A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning.
AT THE HALFWAY MARK
Halfway through spring practice, two things are clearly evident: (1) The depth is better this year at nearly every position; and (2) compared to last season when every day seemed to produce an injury, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time missed due to injuries. The depth on the offensive and defensive lines is much, much better this year – there were only six offensive linemen available in the spring and by the time November hit the Gators were down to about seven. At running back, even with Matt Jones out for the spring recovering from offseason surgery, and freshman Brandon Powell unable to practice because of a foot injury, the Gators have four productive running backs to take the snaps. The wide receiver numbers might be the same as last year, but the way Kurt Roper spreads the ball around, it just seems like more. Even if the numbers are the same, having more players who will be used in the offense is a good sign. If the Gators can get through the second half of spring practice as injury-free as they have the first half, that bodes well for the fall.
FAMILIAR FOUR NOTES
Florida is one of only three teams (Duke 1999 and Michigan State 2000 are the others) to win four games on the road to the Final Four while holding all four opponents to fewer than 70 points. The last time anyone cracked the 70-point barrier on the Gators was back on January X when they took out Arkansas in overtime, 84-82. That was 23 games ago … Scottie Wilbekin has gone 94 minutes since his last turnover … Wilbekin was named first team CBS Sports All-American on Tuesday … UConn coach Kevin Ollie was the starting point guard on UConn’s 1994 team that lost to Florida, 69-60, in overtime in the East Region semifinals in Miami. Ollie had six points, four rebounds and eight assists in the loss. Craig Brown and Dan Cross scored 17 each for the Gators in that win … Before he became head coach at Wisconsin, Bo Ryan won four NCAA Division III championships at Wisconsin-Platteville where he compiled a 353-76 record. Ryan also was the head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee for two years before heading to Madison … The last time a team that started five freshmen made the Final Four was Michigan in 1992. That group is known as the Fab Five., which is what Kentucky fans are calling their five freshman starters. If there was a way for 1992 Michigan and 2014 Kentucky to play a game, I would take Michigan every time. Those Michigan kids were ferocious defenders and I don’t think Kentucky has a player as good as either Chris Weber or Jalen Rose.
THE CALIPARI TWEAK
Three weeks ago John Calipari announced that he had made a tweak with the Kentucky basketball team. Since then it’s been driving Big Blue fans nuts to figure out what it was Calipari tweaked because the Wildcats are certainly playing so much better. I have a theory: A week before the SEC Tournament most of the NBA Draft bloggers had dropped all the Kentucky freshmen – particularly the Harrison twins – significantly. The twins weren’t even on some second round mock drafts. My guess is that Calipari sat all the freshmen down and told them if they wanted to come back to Kentucky next year, keep playing like they were playing because they were losing millions every game. Then the caveat – play great and you can get drafted in the first round and become millionaires. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.
IS JACK NICKLAUS’ RECORD SAFE?
Tiger Woods had a surgical procedure on a disk in his back to relieve a pinched nerve on Monday, which means he’s out of this year’s Masters and any foreseeable tournaments. While a lot of athletes have come back strong from similar surgery, it might be very difficult for Tiger, who creates such torque in his swing. He certainly won’t be able to practice as hard as he used to, which can only mean that his game will suffer. We’ve seen what all the injuries have done to his practice schedule in the last five years. Although some optimists think Tiger will bounce back and be good once again, I think it’s doubtful that he will break the record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus. Tiger is 38 and not only hasn’t won a major in five years but he’s suffered several different injuries. He’s getting to an age where it’s more and more difficult to come back.
SABAN SUPPORTS PLAYERS
While he won’t say he’s a supporter of the decision by the NLRB that at least temporarily gives players the right to unionize, Alabama head coach Nick Saban says it’s time for athletes to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. Speaking to the Associated Press on Monday, Saban said “I’ve always been an advocate of players’ rights. I’ve always been an advocate of players being compensated the best that we can to help them. Whatever the NCAA rule is and whatever they decide to do, I’ve always been an advocate of the player and the quality of life that a player has. Having a voice in what happens, I think, is something that the players probably ought to have.”
COACHING HIRES, FIRES, ETC.
USF made a good hire in Orlando Antigua, the Kentucky assistant. He’s a strong recruiter, an excellent big man coach and for seven years following his playing career at Pitt, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters. He inherits a mess at USF. Stan Heath ran that program into the ground … Marquette didn’t get either its first or second choices (1. Shaka Smart; 2. Cuonzo Martin) so it went the assistant route and landed Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski. This is an interesting hire and probably a step down after the last two coaches – Tom Crean and Buzz Williams. The situation at Marquette must be sliding downhill because Buzz went to Virginia Tech, which is a graveyard, rather than stay at Marquette … Washington State hired former Oregon coach Ernie Kent, an interesting hire to say the very least. When Kent was at Oregon, an affair he was having with a Mexican woman was exposed and made public during the season. When Kent and Oregon traveled to Washington, the UDub pep band donned sombreros and played “The Mexican Hat Dance” … Wake Forest is speaking to Tulsa’s Danny Manning, who played high school ball in Greensboro … Florida Gulf Coast could be coach searching again. Joe Dooley could be leaving after one year for Boston College. Dooley is a former Bill Self assistant at Kansas … Leaving for the NBA early are Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins and LSU junior Johnny O’Bryant … Michigan State guard Gary Harris is expected to announce he will leave for the NBA today … When Matt Carlino said no back in 2010 it opened the door for Scottie Wilbekin to become Florida’s point guard of the future. Carlino started out at UCLA then transferred to BYU before ever playing a game for UCLA. He’s graduating this spring and transferring again.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW
Taurean Green is averaging 9.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for Limoges in France … Kenny Boynton is averaging 12.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game for Galili Bilboa in Israel … Alex Tyus is averaging 9.5 points and 7.3 rebounds for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel … Anthony Roberson is averaging 13.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game for Ikaros in Greece … Erving Walker is averaging 7.8 points and 2.2 assists per game for Chalon in France … Matt Walsh is averaging 15.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game for Granarolo BO in Italy … After leaving Ukraine, Lee Humphrey is playing for Alaba in Hungary where he is averaging 6.5 points and 2.0 assists after two games … Brent Wright is averaging 8.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for Oostende in Belgium … Justin Hamilton is averaging 4.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists for Spirou in Belgium … Back in his native Puerto Rico, Walter Hodge is averaging 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game for Areceibo … Mike Rosario is averaging 15.3 points and b3.3 rebounds per game for Ponce in Puerto Rico … Bonell Colas is averaging 17.9 points, 13.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game for Randers in Denmark … Adrian Moss is averaging 9.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game for Babitious Nara in Japan … Donnell Harvey is averaging 13.8 points and 11.8 rebounds for Shandong FB in China … Since leaving Belgium, Mohamed Abukar is averaging 17.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for Lugano in Switzerland … James White is averaging 16.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game for Grissin Bon RE in Italy … Kenny Kadji is averaging 6.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game for the Rio Grande Vipers in the NBA Developmental League.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The first time I ever heard Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown was live in Hammond, Louisiana when he played a club just a couple blocks from Southeastern Louisiana University. I’ve been listening ever since to his mix of blues and Texas boogie. Gatemouth died in 2005 at the age of 81. Emphysema and lung cancer had forced him to stop performing in 2004. When Hurricane Katrina hit, he had to evacuate his home in Slidell, Louisiana for his childhood home in Orange, Texas where he died a few days later. This guy was a true legend who was as good on a harmonica and fiddle as he was on a guitar. I found his performance of “Worried Life Blues” from Montreux in 1973 when he was backed up by Canned Heat.