D. West, The Best

A couple of days ago, NBA player (and Xavier alum) David West announced his retirement after a very productive 15-year career.

He didn’t have the marquee value of some of his single-name counterparts in the pros (Kobe, Shaq, LeBron, etc.) but he was a two-time All-Star who had an extremely productive career. Check out the stats below:

He was a pro’s pro, a true warrior, and someone who made everyone else on the team better. A couple of years ago, he joined the Golden State Warriors for the veteran minimum salary when he could’ve gotten much more elsewhere. Because “you can’t take it with you.”

https://twitter.com/i/status/1035220605656870913

He also had passions beyond the b-ball court. This Washington Post article is a nice tribute to his many talents.

Scott Van Pelt sums up David West’s career and his ethos beautifully in this One Big Thing segment:

Congratulations to D. West on a job well done!

What have you done for everyone else lately?

In America, we’re obsessed with being #1.

“The best ever! Believe me!”

And we care deeply – waaay too deeply – about rankings and ratings. The top song on the charts.

Music was better back then… 

The Fortune 500. The highest-grossing movie. The most-watched TV show. The most views or “likes” or “shares” on social media. The highest-ranked football team. The five-star basketball recruits.

We do comparisons all the time, trying to determine who is better…. and who is the best.

But Seth Godin is trying to help us reframe that obsession. (I know I write/rave about Seth a lot, but the man’s a genius.) Here’s a post from his blog earlier this week:

Community rank

You’re probably familiar with class rank. Among all the kids in this high school, compared to everyone else’s GPA, where do you stand?

And you’ve heard about sports rank, #1 in the world at tennis or golf or chess.

But somehow, we don’t bother with community rank.

Of all the contributions that have been made to this community, all the selfless acts, events organized, people connected–where do you stand?

Maybe we don’t have to measure it. But it might be nice if we acted as if we did.

 

What a fabulous concept! Let’s measure what really matters… how good you are to your fellow human beings.

That’s a #1 ranking worth attaining.

 

 

Skip. School.

11 years and two days ago, the world lost a great teacher. He also happened to be a heck of a college basketball coach. No doubt he would want them listed in that order: teacher first, coach second.

His name was George Edward Prosser, but everyone called him Skip. He joined Xavier as an assistant coach under Pete Gillen way back when I was in school there, and later went on to become head coach at Loyola of Maryland, Xavier, and Wake Forest. He took all three teams to the NCAA tournament, and had a top five recruiting class coming in when he died of a heart attack on July 26, 2007, after jogging around the Wake Forest campus.

An avid reader and lifelong student, Skip was just as likely to wax rhapsodic about Thoreau or James Joyce as he was to talk about a full-court press. He was always humble, but he did pride himself on passing along life lessons to his student-athletes. His favorite quote was from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Our chief want in life is someone who shall make us do what we can.”

As Skip said, “I thought that was a powerful statement that we need to be around people who challenge us to be as good as we can be.”

On the day Skip returned to Cincinnati to take over as head coach at Xavier, I was dropping off a friend at the airport and saw Skip in the terminal. I went up to him, introduced myself as a Xavier alum, and said “welcome back to Cincinnati.” He replied, “thanks, it’s good to be back.”

This is what he said about returning to Xavier in 1994 to replace Gillen after serving as head coach for one year at Loyola (Md.): “I felt like I was coming home. Xavier wasn’t just a job for me. It was my first opportunity to coach at a collegiate level. I loved the city. Bellarmine was my parish. It was my church, my school. It was a town I considered my home. The minute I left Loyola, I felt great about being back at X.”  (Source: this Cincinnati Enquirer article)

A year later, I started working at the ad agency that handled the Xavier b-ball account, and went to a kickoff meeting with Xavier’s associate AD and Skip. He was kind, gracious, humble, funny, totally unassuming and completely engaged. His AD at Loyola, Joe Boylan, said Prosser was “a renaissance man coaching basketball” and that’s a great description.

Skip left this world too soon, but his lessons are still with us.

From this 2017 article:

On July 26, 2007, George Edward “Skip” Prosser, head basketball coach of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, passed away. Only 56 years old, Prosser’s death shook college basketball and the sports world in general. Widely revered in coaching circles, he was one of those individuals about whom you never heard a bad word spoken.

Fully living up to the reputation of a teacher on and away from the court, Prosser was beloved by the players he coached. During an interview with The Seth Davis Show, Chris Paul, who played for Prosser from 2003-05, discussed the immense impact his college coach had on his daily life.

“For me, it’s funny. You think about some people that you’ve known your whole life and they don’t necessarily make an imprint on your life,” Paul told Davis. “I knew coach for all of four years, and I think about the imprint that he had on my life.”

Diving deeper, Paul offered up a couple maxims that he learned from his late coach.

“The words that he said. He used to say, ‘Never delay gratitude.’ That was one of his favorite sayings. ‘If you can’t be on time, be early.’ Aside from what he taught me about the game of basketball, he taught me about life and about being a man.”

“Someone asked me as I was leaving, what do I want people to remember?” Prosser said. “It would make me happy if they thought I stood for what Xavier stands for. That was my challenge and my charge all the time, to stand for what Xavier stands for.”

“Coaching isn’t wins and losses,” Prosser said. “It’s teaching. That’s the reason I got into coaching and the reason I’ve stayed in coaching. I hope that I remain in the business of education.”

Sunday morning coming down

A trifecta of odds and ends for your morning perusal.

  1. It’s the finals of the World Cup, with… that one team… playing… some other team. (Sorry, I know fútbol is the most popular sport in the world, but I just can’t get into it.)

I’m with Michael Cera

 

2. It’s hard to enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor in a backyard garden when your garden looks like an illustration from a Beatrix Potter book:

Sorry for the fuzzy shot… my flip phone is only 3 megapixels, and I didn’t want to bother the bunnies while they were having dinner.

Those little buggers ate all of my cherry tomatoes. But they don’t like basil, apparently. Pesto, anyone?

 

3. I may not be into soccer, but it’s been fun watching the Reds lately. After an abysmal start, they’re actually playing decent ball. And they have the best defensive centerfield in the game:

It’s not the first time Billy’s stolen a homer from Matt Carpenter:

 

Enjoy your Sunday!

 

 

 

 

When pigs fly

On Friday, I posted about Mean Girls. Today, it’s about a single mean girl, whose comment spurred a runner to victory more than a decade later. 25-year-old Caitlin Keen won the female division of the 2018 Flying Pig Marathon yesterday.

When she was 12 and living in Cincinnati, she watched that year’s Flying Pig and said “I’m going to win that one day”…. another girl said “no you won’t.”

Caitlin got pretty emotional talking about breaking the tape for the first time, and her overall running journey.

“I was an OK high school runner. I never won a state championship. I walked on to a Division I school. I went to Southern Methodist University,” Keen said. “I ended up getting a full ride by my senior year but I never was a winner ever. Never was an all-American … I’m so happy. It means everything.” 

Watch this interview video – it’s hard not to be moved by it:

A record number of people (43,000 plus) took part in this year’s Flying Pig events.

Participants included Mrs. Dubbatrubba and her friends, who finished the half-marathon.

The races (plural now – marathon, half marathon, 10K, kids run, etc.) raise more than a million dollars for local charities each year. Not bad for a race that started with a small group of local runners scribbling notes on a cocktail napkin.

Sometimes all it takes is a dream, and then following through, step by step.

Evel. Pure evil.

As a 70s kid, I grew up with Evel Knievel on the brain. Motorcycle stuntman extraordinaire. (But “Skycycle” failure.)

It was the 70s. ‘Nuff said.

A perennial performer on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Jumping fountains, jumping buses, jumping a pool of sharks before Fonzie did.

Before Bodyglove wetsuits existed, people often wore their leather jackets in the ocean.

Evel was all the rage, and so were his toys.

Naturally my brother and I would attempt to emulate Evel. Usually that involved setting up a piece of plywood on a log as a makeshift ramp and attempting to jump over some obstacle on our Schwinn bikes with slick back tires and banana seats.

But once we just decided to try a long jump – sans bicycles – in our living room. We marked out a launch line and would track our landing spots, trying to jump a bit farther with each attempt (and probably making motorcycle “vroom-vroom” sounds with every launch). On my final attempt (and the reason it was final will become perfectly clear by the end of this sentence), I set a new record… but in true homage to my hero Evel, I got a bit wobbly on the landing, stumbled, lost my balance, and tried to stop my fall… by putting my hand through one of the panes in a living room window.

Luckily, my hand came out unscathed. But the window wasn’t as lucky. Because my father wasn’t much of a handyman and our meager household budget didn’t have room for repairs, we just thumbtacked a Hefty garbage bag over the missing windowpane. That damn garbage bag was up for years, a constant reminder of my failed stuntman career. Which is why I force my kids to take out the trash… the Cinch-Sak memories are simply too painful.

Why do you taunt me so?

On a brighter note, a few decades later, I stumbled again… but this time it was stumbling across a true gem of an album.

If you ever see this album at a flea market, buy it! It has excerpts of Evel interviews prior to the ill-fated Snake River Jump, and even a song sung by Evel himself (and I’m using the term “sung” very liberally). The album wraps up with this lovely ballad (and by “lovely” I mean “cheesier than a pound of Swiss”).

He can move a mountain

Leap across a winding river

Once he’s made his mind up, there’s nothing he won’t try

There’s something deep inside him, lusting for the thrills that drive him.

Yet he knows someday he’s gonna have to face that canyon in the sky.

I miss you, Evel. The world needs more risk-takers like you. And stronger windows.

 

A dream deferred for a decade

Perhaps you’ve already heard about Andre Ingram. Maybe you’re a big fan of the Utah Flash, or the Los Angeles D-Fenders, or the South Bay Lakers.

Those are the NBA G-league teams for which Mr. Ingram has been toiling for the past 10 years. A decade of cheap hotels, bus rides and mostly empty bleachers. 10 years of working side jobs just to make ends meet. Chasing that dream.

On Monday, he got the call-up to the NBA… the one that he’s always hoped for. Not just hoped for, but worked for. Check out this excerpt from an article on ESPN.com.

Ingram makes it clear he is not bitter or filled with regrets after waiting this long to make it to the NBA. He says he remembers it all.

“Just staying with it,” Ingram says of what has been toughest about his journey here. “I mean, you get commended for kind of hanging in there and sticking with it like there wasn’t any doubt at any point. There was doubt. There were hard times. There was uncertainty.”

“They were fond memories. They’re not like, you know, angry memories: Man, I should be here. No it’s not any of that,” Ingram added. “… It’s a handsome reward for time put in. I’m thankful I have the opportunity, but there’s a lot of people that work hard. I’m grateful man. That’s all it is. I’m grateful.”

Last night, Andre Ingram made his NBA debut, in a playing-out-the-string game for the Lakers. He scored 19 points, going 6-for-8 from the field, including 4-for-5 on 3-pointers. By the end of the game, the home crowd at the Staples Center was serenading him with chants of “MVP!”

In that game, in that moment, the hard times are forgotten, the thousands of yesterdays don’t matter anymore.

How old is “too old” to chase your dreams? When is it time to give up? Never.

 

The baller and the bawler

Yet another Xavier basketball coach has decide to leave my alma mater (and in this case his alma mater) for greener pastures.

Chris Mack is headed 90 miles south to take over at Louisville. (He’d better bring his Swiffer Wet Jet… there are a lot of messes to clean up.) I used to ask “why?” but having witnessed six coaches leave in my 36 years of rooting for the Muskies, I don’t cry and ask why anymore. I already know the reasons:

  • More cash – $30 million for a seven-year contract, which is waaay more coin than he earned at Xavier. In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college b-ball, where one bad season can get you fired in many places, that’s some darn good peace of mind for a 49-year-old in a young man’s game.
  • Family ties – Mack is born and raised in Cincinnati and his parents still live here. He played for Xavier, and was an assistant coach before taking the helm nine seasons ago. But his wife is from Louisville, and her family still lives there. Anyone who has ever had to play grandbaby tug of war at Thanksgiving or Christmas can appreciate that it’s his wife’s family’s “turn” with their three kids.
  • Prestige – as much as many Xavier fans hate to admit it, Xavier is still a notch or two below the blue blood programs. Louisville plays in the ACC, and has a storied basketball history. Two official titles (they had to vacate a third, in 2013) and eight Final Fours. Meanwhile X has yet to make a Final Four.
  • Bigger – U of L plays in the new Yum! Center in downtown Louisville, which holds 22,090 for b-ball… nearly twice the capacity of Xavier’s Cintas Center and the third largest arena in the country. Also, as a public university with an enrollment of 22,000 each year (more than three times Xavier’s annual enrollment), they have a much larger fan and donor base. (And lower academic standards… which matters greatly when you are recruiting basketball “student-athletes.”)
  • A new challenge – when Chris Mack’s Xavier mentor Skip Prosser left XU for Wake Forest, he quoted Faulkner: Sometimes you have to say goodbye to the things you know and hello to the things you don’t. (Skip was a man of letters… a perfect fit for Xavier. Yet he left too.)
  • Bigger fish in a smaller pond – Cincinnati has the Reds, Bengals and another Top 25 program three miles from Xavier’s campus. In Louisville, the Cardinals reign supreme.
  • Timing – Mack probably felt he had taken Xavier as far as he could take them. This year they won the Big East regular season for the first time, rose as high as #3 in the Top 25, and got a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. With four key players from this year’s team departing and a weaker class of incoming recruits, next season was going to be a letdown with or without him.

Before he cut ties, he cut down a few nets.

It was a great nine-year run: Mack became Xavier’s career leader in coaching wins this season (215 overall), won conference championships in the Atlantic 10 and the Big East, and made the NCAA tourney eight times, with three Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight.

So I wish Mack well in his new adventure. And I agree with what Xavier AD Greg Christopher said yesterday:

“At the end of the day, this program is beyond any one player, any one coach, any one president. At the end of the day, this program has been built over four decades with great coaches, great players and great administrators who have helped build it to where it is. I would hope a program transcends any one single person. Now, our all-time winningest coach is really important and was a big part of that. (Mack) deserves a lot of credit, both as a player, an assistant, and head coach, so, again we wish him the best as he moves forward.” 

Basketballs out my eyeballs

I took vacation days this past Thursday and Friday, and have spent the last four days camped out in my basement man-cave, watching college hoops. Three TVs and a laptop… feasting on the Madness of March (I had to put it that way to avoid the trademarked term… aw, what the heck: March Madness. March Madness.)

Yesterday’s action didn’t end well. First the University of Cincinnati Bearcats (a 2-seed), blew a 22-point second-half lead. Then my beloved Xavier Musketeers (a 1-seed) blew a 12-point second-half lead. Worst sports day in the history of the city, easily.

But it’s still the best sports weekend ever invented. A 16-seed knocked out a #1 seed in the first round, for the first time ever.

Loyola-Chicago and their 98-year-old nun chaplain are headed to the Sweet 16.

DALLAS, TX – MARCH 17: Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt celebrates after the Loyola Ramblers beat the Tennessee Volunteers 63-62 in the second round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at the American Airlines Center on March 17, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

 

Buzzer beaters galore.

Tons of favorites getting knocked off. It truly is madness.

It’s not called Selection Saturday

College hoops fans, want to free up about 30 hours of your time? Here’s how: instead of spending all that time over this past week (including today) worrying and wondering about where your favorite team will be seeded (or if they even will be in the field at all) and where they might be playing, and who they might be playing, just tune in tomorrow evening for the official selection show.

Because any time spent on the “what ifs” before that is wasted worrying. And I hate to burst your bubble, but unless you’re one of the 10 folks in New York City who are part of the selection committee, your vote doesn’t count (talk about gerrymandering!).

I know “bracketology” has become a cottage industry. Heck, there’s even a site that rates all the bracket predictors. (FWIW, ESPN’s alleged expert Joe Lunardi isn’t even close to being the most accurate.)

But none of their brackets matter come Sunday night at 6 p.m. (Also, the official selection show is on TBS this year, not CBS… and don’t forget to spring forward!)

So you can spend countless hours searching for “expert” brackets, and watching talking heads chattering about “last 4 in” and “first 4 out” all you want… or you can take a hike, read a book or three, play with your kids, call your grandma, paint a masterpiece, read boring blogs (thanks!)…