Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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The State of My Stateside Teams

I want to do today’s post a little differently. Instead of choosing one topic, I’m going to give each of my teams in the United States a paragraph. S0 here goes.

The Red Sox are a mess right now. It feels like I’m re-watching 2014, because like last year, every single time there’s the smallest bit of momentum, they drop the next two and three of the next four. I still think it’s worth holding course and seeing if David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval can break their season-long slumps, but I’m getting less optimistic with every successive setback. However, it is encouraging to see a few of the players turn things around, notably Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Wade Miley and Joe Kelly. If a couple more players can figure it out, maybe there is a run in this team. But no matter how bad it gets, as long as we have Eduardo Rodriguez going every five days, there will be something to look forward to. He is the real deal.

The Celtics are about to enter a really interesting part of the offseason. With large amounts of cap space for the first time in years, this summer will be a test of whether big free agents will be attracted to playing for Brad Stevens. My gut tells me no, but wouldn’t it be nice if LaMarcus Aldridge came for a visit? Regardless, a priority has to be re-signing Jae Crowder. I also want Danny Ainge to work as hard as he can to move up a few spots in the draft to get Willie Cauley-Stein. He could make a serious impact on the team defense, and is miles better than somebody like Kevin Looney, who is being looked at for #16. I’m opposed to giving up the Nets picks, but I think Cauley-Stein’s value above who we’d draft at #16 is worth surrendering an extra first round pick.

The Patriots continue to make news in all the wrong ways. Whether it’s appeal talk, Brandon Spikes’s hit and run or Malcolm Butler getting benched, it’s so negative that following the team this offseason has become unappealing. I think this could be an ugly year on the field too. It can’t be overstated that where all three AFC East teams improved, the Pats lost almost everything at running back and in the secondary. I’m legitimately worried about making the playoffs. This could be an bad year. It’s a really good thing the pressure is relatively off for a year after the Super Bowl win.

Arkansas baseball has been an inspiration. Zach Jackson’s three and two thirds inning save to close out the Super Regional was one of the most gutsy performances I’ve seen on a baseball field. These guys fight and these guys win. Getting to Omaha is the highest achievement this team could have imagined. Any success in the College World Series will just be icing on the cake. With the dire lack of arms in the bullpen due to James Teague and Dominic Taccolini’s injuries, making a run there will be extraordinarily difficult. But this is a truly special group – I wouldn’t bet against them. Nothing made me happier than the Red Sox drafting Andrew Benintendi in the first round and then Tyler Spoon in the 30th. I can’t wait to see Benintendi roaming the Fenway grass. But in the meantime, it’s time for the #OmaHogs to beat Virginia. Woo Pig Sooie.

After a successful year on the hardcourt, Arkansas basketball is looking at a rebuilding year. When Anthlon Bell is the leading returning scorer, that’s not a good sign. But for the next month, the focus of Hog basketball is on watching Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls in the NBA Draft. Portis is getting rave reviews across the league as one of the most NBA-ready players. And Qualls has managed to disappear from draft boards despite posting the lowest body fat percentage of anyone. I really wish Qualls had come back for his senior year, but alas, he made the same mistake B.J. Young did and gambled despite not being assured of being drafted. However, I think Qualls could be a success in the NBA, even if he isn’t drafted. I certainly want the Celtics to take a flier on him in the second round. He’s such a talented athlete that I think he has serious potential defensively with a year of good coaching. I think Portis will be solid, and could have himself a nice career, but his ceiling is low. With so many power forwards on the Celtics, he’d have a hard time getting going in Boston, and thus hope he gets drafted somewhere else.

Arkansas football is riding a ridiculous high right now. Suddenly Arkansas is mentioned as a national title threat. And despite a murderous schedule once again, I don’t disagree. For the Arkansas offense has the potential to be incredible. Two 1,000 yard rushers are returning behind the best offensive line in the country, which in Denver Kirland, John Skipper and Sebastian Tretola boasts three potential all-americans. Sure there are questions at receiver, but I liked what I saw from Keon Hatcher last year and as much flak as I give Brandon Allen, he now has two full years of experience. Plus, the new offensive coordinator Dan Enos is a coach who has had success with QB’s. The defense took three big losses through the middle, but largely remains the same group that held LSU, Ole Miss and Texas to a combined seven points. I realize I need to temper my expectations before the season starts, but the excitement is too real. September 5th can’t come soon enough.

The Davidson basketball non-conference schedule is slowly coming out and I’m liking what I’m seeing. Games at UNC and at Madison Square Garden vs. Pitt give Davidson big-time exposure and a real chance to earn RPI-boosting wins. But more importantly, it seems like the schedule will be a little stronger on the back-end too, which was almost an issue last year. It’s good to pile up wins, but the strength of schedule numbers needed to be higher. I’ve seen early predictors say this team won’t be the same without Tyler Kalinoski, but he’s just one player, albeit a really good one. Between Jack Gibbs, Brian Sullivan and Jordan Barham, there are many hands capable of filling his production. And with Jake Belford returning from injury and some size coming in with the recruiting class, I’m not convinced there will be even the slightest bit of drop-off from last year.

The last team I want to mention is the U.S. Men’s National team in soccer, who beat both Netherlands and the world champion Germans this week on European soil. I’ve heard many people say the wins don’t matter because they are friendlies without many of the sides’ top players, but that should not take anything away from the achievement. Taking many players without experience, the U.S. topped two of the best teams in the world. That’s a fact. And it can be a springboard for Jürgen Klinsmann and the program. You can’t tell me players like Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes aren’t better off in the career having this burst of confidence. This was a week to treasure for U.S. soccer fans.

 

 

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Farewell to Mr. Excitement – Saying Goodbye to Rajon Rondo

Just last night, I was at my first Celtics game of the year, watching the mercurial Rajon Rondo lead the sorry-looking 2014-15 Celtics to a win over the Magic. Rondo appeared uninterested from the start, turning the ball over at an alarming rate in the first quarter. But then, like in so many other games, he started playing with an intensity that few can match. Suddenly, midway through the third quarter, he was just three rebounds away from a triple-double. He was streaking down the court to create shots left and right. He was fighting on the offensive glass. And he was attacking the rim.

But now, Rondo is packing up and headed to Dallas, traded today for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson and a future 1st and 2nd round pick. What is surprising is not that Rondo was traded, but the swiftness in which this move happened. I’m left stunned at the fact that he’s gone, that I had a chance to say goodbye, but didn’t even know it was going to be necessary. In many ways, this trade was inevitable, but it still comes as a surprise after so many years of seeing him take the floor.

Rondo did a lot of spectacular things on the basketball court. He also did a lot of agonizingly stupid things. But on the whole, he was a player worth watching on a nightly basis. And he was an absolute competitor, one right up there with Kevin Garnett as the type of player you could guarantee hated losing more than you hated sitting in traffic. Rondo played through all sorts of injuries, and routinely put his body on the line.

Watching Rondo play the last two years has been tough. He was put in an environment where he simply wasn’t going to win based on the roster around him. Because of that, I believe he started playing games with himself, trying to keep his assist-streaks going and going for triple-doubles because he wasn’t getting the necessary competition on the court. He was so competitive that he needed to avoid losing, even if that meant beating challenges he set for himself. It was almost like he had to detach himself from the reality of the losses in order to stay motivated and engaged.

Many people like to criticize Rondo for all sorts of things. But I’ve always given him the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of what his motivation was every night, he put on a show, which helped the team way more often than it hurt. Sure, it would have been nice had he learned to shoot free-throws, but he helped the team in so many other ways.

Rondo was never going to be the superstar that so many people wanted him to be. Whether it was his inability to accept coaching or his refusal to redevelop shooting mechanics, most true Celtics fans have always known Rondo needed a running mate to be successful. He may have been the official team captain, but he was not Paul Pierce by any means. He was Rondo, the player capable of anything. He was not Rondo, the player capable of leading the Celtics to a championship by himself.

The moment I knew a trade was coming was when Kevin Love went to the Cavaliers. After two seasons of rebuilding and losing, the Celtics were not going to be able to convince Rondo to come back in free agency. I don’t think he would have accepted even a max deal from the Celtics knowing more losing was on the immediate horizon. So while the return from this trade isn’t what you’d expect for a player of Rondo’s potential, it was a deal the Celtics had to make if it was truly the best offer out there. It was either this or losing him for nothing in the summer.

I’m going to miss Rondo on a number of levels. I’ll miss the competitor who wouldn’t even lose Connect-4 at charity events.  I’ll miss the fiery, grudge-holding Rondo, going against top point guards on national TV and relentlessly attacking their pride. I’ll miss triple-double seeking Rondo cleverly getting his shooters open looks as I saw one final time last night. And finally, I’ll miss playoff Rondo more than anything, but the circumstances suggested we weren’t going to see that any time soon.

Like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Doc Rivers, and Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo did spectacular things in Boston that made the city a basketball town for a number of years amidst tremendous sporting success across the board. Rondo brought excitement to the Garden night after night and produced some unforgettable moments.

Think about the dunk on Jason Maxiell. Think about Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals when Rondo poured in 44 points, while adding 8 rebounds and 10 assists. Think about his 29 point, 18 rebound, 13 assist game vs. the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. Think about all the times he faked the behind-the-back pass. Think about that championship.

The Celtics have a long way to go before they will return to the era that Rajon Rondo helped define. But this trade is a necessary step towards that next era, a move made without a trace of nostalgia, as Danny Ainge has avoided doing in a big way. Rondo’s exit marks the official end of a remarkable era to be a Celtics fan. I’m going to miss these guys a whole lot in the years to come, but ultimately, I have faith in what Ainge is doing.

One final question I’d like to pose is whether Rondo deserves a place in the rafters. Pierce will be there for sure. Garnett will probably be there. But will Rondo’s number 9 join them? He was not dominant on the 2008 team, but in the years and playoff runs that followed, it can be argued that Rondo was the catalyst of everything that went right or wrong. And more often than not, it went right. For all his critics, Rondo was one heck of a Celtic.

It is with a great deal of sadness that I bid farewell to Rajon Rondo as a Celtic. It’s been a fun 9 years.

Do you think Rondo deserves a place in the rafters? What are your thoughts on the trade overall? Please comment below. 


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Covering My Bases

It has been far too long since I last wrote about sports. School has been getting increasingly busy and extracurricular activities are piling up such that I rarely have the hours necessary to sit down and watch a game – much less write about it. But I wanted to take this brief window I have before Halloween festivities to touch on a bunch of sports topics.

I’ll start with the Red Sox. I definitely wanted the Sox to bring Koji Uehara back as opposed to gambling on a young pitcher or an Edward Mujica-type, but when I saw the 2-year/$18 million contract he signed, my immediate reaction was that is a lot to invest on a forty-year-old pitcher who broke down at the end of this year. Based on market value, and the pitching talent teams would get for that sort of deal, it would seem to be a good contract for the Red Sox. But I’m just not sure how effective he’s going to be in 2016. The two year deal will force John Farrell to look long-term next year with Uehara, and I would not be at all surprised if he tries to limit how often Uehara goes two days in a row. This deal was made with an eye towards immediate contention though, which I’m happy about.

Everybody wants Andrew Miller and Jon Lester back, myself included. But the prices for those two pitchers will be absurd. If the Red Sox splurge on the two of them, there won’t be a ton left to spend. And if they are back, then you are left with a 2015 Red Sox team that looks very similar to the 2014 team. I don’t think the brass will want that. So realistically, I don’t see either coming back. My guess is there will be one minor free agent signing in the rotation and the rest of the changes will come through trades.

To the Celtics. I was able to watch most of Wednesday’s opener and I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that game very well might be the best the Celtics will play all year. Beyond Rajon Rondo being back to his assist-happy ways, and an improved Kelly Olynyk, my favorite part about this team is the bench. Too often, recent Celtics teams have lacked second-units that look to score. Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner sure take care of that problem. Add in Marcus Smart’s defense and that second-unit may start to dominate the second quarter. I still think this team will be bad. But they will be able to win games against teams that aren’t 100% focused that night. Teams won’t like playing in Boston this year.

More than anything though, I’m just happy basketball season is upon us. Davidson basketball starts up too in a couple weeks, which I’m pumped for. It’ll be an interesting year for the ‘Cats. There is more talent on our squad than pundits and coaches are giving us credit for – I know the A-10 is good, but there is no way a Bob McKillop coached team finishes 12th out of 14 in the conference. We’re going to have a fantastic backcourt, with Brian Sullivan, Jack Gibbs and Tyler Kalinoski returning to form one of the best guard trios in the conference. And Jake Belford’s 3-point ability will stretch defenses enough to open the drive up. However, the lack of experience and size at the 4 is frankly alarming. I’ve been hearing good things about the freshmen, but they can’t be expected to come in and find their footing right away.

Regardless of how successful we’ll be, I am really excited for the move to the A-10. It’s a necessary step up for a program that had found sustained success in the SoCon. From a fan’s perspective, I’m looking forward to having quality team come to Belk Arena and hopefully the students section can get fired up for some games this year. And as we’re going to rely heavily on the 3-ball, there might be a few upsets over the course of the year. I’ll be posting anything I write about the team on here, so there will be some Davidson basketball coverage on here for sure.

Now to Arkansas. I’m feeling a lot more confident about the Mississippi State game tomorrow than I should be. The pressure is off Arkansas this weekend. The monkey that’s been on our backs all year will feel lighter on the road against the nation’s top team. The Hogs know they can play with anyone, and with all the pressure on State, I’m hopeful Arkansas comes out firing tomorrow. It’s very much a trap game for the Bulldogs and Arkansas should be able to take advantage of that. With Brooks Ellis coming back, I think the defense is up to the challenge of stopping Dak Prescott. Give Jonathan Williams the ball and let the offensive line do the rest. At this point in the season, the Hogs have nothing to lose in this game. It’s time for some Razorback magic.

Lastly, to Arsenal. In theory, tomorrow’s game against Burnley at The Emirates should be a walk in the park. This is the type of fixture that Arsene Wenger should be able to win even with significant squad rotation. He should rest his injury-depleted squad for the midweek Champions League tie. And Arsenal should still be able to win 3-0. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that Wenger will not rotate the squad at all, Arsenal will labor for much of the match against the parked bus that is Burnley, and the match will be decided by a single goal.

I would like to see Joel Campbell get a start ahead of Santi Cazorla. Cazorla hasn’t looked right recently, and Campbell deserves a real chance. He has looked lively in short bursts so it’s time to see if he can provide the energy needed to break down Burnley. I also think Danny Welbeck could use a break, so maybe Campbell could even be given a chance up top. I wouldn’t be opposed to Yaya Sanogo either. But most importantly, Nacho Monreal should not be playing center back, whether Kieran Gibbs is fit or not. Slide Calum Chambers into the middle and let Hector Bellerin loose, especially in a game like this.

Hopefully, Arsenal will be far enough ahead that Theo Walcott will be able to make a substitute cameo in the second half. His return is vital to Arsenal’s success in the next two months. Before reinforcements are brought in during the January transfer window and before Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud get healthy, Arsenal need to find their form. The Premier League can’t be won in the first half of the year – yes, Chelsea is still beatable – but it can be lost. The way the Gunners are playing, I don’t think they’ll make it to January within 15 points of Chelsea unless Walcott gets going quickly.

My predictions for tomorrow are a 3-1 win for the Gunners and a 27-26 loss for Arkansas.

What are you excited for this weekend? Basketball? Football? Soccer? Please comment below.


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Grazing In the Sports World Grass

I wanted to follow in the footsteps of one of my favorite sports writers with this piece, using the style of Boston Globe writer Dan Shaughnessy’s “Picking Up the Pieces” articles. In it, I will hit on many topics with only a single paragraph. My current title is a work in progress for this segment going forward. If you have a better idea, put the name in the comments or tell me on Twitter (@MrMcGinnis94).

The Patriots begin their preseason tonight against the Washington Redskins. In what is pretty much his only action of the entire year, Ryan Mallett will see the majority of the snaps tonight at quarterback. The former Razorback deserves a shot in the NFL due to his physical tools, and I think his time is running out to earn a trade to start games somewhere else. Not much else happens in the preseason opener, so make sure to keep your eye on Mallett.

Following that, I am getting excited quickly for the coming Arkansas football season. I fully understand that the degree of difficulty of the schedule (many say the Hogs have the toughest schedule in the country) could make progress hard to see this year, but I fully believe in what Bret Bielema is doing to rebuild the program. I really like the way the offensive line is shaping up, and it makes me giddy to think about the trio of highly regarded running backs hitting the holes. This team will begin to resemble the Houston Nutt Razorback teams from the Darren McFadden era, and in my mind that’s a good thing. If Casey Dick was good enough to ride his running backs to successful seasons, why can’t Brandon Allen? I’ll have a lot more to say in the coming weeks, but the August 30 opener at Auburn can’t get here soon enough.

Moving to baseball, I was really impressed with Joe Kelly on the mound for the first time with the Red Sox last night. There hasn’t been a good sinkerballer in Boston in a while, and last night the new arrival showed he has top notch stuff on the hill. He isn’t a number one starter by any means, but he could be a solid number two or three on a great team. It was also fun to see him beat out a ground ball base hit – I hope other Red Sox players were taking notes. And it was also good to see Xander Bogaerts turning it around at the plate. His struggles have gone on far too long for a player as talented as he is.

To basketball, news has broken this morning that the Kevin Love to Cleveland trade we’ve all been waiting for has been all but confirmed. Minnesota should be happy enough with the return – two number one overall picks plus a first rounder for a player who would have left for nothing in a year is a good deal. I can’t wait to watch Love play with LeBron James. Think about all of the fast break dunks LeBron will get from Love’s outlet passes. It is a match made in heaven. With perimeter threats on the roster, Love will also be able to play in the post more than he ever could in Minnesota, and I expect him to reach new heights this year on the block. He is one of my favorite two or three players to watch in the NBA, and I’m glad he will get a shot to play for a championship. I don’t think this puts Cleveland above San Antonio, but they are certainly the favorites in the East.

All is quiet on the Celtics front these days. Looking at the roster, there is a lot of redundancy as it currently stands. Shooting guard in particular is full of talented individuals who won’t be happy with sitting on the bench. Marcus Thornton is the name that makes the least sense on the this roster given his age and ability. I think he’s gone before December. And with Vitor Faverani making the news for the wrong reasons, he too could find himself looking for a new job before long. When there isn’t any other news, getting arrested for drunk driving is not a smart move for a player on the fringe of the team.

To Arsenal, there isn’t much in the news this morning other than that Theo Walcott’s return to training is scheduled for the end of the month. As I’ll say in a post in the near future about Walcott, I think he has a key role to play in the coming season, and getting him on the field as soon as possible will be vital for Arsenal’s success. And there is also the confirmation from Arsene Wenger that Manchester United have officially lodged a bid for Thomas Vermaelen, but that’s hardly news at this point. I’m ready for transfer rumors to stop so that the talk can be about the play on the field again. Is it Sunday yet?

And yesterday brought about the retirement of Howard Webb, the high profile Premier League referee who was in charge of the 2010 World Cup Final. He is a tremendous referee and his authority on the field will be missed. I was trying to think about Arsenal matches he had done recently, but none came to mind. I picture him doing Manchester United matches. But apparently after United, Arsenal has done the second best of any team with him in charge. I guess we’ll miss him in more ways than one.

Lastly, I have formed a Fantasy Premier League league for all to join. I’m not a big fan of fantasy sports in general, but the Premier League does it excellently – for all who don’t know, the league’s official website hosts the game which features a FA Cup style cup among all the millions of participants in the second half of the year – and it’s a wonderful way to keep up with players across the entire league. The league is under this blog’s name on fantasy.premierleague.com. Click join private league – the passcode to join is 1154525-274716. I’ll be trying to get as many people as I can to play, so please join even if you’re only slightly interested. Tell your friends as well.

That’s all for now. Have a great day and thanks for reading.


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My Thoughts on Evan Turner, James Rodriguez and Jake Peavy

I’ll get back to my Arsenal player previews tomorrow, but today I’d like to address a few topics from the rest of the sports world.

The news broke in the last few days that the Celtics have signed former number two overall pick Evan Turner. At first glance, this seems an especially strange free agent pickup considering what the Celtics are trying to do with their roster right now. With an already crowded backcourt, adding an easily disgruntled me-first shooting guard seems risky for a number of reasons. The Celtics need their young players to get playing time and they need them to feel comfortable shooting the ball. Turner, it would seem, could only hinder their progress. And with the team a long way away from competing, why would you pay someone relatively big bucks to block the team’s development?

However, I’ve learned to trust Danny Ainge’s judgement for the most part. Aside from Brian Scalabrine’s long-term deal, Ainge has generally done well in getting something out of players that have lost their way. Jordan Crawford was the prime example of such a player. Crawford took his lumps on a losing team, but rediscovered his game and earned himself a way out of town via trade, getting the Celtics a few more draft picks. Turner can be a similar type of project. If he plays, he’ll be able to get off a lot of shots on this team, as few players will take them from him. Then, he can reestablish his market value and the Celtics might be able to sell high on him in February. If he doesn’t play well, he can sit on the bench and watch James Young and Marcus Smart battle in front of him.

At the very least, Turner is someone who wants to score. Last year’s team was a little too pass-heavy at times, and the offense became rather predictable. On his day, Turner can contribute a triple-double. And players like that can attract fans to the TD Garden in a down year. Overall, I’m not quite sure what I think about the signing. It doesn’t seem to fit with the team’s philosophy on the court, but yet it seems strangely right up Ainge’s alley.

Moving to soccer, yesterday’s big news was the confirmation of Colombian World Cup star James Rodriguez’s big money move from Monaco to Real Madrid. By now we’re all quite familiar with the left-footed number 10, and his talent level is off the charts. He certainly is good enough to play for the biggest club in the world, and he’ll immediately form an incredible front 4 alongside Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Add in Toni Kroos and Xabi Alonso/Luka Modric in midfield and that lineup is simply unbelievable. The scary part is that the players and their styles of play complement each other, unlike whatever Barcelona is trying to do with Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi.

This move would also seem to indicate the imminent exit of Angel di Maria and/or Isco. Both of these players are world-class, and it’s astounding that players such as these two who have proven themselves more than worthy of places in the side won’t be able to get on the field. Any team will be lucky to sign any of the unwanted Real Madrid castoffs, as they are all sensational talents. But for Madrid, however good they are, they are expendable now. In order to form super-teams, you need to be ruthless to improve great teams. And Carlo Ancelloti have certainly wielded the axe ruthlessly. I won’t want to face Real Madrid any time soon.

However, this move does call into question what FIFA’s Fair Play regulations actually do. How is it that Real Madrid can keep spending absurd sums to their heart’s content? I know they have sold a couple players, but the numbers don’t come close to matching.

Lastly, while I didn’t get to watch last night’s Red Sox game, I wanted to share a few thoughts regarding Jake Peavy. The former Cy Young winner contributed to last year’s World Series championship by bringing a winner’s mojo into the clubhouse upon his arrival at the trading deadline. Even if he didn’t win every time out, he was still bringing positive vibes to the mound. Now, a year after his arrival, everything has flipped. Whenever he pitches, there is bad karma everywhere. He hasn’t pitched well by any means, but it’s no coincidence that he has the worst run support and worst record in the league.

It’s time to get rid of that bad karma. Brandon Workman can fill his role in the rotation, so the Red Sox should take whatever they can get for Jake Peavy, even if it’s a quarter on the dollar. I’m not saying this because I dislike Peavy or think he is as bad as his 1-9 record. I just think the Sox can’t afford to lose their belief every fifth day. We’ll always have the championship with Peavy. And he’ll always have the duckboat. But the Red Sox don’t need to always have Jake Peavy losing games. It’s time for a change.

That’s all for today. Hope it’s a good one.