Month: March 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Against The Grain

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of defending John Calipari.

With the long week before the National Semifinals, columnists around the country have been laying into Calipari, saying if Kentucky wins the National Championship with their Rent-A-Star system, it’s going to somehow destroy college basketball.

I don’t get it.

What is Calipari doing that every coach of an elite program hasn’t been doing for 20 years? Just because he is less shameless and more successful at restocking his starting five each year doesn’t somehow make his actions different, or more dangerous, than other coaches who have been chasing one-and-done talent.

On Grantland, Chuck Klosterman submitted the argument that a Kentucky win will set off a nuclear arms race amongst the top 5 programs. No longer will each big time school try to sign one or two elite talents and build around them with kids that will remain in college for 3-4 years. Instead, he insists, those schools will divide up the top 25 recruits each and every year.

This ignores the fact that it’s not always up to the schools where recruits go. Sure, recruits from across the country develop relationships in summer leagues that didn’t exist a generation ago, and are more likely to coordinate their college decisions than was possible in the past. And kids generally want to win more games than they lose.

But, just as they do now, there are always kids who want to do their own thing. Whether they want to be the man and not have to share the ball with four other elite recruits, or they want to stay close to home, or they’re just not comfortable with the pressure playing at a top 5 school brings, there will be recruits that decide to go to second and third tier schools. Kentucky’s success isn’t going to change that.

The argument also suggests that Bill Self, Thad Motta, Rick Pitino, etc. would somehow have turned down a recruiting class of Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, and Kyle Wiltjer last year. Nonsense. If any coach had the opportunity to sign those kids, regardless of who was on their roster already, they would have jumped at the chance. And they would have worked their ass off to follow that class up with another loaded class, knowing at least two of them would be gone the next fall.

Listen, I’m no fan of Calipari. I think his methods are cynical and do go against what college basketball is supposed to stand for.1 But what the sport is supposed to stand for went out the window long ago. To argue that Kentucky winning a title with a one-year roster destroys the game ignores everything that’s happened since the Fab Five and the first billion dollar CBS contract.

John Calipari is the best recruiter going in the business right now. He’s found a way to leverage his strength in a way that gives his team a competitive advantage. Provided he’s not cheating to do it, which is a whole other conversation, I’m not sure why so many people are getting worked up about it.

  1. Of course, as a sport, the ultimate goal is to win. 

The Cherry

KU’s Midwest Regional championship was the cherry on top of both the basketball season and our trip to Kansas City.

Oddly enough I never felt nervous Sunday. Not before the game, not during the game. I was at peace with the season and satisfied with how far the team had advanced in the tournament. I was just hoping they would be competitive. In fact, I was on record as saying they would either win by 20 or lose by 20. I didn’t expect another nail biter.

Which is exactly what it was until the late KU 12-0. Even with some silly turnovers, and an almost unforgivable Tyshawn Taylor 3-point attempt when the game was still in question, I loved the body language of the KU players. There was something about how they slowly imposed their will on Carolina that made me confident that they would win.

I watched the game at our good friends the B’s home. Outside. While drinking many Boulevard Irish Ales. With friends that I watched the 2002 and 2003 regional finals with. It was damn near perfect. I’m pretty sure some of the children that were present were freaked out at all the screaming when Elijah Johnson nailed his big 3-pointer. There was a lot of happiness at the B’s house late in the game, and then during our extended post-game celebration.

A terrific coaching job by Bill Self. Many are making a big deal about how his move to the triangle-2 defense against Carolina Sunday completely took the Tar Heels out of their game. True that, but let’s not overlook Roy Williams’ complete inability to adjust his offense to face the new defense. Some have argued that Roy didn’t have much he could do, lacking his starting point guard. But what is most curious is how Roy didn’t even seem to realize that KU had switched defenses for more than a single possession.

Listen, Roy is a great, great coach. And, as usual, we’re making too much of an isolated event in a long, spectacular career. But that exchange summed up both coaches about as well as anything could. Bill Self manages the first half, adjusts at halftime, and then is willing to make more adjustments throughout the second half. Roy runs his stuff over-and-over and challenges you to be good enough to stop it. In this case, Bill’s system won.

You know, those losses to mid-majors hurt. But five Elite 8’s in Self’s nine years, seven in the past 11 years, is pretty freaking good. I’ll trade the occasional loss to some no-name school if Self can keep getting to the Elite 8 every other year and turn half of those appearances into Final Four berths.

I began Sunday with a controversial move: I purchased a new KU shirt. Wearing a new shirt for a big game is generally a bad move. How do you know what kind of mojo the shirt has in it? But I had already worn the two KU shirts I took to Kansas City, and figured if I had avoided superstition all season, I might as well continue.

I think I’ll be wearing that shirt again Saturday.

The Ohio State game should be very interesting. I think Jared Sullinger will want to show he really was the difference in the game last December. I think KU players will get sick of hearing about that. I think Tyshawn Taylor will get tired of hearing how good Aaron Craft is, and want to remind people that he was playing on a torn meniscus when the teams last played. Both teams have been through rough patches since then, and are much better than they were in December. Both feel like they have something to prove. The difference could be that KU is the team playing with more house money, having escaped two tight games they might have lost in the past and imposed their will on a more talented opponent to get to New Orleans.

Regardless of the result, I’m thrilled with this year’s version of the Jayhawks. I’m not counting on much but would love it if they had another couple wins in them.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

Good Times

If we had to put a letter grade on our trip to Kansas City over the weekend, we would give it an A-. We had a great time seeing and catching-up with old friends. We hit a couple of my favorite eateries, although again with the kids present, I can’t go quite as nuts as I used to. And, obviously, the big, unexpected thrill was being about to watch a couple basketball games with people I used to spend a lot of time watching hoops with. That worked out well.

The girls had a few personal highlights. On the drive over, we had maps for them to color in based on the license plates we saw. They collected 35 on the way to KC, including the very rare Alaska. M. was pretty pumped up about that.1 They though the indoor pool at our hotel was great. And they loved playing with all their KC friends.

But without a doubt their favorite moment was our visit to the American Girl Doll store on Sunday. M. and C. got their dolls’ ears pierced and each girl got a new outfit. It was a little like Christmas morning, although there was no shrieking since strangers were present.

There were a few meltdowns, and the drive home Monday was a little more contentious that the first drive was. It was a fine trip, all things considered.

Thanks to all of you who hosted us or took time to come visit with us. It was great to see everyone. Hopefully it won’t be another two years before the entire family visits again.

  1. They were less diligent on the ride home, but filled in at least four of those missing states. 

Go West Old Man

Tomorrow morning, we’re packing up the family truckster and heading west. By mid-afternoon, we will be in the land of burnt ends, fountains, and boulevards.

It’s the first time we’ve taken the girls back to Kansas City in over two years, so it’s a special trip. Well, other than the eight hours in the van. But we have lots of movies and books, snacks, and a couple surprises to try to keep the girls occupied. They’re very excited to make the trip and see some old friends. But most of all, they’re excited about making a stop at the American Girl Doll store. Is it bad for me to hope KU is playing Sunday and they drop me off somewhere to watch the game while they head to the store without me?

Anyway, we’re looking forward to seeing many of our Kansas City friends.

She’s Mocking Me

Three year olds are always observing, cataloging, and analyzing the actions and speech of others. Then they throw it back at you and crack you up.


The other night the girls were playing outside after dinner. First M. came in saying that L. hit her. A few minutes later C. came in, crying, with the same complaint.

I brought L. in and told her not only could she no longer play outside, but also she had lost access to the new DVD we picked up at the library just for her that day.

She asked when she would be able to watch it again.

I said I wasn’t sure, it depended on her behavior.

She, in a completely mocking voice, said, “Do you mean tomorrow?” As she said tomorrow, she raised her hands and made air quotes. “Tomorrow.”

What the hell, where did she learn that?

I had to get up and leave the room before I started cracking up. She’s getting a bit of her biggest sister’s attitude and all I needed was for her to start throwing air quotes at me each time she talks back, thinking she can make me laugh and get away with her ‘tude.

Some Quick Follow-Up

A couple more notes I forgot to include in Monday’s post.

A couple people asked if I watched with any of my Purdue friends. I did not. The late start on a Sunday made it difficult to get people together. My closest Purdue buddy had another obligation that night, but we did send a few texts back-and-forth during the game. Probably better that we didn’t watch it together.

Strangely enough, that was the first time KU has played Purdue or IU since we moved to Indiana in 2003. From 1991 to 1997, KU played those two schools a combined eight times, including four NCAA tournament games. There were a couple other years in that span where KU and Purdue were in the same bracket, but one or the other got beat before they could play.

Finally, Tyshawn Taylor has taken some heat about his decision to go for the dunk rather than run out the clock on KU’s final possession. I had no problem with it. He was running full speed, full of emotion, with two defenders chasing him. It made sense to go for the sure points, hoping the clock would run out at the same time. Say he does pull up, get fouled, and then not hit both free throws? While Purdue still faces long odds to score, suddenly instead of trying to force overtime, they’re going for the win. Or what if he veers to the corner, and as he looks back to the defense, dribbles the ball off his foot? Since it is Tyshawn, people would have killed him for not dunking if a worst-case scenario had happened. It would have been one thing if there were 10 seconds left. But given the clock and game situation, I can’t fault him for his decision.

The Thinnest Of Margins

There was a moment, late in Sunday’s KU-Purdue game, when I admitted that it had been a terrific game and I could live with a loss. It certainly helped that KU was the better team for the last three minutes of the game, but I have a feeling I would still feel that way today had Purdue been able to hold off the Jayhawks.

Which means I guess my stepping-back this year has paid off. I wasn’t going to be miserable when the season came to an end. Of course, that may change if they lay an egg next weekend in St. Louis. But for one night, I saw a payoff for my change in fandom.

Don’t confuse that with me not caring about the outcome Sunday. I was fired up, to say the least. Those of you who received texts from me throughout the game can confirm that.

When Elijah Johnson nailed his ballsy three to give KU their first lead of the game with 3:00 to play, I raced around the basement screaming and jumping over the toys that were scattered on the floor. When Tyshawn Taylor took off for the game clinching dunk, I bumped my head on the ceiling.1 I was pumped when the final Purdue shot clipped the rim and fell away.

Comeback and escape. Survive and advance.


What was great about the game was how it matched two terrific in-game coaches against each other. Matt Painter came out with a great game plan to limit KU’s offensive chances. Bill Self did what he tries to do when things aren’t going the Jayhawks’ way: manage the first half and get to halftime where he can draw up something new. That worked, as Robbie Hummel was contained for most of the second half and KU crawled back into it.

Painter’s plan on defense was still working, though, and as late as the final media timeout, it felt like KU just wouldn’t be able to find the answers.

The last two minutes featured all kinds of changes in offensive and defensive sets. Lineup adjustments. Strategic timeouts. It was fun to watch.

The thing that I kept thinking of, though, was how “great coaching moves” are still dependent on the execution by the players. Painter’s plan to smother Thomas Robinson wouldn’t have seem so brilliant if KU’s perimeter players had drilled long jumpers early. Even more important was the monster first half by Hummel. If Purdue shoots 20% in the first half instead of knocking everything down, chances are KU would have found their footing and turned it into an easy win.

Same for Self. He made some terrific personnel moves and changes in sets. He won an NCAA game with Naadir Tharpe and Justin Wesley playing significant minutes in the first half. But if Elijah Johnson doesn’t come up huge, if the defensive changes that slowed Hummel result in open shots for the other Boilermakers, which they hit, they don’t seem as smart, either.

We can analyze it a million ways, but coaching ultimately comes down to results. Often wins are as much about luck and the whims of the basketball gods as about the strings the coaches are pulling from the benches.

Robbie Hummel is awesome. People make too big a deal sometimes about players who play the game the right way. I don’t think you can talk too much about Hummel. He deserves every ounce of praise he gets.

If KU survives next weekend and makes it to the Final Four, Johnson’s three, his ridiculous alley-oop to Tyshawn, and his steal/layup for the lead in the last minute will be plays KU fans remember forever.

When the season began, I thought a realistic measure for what would be a successful KU season would be competing for the Big 12 title and making it to the second weekend of the tournament. Mission accomplished. No matter what happens in St. Louis, a team that not many people believed in has won 29 games, an eighth-straight conference title, and is one of 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament. It’s all gravy from here.

Rock Chalk, bitches.

  1. Our basement ceilings are low. I probably got a good 8-9 inches of air, though. 

Three Things

M.: Each morning when I drop M. off at school, she mumbles a goodbye to me as she scans the sidewalk between the van and the front door. She’s looking for friends who may be walking in. On the mornings she does run into someone she knows, I love the way they both light up, run to each other, start talking and laughing, and then walk inside together. It’s nice to be 7 and get along with everyone. It won’t be all that much longer before she’s trying to avoid certain people in the hallways.

C.: Thursday night was Dads’ Night at C.’s school. She was so excited about it! All week she had been counting down the days. “Only two more days until Dads’ Night!” After school on Thursday she kept asking me for updates on how long until we would head back to her classroom. When we arrived, she was giddy. She clung to me and gave me hugs and giggled the entire time. They sang some songs. We made a craft. We listened to a story. We ate a snack. The entire time she was almost shaking in her excitement.

She has lots of ebbs and flows in her moods, but when she’s sweet, she’s about as sweet as can be.

L.: Her funny phrase of the week: “That is so surprising!”

Many of the other parents out there are aware of Platypus Day, in honor of Perry the Platypus, and the walk that goes along with it. Each time the commercial appears on Disney, L. runs to the TV, and makes her version of the Perry sound, “RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.” She proud of how well she can roll her R’s.

Who Owns Your Data

Following up on last week’s link to the Atlantic article about on-line advertising, a few thoughts about Internet privacy in general.

As we spend more-and-more time online, more-and-more people are airing concerns about what happens to the bread crumbs of data we leave in our wake. It seems like every week or so brings a new ‘scandal’ regarding how some online services provider handles user data.

Some people believe that no personal information of any kind should be logged and archived when they visit a website. Others believe that the exchange of demographic information for content is a vital part of the (mostly) free Internet.

I tend to agree with that second view, but I do wish we had more control over our online data records. I use some tools to help limit how much information I’m leaving behind, although I know there is no fool-proof method to do so. And the content providers are almost always going to be a step ahead of even the most technologically adept users. So even when we think we’re masking our Internet travels, the fact is we’re still being tracked in some manner.

I have, though, distanced myself a bit from two major online services recently. I used to run all my email through Gmail, since it is so great at archiving mass amounts of messages without gobbling up hard drive space. But, each time there was another story about how Google was using the information they get from our data, my enthusiasm for the service waned.

I don’t recall what the final straw was, but over a year ago I stopped routing any of my email through Google and kept it on domain space I owned. Plus, to get my personal domains to work with Gmail, there were always some workarounds that had to be navigated. It wasn’t just a matter of privacy, but also of convenience, that caused me to stop having Gmail manage all my messages.

Facebook is the other service I’ve turned away from. I still have an account, and I log in every now-and-then to read through updates. But lately I’ve been getting most of my Facebook news from my wife. I don’t believe I’ve posted an update since the holidays. I may still upload a picture from time-to-time, but I’ve moved back to sharing information either here on my blog or directly via email. I believe it was the revelation that Facebook was tracking user activity even after they had logged out of their account that pushed me away from them. Despite their assurances that nothing nefarious was being done with that data, that was a few notches too many down the creepy scale for me.

Which is a shame, as Facebook has become such an important tool to connect with others. Even for people I talk to frequently, Facebook is a great way to see pictures of their travels and families, news of careers and activities, and a thousand other tidbits that keep us ever-so-gently in touch.

I don’t think either Google or Facebook are evil. I haven’t deleted my Facebook account and still use some Google services, notably the Chrome browser. But I am uncomfortable with how their use of our data seems to be constantly expanding. Many have pointed this out, but it’s useful to remember that you are not Google or Facebook’s customers: advertisers are their customers. You, and your data, are their product.

It is important to understand that you are giving something up when you use these services. There is a cost, even if you’re not paying an annual fee. In order to maximize the return for their advertisers, Google, Facebook, etc. are always going to seek more information about you. When you realize that, and monitor changes to their terms of service, you can make an informed decision about if and when they’ve gone too far for your comfort.

Back To Glendale

Thursday night is going to be big. After three months off air, Community returns! It’s such a big deal even The New York Times has a story about the show’s return in today’s edition.

It remains unlikely, though, that “Community” will suddenly wade into the mainstream in search of more traditional viewers. Coming episodes revolve around a collegewide pillow fight (substituting for the regular paintball-shootout episode) and a full-scale “Law & Order” parody.

Which reminds me, I have not ranked my favorite TV shows at any point this season. A couple old favorites have fallen out, replaced by one new show, and another show that’s new to me.

1 – Parks and Recreation. We are in a golden age of ensemble cast comedies. With large casts come difficulties in keeping all the actors involved in the stories without making an episode too complex. P&R almost never has a bad week. It also hits the perfect balance of smart humor with silliness.
2 – Community. They scratch me exactly where I itch. As Dan Harmon says in the NYT article, they try to swing for the fences each week. Sometimes they whiff, but more often than not, they connect. Where P&R is consistently excellent, Community has had more moments of pure brilliance.
3 – Modern Family. Still a very good show, especially when compared to the trash the networks try to force on us each fall. But it’s a step or two below its first-season peak.
4 – Archer. Even more than Community, this show is not for everyone. But of all these shows, it is the only one that makes me laugh so hard I often can’t share my favorite lines with my wife the next day. Example: pretty much anything Pam says. Bonus points for all the Arrested Development connections.
5 – Up All Night. A fine first-year show. There is definitely a variance in quality from week-to-week, but overall it’s solid.

Bonus Show: We’ve been watching Mad Men for the last six months or so. We’re just about done with season three, so we don’t expect to start watching the season five when it airs. We like it a lot, although I’m not about to put it in the same class as The Wire when it comes to dramas.

Off the List:

The Office. I wasn’t going to be one of those Now that Steve Carell is gone, I’m not watching, people. And I watched for a month or so in the fall. But it just wasn’t as funny as it used to be. One week the DVR failed to record an episode and I took that as a sign it was time to move on. I’ve heard the show has rebounded a bit in 2012, but it hasn’t sucked me back in.
30 Rock. I just got behind on this one – I think I have six episodes on the DVR – and wasn’t loving how this season began anyway. I’ll probably plow through them at some point, but for now it’s not a priority.

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