A bunch of Pitt fans/alumni writing and ranting about the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and anything sports and entertainment related. Other than being alumni, the writers of this blog have no affiliation or official connection with the University of Pittsburgh, the Pitt Panthers, and related entities. The views expressed on this blog are solely our own. You can e-mail us: PittSportsBlather-at-sbcglobal.net.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Texting Stuff 

I actually caught this past Sunday morning "Outside the Lines" story on text messaging and recruiting. Nothing that was completely revealing. Text messaging has been a fairly well-known recruiting tool by coaches for the last couple of years. Though, I did not know about the prohibitions on texting freshmen and sophomores.

In recent weeks, ESPN contacted several highly recruited high school athletes who receive text messages, as well as their coaches and their parents. They describe an atmosphere where college coaches frequently text message recruits during their freshman and sophomore years. That has the attention of those who enforce the NCAA's rules, because the same rules that allow text messages to high school juniors and seniors, prohibit text messaging to freshmen and sophomores.

Benn specifically told us he received text messages on several occasions from Penn State, Virginia, and Maryland as a sophomore. While Virginia and Penn State denied any improper activity regarding Benn's recruitment, a Maryland associate athletic director told us she's "spoken with the coaches involved with the recruitment of this young man. Each indicated they had not contacted Arrelious Benn at an inappropriate time." Shortly after ESPN asked the schools about potential violations related to text messaging, Benn contacted us and changed his story saying he was never text messaged by those schools as a sophomore.

Ohio basketball standout Delvon Roe, a 6-7 sophomore forward who plays on the same AAU team as Kosta Koufos, said the text messages from college coaches started his freshman year in high school. Roe appeared taken aback when he recounted that he received a text message from Michigan on his second day of his freshman year: "Is this a joke or something?"


When the University of Michigan was contacted about what Roe told ESPN, the school admitted he had been sent a text message too early and started an internal investigation. "This appears to be a secondary violation," Michigan said in a prepared statement. "We are still reviewing the matter before a final report is sent to the NCAA."

"They have the obligation to report that to the enforcement staff of the NCAA and to be handled by that appropriate group to see what type of penalties would be placed on that institution and or coach," Lyons said.

But text messaging freshmen and sophomore prospects is not the only recruiting violation that has become a common practice. At a recent Charlottesville, Va., AAU tournament, Middletown (Del.) sophomore Jarrett Mann told us recruiters from several schools, specifically the University of Delaware and Georgetown University, text message him and his family.

"Georgetown University texts my mom, I want to say every day, every single day," Mann said. I don't see a problem with that because I have high interest in the school."

But even text messaging the parent of a sophomore is against NCAA rules. Mann's mother later told us in a phone call that Georgetown text messages her once or twice a week, not every day. Neither Georgetown nor Delaware would respond to our requests for interviews about Mann's recruitment.

The interesting part of the televised story was the panel discussion that included some reporter from Indianapolis, Jamie Newberg of Scout.com and Memphis B-Ball Head Coach John Calipari.

I may distrust Calipari and his snake-oil charm, but the guy is so good with media appearances. He not only sucked up much of the airtime discussion, but actually directed some of the questions for Bob Ley. He dominated and impressed in the panel. This incredible mix of disarming frankness while being at ease and mixing in absolute bulls**t. While pretending to be tech ignorant with crap claims like barely being able to check his e-mail or turn on his computer, he openly said that his assistants use text messaging all the time.

He expressed surprise that the NCAA hasn't policed it yet, and thought that they would eventually. The reason he said, is that coaches are simply not capable of moderating their own behavior without a rule against it. They are all, always looking for that edge in recruiting. It's hard to disagree with that viewpoint. Coaches are always trying to push as far as they can.

When asked what he thought about texting he said it was a nice tool, but that a far more effective recruiting is still getting face-to-face with the kid, or doing shows like this "where I can be your sidekick, Bob."

He's good. Real good.

Expect texting restrictions that limit the when they can text more than the quantity. Limits that say not during school, practice and games. An effort to reduce the total volume sent because of limited hours. Of course, any smart assistant will still prepare the text messages throughout the day, but put them in a draft box to send at the right time.

Recruiting and Camping 

Well, it does make some sense.
When word spread that track star Mycaiah Clemons was transferring from Virginia Tech to Pitt, it didn't take long for Internet message boards to do the mathematics.

That means Toney Clemons now has two sisters at Pitt (Mycah Clemons will be a senior) and puts the Panthers in the lead for the Valley stud receiver. Right?

"Everyone keeps asking me about him coming to Pitt," Mycah Clemons said. "I can't influence him. He has a lot of options. He's got to make his own decisions."

Clemons, who won the PIAA Class AA long jump and 110-meter high hurdles titles Saturday, said he has scholarship offers from Pitt, Akron, Cincinnati, Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue.

I hear other schools are close," Toney Clemons said, "but the ones that offer early, those are the ones who want you."

As for his family influence, Clemons doesn't deny that he comes from a tight-knit family, but added that Michigan receiver Steve Breaston (Woodland Hills) is a cousin.

That helps explain the Michigan Breaston jersey at a camp. Family-wise that makes it Pitt or Michigan, but Clemons seems interested in exploring the entire recruiting process. I wouldn't be surprised if he holds off until at least November.

I've previously mentioned how the NCAA/College football coaches are going to do their best to shut down the appeal of all the combines and camps by banning the presence of coaches and prohibiting them from taking place at a school facility.

The reasoning is to prevent football from ending up too much like basketball recruiting with more emphasis on the AAU teams and the tournaments. In this case, the recruiting sites and apparel companies that sponsor the overwhelming and ever growing majority of them.

It is also ostensibly a quality of life thing for the coaches by keeping them from having to attend less events on the recruiting trail. It is also about trying to keep the recruiting sites from connecting with the kids and getting information about the recruitment -- reducing the knowledge of who's recruiting him, how hard and often

The last couple of weeks, there have been articles about the Metro Index Camp run out of Western PA by Joe Butler for some 26 years.

"The big conflict of interest is the weekend combines and how they've got coaches on the road 10 weeks out of the year," Iowa assistant Ken O'Keefe said. "Guys with young families aren't even getting back home. I think it's a giant sacrifice. It's putting an undue strain on a lot of people. We need to get the whole environment under control."

O'Keefe noted that he has been a subscriber to the Metro Index scouting service since 1986, when he was an assistant at Allegheny College, and values the ability to watch prospects perform on a weeknight instead of sitting in a hotel room.

"Metro Index is not the reason they're looking at this rule," O'Keefe said. "Joe does things the right way."

Although combines can draw hundreds of players, they often are slowed by testing in the 40-yard dash and pro shuttle times, of vertical leaps and in the bench press. Metro Index camps are more football-oriented, testing only in the 40 and pro shuttle and spending more time on drills. While major-college programs can discover a gem - former Blackhawk star Jeremy Bruce received an offer from West Virginia after a standout performance at the Nike camp in 2004 - coaches view some camps as a waste of their time.

"There's a lot very well run, like this one, but there's a lot of others that are just money markets," said Rodriguez, who attended Metro Index with assistant Tony Gibson. "You get 600 guys and no true evaluations. Coaches become obligated to go to them, but you don't really get anything out of it. It's out of control."

Metro Index stands to be collateral damage. The legislation can't really exempt certain camps, and they definitely get kids to come because the college coaches attend and watch. Metro in addition to running football skill drills, also runs a subscription service coaches subscribe to for the information and charges kids to attend. Something the recruiting/apparel camps don't do.

The other thing is the coaches quality of life argument. That the coaches have to attend because of every other coach attending. Even if they aren't seeing anything new. It's about staying even/competitive with other schools in recruiting.

"Coaches only have so many months to be home on the weekends and enjoy their families," said Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. "We've said enough is enough. There are so many of these camps now that coaches feel obligated to try and get to every one of them in order to remain competitive. The quality of life for our coaches is the primary concern. This is America, if someone wants to host a combine that's their right and we won't stop them. What we're saying is coaches won't be there."

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt echoed the sentiments of Teaff and many of the coaches who attended Metro Index in early May. He said coaches can arrive at the same conclusions about players without wasting time traveling to combines all over the country.

"This is the smartest thing the NCAA has ever done," Wannstedt said. "We can't coach at these camps, we can't talk to the kids or their families, so all we do is stand there and watch a bunch of guys in shorts run over bags for two hours. There is no reason for us to be there. We could get the same info without being there."

Other coaches like WVU's Rich Rodriguez are not wild about the whole combine camps because they are hosted at campuses not named WVU. Pitt has hosted these camps from Metro, Scout.com and Rivals.com. You have Ohio St. and Penn St. both hosting Nike camps. The major competition all get to have the kids come to their campus for a visit that doesn't count as a recruiting trip. Another perceived competitive disadvantage.

All the camps and their sponsors point to how some kids get noticed at the camps that they otherwise would have slipped past. How the kids would have ended up at a smaller school or in a lower division. Mind you, still on scholarship but at IUP instead of Iowa is the argument. Because, you know, it's for the children.

Wanted: Protection From the Line 

Remember last summer, there were some hints that Tyler Palko could be a darkhorse Heisman candidate? As College Football News.com tries to find things to discuss during the dim time counted down their 100 most likely Heisman candidates. Here's where Palko clocked in.
47. QB Tyler Palko, Pittsburgh -- With protection, Palko showed in 2004 that he can be quite the sharpshooter. However, he spent most of 2005 ducking for cover a few seconds after dropping back to pass. And the early exit of Greg Lee means he'll be without a reliable deep threat for the first time since becoming a starter.
The issue is still the line. Even with no protection and a bad start, Palko still threw for 3000 yards. The potential is there with the receivers. The question still remains as to whether he'll get any protection and time to throw.

Do You Know Who I Am? 

Not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Steelers, so that argument won't really fly in the area.

This is just too good.
West Virginia men's basketball coach John Beilein was cited Tuesday for disorderly conduct at Pittsburgh International Airport after he refused a police officer's command to move his vehicle and berated the officer, authorities said.

Beilein, 53, also was issued a parking ticket for leaving his vehicle in a "No Parking" area outside the terminal, said Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt.

The coach was allowed to leave after being cited, Moffatt said.


An officer spotted Beilein's vehicle parked illegally about 1:35 p.m. and told him he had to move, Moffatt said.

Beilein refused and started berating the officer, saying that he didn't have to move the vehicle because he was the West Virginia basketball coach, Moffatt said.

The disturbance drew a crowd, and Beilein was given the citation and parking ticket, Moffatt said.

Beilein disputed the police account.

"The information contained in the citation is an inaccurate representation of the events at the Pittsburgh airport," he said in a statement released through the university.

[Emphasis added.]

Lies! Lies! Lies!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Can Someone Clarify 

Is it just me, or is the music being used by TNT for the NBA playoffs, "Remember the Name," by Fort Minor the same tune that ESPN used for the Big East Basketball Tournament this past March?

I would swear that it is the same song, but I haven't found anything to confirm.

Still More Pre-Season All- Teams 

It must be the trend now to send press releases to the schools about the All-American and All-conference squads before actually putting the information out there for the preseason publications. Lindy's, Athlon, Sporting News and now Blue Ribbon Yearbook has it's All-BE team.

Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm was projected as the offensive player of the year, Pitt defensive back Darrelle Revis was tabbed the defensive player of the year, and Louisville’s Deantwan Whitehead as named newcomer of the year.

West Virginia led the way with seven picks, followed by Louisville (six) and Rutgers (four).
Not sure what Pitt players made the squad. Blue Ribbon doesn't actually release its tome (almost 400 pages) until July.

The Trickle of Information Continues 

As previously noted Athlon Sports will be one of the first publications to put out its college football preview. They somewhat-released their All-American squads and like Lindy's last week make the same call with H.B. Blades and Darrelle Revis.
The newly released Athlon Sports college football annual is the latest to praise Pitt's defensive duo, naming Revis a first team All-American and Blades a second-team pick. The pair was named to Lindy's All-America squad last week.

Athlon also lauded Pitt's incoming recruits, rating the Panthers' 2006 class as the best in the Big East and No. 11 nationally. Five Pitt players were listed among the nation's Top 100 Incoming Freshmen, including tight end Nate Byham (No. 25), receiver Dorin Dickerson (No. 36), receiver Elijah Fields (No. 57), offensive lineman Joe Thomas (No. 66) and running back Kevin Collier (No. 99).
Just to clarify, the recruiting rankings Athlon uses are actually from Scout.com.

One of the articles in this year's mag is ranking the first year of the 23 new coaching hires from 2005. N0 shock that Charlie Weis of ND is at the top. Coach Wannstedt clocks in down at #16.
The first month of the Wannstedt era was a debacle, but the Panthers battled back from a 1–4 start, won four of their last six and ended the year with a winning Big East record.
Greg Robinson at Syracuse came in at #23.

More Ironhead 

A personality like Ironhead Heyward will provoke a lot of memories from columnists. This is one of the better stories I've read. Chicago Bears training camp in 1993.

I was standing next to him after a Bears practice when two elderly white women approached using delicate steps.

The conversation unfolded this way:

"May we have your autograph?" one of the women whispered.

"Why, sure!" Heyward said, with pure joy and excitement.

"I think you're going to be my favorite Bear," one of the women said.

"I'd love that," Heyward answered. "And you two will be my favorite fans."

"Ooooh!" both women responded.

"I see you have a camera," Heyward continued. "Let's take a picture together."

And he stood in the middle, arms around each woman. Both asked me to take the shot. I obliged.

Three of the biggest, warmest smiles ever filled the frame.

Heyward afterward gave each woman an enduring hug. He planted a loving kiss on each one's cheek.

I heard one of them say as they walked away: "That's the first time I've ever been kissed by a black man."

The other offered: "What a charmer! What a guy! Imagine if every professional football player treated fans that way. I'll never forget it."

If you ever met Heyward, no surprise if you left feeling the same way.

I've been reading stories like this. There's acknowledgment of Heyward's excesses as well, but most seemed to be of the opinion that the goods far outweighed the bads.

Of course for some, like the NY Post sports grump Phil Mushnick sees a chance to take a whack at him and now ESPN college football color analyst Mike Gottfried.
While Heyward's death wasn't a big story in terms of time and space provided it, he was a significant historical sports figure. In 1988, Heyward made for the perfect storm example of the academic, financial and social fraud daily committed in this country in the psychotic quest to win ballgames.

Growing up in Passaic, N.J., Heyward was more inclined toward trouble than school, but what did it matter? He was a big, fast RB. The University of Pittsburgh gave him a full, free ride.

At Pitt, Heyward wasn't much for school and was arrested several times. But none of that kept him from playing for Pitt.

Weeks after Heyward rushed for 130 yards in Pitt's loss to Texas in the 1987 New Year's Eve Bluebonnet Bowl, Mike Gottfied, now an ESPN college football analyst and then Pitt's head coach, announced Heyward could no longer play for him and Pitt. Heyward had signed with an agent - Bruce Allen, son of famed NFL coach George Allen - thus, Heyward was done.

While Heyward was through, Gottfried wasn't. He ripped Allen for taking advantage of Heyward, adding Allen had "deprived Heyward of a free college education."

Noble sentiment. But Heyward hadn't been to a class at Pitt for the entire previous semester. And because no one could recall seeing him in a classroom the semester before that, Heyward may have helped win games for Gottfried and Pitt without having attended a class for an entire academic year.

Still, Gottfried blasted Allen for taking advantage of Heyward and for depriving him of a college education. That's why Gottfried, for colossal gall, alone, is no less a significant contributor to sports history than Heyward.
I do wonder about the consistently negative sportswriters. Nothing is ever good, and you wonder if it is even possible for them to enjoy sports any longer.

UPDATE: Pitt has info on the funeral arrangements. The family is asking that instead of any flowers, people consider donating to the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation.

Media, Recruiting and Internet 

A good article in the P-G today by Paul Zeise about Coach Wannstedt and the Pitt coaching staff recruiting effort for year 2.

Wannstedt has been on the road again this May, and this time the situation is much different.

The Panthers are coming off a losing season, and Wannstedt must deal with the fact that three of the four BCS winners -- Penn State, West Virginia and Ohio State -- are within three hours of Pitt's campus.

Conventional wisdom would hold that Wannstedt has little chance of duplicating last year's success. But Wannstedt, based on his experiences thus far, disagrees. He said if anything his chances for success are even better this year than they were last year for several reasons. The biggest one being that he has a much better understanding of what it is he is trying to sell.

Pitt's losing record has not been an issue, he said, because people understand the roster has some holes that need to be filled, which the team's struggles clearly highlight.

"Last year, we were selling dreams and frankly didn't fully know what we were dealing with because we were new," Wannstedt said. "And people also know now that we really do mean business. They see we are genuine and they respect our work ethic. They see we really have made a commitment, especially in Pennsylvania, and they are more excited about what we're doing now then they were last year because it is real.

"I can say this with all honesty -- the reception for us has been even better this year than it was last. We're going to get six or seven more commitments heading into the fall and we'll be off and running again."

While Wannstedts' track record of success as a recruiter is hard to argue with, there are a few signs that his second time around won't be as easy.

This almost seems to be building on this post from Chris Dokish last week on recruiting. Last week saw several recruits targeted by Pitt choose WVU, ND and PSU. Figure any decent beat writer, and I happen to think Zeise is quite good, pays attention to the message board discussions and blogs these days (even if they don't want to admit it). They can find out what is on the mind of the fans and what things they want to know more. So what you get is an article discussing the matter with more detail, information and quotes. Helping to bridge the gap from discussion and speculation to information and fact.

Wannstedt also is being very proactive to maintain the Panthers' recruiting momentum and the enthusiasm surrounding the program, which remains very high. That's a big reason he spent the spring evaluation period -- coaches get four weeks in the spring to evaluate prospects -- on the road with his assistant coaches.

Most head coaches, especially those at established programs, stay home in the spring, saving their road trips until later in the year when they are able to make school and home visits with prospects.

Wannstedt, however, believes the work he does on the road in the spring is building a foundation for another successful signing day for the Panthers.

"I need to be out on the road right now to help get things established," he said. "A few years down the road, once we get things up and running like we want it to be, like we know it will be, maybe I sit back a bit and do it the way other head coaches do it.

"But I just don't think it would be fair for me to push my assistants out the door and make them do the hard work of rebuilding things. I want to be there to help. I also never get tired of selling people on our great city and our great university.

"I am far more excited about our future now than I ever was at any point last year."

Anyone really feel like arguing against it right now? I suppose there is the feeling that he is burning his visits too soon and it could cost Pitt some blue-chippers who wait to decide and get those final visits from another school.

I think Wannstedt makes a compelling case that he needs to be out there early and often to keep selling the program, his staff and coming to Pitt. Overall, it is also hard to argue against the early returns.

One All-Big East List 

Apparently The Sporting News leaked its All-Big East Preseason team to the schools before it has even made it a release on its own site.
The Sporting News obviously thinks West Virginia and Louisville will dominate the Big East football competition this fall.

Seven players from each of those two schools are on the 2006 Sporting News All-Big East preseason first team.

What's more, TSN has three Mountaineers and three Cardinals on its second team. There also are seven from each on the All-America checklist. That publication couldn't have put these two national powers any closer in its projections for the upcoming season.
Brohm was named Big East offensive player of the year and Pitt linebacker H.B. Blades defensive player of the year.

Pitt and South Florida placed three players each on the all-league first team, Connecticut and Rutgers two each, and Syracuse one.
Obviously, that means Brohm was 1st team QB. Apparently WVU's Pat White was the 2nd team, meaning Tyler Palko didn't make the cut.

My educated guess for the 3 Pitt 1st teamers: Blades, CB Darrelle Revis and P Adam Graessle.

Officially Undecided 

A little snippet from the Philadelphia Daily News:
Mike Rice, one of Phil Martelli's assistants at Saint Joseph's, says he is "seriously considering" an offer from Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon to become Dixon's associate head basketball coach. Rice, a Pittsburgh native, came to St. Joe's in 2004.
So at this time, there is no official word. There is confirmation that the job is his if he "wants" it. Considering he sent the resume to Dixon, I'm guessing the only thing that keeps him at St. Joe's is a raise and promotion like when Pitt had to retain Barry Rohrssen from leaving to join the St. John's coaching staff a couple years prior.

Monday, May 29, 2006

New Staff 

According to the e-mail bylined by Chris Dokish from Pittsburgh Sports Report, Coach Jamie Dixon has made the hirings for the vacancies in the various coaching spots.
The associate head coach position that was vacated by Barry Rohrssen when he left to become the head coach at Manhattan, will reportedly be filled by St. Joseph's assistant Mike Rice, Jr.; while the director of basketball operations slot, previously held by the promoted Orlando Antigua, will be filled by former Panther player Brandin Knight.

Rice is a Pittsburgh native and son of former Duquesne head coach Mike Rice, Sr., who is now the play-by-play announcer for the Portland Trailblazers. The 37-year old Rice spent the last three seasons at St. Joseph's under Phil Martelli, who hired Rice after seeing him excel as the director of the Eastern Invitational Basketball Camp in New Jersey. The Eastern Invitational bills itself as the biggest and most influential exposure camp in the United States, with over 900 coaches from every level attending yearly.

Prior to Rice's stint at the Eastern Invitational, he served as an assistant for 10 years at the college level with stops at his alma mater, Fordham, as well as Marquette, Niagara, and Chicago State.
According to the report, Knight may not actually join the team until the end of the summer.

I don't know enough about Mike Rice to sound like I know what I'm talking about, and I have other things to do and enjoy today. Superficially, it looks like a damn fine hire. He seems to have a lot of NJ and Philly connections that are vital to Big East recruiting.

I'll try to have more later.

Football Notes 

Bob Smizik with a decent remembering of Ironhead Heyward.

"He was a great father," said Charlotte Heyward Blackwell. "The boys are all extremely gifted athletes. He was very hands on, very involved. He wanted them to know he was there for them.

"He had a stroke in March of 2005 that left him partially paralyzed on his left side. It was a setback. But even in his wheelchair, he was lively. He didn't let it hold him back at all. Even when he lost the ability to walk, he was out there in the wheelchair, letting them know he was there."

Cameron is a serious athlete. He's a 6-foot-7, 270-pound junior defensive tackle at Peachtree Ridge High in Suwanee, Ga. He's heavily recruited by major schools, including Pitt.

"He hasn't made up his mind," said his mother, a Pittsburgh native and Pitt graduate.

"We remained best friends," said Charlotte of her ex-husband. "It was a joint custody with not a lot of rules. We both served as parents. We both did the driving. We lived about a mile apart."

Cameron played his first two high school seasons at Whitfield Academy, about 35 miles from home. After his father's stroke, he transferred to his neighborhood school, Peachtree Ridge. Under Georgia rules, he would have been ineligible. But the family petitioned the state governing board and he was granted a medical hardship to play so his dad could watch.

When it was clear that Ironhead did not have long to live, Peachtree Ridge coach Blair Armstrong was considering moving Senior Night from the end of the 2006 season to the start of it.

It wasn't to be. Cameron Heyward won't have his father with him for this final season. But the memory lives on of a great dad, an outstanding football player and one of the sport's world's unforgettable characters.

Former Pitt offensive lineman, Matt Morgan is trying to stick with the Buffalo Bills. He was signed out of college as a free agent by the Rams in 2004 and was on their practice squad. Last year he was on the Rams regular roster for at least part of the season.

Tyler Palko was working one of the high school QB camps at Bloomsberg University this weekend.

"You're going to have expectations and sometimes you meet them sometimes you don't," the soon-to-be fifth-year senior quarterback said. "We didn't have a very good team last year to handle that. I think sometimes you have to experience the lows to kind of wake you up.

"It does jolt you. Who wants to start off 0-3 coming off a BCS game? But (we did) and you've got to learn how to deal with it."

Palko was among the featured instructors Saturday at George Curry's Quarterback Camp, run by the former Berwick and current Wyoming Valley West head coach with the help of several of the state's top high school and college sideline bosses.

More than 300 athletes from grades 4-through-12 participated in the annual event, held Saturday for the first time on the campus of Bloomsburg University.

Whereas Penn State's Anthony Morelli and Pat Devlin were no-shows, Palko has been loyal to Curry's camp, which the West Allegheny High School grad has been attending since the seventh grade.

"You tighten up your fundamentals," the 6-foot-2, 220-pound left-hander said. "It's a neat thing to be around and see guys grow. I think that's why people continue to come back to his camps, because you get a lot out of it. Coach Curry's very good at what he teaches in the fundamental aspects of playing quarterback."


He hopes to follow the example set last season by his friend Michael Robinson at Penn State.

"He was in the same position. They didn't have a very good season and they came back and, shoot, they're in the Orange Bowl. So it happens to people and I think it makes you a better quarterback to experience highs and lows and mediocrity. I think coming off a 5-6 season we're excited to get back into it and that's what we're looking forward to."

Palko expressed disappointment at not being able to play in a game against the Nittany Lions during his college career, adding he hopes the series between the two rivals will resume one day.

"It stinks not playing them because it would be a fun game. It's not like a hatred thing. You want to play in big games, that's a big game. I think it's going to get back on track, I really do, just because of (the efforts of) coach Wannstedt.

"I think they're going to find some happy medium down the line. I wish it could have been when I was here, but I'll come back and watch it."

Along with everyone in the state.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


Watching the Suns-Mavs playoff game.

They just discussed how Tim Thomas was friends with Ironhead. -- they were both from NJ. He has his name and number on his shoes for the game. They showed a close-up.

Remembering Ironhead 

You have the standard obituary article, with more attention to his NFL career. But as with any life, there's a lot more. A life like Craig Heyward has many other stories and things for which to remember him. There is the great Zest commercial, which DeadSpin links to a parody/imitation from YouTube.com, because at this time no one has uploaded the original.

There are those in New Jersey who remember his high school days.

Heyward, a big, powerful running back, was voted one of the Top 10 offensive players of the century by The Star-Ledger after rushing for 5,142 yards and scoring 74 touchdowns for Passaic. He was first team all-state in 1982-83 and also played linebacker, leading Passaic to two North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 titles. Passaic won The Star-Ledger Top 20 trophy as the state's No. 1 team in 1983.

Tom Elsasser coached Heyward at Passaic High from 1980-82.

"He was physically dominating," Elsasser said last night. "He turned 14 years old on the first night he played varsity football and ran for three TDs against Memorial of West New York.

"He was 5-11, 215 as a freshman and could run a 4.5 40. What separated him was his size and speed. He started for me as a fullback and was a tailback in his junior and senior years.

"I remember one day I brought him home to Monroe Street in Passaic and all the little kids in the neighborhood ran up to him when he stepped out of the car and they would be chanting and tease him," Elsasser said. "He would stand there and then jump at them and they'd run away and he'd laugh, and the kids would come back again and try to get him mad. He was like a folk hero to the little kids in the neighborhood.

"I remember seeing him when he was either in the fourth or fifth grade, he was much bigger than the other kids, holding a basketball over his head and the other kids trying to jump up and get it."


Friends who had visited recently with Heyward, including one-time NFL quarterback Bobby Hebert, a former teammate in New Orleans and Atlanta, did not expect his death to come so quickly.

Hebert told ESPN.com two weeks ago that he was apprised that the tumor had wrapped itself around Heyward's brain, that further surgical attempts were not planned, and that the once-mighty fullback would likely survive another three to five years.

"The one thing he's still got and that hasn't changed a bit," Hebert said at the time, "is that devilish sense of humor of his."

Heyward's humor and gregariousness were probably the thing those who interacted with him most often cite.

Of course, his Pitt career was quite outstanding.

Mr. Heyward, 39, died yesterday morning at his home in Atlanta. Cause of death is unknown, but he has been in ill health since he was diagnosed with a benign tumor, which was partially removed, in 1998. Mr. Heyward had a recurrence of the tumor last year, and some of his former teammates have been asked to donate money to help pay his soaring medical bills.

Mr. Heyward was one of the most popular and productive running backs to play at Pitt, accumulating 3,086 career yards and leaving school after his junior season to become a No. 1 draft choice of the National Football League's New Orleans Saints in 1988.

"The thing I liked about Ironhead is you never had to worry about his effort," said former Pitt wide receiver Bill Osborn, who also was from New Jersey and was recruited to Pitt the same year as Mr. Heyward. "When we would line up, you knew he was going to give maximum effort every time. He was a tough, hard-nosed guy who loved life."

"He was the perfect teammate," said Thomas Jefferson High School coach Bill Cherpak, one of the linemen who blocked for Mr. Heyward. "You loved [having] him on your team."

His cause of death is presumed to be the return of the same brain tumor that ended his NFL career in 1998 and caused the host of physical ailments leading to a portion of his brain being removed to try and remove the cancerous tumor.

Heyward's health steadily declined after learning two months ago that the same tumor that ended his NFL career as a Colt in 1998 -- known as a chordoma -- had returned. Heyward underwent surgery at Emory Hospital in his hometown of Atlanta, but doctors were unable to completely remove the tumor.

Heyward, a father of three, was blind in his right eye and required a wheelchair after suffering a stroke two years ago that left him partially paralyzed.

"I got a call at 4:30 or 5 that he had passed away," said Blair Armstrong, who coached Heyward's son, Cameron, at Peachtree Ridge High School. "He was in a hospice when he died."

Crap. Thinking about this makes my Dalmore 12 year-old taste like some cheap Ballantine.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Another Loss 

This has been a bad year for the Pitt family. So many greats and family passing. Craig "Ironhead" Heyward is sadly the latest.
Statement from University of Pittsburgh Head Football Coach Dave Wannstedt:

"Craig Heyward truly ranks among the all-time greats in Pitt football history. I will always remember him as a tremendous player who had an irrepressible attitude on and off the field. We spoke just a few weeks ago and I was struck by the typical upbeat 'Ironhead' attitude he displayed despite his health. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Pitt family are with Craig's loved ones during this time of sorrow."
Heyward has been battling for his life for the last several years. All condolences to his family.

Pulling A Penn State 

Apparently it was announced a few weeks ago, but since I don't pay that much attention to BC it took me a while to notice.

BC head coach Al Skinner finally got BC to bail on their annual game with Holy Cross.
The teams first met on the court in 1905. BC dropped basketball following the 1924-25 season, not resuming until 1945. They have played every year since, with annual home-and-homes being a featured part of each school's schedule from 1947 through 1981. Holy Cross dominated at first, winning 21 in succession before BC finally won in 1957. For the first decade, the Crusaders were a national power, winning a national championship in 1947, filling Boston Garden the next three years with Bob Cousy as a star attraction, then winning the then highly prestigious NIT in 1954, the marquee players being Tom Heinsohn, Togo Palazzi, and Ronnie Perry Sr.

BC began to establish some semblance of parity when The Cooz himself took over as coach in 1963, and as time went on, the fortunes of the teams shifted, the turning point coming when BC joined the new Big East Conference in 1979 and Holy Cross did not. BC is, of course, a much larger school and it probably made sense for Holy Cross to pursue a more modest athletic path (this viewpoint is not a universally held Holy Cross alumni opinion, of course). It has culminated in recent BC dominance, at least in terms of final scores. The Eagles have won 14 of the last 15 contests.

Dropping the Crusaders from the schedule is no casual matter. The athletic rivalry began on the football field in 1896. For the first 70 years of the 20th century, the schools regarded themselves as equals in every way. There are vast numbers of alums on both sides who harbor fond remembrances of great games in both sports, and Lord knows there are innumerable instances of, shall we say, ''mixed" marriages featuring Eagles and Crusaders, not to mention fathers who went to one school and the offspring to another. I mean, I'm working with one right now. Dan Shaughnessy went to Holy Cross, but his son, Sam, will be playing baseball for Peter Hughes at BC next year. These schools have an unbreakable bond, it seems to me.

'Believe me, I understand," says DeFilippo. ''My father was Holy Cross, '49. I grew up pulling for the Crusaders. I understand the history of the teams, but the schedule should be mutually beneficial, and, in my eyes, it's not beneficial for us to play Holy Cross the next couple of years."

If that sounds fuzzy and vague, you're on the right track. ''It's the continuation of a trend, I guess," maintains Crusaders coach Ralph Willard, Holy Cross Class of '67. ''The BCS conferences have a magic formula. They need X number of wins, and they need to schedule outside schools at home they can beat."

But BC is beating Holy Cross. Fourteen out of 15, remember? So if the Crusaders don't mind showing up, shouldn't BC be willing to keep playing them for the sake of, oh, you know, tradition?

Not if you're Al Skinner, apparently.

''Al told me right away," recalls Willard. ''He said it was a no-win situation for him."

Maybe there's some rule I've been unaware that when you join a conference, you sever a traditional game. Damn the history as well. Then you look for any excuse you can find to justify it.

In the last couple of years, Skinner has raised another objection to the game, one the Holy Cross folks find amusing.

''He says BC kids are getting hurt," says Regan. ''He thinks we're too physical."

''I like Al," says Willard. ''Don't get me wrong. But I was not happy when he said the referees weren't protecting his players from the 'less talented' players."

Skinner isn't backing down on this one. ''I've heard them say that their kids were getting hurt, too," he says. ''So you start asking yourself why you should be playing."

Yes, the big, bruising BC Eagles of the last few years feels it was getting manhandled by the Crusaders. No wonder Al Skinner could never beat Pitt.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Gray Watch 

Andy Katz posts on Aaron Gray's plans for Orlando (Insider Subs.).
Pitt junior center Aaron Gray received word that he would be invited to Orlando for a physical only at the predraft camp June 6-10.

That's good news for Gray, who doesn't want to be flying around the country to test his draft stock. Gray and Pitt coach Jamie Dixon are still deciding when and where to stage a post-Orlando workout before he makes a decision by the June 18 deadline to withdraw.

Dixon said he originally looked into one at Pitt, but wasn't sure about the attendance from NBA teams. That could force Gray to choose a more regional site to draw the most interest.

Either way, the Big East and its TV partners are more concerned about Gray's decision than Villanova's Kyle Lowry, who also still hasn't signed with an agent. If Gray returns to the Panthers, they would be considered the Big East favorite and more potential TV games would come their way.

Gray would be the Panthers' go-to player if he returns to the lineup. The selling point for Gray to stay would be that he's not a lock to go in the top 20, but likely would leap into that group in 2007. This may also be the only season in his career where he'll be the focal point of the offense.

More national TV games for Pitt. One more selfish reason to want Gray to return for his senior year.

I noted last week I didn't think many NBA scouts would be too interested in coming to Pittsburgh to see him workout. I think it might be more likely that he'll work out in Philly, NYC or NJ. Places that are reasonably close to his family's residence.

Meanwhile Chad Ford notes that two centers are seeing their draft stock rising (Insider Subs.).
I overheard one Eastern Conference scout call Patrick O'Bryant the top prospect in the draft. While that may be one lonely opinion, it does appear that O'Bryant's stock is on the rise. He's long, athletic and the only legit center in the draft. He might have a big draft drive in his near future.
Another international man of interest is Senegal's Mouhamed Saer Sene. Scouts and NBA executives say that his stock has risen into the late lottery to mid-first round. Why? Because they've been going to Belgium the last few weeks to see him play and come away impressed.
Sene had been ranked among Centers as behind Gray. Reads like he has passed him at this point. Unfortunately, if O'Bryant's draft status rises much beyond where he was expected to go (12-15th), it could push Gray higher in the draft as another team looking for a big center might reach for him.

Ah, the intrigue and confusion.

Some Suggestions 

It's getaway Friday for many (and if hit counts are any indication, more than a few readers of this blog). For those of you who haven't gotten a head start on the long weekend, I'm sure you still have to head out to the store to stock up on some beer for the weekend.

Last month was an AleFest in Cleveland, and I had the chance to sample some 20 or so odd beers that day. I've been posting beer reviews at my other blog for the last few weeks.

So, in addition to whatever your default beer choice is, consider something new as well to try this weekend.

14 Weeks To Kickoff 

This year's poster.

The Pre-Season Trickle 

It's nice to read.
The Pitt football team will have at its disposal two of the finest defensive players in the nation according to the 2006 Lindy's Football Annual.

Lindy's named junior cornerback Darrelle Revis and senior linebacker H.B. Blades to its preseason All-America Team. Revis was a first-team selection, while Blades was named to the second team.
Revis and Blades should garner most of the individual pre-season hype. Maybe Punter Adam Graessele will get some notice.

Lindy's doesn't have it's full list up at it's site. They do have a minor coed section, though.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Learning Something New 

How long has the Arena Football League had a minor league system?

I mean, I admit to not really following the AFL, and it's easy to miss teams placed in Macon, Shreveport, Louisville, Quad City and so on. But I'm still a little surprised I missed the whole creation of a set of minor league franchises. You like to think that sort of thing wouldn't slip right past you.

I only bring this up because I came across an article mentioning that William "Tu Tu" Ferguson is now a part of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers (who even have their own cheerleaders). Apparently he was playing for the Manchester Wolves last year.

I hate to think what those guys are making in the AFL's minor league.

Football Media Notes -- Manic Mouse Edition 

Disney/ABC/ESPN has its college football announcing and studio line-ups set. Prepare to weep.

No, not that Mark May is still in studio for the weekends. (I realize he's not particularly well liked in the CFB blogosphere, but you aren't going to get negative commentary about the Pitt great and CFB HoFer here. I like him, even if it is at least partially driven by bias for a Pitt guy.) It's that Lou Holtz remains.

Potentially truly disturbing is that the studio group of Rece Davis, May and Holtz will be put out in the field for some ESPN and ESPN2 mid-week games. I'm just not highly enthused by that group doing play calling and color. John Saunders and Craig James will be the other ESPN/2 midweek game crew.

The hideous Friday crew of Dave Pasch with Rod Gilmore and Trevor Matich returns to inflict incredible amounts of frustration on viewers. The decent eye-candy that is Alex Flanagan will be on the sidelines. It won't be enough.

Here's where it gets bad. ESPN Sunday Night NFL Football refugee Paul Maguire returns to college football for the first time in 20 years to call Saturday afternoon ABC CFB games with Brad Nessler and Bob Griese. That will not be good.

With Aaron Taylor going to do charity work, the man who literally spoke out of one side of his face is gone from the ABC studio show. Joining John Saunders and Craig James this year will be Doug Flutie. This could be somewhat entertaining if they do shots from behind to show how much they had to raise Flutie's seat compared to the others to make it look like they are all at the same size.

Now in other media news that ties into the WWLS.

I've written from time to time with some interest in what the Mountain West Conference is doing to improve itself with regards to TV exposure and control over itself. From moving to CSTV to starting its own regional network. In college sports, they have become one of the more forward thinking conferences.

The Big 11 is starting to figure things out. Realizing its power in college football tv markets and desire of the WWLS to retain them, they appear on the verge of making an aggressive move with the help of ESPN.
The concept has worked in other sports for 20 years. The Yankees, Braves, Cubs, Red Sox and Indians all have their own networks in baseball. But in college sports, leaving the Mother Ship is seen in the industry as suicide.

Maybe, except that now the Big Ten is headed in that direction, too. SportsLine.com has learned that the nation's biggest conference (in terms of demographic reach) is close to announcing a long-term agreement with ESPN that would include a side deal with DirecTV to broadcast the Big Ten Network.

The league has been silent, but the formation of its own network has been the talk of the industry. The Big Ten is the next major conference whose television deal expires (June 2007). What it does with its content to maximize profits might be a template for other major conferences.

Dropping production costs and the success of other "networks" has led the league to this point.

While ESPN will still get top games, the Big Ten Network most likely will broadcast second-tier football and basketball games as well as minor sports.

"It does make sense. ... The Big Ten will sell very well in Chicago, in Detroit, in Cleveland, in Pittsburgh, in Milwaukee, the footprint of the Big Ten," said a high-placed industry source. "They will have a viewing audience. ... You're going to see more of this moving forward."

Why is the Big Ten forcing its consumers to the more-expensive satellite TV? Basically, because it can. The league has one of the most loyal -- and well-heeled -- fan bases.
If this happens, how much longer until the other conferences start looking to go this route in one form or another?

Mocking The Draft 

What the hell is going on? Every sports site feels a need to bust out mock drafts no matter how ridiculous it is right now. I know, plenty of interest, condensed news cycles, and of course competition from the fact that one sports site does it so all the rest must do so as well. Still, the draft boards are all over the frickin' place without any rhyme or reason.

Don't buy into any of it right now. Definitely not until after more workouts and the Orlando camp. Whatever. I aggregate, you decide.

SI.com's mock draft has Aaron Gray completely missing from the list because as they say at the introduction:
And don't forget that early entry candidates have until June 18 to withdraw their names from consideration from the draft. Determining who will withdraw is an educated guess as well. For now, we expect the majority of international early entry candidates to withdraw, as well as prospects like Aaron Gray, Arron Afflalo, Nick Fazekas, Daniel Gibson and Richard Roby. Culling information from NBA insiders, this mock draft reflects those assumptions.
I want to believe.

Typing of which, I believe Greg Doyel at CBS Sportsline purposefully did his mock draft with the emphasis on mock.
Most mock drafts, they're going to tell you how the 2006 NBA Draft might go. Me? I'll tell you how it should go.
13. Philadelphia 76ers

Aaron Gray, C, Pittsburgh: Patrick O'Bryant ate him up in the NCAA Tournament, an outcome that still shocks me. Was that a fluke? Not sure, but I'm going out on a limb and saying Gray will be a better pro. But neither will be all that good.
He has O'Bryant going at #19

Tony Mejia, who covers the NBA for CBS Sportsline is more traditional and puts Gray at #22 to the Nets like so many others.

A little less than 5 weeks until the actual draft. About 3 1/2 until the deadline to withdraw.

B-Ball Notes 

Greg Doyel's Tuesday list concerns assistant coaching issues in this offseason. Pitt, with all of its upheaval, makes the list.
8. Pitt's exodus: Jamie Dixon stayed, but he's about the only one. After flirting with Arizona State and Missouri, Dixon signed a long-term extension with Pittsburgh but will start the next phase of his career without the bulk of his previous staff. Ace recruiter Barry Rohrssen is the new head coach at Manhattan. Bench coach Joe Lombardi is the new coach at Division II Indiana (Pa.). Third assistant Pat Sandle was rumored to be a candidate for an assistant's position at N.C. State, but that didn't happen. Best of luck to Dixon, whose younger sister died this spring.
Of course we know Orlando Antigua looks to be filling one of the assistant coaching spots.

Big East Blog provides a rundown on the eligible transfers on BE teams for the upcoming season. Mike Cook for Pitt looks to be the headliner, but DePaul, WVU, Georgetown and especially USF will all have some impact transfers. Georgetown's transfer, by the way, is Patrick Ewing, Jr. Think there won't be much discussion of that when Georgetown shows up on national games this coming season?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Passing It Along 

Pitt has a press release saying that Tyler Palko will be on "Savran on SportsBeat" tonight at 6pm on FSN Pittsburgh. The primary discussion will be about his TC House Foundation, that was part of the extensive feature article from Sunday.

Do They? Should They? 

A really good story on coaches going to other schools and programs to pick the brains of their colleagues.
No one knows the first time one coach took off in the spring to learn from another. But any history book or biography from the old days mentions them. One example: After Stanford rushed for 383 yards and whipped Army 26-0 at Yankee Stadium in the final game of the 1928 season, Army assistant coaches Ralph Sasse and Harry Ellinger traveled across the continent to Palo Alto, Calif., to learn the double-wing formation from legendary Stanford coach Pop Warner.
A lot of times, coaches aren't looking for plays or formations. They may be in search of something as basic as how a practice is run, or how a skill is taught. Hall of Fame coach Red Blaik wrote in his book "You Have to Pay the Price" that when he coached at Dartmouth, he invited Pittsburgh coach Jock Sutherland to Hanover "because I admired his fetish for detail and fundamentals." Coaches today are looking for the same thing. Rodriguez said, "Last year, we got a drill on how to get off a block and make a tackle from Georgia and we used it. We showed it to Florida and they may run it."
One thing you can guarantee about coaches: If you win, other coaches will come find you. Take this spring. In the wake of West Virginia's 11-1 finish and Sugar Bowl upset of Georgia, coaches from Penn State, Ohio State, California, Memphis and Bowling Green went to Morgantown.

"That's kind of neat," Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez said. "It's a cheaper way for us to not have to go out there. We don't let them come to campus without us asking them a few questions."

I was all set to start questioning and wondering whether Coach Wannstedt and the staff -- especially OC Matt Cavanaugh and DC Paul Rhoads -- were taking trips like this. Exposing themselves to new ideas, ways of doing things and such. Seems like such a good idea.

Of course then I started thinking about the ill-advised decision by former Coach Harris to install the spread offense after visiting Northwestern and Randy Walker in 2001. It made me reconsider my position.

So those are the questions right now. The factual is simply wondering whether the football coaching staff is getting out to other schools and talking with other coaches to discuss things and compare notes.

The other question is should they be doing that? Or should they be simply trying to figure out the best way to use the talent on hand and be out there recruiting non-stop.

I lean towards hoping the staff is making some visits and trying to learn some new things. I have to think that regardless of the talent level issues, it would be better to at least listen and consider some other approaches.

Draft Stuff 

I don't know if anyone watched the NBA Draft Lottery thing last night before the basketball game. I only mention it, not because Toronto picks first. During the broadcast they had "Steve Lavin's top-25 players" on the scroll. It looked like it was college players only, but I did see Aaron Gray listed at #20.

For whatever it's worth, Chad Ford listed his 1st Round Mock Draft (Insider subs.). At #24 going to the Memphis Grizzlies:
The skinny: The Grizzlies have been searching for a legit center ever since Bryant Reeve retired. With Lorenzen Wright hitting free agency this summer, the need has never been greater. Who better to fill that role than the guy who plays and kids of looks like Big Country. While Jerry West would prefer an athletic big man, Gray proved at Pittsburgh that he can be a formidable force in the paint.
It will also depend on the point guards available at that spot. The Grizz need a point guard as well.

I'm back to an inconclusive sense as to whether Gray will stay or go. That single workout is looming large.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dunkin' Ignorance 

If I actually thought this to be close to credible, I'd be really annoyed (via Cracked Sidewalks).
The 30th Anniversary of the "dunk ban" being lifted from college basketball will be celebrated during the 2006-07 season. In honor of the 30th Anniversary Dunkadelic Inc. constructed the All-Time Dunkadelic Teams for the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, PAC 10, SEC, combination of the mid-major conferences, and high school phenom teams. The players were selected to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd teams with an All-Dunkadelic Team MVP for each of the 8 All-Time teams. The 8 All-Time Teams were ranked from 1-8 based on the overall team of 15 dunkers.
Big East All-Time Dunkadelic First Team:
Patrick Ewing (Georgetown), Darrell "Dr. Dunkenstein" Griffith (Louisville), Kenyon Martin (Cincinnati), Dwyane Wade (Marquette), James White (Cincinnati)

Big East All-Time Dunkadelic Second Team:
Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse), Allen Iverson (Georgetown), Melvin Levett (Cincinnati), Alonzo Mourning (Georgetown), Orlando Woolridge (Notre Dame)

Big East All-Time Dunkadelic Third Team:
Willie Glass (St. Johns), Conrad McRae (Syracuse), Ruben Patterson (Cincinnati), Stephen Thompson (Syracuse), Hakim Warrick (Syracuse), Willie Glass (St Johns)

The Big East All-Time Dunkadelic Team MVP is Dwyane Wade, runner-up Darrell "Dr. Dunkenstein" Griffith, and 3rd place Patrick Ewing
Just because Marquette, Louisville, and Cinci are now in the Big East does not mean their past greats from before joining the Big East should ever be included in all-time Big East teams. Not to mention the absolute insanity to not have Jerome Lane anywhere to be seen betrays the ignorance of this.

Still, this is just a useless press release from an unknown company that is in a minor trademark dispute with Reebok for the last few years while trying to find anyone to sell his gear.

(Good grief, I'm scraping for content now.)

Things Change 

Neal Tracey was once a hot, young recruit.

After that visit from the Notre Dame assistant the letters started coming. Letters upon letters. A ton of letters. Chris Branch, his coach at Ponaganset, told him he could get to the next level, but he had to become more focused, get stronger, play every play as if it were his last.

What was left unsaid was that college football was a business, and that schools don't give out football scholarships because they're nice.

It was fun in the beginning, no question about that.

The summer before his senior year he went to camps at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Boston College. At Notre Dame, he even picked up pieces of grass from the stadium to take back to give to one of his brothers. He also sat down with coach Bob Davies. Here he was a kid from Glocester, and the coach of Notre Dame was talking to him.

Who would have ever believed that?

A few months later reality showed up.

Davies was gone, and new Notre Dame coach Ty Willingham didn't seem to have any interest. Penn State backed off. BC put him on the back burner. As his senior year played out the two schools still all over him were Big East schools Rutgers and Pittsburgh.

Then he got hurt.

A few minutes into a playoff game against Shea, his last high school game.

A torn ACL in his left knee.

Neal Tracey was looking at an operation and six minths of rehab.

Tracey came to Pitt and ended up with 2 more knee surgeries including losing the entire 2004 season.

By the time spring football started, Dave Wannstedt was the new Pitt coach. He he wanted smaller, quicker lineman. Tracey got down to 280.

But when he came back to camp in late summer his knee swelled again. He was sent for an MRI. When the results came back the trainer told him his knees "were trashed," that he had no cartilage in either knee and probably will be looking at knee replacements at age 40.

Still, Tracey wanted to play.

And play he did.

He was a blocker on the field goal team, and played backup tackle against Youngstown State.

"All my hard work paid off," he says. "I finally got on the field."

Still, his football is over, even if he has two years of eligibility remaining. He recently graduated with a degree in Communications, already wants to get on to the next chapter in his life. He knows he was fortunate to get through last fall, that he can't do it again, no matter who much he'd like to.

He also knows he has to lose weight, that it's not healthy to be lugging 300 pounds around. His goal is to eventually get down to 220.

I don't pretend to have even known of Neal Tracey prior to this story. It probably is a similar story for so many players at so many levels of college football just trying to keep playing and get on the field. In any capacity.

Congratulations to Tracey for not just getting out on the field, but graduating and moving on with his life.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Among The Best 

Several of you have e-mailed me about the warm and fantastic story about Tyler Palko's friendship with Chris McKough, a teen who has Down's Syndrome. With whom he has already started the TC House Foundation.

There's really not much to add to this. It's a story to read in full. It speaks volumes about the character and person of Tyler Palko and his whole family. It is yet another reason why Palko is one of the most popular Panther in the school's history.

Previous Drafts 

Something that seems to be missing from a lot of draft talk, involves previous drafts where international players are not yet here.

But not every international basketball prospect joins the NBA immediately after hearing his name called on draft night. Many, including stars like Kirilenko, Peja Stojakovic of Serbia-Montenegro and Manu Ginobili of Argentina, remained in Europe for a couple of seasons after being drafted, honing their skills and ensuring that they were ready for the difficult transition to the NBA game and life in general in North America. In the past four NBA drafts, more and more teams are using their second-round picks to select promising international players they don't plan to have on their rosters right away.

Some young international players need another year or more to fully develop their games in Europe before entering the cauldron of NBA play. Some simply need to play out their existing contracts, avoiding huge buyouts that can run more than a million dollars. Still others needs time to hit the weight room or get used to their new bodies after explosive growth spurts in their late teens or early 20s.
NBA draft rules make selecting an international player who would agree to stay overseas for a year to two, or who is contractually obligated to do so, especially attractive. Most players who played college basketball in the U.S. want to try to make the NBA as soon as they are drafted. If the player signs a contract and the team can't find a roster spot for him right away, the player is then waived and becomes a free agent, and the drafting team loses all rights to him.

In contrast, if an NBA team drafts a player who is already playing professionally outside the U.S., the NBA team retains that player's NBA draft rights as long as he is under contract. When the player informs the NBA team that he is free of any contractual obligation, the NBA team must present the player with what is known as a "required tender," or contract offer. At that point, contract negotiations can begin.
This could have a big impact on the 2006 draft picks. A couple weeks ago, I noted the needs of teams in the second half of the 1st round. The New Jersey Nets at #22 and #23 have been speculated to be very likely to take a traditional center like Gray.

Maybe not. They have a 7-foot Center stashed in Europe.

Mile Ilic, FMP Zeleznik (Serbia & Montenegro)

Few basketball fans in the United States had ever heard the name Nenad Krstic when the New Jersey Nets plucked him with the 24th pick in the 2002 NBA draft. As it turned out, Nets president Rod Thorn and general manager Ed Stefanski had found a bona fide NBA big man who came into the league in 2004-05 and averaged 10 points and five rebounds right away. In his second season, Krstic became a full-time starter and averaged 13.5 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Now the Nets hope to cash in again with another big man from the same part of the world. Ilic, a Bosnian selected with the 43rd pick in the 2005 draft, is young (21) and not nearly as physically developed as Krstic, but he's an athletic big man with a knack for blocking shots.

"He is a legitimate seven-footer with terrific hands," said Stefanski. "He runs the court well and is athletic. If you have a seven-footer with great hands, that is step one to becoming a good player. He has to get an NBA body, and he is working on his body and has made progress. He has good tools. We are encouraged by his overall progress and we'll be talking to his agent (Marc Cornstein) in the next couple of months to talk again about when it makes sense to bring him over here."

One more reason why draft projections are becoming more unreliable overall and borderline worthless until after the June pre-Draft camp. At which point they are only somewhat unreliable.

Start Inching Closer 

Coming June 7.

Athlon is usually the first amongst the preview publications.

Words With Antiqua 

A decent Q&A with Orlando Antigua who as expected is going to be promoted to Assistant Basketball Coach at Pitt. Maybe a little too much talk about being with the Globetrotters. He is yet another guy who decided to settle down in Pittsburgh. Not coming back home, but making Pittsburgh his home.

Q: Is that why you retired?

Antigua: I was getting to the point where I knew I wouldn't be able to play forever. I wanted to start the next phase of my career. I worked for Pat Cavanaugh's company in the North Hills and got some great experience in the corporate world there. When I was there, I worked with Joey David on his staff at Mt. Lebanon and then came the opportunity to be a part of coach Dixon's staff.

Q: Did you always want to be a coach?

Antigua: I wasn't sure. My brother was a coach. Sometimes, as a player I thought I was a coach (laughs). I was always intrigued by the strategy of the game, the game-planning. Being the director of basketball operations that gave me an idea of the administrative side of things, and I got to see whether I wanted to be involved in the coaching aspect.


Q: You've had opportunities to leave Pitt for assistant-coaching positions the past couple of years. Why did you stay at Pitt?

Antigua: It's home. It's where a lot of my opportunities have flourished. Even when I was a Globetrotter, I never really left. I've always lived in Pittsburgh. It's the university that gave me an opportunity to earn a degree, and I've met some wonderful people here. That's one of the reasons I have a tattoo of a Panther on my arm. It's a reminder of no matter where I go, I'll always be a Pitt Panther. I had the opportunity to help mold some very good players here. It was a great opportunity to show my passion for the university.

As a brief, unrelated to sports, digression, these are the kind of stories the City of Pittsburgh needs to keep in mind and should promote. People who come from elsewhere to live and settle in the city. It's all well and good to want to keep the people born and raised in the area around -- and don't I hear enough about the 'brain drain' complaint in Cleveland -- but just as important is getting new people coming and staying.

People who don't just talk about how the city was and aren't tied to those things, but want to go forward in the city and community. People who fall in love with the area, find it comfortable and want to make it home. As a non-native Western PAer who went to Pitt and loved the city and misses it, I enjoy reading things like that and the way recent commit Pat Bostick spoke of the City as well as the school.

Q: Which Pitt player will surprise the most next season?

Antigua: That's a great question. I would say probably Levon [Kendall]. Actually, it's a toss-up between two or three guys. I would also say Ronald [Ramon] and Sam Young. Sam is just starting to scratch the surface of the player he can become.
How many would have expected him to say Kendall? As long as Kendall's back doesn't cause him big problems he could be very important to the inside game. Especially if Gray doesn't come back.

A Past Great Passes 

Imagine being a multi-talented athlete. An All-American football player and turning down pro sports for teaching. It wouldn't happen today except for medical reasons. It was a different era.

Hubert R. "Hub" Randour, an All-America halfback at the University of Pittsburgh and the first head football coach in the fledgling Penn Hills School District, where he taught for 42 years, died Friday. Mr. Randour, of Penn Hills, was 91.

Mr. Randour played at Pitt for legendary Coach Jock Sutherland from 1933 to 1935 on a team that lost only three games during that three-year span.

After graduating from Pitt in 1936, Mr. Randour declined offers from the Steelers, Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Eagles to accept the head coaching position with the new Penn Hills High School. The school's first football and basketball teams included only ninth- and 10th-graders. Students then were housed at the former Stevens Elementary School until the new high school was built on Saltsburg Road.

He was also the science teacher at Penn Hills. Just got advice against playing professional football at that time.

"He even signed a contract with the Steelers, but never showed up for training camp," his son added. "His brother, George, who was an all-star football player at the University of Wisconsin, warned him that the pros were not for him."

Mr. Randour left his teaching and coaching position to enlist in the Navy during World War II.

"Dad was sent to Bainbridge (Md.) Naval Base as a physical fitness instructor," said his son. "He had the opportunity to work with former boxing champion Gene Tunney, which he appreciated.

"Dad often said he was fortunate to have had Jock Sutherland as his football coach at Pitt and Gene Tunney as the head instructor at the Naval Base."

Mr. Randour was assigned to Grove City College, Mercer County, as the physical fitness director at the Naval Radio School located on the campus.

Eventually, he attended gunnery school at the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia, and became a gunnery officer in the Pacific Theater.

All Condolences to the family.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Happy Birthdays 

Former Pitt coach and now Special Assistant to the AD and Chancellor Johnny Majors turns 71 today.

Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt also celebrates his birthday today. He's 54.

2007 NFL Draft 

I assume my eyes are burning because of allergies, but it could also simply for typing the above post title. Yes, it's never too early it seems to start talking about the next draft. ESPN.com has a top 12 draft prospects for '07 (Insider Subs.). No Pitt players on the list but at the bottom they start listing top draft prospects by position.

QB -- #7 Tyler Palko

ILB -- #2 H.B. Blades

CB -- #9 Darrelle Revis

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Can't Catch A Break 

Pitt Kicker David Abdul just does not seem to get much of a chance just to have things be normal for any length of time. From the fire that torched his apartment, to seeing Billy Gaines fall from rafters to his death, to suffering through a miserable season kicking, to a horrible car accident that broke his leg, now this.

Pitt senior kicker David Abdul is being tested for a potential genetic heart condition similar to that of his twin brother, Jonathan, who had surgery to replace a valve.

"David Abdul's twin brother recently underwent heart surgery," Pitt sports information director EJ Borghetti said. "In light of his brother's condition, the entire family is undergoing medical evaluation for any type of related conditions. As it relates to David a definitive diagnosis or planned course of action has not yet been determined. Has received some evaluations from his family doctor and he will be evaluated by Pitt's doctors next week."

If it is determined that Abdul's condition is similar to his brother's, his future with the Panthers would be in doubt. It would also mark the end of a career that began with much promise but has been marked by a long run of tough luck.

Yeesh. Good luck David. Something has to go your way sooner or later.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Dixon Opens Up 

It's interesting, heartbreaking and difficult at times to watch and read Coach Jamie Dixon struggling to start talking about his sister's passing.

Simultaneously, outside the basketball offices upstairs, their coach was getting choked up talking about his sister, Maggie, who died unexpectedly six weeks ago from a heart ailment.

While everyone around Pitt's coach has settled back into some sense of normalcy, Jamie Dixon is still trying to deal with the pain of losing his sister, the women's coach at West Point, at age 28.

"I've gotten so many e-mails saying it's happened to other people at a young age," Dixon said. "You just wonder why. People have that image of her being carried off the floor [after the Patriot League championship game]. And to have something like that a couple of weeks later ... people will always ask why."

Dixon fought back tears on a few occasions in his first meeting with local reporters since Maggie's death April 6. Dixon said yesterday that it was time for him to send a message to the people in Western Pennsylvania who have overwhelmed his family with letters of support.

He seems to need to start talking about it to help work through it.

Jamie Dixon said Thursday his family had received "an amazing number" of condolence letters and e-mail messages from western Pennsylvania and neighboring states, as well as from government officials.

"It really has pulled us through some tough times," he said, tears in his eyes. "I never did know how much it would mean. It means a lot."

He said talking about Maggie may appear to make him uncomfortable, but he believed it was important for people to know about her and her accomplishments.

"She can be an inspiration to a lot of people, to a lot of girls," Dixon said.

It can't be an easy thing to talk about his family and what they are going through so publicly for Coach Dixon. In his time at Pitt, until this season with Maggie Dixon coaching at Army, I had never even heard him mention his family. They have always seemed to be something he has tried to keep away from the media and conversations.

Gray Plays It Smart 

Aaron Gray is not going to waste his parents' money on workouts for NBA teams.

"One of two things is going to happen," Gray said yesterday after playing pickup games against other Pitt players at the Petersen Events Center. "I'm going to work out here and invite all the teams to come. Or I'm going to pick a location and work out for a team and do their workout. If I did that, they would have to agree to open it up to all the other NBA teams."

Gray said that workout likely will be sometime in the next two weeks before the Orlando camp, which is June 6-10. Gray still plans on attending the predraft camp, but he said he will only be there for physicals and official measurements and weigh-ins.

"I have no problem working out down there," Gray said. "But no big men are going to be there. If I do well, it's going to be against power forwards and forwards. Even if I did well, what good would it do?"

By holding one, all-inclusive workout, Gray will be able to give general managers what they're looking for without incurring the expenses of traveling around the country for private workouts. Many players who have signed with agents, as former Pitt player Chris Taft did last season, traveled across the country for private workouts with teams.

Gray retained his college eligibility by not signing with an agent. If he attended private workouts, he would have to pay for all expenses related to those trips by the start of the school year in August. Gray said his workout will be at Pitt or in Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Detroit or Cleveland.

"Chris' situation was totally different from mine," Gray said. "He gave up his eligibility. I have to foot the bill for everything. That's why when I do this workout it has to be open to every team."

All those spots are of course locations with NBA franchises and within reasonable driving distance from Pittsburgh for Gray. Not sure many NBA teams would want to send scouts or GMs to Pittsburgh just to see one guy.

The article has Gray trying to make it as abundantly clear as possible that he hasn't made any sort of decision at this time.

But Gray said yesterday that money will not be the determining factor in his decision.

"I can promise you this," Gray said. "Just because they tell me I'm going to be a first-round pick doesn't mean I'll leave here. All the money in the world can't buy back my senior year. They could tell me I'm a lottery pick. But that's not what it's all about for me."

Gray said he is not fazed by the likelihood that Ohio State recruit Greg Oden and other first-year college players will forgo their eligibility and enter the draft next season. Gray said he welcomes the competition.

"I'm confident in myself," Gray said. "I'm not afraid of Greg Oden or anyone else out there. I'm not afraid to come back. My worst option is an amazing option. If I don't work out well and they tell me I have to come back, then I'm more than happy to come back to school."

Gray said he has received more feedback from NBA teams since declaring for the draft, but he refused to discuss any new information on his draft status. And while he talked glowingly and at length yesterday about the possibility of returning, he wanted to make clear that he has not made up his mind.

"I think about it every minute," Gray said. "The easy part for me is getting out there on the court. That's when I can forget about it.

"This is a great opportunity for me. I'm going to put my best foot forward for the NBA, so when I make the decision, I'll have both sides of the story."

The only Center who is clearly ranked ahead of him by every scout and mock draft, Patrick O'Bryant of Bradley is now "all in" for the draft now that he has hired an agent. O'Bryant is expected to go somewhere at #10-15 in the draft -- the fringe of the lottery picks.

It seems no big men actually work out in the Orlando pre-draft camp. They just go down there for measurements and perhaps some interviews with teams. That is what Gray will be doing.

Gray, a senior-to-be who entered his name in the NBA draft April 26, nonetheless, will attend the camp June 6-10 at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where he'll be required only to undergo a physical.

"One of the things I heard is there's not going to be any big men down there," the 7-foot, 270-pound Gray said.

Gray has until June 18 to decide.

If you want something other than draft projections to make you feel positive about the possibility of Gray returning for his Senior season, read this Bill Simmons article about what direction the NBA is heading.

Is this where we're headed? Are teams better off building for SmallBall over a conventional style? If you can play only five players, and you don't have an above-average center on your roster -- which most teams lack, by the way -- why not just play your best five guys regardless of position?

For instance, last summer's most important signing turned out to be Raja Bell, a much ridiculed move at the time. Remember? Twenty-five million for Raja Bell? What was Phoenix thinking? Actually, they were thinking that he's a great defender who makes 40 percent of his 3s. Perfect for them. So they started pursuing him on midnight, July 1, then overpaid to make sure they got him. Ten months later, he looked like an absolute bargain even before he saved their season Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the Zydrunas Ilgauskas contract (four years, $55 million) would have been fine in 1998, but it's a roster killer in 2006. Much like in real life, you can't survive with slow big guys anymore.

Just look at this year's draft. As recently as three years ago, LaMarcus Aldridge would have been the first pick, because, after all, you always take a good big man first, right? Not this year. LSU's Ty Thomas (a Marion-like forward) will be the first pick, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Aldridge and Adam Morrison (another player who would have been more effective five years ago) will drop out of the top three, whereas Brandon Roy (Washington's outstanding shooting guard) and UConn's Marcus Williams (yes, the Laptop Guy, as well as the only elite point guard in the draft) will end up going higher than people think (and doing better than people think). In the old days, you needed a franchise player to realistically contend for a title. Now? You need two penetrators (including an alpha dog), three or four shooters and two guys who can rebound and protect the rim. That's it. Just ask Phoenix.

I admit to watching and enjoying the NBA playoffs this season a lot more than in recent years. Simmons is right about the big men losing importance. The centers in all the series have been relegated to complimentary players (with Shaq the only exception -- barely). The wildcard with regards to the draft, is how many GMs have noticed and adjusted their thinking accordingly. I wouldn't be surprised if a large number are still a few years behind.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Jeff Long Is A Tease 

From the AD's Q&A:
Q: This May 16 will mark the third-year anniversary of your Pitt appointment. People might forget the fact that when you arrived at Pitt one of your first big challenges was the viability of the Big East, which was about to lose three key members. Three years later the conference is not only on stable ground but thriving. What are your thoughts about the future of the league and its unique structure?

JL: Once we recovered from having the wind knocked out of us, so to speak, when those teams departed, we regrouped and strategically planned for the future of the Big East. When we made the decision to add the new teams, we plotted a course that we genuinely believed would bring us back to an extremely powerful conference in not only basketball but football as well. I think we're way ahead of schedule. Some developments that will be announced later this year will speak to the strength of the Big East. People will know that we're a serious player and here to stay. I couldn't be more pleased with the progress of our conference. I couldn't be more pleased with the support and strength our chancellors and presidents have lent to the athletic directors in the conference. In the not-to-distant future we'll see further evidence of an even stronger Big East, stronger than what many thought we could ever accomplish.
[Emphasis added.]

Hopefully he isn't simply referring to the expected semi-SEC-Big East basketball challenge which will rotate 4 teams each year. Nor should he be referring to the next TV contract which will primarily on the back of the basketball offerings. The basketball portion of the BE is not in doubt. Oooh, WVU headlines the inaugural ESPNU Classic. Guess we'll have to wait and see.

The Q&A also touches on the new bowl tie-ins. While promoting 5-6 possible bowl bids for the 8 team conference, it doesn't mention the risk of downgrading non-con schedules by the member schools in an effort to insure being bowl eligible. Something the Big East really can't afford to do. If the conference wants to get beyond looking like the runt of the BCS litter, the member schools need to be aggressive in scheduling. Taking some risks and playing a respectable schedule (that means you, Hoopies).

More Camps and Combine Babble 

Another article on the subject of football camps versus combines (Insider subs.) . As usual author bias and interest plays a huge role in the perspective. This one is by Tom Luginbill of ESPN's Scouts, Inc. They don't sponsor or presumably get to attend the combines. Can you guess which he thinks are better for the kids?
However, if a prospect can afford the cost of the camp, he should go that route. If a prospect has a few programs he really likes and is interested in playing for, the value of being instructed one-on-one by the position coach at that institution and other guest coaches can provide for outstanding exposure and possible opportunities down the road.
The bottom line is that many times combine combine results seem to be marketed to the public and fans as being an indicator of a player's ability to perform in game conditions. However, when scouting and grading prospects for our rankings, we rarely -- if ever -- use combine results as a significant basis for a report. If a player performs well at a combine -- or, on the other hand, performs poorly -- what we see of him in game conditions will always take precedence.
No mention that the combines are sponsored by rivals in the market for recruiting information, and that these combines provide additional resources in making, maintaining and keeping contact with the recruits and their high school coaches. A competitive edge in the marketplace for Rivals.com and Scout.com over ESPN Scouts, Inc.

Now, to be fair, Luginbill does admit the cost of going to a camp is a big factor for a lot of kids and they are useful for both coaches and the kids. He even concedes that students from rural or less known high schools often benefit from the exposure of going to a combine.
However, marginal-to-good prospects who have not received the necessary exposure have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by attending one or more combines in order to be seen and then later evaluated on film.

Regardless, the best way to get recruited is to get as much film out to as many schools as possible, then follow up with each program on a regular basis. There is no substitute for proof of how an individual plays the game.
College coaches, if nothing else, have been helped by the mass influx of accessible information on potential prospects nationwide that many of these combines help provide. That is a good thing, especially for the unknown or under-the-radar prospects who before all of this recruiting hysteria might have gone the Division I-AA route but now get seen or heard about enough for the big boys to take notice.

All in all, if combines are marketed correctly, do not make promises they can't keep and most importantly always, always keep the student-athletes' best interest as priority No. 1, it is a win-win situation for all involved.

I think the combines will continue and if the recruiting sites are smart they can turn it into an additional revenue stream. There is no reason not to tape every part of the combine. It seems they do that to some extent since some of the video is offered as clips to show what a particular recruit does on their sites.

They can package it as a full DVD of the combine and sell it to the coaches. Neatly getting around the rule of prohibiting coaches from attending the combine; providing the additional exposure for the recruits who might need it; additional revenue stream for the recruiting sites; and still providing the kids with an incentive to attend combines with the promise that coaches from other programs will see them.

It just seems so logical and reasonable.

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