. Do you want another one?”

(In hindsight, I should have phrased the last part differently. I realize it may have sounded like I was baiting him. I should have said something like “You need to calm down if you don’t want another one”. Having warned him in the first half and seeing him come onto the floor without being summoned, he probably deserved ejection anyway. But, I digress.)

He answered, “I don’t care”, so I called the second technical and ejected him. After the game, he came back into the gym (in violation of CYO rules), saying he wanted to “congratulate the other team”. The gym manager warned him to restrict his comments to congratulations, and we moved on to the second game of the day.

I’d be interested to hear any other perspectives on this, especially if you don’t think the ejection was warranted. 


Marketing 101 and Gambling 43.7

Last week I drove over to New Castle, Indiana to sell books at the City Securities Hall of Fame Classic. The four-team tournament is held in New Castle’s Chrysler Arena every year, hosted by the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. The HOF is selling copies of Thirty-Two Minutes in March at their gift shop, and I asked if I could sell copies during the game.

As I’ve written before, Chrysler Arena is the largest high school gym in the U.S. Maybe in the world. It’s a classic fieldhouse structure, with one large seating area arranged in a bowl around the playing surface. The floor is below ground level, and the place seems dark as you enter and descend the stairs to your seat. The parquet floor trimmed in green reminds me of Boston Garden. When I entered the gym at about thirty minutes before tipoff of the the first game, about half the 9,000 seats were already occupied.



The tournament featured the New Albany Bulldogs against the Warsaw Tigers, and the Lawrence North Wildcats against the Logansport Berries in the morning session. (Berries. Get it? Like, Loganberries? Maybe it’s an Indiana thing.) The consolation and championship games were scheduled to follow that evening. I’d guess that about half the people in attendance were New Albany supporters, with a significant number of non-partisan fans mostly there to watch the Bulldogs’ Romeo Langford.

I liked hearing the Southern Indiana accent that reminded me of my hometown just across the river, and several Bulldog fans came up to thumb through the book and talk about basketball. I sold several copies, but not everybody was in a spending mood. One guy came up and talked for a while, showing me pictures of all the Indiana basketball memorabilia and baseball artifacts in his “museum”. After a few minutes, he offered me an opportunity to donate a copy of my book, promising me that he’d also give out my business card to anybody who visited. I asked him if his museum was open to the public, and he shook his head, saying he only lets people in that he trusts. Which makes it sound less like a museum and more like a private collection. But, being in sales mode, I kept this observation to myself.

Another man came up with his adult son, and we talked high school hoops, New Albany basketball, and the Louisville Cardinals. He told me that Langford wasn’t even among the best five players to come out of New Albany. I can’t think of five better players to come out of New Albany. I’d be open to his argument, but I didn’t want to come across as challenging his opinion, so I didn’t ask him to name those players. Again, sales mode. Always be closing.  

Then there were the people who just walked up, said “How much for the book?”, and handed over a twenty without even browsing the cover. Which startled me. It’s not that I need the interaction; hell, I’m borderline sociophobic. I guess it’s just so different from how I’d purchase a book that it surprised me.

In the morning session Logansport and New Albany both advanced, with New Albany claiming the trophy by a score of 58-33. Langford was named tournament MVP, of course. But by then I was almost back home, driving west past frosted Indiana cornfields.


I’m making a comeback in the NCAA handicapping contest. As I’ve mentioned, nine of us created a pool to pick five NCAA games per week against the spread for fun and prizes. After a dismal start, I began this week at 2-0 after Canisius won by three and Evansville easily covered a two point spread against Northern Iowa.

I stumbled a bit last night, taking Western MIchigan plus 10.5 against Ohio. (I think Western lost by around 160 points), but my handicapping was solid. (“Solid handicapping” being the last refuge of a losing bettor.)

In general, I’m focusing on mid-major conferences, in the hope that the point spreads will be softer than for games that people actually watch. Since they’re not generally on TV, I often can’t even see the teams I’m betting on. Which may end up being a good thing. I tend to imagine I’m gaining a special insight when I watch teams carefully, and that conceit has cost me dearly in the past.

So, if you’re scoring at home, I’m 2-1 so far this week. Tonight (Wednesday) I’m on Southern Illinois minus one against Indiana State. The Sycamores can’t shoot a lick (why am I suddenly channeling Slick Leonard?), and I thought it would be a good bet even laying four points, so I jumped on the number as soon as it came out.

I’m not as confident in my other wager, taking the Missouri State Bears plus 9 points on the road at Illinois State. In this game, I’m really betting more on the expected pace of play rather than the teams’ relative quality. The Bears rank 248th in possessions per forty minutes, and the Redbirds are 256th. Illinois State also shoots a horrendous 67% at the free throw line (247th in NCAA Division I), so I think it’ll be hard for them to cover a large spread.

I’d rather be getting ten or eleven points, but, hey….it’s gambling.