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Richard’s Weekly Sports Round-Up

miller-article1Since I’ve been compiling my Weekly Sports Round-Ups, I have realized that the summer months are never a down period for sports. People only say that when they aren’t interested in golf, tennis, baseball and the basketball and football off-seasons. What a shame! Those fans are missing all the fun. In the sports world, this past week was consumed by the tragedy of Steve McNair’s untimely death. This week’s Top Ten consists of more local stories than normal. Unfortunately, I had to leave out the San Francisco Giants’ Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter from Friday, and NBA trades that were officially completed last week. It is unpleasant making the tough decisions, but someone has to do it. Like the other day, when I was in the grocery store, I had to choose between a Snickers bar or peanut M&Ms.

I went with the Snickers.

As a sportswriter, I encounter nothing but the most difficult decisions.

On to this week's Top Ten…

10. Former star Florida State guard Toney Douglas signed with the New York Knicks on Thursday. Douglas was chosen 29th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Draft last month, and then had his draft rights traded to the Knicks. The trade involved a 2011 second-round pick and cash. The terms of the deal were not released by the Knicks, but Douglas has an opportunity to make $900,000 in his rookie year. As the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year and ACC player of the year runner-up, he is expected to play for the Knicks’ summer league team in Las Vegas. During his career with the Seminoles, Douglas averaged 21.5 points per game. My Take: Toney Douglas has the talent and work ethic to establish himself as a consistent player coming off the Knicks’ bench. He was the best defensively in the ACC last year, if he improves defensively and increases his 38.5% three-point percentage from his college days, he will become a key cog in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s run-and-gun system. While his height is questionable (being listed at both 6-1 and 6-2), there is not a better fit for Douglas in the NBA. He’ll fight for playing time at first. However, I expect him to win the hearts of Knicks’ fans, which is no simple task.

9. Jason Whitlock, columnist for FoxSports.com and the Kansas City Star, was highly scrutinized last week for his column, entitled Booty Callout. If you cannot deduct by the column’s title, it is about female tennis superstar Serena Williams and her career as an “underachiever.” Whitlock argues that she could be Michael Jordan, Jim Brown, and Muhammad Ali in one package. He writes that “she is quite possibly the most gifted female athlete of our time,” has “limitless potential,” and “could break the glass ceiling for female athletes.” Whitlock made appearances on radio shows all week including The Dan Patrick Show, and he guest-hosted The Jim Rome Show. He defended his stance everywhere he went. My Take: For all the heat Jason Whitlock receives, he is definitely one of the top five sportswriters in America. He stirs controversy more than wannabe-star Lindsay Lohan. I feel that Whitlock has written about a topic that nobody has seemed to touch. Serena Williams is an imposing figure in her sport. If Serena were in top-notch physical shape and focused on her sport, she would have very few hurdles to overcome and would become the most accomplished female tennis player of all time. I applaud Whitlock for taking his stance and being able to create controversy with a snap of his fingers. He’s one of the best, even if readers don’t want to give him credit.

8. The University of North Florida (UNF) announced a deal last Monday that the school has signed Nike to provide its official athletic line. Pursuant to the five-year deal, Nike will provide Nike athletic gear for all 17 of UNF’s sports teams. The Nike logo will be on practice and official game uniforms. UNF has never had an athletic deal in the history of its program. Cross-town rival, Jacksonville University, has had a contract with Nike since 2007. The Ospreys begin its first year in Division I without any restrictions. This Fall, the university can compete in postseason competition. UNF’s Nike line will be available at the school’s bookstore and sports-clothing stores in town. My Take: A tip of the hat to UNF athletic director Lee Moon, UNF President John Delaney and all others involved in landing Nike. For a school without a football program, bringing on Nike to sponsor all athletics is nothing short of impressive. Delaney, former Mayor of Jacksonville, continues to improve UNF’s reputation. The only direction UNF has to go is up, and up it will go. Now, all the school needs is a football team. My guess is Moon and Delaney have had that conversation since Moon arrived in Jacksonville back in February.

7. The ACC had previously named Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, as the host of the league’s baseball tournament from 2011-13. Ongoing disputes with the NAACP over the Confederate flag have forced league officials to move the location from Myrtle Beach. Instead, Durham, North Carolina, will host the championship in 2011 and ’13, and Greensboro will host in 2012. In 2005, the ACC agreed to consider South Carolina locations if negotiations were worked on with the NAACP. The organization has boycotted the state of South Carolina since 2000, when the Statehouse flew the Confederate flag. ACC commissioner John Swofford seemed unpleased by the miscommunication and concluded “that this change should be made.” Jacksonville, Florida, successfully held the ACC’s baseball tournament from 2005-08 at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. My Take: City and state officials involved with the Myrtle Beach selection knew the NAACP was involved, and didn’t seem to communicate with the activist group. The ACC baseball tournament cannot seem to get a break recently. Two months ago, it was announced that for 2010, the tournament had to move from Boston’s Fenway Park to Greensboro because of economics. Last year’s tournament was held at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Call me biased, but the ACC baseball tournament should be back in Jacksonville. I am aware that the conference is based in Greensboro, so North Carolina venues are the obvious choices. But, I think the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville should lure the ACC back here.

6. Cliff Warren, Jacksonville University (JU) men’s basketball coach, extended his contract with the school for two more years, until after the 2012-13 season. Since his 2005 arrival, this is Warren’s second contract extension he has signed with the university. After the 2007 season, the 41-year-old Warren agreed to a two-year extension on his original four-year deal. During his first season, the former Georgia Tech assistant coach led JU to a horrendous 1-26 record. Since then, his teams have gone a respectable 54-45, including postseason play. Last season, the JU Dolphins won the Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season title and advanced to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). On the school’s athletic website, JU athletic director Alan Verlander said, “It is my job to make sure that we do our best to keep him (Warren) at JU.” Under Cliff Warren, JU has had three consecutive winning seasons. My Take: JU AD Alan Verlander is a smart man. He is rewarding Warren for all of his accomplishments. But, Verlander also understands that Warren is on the radar of multiple Division I programs. If Warren can lead the Dolphins to an Atlantic Sun championship title, which I think Warren is more than capable of doing, more money and better talent could lure Warren away from Jacksonville. Personally, I hope he stays so that UNF and JU can have a heated rivalry for years to come. Now that Matthew Driscoll is UNF’s head coach, the UNF-JU matchup will blossom. However, for anyone, including Cliff Warren, turning down more money is like sunbathing in January. It’s no fun.

5. The Jacksonville Jaguars agreed to a four-year contract with rookie wide receiver Mike Thomas on Thursday. Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick, will make the minimum salary of $310,000 next season. Rookie tight end Zach Miller, who played quarterback in college, was the first Jaguars draft pick to sign a deal with the team. The 5-foot-8 Thomas enjoyed a successful collegiate career at Arizona. He finished his senior season as the Pac-10’s all-time leader in receptions with 259. The four-year Wildcat contributed as a wide receiver and a punt returner. This offseason, Thomas has added about 10 pounds of muscle and increased his lower body strength. My Take: The Jaguars need to sign offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton. The last problem the team needs is for a repeat of a Derrick Harvey or a Byron Leftwich holdout in training camp. None of this 33-day or 19-day holdout stuff. It is pure speculation, but I think the Jaguars want all rookies to report for training camp on August 2. With regards to Mike Thomas, he is listed at a height of 5-foot-8 and weighing less than 200 lbs. To me, it sounds like the Jaguars could be in store for another player with a chip on his shoulder (review Maurice Jones-Drew’s history).

4. Toronto Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay has been discussed as a potential trade victim all last week. Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi spoke to Halladay, 32, about potential trading options. Halladay has full veto power in his contract. At the top of the interested teams is the Philadelphia Phillies. Also, being mentioned are the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Halladay can become a free agent after the 2010 season. This year he is making $14.25 million with the Blue Jays. Next season he is scheduled to earn $15.75 million. As well, the names of Blue Jays Alex Rios, Scott Rolen and Vernon Wells are being tossed around in MLB trade rumors. This season, Halladay is 10-3 with a 2.85 earned run average (ERA) in 123 innings pitched. Tuesday he will pitch in his sixth All-Star Game. My Take: When healthy, Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball. If the Blue Jays decide to trade Halladay, it will forever be remembered as one of the biggest mistakes in the franchise’s history. Supposedly, the Jays’ front office is asking for two MLB-ready prospects for next season and two very good prospects in the trade for Halladay. Management is worried about fan fallout if Halladay is traded. Plus, the Blue Jays can still make it to the playoffs. At the halfway mark of the season, the ball club is only eight games out of the Wild Card spot. Toronto needs Roy Halladay.

3. Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 100 in Las Vegas will forever be an event to remember. In the main event, the UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, formerly of World Wrestling Entertainment, defeated challenger Frank Mir in the second round. Lesnar, a former NCAA Division I heavyweight wrestling champion, will be known more for his post-match antics than defending his title. After the match was called, Lesnar showed the Mandalay Bay Events Center crowd both his middle fingers and soaked in the chorus of boos. In addition to offending the crowd, Lesnar disrespected Mir by not shaking hands and getting in Mir’s face after the TKO. Lesnar took Mir down on the Octagon’s floor and never showed any mercy. It was a monumental bout to celebrate UFC 100. My Take: I am flabbergasted at the enormous success of the UFC. Dana White, President of the UFC, deserves most of the credit. UFC 100 went well over one million pay-per-views. Also, White has locked up sponsors such as Bud Light and Burger King. The UFC has found the happy medium between boxing and professional wrestling. I would say the UFC is more popular than boxing is currently. And, unlike professional wrestling, it’s nearly impossible to argue that UFC fights are staged. The next big UFC heavyweight fight is Brock Lesnar against Fedor Emelianenko, considered the best pound-for-pound mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter. Fedor, who will most likely sign with the UFC later this year, is currently fighting for Affliction, a direct competitor of the UFC.

2. After nine stages in the Tour de France, American cyclist Lance Armstrong is in third place. After Sunday’s race through the town of Lourdes, Italy’s Rinaldo Nocentini wears the yellow jersey (worn by the Tour’s leader). In second place, Armstrong’s Astana teammate, Alberto Contador, is six seconds behind Nocentini. Today is the Tour’s first rest day. Armstrong was quoted Sunday as saying, “that there is little tension” between himself and the 2007 Tour de France winner Contador. The defending champion Carlos Sastre is 2:52 back in 16th place. The next big change in the race standings is expected to come after Stage 15, which has an uphill finish. Armstrong, a seven-time Tour champion, has surprised everyone with his strong performances through nine stages. My Take: Amazingly, Lance Armstrong has an above-average chance to win his eighth Tour de France. There is still a lot of racing, but the American has consistently stayed with the lead pack of cyclists. If he brings home his eighth title, the French will never stop complaining about how they think Armstrong is a cheater. And, Armstrong has all cycling fans focused on next year by saying “maybe one more Tour” is in his future. The only way cycling stays relevant in this country is if Lance Armstrong is pedaling in the Tour de France.

1. Nashville police have ruled the shooting death of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair a homicide. It was ruled that 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, McNair’s girlfriend of six months, shot McNair four times, then she shot herself in the head. According to police, it seemed that she shot herself so she could fall on top of McNair who was on a sofa. Instead, she fell to the floor near McNair’s feet. Kazemi believed that McNair had another girlfriend, who she reportedly followed home one night. Police pieced together that Kazemi was an emotional wreck because she thought McNair was seeing another woman, and she was struggling financially. McNair was laid to rest Saturday in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Long-time Green Bay Packer Brett Favre, Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher and Baltimore Raven linebacker Ray Lewis were a few of the stars who spoke at McNair’s funeral. Attendance was well over 5,000. My Take: Life is short. Enjoy it.

Looking Ahead...

5. Regardless of what your wife may tell you, it is never too early to have your heart set on the start of the college football season. On Friday, ESPN released its Thursday night college football schedule. The games will begin on September 3. Notable games involving local teams are: Sept. 17 (Georgia Tech at Miami), October 15 (Cincinnati at South Florida), Oct. 22 (Florida State at North Carolina) and November 12 (South Florida at Rutgers). Keep the shouts of joy to a minimum. The neighbors might think you’re crazy, if they don’t already.

4. Hopefully, you’ve gotten all the jumping and high-fiving out of your system. For the video game crowd, EA Sports releases its newest college football edition, NCAA Football 10. The game will be available in stores July 14, and can be played on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable. In case you were wondering, the game’s website has a preseason top-25 college football ranking. Florida is No. 1 followed by last year’s runner-up Oklahoma, Texas, Southern Cal and Louisiana State. But, when you’re at the controls, preseason rankings mean nothing.

3. HBO Sports premieres the sports documentary Ted Williams this Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. EST. The 75-minute HBO special about baseball’s last .400 hitter has been receiving rave reviews. Ted Williams is being hailed as a celebration and tragedy of the legendary Boston Red Sox hitter. This is a must-see (or record) film. I doubt it will disappoint anyone. HBO executives were smart to place the documentary on the night after the All-Star Game. It will not compete with MLB regular-season games.

2. The British Open, the PGA’s third major, tees it off this Thursday, July 16, at Turnberry (Scotland). The par-70 Ailsa Course has not hosted The Open Championship since Nick Price won it in 1994. After consecutive wins at Carnoustie and Royal Birkdale, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington looks to three-peat. However, three-time British Open champion Tiger Woods will be one of the PGA stars standing in Paddy’s way. The course will punish the risk-takers and reward those who are consistent and patient.

1. Tomorrow, July 14, is the MLB All-Star Game on Fox. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. EST. It’s the perfect opportunity for the casual baseball fan to catch a glimpse of local Bishop Kenny product and Boston Red Sox pitcher Jonathan Papelbon. Also, former Jacksonville Suns pitcher Chad Billingsley will be making his first All-Star appearance. Another ex-Suns pitcher, Jonathan Broxton, was selected, but will not play because of an injured big toe on his right foot. Play ball!

3 Responses »

  1. Regarding UNF, it is no surprise that John Delaney has been terrific. The Better Jacksonville Plan was a stellar piece of work and moved Jacksonville ahead of most cities in the country. I am still amazed today the length of time it took UNF to select him. Oh well, at least they did.

    I agree with the sports writer, Serena Williams could have owned sports. She has been successful in tennis, made some money and designed some clothing. So, I guess she hasn't done all that bad. At least her personal life is not on the cover of those checkout counter trash papers.

    I want to attend a basketball game at J.U. like in the early 60's. Oh, you left out Vaughn Wedeking. What a great basketball player. My take: Vaughn is in heaven dressing out with those all-stars who arrived ahead of him. Everyone on that winning J.U. team was touched by greatness. Please Alan Verlander, bring back that "lovin feeling" to Jacksonville University.

    Ultimate Fighting reminds me of the gladiator days in the Roman Empire. I feel for the poor guys in the future. If you think quarterbacks and linebackers hurt on Monday imagine UFC fighters. I hope they have "One Fight" retirement contracts.

    They should rename the Tour de France the Tour de Armstrong. Or maybe Lance should start his own tour on Mount Everest. As much as I love Lance and his "Miracle Talent", I can't believe that one man (without a motor vehicle), surviving cancer and over 25 could repeatedly win this tournament. Maybe the tour realizes that if Lance retires, no one will ever watch this show again. I'll hang around for the "Lance at age 90" tour win.

    Finally, Steve McNair was a great football quarterback. Probably destroyed physically like everyone that Jeff Fisher abused in his career. Steve had that American Smile and Wheaties-like cover page life. He was fun to watch. But, when it all is said and done, like the Presidential campaign debate slogan goes, "Steve, you're no Micheal Jackson." Micheal might have been accused, but you were caught red-handed. As it is written, "You'll never know the day or the time." Be prepared and live a good life. Today may be your day at the pearly gates.

  2. First, let it be known that I would have chosen Snickers as well.
    Second, I did not know about the Nike deal at UNF, but not surprised. President Delaney continues to make the very best choices for UNF. I expect even bigger and better happenings at UNF. And, I think you are right. Football may just be one of them!
    Finally, I applaud you for your "life is short, enjoy it." I wish that I could end it there, but sadly Steve McNair was playing with fire. And, when you play with fire, you get burned. Sadly again, Kazemi questioned his faithfulness to her. Well, how could she ever believe in his loyalty. She was the mistress!! Maybe (probably not), this will be a lesson to all. Sometimes too much money and too much fame can destroy lives. But, with all that said, Steve McNair was a very talented football player. And, hopefully, his sons will always remember him for that as well as his being a devoted father. Let's hope so.

  3. Richard,

    Sure am enjoying your articles. You know more than I ever want to know. Keep it up!