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Richard’s Weekly Sports Round-Up

miller-article1The sports world never seems to let us down one bit. The NBA Draft and trades were the buzz all last week. The NFL is getting closer and closer. Training camp is almost one month away, and I can already hear the children (or adults) yelling their favorite Jaguars’ names. Tennis and soccer provided loads of entertainment with Wimbledon in full swing and the U.S. men’s soccer team advancing deep into a FIFA tournament. Nobody can say it’s the dog days of summer. There are plenty of sports to keep us occupied. Baseball treated us to interleague play with matchups like the Boston Red Sox vs. the Atlanta Braves or the Subway Series (New York Mets vs. NY Yankees) to keep us glued to the television. And, in NASCAR, Joey “Sliced Bread” Logano became the youngest winner of a NASCAR race when he won the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 yesterday. It was definitely a fascinating sports week; I anticipate another memorable week ahead of us.

10. My Take: While wandering around the library last week, a book’s cover happened to catch my eye. It was Gladiator: A True Story of ‘Roids, Rage, and Redemption. Dan Clark is the author. You may remember him as Nitro, star of the original American Gladiators television series. I had to read it because steroids books are my romantic comedies. Regardless of how cheesy they are, I must devour the words. It’s an unbelievable account of Dan Clark, a former steroids abuser, who realizes he needs performance-enhancing drugs to make something of himself. I gasped and laughed at many of his surreal stories. He describes the whole Hollywood scene as he lived it. However, I’m pleased I didn’t purchase the $25 book. It’s a 239-page autobiography, which I read in one day. It left me continually wanting more. Along with Major League Baseball, it begs the question: Do we put an asterisk on all entertainment from the 1990s? Gladiator is a fun, summer read. You sympathize with Dan Clark even when he reaches stardom and has all life can offer.

9. The United States men’s national soccer team lost 3-2 to Brazil Sunday in Johannesburg, South Africa. The U.S. jumped to a quick lead in the first half 2-0 behind goals from stars Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. Sustaining the 2-0 lead became a near-impossible task for the United States. Led by two goals from elite striker Luis Fabiano, Brazil won its second consecutive FIFA Confederations Cup title. The U.S. kept the game close primarily because of the play from goalkeeper Tim Howard. Howard, named the Confederation Cup’s top keeper, had eight saves. After losing 3-0 to Brazil in the group play of this tournament, the U.S. proved it deserves to compete against the best. Brazil is unbeaten in their last 16 matches while having won their last 8. My Take: The United States had a solid run while in South Africa. Its semifinal win over Spain made people notice that soccer was even being played this time of year. Note: The 2010 World Cup is next summer in South Africa. Even when the U.S. jumped out to an impressive 2-0 lead, the thoughts seeped into my head that Brazil would turn on the burners. Brazil did just that. It’s tough to win a match when your opponent is allowed 24 shots (11 of which were on goal). The Confederation Cup provided two weeks of entertainment, and now it is back to near-obscurity for U.S. national soccer. After defeating world No. 1 Spain, the U.S. team will move up in the FIFA rankings from their current position of No. 14. FIFA releases the newest rankings on Wednesday, July 1.

8. The Jacksonville Jaguars have agreed with the Detroit Lions to trade wide receiver Dennis Northcutt for safety Gerald Alexander. Most likely, the deal will become official today. Both players need to pass their physicals. Last week, Northcutt was informed by the Jaguars that he was on the trading block. Northcutt, who spent two full seasons in Jacksonville, was the last remaining Jaguars wide receiver on the current roster that produced last season. In 14 games, he caught 44 balls for 545 yards and two touchdowns. Gerald Alexander, going into his third NFL season, played in only five games last year while contributing 7 tackles for the 0-16 Detroit Lions. As of now, Alexander will fight for playing time behind Reggie Nelson, Sean Considine and Marlon McCree.  My Take: Dennis Northcutt was expendable because the Jaguars coaches realized the younger players could step up in his absence. Rookies Jarett Dillard, Mike Thomas and Tiquan Underwood are battling for the third wide receiver position. Off-season acquisition Torry Holt is the obvious No. 1 receiver. During training camp, third-year player Mike Walker will prove he is the No. 2 man. So, trading Northcutt for a young safety was a smart move by general manager Gene Smith. Now, Detroit fans will have the opportunity to criticize Dennis Northcutt’s alligator arms.

7. Trades were all the talk last week in the NBA. The Orlando Magic traded with the New Jersey Nets to acquire 8-time All-Star Vince Carter. The Magic also received second-year player Ryan Anderson. The Nets were given guards Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee along with Tony Battie. The trade seems to have been a response to one-up the Cleveland Cavaliers with its acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal. The 32-year-old Carter has previously played with the Toronto Raptors and the Nets. Throughout his career, the shooting guard has averaged 23.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. In its NBA Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Magic needed a player who could create his own shot. Vince Carter hopes to fill that role. In other trade news, the Milwaukee Bucks sent forward Richard Jefferson to the San Antonio Spurs for veterans Bruce Bowen and Kurt Thomas. In the three-team trade, the Detroit Pistons received center Fabricio Oberto from the Spurs, and the Pistons gave forward Amir Johnson to the Bucks. The trade was agreed upon so the Bucks could unload some of its hefty payroll. My Take: These two trades will be mentioned throughout the NBA season. With the addition of Vince Carter, the Magic is a lock for a second consecutive appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. The 29-year-old Richard Jefferson gives the Spurs a fantastic opportunity at the Western Conference Finals. Both the Magic and the Spurs have All-Star lineups. The Magic has center Dwight Howard, point guard Jameer Nelson, forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu (if he decides to stay). The Spurs boasts power forward Tim Duncan, guards Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. On paper, these teams look scary-good. The Cavaliers and Lakers need to take note of all these trades.

6. The first week of Wimbledon is completed. With the round of 16 resuming today, only one American, Andy Roddick as the sixth seed, remains on the men’s side. In the first round, eight American men lost. Surprisingly, American Jesse Levine upset Russian Marat Safin in a first-round four-setter. Levine’s dream run ended with a third round loss to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka in four sets. No. 2 seed Roger Federer faces No. 13 seed Robin Soderling in a re-match of the French Open final today. You can expect much of the same from their last encounter (a Federer win). In the women’s draw, American sisters Venus and Serena Williams have reached the fourth round in fairly easy fashion. Setting themselves up for an All-Williams Final is becoming more and more likely. Seventeen-year-old Melanie Oudin, a Georgia native, is turning heads with stunning wins over Austrian Sybille Bammer and former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic.  My Take: Phenomenal semifinal matchups are brewing on the men’s side. Scot Andy Murray could eventually play American Andy Roddick or Australian Lleyton Hewitt. Roger Federer is looking at a semifinal match against Serbian Novak Djokovic. Without Spaniard Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon, it is surely difficult to miss him with these top-notch matches. With the women, it’s impossible to pay attention to any of them right now unless the last name is Williams. When they are at the top of their game, sadly for their opponents, they cannot be beat. I expect to see Venus and Serena on Saturday playing in a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final. Venus holds the Wimbledon title advantage against her sister Serena, 5-2.

5. American Lucas Glover finished his fourth round play last Monday with a 3-over 73 to win the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. He finished two shots ahead of Americans Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Ricky Barnes. Glover, a 29-year-old South Carolinian, only made one birdie in the final round. It was enough to clinch his second PGA Tour victory in his fifth year on Tour. Glover earned $1.35 million for the win. American superstar Tiger Woods completed the five-day tournament in a tie for sixth place. Even though Lucas Glover captured the victory, Phil Mickelson was the story of the week in Farmingdale, New York. With his wife recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Mickelson, a three-time major winner, has now finished second or tied for second at the U.S. Open five times (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2009). My Take: The U.S. Open’s Monday finish was a snooze-fest. I was so incredibly bored by it. I predicted Ricky Barnes would choke, but seeing Lucas Glover snatch the victory from him was uneventful to say the least. I thought American and former world No. 1 David Duval played the finest golf last week. Duval, who hasn’t won a tournament since 2001, started to make a push for the title with a birdie on the 14th. In my opinion, Duval, a Jacksonville native, outplayed New York’s favorite Phil Mickelson and the greatest golfer of all-time, Tiger Woods. It’s as if I hopped in a time machine and set it to 1998. I’m hoping the British Open at Turnberry gives viewers more thrills.

4. The NCAA and college football violations have gone hand-in-hand this year. Well, BetUS.com is way ahead of the curve. The website released odds on which university will be the next to receive an NCAA violation. USC, coming as no surprise, leads the pack of NCAA schools with 8-to-1 odds. Ohio State follows closely behind with 9-to-1 odds. In a tie for third, Florida and Ole Miss have 10-to-1 odds. Florida State has 12-to-1 odds to commit an NCAA infraction. And, Georgia and Georgia Tech, our neighbors to the north, have 12-to-1 and 14-to-1 odds, respectively. My Take: The NCAA has practically become a laughing matter. Universities aren’t afraid because they don’t think the NCAA will give them the death penalty. Unfortunately, the death penalty ruling crushed Southern Methodist’s athletic program. Schools no longer seem to cower when the letters N-C-A-A are uttered. My guess is schools are getting N-C-A-A confused with B-I-N-G-O because schools only raise their hands and scream like they won the $15 pool when they commit an NCAA violation. The NCAA needs to make a ruling that doesn’t necessarily crush a university’s athletic department, but gets the school’s attention. A mere suggestion is Southern Cal, basketball or football.

3. Donald Fehr, MLB union leader, announced his retirement from the position last Monday. Fehr, 60, was head of the MLB player’s association for almost 26 years. In a press conference, he said his retirement will take effect no later than March 2010. During Fehr’s first year on the job, MLB players were making an average of $289,000 annually. As of last year, current players averaged $2.9 million per season. Most notably, Donald Fehr directed a two-day strike in 1985, a 7½-month strike during the 1994-95 season and the 1990 lockout. Fehr has recommended that his successor be the current union general counsel Michael Weiner. With that in mind, Weiner will negotiate the next contract for the labor agreement. The current one will expire in December 2011. My Take: Donald Fehr will be greatly missed by the players. However, the media will portray him as one of the main executives to keep the steroids issue quiet. Therefore, it will be almost impossible for him to be associated with anything else. I don’t imagine Donald Fehr will ever be used in a positive connotation. I don’t see it. But, Fehr was able to get the players the money they wanted. He did his job, and quite well for that matter. He has to be fed up with the list of 104 names of players who tested positive back in 2003. The stress has to be catching up with him. He has chosen the perfect time to depart.

2. Former Oklahoma Sooner star Blake Griffin was selected No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2009 NBA Draft on Thursday night. The 20-year-old Griffin won multiple Player of the Year awards while averaging 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds last season. The Clippers announced in May that Blake Griffin would be its first selection. The Memphis Grizzlies chose former Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet with the No. 2 pick. After the first two selections, 17 of the remaining 28 picks were used on guards (10 of which were point guards). The Minnesota Timberwolves used the No. 5 and 6 picks on 18-year-old Spaniard Ricky Rubio and former Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn. My Take: Collegiate dominator Blake Griffin was the easy choice with the No. 1 pick. But, I question his passing ability, outside shot (18-feet and farther) and height. In college, he could go one-on-one with any defender and take them to the hoop. He’s in the NBA now, and using his muscle to back down every opponent will make him a failure. Also, I’d like to know if he is really 6-foot-9. He needs to reach 6-foot-10 if he expects to be a perennial NBA All-Star. Defensive star Hasheem Thabeet will always struggle offensively. However, he could be an elite defender, similar to a Big Ben Wallace during the prime of his career. In my opinion, the 2009 NBA Draft will be remembered for Ricky Rubio and sharpshooter Stephen Curry.

1. Center Shaquille O’Neal was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Phoenix Suns in exchange for center Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic along with a 2010 second-round draft pick and $500,000 cash. Rumors swirled back in February that the Cavs wanted Shaq, but an agreement was never reached. After the trade was completed, Shaq stated that the Portland Trailblazers was interested in him, but the Cavaliers never formally showed a desire to acquire the 37-year-old. The four-time NBA champion will pair with superstar LeBron James. Shaq has already teamed up with superstars Kobe Bryant (with the Los Angeles Lakers) and Dwyane Wade (with the Miami Heat). In his one and a half seasons in Phoenix, Shaq won one playoff game with the Suns. It is thought to be that the Cavaliers traded for Shaq so that LeBron will stay in Cleveland past 2010. The Cavs needed a dominant center to match up against the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard, who Cleveland had no answers for in the Eastern Conference Finals. My Take: Shaq makes his third move in four years to a Cavaliers team that won 66 games last season. Before folding to the Magic in six games, the Cavs won eight straight playoff games. If Shaq keeps his meaty paws off the Twinkies, like he has done the past two years, a repeat of his all-NBA third team recognition should be expected. Playing in 75 games last year, Shaq has proven that even with old age besetting him, he is one of the all-time greats. However, I don’t think Shaq will put the Cavs over the top. I think LeBron has already made up his mind that he is going to play for the New York Knicks. I sense LeBron to the Knicks is a done deal. The Shaq trade just appeases King James for one season.

Looking Ahead...

5. The MPS Group Championships, held at Sawgrass Country Club, will return to Ponte Vedra for the second year in a row. The women’s tournament will be held from April 5-11, 2010. In last April’s final, Dane Caroline Wozniacki won her first WTA title of 2009. Tickets for the event can be purchased by calling 1-800-486-8366.

4. The 80th MLB All-Star game is fast approaching. The game is in St. Louis at Busch Stadium on July 14. If your favorite player is teetering on the edge of getting into the game, you only have until this Thursday at 11:59 p.m. eastern time to get your votes in.

3. Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson has stated he will announce a decision by “early July” on whether to continue coaching the Lakers full time. Since joining the Lakers during the 1999-2000 season, Jackson has undergone replacements on both hips. Jackson, 63, owns the most NBA titles for a head coach with 10. During road stretches, assistant coach Kurt Rambis is in line to fill in for Jackson.

2. Stop No. 18 on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is July 4 at Daytona International Speedway. The Coke Zero 400 begins at 7:30 p.m. and will continue under the lights. TNT will be carrying the entire race. I’ll be in Daytona from Thursday until race day soaking in the NASCAR experience. Coke Zero 400 tickets are still available. The least expensive ones are going for $40.

1. The Jacksonville Jaguars released their 2009 training camp schedule last Monday. Players report Sunday, August 2, and the first practice is August 3 at 10:45 a.m. The public is welcome from August 3 to 13. There is no admission, and parking is free in west-side parking lots J, M and N. The Jaguars Fans Training Camp Hotline will begin having daily updates on July 27. The hotline number is (904) 633-6525.

2 Responses »

  1. Go Wimbledon, go David Duval, go Coke Zero and go Jaguars. It would be great to see David Duval return to the flame of stardom. If he continues playing like we recently saw him, it is entirely possible. Don't misbehave at the Coke Zero 400, it should be a wild time.

  2. Happy to hear that the MPS Group Championships will return to Sawgrass Country Club at Ponte Vedra Beach for the second year; however, I hope they work out some of the issues that arose the first year. For example, the transportation from the parking lot was very difficult for box seat holders. Waiting for the buses in the heat was no fun. How about some shade? Also, the shade on center court at Amelia Island is missed, but the pine debris on the cars in the parking lot is not missed. The facility at the Sawgrass Country Club is very nice, but I think more tents and shade should be provided so that relief from the sun can be sought during breaks. But, overall, looking forward to another springtime performance of women's tennis!!