Saturday, August 14, 2010

Redskins find Garner speedster who does the John Wall dance

The Washington Redskins may have found its fastest player since Darrell Green in the person of Garner native Brandon Banks.

Banks, wearing the No. 16, returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown in the Redskins 45-17 romp over the Buffalo Bills in preseason action. The Redskins, under new head coach Mike Shanahan, are looking for more production from the special teams, which failed to get a touchdown on any runback last season.

Banks stands just 5-foot-6 and weighs less than 150 pounds. Compare that to hall of famer Darrell Green who was 5-9, 180 pounds and called himself "itty bitty." While it wasn't as spectacular as Green's famous hurdling 50-plus-yard punt return for a TD in the 1987 playoffs against the Bears, Banks blew by and through five or six defenders to remind Redskins' fans of days gone by.

After getting in the end zone, Banks paid tribute to his fellow Triangle buddy John Wall, the Washington Wizards rookie, by performing Wall's signature dance. To read more about the connection between the two and to watch the return, please click here.

Receiver Devin Thomas came into the game as the top kick returner while defensive back Phillip Buchanon was slated as the first-team punt returner. Neither distinguished themselves in the game. In fact, Thomas muffed the opening kickoff. (To be fair, Banks earlier dropped a punt as well.) And, depending on other roster desires, Banks, who is listed as a receiver, could fail to make the team because he doesn't figure to play anywhere else except on special teams.

Friday, August 13, 2010

UNC's McDonald lights up the Bahamas with 25 points (we think)

UNC sophomore Leslie McDonald scored 25 points in only 17 minutes to help the Tar Heels to a 123-86 victory over the Bahamas All-Stars last night.

The official stats in the Bahamas games are suspect however as some journalists on hand say McDonald scored 20 - still a good number for a guy who got the ninth most minutes on the team last year.

Similarly, freshman Harrison Barnes was credited officially with 23 points but others on hand say he scored 28. Officially, Reggie Bullock added 17 points, Henson had 16 points and a team-high 15 rebounds, Tyler Zeller chipped in 14 points in only 15 minutes and Dexter Strickland scored 10.

It's a good thing the Tar Heels have a little depth as they fouled enough for the Bahamas to shoot 56 free throws.

Carolina shot 55.6 percent (45-81) from the field, 50 percent (10-20) three pointers, and 69.7 percent (23-33) from the free throw line.

While McDonald's big scoring night is a bit of a surprise, it really shouldn't be. McDonald did score only three points a game last year and shot only 31 percent from the floor but he was just a freshman and he did have a couple of big scoring games. He came to the Tar Heels as the all-time leading scorer in Memphis private school history and he won Player of the Year honors in Tennessee as a high school senior. The 6-foot-4 guard also was fourth team Parade All-American as a senior.

Scoring shouldn't be the problem it was last year with guys like McDonald having another year under their belts and freshmen sensations Barnes and Bullock in the fold.

The Tar Heels returned to Chapel Hill today and won't be seen in public as a team again until Late Night with Roy in October.

N.C. State enters benchmark year under O'Brien

N.C. State hasn’t had five straight losing seasons since 1956, when coach Earle Edwards’ team finished 3-7 overall. That year marked State’s sixth straight losing season before Edwards turned the program around and embarked on a long, and overall successful, career.

That history is a reason why the Wolfpack is entering an important season this fall. State fans have poured time and money into this program, and to see all that net four straight losing seasons is hard to fathom. It’s true that coach Tom O’Brien has had tremendous bad luck with injuries; it’s also true that he is entering his fourth season, and injuries are part of the game.

“You have to win. That shows progress,” O’Brien said in an Associated Press story. “That’s what we haven’t been able to do. … We’ve got to go on and have a winning season and go to a bowl game.”

Say what you want about State fans, but they are amazingly loyal to their program. In this region, only South Carolina football fans have given more – and often received less – than Wolfpack fans. State averaged 56,422 fans for eight home games last year, which is an amazing number for a 5-7 team.

But at some point, as O’Brien understands, you have to win. O’Brien is a smart, tough coach who wants to win and do it the right way. The chaotic ways of the Chuck Amato era have disappeared, but the winning seasons haven’t returned.

The Wolfpack is four seasons into O’Brien’s tenure and still doesn’t project as an upper-half ACC team. This schedule, with Central Florida, Cincinnati and East Carolina among non-conference games, is not easy. Another losing season would be difficult to accept, and certainly make the new chancellor and new athletics director take a long look at how to fix it.

State fans deserve a winner. This season is an important barometer of whether Tom O’Brien can deliver one in West Raleigh.

Illegal immigration rears its ugly head in local youth sports leagues

While most Americans appreciate the various cultures coming together for a melting pot society, most (about 80 percent) do not appreciate illegal immigrants taking advantage of a free public education, free health care and other taxpayer costs to the tune of $113 billion a year, according to one recent study.

The cost of illegal immigration has extended to local youth leagues. For instance, one area soccer league has a scholarship program for children who can't afford the tuition to play. According to a reliable source, nearly all the money awarded in recent years has gone to Hispanic children whose parents don't speak English. That is money that could be going to poor American families.

Speaking a foreign language and the inability to speak English, no matter what some open borders types will tell you, is an indicator of being an illegal immigrant. Federal rules say that in order to be a naturalized citizen, one must be able to read, write and speak simple English.

One source in a local youth sports league told me the coaches have to translate and email team instructions and schedules to players in Spanish. That evidently isn't enough for some Hispanic families who have demanded that they be called each week to get verbal instructions over the phone. Someone who speaks English has to be located while the coach waits on the phone. Other Hispanic families told one coach that their children couldn't make it to practices often but that they wanted their children to play in the games nonetheless.

One soccer league in particular has a regular league and a travel team league. One source indicated to me that at least two Hispanic families, where the parents don't speak English, insisted that their children be bumped up to the travel team or the kids wouldn't play. Not only are travel team players considered better but their tuition to play is at least partly paid for by the league.

So, let me get this straight...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

UNC's Davis says Renner's arm as good as any he's had

While the focus Thursday was on Dick Baddour's comments and the NCAA probe, this observation from Butch Davis was too fascinating to let pass.

Davis said his two quarterbacks, senior T.J. Yates and redshirt freshman Bryn Renner, are alternating time with the first-string offense right now. And he spoke of the importance of having depth there and how that makes a difference for a football team. And he praised Yates for his experience and past success.

OK, fine ... but what about Renner? Capital Sports followed up and asked that. Davis responded by saying that in his 37 years as a coach, "Bryn Renner has got as good an arm as any quarterback I've been around."

Whoa ... OK.

N&O reporter pushes Butch Davis on John Blake

UNC coach Butch Davis, at podium, and N&O reporter Joe Giglio, at right
Joe Giglio of The News & Observer pressed UNC coach Butch Davis Thursday on associate head coach John Blake, who has ties to agent Gary Wichard.

The News and Observer reported earlier this week that San Francisco 49er Kentwan Balmer, a Wichard client, paid for UNC players Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas to visit the West Coast to work out in the summer of 2009. That would be an NCAA violation unless Balmer had provided similar trips when he was a player at UNC, which is unlikely.
Giglio asked Davis Thursday if Davis had any concern about hiring Blake because of his relationship with Wichard.

“No,” Davis said. “I'm not talking about any of the things that have anything to do with this review."

Giglio followed to say he hadn’t asked about the NCAA review, but about a coach.

"I know you did and I told you that anything that has anything to do with any kind of investigation or any kind of review, we're not going to talk about it,” Davis said. “I'd be happy to talk all you want about football."

Another reporter followed up with a question about UNC’s linebackers.

The bottom line was, Davis had clearly linked the NCAA probe to Blake in his responses. The N and O posted a transcript on its website.

Baddour: No timetable yet on NCAA investigation

North Carolina athletics director Dick Baddour made a surprise visit to UNC’s football media day, opening a news conference in Chapel Hill by saying he would handle the questions on the NCAA investigation so that coach Butch Davis could deal with football.

Baddour said the NCAA came to Chapel Hill and went over all the issues involved. “It’s very complicated, very detailed and it’s going to take a lot of time to sort it out,” Baddour said.

Baddour said UNC has assembled a team to investigate, including people from the university counsel and athletics compliance. He said he does not have a timetable for when the school might have an answer from the NCAA.

“I have my own personal benchmarks and goals but I don’t want to throw those out because that creates expectations,” Baddour said.

Baddour said he understands the public has a right to know but wants to balance that against the rights of the individuals involved. He said UNC is cooperating completely with the NCAA and, again, said the NCAA did not want details of the investigation to leak out.

After Baddour finished, Davis took the podium and addressed issues involving the team but declined to be specific about the investigation. He said that Carolina would have to address the uncertainty about whether the players could play at some point but said, "We're not at that point yet."

However, read the post below to see that UNC is preparing - just in case.

UNC shifts players to prepare for Austin's absence

North Carolina has shifted players along its defensive line, a telling move that hints at the seriousness of the NCAA investigation into Marvin Austin.

Junior Michael McAdoo, who has been the back at right defensive end behind Robert Quinn, could start at left end if Austin is out. Junior Quinton Coples is now playing both defensive end and defensive tackle – he could start at left defensive tackle if Austin is not available.

Coach Butch Davis said UNC was looking at its options given the “uncertainty” of Austin.

“At any given time, we want to get the four best guys in the game,” Davis said.
Coples had played only defensive end last year and in the spring before the shift with fall camp.

Depth along the line is important to UNC, which will have at least two new starters in what is otherwise an experienced defense. Coples only started one game last year and Tydreke Powell, the projected starter at right tackle, did not start a game in 2009.

Updates coming today from Chapel Hill

North Carolina is holding a football media day today in Chapel Hill, with coach Butch Davis speaking at noon and players available after that. We'll have updates from here early this afternoon.

The Barnes era has begun for Carolina basketball

UNC freshman Harrison Barnes scored 21 points, hauled in eight rebounds and turned the ball over only once as the Tar Heels defeated the Commonwealth Bank Giants 130-87 in an exhibition game in the Bahamas last night.

Fellow freshman Reggie Bullock matched Barnes with 21 points and eight rebounds, but it was junior Tyler Zeller who led the way with 24 points and 13 rebounds.

Seven players scored in double figures for the Heels, who shot 58 percent from the floor. Dexter Strickland scored 18 points, Justin Watts tallied 13, John Henson had 11 and Will Graves chipped in 10.

The other freshman, Kendall Marshall, sank a three-pointer.

"We’ve only practiced three days," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We have three freshmen who haven’t done anything with us until three days ago. We knew it was going to be ugly at times, but I was impressed with how hard they worked [and] I was impressed with the unselfishness. We’re by no means where we would like to be at the end, but we were taller and more gifted than the Bahamas team."

The only real negative Williams mentioned was letting the Giants get to the free throw line too much. "If we let a team shoot 53 free throws at our level of play we'll lose every night," he said.

The Tar Heels play in the Bahamas again tonight at 7:30 p.m. against the Bahamas All-Stars.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

UNC's Blake almost went to the NFL's Jets 19 months ago

North Carolina football fans were celebratory in January of 2009 when the UNC coaching staff remained in tact after Carolina associate coach John Blake either turned down or was passed over for a coaching job with the New York Jets.

After recent woes regarding Blake's involvement in an NCAA infractions probe that is seemingly escalating in seriousness, Carolina fans might have been better off if Blake had gone to the pros.

Media reports made it sound as if Blake turned down Jets' coach Rex Ryan's offer to become defensive line coach 19 months ago. In fact, one report flat out said that Ryan was "looking to hire" Blake after firing Kerry Locklin.

Perhaps Blake thought his situation at Carolina, along with his nearly quarter of a million buck yearly salary, was too good to risk. Or maybe he thought Carolina had a chance of winning an ACC or NCAA title. Ironically, this investigaton is threatening to sidetrack Carolina's chances of an ACC or NCAA title. In fact, the Vegas odds are tilting against the Heels, who are underdogs to win the opener against LSU.

But, regardless, Mark Carrier, former defensive back with the Bears, Lions and Redskins over 11 seasons, was hired by the Jets. And Blake returned to the Heels, making UNC coach Butch Davis a very happy man.

"There's been all this speculation about John Blake — is he going to be here, or is he going to leave?" Davis said at the time. "He's going to be here."

Well, Coach Davis, I don't want to convict anyone before all the facts are in but, so far, how is that workin' out for ya?

NCAA case study shows UNC players' trip was likely a violation

A case study by the NCAA’s Agent, Gambling and Amateurism activities staff shows North Carolina players Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas likely would have been in violation of NCAA rules if a former teammate paid for them to travel to California to attend a work-out camp in 2009.

Thomas, in an interview with The News & Observer Tuesday, said former UNC player Kentwan Balmer, who is now with the San Francisco 49ers, paid for the trip.
The question, then, is whether that violates the complex web of NCAA rules. The answer to that appears to be yes, according to an NCAA case study that is similar to what actually occurred.

Here’s the question from the NCAA’s case study:

• Student-athlete attends draft party for former teammate.
• Former teammate provides student-athlete round trip airfare and lodging to attend party.
• Would this be permissible under NCAA legislation?

Here’s the NCAA answer:

• Under Bylaw this would not be permissible.
• The standard for such cases involving benefits provided to a current student-athlete from a former teammate should be whether the type of benefit provided is consistent with what was provided when the donor and recipient of the benefit were college teammates.

The only way this would appear to be permissible would be if Balmer had paid for such trips when he was still a UNC player. And that’s highly unlikely.

How much Austin, or UNC, would be penalized is hard to say. But in general, the NCAA is much more severe when there is a pattern of institutional abuse or when those involved are not truthful with NCAA investigators. Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant, for example, was suspended for all of 2009 after he lied to the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders.

UNC is being ultra-careful in this case, referring all comments to athletics director Dick Baddour. Assistant coach John Blake, Austin and receiver Greg Little have not spoken to the media in preseason.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Spurrier calls reports on UNC's Blake 'not very surprising'

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has never been shy in his comments, and he took a swipe at North Carolina assistant John Blake on Tuesday in comments to The Columbia State newspaper.

Spurrier said the Yahoo! Sports article is "not very surprising." In that, Blake's relationship with agent Gary Wichard is questioned.

"We all have a reputation, especially guys who’ve coached 20 years or so," Spurrier told the newspaper. "It’s hard to hide whatever your reputation is.”

Spurrier is the former Duke head coach who used to privately make fun of UNC's Mack Brown by calling him "Mr. Football."

Yahoo report raises questions about UNC

The most damaging part of the Yahoo! Sports report on the NCAA investigation into UNC is that agent Gary Wichard appeared to lie about his relationship with Tar Heels assistant John Blake.

Yahoo Sports quotes Wichard as saying Blake was never Vice President of Football Operations for his Pro Tect operation. “No. When he left Oklahoma, all he ever did was work out some of my veteran guys,” Wichard told the site. “He had his own camp out here. He was doing his own thing.”

However, Yahoo produced a brochure that listed Blake as that position. And Yahoo is reporting that the NCAA investigation is focusing on the relationship between Blake and Wichard.

Blake has not spoken to reporters, and UNC athletics director Dick Baddour continues to say Carolina won’t comment as the investigation continues. But the report continues to cast light on the ugly side of big-time football – and raises difficult implications for UNC. Blake is widely regarded as one of the best recruiters in college football.

Could the Hartford Whalers actually come back to the NHL?

Perhaps Baldwin has enlisted the help of Hollywood in promoting
the Hartford Whalers name. Actress Megan Fox was spotted wearing
a Whalers t-shirt in Los Angeles on Saturday by totalprosports.com.
A former owner of the National Hockey League’s Hartford Whalers apparently wants to get controlling interest in the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack, change the name to the Whalers and work towards bringing the Hartford Whalers back to the NHL.

Howard Baldwin, who bought the Whalers in 1972 and sold his interest in the team in 1988, has been barnstorming the state of Connecticut, along with former Whaler Bob Crawford, trying to revive the name and gain interest in bringing an NHL team back.

However, it appears that the Carolina Hurricanes hold the trademarks and the rights to the name. The newer Whalers jerseys you sometimes see at Hurricanes’ games are produced by Reebok CCM, which has exclusive rights to make NHL jerseys. The rights are still managed by NHL Properties plus, presumably, the Hurricanes - being the trademark holder - receive profits from the sale of the jerseys and other paraphernalia.

It’s ironic that an effort to revitalize the Whalers name would actually profit the man that is blamed for taking the Whalers from Hartford and moving them to North Carolina. Peter Karmanos got controlling interest of the Whalers in 1994 and, after disputes with the city, including failed efforts to build a new arena, he moved the Whalers to North Carolina and changed the name to the Carolina Hurricanes. The franchise has been more successful in Raleigh with the Hurricanes winning the Stanley Cup in 2006.

If Baldwin is able to get the Hartford Wolf Pack franchise (ironic name isn’t it) and does attempt to change the name to the Whalers, will the NHL and the Carolina Hurricanes object? I would think they would have to.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wolfpack women are up and at 'em ... at 6 a.m.

At Capital Sports, we’re fans of the new look of GoPack.com, the official N.C. State website that suddenly has this super glitzy feel. But it all gets down to having good information, right?

So there is a pretty interesting read there now on the N.C. State women’s basketball team. Say what you want about Lee Fowler, but he made a bold move when he hired Kellie Harper as coach. Now the NCSU women’s team is meeting four times a week … at 6 a.m. … to lift weights.


"We have a different kind of team unity and chemistry when we are in the weight room," junior guard Emili Tasler told GoPack editor Tim Peeler. "We are all helping each other get through our sets. We are trying to be more vocal with each other. Getting up and going to lift at 6 a.m. is difficult, but we are getting stuff done."

So just remember that the next morning when you get up to get coffee … the Wolfpack women are well ahead of you.

UNC freshman Bernard out for the season

North Carolina's depth has taken a hit after all. UNC freshman running back Giovani Bernard tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sunday afternoon and is out for the season, the school announced Monday morning.

Bernard was a key recruit for UNC. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound tailback was ranked the No. 2 tailback in Florida by the Orlando Sun-Sentinel and the No. 12 running back in the nation by Rivals.com. He is from Davie, Fla., and played at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Carolina still has plenty of depth at tailback this year, with Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston, but Bernard was considered an elite talent and one of the Tar Heels' top recruits.

UNC has talent beyond its No. 18 ranking

North Carolina is ranked No. 18 in the preseason coaches’ poll, and when you watch the Tar Heels on the practice field, that number seems low. UNC has the talent, and depth, to contend for a BCS bowl.

This is evident across the practice field. Redshirt freshman Bryn Renner looks smooth and poised at quarterback. If he’s not starting against LSU, you know he’ll be playing if T.J. Yates struggles.

Ryan Houston looks leaner at running back, and both he and Shaun Draughn have plenty of experience there. The line, a real problem last year, will be better. Carl Gaskins missed all of last season with a knee injury, but he’s a quick, strong athlete scheduled to start at left tackle. UNC has three returning starters on the line – guard Alan Pelc, center Jonathan Cooper and tackle Mike Ingersoll – and there is more quality depth than in the past.

The receivers are a year older, and that will help. And everyone knows about the defense. There is just an abundance of talent at UNC that is reminiscent of the last years of Mack Brown.

Given that, Davis said, “We can be tougher on them. We’re going to challenge them. We want to encourage competition in practice.”

Now, lots of football teams look great in “shells;” that is, just helmets and shorts. But the relentless preseason focus on Marvin Austin’s antics has overshadowed UNC’s development. How the season plays out may depend on two factors beyond the NCAA probe.

The first is how coach Butch Davis manages this season. The UNC staff had a dreadful stretch last season, losing three of four games in the middle of the year. Those losses included a horrible performance against a bad Virginia team and a second-half implosion against Florida State on national TV.

But Davis and his staff rallied the team after that, and what could have been a real downer of a year turned into an eight-win effort.

This year, Carolina faces the challenge of working through the NCAA investigation while focusing on a schedule that could derail its season right away. That LSU, Georgia Tech, at Rutgers, East Carolina stretch could evaporate the hopes of many teams.

But then you see Carolina on the field – and you think, they might be able to handle that after all.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cary-based USA Baseball team loses finale to Cuba... and a silly rule

The USA Collegiate Baseball team, which trains in Cary, finished its summer league play with a 10th-inning loss to Cuba in the Gold Medal game of the World University Baseball Championships in Toyko.

Cuba's Alfredo Despaigne hit a three-tun homer in the bottom of the 10th to give Cuba a 4-3 victory. Under a rather silly International Baseball Federation's tie-break rule, base runners are placed at first and second with no outs from the 10th inning on. (The batting order also changes.) The USA scraped a pair of runs across in the top of the 10th before the three-run blast with one out.

Proponents of the rules say that delays from extra inning contests cause scheduling and logistical nightmares that include security, transportation, drug testing, broadcasts and entertainment. Yeah, well, too bad - play baseball or don't play baseball but don't make junk up. An entire summer of play came down to this and it was decided by some stilted rule of expediency. Yes, both teams played by the same rules but, come on, that wasn't baseball.

Cuban accounts of the game indicate that Japanese fans, who saw their team lose 4-2 to the Americans in the semis, supported the Cubans in the finals. Maybe Japanese players should go play in the Cuban league instead of the American or National leagues, right?

The USA finished the season with a 16-3 mark including seven consecutive victories before the Gold Medal loss.

The only ACC team represented on the US squad was Clemson whose Brad Miller had the team's highest batting average at .441 in 14 games played, including seven started. (As an aside, the team's press officer was East Carolina's Malcolm Gray.)

Area media slight new hall of famer Russ Grimm

Even though he went to four Super Bowls (winning three) and even though he played for the Washington Redskins, who were shown on TV in the Triangle area every week during his playing days from 1981-91, Russ Grimm got little play in the area media after being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame yesterday.

At WRAL-TV, veteran sportscaster Ken Medlin, who grew up in North Carolina and should realize the high volume of Redskins fans in the area, devoted exactly four seconds to Grimm while almost all of the long report was spent on Dallas’ Emmitt Smith and San Francisco’s Jerry Rice.

Smith and Rice are certainly higher profile nationally and deserve all the accolades they get but area sports reporters should realize that the Redskins were North Carolina’s home team for 50 years including the time Grimm spent with the Skins. Therefore, more effort should have been made to report on Grimm.

The News & Observer’s headline reads, “Rice and Smith enter Hall of Fame.” The Associated Press national writer, who wrote the piece, got around to giving information about Grimm in the 33rd paragraph of his article. Perhaps that’s understandable from a nationwide slant but, again, area media should be more in touch with their audience.