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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Perhaps the classiest move ever in HS swimming

Here's another reason for me to be proud of my high school alma mater, and it's not the fact that St. Peter's Prep won its fourth straight Hudson County basketball championship yesterday by defeating Marist _ although that is a great feat for coach Mike Kelly's team.

No, my beaming pride of being a son from Grand and Warren comes from the Marauders' swim team, which obviously has had to endure its fair share of pain and sorrow this season.

A few weeks ago, a beloved member of the Prep swim team, a vibrant, energetic and socially active young man named B.J. Giannone, competed in a swim meet at St. Peter's College, got out of the pool, collapsed and later died. No warning, no signs of distress. He just walked over to his coach and collapsed. B.J., headed to Virginia Tech in the fall, was only 18 years old.

I wrote in my column in the Hudson Reporter how the Prep has had to endure tragedy so many times over the years, more than any other school I know. But somehow, Prep men always rise above their tragedies and carry on, gaining their strength from being part of that great institution on Grand and Warren in downtown Jersey City.

Yesterday, the Marauder swim team competed in the Hudson County championships in Bayonne and gave their fallen teammate the greatest tribute that I've ever heard of.

When the time came for the relay team that Giannone was part of to take to the pool yesterday, there was a plan in place. The relay team would only have three members swim their leg, with the third leg, Giannone's usual leg, was left vacant. The lane was empty. It was decided that the relay would use Giannone's average time as its barometer for the race.

Once it was determined that Giannone would have finished the leg of the relay, then the fourth swimmer went into the pool. But for that one leg of the relay, B.J.'s leg, the lane was empty.

When onlookers realized what was happening, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I got teary-eyed last night learning of what took place, especially since I was told B.J.'s parents were in attendance. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I actually witnessed it.

Bravo to the Prep swim team for honoring their friend and teammate one more time. It's certainly a tribute that will last a lifetime in this reporter's eyes.

Friday night, I had to cover the unfortunate incident that was surrounding the Holy Family University men's basketball team, after the head coach John O'Connor attacked one of his players during a rebounding drill in practice last month, knocking the player to the floor and then kicking him when he was on the floor.

The incident was actually videotaped, like all of the Tigers' practices were, but this incident somehow got out, was posted on YouTube and all hell broke loose.

It became a national story, with the coach and the player Matt Kravchuk, appearing with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" last week. Stephanopoulos actually implored O'Connor to apologize to Kravchuk on national television, an apology that Kravchuk did not accept.

Whoever thought that it was a good idea for O'Connor to appear on national television should have their head examined, because it only made a totally horrific situation get entirely worse.

Anyway, the day after O'Connor appeared on the show, he resigned. The team had one game to play and it was against Felician College Friday night. Sure, enough, one phone call from AP and there I was, right in the middle of the mess.

I had to write a story about the mood and setting about the game. I called a school spokesman, asking permission to speak to players or administrators. That request was denied. I then asked the spokesman a series of questions. Each question was answered the same way, "No comment." Then why did they need a spokesman to offer "No comment."

I did interview some parents at the game and after the game, I spoke to the interim coach Brian Duross, who got his team prepared to play very hard, actually hold a lead in the second half, but eventually lost by a 79-71 margin.

Duross also wouldn't speak of O'Connor's plight, only to say that the team played "with the intensity instilled in them by Coach O'Connor."

Now after a 27-year career in this business _ including a five-year stint at being a college spokesman (sports information director) at St. Peter's College _ there are ways of issuing the equivalent of a "no comment," without saying the actual words. This way, the school doesn't look like it did something wrong, like the people at Holy Family did in this instance.

Something like: "Our basketball team has endured a very trying situation and we're trying to get through it the best way we can. We're disappointed that this incident has gained so much attention."

Bingo. Statement made and nothing was actually revealed and no one's privacy was damaged in the process. But Holy Family officials decided that "no comment" was more prudent over and over again. The school was also in the wrong for not doing anything about the situation until the player filed criminal charges against the coach, three weeks after the incident took place.

Sure, a tiny Catholic school in Philadelphia never had to handle a controversy as widespread as this one before, but there were better ways than digging the bunker hole and hiding out, hoping it would all go away. Anyway you look at it, it was a sad situation and not an easy one to cover as a reporter.

Interesting article in the Newark Star-Ledger about former St. Peter's Prep grid standout
Will Hill and his very interesting Twitter page (now disabled) talking about his marijuana use, about the way he treats women, about having random sex all the time.

Hill has decided to sacrifice his final year at Florida to enter the NFL Draft, but there's a major reason why. He has to pay child support and a lot of it, considering he's fathered three children with three different women over the past two years. He's well on his way to becoming the next Antonio Cromartie.

When he was in high school, Hill was clearly the best player that level I've ever seen. But his life started to unravel when his father started to parade him around, even collecting a pay check for him from a local sports training facility when Hill signed his national letter of intent to Florida, instead of doing it at the school that put him on the map.

And now, after this latest revelation -- there's an entire webpage dedicated to Hill's indescretion and apparent drug use -- he expects to actually get drafted? Who's going to take a chance on this?

While there are cases of pride from the school that has "Pride and Glory" in its creed, this disgrace is not one of those reasons to be proud.

The Prep swim team? Pride and glory beyond comprehension. The Prep basketball team? Four in a row with kids like Kevin Walker, Keith Lumpkin and Chase Fluellen being part of all four. That's pride and glory. Najee Glass winning the Meet of Champions 400-meter dash gold medal yesterday? Another reason for pride and glory at Grand and Warren.

But this clown? He's giving our proud school a very bad name once again. Good riddance.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

The way a heavyweight contender stays in shape

I went to the press conference at the Brick City Bar and Grill in Newark yesterday promoting the Tomasz Adamek-Kevin McBride fight on April 9 at the Prudential Center and there were some interesting tidbits.

For example, top heavyweight contender Adamek said that he's been keeping in shape for the fight simply by being a homeowner in our beloved Kearny.

"I shoveled the snow," Adamek said. "This year has been the most here since I came from Poland (five years ago). I shovel. I don't have a snow blower. I went out there everytime to shovel. People in my neighborhood saw me out there shoveling and I waved to them, said 'Hi.' They're happy to see that I shovel like they do.''

For the first time, Adamek will train for the upcoming fight with McBride in a remote location. He's begun camp in the Poconos in Bushkill, Pa.

"It's good for me to be in a quiet place," said Adamek, who had previously trained regularly in Jersey City at manager Ziggy Rozalski's gym. "I run the hills in Pennsylvania and it will help me with my focus a little."

Adamek said that he keeps in contact with his wife and children every day via the computer.

"I do Skype every day and talk to them," Adamek said.

McBride, who was introduced by Main Events president Kathy Duva as "Kevin McHale," which infuriated some of the Irish-Americans from Boston who traveled down to Newark for the press conference, missed the joke when I asked him what it was like to carry Larry Bird for all those years with the Celtics.

"Who's Larry Bird?" the hulking native of Ireland said.

McBride is the boxer who sent the legendary Mike Tyson into retirement in 2005 with a stunning six-round knockout.

"When I fought Tyson, I said that I was going to hit him so hard that it was going to feel like all of Ireland hit him," McBride said. "Now, I'm saying I'm going to hit Tomasz Adamek so hard that it's going to feel like all of Poland hit him.''

Okay, whatever that means.

McBride said that he runs regularly through the streets of Boston and past a park that is named after Pope John Paul II.

"I talk to the Pope and ask him not to be too mad if I beat one of his people from Poland," McBride said. "I want to be the first boxer born in Ireland to win the heavyweight championship."

He also mentioned that he wanted to be like another Irish heavyweight champion like someone I happen to know a lot about.

"I want to be like Jimmy Braddock," McBride said. "I could be the next 'Cinderella Man.'"

I then informed McBride of "Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man," still on sale on for around a penny these days. Yes, you can purchase a copy of my book for exactly one cent on Amazon.

"Cool, if I win this fight, you can write a book on me," McBride said.

He's certainly an entertaining character and provides Adamek with a bigger opponent as he shoots for his bigger payday against either of the Klitschko brothers in Poland in September. Tickets for the Adamek-McBride fight at the Prudential Center will go on sale later this week.

By the way, it was my first journey into the Brick City Bar and Grill and it should definitely be a stop for anyone attending the NCAA East Regional Finals March 25-27. It's a great place.

Great win for the alma mater last night at UConn. It was a much needed win if the Golden Eagle Warriors want to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament next month. Darius Johnson-Odom, who did practically nothing during regulation, exploded in overtime, hitting one big shot after another.

Marquette certainly entertains every time they take the floor and will certainly play a close game, win or lose. There are no blowouts when it comes to the Golden Eagle Warriors.

However, whoever is the Marquette free throw shooting coach, he has to go, because once again, they cannot make free throws. They made 16 of 27 last night in a game they won in overtime. It wouldn't have gone to overtime if they made their free throws. It's a plague that has infected every single player. Even Jimmy Butler, who usually never misses from the line, missed three last night. It's so frustrating.
Here's the last debacle that the Mets organization has done to its truest loyal fans, of which I am definitely one.

They are now giving a free ticket to anyone who signs up for one of their new ''packet'' plans. They're offering five-game, 12-game and 17-game packets and if you sign up, you get a free ticket for another game.

There's only one problem. What about the poor schlubs who had already PAID for a 15-game plan back in November, like I did? Sorry, no freebie.

The Mets truly amaze me. For 15 years, I purchased two six-pack plans, which became seven-packs. When CitiField was built two years ago, I was told that they weren't offering seven-game plans anymore, just 15-game deals, so I bought that for the last two years -- and again for this upcoming season.

Now, since Freddie Coupon and Coupon Jr., the father-son clown routine who have ruined the franchise and are liars par excellance, have killed the Mets fan base by their lies about their involvement with the Madoff Ponzi scheme (Steve Somers calls him Fred Wilponzi, a great name), they pull this stunt. Why not give everyone who has purchased a plan a free ticket? You can't offer it to some and penalize those who paid early? It makes no sense whatsoever.

They really want to lose me as a ticket-buying fan. Last August, I was asked to leave my seat because five drunken idiots from Philly were verbally abusing me because after all, when I wear my tie-dyed Mets T-shirt, I stand out like the Empire State Building. But security people asked me to leave because they thought I was causing the commotion -- and I was the season ticket holder, not these morons from Philly.

That truly annoyed me, but I still managed to re-up for another summer of discontent in Flushing.

Now, this? Just send me another ticket and I'll be happy. But after calling there yesterday, it's not going to happen. Unreal. It's life as a Met fan in its fullest glory.
Have to go to Felician College tonight and cover their game. People, go ahead. Say why?

Well, they are playing Holy Family University of Philadelphia. It's the school where John O'Connor was the men's basketball coach before he attacked Matt Kravchuk, one of his former players, during a recent practice. Kravchuk fell to the floor and O'Connor kicked Kravchuk while he was down. The whole incident was caught on videotape and has been all over the news, including the bastion of sports broadcasting, ESPN.

Yesterday morning, O'Connor and Kravchuk appeared on "Good Morning America" with George Stephanopoulos, sitting side-by-side, with both men's attorneys present as well. "Little Geo" actually tried to bait O'Connor into apologizing to his former player and the coach wouldn't budge, saying over and over that it was "just an accident.''

It was rumored last night that O'Connor had resigned, but apparently, he's only been suspended. Holy Family has a 6-20 record and tonight is the team's last game of the season. Should be interesting. Just another day in the life of a busy sportswriter.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Devin Harris will be missed

I went to Nets' practice yesterday to cover the news of the Deron Williams trade, one that is a steal for the Nets provided that Williams is happy here in New Jersey and re-ups with the Nets after they sort out the collective bargaining agreement mess in July. If there's a lockout and Williams only plays 25 games here, then the trade is a bust. If he signs long-term, it's a steal. It's a gamble that the Nets had to make.

Anyway, the Nets bid farewell to Devin Harris yesterday and that move was apparently inevitable. He had worn out his welcome with the Nets and wanted out, so he got his wish.

But that doesn't mean that Harris was a bad seed and we're saying ''Good riddance." Quite the contrary. Harris was a joy to be around during his three years in New Jersey. He never dodged a question and always spoke with the media with a smile on his face.

More importantly, Harris was so good to others in the community, constantly making public appearances on behalf of the team and even did some things that weren't always reported, until here now.
Three years ago, a young man from Kearny named Victor Muniz was tragically paralyzed when a tree fell on top of him while he was walking home through West Hudson Park. He had to endure a lengthy rehabilitation stay in the Kessler Institute.

I told my good friend Leo Ehrline, who is a vice-president of the Nets, about Victor's plight, how he was a former basketball player who loved the game so much.

A few days later, Devin Harris went to pay Victor a visit at Kessler. He brought Victor an autographed pair of sneakers and he spent over an hour with Victor talking basketball. There was no fanfare, no press conference, just an NBA star reaching out to help an injured kid.

From that point on, every time I saw Devin, he always asked how Victor was doing.

Just recently, Devin Harris signed a jersey for the son of one of my best friends who was celebrating his 11th birthday and whose mom is waging a tough battle against leukemia. That's the kind of person Devin Harris is.

I will miss talking to him regularly about his native Milwaukee and the local establishments in his hometown that I have obviously visited and enjoyed.

"Devin was in a tough situation from the beginning," Nets head coach Avery Johnson said yesterday. "His name was mention in trade rumors every single day."

And every single day, Harris handled questions about those rumors, propping himself up against the trash can at the Nets' practice facility and took on the onslaught of questions.

"It's tough for me personally, because I got to know Devin really well and I enjoyed playing with him," forward Kris Humphries said.

And I enjoyed covering him. He will be missed.

With that said, the trade was a steal for the Nets.
For the last three weeks, everyone involved in high school track and field in New Jersey has had to make the schlep to the Bennett Center in Toms River for the state sectionals, all-Groups and finally the Meet of Champions, which will be held this Saturday.

But what I don't get is why someone doesn't build a state-of-the-art indoor track facility in northern New Jersey?

There are umpteen new ice hockey facilities throughout the area. Soccer facilities are being built all over. Some schools are getting new gymnasiums, even in the tough financial times.

But track athletes have to collectively make the sojourn south simply because there are no facilities up north? The time has come to do something about that...
Congrats to the Rutgers-Newark women's basketball team for upsetting Kean last night and advancing to the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship game against William Paterson Saturday night. It's the first time that the Scarlet Raiders have ever advanced to the NJAC title game. There isn't a finer coach and an even nicer guy than Kevin Morris, who truly deserves this chance to possibly take his team to the NCAA Division III tourney.
I didn't watch the game, but I was curious to see the introduction that Carmelo Anthony received last night. And I have to say _ albeit reluctantly _ that was some impressive and flamboyant entrance, with the "I'm Coming Home" video and the Garden darkened.
Only one problem. For years, I was led to believe that Anthony was from Baltimore. That's where he was announced as being from when he played for Syracuse. Now, all of a sudden, he's a New York guy because he was born there? How old was he when he left? He was all of eight years old!!!
It's like calling tennis great Michael Chang being from Hoboken because has born there. His family left when he was an infant. Or the punky QB known as Jim McMahon being from Jersey City. His family left when he was four.
So now Anthony's a New Yorker who said he watched Bernard King when King was a star for the Knicks. Only one problem there. Anthony was born in 1984. King played for the Knicks from 1982 through 1987, with the final two years being limited after a severe knee injury.
That's obviously having a tremendous memory for a two-year-old.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The first of many blogs to come

I always wanted to have a personal sounding board and a lot of people have been encouraging me to start a blog, especially my wonderful niece, Jackie, so here goes, a little helping of some "Just wondering" columns I've written over the years...

Just wondering if everyone is as sick of all the Carmelo Anthony talk as I am. Local basketball fans can be enthralled that he's coming to the Knicks, but the bottom line is this. The man held three franchises, the Nets, the Knicks and the Nuggets, hostage for the last four months. They all kissed his royal rectum for all that time. I have heard 'Melo is not a bad kid, but no one deserves all that attention and no one deserves to hold up three entire franchises like that...

Just wondering what happened to regular television...Everything is reality-related crap...I think what TV needs is a 24-hour Law and Order network....All Lennie, all the time...

Just wondering how the New Jersey Devils can go from being the absolute dregs of the NHL to unbeatable just like that. It's like something I've never seen in my nearly 30 years of being a sportswriter....Did I just write that? Three decades of sportswriting? I need a break...

But the Devils went from being awful to unreal just by bringing back Jacques Lemaire? He's not only the NHL Coach of the Year. They might have to rename the block around the Rock as Lemaire Place....

A real good guy, Ron Drogo, who I worked along side covering the Meadowlands Grand Prix Indy race for years, then worked with when I covered the Knicks and Nets for the Star-Ledger, passed away last weekend. He worked on Saturday for the Bergen Record, putting together the local section, went home and passed on. He was one of the best guys I knew in the business.

It reminded me of two funny Drogo stories. One was the way we used to jockey for position to go out in the pace car at the Meadowlands race. We didn't want to have some pace girl drive us around the track at 35 MPH. We wanted one of the drivers, so Ronnie and I used to push each other to get Emerson Fittipaldi, Arie Luyendyk or Bobby Rahal to tool us around the Meadowlands parking lot at 100 MPH.

Another was when Drogo was a copy editor at the Ledger and I was covering some minor league basketball team called the Newark Nightcats that played at NJIT. In the game story, I wrote that the Nightcats won "before a dozen fans." Drogo called me to ask what I meant by a dozen.
"Twelve," I said. He said, ``If there are 12 fans there, then why are we covering it?" I guess he had a point.

The local sports journalism world has lost a host of great guys in the past year or so, guys like Bill Handelmann and Vic Ziegel and Mike Celizic and Maury Allen and Bill Shannon and Gene Picker and now Ronnie Drogo....There are a lot of idiotic jackasses in the field and those guys were not that way at all...It's a shame we've lost so many good ones in such a short time.

Just wondering if others can appreciate the talents of St. Anthony basketball sensation Kyle Anderson, who gets better and better each day. He's an absolute joy to watch perform and he's a credit to his father, Kyle, Sr., who obviously taught him well.