Friday, June 25, 2010

N.C. State's Woodson continues dazzling start

The spectacular start to Randy Woodson’s tenure as chancellor continued Friday when the Wolfpack named Debbie Yow its new athletics director.

Yow, who had been at Maryland, credited Woodson with convincing her to come. And in landing Yow, State lands an experienced athletics director who succeeded at a similar school and brings a legendary name – Yow – back to the West Raleigh campus.

The move, which was kept out of the public eye until Thursday night, gives a fresh jolt of energy to the Wolfpack and continues Woodson’s impressive run.

State needed a change at athletics director, with Wolfpack fans unhappy, and rightfully so, with the overall success of the program under Lee Fowler. The ground was laid for Fowler to leave before Woodson arrived, but Woodson made four critical, and important, moves:

Home run hire for Wolfpack

NC State clearly made a great choice in luring Debbie Yow home from Maryland to be its next athletics director.

The Gibsonville native's appointment to replace Lee Fowler is indeed a wonderful family tale. Her late sister, Kay, was a legendary N.C. State women's basketball coach before finally losing her long battle with cancer. Her sister, Susan, was N.C. State's first all-American women's basketball player in 1976.

As heartwarming as that is, it pales in comparison to Debbie Yow's career accomplishments.

They alone would have made her a great choice for this job. Her family and geographical ties are mere icing on the cake.

Maryland's athletics director since 1994, Debbie Yow saw the Terrapins win 17 national championships under her leadership. They came in high-profile sports like men's basketball (2002) and women's basketball (2006). Plus Maryland also became dominant in women's lacrosse and field hockey, which combined to win 13 national championships.

And one particular situation she faced recently at Maryland will prepare her well for her new job.

The Terrapins aren't living up to past success in men's basketball and football. Yow publicly clashed with Gary Williams, the coach who led Maryland to the 2002 NCAA title, and has stuck with football coach Ralph Friedgen. While Friedgen coached Maryland to an ACC championship and Orange Bowl appearance in 2001, the Terps were a woeful 2-10 last season.

In Raleigh, she'll be challenged to improve the fortunes of N.C. State football (under coach Tom O'Brien) and men's basketball (under coach Sidney Lowe). The Wolfpack have gone 16-21 in three seasons under O'Brien. N.C. State is a pedestrian 71-62 in four seasons under Lowe and has yet to play in the NCAA Tournament in his tenure.

So welcome home Debbie Yow. The Wolfpack family clearly has a soft spot in its heart for you and your family. But come July 15, when you officially begin work, there's a serious job to be done.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Challenging a national sports columnist ends with me being called an idiot

I objected to a recent column by CBSsports.com senior writer Gary Parrish, who also hosts an ESPN radio program. He “bravely” denigrated the basketball talents of a pair of former Duke players – Taylor King and Greg Paulus, both white. He wrote that he always felt they were overrated and not as good as a number of other players he noted, all black.

He wrote, “What I hope is that it teaches the folks handing out cherished things like invitations to the McDonald's All-American game to take their jobs more seriously. Bestowing that kind of honor on an obviously inferior talent doesn't do anybody any favors. It's almost certainly going to make the committee look stupid in due time, and in the meantime it'll add expectations and eyeballs to a prospect whose more likely to be just another guy than the guy at a high-major university.”

It all came across to me as just another liberal white sports writer, who either has an inferiority complex because he couldn’t make it in sports or who has white-guilt syndrome. But I was willing to find out by emailing him.

I wrote, “The two overrated players you point out both just happen to be white, right? Stereotypes work all kinds of ways, don't they?” He responded quite frankly by writing, “Are you asking whether I believe the reputations of Paulus and King were elevated because they're white? Yes, I think there's something to that.”

I wrote back that as a former sports writer (and current blogger I guess), I have found that white basketball players have more prejudices to go through than black players. So, the opposite would be true. White players have to work harder to prove themselves.

I remember people thinking Larry Bird was only good because he worked hard, as if black players don’t work hard. I remember a white high school basketball player who sat on the bench, even though when he saw rare playing time he drilled shots. I remember talking to a scout who told me that white football players are adversely affected by stereotypes. White players that should be at the major college level are relegated to smaller schools and that white players who should go in the first round of the NFL draft drop to the third, fourth or fifth round.

Parrish wrote that I was just plain wrong that white players have to work harder to prove themselves. He wrote, “No way Taylor King (or the Wear Twins, for that matter) are McDonald's All-Americans if they're not white. A good white player is a rarity. Which makes him a commodity. Which leads to accolades he might not deserve.”

I wrote back, “Why is a ‘good’ white player a rarity? Could you also say that a good black student is a rarity? Could you get away with that? You have stepped right into a stereotype of your own - the liberal white-guilt media which has no problem finding and pointing out the limitations of white people but seem to find no limitations of black people. It doesn't take courage to talk about white basketball players being overrated. Let's see a story about black baseball players or hockey players being overrated and see what kind of mail you get. That would be courage.”

Of course those provocative comments earned me the Parrish label of “idiot” and the correspondence was over.

Prior to last basketball season, when questions abound about the future of Duke basketball, Bomani Jones, who is being called “sports radio’s rising star” right now and who happens to be black, said that Duke basketball was failing because all you have to do is look down the bench and see all the white faces. I wonder if a white radio host could get away with saying that NC Central baseball is failing because, well, all you have to do is look down the bench and see all the black faces?

If Parrish’s thoughts (and Jones’) are still universal in the sports world, I guess Duke’s basketball title last year had no effect on the stereotypes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Barakat brought dedication, patience to ACC

Fred Barakat died Monday of a heart attack in Greensboro, and if you’ve followed the ACC for years, you have a sense of who he was and what he meant to the conference.

Barakat, 71, had two critical roles for the ACC as associate commissioner, overseeing officials and managing the league’s men’s basketball tournament. He worked more behind the scenes but loved his work and was always available and willing to answer a reporter’s question.

I remember calling him one night at 11 p.m. on a hot story. I thought, “Gosh, he’s going to blow me out for calling this late.” Instead, he patiently and respectfully answered my questions, and when I said I was sorry to call so late and wouldn’t except in extraordinary circumstances, he said no, that was fine, he understood.

Managing officials was a bit of a thankless job. While Barakat could be overly loyal to showy officials like Dick Paparo, you have to admit the ACC was blessed with strong officiating overall in his tenure.

He was tremendous at managing the ACC’s showcase event, the men’s basketball tournament. Barakat was always on the floor, walkie-talkie in hand, making sure all was running smoothly. Yet he always had time to answer a question. I can remember many times stopping to ask him something while his walkie-talkie squawked in the background.

Covering the ACC is different than covering many sports leagues. It has more of a community feel, and people in the league office treat reporters and fans with respect. Barakat was a major part of that, a high-level, high energy executive who had time to listen and laugh. He’ll be missed.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Breaking down Duke's fouls from 2010 season

A great site for sports fans is Statsheet.com, run by Robbie Allen. On the site, you can break down all sorts of stats from sports and see what is, or is not, true.

Here's a good example involving fouls for and against Duke from some ACC basketball statistics provided by Allen

Duke averaged 19.5 fouls in ACC play last season and its opponents averaged 19.9 in league play. So there was little difference in the number of fouls called on the Blue Devils and their opponents.

Also interesting - Duke had eight players disqualified in ACC games and its opponents had only five players disqualified. The entire chart is below:

Fouls and Ejections
Loading data...
Boston College61029718.650027517.2400
Florida State10629518.470029618.5900
Georgia Tech7931619.850030018.8500
Miami (FL)41231219.5100027617.2500
NC State51132620.490030218.9800
North Carolina5112561630031319.6800
Virginia Tech10633320.890035722.31400
Wake Forest9732220.1150032920.6900

No boost on African soil

Given the build-up to the World Cup coming to the African continent for the first time, you would have expected the African teams to have success. After all, France won the Cup in 1998 with a home-soil boost.

But that hasn't happened so far. The six African teams have combined for one win - by Ghana - going into Monday's play. Cameroon and Nigeria are even 0-0-2. Overall, the African teams are 1-4-7 in through two matches, and homestanding South Africa is 0-1-1.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

One of the best Red Sox fans, a Tar Heel, passes away on Father's Day after long battle

I'm a member of a very active and successful Red Sox fan club. One of the friends of the club has been an inspiration to us and has, as we now know, been an anonymous donor of thoughtful gifts to help members and to contribute to charities such as the famous Jimmy Fund.

At 3:30 p.m. on Father's Day, Scott Davenport, passed away surrounded by family and friends after a long and courageous battle with cancer.

In making the announcement to the club, Sean Bunn, who serves as Red Sox Nation Governor for North Carolina, a team out-reach program, wrote:

"I've learned a lot about how to be generous even in the smallest things, about how best to savor moments, and about how to treat each day as a gift. He had a distinct and profound impact on my life, and I hope to remember those lessons every day and pass them on.

"I know that Scott savored every last moment of his August 2009 trip to Fenway Park, and that he represented all of us quite well when he threw out the first pitch of this current, exciting Red Sox campaign. When it counted, we all knew that Scott would be able to deliver.

"I take comfort in knowing that my fellow Sox fan was able to see two Red Sox Championships in his lifetime, and that Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox won a late-inning thriller yesterday afternoon in the last game he was able to watch on TV with his family."

To read a March article about Davenport, please click here. To see a Triangle Red Sox Nation photo gallery tribute to him, please click here.

Thoughts and prayers go out Scott Davenport's family.