A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning.
LIVING LARGE ON THE BIG STAGE
Is there anyone left in the NCAA Tournament living any larger on the big stage than Scottie Wilbekin? There is no way you could script Wilbekin’s personal redemption story any better than what we’ve seen in these last two games in the NCAA Tournament as he has delivered in crunch time to get the Florida Gators back to the Elite Eight game of the NCAA Tournament for a fourth consecutive year. The way Wilbekin has dominated the final minutes of the Pitt and UCLA games makes it seem like there is a date with destiny coming up on April 7. Yes, the Gators still have three games to win before they can hoist the crystal trophy and yes, the only game that matters now is Saturday’s game with Dayton, but can there be any other ending for Scottie Wilbekin this season than leading the Gators to a national championship? Wilbekin personifies that old saying “refuse to lose.” When UCLA pulled close Thursday night, Wilbekin simply took over the game the same way he did against Pitt, the same way he’s been doing it all season long. He just will not let the Gators lose. Think about this for a moment: Florida is 35-2 this season. Wilbekin didn’t play in the first game and didn’t play the last five minutes of the loss to UConn back on December 2 because he sprained his ankle.
IS THERE A BETTER COACH IN THE COUNTRY THAN BILLY DONOVAN?
When you think what Donovan has done this season, it’s hard to imagine that there is a better coach in the country. Donovan navigated the Gators through a tumultuous November that included suspensions and multiple injuries that reduced him at times to six scholarship players and patiently waited while the NCAA dealt with the Chris Walker situation. This team is still playing without a full roster (Dillon Graham and Eli Carter out with injuries and Damontre Harris won’t be with the team until next year), yet here they are one game away from the Final Four. I don’t think there is another coach in the country who could have dealt with the turmoil and still kept his team focused and sharp throughout. This is not a team that relies on superstar talent to slog its way through the tough games. Instead, they rely on each other and have this undying belief that if they do what Donovan tells them to do, they’ll win the game. The last two games have been coaching clinics, particularly on the defensive end where the Gators have held Pitt and UCLA to a combined 7-35 from the 3-point line. You don’t lose games when you force other teams into that kind of shooting night. This is the best coach in the country.
NLRB SAYS NORTHWESTERN PLAYERS CAN FORM A UNION
Round one of what promises to be a long battle has gone to the players. The regional board of the National Labor Relations Board that sits in Chicago ruled in favor of the players at Northwestern who petitioned for the right to form a union. The NLRB says the players are employees, therefore they have the right to unionize. Northwestern, as expected, will appeal and take it to the full NLRB board in Washington, D.C., and, if necessary, to the courts where case law will certainly seem to tilt things in their favor. There is plenty of case law, which contradicts the ruling by the regional board of the NLRB.
WHY THIS COULD BACKFIRE ON THE PLAYERS
In the Chicago ruling, the regional director ruled that players are not primarily students, citing the workload of football players for 12 months. Ivan Maisel of ESPN asks if the workload is the same for all college athletes? Do the athletes of the non-revenue sports, who have greater numbers, take over the union? Will each sport have its own union? Another question that must be asked: Will the players now have to be admitted to school by the same standards as the full student body? For example, at Florida, the average freshman comes in with a weighted GPA of 4.0 or better and an average SAT score in the mid-to-high 1300s. A final question: Will schools elect to make all non-revenue sports non-scholarship sports also, therefore eliminating hundreds of thousands of educational opportunities for athletes nationwide?
JOHNNY FOOTBALL WOWS THEM ON PRO DAY
Johnny Manziel knocked them dead at Texas A&M’s pro day Thursday. He made all the throws and showed off a quick release, a strong arm and the ability to make the right decision under pressure. Manziel can make all the plays with his arm and with his feet, yet analysts like Todd McShay says he’s “scared to death of taking Manziel because of the durability concerns.” There we go again with the size issue again. Drew Brees is about the same size as Johnny Football. He’s won a Super Bowl. Russell Wilson might not be as tall as Manziel yet he’s got a Super Bowl ring, too. Now, Manziel does use his feet more than either Brees or Wilson, but because he’s so nimble, he probably is going to avoid some of the big hits that those other two guys might take. If I’m drafting and need a quarterback, it would be very difficult for me to pass up on this kid. He’s as cocky as the day is long and he will take chances that others can’t, but he delivers. This guy is lightning in a bottle and I take him.
LEAVING FOR THE NBA, COACHING CHANGES, ETC.
Yahoo! Sports says that Joel Embiid of Kansas, who played his senior year of high school basketball at The Rock School in Gainesville, has declared for the NBA. Embiid says no decision has been made. If he declares, Embiid is expected to be the #1 pick when the NBA Drafts in June. He’s 7-1 and he’s only played basketball for four years. His upside is through the roof … Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis has also declared. He will probably go in the lottery but seeing how he played in the last six or seven games of the season makes me wonder how he can handle an 82-game schedule plus playoffs when he was tired and worn down after 30 games? … Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts will take over as the coach at UNC-Wilmington when the Cardinals’ season comes to an end. Keatts was the prep school coach for former Gator Vernon Macklin … VCU coach and former Florida assistant Shaka Smart just said no to Marquette …
GRAEME MCDOWELL SAYS TIGER HAS LOST ‘FORCE FIELD”
There was a time when just the presence of Tiger Woods was worth at least a stroke or two a round but no longer. Everybody still believes he is golf’s best shot maker but nobody is intimidated anymore. “He’s lost that sort of force field of invincibility around him,” McDowell told PGATour.com. “The aura is not as strong. He’s still Tiger Woods, still the greatest player ever in my opinion.” Perhaps the greatest player ever, but certainly not the player he was five years ago.
Has there ever been a bigger homer as a color analyst than Reggie Miller was Thursday night in Memphis? I thought he was going to cry when it became obvious the Gators were going to win this game. Reggie did everything but put on a cheerleader skirt, grab some pom poms and dance to “Sons of Westwood.”
PARTING SHOT, II
The only thing I hate worse than Progressive Insurance commercials with Flo are the Sonic commercials. I’ve gotten to the point that the moment those commercials come on the screen, I hit the clicker for another channel.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Like so many of the singers who made the Memphis sound so unique in the 1960s, Johnnie Taylor got his start singing gospel. He was part of the Highway QC’s, a gospel group that was founded by Sam Cooke years before. Taylor became a blues/soul singer in the 1960s and got his real break when he moved to Stax Records in 1966. He had a great crossover hit in 1968 of “Who’s Making Love” that went to #5 on the Billboard charts and #1 on the rhythm and blues. Today’s song is “Too Many Memories” off his “Good Love” album, which was released in 1996, four years before his death.