The Blog Squad

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Staying in School is Cool

When center Roy Hibbert and forward Jeff Green led the Georgetown Hoyas to the 2007 Men’s Basketball Final Four, the program catapulted back into national prominence. And just like a stock, the pair’s NBA value reached a delicious peak.

Both declared for the professional draft and both were projected as lottery picks. But only Green kept his name in the hat, eventually getting picked No. 5 overall by the Boston Celtics before being traded to the Seattle Sonics in a multiplayer deal that involved Ray Allen. That move helped the Celtics capture their first championship in years.

Hibbert had a change of heart. He decided it was much more important to carry on the Georgetown big man tradition of playing four years in college much like Ewing, Mourning and Mutombo. He said, “I feel like I have unfinished business here.”

He also stayed to earn his degree. Hibbert enjoyed academics and was a bright student. He started at the Hilltop at age 16 after attending Georgetown Prep.

Unfortunately, on the court, the Hoyas and Hibbert didn’t fare better than the previous season. Georgetown was bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament and Hibbert struggled slightly as the main focus of the team.

Now the big man, he’s 7-foot-2, is projected as a late first-round pick.

How much money did he lose by coming back?

The No. 5 pick this year is expected to earn a rookie salary of more than $3.1 million a year. The No. 10 selection will deposit $2.1 million annually. In some mock drafts, Hibbert is slated to be picked by the Utah Jazz at No. 23. That slot’s salary is $1.1 million. The draft is Thursday night in Madison Square Garden.

So it’s not a stretch to presume that Hibbert lost at least $1 million per year by staying in school. Typically, rookies sign two-year contracts with the club option for the third and fourth years. So potentially, Hibbert’s deficit could be more than $4 million.

You and I look at that figure and cringe. Maybe Hibbert is doing the same thing. But as a follower of the Hoyas — my dad is a graduate of the School of Foreign Service — I can tell you that the way Big Roy thinks and lives is an inspiration.

When he entered Georgetown, he was an awkward, stone-handed goo of baby fat. He worked extremely hard — on footwork, passing, offensive post moves, stamina and shot blocking — to become one of the best collegiate big men in the country. Ask any fan of the team, and that person will tell you Hibbert improved each season.

He also appeared to enjoy his life at Georgetown. Students who knew him, even casually, wrote on the message board of about how easygoing and approachable he was on campus. He was a college kid. One of them. No pretenses.

He will transfer these characteristics to the NBA. It might take him a couple of years to figure it out, but believe me, he will become one of the best post players. He will earn that distinction at practice every day.

It is my sincere hope that Hibbert finds great success in the NBA — not only for him and his family but for the rest of us as well. I truly believe that Roy, with massive wealth behind him, can impact our country in so many positive ways. Maybe we’ll never hear of his contributions. But he will make a difference in many lives.

For most people, staying in school would have been a mistake. But for Roy, who loved every second of his collegiate experience, it was another memorable year that nobody can ever take away. Not even the NBA.

OUT AT HOME: Gonna take my first road trip with the new minivan. So excited! Sheesh. Did I really say that?

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This video clip had me fooled.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Iron-Willed Tiger

Is there any question now that Tiger Woods is the greatest ever? In any sport. Better than Ali. Better than Jordan. Better than Gretzky. Better than Aaron.

We are lucky to witness the greatest of all champions.

It was reported Wednesday that Tiger won’t play again this season because he will undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. He says he sustained the injury 10 months ago while jogging at home after the British Open.

He also suffered a double stress fracture of his left tibia two weeks before last weekend’s U.S. Open. Doctors had advised him to skip the championship and rest six weeks to allow his fractures to heal.

And let’s not forget that he had arthroscopic surgery on April 15 to clean out cartilage in his left knee in hopes of completing the 2008 season. His recovery is expected to take six to eight months.

All of this and still he wins the U.S. Open in 91 holes, after playing an additional 18 holes Monday in a playoff against Rocco Mediate. He appeared to grimace after every drive and fairway shot in the five-day event.

Can any of us fathom the amount of pain he must have endured? What sort of mental power must one have to block out each bolt of hurt? It’s not even human.

Tiger has always been known for his tenacity and will to win. His 14th major victory takes that talent to another level.

Forget Tiger for a moment. Consider that the talent differential in golf from Phil Mickelson to the Country Club of Virginia pro is not staggeringly great. Not compared to say Kobe Bryant and Eric Maynor. Or Justin Verlander and the top pitcher for the University of Richmond.

There are a lot of really talented golfers. Really, really talented golfers. Many of them we don’t see on Sundays. What separates these guys is not usually talent, but mental toughness. It’s the ability to raise the level of your game when the situation dictates a clutch performance, no matter what the obstacles.

A torn ACL and two stress fractures would be ridiculous to ask anyone to overcome and compete let alone prevail. But that’s what Tiger did.

“He’s been playing way less than 100 percent for a long, long time,” his swing coach Hank Haney told the Associated Press. “It has limited him a lot in practice. He’s going to come back better than he’s ever been.”

Haney added that when doctors told Woods the preferred treatment for stress fractures was three weeks on crutches and three weeks of inactivity, “Tiger looked at the doctor and said ‘I’m playing in the U.S. Open, and I’m going to win.’ And then he started putting on his shoes. He looked at me and said, ‘Come on, Hank. We’ll just putt today.’”

OUT AT HOME: Since I moved to Richmond in 2005, I hadn’t found a job that I liked. One particular place made me so miserable that I considered working retail or fast food to just get away from the environment. But that changed in February when I found my current employer. I love this place, the work and the people. My advice to anyone who is not happy at work—life is too short. It’s not worth it. Find somewhere you will be appreciated and where you can do your best work.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: I love this comedian. She sounds exactly like a few of my relatives.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Three Amigos

I lived in Atlanta when the Braves won the World Series in 1995. And believe me, it’s hard not to be a fan of that team when you live anywhere in the Deep South.

The Braves back then had so much class. They were filled with guys who played the game the right way, hard and with passion. They also relied on pitching in an era of the long ball. The Braves won 14 consecutive division titles (1991-2005) with that superior presence on the mound.

Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were the backbone of the Braves success, and make up, perhaps, the greatest pitching trio in history. Consider these sick stats that the three compiled in their careers.

* Maddux (Braves 1993-2003)
Record: 350-217
Cy Young Awards: 4
All-Star appearances: 8
Times led National League in wins: 3
Times led NL in ERA: 4
Times led NL in innings: 5
Gold Gloves: 17

*Glavine (Braves 1987-2002)
Record: 305-202
Cy Young Awards: 2
All-Star appearances: 10
Times led NL in wins: 5
Times led NL in games started: 6
Times won 20 games: 5

*Smoltz (1988-2008)
Record: 210-147, 154 saves
Cy Young Award: 1
All-Star appearances: 8
Times led NL in wins: 2
Times led NL in saves: 1
Times led NL in strikeouts: 2
Times led NL in games started: 3

These three pitchers are without question headed to the Hall of Fame. Maddux and Glavine are definite first-ballot inductees. Smoltz gets strong consideration because of his dominance as a starter and closer. In three years as predominately a bullpen stopper, Smoltz totaled 144 saves.

Glavine, 42, has indicated this is his final season. He was set to retire after last season, but a one-year offer to rejoin the Braves was too enticing. But he has won just two games in 12 starts this season and was recently placed on the disabled list for the second time in his career.
Maddux, 42, has a 3-4 record and a decent 3.33 ERA for the San Diego Padres. He won 14 games last season and has posted double-digit victories every year of his career that started in 1990. It may appear Maddux could pitch until he’s 50 and challenge Cy Young’s career win mark. But the righty has said he wants to spend more time with family. This will probably be his last season.

Smoltz, 41, had surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder on Tuesday. It could be months before the pitcher knows if he can pitch next season. He was 3-2 with a 2.57 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 28 innings. I saw him pitch in May, and he was throwing it 95 mph with ease.

It is my hope that the three will retire after this season. Then in five years, we can honor the trio as they are inducted into the Hall of Fame together. That would indeed be a celebration of all things good in sports—no steroids, no spying, no rogue officials.

OUT AT HOME: Dick Trickle was a race car driver who competed at all levels including NASCAR. He also owned the best name in sports until he retired from full-time racing several years ago. Now comes his replacement for best name—Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Dick Pole. God bless those two for sporting those names.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: I never get tired of watching his swing. Congrats Junior!