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Spring practice is already underway for a handful of college football teams, and the offseason workouts and scrimmages provide the first glimpse of how all 128 teams will look in 2015.
Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech are the early favorites to win the ACC in 2015, and each team opens spring ball with plenty of question marks. Who will replace Jameis Winston at quarterback for the Seminoles? How quickly will the Tigers reload in the trenches? And for the Yellow Jackets, can they find a few options at running back and continue to develop on defense?
What are the key questions and storylines shaping all 14 teams in the ACC and outlook for 2015? Let’s take a quick look at the 14 teams and the priority list for each coach.
ACC Spring Preview and Storylines to Watch
(Teams listed by pre-spring power rank)
1. Florida State
2014 Record: 13-1 (8-0 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense - 7
Key Coaching Changes:
Brad Lawing (DE/OLB coach)
Florida State’s Spring Priorities
1. QB Battle
All eyes in Tallahassee this spring will be on the quarterbacks. Who replaces Jameis Winston in 2015? Sean Maguire has the edge in experience, but he will be pushed by redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino.
2. Revamping the OL
Line coach Rick Trickett is going to be busy this spring. Florida State loses four all-conference performers in the trenches, including Cameron Erving and guard Tre Jackson. Sophomore Roderick Johnson is a key part of the rebuilding effort, but who steps up at the other four spots?
3. Defensive Line/Secondary
Florida State returns seven starters are defense, but the personnel losses are heavy. Gone are defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr. and tackle Eddie Goldman, along with cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. There’s no shortage of talent at either position, it’s just a matter of finding the right mix for coordinator Charles Kelly.
2014 Record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 2
Key Coaching Changes:
Jeff Scott (co-offensive coordinator)
Tony Elliott (co-offensive coordinator)
Brandon Streeter (QB coach)
Clemson’s Spring Priorities
1. Rebuild the DL
The Tigers were hit hard by departures on the defensive line, as six key players from last year’s rotation expired their eligibility. The biggest losses are end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett – a pair of first team All-ACC selections in 2014. End Shaq Lawson is a breakout candidate, and the incoming freshman class should provide some immediate help.
2. Tony Elliott/Jeff Scott
Chad Morris was one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators, and there’s no doubt his departure will have some impact on Clemson’s offense in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson won’t practice this spring due to ACL surgery, but this is Scott and Elliott’s first chance to coordinate the offense. What tweaks or changes will they unveil?
3. Answers on the OL?
Although Clemson has one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks (Watson) and a loaded group of receivers, the offense won’t click unless a few answers are found in the trenches. Left tackle Isaiah Battle and center Ryan Norton are the only returning starters from a group that allowed 27 sacks in 2014. Who steps up this spring?
2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 4
Key Coaching Changes:
Louisville’s Spring Priorities
1. Settle on a QB
Three quarterbacks made a start for Louisville last season, and the competition will add a fourth name this spring with Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA rules. Can the Cardinals settle on a starter?
2. Revamped OL
Replacing receiver DeVante Parker will be a challenge, but a bigger concern for Louisville has to be the offensive line. Three starters are back for 2015, including center Tobijah Hughley and tackle Aaron Epps. However, the three departing players each earned at least honorable mention All-ACC honors last season from a unit that allowed 40 sacks.
3. Replacements on Defense
Each unit on Louisville’s defense will be replacing a key player for 2015. Gone are standouts in rush end Lorenzo Mauldin, end B.J. Dubose and defensive backs Charles Gaines, James Sample and Gerod Holliman. The cupboard isn’t completely bare for coordinator Todd Grantham, but there will be some retooling this spring. Keep an eye on Georgia defensive back transfers Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons.
4. NC State
2014 Record: 8-5 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7
Key Coaching Changes:
George McDonald (WRs coach)
NC State’s Spring Priorities
1. New Names at WR
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is coming off a solid first season as NC State’s starter (23 TDs, 5 INTs). However, Brissett is losing a couple of his receivers from last season, including standout Bo Hines (45 catches) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. This is a big spring for receivers Bra’Lon Cherry and Johnathan Alston and tight end David Grinnage.
2. New Tackles
Solidifying the offensive line will be a key spring storyline for NC State as it hopes to climb in the Atlantic Division next year. The line allowed 22 sacks in eight ACC contests and must replace both starting tackles (Rob Crisp and Tyson Chandler). Will replacements emerge this spring?
3. Next Step on Defense
NC State allowed 5.4 yards per play in ACC games last season, a sizeable decrease from the 6.3 allowed in 2013. There’s room for improvement with seven starters returning, but the front seven has a few holes to address with the losses of end Art Norman, tackles Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill and linebacker Rodman Noel.
5. Boston College
2014 Record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense –4, Defense – 6
Key Coaching Changes:
Todd Fitch (offensive coordinator)
Brian White (WR coach)
Coleman Hutzler (Special Teams/OLB coach)
Boston College’s Spring Priorities
1. Replace QB Tyler Murphy
Tyler Murphy’s one season at Boston College was a success, and coach Steve Addazio opens spring ball looking for his next signal-caller. Sophomore Darius Wade (3 of 6 in 2014) opens as the frontrunner, with Elijah Robinson and Troy Flutie also in the mix.
2. Revamp the OL
Adding to the overall uncertainty on offense is the departure of four starters from one of the ACC’s top lines. Harris Williams is the unit’s top returning option after missing nearly all of last season with an ankle injury. How quickly will this group jell?
3. Few Holes on Defense
With six starters back, the defense should be a strength for coach Steve Addazio. There are a few key personnel losses to address, including end Brian Mihalik (4.5 sacks), linebacker Josh Keyes (66 tackles) and defensive backs Manuel Asprilla and safety Dominique Williams. With a new quarterback and offensive line, the defense may have to carry Boston College early in 2015.
2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 3
Key Coaching Changes:
Tim Lester (first full year as OC)
Bobby Acosta (moves from TE to WRs coach)
Jake Moreland (TE/OT coach)
Joe Adam (OG/C coach)
Syracuse’s Spring Priorities
1. Settle on a QB
Terrel Hunt missed the final seven games of 2014 due to a leg injury, and in his absence, three other quarterbacks received playing time. Hunt is the favorite to win the job once again, but sophomore AJ Long showed promise in a limited stint. The spring will also be Tim Lester’s first as the full-time play-caller for Syracuse.
2. New Options at RB
Lester has some work to do at running back this spring, as Syracuse lost Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore. Ervin Phillips is slated to move to a hybrid running back/receiver role, leaving George Morris II and Devante McFarlane as the top options at running back. Will Morris II or McFarlane claim the job? Or could the Orange turn to an incoming freshman in the fall?
3. New Faces on Defense
Only three starters are back on defense, and this unit suffered critical losses with the departure of end Micah Robinson, nose tackle Eric Crume, linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch, and safety Durell Eskridge. Coach Scott Shafer and coordinator Chuck Bullough will be busy restocking each unit and getting a look at several different options this spring.
7. Wake Forest
2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7
Key Coaching Changes:
Wake Forest’s Spring Priorities
1. Addressing the OL
Wake Forest allowed a whopping 48 sacks in 2014. And it wasn’t just pass protection that was a problem, as the Demon Deacons managed only 1.3 yards per carry. Two starters depart, including guard/center Cory Helms. Can this unit take a step forward?
2. Find a Threat at Running Back
In addition to addressing the offensive line, Wake Forest has to find a threat at running back to take the pressure off of quarterback John Wolford. Dezmond Wortham and Isaiah Robinson are the team’s top returning options, but incoming freshmen Rocky Reid and Matt Colburn could compete for playing time in the fall.
3. New Starters at CB
The combination of Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel was one of the nation’s underrated duos at cornerback. Both are off to the NFL and leave big shoes to fill for 2015. Josh Okonye and Brad Watson were listed as the backup corners last season and figure to get first crack at the starting jobs in the spring.
1. Georgia Tech
2014 Record: 11-3 (6-2 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense - 7
Key Coaching Changes:
Georgia Tech’s Spring Priorities
1. Restock the Backs
Quarterback Justin Thomas is back, but the Yellow Jackets need to retool their options at the A-back and B-back positions. Synjyn Days, Deon Hill, Charles Perkins, B.J. Bostic, Tony Zenon and Zach Laskey all depart. Broderick Snoddy and Dennis Andrews are the top returning backs, but other players need to emerge. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman C.J. Leggett.
2. Find the Next Standout at WR
Micheal Summers (seven catches) and Antonio Messick (one reception) are the only returning receivers with a catch from 2014. DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller combined for 13 touchdown receptions last year and will be missed. Can Georgia Tech find another go-to option (or two) for Thomas?
3. Filling a Few Voids on Defense
Seven starters return from a defense that allowed 25.7 points per game in 2014. This unit could improve with its core returning largely intact, but the departure of tackle Shawn Green, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and safety Isaiah Johnson creates a few question marks for coordinator Ted Roof to address this spring.
2. Virginia Tech
2014 Record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 8
Key Coaching Changes:
Zohn Burden (WRs coach)
Virginia Tech’s Spring Priorities
1. Improvement at QB
In his first season as Virginia Tech’s quarterback, Michael Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores. While Brewer had some solid performances for the Hokies, he also tossed 15 interceptions. With another spring to work under coordinator Scot Loeffler, Brewer should be more comfortable in this offense in 2015.
2. Solidifying the OL
The Hokies have allowed at least 30 sacks in back-to-back seasons. This unit has to take a step forward for this team to contend in the Coastal Division, and there’s plenty of uncertainty with three starters departing. Guard Wyatt Teller is a promising building block for 2015.
3. New Safeties
With eight starters back, combined with the return of tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Brandon Facyson, the Hokies should have the best defense in the ACC next year. If there’s one concern for coordinator Bud Foster, it has to be at safety with the loss of Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner. Who will emerge to fill this void?
3. North Carolina
2014 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 10, Defense – 6
Key Coaching Changes:
Gene Chizk (defensive coordinator)
John Papuchis (LB coach)
Charlton Warren (DBs coach)
North Carolina’s Spring Priorities
1. Mitch Trubsiky’s Time to Shine
With Marquise Williams out for spring practice due to injury, Mitch Trubisky will take control of the offense. Williams is still expected to be the starter in the fall, but this is Trubisky’s opportunity to put a little pressure on Williams.
2. More Development From the OL
All five starters return from an offensive line that gave up 25 sacks in ACC contests. In addition to providing better protection for Williams and Trubisky, this unit needs to get a better push for the rushing attack (just 3.7 yards per carry in conference games).
3. Defensive Improvement
If North Carolina can improve slightly on defense in 2015, this team can contend in the Coastal Division. The good news is coach Larry Fedora hired a good defensive staff, headlined by coordinator Gene Chizik. Additionally, six starters are back from a unit that also has plenty of young players returning after garnering valuable experience last year. There should be improvement in 2015. But how far along can Chizik bring this defense?
2014 Record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 5
Key Coaching Changes:
Kevin Beard (WRs coach)
Randy Melvin (DL coach)
Miami’s Spring Priorities
1. More Improvement on Defense
On defense last season, the Hurricanes showed some improvement on the stat sheet by cutting their yards per play allowed from 5.8 in 2013 to 4.8 in 2014. While that’s a positive step, more is needed from the defense in 2015. Five starters are back, but this unit loses standout linebacker Denzel Perryman.
2. New Targets at WR
Quarterback Brad Kaaya should push for All-ACC honors in 2015, but question marks exist about the receiving corps this offseason. Big-play threat Phillip Dorsett and tight end Clive Walford have expired their eligibility. Stacy Coley, Braxton Berrios and Malcolm Lewis are talented, but all three need a big offseason to help replace some of the production left behind by Dorsett and Walford.
3. Restocking the OL
The Hurricanes had one of the better offensive line units in the ACC last season, allowing only 21 sacks and helping rushers average 5.3 yards per carry. Three starters are gone from last season, but there’s enough returning personnel to keep the line performing at a high level. How quickly will this unit jell in spring practice?
2014 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7
Key Coaching Changes:
Pat Narduzzi (head coach)
Jim Chaney (offensive coordinator)
Josh Conklin (defensive coordinator)
Pittsburgh’s Spring Priorities
1. More Help for Chad Voytik
Voytik isn’t necessarily guaranteed the starting job, as Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman is expected to provide competition. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the receiving corps needs more consistent options to emerge. Tyler Boyd is one of the best in the nation, but the passing game would benefit if another receiver or two take a step forward.
2. Defensive End
The Panthers are thin on proven options at defensive end after Shakir Soto and Rori Blair. Expect to see coach Pat Narduzzi and coordinator Josh Conklin spending plenty of time evaluating their options at this position, and there’s some help on the way in the form of junior college recruit Allen Edwards this summer.
3. Improving the Secondary
Pittsburgh’s secondary finished 43rd nationally in pass efficiency defense last year but also gave up 12 plays of 40 yards or more. This unit returns nearly intact, with safety Ray Vinopal the lone departing player with significant experience. This will be a big spring for young players like Avonte Maddox and Reggie Mitchell in the new defensive scheme.
2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6
Key Coaching Changes:
Matt Guerrieri (safeties coach)
Duke’s Spring Priorities
1. Thomas Sirk at QB
Duke has nearly completed spring practice, and Sirk seemed to distance himself from the other quarterbacks this offseason. Coach David Cutcliffe is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should develop Sirk into a solid starter for this team. Sirk’s progression will be critical for Duke’s chances at winning at least nine games for the third season in a row.
2. Restocking the OL
An underrated part of Duke’s improvement under Cutcliffe has been the play of the offensive line. But this unit enters 2015 with a few missing pieces, including standouts Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield. Can line coach John Latina keep this unit performing at a high level?
3. Revamping the DL/LB
The Blue Devils allowed 192.9 rushing yards per game last season and lose five key performers from last year’s unit. Linebacker David Helton (134 tackles) is a big loss, but the return of Kelby Brown should alleviate some of the concerns for this unit. Revamping the defensive line should be the bigger concern for Cutcliffe.
2014 Record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 4
Key Coaching Changes:
Chris Beatty (RBs coach)
Dave Borbely (OL coach)
Virginia’s Spring Priorities
1. Rebuilt Front Seven
The Cavaliers allowed only 5.1 yards per play on defense last season. Repeating that total in 2015 could be difficult with the departure of end Eli Harold and linebackers Max Valles, Henry Coley and Daquan Romero. This is a big spring for talented sophomore tackle Andrew Brown and senior Kwontie Moore to help fill the voids in the front seven.
2. Consistency at QB
In his first full season as Virginia’s starter (nine games), Greyson Lambert threw for 1,632 yards and 10 scores. With another set of practices to work as the starter, the coaching staff hopes Lambert takes the next step in his development. If not, Matt Johns (8 TDs, 5 INTs) was effective in limited action and could push for more snaps.
3. Better OL Play
Virginia was solid in pass protection (16 sacks allowed last year), but the offensive line helped to generate only 3.7 yards per carry. Three full-time starters are back from last season, and the Cavaliers regain the services of Ryan Doull (guard) and Jay Whitmire (tackle) for 2015 after both players missed time due to injuries in 2014. Can this unit develop under new coach Dave Borbely?
Now Van Gundy is all but retired from coaching, working color commentary for ESPN and ABC. But his ire for Chicago’s basketball club doesn’t seem to have changed as his job has.
Among swirling rumors of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau — a former assistant to Van Gundy with the Knicks and Houston Rockets — potentially being on the hot seat, JVG let loose on the Bulls’ front office on a January 23, ESPN telecast of a Bulls game against the Dallas Mavericks.
“I think right now, it’s almost criminal … what [Thibodeau is] having to endure with some of the fringe media,” Van Gundy said. “Attacking his job status, attacking his personality. This isn’t new to Chicago Bulls basketball, all the way back to Phil Jackson. The team has publicly supported their coach while privately, oftentimes, undermining that same person. You saw it with Vinny Del Negro, Scott Skiles. Think about it, they ran Phil Jackson out after winning all those championships.
“Listen, I read every Chicago story and there is no doubt that the Bulls organization has the media, with a few exceptions, in their hip pocket. And for whatever reason, they have taken their sights on Thibodeau when all he’s done is deliver greatness here in his five years.”
Van Gundy has been told to cool it by Thibodeau’s agent, among others, but he’s apparently not getting the message. During the Bulls’ 98-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on ABC yesterday, Jeff poured some salt in Bulls general manager John Paxson’s wounds.
"John was really mad at me,” Van Gundy said. “I mean, it's not like I traded LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas.”
Cruelly bringing up bad moves of management past? This sounds eerily similar to the way our president recently ripped on Michael Jordan…
The weather may have you stuck inside the house or summer sports just don’t do it for you. Either way, you’re grasping at some kind of sports programming in these difficult times.
Maybe it’s time to fire up Netflix and see what you can find. Let us be your guide, sports fan. There may be something you’ve missed on America’s favorite streaming service. Trust us, there’s a lot.
The Athlon staff has compiled its favorite sports programming on Netflix — films, documentaries and television series — right here. Luckily all of ESPN’s 30 for 30 programming, not to mention SEC Storied, ESPN Films and Soccer Stories are all available. If you notice that our list is a little 30 for 30-centric that’s because... a) those documentaries are very good and... b) they make up the overwhelming majority of the sports content on Netflix right now.
Feel free to bookmark this page or check back. We’ll do our best to keep up with the monthly changes.
1. Hoop Dreams (1994)
Hoop Dreams one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time — or simply one of the greatest documentaries period. Steve James follows two African-American teenagers in Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they try to pursue the NBA from a young age. The film is more than 20 years old (and the footage more than 25), but the themes are all too universal — issues of race, poverty, the education system and precocious kids expected to shoulder the load for an entire family. “People ask me will I remember them if I make it,” Gates says. “I tell them, will you remember me if I don’t.”
2. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Perhaps Jerry Maguire became too quotable for its own good — “show me the money!” and “you had me at hello” — but it’s the perfect crowd-pleaser. A movie about a sports agent just barely fits into the sports movie category but it has enough drama and sports to fit outside of the romantic comedy box. Jerry Maguire is full of sports cameos, and like any Cameron Crowe film, it has a perfect soundtrack. Jerry Maguire took home a best supporting actor nod (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and was nominated for best actor (Tom Cruise) and best picture.
3. The Two Escobars (2010)
Arguably the top installment of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, The Two Escobars is bigger than a sports documentary and portrays a level of politics and organized crime more dramatic than any fiction. The film traces the intertwined stories of drug lord Pablo Escobar, a passionate supporter of Colombian soccer, and defender Andres Escobar, whose own goal cost the country the 1994 World Cup.
4. Friday Night Lights (2006-11)
Genre: TV drama
The low-rated but beloved television series has little in common with the classic Buzz Bissinger book and the movie aside from the title, the West Texas setting and Connie Britton. The on-field action is quality, and the off-field drama is heavy. Just power through that subpar second season, y’all. Trust us.
5. Rudy (1993)
People either love or hate Notre Dame, and the Hollywood version of Daniel Ruettiger’s story may take a few liberties here and there. Still, Rudy is a classic sports movie, the underdog story of the walk-on too small to play college football. But the film doesn’t have to be totally true to life for us to get misty eyed near the end.
6. Without Bias (2009)
Basketball fans of a certain generation vividly remember the when the learned of the death of Len Bias, the Maryland basketball star who died in 1986 after a cocaine-induced heart attack. As college players, Bias was mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Bias' death, brought about by casual drug use, shook the sports world.
7. You Don’t Know Bo (2012)
Bo Jackson holds no major professional sports records. His trophy case includes “only” a Heisman Trophy and an MLB All-Star MVP award. Yet he was one of the most spellbinding athletes of a generation. This doc, one of the best installments in the second run of 30 for 30s, explains why he came around at the perfect time — just at the start of the modern sports marketing, highlight and video game age and just before the cynicism of the steroid era took over.
8. The Best that Never Was (2010)
Before Rivals.com, before five-star recruits, before 24-hour coverage of National Signing Day and before televised commitment announcements, there was Marcus Dupree. In 1981, Marcus Dupree of Philadelphia, Miss., was one of the most coveted recruits of the era. The high point of his career, though, was his freshman season at Oklahoma. This is how a promising future can detour.
9. Bad News Bears (1976)
Yes, that’s the original Bad News Bears with Walter Matthau, not the more PC remake featuring Bad News Bears. It’s a classic, but this is not one of those saccharine kids sports movies. The language, the casual racism and sexism, the drunk coach — how did this movie get made?
10. Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns (1994)
Baseball romanticism is laid on pretty thick, especially after all that’s happened to the sport in the last 20 years — the dominance of football as the nation’s new pastime, the baseball strike and steroids. Still, no documentary more perfectly portrays baseball as a part of American culture. With 10 installments, Ken Burns’ Baseball is exhaustive, but all of it is necessary.
11. I am Ali (2014)
No summation of great sports films would be complete without representation from The Greatest. This isn’t necessarily best Muhammad Ali documentary — When We Were Kings would be in that discussion, but it’s unavailable on Netflix now — but it does show a different side of one of the greatest athletes in American history.
12. Knuckleball! (2012)
Pitchers are all a little strange. And there’s no stranger pitch in the arsenal than the knuckleball. The exclusive fraternity of knuckleballers — Tim Wakefield, Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and R.A. Dickey — discuss why the pitch saved their careers and why a knuckleballer is always flirting with disaster. The film centers on Wakefield, but the moments with Dickey, filmed a year before he won the NL Cy Young in 2012, are especially poignant.
13. Pony Excess (2010)
What does it look like when an athletic program gives into the dark side (at least as far as NCAA rules are concerned)? This is the answer. SMU football wasn’t the biggest rule-breaker in the history of college athletics, but it was among the most brazen and certainly the most harshly punished.
14. Varsity Blues (1999)
Don’t trust anyone born between 1980-85 who can’t identify a character (Billy Bob), a line (“I don’t want your life”), an artist represented on the soundtrack (Foo Fighters, Green Day) or a scene (whipped cream bikini) from this film, the apex of 90s teen movies.
15. Days of Thunder (1990)
We could dismiss Days of Thunder on a few counts: It’s “Top Gun in a Stock Car,” it’s a not-great Tom Cruise movie when the actor could do little wrong, it’s John C. Reilly’s second-best racing movie. Or we could point out all the plot holes and head scratching moments. No, Days of Thunder hasn’t aged very well — if it was any good back in 1990 — but it’s plenty nostalgic for moviegoers of a certain age.
16. Coach Carter (2005)
Before Samuel L. Jackson was in Avengers movies and Channing Tatum was in ... everything, they starred in this high school basketball film. The story is a familiar one as a coach lays down the law for a troubled basketball team in the inner city. Jackson, though, is the perfect badass to take the title role.
17. Survive and Advance (2013)
There was only one Jim Valvano. One of the most colorful personalities in college basketball is known now as much for his ESPYs speech and the Jimmy V Foundation as his 1983 national title at NC State. That’s a good thing.
18. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson (2010)
Before he was one of the most electrifying NBA guards ever, Allen Iverson was a “transcendent” high school athletes in the words of Hoop Dreams director Steve James. James tells the complicated story of the trial and conviction of Iverson after a riot in a bowling alley in Virginia when Iverson was 18. James, also a native of Hampton, Va., takes great care in portraying the racial tensions surrounding the arrest of a local legend.
19. Elway to Marino (2013)
Think the NFL Draft is bonkers now? How about the 1983 first round that featured three Hall of Fame quarterback alone. The first one taken (John Elway) wanted nothing to do with the team that drafted him. The last one taken in the first round (Dan Marino) fell due to rumors drug use.
20. Run Ricky Run (2010)
In 2004, Ricky Williams may have been one of the most polarizing athletes of the time when the star running back abruptly left the Miami Dolphins amid repeated failed drug tests. Was Williams selfish? Was he battling bipolar disorders? Or was he misunderstood? Director Sean Pamphilon pulls back the curtain and we’re not quite sure.
21. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (2009)
Before Donald Trump became ... whatever you think he is now ... he was the most important owner in the USFL. Director Michael Tollin, who worked for Trump and the New Jersey Generals, retraces the history of a league that took on the NFL and produced six Pro Football Hall of Famers. Was Trump’s ownership the death knell of the league or was any competitor to the NFL doomed for failure?
22. Once Brothers (2010)
As basketball became a worldwide sport, many of the NBA’s international players couldn’t help be impacted by political strife back home. Few conflicts were as bloody as the breakup of Yugoslavia. In Once Brothers, former Lakers center Vlade Divac of Serbia, revisits his relationship with Drazen Petrovic of Croatia. The two won a World Championship for Yugoslavia but were driven apart by civil war in their home country. The two were unable to reconcile before Petrovic’s death in 1993.
23. The U (2009)
How did the Miami Hurricanes of the 80s and 90s go from being a college football afterthought to one the biggest villains in sports history? Let the players, coaches and Luther Campbell explain.
24. Kings’ Ransom (2009)
The first installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30 was the perfect table-setter for the rest of the series — a major story told in a new way by an expert director. Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) examines the unthinkable trade that sent the greatest hockey player in history from Edmonton to Los Angeles.
25. The Karate Kid (1984)
Sport: Martial arts
Does it count as a sports movie? A coach, a kid, an underdog. Yep. Wax on, wax off.
Others of note:
The Fab 5 (2011)
In the 1990s, starting this many freshmen was revolutionary. Not to mention the baggy shorts, black socks and shaved heads. So much about basketball we take for granted in 2014-15 started with Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. The story, of course, wasn’t all rosy.
Jordan Rides the Bus (2010)
Remember when Michael Jordan left basketball in the prime of his career to play minor league baseball and not all that well? The writer and director of Bull Durham takes a look in this 30 for 30 installment.
Straight Outta L.A. (2010)
Sport: Los Angeles
Ice Cube directs what would become one of the staples of the 30 for 30 series, in particular how a sports team or athlete becomes intertwined with a community, this time with Los Angeles and the Raiders.
The Legend of Jimmy the Greek (2009)
The 30 for 30 series took more risks early on, and few are more emblematic of that spirit than The Legend of Jimmy the Greek. A doc about rough-around-the-edges gambling guy narrated by a stand-in for Jimmy the Greek? That spirit had dimmed in following installments.
June 17th, 1994 (2010)
Sport: Basketball, O.J. Simpson, et al
It’s hard to imagine a day in the life of sports being more dramatic than this day in 1994 when O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco was chased on the streets Los Angeles, when the Knicks were playing in the NBA finals and when Arnold Palmer played his last round in the U.S. Open. It also captured a time when all of this played out on live television rather than social media.
Necessary Roughness (1991)
Sinbad, Rob Schneider, Scott Bakula and Kathy Ireland. The only way this movie could be more 90s is if it were on VHS.
The Last Gladiators (2011)
Hockey fans love enforcers, but the life of Chris “Knuckles” Nilan was more than fights on the rink.
Bigger Stronger Faster (2008)
Director Christopher Bell explores the 2000s steroid scandals from a different angle, that of the non-professional athlete, and takes a look at the image of mixed messages (Gov. Schwarzenegger) and other performance enhancements in sports.
Sport: Mountain climbing
Originally filmed in IMAX, but now that enough viewers have HD big screens and surround sounds, it’s time to take this picturesque to the “small” screen.
Requiem for the Big East (2014)
Why were sports fans sad to watch the traditional Big East slip away? This is the reason. The Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry, the colorful coaches, the physical play, Madison Square Garden. The league started from humble roots, built itself up on ESPN and then collapsed under the weight of football.
Silly Little Game (2010)
Sport: Fantasy sports
Find out why you need to blame a bunch of newspaper schlubs and professors meeting in a rotisserie restaurant created the biggest time vampire for football and baseball season.
The Yankees committed almost $500 million to new players before 2014, yet their record actually got worse. Their first multi-year playoff drought of the wild card era seems likely to stretch to three years in 2015. The Yankees, as usual, have the flashy names and the gaudy payroll, but they again won’t have the elite-level production to go with it. Almost all of their important players are over 30, making them prone to injury and increasingly less likely to rediscover their youthful primes all at once.
The Yankees have two starters on contracts worth more than $150 million, and neither is a safe bet to hold up all season. CC Sabathia, 34, made only eight starts last season because of knee injuries, and it could be that the traits that made him such a highly respected ace — always taking the ball, willing himself deep into games — have irreparably worn him down. With Masahiro Tanaka, it’s all a matter of his elbow: Tanaka, 26, was every bit as good as advertised last season, until a partial UCL tear cost him most of the second half. Uncertainty clouds his immediate future. Michael Pineda has been prone to injury, but with his lethal slider, he’s overpowering when available. As the Yankees await Ivan Nova’s return from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent last April, they will see what they get from Nathan Eovaldi, the hard-throwing righthander they acquired from Miami in December. Eovaldi’s high-octane fastballs have yet to match his production, but he’s only 25 and worth a long look. The veteran Chris Capuano is his opposite in every way: a lefthander who relies on guile.
The Yankees have spent the last few years trying to hit Andrew Miller in the American League East, and they gave up on solving him when they signed the former first-round pick to a four-year, $36 million contract. It was a smart way for the Yankees to use their payroll advantage on a mid-level star who carries less risk but can still make a major impact. Miller and All-Star Dellin Betances both struck out over 100 hitters last season and will form a nasty bullpen endgame for the Yankees, no matter which one ultimately ends up as the closer. Justin Wilson, a hard-throwing lefty with control issues, joins the middle relief corps with right-handed strikeout specialists David Carpenter Adam Warren and versatile long man Esmil Rogers. The swing-and-miss stuff of the Yankees’ relievers will make the bullpen the team’s strength.
The good thing about Derek Jeter’s replacement at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, is that he is only 25 years old and is a high-impact defender with a strong arm and the kind of range Jeter never had. The bad thing is that he’s already with his third team and could not stick as the starter for the woeful 2014 Diamondbacks. Gregorius is a left-handed hitter with decent pop, but he struggles to hit lefties and projects to be, at best, a .240-.250 hitter. Brendan Ryan, another smooth defensive player, is also a light hitter but will start for Gregorius against lefthanders, at least sometimes. At second base, the Yankees brought back Stephen Drew on a one-year deal to solidify the position after trading Martin Prado to Miami. The team also will try and determine if prospects Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder can be the long-term answer. Pirela, 25, has played every position but catcher and pitcher in the minors, but he has played second more than any other spot and hit .305 with 42 extra-base hits and 15 steals at Class AAA last season. Refsnyder, 24, had never played above Class A before last season but hit .318 at the two highest minor league levels.
Mark Teixeira started his Yankees career by finishing as the runner-up for the AL Most Valuable Player Award and making the final putout of a World Series championship. That seems like a long time ago. Minor injuries nag at Teixeira, who turns 35 in April, but he still managed to come back from a serious wrist injury and make 508 plate appearances. The Yankees’ best hope is that the further removed Teixeira gets from his wrist trouble, the more closely he’ll resemble the feared slugger of old. But just in case, they have Garrett Jones to help out. Jones, the former Pirate and Marlin whose power will play well at Yankee Stadium, will play first base when Teixeira needs a rest or a day at DH. Across the diamond, the Yankees brought back Chase Headley on a four-year contract. They loved him in the field, at the plate and in the clubhouse last summer, and if Headley can match his Yankees on-base percentage (.371) with decent power and solid play in the field, that’s enough. His switch-hitting is also appealing to the Yankees. On Headley’s days off, Alex Rodriguez could spend some time at third. The Yankees won’t over-expose Rodriguez in the field, though, so he’ll get most of his playing time at designated hitter and some at first base.
While Jacoby Ellsbury’s on-base percentage slid to an unacceptable .298 in the second half, the Yankees were mostly pleased with the first season of his extravagant seven-year, $153 million contract. Ellsbury excelled in center field and teamed with left fielder Brett Gardner to form a dangerous slashing tandem atop the order, with respectable power and game-changing speed. Right fielder Carlos Beltran, however, was a bust in his first season in the Bronx, unable to perform as he did in St. Louis because of a bone spur in his elbow that required surgery on Sept. 30. Beltran should be healthy now, but he turns 38 in April, and the rigors of everyday duty in right field might be too much to withstand, especially for a player the Yankees signed through 2016. The Yankees need to play him at DH as much as possible, but other creaky veterans need time there, too.
The Yankees like to perpetuate the narrative that Brian McCann figured things out in the second half, but the numbers don’t back that up. He had a better slugging percentage after the All-Star break, but he hit just .221 with a pitiful .274 on-base percentage — both figures even worse than they were in the first half. The Yankees plainly need a lot more to justify their five-year, $85 million investment. It paid off with a steady hand behind the plate and a team-leading 23 homers, but the .286 OBP made McCann, on the whole, an offensive liability.
If only the Yankees could use three or four players at DH, they’d have a much better chance of holding up through the season. Teixeira still has value in the field, although his body could use the occasional rest at DH. Beltran, with his surgically repaired elbow, could also use more time here. But as long as Rodriguez is on the team, he should get the bulk of the playing time at DH. If A-Rod stays away from performance-enhancing drugs, he’s going to need a natural way to heal that crumbling body every day. Beating it up by playing in the field won’t help, so DH looks like his best spot.
Joe Girardi usually knows how to juggle a roster of veterans, but he hasn’t been able to cajole a successful playoff push since 2012. That’s hardly his fault, though, since neither of his last two teams had any right to produce a winning record, given their meager statistics. Even so, a third straight year out of the playoffs can’t be good for Girardi’s job security, even in the more rational world of Hal Steinbrenner. General manager Brian Cashman made deft deadline moves last summer, proving his worth to Steinbrenner, but the Yankees’ biggest organizational advantage remains their ability to spend on free agents or afford to take on other teams’ unwanted contracts.
The Yankees always have hope, because most of their players have, at one point in their careers, ranked among the game’s best. The question is whether they can do it again. Don’t bet on it. It’s increasingly a young man’s game, and if the Yankees continue to rely on the overpaid and over-the-hill, they could be stuck on 27 championships for a long time.
2015 Prediction: 4th in AL East
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L) Success rate of 84.6 percent on steals is second among active players, trailing only Carlos Beltran.
LF Brett Gardner (L) His 17 HRs were a career high, but .327 OBP was lowest since 2008 rookie season.
RF Carlos Beltran (S) With 373 HRs, trails only Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones among switch-hitters.
C Brian McCann (L) Hit only four of his 23 homers on the road in unimpressive Yankee debut.
1B Mark Teixeira (S) Still owed $45 million for next two seasons after batting just .216.
3B Chase Headley (S) Has just 26 HRs, 99 RBIs since his 2012 breakout (31 HRs, 115 RBIs) with Padres.
DH Alex Rodriguez (R) Will collect $6 million when he hits sixth HR of the season to tie Willie Mays on career list, with 660.
2B Stephen Drew (L) Back with Yankees after hitting just .150 in 46 games following July 31 trade from Red Sox.
SS Didi Gregorius (L) Substantial upgrade over Derek Jeter in the field, he must learn to hit lefties to fulfill offensive potential.
2B Rob Refsnyder (R) Should get a shot to play after a .297/.389/.444 slash line in three season in the minors.
C John Ryan Murphy (R) Strong second half at AAA gives the 2009 second-round pick from Princeton the inside edge for backup job.
OF Chris Young (R) Small sample, but Yanks loved what they saw after he flopped with Mets.
SS Brendan Ryan (R) Great glove, but bat was worse than Yankees expected, at .167.
1B Garrett Jones (L) Veteran has hit at least 15 homers in each of his last six seasons, including 27 with Pittsburgh in 2012.
RH Masahiro Tanaka Two-start cameo in September wasn’t enough to quell fears about troublesome elbow.
LH CC Sabathia Has a 4.87 ERA in last two seasons, but expects to be healthy after knee surgery.
RH Michael Pineda Fragile but dominant, with a .208 opponents’ average in 41 career starts.
RH Nathan Eovaldi MLB hitters can handle his heat; he led National League in hits allowed last season (223 with Miami).
LH Chris Capuano Veteran had six quality starts in 12 tries for the Yankees late last season.
RH Dellin Betances (Closer) Exactly 50 percent of his outs came via strikeout (135 of 270).
LH Andrew Miller Fastball and wipeout slider make him a devastating late-inning weapon.
RH David Carpenter Acquired in early January, Carpenter gives the Yankees another strikeout specialist in the bullpen.
LH Justin Wilson Durable and tough on lefties, but high walk rate is worrisome.
RH Adam Warren Full-time relief role suited Warren, who held lefties to .178 average.
RH Esmil Rogers Before he was hit hard in season finale — four ER in 0.1 IP — had a 3.28 ERA for Yanks.
Beyond the Box Score
MVP shutout One way to measure the Yankees’ lack of 2014 impact was in the voting for the AL Most Valuable Player. Not a single Yankee got even so much as a 10th place vote from 30 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The last time the Yankees were completely shut out of the MVP vote was 1992, their last losing season. The Yankees also had no pitchers listed on any Cy Young Award ballots.
Stability at the top Only two general managers have been in their current jobs longer than the Yankees’ Brian Cashman — Brian Sabean of the Giants (1996) and Billy Beane of the A’s (1997). Cashman, who took over as GM in 1998, isn’t going anywhere soon. Despite missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, the Yankees re-signed Cashman to a three-year contract in October. “We know from our fan base’s perspective that we need to do better than we’ve done for the past two years,” Cashman says. “I say that for myself as well. Being in my chair, I’m responsible for it all — offense, defense and pitching. I’ve got to find a way to get our fan base back to enjoying October sooner than later.”
International spending bonanza The Yankees were assigned a $2.19 million bonus pool for international signings last summer, but with their farm system struggling, they blew past that limit. The Yankees spent more than $14 million to sign nine of the top 25 international free agents on MLB.com’s list. As a result, the Yankees will pay a 100 percent tax on their pool overage, and they must wait two years before giving more than $300,000 to another amateur on the international market.
Filling up fast The Yankees staged four promotions last season to honor their past, giving plaques in Monument Park to Goose Gossage, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill and Joe Torre. The team also retired Torre’s No. 6. The Yankees have no set criteria for whom they honor, or how, leading to a somewhat haphazard process in which many stalwarts, including Hall of Famers like Waite Hoyt and Joe Gordon, are not represented at all. Bernie Williams is not a Hall of Famer, but he spent many more years in pinstripes than Gossage, Martinez, O’Neill and Torre, and will be honored with a plaque in 2015.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Jacob Lindgren, LHP
The Yankees’ free-agent shopping binge cost them their first-round draft choice in 2014, and they did not make a selection until No. 55 overall. But they were thrilled to land Lindgren, a left-handed reliever from Mississippi State who led the nation in strikeouts per nine innings as a junior, with 16.3. Lindgren played at four levels in his professional debut season, ending up at Class AA Trenton, where he fanned 18 in 11.2 innings. Lindgren could make an impact this season, and possibly even land on the Opening Day roster in a setup role. Lindgren has a deceptive delivery, his slider may be the best in the Yankees’ farm system, and his fastball can hit 94 mph with sink.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Luis Severino, RHP (21) A 6'0" righthander from the Dominican Republic with a high-90s fastball and a baffling changeup, Severino pitched in the Futures Game and reached Class AA Trenton, where he had a 2.52 ERA in six starts. He could make an impact as soon as this season.
2 . Gary Sanchez, C (22) Still highly regarded, but the Yankees’ commitment to Brian McCann blocks him behind the plate, where he’s shown a strong arm and improving defense. Decent power is a plus, off-field disciplinary issues a minus.
3 . Greg Bird, 1B (22) Led the minors in walks in 2013 with 107 and was the 2014 MVP of the Arizona Fall League, with a .313 average and six homers in 26 games.
4. Aaron Judge, OF (22) The 32nd overall pick in 2013, this Fresno State product hit 17 homers with 78 RBIs and reached High-A last season. He had a lot of walks, but also lots of strikeouts.
5. Rob Refsnyder, 2B (24) With a .300 average, a .389 OBP and decent power at Class AAA, line-drive hitter should have a chance to make an impact very soon.
6. Ian Clarkin, LHP (20) Added a cutter to low-90s fastball and curve last season, but has pitched only one game above Low-A.
7. Jacob Lindgren, LHP (22) Versatile southpaw was dominant as both a starter and reliever during his time at Mississippi State.
8. Eric Jagielo, 3B (22) Notre Dame product hit 16 homers with strong .354 OBP at High-A Tampa.
9. Luis Torrens, C (18) Signed for $1.3 million as a shortstop from Venezuela in 2012, he’s shown good skills behind the plate in low minors.
10. Domingo German, RHP (22) Aquired from the Marlins in the Martin Pardo deal, German is a strike thrower who has tremendous upside.
With all due respect to Space Mountain, Goliath and the Viper, the wildest roller coaster in the United States currently resides in Fenway Park. From worst to first to worst to … first again? — the Red Sox have put their fans through a stomach-churning wringer, sandwiching the elation of the 2013 World Series between a pair of lost seasons, not to mention an epic collapse in 2011. The Red Sox can only hope that this is the dawn of a new age of stability, however. They recognized the error of relying on too many youngsters simultaneously last year and imported a number of veterans this winter. They’ve remade much of the roster and virtually all of their rotation and have built the best lineup in the division. In what projects to be a down year for the AL East, that should be enough to return to contention, where the coaster can perhaps once again provide thrills instead of dread.
This group will ultimately determine the team’s fate. Stalwarts Jon Lester and John Lackey are gone, and the Red Sox chose to replace them with pitchers they hope are about to make the ascension to ace. Their primary offseason target was Detroit’s Rick Porcello, 26, a six-year veteran coming off his best season (15–13, 3.43), and a pitcher the Red Sox believe is ready to take the next step. In a similar boat is 28-year-old Wade Miley, a former All-Star who struggled last year with Arizona (8–12, 4.34) but struck out a career high 183, suggesting the stuff is there. If either fails to emerge as a No. 1, there’s always old friend Clay Buchholz, a true Jekyll-and-Hyde performer, or Justin Masterson, who is expected to improve after battling injuries (7–9, 5.88). All three newcomers are groundball pitchers. Joe Kelly rounds things out.
The first move of the winter flew largely under the radar. The Red Sox re-signed closer Koji Uehara for two years and $18 million. Because Uehara doesn’t rely on power, the Sox believe he will remain effective into his 40s, a la Trevor Hoffman. The rest of the pen is a bit muddled. Junichi Tazawa returns as the primary setup man, even though his fastball has lost just enough steam to leave him as a borderline power pitcher. The Red Sox also retained lefty Craig Breslow, who never seemed to recover from his workload in 2013 en route to a horrible 2014 (2–4, 5.96). Virtually every other spot will be up for grabs in spring training, with veteran Edward Mujica looking to rebound, newly acquired Anthony Varvaro and Robbie Ross trying to find a home, youngsters Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes doing battle, and a lefthander like Tommy Layne perhaps claiming a specialist role. Former All-Star Alexi Ogando also could factor into the mix if he’s able to show he’s recovered from the elbow inflammation that limited him to just 27 appearances last season with the Rangers.
Maybe this is the year Dustin Pedroia stays healthy. His will and determination remain beyond reproach, but he has undergone hand or wrist surgery in three straight offseasons. All that slicing and dicing has cut into his power, with his OPS falling in each of the last four seasons (from .861 to .797 to .787 to .712). He’s still a Gold Glover, but the Red Sox need his pop, too. Meanwhile, double-play partner Xander Bogaerts will be manning one of the most pivotal positions on the field. He’s not only coming off a down season offensively, but his defense also often appeared shaky, and the Red Sox have left him with no safety net after signing a trio of groundball starters. The team believes the 22-year-old will eventually be a star — for now it’s simply asking him to make routine plays in the field. And speaking of stars, Boston hopes it has found its next one in Yoan Moncada. The Red Sox signed the 19-year-old Cuban free agent in late February, committing $63 million ($31.5 as a signing bonus to Moncada, $31.5 to MLB as a 100 percent overage tax for exceeding their allotment of international bonus money) to the switch-hitting shortstop who could end up at second or third or even in the outfield by the time he arrives in the majors.
Say hello to the Panda. The arrival of Pablo Sandoval should solve the vexing problem of wildly subpar third base production the last two seasons. Sandoval is everything the Red Sox seek — a durable hitter in his prime with a flare for the dramatic, a slightly above-average fielder, and a high-energy leader who should light up the clubhouse. He’s also one of the best low-ball hitters in the game, an area of emphasis with the strike zone dropping precipitously over the last three years. The solid Mike Napoli returns at first base, presumably recovered from the injuries that slowed him last year, with his 25-homer potential and clubhouse leadership intact.
The arrival of All-Star Hanley Ramirez positions the Red Sox with one of the deepest lineups in the American League. The deal wouldn’t have been possible without Ramirez volunteering to forgo a career as an infielder to take a stab at left field. Ramirez hits lefties (.307) and righties (.298) and will play every day. Center likely will go to Cuban import Rusney Castillo, who tore up the Puerto Rican winter league after impressively hitting .333 with two homers in a brief September call-up. Right field is up for grabs, although it’s hard to see the Red Sox going in any direction other than with Mookie Betts, who has all the skills to be an All-Star leadoff hitter. Betts carries himself with a swagger that has earned him the immediate respect of the team’s veterans.
The Red Sox have proclaimed a willingness to hand things over to strong-armed Christian Vazquez, an advanced game-caller and pitch-framer who must answer major questions about his bat. Perhaps the Red Sox will be able to carry a .200 hitter if the rest of the lineup mashes, because the feeling is that Vazquez is only a one- or two-year stopgap until prospect Blake Swihart arrives. Ryan Hanigan fills the David Ross role of veteran who can play more than the typical backup if needed. He hits lefties well (.762 lifetime OPS), though he was better against righties last year.
The name of the game here is flexibility. Brock Holt can play anywhere and would pull on catching gear if asked. His surprising ability to hit lefties from the left side last year (.293) helped fuel an eighth-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting. Daniel Nava’s skills against right-handed pitching will find him some playing time in either the outfield or at first. Ramirez, a former shortstop and third baseman, provides options in an emergency. The interesting decision will be finding a role for either Shane Victorino or Allen Craig. The remade roster likely squeezes out one, if not both. Victorino, if he heals from back surgery, has the higher upside and is the more battle-tested player.
A year after pushing all the right buttons, manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington took a step back, along with the rest of the organization. Cherington’s relative inaction left the 2014 team with too many holes, and Farrell never figured out how to make the right moves with an offense that ranked in the middle of the pack in on-base percentage but bottom of the barrel in runs scored. That was last year, however. In the big picture, the team remains in good hands. Cherington is at his best when juggling a complicated offseason, and this past one certainly qualifies, with Castillo (signed in August), Sandoval, Ramirez, Porcello, Miley and Masterson coming aboard, to name a few. Farrell, meanwhile, is a proven leader who has already helmed a World Series winner.
The Red Sox are right where they want to be — as $200 million underdogs, if that’s possible. They’ve built a roster in the spirit of the out-of-nowhere 2013 World Series winners, although they’ve gambled a bit more, since their buy-low acquisitions are primarily in the starting rotation. One of last year’s biggest problems — a lack of depth up and down the roster — is no longer an issue. The lineup is deep, with Betts ready to step forward and the projected seven-eight hitters possible stars in Castillo and Bogaerts. While the jury very reasonably remains out on whether the Red Sox are built to win in October, there’s no question they’re at least constructed to get there.
2015 Prediction: 1st in AL East
RF Mookie Betts (R) Betts has potential star written all over him. The Sox love his combination of on-base, speed and swagger.
2B Dustin Pedroia (R) Are Pedroia’s hands/wrists a time bomb? We’ll find out. He has vowed to return stronger than ever.
DH David Ortiz (L) Time keeps on ticking, and Ortiz keeps on slugging. The ageless DH seeks his third straight 30-100 season.
LF Hanley Ramirez (R) Ramirez has agreed to move to the outfield, where his bat still profiles as one of the best in the game.
3B Pablo Sandoval (S) Get ready for the Panda. The Red Sox expect that Sandoval will plug their gaping hole at third.
1B Mike Napoli (R) It’s easy to forget that before badly dislocating his finger last year, he appeared capable of a career year.
CF Rusney Castillo (R) Was signed to hit leadoff, but with that job likely going to Betts, the $72.5 Million Man can ease into things.
SS Xander Bogaerts (R) Bogaerts shouldn’t feel the pressure to be a star hitting at the bottom of the lineup.
C Christian Vazquez (R) The Red Sox have built a deep lineup, but the rifle-armed Vazquez is the one potential hole.
OF Shane Victorino (R) Coming off back surgery, Victorino is a man without a position and could be moved.
OF Daniel Nava (S) Provides real value from the left side of the plate on a roster that is otherwise heavily right-handed.
UT Brock Holt (L) One of last year’s few bright spots is Holt, who’s not an everyday player, but could excel in a super-utility role.
C Ryan Hanigan (R) Hanigan was acquired for Will Middlebrooks and could play regularly if Vazquez struggles.
RH Rick Porcello The Red Sox hope Porcello can continue to build off a strong 2014 and become an ace.
LH Wade Miley Miley had career-highs in ERA (4.34) and WHIP (1.401) in his final season in Arizona.
RH Clay Buchholz There’s no more enigmatic player on the team than the wildly talented, equally inconsistent Buchholz.
RH Justin Masterson The Red Sox believe Masterson’s struggles last year (7–9, 5.88) were purely injury-related.
RH Joe Kelly Kelly impressed during his two months, featuring a 95 mph fastball and winning four of his final five starts.
RH Koji Uehara (Closer) The indomitable closer turns 40 in April, but the Red Sox don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.
RH Junichi Tazawa Tazawa has settled in as a strikeout-an-inning arm in the eighth, and will continue to fill that role.
LH Craig Breslow Breslow returned on a one-year deal after a brutal season that saw his ERA soar to a career-worst 5.96.
RH Edward Mujica Mujica lost 1 mph off his fastball (to 91 mph) and saw his walk rate climb to 2.1/9 IP last season.
RH Anthony Varvaro Acquired from the Braves, Varvaro posted a career-low walk rate (2.1) last year while posting a 2.63 ERA.
RH Brandon Workman He’s fearless and has an attacking mentality, but his stuff isn’t overpowering, and he can be taken deep.
LH Tommy Layne Layne impressed in 30 games (0.95 ERA) and could join Breslow as the second lefty in the pen.
Beyond the Box Score
Memorable debut Red Sox fans will never forget Rick Porcello’s first start at Fenway Park, in 2009, when the 20-year-old rookie drilled Kevin Youkilis and incited a bench-clearing brawl. After Porcello signed, he wasted little time when asked for his most memorable Fenway moment: “Getting thrown out in the second inning my rookie year. Getting charged by Kevin Youkilis.” It should be noted that Porcello stood his ground and body slammed the enraged Youk.
Native son Catcher Ryan Hanigan will become the fifth Massachusetts native to play for the Red Sox in the last decade. The Andover native joins Chris Capuano (Springfield), Alex Hassan (Quincy), Rich Hill (Milton) and Manny Delcarmen (West Roxbury).
No love lost Oh, what might have been. When the Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez in free agency, it opened the possibility of reuniting Ramirez with former minor league teammate Jon Lester, who made no secret of his dislike for the then-shortstop at the 2010 All-Star Game. “I’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning than me and him getting a pizza together,” Lester said at the time.
Big-time bowler Where does Mookie Betts get his incredible hand-eye coordination and ability to perform under pressure? It might have something to do with bowling. Betts is a tremendous bowler who took up the sport as a child and still rolls regularly. He has bowled a 300 game and an 800 series and was good enough to turn pro, had he so desired. Also, take heart Red Sox fans — he’s named after Mookie Blaylock, the former NBA All-Star, not Mookie Wilson.
Fun fact Random fact about manager John Farrell — he ended Paul Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak in just his second big league start in 1987, taking a no-decision against Teddy Higuera in a 1–0 loss to the Brewers. The game ended with Molitor on deck. “Rick Manning drove in the winning run in the 10th,” Farrell said, “and got booed off the field.”
King of gluten Wade Miley did not take kindly to friction with the Diamondbacks over the composition of his diet. His former team’s biggest complaint? That he ate too much gluten. The 6'0", 220-pounder is not having any of it, telling WEEI in Boston that, “You can’t tell me Babe Ruth ever stopped eating gluten.”
2014 Top Draft Pick
Michael Chavis, SS
The Red Sox used their first pick on one of the more intriguing power prospects in the draft. Chavis, a product of Georgia’s East Cobb baseball factory, isn’t huge (5'10", 190), but he owns tremendous bat speed and serious pop. He won a Perfect Game home run derby as a high school senior, and after a slow start to his pro career, finished with a .425 slugging percentage in the Gulf Coast League. He hit .379 with a homer and 1.057 OPS over his final 15 games. A shortstop at Sprayberry High School, Chavis will probably end up at third base in the long run. While Chavis has a big swing capable of producing loft, the Red Sox liked him because he’s calm and controlled at the plate. Another plus: His makeup and work ethic drew raves from rival scouts in the lead up to the draft.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Blake Swihart, C (23) Swihart has all the tools to be a star, with athleticism that reminds more than one observer of the Giants’ perennial MVP candidate Buster Posey.
2. Henry Owens, LHP (22) While there are questions over how Owens’ fastball (92 mph) will play in the big leagues, there’s no questioning his secondary stuff, which includes a plus changeup.
3. Yoan Moncada, IF (19) The switch-hitting Cuban is probably at least a year or two away from the majors, but the Red Sox hope their patience, not to mention the total of $63 million they invested to sign him, will pay off in a big way.
4. Rafael Devers, 3B (18) Remember how hyped Xander Bogaerts was when he arrived stateside? Devers has outperformed him at a similar age/level thus far and is the organization’s Next Big Thing.
5. Manuel Margot, OF (20) He posted one of the most tantalizing seasons in the minors as a teen, batting .293 with 12 homers and 42 steals between two levels of Class A.
6. Brian Johnson, LHP (24) Johnson’s pure stuff isn’t jaw-dropping, but he effectively mixes four pitches in the style of a crafty lefty.
7. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP (22) Rodriguez has a changeup that rivals Owens’, but he pairs it with a fastball that regularly reaches 97 mph.
8. Matt Barnes, RHP (24) Barnes’ 2014 season ended in the big leagues, where he passed fellow pitching prospects Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo (traded to Texas in January).
9. Deven Marrero, SS (24) Marrero may never hit, but there’s no doubting his glove. He has a strong arm and tremendous instincts.
10. Sean Coyle, 2B (23) Mildly reminiscent of former Sox prospect Jed Lowrie, Coyle’s a similarly undersized infielder with surprising pop.
After posting a winning record in three consecutive seasons, the Orioles could be challenged to finish above .500 in 2015 due to a lack of significant activity over the winter. They re-signed Delmon Young shortly before Christmas, but he’s more of a DH-type and not a suitable replacement for outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, two important bats that departed via free agency. There’s no Cruz to fall into their laps this spring, as he did last year before leading the majors with 40 home runs. The Orioles should benefit from the return of catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado from season-ending surgeries, but making the playoffs for the third time in four seasons looks like a longer shot than it did in October.
The Orioles will rely heavily on their starting pitching and depth to stay in the playoff picture. They’re carrying six starters for five spots — Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez — and are reluctant to part with an arm in order to improve in another area. They’re not going with a six-man rotation, so someone will move to the bullpen or Gausman will be optioned. Jimenez was a bust after signing a four-year, $50 million deal, but Chen won 16 games and Norris 15 to establish career highs. Gonzalez posted a 2.19 ERA in his last 11 starts. Top prospect Dylan Bundy, recovered from Tommy John surgery, likely will start the year at Double-A, but he could be an option to start later in the summer.
The Orioles lost lefthander Andrew Miller to free agency, and he’s going to be hard to replace after holding opposing hitters to a .119 average and posting a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings with the Orioles after being acquired from the Red Sox on July 31. They signed lefthander Wesley Wright to a one-year, $1.7 million contract after the Cubs non-tendered him. Zach Britton, in his first season as closer, registered 37 saves in 41 opportunities. Lefty specialist Brian Matusz returns, though he’s also trade bait. Righthanders Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter are quality late-inning options. Hunter brings the heat with his upper-90s fastball. Brad Brach can work in a variety of roles but is most important as a right-handed long man. T.J. McFarland could return as a lefty long man, but the Orioles may not want to carry four southpaws in their bullpen. He’s a candidate to start at Triple-A. Ryan Webb has another year and $2.75 million on his contract. The O’s selected Logan Verrett in the Rule 5 Draft and traded for Jason Garcia.
The Orioles’ double-play combination remains intact after shortstop J.J. Hardy signed a three-year extension in October. He’s the leader of the infield and a dependable fielder. However, his home run total dropped from 25 to nine. Jonathan Schoop made most of the starts at second base as a rookie and hit 16 home runs, but he needs to improve on a .209 average. He’s got a rifle arm, and he ranked eighth among major league second basemen with 89 double plays turned. Former Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty can back up at both positions. He started the season 0-for-17 before singling on April 6 in Detroit. The Orioles signed Rey Navarro to a major league deal and view him primarily as a second baseman, though he also plays short. Manager Buck Showalter said he’s more willing now to move Machado from third base to short if Hardy is injured. The team also signed former San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera to a one-year deal at the start of spring training. The NL stolen base leader in 2012, Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in '13 for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. With Hardy seemingly entrenched at short, Cabrera could potentially fill in at second or serve as an utilityman and late-inning pinch runner off of the bench, if he makes the team.
Machado returns after undergoing surgery on his right knee in August. He’s now had procedures on both knees in the last two years. He was sorely missed at third base, where he won a Platinum Glove in 2013. Machado also was suspended five games this summer for intentionally throwing his bat on the field in a June 8 game against Oakland. He could use a fresh start this season. First baseman Chris Davis was handed a 25-game suspension on Sept. 12 for a second failed test for Adderall. He has one game remaining on it, which removes him from the Opening Day lineup. Davis led the majors with 53 home runs in 2013, but he hit only 26 last year as his average dipped to .196. Flaherty can play both first and third as part of his super-utility role, and Jimmy Paredes remains an option. He’s more bat than glove, however. Steve Pearce can play first base and may be given a chance to back up at third. Pearce established career highs across the board, including doubles (26), home runs (21), RBIs (49) and games (102). The Orioles claimed Ryan Lavarnway off waivers, and he’s capable of playing first. First baseman Christian Walker, one of the top prospects in the organization, made his major league debut in September and eventually could return to the big club.
Center fielder Adam Jones is the only remaining outfield starter from last season. Jones posted his fourth consecutive season playing 150 games and recording at least a .280 average, 25 doubles, 25 home runs and 80 RBIs, joining Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray as the only Orioles to accomplish the feat. But who’s playing left field and right field this year? Pearce could be the primary starter in right, and Alejandro De Aza could mostly play left and replace Markakis atop the order. De Aza batted .293 after being acquired from the White Sox on Aug. 30. He just needs to improve his splits against left-handed pitching. David Lough got off to an awful start in his first season with the Orioles, but he batted .356 in his final 52 games beginning July 6. He also provides plus-defense and much-needed speed. Young is a below-average fielder but can play left or right if needed. The Orioles also acquired Travis Snider from the Pirates in late January. Snider, who has yet to put it all together in his seven-year career, could end up stealing one of the starting corner spots, provided he makes the final roster.
Wieters played in only 26 games before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on June 17. He may not be ready for Opening Day. Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley — who wasn’t re-signed — did an admirable job as fill-ins. Joseph threw out 21 of 55 (38.2 percent) runners attempting to steal. His work behind the plate kept him in the majors as a rookie. Lavarnway, claimed in December, and Steve Clevenger are also viable options.
Pearce could get plenty of starts as the DH, but Young was re-signed primarily for that role. Lavarnway could be a backup catcher and first baseman if he makes the team. Flaherty and/or Cabrera figure to make the club as super subs, and Lough should be an extra outfielder again. The Orioles signed Hassan off waivers and will give him a chance to win a backup outfield job. Paredes can move around the infield. Joseph is the favorite to serve as the backup catcher, but the position is unsettled.
Executive vice president Dan Duquette was named Major League Executive of the Year by several media outlets. The Orioles have posted winning records in all three seasons since they hired Duquette, who has a knack for making under-the-radar moves that pay huge dividends. Showalter won his third BBWAA Manager of the Year Award, and he remains one of the best acquisitions in franchise history. He changed a losing culture, which isn’t easy. Owner Peter Angelos, heavily criticized in the past for meddling, has stepped back in recent years and trusted his baseball people. With two playoff appearances in the last three years, it’s hard to argue with the results.
The Orioles have a nice core of players and a rotation and bullpen that could carry them back to the playoffs. They’re set in center field and at third base, second base, first base and catcher. But getting back to the American League Championship Series, where they appeared for the first time since 1997, will be difficult without Cruz, Markakis and Miller. The Orioles aren’t willing to spend big in free agency or make a bold trade, and their reluctance to dip into their pitching depth to acquire a big bat could come back to haunt them.
2015 Prediction: 3rd in AL East
LF Alejandro De Aza (L) Acquired last year from the White Sox, he’s the leading candidate to replace Nick Markakis atop the order.
3B Manny Machado (R) Former Platinum Glove winner recovering from second knee surgery in two years.
1B Chris Davis (L) Home run total dropped from 53 to 26, but he received exemption to use Adderall in 2015.
CF Adam Jones (R) Made his fourth All-Star team and won his fourth Gold Glove last season.
DH Delmon Young (R) Batted .302 in 83 games and went 10-for-20 as a pinch-hitter during the regular season.
C Matt Wieters (S) Could be final season as an Oriole after undergoing Tommy John surgery on right elbow.
RF Steve Pearce (R) Manager Buck Showalter said in December that Pearce would be in right if season started that day.
SS J.J. Hardy (R) Needs to rediscover his power stroke after home runs dropped from 25 to nine.
2B Jonathan Schoop (R) Hit 16 home runs as a rookie in 2014 but a .209 average leaves much room for improvement.
C Caleb Joseph (R) Nice story as a 27-year-old rookie who threw out 38.2 percent of runners.
OF David Lough (L) Plus-defender who can play all three outfield positions and bring needed speed element.
INF Ryan Flaherty (L) Valuable reserve played all four infield positions and the outfield last season.
INF Everth Cabrera (B) Made first trip to All-Star Game in 2013 as a Padre then missed 50 games because of ties to Biogenesis scandal.
RH Chris Tillman Former second-round pick started on Opening Day and in Game 1 of the ALDS and ALCS.
LH Wei-Yin Chen Orioles resisted trade offers for Chen after he won career-high 16 games.
RH Bud Norris Won a career-high 15 games and posted career-low 3.65 ERA in first full season with the Orioles.
RH Miguel Gonzalez Vastly underrated despite posting 2.19 ERA in final 11 starts last year.
RH Kevin Gausman Has minor league options and could be sent down or sent to the bullpen.
LH Zach Britton (Closer) First year as closer was a rousing success with 37 saves in 41 opportunities.
RH Ubaldo Jimenez Could get back in rotation after disastrous first season with Orioles.
RH Darren O’Day Posted career-low 1.70 ERA and didn’t allow a run in 58 of 68 outings.
RH Tommy Hunter Lost closer’s job in May but posted 1.77 ERA in final 43 appearances.
LH Brian Matusz Would prefer to start, but the Orioles like his splits vs. left-handed hitters.
RH Brad Brach Didn’t get much attention after arriving from San Diego but won seven of eight decisions.
LH Wesley Wright Signed to one-year, $1.7 million deal to help ease loss of Andrew Miller.
Beyond the Box Score
Home sweet home The Orioles captured their ninth AL East title last season, but it was the first time they clinched via a win at home since 1969. That’s a big reason why players celebrated so enthusiastically on the field. The Orioles clinched in Milwaukee in 1997, 1983 and 1973, in Detroit in 1974, in New York in 1971 and in Washington in 1970. They clinched in 1979 despite losing to the Indians at home.
Double-figure winners The Orioles had four starters — Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez — record at least 10 wins for the first time 1997. They matched Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key, Scott Erickson and Scott Kamieniecki.
Big hitters The Orioles led the majors with 211 home runs, 25 more than the Rockies and 34 more than the Blue Jays. Their 107 home runs at home were the most by an American League club. The Orioles have hit 200 or more home runs in three straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Back to back The Orioles became the fourth team since 1920 to have two different players win the home run title in consecutive years. Chris Davis won it in 2013 and Nelson Cruz won it in 2014. They joined the Yankees’ Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in 1936-37, the Athletics’ Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in 1987-88, and the Giants’ Barry Bonds and Matt Williams in 1993-94.
Saves from the southpaw Zach Britton, in his first season as closer, became only the seventh AL lefthander to record 37 or more saves in a season. Britton is just the second Oriole, joining Randy Myers, who had 45 saves in 1997.
Road kill Chris Tillman was undefeated in his first 15 road starts until he lost in Toronto on Sept. 26. Tillman’s 8–1 record away from home tied for the second-best road winning percentage in a season by an Orioles pitcher. Scott McGregor holds the record by going 14–1 in 1983. Had he won or taken a no decision in that game vs. the Blue Jays, Tillman would have had the most road starts in a season without a loss (16) since 1914.
Deep roster The Orioles used 23 different players on Sept. 7 against the Rays, the most by the club since also using 23 on Sept. 14, 1960 at Detroit. The franchise record is 24 in a Sept. 7, 1958 game against Boston.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Brian Gonzalez, LHP
The Orioles forfeited their selections in the first two rounds after signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz as free agents. They took Gonzalez with the 90th overall pick after he went undefeated in his senior season at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Gonzalez committed to the University of Miami before signing with the Orioles and went a combined 0–1 with a 1.34 ERA in 10 starts between the Gulf Coast League and short-season Class A Aberdeen. He allowed 21 hits, walked 10 and struck out 36 in 33.2 innings. He could move up to Low-A Delmarva in 2015. There’s no way to project his arrival date in the majors at such a young age, but the Orioles love his potential.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Dylan Bundy, RHP (22) The former first-round pick is recovered from Tommy John surgery and trying to climb back to the majors. He should start 2015 at Double-A Bowie.
2. Hunter Harvey, RHP (20) First-round pick in 2013 with a plus-fastball and plus-curveball is recovered from a flexor mass strain in his right arm that ended his second professional season.
3. Christian Walker, 1B (24) Walker, a fourth-round pick in 2012 out of the University of South Carolina, was named the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year.
4. Chance Sisco, C (20) The top catching prospect in the system won the South Atlantic League batting title with a .340 average at Class A Delmarva.
5. Dariel Alvarez, OF (26) Alvarez, the second Cuban player signed by the Orioles, projects as a right fielder with a plus-plus arm. He hit above .300 at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk last season.
6. Zach Davies, RHP (22) Davies’ stock is really on the rise since the Orioles chose him in the 26th round of the 2011 draft. He may possess the best changeup in the farm system.
7. Tim Berry, LHP (24) Berry slipped to the 50th round of the 2009 draft after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. He posted a 2.53 ERA in his last eight starts at Double-A Bowie.
8. Mike Wright, RHP (25) He’s got a mid-90s fastball and a possible future as a late-inning reliever if there’s no spot in the Orioles’ rotation.
9. Mike Yastrzemski, OF (24) The grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski played at three levels of the system in 2014, finishing up at Double-A Bowie.
10. Jomar Reyes, INF (18) This is all about upside. Reyes is raw but he’s got impressive tools, including a strong arm and developing power.
Forget the question of why isn’t Cliff Alexander playing for Kansas. Now, the quesiton why isn’t Cliff Alexander available at all.
The Jayhawks’ freshman forward will not play Saturday against Texas due to what Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger has described as a precautionary measure related to Alexander’s eligibility.
“The NCAA has alerted us to an issue that could affect Cliff’s eligibility,” Zenger told KUSports.com. “As a precautionary measure Cliff will not take the court until we have resolved the issue.”
Alexander’s absence is another development in a strange season for the highly touted freshman, who was ranked the No. 4 prospect in the class.
In his last three games, Alexander has played 27 total minutes, no more than 11 minutes in a game. During that span, he’s converted just one field goal. Coach Bill Self has been more likely to play junior Jamari Traylor and sophomore Laden Lucas with Perry Ellis in his frontcourt, even if Alexander’s statistical profile at least indicates he’d be the most productive option.
At this stage of the season, a top-five prospect and potential NBA lottery pick averaging just 17.6 minutes and 7.1 points per game is bizarre, but this isn’t the first time this season Self has limited one of his star freshmen.
Forward Kelly Oubre, ranked No. 8 in the class, was seldom used in November and early in the Big 12 schedule. Oubre has started every game since Dec. 20 and played 32 minutes as recently as Feb. 16 against West Virginia.
What all this means for Kansas’ postseason and BIg 12 hopes remains unclear. The Jayhawks have won 10 consecutive Big 12 titles but have only a one-game lead in the standings with three regular season games to go.
Louisville’s other starting guard seems determined not to let the abrupt dismissal of Chris Jones damage the Cardinals’ season.
Sophomore Terry Rozier saved Louisville from a bad loss to Georgia Tech when he had 22 points on Monday in a come-from-behind 52-51 win. Against the Yellow Jackets, Rozier shot 8-of-19 (42.1 percent) from the field as the rest of his teammates shot 12-of-35 (34.3)
He got more of his teammates’ support Saturday against Florida State, but the effort was just as key as he moved into the point guard role. Rozier had a rough shooting day, converting only 3-of-14 from the floor for 10 points. He contributed in other ways as he added a career-high nine assists and six steals in an 81-59 rout of Florida State in Tallahassee.
Just as important, Wayne Blackshear emerged for 18 points against the Seminoles. The Louisville forward has all too often been a non-factor but has scored in double figures in each of the last three games after being shutout by Syracuse on Feb. 18.
If this is enough for Louisville to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, the Cardinals will find out in the next week. Louisville’s two wins without JOnes have come against Georgia Tech and Florida State — two teams ranked 80th or lower on KenPom.com. The Cardinals’ last two games are at home against Notre Dame and Virginia.
No question, SEC basketball is better than it has been in a number of years.
The league should send its most teams to the NCAA Tournament since 2011, including the presumptive No. 1 overall seed in Kentucky.
The question, though, is if any of these teams can touch the Wildcats. Granted, few teams in any league can approach the Wildcats this season. There's no shame if Arkansas, Georgia, Texas A&M and Ole Miss can't finish off the Wildcats; Kentucky isn’t 28-0 because the SEC is a mediocre league.
At the same time, though, Kentucky hasn’t played a ranked team since a 58-50 win over Louisville on the road on Dec. 27. That changes Saturday when unanimous No. 1 Kentucky faces No. 18 Arkansas.
Does that mean that win streak will come to an end at Rupp Arena? Even though Arkansas is having its best season since at least 2008, upsetting Kentucky, at least so far this season, has been impossible.
Arkansas at Kentucky
Site: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Time: Saturday, 4 p.m. Eastern
What’s up for grabs?
Kentucky’s undefeated season. If Kentucky is going to go to the SEC Tournament undefeated, this week may be the toughest stretch of the year. The Wildcats will face arguably the No. 2 team in the league in Arkansas and then face a solid Georgia team in Athens — the Bulldogs lost in Lexington on Feb. 3 without top player Marcus Thornton.
You’ll tune in to watch: Bobby Portis vs. Willie Cauley-Stein
The top contender for SEC Player of the Year may play for Arkansas rather than the nation’s No. 1 team. That’s as much of a reflection of Kentucky’s overall talent and balance as Portis’ season itself at 17.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-11 sophomore takes on the toughest assignment for any forward in the country against Cauley-Stein and Kentucky’s bigs.
Pivotal player: Andrew Harrison
Kentucky’s sophomore point guard has been all over the place in recent weeks, 23 points and seven assists against Georgia one game, one point and two assists against Florida the next. Coming off of five points, three assists and no turnovers against Mississippi State, Harrison now faces the toughest pressing and trapping team in the SEC. Arkansas is 15th nationally in defensive turnover rate (23.3 percent).
Pivotal player II: Michael Qualls
Arkansas swept its regular season meetings against Kentucky last season largely due to the 6-foot-6 guard Qualls. The junior scored 18 points against Kentucky in Fayetteville and 14 points in Lexington, shooting a combined 11-of-17 from the field. Will Qualls and Anthlon Bell be able to knock down shots from the perimeter to keep Kentucky’s defense honest?
Biggest question: By how much will Kentucky rule the offensive glass?
This is the biggest advantage Kentucky will have against Arkansas, or most teams. The Wildcats lead the SEC in offensive rebound rate in league games (36.9 percent) while the Razorbacks are last in the league in defensive rebound rate. In Arkansas’ last game, an 81-75 win over Texas A&M, the Aggies destroyed the Hogs on the glass for 22 offensive boards.
David Fox: Kentucky 70-60
Mitch Light: Kentucky 73-64
Jake Rose: Kentucky 81-65
It looks like it’s becoming safe to say that the Dallas’ Mavericks December trade for Rajon Rondo was a mistake.
The former Boston Celtics point guard was suspended for the Mavs’ 104-87 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, after a dispute with head coach Rick Carlisle in a Tuesday night victory over the Toronto Raptors:
And now, we’re starting to see reports of Rondo’s desire to leave Dallas this summer — when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.
Rondo has previously been linked to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, particularly because of a well-publicized breakfast the two shared, and because of Bryant’s very transparent attempt to recruit Rondo to Tinseltown.
For Dallas, such a story can’t exactly be devastating. Before bringing Rajon to Texas, they were boasting the league’s best offense and winning at a .700 clip with a 19-8 record. They’ve been 20-13 since Rondo came to town — good for just a .610 mark — and they now trail the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers in offensive efficiency.
Rondo has visibly depreciated as a player. His shooting percentages have plummeted, especially his almost unbelievable 31 percent from the free throw line, and he can no longer take it to the rack and finish with flourishes of brilliant, spontaneous creativity like he used to.
When Rondo was one of the best players in the league during the Celtics’ run to the 2010 NBA Finals, his famously difficult personality was worth the trouble. But injuries and age caught up to him fast, and now he’s caught battling with a coach who wants him to keep the ball moving through pre-planned sets, instead of taking his time with the shot clock to try bending and breaking the court against the power of his vision.
When you’re great, you can get away with a lot. But Rondo looks more mediocre than great these days, and he’d likely do well by himself to keep his head down and trust the championship culture he’s in, instead of trying to transcend it.
But if he doesn’t, and he goes to the Lakers after a failed stint in Dallas, we can all look forward to an even more tragicomic NBA spectacle in Hollywood, where Bryant and Rondo run inefficiently amok on the fuel of former glory.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 27:
• Margot Robbie, who is slowly taking over the Internet, has a movie opening. Oh, and Will Smith's apparently in it, too.
• Some guy caught a monster catfish. Nature is terrifying.
• Borrowing a page from his idol Seve's playbook, Sergio Garcia hit a ball that was totally submerged, and made par.
• Jay Cutler has lost Jon Gruden. And Gruden loves everybody.
• Grantland had a bracket to pick the best Second Banana of all time. His name is George, and he lives with his parents. This is the second contest he's won.
• Here's the offending Kevin Stallings comment, which ESPN's cameras helpfully picked up.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Cleveland tallied a 110-99 victory over the vaunted Golden State Warriors Thursday night, keyed by LeBron’s 42 points and 11 rebounds. The Cavs, for the most part, cruised through this one — they held double-digit leads through much of the second half. And the Warriors looked a rare form of frustrated, with head coach Steve Kerr getting so heated during a lecture to the referees that he had to remove some clothing:
Things are looking real good for Cleveland these days. With perhaps their biggest roadblock to the NBA Finals in a state of crisis — the now Derrick Rose-lesss Chicago Bulls — there’s seemingly only the Atlanta Hawks between them and a shot at the Western Conference champion in June. And if last night was any indication, the Cavs aren’t exactly intimidated by the West.
Maybe the most encouraging thing about their recent run is the chemistry of it. Kevin Love has begun to find his spot in the team’s system, crashing the defensive glass and throwing dazzling outlet passes to several strong finishers on the break, and getting loose for scoring assaults from behind the three-point line.
The Cavs’ acrimony of earlier in the season is becoming a distant memory, and it’s hardly difficult to see why: they’ve got the best player in the world. LeBron is not just a freak athlete; he’s also a one man system, and when he’s happy and healthy, his locomotive breakdown of defenses and passing vision is really all you need to get everyone involved.
Right here, right now, Cleveland looks every bit like the favorites to win the NBA title.
— John Wilmes
No one is innocent in the latest edition of the Vanderbilt-Tennessee in-state rivalry.
Not Kevin Stallings. Not Wade Baldwin. Not the Vols coaching staff. And especially not the media.
Here is the incident in question after Vanderbilt topped Tennessee 73-65 in Knoxville on Thursday night (via ESPN):
This is a heated rivalry in which tempers can flare easily. It happens from time to time in sports and it happened on Thursday night.
But the Earth shouldn’t be spinning off its axis because a hard-nosed coach disciplined his player harshly. Or a player sort of maybe kind of lacked sportsmanship by clapping a few feet away from an opponent he just beat. Or a losing assistant coach tattling on a teenager.
And the media should be ashamed of itself for writing headlines that make readers think that Stallings threatened to kill his player.
Stallings has apologized. Baldwin is okay with his coach’s actions and has apologized too. The Vols took their medicine in the loss column.
Coach Stallings is the best coach in America. I felt no offense to anything. We are both fiery people and that's why I chose Vandy— Wade Baldwin IV (@The_Fourth_Wade) February 27, 2015
Can we (the media) stop making this into more than it is and move on, please?
Alex Rodriguez asked for this. Remember that. On Feb. 17, 2009, upon reporting to the Yankees’ spring training camp for the first time as an admitted steroid cheat, Rodriguez told a packed news conference, with typical grandiosity: “The only thing I ask from this group today and the American people is to judge me from this day forward. That’s all I can ask for.”
Well, judgment day is upon us. Rodriguez returned to the Yankees’ active roster after the last out of the 2014 World Series, ending a season-long suspension for his latest dalliance with performance-enhancing drugs.
Incredible, isn’t it? Even in an era of rampant doping across the sports landscape, Rodriguez stands out as one of the slimiest characters of all. When he asked for that fresh start, it seemed like a reasonable request. Sure, his misdeeds with the Texas Rangers would always stain his glittering career record. But most fans are willing to forgive a lapse in judgment.
Yet look at what Rodriguez did with that second chance: The very next season he went right back to cheating, scheming for an illegal chemical advantage through a shady Florida clinic and its sleazy head, Anthony Bosch. When he was caught, Rodriguez did what he does best: lie. He didn’t know Bosch at all! He never used banned drugs! He’ll expose this “witch hunt” in court!
Wrong. The richest baseball player ever could not buy his way out of this one. Major League Baseball banned Rodriguez for all of 2014 — and, oh yeah, he admitted everything to the DEA anyway, as revealed by the Miami Herald.
Rodriguez did, in fact, pay Bosch about $12,000 a month for roughly two years. He did, in fact, get pre-filled syringes for hormone injections into his stomach. Bosch did, in fact, draw A-Rod’s blood in the bathroom of a nightclub.
What a guy.
The Yankees could have made a bold statement. They could have cut Rodriguez and told the world that the kind of person who makes such despicable decisions has no place in their uniform. But that’s not how things happen in the real world.
While the Yankees were thrilled to have Rodriguez’s $25 million off their payroll for 2014, they still want to save more from the ludicrous 10-year, $275 million contract they gave him after the 2007 season. The Yankees owe Rodriguez $61 million in salary for the 2015-17 seasons, and for all of their animosity toward him, the money talks loudest.
If the Yankees had released Rodriguez before he suited up for them again, they would have been obligated to pay him everything they owe. But if Rodriguez breaks down physically while employed by the team — if he re-injures his hip, for example, and is forced to retire — then insurance could cover 80 percent of his remaining salaries.
Yet there is also a somewhat unsettling reason the Yankees are keeping their most notorious player in pinstripes: They just might need his bat.
Yes, Rodriguez missed all that time. Yes, he turns 40 in July, with a body he has treated like a science experiment for more than a decade; who knows the real effects of all those injections, testosterone “gummies,” surgeries and everything else? But when Rodriguez played for the Yankees in 2013, he wasn’t all that bad — at least by the low standards of the team he left behind in 2014. As the Yankees staged a year-long farewell tour for captain Derek Jeter, they staggered through their worst offensive season in more than two decades. Rodriguez’s OPS over 44 games in 2013 was .771. Of the 11 players with the most plate appearances for the 2014 Yankees, nobody had an OPS that high.
The Yankees have been careful to keep their expectations guarded. They say that they do not know what to expect from Rodriguez. They have talked to him about playing first base and getting starts at designated hitter in addition to his old spot at third. But they have also tried to advance a storyline that Rodriguez’s work ethic will serve him well.
“He’s fit,” owner Hal Steinbrenner said late in the season. “Alex is a hard worker. Alex will be ready. We’ll just have to go from there, see how he does, see how he responds to playing every day in spring training. Point is, he’s in good shape. And that’s not surprising.”
Rodriguez, a hard worker? Spare us, Hal. This is one of the all-time con men in sports history. Plenty of athletes deserve the honorific “hard worker.” The painfully insecure Rodriguez, who has repeatedly chosen to take shortcuts in his career, is not one of them.
Rodriguez was so desperate for a boost in the 2012 playoffs that he flew Bosch to Detroit. He and Bosch had code words for drugs: Rodriguez insisted on calling them “food” in their text messages. When Bosch slipped once, Rodriguez texted him back: “Not meds, dude. Food.”
That sounds like the ham-handed ploy of a Scooby-Doo villain, but Rodriguez was sophisticated enough to beat all the drug tests he took. That is part of the reason baseball investigated Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic so aggressively. It served as a warning to any other would-be cheaters: Even if you pass the tests, we will hunt you down and suspend you.
Now that Rodriguez has served his penalty, he faces the harsh judgment he said he welcomed in 2009.
Yankees fans largely cheered him in 2013, while he was denying wrongdoing while appealing what was first a 211-game ban. Chances are, those fans will cheer him again, simply because he is wearing their team’s uniform. Road fans will taunt Rodriguez, but that will be nothing new. Neither will the avalanche of attention from the news media, which is also familiar to the Yankees as a team.
“We’ll deal with it,” manager Joe Girardi said in November. “I know there’s going to be a lot of attention. But very similar to when he came back a couple of years ago, there was a lot of attention the first week and then everybody disperses and covers other stories around the country. We’ll have to deal with a lot in the beginning, but it’ll spread around the country. It always does.”
Girardi is probably right about that, and nobody seems to care much that the vibe around the team will be so polluted by the presence of baseball’s biggest disgrace. What matters to the Yankees now is the faint hope of saving money — and the perhaps even fainter hope that Rodriguez might actually be able to help the team win.
Even if he does, though, Rodriguez’s past decisions have put him in a box. How can he possibly play well without cheating when he has shown repeatedly that he believes he must cheat to succeed? If he somehow does play well, few will be gullible enough to believe it.
Rodriguez has 654 career home runs. His 660th, if it ever comes, will trigger a bonus of $6 million. So will career homers No. 714, 755, 762 and 763. The bonuses were supposedly included in his deal as part of a marketing arrangement between the player and the team to celebrate his pursuit of the career home run record. Really, though, it was a clever way to make an extra $30 million and push the total value of his contract over $300 million.
Knowing Rodriguez, he will feel no shame if he hits No. 660, which would tie Willie Mays for fourth all-time. Here’s hoping he does it on the road, so his magic moment is drowned out in boos — a full-throated verdict for a fraud who literally asked for it.
— Written by Tyler Kepner for Athlon Sports
Recruiting rankings matter.
They are not a guarantee of future success but they are the foundation every national championship has been built upon. It takes great coaching, development and luck to win a title, but having better players is the only way to start.
In fact, the data backing up the value of recruiting rankings is impenetrable. For example, look at last year’s rosters. According to the rankings, three of the four best rosters in America belonged to Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.
These rankings do not take into account attrition but that should be a constant for all teams and conferences equally. So strictly based on recruiting evaluations, here is how the rosters of the Power 5 conferences, American Athletic Conference, BYU and Boise State stack up against one another.
Ranking College Football's Rosters in 2015:
No. 1 and it’s not even close
Fans in other regions don’t want to hear it, but the best rosters are in the SEC. It doesn’t mean Ohio State, USC, Texas or Florida State aren’t loaded (because they are). But no league can match the depth of talent of the SEC. Five of the top eight most-talented teams in the nation are from the SEC. Eight of the top 16 and 11 of the top 26 hail from the SEC. Vanderbilt is the least-talented team in the SEC (14th), but would rank eighth in the ACC, Big 12 or Big Ten. No other league has more than five teams ranked in the top 26.
SEC's average class ranking: 19.6
Ohio State tops the Big Ten charts by a wide margin with a greater disparity than any other league. Michigan is second in the Big Ten at No. 17 nationally (or ninth in the SEC). The Buckeyes would have the best roster in the Pac-12 and Big 12 as well. The message to the rest of the Big Ten is clear: Join the Buckeyes' recruiting party or get left in the dust. There is a reason OSU will likely enter 2015 as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Big Ten's average class ranking: 40.6
The Pac-12 is the No. 2 league in the nation, closing the gap on the SEC over the last few seasons. It’s done so by hiring a great commissioner, adding a glut of great coaches and major financial investments in facilities and branding. It’s paid off on the field and on the trail. The Pac-12 trails only the SEC with five rosters ranked in the top 25. Additionally, three-fourths of the league is ranked 46th or higher — better than every other league not named the SEC.
Pac-12's average class ranking: 35.3
Dichotomy in the Big 12
The lack of elite-level talent in the Big 12 should be concerning. The league boasts only two teams (Texas, Oklahoma) inside the top 30 and is signing fewer top-100 players than any other league. The good news is the middle of the conference is fantastically competitive. The Big 12 has five teams ranked between 30th (Oklahoma State) and 38th (West Virginia). While this league may be lacking in elite, five-star talent, the heart of this league is extremely competitive.
Big 12's average class ranking: 37.4
What to make of the ACC?
Florida State is stacked and a proven commodity. Clemson has long been the second-most talented roster in this league. Miami has elite upside but is still mired in scandal/rebuilding mode. Otherwise, the better recruiting teams in this league have wildly underachieved of late (Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia) and the last two Coastal Division champs have wildly overachieved based on talent (Duke, Georgia Tech). The middle tier of teams, which includes rising power Louisville, needs to elevate itself nationally if the ACC wants to regain national notoriety among its Power 5 brethren.
ACC's average class ranking: 40.1
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 29: Louis Oosthuizen
Born: Oct. 19, 1982, Mossel Bay, South Africa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (7 on European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $946,134 (101st) | World Ranking: 44
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Oosthuizen is hard to put on this list, because the Tour’s ranges are littered with players whose veins are coursing with ambition, and sometimes one wonders if Louis has a pulse at all. And yet, one can not deny his obscene talent. Players, caddies and all who have a chance to witness his game in full flight are agog at what he can do with a ball, as we all were in watching him win the Open Championship by seven shots in 2010 with a driving exhibition that had longtime observers struggling for comparisons. His up-and-down game seems to rise with his interest, and with that being the case he ended 2014 on a high note. I would love to see him play with great intensity for an entire season, and if he did, he could easily do this year what Martin Kaymer did last year.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - 25
U.S. Open - T40
British Open - T36
PGA Championship - T15
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - 2 (2012)
U.S. Open - T9 (2011)
British Open - 1 (2010)
PGA Championship - T15 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 3
Top-25 Finishes: 7
Missed Cuts: 12
Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 26:
• Big news day for Ronda Rousey: She's embroiled in a verbal catfight with Arianny Celeste (pictured); she wants to win her upcoming bout so she can afford Pacquiao-Mayweather tickets; and she's rooting for Pacquiao cause he was nice to her.
• Sad: Josh Hamilton's apparent relapse. The booger sugar's bad news.
• Picture this: LeBron James and LeBron James Jr., both in the NBA, circa 2024.
• Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes scored 30 points in the final 4:39 of his team's loss to Miami. That's not a misprint.
• On top of everything else, Aaron Hernandez is a bad tipper. Or at least bad at math.
• Zach Randolph launched a halftime buzzer beater from beyond halfcourt.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
A few SEC stadiums looked a little different on Thursday morning thanks to Mother Nature.
A late February snow storm provided a winter blast for a few SEC programs, which produced some cool images – and a snowball fight.
Here’s a look at a Snow Day in the SEC:
Snowball fight in Neyland? I don't know what you're talking about? pic.twitter.com/Oy8FZa7TnW— Ali Clark (@alisonRhea08) February 26, 2015
Davis Wade blanketed in snow pic.twitter.com/6dxHWP5YiW— Bob Carskadon (@bobcarskadon) February 25, 2015
Like Odysseus before him, Kevin Garnett has gone through a long, weird journey that’s led him back to the only true endpoint: home.
After a trade returned him to the Minnesota Timberwolves last Thursday, Garnett made his first appearance in his new/old jersey with the ‘Wolves last night, as they beat the Washington Wizards 97-77 at home.
A standing ovation and overall roaring performance from the crowd accompanied KG’s return.
"I've been back before and I never paid attention to how much love is here still for me because I'm too busy being focused on the game," Garnett told reporters. "And tonight it was just over the top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don't think that you can ever wish or ever think the city loves you like this. But to see it is reality and I'm very appreciative.”
His impact on the floor was minimal — despite starting, Garnett played only 19 minutes, scoring five points to go with eight rebounds. That’s about as much as the 38-year-old can offer now, statistically.
But there’s no mistaking the extra energy and inspiration his homecoming gave the team. A hungry young squad keyed by the burgeoning rookie superstar Andrew Wiggins completed a 35-point swing after a 15-point deficit early on, to wallop the slumping Wizards. Washington’s 77 points marked a season-best defensive outing from Minny.
"Tonight's event was bigger than the game," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders told reporters later. "It's about bringing a family member back home.”
The ceiling is high for Minnesota. Wiggins is surrounded by a lot of talented players his age, like Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine, Adreian Payne, Shabazz Muhammad and the recently overlooked Ricky Rubio. Let’s see if Garnett can help this roster mature quickly, and be more than the sum of its unseasoned parts.
— John Wilmes
SMU made one of college football’s top offseason coaching moves when it hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris as its next head coach.
And Morris has wasted no time adding a new look to the Mustangs uniform assortment.
It’s uncertain when SMU will wear this helmet, but it’s certainly patriotic and a clean look for the Mustangs.
The characters in that long-running Windy City disaster known as the Chicago Cubs’ World Series Disappointment are well known to all baseball fans. There is the Billy Goat. And Bartman. The Miracle Mets. Leon Durham and his “Gatorade glove,” not to mention a supporting cast both great (Ernie Banks) and small (Ernie Broglio, part of the infamous Lou Brock trade), all of whom have contributed to American sports’ most celebrated failure. If you don’t know that the Cubs haven’t won a title since 1908, you must be a soccer fan.
Over the past few months, there have been some names added to the marquee, and hope has returned to soon-to-be-renovated Wrigley Field. It actually began in 2011, when Red Sox architect Theo Epstein took over the team’s front office, spawning a small delirium among those who expected he could erase the goat’s curse, just as he had made the Bambino’s go away. Since the first three years of Epstein’s regime produced a record of 200–286, North Siders weren’t exactly camped out along the parade route in anticipation of a championship celebration.
That changed during the fall, when Epstein took advantage of a crack in Joe Maddon’s contract and extricated the Tampa Bay manager from baseball’s discount store. Maddon made friends immediately by promising to talk of contending in 2015 and even tried to curry favor with the media with an offer to buy a round of drinks. (Q: What are a reporter’s favorite two beers? A: Free and Free Lite.) Suddenly, that magic touch Epstein was supposed to possess looked a little more legitimate. Maddon’s ability to keep the Rays in contention — and reach the 2008 World Series — with an ever-changing roster of young players whose contracts never reached luxury levels would no doubt help the Cubs grow.
“What does it mean to have a dynamic manager?” Epstein asked at the November press conference announcing Maddon’s arrival. “It means that you have the potential to have an edge in everything related to the events on the field. Whether it’s preparation, decision-making in the game, knowing you can get the most out of your players, trying to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. All those things … it’s really nice to just have complete trust and faith that the person in charge of running that on-field operation is going to put you in the best possible position.”
That sounds pretty good, and in Maddon the Cubs have a manager with the kind of track record guaranteed to attract respect in the dugout and wins on the field. In December, the party continued when Chicago outbid Boston, among other suitors, for the opportunity to pay 31-year-old left-handed starting pitcher Jon Lester $155 million over the next six years. It was the kind of splashy signing the Cubs hadn’t had for a while, and Lester’s decision to join the team demonstrated the faith he had in the organization’s push for success. He wanted to play for Maddon. He wanted to be with a club that had an abundance of young talent. And he didn’t seem one bit worried that it has been 107 years since Chicago last won it all.
Lester has posted a career mark of 116–67 in nine seasons with Boston and the A’s. He’s a three-time All-Star who has won 15 or more games six times, and he gives Chicago the No. 1 starter it has lacked. More than that, his decision to be a Cub validates Epstein’s efforts and provides a big reason for the team’s fans to get excited. When he was introduced, Lester sounded as if helping the team win a championship would be as satisfying for him as it would be for those Chicagolanders who have experienced so much diamond anguish over the past century-plus.
“It’s one of those things you put at the top of the list,” Lester said, referring to winning a World Series title. “To be a part of something like that would truly be special and unbelievable. Obviously, that’s our goal, to do that.”
Most baseball fans — even some on Chicago’s South Side — would agree that a Cubs World Series title would indeed be special. But after so many seasons, the unbelievable part is more appropriate. The franchise hasn’t just had a short run of misfortune, or even a long stretch of despair. This has been 107 years of misery. Sure, teams like the Mariners have never won a championship, but they have only been around since 1977. By then, the Cubs had endured 69 seasons of disappointment and at times comic failure. Their Wrigley home is “friendly,” but decades of day-only baseball might have contributed to the trouble. Then again, the Bartman playoff debacle took place at night. No one can pinpoint a reason for the failure; we just know the Cubs haven’t won it all for more than a century. Maddon and Lester are the biggest names on the latest edition trying to change that.
“Why wouldn’t you want to accept this challenge?” Maddon asked at his press conference. “In this city? In that ballpark? Under these circumstances, with this talent? It’s an extraordinary moment, not just in Cubs history, but also in baseball. This confluence of all these items coming together is pretty impressive.”
• • •
Maddon’s talk about contending for the NL Central title in 2015 is great Hot Stove fodder, and his track record and confidence have made the Cubs’ sales staff’s jobs much easier during the offseason. That’s what December and January are all about: the possibility of success. Maddon’s tenure in Tampa Bay gives him the bona fides in the dugout. But signing Lester and pitcher Jason Hammel — whom the Cubs traded away last year — and acquiring catcher Miguel Montero from the Diamondbacks aren’t necessarily enough to guarantee contention for a team that finished 2014 with a 73–89 record and was outscored by 93 runs.
That’s the reality behind the celebration. Chicago is headed in the right direction, but to herald the arrivals of Maddon and Lester as the final answers to a championship riddle simplifies the Cubs’ plight. There is really only one top-shelf hitter in the lineup — first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit .286 with 32 homers and a robust .527 slugging percentage (.913 OPS) last year. Fans may point to the excessive accumulation of talent in the Chicago farm system, and indeed Epstein has been hoarding young studs for future use or as trade bait. Names like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell may not mean a lot to fans in other cities, but Cubs supporters invoke them regularly as evidence of future success. The trouble is that they aren’t ready to be key pieces of a winner yet, and while Rizzo, Montero and shortstop Starlin Castro comprise a solid nucleus, too many of the others on the roster are not championship pieces. Even with Maddon in the dugout, it’s going to take some time.
“I like where we are as an organization,” Epstein says. “It’s nice to have an eye on competing, and we’re going to try to build it the right way and not force it or rush it. We’re mindful of the next offseason, as well as this offseason to find the right fits and the right moves and compete.”
If that doesn’t sound like a man who has job security, nothing does. Perhaps Epstein believes that if a city has waited more than a century for a championship, another few years won’t matter. But he is right that it’s important to build the right way. When quick fixes don’t deliver, a franchise is often left with a collection of underachieving veterans and no young talent on the horizon. By constructing a farm system that has been rated the majors’ best, Epstein has given the Cubs plenty of options. He can wait for the youngsters to blossom, or he can dish them for established stars. More likely, he will create a hybrid of new and old that is capable of winning for a while.
That’s why the Lester signing is so important. Chicago didn’t have to sacrifice any of its key pieces to get the top-of-rotation pitcher it needed. Lester has made at least 31 starts in each of the past seven seasons. Last year, he had a career-best 2.46 ERA with Boston and Oakland, and his 3.58 ERA in a career spent exclusively in the American League would indicate that the Cubs won big by signing Lester.
“This signing really marks a transition of sorts for the Cubs, the start of a period where we are clearly very serious about bringing a World Series to the Cubs and the people of Chicago,” Epstein said at Lester’s introductory press conference. “It’s a great day for our fans. They’ve been so patient with us, incredibly patient, over the past few years, and they truly deserve a pitcher and a person of this caliber to call their own.”
Epstein’s comments about a new chapter demonstrate that it is no longer time for assessing and accumulating potential future stars. This is his fourth year with the Cubs, and despite his praising the fans’ tolerance, it’s unlikely they will remain so docile if the next couple seasons don’t bring real progress. At a time when Pittsburgh can end a 21-year postseason drought with back-to-back playoff appearances, and Kansas City can reach the World Series, fans don’t want to hear too much talk about building, even if the Pirates and Royals did have long journeys to the postseason. There is a feeling that the NL Central is not as formidable as it once was, what with Ryan Braun’s post-suspension drop-off, Cincinnati’s pitching fire sale and St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina’s mortality-proving injury providing evidence that there is room to grow.
Make that win.
When Epstein took over the Cubs, he invited former Chicago pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, the 1984 NL Cy Young Award winner and three-time All-Star, to spring training and asked Sutcliffe to evaluate the team’s pitchers. Epstein probably wasn’t expecting a glowing report, but he couldn’t have been prepared for what he heard.
“I thought he would hit me when I told him the truth,” says Sutcliffe, who is now an ESPN analyst. “I told him that of the 60-some prospects I saw, there might have been three of them who could pitch in the majors.”
Sutcliffe has since seen the Cubs’ farm system develop into one of the best — if not the best — in the business. “I don’t think Theo would trade his farm system for anyone else’s,” Sutcliffe says. But someone has to take that talent and translate it to a successful team on the field. That’s where Maddon comes in. It’s not an understatement to say that he did some remarkable things in Tampa Bay. Five of his nine teams won 90 games or more, and four reached the postseason. And it was all accomplished without big-money stars or collections of proven veteran winners. Tampa Bay would hold on to its young talent as long as it could before free agency and then try to get something for it to avoid paying big money. Trying to win consistently under that constriction is not easy, yet Maddon did it.
“Being able to bring Joe Maddon is way above signing Jon Lester,” Sutcliffe says. “He has a proven ability to evaluate, and someone has to evaluate for the team to evolve. Nobody did it better or quicker than Joe Maddon did it in Tampa Bay.
“He has his five steps of success, and the fifth step is, ‘All I want to do is win.’”
Managers don’t hit or pitch. They don’t field or throw, but they are responsible for everything else on a team. During his time in Tampa, Maddon developed a reputation for knowing how to handle players, individually and as a group. He never showed up his team, and he always appeared — and by all accounts was — in control. Sutcliffe is right that adding Maddon is much bigger than signing Lester. First off, Lester only throws every fifth day. Maddon is in the dugout, clubhouse and office every game — and on off days, too. Secondly, without Maddon, there is no Lester in Chicago.
“When you make a statement like bringing in a Joe Maddon, that just adds to the decision-making,” Lester said about his choice to join the Cubs. “Makes it that much more interesting.”
Plenty of people in the Rays’ orbit groused about Maddon’s departure, since it came during a tiny window of availability. For many people, he was the franchise’s personality, with his northeastern Pennsylvania working-class sensibility, serial unflappability and ability to keep Tampa Bay in contention no matter how elastic his team’s roster was. He is now the Cubs’ face, and the team is elated that he has taken on that responsibility.
“Joe is a combination of just about everything we look for in a manager,” Epstein says. “Everyone associates him with new school, because they’ve used analytics in Tampa, and he’s so open-minded and progressive. But this is an old-school baseball guy with a wealth of knowledge. It’s hard to find that. It’s hard to find old-school and new-school in the same package.”
The Cubs have found that in Maddon. Now, all he has to do is lead the team to a World Series title.
What could be so hard about that?
— Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports
LeBron James Jr. is already getting college scholarships offers...at the age of 10.
King James isn’t too thrilled about the early offers saying it should be a violation. Either way, LeBron James Jr. has some big shoes to fill, obviously. But that doesn't seem to intimate him.
Videos float around of LeBron Jr. making no-look passes and nailing threes, and don’t forget he is only 10.
Watch this highlight video of LeBron Jr. putting on a show at the John Lucas All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.
Great facial hair in Major League Baseball is to be expected. All players reported to spring training over the last week, and one player’s facial hair stole the show.
Nationals' Danny Espinosa received all the attention for his impressively, thick Fu Manchu.
Danny Espinosa was one of the first position players in camp. His Fu Manchu has also reported. And it is glorious. pic.twitter.com/8K9EwJDQd6— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 19, 2015
Some fans questioned how authentic the Fu Manchu really was on Twitter.
@Nationals Is it real?— Andrea Hardwick (@hardwick_aj) February 19, 2015
@hardwick_aj Of course!— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) February 19, 2015
Also, Jayson Werth’s Beard showed excitement on Twitter too.
@Nationals !!!!!!!— Jayson Werth's Beard (@JWerthsBeard) February 19, 2015
Whether Espinosa keeps the Fu Manchu or shaves it off before the regular season, baseball fans already found the best facial hair of 2015.
The start of college football’s 2015 season is still a few months away, but spring practice is already here for a handful of teams. With each day of spring practice, the picture on every FBS team starts to clear, and the rankings and predictions for 2015 become more refined.
While many changes lie ahead as it relates to predictions and rankings for the upcoming season, it’s still never too early to think about them. With that in mind, Athlon Sports is here with its pre-spring top 25 for 2015.
College Football's Pre-Spring Top 25 for 2015
1. Ohio State
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7
It’s tough to go back-to-back as college football’s national champion, but the Buckeyes are in good shape to do so in 2015. Seven starters return on both sides of the ball, including standout defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee, running back Ezekiel Elliott and three quarterbacks capable of contending for the Heisman Trophy. The biggest question mark in Columbus will be the development of the receiving corps and finding replacements on defense for cornerback Doran Grant and tackle Michael Bennett.
Returning Starters: Offense – 10, Defense – 5
Gary Patterson’s team just missed the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014, but the Horned Frogs are positioned to be one of the favorites in '15. Quarterback Trevone Boykin headlines an explosive offense, while the defense is reloading this spring with just five returning starters. The secondary and linebacking corps should get the most attention from Patterson in the spring, as standouts Paul Dawson (LB), Kevin White (CB) and safeties Chris Hackett and Sam Carter have departed Fort Worth.
Returning Starters: Offense – 2, Defense – 7
Talent certainly isn’t an issue in Tuscaloosa. Alabama has inked the No. 1 signing class in each of the last five years, but coach Nick Saban has plenty of work to do with just nine returning starters. While the defense has a few holes to address in the secondary, the offense is the biggest concern for Saban and coordinator Lane Kiffin. Is Jake Coker ready to assume the quarterback job? And will a receiver emerge to replace Amari Cooper?
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 9
The Bears have won at least 10 games in three out of the last four seasons. Despite the departure of quarterback Bryce Petty, linebacker Bryce Hager and receiver Antwan Goodley, coach Art Briles’ team will be in the mix for a playoff spot. Whether it’s Seth Russell, Chris Johnson or Jarrett Stidham under center, the offense will be among the best in the nation. And the new starter at quarterback inherits a talented group of skill players and an offensive line that could be the best in the Big 12. Nine starters are back on defense, and this unit features talented playmakers like end Shawn Oakman, linebacker Taylor Young and tackle Andrew Billings.
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 7
Alabama is a slight favorite to win the SEC West in 2015, but Auburn isn’t far behind. New quarterback Jeremy Johnson should push for All-SEC honors as one of the league’s top breakout players, and junior college transfer Jovon Robinson will be an impact option at running back. The addition of Will Muschamp as coordinator, along with the return of end Carl Lawson will help a defense that allowed 32.8 points per game in SEC contests last year.
6. Michigan State
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7
Most of the offseason chatter in the Big Ten has focused on Ohio State’s bid to repeat as national champions, and Jim Harbaugh’s return to Michigan as head coach. While those storylines will be popular all offseason, Michigan State quietly goes about its business. The Spartans return 13 starters from a team that suffered its only defeats (two) last season against playoff teams (Oregon and Ohio State). Dantonio may lean on his offense a little more with coordinator Pat Narduzzi leaving to be the head coach at Pittsburgh. Quarterback Connor Cook returns, and four starters headline an offensive line that will be among the best in the Big Ten. End Shilique Calhoun is back for his senior year, but the defense has a few holes to address at linebacker and in the secondary.
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7
Can second-year coach Steve Sarkisian lead USC back into Pac-12 title contention in 2015? The pieces are certainly there for the Trojans to make their first appearance in the conference title game. Quarterback Cody Kessler loses top target Nelson Agholor and running back Buck Allen, but a young offensive line should continue to jell this offseason. USC is counting on its 2015 recruiting class to provide help at the skill positions, including running back Ronald Jones II and junior college recruits Isaac Whitney and De’Quan Hampton at receiver. Finding a replacement for end Leonard Williams and solidifying the secondary are two challenges for coordinator Justin Wilcox this spring.
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 5
The Ducks are easily one of the most intriguing teams to watch this offseason. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams is expected to replace Marcus Mariota at quarterback, but he won’t arrive on campus until this summer. While Mariota will certainly be missed, the Ducks can ease Adams into the starting job with a strong supporting cast. Replacing center Hroniss Grasu and left tackle Jake Fisher will be a challenge for coordinator Scott Frost. Oregon’s defense suffered a key loss at each level, but the biggest concern has to be up front after the early departure of end Arik Armstead.
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6
There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the teams in the SEC East next season. Tennessee and Florida should be better, but the Bulldogs have to begin spring practice as the favorite – almost by default. However, coach Mark Richt’s team certainly isn’t without question marks. There’s a quarterback competition set to begin in spring ball under new play-caller Brian Schottenheimer, and the receiving corps needs playmakers to emerge with the departure of Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. Six starters return from a defense that limited opponents to 24.4 points per game in SEC action last year, and this unit should take another step forward under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt in 2015.
10. Florida State
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 7
The Seminoles are 27-1 over the last two years, and even though there are some significant personnel issues to address, coach Jimbo Fisher’s team still has enough talent to push for 10 wins in 2015. The battle to replace quarterback Jameis Winston will be the top storyline to watch this offseason, but the defense loses a handful of standouts, including end Mario Edwards Jr., tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Sophomore running back Dalvin Cook should be one of the best in college football next year.
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 2
It’s a toss up for the title of early favorite in the ACC Atlantic next season. Much like Florida State, Clemson has personnel concerns to address. However, there’s also a lot of talent returning to Death Valley for 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson headlines an explosive offense, which includes receiver Artavis Scott and running back Wayne Gallman. The departure of coordinator Chad Morris will have an impact on the offense, but Watson, Scott and Gallman should keep the unit performing at a high level. Bigger question marks exist on defense, as the Tigers were decimated with heavy departures in the front seven. How quickly can coordinator Brent Venables reload in the trenches?
12. Notre Dame
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 10
The Fighting Irish have potential to climb even higher in the post-spring edition of the top 25. With 18 starters returning, a rising star at quarterback in Malik Zaire and better health on defense next year, Notre Dame could easily push for 10 wins in 2015. Zaire still needs to hold off Everett Golson for the starting job, but the sophomore should have the edge under center after a solid performance in the Music City Bowl. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem with four starters back on the offensive line and a talented group of skill players, but the spring focus should be on a defense that allowed 29.2 points per game in 2014. Immediate help for coordinator Brian VanGorder should come in the form of cornerback KeiVarae Russell and end Ishaq Williams, both of whom were suspended in 2014.
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6
If the Tigers develop their passing game this offseason, coach Les Miles' team certainly has the talent to win the SEC West in 2015. The battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris could last into August, but the offense won’t stray too much from its plan of getting the ball to sophomore running back Leonard Fournette. New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele inherits six starters, and a secondary that should be among the best in the SEC. Can new line coach Ed Orgeron find the next standouts at defensive end this spring?
14. Ole Miss
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 7
The Rebels are trending up in coach Hugh Freeze’s fourth season. Over the last three seasons, Ole Miss has averaged a 13.3 finish in the national recruiting rankings. With better talent and roster depth, the Rebels are poised to push higher than last year’s 9-4 mark. Quarterback play will be under the microscope once again in 2015, as junior college recruit Chad Kelly headlines a three-way battle set to unfold in the spring. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the offense will benefit from a healthy Laquon Treadwell at receiver and an improving offensive line. Standout safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Senquez Golson are the biggest losses for a defense that limited opponents to just 4.7 yards per play in 2014.
15. Georgia Tech
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7
The Yellow Jackets emerged from a wide-open Coastal Division to finish 11-3 and claim the Orange Bowl title last season. Coach Paul Johnson has a few holes to fill this spring, but Georgia Tech should be the favorite in the Coastal in 2015. Quarterback Justin Thomas is back after a standout debut as the full-time starter, and seven starters return from a defense that forced 29 turnovers in 2014. The biggest question mark for Johnson will be finding new rushing options at the A-back and B-back positions.
16. Arizona State
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7
Standout quarterback Taylor Kelly and receiver Jaelen Strong will be missed, but Arizona State still has enough pieces in place to contend in the Pac-12 South next year. New quarterback Mike Bercovici already has three starts under his belt, and the coaching staff hopes moving D.J. Foster to a running back/receiver role will help ease the loss of Strong. Coach Todd Graham likes an aggressive approach on defense, and this unit recorded 39 sacks last season. With nearly all of its key players returning, Arizona State’s defense should be able to cut its points (27.9) and yards per play allowed (5.6) from 2014.
Returning Starters: Offense – 10, Defense – 8
Quarterback play will be under the spotlight for coach Jim Mora this spring. Talented true freshman Josh Rosen enrolled in time to compete with Jerry Neuheisel this spring, but the battle may extend into the fall. Outside of replacing quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins return largely intact on offense. Running back Paul Perkins is back after a 1,575-yard season, and the line should be improved with the return of five starters. Three key defenders depart, but linebacker Myles Jack, end Eddie Vanderdoes and cornerback Ishmael Adams are plenty for new coordinator Tom Bradley to build around next season.
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 5
While USC is considered the favorite in the Pac-12 South, very little separates the next tier between UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. The Wildcats are the defending Pac-12 South champs and should be explosive on offense once again with the return of quarterback Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson. Replacing standout offensive tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele, as well as continuing to improve on defense will be the spring storylines to watch in Tucson.
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 7
New coach Paul Chryst inherits a team capable of winning the Big Ten’s West Division in 2015. Sure, running back Melvin Gordon will be missed, but Corey Clement figures to be Wisconsin's next standout ball carrier. This spring, the Badgers need to jumpstart their passing game and replace three key players on the offensive line. The return of coordinator Dave Aranda should keep Wisconsin’s defense near the top of the Big Ten.
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6
The Tigers had a rocky start to their SEC experience, but since a 5-7 mark in 2012, coach Gary Pinkel’s team is 23-5 and has claimed back-to-back East Division titles. Pinkel and his staff will have plenty of personnel issues to address this spring, as both sides of the ball have key players to replace. On offense, quarterback Maty Mauk is looking to take the next step in his development, but the top three receivers – Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White – are gone. New defensive coordinator Barry Odom was one of the top assistant hires in the SEC this offseason. Odom has few concerns in the back seven, but the line must replace ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray.
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 5
The Razorbacks showed marked improvement in coach Bret Bielema’s second season. After finishing winless in SEC play in 2013, Arkansas won two conference games and lost four others by a touchdown or less. This team should take another step forward in the win column in 2015, especially if quarterback Brandon Allen and the receiving corps develops under new play-caller Dan Enos. And the running back duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams will be among the nation’s best. The defense took a step forward under coordinator Robb Smith in the second half of 2014, but defensive end Trey Flowers, tackle Darius Philon and tackle Martrell Spaight will be missed.
22. Texas A&M
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6
There’s little doubt Texas A&M will field one of the SEC’s best offenses in 2015. Quarterback Kyle Allen will be pushed by talented freshman Kyler Murray, but the Aggies have some of the top skill talent in the conference. But for this program to take the next step, the defense has to improve. That’s exactly what new coordinator John Chavis was brought in to do. Chavis is regarded as one of the top coordinators in college football and inherits a defense that returns rising star Myles Garrett at defensive end, linebacker Otaro Alaka and safety Armani Watts.
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 6
Coach Bob Stoops certainly isn’t sitting idle after last year’s 8-5 record. The Sooners made staff changes after the disappointing 2014 season, as Lincoln Riley was hired from East Carolina to call the plays, Kerry Cooks was brought aboard from Notre Dame to coach defensive backs, Dennis Simmons from Washington State to coach outside receivers, and Diron Reynolds arrives from Stanford to work with the defensive line. The revamped staff inherits plenty to work with in terms of personnel, but Riley has the biggest challenge in trying to find an answer at quarterback.
24. Mississippi State
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 3
Dan Mullen has clearly elevated the program, and the Bulldogs should be able to reload at a faster level than in previous years thanks to three top-25 recruiting classes over the last four seasons. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s return was huge for a team that returns just seven starters in 2015. The Bulldogs must replace running back Josh Robinson, three starters on the offensive line, receiver Jameon Lewis and key defenders in Benardrick McKinney (LB), Preston Smith (DE) and P.J. Jones (DT). The SEC West is brutal but having a quarterback like Prescott will help Mullen rebuild in 2015.
25. Oklahoma State
Returning Starters: Offense - 10, Defense - 7
Mike Gundy’s team found a spark at the end of the 2014 season with the emergence of quarterback Mason Rudolph. Over the final three games, the true freshman had six touchdown passes and completed 65.4 percent of his attempts in the bowl win over Washington. Rudolph should be in the mix for All-Big 12 honors in 2015, but the Cowboys also need to solidify the offensive line and find a consistent option at running back. The defense returns seven starters, including end Emmanuel Ogbah (11 sacks in 2014), cornerback Kevin Peterson and linebacker Ryan Simmons.
Teams to Watch (alphabetical order): Boise State, BYU, Florida, Louisville, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia Tech
Chris Paul is the president of the NBA Players Association — better known as the union — and LeBron James was recently named the vice president.
But the fearless leader of the organization is undoubtedly 58-year-old lawyer Michele Roberts, who continued to prove herself as a hard-liner in a recent interview with ESPN W’s Kate Fagan. The most telling piece of Fagan’s story was Roberts’ thoughts on media availability.
"Most of the time I go to the locker room, the players are there and there are like eight or nine reporters just standing there, just staring at them," Roberts said to Fagan. "And I think to myself, 'OK, so this is media availability?' If you don't have a f---ing question, leave, because it's an incredible invasion of privacy. It's a tremendous commitment that we've made to the media — are there ways we can tone it down? Of course. It's very dangerous to suggest any limitation on media's access to players, but let's be real about some of this stuff.
"I've asked about a couple of these guys, 'Does he ask you a question?' 'Nah, he just stands there.' And when I go in there to talk to the guys, I see them trying to listen to my conversation, and I don't think that's the point of media availability. If nothing else, I would like to have a rule imposed, 'If you have a question, ask it; if you don't, leave.' Sometimes, they're waiting for the marquee players. I get that, but there is so much standing around."
This one’s a prickly pear. The press has classically been an instrumental part of the NBA product, but revolutions in technology and media have made it increasingly easier for players to reach their fans directly — be it through social media or otherwise. Reporters who used to be essential middlemen are now fighting a difficult battle, in which it’s harder and harder to prove that their place in the locker room results in salient material.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been in a number of NBA locker rooms, a number of times, and yes: it’s awkward. Gigantic men covering themselves with puny towels before and after showers — and before they do their very difficult jobs — are not the best conversationalists, and quote-hungry reporters don’t tend to ask questions that exactly ease the tension of the situation.
Roberts, though, is simply playing a form of hardball that looks likely to be a trend for her in this new role. While the current system of media availability leaves some emotional comfort to be desired, and while it could very well be wise to reform the existing format, there are definitely more important fights to be fought in the name of players — like the probably impending work bargaining in 2017.
— John Wilmes