Column: Turkeyman - Jan. 18 - At the half, or nearly

Posted by: MaineBBFan99 on Sun Dec 20th, 2020 3:04 am
Tom Nolette wrote:

Dec. 14, 2020 

Winning the race, slowly

By Bob Neal

Sports, a fellow editor said, is the area of American life that most demands excellence. Everything is judged by championships, by the final score, by how we play the game.

 That editor was no fan, though, and often lamented that journalism can`t improve until it can cover topics too complex to summarize on a scoreboard. While he was right, maybe he didn`t grasp that sports is also a prompt to lots of us as to what`s going on in the world.

 The killing of George Floyd intensified the racial-justice activities of some top-level black athletes, such as LeBron James. Michael Jordan, who was long apolitical, gave $100 million to "ensuring racial equality, social justice and greater access to education."

 It also stirred a dormant awareness in top-level white athletes, such as Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback. Ryan, who is married to Sarah Marshall, a former Catherine McAuley and BC star, started a fund for racial justice with a gift of $500,000. Ryan told The N.Y. Times that talking with Ricardo Allen, a black Falcons player, opened his eyes.

 The issue flooded out of my memory banks on Thursday when I saw the Maine women`s basketball team on the bench, all wearing "Black Lives Matter" shirts. It reminded me that sports has been a vanguard in our long pursuit of racial justice.

 As a newsboy in Columbia, Mo., I began selling papers on the street two months before Jackie Robinson debuted with the Dodgers, and I was well aware that the majors were suddenly open. I saw my first integrated game when Monte Irvin and the Giants played the Cardinals in 1951 at Sportsman`s Park in St. Louis. I regret that I never went to the other end of the state to watch the Kansas City Monarchs.

 In the 1950s, Columbia had three high schools. Hickman, a public school for whites; University (mine), a lab school for teacher training; and Douglass, a public school for blacks. Though Hickman was 10 times our size, we occasionally played the Kewpies (real name!) in basketball. Douglass was roughly our size, but we never played Douglass.

 Wilt Chamberlain had a lot to do with integrating Big Eight sports when he began playing in 1956 at Kansas. As a teen-ager, I knew how to sneak into Brewer Field House and could sit on the floor at the end of the court when the Big Dipper played Missouri.

 When I left Missouri in 1959, I found another model of racial interaction. At the University of Southern California, I wandered over to the gym and watched a pick-up basketball game. The teams were unbalanced in numbers, so they asked me to play. I hadn`t been good enough to play in high school, but the SC guys tolerated my (un)skills.

 We introduced ourselves, and I learned I was playing with Willie Wood and Monte Clark. Wood was the first black quarterback in the Pacific Coast Conference. As a pro, of course, he wasn`t a quarterback. As a Green Bay Packer, he was a Hall of Fame safety. Clark, white, was a 49ers lineman. Wood knocked around as a coach, never got a shot at NFL head coach. Clark got a head-coaching job but was less than successful. Eye opener.

 You get the theme here, of course, that Wood was emblematic of an underlying pattern in the early integration of sports. Blacks are great athletes, but leave "thinking positions," such as quarterback and point guard as well as coaching, to whites.

 That summer of 1959, the Dodgers needed ushers. I signed on. When I picked up my first paycheck, the clerk asked, "Are you related to Charlie Neal?" referring to the Dodgers second baseman. A black. The question was serious, yet it had never occurred to me that I could be related to a black player. Eye opener.

 Other sports milestones. In 1966, Don Haskins started five blacks at Texas Western, and the Miners won the NCAA title over Kentucky, coached by Adolph Rupp, a bitter racist. That meant, of course, that the NCAA championship team`s point guard was black.

 In 1968, Marlin Briscoe became the NFL`s first black quarterback. But that was short-lived, and Briscoe became a wide receiver at Buffalo when Lou Saban, the Denver coach, wouldn`t let him play quarterback. Today, eight NFL starting quarterbacks are black.

 In 1969, Curt Flood, the Cardinals centerfielder, rejected a trade to the Phillies, which began the end of baseball`s reserve clause. The historical backdrop was that players, though paid well, were still slaves in that they had no choice where they work.

 On Sept. 12, 1970, Alabama football coach Bear Bryant engineered one of the Crimson Tide`s most humiliating defeats. SC, fully integrated, thrashed `Bama, fully white, 42-21. Bryant knew Alabama couldn`t continue all-white. So he asked SC to come show how it`s done. In 1971, Bryant has so integrated `Bama that his defensive signal caller was black.

 Eight years after Texas Western, UNC may have been the first power conference school with a black point guard, Phil Ford, a freshman shooting point guard.

 Closer to home, Trish Roberts, a star for Pat Summitt at Tennessee, and black, became Maine`s head women`s basketball coach in 1988 and coached the Black Bears to 83 wins and 32 losses over four seasons. Her 1989-90 Black Bears were all white.

 Sports may not be a microcosm of America, but it may be a microcosm of what an America to come. If we follow its pursuit of excellence. As Nelson Mandela put it 20 years ago, "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does."

 Bob Neal recalls still his first realization of racial injustice when, at age 6 or 7, he figured out that black kids in Missouri had far poorer schooling than white kids.

Great piece, Bob (as usual). 

Posted by: Tom Nolette on Mon Dec 21st, 2020 4:04 am

Latest  column from Bob.   I posted in pro baseball forum and included here as well ......

All in the name

 Ed Rice was probably a happy man last Monday. A story in the New York Times told us that Cleveland`s major league baseball team was dropping the name "Indians." 

 Ed, who lives in eastern Maine, has been campaigning for decades, yes decades, for the Clevelanders to change names. In 2000, he published a biography of Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot from Old Town who played brilliantly but briefly for the Clevelanders.

 In fact, the official version is that the Cleveland team was named "Indians" after him. Ed disputes that version. The story reminded me that last summer the Washington Football Club dropped its nickname, with no new one, for now. Cleveland will change in 2022.

 The march of political correctness in sports has taken many twists, good and bad. My friend Steve Solloway, whose Press Herald column was reason enough to pony up a buck for the paper whenever I was in Portland, showed me the distinctions we should make.

 Wells High School was for decades the Wells Warriors. It is still the Wells Warriors, and it may be the poster child for how to deal with naming issues. The school board simply dropped all the symbolism that went with "Warriors." No more feather headdress, no more spear, arrow or Indian-head caricature.

 "Warriors," after all, come from all cultures. Without that logo, who`s to say "Warriors" from Wells don`t honor warriors of ancient Greece or warriors of the Ghanaian kingdom or warriors of China memorialized by terra cotta statues 2,200 years old? "Warriors," in time, will become generalized and mean only those who play for a high school in Wells.

 Others have changed names, too. Miami University (Ohio) was the "Redskins." As were Washington`s footballers. St. John`s University was "Redmen," the University of North Dakota was "Fighting Sioux," Central Michigan University the "Chippewas" and Skowhegan Area High School the "Indians." And so on. 

 As best I can find, most transitions were smooth. Some, such as Miami, were initiated by students, and Miami became the "RedHawks." St. John`s shift seems to have come from administrators, and St, John`s became the "Red Storm." For others, the change has been tough and slow to come, as with Washington and Skowhegan. And now Cleveland.

 Indigenous Americans started asking the MSAD 54 school board years ago to drop the name "Indians" from Skowhegan High. The board was always split, but over the years, the vote to change gradually overtook the vote to stand pat. 

 Two things made settlement difficult in Skowhegan. First, the town symbol is the "Big Indian," a 62-foot wooden sculpture by Bernard Langlais. The sign beside the statue downtown says Langlais, born in Old Town, made it to honor the Wabanaki of the area. 

 As the contention went on, both sides dug in. It became winner-take-all. Rather than  get rid of offensive symbols and keep the name "Indians," the board painted itself into a corner and in 2019 voted to drop all links to "Indians." Later it adopted RiverHawks." 

 An aside. "Indians" was never an easy call for me. Partly because two men whom I ddin`t know told me, at separate times, that they were "Indian" and did not object to the word. Both said they lived in MSAD 54, and one said, "Call me an Indian. That`s what I am."

 Sometimes, the change came without asking. After the NCAA banned Indian names and symbols, at least one Lakota band gave its blessing to UND keeping "Fighting Sioux." But the NCAA and school administration ruled, so UND became the "Fighting Hawks." 

 Florida State was allowed to keep its "Seminole" moniker when the Seminole Tribe in 2005 endorsed its use. The tribe and FSU have a consulting arrangement, so any change in the name or symbol will be worked out beforehand. Same with CMU and the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, who agreed in 2002 to cooperate on the use of the name and symbols. I watched the Chippewa women`s basketball team the other day. I saw no negative symbol, though the logo coloring and design strongly suggested an American Indian theme. 

 Some teams have changed but maybe have work still to do. A friend at church, a full-blooded Lakota, gets upset whenever I mention the Kansas City Chiefs. He finds the symbolism negative. The Super Bowl champs play in Arrowhead Stadium, and their logo is an arrowhead with an interlaced KC inside it. Years ago, they had a grotesque looking Indian logo, a mascot dressed as an aboriginal who rode a pinto named "Warpaint." The chant and the tomahawk chop were part of the ritual. Nowadays, only the stadium name and arrowhead logo remain, and a cheerleader named Susie rides a pony.  

 Kansas City may have a hard time abandoning all Indian references. The word "chief" is too often used in other contexts. Maxwell Smart`s boss on "Get Smart" was known only as "chief." Corporations are full of chief this and chief that, chief operating officer, chief executive officer, chief financial officer. What could "Chiefs" mean in KC if not Indians?

 Now, Cleveland has set the wheels in motion to decide on its new name. Maybe it can go back to the "Spiders," the name under which Sockalexis played from 1897 through 1899. 

 Want to think more on this topic? The indigenous historian Vine Deloria Jr. said, “Before the white man can relate to others, he must forgo the pleasure of defining them.” Mull that.

 Bob Neal noticed that during the Chiefs` victory parade in February, Patrick Mahomes started a tomahawk chop, thought better of it and swigged a beer instead. Smart choice. 

Posted by: Tom Nolette on Sun Dec 27th, 2020 10:38 am

America East women`s preview

 The coaches` picks to lead the American East Conference in women`s basketball in this abbreviated season were no surprise. UMaine first, Stony Brook second, Lowell third.

 Maine and Stony Brook, last year`s top two, took all the first-place votes.  Just as a reminder, here is how the coaches picked it:

  1.  Maine                          
  2.  Stony Brook    
  3.  Lowell  
  4.  Albany
  5.  UMBC (tie)
  6.  Binghamton (tie)
  7.  Vermont
  8.  Hartford
  9.  New Hampshire
 10. New Jersey Tech

  In the first week of conference games, plus non-conference games for seven teams, I have had long looks at Maine, Vermont, UMBC, Lowell and NJIT and short looks at Stony Brook, Albany, Bingo, Hartford and UNH.

  No AE team is at the stage of development we expect when conference play begins.  Several teams have difficulty hanging on to the ball, and I thought I saw signs of fatigue on most teams playing the back-to-back games built into the schedule by COVID-19. 

  A quick look at each team that isn`t named Maine.

  Stony Brook is counting on transfers again, including another undersized point guard. Remember Shorty Johnson (2019) and KK Hilaire (2020)? This time, it`s Asiah Dingle, a 5-4 (Kent State). Others who have started are Earlette Scott, 5-10 guard (Providence), and Mairimar Vargas-Reyes, 6-0 junior college product. Daigle and Scott are 1-2 in scoring.

  India Pagan, AE first team, and Anastasia Warren, third team, haven`t picked up where they left off in scoring.  The Seawolves have committed 17 turnovers a game and have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.6. In two home games against Bingo, they had 35 turnovers.

  Tom Garrick`s Lowell River Hawks are 2-3. They average 20 turnovers a game and have been outscored by 17 points a game. UML has yet to gel. Kharis Idom, second-team all-conference guard, averages 10 points but has 21 turnovers and 13 fouls in five games.  Denise Solis averages 10 points and six boards, but Linda Svenne, a starter in the past, is shooting 1 for 16 and has 11 turnovers off the bench. 

  Based on what I`ve seen, the coaches may have underestimated Vermont and Hartford and overestimated Albany and UMBC.  

  UVM is smaller and quicker than in recent years but it has an impressive first-year post named Anna Olson and two really good guards in Emma Utterback, who likely was second to Maine`s Anne Simon for Rookie of the Year, and Josie Larkins, a senior who gives a very young team some leadership. Utterback averages 13 points a game, Larkins 11, and Olson 10 plus 7 boards. The Cats split their only two games, with Lowell. I won`t be shocked if they finish above seventh. Perhaps well above.

  Hartford looked dreadful -- 35 turnovers in two days -- in its first game against Maine, though it snagged 10 offensive boards in the second half and played Maine within eight in the second half of an 85-57 loss. UH led for nearly 30 minutes in the second game before the worn-down Black Bears (three road games in four days) pulled out the victory.

  The Hawks have two good transfers in Breyenne Bellerand (James Madison), who has scored 19, and Nina Farkic (Western Michigan), 20 points and 14 boards. Maine held Jordan McLemore, the only returning starter, to 14 points in two games. Carlette Leurs may get more playing time after riding pine for two years. She grabbed 11 boards last week (five offensive) in 25 minutes, a sign of good positioning on the block.

  Albany is 2-4. In the loss to Hofstra, the Great Danes turned the ball over 25 times and shot 29%. Ellen Hahne, a long guard, averages 12 points but turns it over four times a game. Helene Haegerstrand averages 13. Point guard Kyara Frames averages eight points but shoots 29% and averages four turnovers. Khepera Stokes, an ex-starter, hasn`t played.

  It`s hard to see UMBC finishing as high fifth. Its only win in four games was against Albany. The Retrievers, too, are starting a lot of newcomers, but they did hold off Albany for a nine-point victory, their only win.

  Bingo lost AE Player of the Year Kai Moon and in the little I have seen, the Bearcats looked disorganized. Guard Denai Bowman averages 13.5, and post Kaylee Wasco 13. Birns Bennonysdottir, a transfer from Arizona, has committed 16 turnovers in 96 minutes, and Hayley Moore has shot way below par so far.

 UNH and NJIT split a pair last week. I saw parts of both games and wasn`t impressed with either team. Amanda Torres may come into her own at UNH, where she averages 15 points, and Ivy Gogolin averages 10. This team, remarkably shot 40% against UMass and got killed, 74-55. NJIT blew a lead and lost to Rider, which is 1-8. No starter has more assists than turnovers. But the Highlanders average 40 rebounds, perhaps because they have a 6-4 and a 6-0 post averaging five boards each. Kenna Squier, who was on the ASun all-rookie team last year, averages 11 points a game.

  It`s tough to evaluate teams that are mostly at a mid-October stage of progress. I won`t be shocked if one or more teams turns out to be really good -- my best guess is UVM -- or if some teams never get it together, perhaps because of the short season or because of the weekend single-site-per-week schedule.

 Bob Neal isn`t happy watching games on ESPN+ and FloHoops instead of inside a gym. But, he`ll be at the computer today watching the AE teams make a fool of his analysis. 

Posted by: MaineBBFan99 on Mon Dec 28th, 2020 11:23 am
Tom Nolette wrote:

America East women`s preview

 The coaches` picks to lead the American East Conference in women`s basketball in this abbreviated season were no surprise. UMaine first, Stony Brook second, Lowell third.

 Maine and Stony Brook, last year`s top two, took all the first-place votes.  Just as a reminder, here is how the coaches picked it:

  1.  Maine                          
  2.  Stony Brook    
  3.  Lowell  
  4.  Albany
  5.  UMBC (tie)
  6.  Binghamton (tie)
  7.  Vermont
  8.  Hartford
  9.  New Hampshire
 10. New Jersey Tech

  In the first week of conference games, plus non-conference games for seven teams, I have had long looks at Maine, Vermont, UMBC, Lowell and NJIT and short looks at Stony Brook, Albany, Bingo, Hartford and UNH.

  No AE team is at the stage of development we expect when conference play begins.  Several teams have difficulty hanging on to the ball, and I thought I saw signs of fatigue on most teams playing the back-to-back games built into the schedule by COVID-19. 

  A quick look at each team that isn`t named Maine.

  Stony Brook is counting on transfers again, including another undersized point guard. Remember Shorty Johnson (2019) and KK Hilaire (2020)? This time, it`s Asiah Dingle, a 5-4 (Kent State). Others who have started are Earlette Scott, 5-10 guard (Providence), and Mairimar Vargas-Reyes, 6-0 junior college product. Daigle and Scott are 1-2 in scoring.

  India Pagan, AE first team, and Anastasia Warren, third team, haven`t picked up where they left off in scoring.  The Seawolves have committed 17 turnovers a game and have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.6. In two home games against Bingo, they had 35 turnovers.

  Tom Garrick`s Lowell River Hawks are 2-3. They average 20 turnovers a game and have been outscored by 17 points a game. UML has yet to gel. Kharis Idom, second-team all-conference guard, averages 10 points but has 21 turnovers and 13 fouls in five games.  Denise Solis averages 10 points and six boards, but Linda Svenne, a starter in the past, is shooting 1 for 16 and has 11 turnovers off the bench. 

  Based on what I`ve seen, the coaches may have underestimated Vermont and Hartford and overestimated Albany and UMBC.  

  UVM is smaller and quicker than in recent years but it has an impressive first-year post named Anna Olson and two really good guards in Emma Utterback, who likely was second to Maine`s Anne Simon for Rookie of the Year, and Josie Larkins, a senior who gives a very young team some leadership. Utterback averages 13 points a game, Larkins 11, and Olson 10 plus 7 boards. The Cats split their only two games, with Lowell. I won`t be shocked if they finish above seventh. Perhaps well above.

  Hartford looked dreadful -- 35 turnovers in two days -- in its first game against Maine, though it snagged 10 offensive boards in the second half and played Maine within eight in the second half of an 85-57 loss. UH led for nearly 30 minutes in the second game before the worn-down Black Bears (three road games in four days) pulled out the victory.

  The Hawks have two good transfers in Breyenne Bellerand (James Madison), who has scored 19, and Nina Farkic (Western Michigan), 20 points and 14 boards. Maine held Jordan McLemore, the only returning starter, to 14 points in two games. Carlette Leurs may get more playing time after riding pine for two years. She grabbed 11 boards last week (five offensive) in 25 minutes, a sign of good positioning on the block.

  Albany is 2-4. In the loss to Hofstra, the Great Danes turned the ball over 25 times and shot 29%. Ellen Hahne, a long guard, averages 12 points but turns it over four times a game. Helene Haegerstrand averages 13. Point guard Kyara Frames averages eight points but shoots 29% and averages four turnovers. Khepera Stokes, an ex-starter, hasn`t played.

  It`s hard to see UMBC finishing as high fifth. Its only win in four games was against Albany. The Retrievers, too, are starting a lot of newcomers, but they did hold off Albany for a nine-point victory, their only win.

  Bingo lost AE Player of the Year Kai Moon and in the little I have seen, the Bearcats looked disorganized. Guard Denai Bowman averages 13.5, and post Kaylee Wasco 13. Birns Bennonysdottir, a transfer from Arizona, has committed 16 turnovers in 96 minutes, and Hayley Moore has shot way below par so far.

 UNH and NJIT split a pair last week. I saw parts of both games and wasn`t impressed with either team. Amanda Torres may come into her own at UNH, where she averages 15 points, and Ivy Gogolin averages 10. This team, remarkably shot 40% against UMass and got killed, 74-55. NJIT blew a lead and lost to Rider, which is 1-8. No starter has more assists than turnovers. But the Highlanders average 40 rebounds, perhaps because they have a 6-4 and a 6-0 post averaging five boards each. Kenna Squier, who was on the ASun all-rookie team last year, averages 11 points a game.

  It`s tough to evaluate teams that are mostly at a mid-October stage of progress. I won`t be shocked if one or more teams turns out to be really good -- my best guess is UVM -- or if some teams never get it together, perhaps because of the short season or because of the weekend single-site-per-week schedule.

 Bob Neal isn`t happy watching games on ESPN+ and FloHoops instead of inside a gym. But, he`ll be at the computer today watching the AE teams make a fool of his analysis. 

Really appreciate the insight, Bob. Here are a few additional thoughts: 

Yes, Stony Brook has indeed courted another transfer to fill their point guard position. While Dingle is a solid addition to the Seawolves squad, she is not an MVP caliber player like Shorty Johnson nor does she have the electric playmaking ability of a KK Hilaire. Also, I know it`s a small sample size, but through three conference games, the Seawolves have really struggled with taking care of the ball - they are currently 9th in the conference in turnover rate at 22.7% (percentage of possessions resulting in a turnover). Last year, behind the deft handle of Hilaire, Stony Brook`s turnover rate was just 15.7%, good for second in the conference. 

Having already played UConn and a solid BC squad, the numbers of turnovers for Idom and for UMass Lowell as a whole are a tad inflated (Idom had 14 total turnovers in those two games; UML had 52). Through three conference games, Idom has accumulated just five turnovers and UML a more respectable 46 turnovers. 

I generally agree with your thoughts on Albany, UMBC, Hartford, and Vermont. Though this year really feels like a three-team race - Maine, Stony Brook, and UML, with perhaps a team like Vermont playing the role of spoiler (though VT`s performance yesterday at NJIT didn`t exactly inspire confidence in that theory). 

Posted by: turkeyman on Wed Dec 30th, 2020 8:25 am

  Great points, 99. In the first game against Lowell, I thought Asiah Dingle showed defensive weakness. She seemed out of sync with the switching defense. And has a TO problem that neither Shorty Johnson nor KK Hilaire had. She may call her own number more than Hilaire did, and I don`t believe she sees the floor so well as Hilaire. Truth to tell, I didn`t mention Stony Brook`s TOs because I was pointing out turnovers as a flaw on so many other teams. But 23% is pretty bad.

 We in Maine know what it is like to run through UConn`s buzzsaw. Now Lowell knows, too, though, as Shea Ralph`s husband, I expect Tom Garrick had a pretty good idea going in what was going to happen to the River Hawks (79-23). It was a typical UConn attack, going after the best player on a mid-major and destroying her day. Kharis Idom looked really good in the first game against Stony Brook but took a while to reach top form in the second game, and the outcome wasn`t much in doubt by then.

 I believe your`re correct that it is a three-team race. The only team that I see possibly breaking into the top three is UVM, and that`s a long shot. The Cats didn`t look great against NJIT. Utterback is wearing an Ace bandage on one knee and hasn`t played so many minutes as last year. I see no sign of injury, and her PT is increasing, so she may just be coming into form.

 I may have to take a second look at NJIT. They seem disorganized on offense but their defense clogs up the block pretty well. At their present pace, they would finish 9-9, far above expectations. Hartford has a solid seven or eight players but Morgan Valley may not have found the combinations yet. Jada Lucas is not starting but led the Hawks yesterday in scoring off the bench. UNH led for most of the game and outrebounded Hartford and had 16 turnovers to Hartford`s 22 but shot only 28%. Wildcats seem to have difficulty putting together four quarters on the same day. Hope that continues this weekend. 

 So far, AE teams have played 36 games, 18 two-game sets. Only three have been sweeps (Stony Brook over Bingo, Maine over Hartford and Hartford over UNH), and only Maine`s was on the road. This will be a real test for coaches. How much do you hold back? Coach Vachon said after the Hartford blowout that she had to do a better job of getting playing time for the youngsters. She had her starting players still in the game in the fourth quarter, and next day Maine seemed sluggish, barely pulling out a victory. There won`t be much time to retool before the second game, so we may learn a lot about how well AE coaches can adjust in a hurry.

 Bob Neal, New Sharon

Posted by: MaineBBFan99 on Thu Dec 31st, 2020 4:59 pm
turkeyman wrote:

  Great points, 99. In the first game against Lowell, I thought Asiah Dingle showed defensive weakness. She seemed out of sync with the switching defense. And has a TO problem that neither Shorty Johnson nor KK Hilaire had. She may call her own number more than Hilaire did, and I don`t believe she sees the floor so well as Hilaire. Truth to tell, I didn`t mention Stony Brook`s TOs because I was pointing out turnovers as a flaw on so many other teams. But 23% is pretty bad.

 We in Maine know what it is like to run through UConn`s buzzsaw. Now Lowell knows, too, though, as Shea Ralph`s husband, I expect Tom Garrick had a pretty good idea going in what was going to happen to the River Hawks (79-23). It was a typical UConn attack, going after the best player on a mid-major and destroying her day. Kharis Idom looked really good in the first game against Stony Brook but took a while to reach top form in the second game, and the outcome wasn`t much in doubt by then.

 I believe your`re correct that it is a three-team race. The only team that I see possibly breaking into the top three is UVM, and that`s a long shot. The Cats didn`t look great against NJIT. Utterback is wearing an Ace bandage on one knee and hasn`t played so many minutes as last year. I see no sign of injury, and her PT is increasing, so she may just be coming into form.

 I may have to take a second look at NJIT. They seem disorganized on offense but their defense clogs up the block pretty well. At their present pace, they would finish 9-9, far above expectations. Hartford has a solid seven or eight players but Morgan Valley may not have found the combinations yet. Jada Lucas is not starting but led the Hawks yesterday in scoring off the bench. UNH led for most of the game and outrebounded Hartford and had 16 turnovers to Hartford`s 22 but shot only 28%. Wildcats seem to have difficulty putting together four quarters on the same day. Hope that continues this weekend. 

 So far, AE teams have played 36 games, 18 two-game sets. Only three have been sweeps (Stony Brook over Bingo, Maine over Hartford and Hartford over UNH), and only Maine`s was on the road. This will be a real test for coaches. How much do you hold back? Coach Vachon said after the Hartford blowout that she had to do a better job of getting playing time for the youngsters. She had her starting players still in the game in the fourth quarter, and next day Maine seemed sluggish, barely pulling out a victory. There won`t be much time to retool before the second game, so we may learn a lot about how well AE coaches can adjust in a hurry.

 Bob Neal, New Sharon

Thanks for the reply, Bob. I agree with your points, particularly the importance of load management this year. I will be very interested to see how Coach Vachon addresses that challenge as the season progresses. If her historical ability to make adjustments (whether in-season or in-game) is any indicator, I am sure she will do just fine. 

Looking forward to continued insightful posts from you in 2021 - Happy New Year!

Posted by: Tom Nolette on Mon Jan 4th, 2021 5:37 am

To play or not to play

By Bob Neal

  "Was the college football season worth it?" a headline asked yesterday in The New York Times Magazine.

  The author, Bruce Schoenfeld, noted the effect COVID-19 has had on sports generally.  Wimbledon and the New York Marathon canceled. The Olympics pushed to 2021, the Masters golf tournament to November. And so on.

  We`ll never know, Schoenfeld wrote, whether football players who became infected were permanently injured. The major concern is lasting heart damage that`s showing up in young survivors of COVID.  Teams from the Power Five conferences (Big 10, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, ACC) salvaged some of their athletic budgets, but had to make big cuts or deficit finance.  Fans, even if they couldn`t attend games, found the season to their liking. 

  Schoenfeld used the Ohio State University as his primary example and didn`t look at the  lower conferences, such as the three in which UMaine teams play, America East, Colonial Athletic Association and Hockey East.  So, let`s look at the larger picture.

  You may recall that the Pac-12 and Big 10 canceled football, then reneged and allowed shortened schedules. The CAA shortened and regionalized a spring football schedule

  The virus has devastated Div. III, so much that the D3hoops website is asking for donations to replace vanished advertising income. Only some Texas teams and conservative Christian schools are playing basketball. 

  In Maine, no D-III schools have played basketball. The New England Small College Athletic Conference, in which Bates, Bowdoin and Colby play, canceled all sports. None of those colleges has all-students-on-campus classes, though all have students on campus.

The North Atlantic Conference, in which UMF, MMA, Husson, UMPI and Thomas play, has put basketball on hold. Games may begin on Jan. 29.  Or not.  Jan. 25 is decision day.

  Maine schools are limiting infections well.  UMaine has the most cases, 133, but it is the largest residential campus by far. Other infection numbers are Husson, 51; UMF, 48; Bates, 30; Bowdoin, 4; Colby, 23; MMA, 23; St. Joe`s, 29; USM, 54; and UNE, 54. And  none among athletes at UMaine, about the only students on campus during break.

  Contrast that with P5 schools.  Alabama, 3,361; Ohio State, 5,806; Florida, 5,630; Wisconsin, 5,182; Duke, 267. The Ivy League canceled all sports, which reduced non-conference games for UMaine. Duke was the first to cancel an entire season, ending its women`s basketball season. Southern Methodist in Dallas, with 920 infections, followed. 

  Teams may believe they have a schedule, only to learn differently. In football, nearly 25% of P5 games were postponed or canceled. Three top-five teams couldn’t play Nov. 13. When games set for Cal and UCLA were canceled one week, they played each other. 

  Look at the past three days in DI women`s basketball. About 25% of the games weren`t played. On Friday, 36 games were played but seven postponed and two canceled. On Saturday, 74 played, 22 postponed and five canceled, and yesterday, 48, 12 and one. 

  In America East, too. Albany and Stony Brook postponed games due to positive test results.  UVM was to play at Albany, and SBU at UMBC.  It`s early in the season, so UMBC was able to travel to Albany yesterday and today to play UVM, replacing games on Feb. 27 and 28. Albany and SBU were to play on Jan. 9 and 10, but those have been postponed. As the season shortens, rescheduling will be more difficult, so AE may wind up with ragged results, some teams getting in all 18 games, others maybe 15 or 16.

  Beyond scheduling, athletic budgets have taken a hit.  Ohio State cut spending to $180 million from about $230 million.  But its income for the year is $73 million, so it has made cuts.  Senior staff must take five days off during the year.  The athletic director is paid $1.6 million, so a week off costs him $30,769.  Hope he can scrape by.  Others, such as Stanford, have seen an opening to cancel sports it doesn`t want, such as field hockey.

  UMaine`s athletic budget is $19 million.  Ken Ralph, athletic director, has said budget deficits won`t be made up by cutting sports.  He may be an optimist, citing savings from, for example, not playing football down south and not filling vacant jobs.

  The Big 10`s start-stop-start football season wound up with a big payoff.  With Ohio State winning the national semi-final over Clemson, the Big 10 picked up $6 million for its schools.  “Great day,” Kevin Warren, the Big 10 commissioner, told The Times.

  To fans, football was a success.  Kaleigh Murphy, a sophomore at Ohio State, told The Times, “It’s . . . a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel.  It helps you realize that we’re going to have a normal life back soon.”  She may underestimate the tunnel`s length.

  NPR`s Tom Goldman was less ecstatic.  He said, "The college football season will probably end up meaning a lot to a lot of people, especially in Alabama and Ohio."  Next Monday, `Bama and Ohio State play for the national championship.

  Stay tuned.  COVID seems bound to keep upsetting the sports apple cart.

  Bob Neal admits that he desperately wanted a basketball season this year, even though it meant only on ESPN. What else do you do in winter besides lug in firewood?

Posted by: Tom Nolette on Mon Jan 11th, 2021 7:50 am

* all of Bob`s columns on MBR can be found on this thread .. *  

Column: The Turkeyman - Role models, bad and good

By Bob Neal

  America is nearly unique in linking sports to schools. Few other countries, for example, offer a free ride to college for the athletically gifted. 

  Folks who aren`t sports fans often don`t understand the linkage, but anyone who ever attended a practice by a school sports team probably knew quickly that they were seeing some of the most intensive teaching available.

  That is the link. Teaching.  

  Every teacher has a nearly sacred duty to put the welfare of the students above all else. What did I do today to better prepare my students for life after school? Did I do anything that detracts from their preparation?  

  Those of us who follow sports sometimes may lose sight of that link. We want our team to go undefeated. We want our players to be all-stars. We want our coach to be carried on players` shoulders -- the modern version is bathed in Gatorade -- after the game. 

  The obligations on any teacher include being a role model. Students follow their teachers, and teachers need to understand that their own behavior is part of their teaching.

  Too often, teachers -- and the teachers we are most interested in here are coaches -- fall down. And because of the public nature of sports, they fall down in full view.

  A list of fallen coaches could fill the rest of this column. Bobby Knight. Rick Pitino. Jerry Tarkanian. Chris Malone. 

  Chris Malone?  Who dat?

  Malone was, until Thursday, an offensive line coach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Offensive in two senses, apparently.

  After Democrats won both U.S. Senate races Tuesday in Georgia -- Chattanooga is on the Georgia state line -- Malone tweeted the following about Stacey Abrams, the Georgian who coordinated the effort that won both elections.

  “Congratulations to the state of GA and Fat Albert @staceyabrams because you have truly shown America the true works of cheating in an election again!!!  Enjoy the buffet Big Girl! You earned it!!! Hope the money was good, still not governor!”

  If you`ve never seen Stacey Abrams, she is a large black woman. She ran for governor in 2018, losing to Brian Kemp, who at the time was the Georgia secretary of state and had expunged the state`s voter roles of scores of thousands of voters, most of them black.

  UT Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright said of Malone, “Our football program has a clear set of standards. Those standards include respecting others. Life is bigger than football and as leaders of young men, we have to set that example, first and foremost. With that said, effective immediately, (Malone) is no longer a part of my staff.”

  Life is bigger than football. When Patrick Mahomes hurls one 55 yards in the air and  Tyreek Hill cups it into his arms on the way to the end zone, it`s easy to forget for a moment that life is bigger than football.

  Poor teacher role models aren`t confined to coaches, of course. Just last week, the Bangor Daily News reported on a teacher suspended for a Facebook posting.

  Jonathan McBrine teaches in the career tech and history departments at Washington Academy in East Machias. He posted a complaint about equity training. “. . . equity training, that’s the new code word used by Marxists brain washers (sic). You will [hear] them promote doctrine like white privilege and whiteness, making you read articles shaming people for being white.”

  McBrine ignores the reason the equity training was started at WA. Last fall, someone put a noose in the classroom of a Latino teacher. Seems pretty clear there is a problem, but McBrine didn`t seem to relate to it. 

  Chris Malone and Jonathan McBrine put their political philosophies, which sound racist to this boy who grew up in segregated Missouri, above their obligations to their students. 

  I have become an email friend -- what`s the term for what we used to call "pen pal?" -- with the owner of  a website for women`s basketball. When we were discussing  UMaine women`s basketball ex-coaches, I wrote her that my three measures to evaluate coaches are recruiting, player development and bench coaching. She added a fourth. Culture. 

  I saw her light immediately. Creating the culture may be the most important work a coach does because it sets the tone for an entire program, and it sets the stage for the players in their lives after sports.

  Knight, Pitino and Tarkanian did not create healthy cultures. Winning cultures, yes. But perhaps at the expense of character. As I look at coaches in the future, I will look first and closest at the cultures they have built for their programs. Life is more important, and the players need to be ready for it.

  Bob Neal loves what sports, when it`s done right, does for young people. He wishes we had ways to provide similar opportunities for the kids who lack athletic skills or interest.

Posted by: Tom Nolette on Mon Jan 18th, 2021 6:20 am

 At the half, or nearly

 By Bob Neal

  This past weekend was supposed to be roughly the halfway point for America East basketball teams. For some it was, but on the women`s side, three teams are past half way and one isn`t even a quarter of the way through the 18-game schedule.

  The UMaine women will reach halfway in the middle of their two-game set this coming weekend at Binghamton. Albany has played only four games.

  But before looking at UMaine specifically, let`s look at the conference overall. The COVID-19 effect is everywhere and explains why some teams play only six games in the next six weeks but Albany needs to play 14 and three teams need to play 12 each.

  The conference wisely built two bye weeks into the schedule, Feb. 6-7 and Feb. 20-21. Without those two weekends, Albany, Stony Brook, Vermont and UMBC, which have all lost games to quarantine, would have a hard time finishing their schedules.

  Coaches in a poll picked UMaine, Stony Brook and UMass-Lowell to finish 1-2-3. It may well turn out that way, but all three have stumbled. Stony Brook and Lowell have split their season series. But Stony Brook lost on Saturday to UNH -- remember that UNH took down Maine, too -- and Lowell lost to UVM and then yesterday to Bingo.

  Maine is a full game up on Lowell at 7-1. Lowell at 7-3 is two games behind Maine on the lost side. SBU is 4-2. UVM is the only other team with a winning record, also at 4-2.

  Lowell and Stony Brook have a hard time hanging onto the ball. Lowell has committed 20 or more turnovers in four of its six latest games. UML beat Stony Brook despite 19 turnovers. Stony Brook has committed between 15 and 19 turnovers in each AE game. 

  Kharis Idom and Denise Solis are the keys to the Riverhawks`s success and neither has been consistent yet. I saw Idom make five turnovers against Hartford. At Bingo, she scored 16 in two games, 10 of them on Saturday. Solis scored 16 on Saturday but only five yesterday. Lowell needs more scoring from them, as well as a supply of Stickum.

  Anastasia Warren and McKenzie Bushee have stood out for Stony Brook. Warren is a consistent scorer, Bushee has been instant offense off the bench. India Pagan, the go-to post, averages nine ppg. The Seawolves need more scoring from her. The new transfer point guard, Asiah Dingle, is second in scoring at 9.8.

   UVM has won three in a row but is in a two-week quarantine. A tier one member (players, coaches, etc.) tested positive. The Catamounts were to have played at Orono this past weekend but AE wound up sending the Black Bears to Albany instead. I expect Vermont to keep getting better. Certainly the Cats will finish higher than the coaches` prediction of seventh. Second isn`t impossible if it upsets Maine or Stony Brook. 

  Until yesterday, when it beat Lowell, I had written off Bingo. Albany looked rusty Saturday against Maine  -- it hadn`t played since before Christmas -- and had no stopper against Maine runs. Its third quarter yesterday was likely its best of the year.

  UNH has been a spoiler, taking down both Maine and Stony Brook. Each time on a Saturday at Durham; each time sparked by a tremendous game by Amanda Torres, the only senior; each time followed by a thorough pasting the next day, perhaps because the Wildcats spent all their emotion and energy on the upset the first day.

  Players to watch. Juliena Sanchez, sophomore point at Lowell, is fast and sees the floor well. Anna Olson, first-year post at UVM, is second to Blanca Millan in scoring and has doubled as Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week. She scores 13.3 to Blanca`s 22.7. Denai Bowman is carrying Bingo, though Kaylee Wasco remains top scorer, and Clare Traeger, who averages six boards coming off the bench. If she can score more, she could become a starter. Maine plays two at Bingo Saturday and Sunday, COVID willing.

  Speaking of Maine. When this team is good, it is really, really good. Its major weakness is rebounds, but there are fewer rebounds when you shoot well, and there are fewer when you force turnovers, as Maine did often against Albany and NJIT. I expect that as Maeve Carroll adds playing time, her rebounding will pick up. She was consistently boxed out at Albany. Blanca is third in AE in boards, Anne Simon is 14th.

  The Black Bears showed on Saturday that they don`t need three-pointers to win. They have so many weapons that, even a bit under-sized, they can score with backdoor cuts, transition buckets, step-through drives, no-look passes. Maine also doesn`t get to the free-throw line enough. Yesterday, it shot one free throw, though Saturday it was 16 for 17. 

  I am concerned about bunnies. You can`t hit every contested layup, but Maine is missing too many open layups. There is a reason the layup is called a bunny.

  Maine yesterday didn`t look so crisp as on Saturday. COVID effect? On Monday and Tuesday, the team was preparing for UVM at The Pit. Instead, it rode buses 500 miles to Albany to play a team for which it hadn`t had the usual amount of time to prepare.

  This week, back to the road. Often, Maine has flown to Bingo. Don`t know the plan for this year.

  Bob Neal is finally finding an upside to this season. He is watching at least one wbb game a day on ESPN+ and Flohoops, and he is finding some other teams worth a look.