Month: February 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

Parenting Notebook

Sunday I was finishing up my story on the state swimming meet at my desk. Around the corner, I heard C. reading a book to S.. It didn’t register at first, but soon I stopped writing and paused to listen closer. C. wasn’t slowly picking out sight words or reading some book for early readers that mixes pictures and words. She was working her way through “The Giving Tree” at a solid pace, hardly slipping up on any words.

Monday night she brought me “Green Eggs and Ham.” We sat on the couch, I held the book and turned pages while she read the entire thing to me.

I would bet money I said the same thing when M. first read to me, but there really is something magical about when your child begins reading on their own. First, there’s that immense feeling of pride that goes both ways. I’m proud of C., as if she unlocked some great mystery that has confounded people for centuries. And you can tell C. is proud of herself. Then there is the way reading changes a kid’s world. I think you can compare it to walking in the way it opens up the world for them. They can find things on their own. They can entertain themselves. They can be independent.

It’s pretty damn cool.

The only downside to C. learning to read and growing up in general is how it causes her and M. to butt heads more often. C. loves to share observations of things at school with M.. It’s clearly her way of showing M. she’s not a baby but an equal. And M. likes to immediately correct C. on whatever she thinks C. has wrong with her assessments. Which C. responds to by ‘expanding’ her story so she creates details she thinks M. doesn’t know. But M. always finds a way to add her knowledge. And so on.

Example: this morning, at breakfast, they spent 10 minutes arguing about all the different kinds of pencil sharpeners they’ve seen at school. The ones on teachers’ desks, attached to the wall in the art room, that some people keep in their desks, etc. It was an endless loop of trying to one-up each other with knowledge and observations. I’m sure this is going to be a lot of fun when they hit high school.

The girls were playing over the weekend and their game drifted into the room where S. and I were sitting. They were adopting dogs from the shelter or something, and M. piped up with “Be sure to go to to register your dog when you get home.” It’s always fun when they take something they’ve heard on TV and incorporate it into their play. I’m just glad they aren’t ‘smoking’ candy cigarettes like I did when I was a kid. What were our parents thinking?

Finally, I’m not sure what’s going on here, but for some reason C. keeps hanging one of her stuffed dogs from the upstairs landing. I hope she didn’t register this one, otherwise the dog police are going to be paying her a visit.

Keeping Hope Alive

One of the many differences between being a fan and being a player is that, as a fan, we can give up. We can suspend hope in the face of compelling evidence. We can look at the clock and the score, sigh and say, “It just wasn’t our night.” Or look at the conference standings and the up-coming schedule and think, “This isn’t our year.”

But players don’t have that freedom. They have to play, regardless of the score or their place in the standings or their projected seed in a tournament that is still a month away.

Which is a good thing all around. It helps us fans keep our sanity. And it means even when we do step back, there still is a chance the outcome will change.

I stayed up late last night, and was up early this morning, considering Monday’s insane, amazing, ridiculous KU-Iowa State game, and kept thinking about that split. Of all the things that the Kansas Jayhawks have done well in Bill Self’s tenure, it’s not give up. The most obvious example, of course, was when they were down nine with 2:00 to play in San Antonio in 2008. Seven game minutes later they were National Champions. But it was demonstrated even better last night.
Down seven early, with Iowa State drilling threes from all around the arc, KU settled down and five minutes later were up by four.
Down seven with 5:00 remaining, KU kept playing.
Down five with 40 seconds to play, they kept playing.
Down four with 20 seconds to play, they kept playing.
Down two with 11 seconds to play, they kept playing.

The mythical Chop play worked on two-straight possessions. Iowa State missed enough free throws to open the door, while KU knocked theirs down. An explosion by a much-maligned senior guard turned the end of overtime into a rout. But the story of this game was not the fortunate call(s) KU got late, or the ridiculous number of threes Iowa State hit for the first 39.5 minutes, KU’s role players stepping up, or even Elijah Johnson’s <em>On Fire</em> performance over the last six minutes. It was that the Jayhawks never stopped playing.
What’s funny is that those first 3-4 years of Self’s tenure, when the players recruited by Roy Williams were struggling to grasp Self’s different offensive ideas and Self’s own recruits were adjusting to the college game, KU often looked awful late in games. They’d run the wrong plays out of last-minute time outs, or forget to guard the one guy they couldn’t let get open. But once the roster turned over and Self’s guys matured, things changed in crunch time. The expectation was that they would make a play, someone would hit a shot, or the breaks would go their way. It doesn’t always happen. But it sure seems like KU is generally the team refusing to crack under pressure while their opponents wither and fade.

There is always the question of whether that is coaching or just having talented players. Clearly it’s a combination. Self has had terrific talent to work with. There’s no getting around having guys that will play professionally when they leave KU makes his job easier. But those players still have to make plays. Sherron has to get the ball to Mario, who has to hit the shot. Jeff Withey has to set the screen, which Ben McLemore has to use correctly and then hit the shot. Naadir Tharpe has to read the screen correctly and swing the ball at the right moment when Elijah Johnson pops open.

But coaching that helps make those plays. There’s the knowledge that it’s worked before. There’s the understanding that the guy calling the plays has won at an 80% clip most of his career. There’s the trust between the five guys on the court, developed through endless repetition in practice, that all of them are capable of making, and one of them will make, the winning play. It’s a remarkable thing to watch and yet another reason that I thank the basketball gods that I was born into a (mostly) KU-loving family and that when Roy decided to go home, Bill Self was willing and ready to come to Lawrence.

Three weeks ago I think most KU fans had suspended hope that another Big 12 title would happen. It wasn’t losing to a very good Oklahoma State team at home, or a solid Oklahoma team on the road that did it. It was that brutal TCU loss. That game seemed to shatter the fear everyone had of KU and the expectation that KU would always find a way to win. Even if KU righted their ship, that loss would be the difference between them and OSU or K-State or whoever was also in the running for the conference title at the end of the season. And it still may be. But over the last week KU has found a way to win an old-school, offense-optional slugfest in two overtimes in Stillwater and a 1980s throwback, run-and-gun game last night in Ames. Win out and, at worst, it will be another co-title.

For a team that isn’t nearly as talented or deep as last year’s team, or the one of the year before, or the year before, or…well you get it…it’s been a remarkable turnaround.

January 5, 1991. I remember that night well.

It was Christmas break, but North Carolina State was coming to Lawrence so our group that sat together at KU games all made our way back to Lawrence for the game. We got seats that were slightly closer to the court than we usually had, 5-6 rows behind the KU bench if memory serves. It was a great night to be close. Terry Brown dropped in 11 3-pointers on the way to 42 points. We were in the TV shot most of the time the camera was on the north end of the court. As Terry swished three-after-three in the second half, there we were high-fiving, jumping up-and-down, and hugging.

Elijah Johnson didn’t get 40 Monday, but he was damn close. The closest since Terry Brown went for his 42. A huge night for a guy who had struggled all season, for a variety of reasons.

I love Elijah, not just for the obvious reason that he plays for KU. Or that he made some of the biggest plays along the way to the Final Four last year, notably in the Purdue game which saved me a lot of grief. I love him because he’s the latest in the run of KU guys who are thoughtful and interesting to listen to when they talk to the media. He’s right up there with Keith Langford and Nick Collison as a guy who isn’t going to just say the obligatory cliches and get out of the interview room quickly.

When Elijah talks, it’s going to be deep. Travis Releford may have the old-man game, but Elijah has an old-man wisdom to his public statements. My favorite Elijah comment came on CBS after the Purdue game last year. He was asked about playing a secondary role all season but then being willing to step up in crunch time of the biggest game of the year (to that point). What took him so long? Was the question.

“I was learnin’,” was his simple, honest response.

He went on to say that he had to watch Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson lead the team to learn how to do it. He had to see other players take big shots, succeed and fail, to understand that it wasn’t just about his physical abilities but how he integrated them into the team.

At last fall’s Big 12 media day he went into great detail about how he was teaching younger guys like Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor about the rigors of Division 1 basketball. It wasn’t a statement full of platitudes some media coach had drilled into his head before he spoke. He was speaking extemporaneously, just letting the words flow, sharing his true thoughts on his own maturity and how it was going for his freshmen teammates. It’s such a refreshing change in a game where a lot of guys mumble rehearsed responses or say the same thing after every game.

Elijah is miscast as a lead guard, but he’s worked hard to do what is asked of him. He’s not been healthy all year, so who knows if Monday night was a sign he’s truly 100% or just a one-night burst of adrenaline and senior leadership that helped will himself to one of the best performances ever by a KU guard. Whatever happens form here on, KU fans won’t forget his contributions last year, nor the night he went all Reggie Miller in Ames.

Weekend Notes

Some various and sundry notes about the weekend past.

I covered the boys high school state championship this weekend. As always, it was something else. The event itself is kind of tedious, especially when I only had one swimmer, who was in the finals of two events, to write about. Watching the crowd is the best. I believe I’ve written about it each time I’ve covered a swim meet, but the parents, coaches, and students in the crowd are absolutely nuts.

I covered both the prelims Friday and the finals Saturday. As I said, I only had one kid make it to the finals in two events on Saturday, and he finished fourth and fifth in his two races. Not bad for a sophomore. There were four other swimmers and three relay teams from my schools that made the consolation heats as well, but the focus of both stories was on the kid that advanced.

The last time I did the state meet, three years ago, a kid from a school up north won a bunch of races. I forget the exact number. By the end of the day, he had set the state record for most individual state titles and tied the record for most total titles (individual and relays). Or vice versa. Anyway, he has twin brothers that are currently juniors and swam over the weekend. One of the brothers set four new state record times, breaking his big bro’s record in one race. I talked with a reporter next to me who was covering that team. He said there is a sister in the family that graduated a year ago who won six state titles over her four years. Talk about good genes!

I pay attention to two auto races each year: the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400. But I’ll admit I switched by the Daytona 500 yesterday just to check up on Danica. Her popularity waned here in Indy as she always seemed to be looking towards NASCAR, she never won, and she acting like a spoiled a-hole much of the time. But I still think it’s pretty cool what she’s doing. I’m not going to start sitting the girls down to watch her each week, but it is cool to have another woman showing them that no one can ever tell them they can’t do something.

Man, you know I don’t watch the Oscars, so don’t ask.

C. got to spend 45 minutes selling Girl Scout cookies with some of her troop at a grocery store yesterday. I dropped her off, made sure she was settled, and grabbed a cart to do my shopping for the week during her shift. After a few minutes, I could hear the girls (there were 4-5 there at a time) asking people if they wanted to buy cookies in sing-song voices. There was giggling and everything seemed to be going fine. Then, as I was on the far side of the store, I heard screaming, a clatter, a pause, and then belly laughing. I had a guess as to what had happened.

I finished my shopping, checked out, and walked over to the table. One of the girls incessantly tried to sell me cookies while I asked C. how things were going. C. was stacking up new boxes of cookies and just smiled at me and said, “Fine.” The cookie mom walked over and said that someone had leaned too hard on the card table the cookies were stacked on and it tipped over, sending them everywhere. Just like I thought.

C. had a good time. As I expected, she kind of hung back and let other girls talk try to make sales. Which is fine. Now that she’s experienced the rough-and-tumble world of grocery store cookie sales, I doubt she’ll ask me to do it again next year.

Later Sunday I was sitting there reading when I realized the Royals were playing a spring training game in Arizona. I remembered getting a message the previous week that my MLB.TV subscription had just renewed, so I opened the iPad, download At Bat, pulled up the game, and listened for a half inning. Listening to baseball in Indiana in the middle of February. These are great times, my friends.

Man, it’s been a cold but dry winter here. After that busy week around Christmas, when we got about a foot of snow total, and well more just to our south, we’ve only had an inch here, a half-inch there. There’s a chance of snow every day this week, but at this point it’s never supposed to pile up deeper than an inch. I wonder what it’s like to have a real, snowy winter?

Yes, I am trolling my Kansas City friends. Hang in there, brothers and sisters!

Spin The Black Circle

You would think, as much as I love music, that I would have some sweet set-up for listening to my tunes. A nice stereo receiver/amp with kick ass speakers and some high end headphones for use when I couldn’t crank it up to 11

You would be wrong

Since going fully digital about a decade ago, I’ve relied on pretty modest listening hardware. Most of my music has poured from speakers hooked up to my rotating cast of Macs. What wasn’t played there often got digitally spun on one iPod/iPhone/iPad or another, through either the cheap-o Apple earbuds or some $20 Sony headphones. That worked and I was always focused on pouring my hobby cash into the Mac side of the equation

That’s recently changed, though. As I shared in Wednesday’s Reading post, I completed Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue in January. Reading roughly 400 pages that were often set in a used record store got me pondering the world of vinyl. When I took breaks from reading, I did some casual research on record players. I wasn’t necessarily going to make the jump, but wanted to know what it would cost if I did. Turns out it doesn’t take much. About a week after finishing Telegraph Avenue my Audio-Technica turntable arrived and I made a trip to one of our local record stores, which I had never set foot into over almost 10 years in Indy

My first vinyl purchases? Two recent favorites and one all-time classic: Slave Ambient by The War On Drugs, Only In Dreams by Dum Dum Girls, and Prince &amp; The Revolution’s Purple Rain. I’ve been spinning each LP a couple times a week, still hooked up straight to computer speakers1 or through the Sony headphones. I must say, I’m digging it. The sound is better than the compressed digital files I’m used to. I was never a huge vinyl guy back in the day – my youth was dominated by the age of the cassette – but there was instant recall to the memories of my parents’ music pouring from their turntable when I was little. The pops and hisses. The much-loved “warmness” that was stripped away when music was put on tape, CDs, or converted to bits

And there was a different experience with the music. I select an album, put it on the turntable, and press start. Then the album plays, in the order the artist(s) originally intended, until it’s time to flip it to the other side. That forces a keener focus on the music. There’s no part of your brain guessing at what iTunes will select next. No wondering if I misidentified or accidentally deleted a song from my digital version of the album and I’m going to miss what should be side 1, track 4. It’s the purest listening experience possible

I checked in with a couple friends who had recently returned to vinyl for advice on how to balance more expensive platters with wanting to keep up with new music. Both suggested using vinyl as the medium for my very favorite albums, mostly ones from the past, and sticking with digital for tracking what’s new and exciting. That seems like a solid plan, so I’m sticking with it for the time being

I’m allowing myself one trip to the record store each month, and then only 2-3 pieces of vinyl can come home with me. That way I have time to digest each work, rather than rushing through one to get to the next in the stack of new records. I’m going to focus on albums that are in my 20-30 favorites of all time, even if I already own them in multiple formats.2

I made my second record buying trip on Wednesday. I added my (co) all-time favorite album London Calling and Radiohead’s The Bends.3 Last week I bought some nice Audio-Technica headphones that cost more than any headphones I’ve ever owned, but still weren’t ridiculously expensive. I’ve done some light research on receivers and speakers, knowing running a cord straight to computer speakers is still leaving out some of the depth of sound vinyl offers.

So it’s another old-man hobby, I guess. But it’s a pretty cool one, and a natural extension of perhaps the favorite pastime of my life. Let me know if you ever want to come over and listen to records together.

  1. The turntable I bought has a built-in pre-amplifier so you can run it straight to bookshelf speakers and get nice sound. 
  2. I’ve owned Purple Rain on cassette, CD, and probably repurchased a song or two digitally over the years. 
  3. A controversial choice since my other co-favorite album of all-time is Radiohead’s OK Computer. But The Bends is more of a pure rock album, and I thought that would sound better on vinyl. OK Computer will join the collection at some point, though. 


Telegraph Avenue: A Novel – Michael Chabon. Chabon has an impossible task. His The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one of my all-time favorite books. I was very eager to read this, his most recent novel. But it’s hard not to want it to be as good, as powerful, and beautiful as Kavalier and Clay. And since it wasn’t, it feels like a disappointment despite being a very good book.

I loved some of the concept. A racially-mixed group of 40-somethings living in and around Oakland, CA. The two men run a vintage vinyl store and play in a jazz band. There’s lots of good music stuff weaved throughout.

But some of the rest of it didn’t connect with me. This is a good book. It’s just not great. And when you’ve written a masterpiece, you’re liable to disappoint when you publish something that isn’t spectacular.

Fobbit – David Abrams. Kind of by accident I fell into a run of books that were about modern war, mostly in the Middle East/Western Asia. Fobbit is an updated take on the ‘absurdities of war’ novel. And it’s pretty good.

Abrams was a PR officer for the Army and served in Iraq, so he writes from experience. His focus is on the people like him, the Fobbits who served in various logistical and administrative roles supporting the infantry that went out and faced the insurgents, terrorists, etc. in Iraq. The Fobbits do live in danger and discomfort, but a whole different kind of danger and discomfort than the regular troops.

Despite their living conditions, their existence is not much different than that of people working in marketing firms back in the states. Their job is to massage the message. To ensure the world doesn’t ever think that the US (with a lot of help from the new, glorious, democratic Iraqi army!) is making things better in the post-Saddam world. While regular troops spend hours patrolling, worrying that every pile of garbage or dead dog is a disguised IED that will cost them their limbs or lives, the Fobbits spend hours debating the exact wording of a press release about an attack that the entire world has already seen live coverage of on CNN.

It’s a very funny book, and I think anyone can enjoy regardless of their feelings about the war in Iraq.

WAR – Sebastian Junger. The appropriately titled second part of my war readings is the companion piece to Junger’s documentary Restrepo which earned the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. I had seen Restrepo before and this served as a more in-depth look at what life was like for US troops charged with manning isolated outposts in the mountains of Afghanistan. They faced almost daily fire, lived in awful conditions, and many slowly turned into war-fighting monsters. It was frightening to read how the troops, if they went too long without a firefight, would engage in brutal fights with their platoon-mates just to discharge their pent-up energy.

This is a great book, not just because it’s well written or because Junger spent nearly a year imbedded with the troops in the wilderness. It’s great because it is a nearly perfect piece of journalism. He presents detailed accounts of the lives several troops, explaining how they ended up in the Army and Afghanistan, what their thoughts on war are, and showing how they change over the months they spend in combat.

While not a novel like Fobbit, it still gets to the absurdities of modern war. The impossible tasks we give our troops, to both fight elusive enemies on their home turf and attempt to rebuild Afghanistan when they aren’t shooting it up. The inhumane pressures we put on troops, asking them to live in squalid conditions while they face death each day, then casually ask them to turn it off and return to regular life. It asks hard questions without being anti-war, anti-troops, or anti-Bush.

The Odds: A Love Story – Stewart O’Nan. Step one in my year-long effort to knock out the O’Nan novels I’ve not yet read. This was the first time one of his books disappointed me. That’s not to say it’s a bad book; lots of people loved it and it was on several Best Of lists for last year. But I failed to connect with the characters the way I had in other O’Nan books. I don’t know if that’s because of his writing; if it wasn’t as good or I didn’t appreciate the tone in this one. Or if it had more to do with it hitting close to home. The Odds is about a couple facing a rash of mid-life crises and literally gambling everything in an effort to save their home, their savings, their careers, and their marriage. Seemed like a story that could be happening within our circle of friends, which was a little unsettling.

Running the Rift – Naomi Benaron. My first favorite book of 2013. This is a stunning novel set in Rwanda before, during, and after the 1994 genocide. Nkuba Jean Patrick is a Tutsi man growing up in western Rwanda. As the pre-genocidal ethnic tensions rise, he slips through the trap that is tightening around his community thanks to his academic performance and world-class speed in the 800 meter run. As his brother drifts off to fight in the Tutsi militia and his coach seems to be more-and-more tied to the Hutu Power movement, Jean Patrick cruises along thinking only of his studies, the 1996 Olympics, and the girl he loves, a moderate Hutu whose family is seen as collaborators when they fight for peace.

Of course, Rwanda blows up. Everyone around Jean Patrick is affected. There is a frightening 20-page stretch when his world completely collapses. There is resolution, but it’s far from tidy. Just as the real resolution in Rwanda has been.

Benaron hits all the absurdities of the Rwandan genocide. The arbitrary ethnic divisions the Belgians cooked up when they were running the country. The easy adjustment of one’s official ethnic identity when convenient for the government. The way people who worked and lived together peacefully for years turned on each other because of the urgings of madmen on the radio. The totally impotent Western response to the genocide.

I can see how some readers would find flaws here. There is the slightest sense that Benaron is working from a checklist that guarantees her book will earn awards and appear on Best Of lists. Genocide in Africa. (Slightly) forbidden love. Total heartbreak followed by redemption in the New World. Lots of foreign words sprinkled into her prose.

But her writing is excellent, the story is powerful and honest, and only the most cynical reader won’t be won over by this wonderful work.

In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars – Kevin Sites. I read Sites a lot while in grad school, when he was in the midst of his Hot Zone series for Yahoo!. He traveled the globe, hopping from combat zone to combat zone, trying to explain the hows and whys of war around the world to an indifferent American audience. And it was fun to read at the time. He operated almost single-handedly, writing, shooting photos, and assembling video reports. He seemed like he was on the cutting edge of journalism.

But this book fails to convey much of the intensity and importance of what he was doing in 2006-07. It feels like little snippets taken from his notebook, often more about his personal feelings about his job that what was going on in Congo, Chechnya, Afghanistan, etc. He had a better book in him. Unfortunately he couldn’t find it during this project.

Pedestrian Verse

I’m the dickhead in the kitchen
Pouring wine in your best girl’s glass

With that, the first line of the lovely opening track (“Acts Of Man”) to Frightened Rabbit’s new album Pedestrian Verse, lead singer Scott Hutchison sets the stage for another epic album of wallowing in sorrow, guilt, and misery. For three verses he offers a litany of the romantic failings of men, sprinkling the mini-chorus of “Not here, not here, heroic acts of man,” between them. He seems to be setting the stage for some dramatic revelation in verse four.

But that is when the surprise comes.

Rather than coming clean with some loathsome failing of his own, he admits that while he is flawed and sees true love as (likely) unattainable, he’s damn sure going to try.

I’m here, I’m here, not heroic but I try.

It’s a wonderful opener. A slow builder that begins with an old-timey piano and falsetto vocal, with the rest of the band slowly coming in to create a lush, complex piece. It, and other moments on the album, recalls a rather surprising comparison: U2’s Achtung Baby. Pedestrian Verse isn’t the wild change in tone and style that U2’s 1990 classic was. But it is an album that is bigger and conquers new sonic territory while retaining the band’s emotional intimacy.

From “Acts of Man,” the band races through three songs that are as good as any trio of tunes any group will release this year. “Backyard Skulls,” “Holy,” and “The Woodpile” all gallop along at a pace FR haven’t sustained previously in their career.

There are some classic FR downer songs here, too. Hutchison can’t tolerate happiness and whether he’s singing about his own misery (“Nitrous Gas”) or the pain of others (“State Hospital”) that old, familiar Scottish sense of gloom remains.

But this is a surprisingly light album for such a heavy band. There is a persistent touch of humor to the songs. There is an airiness to the music. There are those words of hope at the end of “Acts of Man.” There’s the glorious coda of “State Hospital,” when he exclaims, “All is not lost!” And the album closes with “The Oil Slick,” on which Hutchison mocks his failed attempts to write a happy love song for the object of his affection. As the band builds and soars, his final verse proclaims:

There is light but there’s a tunnel to crawl through.
There is love but its misery loves you.
We’ve still got hope so I think we’ll be fine
In these disastrous times, disastrous times.

A far cry from contemplating jumping off a bridge, as he did on The Midnight Organ Fight’s “Floating In The Forth” or insisting he’s “Not Miserable Now” on The Winter Of Mixed Drinks.

On Pedestrian Verse, Frightened Rabbit’s fourth album and major-label doubt, the band confirms the hype and establishes itself as one of the most complete, thoughtful, and downright excellent bands in modern/alternative rock. Scott Hutchison’s lyrics are as sharp as ever. Musically, it is the band’s finest album. And in tone, it fits comfortably between the raw emotion of 2008’s The Midnight Organ Fight and the studio sheen of 2010’s The Winter Of Mixed Drinks. Simply put, it’s a remarkable album that will be tough to top as best of 2013.

A Little Privacy Please

It is winter, which means we spend a lot of time in our basement where it is warmer and less drafty than our family room. I, especially, tend to head down there in the evenings to watch TV, read, and relax after the girls have gone to bed.

Recently M. let me know she was keeping tabs on me.

“Dad, I know what you do in the basement at night,” she said, cheerfully but with a hint of accusation.

I gave her a surprised look, because I pretty much sit on my ass like an old man.

“What is it you think I do down there?”

“You drink beer! I’ve seen the empty bottles on the bar. You can’t hide it from me, Dad!”

She was awfully proud of herself. I suppose I should clean up after myself better if I want to keep any secrets around here.

Reporter’s Notebook

It’s been a busy two weeks out on the road.

I’ve covered three girls basketball games, a boys game, and the girls state swimming championships. Oh, and there was the night I drove into the ice storm. Some notes.

Saturday I covered a girls sectional championship game. It was IHS, which features the best player in the county who dropped 40 the last time I had them, going for their second sectional title in three years. In classic dumb, blind-draw Indiana tournament fashion, IHS played the second-best team in the sectional (who had beaten them in last year’s title game) in the opening round. Meanwhile an 0-21 team and a 2-19 team were both on the other side of the bracket.

Like I said, dumb.

Thus IHS entered the final as massive favorites, playing a team with 12 wins, but none against any decent teams. Before the game IHS fans were talking about how quickly the game would end so they could go do other things. IHS scored on their first two possessions, forced two straight turnovers on the other end, and the rout seemed to be on. But DHS managed to put together an effective defense that gummed up the game and kept them in it. It was 20-15 IHS at halftime, and 22-19 two minutes into the second half.

Then IHS finally caught fire. They went on a 9-0 run. That turned into a 22-6 run. Which eventually became a 46-15 run by the end of the game. I hadn’t done a sectional game in two years, and it’s obviously much more fun to cover a winner.

Friday night I handled the preliminary rounds of the girls state swim meet downtown. I’d done the boys finals twice before and the prelims are a breeze compared. They get those girls in the water fast, there are no awards ceremonies, and a lot of the families who come from the nether regions of Indiana for Saturday’s finals aren’t there on Friday, so the crowds are easier to manage. It was an easy night out.

Thursday was the night I went to Bloomington. I was covering CGHS against BSHS, which would have been a great game 3-4 years ago. BSHS won state titles in 2009 and 2011 behind the starting point guard for IU and a starter for Butler. CGHS’ starting point guard is now at IU as a redshirting walk-on and will be one of those rare walk ons who plays a bit. Another kid from two years ago is at Butler as well. But those guys are gone, both teams are young, and CGHS took it on the chin to the tune of a 21-point loss.

Finally, there was the ice event I mentioned last week. I was on my way down to IHS for their final girls home game. It is normally an hour drive. I was 40 minutes from home, cruising at normal speeds, when traffic came to an abrupt stop. The roads went from dry with blowing, light snow to covered in a sheet of ice instantly. Cars were spinning out on the opposite side of the highway. The first exit ramp I came to was blocked by two tractor-trailers that couldn’t get up the hill. As I continued to the next exit, I was behind a large truck that, each time we went down the slightest decline, had its trailer start to fishtail around it. I kept the right wheels on the shoulder so they could get some traction from the rumble-strips. Finally, after and hour and 20 minutes, I had traversed the 12 miles from where the ice started to where I could finally get off the interstate. I called my editor who told me to go home, so I cut over to the state highway and headed back north. Same story. For roughly 15 miles, everything was iced over and traffic never crept above 10 miles an hour. But I made it home safely, driving for four hours to make a big circle.

Despite the one loss, my Total Margin Factor for the season is up to +48. There is still a month left in the boys basketball season, but most of our teams are at least decent this year and I think that’s safely in the psitive for this year.

Lawrence Was Probably Like This Wednesday

I was in Bloomington covering a high school basketball game Thursday night. By the time I did my interview, wrote, and filed my story, moderate rains had moved through B-town.

To get back to the highway, I had to drive the main north-south street that runs through downtown. Along the way, one car pulled out in front of me then stopped, blocking my lane. Moments later another car slammed on its brakes when its attempt to make a left turn was blocked by a car straddling the center line. Next the first car to block my path veered into my lane to its right while trying to make a left turn. Finally, at a double left turn, a car in the right-most left turn lane decided to make a U-turn, cutting off traffic in the other left-turn lane.

My immediate thought was, “Did IU lose tonight and everyone in this town has lost their mind?”

Ninety minutes later I got home and saw that, yes, IU had lost, in crazy fashion. And I think everyone in B-town did lose their minds. Or they were more likely just really drunk.

At A Loss(es)


I mean seriously.


OK, that’s the extent of my KU freakout.

I laughed at people who were jumping off figurative ledges after the Jayhawks’ home court winning streak came to an end Saturday against Oklahoma State. OSU was exactly the kind of team this year’s KU team should have fits with: more athletic at almost every position on the court. Forget the last month of pedestrian basketball by KU. That was a dangerous game regardless of how they were playing. And while they played poorly for much of it, it was still a game they had a lead in late, and had a chance to win until the final possession.But going to TCU and losing? Playing as bad as any KU team has played since 1989? Yeah, it might be time to freak out.But I’m not going to. I’ve got a stack of drafts that I’ve built over the last month analyzing this team. But they never felt complete, nor did I have the interest in completing them because I didn’t really know what to make of this team. So they just sat there. I was worried about the team’s guard play. They don’t have a low-post scoring threat. They had one shooter. They relied on role players who were playing at the peaks of their abilities. It was bound to turn bad at some point. This is just worst than I expected.Last year I couldn’t get excited about basketball because I was in that weird, post-VCU funk. But their delightful run through March and into April erased those bad feelings. And as the VCU hangover lasted well into the 2011-12 season, I have to admit the afterglow of last season has lasted into this year.&nbsp;It’s been a long time since KU had to really rebuild. People thought they would have to when the ’08 team left. Or when Sherron and Cole and Xavier left. Or when the Morrii and Brady and Tyrel left. But each time the returning and new players pulled together and kept KU in the top five nationally, and at the top of the Big 12. They were way overdue for a regression, for a reset, for a year when the breaks go against them. Perhaps, despite the 19-1 start, this is it.A week ago everyone was writing off the Big 12 race and wondering who the second-best team was. All of a sudden the race is wiiiiiide open. And with trips to Norman, Stillwater, Ames, and Waco left, KU has a very difficult road to staying in that race.I’m not going to sweat it. It’s disappointing and frustrating, but every other big program has gone through this at least once since the last time KU did. The rest of this year will be tough, as Bill Self doesn’t have a lot of options other than to keep them doing what they’ve been doing.

KU will be fine. They may right the ship by March and make everyone laugh at that early February funk. Or it may take until next year, when the roster turns over, or even the year after that when next year’s freshmen have a year of Big 12 experience under their belts. But they’ll be great again soon and I’m going to chalk up this year’s woes as a necessary offering to the Hoops Gods and remember the good times from last year’s NCAA tournament.Rock Chalk, bitches.ↁ

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