Early returns for former member of Bulls' "Bench Mob"

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Early returns for former member of Bulls' "Bench Mob"

PHOENIXTheres two schools of thought when it comes to the Bench Mob, the Bulls beloved bench from the past two seasons.
One is that the organization should have done whatever it takes to keep them, while the other camp understands that the realities of the new CBA, coupled with the fact that with Derrick Roses uncertain status for this season, didnt make sense to keep the group intact if contending for a title wasnt a sure thing.
Regardless, whats done is done and, except for holdover Taj Gibson, who was recently rewarded with a new long-term contract extension and is averaging 7.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per night in 21 minutes, the group dispersed to various locales over the summer: Kyle Korver was traded to Atlanta, Ronnie Brewer waived and eventually signed by New York, C.J. Watson suffering the same fate but going to the borough of Brooklyn instead of Manhattan, John Lucas inking a free-agent deal with Toronto and Omer Asik famously signing a three-year deal worth nearly 25 million in Houston, as the Rockets poison pill in the final season put the Bulls in a tough position.
Its only two weeks into the NBA season, but now that the old favorites are settled into their new homes, its worth checking on how theyre faring.
Asik, Gibsons former tag-team partner, was quietly yearning for not only more playing time, but a starting role, something that the presence of Joakim Noah prevented in Chicago. Now in Houston, Asik playing north of 32 minutes an outing and has shown remarkable offensive developmentthough not entirely unprecedented, judging from his play in international competition while representing his home country of Turkeyas well as being a defensive anchor for the Rockets and one of the leagues top rebounders.
Used as a screener on high pick-and-rolls for the much-ballyhooed backcourt of James Harden and Jeremy Lin, Asik has fared wellsomething Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau could have predicted, given his praise of Asiks ability to set picksbut more surprisingly, hes displayed better hands and touch than witnessed in Chicago, resulting in 9.9 points per game, to go along with his monster 13 rebounds a contest. While field-goal percentage is extremely low for a center at 42.1 percent from the field, whats shocking is the 72.4 percentage from the foul line from a previously dismal free-throw shooter.
Some of his more impressive game statistics include a career-high 19 points, including 11-for-14 from the charity stripe, to go with 14 rebounds in the Rockets loss to the Heat on Monday, as well as a 19-rebound effortalthough he was scoreless, shooting 0-for-7 from the floorin a Nov. 2 game against Korvers Hawks.
Houston is currently 3-4, as opposing defenses have stymied Harden after his brilliant start, but Asik continues to be effective.
While Asik had less fanfare coming to Houston than Lin and later, Harden, he wasnt nearly as close to being an afterthought as Brewer when he was acquired by the Knicks. But with instant-offense scorer J.R. Smith more productive in a sixth-man role, Chicago native Iman Shumpert sidelined with an arduous rehabilitation process, he was slated to be New Yorks starting shooting guard at the outset of the season.
Just like when he came to Chicago, Brewer endured a injury that affected him through training camp, but the versatile swingman recovered and after Amare Stoudemire got hurt, New York head coach Mike Woodson opted to start him at small forward, using veteran Jason Kidd in the backcourt with fellow point guard Raymond Felton, shifting All-Star Carmelo Anthony to power forward, the position at which he was perhaps his best last season.
The oldest team in modern league history has thrived in the early going, racing out of the gates with a 5-0 record and while Brewer is one of the least high-profile players on the squad, hes been a big part of the Knicks success.
Averaging nine points and 6.2 rebounds in 26.8 minutes an evening, Brewer adds a dose of athleticism to a mostly ground-bound roster, as well as a strong defensive presence and somebody who can flourish in transition. It remains to be seen whether Brewer will continue to start when the Knicks have their full complement of players, but as Chicagoans know well, nights like his 13-point, 10-rebound performance against Philadelphia on Nov. 5 can occur for the Arkansas native no matter his role, just as long as he plays.
Korver, one of the leagues preeminent sharpshooters, is sorely missed in Chicago, where the Bulls werent necessarily the most proficient outside-shooting team when he was on the roster, but are clearly in the dregs of the NBA now, even as replacement Marco Belinelli begins to find his stroke. Its unlikely that hell admit it publicly, but Thibodeau feels the loss as strongly as anybody, twice having made reflexive references to Korvers clutch shooting when asked about which players would close out games in Roses absence, by this writers count.
Korver has earned a starting role in Atlanta, which traded All-Star Joe Johnson over the summer, and although many believed the Hawks would take a big step back and enter a major rebuilding phase, at least at this point, theres no reason to think theyre no longer a playoff contender.
Now anchored around the talents of athletic big men Josh Smith and Al Horford, as well as a young, quick guard cadre that includes Jeff Teague, the older brother of Bulls rookie Marquis Teague, along with the likes of offseason acquisitions Lou Williams, Deshawn Stevenson, Devin Harris and Anthony Morrow, Korver has already been identified as a go-to guy down the stretch of games for Atlanta, as evidenced by his 16-point outing, which included 4-for-6 shooting from long range in a win over Portland on Monday. Shooting 37.1 percent from deep and averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 stealsthe latter number a testament to his improvement as a team, if not individual defender, during his tenure in Chicagoin 26 minutes a night, the Hawks are 3-3 thus far.
Watson appears to be finding his niche in the league as a high-level backup point guard to some of the games elite floor generals, as hes now the understudy to All-Star Deron Williams after playing behind Rose for two seasons. All the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Nets move to Brooklyn wouldnt seem to fit his quiet personality, but Watson has been delivering on the court early this season.
Nagged by injuries in the preseason, hes playing almost 25 minutes a night in the Big Apple, averaging 8.3 points a game on 44 percent shooting from the floor, as well as contributing 1.3 steals per contest for the 4-2 club. His season-high is a modest 15 points, notched in a Nov. 3 win over Lucas Raptors, but if Williams goes down with an injury at any point this season, its a fact that hes capable of more prolific numbers.
Speaking of Lucas, just knowing that the journeyman finally achieved some security on the professional level by signing a multi-year deal with Toronto is a testament to his perseverance, as well as Thibodeaus belief in him, which at least partially stemmed from both their shared time in Houston and the coachs long-time relationship with Lucas father, his former boss in Philadelphia, back when the younger Lucas was a child.
After a strong preseason, howeverhe recorded separate highs of 16 points and eight assistshes been caught in a point-guard logjam, as Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has opted to go with marquee offseason acquisition Kyle Lowry as the starter and veteran holdover Jose Calderon, who got his first career triple-double Tuesday night, as the backup, with Calderon taking over the starting job in Lowrys injury-related absence.
Lucas best regular-season game came Monday, when he had seven points and two assists against Utah, but on the campaign, hes averaging just 2.1 points and 1.1 assists a night on a lowly 17.6 percent from the field in under 11 minutes a game for the 2-6 team. Still, many expect Calderon to be dealt at some point this season, which would open up minutes and a more definitive role for Lucas.
In between mourning the loss of the collective group and the various strengths of the individuals (Brewers athleticism, Korvers marksmanship, Watsons scoring ability, Asiks defensive presence and Lucas knack for rising to the occasion) and fans similarly passionate ire when things didnt go right (Brewers lack of outside shooting, Korvers defensive issues, Lucas shoot-first tendencies and most famously, Watsons decision to pass the ball to Asik, who missed a pair of free throws in Game 6 of the Bulls first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia, which eliminated the team), it has to be accepted that the Bench Mob era is finally over, with the old guard better off for the experience and the teams new second unit still finding its way.
The first reunion, with Asik in Houston, during the Bulls ongoing Circus Trip, is soon to come and while its unlikely to be a tearful experience, it should certainly bring back some fond memories.

Pat Summitt used the sport to empower women at Tennessee and beyond

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Pat Summitt used the sport to empower women at Tennessee and beyond

Needing yet another men's basketball coach, Tennessee officials turned to the one person they thought would be perfect to take over the Volunteers program.

Pat Summitt said no.

She wasn't interested in the job in 1994 after Wade Houston was forced out, and she turned it down again when Jerry Green quit in March 2001. A Tennessee governor once joked he wouldn't have his job if Summitt ever wanted to run her home state.

Breaking the glass ceiling in the men's game, political office, that wasn't Summitt's motivation. She had the only job she ever really wanted.

"I want to keep doing the right things for women all the time," Summitt said in June 2011 after being inducted into her fifth Hall of Fame.

Summitt died Tuesday morning at age 64.

The woman who grew up playing basketball in a Tennessee barn loft against her brothers, and started coaching only a couple years after Title IX was invoked, spent her life working to make women's basketball the equal of the men's game. In the process, Patricia Sue Head

Summitt stood amongst the best coaches in any sport when she retired in April 2012 with more victories (1,098) than any other NCAA coach and second only to John Wooden with eight national championships.

Summitt used the sport and her demand for excellence to empower women and help them believe they can achieve anything, taking no backseat to anyone.

When I moved to Tennessee in 1976, girls played six-on-six, half-court basketball designed to protect them from getting hurt. Summitt, who took her Lady Vols to four AIAW Final Fours, refused to recruit Tennessee players. Tennessee high schools switched to five-on-five rules starting with the 1979-80 season.

The NCAA finally started running a national postseason tournament for the women in 1982. At the time, Summitt was known for having "corn-fed chicks" on her roster, big and strong but not talented enough to win national titles. After she won her first national title in 1987 in her eighth Final Four either in the AIAW or NCAA, she said, "Well, the monkey's off my back."

Back then only a student ID was needed to attend a women's game. And there was no demand for the results of those games. After graduating from Tennessee, I helped the sports writers by bringing notes from an NCAA Tournament game back to the office for someone else to write up. There was no urgency since there was no reader demand.

So Summitt worked to make it impossible to ignore her team or the women's game.

By January 1993, so many people wanted to watch then-No. 2 Tennessee visit top-ranked Vanderbilt that the contest became the first Southeastern Conference women's game to sell out in advance. With children under 6 allowed in free, having a ticket didn't guarantee getting through the door; at least 1,000 were turned away at the door - including Vanderbilt's chancellor.

The Lady Vols won 73-68, a game I covered in my first year as a sports writer for The Associated Press in Nashville.

"This was the biggest game in women's basketball, and that's what I've been waiting 19 years to see," Summitt said. "I'm glad I stayed around to see it."

Summitt scheduled opponents anywhere and everywhere, barnstorming the country to introduce people to women's basketball. Tennessee played Arizona State in 2000 in the first women's outdoor game played at then-Bank One Ballpark, drew the largest crowd ever to a regional championship in March 1998 when 14,848 packed Memorial Gym in Nashville with Tennessee trying to finish off the NCAA's first three-peat and helped Louisville set a Big East record christening the KFC Yum! Center in 2010.

The Lady Vols became must-see TV in the sport as Summitt put the women's game on the national stage with six national titles in the span of 12 years.

I remember when I got real up-close look at what drove Summitt.

Assigned to cover Summitt as part of AP's annual college basketball preview package in the fall of 1998, I spent nearly 30 minutes with the coach in her office.

Door closed, Summitt gave a glimpse of that famous stay-away stare. With undivided attention now on me, she wanted to know if I had talked with her mother, Hazel, for the story. She then showed me the engaging side, laughing when asked about a stretch of play during the 1998 title game that resembled the Showtime Lakers, beaming while reflecting on how well her Lady Vols showed women could play the game.

The Lady Vols lost 69-63 to Duke that season in the East Regional. The next day I left a message at Summitt's house and late that afternoon, she called back to talk about more life lessons and basketball.

"It's a game, and winning and losing both can be great ways to teach kids how to get ready for the real world," said Summitt, who had to stop the interview because her mother had given son, Tyler, a gift. She explained he would have to save some of that cash before buying something for himself. Then she resumed the conversation about the game.

That was Pat Summitt: Hoops and family.

She held everyone to the exacting standards she learned from her father cutting tobacco and helping bale hay on the family farm. Tennessee and Connecticut was the biggest draw in women's basketball with Geno Auriemma and his Huskies handing Summitt her lone title game loss in 1995. But Summitt canceled the series in 2007 and refused to say why other than, "Geno knows."

Summitt ended a nine-year championship drought with her seventh national title in 2007 followed by the eighth in 2008. She became the first NCAA coach to win 1,000 games Feb. 5, 2009, and received a new contract that boosted her annual salary to $1.4 million - far removed from the $8,900 of her first season.

She never got to the 40th season in that contract, her career cruelly and prematurely ended by early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She finished 1,098-208 with 18 Final Fours, at the time tying the men of UCLA and North Carolina for the most by any college basketball program.

Not that numbers define Summitt, who once said, "Records are made to be broken."

Yes, all marks fade, but no one will eclipse Summitt's contributions to women's basketball.

How Far Will You Take It? - The Wrigley Field Scoreboard

How Far Will You Take It? - The Wrigley Field Scoreboard

Despite the recent renovations to Wrigley Field, one iconic feature of the century-old ballpark remains the same. The scoreboard.

Still manually operated as it has always been since its installation in 1937, the iconic scorebard is part of the rich tradition of Wrigley Field. With the construction of two large video boards in left and right fields, the center-field scoreboard stands tall to link changing Wrigley with its historic past. 

Kelly Crull takes a ride around Wrigleyville in the all-new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid to bring you the history and evolution of the iconic Wrigley Field scoreboard. 

Buddy Ryan changed the NFL game forever – and more than once

Buddy Ryan changed the NFL game forever – and more than once

One very distinguished voter for Pro Football Hall of Fame inclusion once explained a criterion of his for inclusion in the league’s most hallowed circle: If you wrote the history of football, would you have to include this individual?

Buddy Ryan is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he should be, but that’s for another discussion, another time. Because the simple fact is that if you were indeed writing a history of the National Football League, that history would be incomplete without Buddy Ryan.

“I think Buddy changed the game of football,” said Mike Ditka, Bears head coach with Ryan as his first, albeit inherited, defensive coordinator. “He is the reason why teams started going to all these three- and four-receiver sets.

“He never let offenses do what they wanted. The game of football is what it is today because of Buddy.”

Ryan did not create great defense. That had been done wholly or in parts by others – Bill George, George Allen, Dick Butkus, and so on. But what Buddy Ryan did echoes down through the history of the NFL, in more a few of its defining moments.

Super Bowl III is always remembered as Joe Namath’s day. Obscured by all that Namath and the New York Jets’ offense did was what the defensive line of Buddy Ryan was doing to the Baltimore Colts, specifically holding them to exactly seven points, on a late afterthought touchdown, a team that was coached by Don Shula and included John Mackey, Jimmy Orr and averaging nearly 29 points per game.

Super Bowl III was beyond cataclysmic for the growth of the modern NFL. And all that was long before Super Bowl XX.

Maybe the best measure of how truly great a coach Ryan was lay in the fact that he managed to turn OFFENSIVE players into fire-breathers.

“He’d say to the offensive line, ‘you fatasses can’t block anybody in practice, how you gonna do it in a game?’” recalled Hall of Famer Dan Hampton. “And [left tackle Jimbo] Covert and [left guard Mark] Bortz would just turn into animals.”

Ryan loved his players. But it was tough love, affection that had to be earned, and once earned, was something they treasured.

At the end of Otis Wilson’s rookie (1980) season, No. 55 may have been the team’s first-round pick, but Ryan was publicly blunt.

“We did OK, but that ‘55’ killed us," Ryan said after one game. 

Wilson turned the humiliation into something, becoming a student of the game, his craft, even to the point of cramming for Ryan’s legendary written tests.

“'I’m out of school, Buddy,'" Wilson said he wailed. “'Why you givin’ me these exams?'"

“You need to understand the total package,” Ryan ordered. “I want you to know what everybody’s doing.”

Today that sounds almost quaint; everybody’s supposed to know everybody else’s assignments. But never lose sight of the originator, who beat that concept into every head on his defense.

In the end, Ryan belonged to more than Chicago. He was a Jet. He was a Viking. He was Bear. He was an Eagle. And finally a Cardinal.

He belonged to the NFL, which, exactly as Ditka said, was changed forever by him.