Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why not to worry about Kevin Dillard

Game one for UD went mostly the way game ones go: "Team UD should beat" hangs around for longer than the fans feel like they should, Dayton eventually pulls away in the late first/early second half, loses a significant part of its comfortable margin midway through the second half, and then rights the ship to win by 10ish.

For the most part, yesterday's game against Arkansas State followed the blueprint, the one notable exception being that Arkansas State only came within nine in the second half, where usually those leads drop to two or three. So overall, from a listener's perspective (believe it or not, UD-Ark St. was not on TV in Colorado), it was a pretty successful game.

Most players contributed positively to the winning effort. Even if it was a small presence, like Alex Gavrilovic or Devon Scott (again, from what I could hear), they did good stuff for the team. None of the new guys or returning players had a classic Paul Williams disappearance-type performance. You know what I'm talking about: it goes something like 0-2 shooting, zero points, one rebound, zero assists, three turnovers and 10-12 screams from the crowd to "DO SOMETHING!"

The one thing Tom Michaels and Bucky Bockhorn  kept harping on was Kevin Dillard's off day. And in the first half, I don't think there's any doubt they were right. UD's best player did not play well. From a whole game standpoint, he did not play as well as expected, and my mom (at the game) said he just made several similar bad plays. For UD fans expecting Dillard to be an A-10 Player of the Year-caliber player, it was probably a bit disconcerting to watch.

Here's the thing though: Dillard's final line was 3-13, 12 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers. Yeah, not a great game. But a double-double and then six rebounds from your point guard? From a raw numbers standpoint, that's a strong game. Dillard could easily go 4-6 shooting and put up the same numbers. Knock the turnover numbers down to three let's say, and all of a sudden we're talking about his phenomenal ability to manage the game, his excellent efficiency, etc.

If this is what the Flyers are going to get from Dillard on bad days, there is reason for rejoicing, not bemoaning one game. That means UD has its best player since Brian Roberts, who always found a way to get his, even when the shots weren't falling the way they normally do.

Plus, as mentioned earlier, the other guys stepped up and played well. Vee Sanford had 18 and 7-10 from the field. Josh Benson was 7-9, hit multiple long jumpers (!) and grabbed eight boards. Dillard will be called upon to carry the Flyers to a win more or less on his own in at least a few games this season. But it's encouraging to know when he's a bit off, Dayton isn't necessarily going down.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I guess I'm lucky

We like to moan about our misfortune. Whether it's our inability to win playing McDonald's Monopoly (I know, I know, Boardwalk doesn't exist, the fix is in!) or something as simple as not getting picked to participate at a school assembly, we make sure everybody knows how unlucky we are.

I'm one of those people. I "never win anything." I "have the worst luck."

Well, I'm done with that lifestyle. I'll take the luck I had Friday over winning a cool mill from McDonald's anytime.
(Yeah, sorry, this isn't a sports post. But it got me writing on here again, so take heart if that's what you were looking for)

On Friday I was driving to cover a football game for my job. It was a long drive, but I was going because the paper in that area had said they wouldn't be there. Football is one of our more important coverages during the fall, so my Editor said if I wanted to go, I could go. I decided to make the trip, because I thought it would win me brownie points and I would get to see another part of Colorado I hadn't yet.

Well, the drive was nothing short of spectacular. Once again, CO did not disappoint. Until it wasn't spectacular.

While rounding a curve, I hit a patch of gravel (I think) and lost control of my car. I slid across the road (brakes and steering giving no love) and off the other side. My car started to roll before coming to rest upside down. It happened very quickly.

I was hanging by my seatbelt, unbuckled it and crawled out of back window of my car, which had been shattered and was no longer there. This happened immediately, I was not unconscious for any amount of time. In fact, I was almost completely untouched.

Afterward, I had all sorts of people telling me they couldn't believe I was alive, or couldn't believe I was okay. I have no idea how accurate that is. It sounds melodramatic to me, because I was fine, and got out of the car with no problems. But this is what I know: The car flipped about 180 degrees before landing off the road about 15-20 feet down. It appears the driver's side of the cab landed first on a boulder. The roof caved in a pretty significant amount. I didn't notice it at the time, but that roof was probably not very far from the top of my head. So it's fair to say my seatbelt saved me from a head trauma of some degree.

What happened after is where I really feel lucky. I crashed in the middle of nowhere, about 5.5 hours from Craig, and had absolutely no idea what to do. But a couple guys were not far behind me, and they had been working on that road. They saw the crash and helped me out. They set me up with another nearby man they knew who was a volunteer with the local fire rescue. If Bradly Littlejohn and I had crossed paths under different circumstances, I doubt we would have exchanged more than a couple sentences. But here was Brad, chauffeurring me all over the place--taking me to get checked out by the EMTs, then to a hotel for the night, then to the car rental agency the next morning.

I've never been in a situation even close to that before. I have no clue what I would have done. I didn't have phone service where I crashed. But some complete strangers helped me out, and went way beyond their call. And I'm back home because of it.

I don't know what's gonna happen over the next couple weeks. I'm going to need to get a new car in all likelihood. It's going to be inconvenient. But I'm feeling as good as I always do, thanks to the kindness of some cats I've never met before, and a whole lot of luck. Yep, I'm lucky after all.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When we lost our way

When we thought replacements could do an impossible job.

Imagine sending a guy with four years of deep-sea fishing experience to go do the job done by those cats on "Deadliest Catch". "He's fished on the ocean before, so he'll be able to catch us a use-able amount of crabs while our normal guys are asking for better insurance benefits," goes the thinking. Right, but the new guy's never seen anything quite like this. He'll do fine for a couple weeks, with some miscues. But then he'll get caught in a serious storm, the likes of which he hasn't dealt with before. He honestly won't know what to do. It's not his fault; the crash-course in training he received can only get him so far. So in all likelihood something terrible will happen--equipment will be lost or broken, a significant portion of the past week's catch will be lost, the ship will capsize--something to the suits realize, "What were we thinking? Nobody can just step up and do this job."

It's not as serious with sports (because it's sports, not real-life), but in the case of the NFL replacement officials, it's just as egregious an error on the part of NFL brass. They have been officiating Division III college football for years, so it's fair to say they understand the rules of football. But it also should have been obvious to the NFL that they were (and are) woefully unprepared for what they would be (and are) seeing on the field.

About 2.5 percent of college football players make it into the NFL. That's the strongest, fastest, most athletic 2.5 percent of all college football players. Most of those guys come from the FBS, a stronger, faster, more athletic division of college football than Division III. Of all those college football players that make it to an NFL team, not all of them play. No, just the strongest, fastest, most athletic group of 30-35 players play for each team (before accounting for injuries).

See where this is going? These referees have vaulted into an entirely different world of football. Steve Young said it best after last night's game, that the NFL is so much faster in person than anything these guys have ever seen, they never stood a chance. Being an NFL official is already an extremely difficult job--it's why fans are constantly pissed off at the officials in years past. So why would anyone think a replacement is a good solution?

Don't blame the replacement referees for these early-season debacles. It is technically their fault, but they were put in an impossible situation. Blaming them would be tantamount to blaming me for ruining your softball team's chances at the intramurals or parks and rec championship. Yeah, I'm bad, so the team has no chance of winning, but I shouldn't be in this position if excellence was the initial goal.

Think these things through a little bit.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Running, my love, I hate you

Running (not sprinting) can be cool. I swear.

When I was a freshman in high school, I wasn't an especially good runner. I headed to the regional meet that my team had qualified for to watch them and watch my brother run for his school. His team was racing in the toughest division in the state, and probably wasn't going to make it out, so it was almost certainly going to be his final cross country race.

I ended up not really watching my brother. His race, which featured the best three teams in the state, also featured the top two runners in the state, the only guys who had a chance of winning the Ohio Division 1 race a week later. Their names were Levi Fox and Jeff See, and they had a rivalry of sorts that probably existed more in my head than in real life, because their schools were not rivals in any sense. Those two had placed first and second in every common race they'd run that year; See first, Fox second.

So while See went into the region as the overwhelming favorite, there was just no way you could count Levi (this is what everybody called them at the time: See by his last name and Levi by his first. This doesn't indicate preference or familiarity for me, it would just feel weird to refer to them any other way) out; he had that incredible long hair flopping in the wind and was running unbelievably fast times.

You especially couldn't count Levi out once the race had started. 400 meters after the start, Levi Fox was 75 meters clear of the field. After months of running with See and slowly falling back, Levi had had enough. He decided to go for it, and see if See could reel him in. He'd be running alone, making it more difficult on himself, but at least he would make See work for a win, and know it.

By a mile, he had to be 200 meters ahead. It was unbelievable. The best runner in the state looked like he might lose.

Of course he wouldn't stay ahead by that much. Going out so fast meant he would be trying to hold on, not win going away. This is the nature of distance running. See started reeling him in. Still, past the two-mile mark, Levi had the lead. You could see his tactic had had an effect. See was working harder than normal, it was visible from his facial expression.

Jeff See ended up catching Levi Fox and winning the race by about 15 meters. Levi was so spent at the finish line he looked like your run-of-the-mill half-marathoner who went out too fast and paid the price at the finish. He might as well have lost his legs 100 meters back. But he finished.

That remains among the most excited I've ever been watching a sporting event (we'll call running a sport for simplicity's sake). Watching those two go at it, and watching Levi go for it, even though he failed, was thrilling. There's no comparison for that type of decision in any other sport. But it was amazing to watch.

We rarely see this type of thing in elite running these days, where the accepted style is to go slower than most runners are capable of running for most of the race, then turn it into an unbelievable sprint over the final 100/200/lap (American Leo Manzano probably benefited from this type of racing in the men's 1500-meter this Olympics, in a shocking result for him).

That's why distance running is boring. Unless you're a huge fan, you didn't appreciate Galen Rupp's fantastic final 800 to grab silver in the 10k at these Olympics. For the most part, that race was run in a tightly-packed group. While it spread at the end, it was easy for a great deal throughout.

Nobody had any guts. Nobody wanted to make a move and take a chance. Evidently it's much wiser to sit back and try to out-sprint Ethiopians and Kenyans. That has worked a few times in these Olympics, but not very often otherwise.

There's a reason Steve Prefontaine is the most well-like and revered American runner ever, even though he won nothing. Prefontaine took races out from the start and made everyone kill themselves trying to keep up. That way, all he had to do was out-gut them over the final lap. He made races a battle and wasn't scared of anybody. Today, professional distance runners are in a type of condition I can't even imagine. But none of them are interested in using it. It's a shame, because if they did, people might start to realized the 1500 and 5k are way cooler races than the 100 or the 200.

I'm a distance runner, I'm probably biased. But I do think I appreciate the speed and power generated by sprinters. One of the best sprinters in the state went to my high school. He was running the 100 about a second slower than it took Usain Bolt to finish. While a second is a long ways on the track, seeing that power up close (which I did many times) is still amazing. It was something to marvel at, something I would never be able to duplicate.

It's just that the sprints, while cool, are more home-run derby or dunk contest. They're fun, but not as good as the actual game. Middle-distance and distance running is the actual game.

All the sprinting I've seen in person and on TV has never had the effect on me the race between Jeff See and Levi Fox did. See and Fox haven't amounted to much as runners at the international level. Imagine the show their counterparts in the Olympics could be giving us.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bolt Strikes Again

Why did anyone think Usain Bolt was going to lose?

Because he had lost in the Jamaican trials to Yohan Blake?

Because he had been disqualified in a previous race for a false start?

Did we all forget about that race in 2008, where Bolt ran six-hundredths faster than Blakes personal best time by celebrating the final 10 meters?

Come on. Usain Bolt is 6-5. Blake is 5-11. Justin Gatlin is 6-feet even and Tyson Gay is 5-11. In an event where a tenth of a second is an enormous amount of time, Bolt's height advantage (and lengthier stride) is making all the difference when he can turn his legs over as quickly as all the other guys.

Only a false start or injury was going to make a difference in this race. As it happened, Bolt got the worst start of the four men in the race who mattered. And then he blew them all away.

What about the last time we saw Bolt at the Olympics, when he ran unlike anything we'd ever seen before in sprinting, made us think 2012 would be any different?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Majesty of the Olympics

There have been some ugly happenings in these Olympics. Korean swimmer Park Tae-Hwan was given a phantom disqualification in the qualifying rounds for the 400-meter freestyle (in fairness, he was allowed back in after an appeal. That should never have been necessary, though). Then Shin A Lam, also of Korea (hopefully just a coincidence), was cheated out of a medal opportunity by judges feeling lazy or something.

Now we're getting this nonsense about badminton players being disqualified because they were losing to try and influence who they played later on. Let's be clear, though. This isn't ugly because players were trying to lose. It's ugly because the Olympic committee embarrassed itself in overreacting to the low level of play.

Supposedly those badminton players "violated the Olympic ideal and the spirit of fair play." I'm not sure how that can be. To me, the ultimate goal when going to the Olympics is to win the gold medal. This is a new format for Badminton. In past Olympics, Badminton was a single elimination tournament. This year, a round-robin preliminary round was introduced. The disqualified teams (which included the Chinese world champions) were simply trying to utilize it to give them an easier path to win gold.

Let's flip the scenario. Fast-forward to the 2014 World Cup, where the U.S. has won its first two games in group play and is now playing Brazil, also 2-0. Meanwhile, in another group, Germany gave up a late goal in its first game to take a tie, and then suffered a stunning loss to the Ivory Coast in its third game. With four points, the Germans are moving on, but lost the group to Le Cote d'Ivoire.

With a spot in the round of 16 secured, the U.S. decides to sit several starters and delivers a pitiful performance, losing 5-0 to Brazil. As a result, Brazil plays Germany in the round of 16 while America gets Ivory any American soccer fan upset with this result? Is anyone made the U.S. chose to lose in order to play a weaker opponent? NOOOOOOOO! Why is it any different for these badminton players? Sure, those games with both teams trying to blow it must have sucked to watch, but they didn't matter. They weren't going to tank it anymore. And with some of the best badminton doubles teams out of the tournament now, it's an even bigger joke than their pitiful matches were.

That's why it's nice to remember why the Olympics are actually pretty awesome. Despite the IOC being about as bad as the NCAA ("If you wear that shiny teeth thingy on the stand Ryan, we won't give you your medal. You may have earned it, but not if your teeth aren't normal."), there are always going to be these really cool moments coming from the Olympics.

Like this one. Kayla Harrison became the first-ever American to win a gold medal in Judo. I know nothing about Judo, and watching a replay of her match was the first time I'd ever seen it competitively. But Harrison's medal ceremony was incredible. The Ohio native (yeah!) tried to contain her emotions, but couldn't manage it once the notes from the "Star Spangled Banner" began.

Harrison was a world champion in Judo already, but somehow the Olympic championship has more meaning to just about everybody. It sure does to me. Watching Harrison (who, like so many Olympians in this super-fringe sports, is just a normal person who also works really, really hard at her sport on the side. She's hoping to get selected as a firefighter when she gets home. Not go be in a CrossFit ad or get sponsored by Nike for her badass-edness. No, she's going to put her life on the line. Come on!) break down at the beginning and end of our national anthem had me tingling all over and tearing up. I can't explain why I was so affected; it was just an amazing moment.

Seeing the Packers win the Super Bowl didn't inspire that type of response. Hearing the national anthem at the Olympic medal ceremony and watching an everyday, down-to-earth young woman from Ohio, who I probably won't ever see again, celebrate a judo championship did.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why Living in the Mountains Sucks...Especially during the Olympics

Since moving to Colorado, one of life's biggest adjustments has been to watch sports and shows on TV two hours earlier than I used to. Sometimes its not a problem, like when I can watch a "Workaholics" or "Breaking Bad" rerun the same night and be done well before midnight. Then, there's no worries about hitting the sack at a decent time. But catching sporting events before getting off work can be a challenge sometimes. It's been strange, but I've gotten used to it after two months.

Nothing could have prepared me for the Olympics, though. NBC's tape-delay strategy has officially ruined my life. Yes, the tape-delay in general is terrible. I knew that the men's 4x100 freestyle relay had lost to the Frenchies well before I actually got to watch it on TV. Everyone in the states is experiencing that. But NBC is executing such an awful tape delay that those of us in Colorado (and even worse in the pacific zone) aren't even up to date with half the U.S. on getting to see prime-time events.

According to the NBC commercials I've seen, the broadcast begins in the Eastern time zone at 7:30 p.m. (yes, everything is still advertised in terms of the east here). That would mean the broadcast would normally start at 5:30 in Colorado. Not so with the Olympics. After the 7:30 start in the east, every other time zone's broadcast begins at 6:30 p.m. For people in Chicago, this is all normal. They're up to date just like they normally would be. But for everybody further west, we can't even view already-old events with our American peers. They have to get even older.

It's one thing to hear on Twitter that France beat the U.S. in similar fashion to the way it lost in Beijing. It's quite another to hear that, then hear from everyone east of Colorado about how the race looked, and how Ryan Lochte did this, or Michael Phelps was super fast!

This delay nonsense worked out alright in 2008 for NBC. It's been a disaster in 2012. We're a different species than we were then. As the Olympics show us every time they come round, with brand new gymnasts, swimmers struggling to retain what they once had (like Phelps in the 400 individual medley) and even basketball rosters shifting (Kevin Durant wasn't on the 2008 U.S. team!), four years is a long time.