By Jerod Cherry | ESPNCleveland.com
It amazes me how Matthew Dellavedova was criticized for displaying traits that were once universally praised in American sports. I never thought the day would come but it has, in which dedication, hard work, extreme effort, and hustle are misconstrued as playing dirty.... Wow!
I am not sure which is more outlandish - the notion that Delly should adhere to some unwritten locker room rules and play less aggressive so that he can be accepted as a D list/second class citizen of the NBA fraternity or Delly being labeled by peers and pundits as dirty because he will not allow his opponents to punk and emasculate him on the court.
A few of the things I had to learn as a pro athlete are that if you want success you have to express your masculinity and go, get, and take what you want. And just as important, your opponent is not your friend! You treat him as an adversary. You out compete him. You break his will. You make him quit. You display with your play that you want it more than he does.
Delly displays these traits. He is the type of competitor you want on your team. And if you are really "True to Atlanta” and the game, you should want to compete against someone like Delly that will test your manhood and competitiveness. But in today’s pro sports culture too many guys want a walk in the park on game day.
Fans work hard to sit in arenas or at home to watch games. One would think that NBA analysts and players alike would promote the idea of a player like Dellavedova returning the favor. But when you are dealing with elitist, or people who think they are better than you because of their popularity, they will expect us to be happy that they graced us with their presence. Hence, giving decent to minimal effort for them is more than enough.
As the NBA Finals continue, I hope Delly continues to play his brand of basketball.
Hopefully we will return to a time in which players like Delly are once again revered instead of being rejected for displaying characteristics that we desire to instill in our children and look for in our teammates and partners for life.
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
AKRON – The following isn’t meant to be served on a fine china plate in a restaurant where you waited six-months for reservations. The food made available at Canal Park in Akron, OH for the 2015 RubberDucks season is intended for hot summer days and breezy nights under the ballpark lights. Meals and snacks dealt on paper trays and inside full-sized baseball helmets. All conjured up by baseball fans, for baseball fans. Hearty food that ‘hits the spot’ and can only be washed down with an ice- cold craft beer.
Days away from first-pitch, the Akron RubberDucks unveiled their “Extreme Food” menu for 2015 – showcasing new items to local media – offering a first time taste test.
“Not only are the new items extreme,” Director of Food and Beverage Brian Manning said of the new entrees. “They are unique and have a wide array of flavors that our fans are sure to enjoy.”
After sampling each new menu option – and possibly devouring seconds – every portion was graded comprehensively, to tip-off fans on which concession stand they should sprint towards when the gates open.
Grand Slam – Short of actually hitting a grand slam, purchasing this food will be the best thing that happened to you at the ballpark that day.
Home Run – When you bring this item back to the seats, friends and family will celebrate.
Triple – It’s good, it really is good, but coach needs a little more effort.
Double – Wishes it was just a little bit taller, wishes it was a baller.
Single – Should have eaten an extra hot dog during the tailgate party.
Disclaimer: You don’t have to be a “food expert” to recognize and appreciate good taste.
The Don Corleone Sub
When you’re hungry, size matters. And, with a namesake like Corleone, you know the offering has to be something hard to refuse. An 8-inch long sub sandwich stacked high with ham, salami, pepperoni and provolone cheese – this sub is definitely a very tasty option. Manning noted the balsamic onions and pepper relish are key in pulling this smorgasbord of a sandwich together. Don’t forget that it is also 6-inches wide.
“Expert” analysis: The Don Corleone will fill you up, that’s for sure, and the taste is spectacular. However, with the massive size and $20 price tag, we have to question whether it is a realistic option.
Grand Slam Walk-Off Wedge
Not your average ballpark food option – the RubberDucks are offering a healthy, full head of lettuce salad – with a baseball twist. Served in a full sized baseball helmet – you still experience the baseball tradition of sunflower seeds and pretzels, because they’re in the salad!
“Expert” analysis: This is fantastic idea. Salads are healthy, nutritious and an extremely underrated snack for a hot day. But, how long do they last in the heat? How many different options of dressing will be available?
It’ s only fitting that the RubberDucks serve “Duck Wings” to their fans – and let me tell you, they don’t taste anything like a tire. Spicy, tender and juicy wings with a horseradish dipping sauce, fresh duck wings are the way to go.
“Expert” analysis: It’s not on everyone’s pallet to enjoy a little kick with their wings, but if they do, these are a no brainer. The hardest part about this option is convincing the kids that they’re not eating the mascot.
Grade: Home Run
Not Your Routine Poutine
Fries. Gravy. BBQ pulled pork. Bacon Bits. Green Onions. And, to top it all off, Wisconsin Cheese Curds! This poutine should become a part of every baseball lover’s routine immediately.
“Expert” analysis: Before you go to your seat. Before the National Anthem is sung and the first pitch is tossed – get an order of poutine, or three. In no means am I a poutine connoisseur, but, like a 100 mph fastball, this blew me away.
Grade: GRAND SLAM (A walk-off grand slam with your team trailing by three in Game 7)
The RubberDucks are also opening a craft beer stand, offering 12 oz. portions of craft brews from all over the Midwest and surrounding regions. And, for those who miss White Castle Burgers in Northeast Ohio – you’re in luck. The Ducks and White Castle struck a deal that will offer their trademark slider burgers at each game.
Johnny is here to stay
If you made it to a game last year, you probably tried the “Johnny Footlong.” A footlong all beef hot dog named after Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. Topped complete with Texas Jack Chili (paying homage to Manziel’s home state), shredded Pepper Jack Cheese and Sriracha Sauce, to go along with his spicy personality of course.
If you didn’t get the chance to dig-in, you’re in luck. On the field performance and off the field issues aside, the RubberDucks and sticking with the Johnny named dog.
“I think at this time it doesn’t make sense to change (the name),” Manning said. “Obviously he is still very young and his NFL history is just one year in. I think there are still a lot of positives that can come from his time with the Browns.”
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – John Calipari didn’t climb up the ladder to ceremoniously cut down the net after the Kentucky Wildcats held on to advance to back-to-back Final Four appearances, beating Notre Dame 68-66.
While walking to the media room for an interview, Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Karl-Anthony Towns cradled the trophy, but was firmly told by a member of the Wildcats basketball staff, ‘that’s not why you came here.’
Kentucky is 38-0 on the year, and two games away from cementing their legacy as one of the best college basketball teams ever assembled.
Conference championships, Sweet 16’s, Elite 8’s and Final Four’s, to them, are just stepping stones on the path of a National Title or bust season.
Led by Towns' 25 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals, the Wildcats took one step closer to immortality, and punched their ticket for a Final Four rematch with the Wisconsin Badgers in Indianapolis.
The shot clock was off with the game tied at 66 before Andrew Harrison drove to the basket, drew a blocking foul, and knocked in two-free throws with six seconds remaining to give his Wildcats the lead.
The final point of the game. pic.twitter.com/jCchjAtoPK— Jason Gibbs (@BGSUGibbs) March 29, 2015
Notre Dame – with no timeouts, advanced the ball up the floor and launched a three-point prayer as time expired, no good.
Celebration ensued as Calipari and the Wildcats were presented with the Midwest Regional Championship Trophy.
The team went into an uproar while holding the hardware.
Their championship shirts read, “cut the net,” and the Cats did just that.
Willie Cauley-Stein did a quick on-the-court interview.
After the dust settled and players took pictures with family members, fans and incorporated in an array of selfies – it was back to business as usual – fulfilling postgame interview obligations and media appearance, but not without having a little fun along the way.
Faces in the crowd
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in ND gear. Hearing his daughter is an ND team manager. pic.twitter.com/IsBgzyBN5M— Jason Gibbs (@BGSUGibbs) March 29, 2015
Former NBAer Harvey Grant. His kid is a stud for the Irish. pic.twitter.com/XVd4TWd4Kt— Jason Gibbs (@BGSUGibbs) March 29, 2015
Governor Christie and Austin Carr. pic.twitter.com/sBpgVbv4mG— Jason Gibbs (@BGSUGibbs) March 29, 2015
For those of you who asked... pic.twitter.com/2fVuBiMaey— Jason Gibbs (@BGSUGibbs) March 29, 2015
You can also see Ashley Judd in the background of this photo, crying tears of joy.
And last but certainly not least, it’s just not an event in Cleveland without Browns head coach Mike Pettine and LeBron James in attendance.
Hearing Mike Pettine is here. Austin Carr is in the Notre Dame section. LeBron, J.R. Smith and Kendrick Perkins are in a suite.— Jason Gibbs (@BGSUGibbs) March 29, 2015
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – One thing is for sure.
When the final buzzer sounds – regardless of the scoreboard – West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins will walk to half court, extend his arm, and shake hands with Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
That much is guaranteed.
It isn’t because it’s protocol. It’s not because countless cameras will be eyeing the two throughout their teams’ Sweet 16 matchup in Cleveland. It’s because there is a genuine friendship between them – a bond that began at Walsh College, and survived in the back of a Pittsburg ambulance.
“I can still remember the first time I met him,” Calipari said before his Wildcats took the practice court at The Q. “He had just got the Walsh College job. I was working a basketball camp and he went up to recruit and I went up and introduced myself.
“That was way back, he was 23 or 24 years old and became a coach.”
Decades later, Calipari looks back and reminisces about the days when he and Huggins were the “young guys” of collegiate coaching. Although those days are gone – the two are now established household names who maintain a healthy respect and continued friendship off the court.
“The great thing about (Calipari) is every time I’ve ever asked him to do something for a charity cause or whatever, he’s done it,” Huggins said of their relationship.
And vise versa.
Huggins recalled a time where Calipari asked him to fly in and speak at an event. After Huggins addressed the crowd, educating them on how to beat his trademark 1-3-1 pressure defense, Calipari came out and asked him to tell everyone the story about his cousin, Mark.
Not as willing to tell the story to the media, Huggins gave the abbreviated version of the time in 2003 when he suffered a heart attack at a Pittsburg airport.
“I started sweating profusely and I’m walking to the terminal,” he began to describe. “I’m sweating like crazy and I started getting short of breath so I thought I better get into the airport. I made it as far as the sidewalk and I passed out.
“To make a long story shot, they scooped me up and put me in the ambulance. I’m in and out of consciousness and they’re pumping morphine into me and there is a guy in the back with me. I kind of came to and I asked, ‘how much further we got to go’? He radios to the drivers and said, ‘what’s the ETA?’”
Huggins remembers stumbling in and out of consciousness but vividly telling the man, “Listen, I’m not some 90-year old lady, I know when I’m hurt, I’ve had quite a few things happen in my life and I’m not going to make it much longer."
The 22-minute estimated time of arrival was not an option for Huggins as he slipped back out of consciousness.
Now there’s no exact timeline of when the call was made, but at some point in the back of that ambulance, the man tending to Huggins made a phone call to his cousin, John.
“He calls me,” Calipari recollects. “And said, what should I do? I said, ‘save him,’ I haven’t beaten him yet.”
Granted that wasn’t the only reason Mark yelled “abort, abort, abort,” in the back of that ambulance and started to care closer for Huggins, but it’s the reason he gave him when he woke up.
“I noticed when I came back to he was paying a lot better of attention to me,” Huggins finished. “I came to and was fairly coherent at the time and he said, ‘coach, I cant let you die. I am John Calipari’s cousin and you can’t die until we beat you at least once.”
Reflecting back, Huggins uncomfortably laughs at the scenario, and the small world that led to Mark saving his life and strengthening the bond between the two future hall of fame coaches.
Since then however, Calipari has gotten over the hump and beaten Huggins, but just twice. In ten head-to-head matchups, Huggins and his pressure defense have come out on top a total of eight times.
“I’ve always respected what he does coaching his basketball teams,” Calipari added. “How hard they play, how physical they play and how they rebound. There are almost things that you’ll see and say, ‘that’s his team.’ They play, they compete and they play to win, they don’t have any fear.
“I’ve always respected that.”
Regardless if Calipari’s perfect season with the Wildcats continues into the Elite 8, or whether another Huggins coached West Virginia team plays spoiler to UK like they did in 2010, the handshake will be genuine. The respect will be mutual. And their bond will continue to grow stronger and stronger.
“Over the years we’ve got to be very close,” Huggins added. “We kind of grew up kind of the same way, in the same area, and have a lot of things in common that way.”
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – Madness.
If you want to get a meal in downtown Cleveland over the weekend, there’s a good chance you’ll need a reservation. Driving down East 9th street – much less finding a parking spot – don’t even think about it. Hotel rooms – with no guarantee that your favorite team or alma mater would even make it this far – have been booked for months.
The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds of the 2015 NCAA tournament are upon us.
Wichita State. West Virginia. Notre Dame. Kentucky.
Four teams enter The Q arena with the same goal – winning two games and emerging as the Midwest Regional Champion, punching their first class ticket to the Final Four in Indianapolis.
Nearly 36 hours before the first game tips-off, all four teams took the floor for 50-minute practice sessions that were open to the media and general public.
Disclaimer: “Practice” may be a bit of a loose term; teams competing this weekend are participating in private live sessions that are closed off to everyone except team personnel – what we were able to see was more of a shoot-around walk-through atmosphere, allowing players to stay loose and acclimate themselves to a neutral court.
Takeaway: The Shockers separated guards and big men on opposite ends of the court – performing individual shooting drills – bigs worked on hook shots in the lane, and short range jumpers while guards shot long distance three’s and mid-range pull-up jump shots.
Coach quote of the day: Head coach Greg Marshall when asked about the similarities between Wichita State and Kentucky.
“They wear shorts, tank tops and sneakers. We do the same. I’m not sure what kind of hair gel coach (John) Calipari uses, probably similar. His suits might be more expensive.”
How they got here: The No.7 seed in the Midwest Region, Wichita State beat Indiana 81-76 in their opening round game, then knocked off in-state rival Kansas 78-65 to advance.
Player to watch: Forward Darius Carter – Akron native and cousin of Cavaliers' forward LeBron James. Carter averages a team high 5.3 rebound per game.
“I know LeBron pretty well, and he’s influenced me from just seeing how hard he works. Showing that good things can come from Akron, OH. He’s just a role model. He’s a very hard working and good guy.”
Practice note: Every player shot a half-court shot to end practice, some were close, others ended up in the stands – the Shockers should hope their game against Notre Dame doesn’t come down to a half-court heave.
Takeaway: The Fighting Irish defined the term “shoot-around” for their 50-minute session. Coach Mike Brey harped on the importance of rest and recovery for his players, citing that his practices haven’t ran longer than an hour and 15 minutes since the middle of January.
Coach quote of the day: Coach Brey on spending time with his family after his mother passed away this week.
“My brother and sister and my parents all live within about a 10 minute radius. I got to spend the day watching hoops with my dad, brother and sister and we sat there and scouted Wichita State. I turned to my brother and said, ‘you’ve got Kansas,’ My sister and my dad, ‘you’ve got Wichita State,’ and please give me the notes afterwards.”
How they got here: After beating Duke and North Carolina in the ACC tournament, the Fighting Irish earned the No.3 seed. Notre Dame scraped by Northeastern in their first game, then beat Butler 67-64 to make it to Cleveland.
Player to watch: Guard Jerian Grant – leads the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game.
“I have been to Wichita a lot actually. My grandparents live there, about five minutes down the street from campus, so I’ve definitely been there.”
Practice note: Nike sponsors the three other remaining teams in this tournament, but not Notre Dame. More than half the team showed off their very bright Steph Curry signature Under Armour sneakers.
Takeaway: The opposite of Notre Dame’s philosophy, West Virginia is a team that practices, and practices and then conditions some more just to make sure. A 50-minute walk through is a breeze compared to their usual three-hour long practices during the season. The Mountaineers run a pressure defense throughout each game, making it imperative to be at the peak of their conditioning at all times.
Coach quote of the day: Head coach Bob Huggins on his teams’ pressure defense and if it can hold up against Kentucky.
“I don’t know. I hope so. It’s going to be a long day for us if it can’t.”
How they got here: The No.5 seed, West Virginia beat Valparaiso in their first round matchup, then advanced by upsetting the fifth seeded Maryland Terrapins 69-59.
Player to watch: Forward Devin Williams averages a team-high of 8.2 rebounds per game, nearly three of those coming on the offensive glass.
“We could be tired later, you know when we’re done doing what we got to do. You know, it’s what we want. So at the end of the day, it ain’t no tired. It’s go hard or go home.”
Practice note: Free-throws! Mountaineer big men spent a substantial amount of time at the free-throw line, forced to make five-in-a-row before earning the opportunity to shoot from other areas of the floor.
Takeaway: It goes without saying, but every college basketball fan is dialed in, examining each and every move that the Wildcats make. Each time they take the court, perfection is on the line. Nine McDonald’s high school All-American’s suit up in blue and white for coach John Calipari every night, and it has been extremely successful thus far.
Coach quote of the day: Calipari on his long-standing friendship with Huggins.
“Well, he and I used to be the young coaches. We were the young guys and we turn around and now we’re the old guys. I don’t understand that. What happened? But, that’s what happened.”
How they got here: Undefeated. Breezed through Hampton and Cincinnati in their first two tournament games.
Player to watch: The platoons. The line changes. The five-man rotations that Calipari isn’t afraid to sub in and out at any given moment.
“Coach Cal does a good job. He doesn’t promise you anything when you come here. So from the bat you just have to start off working hard and that’s just what you have to do.” – Dakari Johnson
“We have good kids and teammates so you kind of fall in love with your team.” -- Marcus Lee
Practice note: Length of their players. Numerous dunking drills. Drop step dunks from the block with ease. Kentucky is bigger and longer than every other team in the country. They know it, and they want their opponent to know it as well.
Notre Dame vs. Wichita State at 7:17 EST
Kentucky vs. West Virginia at approx. 9:47 EST
Let the games begin....