Thoughts of the day: April 8, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning.


What the Gators do this last week of spring football is going to set the momentum for the next 3-1/2 months so each practice leading up to the Orange and Blue Debut on Saturday is critical. Already we’ve seen new life from the offensive scheme that Kurt Roper is teaching and it’s fairly obvious that the defense has enough outstanding athletes to be dominant once again. Will Muschamp and his staff already have a pretty good idea who the starters will be heading into August, so this week is about deciding who fills out the two-deep and building the kind of momentum that will carry over into the most important offseason in perhaps 25 years. Next season’s schedule is daunting and if the Gators are to improve from last year’s 4-8, they’ve got to finish the spring strong and get working immediately on building chemistry and cohesiveness in the summer months. It is an especially critical week for quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Will Grier. If these guys are going to be the leaders in the offseason, then they’ve got to end the spring so completely comfortable with the offense that they can keep things moving along during the dog days of summer.


UConn took a page out of Florida’s book Monday night when the Huskies knocked off Kentucky to win the NCAA championship. That defensive game plan was pure Billy Donovan down to the way the Huskies brought the double teams on Julius Randle, who was held to 10 points, and forced the Harrison twins to take tough shots from places on the floor where they aren’t comfortable. Even though Kentucky had a serious height and strength advantage, UConn outrebounded the Wildcats, 34-33, and that had a lot to do with forcing bad shots and then beating Kentucky to the long rebounds. Kentucky fans might lament that the Wildcats lost the game at the foul line – the Wildcats were only 13-24 – the whistles heavily favored UK. In a game this physical, there is no way there should have been a 14-shot discrepancy from the line. It must also be noted that Kentucky had eight McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster. UConn didn’t have a one although the Huskies clearly had the best player, not just in the NCAA Tournament, but in the entire nation in Shabazz Napier. UConn coach Kevin Ollie came up with brilliant defensive game plans and was smart enough on the offensive end to let Napier control the flow. One final note: Florida lost three games this season, two to the national champ and one to Wisconsin, which made the Final Four. The Gators were 3-0 against Kentucky.


Gary Parrish of, the nation’s best basketball writer, doesn’t predict much of a slip for Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators for 2014-15. Parrish came up with his all-too-early Top 25 (Plus One) immediately after the national championship game, placing the Gators #5. Some might think that’s a bit too high considering the amount of leadership and experience the Gators lost in Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather, but Donovan has stocked the Florida program with the kind of athletes that fit his system well and it’s hard to argue with a 120-30 record over the last four years. Here are Parrish’s early, early rankings for next season.

1. Duke; 2. Arizona; 3. Wisconsin; 4. Kansas; 5. FLORIDA; 6. North Carolina; 7. Kentucky; 8. Wichita State; 9. Texas; 10. Virginia; 11. Villanova; 12. SMU; 13. San Diego State; 14. Iowa State; 15. Gonzaga; 16. Oklahoma; 17. Nebraska; 18. VCU; 19. Connecticut; 20. Michigan; 21. Louisville; 22. Ohio State; 23. Pittsburgh; 24. Michigan State; 25. Stanford; 26. Harvard.


Former Kentucky All-American and broadcaster Rex Chapman tweeted pre-game that John Calipari to the Lakers was a done deal win or lose. That raises the question why would Cal leave Kentucky? He’s got the most loyal and rabid fan base in all of college basketball, a 24,000-seat arena that is about to get a couple hundred million dollar facelift, gets just about any recruit he wants and can just about name his price and Kentucky will pay it. Still, it’s that rabid fan base that might actually propel him to the NBA. He lives life in a fishbowl in Lexington (or anywhere else in the state of Kentucky for all that matters) and until he’s won his fourth national championship, he’s just another coach at Kentucky. If he goes to Los Angeles, it’s glitz and glam, which he loves, and it’s all basketball all the time. Put him in LA and watch LeBron and half the free agents in the NBA make a beeline for the Left Coast. Cal told ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards that he fully expects to be back, and the Lakers still haven’t fired Mark D’Antoni, but does anyone expect he will keep his job? And even if he hasn’t been fired, if Cal wanted the Lakers job how long do you think it would take them to pink slip D’Antoni? I say it comes down to a coin flip.


The Houston Texans have the first pick in the May NFL Draft and you can bet that the #1 pick is going to come from this threesome – quarterback Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), quarterback Blake Bortles (UCF) or defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina). St. Louis is up next and the Rams have the #2 and #13 choices, plus they have a quarterback who has the great arm but can’t stay healthy in Sam Bradford. Do the Rams take insurance at quarterback with the second choice or possibly take Clowney if he doesn’t go #1? They could get very creative, trade the #2 for multiple picks and still get a good quarterback later on or possibly a wide receiver like Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans? What the Rams do with the second pick is going to set the tone for the draft more so than what the Texas do at #1.


Missouri has suspended wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham indefinitely for breaking team rules. It will be a real blow to Missouri’s passing game next year if Beckham-Green doesn’t come back. In 2013, he caught 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was expected to be named to several preseason All-America teams … Texas A&M held its final spring practice (no spring game this year since the stadium is being renovated). It was a closed scrimmage but the defense supposedly was much improved not only Saturday but throughout the spring …  Blake Sims was the star of Alabama’s scrimmage on Saturday, hitting 16-23 of his passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Cornerback Eddie Jackson, who is also Bama’s top kickoff returner, tore his ACL but Nick Saban says he’s confident Jackson will be ready to go in the fall … LSU held its spring game. True freshman quarterback Brandon Harris threw for 195 yards and three touchdowns, plus ran for a fourth to outplay Anthony Jennings … South Carolina tight end Rory Anderson will miss the rest of the spring with a torn triceps muscle … Dak Prescott threw for four touchdowns and 249 yards without an interception in Mississippi State’s Saturday scrimmage … Hutson Mason was 12-16 for 136 yards and a touchdown and kicker Marshall Morgan hit field goals of 59, 47, 47 and 22 yards in Georgia’s scrimmage … Riley Ferguson and Justin Worley are battling it out for the #1 quarterback job at Tennessee … Ole Miss held its spring game Saturday. Hugh Freeze says his team is improved and ready to take the next step in the fall.


What is it about Rutgers that brings out the worst in people? When Greg Schiano was the football coach he talked about “untapped potential” and signed contract extensions, all the while he was lobbying for every vacancy out there including Miami and Michigan. Then there was basketball coach Mike Rice, who got fired for his abusive coaching style, which also caused the athletic director Tom Pernetti to lose his job. Julie Hermann was hired as the new AD even though there were allegations that she verbally abused players when she was the volleyball coach at Tennessee. Now Hermann has hit her lowest common denominator with her criticism of the Newark Star-Ledger. Speaking to a journalism class at Rutgers, Hermann sounded almost gleeful that the Star-Ledger announced layoffs of 167 employees and when a student said the newspaper might die next month, Hermann responded, “That would be great!” There is an old saying, “Never pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.” From what friends in Jersey tell me, the Star-Ledger is likely to survive longer than Julie Hermann.


Steve Masiello, who lost the USF basketball job the day after he was hired when it was discovered he never actually graduated from Kentucky, will retain his old job at Manhattan but there is a condition – he is on unpaid administrative leave until he gets his degree from UK. From reports at ESPN, Masiello is 10 credits shy of graduation and will finish up his degree this summer. Masiello is actually a good guy who just made a dumb decision. Manhattan showed a lot of class in the way it handled things and did the right thing by making Masiello finish his degree before he is reinstated and gets another paycheck.


Long before Jake and Elwood encountered her in Chicago, Aretha Franklin was churning out the number one hits. Her career took off in 1967 with her album “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” whose feature song was “Respect.” She followed that up with “Lady Soul” which featured “Chain of Fools” and that was followed up by “Aretha Now” with “Think” as its lead track. Some call “Think” the feminist national anthem, but when WAPE started playing it in May of 1968, it had everybody singing along.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.