By Bill Campbell
Sixers coach Doug Collins made a speech to his team a week or so ago that should be converted to writing and posted on bulletin boards in every professional locker room in the country. It should be read and remembered by every contestant everywhere who makes his living playing professional sports. Collins was applying it to his particular team but all pro players should read and digest it.
The Sixers’ coach spoke to his team after they had been thoroughly beaten by the Indiana Pacers, who were playing their third game in three nights. Doug wanted his players to take a day off but in that time to reflect on how lucky they were to have the jobs they possess. The night before the Indiana game, he’d had to cut a player from the squad because his ten-day contract had expired.
Searching for words to inspire his weary team, Collins said, “Last night I had to let Shelvin Mack go. We had to see a guy who was told he didn’t have a job. We had to look around in the locker room and see a guy pack his stuff and leave because he doesn’t have a job anymore. It’s one of the really tough things about this business to see a guy, a quality guy, and tell him he’s out of a job. Watching Shelvin Mack leave was hard and sad to see. But here we are as a team. Bynum is injured. Thad Young is hurt. Jason Richardson faces season-ending knee surgery. Jeremy Pargo’s on a ten-day contract. Mack has no job. You think there is anybody in the cockeyed world who feels sorry for us? Let’s focus a minute and come to some kind of understanding: that it’s a privilege to play professional basketball. And when you consider the game as a job, then it becomes work. And you can’t play at the highest level when it becomes work — when it should be a joy. It should be fun. The moment it becomes a job…well, nobody likes to go to work. Everybody likes to go play. Every player on this team should just go play. He can’t let little things bother them. There is no perfect game. There is no perfect player. We’re all going to make mistakes. You just have to play. You can’t let the little things bother you.”
Pro athletes everywhere could benefit from Doug Collins’ off-the-cuff remarks to his struggling squad.
Besides trying to ease his team’s anxieties, Doug Collins also is hoping that Arnett Moultrie can add something off the bench. The coach was pleased with the 21 minutes the rookie gave him recently in Houston where he produced 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a blocked shot. After the game Moultrie said, “I had fun. I think I did some good things, pretty good defense, some rebounds. I ran the floor. I was trying to be aggressive. I was out there having fun. I felt good. My confidence was pretty high.”
Sounds like he understood what Coach Collins had been talking about. Another 76er, Jrue Holiday, will compete in the Skills Challenge on February 16th, the day before the NBA All Star Game at the Toyota Center in Houston. That should be fun, too. Jeremy Pargo, the ten-day contract player who replaced Shelvin Mack, made an impressive debut against the Charlotte Bobcats and looks like he might help as well. That should take some of the sting out of releasing a guy because his ten-day stint had expired. Let’s hope the team doesn’t have to go through that again anytime soon.
Meanwhile, rumors are spreading that Evan Turner is on the trading block. The loss of shooting guard, Jason Richardson, for the season probably will fuel the trade speculation over the next few weeks. Turner is making $5.3 million this season. In October, the Sixers picked up his $6.7 million option for next season. When asked about the rumors, Turner said, “I’m not a GM so I really don’t know my trading value. I think it’s all about what our team needs. I think the best is yet to come with me in general, whatever and wherever it comes.” He didn’t say that he would oppose any trade. “It’s not my choice,” he said, “If it was, it would be way difficult.” When asked about Turner’s status, Sixers’ General Manager, Tony DiLeo, replied with the usual “No comment.” So I guess we’ll wait and see on that one.
Around the NBA and the NHL
Nemo, last week’s big storm that pummeled the Northeast, shifted a few teams’ schedules but it didn’t affect the Denver Nuggets. They played in Cleveland where they won their ninth straight game, 111-103, over the Cavaliers. The Nuggets have won 15 of their last 17 at this writing and are on their longest winning streak since winning 10 in a row in 2005. Even the 26 points scored by Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, 12 in the fourth quarter, weren’t enough to stop the Nuggets. The loss ended the Cavaliers’ brief three-game winning streak. The Cavs haven’t won four in a row since 2010 when LeBron James was still playing with them.
Thanks to that same wild weather, several NBA teams also had to re-arrange their schedules last weekend. The New York Knicks were stuck in Minnesota after a game against the Timberwolves. And having seen their 11-game win streak end, the San Antonio Spurs were stranded in Detroit, waiting for a plane to get them to New York where they were scheduled to play the Brooklyn Nets.
The Flyers concluded their home stand by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in overtime last Saturday. For the fourth straight time, the Flyers blew a third period lead but managed to salvage two points for the tie and final victory. The winner came on a goal by Danny Briere with 3:13 left in OT — the eleventh regular season overtime goal of his career. Flyers’ winger, Jake Voracek, noted, “That’s why Briere is a special player.” However, despite his role in the win Briere wasn’t very happy with his overall performance or that of his team. The Flyers finished their home stand 3-0-1 before embarking on this season’s long six-game road swing that starts in Toronto. They were a good road team last year, going 25-13-3 and tying Boston for the most away wins in the NHL. But this is a different and much shorter season and the Flyers started it at 1-5, scoring only 6 goals in the first 5 games. They’ve been trying to make up for it since.
The New Jersey Devils are the hot NHL team at the moment, having won four straight including a win at Pittsburgh last Saturday that snuffed the Penguins’ five-game win streak. Devils’ goalie, Martin Brodeur, made 24 saves in that game, which was the 1,200th of his career. He’s the first NHL goalie to play that many games. Toronto still leads the NHL East with Calgary and Washington tied for the lead in the West at this writing.
Having been a long-time believer in the old adage “The Hawk Will Never Die”, I was startled to see the headline on the front page of the Sunday Sports section last Sunday: “Villanova, Temple, LaSalle, Penn Triumph. St. Joe’s Loses.” What had happened on Hawk Hill?
The story went on glowingly describing Villanova shooting 53%, 7 for 13 from the arc, as the Wildcats defeated South Florida 68-40 in a second straight lopsided win. The team shot 65% in the first half to take a 23-point lead and set a team record on defense in fewest points allowed to a Big East opponent. The Cats out-rebounded South Florida 39-28, which was no small factor in the win. In its last two games, Villanova has shot 56 for 99 and 17 for 31 from the arc. As for LaSalle, the Explorers set a school record by hitting 18 three-pointers as they beat Fordham, 89-53. In this thrashing, LaSalle’s first 8 three-point attempts hit nothing but net and the team stayed hot. Tyreek Duren made every shot he took and added 8 assists. Sam Mills and Ramon Galloway shot 16 for 19 between them for 56 points. And the team totaled 22 assists for 30 points. As a result of these thumpings, Villanova extended its overall record to 15-9 and LaSalle’s chart reads 16-6.
Although it was down 68-58 with 4.5 minutes left, Temple had a big day from beyond the arc and rallied to beat Dayton, 72-71. Temple guard Khalif Wyatt’s shot with 7.1 seconds left was the difference as the Owls ran their record to 16-7. Wyatt missed his first 5 shots in this game but turned it around and finished with 20 points. Speaking about his talented guard after the game, Owls’ coach Fran Dunphy said, “When you need him, he steps up.” He certainly does. Even the Penn Quakers, who are not having a very good season (5-17) and who had lost to Yale 68-59 the day before, thumped Brown, 71-48. After the Yale loss, Penn coach, Jerome Allen, saw his team play at the Palestra with a sense of urgency against Brown – something he’d been looking for all season. That might bode well for the Quakers.
But finally, we must get to that St. Joe’s headline. It was in big, bold print, hard to miss: “Sloppy St. Joe’s falls to UMass”. While a Massachusetts state highway ban had set back the game’s start time from 2:00 to 7:00 p.m., it was clear that the extra wait hadn’t helped the Hawks. The story went on to tell about the Hawks committing 14 hard turnovers and playing poor defense. Those turnovers resulted in 14 Massachusetts points, many of which were scored on easy dunks. “That is an Achilles heel for our team,” said Coach Phil Martelli, “We are not very fast; UMass killed us with their speed. We played back on our heels a bit. The number one thing for our team coming into the game was ball possession.” Clearly, the plan went awry. The Minutemen finished the first half with a 40-26 lead. But 2 ½ minutes into the second half, Langston Galloway had run up 8 points for the Hawks and closed the gap to 40-34. St. Joe’s kept coming closer but never gained the lead and with 7 minutes left and the score 59-54, UMass coach, Derek Kellogg, called a time-out. His players came out of it to rack up 11 straight and put the game away for a final score, 80-62. UMass had a total of 22 assists on 29 field goals while shooting 52% against St. Joe’s – and made just 5 turnovers. Those turnovers will do it to you every time. The Hawks are now 13-9 (4-5 in the A-10), UMass is 16-6 (6-3 A-10). A tough game in a week when the other Big Five teams played pretty well.
Louisville v. Notre Dame and Others
As we began another week in sports, Louisville and Notre Dame stole the college basketball show in a landslide. Last Saturday, these two teams played each other into the record books in a game that required 5 overtime periods to complete. The 25th nationally ranked Irish, now 19-5, roared back from 8 down in the final minutes of regulation time to take it into the OT marathon and beat the 11th ranked Cardinals, 104-101. This was the sixth time in their last eight meetings that Louisville and Notre Dame had gone into overtime. It was the longest regular season game in the history of the Big East and in the history of Notre Dame basketball.
Elsewhere, the Number One Hoosiers of Indiana, who have been struggling lately, avoided another letdown. Victor Oladipo scored a career-high 26 points to help defeat Ohio State, 81-68. Indiana is now 21-3 (9-2 in the Big Ten) and in this game the team simply dominated the Buckeyes on both sides of the ball. The Hoosiers remain tied for first place in the Big Ten with Michigan State. Closer to home, Mason Plumlee had 19 points and 10 rebounds and hit the game-winning free throw with 26 seconds left in Boston as Duke beat Boston College, 62-61. Syracuse defeated St. Johns 77-58 and California scored a true upset over Arizona, 77-69. Among Eastern schools, Canisius downed Niagara 77-70, Columbia beat Harvard 78-63, Cornell won over Dartmouth, 78-63 and UConn took down Seton Hall 78-67.
Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Brandt Snedeker, runner-up to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson the last two weeks on the tour, cracked the winner’s circle last weekend in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, shooting a 7-under 65 in the final round for a victory over Chris Kirk. Snedeker tapped in for par on the final eighteenth hole to finish 19 under, 167 for the tournament. On the Champions Tour in Boca Raton, Florida, Rocco Mediate birdied the eighteenth for a 1-under par 71 to win the Allianz Championship. He finished the tourney at 17-under, 199, and became the sixteenth player to have a winning debut on the Champions Tour.
Hey, it’s baseball time — at least it’s that part of the season that we call Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers are working out in Clearwater. More on that next week.