Monday, March 28, 2011

Proud

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Before the Newark dust settles, some observations and opinions in regard to UNC men's basketball.

1. Dexter was fantastic in Newark. Zeller had a great NCAA Tournament.

2. UK handled us efficiently on both ends of the floor in the first half. I loved our resolve in the second half, and had Kentucky shot poorly, we would be going west.

3. I love this team and season, easily my favorite football and basketball combo in the 8 million years I've been involved with UNC.  We came away with a bowl victory and an Elite 8. Not too shabby.

4. The next hurdle involves the roster. Who comes back? Who will Roy pick up in addition to PJ, Mac and the tall kid. Obviously, we could use help at guard ... depth should be better next season. Get well, Reggie. We could have certainly used you.

5. As I said about the first dook loss this season: disappointed, but not bummed. Kentucky deserved to win yesterday, based on their shooting and first-half defense. 

I hate the moment when UNC's college basketball season ends. I've been a fan since 1957. And realistically, most of the time, it's not going to be a happy feeling in March or in some cases, April. 

I feel that way today. My interest in bowling, knitting, the history channel spoken in Chinese, reruns of Flipper, and all of the effing ads that drove me to distraction during this year's tournament are of MORE interest that what transpires this weekend at the Final Four. I don't give a sheite who wins. I'd prefer VCU, simply because they are a great testament to attitude. They felt they could beat KansASS, and I'm glad they did.


Think back to the morning after the disaster in Atlanta. Georgia Tech flat out beat us into submission, and at that point, the notion of even getting into the NCAA Tournament seemed remote. Roy finally made the change at point guard, and things improved in the next four games. And then Drew quit, after his best game as a Tar Heel. What a shock. And the manner in which Drew slithered away spoke volumes about his – and his family's – lack of character. Good riddance.


Think about how thin we had suddenly become, and how much good fortune was involved since Feb. 4. No one – other than Dex who played hurt – suffered an injury.  And we rarely had foul trouble. Carolina made it to the Elite 8 with 8 scholarship players, but two of those players did not average double digit minutes. We had to stay healthy and stay out of foul trouble, and we did. That in itself was remarkable.


At times we didn't shoot the ball well.  But we never quit, other than the second half against Georgia Tech. And how often does a young team learn how to win ugly?  


I love this team and its effort. They had a fantastic season. November can't get here soon enough.


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Thursday, March 24, 2011

A moment with Dean Smith

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The following story will provide ample evidence of my lack of brain power and my age.


Nevertheless, I wanted to share a moment I had with Dean Smith at his third Carolina Basketball School in the mid 1960s.

Coach Smith – at least in the second and third years of his camp – gave a demo in the morning session. I was a rising junior in high school for that third Carolina Basketball School, and though I didn't have a clue at the time that a 6'1" power forward would not be playing at the next level, as one of the tallest guys at Chapel Hill High School, I was a "big man." Ha.

And when Coach Smith picked four trees and me to use a "special" basketball, I moved over to 2 guard. One of the trees handled point. Thank god. Coach Smith showed us the special ball. It sagged to the floor if you tried to dribble, and Coach Smith said it was developed to emphasize the importance of passing.  So, it was 5 on none, and we passed the ball around, moving and cutting in the shuffle offense that we'd also learned at camp. The ball finally comes to  me on the left wing, and I had a habit of dribbling once, going to my left. So I did.

The ball gasped and sagged to the floor.

Coach Smith blew his whistle and barked, "Why did you dribble? Don't answer. There is no answer."

Mortified, cheeks burning red with shame, I tried to evaporate. The entire camp, courtesy of moi, had learned a lesson.

I hear those words as if they were yesterday.
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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chirkinian's Legacy

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What follows is more a tribute to the power of television than the mystical siren that lures us to play and follow golf.

Arnold Palmer, golf's first television star, receives the credit for his sport's boom in the early 1960s, but without Frank Chirkinian's CBS telecasts, I wonder what would have happened. Yes, perhaps someone else would have realized that The Masters could offer live drama. Maybe. Maybe not.

Instead of speculation, let's stick to fact.  Chirkinian figured out how to build and sustain suspense in real time for a "game" with a throng of participants competing in a vast number of locations at the same instant.

And back in the late 50s/early 60s, the number of holes covered was similar to the number of stations available: three in most homes for "regular" TV, and, one for PBS. Coverage at The Masters evolved from the 17th and 18th holes slowly ... the16th hole joined the telecast, then the 15th .... and so on.

Back then, TV logistics were a factor in determining how many holes with cameras, as well as we can guess, the on-going Augusta committee resolve to limit the coverage in terms of time. I've whined for years that live coverage should begin each day at noon and last until dark. This, of course, will never happen. Now, Augusta teases us with online viewing, which doesn't start on time and offers us snippets. Beginning TV coverage at 4 p.m. on Thursday and Friday drives me crazy, but Augusta remains adamant. As many have said, "there's an art to the building of suspense." I just wish it were more marathonic, than sprint-esque.

Let's wind the clock back.

Arnold Palmer and The Masters, at least for me, launched a passion and focus that has remained vibrant. The CBS coverage of The Masters helped the world "discover" Palmer, the tournament and golf itself. I consider Chirkinian, along with Ben, Byron, Jack, Bobby Jones, Arnie and most recently, Tiger, as those most responsible for golf's rising popularity. And, of course, cable TV. It's not the least bit ironic that Palmer would eventually create Golf Channel, which, I suppose, is going full circle.

In 1958 (I was 10 years old), Arnold Palmer won the first of his 4 Masters titles. That was the first time that Herbert Warren Wind used the phrase AMEN CORNER to describe the action at 10, 11 and 12. Palmer beat Doug Ford by a shot.

1959: Art Wall birdies 5 of the last 6 holes to win. Some have suggested that this was an Arnie charge, but Art was no Arnie in terms of charisma.

1960: The "real" Arnie, at least the Arnie of Legend, emerges. I saw this telecast live. Arnie birdied the 17th and 18th holes to defeat Ken Venturi by a shot. And I was hooked for life. Later that same year, Arnie executes the "charge" of his career at Cherry Hills to win the U.S. Open. Arnold Palmer had arrived.

1961: Would Arnie repeat? I was glued to the TV set, an RCA  with huge knobs and minus remote control. (In those days, you had to get up out of your chair to adjust sound and picture. It was work, I tell ya.) Anyway, Arnie comes to the 18th with a 1 shot-lead. He hits his second into a greenside bunker and turns into a 20 handicapper en route to, perhaps, the most cruel double bogey in the history of cruel double bogeys. I recall Arnie's face shaking in pain as he slipped the green jacket on Gary Player, and if you asked Palmer today about that moment, i'm quite positive he's still pissed at himself. This disaster, however, built Palmer's army into a major movement.

1962: Redemption. Arnie finishes 72 holes tied with Gary Player (him again) and Dow Finsterwald. In the 18 hole playoff, Arnie shoots 67, easily defeating Player's 71 and Finsterwald's rude 77. Imagine Palmer's inner happiness when Player puts on the green jacket, reversing the horrific scene from the previous year.

1963: Jack Nicklaus wins his first Masters, claiming the green jacket by a shot over Tony Lema. Palmer finishes 5 shots back.

1964: Redemption, Part 2. Palmer wins by 6 shots over Dave Marr and Jack Nicklaus (of course).

The 1964 Masters turned out to be the last major Arnie won, but he came close, most notably at the Olympic Club in 1966 when he squandered a huge lead in the final round to wind up tied with Billy Casper at the end of 72 holes, and Casper won the playoff.

It's not a long period of domination, but TV not only compresses, it also amplifies. L&M created a cigarette commercial with Palmer teeing off, hitting a second shot into a bunker, blasting out to about 10 feet, taking a drag (of course) on an L&M, and then nailing the putt for par.

Arnold created a made-for-TV series with his colleagues, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, and they took the money and ran with it.

TV absolutely loved Palmer ... his charisma ... a lure that some of have suggested rivaled Sean Connery's appeal as James Bond.

Frank Chirkinian was in the middle of all of this.

From wiki: Frank Chirkinian (c.1926 - March 4, 2011) was an Armenian-American CBS Sports producer, who received the honor of the Sports Lifetime Achievement Awardin 2007. He was a member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and is credited with the idea of mounting a camera on the blimps that fly over sporting events. He was known as the "father of televised golf." At the time of his death, he was scheduled to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on May 9, 2011. Chirkinian was best known for producing theMasters Tournament for nearly 40 years, as well as for pioneering a number of important innovations in golf broadcasting. He died at his Florida home after suffering from lung cancer.

I urge you to read: My Shot By Frank Chirkinian

One of Frank's best:  NEVER TALK WHILE THE BALL IS IN THE AIR.

Announcers for all sports, as well as jugglers, would be wise to listen.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rivalry games & matches

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There are games, and then there are SPECIAL games. Who's on your list?

My favorites include:

GOLF: Ben vs. Byron, Arnie vs. Jack, Jack vs. Tom, Greg vs. Nick, Tiger vs. Phil.

BASEBALL: Yankees vs. Red Sox.

NBA: Lakers vs Celtics (1980s), Knicks vs. Celtics (1960s), Bulls vs. Pistons (late 1980s, early 1990s.)

NFL: Redskins vs. Cowboys.

WOMEN'S COLLEGIATE SOCCER:  North Carolina vs. Notre Dame, North Carolina vs. Santa Clara.


COLLEGE FOOTBALL:  North CaroLina vs. Va. Tech. Perhaps this choice is a puzzler, if you're not a North Carolina fan, but obviously, I'm a Tar Heel, and that sets the stage for my ULTIMATE rivalry game:


COLLEGE BASKETBALL: North Carolina vs. Duke.

Some might say the Carolina/Duke game is the best rivalry in all of sports, and I wouldn't disagree. But I've lived close to this series my entire life, and I'm clearly biased.

Saturday in Chapel Hill, these two legendary programs meet for the second time this season, and the winner emerges with the regular season ACC title.  But it's more than that for those directly involved. Nothing is more satisfying for either program than to launch March Madness with a victory over Carolina/Duke.

Are you involved? What does this game mean to you?
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