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Thursday, 1-Sep-2011 05:39 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Might Be Rocking the High Number This Season

The top three picks of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft — Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau — were grouped together at Tuesday’s NHLPA rookie showcase, an event “where 26 prospects took the ice and posed for photos that will be used on their first NHL trading cards.”

I couldn’t find a photo from the showcase, so here’s a picture of the trio back from the draft in June. The fingers represent their respective draft positions and number of facial hairs grown.

One of the interesting developments from Tuesday’s shoot was that Nugent-Hopkins, selected first overall by Edmonton, wore jersey No. 93 — 1993 being his birth year, of course (also, the year I first got wasted in the park.) There’s no guarantee he’ll wear it this season (or that he’ll even make the team, considering he recently put on 12 pounds to “bulk up” to 177) but it’s certainly an interesting development.

Why? Historically, there’s a certain stigma surrounding the high-numbered jersey in NHL circles. Like the case of Pavel Bure, who wanted to wear number 96 — in honour of the date of his arrival (9/6) in North America — to start his NHL career. That idea was foiled by Canucks coach Pat Quinn, who thought it was a “showboat” number. Bure did eventually switch to No. 96, but suffered the two worst seasons of his career while wearing it. Quinn eventually relented on his high-number stance and began to accept it as a sign of the times, along with microwave ovens and cassette tapes.

Of course, such old school thinking has almost dissipated entirely in recent years. Unproven youngsters seem to be ballsier than ever (*shakes fist, throws cane*) — Matt Gilroy (No. 97), Fabian Brunnstrom (96) and Tom Pyatt (94) all went high right from the get-go and a slew of kids are rocking No. 91: Magnus Paajarvi, Steve Stamkos, John Tavares and Kyle Turris.

Anyway, should Nugent-Hopkins go with No. 93, he’d be joining some select company. There are good number 93s (Doug Gilmour, Doug Weight, Johan Franzen), average ones (Petr Nedved, Darren Puppa, Jakub Voracek), forgettable ones (Alex Godynyuk, Anatoli Semenov) and the cautionary one (Nik Zherdev, who went fourth overall in 2003 and is now toiling in the clay deposits of playing for Oblast.)

Speaking of cautionary tales:

Brian Lawton, No. 98

Lawton chose No. 98 after being selected first overall by Minnesota in 1983. He found it to be a distraction (you know, since it’s the closest you can get to 99) and changed to No. 8 after two years. He’s still regarded as one of the biggest draft busts (and shadiest GMs) of all time.

Jason Bonsignore, No. 64

Before the recent stretch of awfulness that netted first-overall selections Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, the Oilers hadn’t had a top-five pick since 1994. That year, they took the immortal Jason Bonsignore fourth overall. After playing one game as an 18-year-old wearing No. 23, Bonsignore went with No. 64 until he was traded away after appearing in just 21 games as an Oiler. He too is considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time.

(NB: Ryan Smyth, who was taken two spots after Bonsignore, came in wearing No. 94 and has stood the test of time.)

Mike Comrie, Nos. 89 and 91

Comrie wore No. 89 in his first stint with Edmonton (who took him in the third round of the ’99 Draft) and No. 91 in his second go-around in 2009-10. Comrie’s played in over 500 NHL games, went to a Cup Final with Ottawa, married and knocked up Hilary Duff and is the heir to a massive furniture company chain. Upon further review, this tale has been upgraded from cautionary to enviable.

Tuesday, 30-Aug-2011 15:44 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Locked-out NBA players pick it up at UCLA

Found: Evidence that a current NBA player is not talking about packing away his talent and taking it overseas if the league-imposed lockout should continue.

Jrue Holiday, pioneer.

Kidding aside — yes, there have been others willing to wait it out and not add to their frequent flier accounts — Holiday said Monday at UCLA that he has no interest in going elsewhere.

"I don't want to go overseas," he said. "I'm not going anywhere. That's pretty much it. I'm more of a homebody."

The benefits of being close to home were front and center for Philadelphia's point guard. Holiday, who played for the Bruins, was getting ready to play in one of the intense games going on in the afternoon on the second floor of UCLA's Student Activities Center.

"Really just chilling and trying to communicate with my teammates and see where we are at," Holiday said. "Just because when, if, the league comes back, we want to start off on a good foot. I know a lot of the guys on the team are out here right now."

This slice of hoop heaven has been a hot summer draw for decades for NBAers wanting to keep an edge and dates back to the Magic Johnson era. The ongoing NBA labor uncertainty has only helped expand the power base in Westwood.

Last week, the likes of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and Russell Westbrook were at UCLA, and there were enough NBA players on hand to hold a players' association meeting, according to Adam Mills, the long-time organizer of these games.

On Monday, Mills was busy putting games together on the fly with the air of an affable maitre d', accommodating the request of the eight-player 76ers' contingent to play on the same team. ("Most of the contract guys are here," Holiday said.)

Timberwolves draft pick Derrick Williams was a late arrival, meaning that Mills was doing some last-second adjusting to the lineups. The Clippers' Eric Bledsoe was back at the UCLA games for the second time and said he planned on returning in the future. Bledsoe said he worked out a bit with Clippers teammate and rookie of the year Blake Griffin.

"A lot of ball handling," Bledsoe said. "It was good working with him. Keep the team chemistry going."

Big man Louis Amundson of the Warriors has been coming to the gym at UCLA for the last few years. He played in Phoenix for two seasons before signing with Golden State almost a year ago.

"It's good. Sometimes it's hit or miss," Amundson said. "You come on better days than others. But I think for something that is more or less unorganized — guys just kind of show up — it is a pretty decent run. I try to get up here every day or at least three times a week."

Like many of his colleagues, Amundson is pondering his future.

"I'm just going to hope for the best and weigh my options as we get a little bit closer to the season and see how it's looking," he said. "There's nothing you can really do. All you can do is sit back, hope it gets taken care of and be prepared because once they do come to an agreement, it's going to start real quick."

Holiday is living with his parents, and Amundson said he has been fiscally prudent. Then again, he was that way even before the lockout.

"I don't really live beyond my means — I don't have four or five cars," he said, chuckling. "I'm not too worried about it affecting me. But I've been saving my money, making sure I have cash in the bank before this thing started."

Monday, 22-Aug-2011 08:57 Email | Share | | Bookmark
New Titans coach Mike Munchak seeks accountability

In hardscrabble Scranton, Pa., city fathers long ago honored their local hero-made-good with a street: 63 Munchak Way.
Years later, it is the Mike Munchak way for the Tennessee Titans.
Or it will be the highway.
"I am into accountability — be a pro," the first-year NFL head coach said.
Titans key additions/losses

General manager Mike Reinfeldt used picks No. 8 and 39 to bolster both sides of the ball with Washington QB Jake Locker and UCLA LB Akeem Ayers.
Additions: QBs Matt Hasselbeck, Locker, LB Barrett Ruud, TE Daniel Graham, S Jordan Babineaux
Subtractions: QB Vince Young, QB Kerry Collins, DE Jason Babin, WR Randy Moss, LB Stephen Tulloch
"Know what to do and do it; it's not that hard. If they go outside the guidelines, there will be consequences. And that is going to be the end of it. I am not here to negotiate."
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To get the latest sports news from USA TODAY, including game results, columns and features, follow us on Twitter at @USATODAYSports.
Munchak, 51, always took the less-traveled road, mirroring his hometown's blue-collar sensibilities.
BLOG: Titans, Johnson far from agreement
PHOTOS: Titans training camp
The son of a truck driver, the strapping former offensive lineman was rewarded with a 12-year playing career, a bronze bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and a successful coaching after-life along the "O" line.
Quite unexpectedly, the man who never plotted to become a head coach finds himself in the big chair in his 30th year with the organization. Munchak is one of five Hall of Famers who has played and coached for the same franchise.
At Penn State, Munchak played for Joe Paterno. In Houston, it was Jerry Glanville and Jack Pardee among others.
For 17 years, he coached under Jeff Fisher, who resigned last winter after a tumultuous 2010 Titans' campaign. Fisher had been the NFL's longest active tenured coach.
"When I became a head coach, I heard, 'Who are you going to be like?' I am going to be myself," Munchak said. "If you do it your way, it comes across as real.
"Over the last (two weeks), I've kind of told the story of myself (to players). That is how I sold my message to these guys. I think, so far, it's resonating."
Munchak's approach is anything but draconian or, for that matter, Parcellian. He says he doesn't even like the word "discipline."
"Munch has zero pretense," said senior assistant coach Dave McGinnis, a former NFL head coach who coached Titans linebackers from 2005 to 2010.
"There is a lot of intelligence there and a lot of Pennsylvania tough. But there's also a guy who gets it on a lot of different fronts. And he gets it because he is so well-grounded. He is more than willing to listen and solicit.
"He is very analytical but also perceptive. Rather than being dogmatic, he empowers (coaches) to teach and empowers players to be responsible. He has rules, but it's very open — 'Let's do this together.'"
The new coach knows he needs help — "I mean, I have a lot to learn, and I will," he said. "I am sure I will make mistakes. I'm a rookie."
Munchak has instilled a collaborative atmosphere while insisting on professionalism. No one wants a repeat of the issues that surfaced between Fisher and former quarterback Vince Young, now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
"He is trying to establish a culture, trying to put his fingerprints on this program," said Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, a former NFL head coach.
"It's very similar to what they did at Penn State. There is a certain way to do things, a certain way we are going to dress and play. I think the players respect him."
Munchak has delivered "a different message, a different attitude" than Fisher, Titans tackle Michael Roos said.
"His motto: Be a pro," Roos said. "As a coach, you can't just speak it. You have to do what you preach."
Right now, that is an emphasis on optimism.
The Titans (1-1) were defeated 17-16 Saturday in St. Louis but generally have played well in two preseason games.
"We have to get C.J. (holdout running back Chris Johnson) in here; we have to keep (wide receiver Kenny) Britt healthy," Munchak said. "A lot of pieces have to come together. In this league, you get a couple of wins and, all of a sudden, we're not playing at noon (Central Time) every Sunday.
"That's the beauty of the NFL. A team can go 6-10 like we did last year, and we could be in the Super Bowl this year."

Saturday, 20-Aug-2011 08:07 Email | Share | | Bookmark
FL roundup: John Beck counters Rex Grossman's performance

The competition for Washington's starting quarterback job is all square.

John Beck led the Redskins to scores on each of their first four possessions, kept the ball for more than 23 minutes in the first half and relied on that fast start to get Washington past the Indianapolis Colts 16-3 on Friday night.

He looked sharp and efficient and played mistake-free — the perfect counterpunch to Rex Grossman's impressive performance last week.
"I know they're confident in him, I hope they're confident in me, and I don't know how it's going to play out," Beck said. "I can only worry about me, and I just try to focus on that and be the best that I can."

So far, so good.

Beck finished 14 of 17 for 140 yards with no touchdowns and, perhaps more important, no interceptions while playing the entire first half. He was sacked three times by the defending AFC South champs.

Grossman started the second half and was 7 of 12 for 88 yards with one interception and one sack. Last week in the first half, Grossman, a former first-round draft pick and Super Bowl starter, was 19 of 26 for 207 yards with one touchdown against defending AFC champion Pittsburgh.

Round 3 will be at Baltimore.

DOLPHINS 20, PANTHERS 10: At Miami, Cam Newton threw a Hail Mary pass that fell incomplete on the final play of the first half Friday night, and that's the closest he came to reaching the end zone. The top pick of the NFL draft was shut out in his first exhibition-game start. Newton played the entire first half, when the Panthers managed only three first downs, had the ball for less than eight minutes and fell behind 17-0. Newton went 7 for 14 for 66 yards, and he ran four times for 18 yards.

PACKERS 28, CARDINALS 20: At Green Bay, Wis., Aaron Rodgers topped off a sharp performance with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings for the defending Super Bowl champions.

RAVENS 31, CHIEFS 13: At Baltimore, backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor directed two fourth-quarter touchdown drives for Baltimore, the first ending with Jalen Parmele's go-ahead 10-yard touchdown run with 7:16 remaining.

JAGUARS 15, FALCONS 13: At Jacksonville, Fla., David Garrard did little to solidify his starting spot and rookie Blaine Gabbert was equally unimpressive for the Jaguars. Garrard completed 7 of 12 passes for 99 yards, with an interception in three series. Gabbert, the 10th pick in the April draft, completed 11 of 23 passes for 96 yards in seven series. Gabbert was plagued by several drops, including three on one second-half series that forced the Jaguars to settle for a 54-yard field goal.

Thursday, 5-May-2011 03:34 Email | Share | | Bookmark
What Could Become of the NBA Within a Few Years?

The NBA has always had a great amount of teams that could compete night in, and night out. The future though, looks bleak. All of the stars of the league seem to think that winning a title, requires you to join forces with as many other star players as possible. The phrase “Big Three” is becoming repetitive in describing a team’s top three players, or if there are that many all-stars on the team.

Now you see, in many decades prior, there have been many of these so-called groups, but nothing ever like how they are now, where the stars of the league join forces. In the past we have had the Michael Jordan’s of the league, along with the Magic Johnson’s and the Larry Bird’s. Sure, those players had other great players along with them such as Byron Scott, or Scottie Pippen, and Danny Ainge. To say other key players were stars though, is a stretch. Each team also seemed to have a good key player to build around as well. The talent level of the NBA was equally spread out, and made for great seasons, year in and year out.
Now fast forward to the NBA in 2011 and the league is becoming more of a buddy system, than an association. The Big Three down in Miami, has started what looks like will be a common trend for years to come, as the stars of the league look to play together, and try to just run away with titles, than try to earn them by beating each other. LeBron James and Chris Bosh had always been playoff disappointments in their respective careers, only making one finals combined between the two. This past offseason, the Heat signed both James and Bosh to put alongside their star player in Dwyane Wade who has had some trouble winning in the postseason since 2006 when he had a well known center by the name of Shaq with him. Now the three of them are looking dominant in the post season, and looking to make the NBA Finals, and win a glorified NBA championship. The only problem with the team is that, the way they have done it, makes people care less about the team. The Heat could win the next five championships, but still no one outside of Miami would respect them for the way they won them.

Now you might be saying, well Boston won a title when three perennial all-stars and future Hall of Famers joined together, when KG and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Bean town. The difference is that all three of those players suffered through losing seasons before, and altogether struggled just to make the postseason even while in their prime. The three joined forces when the realization that they wouldn’t win a title any other way arose. The way they team did it too, helped as well, as the team was put together quietly, and without an hour long ESPN broadcast. The team just had a completely different vibe than the Heat, and truly didn’t have any other intentions than to win, and they did that year, even with their stars being past their prime.

Now the future of the NBA looks to be following suit, with Carmelo Anthony making New York his new home, and looking to win titles down the road with teammate Amare Stoudemire, and whoever else the team can sign to help. As of right now, Chauncey Billups rounds out the “Big Three” group for the team, but rumors have it that Chris Paul might make his way to the big apple after next season. With another group of all-stars being assembled in another season, you have to wonder how this will affect the talent level of the rest of the league.

The big market cities will cash in, while smaller markets will suffer. Teams like Milwaukee and Indiana, would never be able to provide the same type of team to someone like the Los Angeles Lakers could, or even the New York Knicks could. A prime example could be Dwight Howard, who after this season could take off, and start fresh. Now lets look at it this from his view, would an All-Star, three time defensive player of the year Center want to go somewhere like Charlotte, or would he prefer to go to a big market like Los Angeles where they could build a championship caliber team around him? You bet Howard would choose LA.

Now sure, the markets that make the most money would continue to do so, but how do the smaller markets attract more people in? You can’t continue to have a team get smacked around by the bigger and better teams, and have them contend with the lower fronts, it just doesn’t seem right. The same teams would be atop of the conferences year in, and year out, while the bottom brackets get kicked out each year. You would never be able to have any amazing happen with a bunch of average NBA players playing against a team with LeBron, Wade and Bosh or a team like Carmelo, Amare, and CP3; it just won’t happen.
So you have to wonder what could become of the NBA, with David Stern’s love for big market teams. Soon, the NBA will be so predictable with the same team’s making the playoffs, and winning constantly. The lower markets will suffer, and soon the NBA will be nothing but hype of the great teams, and more corruption, than what it already is. Thanks a lot David Stern, and let’s not even talk about your referees.

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