Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Jersey Nets: Kiss Those Forty-Three Cent Seats Goodbye

New Jersey Nets tickets went on sale yesterday for their future home in Brooklyn.  The long delayed Barclays Center is scheduled to open in the summer of 2012 and start hosting the Nets that season.  The team is offering  a variety of "All-Access" seating packages which run from $99 (in the lower deck) to $1500 (courtside) per game.  The team's new slogan should be "Come For Vujacic; Stay For A Kardashian."

The Nets are offering the few die-hard season-ticket holders first crack at the 4,000 All-Access premium seats which offer perks like unlimited food and soft drinks, private entrances, concierge service and early access to the arena.

If you are one of those Nets fans, in the witness protection program at Newark's Prudential Center, and are used to snagging a 43-cent ticket on StubHub, fugeddaboudit.  There will be 2,000 tickets priced about $15 at the team's new location, but the chances of snagging a bargain-basement Nets ticket for the newer and trendier Brooklyn locale will be out of the question---no matter how bad the team is.

The flash factor alone will go through the fast-rising roof top.  The Knicks may boast their Big-Three, but the Nets have Jay-Z.  The rap star mogul and a state-of-the-art arena.  That means Beyonce and a slew of celebrities not named Woody, Dustin or Spike.  The curiosity factor will draw new Nets fans in droves, even if the 43-cent tickets will have as much of a chance as a Net victory.

Years of legal haggling and zoning red-tape had turned the 18,000-seat Barclays Center project into a construction quagmire even the woeful Nets front office couldn't get into.  But it was the Nets image which has really gotten stuck in the mud.

New majority owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, and his partner, Jay-Z, took over a team that hadn't contended since 2006-07 season and failed to land a big-name player last year.  Deron Williams is a start.

The Nets watched as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony played footsie with the Nets big aspirations, only to be left at the PATH station.  The Knicks had the hubris to taunt their incoming rivals by placing a billboard of their prized player, Amar'e Stoudemire, staring down at the giant hole at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic--the site of the Nets new home.

The Nets are counting on luring fans, new and old,  by not charging personal-seating licenses. They said the All-Access deals are just as good and will allow purchasers first-shot at buying tickets for other non-Nets events like concerts and boxing matches.

"I think this is the best entertainment buy in all of New York," claims Brett Yormark Nets CEO, "Especially when factoring the ability to see top acts like Madonna before tickets hit the secondary market."

If you are a Nets fan, that is definitely a perk---maybe the highlight of the deal---especially when you have to commit to purchasing the locked-in priced seats for the first three years. 

The average price of a current Nets ticket is $60---one of the lowest in the league.  The new average price at the Barclays Center will be around $132--more than the Knicks current average ticket price of $88 and one of the highest in the league.

The Nets cross-borough rivals price will be rising next season after the Knicks announced a 49% increase to cover the on-going renovations at Madison Square Garden. 

The Los Angeles Lakers currently get an average price of $113 per seat--the costliest ticket in the league.

It's hard to believe the Nets, in their inaugural season will be getting more than Kobe and company, but if more money means more wins...Go Kris Humphries.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cameron Diaz Looks To Star In Film With A-Rod; We See "Gigli 2"

Hollywood star, Cameron Diaz, and New York Yankees slugger, Alex Rodriguez,  could be making a major film together soon.  If Diaz has her way, the Yankee third baseman, and current flame, will star opposite her as leading man in a romantic comedy.

The Daily Express, a British newspaper, claims the actress is shopping the idea of a baseball-themed rom-com around Tinseltown.

That's pretty funny because only last month at the Super Bowl, camera-shy A-Rod went bonkers after Diaz was shown on the big Jumbotron screen plopping individual kernels of popcorn into his mouth.  I guess love is never saying no when the producer is your girl.

Whether for research or romance, Diaz has been spotted in Tampa watching the Yankees and A-Rod a lot in spring training this year. 

Diaz and A-Rod had been routinely spotted together since last year and, only recently, have made the relationship public domain.  Cam-Rod have now joined the ranks of celebrity couples like "Bradgelina" or whatever they're called.

According to a source close to Diaz, the actress and aspiring producer has been taking more of an interest in the game itself for her film production.

"She's very excited about developing her own projects, and the fact this one is about a baseball player means she has good reason to spend time with A-Rod and the Yankees,' the source said.

"She's even thinking that Alex could star in the movie with her."

Diaz has starred with athletes like Lawrence Taylor in "Any Given Sunday" and Brett Favre in "There's Something About Mary" before; while the closest A-Rod has gotten to a Hollywood set  is dating Diaz and Kate Hudson.

Last year, A-Rod was set to make his acting debut in "Friends With Benefits," but the role never panned out.

Just what the film-going public needs, another vanity project from a self-indulged couple who thinks the public is enamoured with their love affair--in a baseball setting much less.

Couples starring in films together are usually a recipe for disaster.  Breakups are almost as common as  A.J. Burnett breakdowns.

"Gigli," that bomb starring Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck and was even banned in New Jersey, which started that whole annoying conjoined names thing with "Bennifer" is a prime example.  Now if Gigli was about a group of gigolos, A-Rod might be a good leading man.

For every Bogie and Bacall in a "To Have and Have Not", there is a "Eyes Wide Shut" with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise--otherwise known as Kid-Cruise or Cruise-Man.

If Diaz's project ever gets the green light, maybe Cam-Rod could then remake some of the baseball classics.

"Bang the Drum Slowly," maybe?  No, too suggestive a title for A-Rod.

"The Babe" is a possibility.  It could be about A-Rod's go-go dancer friend in Toronto from way back.

"Pride of the Yankees?"  No way that'll ever happen.

"Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars" would work.  Just hire the rest of the Yankee team.  Derek Jeter already showed his acting chops in last year's action comedy "The Other Guys."

What the world really needs is another "Major League."  Hey, you can never get enough of Charlie Sheen these days and the Wild Thing is going to need work pretty soon.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jose Canseco Attempts To Use Twin Brother In Boxing Match Switcheroo

As if it wasn't already hard enough being mistaken for or compared to Jose Canseco, his lesser twin brother, Ozzie, tried to fill in for Jose in a celebrity boxing match this past weekend.

Jose's scheme to slip his brother into the ring against Billy Padder in Miami was thwarted after eagle-eyed fans noticed that certain tattoos on the stand-in's bicep didn't match Jose's as he entered the ring.

Jose---the former major league baseball slugger, steroid user and author---tried to double his pleasure and lessen the hurt by attempting to fool fight fans and officials by having his look-a-like brother trade places and get into the ring.  Jose tried pulling the time-worn twin ruse because he believed the promoters reneged on their deal.

Ozzie must really be hurting.  The 24-game major-leaguer was willing to take the beating for less money than Jose would take.

The big switch almost worked.  Ozzie fooled officials at the pre-fight weigh-in by wearing a tee-shirt and sunglasses.

When spectators inside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino noticed that Ozzie wasn't Jose, police escorted the impostor from the ring.  No punches was ever thrown.  Just another black eye to Jose's reputation.

It has been reported that Ozzie allegedly "filled in" for Jose at some baseball card shows.

It probably didn't matter which 46 year-old twin fought.  Jose's "boxing" record includes a first-round KO by former NFLer Vai Sikahema in 2008, a three-round draw against Partridge Family member Danny Bonaduce in 2009 and an MMA beat down by 7'2" Choi Hong-man later that year.

Ozzie's record includes a Miami barroom brawl alongside Jose in 2001.

Jose Twittered that the promoters didn't honor their end of the contract and claims he did nothing unethical.

On his Twitter account he said, "Is anyone out there smart enough to figure it out or are you all a bunch of hateful morons."

Celebrity Boxing promoter, Damon Feldman, said Jose was paid his fee in full in two installments.

Jose, a member of the elite 40/40 Club, was outed by the 20/20 Club--20/20 vision that is.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bill "The Big Tuna" Parcells Now Dolphin-Free

Bill Parcells, a consultant to the Miami Dolphins, is taking his Team Rehab show on the road once again.  The well-traveled NFL head coach, general manager, consultant and talent evaluator's next gig will be under the studio lights at ESPN.

Parcells, who was with the Dolphins organization since 2007, will be joining ESPN for a third time as host of a program about the NFL draft.

The taped hour-and-a-half special titled "Bill Parcells Draft Confidential" will give viewers inside look at the NFL draft process.  Parcells' thirty years of NFL experience will give fans an insider's perspective as how the draft works.

The 69 year-old team fixer-upper will break down how football teams evaluate players and "how difficult it is to draft successfully."

Parcells may want to explain to Dolphin fans how he let quarterback Matt Ryan slip through his hands a few years ago.  Instead, he drafted a great offensive tackle in Jake Long, but the bane of the Miami teams during his tenure was the lack of a good or injury-free signal-caller.

The Big Tuna, named for his once-rotund body and penchant for the sandwich, had a reputation as a great coach and team flipper.  He twice turned the three-win 1983 New York Giants into Super Bowl Champions during seven years,  and took the New England Patriots to another in 1996.

Parcells' magic touch started to fade after coaching the New York Jets and the Dallas Cowboys.  He left both teams in flux before moving to Miami as the V.P. of Football Operations.

The Dolphins were 11-5 his first year and won the AFC East title, but the team never met expectations the next two years. He passed the V.P. job to Jeff Ireland before last season and stayed on as consultant.

Where Parcells lands after this is any one's guess.  He has "retired" before due to health reasons or refusing to cow-tow to a flamboyant owner, but his football I.Q. is still in high demand.   Even the label 'egomaniac' won't scare away prospective suitors.

ESPN could keep Parcells on it's analyst roster.  He has broadcast experience and done it many times before.  Parcells worked with NBC for two years and  co-hosted a weekly show with Mike Francesa in New York, where he is still idolized by Giants fans.

It's a good bet Parcells will be netted by a struggling team needing a quick-fix and turnaround. The lure of the game is too strong for the coach.

It'll be interesting to hear Parcells' calculations on the Carolina Panthers first draft pick--quarterback or lineman?  The former linebackers-coach has a soft-spot for lineman.  Look how hard he rode Phil Simms and threw roses at L.T.'s feet during the Giants championship years.

I just wonder if Parcells regrets not taking Ryan and if he had taken the quarterback instead of Long, would he still be Miami?

The show airs Tuesday, April 26 at 9:30 ET.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Girardi On 5th Starter: It's Colon, It's Garcia, It's Colon, It's Garcia, It's...

The Yankees four-horse Steinbrenner Cup Derby for the remaining two spots in the Yankees starting rotation is galloping down the stretch and it looks like the colt Ivan Nova has a comfortable lead over the old plugs, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.  Sergio Mitre looks like the also-ran and has already been relegated to the stable, I mean bullpen.

If you listen to manager Joe Girardi call this Win, Place or Go race, you wouldn't know who is pulling up the rear.

On the backstretch Monday, it was Colon who was in the money.  Girardi praised the hefty right hander after a six-inning, 5 strikeout and no walk performance.  "His stuff was outstanding," said the manager.

Yesterday, it sounded like the skipper was singing the praises of Garcia.  "I have a pretty good feel on  what Freddy can do.  It's work and just coming out healthy," he said.

And yesterday on Colon?   Girardi said, "Bart didn't pitch last year so if you start talking innings, will there be a point where innings catch up to him during the course of a season."

Garcia will be at the Yankees minor league complex pitching in a minor league game today.  Pitching coach, Larry Rothschild--and possibly Girardi--will be watching.  Garcia has been miserable in his last two starts and has an ERA of 5.93 over four games.  He has a lot to prove.

D-Day is March 29, when Garcia can opt out of his contract. His base salary is $1.5 million with an opportunity to make an additional $3.6 million in performance bonuses.

The 37 year-old Colon will earn $900,000 if he makes the roster.

Colon looked like a long shot to make the rotation when he came into camp 25 pounds overweight after sitting out 2009 due to injuries, but had that great game Monday along with 17 strikeouts 15 innings this spring.  The 267 pound righthander has had his fastball clocked in the 90's.

The big concern with Colon, and it is a big as his girth, is whether or not he has the stamina to go a full season.  The one-time workhorse threw 200 inning seasons in his sleep during his glory years, but only threw 257 innings since 2006.  The 2010 lay-off will be a big concern of Girardi's.

Colon has out pitched both Garcia and Mitre this March and if picking the No. 5 starter was justified on statistics alone, Colon would be a shoo-in.

But the 34 year-old Garcia is a relative pony compared to former Cy Young winner Colon and hasn't sat on the shelf for the past five years.  Garcia pitched 157 innings while winning 12 games last year for the White Sox.  Garcia has been clocked mostly in the mid-80's this spring.

 Does Girardi let a soft spring training for former All-Star Garcia influence his decision?  The righthander made it perfectly clear he has nothing to prove nothing in Triple-A and would not go down.  Colon has not made any such ultimatums.

"We're getting to the point where we have to sit down and have a long meeting," said Girardi.  There's still some stuff we have to look at, but they've put up a pretty good body of work together, all of them.  We have to sit down and find some time to have it."

At the beginning of spring training, Girardi said statistics would not be the most important factor in picking the No. 4 and 5 spots. Yesterday, he said he wouldn't base his decision on Garcia's minor league performance today. 

I'm picking Mark Prior as the dark horse.

The Yankees have a only a few days left before that "long meeting."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tommy Zbikowski Gears Up For For Saturday's Heavyweight Bout

Baltimore Ravens safety Tommy Zbikowski is making the the most of the NFL lockout and piling up pro boxing fights faster than Chad Ochocinco changes names.  The NFL star Zbikowski worked out today in a Manhattan gym preparing for a heavyweight pro-fight on Saturday in Atlantic City--only two weeks after his last fight.

The former Notre Dame football star waited almost five years between his pro debut and his second paid bout, a first-round TKO against Richard Bryant on March 12.

Zbikowski's weigh-ins have lasted longer than his first two fights.  In his pro debut, June 10, 2006, 'Tommy Z', at the age of 21, TKO'd Robert Bell at 0 :49 into the fight at Madison Square Garden.  Bryant managed to last until 1:45 from the opening bell when Zbikowski  left the bigger fighter breathless after a nasty body shot.

The former- All-American  Zbikowski (2-0, 2 KO's), will fight Caleb Grummet (0-0-1) in a four-round heavyweight undercard of the featured WBA and IBF featherweight Championship bout between Yuriorkis Gamboa (19-0, 15 KO's) and Jorge Solis (40-2-2, 29 KO's) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.  It will be shown live Saturday night on HBO.

The 25 year-old Zbikowski worked out at Manhattan's Kingsway Gym on Wednesday after leaving a Facebook post seeking help with his fight gear color scheme for this Saturday's bout: 'Need help...Should I wear purple and black or purple and white trunks at the fight Saturday?'  Most of the responses sided with the purple and black, but there were a few Blue and Gold as well.

While many NFL players have been talking about crossing over to other sports including the NBA or, like Ochocinco, boxing, to help pay the mortgage should the NFL season goes kaput,  Zbikowski is punching ahead--literally and quickly.  It only took minutes after his March 12 win against Bryant that he announced fighting this bout only fourteen days later.

Today, Zbikowski said that he will keep busy during the NFL lockout and pro-boxing is more passion than moonlighting and, as long as the labor strife continues, he will box.

"Right now, this isn't a second career for me," said Zbikowski.  "It is a first career."

His father, Ed Zbikowski backed up his son's immersion into the sweet science the other day.  "It's not about money," he said.  "It's about earning respect on the boxing community.  It's also a great way to train for football if there is a lockout."

Well, there is a lockout.  Now Tommy Z gets to follow his dream while the NFL and team owners create a sports nightmare.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bartolo Colon Looking Like Yankees No. 5 Starter

Bartolo Colon has come a long way since the opening day of the Yankees' spring training camp.  The 37 year-old righthander was a bargain-basement gamble thrown into the four-way mix for the No. 4 and 5 spots in the starting rotation.  Another solid spring showing has almost guaranteed Colon a job in the starting rotation.

On Monday night, Colon allowed one run and two hits in six innings.  He threw 62 pitches, struck out five without a walk.  Colon has 17 strikeouts and one walk over 15 innings this spring.

Unofficially, the No. 4 spot has been locked up by Ivan Nova and you would be hard-pressed to think the Yankees would demote their 24 year-old projected star.  So it's really become a three way horse race.

Colon, who didn't play last season, was expected to battle it out with 34 year-old Freddy Garcia--who won 12 games last year--and the incumbent Sergio Mitre.  Mitre, who has bullpen experience, looks like he will be exiled back to long relief.  Garcia, who doesn't have the spring numbers to match Colon, was the early favorite, but  it looks like he could be the odd man out.  Garcia has until March 29 to ask for his release if he is not added to the roster.

The 267-pound Colon hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009 because of a myriad of physical troubles.  He had a remarkable run from 1998-2005, winning 135 games with the Indians, Expos, Angels and White Sox.  In 2005, he won 21 games and a Cy Young Award until a series of injuries to his shoulder, knee back and elbow cut off his productivity until 2009.

That was then, this is now believes Yankee manager Joe Girardi.  The hefty hurler's fastball was clocked at 90-92 mph and has been recorded as high as 95 so far this March.  Good news for the Yankees.

"That's the Bartolo that I remember," said Girardi.  "The guy had outstanding command of his fastball, didn't walk people and didn't beat himself.  His stuff has been outstanding."

In his four spring training games, Colon is 1-0 with a 2.40 ERA.  Garcia lags behind at 1-1 with a 5.93 ERA in four games.  Garcia's pitches have recently wheezed home in the mid-80's.  He said he has nothing to prove by going to the minors.

Colon was a long-shot for the rotation, especially after he arrived in camp 25 pounds overweight.  Now he looks like the front-runner, even if the poundage hasn't disappeared.  If the veteran starter can toss a fraction of 222 innings he threw during his Cy Young season, the Yankees would feel a lot better about the rotation.

Girardi is hoping Colon can throw the ball every five days.  "You have to try to predict," said Girardi.  "You don't want to predict, 'I'm only going to get 50 innings out of this guy.'  We're predicting that whoever we take can start the whole year."

Looks like the Phillies Cliff Lee was right, the Yankees are getting older.

Monday, March 21, 2011

St. John's Brings Great Names To Next Year's Roster

The St. John's Red Storm finished a magical season on a bum note by losing their best all-round player followed by a first round thumping by Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.  This meant the Storm lost three of their last five games including the tarnished win against Rutgers.  Now head coach Steve Lavin bids farewell to his ten inherited seniors and says hello to a crop of freshmen considered the best recruiting class in St. John's history.

Names like Paris, Hardy, D.J. and a couple of Justins will forever be linked to the little basketball team which arguably ran off one of the most amazing and unexpected win streaks in a St. John's season.  For five weeks, the Johnnies beat six ranked teams and, more importantly, brought respectability and pride back to the program.

Lavin's 2010-11 basketball team, a group of unknown role players, has now set the bar pretty high for the even more highly-regarded incoming class.

In his first full recruiting class, Lavin has acquired the youngest group of players in the country and the youngest in the school's history.  Some of these names will probably be on NBA draft rosters in three or four years, but for now, they belong to Lavin.

The incoming talent does include one of the greatest rosters of first names in college basketball.  If next season's St. John's team is not filled with All-Americans, it will definitely make the All-Name team.

There's Nurideen, Jakarr and Norvel.  There names are as colorful as their game.  Nurideen Lindsay, the highly recruited JUCO transfer joins forward Jakarr Sampson from Akron and Norvel Pelle from California.

If that isn't enough, one of the new recruits sounds like he has little royal blood.  Sir'Dominic Pointer, the 6'6' G/F from Detroit, will join a team that is already recruiting God's Gift Achiuwa of Erie CC by way of Lagos, Nigeria.  The Vincentian fathers at St. John's might say that Achiuwa's moniker is fitting, only if 6' 9" player comes to the Queens campus.

There will be no seniors on next year's team.  The Red Storm will cornerstone next year's team with it's two returning sophomores, Dwayne Polee II and Malik Stith after the ten upperclassmen from this year's squad graduate.  It will be an inexperienced team with enough blue-chip talent to overcome a single injury.  Something this year's squad couldn't after D.J. Kennedy went down. 

"This group coming in, because it's one of the top classes in the country, has a high degree of expectation to play in the NBA," said Lavin.  "You aspire to play at the highest level of basketball, but all those hopes and dreams can only come true being on a team that accomplishes things in terms of winning  big."

Lavin hopes to build on this year's success.   The Red Storm (21-12) finished with it's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2002, being ranked as high as No.15 and a storybook legacy for future teams to follow.

The incoming players, with NBA contracts on their mind, will probably learn the hard way about life in the Big East.  The eight players will have to find out for themselves that they are not the only stars on the team and, to survive in the Big East, a different name must step up every game.

"You can't worry about who has what or how many point you have or how many assists you have, " said Polee.  "You just have to give yourself to the team and do whatever it takes to win."

Even before this season, Lavin captured the hearts and imaginations of St. John's fans with the six top-100 prospects who committed to the Red Storm last fall.  The expectations for his current team were only minimal and a bridge to bigger and better days in St. John's future.

This year's squad of no-names were only supposed to hold down the fort until the blue-chippers and tournament victories arrived next year and beyond, but something happened along the way.  The team began winning big games and the excited fans grew fond of this gritty bunch.  It was the first time, in a long while,  the school could proudly shout "We Are St. John's!"

 The names of D.J. Kennedy, Dwight Hardy, Justin Burrell and all the other contributors to the success of the 2011-12 Red Storm team will be reverberating around the campus until the big-name recruits arrive.  The newbies have a tough act to follow.

The outgoing seniors did a lot of the dirty work and brought respectability back to St. John's.  Now, Lavin and the new recruits will have to carry the load.

There are a lot of big expectations for next year.  It might take some time for Sir' Dominic Pointer and the others to make a name for themselves.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. John's Has Come A Long Way Since 2004 Abyss

The seniors on this year's Red Storm team were probably too young to remember a time when the situation at St. John's hit rock-bottom.  Chances are they didn't care.  Nobody cared about a basketball program that was going down...and going down fast.

It was February 2004, and the program was already reeling from sanctions and penalties accrued by the wild west mentality of fired head coach Mike Jarvis, when three St. John's players celebrated a 20-point loss to Pittsburgh by hitting a strip club, picking up one of the dancers and bringing her back to their hotel. 

A poorly planned extortion plot by the dancer was foiled after one of the three secretly--and fortunately for the players--recorded the alleged exchange of favors.  The players were exonerated, but it shamed the Catholic university and it's athletic department to no end.

Jarvis, who was let go two months earlier, had left the battered team to fend for itself.  Suspensions followed and they actually played a game against Boston College with only four scholarship players on the Madison Square Garden floor.  A walk-on, Phil Missere, scored 13 points in the 28 point loss that day.  The echoing chants of "We Are St. John's" that day were more heartfelt than all of the bandwagon cheers from the glory years put together.

Now it is a time for redemption.  It's been seven years since the dignity was stripped from a once proud program and nine years since a St. John's team stepped on to the floor of an NCAA Tournament game. Finally the Red Storm are in the game again.

Former head coach, Norm Roberts was left with the unenviable position of picking up the pieces and, until last year, did a fine job of restoring pride and hope to the embattled program.  The ten seniors currently restoring the lost years of the St. John's institution were, and are, Roberts' dependents.

These ten players have weathered the losing and hushed--and some not so quiet--comparisons to other great Red Storm teams for four long years.  Now it is their chance to carry on tradition and make some of their own.

Head coach Steve Lavin knows he inherited Roberts veteran charges, and the bleak years that prefaced him, but uses it as inspiration.

"I never really delved into the details of what happened in 2004, during that stretch where the program fell on tough times," he said  "But I've always thought of the great history , the great tradition, and how important St. John's is to the city because of the passionate fans that follow basketball in New York."

Lavin may get a lot of the credit for this season's magical ride, while putting St. John's on the college basketball map once again, but it is the players who have been salivating for this chance.  They've been imagining themselves on college basketball's biggest stage over the past seven semesters.

In 2000, St. John's had another fantastic ride and now, in the mile-high air of Denver, the team has a chance for a long-waited retribution.

The second-seeded Red Storm's season ended in heartbreaking fashion, 82-76,  in the second round against 10th-seeded Gonzaga in Tuscon, Ariz.  The Johnnies will face the tough Bulldogs once again. 

St. John's (21-11) comes into tonight's game without their swingman D.J. Kennedy although 260-pound Sean Evans has shown he is more than ready to pick up the slack but he'll have his hands and body full.  He'll be pounding the boards against Gonzaga's (24-9) seven-foot center, Robert Sacre.

The Red Storm say all this season's air travel and brutal Big East schedule have prepared them well for Gonzaga and the tournament.

Most St. John's fans believe it's more than the tangibles which carry this team.  It's heart, pride and a toughness that comes from pulling yourself from the low valley that was St. John's basketball to a higher place.

This team started in the gully, got up and are climbing to a plateau higher than the Denver plains.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cliff Lee Needs Schoolin' When It Comes to the Yankees

Last week Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee finally drawled something about his decision to sign with Philadelphia and his facts were askew ed.  The free-agent who turned down the Yankees remarked that wearing Pinstripes was his third choice, after the Phillies and his other former team the Texas Rangers, because he felt the Bronx Bombers were "getting old."  Well, who isn't?  And isn't that ageism?

The 32 year-old pitcher better bone up on his math before he speaks.  Alright, the only numbers he needs to know are what does 5 years and $120 million equal.  A nice life.  But calling the Yankees old?  Look in your own backyard Cliff.

Sure,  Derek Jeter doesn't draw the same gaggles of squealing 'tweens like a couple of World Series ago and had to endure the references to his down 2010 season during his contract talks.  Even Justin Bieber will one day start counting the hairs at the bottom of his shower---and those money-makers will drain away young man.  Jeter still has those giddy fans, but now they're filled less with delight than chardonnay.

When was the last time an "old" guy or a Phillie was in  GQ?  Probably the same time.  The Yankee captain shows he's still got the stuff in an upcoming issue.

And when was the last time a Philly was spotted sunning with a Minka Kelly or at a Super Bowl getting popcorn served kernel-by-kernel by Cameron Diaz?

Even the Yankees oldest player, 41 year-old Mariano Rivera, made the All-Star game last year.  The freakish Rivera still has the arm of a 35 year-old, the same age as that toddler Brad Lidge.

The Core Four has been whittled down to the Key Three.  Time and the Steinbrenners can do that. Jeter and Rivera, just signed new contracts and that other old geezer Jorge Posada has been dragged,  flailing the proverbial cane, off to DH duties.  Don't whip out the Depends or test run a Rascal for these Lions in Winter yet, they all still have plenty to contribute. 

Let's put to test Lee's assertion that the Yankees are "old" and look at the pitching staffs.  The oldest starter on the Yankees is 34 year-old A.J. Burnett.  The oldest on the Phillies is 33 year-old Roy Halliday.  A push, really-- if you discount Burnett's pie-throwing routine as just juvenile.  When you average out the age of the active rosters of both teams, starters and bullpen, the Phillies come in at a Grandpa Simpson-like 29.6 and the Yankees look like Dora the Explorer at 26.3 years of age. How about that?

Hey Lee, fading mathematical skills is one of the first signs of senility, isn't it?

Even after piling on oldsters like Mark Prior and Freddy Garcia, the average Yankee hurler would still probably be carded by a drunken bartender in a New Orleans dive bar.

Let's see how the rest of the young'uns on Philly stack up against the Ensure-swilling duffers on the Yanks.

The Yankees have a younger, more-rounded outfield than the Phillies.  The average age of active-roster Yankee outfielders is 29.0, while the Phillies wheeze in at 30.1.  You could almost call Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner supple as opposed to their Philadelphia counterparts.

Further mathematical evidence confirms that even with elder statesmen like Jeter, Posada and Alex Rodriguez lumped in with the infielders, the Yankees are still more youthful than the Phillies averaging an age of 29.0 compared to 30.3.

The Yankees two brightest players, Robinson Cano and Mark Tiexiera, are still both under 30, while Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins roll in at 33, 31 and 35, respectively.  Sounds like the AARP will be sending those cards to Citizens Bank Park sooner than later.

The Yankees haven't let Lee's dig at their age bother them. They don't claim to be last year's Tampa Bay Rays.

Even their newly-vibrant, building-rappelling, bar tending GM Brian Cashman discounted Lee, his no-show prom date, by saying," All we care about is being called champions.  You can call say anything else you want about us.  When you call us old, that's fine."

So while Cliff Lee tries to figure out his ERA, let the facts speak for themselves--the Phillies are older than the Yankees. 

Next time you're in Clearwater,  just ask a Phillie player for the best Early Bird Special in town.  I'm sure they'll know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trip to Denver Just Another Traveling Call For St. John's

When you mention 'traveling' to St. John's players, they aren't reminded about Justin Brownlee's well publicized walk with 1.7 seconds left against Rutgers in the Big East tournament.  More than likely, they are thinking about being up in the air--flying.  They've been doing all season.  Now, for the first time in nine years, the Red Storm are soaring in the rarefied air of the NCAA Tournament.

The Red Storm haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002.  Now, they are the most experienced team unit in the field of 68 and are flying high without the benefit of any wings.

The 2,000 mile flight to Denver should prove nothing more than a relatively short commute for this squad.  They may have logged more air miles than any other team this season.

This week will be the fourth trip out west for the Red Storm (21-11) team and head coach Steve Lavin thinks his team is built for the NCAA's.

"One of the reasons we went out to St. Mary's to open our season, and went out to the Alaska Shootout, and went back out to play UCLA, was to prepare our players for all the different conditions you could possibly face in the postseason," said Lavin.

Sixth-seeded St. John's plays it's NCAA tournament game against 11th-seeded Gonzaga (24-9) on Thursday and brag that they are built for traveling--air travel. 

The team had logged over 22,000 miles on their three western jaunts.  Even George Clooney's "Up in the Air" character, Ryan Bingham, would skip a hotel promotion party for all those frequent flier miles.

Publicly, the nine seniors on the Red Storm aren't concerning themselves with jet-lag and time changes, but they are taking battle-tested Gonzaga seriously.  The "Zags are making their 13th straight tournament appearance and coming off a nine-game winning streak.

The Red Storm's biggest hurdle should be overcoming the loss of their best all-around player, D.J. Kennedy to a season-ending ACL injury.

At Monday's pep rally and bon voyage sendoff for the Johnnies in Carnesecca Arena, the St. John's swingman was the team's loudest cheerleader and biggest inspiration.  The team knows this one plane trip takes them somewhere special and makes up for four years of watching the Big Dance from the bleachers.  These are the last games of a magical season and their college careers.

"The change in time, we're used to that," Justin Burrell said.  "Jet lag, we're familiar with---we've dealt with it so often this year."

Ryan Bingham couldn't have put it  better.

Tony Hawk Does A Heelflip Into Arms Of Best Friend's Wife

Filthy rich skateboarding star Tony Hawk, who filed for divorce from his third wife Lhotse Merriam in Feb., has done a 360 and skated into the arms of his best friend and business partner's wife.

According to the New York Post, Hawk--who dumped Merriam, his former publicist--is now Mongo-Footing with Matt Goodman's wife Cathy.  Hawk and Goodman are childhood friends as well.

The report said Merriam found out about her celebrity skate-boarder husband's secret relationship in December after she found a plane ticket for Cathy that Hawk had booked for her to join him in San Francisco.  Talk about a Poser doing a Noseslide.

Hawk filed for divorce from Merriam in San Diego on Feb. 11.  They have one daughter together.  Hawk has three sons from previous marriages.

The 44 year-old legendary skater seems to like his work, but love his employees and business associates wives even more.  He married Merriam, who was employed by Hawk, in 2006 two years after divorcing his second wife, Erin, his former nanny.

The Goodmans were married for nearly twenty years and have two children.  Sources say they have now separated.

Goodman and Hawk had been friends since childhood.  Goodman stood as a groomsman at each of Hawk's three weddings.  Looks like that streak could end.

Hawk, who was credited with being the first boarder to land "The 900" has been praised with turning skateboarding into the popular extreme sport it is today.  He is a millionaire many times over  from his Tony Hawk Pro-Skater video games--15 versions in all--and personal appearances.

Together, Goodman and Hawk founded the action-sports movie production company 900 Films.

The report said Hawk and Cathy were recently spotted together in New York City.

Neither Merriam or Goodman had a comment.  A representative for Hawk said, " We do not comment on the personal lives of our clients."

Cappie Pondexter Apologizes For Tasteless Japan Tweets

New York Liberty star Cappie Pondexter apologized yesterday for tweeting over the weekend that Japan was to blame for the devastation of last week's earthquake and tsunami on it's northern coast and then used a derogatory term to describe the Japanese people.

In another case of an athlete's poor timing and worse, poor taste, Pondexter tweeted: "What if God was tired of the way they treated their own people in there own country!  Idk guys he makes no mistakes."

She continued the incriminating tweet: "U just never knw!  They did pearl harbor so u can't expect anything less."

After thousands saw the post, Pondexter had an exchange with an resentful reader, and she used a derogatory word for the Japanese.

Since posting her twisted point-of-view, Pondexter was bombarded with criticism and stepped back from her tweet.

"I wanna apologize to anyone I may have hurt or offended during this tragic time," she tweeted on Monday.  "I didn't realize that my words could be interpreted in the manner which they were.  People that knw me would tell u 1st hand I'm a very spiritual person and believe that everything , even disasters happen 4 a reason and that God will shouldn't be questioned but this is a very sensitive subject at a very tragic time and I shouldn't have even given a reason for the choice of words I used."

Pondexter, who is playing in Russia, declined to comment further.  Her agent, Boris Lelchitski, said the player's comments were taken out-of-context.  "She is very sorry she hurt anyone," said Lelchitski.

The Liberty released a statement, "We have spoken to  Cappie and the content of that conversation will remain internal.  She made a mistake and quickly apologized for that mistake."

It seems unlikely that the team will discipline Pondexter.

This is just another case of an athlete putting their foot in their mouth or their quick fingers to 'SEND.' By now, public figures should know there are a few subjects which should never be trivialized including 9/11, the Holocaust or a natural disaster.  What was she thinking?

Pondexter was a star at Rutgers right before Don Imus got suspended for his insensitive and derogatory remarks about the African-American members of that team on his radio show.

You think Pondexter would have remembered that incident and used better judgement.  At least she won't lose her job...or her home.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Red Storm Will Dance Without D.J.

The St. John's basketball team lost more than the game to Syracuse yesterday, they lost D.J. Kennedy, an intricate part of the rags-to-riches Red Storm team. The numbers 1.7 on the time clock may be forever forged in the minds of the St. John's players, after their controversial win over Rutgers the day before, but 14:25 is a number they would like to erase from their minds--it is the moment their star player went down.

Kennedy crumpled to the floor under the basket, only 5:35 into the game, clutching his right knee after going up for a rebound in St. John's quarterfinal match-up against Syracuse.  An MRI later showed a torn ACL.  His collegiate basketball career was now over. and the Red Storm's NCAA tournament chances diminished.

Not so fast say the other players.  While the loss of Kennedy will probably drop the Red Storm from a probable #4 seed in the NCAA's to a #5 or 6, the eight remaining seniors say the same resiliency which carried this team throughout the season will continue into the Big Dance.

This is an experienced squad which turned it around this year.  They worked hard towards playing in their first NCAA tournament and erasing the tag 'Never Made it to the Big Dance' from their bios. The  remaining seniors endured a brutal 2011 schedule and a four year wait which must have seemed like an eternity. Now it's show time.

St. John's head coach Steve Lavin--who inherited this once-wayward team-- realizes the loss of Kennedy--who he calls "The Glue"-- is a big blow to the Johnnies' chances in the NCAA's, but is counting on the team to not let up.

"They've accomplished some very special things, and then we're not satisfied," said Lavin.  "So I don't underestimate this group's ability to continue to find ways to win.  I think we'll have to recalibrate, 'cause the loss of D.J. Kennedy is devastating...but the will and spirit of this group is strong that I have confidence we'll make a run of it."

If yesterday's 79-73 loss is any indication, Lavin should be confident.  No. 18 St. John's (21-11) went toe-to-toe with No. 11 Syracuse (26-6) until the waning moments. The whole team picked up the slack after Kennedy went down.

Kennedy, who was the team's third leading scorer and best rebounder, leaves big shoes to fill and senior Sean Evans was more than a capable replacement.  Evans scored 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against a bigger Syracuse team.  Dwight Hardy, Paris Horne and Justin Brownlee all chipped in with double-digit points but they know the road will be bumpier without Kennedy.

"I feel like we can win it all, that's how I feel being the competitor I am," said Justin Burrell. "It'll be a lot tougher, but I think we can do it."

The Johnnies have been on a magical ride this season.  The senior-laden team plays an aggressive physical brand of basketball.  They are a machine filled with interchangeable parts who know how to share the ball and the glory.  Now, one of those parts will be hobbling on the sidelines, cheering them on.  These guys know they have come too far over four years to let up now.

And for St. John's fans, nine years seems like forever since they had a vested interest in Selection Sunday or actually penciled the name 'St. John's' in on their bracket sheets.

Put it this way, the last time a St. John's team danced, Justin Timberlake was in a boy band and they listened to him on a Walkman.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the other paper: Don't Hold It Against St. John's For Victory Over ...

the other paper: Don't Hold It Against St. John's For Victory Over ...: "There were still a few defiant Rutgers fans at Madison Square Garden this morning wanting to get their money's worth and waiting to for the ..."

Don't Hold It Against St. John's For Victory Over Rutgers

There were still a few defiant Rutgers fans at Madison Square Garden this morning wanting to get their money's worth and waiting to for the final 1.7 seconds to run out in the second round game against St. John's.  Somebody ought to gently tell them the Scarlet Knights team will not be seeing any more action at this year's Big East Tournament. 

While bitter Rutgers fans--and authority figure haters-- have plenty to gripe about after yesterday's controversial 65-63 loss to the Red Storm, don't let it ruin one of the best feel-good-stories in college basketball--St. John's basketball.

Sure, the officials blew a couple of foul-calls against St. John's down the stretch and swallowed the whistle when Justin Brownlee grabbed a bobbled in-bounds toss with 4.9 seconds left in a frantic scramble for the ball.

Sure, the St. John's forward took three long steps (an obvious walk), planted one foot out-of-bounds and tossed the game ball into the stands with 1.7 seconds remaining while the officials scurried off the court, eliminating any chance for the pleading Rutgers players to tie or win the game. 

Sure, the officials, Jim Burr, Tim Higgins and Earl Walton, refused to take a look at the video-tape which clearly showed everyone--including a national television audience--there was still time on the clock, but don't blame the St. John's team.

It's too bad the St. John's team, no matter how far they go in the tournament, will be known less for their win streak and return to prominence, than the tarnished victory.

The blame must be squarely laid on the referees and not the St. John's players.  But others are not immune to the blatant non-calls.

The three veteran officials announced they were voluntarily stepping away from the rest of the tournament.  An admission of guilt?  Maybe.  An admission by the Big East that the three lost control of the game in the waning moment?  Not yet.

A lot of people have to wonder how 19,375 spectators at the Garden saw the infractions and the clueless refs didn't even let out a tweet from their whistles.

Home crowd favoritism--maybe?  It is Madison Square Garden and not the Garden State.

Tim Higgins looked like the grumpy old guy in "Up" as he scampered off the court through the tunnel.  The other two scattered like rats in an alley too.

Many others saw the final gaff by the officials.  One St. John's assistant pulled his jacket over his head in disbelief when Brownlee tossed the ball into the red seats.  Nobody does a victory cover up.

St. John's head coach, Steve Lavin, who was passed over for Big East Coach of the Year, but may have an Academy Award in his future.  Brownlee was walking right at Lavin with an outstretched hand when he touched the sideline. What coach isn't looking at the clock in a close game like this.  Right after the game,  Lavin just said, " Both teams played their fannies off."

It sounds like the majority of Johnnies' fans didn't see the infractions either. It looks like the confessional booths on St. John's campus could be a harder ticket than the tournament quarterfinals at the Garden today.

Blame Rutgers head coach, Mike Rice too.  He saw the whole fandango and bashed his forearms like it was some sort of spastic cheerleading move.  Most Big East coaches would have been over those officials like white-on-rice.  Instead Rutgers fans got Rice-on-Rice.  He should have pulled a Charlie Sheen and dragged those refs backs to the video review table. Even the Rutgers players pleaded with the refs before they brushed past them and ducked off the court.

Give Rice credit though.  He took the high road after consoling his disappointed players.  At a press conference he said, "Would I love to not have it happen?  Of course.  But I made so many mistakes in the game, it's unbelievable."

Chances are slim that the Scarlet Knights could have pulled of the comeback but they deserved to get that 1.7 seconds back.  Now,  St. John's tries to avenge a 76-59 loss in a quarterfinals game against Syracuse.

It would only be fair for the senior-laden St. John's team to get credit for their play after four years of stumbling.  The players deserve credit blending into a cohesive, winning squad and not be labeled fortunate or beneficiaries of a St. John's/Syracuse match-up conspiracy.

 Sometimes tournament play is all about getting a little help along the way.  A tipped ball or a missed call is part of the game.

As Lavin said after the game," We dodged a bullet."  More like four of them.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Officials Leave Court Before St. John's-Rutgers Game Ends. Big East: Game Is Over

In what has to be one of the most embarrassing moments in Big East Tournament history, game officials left the Madison Square Garden court with 1.7 seconds remaining in the game after a player traveled,  stepped out-of-bounds and then threw the game ball into the air.   St. John's was the lucky recipient of the missed call and won the second-round game over Rutgers, 65-63.

The bizarre sequence of events began on a full-court Rutgers inbounds pass, with 4.9 seconds remaining, which was tipped away to St. John's forward Justin Brownlee who dribbled towards the Red Storm bench to shake head coach Steve Lavin's hand but took three steps, touched the sideline and hurled the ball into the air on the way.  While the clock should have been stopped with 1.7 showing on the clock, two veteran officials, James Burr and Tim Higgins, rushed from the court as Rutgers players pleaded and pointed at the clock.  Nothing was discussed.

The non-call which would have given the ball back to Rutgers by either Brownlee stepping out-of-bounds or a travelling call was not the real issue.  Throwing the ball into the stands with time on the clock is a technical foul and would have given the Scarlet Knights two free throws AND the ball.

Lavin, said he didn't see the clock and none of the opposing players or coaches said anything to him during the final handshakes and the frantic play of both teams during the final seconds made it easy for the refs to miss a call.  He would only say that both teams "played their fannies off."

The Red Storm escaped with the win and Rutgers was basically robbed on a couple of other non-calls during the sloppy final minutes.

What's more amazing is the fact that the officials scurried off the court while Rutgers players stood in front of them and pointed out the discretion.  The officials didn't even consider looking at the videotapes.

Conspiracy theorists are having a field day.  Some are accusing the Big East of trying to set up a dream quarterfinal re-match between #4 Syracuse and the local favorites #5 St. John's.  It would be the Red Storm's first Big East quarterfinal game since 2003.

Others are looking at the over/under of 127.5 as a reason for the "muffed" calls, as if Tim Donahay was calling the game and the fix was in.

For now it looks like St. John's will move on in the tournament while Rutgers fans scream and protest the swallowed whistle.  The Big East will not put the two teams on the court tonight and said the game is over.

According to the Mike Francesa Show, the Big East released a statement after the game which said there were "two separate missed calls which occurred during the game...neither error is correctable or reviewable.  The two missed calls were traveling and stepping out of bounds."

Yankees Rothschild Guiding Young Guns, Old Cannons & A Head-Case

It's still to early in spring training to call in the AL East title because of the performances of a few pitchers but, when you're the New York Yankees and the candidates for your third, fourth and fifth starting pitchers are a collection of inexperienced youngsters, old war-horses and a head-case trying to rebound,  the nice early numbers have to stoke high expectations.

Maybe Brian Cashman's Plans B, C and D, after being spurned by Cliff Lee, are working and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild's pitching philosophy will yield hefty returns.

Cashman, who loaded up on bargain-basement antiques like 34 year-old Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to match arms with kids Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre, is starting to look like the Boy Wonder again.

Those four players have each pitched 5 innings this spring and have given up a total of one earned run (Colon) and struck out 14 overall batters.

From the first day of camp, manager Joe Girardi made it clear that picking the final spots would not be quick or easy.  Now it looks like it could take longer and be a lot harder.

"We won't make decisions till the end," said Girardi.  "We are going to take our time.  Right now with the four guys there is no separation yet."

The real revelation is Rothschild's work with A.J. Burnett, the ineffective and much maligned No. 3 starter.  The Yankees have to be happy with his first two outings: 5 Innings pitched, no earned runs or walks and---most important---no mental or physical breakdowns.

After Burnett's miserable 2010 season, it would have been a bad omen if he wilted in his first two games.  Never mind the final two spots in the rotation, the Yankees would be looking to fill the last three and it could turn into a wild game of musical chairs.

After throwing three perfect innings against the Phillies on Monday, the 34 year-old Burnett hinted that he knows it's early, but didn't want to hear the demon voices of last season to start bouncing around in his head again.

"I didn't want to come in for one inning, give up four homers, come out and say, 'It's just my second start,' "said Burnett.  "The fact that I was in control, the fact that the last batter I faced, the last five pitches were all down and away in the perfect spot.  I'm able to repeat easier.  My mind is clear.  I'm not thinking about this or that; I'm just attacking."

Last season one or two bad pitches would usually boil into a major meltdown for Burnett.  This year he is putting his trust in Rothschild.  That mutual trust is rubbing off.

Rothschild  began working with Burnett in January and put the emphasis on the pitcher getting better balance in his lower body so he wouldn't move side-to-side---a major reason his pitches were falling flat claims Rothschild.

Girardi has noticed more than Burnett's improved throwing mechanics, he is more impressed with the right-hander's body language.

"I look to how comfortable he is as opposed to the results," said Girardi.  "[Last year] he looked like he was searching.  He looked frustrated at times he was disgusted at himself."

What happens if Burnett and the other four pitchers run neck-and-neck all spring?  Mitre would probably end up in the bullpen again and Nova could end up as a relief pitcher or as a starter in Triple-A.

It's only March but even new catcher Russell Martin liked what he saw after catching Burnett.  When asked about Burnett compared to last season, Russell said, " He had his 'A' stuff."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Big East Tournament Worthy Tribute to Ali-Frazier 40 Years Later

It seems apropos that the Big East Tournament starts today at Madison Square Garden, 40 years to the day of the "Fight of the Century" between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.  An unprecedented 11 Big East teams could possibly be headed to this year's NCAA tournament and there will surely be plenty of slug fests over the next five days on the Garden floor.

On March 8, 1971, on the same Garden floor Ali and Frazier, two undefeated heavyweights, faced each other in what many consider the greatest fight ever in the Garden or the modern era.

It's hard to believe that 40 years have passed since that night when over 20,000 fans sitting in the seats and over 30 million watching on closed circuit TV saw Frazier drop Ali in the 15th round with a left hook.  It changed fight history and how it was broadcast forever.

Just like the boxing match, which boasted two great fighters and touched on political and sociological opposites of the day, this year's Big East Tournament is loaded with talent and great back stories--if not as explosive as four decades ago.

If men's college basketball could ever be compared to boxing, it would be measured against the Big East.  The next five days should provide plenty of slipping, sliding, jabs and hooks.

Winning the tournament, on the biggest stage of all, is an exhausting feat.  The quarterfinals could actually pit eight top-25 teams pounding each other to a pulp, only to have to go another round in Friday's semis and another in the championship game on Saturday.  It says something about the toughness of the conference and it's a worthy tribute to the Ali-Frazier masterpiece.  The finalists in this smoker could be as spent as the two great pugilists were after their fifteen rounds.

Put this tournament in perspective.  Today's first-round games feature three teams who could get an invitation to the Big Dance.  A #9 seeded team like Connecticut or a #10 seed like Villanova is looking at playing five games in five days if they make the championship game.  Then the NCAA tournament begins on Thursday.  It's a killer route, with no cupcakes on the schedule.  The Final Four must be the furthest thing from player's minds during and after battling through the Garden.

While 1971 had the pall of the Vietnam War dividing the nation, each fighter had his own demons.  It was Ali's third fight, since his exile from boxing for his stance as a "conscientious objector," and, in some circles, Ali was a pariah.   Frazier had to deal with Ali's popularity and showmanship.  Frazier was never able to escape the cloud of Ali, even after winning the Ali-Frazier 1.

The tournament, while not as political, brings in it's own sub-plots, heroes and villains.

#1 seeded Pitt is playing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA's.  #4 Syracuse and #3 Louisville are two of the hottest teams in the conference and should make good runs.  Can Villanova and Georgetown get over slumps and injuries to make a statement?

#5 St. John's--which faded a bit in the last week--is back on their home court.  The senior-filled team is 8-1 at the Garden and steamrolled six top-25 teams during that streak.  Their play during that run was the talk of college basketball and the Red Storm's return to prominence makes a tournament ticket an even hotter commodity this year.  If they roll like they did in February, a basically home court Big East Tournament Championship could be theirs for the taking. 

While the Big East is lacking a dominating force this year, there are still plenty of players worth watching.  Marshon Brooks (Providence) leads the conference in scoring with 24.8 points a game.  Kemba Walker (Connecticut), Ben Hansbrough (Notre Dame) and Dwight Hardy (St. John's) follow and can all light it up.  Brooks holds the conference single-game scoring record with 52 points he dumped on Notre Dame earlier this year

The World's Most Famous Arena shined like never before forty years ago.  Celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dustin Hoffman lit up the ringside.  The big names this week will be Pitino, Boeheim, Calhoun and Lavin.  Worthy names all,  but none bigger than Ali-Frazier  that one magical night.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Iran Should Boycott 2012 Olympics Over Mascots Not Logo

The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has sent a formal letter to the IOC threatening to boycott the 2012 Summer Games in London because the numbers 2012 in the logo actually spell out the word "Zion."  The thing everyone wants to know, besides what took them so long, is why they rip on the logo and not those one-eyed Olympic mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville?

The secretary-general of the Iranian Olympic Committee cited the logo and condemned it as racist and called for all Muslims to join Iran and renounce the abstract 2012 logo and boycott the Games.  Way to get your people to purge the uprisings in Egypt and Libya from their heads, sec-gen.

Since the diabolical logo's debut four years ago, the stacked, zig-zagging numbers were roundly-booed and called "bloody crap" because of the design.  There really never seemed any good reason to disparage the ubiquitous symbols except for the aesthetics.  Leave it to Iran to find a political angle in a simple poster.

Iran's letter read: "There is no doubt that negligence of the issue from your side may affect the presence of some countries in the games, especially Iran, which abides by commitment to the values and principles."

It seems those 'principles" don't relay the fact that Iran, for thirty years, refused to compete against any athletes from Israel.

It takes a lot of staring and twisting of the 2012 logo to see the word "zion' but, if you zone out long enough to make Iran's case, it's somewhat comprehensible.  It's sort of like a Rorschach blot.  Most people claim to see the word "zoiz" or a nude couple in a passionate, coital embrace.  If you hold it upside down it reads "Paul is Dead."

The IOC shrugged off Iran's threat in a press release: "Our response is as follows:  The London 2012 logo represents the figure 2012, nothing else."  In other words, "Who cares?"

Sure, it's easy to join in on the long-line of mascot bashing.  It's a four-year tradition dating back to "Izzy" in Atlanta but, if a country ever needs a reason to boycott the games, it should be because of those 2012 asexual mascots, Wennie and Mandie.  These frightful creatures look like they designed on a pub napkin after someone downed a firkin.

Are the mascots remote controls?  Robots?  Pleasure devices?  What do they have to do with athletics?  If any state-controlled dictatorship can find a subtle demonic image in these mascots, it's Iran.

Then they can just take their two lousy medals and stay home.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

NFL Lockout Possible at Midnight; Fantasy Footballers in Panic

The NFL's Collective Bargaining Agreement is set to expire soon at 11:59 p.m. and 18 million individual Fantasy Footballers are looking at a good chance of waking up one morning with the prospect of getting a life.  Never mind the NFL players and owners, it's the virtual competition and imaginary leagues that are important to these Jerry Jones impersonators.

Come a lockout, FFer's can kiss their Draft Day goodbye.  The large foam-core draft board will be void of colored team Post-Its.  All the player rankings, mock drafts, and cheat sheets will be a distant memory of past glory.  For FFer's, Draft Day ranks up there with New Year's, Christmas and the last pre-season game rolled into one.  Now it will be sadder than the Carolina Panthers' chances to make the right first draft pick.

There will be no pools to be won.  No more trading on Tuesdays.  FFer's will speak like normal people.  No ADP's, QBBC's, Studs, Sleepers, or Handcuffing. Trust me, it's even less exciting than it sounds. Even more frightening, they will have to socialize with people outside the virtual FF world when football was once played.

Since the 'Dynasty" and "Salary Cap" leagues weren't created until 1988---a year after the last NFL strike--- the virtual owners and coaches of Fantasy Football haven't had to find other activities to help them cope with a in-season lockout--and a lot of time on their keyboard-calloused fingertips.

Its been forge ahead for 22 years.  Now, unless there is a last-ditch turnaround, it looks like FFer's will have to find other outlets for their pent-up wheeling and dealing.  Maybe that naked virtual 'therapist' would help.

Here are a few suggestions to get those adrenalin-junkie Fantasy Footballers through those long Sunday afternoons and Monday and Thursday nights.

  • Watch reruns of "Two and a Half Men."  Just in case you haven't gotten enough Charlie Sheen yet.
  • Pray MLB extends the playoffs and the World Series is in December.
  • Actually eat Sunday dinner at a dinner table with people.
  • Throw a benefit for your favorite NFL player.  They will be hurting by then and have mortgages and nightclub tabs to pay for.
  • Become a high-school soccer fan.
  • Send phony trade text messages to Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb.
  • Start a Fantasy CBA league complete with Roger Goodall, owners, NFLPA reps and your favorite lawyers.
  • Use your computers for more constructive pursuits like porn, "Angry Birds," and Rex Ryan foot-fetish videos.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Patrick Ewing: If Only I Had a Carmelo...

Patrick Ewing claims current New York Knicks super-star Amar'e Stoudemire has an easier road to an NBA title than he did because none of his teammates were as good as Carmelo Anthony.

According to the New York Post, Ewing thinks he could have won a championship if former Knicks GM Ernie Grunfeld and Garden president Davis Checketts had brought in a better supporting cast.

The 11-time All-Star was asked who was the best player he ever played alongside with and Ewing replied," Second best teammate?  John Starks, Allan [Houston], Spree [Latrell Spreewell], Oak [Charles Oakley].  But they're not Carmelo"

While Ewing, an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic, may be endearing himself to the current Knicks team, it sounds like a jab at the former Knicks management for his brilliant, but NBA Championship-less career.  It sounds like he wrongly took the blame for the lack of an NBA title because he didn't have his own second fiddle.

Ewing is on the short list of Knicks head coaching prospects if current coach, Mike D'Antoni fails and believes the current Knicks brass is on the right track by bringing in an additional super-star like Anthony mid-way through the season to compliment Stoudemire--a perk he never had.

Yesterday, Ewing professed his admiration of Anthony before the Magic's 116-110 victory in Orlando.

"A great player. A great player," Ewing said.  "New York hasn't had two bona fide superstars since Willis [Reed] and Earl [Monroe] and Clyde [Frazier].  Those guys are two bona fide superstars."

The closest Ewing ever got to getting an NBA Championship ring was in 1994.  After battling center Hakeem Olajuwon and leading the Houston Rockets, 3-2, Ewing's second-banana, Starks, went ice-cold and shot 2-for-18 in game seven while the Knicks wilted away.  It still burns at Ewing.

"I can't worry about that now," said Ewing.  "I've been retired 100 years.  It feels like 100 years."

The Hall-of-Famer had a lot of good things to say about the third part of the Knicks Big-Three, Chauncey Billups.

"Everyone kept talking about him as a throw-in," Ewing said.  People overlooked him when he first started.  He's played great games. He's won championships."

While Ewing was surrounded by rugged lunch-buckets players like Starks and Oakley during his playing days, he now says he would have welcomed an offensive super-star player like Anthony and advises Stoudemire to count his blessings.

Ewing believes Stoudemire and 'Melo can co-exist in New York.  "They both have to share it, he stressed.  "You can't worry about it.  The city's big enough.  There's enough spotlight to go around."

That spotlight was always shining on Ewing during his 15 seasons at Madison Square Garden and it highlights his retired #33 jersey hanging from it's rafters.

Listening to him reminisce, it sounds like Ewing wishes he had someone to share the limelight with back then.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Yuri Foreman Works Out & Knee Looks Ready for March 12 Fight

Yuri Foreman, the first orthodox Jew to win a championship fight in nearly 70 years, worked out today in a Manhattan gym before getting ready to take off for his Super Welterweight match up against Pawel Wolak March 12 in Las Vegas.  It is Foreman's first fight since losing the title last June.

At Kingsway Gym, Foreman (28-1, 8 KO's) looked sharp and showed no lingering signs of his surgically-reconstructed right knee which he hobbled around on in that infamous fight last June 5 at Yankee Stadium against Miguel Cotto.

Once again Foreman will be in the same arena as Cotto, but in different fights.  Last June, Foreman--the Brooklyn rabbinical student--fought courageously in a WBA Junior Middleweight Championship fight against the challenger Cotto.  It was the first boxing match at the new Yankee Stadium and produced one of the most surreal scenes in boxing history.  And that's saying a lot.

The fight was marred after Foreman slipped in the seventh round and re-injured an already bandaged right knee.  Foreman, the 2001 Golden Gloves champion, continued fighting while hopping around on his left leg while his wife, Leyla Leidecker,  screamed at trainer, Joe Grier, to throw in the towel.

After Cotto began punishing the valiant Foreman, the towel was tossed.  Then it got weird.

Cotto raised his arms in victory as the ring filled with reporters, trainers, officials and photographers.  In a bizzare scene, the referee Arthur Mercante Jr., threw the towel back and let the fight continue.

Foreman's game but desperate comeback was stopped in the ninth after it became clear he couldn't defend himself anymore.

That gutsy performance is remembered by many and is a testament to Foreman's resolve and heart.

Foreman will be fighting on the "Relentless" undercard against Wolak, while Cotto (35-2, 28 KO's) will face Ricardo Mayorga (29-7-1, 23 KO's) for twelve rounds in the World Super Welterweight Championship at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

Foreman, the 30 year-old former Super Welterweight champ, worked out in front of the New York press and looked fit, strong and ready to go. He moved around the ring for ten rounds and there were no tell-tale signs of damage to that once-crippling right knee.

He'll be facing Wolak (28-1, 18 KO's) who is the #7 ranked Super Welterweight riding a seven-bout winning streak over two years.  Four of those were knockouts by the 29 year-old Jersey guy.

The right-handed Foreman is know for his speed and movement.  He has been called "pure and natural counter puncher" by most experts.  He'll have to be wary of Wolak's hard body punches.

In his last fight, Foreman's knee gave out before his heart.  He went to the canvas twice and most fans felt the fight was over when he couldn't move and it wasn't until two rounds later when Cotto caught Foreman with a hard left hook to the body that Mercante called it off.

It was one of the most entertaining fights of last year and made Foreman a hero.  But if  Foreman had his way, it would have ended differently.  After that fight he said, "We're world champion.  I fight. I didn't want it to stop. I wanted it to continue."

March 12 could be the first step to Cotto-Foreman II.