A different view of sports

 

Clearing my mind and notebook while trying to get excited for a men’s basketball championship game between Villanova and Michigan:

Not a fan

Ken Burger wrote with passion and purpose during his career at the Courier and Post in Charleston, S.C. and whenever colleagues remember the late sports columnist someone invariably recalls this memorable zinger of his.

 “I love women. I love basketball. I hate women’s basketball.”

Forgive him. Ken died in October 2015 and didn’t live to witness the A’ja Wilson era at South Carolina under Dawn Staley, including a national championship last season and the numerous national player of the year honors collected by Wilson this year.

When Burger strung those words together, women’s college hoops was guilty as charged. It may have been a blunt assessment, but it was an honest one. And frankly, all these years later, there’s still a lack of competitive depth. Just last weekend the defending champion Gamecocks lost to UConn by 29 points and Louisville routed Oregon State by 33 – in Elite Eight games.

After what we saw Friday in this year’s national semifinals, though, there’s reason to believe better days are ahead for the sport. Both of Friday’s games went to overtime.

It also helps that for the second straight season Geno Auriemma’s UConn dynasty was a semi loser. That means there will be a different women’s champ for the third straight season. UConn had won four titles in a row and 10 of 17.

Since 2000 only six other schools have worn the crown. If you are wondering, the men really haven’t fared that much better with just 11 champions during that span. But at least the men have  had 16 schools reach the final game.

Making strides

With what Dawn Staley has accomplished since taking over at South Carolina, I’ve become a much bigger fan of the women’s game over the past several years. As a graduate of the school, I’m still riding the wave of momentum she’s created with four consecutive SEC Tournament Championships, a national player of the year in Wilson and being named the coach of Team USA.

But currently living in Indiana has also opened my eyes to how entertaining the women’s game can be when played at the highest levels.

As the former sports editor in Evansville, my staff had the honor of covering two of the nation’s best female high school basketball players in Jackie Young, now a sophomore at Notre Dame, and Tyra Buss, who was a senior at Indiana University this season.

Both chose to go to college in this state and within driving distance of their hometowns, and they have developed into two of the nation’s best college players.

They also grew up just 14 miles apart in different states, separated by the Wabash River, but competed against each other in the same high school conference in Indiana. While Mount Carmel High was a member of the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s Big Eight Conference, it was classified as an independent in Illinois when it came to the postseason.

Buss, who became the all-time leading girls’ scorer in Illinois high school history with 4,897 points, is now the Hoosiers’ all-time leading scorer. She led IU to the Women’s NIT title Saturday with a 65-57 victory over Virginia Tech in front of 13,007 fans at Assembly Hall.

Buss finished her college career by setting school records for points (2,364), free throws (633), assists (574) and steals ( 293). She also teamed with Amanda Cahill to claim a record 82 wins by a senior class in Bloomington.

Meanwhile, sophomore Young and her Irish teammates will play for a NCAA championship Sunday against Mississippi State. Young couldn’t have picked a better time to enjoy a career night, scoring 32 points and adding 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double in a 91-89 overtime win over UConn on Friday.

The Princeton, Ind. native finished her high school career as the state’s all-time leading scorer, boys or girls, with 3,302 points.

They said it

Humor writer Brad Dickson in Tweet: “Not only did I have Loyola-Chicago in my Final Four but at the top of the page I wrote. ‘A nun named Sister Jean steals the show.'”

Comedian Steve Hofstetter: “Something about baseball feeds my spirit. Stadiums are my cathedrals, programs are my prayer book, and my sermon is 162 games long. Now, the service begins. Happy opening day.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “A sure sign your NBA team might be trying to get a top draft pick? They come onto the court wearing tank tops.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Astros signed Jose Altuve to 5-year, $151 million extension. So Jose will be able to take his family to Disneyland. Even if he still isn’t tall enough to ride all the rides.”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “YouTube is planning a “Karate Kid” series that follows the characters 34 years later. The show is entitled “Ralph Macchio’s Mortgage Is Due.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against Bills receiver Zay Jones over an incident involving shattered glass doors and windows at a Los Angeles apartment building. Apparently there wasn’t conclusive video evidence that he’d broken the pane.”

Comedy writer Jerry Perishow after Donald Trump and Joe Biden tweeted about how they’d like a chance to settle their differences, political and otherwise, the old-fashion way: “The big question: Will Betty White be the ring girl?”

Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, now 84, on a bite from a brown recluse spider that required eight weeks of intense treatment: “The spider didn’t ‘recluse’ himself from biting me.”

Comedy writer Alex Kaselberg after a 102-year-old woman, Julia Hawkins, broke a world age-group record in the 60 meters: “The bad news is, afterward, she tested positive for Geritol.”

Lefty’s turn

Lefty Driesell, who is the only coach to win at least 100 games at four different colleges, is going into the Basketball Hall of Fame with a group of players he would have enjoyed coaching.

The 13-member class was announced Saturday before the start of the NCAA men’s semifinals. It includes Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Ray Allen, Maurice Cheek, Charlie Scott and Croatian star Dino Radja. Also earning admission into the hall are women’s players Tina Thompson, Katie Smith and Ora Mae Washington and professional basketball executives Rod Thorn and Rick Welts.

Hill and Driesell were former players at Duke – 40 years apart —  with Hill playing for two NCAA champions with the Blue Devils in 1991 and 1992.

Washington’s name may be less familiar. Born in 1898, Washington played on 11 consecutive Women’s Colored Basketball World’s Championship teams. She was also an outstanding tennis player.

Salary cap

If Major League baseball owners have their way, they’ll get Congressional help to avoid paying minor-league players bigger paychecks.

Depending how far they’ve climbed the ladder, most minor leaguers earn between $1,100 and $2,150 per month. But when you consider the long work weeks they can put in, it’s not much compensation.

Several lawsuits have been filed in recent years trying to force clubs to meet federal minimum wage laws.

“If Walmart or McDonald’s can find a way to comply with those laws, then Major League Baseball can find a way to comply with them, too,” said attorney Garrett R. Brosuis.

 Headlines

SportsPickle.com: Kirk Cousins, “I just feel blessed to have received a long-term deal before everyone figured out I’m not that good.”

Fark.com: “After never playing for UCLA and playing a grueling nine games in a Lithuanian rec league, LiAngelo Ball declares for NBA draft.”

TheKicker.com: “NASCAAR driver who kneels for anthem gets torn to pieces by crowd.”

SportsPickle.com: “All college football coaches happy with their jobs now.”

TheOnion.com: “MLB season ends over 200 days early after new rules speed up games way too much.”

TheKicker.com: “Kentucky players excelling in ‘Declaring-for-the-NBA-draft drills.”

Fark.com: “White Sox rehired groundskeeper after he clears the dirt from his name.”

TheKicker.com: “Gelo 3s are just some Sketchers LiAngelo lifted from a Payless.”

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top Tweets from @Randy_Beard11:

  • Sister Jean, Sister Jean, get out your Rosary and start saying your Hail Marys … No, she’s leaving the building!
  • The BUSS pulls away late with the WNIT championship as Indiana beats Virginia Tech 65-57. Mount Carmel, Illinois legend Tyra Buss leads way with 16 points in front of 13,007 at Assembly Hall. Named MVP. Congrats @tbuss3@TyraBussNews@IUHoosiers
  • Connecticut women have lost 7 straight overtime games — 4 to Notre Dame.
  • Teaira McCowan had 21 points, record 25 rebounds to lead Mississippi State back to the NCAA women’s championship game w/ 73-63 OT win over Louisville. If UConn knocks off Notre Dame, I’ll pull for Bulldogs Monday. But that’s as much a stretch as 6-7 McCowan.
  • May be my favorite 60 Minutes episode of all time. Great story and interviews tonight about …. The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
  • Thank you Grayson Allen for not making a 3-pointer in overtime until it didn’t matter. Kansas beats Duke 85-81 in OT.
  • No. 3 Indiana’s men’s swimming finished NCAA Championships third with 422 points, most since 427 in 1969. Texas won a fourth-straight title with 449 points and California was second with 437.5 points. The team finish was IU’s best in 43 years. Indiana won four event titles.

Title tradition

University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s tournament when it beat Virginia, has competed at a high level for years.

Yes, the school was six-time National College Team Chess champion from 2003 to 2010.

Super sub

Scott Foster lived his sports fantasy Thursday night when the rec league goalkeeper was pressed into action with the Chicago Blackhawks against the Winnipeg Jets because of injuries.

Foster, 36, is a former college goaltender at  Western Michigan, but these days he plays in two adult amateur leagues. Because he does have some experience turning back  flying pucks, Foster is one of several wannabe backups who show up at Chicago’s games to serve stints as an emergency keeper. It usually means he’s treated to a meal and a night in the press box watching an NHL game.

But he was needed to skate on the ice when Chicago’s Anton Forsberg and Collin Delia suffered injuries. Foster came in to help the Blackhawks protect a 6-2 lead over the final 14 minutes.

Forsberg got hurt during pregame drills, which forced Foster to put on his gear and watch the game from the bench. That by itself was a thrill he never expected to experience. Then Delia was injured, so he had to play and ended up making seven saves.

When it was over, the Blackhawks rushed the net to celebrate as if he’d stopped a penalty.

“This is something that no one can ever take away from me,” Foster said. “It’s something that I can go home and tell my kids and they can tell their friends. … Just a ton of fun.”

The NHL mandated last year that teams have an emergency goalie present for all home games ready to fill in for either team — setting the stage for Foster’s most competitive action since he played 20 minutes of a college game 12 years ago.

Sharpshooting ‘Cats

Villanova’s postseason run has allowed Jay Wright’s Wildcats to set NCAA records for 3-pointers in the regular season and the NCAA tournament.

Villanova had 18 treys against Kansas on Saturday to set the tourney record of 66 (and counting). VCU had established previous mark of 61 in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats currently have the single-season record for 3-pointers with 454 — surpassing 442 — and their 18 threes against Kansas were most ever in a Final Four game.

It’s already been a fun season for the Wildcats and now only Michigan stands in their way of a truly special finish.

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