TOP 10 CONTROVERSIES
1. New Orleans Saints Bounty Scandal–This controversy has had more twists and turns than a weekly soap opera or pro wrestling show. The Saints coaching staff were accused of paying players to injure opponents, and in turn the team was fined $500,000, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the season, New Orleans General Manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games, assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games and former defensive coordinator Greg Williams, who was charged with running the scheme, was suspended indefinitely. Saints’ players Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita were all suspended for different lengths (Vilma for the season), but the NFLPA appealed the suspensions. After a lengthy appeals process that eventually led to former commissioner Paul Tagliabue making the final decision, all of the players suspensions were reversed because Tagliabue ruled that the players should have been fined, not suspended.
2. Replacement Refs–Only the NFL could survive two major controversies and see little to no effect on the perception of the league. The NFL went five weeks with replacement referees, as the regulars were in labor dispute. Each week there were moments of bad calls, missed rulings, and overall futility among the replacements, and it all came to a head with a blown call in a Monday Night Football game on national television. With the last play of the game, the replacement refs ruled that the Seahawks scored a touchdown, on a play that likely should have been ruled an interception, giving the Seahawks a win against the Packers. More public outcry ensued, and the NFL quickly reached an agreement with the regular refs in time for the weekly Thursday night game.
3. NHL Lockout–The NHL and its players have not been able to reach a labor agreement, and it’s very possible that an entire NHL season will be cancelled for the second time in the last decade. If there are no games and no money to be shared among players and owners, what is there left to negotiate?
4. Lance Armstrong–Lance Armstrong was stripped of all of his cycling accomplishments because of the doping investigation led by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. He is banned from cycling forever, and because of the mess Lance resigned as director of the Lance Armstrong Foundation and major sponsors dropped Armstrong, including Nike, RadioShack and Oakley.
5. Infield Fly Rule–In the first ever National League wild card playoff game, an umpire’s ruling led to a 19-minute delay while fans at Turner Field littered the field with beer cans, water bottles, and foam tomahawks. Down 6-3 in the eighth inning and with one out, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a blooper that landed in the middle of the outfield in between Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Pete Kozma. This allowed the bases to be loaded with the go-ahead run, slugger Brian McCann, at the plate. At least that’s what Braves fans thought. Umpire Sam Holbrook decided that the shortstop had been “camped” under the pop up and applied the infield fly rule, which meant Simmons was out, despite the fact that the ball was halfway into the outfield. Most baseball analysts said they had never seen an infield fly rule called that deep into the outfield. The Braves lost the game, and because of the nature of a one-game playoff, many fans will blame the umpire for ruining Chipper Jones’ last postseason.
6. Oscar Pistorius–South African runner Oscar Pistorius, one of the best runners in the Paralympics, won his fight to compete against able-bodied runners. Back in 2008, the International Association of Athletics Federations ruled that Pistorius’ “Cheetah” prosthetic blades were considered a technical aid, based on a study by German professor Gert-Peter Brueggemann that the IAAF and Pistorius had endorsed, and therefore was in violation of the rules and gave Pistorious an advantage over able-bodied runners. This meant Pistorius could not compete in the 2008 Summer Olympics. But in May of 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that not enough scientific information was known to prove that the “Cheetah” blades gave Pistorius a competitive advantage and, therefore, cleared him to compete against able-bodied athletes. The IAAF agreed that same day and accepted the decision. Even though Pistorius didn’t make the 2008 South African team, he did make the 2012 team for the London Olympics and became the first double-amputee to complete in the Olympics.
7. Tanking in Badminton–Yes, there was tanking in badminton. Eight Chinese badminton players were tossed out of the Olympics after it was discovered that the competitors were purposely losing in the qualifying rounds in order to get a better draw once they started playing for real.
8. Flop Fines–Flopping has long been a perceived problem in the NBA. Those who do it call it an art form (see Shane Battier, Reggie Miller, Vlade Divac, etc.). Those who don’t like it, say it kills the integrity of the game. NBA Commissioner David Stern agreed with the latter, and instead of holding referees responsible for missing the call, he decided to start making flopping a fineable offense. Each offense gains a higher fine, and if you flop too much, you could be suspended. (It would be kind of nice if we could fine our politicians when they do this.)
9. French low blow–Another Olympic controversy occurred in a basketball game against France and Spain. In the basketball quarterfinals, after the game had been decided, French forward Nicolas Batum (also a member of the Portland Trailblazers) punched Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro below the midsection. Batum was not ejected from the game and showed no remorse after the game, saying, “I wanted to give him a good reason to flop.” When asked if the low blow showed the Olympic spirit, Batum accused Spain of throwing a game in pool play in order to avoid the United States until the gold medal game by saying, “Do you think if you lost a game on purpose, that’s the Olympic spirit?” Batum eventually apologized through Twitter, though never face-to-face to the man he punched.
10. Tim Tebow/Mark Sanchez–This really isn’t a true controversy, but the amount of media coverage devoted to the quarterback situation with the New York Jets would have made you think it was. There was daily speculation all season on whether or not Tim Tebow would replace Mark Sanchez as starting quarterback of the New York Jets, and head coach Rex Ryan had to address it at nearly every press conference. Sanchez played poorly all season and the Jets’ offense was putrid, but once New York was eliminated from the playoffs, Sanchez was replaced with…Greg McElroy not Tebow. Making everyone wonder why the Jets ever traded for Tebow in the first place.
By Aaron May
This was published in the December 2012 DigiMay. Aaron May is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.
TOP 10 UPSETS
1. Lehigh beats Duke (NCAA basketball)–Duke, a perennial powerhouse loaded with talent such as Austin Rivers (10th pick in 2012 NBA Draft), Seth Curry and the Plumlee brothers, Miles (26th pick in NBA Draft in 2012) and Mason, lost in the first round to a school not considered a threat. Led by C.J. McCollum’s 30 points, No. 15 seed Lehigh (No. 87 RPI) won 75-70 against No. 2 seed Duke (7 RPI) in one of the most stunning upsets of the 2012 NCAA tournament.
2. Texas A&M beats No. 1 Alabama (NCAA football)–Texas A&M stunned Alabama, 29-24, on Nov. 10. In the previous week, Alabama made a miraculous comeback at LSU, but they came home to a tougher challenge: Johnny Manziel. He passed for 253 yards, rushed for 92 and scored two touchdowns, torching Alabama’s vaunted defense to end a 13-game Alabama winning streak and almost spoiling the Crimson Tide’s national title hopes. The upset propelled Manziel to win the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first freshman to do so.
3. New York Giants beat Green Bay Packers (NFL)–Green Bay looked unstoppable last season, losing just one game in the regular season while outscoring opponents by 201 points. But Eli Manning and the New York Giants came to Lambeau Field and did what the Packers do to other teams as Manning passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns, winning 37-20 in one of the more unexpected blowouts you will ever see.
4. Norfolk State beats Missouri (NCAA basketball)–Missouri can thank Duke for this upset not being remembered that well. Like Duke, Missouri was a No. 2 seed (No. 12 RPI), which lost to a No. 15 seed, Norfolk State (117 RPI). Norfolk State, led by Kyle O’Quinn’s 26 points, 14 rebounds, and two blocked shots, edged Mizzou, 86-84. Missouri had a chance to win at the end, but Phil Pressey’s desperation three did not fall. Unfortunately, this upset was overshadowed by Lehigh beating Duke, as they played later that day in prime time.
5. Baylor beats No. 1 Kansas State (NCAA football)–When Alabama lost its No. 1 ranking after falling to Texas A&M, Kansas State was left in the driver’s seat to make the BCS national title game. All that was left was to beat unranked Baylor and unranked Texas. But Kansas State was blown out at Baylor, 52-24, ending its championship hopes and Colin Klein’s Heisman campaign.
6. Philadelphia 76ers beat Chicago Bulls in first round (NBA)–The eighth seeded 76ers upset the top seeded Bulls in six games in the opening round of the NBA playoffs. The upsetting thing about this upset was that Derrick Rose, the NBA’s 2011 MVP, was injured in the fourth quarter of Game 1 while the Bulls had a commanding lead. Rose was lost for the rest of the postseason and the Bulls were lost without him, losing all but one more game the rest of the way.
7. Chaminade beats Texas (NCAA basketball)–A Division II team beat a Division I powerhouse. Texas, which has one of the largest recruiting budgets in college basketball, let a team that gets on TV just once a year, walk all over it, as the Longhonrs fell to Chaminade, 86-73.
8. Butler beats No. 1 Indiana (NCAA basketball)–In a Hoosier state classic, walk-on Alex Barlow hit the winning shot in overtime to help Brad Stevens’ squad knock off in-state rival and No. 1 ranked Indiana, 88-86. Butler provided a little March Madness in the month of December.
9. Ohio beats Michigan (NCAA basketball)–Ohio was a No. 13 seed and Michigan was a No. 4 seed, but that didn’t faze the “other” team from Ohio, as the Bobcats were led by D.J. Cooper’s 21 points. Ohio hung on for a 65-60 victory, and then advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to North Carolina in overtime.
10. New York Giants beat New England Patriots (NFL)–Once again, Eli Manning and the Giants were underdogs against Tom Brady and the Patriots in a Super Bowl. And once again, Manning led a late drive to help the Giants pull the upset. We really shouldn’t have been surprised, but we were anyway.
By Aaron May
This was published in the December 2012 DigiMag. Aaron May is a staff writer at Sports Spectrum magazine.
With 2012 completed, let’s look forward to 2013. There are many topics to think about and many questions to be answered, so let’s get to it.
BCS National Title — On Jan. 7, Notre Dame will play Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. Notre Dame has the No. 1 rated defense in college football, giving up just 10.3 points per game, but Alabama’s defense is No. 2, giving up 10.7 points per game. I expect a low-scoring game. If Alabama wins, it will be its third national title in the past four years, and the seventh consecutive title by a SEC team. Can Notre Dame stop the SEC’s run on the BCS?
Super Bowl — The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots look to be headed toward a showdown in the AFC Championship game, and the NFC looks up for grabs. Atlanta has a record that suggests that it is the cream of the crop, but they haven’t dominated. San Francisco switched quarterbacks mid-season and Green Bay has trouble keeping teams from scoring. And then there was the muddled NFC East, which included the Cowboys, Redskins, and Giants battling it out to see which one represented the division.
Giantism — Giants won two of the sporting world’s biggest prizes in 2012: the World Series (San Francisco) and the Super Bowl (New York). (And WWE’s 7-foot, 500-pound “Big Show,” once named “The Giant,” also became World Heavyweight Champion, for what it’s worth). Can Giants repeat in 2013?
Spring Training — Spring training gives hope to sad people known as Cubs, Astros and Royals fans. Theoretically, because everyone starts with a 0-0 record, any team has a chance to put together a magical World Series winning season, even the hapless (or hopeless) Cubbies.
Angels in the Outfield — With the Los Angeles Angels signing slugger Josh Hamilton, the Angels have people thinking of the greatest 3-4 hitters of all-time. Duos like Maris-Mantle, Ruth-Gehrig, Mays-McCovey, etc. The Angels lineup will include Hamilton and Albert Pujols, hitting 3 and 4, with Rookie of the Year/MVP runner-up Mike Trout leading off. The Angels will score a lot of runs, but the question seems to be, how many records can their offense break?
March Madness — Duke and Indiana have been early favorites to reach the Final Four, but you never know what can happen in March. We saw a preview of this when Butler beat No. 1 Indiana in overtime a few weeks ago. It will be fun, as always, to see which team will become the next Cinderella and which team will get its “one shining moment.”
Wrestlemania 29 — Who will face the Undertaker at Wrestlemania? (Sorry, that one’s probably just for me.
Heat Repeat — The story this summer will be if LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be able to make it a repeat.
Wild West — The NBA’s Western Conference could be a free-for-all this summer. The Lakers were everyone’s preseason favorite, but have been a mess in the first two months. The Thunder traded away James Harden in training camp and you have to wonder if they will regret it. We assume the Spurs are too old, the Warriors are too young, and the Grizzlies are the Hawks of the West (great in regular season, awful in postseason). Maybe it will be the “other” team from L.A., the Clippers, who can completely shed the whole “laughing stock of the league” label they’ve always had with a Finals appearance. As long as Will Smith doesn’t write another song about the Wild West, it should be a fun postseason.
162 = 1 — Major League Baseball seems intent on staying with the one-game, wild card playoff structure; instead of moving to a three-game series like many players would like to see. Baseball plays a regular season of 162 games, and then tells wild card teams they have one game to prove their worth. Doesn’t really seem fair does it? Business-wise though, the one-game playoffs were huge for TV ratings, outdrawing the division series. Despite record attendance figures, declining TV ratings have been a problem for baseball in the past few years, so anything that helps them trend up will be a good thing in Commissioner Bud Selig’s eyes. After the infield fly debacle in Atlanta in 2012, baseball needs these games devoid of controversy in 2013 or people will see it as a sham, tune out and go back to watching Duck Dynasty.
#FreeTebow — Where will Tim Tebow wind up? And will he actually play? Or will we continue to have the most popular backup quarterback since Doug Flutie roaming the sidelines? This is the most important story of all for 2013! Okay, maybe not, but Skip Bayless sure makes it seem that way.
2013 Football — It seems kind of odd to start looking ahead to next year’s football season when this one’s not over yet, but this column is about 2013. It’s impossible to predict which team will make next year’s Cotton Bowl, but there are a few questions to ponder for next season: Can Cam Newton break his sophomore slump? Can RGIII, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson avoid one? Will the Saints rebound from their scandal-filled 2012? How much longer will Peyton Manning and Tom Brady play? Will “Johnny Football” lead Texas A&M to championship heights? Will the SEC continue to dominate NCAA football? Will this crazy conference expansion continue? Will the NCAA become one giant conference of 130 teams? Will Roger Goodell end football by deeming the sport too dangerous to play? Will “Girl Meets World” be as good as “Boy Meets World”? And will we finally find out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?
So many questions!
Aaron May is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. This column was published in the December 2012 Sports Spectrum DigiMag.
This edition of Sports Spectrum “Conversations” features the head football coach from Georgia, Mark Richt. Coach Richt has been in charge of the Georgia football program since 2001 and has a 117-39 record, 5 SEC Eastern division titles and 2 SEC Championships. Coach Richt joins us to talk about his faith in Christ, leading young men, missionary work, “Old Man Football,” and one of his big hobbies, bowling. He also has a pretty impressive ability to quote scripture word for word. I didn’t have a ton of time with the coach so this time so the Q&A section is most of the interview, but to hear it straight from the coach’s mouth, listen to the full audio podcast below.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: You’ve been coaching for most of your adult life (many years at Florida State, a season ECU, Georgia since 2001) When did you first know you wanted to be a football coach?
Coach Richt: Well, when I couldn’t play anymore. You know, usually in football you get hurt or somebody says you’re not good enough to play anymore, so that happened to me just like most anybody else. It just happened sooner with me. But I still loved the game and I loved the strategy of it and the competition. I didn’t know if I could get that same kind of vibe or that same kind of adrenaline as a coach but it didn’t take long to realize that it could happen. And then you know years into it, I’ve learned that the relationships with these young players that you’re involved with are as important and even more important at times than the wins and losses.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Along those lines, when did you first know you wanted to become a Christian?
Coach Richt: Well, the situation happened back in college with a college roommate who became a believer and (he) actually turned out to be my summer school roommate. I had different roommates in the fall. And I saw a huge difference in this guy. I saw him go from kind of a wild guy with not much peace in his life, to a guy that had really had calmed down, had this peace about him that was very attractive to me.
And so as he was telling me what had happened and how he had become a born-again believer in Jesus Christ and started to show me some things in the Bible and some of the reasons for why he did what he did and that became attractive to me to the point of where I thought maybe that was my time. But then it got close to the school year coming and I had my other roommates that would probably not understand what I did or why I did it and I started to worry more about what they thought than what God thought. I was worried about wanting to still want what I wanted and I was also thinking “Gosh if I became, if I said I was a Christian and still sinned I’d become a hypocrite and all that.” And I didn’t understand grace. So, you know, some years down the road, some seeds were planted, I didn’t become a Christian then, but some seeds got planted in my life.
And then by age 26 at Florida State after the death of an offensive lineman at Florida State, Coach (Bobby) Bowden was speaking to the team. I was there as a graduate assistant coach and he was talking about Pablo Lopez who had passed away and he said, “Men, you guys are 18-22 years old, you think you’re gonna live forever and just like Pablo used to sit in that chair there, now he’s gone. Men if that was you last night, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” And I was like “Wow!” I’m in the back of the room thinking “I know where I’m going and it’s not a good spot.” And all of those memories back from my college roommate that one summer came back to me and I knew that it was my time. So the next day I went to see Coach Bowden and prayed to receive Christ in his office.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: How has your faith shaped you into being a head football coach and leader of men?
Coach Richt: Well, I think everybody has a belief system. Everybody believes in something and so whatever you believe in whatever you have faith in shapes you period. What kind of a husband you are, what kind of father, what kind of a coach, what kind of a… whatever it is you do. I think it shapes how you live your life. I really, I can’t say I can separate my vocational life from my spiritual life. I don’t think that’s possible for me.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: So, how do you balance the demanding life of a football coach in the SEC with family life at home?
Coach Richt: Colossians 3:23 says: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily unto the Lord, rather than men.” So I think that’s what you do. I mean, whatever you do, you do your work heartily and you do the best you can and unto the Lord, rather than just doing it for your boss or for man. And I think that this kind of carries over not only at work but home as well, but I’ve got a wonderful life who loves me and loves the Lord and my kids know that every minute I have free, I want to be with them. And even though I’m very busy and they understand that, they also know when I do have free time and what I wanna do with it. And I think that speaks volumes to your family as to what you are doing with the time that you do have.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: You and your wife took a mission trip to Honduras last year, tell us a little bit about that.
Coach Richt: Well we’ve been there a couple of times. I think it was my third trip and I know my wife Katharyn, she loves mission trips period. We went there this last time with World Vision. We wanted to see how they operate because we knew we wanted to get involved. I had read a book called The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Sterns who is the president and CEO of World Vision America. And it just touched me and we wanted to do something. We wanted to get involved. So we spent some time with them and they showed us how they take these communities from scratch and build them up to the point that they can take over on their own – the poorest of the poor. In that country World Vision is helping in the name of Christ. It was pretty awesome.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Is that something you are thinking about doing after football?
Coach Richt: You know, I don’t know, we’ll see. I think we’re on a mission field in America. I mean every business office in America, every university in America is a mission field in my mind, so you know I think we’re doing, hopefully being obedient to what God wants us to do right now.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: What are the Dawgs goals for this season?
Coach Richt: Well, we want to win the Eastern division, because if you win the east, you get to play for the SEC Championship, and if you win that, you got a chance to play for the National Championship so that’s our goal, but when you break it down in its simplest form it’s to win every game. And that’s something that our seniors wanted to talk about more than even winning the East. They say, “Hey coach, let’s just try to win them all and see what happens.” So that’s our focus, one at a time, and hopefully we’ll take care of business this week (Georgia plays Florida Atlantic).
SPORTS SPECTRUM: And I guess you guys will be doing it with “Old Man Football” right?
Coach Richt: Well you know, a little bit of “Old Man Football” ain’t so bad.
Coach Richt’s Favorites
Favorite Bible Verse?
Colossians 3:23 that I mentioned a little bit ago is one that’s kinda meant to me a lot of the years, there’s no doubt about that. Jeremiah 17 verses 7 and 8 are pretty powerful for me as well:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.”
Well you know, Moses was a pretty interesting guy. I could relate in some way when Moses was asked by God to free his people from Egypt and Moses was like, “Well, who am I to do this?” And God said, “I will certainly be with you.” I was able to relate to that a little bit when I first took this head (coaching) job at Georgia or even when I first became the offensive coordinator at East Carolina. I mean there’s jobs that are just bigger than you are able to handle. “God, why me? I’m just not really capable.” And He’s like, you know, “I will be with you.” That gives you comfort.
Who was Favorite QB growing up?
Joe Namath. Without a doubt.
Do you have a favorite in the NFL now?
Well I’d have to say Matt Stafford. He’s our guy, he’s a Georgia boy. Absolutely.
Any hobbies outside of football?
Bowling. That’s my game. Used to be racquetball but I can’t move around much anymore. Bowling is the last competitive thing that I could do physically and have the shot at still being pretty good.
It’s Saturday, March 31, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana—the host site of the Final Four. Ohio State is playing Kansas, and the winner will advance to the NCAA Championship game. Ohio State is down 64-61 and Aaron Craft is heading to the free throw line for a one-and-one. There are only 2.9 seconds left. Craft makes the first, but will need to miss the second and hope that he or one of his teammates can get the rebound and a put-back to tie the game. Craft throws the ball towards the rim and actually gets the rebound himself! But he leaves early; the whistles blow. A lane violation. Kansas ball. Ohio State once lead the game by 13, but when the final horn sounded, they had lost by two.
“In the moment, it’s really frustrating, really angry, especially when it’s just one possession, any thing can change the game,” Craft says.
But Craft already had a different perspective than most. Just the previous weekend, Craft’s brother, Brandon, deployed for Afghanistan for the Army on the same day Craft and his teammates had the Elite Eight game against Syracuse. The Buckeyes went on to win that game and advance to the Final Four, but his brother’s deployment that day helped Aaron remember that life wasn’t all about winning and losing basketball games.
“It just put things into perspective,” Craft explains. We’re playing a game that seems like it means a lot. My brother, and there’s so many other people out there that are fighting for something that is a lot bigger than just playing basketball.”
And that Final Four loss to Kansas wasn’t such a great disappointment as it seemed in the moment. “Looking back, we were one of the last four teams in America playing college basketball and that’s something to be proud of and something we were really fortunate to be a part of,” Craft says.
Heading into his junior season, Craft has become one of Ohio State’s main stars and might be the most recognizable guy on campus that doesn’t play football. “It’s weird, to be honest,” he says. “I don’t know. It’s something that just kind of creeps up on you. And I remember coming here freshman year and making fun of John (Diebler) because everyone recognized him and knew who he was. And now it’s kind of come to me and my other teammates.”
But what has kept Craft grounded through all of the pressures and emotions that come with Ohio State athletics and having a brother overseas, is his faith in God and involvement in Athletes in Action.
“I came to Ohio State and was really close to John Diebler and he introduced me to Athletes in Action,” he says. “Monday nights, student athletes lead a Bible study, which is really cool hearing from one of your peers. And then Wednesday nights are weekly meetings for anyone who wants to come out. We average around 100 people, which is awesome…It keeps me grounded and humbled amidst all the things that we have to do for basketball.”
Craft is frequently asked to be a guest speaker at Athletes in Action meetings and often uses the story of the rich young ruler, who asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. “I get to emcee every once and a while, which is really cool, too,” he says. “For whatever reason, people want to listen to me talk. I don’t know if they’ll feel the same way after I’m done, but it’s always great to be able to do that and share just how God worked in my life to get me to the point that I am right now.”
Even with everything he has on his plate to worry about, Craft, a nutrition major, still manages to find enough time for his schoolwork. He was a first team Academic All-American last season. “I enjoy school,” he says. “I would say I’m somewhat of a nerd. So that definitely helps.”
As the new 2012-13 season rapidly approaches, Ohio State is expected to be a contender for the Big Ten championship and make a deep run into the tournament. Both pre-season polls (AP, Coaches) have them ranked fourth overall. But they will do so without last year’s leading scorer and rebounder, Jared Sullinger, who now plays in the NBA for the Boston Celtics. The Buckeyes will likely need a little more scoring and playmaking out of it’s starting point guard.
Despite all the expectations and pressure that media and fans will cast on him and his teammates this season, Craft feels that God is teaching him to simply have fun with the game of basketball.
“He’s probably teaching me to believe in Him and believe in myself—to not try and push too much,” Craft says. “With the season coming up and with new things happening and expectations and all that, it’s really easy to get caught up in trying to force things and try and rush things and get outside of what I am and what I’m supposed to be doing. So just slowing down and relaxing and having fun playing the game of basketball, because that’s what it’s for in the long run.”
What a novel concept. Having fun while playing a game. Keeps things in perspective doesn’t it?
By Aaron May
This story was published in the All-Basketball, October 2012 DigiMag.
R.A. Dickey’s career has taken more dips and dives than a knuckleball, which is exactly what has stabilized his stay with the New York Mets at age 37
The knuckleball. It dips and dives, darts and drops, and is the most unpredictable pitch in baseball. It seemingly takes a wild journey before reaching its destination to the plate. No one knows exactly where it will go. The batter doesn’t, the fielder doesn’t, even the catcher, and most importantly the pitcher, aren’t exactly sure where the ball will land.
It’s so tough to tame that there is just one active major league knuckleballer: R.A. Dickey.
For Dickey, though, the pitch accurately describes his career.
It was 2005, and Dickey had already been in baseball with the Texas Rangers for nine years and had yet to grab a solid major league roster spot. He started to realize his baseball career had stalled.
“I understood that what I had to offer wasn’t going to allow me to be a consistent major league pitcher,” he says.
Dickey was using a knuckler as one of his secondary pitches, but his pitching coach at the time, Orel Hershiser, pushed him to use it full-time.
So he did. But it wasn’t easy. And it took a lot of help from God.
“I had to unlearn things that I had learned in my previous 20 years of throwing a baseball,” Dickey tells Sports Spectrum. “I had to unlearn in an effort to relearn the proper mechanics of throwing a knuckleball. That was a really trying time; God was helping me to endure and persevere. I had a lot of self-doubt. I made a lot of bad decisions as far as what I put my time into.”
For four years, Dickey went up and down between the AAA and major league clubs of Texas, Milwaukee, Seattle, and Minnesota trying to master the knuckleball with varied success.
But in 2010, after being called up from AAA Buffalo in May, Dickey got an opportunity with the New York Mets, and this time pitched at career-high levels; going 11-9 with a 2.84 ERA (seventh in the National League).
After the season, the Mets signed him to a two-year major league deal, solidifying a spot on a major league ball club.
At age 36, R.A. Dickey, who was born in Nashville, Tenn., and played for the University of Tennessee, had finally gotten his baseball career on track.
And in 2011, he spent his first full season without a trip to the minors, posting a staff-best 3.28 ERA and logging a team-high 208.2 innings for the Mets.
This season, he’s off to a 5-1 start. It’s possible the All-Star game could be on his horizon. Not too bad for a journeyman knuckleballer.
“It’s been a real journey for me and it’s coincided with my journey as a knuckleballer starting in 2005,” he says. “…as an adult, from ages 32-36, I feel like I’ve really matured. God’s really grown me up in a lot of ways. He’s really impressed a lot of time and energy in helping me to feel loved and worthy and that’s been a big difference maker for me as far as my professional career has gone.”
Knuckleballers have been known for pitching well into their 40s; Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm retired five days from his 50th birthday! Which begs the question, how long will he continue playing?
“I feel like my body will be able to endure into my 40s, however, this game has demanded a lot of me and my family,” Dickey says. “If God calls me away from baseball tomorrow, I would gladly walk away knowing that He has given me an incredible story to tell and an incredible journey where He has taught me so many different things. But He still continues to make me hungry to compete and make me passionate to pursue a craft that’s very hard. It’s a very specialized thing and He’s given me a passion to try to cultivate that craft.”
What will the 2012-13 college basketball season bring? Here are ten questions to be answered in college basketball this season.
The Hoosiers haven’t been a national favorite since Bob Knight was head coach. The IU fanbase has gone through many down years, bad hires, and NCAA sanctions, but head coach Tom Crean has the Hoosiers poised for a championship run this year. They have a national player of the year candidate in Cody Zeller, a good supporting cast around him and the No. 1 ranking in just about every preseason poll in the country.
2. Can Coach Calipari do it again?
Last season, Kentucky’s head coach, John Calipari, molded a group of mostly freshmen into NCAA Champions. Now, it certainly didn’t hurt that one of the freshmen was shot-blocking machine Anthony Davis, who made it near impossibly to drive into the lane on the Kentucky defense. But it was an outstanding coaching job nonetheless.
The big question for Calipari now, is if last season was just right place, right time, right bracket, or if he has set the new championship mold for college basketball.
Last season, while working as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, legendary coach Bob Knight refused to call Kentucky by its name, simply referring to them when he had to as the “team from the SEC.” This year, Knight has been scheduled to work SEC games on Thursday nights on ESPN, and though he will not do Kentucky home games, he will call a few games when they are on the road. It will be interesting to see if Knight finally caves, or decides to call them the “visitors” or the “road team,” or the “team in blue.”
4. Can NC State win the ACC?
Since the 2002-03 season, either Duke or North Carolina have won at least a share of the ACC regular season title. With North Carolina in rebuilding mode and Duke losing Austin Rivers to the NBA Draft, NC State may have the best chance any one has had in years of ending this streak.
Well, a lot of times last year when Sullinger was hurt, the Buckeyes looked better without him. There were also times when they struggled to put away downright mediocre teams like South Carolina. Without a back to the basket player, the Buckeyes will have to rely more on point guard Aaron Craft’s playmaking skills, Deshaun Thomas’ mid-range game and overall team play.
6. Is the A-10 becoming a basketball powerhouse?
The Atlantic 10 is a conference that gets largely ignored in the national conversation despite being a multi-bid conference for many years in a row now. Maybe the lack of attention is due to Xavier being the only team out of the conference to advance into the second weekend, but the A-10 can no longer be ignored. VCU and Butler joined the conference this year, and both bring to the table recent Final Four appearances to go along with Xavier’s almost perennial Sweet Sixteen appearances.
Temple has also been very good in the A-10 (though they leave for the Big East next season) under coach Fran Dunphy, making the tournament the past five seasons, and figure to be a contender for the conference crown. But another team from Philadelphia, Saint Joseph’s, has been picked to actually win the conference. On paper, there are five teams that are used to, or are projected to be, playing in the NCAA tournament. The A-10 is definitely poised to make a lot of noise in 2012-13.
7. Who will be the next breakout star?
Seemingly every year, a player people have never heard of will emerge as a National Player of the Year candidate and show the ability to carry his team deep into the NCAA tournament. In the past it has been guys like Adam Morrison with Gonzaga, or Stephen Curry with Davidson. Last season, Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan and Creighton’s Doug McDermott emerged from obscurity. Who will come out of nowhere this season?
8. Will basketball be revived in the Pac-12?
The Pac-12 was dangerously close to being a one-bid conference last year, as California received the only at-large bid—and it was in the opening play-in round! Powerhouses like UCLA and Arizona had disappointing years, and great programs out west came out of the West Coast or Mountain West conferences. UCLA and Arizona should be back considering their top-rated recruiting classes, but will any other teams in the conference step up?
Last year, Ohio made a Sweet Sixteen run and teams like Murray State and Creighton came close to getting past the first weekend. So what mid-major can bust everyone’s brackets this season? Interestingly enough, these three teams return a lot of the main cast from last season, but here’s a team that might be overlooked: the Drexel Dragons. Drexel went 27-6 last year before losing the CAA tournament final to VCU, who are no longer in the conference to dash their tourney hopes.
10. How will Syracuse and Pitt do in their last year in the Big East?
This will be the final year in the Big East for Syracuse and Pittsburgh as they both join ACC next season. Pitt is coming off of a disappointing year, wining just five conference games after winning the Big East the previous season. Coach Jamie Dixon has had a lot of success at Pitt, but school officials and boosters will certainly want to have positive momentum heading into the ACC and there will be a lot of pressure on Dixon to turn it around.
Syracuse is coming off of a year where they only lost one conference game, easily winning the Big East title. Syracuse has been in the Big East since its inception, and they would love to leave it as champions.
Aaron May is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. This column was published in the All-Basketball, October 2012 DigiMag.