Friday, February 26, 2010

Ball Is Life

I am a sports fanatic. To say I love one sport more than another is a tough proposition — football, baseball, basketball, hockey, I love them all to no end. But if I had to choose one sport that I could watch at any time at any level, it would probably be basketball. High school, college, pros — doesn't matter. I consume it with vigor. And I certainly play basketball (very poorly, mind you) more often than any other sport. Ask me if I want to go shoot hoops, and as long as I don't have any other important obligation that must take place right away, I'm game. I guess you can say, ball is life in my world.

Thanks to SLAM's partnership with BALL IS LIFE, I was reminded of a truly great site that provides some of the best basketball videos you will find anywhere, especially when it comes to high school hoops. So I figured I'd share some of my favorites from Ball Is Life, because we could all use some sweet videos on a Friday.

Find more videos like this on BALL IS LIFE

Find more videos like this on BALL IS LIFE

Find more videos like this on BALL IS LIFE

Find more videos like this on BALL IS LIFE

BallHype: hype it up!

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Since it's the Olympics and all and we're supposed to be all Patriotic, and I've been on a wrestling kick this week thanks to Kenny, let's get a little patriotic with Hulk Hogan and Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

USA vs. Finland in hockey at 3 p.m. for the right to play for the gold.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Best Rebounder No One Knows About

The headline may read "Moore, Brooks lead No. 20 Temple past Dayton," but the Owls wouldn't have outlasted the last remaining true test on their schedule, Dayton, last night, 49-41, on North Broad without LaVoy Allen and his 17 rebounds.

If you don't know about Temple's 6'9" junior power forward, let me make it simple for you: He's the best rebounder in the nation you never really heard about. Need proof? How's 10.5 rebounds per game sound for you? That's how many Allen is averaging this season for Temple, 10.5 rebounds, good for 11th in nation. He's grabbed double-digit rebounds in 18 of Temple's 28 games. And he's been especially spectacular against stiff competition, his paltry 5 rebounds against No. 1 Kansas as the exception.

In Temple's second game of the year, a heartbreaking loss at Georgetown, Allen hauled in 14 rebounds going up against Greg Monroe. In an early-season victory against the ACC's Virginia Tech, he grabbed 10 boards. In the huge 75-65 upset over Big 5 foe and Big East beast Villanova, LaVoy had 17 rebounds. And he did this all season long. Twelve boards against Seton Hall, 14 in a loss at Charlotte, 15 against Duquesne, 19 in a loss at Richmond and 17 yesterday in the victory over Dayton, keeping Temple on pace with Richmond for the A-10 regular season title if the Spiders slip up.

The guy is just a spectacular rebounder. Of his 10.5 boards per game, he three and half of those come on the offensive glass. He has some of the softest hands of any frontcourt player in the nation. If he can get his hands on it, he will haul it in. He uses his big frame to get position, always seems to know where the ball is going off the rim and has some of the best anticipation instincts I've ever seen.

While Ryan Brooks has been Temple's best player, Ramone Moore its emerging young star of late and Juan Fernandez its most exciting playermaker, Allen has been the team's most consistent producer, going out there and snatching up every board, defending every team's top post player, quietly leading the team with all the little things.

But it's not as if LaVoy is a one-trick pony. Far from it. He has a nice offensive game, using those soft hands to catch anything around the rim, showcasing a reliable mid-range jumper and plenty of moves on the block and touch around the rim. That's why he's averaging a double-double, with 11.3 points per game to go along with his 10.5 boards per contest. And he's shown he's capable of carrying the load offensively, scoring 18 against Virginia Tech, 20 against St. Joe's, 16 at Rhode Island, 16 in a win against Xavier, back-to-back 16-point showings against Richmond and Rhode Island, and 16 more against St. Joe's in the epic battle at the Palestra Saturday.

Add to that some excellent passing skills (2.4 assists per game), great court vision, excellent awareness, strong defense (1.6 blocks per game) and a high field goal percentage (51.6 percent this season, 55.3 percent for his career), and you have more than just a banger who hauls in rebounds at an alarming rate. Allen has incredible basketball smarts, rarely making mistakes. Sometimes he can coast through games here and there, but lately, he's been putting that habit to rest. He's beginning to take over, and he's become not just a good rebounder on a good team — he's become an elite rebounder on a team that is certain to make some noise come March.

Temple is no joke, and LaVoy Allen — the best rebounder you never hear of — is a big reason why.

BallHype: hype it up!

You Wouldn't Like the Canadians When They're Angry

The Canadians are angry. Angry that they looked sluggish against Norway. Angry that they needed a shootout to beat Switzerland. And most of all, angry that they lost to the United States. In their own country. Playing their sport.

Now Canada is playing angry. It was the Canadians who were supposed to be the No. 1 seed, supposed to secure their place in the quarterfinals in the round robin. Instead, they were forced to play an extra game to earn a quarterfinal bid, and that made them angry. So they came out and blitzed a completely overmatched Germany team 8-2. As a reward, they were forced to take on the team many considered the second most talented behind the Canadians — Russia, with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kavalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Gonchar and a whole slew of former and current NHLers.

This also made them angry. Angry that they had to face such stiff competition so early on. Angry that people dared to question whether or not the Russians were just as good, some cases even better than Canada. So they came out angry, starting with a great, physical shift by Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash, who were brilliant as a line all night, and went from there. A Ryan Getzlaf goal here (assisted by Chris Pronger, by the way), Dan Boyle power play tally there and a Rick Nash breakaway goal started by a great breakout pass by Richards to Toews, who hit Nash right in stride, and Canada was up 3-0 before you could blink.

At that moment, I proclaimed that this one was over. My roommates scoffed at the notion, saying with all the firepower the Russians had, no lead was safe. I told them, believe me, that with Roberto Luongo in net, with the Canadians absolutely dominating, that this one was over. I was 100 percent sure of it. Then the Russians answered with a goal, had some really nice shifts, and my roommates seemed vindicated … until Brenden Morrow scored again for Canada before the first period was through: 4-1 Canada just 20 minutes in. Game, set, match.

It was all Canada all the time from there. You could just sense that they knew they were taking this Olympics for granted, almost as if it was their god-given right to win gold in their home country. It's not quite that simple. Not with NHLers spanning the globe, not just Canada. But last night, you could just see that the Canadians sense that now. They know now the work they have to do, and with this all-star roster, their potential is limitless. It took a loss at the hands of the U.S. for them to realize, but they now realize it.

Mike Babcock found out the hard way that you can't keep juggling lines, can't keep only sending out the Crosbys and Thorntons. You can't rely on an aging veteran in net, even if he still has it, when there is clearly a more talented netminder. Last night, Babcock coached the game like an NHL game, not an all-star exhibition. He rolled four lines, put his best defensive lines out against Ovechkin — which just happened to be led by Philadelphia's Mike Richards, along with Nash and Toews. He gave everyone their ice time, and the Canadians were just too much for the Russians to handle.

Canada blitzed Ovechkin and company from the start, throwing their weight around, grinding it out and winning every battle. Russia looked as though it was content to just wait for odd man rush opportunities, and defense didn't interest them in the slightest. There was no aggression, no fight, no intensity coming from the Russian side, unless you count a couple big hits and dirty plays. No, Canada was the aggressor, the intimidator, the dominator.

Anaheim Ducks teammates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were incredible. Getzlaf got things started with his goal, added two beautiful assists and in my opinion, was the best player who took the ice last night. He was truly awesome, doing everything you'd expect: using his big body to get to the net and hitting anything that moves, making plays, and controlling the play. And his Anaheim teammate scored twice himself, making up somewhat for his lackadaisical effort going back for a puck that allowed Ryan Kessler to beat him to it and score his remarkable diving empty-net goal.

Dan Boyle had a three-point night, scoring a power play goal and adding two assists. Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith continued to be the most dynamic defense pair. Pronger and Scott Niedermayer looked anything but old. And Richards-Toews-Nash completely shut down Ovechkin and company, having their most impressive game for sure.

Oddly enough, it was the Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla duo that had the quietest night, though Crosby was quietly awesome, winning puck battles, winning faceoffs, exploding up the ice and even throwing some nice body checks. Basically, the Canadians put it all together. They harnessed all their talent and directed all their anger toward the Russians, and they came out with a dominant 7-3 win, chasing Evgeni Nabokov, who was just dreadful, and taking advantage of the Russian "defense."

The last two games, the Canadians looked nearly unbeatable. That's why I still think they'll win it all, round robin struggles be damned. Tomorrow, they take on Slovakia, a team with considerably less talent. If they win, which it's hard to believe they won't, they'll take on either Finland or the U.S. And the way they're rolling, I don't expect either one to stop them. Not on their home ice. Not after a loss at the hands of their brethren to the south. Not with their entire nation cheering them on.

However, the U.S. and even Finland have something that no other teams in this tournament besides Canada have: dominant goaltenders. The Fins have Miikka Kiprusoff, the tremendous goalie for the Calgary Flames (not to mention the most underrated defenseman in all the land, Philadelphia's own Kimmo Timonen). He stopped 31 shots in Finland's 2-0 victory over the Czechs, shutting out the likes of Tomas Pleknaec, Patrik Elias and Jaromir Jagr. We've all seen him carry the Flames before, so it's no stretch to see him stand on his head yet again. And the U.S. has Ryan Miller, and no goaltender on the planet is playing any better than Ryan Miller has this season and is in these Olympics.

He was brilliant against the Canadians the first time around. He stopped all 19 shots he faced yesterday to help the U.S. advance. And he's been locked in all season long. With the way Canada has come roaring out of the gates in this medal round, a hot goaltender may be the only think that can stop them. Though I wouldn't bet on it. The Canadians have a damn good goaltender of their own. And they're angry. You wouldn't like to face the Canadians when they're angry. Just ask Germany and Russia.

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It was a Great Ride Down West 36

Yesterday marked a sad day in Philadelphia Eagles history. One of the most versatile backs the NFL has ever seen was let go by the only franchise he has known. Brian Westbrook is no longer a Philadelphia Eagle. That just doesn't sound right.

Eight seasons of the pounding NFL running backs take finally caught up to him. After several seasons of knee and ankle troubles, this past season everything finally came to a head. The explosive, dynamic, game-changing back — who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2007, who racked up two 1,200+ rushing seasons, who could block, catch, run outside, run inside, who caused opposing defensive coordinators and linebackers nightmares, who carried the burden of being the best receiver on the team the first half of his career, who became beloved in this city — was no more. A bum ankle, a swelling knee and two concussions took away the Brian Westbrook we all knew and loved, the Brian Westbrook the Eagles relied on as their offense. Add that up with being on the wrong side of 30 and making more than $7 million, and the Eagles pretty much had no choice. The Brian Westbrook era had come to an end.

The departure of Westbrook is just more proof that the end of an era is drawing near. In the past decade, the Eagles and the Andy Reid era have been identified by three players more than any others: Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb. Now, two of them are gone, and the rumors have been whirling that McNabb is next. While some people understandably welcome the impending change, I can't help but feel a little sad. After all, that trio had more success together than any trio of my lifetime. Sure, they only reached the Super Bowl once and never won it, but every year, with those three in the fold, it felt like the Eagles had a chance.

Now the pieces are falling. Dawkins was the first to go … and for the first time during the Lurie/Reid/Banner tenure, it proved to be a mistake. The 2009 Eagles sorely missed Dawkins, while the Broncos improved drastically — at least in the first half of the season — defensively with B-Dawk roaming the secondary. The Eagles never settled on his replacement, and the safety position struggled all year long.

It's hard to fault the Eagles for letting Westbrook go, however. The past two seasons, he simply hasn't been the same. And the concussions are definitely cause for concern. But something about it still doesn't feel right. That doesn't make it wrong, necessarily. But it certainly is odd knowing Westbrook will no longer be in Philadelphia. He's been here so long. Hell, he went to college at Villanova. He's been in the area since he was a teenager. And now he's gone, just like that. For so long, Brian Westbrook was synonymous with the Philadelphia Eagles — the same way Dawkins was, the same way Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb are. Now he's just another run-down back looking for a job.

There will undoubtedly be people who look back on Westbrook's career and see a player who was always at risk for injury. But what I'll remember most, what most Eagles fans will remember most, is that Brian Westbrook was one of the greatest running backs in Eagles history, one of the most complete, explosive backs in the entire NFL. He was a game-changer. He had no weaknesses in his game. None.

He began as a situational back who split time with Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter … and at the same time was one of the most dangerous punt returners in all of football.

His talent shone through so much that he forced his way into a feature back role, size be damned. He carried the rock through the tackles, running hard and strong. If he got to the edge, defenders stood no chance. And if ever there was a back suited for not just the West Coast offense, but an Andy Reid West Coast offense, it was Westbrook. He had the hands of a wide receiver, catching anything McNabb tossed his way. There wasn't a safety or linebacker alive who could cover him, and that created more matchup problems than opposing defenses could handle. Even in the years where the Eagles had no threat at receiver, they were nearly impossible to stop —  mainly because of Westbrook. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a more devastating pass blocker at the tailback position. Despite his small frame, Brian Westbrook laid blitzing linebackers out, always making the proper read to keep his quarterback clean and buy him that extra time.

He was as complete of a back as they come. For two years (2006-07), he was as good as any back in the league —  Marshall Faulk 2.0. He gained over 600 yards receiving four straight seasons, setting up his blockers on screens better than anyone the NFL has ever seen. He's second only to Wilbert Montgomery in rushing yards in team history and third behind Steve Van Buren and Wilbert in rushing touchdowns. Amazingly, he's also third in receptions behind Harold Carmichael and Pete Retzlaff, with 426. He is, without question, one of the greatest Eagles to ever play.

Beyond that, he was a guy you never heard anyone utter a bad word about. His teammates loved him. Opponents respected him. And the city of Philadelphia embraced him. Things just won't be the same without Westbrook out there. Both the Eagles and the fans will miss him. I know I will.

Thanks for the memories, Brian.

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Westbrook Released

That's the word, anyway. Brian Westbrook has gone the way of LaDanian Tomlinson, getting cut by the only team he's known as injuries and age have slowed him down after a brilliant career.

Here are some of the Villanova grad's biggest moments, courtesy of Enrico:

More on Westbrook tomorrow.

BallHype: hype it up!

My Favorite Tag Teams

So I'm reading this post by Kenny and the wheels start rolling in my head. I vehemently disagree with his egregious omission of the Ultimate Warrior and wanted to do some sort of list of my own. But there are so many damn individual wrestlers to choose from that it would be damn near impossible. But tag teams are a different story. There aren't as many true, good tag teams over the years. So I figured, why not give you my 15 favorites.

1. Legion of Doom/Road Warriors: Hawk and Animal.

Hawk and Animal are the epitome of a tag team and without question the standard when it comes to a duo. They had it all: toughness, style, longevity and the most awesome attire. Spikes on shoulder pads? Fuck and yes. There's nothing I loved hearing more as a kid than, "WWWWWHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAATTTTTT A RUUUSSSSSSSHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!"

2. Rob Van Dam and Sabu.

If you wanted to watch the most entertaining tag team of all time, this was it. The Whole F'n Show and the craziest motherfucker alive flew through the air, put their bodies in harm's way and hated each other the entire time … and they completely dominated ECW.

3. The Gangstas. New Jack and Mustafa Saed.

New Jack is the single most insane wrestler in the history of professional wrestling, doing his damnedest to find the highest thing in the arena to jump off of. He and Mustafa Saed often entered the ring with a shopping cart or trash can full of goodies to beat the living hell out of everyone with. Truly awesome.

4. The Public Enemy: Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge.

Basically, the fat, white version of the Gangstas.

5. The Dudley Boyz: Buh-Buh Ray and D-Von.

Made a name for themselves in ECW by taking on any and all comers, including the Gangstas, Public Enemy and anyone else. Went on to the WWF/WWE and I lost interest. Bad ass back in the day though.

6. The Hart Foundation: Bret the Hitman Hart and Jim the Anvil Neidhart

The best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be perfected his figure 4 and became a superstar along Anvil and his fantastic beard. Managed by Jimmy Hart, this tag team was as good as any that ever existed, taking the mantle from the Road Warriors/Legion of Doom until Bret went solo.

7. The Bushwackers: Luke Williams and Butch Miller

The Bushwackers were goofy and silly and as a kid, I absolutely loved them.

8. Harlem Heat: Stevie Ray and Booker T

Booker T and Stevie Ray were frightening. The size and athleticism of these two were things to marvel, and made WCW bearable watch.

9. The Rockers: Marty Jennetty and Shawn Michaels.

Before Shawn Michaels was making sweet chin music all his own, he was part of one the most dynamic duos in the history of wrestling. No one perfected the top-rope acrobatics better than the Rockers.

Of course, their most famous moment was when Shawn Michaels gave Jennetty the chin music on the Barbershop, breaking up the most famous tag team at the time.

10. The British Bulldogs: Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid.

Before Davey Boy Smith went on his own and became the British Bulldog, donning ridiculous braids, he was simply a British Bulldog … a damn fine tag team. I'll never forget the Bulldogs taking on the Hart Foundation in an epic match.

11. The New Age Outlaws: Road Dogg Jesse James and Badd Ass Billy Gunn

The New Age Outlaws were quite possibly the worst actual wrestlers ever, but they easily had the best introduction of all time, and the alliance of Degeneration X with Shawn Michaels, Triple H and X-Pac (formerly the 1-2-3 Kid) was a great time.

12. Money, Inc.: Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and I.R.S.

The Million Dollar Man was of course an icon, and when he teamed with I.R.S. to form the most hated team in the sport, it was pure genius.

13. The Nasty Boys: Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags.

Their name described them perfectly, dressing like slobs, blowing snot rockets, the whole nine yards. Iconic.

14. The Steiner Brothers: Rick and Scott Steiner.

Before Scott Steiner (allegedly) took the steroids to a whole new level and teamed with Buff Bagwell (what an awful name), he teamed with his brother as one of the most technically sound, well-respected tag teams ever. Rick Steiner was a true wrestler through and through, wearing head gear and all.

15. Ultimate Maniacs: Ultimate Warrior and Macho Man Randy Savage.

This hardly counts because when you think of Macho Man Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior, you think solo wrestlers, not tag team wrestlers. But for a brief time, these two legends united to form the Ultimate Maniacs, and believe me, had they been together for a long time, they'd be way higher on this list. It just felt wrong to rank them any higher considering they weren't really a tag team very long.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Strange Things Happen at the Palestra

Temple walked into Saturday's game at the Palestra with the No. 21 ranking, a 21-5 record overall and a 9-2 conference record. St. Joe's entered the hallowed ground on the campus of Penn with a less impressive résumé to say the least, sitting at 9-17 overall and a paltry 3-9 in A-10 play.

On paper, this should have been no contest. The Owls were a half game out of the lead in the A-10, had already beaten the titan of the Big 5 with their victory over Villanova and were set up to take the reigns in the conference. St. Joe's had played horrendous basketball all season long, getting blown out by superior competition all year, including a 73-46 loss on Jan. 6 to this same Temple squad. But you know, funny things happen at the Palestra.

All game long, St. Joe's was hanging around and hanging around, and with about 8 minutes remaining, I was beginning to fume. Temple was going to lose to a horrendous St. Joe's team. I was sure of it. Garrett Williamson was playing the best basketball game of his life, doing it all on both ends of the floor. Darrin Govens was bombing away. And freshman Carl Jones was showing no fear. The Hawks had all the swagger, while Temple looked out of sorts.

Ryan Brooks was dreadful. Juan Fernandez continued to struggle with his shot since returning from his concussion. And the Hawks were swarming LaVoy Allen every time he touched the ball, though he still managed a beastly 16 and 10 on 7-8 shooting. All I can say is thank god for Ramone Moore, who was by far the player of the game for the Owls, scoring 24 points and grabbing 9 boards … and oh yeah, saved them from embarrassment with his end-to-end layup to tie the game with just over a second left.

To be perfectly frank, St. Joe's just played harder than Temple most of that game. You could see it in the Hawks' eyes. They wanted this one so badly. This team had struggled so much this year. They aren't going to the NCAA Tournament. They aren't going to the NIT. They aren't going anywhere. But a victory against a city rival, an A-10 rival, a Big 5 rival in the holiest of basketball arenas would salvage something of this lost season. This was especially important to seniors Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson. You could just see it. Govens scored a team-high 21 points, hitting four threes, and nabbed six boards and three steals. Williamson was arguably the best player on the court Saturday, scoring 20 points on 6-15 shooting, nabbing 5 boards, dishing 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks, not to mention playing great defense on Brooks, Fernandez and anyone else he guarded. And in a wild finish, Williamson made that aggressive drive to the hoop, making a difficult shot to put his Hawks up two with just 5 seconds remaining. He gave every ounce of his being, and it looked as though it had paid off.

But then Ramone Moore took it coast-to-coast, tied the game, and Temple imposed its will on an inferior St. Joe's team in overtime, escaping with a 75-67 victory that perhaps they didn't deserve. And as happy as I was for Temple, I almost felt bad for St. Joe's, and especially Williamson. The Hawks scratched and clawed their way, taking it right to Temple. They were the aggressors. And Williamson did all he could to go out against Temple with a victory. By the time OT rolled around, he was just spent. He had nothing left. Neither did the Hawks. They did all they could, but it just wasn't enough. It's been that type of year for Phil Martelli's bunch.

While it was certainly a scare for Temple, they just kept on trucking along, marching straight to the top of the A-10 standings. Ryan Brooks had his worst game of the year, yet he still made some key plays down the stretch. Fernandez struggled with his shot, but he still scored 13 points. LaVoy Allen continued to quietly be awesome, doing just about everything right, from owning the boards to scoring inside to making tremendous passes. And most of all, Ramone Moore continued to blossom, taking over as Temple's lead player Saturday, something he's been making a habit of lately. It's beginning to look as though Temple just may be a force to be reckoned with come tourney time.

While the Owls got a scare at the Palestra, Villanova simply didn't have enough out in Pittsburgh yesterday. Corey Fisher picked up two early fouls, Scottie Reynolds struggled early on and the Panthers destroyed the Wildcats on the offensive glass. Ashton Gibbs and Garrett Brown outplayed all of Villanova's guards combined, as it was just one of those days for Nova. As an undersized unit, Nova struggled with Pitt's size and was in foul trouble all game long. And Pitt took advantage, getting to the line more than twice as much Nova (34-16). And that was the biggest difference in the game. Pitt made 26 of 34 free throws, while the Wildcats, typically a tremendous foul-shooting team, went just 11-16.

Sooner or later, you had to figure Nova's tough end-of-season Big East schedule would catch up to them, and it has. For the first time all season, Nova has dropped two games in a row, losing to an underachieving UConn squad and then getting beaten up a little bit by a big, physical Pitt team out in shitty side of the state. And things don't get any easier for Nova, who takes on a solid South Florida team Wednesday, then finishes up with a lethal schedule: at Syracuse, at Cincy, home for West Virginia. The Wildcats certainly have their work cut out for them to try and grab a No. 1 seed, whether we're talking about the NCAA tournament or Big East tournament. Who knows, by the time the conference tournaments roll around, Nova may not even be the highest-ranked team in the Philly area. After all, Temple already topped Nova and has only Dayton left as a real test.

The college basketball was all well and good, but I was most excited to watch the USA take on Canada last night in hockey. Now let me tell you something, if you aren't watching the Olympic hockey taking place right now, do yourself a favor and start. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday night, I watched every second of the Canada-Switzerland game and the Russia-Slovakia game. Both were awesome. Both went to overtime. Both went into a shootout. And both had the excitement of a playoff game … and we're not even in the medal round yet.

Last night was more of the same, as the U.S. stunned Canada in their homeland 5-3, thanks in large part to Brian Rafalski, Ryan Kessler and Ryan Miller.

Rafalski wasn't just the star for the U.S., he was easily the most outstanding player on either team, scoring two goals against his former teammate Martin Brodeur and adding an assist. He opened the scoring and then put the U.S. up 2-1 after Canada answered. Then he accounted for the game-winner, ripping another low laser shot from the point that went off Jamie Langenbrunner's skate and in. He was simply awesome last night. Glad he's not in Jersey anymore.

Watching that game, it was evident that Canada was the better team. The Canadians were dominating the game, outshooting the U.S. by a ton, generating loads of sustained pressure, but they just couldn't make the U.S. pay. Ryan Miller was oustanding, stopping every puck he had even a remote chance at stopping, and the U.S., while not getting as much pressure as Canada, got tons of great chances themselves … and made the most of them.

Canada threatened throughout, but the U.S. scrapped its way to the win. The New York Ranger duo of Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan were tremendous on the penalty kill, stifling the Canadian power play. Dustin Brown had an excellent game. Devils Zach Parise and Jamie Langernbrunner generated several good chances, and Patrick Kane utilized his speed successfully all night. And Ryan Kesler, who guaranteed the U.S. would beat Canada, had a really strong game overall, capping things off in style with a truly awesome play, busting his ass down the ice, beating Cory Perry to the loose puck with an all-out dive and batting the puck into the empty net, securing the victory.

It was one of the best empty-net goals I've ever seen. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

It was an exciting sight to watch, a talented but considerably less talented U.S. team going into Vancouver and defeating the loaded Canadians. Should make for an interesting medal round, that's for sure.

As far as the Flyer connection goes, Mike Richards was teamed up with Rick Nash and, gasp!, Sidney Crosby most of the game. No matter what the case, that just doesn't seem right. I prefer seeing them more like this:

That's better.

Anyway … USA! USA! USA! Suck on that, Canada.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why I'm Rooting for the Cavs

Let's face it, the Sixers aren't going to contend for a title anytime soon, especially this year, so there has to be some team to root for once the Sixers' season comes to a merciful end.

Earlier, I discussed my belief that the Cavs will win it all after acquiring Antawn Jamison via trade. Whether or not they do, I'll be rooting for them. Not so much because I want to see LeBron get his, but more because Cleveland employs four of my favorite college basketball players ever. I'd really love to see these guys hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy with King James.

Antawn Jamison

Antawn wasn't just on one of my favorite college basketball teams of all time, he was its best player … and the best player in the country, winning the Naismith as the National Player of the Year. The 1997-98 Tar Heels were the single most visually appealing college basketball team I can remember watching. Vince Carter throwing down insane dunks. Ed Cota running the show. Brendan Haywood banging inside. Shammond Williams creating offense. Ademola Oklaja D-ing it up. Makhtar Ndiaye hitting the glass. And Jamison was the one who made it all go.

He had, without question, the quickest release I've ever witnessed in college basketball. When he got the ball down low, there wasn't anything anyone could do about it. Before the pass was even in his hands for a full second, it was up on the rim and most of the time in. It was impossible to block, because there wasn't a defender alive who could jump quick enough to get to it. The ball was out of his hands before the defender even knew he had it in the first place.

As Arkansas Fred told me today, "I still love Antawn the most."

I'd love to see him do what he couldn't do in college, win the whole damn thing. Now he has his best chance.

Delonte West

No matter what crazy things Delonte does, he will always hold a place in my heart as part of one of the greatest backcourts in college basketball history. And it happened at St. Joe's of all places, a small Philadelphia school not exactly known as a national power. That is, until Delonte traveled up 95 from Baltimore to team up with Chester product Jameer Nelson.

We all know about that team, what it accomplished with an undefeated regular season, No. 1 ranking, No. 1 seed with the National Player of the Year (Jameer), and ultimately the early demise. It was tough to take. But watching West's calm demeanor on the court and supreme confidence radiating from him and Nelson made the rise to prominence seem almost unsurprising. The guy was a quiet assassin, not playing Robin to Nelson's Batman, but playing Superman to Jameer's Batman or vice versa:

About the only thing that makes Jameer Nelson and Delonte West squirm, at this moment, is which moniker to use to refer to their magical on-court pairing. Dynamic Duo? Mantle and Maris? Batman and Robin is a bit ... problematic. "Me and Jameer have a joke about it," West laughs. "OK, if we're going to be Batman and Robin, then who is going to sit in the little cart beside the motorcycle? And I said, 'I ain't!' When the media says it's the Jameer Nelson and Delonte West show at Saint Joseph's, they have it all wrong: It takes five to make two. You can say it's Batman and Robin. Tango and Cash." West takes a long, theatrical pause, "How about ... Jordan and Pippen?" And cracks himself up.

"I think we both have to get a big car," Nelson laughs. "It's a Batman and Superman thing. We're both equals here," adds Nelson.

I ask Martelli what he thinks, and I get an answer that sounds like a Rick Majerus metaphor: "They're like a soft pretzel with mustard. But people wouldn't understand what a Philly soft pretzel is. So they're a Philly Cheesesteak with onions. That's what they are. And the bun has got to be toasted."

Now Delonte has a chance to do what he and Jameer, and Jamison for that matter, couldn't in college. Get to the summit and be the last one standing. With LeBron leading the way and Delonte still playing a quiet assassin role, the outlook is bright.

Jawad Williams

Unlike Jamison and West, Jawad knows what it feels like to be on top. He reached the promised land in 2005 as the senior leader on the North Carolina team that gave Roy Williams his first national championship.

Jawad Williams wasn't the best player on that team. Or the second best. Or even third best. But he was the glue that held the whole thing together. With a talented trio of juniors getting all the (deserved) attention — Sean May, Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton — and a supremely gifted freshman (Marvin Williams) getting a lot of shine, it was Jawad who was the leader. When the Tar Heels needed a big bucket, Williams would be there for them. When they needed a key rebound, Jawad would grab it. When they needed a momentum-changing or exclamation-point capping dunk, Williams was there to provide it. He hustled. He dove on the floor. He led by example, showing the immature guys how to handle themselves. Taking a cue from Jawad, McCants became less moody, May became more determined and Felton, well, he just kept on doing what he had been doing all along.

Certainly, the change from the terrifyingly awful coaching of Matt Doherty to Roy Williams was no doubt the catalyst to the title, but it would have never happened without Jawad. Take him off that squad, and they may not have even made it to the Final Four, let alone been able to handle an Illinois team led by Deron Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head and James Augustine. He may not get a ton of run for the Cavs, but he's certainly a guy that can help you when called upon.

Danny Green

As I've stated multiple times before, Danny Green was my favorite player the past four years at North Carolina. He was another one of those do-it-all guys, with his signature plays being the three, the dunk and the block. He was the ultimate momentum-swinging moment guy, doing it with a deep three, a big dunk or an awesome block.

With UNC's struggles this season, many announcers reference the fact that the Tar Heels lost so much talent, namely Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. Rarely do they mention Danny Green. Every time they do this, forgetting about Green, it drives me nuts, because without Danny Green, the Tar Heels don't win that national championship last season. No, they wouldn't have won it if they lost any of those other guys either, and all three were definitely better than Green — Lawson was the best, Hansbrough next, Ellington third and then Green — but he was the guy that always seemed to do whatever Roy Williams needed him to do. Sacrifice shots and defend? Check. Score? Check. Attack the glass? Check. He was the ultimate team guy, and he was definitely my favorite player on that squad.

In Cleveland, he's buried on the bench. But he's definitely a guy that will contribute in the NBA down the line.

And just for the hell of it, here's a video about Vince, Stack, Sheed and Antawn at UNC:

BallHype: hype it up!


Oh Ed Stefanski, you sly fox. First, you made it appear as though the Sixers weren't going to make any moves. Then you go out and blow everyone's doors off with this franchise-altering blockbuster:

The Milwaukee Bucks have agreed to a trade that will send Jodie Meeks and Francisco Elson to the Philadelphia 76ers for Primoz Brezec, Royal Ivey and a second-round draft pick, two league sources told NBA Insider Chad Ford.

Holy shit! Stop the presses! Championship here we come! Ugh.

Now I'm not saying this isn't a fine deal for the Sixers. In fact, I think it's clearly a move that favors the Sixers. But man, this franchise needs an overhaul. That's not an opinion. That's a fact. Stefanski has completely and utterly crippled this team by signing Andre Iguodala to a way too expensive contract while also signing a washed-up, injured "power forward" who never once made any of his NBA teams better … and played at Duke. For $80 million. Over five seasons.

Call me crazy, but I don't think Jodie Meeks and Francisco Elson can even begin to help fix that. Though, you know, unloading Samuel Dalembert's contract and, yes, even moving Iguodala may have been a start.

But hey, Jodie Meeks! He scored a ton of points in college once!

On a seriously bright note, perhaps this means less playing time for Willie Green, which would be awesome. Also, I do kinda like Meeks.

Maybe he can be the new end-of-game shot guy too. Because we all know this team desperately needs one.


BallHype: hype it up!

Kingdom Come

As I'm sure you've all heard by now, LeBron got his sunning mate, as the Cavaliers completed a three-team trade with the Wizards and Clippers, landing Antawn Jamison at the low price of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and a first-round pick.

Ladies and gentlemen, this just might be the move that allows King James to finally take his throne. It most assuredly pushes the Cavs way ahead of anyone else in the Eastern Conference, and on paper, only the Lakers now provide as much depth and talent. Just take a look at these rosters side by side:

Cleveland: LeBron, Jamison, Shaq, Delonte West, Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson, Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson, Jamario Moon, Leon Powe

Los Angeles: Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, D.J. Mbenga, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton

There are at least 11 quality players on each roster, arguably more. There aren't many (any?) other teams that can say that. Both have three all-stars/former all-stars. Both have great depth and players who contribute in every facet. And both are locked in on a collision course to the Finals.

Now with Cleveland making this move for Jamison, I have to believe David Stern will finally get the Finals match-up he's wanted for a while now: LeBron vs. Kobe.

And if it happens, I think James will officially earn his title as King. The Lakers are aging, Kobe is ailing and now the Cavs aren't a one-man show. Far from it. One simple addition has transformed this team of LeBron and company to perhaps the most complete roster in the NBA. They have their alpha dog, King James, who has risen to the top of the NBA, a player who can do literally anything and everything … and does. But now he won't have to do it all quite as much.

Jamison provides that second reliable scorer, another go-to guy with an array of post moves and range all the way out to the three-point line. He's not a great defender, but he's not an awful one either. And he's a very good rebounder as well. Shaq provides the veteran savvy and at times can still be a force in bursts. A man that big is just too tough to contain all the time. Plus, he provides solid defense against a guy like Bynum or even Gasol, even in his slower, fatter advanced state.

Delonte West gives Cleveland a do-everything guard, someone who's not great at any one thing but is very good at just about everything. He can handle the ball, shoot the three, dish the rock, play D and get in the lane. Basically anything you need, Delonte will give it you. Mo Williams, who was so good last year as the No. 2 that he became an all-star, will return soon from injury and will be eased back in. No longer will he be relied upon as the second scorer, allowing him to do what he does best: knock down deadly threes. With James and Jamison on the floor, you better believe he'll be getting the best open looks of his life.

Anderson Varajao and J.J. Hickson provide perhaps the best power forward/small forward bench combo in the league. Varajao does all the little things, snatching rebounds at absurd rates, playing tenacious low-post defense, taking charges, getting second chances … all the hustle plays you want. And Hickson has shown tremendous potential, getting better and better as the season wears on, giving the second unit an athletic young forward to run with.

Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson add two more lethal long-range shooters. Jamario Moon is a standout defender and athletic freak. And Leon Powe, who is also expected to be back soon, adds yet another banger on the front line. There isn't another team on the planet that can boast a front court that is as deep, with Jamison, Shaq, Varajao, Hickson and Powe, not even mentioning LeBron himself.

When you add up all those pieces, I just don't see how the Cavs can be beaten. They've been nearly unbeatable already, and that was without Jamison, largely without Williams and without Powe. Add them to the mix, and how do you defend them? They have everything you can really ask for, especially when the best player in the world is running the show.

Taking into consideration just how good Cleveland is defensively too, and I don't think even the Lakers can stop them. It's LeBron's time. It just is.

The Cavs have the bodies down low to bang with the Lakers and even potentially get Gasol and Bynum in foul trouble. The West/Williams/Parker trio is superior to the Fisher/Farmar/Brown trio in my eyes. And Ron-Ron, for as great as he is defensively, can't stop LeBron. Not that Kobe can be stopped either, but I think the Cavs can make Kobe work harder than Los Angeles can make LeBron work. Cleveland can throw West/Moon/Parker/even LeBron at Kobe, giving him different defenders and different looks. It probably won't matter most of the time, as Kobe is the best player in the league at making contested shots, but it could wear on him, especially since he relies on his jumper so much. Sure, Artest will make LeBron work harder than usual, certainly getting physical with him, but if he gets in foul trouble or can't keep pace with James, who will? Kobe is too small to guard him. Sasha Vujacic? Please. Lamar Odom? Maybe … for a couple of plays. Luke Walton? D.J. Mbenga? No and no. Just won't happen.

This move wasn't just a token move to appease LeBron. It was a move to put the Cavs over the hump. There won't be another letdown in the conference finals. There won't be another sweep at the hands of San Antonio.

The arrival of Jamison didn't just ship in a talented all-star caliber player to run alongside LeBron. It just may have shipped in a championship. We'll find out in a few months … and my guess is, we'll be hoisting King James up on this throne, officially crowning him ruler of the NBA kingdom.

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Richards, Pronger and Cats Beat Dogs

First, there were reports that Richards would center Jarome Iginla and Jonathan Toews. Then, he was supposedly a healthy scratch, which is just ludicrous when you consider he's one of the best two-way centers in the world. But when it was all said and done, Richards was in the lineup for Canada's first game against Norway, centering Toews and Patrice Bergeron for most of the game. Oh, and he scored a goal in the 7-0 victory.

Let's face the facts … Canada has a loaded squad. Absolutely loaded. So just being on the roster is an honor, even if you become a healthy scratch. But under no circumstance should Richards even remotely be considered as a healthy scratch. Not with everything he brings to the table: scoring, defense, hitting, backchecking, power play scoring, penalty killing. Certainly there are more skilled scorers up and down the lineup: Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf, Dany Heatley, Eric Staal. But Richards is, without question, a more complete player than Nash and Heatley, and he's flat out better than Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow, Corey Perry and Patrice Bergeron when you take in all-around game, and maybe better than Toews as well.

Healthy scratching him would just be dumb. It really would. In fact, he may be the single best penalty killer as far as forwards go on the entire roster. So no way he should be anywhere near the healthy scratch list.

Fellow Flyers Chris Pronger, as the second oldest player on the team (behind Scott Niedermayer), also took the ice and saw considerable time, notching an assist on a rocket shot from the point that Heatley deflected in. All in all, a very nice showing by the Flyers in Canada's first game, though to be fair, it was a nice showing by the entire Canadian team. They did win 7-0 after all. Wake me up when they take on a real opponent.

Speaking of real opponents, No. 2 Kentucky certainly faced one in the form of Mississippi State last night. Even without their leading scorer Ravern Johnson, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, even with their best big man and best NBA prospect/shot-blocking machine Jarvis Varnado saddled with foul trouble all night long, and even with shooting just 38.6 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three, the Bulldogs gave the Wildcats everything they could handle, sticking with them from start to finish to force overtime, ultimately losing 81-75.

Mississippi St. got 16 points from Barry Stewart and 17 points from Kodi Augustus, but it was point guard Dee Bost that really gave the Bulldogs the chance at the upset. A player that John Wall had faced in their high school days, the freshman phenom knew he was in for a tough night against the speedy Bost. Wall said he knew Bost was really fast and really good. He proved to be right, as Bost almost singlehandedly willed Miss. St. to the win, scoring 22 points, nabbing 5 boards, and swiping two steals. But he went just 2-10 from the three-point line, which proved costly.

If you don't take advantage of every opportunity against this young, talented Kentucky squad, you're in trouble. And the Bulldogs simply didn't capitalize enough. They missed five free throws, but more importantly, they missed 25 threes last night, finishing just 10-35. And they missed several open shots. Though Kentucky hardly made it easy.

Defensively, the Cats were all over the place, evidenced by their 12 blocks and 5 steals. They made Mississippi State work for every point it got, knowing full well the Bulldogs were without their leading scorer. And in the end, it was the three-headed monster that made the difference.

DeMarcus Cousins continued to roll along as the best big man in America, abusing Varnado to the point of getting him in foul trouble, finishing with 19 points and 14 rebounds, especially taking over on the glass in the final minutes of regulation and the duration of overtime.

Patrick Patterson, the elder statesman of the starters, joined the party with a double-double himself, scoring 19 points, grabbing 10 boards, blocking three shots, adding a steal, going 4-4 from the line and finishing with a nearly identical shooting performance as Cousins, going 7-12 from the field, compared to Cousins' 7-11. And John Wall made it three double-doubles for the Kentucky, scoring 19 points himself to go along with 10 rebounds, finishing just two assists short of a triple-double.

Oh, and when Kentucky really needed him, Wall made all the big plays, even though his shot wasn't falling. Going just 6-16 from the field and failing to knock down his jumper, Wall instead hit clutch free throws, found teammates with beautiful passes and came up with two huge blocks that helped swing momentum and the game. Even when he struggles, he makes a difference.

It's just not fair that two freshman, Wall and Cousins, could arguably be the best two players in the country, or at least the best player in the nation at their respective position. It's a young squad and a beatable squad, but it's also one of the most talented. The Wildcats are scary good.

And the Sixers are scary bad. They lost to the Heat 105-78. They shot just 37.9 percent from the field, 8.3 percent from three (1-12) and 64.7 percent from the line. Conversely, Miami shot 51.2 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from three and 80 percent from the line. Essentially, the Sixers played no defense and no offense. Awesome. And Andre Iguodala really inspired fans to put those trade rumors to rest with 11 points on 5-12 shooting, 0-4 from three and getting to the line for just two free throw attempts. These guys suck.

BallHype: hype it up!