Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Meniscus That Changed the 2013 NBA Playoffs

As I write this, I'm listening to One Republic's "Au Revoir" off their new album Native. Russell Westbrook can bid farewell to playing for the forseeable future. The former Bruin collided midway through the second quarter with rookie Patrick Beverly in an attempt to call a time out. Westbrook was clipped in the knee as Beverly went for the steal, and fell to the ground. He immediately got up, limped towards Beverly, pounded the scorer's table (no one flinched remarkably), then headed for his bench with help. After he completed the game and the Thunder won, it was later discovered that he tore his meniscus and would require surgery.

Some (mostly Thunder fans) call the play dirty. Some (mostly Rocket fans) call it a clean, hustle play. My thoughts on it reflect what you see in the footage. Yes, Westbrook was about to call a time out, but the ball was still in play and Beverly was doing what he was taught as a youngster: play to the whistle. Beverly clearly went for the ball, making incidental contact with Westbrook's knee. As soon as the whistle sounded, Beverly jogged to his bench. For the rest of the game, there was a great amount of tension between Westbrook and Beverly.

This one quick play has single-handedly changed the face of the Western conference playoffs and possibly the 2013 NBA playoffs as a whole. What better way to discuss it than pull lyrics from "Au Revoir"?

"Today I'm not myself and all these wounds don't fake."

After it was discovered the severity of the injury Westbrook encountered, one would assume he is in a different place mentally. He has never missed a game in his career, starting 394 in a row. (Interesting fact: Rockets center Omer Asik is second with 230- trailing by 164 games, or more than two full seasons.) Dating back to college and high school, those close to him don't recall him missing any of those games, either. After surgery, he will be physically feeling different. Based on the severity of the tear, the first being less severe would see him miss anywhere from 2-4 weeks. The more serious tear would result in him being sidelined 3-4 months and ending his hope for any further postseason play.

"And all the stars can quit."

This is the exact opposite of how Kevin Durant will react to the news on the court. The Thunder have to work with whose available. If Durant's attitude speaks for the team, then we all know the second brightest young star in the league won't back down.

"Let's play a game where all the lives we meet can change."

Play is exactly what Patrick Beverly has done all season. Him "meeting" Westbrook changed both of their lives. Russell is sidelined, and Beverly has somewhat of a target on him from Thunder fans. He comes in and brings energy off the bench. He knows he isn't the biggest or strongest and maybe not even the fastest. The heart and determination the 6'1 Beverly brings to the court is very evident, which accounts for his 12 rebounds on Wednesday. He flies to the ball and never remains stagnant on the court.

From "Anyone who knows me knows I don't go out there and try to hurt anybody," Beverley said. "I play at one speed and that's fast. I was just trying to make a play on the ball before they called a timeout and it's just unfortunate."

This wasn't Derek Fisher elbowing Luis Scola intentionally four years ago in the playoffs. This was a young guy trying to make a play, and contact happened. It's a physical game.

"We'll find all the pieces to the puzzle."

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks' biggest task will be how to replace Westbrook's energy and numbers on offense. He can't be physically replaced, as he's one of the fastest players in the league. Michael Wilbon made a good point on NBA Countdown saying "the Rockets can focus all the attention they paid Westbrook and containing him to other players now, especially Kevin Durant." The Thunder will need Reggie Jackson to elevate his game along with Derek Fisher. They have been great in spurts to relieve Westbrook, but Jackson has only played 30+ minutes in one game all season. I look for Kevin Martin and Thabo Sefalosha to be bigger parts of the offense.

"I can show you how many moves to check mate right now."

To the adjustments Rockets coach Kevin McHale made heading into the second game after a 29 point blowout in Game 1. Going small for the majority of the game with Beverly and Lin (who was injured and left in the beginning of the third), along with Brooks and Delfino really proved to be a game changer. The offense was faster and moved the ball better compared to the opening game and that is what their offense thrives on. What moves will McHale make for Game 3? We will see.

"And pack it up inside a box."

If the Rockets lose Game 3 to a Westbrook-less Thunder at home, they can all but assure themselves the series is likely over and pack their 2012-2013 season up. They would have to win four in a row, along with two of them being in a hostile OKC arena and one of those being a game 7 hypothetically. Harden and company had a chance to steal one Wednesday on the road, but cannot lose Game 3 on Saturday if they intend on winning the series.

"What a peculiar state we're in."

Thunder fans will find it strange to see Westbrook not on the court. As mentioned earlier, he has never missed a game. Even if they defeat the Rockets, they would have to deal with either the Grizzlies (Conley/Vasquez) or Clippers (Paul/Bledsoe/Billups) in the second round. The inexperience of Jackson would be apparent, as would the age of the veteran Fisher. Past that, they would likely have to deal with a Spurs team with one of the best point guards in the game in Tony Parker. If the two likely teams to win it all were neck and neck (Miami/OKC), Miami certainly now has the scale in their favor.

"All that really matters is we're doing it right now. Let's play a game."

Regardless of the major news that Westbrook is sidelined, a lot of people believe the Thunder are still a shoe-in to win the series. While the circumstances by no means guarantee anything for Houston, you cannot possibly argue that it has no effect on the series. Along with being an offensive force, Westbrook is also not to be taken lightly on defense either as he is great at jumping passing lanes, defending one-on-one and leading the fast-break off turnovers.

There is a lot of talk about what this means and what will happen, but all we can do is focus on the present watch the two teams play Saturday at 9:30 on TNT.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact Sean on Twitter @SeanNeutron

Monday, April 22, 2013

Center of Attention: Hussam Ouri

Every offensive football play begins with the snap of a ball. It is often overlooked by many since most everyone only cares about what happens after the ball is snapped. Offensive lineman don’t get the love like quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers do- but that doesn’t mean  Shepherd center Hussam Ouri is not an integral part of the offense.

From the moment when the ball is exchanged between center and quarterback  to when the center has to pop back up and confront the defense,  there is a lot that comes Ouri’s way. It’s all about timing, technique and adjustments. He’s used to adjustments.

Hussam was born in Brazil and lived there to the age of six. Then his parents, Adib and Iraquia decided to move the family to the United States.

“It was a tough adjustment. I was fluent in Portugese and it took me a year and a half to learn English. Even then, I still didn’t completely understand all the slang that is used. I had  completed first grade and had to re-do it when I got to the States,” said Hussam.

Adib and Iraquia met through working together in Brazil and were thinking big picture when it came to the move.

“They knew there was more opportunity here for me and my brother. I didn’t see it that way at first, but now I do.”

Nowadays the two work together in a  convenient store  and deli and are co-owners in their other son’s steam cleaning business. It’s that undying work ethic that helps motivate and inspire Hussam.

“Their  will to support and provide for me and my brother is something I do not take for granted. They are my role models and I appreciate everything they have ever done for me.”

Growing up, Ouri enjoyed playing basketball and watching it. He’s a 76ers fan and became mesmerized by the dazzling play of former guard Allen Iverson. It was around the same time the Dallas Cowboys were THE team to beat in the NFL, and the young kid from Brazil couldn’t help but become enamored with them.

“My mom’s friend who helped us adjust to the culture shock was a big Cowboys fan.  She had jerseys and plaques and everything. It rubbed off on me. I loved watching Emmitt Smith take over the game.”

Hussam’s earliest memories from actually watching games was  when the Rams faced the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. While he enjoyed watching football, he didn’t begin playing until his freshman year in high school at Broadneck.

“I played basketball before that and loved it. With football, I had no idea what to expect. I struggled at first because the conditioning was very hard. My coach, Rob Harris, always told me I could be really good if I could stay on the field and not tire out so quickly.”

His experience at Broadneck was  very diverse. Along with playing defensive tackle, defensive end, backup right tackle, right guard and center, Hussam played multiple sports in the offseason such as track and shot put and discus.

“It gave me something to do in the winter and spring and kept me in shape. It helped me become better in football- more conditioned and agile.”

The sudden realization at his own potential prompted Ouri to go to numerous combines and football camps. During the summer from his junior into senior year at Broadneck saw his life outside the game diminish due to his busy schedule.

“My personal life was essentially non-existent. I did about eight or nine combines that summer,” Hussam said.

During his senior season, he started at both center and  defensive end.

“I loved defense  and just being on the field at all times. But after games, I just wanted to die because I was so tired and exhausted. It was all worth it, though.”

The double duty paid off. The Naval Academy offered him a full scholarship, while Division 1-AA schools such as Delaware, New Hampshire and Towson all offered partial scholarships.

One of Ouri’s teammates at Broadneck was  Va’a Niumatalolo. Niumatalolo now plays for Brigham Young University.  His father, Ken, is the coach of the Naval Academy football team.

“The offer was a result of the work I put in, but my final decision was a last minute thing. I never knew where I wanted to go because during the recruiting process there are so many lies that it’s hard to find the truth.”

Hussam only visited Shepherd once, but the first time was the charm. He met with the coaches and they made him an offer. The stress-free nature of it was a huge plus for him.

“To play football on a scholarship here as well as be close to home and be part of a winning program  all made the decision that much easier,” he said.

After his work on both offense and defense at Broadneck, the transition to being at Shepherd and being a full-time center was not easy.

“In college, you are limited with how much time you can practice. Scheduling and organizing everything is key to doing well. I did not do that at first. I would procrastinate a lot and before I knew it, it was eleven o’clock at night and I hadn’t started my homework yet.”

On the field, Hussam credits coaches Ernie McCook and Jeremy Overfelt with  his positive strides as a player.

“I learned about technique and form from Coach McCook. From Coach Overfelt I learned how to get stronger while still being agile. He runs and lifts with us and I really respect him for it because he puts in work.”

Outside of his hectic football schedule, Ouri enjoys  playing pick-up basketball, paintball, listening to music, grilling outside, video games, watching Netflix and messing around with computers. If you give him a new piece of technology, Hussam will be all over it and master it if given the time. He even has been known to build computers, too. During the offseason conditioning,  all of these activities come in second to one: sleep.

“There’s a two week period during winter conditioning  where we run so much and it really wears you down. You probably won’t see me on campus much because I try and rest up as much as possible afterwards.”

It takes a lot of desire and self motivation to keep at it, whether it is academics or school. Ouri admits former NFL cornerback Eric Thomas is one source of motivation for him. Thomas wrote a book titled The Secret to Success. In it you see the transformation from homeless high school dropout to his rise as a husband, father, CEO, educator and motivational speaker.

During Hussam’s freshman season, the Rams won the WVIAC Championship and were one of the final four teams left in the playoffs, losing to Delta State. Back then he was just a practice squad player. After winning the WVIAC again this past season, it  takes on a whole new feeling since he was on the field for it.

“It was great because it showed our hard work from the dog days of the summer in August until that point,” he said.

This season the team moves to the brand new Mountain East Conference. With the  move comes goals.

“I want us to win the conference championship  again and get to the playoffs again and go deeper. I want to finish up my academics strong so I don’t have to worry about that part  while also improving as a player.”

The evolution from young  practice squad player to established veteran is not lost on the young man from Annapolis.

“Being one of the veterans on the team means having a good work ethic and not being afraid to get in someone’s face if they mess up. I like to watch them improve, too. It feels like just yesterday I was  just finding my way at Shepherd. Now that I’m at this point, I like being a leader.”

Being a leader means helping the morale of the team stay positive  at all times and part of that is the chemistry of a team and how they get along. With the Rams, there aren’t any chemistry issues as all the players, regardless of position, hang out with each other.

“You’ll see running backs hanging with kickers, and quarterbacks with defensive lineman. We just get along and we aren’t clique-ish.”

Hussam is studying Fitness and Exercise Science, and is specifically looking into sports medicine as a career in physical therapy. He’s not totally sure of what path life will take him down, but like he has before on and off the field, I have a feeling he’ll make the transition in anything he does just fine.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The NBA's Second Wind

The term "second wind" can be defined as restored energy or strength and most commonly associated with intense physical activity. The NBA playoffs are the league's second wind, where after 82 games, sixteen teams find extra gas left in the tank in an effort to be etched in the books as NBA Champions.

If you are an NBA junkie such as myself, the season if just getting started. A lot of people (pessimists/casual fans) cry that the regular season doesn't matter. The season is too long and the players don't try hard like in college.

Tell Kobe Bryant and the Lakers that the regular season is too long. Watching their season unfold seemed as if it was too short. They needed more time to secure a playoff spot almost like a college student cramming to write a term paper the night before it’s due.

The thirty-five year old superstar fell victim to a torn Achilles driving to the basket against the Warriors on April 12th after logging forty-five minutes. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realize that he was on pace to play the full four quarters.  Bryant had been putting in 38.6 minutes per game this season, second only to Damian Lillard, a twenty-two year old rookie. In his last seven games up until his tragic injury, Bryant was logging an average of 45.5 minutes per game. His will is what carried his team to the playoffs as they won 9 of their last 11 games and clinched the seventh seed.

Tell John Wall the regular season doesn't matter. The third year point guard out of Kentucky came back to play in forty games for the Washington Wizards and looked every bit the athlete he was before his knee injury. Some would argue he even played better than before, aided by rookie guard Bradley Beale and a bevy of veterans (Okafor, Ariza, Nene) the Wizards managed to go 23-25 (48%) after starting 6-28 (17%) without Wall. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case on the court. The playtime was a crucial development for the young Wizard and showed he is the unquestioned leader of the team.

If those two examples don't work for you, just rewind to last Wednesday. The final game of the regular season pitted the Houston Rockets versus the Bryant-less Los Angeles Lakers for the Western conference seventh seed. Win and you play the Spurs. Lose and you play the Thunder. No pressure, right? The atmosphere in the City of Angels was electric. Houston's Chandler Parsons pushed it to overtime with a buzzer-beating three. In the extra period Los Angeles showed their grit and won 99-95.

Ever since the league extended every round to seven games a few years back, the playoffs do seem to drag a little. In the first round you'll normally get a few unbearable series to watch. The Bulls/Hawks in 2011 was one of the least entertaining in recent memory, while the Bulls/Celtics from 2009 was an absolute classic. Four games were extended for more time which included double and triple overtime games. Five games were won by three points or less. That reaffirmed to me why I watch the playoffs: to see greatness unfold and who will seize their opportunity at immortality.

What teams and players will shine in the 2013 NBA Playoffs? Let's take a look.


(8) Milwaukee Bucks (38-44) vs. (1) Miami Heat (66-16)

Heat win. Well that was an easy prediction/analysis. Just kidding. LeBron James shows us why he is the most gifted basketball player in the world. The pressure of repeating is there, not only as champions but also as MVP and he obliterated the field. Kevin Durant would be seen as the most logical runner up with his excellent season, but the distance between the two in the race was staggering. The Heat's 27 game win streak will be remembered for a long, long time and showed other teams and basketball fans what they can do. Bosh, James and Wade were all shifted in and out of the line-up at times and they never missed a beat. Miami finished the season with the league's best record and fifth in scoring. Those two factors alone should all but solidify the outcome of this series. But they have to play the games on the court, right?

For the Bucks, Brandon Jennings claims the Heat are good match for his team. On Milwaukee's Twitter account, he predicts they will beat the Heat in six games. Newsflash, Brandon: The Heat are not a good match up for ANYONE, let alone the East's 8th seed. You guys are 1-3 on the season against them, too.


For the Heat, they won't need any really, as most games will be won by ten points or more. If the games do get close, look for Shane Battier and Mike Miller to be huge cogs in the Heat's machine.

For the Bucks, LARRY SANDERS! Will be their best shot at defending LeBron and Wade, but there is only one LARRY SANDERS! So that's kind of a problem.

Heat in -1, I mean 4

(7) Boston Celtics (41-40) vs. (2) New York Knicks (54-28)

The Knicks started off the year red hot, winning eight of their first nine games. They finished the season white hot, winning sixteen of their last eighteen games. This season marked the first time since 1999-2000 that they managed to win fifty games or more. Carmelo Anthony put together one of the best seasons of his career on both sides of the ball and capped it off by wrestling the scoring title away from Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant with 28.6 points per game. The Knicks couldn't have done it without the season that J.R. Smith had, averaging 18.1 points per game off the bench. He is the frontrunner for sixth man of the year. Imagine if they had had Tyson Chandler for the full season...they'd have more people believing they could reach the Finals.

On the opposite side you have one of the most storied franchises in all of sports, the Boston Celtics. Led by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and the superb coaching of Doc Rivers- they look to spoil New York's remarkable season. They lost star point guard Rajon Rondo on January 27th against the Heat to a torn ACL. A lot of people doubted them in terms of playoff chances, even in the lackluster Eastern Conference.

If there's one thing you never do, it's count Boston out of anything. The city has more resilience than anywhere in the country as evidenced by this week's events. While tragic, Boston's will to persevere is absolutely inspiring.


For New York, shooting will be the biggest reason why they'd beat the Celtics in the first round. Carmelo averaged ten made field goals per game for the first time since 2009. Along with Smith, the two's ability to catch fire and remain efficient will be a huge aspect against the notoriously stingy Boston defense.

Boston's keys to upsetting the Knicks will be the trio of Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jason Terry. Green showed he is capable of big things when he put up 43 points against the Heat on March 18th, almost snapping their win streak. Bradley came back from injury and played well on both sides of the ball. He can play lock down defense and works well on offense with Paul Pierce. We know Pierce and Garnett will show up, but Jason Terry is really going to have to step up as well. He's had one of the worst seasons of his career, averaging only 10.1 points- his lowest since his rookie season in 1999-2000. His 2.5 assists per game are also his lowest.

BONUS X-Factor:

The Boston home crowd will be as lively and raucous as it’s ever been. After this week, the city needs an escape and while the Celtics can't change any of what has happened- they can definitely give Boston something to be happy for. They'll still need to steal a game in NYC, but in Boston you better believe the fans will be unglued for the entirety of the game.

Knicks in 7.

(6) Atlanta Hawks (44-38) vs. (3) Indiana Pacers (49-32)

The Pacers started off 3-6, a shell of last year's contender. But Paul George put together a great season (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 170 3PM) and helped out a struggling Roy Hibbert. They lead the league in rebounds, averaging 45.9 a game behind David West and Hibbert.

The Hawks are led by Al Horford (17 ppg, 10 rpg) and backup point guard Jeff Teague (14.6 ppg, 7.6 apg). While they will try and keep the Hawks in it, they will fall short. Just not enough depth for a sixth seed to compete.


Jeff Teague will have a breakout game or two, but it will be futile against a tough Pacers team. For the Pacers, look for Lance Stephenson to step up off the bench.

Pacers in 5

(5) Chicago Bulls (45-37) vs. (4) Brooklyn Nets (49-33)

In what I predict will be THE snoozer of the first round, the defense-minded Bulls will try and "upset" the slow, half-court game of the Nets. Deron Williams' numbers are down from last season (18.9 ppg, 7.7 apg) and Joe Johnson has not been worth the money he was signed for in the offseason. He's only shooting 42% and averaging 16 points per game. The only thing more depressing than Kris Humphries' attempts to get media attention via Kim Kardashian is his season's numbers. The Nets forward  in 65 games put up averages of 5.8 ppg and 5.6 rpg, after a season before which saw him average 13.8 and 11 respectively.

After the Bulls beat the Heat to end the 27 game win streak, I actually took notice that they were 5th in the East. I was actually surprised. I knew they were in the hunt- but fifth? Thibodeau should be on the short list for Coach of the Year for sure. Derrek Rose never returned to play in the regular season, but nothing has been confirmed for the postseason. If he were to return, you'd have to think it would change the entire outlook. Carlos Boozer has been an anchor for the Bulls, and Luol Deng has been deadly from three. Kirk Heinrich has played the savvy veteran role to perfection and Noah is always lurking in the middle.


A return of Derrek Rose would be a table-turner. If he can come back and be half the player he was, it'd still be a plus for Chicago. Even the threat makes Brooklyn wonder what the Bulls will do, and that thought itself changes their preparation. For the Nets, Reggie Evans is all or nothing. He either has a 20 rebound game, or doesn't show up at all and fouls out early. Look for him to bang and bruise on the inside, but his efforts will come up short to Boozer and Noah.

Bulls "upset" in 6


(8) Houston Rockets (45-37) vs. (1) Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22)

The Rockets' loss to the Lakers afforded them this opportunity to face the West's best team. The league's second and third highest scoring offenses will look to run up and down the floor in one of the most exciting first round match ups of 2013. The main storyline will revolve around James Harden returning to the city that he played in for three seasons and will bring up his lackluster NBA Finals effort last season. How one year changes it all. Harden, along with Kevin Durant are on most shortlists for NBA MVP. It's a cute thing to add to your resume, considering James claimed it from day one in October.

Watching Harden improve this season has been one of my favorite things. His efficiency and how he makes his teammates better is impressive, but when he tried to do too much (read: shoot too much) his team typically loses. The Rockets play better when Harden spreads the wealth and gets everyone involved, and allows Jeremy Lin to direct the offense. His strongpoint is attacking the basket off the dribble and drawing fouls while getting shots off due to his strength. He is second to Durant in free throws made, but is the ONLY player in the league who averages double digit attempts a game at 10.2 while shooting 85%.

Harden's downfall has been his defense, especially in transition. He loses his man often, as does forward Chandler Parsons. Against one the league's best offenses, Houston cannot afford these mistakes as they are prone to, giving up 102.5 ppg on defense- second only to Charlotte at 102.7 ppg. They also lead the league in turnovers at 15.8 per game.

The Thunder have proven they will crush Houston if they can seize control. They won 2 of 3 against them this year, averaging 121 points in the trio of games. Two were blowouts, and the third required a superhuman effort from Harden to come back for the 122-119 win. Durant is arguably the second most complete player in the game to LeBron, and will look to show everyone why. Russell Westbrook plays with such emotion, and that's a good and bad thing for OKC. If he can control his temper, reign in his shot selection, get everyone involved and not forget that Durant is THE man, they will win comfortably.


The Rockets' second year star forward Chandler Parsons has shown games where he is absolutely brilliant. He has an unassuming all-around game. You can find him on the opposing team's best player on defense as well as running the break to perfection and grabbing rebounds all over the place. His three-point shot can be deadly, too. Center Omer Asik has been a lifesaver for the smallball Rockets. His post defense is tremendous, and he can help control the game when teams try and make it a half-court affair. His ability to get rebounds is huge, and I am curious to see how rookie Thomas Robinson factors into the equation.

For OKC, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will be integral. They'll influence shots of Lin, Harden and Parsons and crash the boards left and right.

Thunder in 6

(7) Los Angeles Lakers (45-37) vs. (2) San Antonio Spurs (58-24)

The Lakers prize for winning seventh: face one of the league's best teams and best coaches. The Lakers are without Kobe Bryant and Nash is iffy, his age making him more prone to injury. Dwight will look to bang inside, but Tim Duncan has had a resurgent season on offense and his defense has been a huge part of the Spurs' success.

The Lakers have had so many injury issues they should change their logo to the Red Cross. Switching from Mike Brown after five games to Bernie Bickerstaff and then Mike D'Antoni only caused a newly-built team to struggle more. It's almost like they won in spite of it all. It was not D'Anonti's system that got them to where they are. It was the effort of one Kobe Bryant, and the fact Howard finally gelled with the team and played to what he was capable of. Now without their leader, they look to Howard to be a rock for them.

The Spurs have ridden Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to great lengths, and like an old day it will be very evident after so many miles. Not yet, though. One of the perennial best teams in the regular season every year has not had a lot of postseason success as of late, and is looking to change it. While Manu Ginobli comes off the bench and his numbers have decreased the last few years, he is still an influential part of the team and can swing games.


The Lakers will need Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace more than ever, and Jodie Meeks will have to show what he can do in the absence of "Vino".

Stephen Jackson will have to be a huge part of the Spurs' offense as he has been very consistent even in tough times for the team. If the team can keep their legs, they will see results against a ravaged Lakers team.

Spurs in 6

(6) Golden State Warriors (47-35)  vs (3) Denver Nuggets (57-25)

My number one vote-getter for Coach of the Year goes to George Karl. He has managed to keep them near the top of the pack all season despite injuries to Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari. The common question for them has been "But can you win a title without a superstar?" The whole team IS the superstar. GM of the year should go to Masai Ujiri. What he did by trading for Iguodala and Javale McGee at the right time was phenomenal. Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler fit their roles to perfection, while Kenneth Faried has been a beast down low- and he's only 23. The best part about them is how deep they are. Andre Miller is one of the best veteran point guards in the league and Kosta Koufos is a very solid role player.

The Warriors and first year coach Mark Jackson are a tough-minded team, as shown when they were determined not to let the Rockets set a new single game record for three pointers. They are physical and will look to rough up the Nuggets. Stephen Curry has been their ace, while Harrison Barnes has yet to live up to his billing. Klay Thompson needs to be involved as well. Ultimately, the Nuggets are too fast, too potent and too well coached to lose to the upstart Warriors.


Curry's three point shooting will be on full display. If it's on, they might win a game or maybe even two. But the Nuggets will look to outscore (106.1 ppg) outrebound (45.0 rpg) and involve everyone (24.4 apg) on their way to a rout.

Nuggets 4-0

(5) Memphis Grizzlies (56-26) vs. (4) Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)

If I told you the Clippers would be the premiere team in LA four years ago, you'd think I was crazy, right? That's where we are. Chris Paul dazzles on offense, knowing where to pass it and seemingly has eyes in the back of his head. He is the conductor of the offense and the leader of the team. The Clippers can be incredible on the break, or can slow down and go half court thanks to Griffin's improved post game. Butler can be deadly at mid-range jumpers while Barnes is treacherous from the arc.

Expect a lot of physicality in this series. Marc Gasol and Zac Randolph will tag against DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin down low. There will be hard fouls, possibly flagrant ones. There will be unpleastantries shared and technical fouls on both sides.


Players staying in games due to foul trouble and the Grizzlies trying to make it a half court affair while LA wants to run them off the floor. The point guards on Memphis will be by committee (Vasquez and Conley) but if I were Lionel Hollins, I'd put them on the floor at the same time and confuse the Clippers defense.

Clippers in 7

After this article you are looking for your second wind I'm sure. Go sit back, relax and watch the 2013 NBA playoffs unfold- where greatness happens.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Contact Sean on Twitter @SeanNeutron

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Great Expectations Versus No Expectations

This past offseason saw two different Western Conference teams take two vastly opposite approaches to the construction of the future of their franchises. The Los Angeles Lakers went the way of the veterans, adding experience to an already talented team. The Houston Rockets went a different route, turning over the majority of their roster for the uncertainty of youth, promise and potential. Now that the regular season is almost over, I'll take a look at how the strategies have fared for both teams.

Last year's shortened season saw the Lakers finish third in the West at 41-25. Despite their high ranking, they were middle of the pack (15th) in both offense (97.3 points per game) and defense (95.9 points per game). When the offense was successful, it was because of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Their point guard play with Steve Blake and Ramon Sessions certainly left a lot to be desired. Sessions was a midseason addition and never seemed to gel with the team. He showed flashes of brilliance at times but more often than not he just looked out of place. They searched far and wide for a point guard after the sketchy way the Chris Paul to LA deal was blocked by NBA commissioner David Stern.

On July 11th, 2012, the Lakers believed they had found their answer: the two-time league MVP and longtime Pacific Division foe, Steve Nash. Nash was the master of the "7 Seconds or Less" offense schemed by Mike D'Antoni while in Phoenix. Despite his age (39), his play was similar to Kobe's in a way. He reached limitations physically but by becoming craftier and out thinking opposing players, he could save his energy and become more efficient. Both players in my eyes are physical freaks despite their age.

About a month later, the Lakers made an even bigger splash when they acquired former Magic center and franchise player Dwight Howard and traded Bynum to the Philadelphia 76ers. Howard's name will forever be synonymous with the NBA off-season of 2012. You couldn't even have a conversation with your grandmother without hearing that name. Some basketball fans cried something was fishy and that the NBA was loading up its marquee franchise to remain relevant in the league.

Conspiracy theories are cute, but are usually contrived out of jealousy from fans of teams that don't have much to root for. Los Angeles is simply an ideal destination for any athlete: live in one of the most famous cities in the world and rub elbows with various celebrities in hopes of cultivating crossover success in the present and future.

Now the team was essentially loaded. You had a 2012-13 version of the twin towers in Gasol and Howard, a fearless leader in Kobe Bryant and a floor general with Steve Nash. Metta World Peace was still a solid defender and could contribute on offense at times, especially with corner threes that were daggers. The shallow bench could be overlooked just as it was in 2010 when the Heat banded together. Build a big lead early, and just have the second team manage it without screwing up.

The biggest question mark was the head coach, Mike Brown. While a solid defensive assistant in San Antonio, his run as  coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers was constantly downplayed by the superhuman efforts of LeBron James. Brown never got credit for his team's success, but seemed first in line to be blamed for any and every failure. How would he handle the many personalities on a star-studded team? He barely got a chance to find out: Brown was let go after only five games into the season. Assistant Bernie Bickerstaff took over  and went 4-1. Fans clamored for Phil Jackson to return. "If anyone could turn Dwight Howard into an even bigger and better player, it was him", they thought. Yet the Lakers hired Mike D'Antoni, regardless of the fact his style did not mesh at all with what the Lakers are used to.

Thoughts of the 2005 Suns must have danced in the heads of Lakers' management, reuniting Nash and D'Antoni- but that was eight long years ago. Early on, the team struggled to find its way and Nash broke his leg and was sidelined for seven weeks. Howard was not the same player after having a surgery on his back. Kobe started off hot and continued at a high level until he tore his Achilles last night versus the Golden State Warriors. Pau Gasol suffered a plantar faschia tear. The simple fact is the Lakers could not build solid chemistry and this led to their down year, even though they are sixth in scoring on offense (102.2).  The second big reason was that D'Antoni was more about his system than the players. Pau Gasol coming off the bench perplexed many a Lakers fan.

When it comes down to it, the Lakers made moves they believed would win them a championship, as is the expectation every season for them. I don't blame them for how they did it. Look at the 2008 Celtics. They went older with Garnett and Allen to add to Paul Pierce and it paid off that year. This Lakers team looked great on paper, even with their average age at 29.5. I pegged them to be third in the West before the season began. Now they are holding on to the eighth seed, fending off the Jazz and chasing Houston, who is only a game and a half ahead of LA. But Houston was never supposed to be in the race this season, or so many pundits thought.

Last year the Rockets narrowly missed the playoffs at  34-32. For years they had built around Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, but the two could never seem to stay healthy enough to reach their potential. They were once thought as the new "it" duo to rival Shaq and Kobe, but never materialized and ultimately made fans think "what if". Yao's last game came in 2010 when a stress fracture caused him to retire. He missed 250 games during his brief eight year career. General manager Daryl Morey was constantly on the look for his next franchise superstar, moving pieces around like a chess game.

It wasn't until this past summer when Morey's smallball way of thinking seemed to pay off (aside from Royce White). Gone were five of his top six scorers from last year (Scola, Martin, Lowry, Dragic, Buddinger). After a failed attempt at Dwight Howard (which included amnestying Luis Scola, letting Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry walk), Morey signed Jeremy Lin to a four year, 25 million dollar contract. People saw this as a huge overpayment, and could still be correct. To keep your franchise relevant, one typically has to overpay. He continued his spending, adding former Bull Omer Asik to the mix. Asik was a banger on the boards who could pull down 15-20 rebounds on any given night. Morey's coup de grace came when he managed to finagle James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks. The trade came out of left field and was questioned by many. How good was the Thunder's third fiddle? We'd soon find out.

Harden scored 37 plus points in each of his first three games while leading the Rockets to a 3-0 record. The team began racking up the points, and are currently first in the league in scoring (106.2). Yet their Achilles heel seems to be on defense, as they allow 102.6 points per game which ranks them 28th in the league. They are a young, inexperienced team with no track record aside from the track meets they have been putting on all season, in part to the improvements of both Chandler Parsons and James Harden. Their strength is running teams off the floor with their dangerous fast break. This style of blitzing offense can be  a double-edged sword as it also leads to a a lot of turnovers. They rank dead last at 15.8 per game and is a main reason for when they lose games.

Morey was not done, though. He pulled off the most notable trade at the deadline, picking up Thomas Robinson and Francisco Garcia from the Kings in exchange for Toney Douglas, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris. Douglas and Patterson went to the Kings and Morris to the Suns. The move was seen as very savvy with a lot of upside in the young Robinson.

The magic number is one for Houston to clinch the seventh seed. If they lose such as they did tonight and continue to do so, the Lakers could realistically snag that spot and bump the Rockets to eighth. The climb uphill for Los Angeles will only get steeper as they have likely lost Kobe Bryant for the remainder of the season (two games) with a torn Achilles. This might be due to playing a high level of minutes over his last five games, averaging 44.4 minutes a game and 38.6 on the season. Even an athlete of Bryant's caliber can only handle so much at his age.

The race for seventh might come down to the very last game of the season for both teams. They meet  next Wednesday at the Staples Center on ESPN. The Lakers will try to prove that any doubts should be erased, as Howard and Nash look to step forward as leaders. The Rockets just want to show that even a young and inexperienced team can be a dangerous one. The battle for playoff seeding seems appropriate for two teams who took different paths to the playoffs this year, and there's one thing I have for next week's game.

Great expectations.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

In Search of a New Hero: The Current State of WWE's Product

After recently watching a few of my favorite shows (Arrow, The Following), recalling another (24) and watching Broken City starring Mark Wahlberg, I connected one central theme in all of them: A flawed hero is looking for salvation and redemption. No one takes interest in a "goody two shoes" who lacks development and depth.

That is where the problem lies for John Cena and the WWE.

Cena has been the company's face for  over a decade now. He started as a young, hungry and aggressive young buck. He later caught on as an edgy, rapping white guy who could also beat the crap out of other wrestlers. At Wrestlemania 21 he beat John Bradshaw Layfield for the WWE title in a move that was expected, but felt right as everyone knew big things were on the horizon for the young Cena.

He dropped the rap gimmick (much to the chagrin of the 20-30 year-old male demographic) and appeared in WWE's films, various network television shows and made many media appearances. Cena is the all-time leader in wish-making via The Make-A-Wish Foundation. He spearheaded the WWE's involvement with Susan G. Komen and raising money for breast cancer research last October. For all intents and purposes, Cena is the good-est good guy of all time.

But why?

WWE learned a while back that Cena's popularity amongst women and children will bring in money hand over fist. Market a new shirt, hat, wristband or garden gnome and they will buy it. Heck, appear on a cereal box while you are at it. He is their cash cow, and the WWE is determined to keep it so.

Vince McMahon and company are so determined to keep Cena as a good guy and the money coming in, that they'll even have their announcers tell you during matches and segments that Cena is the most beloved superstar world wide. A few years ago, the love/hate from the fans was down the middle; fifty/fifty. But as of late, the hate seems to have grown even more and Cena is the unintentional cancer of World Wrestling Entertainment.

It's not that people (mainly young males, 20-30) hate John Cena the person. They hate John Cena the character. He has a jaw chiseled out of granite, a ripped build and a clean cut look that makes him uber-easy to market to the masses. He is the constant in a world full of heel and face turns. His moral compass always points north and no matter what, he'll come out smelling like roses. In 2013, this simply makes no sense.

Ryan Hardy, Jack Bauer, Oliver Queen and Billy Taggert are all heroes for various reasons, but not without flaws. They have been through many battles and experiences which shaped who they are and guide their actions. They live in a world  with shades of grey where winning the battle of good versus evil doesn't always mean doing the right thing.

Cena lives in the WWE Universe, but fenced off in a world of black and white. All the other wrestlers and personalities are in a less definite realm, affected by experiences and growing as characters. Cena has been through various battles over the years with scars to prove it. He has been tested at times with making tough decisions and challenged with seemingly insurmountable odds. But regardless of how uphill the current situation may seem, he always ends up at the top of the mountain looking down on his fallen foes. Eventually (usually the next night after a pay per view) he'll laugh it off amongst the jeers of the crowd and the vicious cycle continues.

The most recent example and what some would call an iceberg moment was his two-year feud against the Rock. Rock held the WWE title and beat Cena last year at Wrestlemania, and WWE tried to write a story of the hero who fails, but is now on the path of redemption and determined to make things right. Tried. 

The problem with John is that no one believes he'll lose, or that he's out of it. His character isn't one wired to be in search of redemption. CM Punk once said he's not the 2004 Boston Red Sox- he's the New York Yankees; the dynasty. No matter how many chances he gets, everyone knows he'll get another and eventually he'll be on top no matter what.

Sunday was the "make it or break it moment". I wasn't drawn in by the aspect of two all-time greats clashing for the second year in a row on wrestling's biggest stage. I was intrigued by the thought of a possible Cena heel turn booked correctly with him spiraling into despair and desperate to be the Champ again. The money is in the chase, they say. I was colossally disappointed as Cena won as he always does: with an Attitude Adjustment. There was no finding salvation or redemption as WWE wanted it to seem. It was just a 20 plus minute match which ended with the almost certain outcome.

The two shook hands and hugged after the match and raised arms on the rampway, and that was that. Nothing left to ponder and nothing to really make you want to tune in the next night on RAW.

With HHH getting older, Rock off to Hollywood, Alberto Del Rio still fitting into his newfound face role and CM Punk taking time off to heal, WWE is hurting when it comes to needing a face. Cena fills that void, and I understand that. But in a time when most character are cut from the same cloth and differ just slightly, a flawed hero/borderline bad guy could be just what the doctor ordered to help create new stars. Steve Austin and the Rock in the Attitude days were not perfect by any means. They were themselves and the crowd loved them for it. They never did the right thing for the sake of doing it because it was expected. Sometimes they made mistakes, bu these mistakes added to their character's development and depth.

If characters were houses, Cena would be a one level.

As he normally does, he came out Monday and was back to his normal, bi-polar, jovial self. Gone was the serious, matter-of-fact-ness a week prior heading into his match with the Rock. He undermined Mark Henry with sophomoric jokes and repeated an eight-year old catchphrase. This led to a match later in the night.

In between these events, Money In The Bank winner Dolph Ziggler cashed in and won the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio. The raucous New Jersey crowd erupted, partially because they respected Ziggler's rise to the top and were happy to see him attain a longtime goal. The other reason was because it was new.

Cena later won his match via count-out. Henry proceeded to attack him when out stormed the massive Ryback to stop it. With Henry gone, Ryback helped Cena up, then proceeded to lift him up for his finishing move, the Shellshock. Down went Cena.

While for any other wrestler it  would be considered a heel turn, Ryback's actions did not. He soaked in the cheers from the crowd. The crowd got what they wanted: something unexpected and refreshingly new. But can Cena help deliver the same as he begins his reign as WWE champion and feud with Ryback?

Only time will tell.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Wrestlemania 29: Parallel World Order and A Look into the Not-So-Distant-Future of the WWE

The build to this year's Wrestlemania 29 in New York/New Jersey was definitely lacking to say the least. A lot of people who typically get amped for the "Super Bowl of Wrestling" were skeptical of this year's card and rightfully so. It was full of rematches, matches no one asked for, decent matches and matches that had no build, thus not allowing fans to invest anything in them.  The build to the show produced the effect that is never desired: unadulterated doubt. Sunday only reassured those doubters.I will explore what should have happened and what ended up transpiring before our eyes and what could be on the horizon for  World Wrestling Entertainment. 


What should have happened: Hold the event ANYWHERE but New York. Wrestlemania 1, 10 and 20 were at MSG. Hold off a year and have it there. Also, if you are going to pick a location...PICK ONE. The NY/NJ under the logo was very confusing.

What actually happened: WWE held it at Metlife Stadium and advertised the show being in New York and New Jersey.

What will happen next (year):  Mania in New Orleans. Because New Orleans.

Xbox Live Pay Per View Stream:

What should have happened: Users should have been able to log in successfully on the first start, order the program and watch it in its entirety, uninterrupted.

What actually happened: Users who logged in and ordered the $59.99 event were booted out for a solid hour, if not longer. Users late to the party (me) couldn't log in after multiple (dozens) of attempts, until finally it decided to work. The sad thing is, in reality- we didn't miss anything of importance, since nothing of note went down at this pay per view.

What will happen next (year): WWE will resolve any and all technical issues and have a pay per view that can be watched without any disturbances. One can hope.

 Intercontinental Championship: The Miz vs Wade Barrett (C)

What should have happened: This match should have been on the main card. not the pre-show. Shows you how important belts are in the caste system of the WWE right? Titles < Yesteryear's Big Names < Cena  is the equation they use. Miz winning was what I would have gone with, only because Barrett did nothing with it, to no fault of his own. Yes, I'm looking at you, Vince and "creative".

What actually happened: Miz won the title in an average pre-show match on Youtube. I'd try to type more and make it seem better, but it'd be like putting lipstick on a pig.

What will happen next: Miz parades the title around and no one cares because it is meaningless.

Sheamus, Big Show and Randy Orton vs The Shield

What should have happened: After a back and forth battle, the trio of main eventers take control and look to have the match won, when Orton turns on his teammates and the Shield win. Orton's character has a fresh start and the WWE has a new main event heel, as well as the Shield's star grows brighter.

What actually happened: Big Show turned on his team and the Shield won, staying undefeated in the WWE. Show turns are very tired, as he was a face for all of a few months. The Shield winning was the right decision, but how we got there...not so much.

What will happen next: A very boring Orton and Show feud for the next month or two, and Sheamus spouting off terrible jokes in another blase feud. The Shield's push continues, but hard to say when WWE will make a big move with the group and not keep them in a holding pattern.

Ryback vs. Mark Henry

What should have happened: Ryback gets the big win at Mania and gets back on track in 2013, while Henry "does what he does" and beats people up for all of eternity while screaming at cameras, small children and meek ringside employees.

What actually happened: Mark Henry gets the win, one that he didn't really need as he's been in the WWE for close to eighteen decades and can get over in a matter of seconds on anyone.

What will happen next: Ryback's star takes a hit and people begin to wonder  what could happen with him. The doubt in him might cause resentment from both fans and himself, and we could see a heel turn and have him fight Cena-tron. The fans will realize they hate Cena more, and a double-face turn would be more than welcome at that point....but if last night was any indication, Cena will remain a good guy for the next 2,000 years. More on that later.

Tag Team Championship : Dolph Ziggler and Big E vs. Team Hell No (C)

What should have happened: Dolph and E win the belts and the rise of the Showoff begins. Dissention forms between Kane and Bryan and they have  a brutally physical match at Extreme Rules.

What REALLY Should Have Happened : Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes beat Team Hell No in a solid eight minute contest and go on to have a bro-tacular epic run as tag team champs and help get the division over while Bryan and Kane split finally allowing the American Dragon to have legitimate singles feuds and amazing matches.

What actually happened: Team Hell No retain the belts, and Dolph loses for the millionth time since he won the MITB briefcase.

What will happen next: The belts begin to lose their shine and people become tired of the partnership between the two champs. Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler continue to imply AJ is a super skank and undermine her as a performer. Ziggler will lose his briefcase to Hornswaggle on Superstars. Two of these are honest predictions. Wait, no...the third event could very well happen.

Chris Jericho vs. Fandango

What should have happened: The match should have gone for 15 minutes, and been a breakout for a rising star who they hyped for the last month or so. Fandango should have gotten the win in convincing fashion and stolen Jericho's finishers to anger the crowd further.

What actually happened: Chris Jericho mysteriously injures his knee, and Fandango took advantage with a roll-up for  the win. Fandango looks more lucky than talented, and the match underwhlemed to say the least.

What will happen next: Jericho will take time off to pursue music and other opportunities. Fandango will look to build off of his 1-0 record at Mania, but WWE will most likely screw up his push and demote him to FCW. (Editor's Note: Please don't mess this up, WWE. Kid's got talent.)

World Heavyweight Championship: Jack Swagger vs. Albertio Del Rio (C)

What should have happened: Both stars are in the ring post entrances when Dolph Ziggler's music plays and he cashes in his title shot at the show of shows; a perfect opportunity for the "show-off". Ziggler outperforms both men in a classic triple threat match and the crowd is stunned at a very unique booking move.

What actually happened: ADR defeats Swagger in a match you could have seen on RAW or Smackdown, and no one cared.

What will happen next: Swagger will be suspended for his DUI a few weeks back. ADR will possibly feud with Ziggler anyway, but with no sense of surprise. His face turn will begin to fizzle  and WWE will take the belt off of him.

CM Punk vs the Undertaker

What should have happened: Back in January, CM Punk retains his belt against the Rock and keeps it until Wrestlemania. During the buildup, Punk puts his yearlong- plus reign on the line against Taker's 20-0 streak, thus putting some sort of doubt in the match-up. The match goes on last. Punk loses the belt finally and the Undertaker gets a "lifetime achievement award" title run for being a loyal company man. Taker's eventual title drop in the summer allows another star to be put over.

What actually happened: Taker moves to 21-0 in a very good match. Both wrestlers came out of this looking good, but the win was almost never in question.

What will happen next: Punk is rumored to take time off to heal nagging injuries and Undertaker will likely take the rest of the calendar year off and come back in January to build to his final Mania match against John Cena. Cena will be put over because John Cena is John Cena and he is an "underdog." Yes, the most over star for the last decade views himself as an underdog. More on this later.

Brock Lesnar vs HHH

What should have happened: Lesnar beats HHH again, the WWE gets the most out of their huge investment and HHH retires to focus on backstage. Lesnar looks like a badass and can match up with any superstar (Ryback/Sheamus) to further build them.

What actually happened: HHH beats Lesnar in a slow, plodding match. It was physical and parts were fun, but was bogged down in my mind by the pace and HHH winning. He has no need for a win at Mania in 2013- simply put, no one cares.  Lesnar sold the kimura lock like a champ and looked like a savage the entire match.

What will happen next: HHH will cut a 30 minute promo on RAW and refer to himself as the "ass-kicker." Lesnar will take a few months off until Summerslam where HHH beats him three times in a row on the same night even though it is a 2 out of 3 falls match. Because HHH.

WWE Title: John Cena vs The Rock (C)

What should have happened: Back in January, Cena loses in the Royal Rumble allowing a young star to get exposure with a Rumble win. Cena calls out Rock who plays hard to get but eventually agrees. The two fight in the co-main event and Cena does one of two things:

1. He wins the belt through way of nefarious means (think Austin/Rock in 2001) and becomes defiant against any fan or star who questions him which signifies his change into a bad guy.

2. He loses and let's it eat at him. His pride is shot and he begins to grow resentful to the Rock and fans and goes off the deep end which makes him a baddie.

What REALLY should have happened: Not this match. Rock builds another star while Cena fights Lesnar or Punk. Aside from little kids, no one truly gave a damn about this rematch.

What actually happened: John Cena won the title in a very, very, lackluster main event. The crowd was worn out after a  four hour event...but even last year in Miami the crowd was hot for the very same match....that didn't include the title. That's right- they moved the title to a feud where neither star needed the belt and the champion took weeks off at a time during the critical build to the company's biggest show, and the live crowd didn't care. The end saw a ton of countered finishers as the two sensed how dead the crowd was. Even then, the reaction was mostly tame.

After the match, the two hug it out and share respect- again to which no one cared. The crowd sat on their hands, waiting for anything to get out of their seats for. But alas, it did not happen.

What will happen next: Now that he got his "worst year ever" over (which included winning the Rumble and Money in the Bank) we can now look forward to Cena's reign of mediocrity. The vicious cycle continues and the Rock goes back to Hollywood for a long, long time. Cena cuts a promo on Monday Night RAW claiming he is "back and that the champ is here. If you want some, come get some" and any phrase he has used since 2002. He has a sh*t eating grin on his face as the live crowd boos him relentlessly and he tries to laugh it off.

The trouble with John Cena as I noted earlier, is his character constantly views himself as an underdog. He thinks he is the 2004 Red Sox, when in fact Cena is the New York Yankees. As CM Punk once said, Cena IS the dynasty. No one believed in his journey to find himself and get back to being John Cena, because the truth is...he never left. He's been the most reliable star for the last decade but the trouble is his character stays the same.  A heel turn is the last big move they can make that would shock the audience and bring a new edge to their product which helped them back from 1997-2001.

Every year, Mania is a chance to start new and set the WWE up for success, whether through title changes, classic matches or big-time moments to be remembered forever. This year, Vince and company decided to rely on yesteryear's names and play it safe by having the fans go home happy with all the good guys winning for the most part. The trouble is, it's 2013. The fans don't always want the good guy to win, showing how out of touch Vince and his cohorts really are.

When they stop listening to fans and their reactions, the result is simple: everyone loses, except John Cena.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Positively Talented: A Look at Georgia Karr

The first thing you notice when talking to Shepherd sophomore attacker Georgia Karr is her bubbly personality.  She’s very friendly and honest, and having such a positive outlook has helped her become an integral part on the women’s lacrosse team in only her second season.

Karr was raised by her parents, George and Jean in Eldersburg, Maryland.  George works in construction while Jean works at a hair salon. Eldersburg was a small town where everyone knew each other.

“There was not a lot to do, so it sports was a way to stay busy.  I played softball, but it was too slow and I became bored with it. I went to a tryout for lacrosse and loved the fast-paced nature of it.”

Part of Georgia’s athleticism can be traced back to her dad who played football and baseball.  Her twenty-three year -old sister, Jackie is also an athlete. She plays basketball, volleyball and lacrosse.

Georgia played lacrosse year round for clubs and for Liberty High School from where she graduated in 2011.

“I had a lot of friends there and really enjoyed it. Lacrosse was fun there but better in club because it was way more competitive,” Georgia told me.

While at Liberty, Georgia was in the National Honor Society and National Art Honor Society. She lettered in both basketball and lacrosse. She was certainly busy but did not feel any stress due to what some would see as a hectic schedule.

“It was a lot more laid back than college. Having the scholarship here at Shepherd adds more pressure, but I can still handle the balance of classwork and lacrosse.”

Karr played basketball since she was five, but knew lacrosse was to be her primary focus.

“Lacrosse became bigger for me because it was more realistic. So many schools have lacrosse programs these days.”    

Shepherd saw something in Karr and she liked how the school was not too far from home.

“The distance played a factor, and also I knew I could get good playing time on the team.  We got a new coach last season and her style is completely different than Coach Butler’s. I like it better. It’s like a fresh start.  We are a young team and Coach Keelan is doing a great job of building the team up.”

Meghan Keelan came from Division 1 Bucknell University where she was assistant coach for three seasons. In 2012, the team’s third season, Keelan came in and led the Rams to an 11-4 record. This season they are 8-4, with seven games of at least 20 goals. Most recently over Findlay, the team set new single game records in total points (48) and goals (29). Karr’s assessment certainly rings true: Keelan’s style gets results.

Last season, Georgia scored 66 total points and was named to the First Team Division II All-Independent Team and was also selected to the Division II All-Independent Freshman Team.

This was a pleasant surprise to the young player.

“I was surprised. I felt scared when I first came here to a new team with new girls who I had never played with before.  I was worried about getting into the groove and thought the adjustment would be really tough. I was really honored, though.”

This season, she’s started in all twelve games and already has 33 goals and 29 assists for a total of 62 points which leads the team. She is second on the team behind Nicole Ruane in shots on goal. With five games left, she is almost guaranteed to shatter least season’s totals.

When she’s not tearing it up on the lacrosse field, Georgia can be found outside as she loves being active. She also loves to paint and draw because of her remarkable artistic abilities.

“Some of my friends told me I should go to school for art,” she said with a laugh.

While that may have been a viable option, Karr is going to school and studying Recreation with a concentration in Sports Marketing.  She hasn’t locked down what she wants to do specifically but neither do a lot of college kids. College is about finding who you are and what you want to do, and that’s exactly what Georgia is doing. The possibilities for her are limitless.

I asked her about what is most difficult about being a student-athlete in college.

“We travel a lot, and we’ll miss classes. Some teachers we’ll be flexible with letting you make it up, while others can be very difficult. That can be stressful.”

Like any successful player, Miss Karr has goals for herself as well as for the team.

“All of us want to improve on my statistics from last year. I want to finish my career here at Shepherd with at least 100 goals and 100 assists. I love to assist; it is very overlooked but very important to the game.”

I asked her about what her philosophy for life was.

“Being positive is really important. If you are a negative person, it will not get you anywhere,” she replied.

It’s really just that simple. Positivity breeds results, and Shepherd’s Georgia Karr is living proof of it.