Thy Lions of March edition

Someone once said being involved in wrestling isn’t really about having fun, it’s about fulfillment. You dream of something like a gold medal in the Olympics or the state or NCAA tournament, you work your tail off night and day to achieve it. See the goal – achieve the goal. Considering the amount of sweat equity and pain put into this sport having covered it for over 20 years, I get that. To have a bunch of elites and aristocrats take those dreams away just so they can have wushu in the Olympics is just sickening.

Although wrestling is one of the most popular participatory sports around the world, it doesn’t have the mass media appeal other sports have to the casual Olympic viewer. Thus, the wrestling community tends to be rather isolated from other athletic endeavors. And that isolation often times leads to feelings resentment. Wrestlers often feel put upon by people who don’t understand them or who take their sport for granted and these feelings I do concur with out of sense of fairness. After all, it’s a sport which really has no scandals in it (unlike say, cycling, one of the dirtiest sports man has ever created and it still has its Olympic slot). Nobody gets into wrestling for the money. Wrestlers live a hand-to-mouth existence, especially when training for the Olympics.  Wrestling champions, at least in the U.S anyways, never receive the fame or the endorsement deals other Olympic gold medalists get like gymnasts, swimmers or track stars. For the most part, these largely middle class boys and girls are the kinds of people (most, not all, but most) you want representing your county and being a good example to children. So why, given all these positives, and given the fact wrestling has been around since Biblical times when Jacob wrestled an angel, would the Olympics simply say “Nahh, we don’t want you around here anymore. Get lost.”? Why is it wrestling, which is one of the cheapest sports in comparison to others, is the one to feel the budget ax at many colleges and universities?

I would hate to think wrestling would no longer be in the Olympics  because wrestlers refuse to engage in politics or because they didn’t supply enough hookers and blow to those folks making the decisions at the IOC or because they didn’t “sex up” their sport just for the sake of the cameras. It’s a sad commentary on what the world values most these days if true. Wrestling’s only hope is that broad numbers and the outrage this decision has caused would be enough to make the IOC change its mind. It’s a hope, but not something I want to bet my life on knowing how one has to take a shower after dealing with that crowd of elites. It’s sad, it really is when a whole community which generally tries and usually does do things the right way, ends up being punished for it.

If and when the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team loses its final game of the 2012-13 regular season, it will happen in this way: The Badgers won’t be able to hit the broadside of a barn door (and it will be the kind of shooting slump that you really don’t want to play a drinking game to, like downing a shot every time Matt LePay says “off the back-iron, no good.”); they will commit more than 10 turnovers; they’ll be lousy from the free-throw line if they get there at all and their defense will let some player or players on the opposing team get obscenely hot from the field (like Purdue’s D.J. Byrd did) which will put an end to their season.

Now it’s easy to be cynical about this year’s Badger team but considering that some thought they’d be lucky to make the NIT this season after the loss of Josh Gasser to injury and Jordan Taylor to graduation, let alone finish tied for fourth in the toughest college basketball conference in the country, it’s not a bad bit of coaching from Bo Ryan. Still, the team has had enough recruiting misses since their last Big Ten title in 2008 to prevent it from winning more championships since then or go on to the Final Four. That the program has still remained so consistently good is attributable to the coaching staff as well and to the talent which has made its way to Madison. And besides, if the opposite is true, and the Badgers do make their shots, they’re pretty good. But hopefully recruiting has gotten and will get better to the point where such scratching and clawing really won’t be necessary.

When it comes to recruiting, next year’s Badger class led La Crosse Aquinas’s Bronson Koenig along with the team’s newest players like Sam Dekker, Zak Showalter and a Frank Kaminsky, suggest the Badgers may well be heading in a more up tempo and quicker, more shot creation direction rather than the more outside shot-post offense they’ve run in the recent past.

This past weekend’s WIAA State Boys Basketball Tournament shows clearly the Class of 2013 of collegiate prospects in the state is as deep and talent as any class of high schoolers which has come before it. Rarely has a state tournament featured so many players who have D-I scholarships waiting for them next fall like Koenig (Wisconsin), Whitefish Bay Dominican’s Duane Wilson (Marquette), Germantown’s Luke Fischer (Indiana) Pulaski’s Cody Wichmann (UW-Milwaukee) Onalaska’s Matt Thomas (Iowa State) plus many more. Even those players who didn’t get to state like Sun Prairie’s Nick Fuller (Nebraska) and Milwaukee Vincent’s Deonte Burton (Marquette) have also got full rides. And with future prospects like Dominican’s Diamond Stone and Randolph’s Duke Vander Gailen playing in the tourney and other great players like Milwaukee Hamilton’s Kevon Looney and Rice Lake’s Henry Ellenson out there as well, the future looks bright for more good classes of high school talent. The word’s out, you can find some good high school basketball players in Wisconsin.

At this point, the only way Tubby Smith isn’t coaching at Minnesota next season is if he doesn’t want to. This is a possibility but with the U planning on announcing a facilities master plan which would satisfy one of Smith’s demands from the university, one suspects unless he has something else in mind Smith intends to keep coaching in Minneapolis. Now many Gopher fans may not like this considering once again another great start to the season was ground up in the Big Ten grinder six years into his tenure. But there simply is not the money available to pay for all the buyouts needed plus pay for a new coach (this is what happens when you have to borrow money from the school’s general fund to pay to get rid of Tim Brewster, Dan Monson and Glen Mason). While little is expected of the current Gopher squad in the postseason, I’m curious to see if part of the team’s problem is simply that it’s better suited for non-conference competition than for the Big Ten (12-1 vs. 8-10, you be the judge).

Minnesota fans may not want to hear this either but in the context of the history of Golden Gopher basketball, Tubby Smith is actually one of the best coaches the school has ever had. Including this season he’s 123-78, he’s never had a losing season and will have gone to three NCAA tournaments. And he’s done all this clean unlike some of his predecessors. As was stated earlier, Smith may not be reaching expectations, but if the Gophers want a better coach they’re going to have to pay a lot of money for that person. Money they don’t have.

Injuries have rendered any kind of broad judgement on Timberwolves’s season pointless but they should be worried that Rick Adelman might decide to dump the T-Wolves at the end of the season more so than the team would dump him.

Speaking of pointless, the Milwaukee Bucks are heading in that direction. It sounds like Brandon Jennings is making demands of the club which are the kind one knows the other side won’t accept or are incapable of accepting. If a good, not great, player like Jennings after few years in Milwaukee openly seeks fame and fortune elsewhere, it’s a sign no matter what young stud the Bucks draft they will eventually want to leave after a short period of time because the small-market franchise can’t put the players around them to make them into a club people want to watch on national TV or go deep in the playoffs. This cycle has repeated itself again and again over the past 15 years. But it’s not just a question of trying to give small market teams a chance to compete in the NBA. Top-notch players simply don’t want to play in Milwaukee. Any free agent with a choice will choose someplace else. Any free agent who doesn’t have a choice, if they want to keep playing, simply becomes another bust-out collecting a check until he can find a better gig or retire. Indeed, unless the city can figure out a way to become, well, “more hip” (which seems to be more of a basketball problem than a baseball problem) there’s not much the team can do to remain competitive other than continue to be caught up in the same vicious cycle or dissolve the franchise and move to Vegas or some place similar after Herb Kohl croaks. After all, there’s a reason why they’re the Brooklyn Nets and no longer the New Jersey Nets.
Not only does the newly proposed Central Division in the NHL realignment plan mean less overall travel for the Minnesota Wild it also means rekindling old rivalries from the North Star days against Chicago, St. Louis and Winnipeg and also keeping those against Dallas and Colorado. Having all the teams in the same time-zone (with the exception of Nashville) helps a lot too.

If the Big Ten had started its hockey league this season it would not be a very strong league. In fact it may well be worse than the current WCHA is right now. One hopes this is a direction which will help grow the sport over time because as of right now now the schools who are bolting are giving up a lot: good competition and a well attended league tournament in the best hockey venue in the United States. One hopes after a decade one doesn’t come back to write for a blog called Desktop Sportsman and ask “Why did they give all this up?”

Another fellow who isn’t interested in playing for his team right now is Percy Harvin. In case you haven;t read the tea leaves, Harvin wants out of Minnesota and the Vikings, which got to the playoffs in his absence, probably wants to get rid of him too. But right now they’re playing it coy and hopefully if they do trade Harvin it better be for a king’s ransom because despite his temperamental behavior, he’s still good enough to demand plenty of franchise building draft picks from a potential suitor.