Thursday, February 28, 2013

Get ready for March Madness

If you can't wait for March Madness and need your fill, a recently released book and upcoming 30 for 30 could do the trick.

The book is "The Perfect Game: How Villanova's Shocking 1985 Upset of Mighty Georgetown Changed the Landscape of College Hoops Forever." The author Frank Fitzpatrick was courtside for the Wildcats' win and takes the reader inside the shocking upset.

ESPN will debut its 30 for 30 documentary about North Carolina State's improbable 1983 national championship season on March 17. The film "Survive and Advance" will be shown after ESPN's NCAA tournament show.

- Mark Podolski | @mpodo

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Picking the all-district girls and boys basketball teams is an endeavor

For the past few days, I've been busy collecting information from coaches for our annual all-district meeting which is held at The News-Herald every year.
The meeting is intense and a lot of work.
For starters,  it's my job to collect the names of the top players on all of the respective teams in our area. I also need to know their stats, how many points they average per game, how many rebounds per game and more. To top it off, I need everyone's height, year and any extra information that may be helpful.
I've lost count of how many e-mails I've sent back and forth to coaches and how many calls I've made to collect information. I will say, the coaches in our area do a great job of getting back to me. Without their information, I would not be able to push for their athletes to be recognized.
The day of the meeting, I try to be as prepared as possible because it helps the process go smoother. I list my top choices for first, second and third team in the order I feel they should be considered. I also add all of the honorable mention kids I think should be recognized.
Then we sit down with representatives from The Plain Dealer, The Elyria Chronicle and The Ashtabula Star Beacon and discuss who we think should be honored on what team.
It's a give and take really.
It's very important to not only offer your opinion, but to listen to what the other writers have to say so that we can get the most comprehensive list possible.
In the end, we have a completed list of first, second team, third teams and honorable mention selections.
It's gratifying when all of the hard work comes together like it has. It makes my job very worthwhile.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Olympic dream will have to live on elsewhere

Last year, I wrote a column that in some circles was probably met with a spit take, but it seemed like an idea worth mentioning. Cleveland making a bid to host the Summer Olympics - why not?

I attempted to lay out a broad argument for the concept, with facilities, a size comparison with cities that have previously hosted the Olympics and the like.

Unfortunately, I've reached the conclusion I was a little too optimistic.

Last week, the United States Olympic Committee sent out a letter to 35 cities, gauging interest in launching a bid for the 2024 Summer Games. While it was pleasing to see how the USOC laid out the realities of the process, it was mildly disappointing to glance at the list of 35.

The 35 candidates consisted of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the country, along with 10 other cities that have shown some semblance of interest. The lone Ohio entry on the list was not Cleveland - it was Columbus.

As a result, the idea of even trying for a bid, which did occur twice in the early 20th century by the way, will not happen any time soon for Northeast Ohio.

Disappointing as it is that the powers-that-be on the North Coast who can make it happen won't even try, I will continue to stand by my argument. It was at least worth a shot.

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Friday, February 22, 2013

Beat the buzzer, wait for the replay

In his Feb. 16 iChart, Jim Ingraham's Weak of the Week complained about the amount of time college basketball referees are spending at the courtside monitor reviewing close plays.

That had me wondering about how some of the most famous buzzer-beaters in history would have been different if the 2012-13 version of official reviews were in place.

Take Lorenzo Charles' dunk that gave North Carolina State the 1983 NCAA championship over Houston.

One of the most famous scenes in tournament history is Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano running around looking for someone to hug after Charles' dunk. If that happened this year, instead of pandemonium, everyone would celebrate for about two seconds before looking up and waiting for the replay on the Jumbotron. It's not the same, is it?

How about Georgia Tech's James Forrest against USC in 1992?

Or Duke's Christian Laettner against Kentucky the same year?

Or Valpo's Bryce Drew against Ole Miss in 1998?

Getting the call correct is important, of course. But the delays to check the clock, to check for potential flagrant fouls or to check if a shooter's foot was on the 3-point line -- combined with over-managed, physical games -- can really suck the wind out of an exciting contest.

- Howard Primer

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Loving "The Karate Kid"

"The Karate Kid" - the film from 1984, not the awful remake with Will Smith's kid from a few years back - was on cable TV on Thursday night. Again.

It has to be setting some record for most times on cable TV the past few months. It's incredible.

Yet, the movie never gets old. On a rewatchability scale, it's close to a 10, but why? I think I've got a few answers.

- Ralph Macchio (Daniel Larusso). There is no way the wimpy and scrawny East coast kid would steamroll his way through the All-Valley Karate Tournament (or whatever it was called), yet he did anyway. It had to be all that waxing on and waxing off.

- The song, "You're The Best Around." Easily one of the songs in a sports movie. Note: It was originally intended for the opening of "Rocky III." Love that.

- The Cobra Kai. No mercy. "Get him a body bag, yeah!!!"

- Martin Kove as Cobra Kai leader John Kreese. Absolutely hilarious. Epic performance.

- Elisabeth Shue as Larusso's squeeze Ali is hot.

- Mr. Miyagi (played by the late Pat Morita) is the man. Another note: He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance.

- Finally, there's Johny Lawrence, played by the one and only William Zabka. God bless William Zabka, who played some of the greatest dirtball yuppy characters of the 1980s. See "Back to School" and "Just One of the Guys."

- Mark Podolski | @MPodo

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lake County Captains are holding National Anthem tryouts

Do you have a good voice?
Are you bold enough to sing in front a large group of people?
Why not consider going to the Lake County Captains National Anthem tryouts?
For over three years, the Captains have been holding tryouts for National Anthem singers at Great Lakes Mall in Mentor on Feb. 23 from 1-3 p.m.
Craig Deas, the Captains' Director of Media Relations, said this event has been a success year after year.
Last year, over twenty individual singers and groups who auditioned  at Great Lakes Mall were asked to perform at Classic Park prior to a Captains game.
If I had a good voice, I would do it just for the experience.
The process sounds like a lot of fun.
Tryouts are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. It will serve as the only live audition prior to the 2013 season.
Individuals and groups are asked to sing a live, a capella version of "The Star Spangled Banner" on a microphone at the mall.
Not everyone who auditions will be asked to sing at a game. Judging will be based on lyrical accuracy, voice quality, presentation, voice projection and overall performance quality.
If you can not attend the tryout, you can still send a CD of MP3 to Drew LaFollette at the Captains offices. He can be reached at (440) 954-9467.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Harlem Shake" takes sports by storm

Unless you've been herding cattle in Mongolia (not that there's anything wrong with that), you're probably aware by now of the YouTube sensation "Harlem Shake."

They're videos lasting about 30 seconds in which one person dances in the first half - usually wearing a helmet, mascot head, etc. - with others going about their business, and then madness ensues when the words "Harlem Shake" kick in on the song.

What does this have to do with sports, you ask?

Apparently, athletes and fans across the country feel the need to give it a shot.

There's Tennessee swimming ...

... and Georgia swimming ...

... and Kansas basketball (love the Bill Self cameo) ...

... and Jeff Gordon (Jeff Gordon?!?) ...

... and Georgia football ...

... and Florida basketball ...

... and, well, you get the point.

As disturbingly catchy as the song is, and while it's great everybody is having a lot of fun with it, I have a feeling the seconds are ticking away on the shelf life here.

But at least everybody's jumping on the bandwagon, including the world of sports.

- Chris Lillstrung | @CLillstrungNH

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ready for more LeBron James talk?

Associated Press photo
Earlier in the week, the topic of LeBron James' potential free agency in 2014 came up in the office, and if he would come back to Cleveland.

My first thought wasn't yes, no or maybe. It was, "Are we really going to have to talk about this for the next 16 months?"

So of course I'm writing a blog about it. It appears we won't be able to avoid it, even if we try.

For example, he was asked about it during NBA All-Star game interviews on Friday. Thankfully, he took the high road and said he's focused his present endeavors.

That won't be the end of it. Wherever you stand, you might as well get used to hearing about it.

If you're angry over James leaving, or the way he left, I hope you get over it soon. It's been almost three years, and it's not as if he moved an entire franchise out of town.

If he chose to return to the Cavaliers -- does anyone really know how realistic that is, by the way? -- they would be adding a Hall of Fame player. Cleveland teams don't get those type of free agents.

-- Howard Primer

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Are there enough 50th birthday SI covers for everyone?

Here's a list of famous athletes/coaches that are 50 or turning 50 in 2013:

- 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh

- Ex-baseball slugger Mark McGwire

- Ex-NBA great Hakeem Olajuwon

- Ex-NBA great Karl Malone

- Ex-NBA great Charles Barkley

When are their Sports Illustrated 50th birthday cover issues scheduled?

Oh, and some guy named Jordan is turning 50 too.

- Mark Podolski | @MPodo

Saturday, February 9, 2013

I'm optimistic... again

I should know better.

The Indians open spring training on Sunday with the reporting of pitchers and catchers - and I've got a good feeling about this year's team.

How's that for a group of words that have been uttered every year by any fan of Cleveland sports?

But this year, I think the optimism is legit.


Try these reasons on for size:

-- The Indians should be able to score some runs this year. With the addition of outfielders Nick Swisher and Drew Stubbs, first baseman Mark Reynolds and utility man Mike Aviles, the Indians finally have some run-producers. Sure, there will be a ton of strikeouts included with that group (well, at least anyone not named 'Mike Aviles), but the additions can all knock the ball out of the park. That's something the Indians haven't had in a while.

-- The starting pitching can't be that bad again. (Can it?) Justin Masterson isn't going to repeat last year' (11-15, 4.93) and neither is Ubaldo Jiminez (9-17, 5.40). Why? First off, because they're better than that. Secondly, the addition of some offensive threats means they won't feel like they have to be perfect every night. Last season, giving up a 3-spot meant the game was over. At the very least, the game was in serious jeopardy. That's how bad the Indians offense was. With the new offense, the starting pitchers won't feel they have to be perfect. They can attack the strike zone and pitch to contact. Which brings me to....

-- This is a pretty good defensive team. Michael Brantley in left, Drew Stubbs in center and Nick Swisher in right is an outfield that will track down gap shots and take away a lot of hits that fell when people like Shelley Duncan (OUCH) were patrolling the green pastures last year. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis are above average up the middle in the infield, too.

Add into that the undisputed facts that the Indians' bullpen is one of the best in the game and the leadership  of new manager Terry Francona is refreshing and should make a difference.

Will it be enough for the Indians to go toe-to-toe with the Detroit Tigers for AL Central supremacy? Not a shot. But at least there's a reason for optimism, because this team is much better than last season.

This year is going to be different.

At least until it's time for the fan base to start muttering, "Wait 'til next year."

- John Kampf

Friday, February 8, 2013

Making the case for college basketball

Associated Press
In this week’s Sports Illustrated, every page aside from the regular departments is devoted to the Super Bowl and SI’s “NFL Off-season Preview.”

Going by that indicator, the only thing America is looking for as a post-Super Bowl sports fix is more football.

Even more, one of the usual alternatives this time of year – college basketball – is even less interesting. So says a blog posted from Atlanta, the home of this year’s Final Four, which states the sport “has gone sour.”

The blog is down on college hoops because scoring is low and brand names including North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA are not up to their usual standards. That’s in addition to the usual complaints about one-and-dones and the regular season not meaning anything.

That blog couldn’t be more wrong. Just because a few bluebloods aren’t in the top 10 and there is no slam-dunk No. 1 pick in the draft dominating the ACC doesn’t mean college basketball has “gone sour.”

This season has been great. If you tuned into the Ohio State-Michigan game on Tuesday to help cure a post-NFL hangover, you saw a slice of what’s been happening all winter – great games between evenly matched teams. Michigan held on in OT, 76-74. Two nights later, Illinois upset No. 1 Indiana, 74-72, in a buzzer-beating layup. That’s just the Big Ten.

The Hoosiers’ loss was the fifth straight week the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll has gone down. But that’s not bad, that’s good. Halfway through the conference season, you could put about 20 teams in a hat and pull them out four at a time, and you’d have five good Final Fours.

A similar drawing with the top 10 candidates for national player of the year could be held because there are that many candidates. But this is where college basketball’s perception problems come in.

None of this year’s top players are like Kevin Durant in 2007 or Anthony Davis last year – awesome players bound for NBA greatness. Some will have great careers, but we don’t know which ones yet.

Yes, having more recognizable players would help college basketball. So would more contrast in styles, because it seems like almost every school runs an offense that involves guards dribbling around until someone shoots a 3-pointer. Games have too many timeouts, too.

But instead of worrying about college basketball isn’t or what it doesn’t have, let’s look at what has been happening.

As evidenced by Ohio State-Michigan, Illinois’ win, TCU’s monster upset of Kansas and UCLA’s buzzer-beater in a span of three days, the regular season is pretty darn good. And that was just this week.

What’s more about this season is it’s going to be a wild ride to Selection Sunday on March 17, and a school like Butler doesn’t have to worry about getting screwed over by the BCS. Unlike college football, North Carolina and Kentucky aren't automatically slotted into the tournament if they get a certain amount of wins, like a bowl-game tie-in. The Tar Heels and Wildcats are on the bubble, and if they get in it will be because they earned it.

Did the Illini’s dramatic win over Indiana, coupled with wins over Ohio State, Butler and at Gonzaga punch their ticket to the Big Dance? Who knows, because Illinois is still only 3-7 in the Big Ten (16-8 overall).

The one way to find out is to keep watching. It’s a lot better than the NFL offseason.

- Howard Primer

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Fantasy football: QBs plentiful in 2013

The days of worrying about settling for a so-so fantasy quarterback if you didn't take Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in the first round are over.

Fantasy QBs will be so plentiful in 2013 your first round might be completed with only a few off the board. With the position so deep, the waiting could be the hardest part. Don't worry, fantasy QBs will be overflowing in 2013.

Expect Rodgers to be the No. 1-rated fantasy QB again in '13, but the dropoff from him to the likes of Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan aren't as drastic as one might think. Those QBs can be had most likely in the mid-rounds. There's other top-notch options too.

In The News-Herald's 12-team league, 10 quarterbacks scored at least 300 fantasy points. The scoring system is the same as most: 4 points for a passing TD and 1 point for every 25 yards passing.

The top three from 2012 was no surprise: Brees (370), Rodgers (363) and Brady (355). Not far behind were Cam Newton (347), Robert Griffin III (338), Ryan (331), Manning (326), Tony Romo (308), Adrew Luck (308) and Matthew Stafford (300).

Don't forget about Russell Wilson, who checked in at No. 11 with 291 points, but was one of the top fantasy QBs down the stretch last season. There's also Colin Kaepernick, who scored 180 points in eight starts (22.5 points per game average) for the 49ers. That's 360 points over a 16-game season.

The 2013 season has the potential to be one of the deepest ever for fantasy QBs with at least 12 viable options for outstanding production. It might pay off to wait on your fantasy signal-caller and target a top-flight running back or wide receiver in Round 1. There will plenty of QBs available after that.

- Mark Podolski | @MPodo

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Damon Washington's DI signing ceremony was special

I've been to several Division I signing ceremonies over the years, but I have to say Damon Washington's ceremony this afternoon at Kirtland was one of the most memorable.
His grandparents, Smith and Nancy Owens, were in the library when I arrived a little before 1 p.m. I had never met his grandmother before, but when she saw me, she got out of her chair and gave me a big hug. She was so sweet. I asked his grandfather about his playing days at Chardon High School and we talked about Twitter. We both agreed we were glad Twitter wasn't around when we were young.
Then the announcement came over the P.A. system: "All football players and cheerleaders are invited to the library to watch Damon Washington sign his letter of intent."
Seconds later, the kids started streaming in.
Many of the football players stood behind Washington and his grandparents who were sitting at a large table. The team's 2011 championship trophy was on one side of the table and the 2012 runner-up trophy was on the other side.
It was a very touching sight.
Kirtland football coach Tiger LaVerde said a few words before Washington signed his letter to attend Miami (Ohio).
What a great day for the Kirtland community.
In the past four years, three Hornets have had three players sign Division I scholarships including Anthony Ritossa (Ashland) and Christian Hauber (Air Force).
How are these Division V athletes getting Division I scholarships?
It has something to do with the winning tradition the Hornets have built over the past few years. It has something to do with getting the job done right, putting in the hard work and being humble along the way.
That's what I think of when I think of Hornet football.
Kirtland isn't just a small Division V school no one has heard of. The Hornets are a small school with a big heart making a big impact on the Division I level.
Washington, his coaches, teammates and everyone else involved with the program should be very proud of what they've accomplished.

-Theresa Neuhoff Audia


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Daring to compete with the Super Bowl

As a programming executive, you already know it's a losing proposition - putting sports, or anything for that matter, against the Super Bowl. It's not going to work out well.

For the second year in a row, I was curious to see who dared to put sports programming against the Super Bowl, which obviously will have ratings through the roof Sunday night.

Here's the few and the brave who did between 6:30 and 11 p.m. Sunday:

CBS Sports Network: ICU and NCA All-Star all-girl cheerleading championship
ESPN: World's Strongest Man
ESPN2: La Serie de Caribe baseball (Mexico vs. Dominican Republic)
ESPNU: Women's college gymnastics (Arkansas at Florida)
Fox Soccer: English Premier League (West Brom vs. Tottenham)
Golf Channel: Waste Management Phoenix Open (final round)
NBC Sports Network: Boxing (Tomasz Adamek vs. Steve Cunningham for the IBF North American heavyweight title)

Among the other programming options at 6:30 p.m. Sunday are "Bring It On: All or Nothing" (ABC Family), Real Housewives of Atlanta (Bravo), Kourtney and Kim Take Miami (E!), Rachael vs. Guy Celebrity Cookoff (Food Network), Dancing with the Stars (GSN), Snooki and JWoww (MTV), Saved by the Bell (MTV2) and a Golden Girls marathon (WE TV).

There you have it. If you're one of not so many not watching the Super Bowl, you're covered.

- Chris Lillstrung