It was a busy, hectic weekend dominated by Cait's seventh birthday. Actually, I should say Cait's birthday was the anchor to which the weekend was attached, because we were so busy her big day seemed to pass rather quickly.
It was kind of a reserved birthday in terms of gifts. We just got her a few small things, as she had already received her big present last month: we cleared out our guest room, got some new sheets, moved a few things around, and turned it into Cait's bedroom. Now each of the girls has their own room, which Cait loves. I think Lia has struggled with it a little, as she's been appearing in our bed at night more often than she had done for a while. But she'll get over it. Cait's room is always a mess, when she cleans it up, she is very proud to show it off.
Other than the small gifts we gave her Friday, she still had a solid birthday. She got to take Pop Tarts to school for a class treat. Her buddy next door gave her a BFF pillow that separates so they can both keep half. We had dinner at Dave & Buster's with the neighbors, so Cait was running around the arcade like a maniac, thinking the tickets she won, and turned into a couple pieces of cheap candy, were the greatest thing ever. And on Saturday her grandmother took her to a nail salon to get all of her nails done. Meghan has done that before, and loved it. But I think Cait appreciates it on a whole other level than Meg did. Girliest girl and all.
And so for my yearly State of the Daughter post, I will say that Cait has made great strides this year. She still has emotional outbursts, which are utterly maddening to us. But they've gotten a little better, so the trend line there is good. She's had a very good first year at St. P's, making lots of new friends and great progress academically, too. Even with the first year of kindergarten at her old preschool, she struggled a bit with things like sight words and simple math last fall. Some of that is just her personality. She doesn't have ADHD, but has that high energy, always active, easily distracted quality to her that can make you wonder sometimes. But she settled down, got the sight words down, and a few months ago started reading to us. Now she brings home books from the library and sails through them. We find little notes all over the house with her best guesses at words she hasn't learned yet, which are utterly charming. I've started getting the books where a parent reads one page and the child reads the next and have had great fun working through those with her.
She's also turned into quite the little artist. She'll spend hours working on drawings and other art projects. It's really the only thing that can get her to settle down and focus. Each day after school her folder is full of pages of brand new artwork.
Cait is a silly, sweet, sensitive kid who is always bouncing off in different directions, physically and emotionally. Life is never boring with her around.
"Change" - Mikal Cronin. I wanted something from him last week, and he obliged with a new video this week. From one of my three or four favorite albums of the year so far.
I have been out covering spring sports the last two nights. Tuesday I caught a county tournament baseball game, which was a scintillating 15-0, five inning win. Last night I had a first round girls tennis sectional match, which was a 5-0 wipeout. But I'm not complaining. It was dry and warm both days, which has been unusual for this spring.
When I got home last night everyone was already in bed, so I flipped around and came across the Marcus Dupree 30 For 30, The Greatest That Never Was. It was already 20 minutes in, but I was captivated for the next hour and forty minutes. Between the old Big 8 highlights, 1 hearing Charlie Jones call the 1983 Fiesta Bowl, lots of Barry Switzer goodness 2, and Dupree's legendary flameout at the beginning of his sophomore season, it had a good base to work with. And then there was Dupree's legendary fashion sense.
I vaguely recalled Dupree ending up in the USFL, but I don't think I ever watched a USFL game. So I forgot he was actually pretty good at first. Then came the career ending injury and inevitable financial troubles that left him in a sad spiral, sitting at home in Mississippi, fat and alone like an old man at just 23. At the midway point, as he walked through his grandmother's tiny home that was filled with the trophies and photos of his glory days, it was thoroughly depressing. Another promising athletic talent wasted.
But then came the comeback, which I did not remember at all. He went to an NFL game in 1989, got a spark, and thought, "I want to do that again." In three months he dropped 100 pounds and the next year he was on the field with the Rams. Nuts. He played for two years, until the Rams cut him before the 1992 season, despite leading the team in rushing in the preseason. He wasn't bitter or upset. He was, rather, proud that he got his shot and took advantage of it. He claimed control of his life and remained in control. Since his career ended he's worked steady, if unspectacular, jobs as a truck driver and helping clean up the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill.
The best part of the film, though, was the closing scene. The producers sat Dupree down at a computer and had him watch his grainy highlight videos from high school. Mostly silent, all in black-and-white, he galloped through hopeless, hapless defenders. He sat in silent awe, as if he had forgotten just how good he was and why there was such a fuss about him. It seemed absolutely genuine, and thus was completely charming to watch.
We can all talk about athletes we saw as kids who never made it, for any one of a thousand reasons. I always thought Marcus Dupree never made it. Turns out he did make it, both in football and in being a normal, decent human being.
After that, I watched this lovely, mini-documentary about Morganna Roberts, aka The Kissing Bandit. It's a little NSFW-ish, but is a must-watch for anyone who grew up watching baseball in the 1970s and 1980s.
- KU in lighter blue jerseys with a bird on the helmet, Colorado in their UCLA colors, OU fans throwing oranges on the field. Was there a better part of going to a Big 8 school than throwing oranges on the field? If you went to a bottom-feeder school, you threw your oranges ironically in the first couple weeks of the season before OU and Nebraska came to town and hung 70 on your team. ↩
- I hated Barry. Still do, to be honest. But that dude was the best. ↩
I kept thinking there was a shot, even if small.
I'm not going to try to convince you that I believed Andrew Wiggins, the top high school basketball player in the country, was going to pick KU over Kentucky, North Carolina, and Florida State. I had thought for a long time he would make the easiest decision and go to Florida State, where his parents went to school.
Still, I thought KU had a shot.
There was the weekend he visited, when KU turned senior night against Texas Tech into an extended dunk session, soaking in the crowd's love all evening. With plenty of time to kill in a blowout, the ESPN crew kept telling the national TV audience how McLemore could be this year's number one pick, and Wiggins could take his place in the KU lineup and be the #1 pick in next year's draft.
There was the national writer, who had followed Wiggins closely, who Tweeted to the world how great KU campus visits are right after Wiggins was in town. He said even recruits who went to other schools raved about their time in Lawrence. Was the reserved Wiggins sending a veiled message through an intermediary?
There was his brother playing for Wichita State, which just might make picking Lawrence for his one year of college ball easier on his whole family.
There was his quiet handling of the entire recruiting process. No interviews or weekly Twitter updates. Not even a televised press conference when it came time to announce his decision.
There was the lack of hats at his announcement. KU never wins when hats are involved. 1
There was the drama at Kentucky, that seemed very opposite what Wiggins personality seemed to be.
There was the tidbit that floated around a week ago that his family was fine with him going to KU if he didn't chose Florida State.
Always just little glimmers. But in the recruiting game, you hold on to the slightest hope. Maybe they would all add up to a player who was going against conventional wisdom.
Tuesday morning, I still thought he would pick Florida State. But there was that glimmer tickling the part of my brain where I had tucked those little notes away.
And then we got the word, Andrew Wiggins will be a Jayhawk for the 2013-14 season. There was much rejoicing, giddy texts and emails were sent, and for the second time I did a second celebratory lap of my house for a recruit. 2
This completely changes next season for KU fans. A month ago it seemed to be a classic rebuilding year, with a batch of exceptional freshmen coming in, but none who appeared good enough to single-handedly carry the team deep into March. This was a recruiting class made to stick for several years. Until Joel Embiid rocketed into the top fifteen and Wayne Selden crashed the top 20 and then Wiggins made it one of the best classes in school history. The reduced expectations of a rebuilding year are out the window. KU is back in the group of teams expected to compete for a national title in 2014. So much for watching the young pups grow and think about how good they'll be in 2015 and 2016. The future is now. Or this coming season, at least.
As for Wiggins himself, I think all the hype about him being the best player since LeBron James is ridiculous and unfair. He's an exceptional athlete, a skilled basketball player, and loves the pressure and responsibilities that come with being the Alpha Dog. But he's not LeBron, a once in a lifetime talent. As freakish as Wiggins' athletic ability is, he has more of a classic basketball player build than the tight end in basketball shorts that LeBron was when he finished high school. Wiggins can run by and jump over people, but I don't know that he'll be able to overpower them the way LeBron did to players his age at 18.
So he's not going to be LeBron. He may not even put up the numbers that Kevin Durant put up during his one year at Texas. He's still going to be really freaking good, though. He will be KU's best player from day one, and will embrace that in a way Ben McLemore didn't want or wasn't able to do. He may not have the beautiful shot that McLemore had, but his overall game is better. He won't shrink and defer when things aren't going his way. 3 He will have rough patches like Ben did, like Xavier Henry did, like Brandon Rush did, like Paul Pierce, like Danny Manning did as freshmen. But those rough patches aren't going to get him down.
Recruiting hype doesn't always translate into a great college player, especially in the age of One And Doners. Wiggins is it, though. He's the best KU recruit since Danny Manning. He won't have the same impact on the program Manning had since he'll only be in Lawrence for one year. But he has a great opportunity to hang exactly as many national championship banners as Manning did. Which is why coaches spend so much time chasing these high school kids around.
Welcome, Andrew Wiggins.
And Rock Chalk, bitches.
- As far as I know the first hat ceremony was when Baron Davis picked up a KU hat, pretended to put it on, then threw it on the ground and grabbed a UCLA hat. Recruits have worn KU hats when announcing they will be Jayhawks. But anytime there is a row of various hats, KU always loses. ↩
- The first came the day Paul Pierce announced he was coming to KU. ↩
- Not bad-mouthing B-Mac at all. I loved him and his year at KU. I loved his humbleness and goofiness. Just pointing out the holes in his game vs. Wiggins. ↩
Turns out there may be more to Tiger Woods' return to prominence than anyone initially believed. There was Dropgate at the Masters. He may or may not have taken another incorrect drop while winning the Player's Championship this past weekend. And now at least one marshall who was with Tiger Saturday is countering Woods' claim that he was given an all clear when he grabbed his club and, allegedly, distracted Sergio Garcia as he took a swing.
Well, when they heard that remark from Woods, the marshals were surprised. One of them, Gary Anderson, said on Sunday, “He didn’t ask us nothing, and we didn’t say nothing. We’re told not to talk to the players.”
Hmmm. Now this is Tiger we're dealing with, so that marshall could be full of shit.
But let's explore the possibility that he is telling the truth. What if Tiger has come back to competitive golf with an even fiercer competitiveness than he had before. He burns to get to 18, and then 19, major titles to catch and pass Jack Nicklaus. And he knows his physical skills aren't what they were 5-10 years. He needs every edge and angle he can get.
What if he's come back as a WWE-style bad guy? He's going to fudge his drops to get an advantage. He's going to make noise while a competitor is swinging. He's going to comment on the green conditions while his playing partner is lining up an important putt. Basically treat other golfers the way his dad treated him when he was a kid and trying to learn how to sharpen his concentration on the course.
Tiger was never really a good guy. People loved him because of the way he played and how often he won, not because he was a lovable guy like Arnold Palmer or a fundamentally decent and honorable guy like Nicklaus. Tiger spent most of his career being a complete dick, but he got away with it because we loved seeing him lap the field at Pebble Beach when no one else could play the course.
But he was never overtly bad, either.
There's no evidence that Tiger has turned into a cheater and dirty competitor. But if things like this keep happening when he's on the course, I'm going to start thinking he is. True or not, it will make golf a lot more interesting.
"Recovery" - Frank Turner.
I'm crushing hard on Mikal Cronin's new album this week. But, sadly, there are no videos available for it yet. Instead I'll share a song from an album I was crushing on two weeks ago.
By my unofficial count, we are up to six great albums for the year so far, with an equal number falling just short of great.
It's bike ridin' season, finally. We hope the weather will stay warm and there will be many days of riding ahead of us. The forecast does show temps dipping into the 30s this weekend, so you never know in 2013.
But anyway, it was time to make some moves with the girls. Meghan's knees were hitting the handlebars on her old bike. Thus she got an early birthday present of a new, 20" bike last Saturday. She loves it, even if it doesn't have gears like her buddy next door's new bike. But it does have a hand brake and a cool bell, and that seems to be enough to satisfy her.
The next step is to get Cait riding without training wheels. We've been casually working with her, but hadn't done any intense sessions chasing her around. Yet last Saturday, after about five minutes of working with Suzanne, she was going 50-60 feet on her own. Now unlike Meghan a year ago, that doesn't mean Cait is ready to go sans training wheels full-time. She still needs a lot of practice. And frankly I'm a little worried about turning her lose. Where Meghan was very "Look at me!" when she learned to ride, Cait just starts giggling and looking around and increasing her speed without keeping the bike under good control. Meghan has, amazingly, never crashed. Cait is destined for some meetings with mailboxes, sidewalks, parked cars, the fire hydrant across the street, etc. I fear.
And then there's Lia. We're keeping the training wheels on Cait's bike for now, so she's riding Meghan's old bike when we practice going on two wheels. Eventually we will shift the training wheels to Meghan's old bike and that will become Lia's. In the meantime, we let Lia hop on Cait's current bike if Cait isn't using it. She's just barely big enough to reach the pedals, but once she climbs on she has no fear. She'll charge out into the cul-de-sac and ride with gusto. The problem is she is busy looking back at the parents to make sure their attention is on her. In the process she keeps cutting off the big girls. There hasn't been a collision yet. But sooner or later one of her sisters or one of the neighbors is going to wipe her out when she doesn't give them enough time to avoid her. The (kind of) funny part is each time she cuts someone off, she'll snap her head in my direction, stare at me, and finally say, "What?" as if I'm the one doing something wrong. She's a piece of work.
Unrelated to bikes, Cait was laughing while eating ice cream the other night and started choking. While Suzanne tried to get her to raise her arms and breath, Meghan screamed, "YOU NEED TO DO THE HEINRICH REMOVER!!!" Cait had caught her breath by then so Suzanne and I lost it. That set off another round of giggles by Cait and whining by Meghan to get us to tell her the proper way to say Heimlich Maneuver. When you consider what the act involves, calling it a remover is a pretty solid malapropism.
There are some soccer fans amongst my regular readers, so that gives me freedom to write about the massive news from Manchester: Sir Alex Ferguson is retiring as manager of Manchester United.
I hate ManU, and by association, I hate Sir Alex. I came by my hate honestly. When I was first discovering European soccer in 1994-5, ManU star Eric Cantona took his infamous flying kick at a fan. That's all I needed to put the Red Devils in the hate column and they've been there ever since. I have learned to grudgingly respect Sir Alex and ManU. But as I became more interested in English soccer and adopted Arsenal as my club 1 there was never a chance I would hop on the ManU bandwagon like so many other Americans have done.
But good grief! Twenty-six years, 13 league titles, two European titles. He stayed and imposed his will on the entire organization in a way that rarely happens any more anywhere. ALl while speaking in his impenetrable Glasgow accent. Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs is the most similar American example. But as central Popovich is to the Spurs' success, I don't think he is a Mt. Rushmore coach the way Ferguson was. Great coach, absolutely. Under-appreciated, for sure. But I don't think he's in the discussion as the greatest ever the way Sir Alex is.
The manager/coach tends to be the most expendable element of an organization's success. If things are going poorly, often the simple, obvious way of fixing things is sacking the manager, to use a British term. ManU had very few lean years, but Alex navigated Arsenal's run of success, the emergence of Chelsea and Manchester City, and countless egos on ManU's roster to always kept them in the running for the league title and playing deep into the Champions League tournament.
Manchester United was, until a few weeks ago, the biggest and most valuable soccer club in the world. 2 Their money went a long way towards building and sustaining their success over the past 26 years. But even with all that money and talent, I don't think they would have been nearly as successful without Sir Alex chomping his gum on the sidelines.
I've been working on this post for several days. At one point, I had a coherent central theme to write around. Unfortunately I was in the shower or at Target or doing some other thing where I could only think about it rather than enter the words into a text application. Thus, I fear, it's turned into a hot mess.
Anyway, some thoughts on who should be eligible to declare for the NBA draft.
Marcus Smart is an idiot.
Marcus Smart is a genius.
The fantastic Oklahoma State point guard turned down a sure-thing, top five pick in next month's NBA draft to return for his sophomore season. In doing so he made an awful choice. And a terrific choice.
He's an idiot because he's turning down ridiculous money with no guarantee it will still be there in a year. Knees get wrecked, achilles blow out, or crazy things can happen off the court to end a career. Hell, maybe he's still very good but doesn't show marked improvement next year and suddenly people are talking about how he's already peaked. 1
He's a genius because he is deferring that massive payday to stay with his brothers at OSU and enjoy another year of college basketball. He is the rare, ultra-talented player who is willing to put the NBA on hold, which is great for the college game.
I hate that kids like Smart have to make this choice. But I'm also dead-set against forcing kids to stay in college any longer than they want/need to be. I don't think there should be an age limit for NBA eligibility.
That's not to say I don't wish there was an age limit. Both college and professional basketball would be better if players had to spend one, two, or even three years in college honing their craft. Jordan did. Ewing did. Olajuwon did. It worked out ok for them. 2
It would also be better for the fans and take pressure off of players who entered college with great expectations but might need two or three years to be physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared for the pro game.
If you criticize a system, you have to have a plan to fix it. I have a few ideas. I'll allow up front that my plan is far from exhaustive. It shouldn't be viewed as a complete, final proposal for how to fix the NBA draft. But it's a place to start talking.
First, a player is eligible to be drafted by an NBA team if he turns 18 in the calendar year of the draft and has graduated from high school, or earned the equivalent of a high school diploma. I know, I said no age limit. But there has to be a floor so teams aren't tempted to draft high school sophomores and hang on to their rights. 3
Second, any college player can declare for the draft without losing their collegiate eligibility. They do not have to remove their names from the draft by a certain date, or even at all. They can even be drafted and still be eligible to play in college the following year. Until they sign a professional contract, they retain the option of returning to college, provided they maintain academic eligibility and don't take money from an agent.4 College coaches will hate this. But they are the same assholes who can yank a kid's scholarship if they recruit someone better, and leave players in limbo when they decide to chase a better job. Give the kids some protection. 5
Once drafted, a player is under no obligation to sign with a team. If Johnny Jumpshot, a sophomore, doesn't get picked until the second round by Minnesota and he doesn't want to A) sign a non-guaranteed contract 6or B) play in Minnesota, he can go back to school. The catch for the player is the team that drafts them retains their rights until the following draft.
The catch for the team is that they must declare their intention on the player prior to the second year's draft. If they draft a player and he returns to school, before the next draft they must A) sign him to a guaranteed contract lasting a minimum of two years at the average rate of the last five picks of the previous draft's first round picks or B) renounce their claim and return him to the draft pool, where any team can select him. If they chose option B and Team 2 selects the player in the first round, Team 1 receives Team 2's second round pick in that draft.
After each year's draft there will be a four week window, ending in late July, in which players and teams can negotiate and determine what their relationship will be during the up-coming season. By the end of that period, a player must have either signed with an NBA team or elected to return to school. Once this period closes, teams can no longer trade the rights to players. They're stuck together until the following June's decision period.
That gives Minnesota four weeks to try to talk Johnny into coming to Minneapolis, or move him to another team where he is more interested in playing. And it prevents dramas from dragging into the fall. NBA franchises will know who will report to training camp and college coaches will know who to expect back for Midnight Madness.
Suddenly ESPN has some built-in, summer hoops excitement as draft picks and NBA teams are haggling while college fans cross their fingers that their guys turn down offers and come back for another year.
So, let's say Johnny doesn't sign with Minnesota and returns for his junior year of college. Now what? He can sign with Minnesota before the draft for the two-year option, refuse to sign and throw his hat back in the draft and be selected by any team without penalty, or return to college for his senior year.
Like I said, this is a preliminary idea, full of holes. As I've read through it, I've made major changes three times already. I see a few major issues that would need to be addressed immediately. But you have to start somewhere.
College will still lose players to the pros early. But this might cut down on that exodus a little. It reduces the pressure that a super-talented player must go pro because everyone expects him to. It gives them the option of truly determining their value and then choices on how to leverage that value. It gives teams a chance to grab talent before it peaks at a reduced rate. And it has a central point that might not make both sides happy, but at least protects each of them.
I don't think we'll ever see another Ralph Sampson, who played all four years at Virginia despite likely be the #1 pick each year he was eligible for the draft. But maybe we'll see more Marcus Smarts who are willing to put being a pro off just a little longer.
- Not bloody likely, but there is a chance. ↩
- Kobe didn't. KG didn't. LeBron didn't. I know. ↩
- Not that they would in the NBA, where there are only two rounds in the draft. That would be a waste in a system where there are limited opportunities to acquire young, cheap talent. ↩
- Part of this plan is the NCAA must allow college players to receive advice from agents. No money can be exchanged, but it's criminal and immoral that the NCAA doesn't let players get professional advisors when determining their futures. ↩
- That idea alone guarantees that the NCAA will never go along with anything resembling this plan. The last thing they are concerned about are the players, errrrr, scholar athletes. ↩
- Second round picks in the NBA are generally offered single-year, non-guaranteed contracts. ↩
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn.
I figure a lot of you have read this, or have plans to. Flynn is arguably the master of popular fiction right now. She writes fantastic stories that get great reviews and sell a lot. So I'll take this is another direction.
I admit I became a fan of Flynn because of her biography. She is a Kansas City native and University of Kansas graduate. It helps that she’s written three fantastic novels. But sharing that common background is what first drew me to her books.
Flynn and I are the same age. We arrived on campus at KU in the same steamy, late summer days of 1989. So each time I read one of her books, I’m thinking two things. A) Why the hell haven’t I written three best-selling novels? B) Did our paths ever cross while we were in Lawrence?
The first isn’t worth writing about. I have dreams of writing something that gets published, but it’s not like I’ve slaved over drafts and seen them rejected for the last 20 years. There’s no jealousy of a classmate who made it while I’ve suffered for my art or anything like that.
But that second one can be interesting to explore. What if we were casual acquaintances and, at some point, something I did caught her attention and she tucked it away, pulling it out years later as she was creating a character? She may not have remembered that the trait or mannerism or silly joke originated with me, but still there would be some small part of my DNA in one of her books. That would be kind of cool.
And then there’s the bigger What If. What If we had been more than just classmates or casual friends? What if we had dated? If you’ve never read one of her books, they’re pretty dark and twisted. They aren’t populated by normal, well-adjusted people. What if she created a character that vaguely resembled me? And then what if that person was a total freak, or a murderer, or did awful things to women? Would I be hesitant to share that I had known and dated Flynn years before she was famous if people could connect me with some nutjob in one of her books and wonder, “Gee, is that psycho based on him?”
Silly, I know. But I can’t help but think it. And maybe it’s not so far-fetched. One of my friends from high school who also went to KU had a roommate her freshman year that, ever so slightly, resembled Ms. Flynn. I can’t for the life of me think of that girl’s name, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Gillian.
But just for fun, let’s say it was her. Why is that fun? Because this girl had a bit of a crush on me, or so I was told, and I kind of blew her off. 1 Then I could say, “You know, a best selling author was totally into me in college. And I blew her off.” Self-mockery is the best mockery.
Finally, there’s another thing I think about while reading Flynn’s books. By all accounts she is a very nice person, true to her Midwestern roots. I greatly admire her ability to write about awful things and remain normal to the outside world. 2 That has been a barrier I’ve struggled with when I think about writing fiction to share with others. How do I write about darkness, about the failures of humans, and not have people put that behavior back on me?
Another example: Tom Perrotta is one of my favorite authors. Each of his books is built around infidelity. He is married and has a family. I can’t help but wonder about that. Does this mean he is always thinking about banging the babysitter? Does his wife question him as to whether every book he publishes needs to center on people cheating? If I wrote stories similar to him would people think, “Dude, you might want to chill on the whole sex with someone other than your spouse thing in your books,”?
And then there’s Stephen King. I don’t think I could ever write true horror, or even some of the more graphically gory fantasy stuff he’s crafted over his career. Still, if I wrote about a psycho clown that was killing children, would other parents be reluctant to let me be around their kids?
Again, all silly thoughts.
Being a writer requires you to free your mind. You have to be able to take an idea and explore it in any direction until it finds an interesting and entertaining end. As important, though, is the need to free yourself from the expectations and reactions of your readers. You have to trust that they will get that your story is fiction, a product of your imagination. There might be familiar settings and elements in your stories, but they still are rooted in the land of make believe. You have to trust that even if your readers don’t like what you write, or give you uncomfortable, “Sooooo, that was an interesting book...” in response to your work, they still understand that it’s art and not memoir.
Oh, and I loved the book.
- That’s right, friends. Me, the guy who complained about never having dates, blew off a perfectly nice girl who showed interest in me. Sadly that wasn’t the first time I did that. Often my misery was self-induced. ↩
- Of course, we have no idea. She could be bat-shit crazy. But that does not come across in interviews. ↩