June 20, 2013

Associated Press

 

RICHMOND, Va. -- Shaka Smart smiles with a told-you-so look that is part amusement, and part frustration.

Two years after leading VCU to the Final Four and becoming one of the stars of college basketball, Smart has gone through his third consecutive offseason where he was mentioned as a candidate for job openings at major programs. But he's still writing on dry erase walls in an office overlooking the Rams' home court, trying to find overlooked gems on the recruiting trail and tweaking the aggressive defensive style he calls ''havoc.''

On the expanding urban campus, with a contract extension this year that now pays him $1.5 million a year and runs through 2023, along with fundraising well under way for a basketball practice facility, the 35-year-old Smart seems more than content.

''I've always said, I think that there is an overly simplistic view of when people leave and go somewhere else. They're all about being greedy and all about money, and all about going to the highest level. On the flip side, if someone stays, they're the most loyal person in the world,'' he said.

''I'm the same as you or anyone else in that I want to work at a place where I really enjoy it,'' he said, a view he's uttered many times. ''I want to take care of my family just like everyone else does. I want to work with people that are fun to be around. I'm just fortunate that I have that at VCU.''

The school's administration would say the same of Smart, whose record is a glistening 111-36.

On the weekend the Rams played in the NCAA quarterfinals in 2011, the school had 11 million visitors to its web page, VCU President Michael Rao said, noting that he was talking about the university web page, not the athletic site. By 2012, VCU received almost 1,700 more applications than it had in 2010.

A conservative estimate of the exposure value of the Rams' stunning Final Four run, Rao said, is $15 million to the university. The team's success continues to pay huge dividends.

Ten years ago the Rams never appeared on national television, according to athletic director Ed McLaughlin. This past season, when they climbed into the Top 25 for the first time in nearly 30 years and led the nation in steals, they had 21 national TV appearances.

''You can't pay for that type of advertising,'' McLaughlin said.

Yet there is a price to pay. VCU has reworked Smart's contracts after each season, likely helping to stave off interest in Smart from North Carolina State, Illinois and other BCS conference schools that came calling.

Retention of Smart became paramount to making a statement about VCU, Rao said, particularly after their relentless style produced the five victories that made them the top story of the 2011 NCAA tournament.

Rao had arrived on campus just two years earlier.

''It became clear to me that it was time for VCU to stop being a stepping stone for people like Anthony Grant and his predecessor with Shaka,'' Rao said Wednesday. Grant became the coach of Alabama after replacing Jeff Capel, who left for the Oklahoma job.

''I wanted this to become a destination,'' the VCU president said.

In four years, Smart's salary has jumped from $350,000 to $1.5 million, and the school has already raised about two-thirds of what it needs to build a practice facility with a price tag near $15 million.

In an academic community, Rao said, there are other ways he can think of to spend the kind of money they are paying Smart, but none that bring the return on investment the school and athletic programs get in return for success on the court.

''I've never spent more money at an institution and gotten more thank yous for it,'' Rao said.

Those thank yous also come in the form of donations from alumni and boosters that feed academic initiatives and other programs, he said, much like football is credited with doing at other schools.

Smart, meanwhile, is learning of the issues that arise as a program maintains a certain level of success, the kind that has seen the Rams finish in the top 40 of the RPI ratings two years running.

On the plus side, there's players like Terrance Shannon, who finished his degree work at Florida State this year and opted to transfer to VCU, where he can play right away while doing graduate work.

On the down side, finding teams willing to play a home-and-home series has become the challenge Gonzaga coach Mark Few promised Smart it would be if the Rams continued their winning ways. Smart wants VCU to become one of those programs - like Gonzaga and Butler - with winning reputations larger than their conferences suggest.

Few ''told me scheduling is the last thing to come around, and to be honest with you, that's something that we've really struggled with,'' Smart said, particularly since he and McLaughlin feel like the Rams have elevated their profile enough so teams should be willing to play on the Rams' floor, too.

''I'm not saying they're afraid,'' Smart said. ''They just won't play.''

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Category: Sports

June 20, 2013

By Jason Lewis

LAWT Sports Editor

 

Over 100 local children were treated to a visit from Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, St. Bernard High School alumni Joselio Hanson of the Oakland Raiders and Donald Penn of the Tampa Bay Bucs, as Penn returned to Playa Del Rey to host his annual football camp. 

Last year St. Bernard  was forced to suspend its varsity football team for a season because of financial reasons, but the program will resume play this year under Head Coach John Bibb  who was extremely appreciative of Penn's support.

“For alumni to come back, especially with what St. Bernard has been through, and what a lot of schools are going through, to come back for a free football camp, to do that for young kids to teenagers, even kids who are transitioning to college next year, that’s what life is all about,” Bibb said. 

After graduating from St. Bernard, Penn played football at Utah State, and he is now a Pro Bowl left tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Penn puts on this camp as a way to give back to his community. 

“The camp was remarkable,” Bibb said. “It was an outstanding thing for the community and the boys.  That pigskin brings together a lot of things that inner city kids need, outer city kids need, youth as a whole need. Discipline and teamwork.”

Many children do not have the opportunity to be coached by NFL players, especially because of the cost of many camps. 

“This day and age the economy is rough,” Bibb said.  “So I want to emphasize that this camp was free.  There are camps from here to Alabama to Texas, and locally at UCLA and USC.  Camps have to get the money to run the camps. They have to pay for the coaches, and to pay for the facilities.  One thing Donald Penn did was give this to us for free.”

Even though the camp was given at no cost, they still gave quality coaching to the kids on hand.

“We go hard or we go home,” Bibb said. “That’s one of our mottos here at St.  Bernard.  But we weren’t stressing pushing the kids, but learning the techniques and the fundamentals. They were being coached by players who played the game for five to ten years.  So they were really getting hand on coaching.  And it was good for them to hear something coming from another person besides myself.  I like to scream and fuss a little bit, but it’s good to hear from a guy that you see on Sundays.  A guy that you see on Saturdays. You know, college guys and NFL guys.  To hear the different terminology coming from a player with a lot of experience.”

Penn is doing a great thing for kids that are in a similar position that he was when he was a teenager, and he is an asset to the black community.

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June 20, 2013

LAWT News Service

 

One day after negotiations were declared “off” by both teams, the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics resumed talks on a blockbuster trade that would send Celtics head coach and star Kevin Garnett to the Clippers, according to multiple media reports.

Speculation had it that a deal could be achieved by late Wednesday.

 In return for Garrett and Rivers, the Clippers would send DeAndre Jordan to the Celtics in exchange for Garrett, while Rivers would likely command a price of two first-round picks from L.A.

Citing unnamed sources, ESPN reported that Rivers and Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge met Wednesday to finalize Rivers’ future with the team — or whether he will be granted the opportunity to go to the Clippers. Rivers said a decision by team management could come by Thursday morning.

Ainge wants Rivers, who has been in his post for nine seasons, to remain the Celtics’ head coach, a move which appeared heightened when talks between both clubs broke down Tuesday. It was at that point that Rivers appeared likely to remain with the Celtics, even though he has expressed concern about staying with the team if it began a massive rebuilding program.

“(Rivers) wants another championship or at least another chance at it,” said a source close to Rivers. “He doesn’t want to go through a rebuilding process.”

Rivers also has the option of leaving Boston and not coaching at all, perhaps working as a broadcaster next season.

ESPN’s report did not indicate which side contacted the other to reignite talks for a reported third time, although other media reports indicate it was Clippers star point guard Chris Paul that urged his team to try one more time for Rivers’ services. Paul is a free agent, but has hinted that he would re-sign with the Clippers if Rivers becomes their head coach.

The Clippers, who reportedly are willing to pay Rivers $7 million per year, similar to what he was making with Boston, are keeping their options open, continuing interviews with additional clients Byron Scott and Brian Shaw, according to media reports.

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June 20, 2013

Associated Press

 

WIMBLEDON, England — After 16 consecutive years of always showing up at Wimbledon, winning five titles along the way, Venus Williams pulled out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament Tuesday, citing a lower back injury.

Williams, who turned 33 on Monday, never had missed Wimble­don since making her debut there in 1997, although she lost in the first round a year ago. She won the singles trophy — it happens to be called the Venus Rosewater Dish — in 2000-01, 2005 and 2007-08, to go with two more major championships at the U.S. Open in 2000-01.

But Williams has been dealing with a bad back for a while, playing only three matches in the last two-plus months. She was clearly hampered by the injury during a three-set, three-hour loss to 40th-ranked Urszula Radwanska of Poland in the first round of the French Open last month, then cited her back when she and younger sister Serena withdrew from the doubles competition in Paris.

The older Williams said after the singles loss at Roland Garros - her first opening-round exit there in a dozen years - that the inflammation in her back made it painful to serve hard, limiting one of the best parts of her game.

Once ranked No. 1, Williams is currently No. 34. Still learning to live as a professional athlete with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease, Sjogren's syndrome, she has two first-round losses in the past four Grand Slam tournaments. That includes her defeat at Wimbledon last year, the first time she’d left a major championship that early since she lost in the first round of the Australian Open in 2006.

“With what I've gone through, it’s not easy. But I’m strong and I’m a fighter. You know, I don’t think I’m just playing for me now. I think I’m playing for a lot of people who haven’t felt well,” Williams said after her loss to Radwanska. “I think for me today, it’s a positive to be able to play three hours. I’m constantly finding ways to get better and to feel better.”

Play begins at Wimbledon next Monday.

Serena Williams, who is ranked No. 1, will be a big favorite to win what would be her sixth Wimbledon title and 17th major championship overall. She’s won 31 matches in a row, the longest single-season streak on the women’s tour since Venus put together a 35-match run in 2000.

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June 20, 2013

 

By Kenneth Miller

Assistant Managing Editor

 

The National Basketball Association (NBA) is clearly the number one sports league when it comes to the hiring of Black head coaches, but are Black coaches being treated fairly?

With 30 teams under its umbrella, the NBA has 12 Black head coaches led by the dean Doc Rivers in Boston (416-305 and one NBA title), Toronto’s Dwane Casey (57-91), Tyron Corbin of Utah (87-89), Golden State’s Mark Jackson (70-78), Monty Williams of New Orleans (94-136), Jacque Vaughn of Orlando (20-62) and New York’s Mike Woodson (74-34) who has the highest winning percentage between all of the current Black coaches. New hires Mike Brown returning to Cleveland, Maurice Cheeks in Detroit, Larry Drew fired in Atlanta and hired in Milwaukee, and Jason Kidd went from playing to the coaching bench in a surprised hiring in Brooklyn with the Nets.

Drew led the Hawks to the playoffs in each of his three seasons in Atlanta and finished no worse than third each season, but was let go after compiling a 128-102 record.

Woodson has been fantastic with the Knicks after also being successful in Atlanta, taking over the basically the same team Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni failed to win with and leading them to the brink of the conference finals in his first full season.

Jackson flirted with being the coach of the year in only his second season with the Warriors eliminating Denver in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs and stretching the Spurs to six games in the second round before losing with a short roster.

Corbin has been steady for a Jazz franchise that has been a constant playoff team, but with a young overhauled roster it’s taking him some time and to the credit of management Utah is staying patient with him.

Meanwhile both Vaughn in Orlando and Casey in Toronto have been handed the keys to two bitter lemons. Vaughn without any previous coaching experience took over the Magic after they traded Dwight Howard to the Lakers and Casey’s Raptors have not endured a consistent roster during his reign there.

With coaching openings in Los Angeles with the Clippers, Philadelphia, Memphis and Denver, qualified Blacks such as Lionel Hollins, Byron Scott, Brian Shaw and Nate McMillan are waiting to see if their phone rings.

Hollins is likely to get the nod over Shaw for the gig in Denver any day now. He led Memphis to the Western Conference Finals where the Spurs swept it, but Hollins has been among the best coaches in the NBA the past two-seasons going 97-51 in Memphis.

His five-year mark with the Griz of 214-201 is better than many during that span, but for some odd reason he was not even offered a new contract after the season.

Scott, a former Morningside High School star and member of the Lakers Showtime era, has coached in the league for 13 seasons compiling a 416-521 record with two berths in the NBA Finals with the Nets.

However, after being fired in Cleveland he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to continue the rebuilding effort with the Cavs, which in essence was a college team, riddled with injuries. Cleveland fired him to rehire the guy they fired after LeBron James left via free agency.

Scott is a prime candidate to land with the Clippers, particularly because of his relationship with Chris Paul. He coached the star point guard in New Orleans and the Clippers job would be his first with a legit team since he was with the Nets.

Shaw is the one candidate that almost everyone concurs is the best coaching candidate without a head coaching job.

The associate head coach with the upstart Pacers, Shaw was supposed to be the heir apparent to replace Phil Jackson when he left the Lakers, but was passed over by Brown whom they abruptly canned after just five games into his second season.

He reportedly turned down both the Magic and Bobcats jobs, was a candidate for the Warriors job that went to Jackson and is now being considered the leading choice for both the Nuggets and the Clippers gig.

 

It was Phil Jackson who publically stated that the Nets job was perfect for Shaw, and then they went out and hired Kidd who has never called a timeout.

Could it be that the reputation of being linked with Phil Jackson is hurting Shaw?

He is credited with the development of Andrew Bynum while an assistant with the Lakers and the emergence of Pacers star Paul George.

Could it be that Shaw is just a better assistant coach than he would be a head coach? We don’t know because he hasn’t got the chance, while other assistant White coaches are being hired instead.

Frequently when Blacks are hired as head coaches it is with a team that is rebuilding, but they seldom are granted the time to see the job through.

The tasks for Cheeks in Detroit, Drew in Milwaukee, Brown in Cleveland is brutal. The Nuggets hire will have a chance for success and the Clippers hire will be under intense pressure to do better than their first place division finish.

No one is complaining or feeling sorry for any of these men who are each handsomely paid for the job they do.

However, with the lack of Blacks in front office positions and in ownership (Michael Jordan is the only Black owner), the question is fluid as to whether any of these current coaches will really get a chance to be successful.

Doc Rivers was the last Black coach to win an NBA championship, who will be the next one?

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