Sunday, March 31, 2013

Shepherd Men's Lacrosse Coach Resigns

March 27th-  Joe King resigned as head coach of the men’s lacrosse team. King cited a lack of funding and the fact that the school did not actually have a team as a reason for his resignation.

“It’s very hard to get to the practice field and direct any kind of gameplan when you don’t actually have anyone to execute it or listen to you. I’d just be out there waiting for people to show up and practice, but no one ever did. Although one time I almost had a practice when a few members showed up, but it turned out they were vagabonds and panhandlers, so I gave them each five dollars.”

“I was told coming to Shepherd I’d be a big fish in a small pond, but I found it even more troubling when I realized there was no pond here at all.”

The sudden step-down came as a surprise to the whole campus.

“Men’s lacrosse? We don’t have a team. That’s a shame, though. Poor guy,” said Anita Room.

“I’d walk by the intermural fields to classes, and he’d be out there with a whistle by himself. He’d talk to himself a lot. One day the campus police even asked him to leave. When he said he was the men’s lacrosse coach, the officer arresting him laughed and said ‘Yes, and I’m Santa Claus’,” said Jack Pott.

King claims the whole thing is just a big miscommunication and plans to get back on his feet when he moves back home to Bitter Springs, West Virginia.
“Hopefully next time I go to coach at a school I’ll do more research and find out if they actually have a team. I should probably Google these things or check a school’s athletic site before accepting a position. You live and you learn.”

Shepherd officials deny any knowledge of hiring King and have issued a restraining order, asking that he not come within three miles of campus.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Jake Cook: Doing Work

Jake Cook: Doing Work

by Sean O’Brien


Shepherd senior first baseman Jake Cook grew up on a farm in Centreville, Maryland, a forty-five minute drive from Ocean City. Centreville was a rural community with a lot of farmland surrounding it. Jake’s grandfather was a farmer and helped teach the young Cook on the merits of a solid work ethic. That work ethic is what a leader on a team with only three seniors needs to have in order to set an example for the younger players to follow.

“‘There was always something to be done’, he’d tell me,” said Jake.

Family was never far from Cook. Along with his parents Tom and Laura, his aunts and uncles and grandparents all lived close by.

“Being able to see them helped me stay grounded and made me remember where I came from,” Cook told me.

Baseball is literally in the blood. Jake started at a young age, learning the ropes from his dad, Tom. Tom played shortstop for Shepherd back in the early 1980’s after two years at Chesapeake. He graduated from Shepherd in 1983 and now drives trucks.

Jake continued playing baseball into high school at Queen Anne County High in Centreville for Dale Becraft. He excelled there, lettering all four years in baseball and soccer. Twice he made first team All-Conference for both sports, playing for two East Regional Champion soccer teams. The school had a weight lifting team in which Cook also participated in. He was not a victim of any sort of senior slump in the classroom, either. In his final year at the school, Jake earned senior scholar-athlete honors.

The success he had on and off the athletic fields gained interest from multiple colleges. They held showcases for baseball players to display their talents, and Jake trained with Shepherd assistant baseball coach Mike Spry. Spry himself was a standout for the Rams, starting for them from 1999 until he graduated in 2002. Spry mentioned Cook’s name to then-coach Wayne Riser.

“It was a good transition once I got here. It was a solid team coming off a few good seasons. I realized right away I was not ‘the man’ like I was in high school. That’s when I knew I had to work even harder,” said Jake.

Cook redshirted in 2009. When he finally got on the field in 2010, he had a productive year with a .283 batting average and a .969 fielding percentage. The following season he upped his batting average to .289. In his junior season, Cook had an astounding .340 average in forty-eight games, starting forty-three of them. If you think he couldn’t improve upon that success this season, think again. Jake has started all twenty-four games, posting a .348 batting average and is second on the team in runs batted in.

“What I want the younger guys to realize is I earned my spot. I worked hard to get where I am at, and I want that to rub off on them,” Jake said.

This past offseason, one era ended and a whole new one began. The transition began with the departure of former Shepherd first baseman Nathan Minnich. Minnich was honored with the Tino Martinez Award which is for the Division II Player of the Year. He left behind a legendary mark as a Ram, finishing as the all-time leader in runs (187), hits (250), RBI (206), home runs (58), walks (136) and total bases (463). Minnich was drafted in the eighth round of last year’s MLB draft by the Boston Red Sox.

“He was the best hitter I have ever played with. He was a power guy and was good for four or five runs each game. Now that he is gone it is a totally different team. We have to focus on the fundamentals and everyone has to play their role to perfection,” Jake stated.

That loss was expected. The next one was not. When head coach Wayne Riser left to take the same position at the University of Mary Washington last September, the whole team was caught off guard. Riser was an institution at Shepherd, coaching for twenty-two seasons. He is the all-time leader in wins for any sport in Rams’ history with 512 and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 2008.

“We were all in shock. Nobody knew that Coach Riser was going to leave,” Jake told me.

In stepped Matt McCarty. McCarty was a two-year standout for the Rams from 2008 to 2009 and helped lead the Rams to the WVIAC title and an NCAA regional appearance as a senior in 2009. 

McCarty is a 2010 graduate from Shepherd and named the interim head baseball coach in the same month that Riser stepped down. He spent two years as an assistant coach under Riser and was elevated to full-time assistant coach in 2011.

“I think it’s beneficial for everyone. Matt is more of a players’ coach. It was a huge confidence boost for all of us. Since he is younger he can relate to us on more things and it really helps bridge the gap.”
Currently the Rams are riding a four game win streak which puts them on 11-13 for the season and 8-3 in the WVIAC. They are 11-3 in their last fourteen games.

“We are really hitting our stride. We have played a lot of tough teams so far so it was rocky at first, but now I think we have gotten over that initial hurdle,” said Jake.

The Rams have twenty games left and Cook hopes they make the most of them in order to get into the WVIAC playoffs.

“I really hope we can get a top seed and go deep into the playoffs. That’s our main goal right now,” he told me.

A lot of change can occur in four years. Cook went from being a “wet-behind-the-ears” freshman into a veteran senior leader, and I was curious what present-day Jake would tell his freshman self from 2009.

“Keep working hard, and never get down when times are tough.”

Cook’s work ethic is what has gotten him this far. By maintaining it, he not only makes himself better but everyone around him- and that’s a great thing for the Rams.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

March Isn't Just for the Young Bucks This Year

March is the month where production at work goes to die. The four weeks that begin with NCAA basketball conference tournaments quickly transitions into the anticipation of Selection Sunday and finally the sixty-five team NCAA tournament. The NBA takes a backseat to the purity of the college game and the unpredictable nature of the tournament, where any team can win on any night. Most of all, the fans care about the college games, but this year the NBA has found a way to remain relevant even in March.

NBA fans (and haters) have long lamented that the regular season doesn't matter. Common complaints include:

"The best teams get a comfy lead and rest their starters at the end of the season."

Tell this to the Miami Heat. Yes, it could have been because of their monumentally impressive twenty-seven game win streak, but they certainly did not let their foot off the pedal up until last night's loss against the Chicago Bulls. They had nights where they seemed off, but turned it around just in time to salvage the streak. Their multiple late game comebacks are nothing short of remarkable, all led by the efforts of one LeBron James. Without him, this team would be lucky to win two thirds of the twenty-seven games. They rested Wade for two games due to injury, but even he came back last night against the pesky Bulls.

Over  in the Western Conference, the Spurs are finally getting to full health again after the return of Tony Parker. Coach Greg Popovich wants to finish the season strong even though he himself has a reputation for resting his players.

"The worst teams just stop caring and tank in order to get a better draft pick."

Did you hear that, John Wall? You need to stop trying and playing out of your mind as of late. You aren't supposed to. The point guard phenom seems to play with a chip on his shoulder, still bitter about missing the majority of the season due to a leg injury. Since he has returned, the Wizards have played above .500 ball and he is averaging 16.6 points, 7.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He also set a career high with 47 points against the Grizzlies, while also dishing out 8 assists and grabbing 7 rebounds. The pride Wall is playing  with is really inspiring and  makes him the undisputed leader for a team that lacked any sort of guidance all season.

"The real season doesn't start until the playoffs, anyway."

The NBA playoffs go from April until June, yet it feels like August since each series is seven games and many complain it just drags on. The pessimists will tell you there's too many regular season games (hockey has the exact same amount) and that players don't always give it their all. This could happen in any sport - coughRandyMosscough - not just basketball. People who use this line of rationale often forget how close the races get at the end of the season, and how a couple wins or losses can be the difference of playing the Spurs or the Warriors in the first round, or missing the playoffs altogether.

"The players are selfish and I don't like the NBA's style of play."

While there are parts of this that ring true in years past, this year teams seem to be playing with a renewed vigor. They care less about gaudy individual numbers and more about getting the almighty "W". The Heat became their poster boys for this. While LeBron put up 27 points per game during their streak, he also averaged eight assists per game and it became infectious. Players like Norris Cole and Shane Battier became integral in the offense, spreading the floor with Ray Allen and making any insurmountable deficit seem like a few baskets. The "hockey assist" (the pass before the pass that leads to the basket) should be a new stat in the NBA. Superb ball movement is a dying art in a league known for being cenetered around superstars, but it's a joy to watch. Other teams like the Spurs, Thunder and Rockets also show  that it doesn't matter who scores, as long as it leads to a win.

Sometimes it takes something transcendent  such as a long win streak or chase of a four-decade record to bring back the casual NBA fan and remain relevant at a time when college basketball is king. I for one enjoyed the  up and down ride, but I'll be staying on it until the park closes in June.

Sweet 16 Predictions

Let's see if a few rounds has helped my prognosticating skills at all...

(3) Marquette vs (2) Miami (FL)     
Jim Laranaga hopes to continue the magic in his first season as Miami's head coach. He strikes me as a wonderful coach to play for where there is no ego and he just wants his players to do well. Their post-game antics are very similar to that of Florida Gulf Coast.They are missing Reggie Johnson, but I think they'll still be too much for Marquette even with the stellar play of Vander Blue.

(6) Arizona vs (2) Ohio State

The Wildcats are a historically athletic team since the days of Lute Olson and now under Sean Miller. They get out fast and play a furious pace with a defense that pressures the ball with their sheer size and tenacity. The Buckeyes got past Iowa State by the skin of their teeth, but 'Zona will provide for a very tough foe.

(4) Syracuse vs (1) Indiana

I thought Indiana would lose a round earlier, whether it was to my NC State pick, or even the upset-minded Temple Owls. The Orange don't have their best team this year, but with all of these upsets so far, all you need is a chance. Their length, transition offense and three-point shooting could prove tough for the Hoosiers. If Michael Carter-Williams can spread the wealth as he is very capable of doing, the Orange will give Hoosier fans reason to be worried. Syracuse's only enemy is themselves when they turn the ball over.

(13) La Salle vs (9) Wichita State

This is a toss-up of two teams that were not supposed to be in it. Both teams aim to prove they are no fluke. Based on the effort both schools have shown, neither is a clear-cut favorite. Heads says the La Salle Explorers continue their journey.

(12) Oregon vs (1) Louisville 

While the Cardinals experienced a three-game losing streak earlier this year, that team is nowhere to be found. Replacing them is one that is running on all cylinders and the heavy favorite in many brackets to become National Champs. Oregon has had a fun and surprising run, but the luck runs out for the Ducks in the Sweet Sixteen.

(4) Michigan vs (1) Kansas  

In a meeting of two  college basketball powerhouses, Michigan is coming off an impressive manhandling of VCU, while Kansas beat UNC soundly. This will be a tight game, but I have a feeling the Wolverines ability to shoot the three will be to their advantage over a team led by freshman phenom Ben McLemore.
(3) Michigan State vs (2) Duke

Never go against Tom Izzo in March. If he tells you 2+2=81, you nod your head and agree. He's a wizard when it comes to coaching and always has teams led by strong veteran players. There is no rebuilding for the Spartans, just reloading. On the flip side, Duke is as potent as ever and a threat to go deep...but I feel strongly that the Spartans will win this one with their stingy defense and superb rebounding.

(15) Florida Gulf Coast vs (3) Florida

And the most intriguing match-up award goes to....this game. The schools are seperated by a few hundred miles, and FGCU plays with a joyfulness not seen in a while. Their coach has a loose leash on a young, happy and unorthodox team- but that's not a bad thing. Their post-game celebrations come in second only to their style of play with fast break dunks and alley oops galore. Their style of play might catch the Gators off guard defensively. I pegged the Gators to make the Final Four, but now that my bracket is busted and for the sake of the Cinderella, I'm pulling for the Eagles here.

After looking them over, I realize I picked only  two higher seeds. Upset happy? Could be. Michigan State (3) over Duke (2) would not be considered an upset at all based on how even thes teams are. If there's one thing this year's tournament has proven, it's that seeds don't matter. What matters is the level of basketball played on the hardwood, not on paper.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's Getting Hot in Here: Can Anyone Beat the Heat?

The Miami Heat just won their twenty-fourth game in a row, continuing  a reign of basketball dominance not seen since the 1972 Lakers with Jerry "The Logo" West and Kareem Abdul Jabar. That team holds the all-time record with thirty-three straight wins. There are three questions that should be on every fan's mind: How do the Heat compare to the '72 Lakers? Can the Heat beat the all-time consecutive wins record?  Lastly and most importantly, can anyone beat the Heat?

1. How do the Heat compare to the '72 Lakers?

During their thirty-three game win streak, the Lakers averaged 123.3 points per game. They averaged 121 for the whole season. Their defense was lacking, giving up 108 points per game, but with so much energy focused on the offensive end, that's expected. During their current streak, the Heat average a respectable 105.1 points per game. Impressive by today's standards, but compare that to the fact that the Lakers smallest number of points in a game during their streak was 104 and it makes a big difference.

One argument a Heat supporter could make would be that it is a different time where athletes have evolved and talent is spread more evenly, thus putting an end to dynasty-like teams like those Lakers. This could be true in a way. Back then medicine and treatment of players was vastly different, and players weren't built like they are now.

The counter to this argument is two things. First, that era of play saw college players stay all four years so when they got to the NBA, the competition was stiffer and made the game better. Secondly, regardless of when the streak took place, the Lakers simply dominated. The most points the Heat have scored so far was 141 in a double overtime win against the Kings back on February 26th. The Lakers scored more than that twice (143, 154) regulation.

There are two things the Heat have going for them. One is the fact that this streak has come late in the season during a time when most teams will have been worn down by the tiresome and grueling NBA schedule. LeBron James just keeps going, even getting his fourth triple-double this season (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists). His biggest injury scare was landing awkwardly a few weeks ago, but simply shook it off once he stood up. Dwayne Wade has found the fountain of youth with an extra spring in his step nailing jumpers consistently and taking defenders off the dribble as well as helping lead the NBA's most lethal fast break.

The second thing the Heat have is that they can win close games, with six (25%) of their wins during the streak coming within five points. In comparison, the Lakers only had two games (6%) in which  they were within five points.

The biggest thing I notice during this streak is that the Heat have shown such resilience that not many frontrunners have, being pegged by many to repeat as champions. Complacency and overconfidence becomes a cancer that can effect the most talented teams, but  not the 2012-2013 Heat. Their two most recent win came after being down 17 and 27 points to the Celtics and Cavs. Against the Cavs, there was about four minutes left in the game when they were down by 27 points. I can't point to a specific point at what made them turn the heat up (pun intended), but they forced turnovers, defended the basket and outshot the Cavs, nailing three after three.

When it comes down to it, comparing two teams from different time periods is near impossible because of so many "what-if's". With that being said, I think the sheer supremacy of that championship Lakers team was  a bit more impressive.

2. Can the Heat break the forty-one year consecutive wins record of 33 straight wins?

To begin to answer the second question, one must simply gander at the remaining schedule ahead of LeBron James and company.

Fri, Mar 22           Detroit
Sun, Mar 24        Charlotte
Mon, Mar 25      @Orlando
Wed, Mar 27     @ Chicago
Fri, Mar 29           @New Orleans
Sun, Mar 31        @Spurs   
Tue, Apr 2           NY Knicks 
Fri, Apr 5              @Charlotte
Sat, Apr 6             Philadelphia
Tue, Apr 9           Milwaukee
Wed, Apr 10       @Washington
Fri, Apr 12            Boston
Sun, Apr 14         Chicago
Mon, Apr 15       @Cleveland
Wed, Apr 17       Orlando

One cliche you always see in sports is "Take one game at a time". The Heat are not overlooking any team, but by the way they are playing, I don't see any real threats to the streak until late March when they play the Spurs on the road.

A road win against the Spurs is a daunting task for any team, but this is the time of year  when some teams to begin to rest their players for the playoff runs. The Spurs are the number one team in the Western Conference, and we all know coach Greg Popovich is no stranger to resting players. As of late Tim Duncan has been playing some of the best ball in years this season, especially in his last three games (27.6 ppg, 14.7 rebounds, 3.3 blocks per game), similar to Dwayne Wade. This old dog is not ready to be put down. This game's outcome all hinges on the health of point guard Tony Parker. He has been out since March 1st with a sprained ankle, and had been playing MVP-caliber ball (21.0 ppg, 7.6 assists per game).

While I can't ignore the Knicks as a threat to the streak (they have beaten Miami two out of three times), they haven't shown me enough to think they could be the ones to end it. Their lone loss to the Heat came on March 3rd after being up 16 home. The Heat are starting to put together more fourth quarter comebacks than Tim Tebow in 2011-2012. Carmelo Anthony is a fantastic player and an elite scorer, but there's a reason he has never been to an NBA Finals: he doesn't have IT. He can't make his team better like LeBron and he gives up on defense at times. There are also too many injury woes for the Knicks (Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert, Amare Stoudemire).

The last possible threat is the Boston Celtics in Miami on April 12th. Kevin Garnett should be back then, and they will be seething at the mouth to make up for blowing a 17 point lead last Monday.  (On a side note, if you Google Jason Terry, two related searches pop up, one is LeBron dunk on Jason Terry and the other is titled "Jason Terry Death" pops up.  That's never a good sign for one's career.) Oh and Jason, one more thing- Bron's not sorry.

If they beat the Spurs and Knicks, the record would be tied on April 6th against a terrible Philadelphia team, and broken on April 9th against a mediocre Bucks team. If they continue to win, the streak would extend to 39 games. Based off the way they never get down in games no matter what, I cannot possibly put this past this year's Heat.

3. Can anyone beat the Heat?


Well that would be the easy answer. No team is unbeatable, but the Heat have seemingly addressed any and every flaw they have during the streak. Part of me wonders if they purposely get down big  and keep games tight just to prove that  LeBron is a crunch time leader and that they can do anything. Years ago, one would question LeBron's mental toughness. But last season and this year? No, sir. He has the intelligence of Kobe Bryant while exceeding Bryan in terms of a physical specimen. His third straight MVP could have been announced a month ago.

In the East, there is not one team that I can argue would unseed the reigning champions. The last loss came against the Pacers on February 11th, but that was a completely different time. The Knicks and Nets would never last in a seven game series with the defending champs. All that is left to question is who will the Heat face in the Finals.

The Spurs and Thunder are the two most obvious choices, with the Clippers on the outside, still somewhat unproven. The Spurs age might be an issue late in the season and haven't been to the Finals since 2007. The Thunder are a young and talented team, but losing Harden could end up being a bigger deal than they let on. The Grizzlies could prevent a different kind of physical game against the Heat, but are no locks to win the West. Thus, at this point and time  I cannot confidently say that anyone can beat Miami.

LeBron's "Decision" launched the Heat into the Championship stratusphere and set the franchise on a completely different path than if he chose a different team. It took some adjusting in 2010 (even then they still made the Finals), but since then they have had the best synergy of any team in the NBA.

Like them or love them, all NBA fans now respect them and rightfully so.