Thursday, May 05, 2011

On Gary Williams

Before the Florida fandom, there was the Maryland fandom. Maryland basketball, specifically.

In 1989, I was 16 years old and had spent my sports-fan puberty (say, 12 to 16) ricocheting from Len Bias at his best to Len Bias dead to what Maryland fans gloss over as "The Bob Wade Era."

If you're under the age of 33 or so and don't remember, you have to understand that the program was a wreck after Bias died, so they went and hired a high school coach.

Predictably, he was awful. Really, really awful.

Then, in 1989, the program hired Gary Williams, a former player and a coach with a solid record of success at Boston College and Ohio State.

Maryland was totally screwed back then -- NCAA penalties, scholarship reductions, no NCAA Tournament, no games on TV.

Maryland's best player was Walt Williams -- the Wizard, who in high school had led his team over my high school in the state title game. He had the chance to go pro, but he stuck it out with Gary Williams and helped give the program a new foundation.

From there, Williams recruited a solid mix of locals (like Keith Booth -- who got Maryland back into Baltimore recruiting -- and Johnny Rhodes). Then Joe Smith. Then relevancy.

And then the early part of the new century. First the continuous struggles against Duke -- 2001 was epic in its failure.

Then, in 2002, the national title. This was just after I met my wife and began rooting for Florida. Maryland's hoops title was like perfect closure on the rooting interests of my childhood.

I don't claim a Terps fandom like real fans or alums or students -- although I will say that anyone who was 13 and a Terps fan and went through the Len Bias death gets some kind of fan dispensation for at least 20 years.

But I sincerely appreciate what Gary Williams did for the program. Yes, there was Lefty Dreisell, and he was legendary.

Gary Williams took the program from purgatory and turned it into a national champion. What more could any fan base ask for?


I agree with every top hoops analyst who thinks that Maryland is one of the most underrated job openings in college basketball. This is not Mizzou or NC State or Tennessee. The Maryland recruiting base of the District, Maryland and Virginia (the "DMV") is so rich -- and Williams had tended to it so tenuously -- that any coach with a nose for recruiting is going to stockpile talent like Williams rarely had and create a Top 10 program for a decade.

They will still be measured by their ability to win a national title like Gary Williams.

-- D.S.

05/05 (Lakers Done?) Quickie

A Top 3 moment in Daily Quickie history was the "Two words: It's. Over." after Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS. It was on the front page of the morning after. I was spectacularly wrong (as was everyone else, of course).

The big question this morning is whether the Lakers deserve an "It's. Over." moment. Are they done? Down 2-0 after two games in LA? Needing to win 4 of the next 5, which would include at least 2 of 3 on the road in Dallas to a Mavs team that has proven itself better in nearly ever way?

This is entirely different from the Celtics being down 2-0 after two games in Miami -- it is entirely reasonable that the Celtics could win the next two games in Boston, evening the series and reclaiming some semblance of momentum.

But the current running through both the Lakers and the Celtics is that both look old... tired... yes: done.

I didn't think the Mavs would be the ones to knock off the Lakers, but it certainly feels like we're on that brink.

Typically, I default to the old '95 Rockets "Never underestimate the heart of a champion" thing. It is perhaps my biggest blind spot as a pundit and fan.

But in this case, it is hard not to believe what my eyes are seeing: The two-time defending champs, reeling. It was going to happen at some point. I thought it would happen after this year.

In the end, the top of the NBA is simply too good for a team -- no matter how title-experienced -- to "turn it on" when it matters most against a similarly elite team, at least not in a way that can net you 4 wins in 5 games when home-court advantage is a distant memory.

The Lakers are done, and it is happening so fast and so relatively unexpectedly that I don't think fans are quite ready for it. But it's coming.


Speaking of done: The Capitals. It's not just that they lost in the conference semifinals -- well short of the Stanley Cup finals, let alone a championship -- but that they were swept out, as ignominious an ending as there is. It is even worse than losing a 3-1 series lead and falling in 7 games.

The Capitals have reached that place -- perhaps the most favorite place in Quickie mythology: "Championship or bust." Title or failure. It is so simple and so binary and so much higher stakes than so many teams and fans can relate to.

The particular twist the Caps put on it is that they perennially underachieve. Every year, everyone thinks this time will be different. Every year, the result is the same. This year was supposed to be different -- aren't they all?

Playoffs in basketball and hockey aren't set up for one-time quirkiness, like the NCAA Tournament or college football schedule. Oh, sure, you can have the "hot goalie" theory, but if you lose 4 of 7 games, that's a pretty decent sample size that the other team is better.

When you lose four straight -- 4-0 -- it is decisive as it is damning. You weren't even close to good enough. Maybe you checked out mentally. Maybe the other team was just better (or hotter).

Whatever: The Caps simply can't break through. Now, there are lots of other "title or bust" teams that struggled against a ceiling for a few years -- certainly longer than the Caps' 3-year run -- but the Caps feel particularly far from the ultimate goal. Again.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

05/04 (Heat, Whoa) Quickie

Here's a personal secret I keep:

Definitive pronouncements are the stock-and-trade of sports pundits -- all pundits, really. And I kind of hate that part of sports punditry -- the self-certainty -- particularly when backed up by nothing more than opinion or conjecture or bland qualitative evidence. These are the pundits you see self-assuredly saying "The Heat have no spine!" one day and "The Celtics are too old!" the next.

My operating philosophy has always been that in the face of new or more compelling evidence, not only will I change my mind -- but I am HAPPY to change my mind. I actually get more of an intellectual surge from being turned on to some new way of thinking about things that makes me see something differently than I do from being right, which is totally overrated -- and almost entirely meaningless in sports punditry.

Which brings us to the Heat and the Celtics.

Now, the Celtics might still win both games in Boston -- tie the series at 2-2, take back the momentum, put the Heat on their heels -- but that sure doesn't look like the case now.

What looks like the case now is that the Heat are younger, more athletic, more star-powered, faster, smarter, more hungry.

I thought they would need at least a year -- maybe more. It looks like my presumption was wrong.

I can dislike LeBron (although I like Wade) and dislike the Heat, yet still appreciate one of the most enjoyable events in sports: The Breakthrough, when potential transforms into reality.

Ideally, that comes after some struggle --it's an appealing narrative that goes back to Homer or even the origins of storytelling itself -- but maybe the Heat just condensed that struggle into nine months of more scrutiny than any team has faced in sports history.

It helps that I hate the Celtics, too -- that the Heat's breakthrough (again, presumptive) comes at the expense of Boston makes it more palatable. It makes it more dramatic, certainly, because the Celtics are the standard-bearer of championship toughness. The Heat surmounting that has always been the biggest storyline of the playoffs.

And now they are halfway there. Already.


Notes on a few other things:

*Francisco Liriano's no-hitter: That it was chock full of walks (and not many strikeouts) only makes it that much more interesting, doesn't it? It was certainly unexpected, given his (and the Twins') start to the season.

*Derrick Rose is NBA MVP: We can argue he was the best player on the most surprisingly successful team -- that LeBron and/or Chris Paul and/or Kobe and/or Dwight Howard were equally worthy. But I'm fine with Rose -- I enjoy the novelty that he is the youngest MVP in NBA history -- and found his acceptance speech homage to his mom to be particularly winning.

*Caps imploding, down 3-0 vs. Lightning: As a nominal Caps fan, beyond disappointing, particularly that they aren't even making it a series (the games are close, but not the series).

*Rashard Mendenhall: Let's distinguish between free speech -- a fundamental freedom, no matter how much you disagree with what is being spewed by someone -- and being stupid.

Keep up with Quickish all day
. Lots of smart reactions to the Heat-Celtics, Liriano, Caps and more, including recommendations to some great reads. Thanks for your support.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

05/03 (Underdog) Quickie

The common wisdom about playoff series is that they don't really start until the home team loses.

That suggests that this year's NBA conference-semifinals round is already so on. Haven't seen the stat for 3 of 4 road teams winning Game 1s of conference semis, but I have to imagine it's rare.

It's hard not to watch the Mavs and Hawks and -- most of all Grizzlies -- and not think they absolutely can win 4 of 7. Chances are they won't, but if you can win Game 1 on the road, is it so crazy to think they can win 3 more, including 3 shots at home for themselves?

And then there is the Heat-Celtics series. By the definition at the top, it hasn't started yet. Maybe it will tonight -- if the Celtics can split in Miami, it is a psychic blow the Heat might not get over. And even if the Celtics lose, they have two chances at home, not just to even up the series but to reclaim any/all momentum heading back to Miami for Game 5.

So the biggest constant of Game 1s remains: We really don't know very much. But it's fun to see unfold.

On a side note, I just finished a small Quickish project I've been meaning to tend to. I'll throw it out there tomorrow or Thursday for everyone to see. The task involved going back over all Quickish tips tagged "longishreads" -- going back more than 4 months, I was blown away by the amazing stuff I have been lucky enough to showcase and recommend.

Hoping this new little spin-off of Quickish will keep that going.

-- D.S.

Monday, May 02, 2011

05/02 (OBL) Quickie

It goes without saying that the killing of Osama Bin Laden is one of those pieces of news that eclipses anything/everything in sports -- even intertwining when it can.

That's why the defining moment of the day might have been the Heat dispatching the Celtics in Game 1 of their playoff series, but by midnight, it was the video of Phillies fans chanting "U-S-A!" as news of Bin Laden's death circulated around iPhones and Blackberries and Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates throughout the stadium.

I'm looking around the Web for more intersections of the OBL news and sports. For example: Here is a post from Mets blogger and sports-media expert Jason Fry.

Most of the time, people dislike the intersection of sports with anything else. There is plenty to say about how the 32 NFL teams fared this weekend (there's a great tip going on Quickish later this a.m. with the best draft grades I've seen) and how the Grizzlies are suddenly the team to beat in the NBA and, of course, Round 1 of Heat-Celtics.

But in a "sports-is-life" world, sometimes life supersedes sports. This is one of those moments.

-- D.S.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

So About That "Celtics in 5"

I'll revise to Celtics in 7, because I think it's pretty hard to say that the Celtics can now win in 5. (Still sticking with the C's!)

05/01 (Heat-Celtics) Quickie

I said this earlier this week: Celtics over the Heat in 5.

The Heat falling short of an NBA title this year has been obvious since the night of the Decision. Getting drummed out by the Celtics in the conference semifinals would inflict maximum humiliation -- not unlike the way LeBron was drummed out a year ago, when he quit.

The Heat are better than they were in the middle of the season, when the Celtics punched them in the face, repeatedly. But the playoffs are so different than the regular season, and this is where Boston's mental toughness -- a qualitative assessment, to be sure -- is superior to LeBron's or Bosh's.

The Celtics have one more ass-kicking in them (maybe two, if the conference finals count), and what would be more epic (aside from a title) than kicking the Heat's ass.

-- D.S.