More UConn links...

Here's what should serve as a link to some of my work over at theuconnblog.com . Haven't done much over there recently, but they are in good hands with the folks they have writing over there now...

Let the tournament begin...



Perhaps best defined in your actions in the toughest times.

UConn has appealed to me not just as an alumni or a lifelong fan but because do to the conference restructuring and the way their programs have been treated by cable television and the NCAA and Big East, it's sort of an "Us against the world" program (miraculously the UConn women's basketball team seems to be winning a battle no one else could win).

Life is challenging for me now and challenging for my family. I'm sure we aren't the only family like that. Children and getting older, they make things difficult. So do jobs. So does other family. I think my wife and I would both say we aren't appreciated for what we do. But we both keep on doing.

Last year, UConn, somewhat arbitrarily, wasn't allow to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Big East decided not to let them play in what would be their final Big East tournament for fear it would cost them an automatic birth if UConn somehow won the tournament. UConn, a new coach, a fairly new team (with all the departures to the NBA and because the NCAA basically begged UConn's players to leave despite the fact it "kinda was exactly what got UConn in trouble with the APR" (since the APR only figures transfers, not leaving for the NBA *cough cough Kentucky cough cough*.

Coming off a title a two years prior, UConn was down. That title team won five games in five days, something no other team has done, then won an NCAA title. Kemba Walker. Kemba's last month of the season was unprecedented. Kemba, on top of being a leader who made everyone better around him, also had NBA "hops", an NBA shot and an NBA body. He's a border-line all-star in the NBA.

People draw some comparisons to this year's team and I often say, Shabazz Napier isn't Kemba Walker. As much as I love Kemba, that's also a compliment to Shabazz. Shabazz does not have an NBA body, may be nothing more than a role player in the NBA if he gets into the league (a lot like his coach, Kevin Ollie). Shabazz couldn't single-highhandedly lead UConn over Louisville in the first AAC tournament, mostly because Louisville is playing like Larry Johnson's UNLV teams right now. Shabazz may not win an NCAA title this year. Shabazz has had great moments like the Florida game to compare with his former teammate and friend Kemba's Pittsburgh game-winner in the Big East tournament. But the year before Kemba's magic run, Kemba was on a lackluster, under-achieving UConn team filled with future NBA players (and solid college players like Jerome Dyson and Alex Oriahki) which just fell flat every game. Not necessarily Kemba's fault, by any means.

Shabazz's team last year was playing for nothing, except maybe to get Kevin Ollie the inexplicable contract extension he deserved from day one. By the end of the year, about half the team was injured. Shabazz couldn't suit up against a mediocre South Florida team due to an ankle injury that had him playing at about 75% the last quarter of the season. They were massacred. Shabazz wasn't going to let it end like that. He willed himself into the line-up in the regular season finale with Providence, March 9th in Gampel Pavilion. It was a game that meant nothing to UConn as far as post-season implications. Ollie had his extension and with the injuries the team pretty much had a free pass to flop. While Ryan Boatright would also step up with a game high 23 points, Napier would somehow manage to play 44 minutes, including all of overtime (the team only had six scholarship players available), score 16 points, tie for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Napier also had the first points of overtime and clinched the game at the foul line, leading to a 63-59 win for the Huskies. That sort of gutsy performance made everyone giddy about this year, and for the most part, UConn has met those expectations. But as debatable as that may be, their is no doubt that the "character" of the team this year is strong and it starts with Shabazz Napier. Napier knows how to win because he won against the odds so many times last year in a season the NCAA and Big East tried to degrade. UConn won this year with talent and also with guts and Napier has been the engine.

Just after Matthew McConaughey's ridiculous Oscar speech where he thanked his future self, Shabazz's speech after winning the AAC player of the year showed more of the character of UConn's court general. 

Napier spent more time thanking his single mother for how she raised him and the team managers for their "thankless" (until now) job helping the team succeed at all costs. It was a refreshing speech at that and made UConn alums as proud as they are listening to Emeka Okafor speak so eloquently or Jim Calhoun praising every part of the UConn program (albeit in Calhoun's quick and scrambled speak). Shabazz has had difficult times, as a poor child, as a teenager and as a player on a team that was left for dead. He could have taken the easy road and gone to, let's say Missouri or UNLV, but he didn't. He stayed in Storrs through difficult days when he could have turned his back on gone elsewhere. He showed us his true character by example.


Positivity is a choice

At any moment of your life, you can look back at your previous actions and attitudes and realize that you've evolved. If this is true, it also means that someday you will look back on this time and dissect your own current views as a more evolved creature. Sort of like how mankind probably isn't the genetic peak of primates even if current man thinks it is.

At any time, there's good and bad. At any time, positivity is a choice and negativity is a choice. Inaction is a choice. Doing is a choice. In my current "evolved state", I can look at times where I choose negativity and choose to be inactive. One night in college I was so down, my sister had driven up to school to surprise me with a visit and I didn't answer the door even though I had a feeling it was her. She was with her boyfriend at the time, and they were already up in the area for a soccer game, so I didn't feel guilty about wasting a bunch of their time. I just felt like being alone and feeling bad for me, rather than seeing someone who cared about me.

There's more going on in life than ever, and I've probably said that at every time of my life other than one very lazy summer in college. I have a job that takes 8-10 hours every day or more, two young children, a house to maintain, a very tired spouse having a rough year at her job and a bunch of side projects including attempting to write a GOOD manuscript and trying to up my daily exercises to keep my weight at a good level and strengthen my core now that I have a spondylolisthesis diagnosis. I feel like the low person on the proverbial total pole at home, at work and in my family. I've probably had to work harder for that I have than any of my friends or siblings or cousins, and yet I've made it where I am. That feeling of being "less" than everyone else, having to work harder, certainly comes from an upbringing of living in a land of entitlement and having nothing, living with one parent and having very few friends as a child. It was a motivator. It was a choice - to motivate me. Anger turned into progress, into accomplishment. I can't say that it was a healthy way to motivate myself to work out two hours a day or turn out 10 newspaper articles a week on the side while holding down a job and going to school. Now I can look back at those times of my life where I used the "anger" to motivate myself, rather than to make myself "feel bad about me", as times I succeeded.

I'm not a resolution guy, but if I was, mine from now on would to choose positivity. During this current time there is so much to be happy for - working in baseball, something I would have died to do when I was a kid, having two really unique, intelligent children, having some free time to do things I really like to do. There are pretty upsetting things too, but there's no need to run down that laundry list because they don't outweigh the good things. I've heard people who went through a hell of a lot worse, let alone people who have to worry about where they will sleep at night or whether or not they will find clean water, food and clothing.

Maybe this is the most important thing you'll read in my writing - Positivity is a choice... Choose wisely.


The future at UConn.

"When did you start liking sports?" my son asked me on the way to his first UConn game at Gampel Pavilion, home court of my alma mater.

"Probably about when I turned six," I answered. My son is five.

Senior night at UConn was Shabazz Napier's final game at Gampel Pavilion. Shabazz has had a remarkable career. Recruited by Jim Calhoun. Mentored by Kemba Walker. Captain for Kevin Ollie. The past quarter century has been a "special" time in Storrs. No matter what happens in the future, my son will be able to say I saw UConn players in a game at Gampel who had won a national championship. Not just Shabazz, but Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander (who actually started in the NCAA Tournament championship for UConn when they beat Butler).

The future at UConn Athletics, however, is a bit shaky, a bit of a question mark. Conference musical chairs took five power conferences and turned them into four bigger conferences. UConn was the big loser, no matter what anyone says. While Cincinnati and its solid football and basketball programs were left out too, they were programs that grew into perennial contenders in the Big East (with all apologizes to Oscar Robertson - remember, Dr. J went to UMass and the program wasn't good for decades later until college basketball ruiner John Calapari took over). UConn basketball is in elite company, company of just themselves when it comes to titles in the past 15 years (UConn has three, Kentucky and Duke have two). The UConn Womens' basketball team has eight (soon to be playing for nine) championships. But the UConn women are now in a conference where only two teams have beaten them in the past 25 years (Rutgers and Louisville - that beat UConn once in 1993 and having lost the every Big East/AAC meeting to UConn, 15 in a row). Next year there will be no team in the conference that has beaten the UConn women.

But for the night, I got to enjoy the fatherhood ritual of taking my son to the game, having him ask me questions about the game. When I took my daughter earlier in the year she seemed to think the fouling was the best part of the game. My son was asking me all kinds of questions about why a three-pointer is three points, why a foul shot is one point, etc. He told me that UConn would win and that UConn fans would be happy. I asked him if he was a UConn fan and he smiled and said "a little bit".

UConn's opponent on Senior Night was Rutgers. If UConn was the loser in re-alignment, Rutgers was the winner. We all know that basketball is number two when it comes to college sports hierarchy,  but a strong number two it is. Rutgers last win in Connecticut in men's basketball was before I was born. In fact, Rutgers never beat UConn in Connecticut as a member of the Big East. Rutgers only beat UConn twice in basketball in their entire history as conference mates. And while the Rutgers women have been competitive with the UConn women (as much as anyone can), UConn has the eight titles and a 30-7 all time record against the Scarlett Knights.

But that's just basketball (we'll leave out UConn's men's soccer and field hockey national titles, super regional baseball team a few years back and their strong women's soccer program). What about football? UConn must be vastly inferior? This is where UConn has done an awful job of the perception of their program and also caught an awful break with timing. Since 2001, UConn is 6-7 vs. Rutgers. So, Rutgers has won one more game against UConn than its lost. UConn won the Big East outright once. Rutgers never won the Big East outright. Twice they tied. Both times they lost in the final two weeks of the season (once to Louisville in a winner-take-all game and once to UConn) and lost their chance to play in a BCS game. But, Rutgers will have either Ohio State or Michigan coming to 54,000 seat stadium every year from now on as a member of the Big 10. Rutgers basketball facility is one of the worst in the American, let alone the Big 10. But Rutgers has "growth potential"? Because they grew so much when they joined the Big East (sarcasm!)? If it weren't for departed Greg Schianno, they'd have nothing to show on the field/court for their time in the Big East.

My son never got to see Jim Calhoun coach in person. He was too young. The timing didn't work out. When it comes to timing, if the shake up was five years ago, how would Louisville have gotten into the ACC ahead of UConn? When Bobby Petrino left Louisville, the Cardinals won six games combined the following two seasons. Yes, Louisville just won a basketball title, but UConn did three years ago as well. Of course Pitt (which UConn actually has a winning record against in football) and Syracuse (which UConn also has a winning record against, and the Orange never beat UConn on the road in football) have tradition and the ACC likes that. Why else is Wake Forest in that league? Wake Forest - has a chance to play for a national title if they go undefeated, UConn does not (automatically). Ugh. The timing of Randy Edsall leaving and the hiring of Paul Pasqualoni is the only reason UConn is not in the ACC (or similar league) today. It was that crucial, that mistaken, the hiring of Pasqualoni, who not only failed to tread water, but regressed the program. If it was five years from now, and Bob Diaco succeeded (which I think he will), UConn is jumping ship to clearer waters.

We can't sit idly by as UConn fans. Not for us. Not for the future generation of UConn fans. I don't want my son to be telling his kids how "UConn actually won basketball titles and I saw some of those guys play". We have to attend games. We have to talk about the good of this big school in the middle of cow pastures. We have winning programs. We have winning coaches. They will be able to bring in athletes to play for the next few years by showing up with "UConn" on their jackets. But if things don't change, even Geno Auriemma is going to have trouble recruiting with his hands full of rings.

Perception is key. Rutgers wasn't really that much better than us at football. Louisville had their dark moments. Pissing off Boston College is not why the ACC took Louisville. Louisville is as good as anyone in the country right now when combining football and men's and women's basketball. Right now. That's temporary. Three years ago UConn was in a BCS game, a men's basketball title, a women's final four, a number-one ranked men's soccer team and a baseball super regional.

With my son usually in bed by eight, we left the game fairly early into the second half. If it wasn't a school night we would have stayed until the end. Walking back to the car a light snow fell. The roads were a bit slick, but my son had fun running, trying to catch the fat snowflakes in his mouth. The lot across the street from Gampel where a bonfire celebration was held after the 1999 men's basketball title has been filled with beautiful new academic buildings. The UConn Co-Op has moved between McMahon Hall and Gampel and doubled in size. We drove by the Mansfield downtown buildings on the way out. Those weren't there when I was in school. Now they are filled with student activity and energy. My son pointed to buildings and asked if I had classes there. He's more an academic than a jock, I can already tell that. There's a lot more than just sports to give someone pride in UConn.

This is my school. I'm a graduate. A Connecticut resident and taxpayer. I'm a fan, and not one of those lousy fans who were getting all over 18-year old freshman Jake Voskuhl because he didn't have any offensive skills compared to big men in the Big East with junior and senior future NBA centers and power forward. We will only win if we, the fans and the alumni, are vocal about our pride and our tradition, and supportive. We belong with the elite. When the NCAA randomly throws up the APR rule just to punish us or big money rips apart a stable conference alignment in the quest for the sake of greed, we survive. Both basketball programs are going to be competing for titles next month (keep in mind, UConn is the only school, ever, to win men's and women's basketball titles the same year). We should be doing the same next year, and the year after that. We will win with these coaches, these players and the future players that come in. It's a crucial time for the fans to be there step-for-step.

Go Huskies!