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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Nets, Knicks a total mess

They were supposed to be battling for supremacy in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, a full-fledged Streets of New York donnybrook. The Knicks were poised to take a step up from the solid playoff run of a year ago. The Nets made the blockbuster trade of the offseason, getting two Hall of Fame players to go along with the Hall of Fame point guard selected to coach them.

In fact, most of the talk in the offseason centered on which New York team was better, the Knicks or the Nets? It was the hot topic for the tabloids and the sports talk radio stations. The debate went on and on.

Now, a month into the NBA season and the question is: Which team is worse?

It’s really hard to determine, because right now, they are both God-awful. The Knicks are 3-8 overall, 1-6 at the Garden. They’ve lost four straight and show no signs of improving anytime soon. The Nets are one loss worse at 3-9, also having lost four straight, including last night’s 111-81 embarrassing debacle against that world power known as the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s actually hard to believe that both teams are so bad.

I mean, the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony. I know he’s very limited as a player and he’s a shoot-first, take-names-later kind of player who does not make everyone around him better, but he’s still among the top 10 talents in the league.

Losing Tyson Chandler to a broken leg is a huge blow, but with Andrea Bargnani, they should have been able to recover, right? Hardly. They are a severely disjointed team right now with no true leadership. The Knick faithful are already calling for coach Mike Woodson’s head, even after he led them to 53 wins and a win over the Celtics in the playoffs last year.

The Nets are a total mess. As it looks right now, they’re the ones who got fleeced in that trade with the Celtics. Those draft picks are looking pretty good now.

Kevin Garnett aged faster than Shoeless Joe Hardy did at the end of “Damn Yankees.” I don’t remember a player disintegrating over one summer like he has. Willie Mays played centerfield for the Mets better in the 1973 World Series. KG is totally shot. He’s averaging 6.7 points per game. Hell, he used to get that in the first quarter.

Paul Pierce isn’t much better. That patented fade away jumper keeps clunking off the rim. He’s shooting 36 percent from the floor, averaging 12.5 points per game. He’s said and done all the right things, but if he can’t make a shot, he’s useless.

Speaking of useless, Deron Williams is supposed to be the floor general of this team, but once again, he can’t stay healthy. Ever since he came from Utah, he’s been injured in some capacity and he’s been a sullen, moody clod.

And as for the rookie head coach? Jason Kidd has looked totally lost at times, like not knowing the team’s rotation and who to substitute for whom. Sure, he has a capable Lawrence Frank on his bench to guide him along, but there are times that he just sits there, wide-eyed, not showing any fire, any emotion. As a coach, he’s not the same intense person he was as a player.

And to think, the Nets got rid of P.J. Carlesimo for this? The former Seton Hall coach, who was masterful turning the Nets around last year, was shown the door in favor of an unproven Kidd. How’s that working out right now?

So forget the talk of which New York team is better. Right now, the topic should be which one is worse. And the answer is anyone’s guess.

Has there ever been a bigger train wreck than what’s going on at Rutgers now? I had a friend, a Rutgers alum, who said, “They can’t f*ck up enough.”

The school just can’t stay out of the headlines, no matter how hard it tries.

There was the entire Dave Cohen-Jevon Tyree bullying mess that came to a head last week. The beleaguered athletic director, Julie Hermann, tried to defuse the mess by holding a long overdue meeting with the kid’s parents last week, as a courtesy to a family friend and respected clergyman Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries.

Hermann claimed that she spoke with Tyree’s father, then after the father said that he never received a phone call, Hermann said that she must have been duped by an imposter claiming to be Tyree’s father. Where is Capt. Jenks these days? Did Howard Stern put him up to call Hermann?

At least now, Hermann can say she actually spoke with them. The lying can finally cease.

My friend, Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi, wrote yesterday that if Hermann truly lied about trying to contact the Tyree family, then she deserves to be fired. Hell, she didn’t deserve to be hired in the first place _ or at least shown the door before she entered the Hale Center, after it was proven she lied about her activity at the University of Tennessee years ago.

Hermann only became a candidate for the position as a favor to one of the people on the search committee, who was very friendly with Hermann. Just like that, she got the job _ and just like Carlesimo, Rutgers got rid of Tim Pernetti for this??

Pernetti got the school to build an extension to Rutgers Stadium, then got a sponsor to underwrite the thing, then pulled off the biggest coup since Dillinger by getting the Big Ten Conference to actually think Rutgers was a good fit and pried some of the Big Ten’s billions to go to the banks of the old Raritan. What has Hermann done, except for not f*cking up enough?

As for the football team, it’s really a sad, sad state. A month ago, the Scarlet Knights were 4-1 and talking about a possible bowl berth. Now, they’re 5-5 and have not been competitive one iota over the last four games, losing by more than 30 points three times. People now wonder if head coach Kyle Flood can keep his job and that’s a shame, because he’s a great guy and a good football coach. But he’s lost this team. They’re uninspired and listless. They don’t seem to care.

The basketball team just lost to Drexel in the preseason NIT. It was almost a given that the Scarlet Knights would head to the Big Apple. Nope. And this is a program that is going to the Big Ten? Who’s kidding whom? They’re not ready _ except ready to cash the paychecks.

As Stan Laurel used to say, “Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” This isn’t even a fine mess. It’s an unmitigated disaster that even Irwin Allen couldn’t create.

Here’s to four high school football programs I know pretty well who punched their respective tickets to the NJSIAA state finals Friday night.

Parsippany Hills shocked previously undefeated West Essex to get to the North 2, Group III title game. That’s great news for Dave Albano and the Vikings. There isn’t a classier, nicer guy in the game than Albano. This is his fifth try at a state title and he deserves to get one.

Mendham upset sister school West Morris to get to the North 2, Group IV title game. The Minutemen won two games the last two years and now get back to the state title game for the first time since 2004. It’s a credit to head coach Bill Carpluk, who came back to coach the Minutemen this season after a seven-year hiatus. After this year, they should rename streets and buildings in Mendham after him.

Hoboken defeated New Providence to get to the North 2, Group I championship game for a second straight year. The Red Wings (or Redwings, the debate continues) have battled through injuries all season, including one to head coach Lou Taglieri, who came out of his hospital bed last week to coach the team. It’s amazing how they have managed to keep winning through the adversity.

And the alma mater, St. Peter’s Prep, will get another crack at winning the Non-Public Group 4 title after defeating St. Augustine Prep last night. The Marauders haven’t won the state title since 2005 and they’ll get a chance to rid some demons, facing either Don Bosco Prep or Paramus Catholic in the finals at MetLife Stadium in two weeks. The Marauders haven’t won a big game against the Bergen County powers since that win in 2005. Maybe this is the year.

Anyway, it’s an exciting time for local high school football. It’s a shame that it’s all passing me by. I hope and pray to be at some of the finals in two weeks.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Update from Kessler and update about Rutgers


Before I start on my sports rant of the day, I wanted to give everyone an update on my medical condition. I’m still a patient at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, with this being day 11 of my stay.

And I can wholeheartedly say that I am improving with every passing day. I’m getting a lot of the strength and mobility back again in my right leg. My left leg is almost 100 percent and my right leg was at 43 percent the other day in a stationary bicycle machine. I’m doing anything and everything that the wonderful staff here at Kessler tells me to do. I have yet to miss a therapy session and listening to my great pair of physical therapists, namely Marissa (mornings) and Ivana (afternoons), and what they’re telling me to do.

I again am amazed at the strength and dedication of the fellow patients here, most of whom have conditions that are far worse than mine. There’s a woman, a quadriplegic, who is full of life and energy. She moves her body to the music that plays and talks of the days when she ran marathons and did triathlons. On Friday, with the assistance of three therapists, she took her first steps since her arrival. Her face beamed like a child on Christmas morning. I applauded as she took her steps.

I have a new roommate and ironically, he’s a Hudson County guy as well. Jeff is from Bayonne and until recently, he was an English teacher at Bayonne High School. A few months ago, Jeff lost use of his legs, almost like me, and couldn’t walk. He’s been back and forth from Bayonne Hospital to Kessler three times since August and is having a real tough time.

I cannot applaud the people of Kessler more, none more than rehabilitation assistant Harold Shaw, who is an absolute gift from God. Harold takes the time to make sure I have what I need. He has to watch while I shower just so I don’t fall. He provides towels, dry floors, clean sheets and more importantly, support. He’s a huge sports fan who somehow has four favorite NFL teams, the Steelers, the Packers, the Texans and the Raiders. He thinks that it’s good to root for four teams. I have a tough time with just the Rams.

So Harold has taken a special liking to me because he knows I’m a sportswriter and wants to spend time talking sports. Friday night, we went through the entire NFL schedule and picked our games, like we were doing Kessler’s version of “Inside the NFL.”

You cannot put a price tag on what Harold has provided for me during my stay here. I don’t know what I would have done without him.

So I’m getting better. There’s still no timetable for my release or when I can get back to my normal routine. But I am improving and that’s a good sign, thanks to the wonderful people of Kessler.


Now, back to the sports world.

It’s absolutely mind boggling that Rutgers is in the headlines once again for another imbecilic incident. You would have thought by now, with all that has transpired over the last two years, that the people on the banks of the old Raritan would have gotten it all down pat.

Yeah, right.

There are reports now of Rutgers assistant football coach and defensive coordinator Dave Cohen verbally abusing, threatening and “bullying” former player Jevon Tyree to the point where Tyree eventually quit the team. Cohen apparently called Tyree homophobic slurs, spit in his face and berated him time and time again.

When Tyree’s family brought the incident to the attention of head football coach Kyle Flood, he assured the family that the incident would be taken care of. The family also wanted to speak with beleaguered athletic director Julie Hermann about the incident.

Saturday, Rutgers released a statement which said that the athletic department was aware of the incident. Here’s the statement:

The situation between Jevon Tyree and Dave Cohen took place in the spring and was dealt with immediately.

Cohen apologized the following day for his participation in the escalation of banter, which resulted in the use of inappropriate language. Kyle Flood reprimanded Cohen and addressed the situation immediately with the entire coaching staff.

This was an isolated incident. At no time was there any threat of physical violence, which was verified by an academic counselor, who was present in the room.

Six months later, Tyree’s father contacted Director of Athletics Julie Hermann to discuss Jevon’s role on the team and how coaching decisions were made. During the conversation with Hermann, Tyree’s father reintroduced the March situation.

Since the situation occurred prior to Hermann’s arrival, she immediately contacted Flood, who apprised her of the situation and how it was addressed.

To be sure, Flood initiated an additional meeting with Tyree and his parents to address their concerns and his future with the team. The following morning, September 17, Tyree informed Flood of his intention to remain with the program.

Hermann spoke to Tyree’s father following the meeting with Flood and confirmed that the matter was resolved to his satisfaction.

There’s only one problem. Tyree’s father told reporter Dan Duggan that he never spoke to Hermann. Ever. He called the statement, “insane.”

“I never talked to her. That is insane,” Tyree’s father  told “My mother has passed and I would put my hand on a stack of Bibles in her goodness. That’s ridiculous that she would even say that. That’s scary.”

So who do we believe? The father of a disgruntled player or the embattled AD, who has lied several times in the past, about that fateful wedding video, about the letter written by her former players at Tennessee and then the claims of athletes being abused at Louisville and Hermann turning a blind eye?

Incredibly, my friend, Star-Ledger columnist Steve Politi found Hermann yesterday, asked her a series of questions about the Tyree-Cohen incident and how the school handled it.

Well, Hermann danced around Politi’s questions better than Ginger Rogers and Kirstie Alley. She actually went as far as to say that she actually spoke to “somebody.”

 “Yeah. Somebody – if it’s not him, who calls me and informs me of it?” Hermann told Politi. “Otherwise I wouldn’t know about it. So I’m not trying to call – I’m not trying to use big words like the words he’s using, but I’m informed by him, to my knowledge. If it’s not him, who’s calling me?"

Excuse me??? You have no idea who you’re talking to? This Hermann woman has now swung and missed for the third time. Strike three and you’re out. Well, that’s the case in baseball, but certainly not at Rutgers.

Rutgers also said that Cohen apologized to Tyree the day after the incident took place. However, the family doesn’t say anything about an apology.

There’s no question that the allegations are enough to have Cohen removed as an assistant coach. Hell, the performance of his team’s defense is enough to get him canned. The 52-17 loss to Cincinnati Saturday is proof. The Scarlet Knights were not competitive at all defensively. It also was a case where the Scarlet Knights appeared to quit, which is not a good sign at all.

I am a huge fan of Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood and have been since he was promoted to head coach. I want him to succeed more than any other coach in New Jersey. Flood is a great man, a knowledgeable football man. If given the opportunity, I know Flood would do an incredible job.

But it’s not a good sign when your team is not competitive. They were not competitive against Houston and weren’t competitive against Cincy on Saturday. Maybe the Scarlet Knights can find some internal moxie and mettle to improve and play better over the next few weeks. If not, Flood could lose his job as well.

Hey, Greg Schiano appears headed for the door in Tampa Bay. Maybe this mess called Rutgers would want to bring back that true bastion of truth. Because after all, it’s proven that the athletic boss certainly doesn’t know what the truth means.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

A different perspective on life

As you may or may not know, my physical condition has deteriorated enough that I’ve been sent to the Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange. I have no idea how long this will be my temporary place of residence. Doctors have not given me a timetable, other than that I will eventually recover and hopefully, as God is willing, that I will walk again. Maybe I might even walk out of Kessler.

But it is good that I’m finally getting the medical treatment that I so desperately needed. I have fallen too many times to count. The last time was last Monday, when I toppled over in my driveway en route to physical therapy, landing on my bad knee and ankle and hitting my head on the macadam.

That was the last straw. I could not live at home in that condition. I couldn’t continue to struggle with a walker with the hope that I would eventually get better. Coming to Kessler was the last straw.

I figured it was a great institution _ perhaps the best rehab/healing hospital in the area. If it was good enough to treat Christopher Reeve and my man Eric Legrand, then it had to be good enough for me _ and I’m not even close to being in the same condition that they were when they came to Kessler.

What has transpired since has been nothing short of amazing. First, the medical staff and physical therapy staff here are amazing, caring, tough-as-nails, considerate and helpful people.

I may have been poked, prodded and pushed every way known to man, but I know that it’s all for my betterment and eventual recovery. Already, in just four days, I’ve seen signs that I’m getting better. My right leg, almost useless upon my arrival, is moving better. I’m doing leg raises and lifts. I’m walking with the walker almost 500 yards a day.

I was told that I had to be able to push myself in order to recover. I didn’t need to hear that message twice. I was going to do whatever they said _ and then some.

There’s been a huge range of emotions since I started having leg issues and subsequently falling. I had to give up several of my work assignments.

Now, that was a very emotional setback. As anyone who knows me can attest, I love my work. After 32 years, I never once dread the idea of having to do my work in whatever capacity it may have been. Whether it was covering the World Series or the Super Bowl or then covering Little League, I always go at it with the same fervor and excitement.

My friend Mike Moretti once called me “the hardest working sportswriter in New Jersey.” I tend to think of it as being the most fortunate, because I kept getting assignments and worked for about 12 different organizations. I have said that I had more jobs than a Jamaican.

But never did I feel like I was working. I always called it a “poor paying hobby,” because I love the idea that I actually get paid covering sporting events and writing about them.

So when I made the grueling decision that I had to give up working and stop covering events in late September, it took a lot of out me. It triggered a roller coaster of emotions that still exists. I find myself crying for no reason. It has nothing to do with finances _ although I do like to get paid. It’s the camaraderie I felt with my colleagues while covering events. It’s the closeness I’ve felt with coaches and athletes.

Perhaps the biggest gift I’ve received over the years in being a sportswriter is the countless friendships and relationships that I’ve formed. I can’t even begin to count the number. I know it was evident the other day, when I received 325 get well messages on Facebook. None of that exists without choosing my profession, being the big guy with the pen-stained pants and notebook coming toward coaches and athletes, asking questions.

Sure, there have been times I’ve angered people, but it was all part of the job. But most of the time, I am gladly accepted and appreciated _ and that is a gift. Most of the coaches and athletes I’ve covered have become friends, some of which are lasting. Again, a gift.

So I miss that more than anything, other than being at home.

But while I’m here, I’m gathering so much inspiration from my fellow patients, again most of whom are in far worse condition than me.

I got to meet the wonderful Dave Carver, who for years was the coordinator of the softball program in the borough of Madison. Carver ran the program, soup to nuts, and even coached for many years. He beamed with pride that he once coached Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway when she was 10 years old.

Dave suffered a serious fall a few months ago, severing his spinal column. He was told that he was going to be a quadriplegic. But Dave has been here for 12 weeks, pushing himself to the limit. He’s working hard in his therapy every single day. He’s now using his hands and lifting his legs a little. And Tuesday, he’s going home after being here for three months. No question, he’s an inspiration to me.

My roommate is Pete Torres. Pete was an active member of the United States Coast Guard. Three months ago, Pete came home from work, laid down on his couch with a beer and couldn’t get up. His son had to carry him to the hospital.

Pete found out that he has a mass on his spine that is being reduced with radiation. He still cannot walk, but he’s also pushing himself and he’s set to go home to a personal physical therapist Monday.

Pete is also an inspiration to me. So is the elderly man whose wife suffered a massive stroke and he’s here every single day to guide her through her therapy. There’s a strapping former athlete named Gene who fell out of a tree deer hunting, landing on his back and he’s now paralyzed from the waist down. Another young man Devin from Paterson was shot in the spine and he’s also paralyzed.

But they all work hard every single day and they all serve as motivation to me to get better and to come home. If I’m fortunate, I’ll get my life back. I’ll be somewhat as active as I was a few months ago, going to games and practices.

For now, I’m here at Kessler. This is my home. I don’t know how long, but it’s home. I’ll be here with the other patients, all hoping and praying for a miracle, a dream.

As it stands now, I couldn’t ask for a better place to call home.


Now, as for the sports world, I’ve had enough of this Richie Incognito –Jonathan Martin crap. I cannot comprehend that Martin is being made to look like a villain while Incognito, a piece of trash since his days in high school, is being defended by his teammates.

Bottom line is this: No one should be forced into paying a $15,000 tab for an event he wasn’t even attending. I don’t care about the rituals of the football locker room. That is garbage. If Martin doesn’t want to pay, he shouldn’t pay, even if it was for a pizza and a case of beer.

Incognito was a bad apple during his days with the Rams and was cut because of his attitude, not his play on the field. Same goes for his brief stay in Buffalo. He’s been known as a dirty player and now it’s proven that he’s an a-hole.

But anyone who defends his actions because it is “all part of a football locker room” is complete garbage. How about the Dolphins calling Incognito “an honorary black man.” Say what? That has to anger anyone of color.

Incognito has played himself out of a job and it’s doubtful any other team will give him a chance to play again. He’ll be working in a Home Depot in two years and more than likely dead in five.

Maybe I have to eat my words about the Nets’ trade to get Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, because the two legendary performers and sure-fire Hall of Famers haven’t exactly played like anything but old men for Jason Kidd’s Brooklyn Nets.

The other night, the Nets lost to Washington in a game where Pierce and Garnett both scored four points. Ouch.

Have to hope they can turn it around, but at 2-4, the Nets are not exactly world beaters.

The NCAA’s decision to have basketball referees call hand check fouls on every single possession was a complete mistake, never more evidenced by the 73 fouls called at the Seton Hall-Niagara game Saturday night, a game that took almost two and a half hours to play.

The game’s leading scorer, Sterling Gibbs, had 23 points _ 17 of which came from the free throw line. Gibbs is the former Seton Hall Prep standout who spent one year at Texas before transferring back home.

This idea cannot continue, because the sport will lose fans by the droves. No one wants to watch a free throw shooting contest.

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