Thursday, May 30, 2013

Prep Report: Serra HS Baseball Playing for (and Chasing) History

Serra High School here in Gardena is an athletic powerhouse. You might have heard of a few football guys who went there. Marqise Lee, the No. 1 college WR in the country, and NFL rookie-to-be Robert Woods. One of the top female track-and-field athletes in the country, UCLA's Turquoise Thompson, also spent her senior year at Serra, where her mother is the head track-and-field coach.

Their football team remains one of the best in Southern California and their 2013 squad will be one of the favorites to win state. Their basketball team is one of the better small schools in Southern California and their boys and girls track program ranks among the best in the state and nation.

Just this school year, they've won state titles in football and girls' basketball. Their track team heads north to the state track-and-field meet this weekend as the favorites to win several events and the boys' team title.

But also this weekend, another Serra team is poised to win a division championship. Their baseball heads to Dodger Stadium on Friday for the chance to win the program's first CIF title. Yet, they're also playing for much more than just that. They're perhaps the first predominantly Black team to be this close to a CIF title in three decades, although that has not been confirmed.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Steve Smith Retires: One of the Finest California Athletes of the 21st Century

Steve Smith may have been confused with the 5-9 Steve Smith down in Carolina but for me, his sudden retirement is a shame because it ends the career of one of the best all-around athletes California has produced this century.

I respected Smith while he was at USC but it wasn't until I started covering high school sports in LA that I realized just how great he was. He succeeded on all three levels in sports before he turned 25 and it deserves to be recognized.

1999-2003: While attending Taft High School in Woodland Hills, he had one of the greatest athletic careers in state history.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

And The Beat Goes On (The Spurs Just Win)

The Spurs are like the old men at the Venice Beach courts. You might think you can beat them but somehow, you look up wondering how you lost so bad. One way or another, you fall prey to their mastery.

Better yet, they're like The Whispers and their 1980 classic single "And the Beat Goes On". An old, successful group infused with the production of a young Leon Sylvers that they rode that wave to even greater heights.

The Spurs are back on top. Back in the Finals for the first time in six years. Like they never left. All due to a mix of young folks, old vets, and a proven system led by a coaching genius who plays chess on the court.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Battle for Los Angeles (Dodgers vs. Angels)

I hate to say it but the battle for Los Angeles baseball supremacy this week feels lackluster. Maybe I'm saying this as a Dodgers fan, but the facts support me.

In one corner you have the Angels, who've won eight straight games and appear to be finding their mojo after struggling mightily. In the other you have the Dodgers, who've won three out of their last nine and appear on the verge of firing Don Mattingly as manager.

Clayton Kershaw also picked a bad time to have a rough start, giving up 4 HR's to the Cardinals on Sunday. Considering he's been hot the last few starts, you can forgive him for that. The Dodgers have bigger problems to worry about.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Game 1 ECF: Paul George Great, LeBron James Better

The Game Winner (Associated Press photo)
Remember how I advocated that the Eastern Conference Finals would be better than advertised? Well after Game 1, guess who's right.

Paul George continued to come of age as the Palmdale native hit big shot after big shot, none bigger than his 32-foot, 3-pointer to force overtime. If there's a doubt why he was voted Most Improved Player, he erased them by stepping up.

Was that first 3-point shot lucky? A little bit but a good shot is a good shot. No more lucky than having the presence of mind to shoot a 3 in overtime with D-Wade draped all over him. He was 2.2 seconds away from being the hero after sinking three free throws to give Indiana the lead.

And yet, it wasn't enough. It was like Craig Ehlo feeling happy about this, before this happened. Just like Ehlo, George just had to play defense. Instead, he over-committed and became a footnote in the latest chapter of LeBron James' greatness.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sergio Garcia's Not a Racist, He's Insecure


Sergio Garcia's fried chicken comments revealed one thing to me. He's an insecure guy who's jealous of Tiger Woods and the fact that he can't beat him on the field. He came close in 1999 and he came close again 2 weeks ago and now he's letting off steam that appears to be coming from deep resentment.

I feel sorry for him really. That's my why my second video of the day ends with a personal message to him to get over it and just focus on his game. It's sad really. I'm not offended by his racist comments because I find it clownish that he reached for a personal insult when he realized he couldn't get a bigger rise out of Tiger.

As Bomani Jones posed today though on Around the Horn, the bigger question is why it seems like folks come at Tiger like this so often. Fuzzy Zoeller in 97, Kelly Tilghman's lynching comments and now this? Tiger may not want to be seen as Black but that doesn't stop others from doing that.

Evaluating Dwight Howard's Future


The problem with being in L.A. is that we have to hear folks wonder about Dwight Howard's future front and center. As I've tried to share here in word and video form, I personally don't care what he does because it's his call and he didn't do much to convince me to be interested either way.

But after being inspired a few peers, I decided to go all in and evaluate Howard for hopefully the last time until he makes his free agent decision. I discuss his pros and cons as a center, how he conducts himself and where I think he'll end up.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Crazy Thought: Indiana-Miami Will Be Great

Call me crazy but I think Miami-Indiana is going to be a great Eastern Conference Final. Just based off how surprising the Pacers were last year against the Heat and how much better they look now.

Then again, I haven't been able to look at the Pacers the same way since the Lakers beat them on the road minus Kobe during the regular season. If there's a team remaining that has more fool's gold, I'm not sure who it is.

At the same time, the Pacers' ugly style (which led to them having the No. 1 defense in the league) has started to look better. Roy Hibbert is a legit center who can cause problems in the paint. Lance Stephenson is starting to fulfill the promise he had as a NYC hoops legend. Paul George is validating why he's an All-Star as the team's leader and an emerging go-to scorer (in spots).

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Sad Fall of Titus Young (and Hope for Redemption)

The first time Titus Young was arrested, I avoided the news. Typically, I don't gawk when somebody gets arrested on small stuff because 1) I don't the full story, 2) I'd rather they be shamed by others than me. My aunt told me as a kid to "look once, then look away" so I try not to stare at certain things.

The 2nd time he was arrested (15 hours later), I wondered how dumb this guy could be. Getting arrested twice in a day is unheard of, even for me having been to college where I saw people do enough dumb things that warranted it. It made me start to notice and roll my eyes a bit.

The 3rd time, 6 days later? He ran from police after being accused of breaking into a house. For me, this stopped being a joke and it became sad. I started to feel sorry for him because something isn't right.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Who Got Da Props: Memphis Stays Fly

As much as I focused on the predictable blame game that's going to happen in Oklahoma City, I should also give Memphis a ton of props because I've loved how they played the last two playoff rounds. It's old school, it's physical, it's smart hoops that any fan of the game should admire.

Props to Mike Conley, who has become by default the best player from his highly recruited Ohio State of 2006. Seven years ago, who would've thought that he'd have a better pro career than Greg Oden and Daequan Cook.

Conley's gotten a lot of heat most of his career but I loved how aggressive he is on both sides of the floor. He dominated the Thunder without Russell Westbrook guarding him and I think he's grown a lot more comfortable with who he is as a player.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Don't Blame Kevin Durant, Blame Scott Brooks

There's a good chance the Oklahoma City Thunder will see their season end this week. Whether it's tonight or Friday, the Thunder will be joining Russell Westbrook on the sidelines as Memphis has bullied them the last three games.

I've seen folks predictably start to turn on Kevin Durant and try to blame him for not being able to carry the Thunder to victory. Soon as LeBron got that ring, I started to figure out that Durant would be next to catch the wrath of impatient fans who are wondering when he'll get that ring.

It's frankly another sign of lazy fandom. Durant has played 43, 46 and 48 minutes the last three games and he hasn't been effective in the fourth quarter obviously. He's not used to carrying a team solo and hasn't been since 2008. No Westbrook means more work for Durant and since his game is based on shooting and slashing, we're seeing a Durant I haven't seen since he was a freshman in Texas.

He's averaging 30.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 6.8 assists this series. He's doing everything he can and when it's not enough, I'm looking around to say where's the rest of his mates to step up. He looked absolutely sick after Game 3 and as much I want to say toughen up, I sympathize because he's an island chief surrounded by Pygmies.

To me, the story with OKC should revolve around Scott Brooks' failings as a head coach and the front office looking foolish betting on Serge Ibaka instead of James Harden.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Young Prince Cooketh!!!

Nothing like coming home back to Cali and seeing Clayton Kershaw do this to the Washington Nationals. The same day I find out that Zach Greinke will be back ahead of schedule to pitch tomorrow, the best pitcher in the National League goes lights out to boost the team's momentum.

The Young Prince (4-2) had 6 strikeouts in a row at one point and even scored a run on Andre Ethier's double after being hit by a pitch. As I said after his Opening Day shutout, the only pitcher better than Kershaw is Justin Verlander.

Oh, and he's now your major league leader in ERA (1.40). This is the best he's pitched to start the season and as Jon Weisman points out, it could be scarier in the second half when he's usually lights out.

After going 0-for-8 to start May, the Dodgers have won 3 of 4 and at least for one night, they've postponed me writing about how this season has been a disappointment. And props to Don Mattingly going to Kenley Jansen to finish the game instead of Brandon League, who's been inconsistent lately.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why Teams Need to Do More to Protect Their Players

In light of this fake controversy over if Derrick Rose should play or not for Chicago (which I spoke on earlier this week), it brings to mind a bigger concern. What responsibility do teams and coaches have to protect their players from themselves??

Case in point, it's been reported that Rose's teammate Luol Deng has lost 15 pounds since undergoing a spinal tap last week. Deng really wants to play in this series against Miami and he'd be welcomed with open arms. Except that Deng is really in no shape to play because of obvious fatigue.

We saw this in the NFL playoffs with Robert Griffin III. RG3 was hurt and hobbling around a bad leg against the Seahawks and it was made worse when he suffered an even worse injury later in the game. He had no business to be playing and his coaches had no business calling running plays and roll outs for him when he's not at 100%.

It's admirable when guys play hurt. It happens all the time. Jack Youngblood will be remembered forever playing the Super Bowl on one leg. Michael Jordan's flu game. Willis Reed's moment (which I personally find overrated compared to Walt Frazier going off that game).

But when guys play hurt and hurt their team in the process? That's when a coach needs to step in and save their player from their pride. An organization needs to say "We have you around here for a long time, don't mortgage the future for the present if you can't be effective."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Celebrate Good Times (But Not Too Much or Else)

The first thing I learned when I played sports in elementary school with my friends? Celebrate when you do something well. Score a touchdown? Spike the ball or do a little dance. Have a great day on the court? Celebrate.

We weren't being cocky. We were just kids at 8-11 years old having fun. Somewhere between kids having fun and being adults, you learn to check your emotions a bit but not altogether. That style is just as important as perfecting your craft. But you learned to only celebrate after doing something big, not just something regular.

Sports over the last 10 years or so has gone overboard to limit self-expression. Any type of celebration deemed excessive is automatically penalized without considering the context of it. Case in point? This Texas relay squad is banned from the state meet because some kid showed off too much after a win.

His crime? Pointing his finger in the sky. The same egregious thing that some kid in Boston did in 2011 after a game winning touchdown. Some nerve huh? How dare they show up the opponent by not even pointing at them!!!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Let them Wait!! (A Few Words on Derrick Rose)

This week's video tackles a topic I've had on my mind for a while. Folks trying to rush Derrick Rose off the bench and into the Bulls' starting lineup and questioning his manhood, toughness and commitment. Not even 2 years after he won the MVP.

It exposes a few things. 1) Fans are naturally selfish, 2) Football recoveries and modern medicine have made them numb to the mental recovery from an injury, 3) Rose's opinion of his body - which should matter more than a doctor - is meaningless to many who are jumping on the train of following this story.

To the Chicago Bulls' credit, they aren't putting any pressure on him. Neither should we.  To the fans who disagree, I give you the words of King Jaffe from "Coming to America."

Let's focus on how the Bulls who are playing will do against the rested Miami Heat. My prediction: Heat in a hard-fought 5-game series.

Joakim Noah also has some words for everybody regarding his teammate.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Neo and Everything After (LeBron James in Rare Air)

Last year after the Finals, I wrote on how LeBron James went from just great to The One. He became Neo in the Matrix during the playoffs and the NBA Finals. This season was like watching the Matrix sequels only if you focus on how Neo was almost untouchable.

Now it's confirmed. LeBron has won his 4th MVP, one vote shy of being unanimous. Just like Shaq in 1999-2000.

I already stated why LeBron should win easily. Watching him this year was seeing him go even higher than I thought possible. The fact he finished 2nd in the Defensive Player of the Year voting shows how coaches respect his defensive prowess as much as scoring, passing and IQ.

The scariest thing is that he's proved how far he is above his peers. Say what you want about he has a better supporting cast in Miami. He was doing the same thing in Cleveland minus a post-game and shooting efficiency.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Black Roses: Kevin Krigger and the Chase for Derby History

This weekend, visions of mint juleps, big hats and roses will dance in folks' heads to the tune of "My Old Kentucky Home." The 139th Kentucky Derby is Saturday but for the first time in ages, people will see a jockey look differently than most.

Kevin Krigger has already made history this year as the St. Croix native became the first Black jockey to win the Santa Anita Derby. The 29-year-old will ride Goldencents Saturday in an attempt to become the first Black jockey to win since 1903.

When I heard about this, it reminded me of when I read about Isaac Murphy, one of the greatest jockeys ever and a forgotten pioneer in the history of the Black athlete in America.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Some Extra Thoughts on Jason Collins

A final word on Jason Collins coming out. The true impact of his decision will be not just on us and how we changed to get here, it's how we will continue to change down the road when younger and more prominent gay and lesbian players come out of the closet. We will see this as Brittney Griner's career continues and how folks respond when we hear sexual jokes or just watch her adjust to a pro game.

I cautioned against comparing this to Jackie Robinson but I did use a lesson from Jackie to apply here. Jackie's success opened the door for better, younger players to come through. Players like Willie Mays. They still had to face racism through the 50's and 60's but at least they were able to show how great they were as players, not just Black faces.

Future gay athletes and future current ones who will come out will rise on Collins' shoulders. On Robbie Rogers' shoulders. They will honor the memory of Glenn Burke, who was ostracized from baseball after being a gay player on the Dodgers in the 1970's. They will continue what Martina Navratilova, Sheryl Swoopes, Megan Rapinoe and others have started.

Enjoy the video. For it is us who have to continue evolving as sports fans, not just athletes.