Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rappin' rappin' rappin'

Erik Olson sent a Tweet to the world the other day regarding a most unlikely subject: Alando Tucker's music career.

Yes, Alando Tucker's music career.

Read all about it in this story at Slam Online. It's interesting. And listen to it all. It's, um, interesting.

The three tracks are called "Someone," "I'll Holla" and "Role Play."

A quick review: it's not bad ... but it's not good. It's sort of paint-by-numbers hip hop, from unscripted mid-verse chuckling to gratuitous use of the N word, from grand tales of lovemaking to guest appearances.

Alando tells Slam that rap is not something he does to make money, which is good thing.

Here's something even more amusing: Tuck and Shaq get together to make what looks like a music-free version of the Beastie Boys' Sabotage video, with Alando starring as Billy Ray Badger. Not sure what the video was for, but it looks like it was 98% ad-libbed.

It is the rare athlete who makes the transition to legitimate actor or musician. Alando ain't no Carl Weathers or Wayman Tisdale, but God bless him for trying.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A brief report from East Lansing

Tuesday morning I was sitting in my office looking at a spreadsheet or something, when Dave Mueller, the guy whose office is next to mine, ducked his head in for a chat. I mean ducked literally -- Dave is 6-foot-9.

"I was thinking about you over the holiday," Dave told me as he looked at a picture of Alando Tucker on my wall.

Dave, you see, was Wisconsin's Mr. Basketball in 1985 for Racine St. Catherine's, and matriculated at Michigan State. He played there for Jud Heathcoate, and also for a young assistant named Tom Izzo.

Over Memorial Day week Dave took his family back to East Lansing, and stopped by the basketball offices to see if there was a picture of him hanging somewhere to show his children. The receptionist recognized him and said hello, and briefly left. She returned with Izzo, who gave Dave a tour of the Breslin Center and its luxurious locker rooms.

Dave was amazed at the amenities, particularly the lockers with video players and XBoxes. A far cry from what the locker room looked like in his days. His description reminded me of the Field House locker rooms, which felt like my dorm room compared to the digs at the Kohl Center.

It's a slow time of year for Izzo and his counterparts at other schools, although as far as I know he's not dealing with a decommitment from a local high school superstar. Dave was amazed at how young some of the kids that Izzo and his staff were recruiting.

Luxury locker rooms, younger-than-ever recruits: it's all part of the current college basketball landscape. For better or for worse.

Anyway, I tease Izzo a lot here, but it's pretty cool that he remembered a guy like Dave, who wasn't a college superstar, and took the time to catch up with him.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Fightin' the Irish?

Just got a notice on Twitter that Barry Alvarez discussed on the radio today the possibility of adding Notre Dame to Wisconsin's non-conference football schedule in a few years.

To which I say, It's about time.

Yesterday on my drive home from the UP, I passed a car near Green Bay with University of Minnesota and USC stickers. Didn't know if it had any significance, but I did read in a Tom Oates column last week that Minnesota has lined up USC for its schedule in the future; I was jealous. Also, Michigan State has lined up Alabama in a Nick Saban reunion matchup.

There is no reason we can't reach high. I have in the past defended our non-conference scheduling, and believe the likes of Arizona State, Fresno State and Oregon State are solid opponents. But Notre Dame, that's a brand name program. Heck, I can remember when Ohio State hosted the Irish a few years ago and they had T-shirts made for the occasion -- sort of bush league for a brand name program like OSU, but it underscores the power of the Notre Dame name.

Interestingly, for the last 15 years, we have been consistently better than Notre Dame, but building your program into a brand name takes a long time. Hopefully we can catch the Irish in yet another down cycle if they land on our schedule ... although it would be nice to beat up on Charlie Weis. I'd like us to get the chance.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fourth and Long

Not really a reality TV type of guy, but when there's a former Badger on a show, I'll watch. I loved Luke Swan as a Badger, and that affection is the only reason I would watch a reality show created and hosted by Michael Irvin, probably my least favorite athlete of all time.

The show is Fourth and Long, and I'm gearing up to watch the second episode tonight. It's an interesting premise: a bunch of borderline wide receivers and defensive backs are battling for a chance to try out for the Cowboys. Luke, you'll remember, saw most of his shot at an NFL future evaporate when his hamstring ripped from its bone against Illinois in 2007 -- they show the clip.

I didn't see the entire first episode, but in the instances Swan showed up he didn't look great. In a special teams gunner drill he got handled pretty good. When they ran 40-yard dashes after grueling workouts, he ran a 4.8, which I thought might not be that bad but which just about every guy thereafter beat. My guess is he'll be one of the first guys cut, but his time on the show will be good publicity for the program, and good for him for not letting his dream die.

Watch Swan on Spike while you can. After he's gone, the highlight of the show will be listening to Irvin's motivational rants, which as you know is no highlight at all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Feeling Bluer

So now it's official, Vander Blue has decommitted. He feels like he made his decision too early, and wants to take a step back and reevaluate things. Fair enough, even if it stings us right now. As I said last week, he's a teenager making a big decision, he should take his time and get it right.

The two things that came out of the last day or so that bug me:

-Rob Schultz's story really seems to have stung Vander and his family. Schultz was doing his job, but when your primary source is anonymous, you leave yourself open for criticism.

-More than Schultz's story, certain Internet comments have really bothered Blue. This is the first time I've read about Internet commentary influencing a high school recruit UW has been in contention for -- correct me if I'm wrong. Which is surprising, given the volume of recruiting-related Internet chatter nowadays.

What bothers me are a. The fact that true Badger fans would make the types of comments about a recruit, especially focused on academics and work ethic, that were made on the Journal Sentinel's blog and following the Cap Times' stories, and b. The likelihood that at least some of the "Badger fans" making these derogatory comments were actually not Badger fans at all but in fact fans of rival schools who stand to gain from Vander reopening his recruitment. Anonymity is a bitch.

We're not out of the running yet, and the optimist in me holds out legitimate hope that Vander chooses to stay home to play college ball. The realist in me thinks that Bo and his staff will move on and grab someone for that scholarship as soon as possible. Still, a comment Vander made in Mark Miller's story about Devin playing up-tempo is encouraging.

Here's one other thing, especially given Vander's astute comment in Miller's story: Wes Matthews should shut his freaking mouth.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kiss the Cup?

Every year around this time I find myself doing something that does not come naturally: watching professional hockey. The NHL regular season is just about the most boring thing in professional sports; conversely, the NHL playoffs are just about the most exciting thing in professional sports.

What's cool about this year's playoffs is that there are three former Badgers still alive. Two are relatively well-known and play for Detroit: former Waupaca softballer Brian Rafalski, and 89-year-old Chris Chelios. These guys have enjoyed long, successful careers and already have their names on the Stanley Cup.

That's why I'm pulling for Adam Burish and the Chicago Blackhawks. Burish, you may remember, is the Madison native who captained Mike Eaves' 2006 national championship team. He just seemed like one of those ultimate team guys who, while not the most talented player, did all the right things to keep the locker room together and get the win.

Several weeks ago, while I was on vacation, Burish did something that I meant to blog about but couldn't find a computer. The Blackhawks were playing Calgary in the second round, near the end of a game Burish cross-checked former Badger teammate Rene Bourque in the face. Bourque threw up his arms in a "What the hell?" manner, then chased after Burish, who broke his stick on his former teammate's face.

Hockey is hockey, but still, can you think of another situation where former college teammates have gone after each other like this?

This would be like Michael Finley slamming Devin Harris to the floor with a flagrant foul, or Jim Leonhard spearing Lee Evans' knees. Players probably aren't thinking about alma maters in the heat of the battle, but still, the Burish-Bourque thing seems somewhat unprecedented.

Here's to Burish and Chicago playing a bunch of multiple-overtime thrillers that end with his name etched on the Cup.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Feeling Blue

By now most Badger fans have heard that Vander Blue has reopened his commitment. Not going to lie to you or try to deny how I'm feeling about this: very bummed. Vander is an exciting player, and a hometown player, maybe one of those transcendant Devin Harris- or Alando Tucker-type players.

Maybe hyperbole, but whatever. Last year was difficult to stomach at times, and Vander seems like the kind of kid who could get us over the rough spots we saw during our ugly losses.

Now it might not happen. Let's take a look at a few of the points.

1. The fact that this is happening should not be surprising. Any time a kid commits to a school that young (before his junior year), there's a lot of time for stuff to change. He can grow bigger or get much better. A coach can leave a program. A coach he likes better can land somewhere else. His buddy might go somewhere else.

It appears some of these things may have happened in Blue's case. If we're going to be in on high-ceiling recruits, this is going to happen. Win some, lose some.

Can't blame Vander for checking out his options. You can be a little miffed that he committed so early, but in his defense that's the way college coaches are playing the game nowadays. At the time he wasn't a top-tier recruit, and we're a top-tier local program, but the way he's improved, he might now be on the radar of the national name brand programs. As much as it would gall me to lose him to North Carolina or Kansas, can't blame him for looking.

2. And if we lose him to Marquette ... sweet Jesus, I'll be honest, that'll kill me and I'll be really upset. But all of the usual Internet sniping back in forth between Badger and Gold fans on message boards and comments on blogs is childish and unproductive, as usual. Please don't get into that here.

3. Much of the sniping stems from Rob Schultz's report in which an unnamed source says the sticking point is academics. First, shame on Schult'z source for going public with information that paints Vander is an unflattering light. If he's got the wrong attitude about or struggles with academics, so be it, but that should be a private matter. And of course, with the implication that Vander will follow Jeronne Maymon to Marquette, this has predictably devolved into a UW=hard, MU=easy discussion. Can't imagine it's this simple.

4. What really galls me, and what seems to have taken a back seat to this new academic-focused report, is the theory that Vander doesn't think he can thrive in Bo's system. Baloney. Look at Devin, a true guard, who was a prolific scorer and lottery pick. Look at Alando, an All-American and first-round pick. Hell, look at Kirk Penney, who found a way to score big in the system.

Sure, sometimes this system produces a bunch of guys averaging 9 to 12 points per game. We won 31 games two years ago with this setup. But special talent, NBA talent, shines through. Bo and the Swing don't keep that kind of talent bottled up.

5. Even though the prospect of Vander coming to Madison still exists, we'll still be a successful program even if he doesn't. Just maybe not as successful as if he ends up wearing red.

For what it's worth, Mark Stewart reported this afternoon that Vander had not formally decommitted, but I wouldn't read too much into that.

So far, Blue and his family aren't talking. You know what? They shouldn't. Vander's a high school boy in the midst of making a really important decision, respect his privacy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kevin Huntley

Immediately after graduating from the University of Wisconsin I packed my horrible CD collection and Superfriends pillow into my 1990 Pontiac Grand Am and headed for my first post-graduate job, sports editor of The News-Messenger in Fremont, Ohio. It was a great experience, but I was lonely, especially at first. Most of my knucklehead friends were still in Madison having fun, and I was working 80 hours a week.

One afternoon that summer reminded me of the Madison I missed so much and the good times I had there. It was the day I interviewed Kevin Huntley, a Fremont native who spent the same four years at UW as I did -- the big difference being he played for the football team while I was just an interested observer.

Kevin was a superstar athlete at St. Joseph Central Catholic at roughly the same time Charles Woodson was an all-galaxy athlete at crosstown Fremont Ross. Everyone in Fremont had nice things to say about what a good kid Kevin was, which reinforced my perception of him at UW. After Wisconsin, Huntley spent time on the Chiefs' roster before playing football in Germany.

Several weeks ago I was delighted to get an email from Kevin, who told me he reads the blog from time to time. It's a natural fit; after all, how many people out there have ties to both Fremont and UW?

I asked him what he's doing nowadays, and he's living in Florida, married to a Fremont girl. He keeps in touch with a lot of the guys he played with at UW, including Lamar Campbell, Cayetano Castro, Marcus Carpenter, Donald Hayes, and Michael London. (OK classmates, was that a trip down memory lane or what?)

Kevin's cousin competes for Michigan in track, so he follows that sport closely. Here's the other thing: he likes having the Big Ten Network, which allows him, living in Florida, to follow Badger sports much more than he ever would have without it. See, it's working!

I always thought Huntley got a raw deal at UW. If you'll recall, he started out at wide receiver, switched to defensive back for his sophomore and junior seasons, then back to wide receiver for his senior seasons. He led the team's defensive backs in tackles the two years he started at safety, then got stuck behind two NFL wideouts in Hayes and Tony Simmons.

Anyway, great to hear from another member of the class of 1998, and a former athlete to boot.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

J.P. Tokoto

Looks like Bo Ryan and friends have extended a scholarship offer to a youngster from the Milwaukee area: 6-foot-5 J.P. Tokoto of Menomonee Falls. This has me more excited than usual.

Why? Because my sister and brother-in-law live in the Falls. Sara is a teacher in the school district and coached the JV volleyball team last fall. Nick is a former star athlete at the school who went on to start four years at cornerback for UW-La Crosse. He took in a fair number of Falls games this winter.

So, hearing the news, I asked Nick what he thought of this Tokoto kid. To paraphrase, Nick said he was surprised the scholarship offer came so early. J.P. is very athletic and good off the dribble, but needs work on his outside game. His length and quickness make him a good shot blocker and rebounder, and with more consistency he could turn into a top-notch defender.

Definitely has all the tools.

I'm always a little leery of offering kids this early, but this seems like a sound move. First off, he's a Wisconsin kid, and second, sounds like he's an athletic kid with a lot of upside.

We're sure to have competition from Marquette and some other worthy opponents on the recruiting trail, but at least we can say we were there first (would never have happened if Tan Cream was still at MU, he would have offered Tokoto two or three years ago!).

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Jump

Here's one Will has probably read: The Jump, by Ian O'Connor. Easily the best of the three books I read on vacation, The Jump chronicles the rise of New York City point guard phenom Sebastian Telfair from highly-touted high schooler to NBA lottery pick in incredible behind-the-scenes detail.

This book is the antithesis of Saturday Rules: deeply reported, exploring multiple issues beyond the primary prep-goes-pro theme, truly unique access. Instead of trying to cover shallow research with cutesy writing, as Murphy does in his book, O'Connor writes it straight and lets the story tell itself. In that sense it's Halberstam-esque.

If you're a hoops junkie, this book is for you. It covers the politics of youth and high school basketball, with all its recruiting seediness; sneaker wars, centered around Sonny Vacaro; NYC playground hoops; the absurdity of high school teams that play games around the country; the precarious nature of college basketball recruiting; agents; NBA team workouts for prospective draftees; draft night maneuvering; family matters for athletes from the 'hood; and, most interestingly, the tensions between Telfair's family and that of Stephon Marbury, Bassie's cousin.

What's interesting is that Telfair, for all the hype, has turned out to be an average-at-best pro (backing up dudes like Kevin Ollie), while guys like Dwight Howard, who Telfair's crew ridicule in the book, is the best young big guy in the NBA. There are plenty of other examples of guys who Telfair is supposedly far better than who have turned into far better professional players than the subject of the book. All of the misgivings various people had about Telfair's NBA potential have turned out to be valid.

But that isn't to hate on Bassie, who seems like a nice guy in a difficult situation trying to do the right thing. It's hard to imagine being in the position he was in at age 18. Given the circumstances, he handled it pretty well.

Badgercentric highly recommends The Jump by Ian O'Connor, pick it up and make it a summer read.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Saturday Rules

Back when I was a sports writer, I had a system for generating columns and other off-day type stories. While interviewing the high school and small college coaches and athletes on my beat, as it were, I would try to ask plenty of extra questions beyond those pertinent to the story I was working on that day. Subsequently, I had leftover quotes, anecdotes, and angles for a 12- or 15-inch story a day or two later.

Saturday Rules, by Sports Illustrated writer Austin Murphy, is like a 344-page version of that 15-inch story.

The book is purportedly an essay on why college football is superior to the NFL, a position I share. But, like a half-assed college term paper, the central point peters out about a third of the way through the book as Murphy's writing veers into criticism of college football itself. The criticism isn't unjustified, but it works against the book's central theme. A TA should have helped Murphy find focus.

Worse, the book is lazily reported. Murphy seemed to just cover USC and Notre Dame games in 2006, then get take in some of the other big games he was assigned to cover over the course of a season. Each chapter feels like an expanded version of a weekly SI feature, with unnecessary detail added. This perspective yields nuggets that go something like this:

"Walking across the field, I approached [star player] above the din of the band. 'That was a great game,' I said. 'We're not supposed to give interviews outside the locker room,' [star player] said. I shook his hand and told him I'd see him later."

That's exaggerating, but you get the gist. The low point was when he talked about watching some game on TV. Dude, that's okay for lowly bloggers, but not SI writers authoring books.

It's not a total wasted of time. Ohio State and Michigan take their share of jabs, and the Badgers start showing up in the weekly top 10 late in the season.

Still, this lazy effort isn't worth the time. The book is a good premise done by a good writer who had good access -- it could have been a lot better.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Draft

One of the best things about our vacation was that I got to read three books. Three books! That used to be an average week for me; now it's an average year.

The first was The Draft by Pete Williams, an excellent behind-the-scenes look at the NFL draft.

What made it good was his focus on the agent-selection and Combine training prospective draftees go through. Especially the agents. Guys like Leigh Steinberg and Drew Rosenhaus get all the pub, but there are hundreds of other guys who work their butts off recruiting prospective clients. Sometimes they spend money sending them to training, but the kids fall in the draft and the agents' cut of the signing bonuses is smaller than their initial outlay.

Anttaj Hawthorne is a focal point of the book, as he, his uncle, and a family lawyer go through the agent selection process. The book brought back the painful memory of Hawthorne (and Jonathan Clinkscale) testing positive for marijuana leading up to the draft, sending Taj's stock plummeting. He is not happy with the advice his agent gave him; if you'll recall, Northwestern's Luis Castillo had a positive drug test but an aggressive repentance campaign helped him land in the first round.

Plenty of other Badgers are mentioned in the book, including Erasmus James, who the Vikings picked in the first round that year. For instance, according to the two NFL scouting services, BLESTO and National Football Scouting, Inc., ranked the following Badgers among their senior classmates before the 2004 season:

Anthony Davis, ninth and sixth among running backs (went in the seventh round to Indianapolis)
Morgan Davis, seventh among offensive tackles (ahead of eventual first round pick Jammal Brown)
Dan Buenning, sixth and seventh among guards (went in the fourth round to Tampa Bay)
Clinkscale, ninth among guards
Hawthorne, second and fifth among defensive tackles (went in the sixth round to Oakland)
Jason Jefferson, ninth and seventh among defensive tackles (went in sixth round to New Orleans)

Interestingly, James and Scott Starks (a third rounder to Jacksonville) were not rated at their positions.

That 2004 team had some talent on it, too bad shaky quarterback play and injuries at running back hurt them so much in the last three games.

Anyway, good book, especially interesting because I read it in the days leading up to this year's draft.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Free agent thoughts

A little bit surprised that P.J. Hill and Jonathan Casillas weren't drafted, their issues notwithstanding. The nice thing is, their baggage (injuries for JC, running into Open Pantrys for PJ) are pretty much irrelevant now that they'll be in pro camps.

Thoughts on these guys and the other free agent signees:

Hill, Saints: The consensus is New Orleans was a good landing spot for P.J., what with Deuce McAllister leaving, but I don't know. Pierre Thomas was pretty good last year (for my fantasy team!), Reggie Bush is Reggie Bush, and Mike Bell and Aaron Stecker have been solid pros. I'm guessing P.J. doesn't make the team and ends up on someone's practice squad.

Casillas, Saints: Conversely, as long as Casillas gets healthy, I think he makes this team on the merits of special teams play. I can see him being a guy who plays on those units for several years while he puts on weight and learns a defense, then makes an impact there in his third year.

Andy Kemp, Vikings: I hope he's terrible with Minnesota, gets cut, and goes on to a successful career somewhere else.

Mike Newkirk, Rams: Can't see him making the team, unless he can do some things on special teams.

Chris Pressley, Bengals: They've got a lot of average players in the backfield, but if Pressley is similar to his competition in talent, he may get an edge because of his character and leadership abilities, both sorely lacking in Cincinnati.

Bill Rentmeester, Chargers: Joins Michael Bennett in San Diego. Stop me if you've heard this before, but ... he can make this team with standout special teams play. Actually, of all these guys he's got the best track record, so it's not implausible.

Jason Chapman and Dave Peck were invited to try out with the Redskins and Bears. Of those two Peck has a better shot of making someone's roster, since he's a long snapper.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Draft thoughts

What, you thought I'd given up on this blog? Naw, I was just in Florida, playing the dogs and getting some sun without access to the Internet (okay, we had dial-up, but that doesn't count).

Was very excited to watch the draft -- hoped to have more than four guys picked, and expected to, but at the same time pleased all four Badger draftees went in the third round, and happy with the situation they're in. To recap:

Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders: Terrible team, so there has to be playing time available, right? Derrick Burgess is the only defensive end on Oakland's roster that I've heard of, so hopefully there's some playing time available for Matt right away. It will be interesting to see if Shaughnessy can take his game to another level, from simply above-average to very good.

DeAndre Levy, Lions: Did I say terrible team? Sounds like Levy's going to get a chance to start in the middle right off the bat, which is interesting since I can't remember him going anywhere near the middle with Wisconsin. Ernie Sims is a player, and Julian Peterson a recent acquisition, so there's some talent at the position; Jordan Dizon was a recent high draft pick. And don't forget about Alex Lewis, who manages to stick around in the league while more highly-touted Badgers have packed it in.

Kraig Urbik, Steelers: Can't beat going to the defending Super Bowl champions, right? If I was a lineman, Mike Tomlin seems like the type of guy I'd want to play for.

Travis Beckum, Giants: This is a great situation for Travis. Kevin Boss is a solid starter at tight end for New York, but Becks has to be a better receiver. Plus, the team lost Plaxico Burress, and even after drafting wideout Hakeem Nicks it wouldn't be surprising to see Beckum immediately play an important role in the team's third-down package.

After the third round concluded, I remarked to Jana's Uncle John, who you may recall is a Michigan State fan, "I can't believe this team had so many talented seniors and went 7-6." Oh well, let's just hope these guys carve out solid professional careers that help entice future recruits to Madison.