Monday, February 28, 2011

Brad who?

The Charlotte 49ers didn't exactly make national headline news by the hiring of Brad Lambert as their first head football coach -- which is expected to be officially announced Tuesday at a press conference but our David Scott is reporting today.

Lambert is an obscure assistant -- as just about all assistant football coaches are -- who is currently the defensive coordinator for Wake Forest. He's coached some very good players at Wake, but his most recent defense was pretty horrible in the Division I-A statistics.

So the hiring will, of course, be ripped by those who love to jump to conclusions with Internet comments and on talk radio. Lambert is not a "name" and is not currently at a football power. Thus, many will conclude, he must be the wrong guy.

The hiring reminds me of UNCC AD Judy Rose's recent hire of Alan Major -- also in his 40s, also a career assistant and also really wanting to start his own program. Major has struggled mightily in his first season as a 49ers coach. He did have one advantage when hired in that his most recent employer was Ohio State, which currently has a great basketball program. That bought him a little more credibility.

Lambert, though, will have to do this the hard way. He doesn't have the name recognition of a Chuck Amato (who certainly shouldn't have gotten the job) or a Mike Minter (who was also interested)or anyone like that. He will have to recruit for a program that won't start playing football until 2013 and won't play it at the highest level for many years after that.

Still, I say you've got to give the guy a chance. With what UNCC was paying, they weren't going to get Steve Spurrier.

Lambert obviously must have wowed with his interview, because he's not the obvious choice. And so what? The "name value" of a coach has a very short shelf life once you start playing games (ask the Carolina Panthers about their experience with George Seifert). I'll be interested to hear what Lambert has to say Tuesday, because he just signed on for a difficult job that also has some massive potential.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mike Maloy, MJ and March Madness

A few weekend notes:

1) I wrote my column today on Mike Maloy, the mysterious former Davidson basketball star who once led the team to two NCAA Elite Eight berths and then basically disappeared. A Davidson student named John Rogers got interested in Maloy's story after hearing about Maloy's death in 2009, and in large part due to Rogers' efforts (and a 20-minute documentary film he and two other students produced) Maloy will be honored today at Davidson.

2) I have already written in this blog about MJ's big gamble in trading away Gerald Wallace (see the post after this one), but watching the Bobcats on TV Friday night I was surprised to see how happy MJ was when Eduardo Najera sank a late 3-pointer under pressure when the game was already put away. The basket had MJ on his feet, laughing and smiling, and you'll notice he hardly ever stands up when seated courtside (MJ owns the 4 seats nearest the Bobcats bench). He sure loved that one, though, and so did Najera -- who slapped hands with a half-dozen fans courtside as he jogged back down the court.

3) March is almost upon us, which means it is time for the greatest college tournament in sports -- the men's NCAA hoops tourney. Remember, Charlotte will host eight teams March 18 and 20 (teams to be determined March 13 on Selection Sunday) in 2nd and 3rd-round games. Less than 3,500 tickets remain.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jordan's big gamble

Anyone who has been to a Bobcats game knows the "Gerald WALLACE Wall-ace wall-ace" cry that comes from the P.A. man after every Wallace basket. It's an inspired bit -- my kids love to repeat it to each other, at random times, with the name fading away at the end just like the P.A. man says it.

Now Wallace has faded away for good from the Bobcats, and that means this is a sad day in franchise history. Wallace was the last remaining player from the original Bobcats in 2004, and so in some ways this day feels a bit like the one coming sometime when John Kasay and the Panthers part ways.

The trade? It's easy to say the Bobcats got creamed, for what they are getting that is coming in on the airplane is nothing like what is going out. The players, on the other hand, are mostly throwaways.

But two first-round draft choices? Now that you can do something with -- if owner Michael Jordan makes the right choice. And how confident can you be of that? Adam Morrison, Kwame Brown, etc etc.

The visceral reaction I have to the trade is I hate it. Without Wallace, the Bobcats just went from a team with a 50 percent chance to make the postseason to about a 25 percent chance. He was one of the team's two best players (along with Stephen Jackson), and you have to love anybody whose nickname is "Crash." Wallace is a fearless player and a high flyer who was the Bobcats' only all-star (ever). He is also honest, and a good guy.

Then again, his production has been a bit down this year. Sometimes on offense, he just camps in the corner and watches. He's got some miles on him now, and Gerald Henderson (who will play a lot more now) does a number of the same things, although he won't make ESPN SportsCenter as often.

So my more realistic reaction has to be: "We'll see." The picks that the Bobcats make for Wallace, the money that they now have to spend (if they spend it, a huge if given what they did in the Dampier situation) -- that determines if the deal was successful or not.

Maybe the Bobcats finish 11th in the Eastern Conference this year instead of 8th and another first-round sweep or 4-1 series loss, which was going to be inevitable. Does that really matter? Not much. What matters is becoming a truly elite team, which the Bobcats are gambling they can do with this deal.

Ultimately, maybe it works. For now, though, I know my kids -- and a whole lot of other folks -- are going to miss the sound of "Gerald WALLACE wallace wallace" fading away at Time Warner Cable Arena. The Bobcats are less athletic and less interesting for the rest of this season, and if I'm Paul Silas I'm not too fond of this deal in large part because my rebounding and defense just took a major hit, and I got nothing short-term to help me.

As for Jordan? He's playing blackjack again, and with this deal he just took a hit on 16.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Panthers should franchise DE Johnson

I read Darin Gantt's very interesting breakdown of the Panthers' three possibilities for "franchising" in today's newspaper, and here's what I think:

Franchise Charles Johnson.

If the choices are Johnson, center Ryan Kalil and RB DeAngelo Williams and I'm the Panthers, I certainly want to keep all three and hope I can do so.

But if I can only make one of those a near-certainty by franchising him, I'll go with Johnson and here are my 3 reasons why.

1) He plays such a significant position. Having a pass-rushing defensive end is huge, and if you teamed him with Auburn DT Nick Fairley as the No.1 pick, that'd be a heck of a twosome to start your defensive line with. Johnson had 11.5 sacks last season and even though he knew he was playing in a contract year, so what? He still had 11.5 sacks. I don't think he will suddenly get fat and lazy once he gets paid.

Incidentally, I think the Panthers should either draft Fairley or trade the No.1 pick, as I've written before -- I like Fairley a touch more than Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers. But that assumes Panthers keep Johnson, so they already have a guy similar to Bowers on line.

2) As for DeAngelo, I love the way that guy plays. Tough, strong, effective. But Carolina is blessed with two other very good backs in Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson. I still think DeAngelo as a runner is the best of all of them, but it's fairly close at this point. It's the one position Carolina has extreme depth, so I wouldn't franchise DeAngelo -- would just take the chance on signing him back in the open market.

3) As for Kalil, he's a smart, strong player. But I think Carolina can get him back -- Kalil has always struck me as a reasonable guy, and like Jordan Gross, I think he would ultimately like to stay in Carolina and will make that happen. Could be wrong, but if they lose someone it's better that it's a center than a pass-rushing DE.

Put it this way. If these three players all hit the open market, Johnson is going to draw the most interest. That's not the only reason you would use a franchise tag on someone, but it gives you a sense of what other teams are thinking.

Bottom line: Try hard to keep all three of these guys, but franchise Charles Johnson to make sure you keep him.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Just what NASCAR needed

If you were the head of NASCAR, I'd say your best-case scenario Sunday would have been a win by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Daytona 500 on the 10th anniversary of his father's death in the second race.

That didn't happen Sunday -- Dale Jr. finished 24th, although he ran up front most of the day. (He crashed late).

But your second-best scenario would be an unlikely winner -- a "Hoosiers" or "Rocky" sort of story. And that NASCAR got, with a win by 20-year-old Trevor Bayne, who is easily the youngest winner in the 53-year history of NASCAR's biggest race. (Here's my column about him).

Bayne drove with the poise of a veteran to hold off Carl Edwards at the end, and he won a lot of people over with his post-race humility. His victory wasn't that fluky -- he had been running in the front pack in every pre-race event there was.

Still... Trevor Bayne?! He's a 20-year-old kid who mainly runs in the Nationwide Series, where he has never won in 51 attempts. This was his second Sprint Cup race.

As I write in my column for Monday's Charlotte Observer:

Bayne is a God-fearing, apple-cheeked, personable 20-year-old. He likes to play the guitar, wear T-shirts, snowboard and Twitter (although not all at the same time).
In other words, Bayne hits an ideal demographic for NASCAR, whose television ratings and attendance dropped dramatically in 2010. But the sport’s next major star might have been born on Sunday.

Bayne is obviously a lot of fun to write about, because he's an unknown, and an underdog, and apparently a good guy who is still too young to buy alcohol. He missed the turn to Victory Lane Sunday; that's how raw this guy is. But what a talent, and what a place to display it.

As Dale Jr's world turns

I wrote my column today on Dale Jr., asking readers to put themselves in the shoes of the 36-year-old driver whose father was NASCAR's Elvis.

It's the third column I've written about Earnhardt Jr. in the past month, and probably the last for awhile. But I felt like I had a little more I wanted to say about racing's most popular driver, and so this was the result.

Now I'm sitting here watching my first-ever Daytona 500 on a beautiful day in Florida. How I've missed this event all my life I'm not sure, but am glad to be able to check it off the bucket list.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Does Danica have what it takes?

I wrote my most recent column from Daytona on Danica Patrick, who is beginning her sophomore NASCAR season in the second-tier Nationwide Series. She starts fourth in the Nationwide race Saturday -- she isn't racing in the Daytona 500 and has yet to race in one of the top-tier Cup events.

After listening to a couple of Danica's Daytona interviews over the past few days, I've come to the conclusion she's a relatively nice person who really wants to be liked but who is not at all sure of her capabilities in a stock car as of yet.

That's for good reason -- in her 12 races last year, she never finished better than 19th. Her average finish was 28.7. If she was your average white male race-car driver, those sorts of results wouldn't merit a paragraph in most auto-racing stories.

But that's not what she is. She's a pretty woman and a potential breakout star -- but she has to produce some results now, or she will simply end up as NASCAR's equivalent of tennis pinup Anna Kournikova.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shortening the 600??

I spent my first day ever at Daytona International Speedway today. Somehow, in 17 years of employment at the Charlotte Observer, I've never been assigned to cover the Daytona 500. Generally, Tom Sorensen -- my friend and our other sports columnist -- takes this assignment but he's got other stuff to do this week. I'll be here the rest of the weekend, writing a number of columns, including one on Danica Patrick for Saturday's newspaper and one on the new style of "two-car tandem" racing at Daytona for Friday's newspaper.

One interesting thing that came out of today was a little debate about whether the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is too long. Fox Sports chairman David Hill -- whose network televises the event -- thinks so.

Hill said in January that NASCAR races should be shortened to fit into a three-hour broadcast window. On a call with reporters Thursday, Hill was asked that. (The 600 -- the longest race on the NASCAR schedule, which is one of its claims to fame -- generally lasts over four hours).

Hill stood by his comments Thursday and said he was speaking specifically about the 600, which this season is scheduled for May 29. Hill said the 600-mile race at CMS “tends to go on and on.”

Later on Thursday came this counterpunch from Marcus Smith, the president and general manager of CMS: "Shortening the 600? We were actually considering adding a halftime show!"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Right move to extend Silas

Well, that didn't take long.

Paul Silas is now 2-for-2 in getting the "interim" tag removed as an NBA coach in Charlotte, as the Bobcats just extended him through the 2011-12 season and now officially consider him their "head coach" instead of their "interim head coach."

Silas took over for Larry Brown this season, and at this point, interestingly enough, they have each coached this Bobcats team for exactly 28 games. Brown went 9-19. Silas went 15-13 and has directed Charlotte to victories over Boston, the L.A. Lakers and Atlanta in the past 10 days.

This one-year extension was the right move for the Bobcats, to give a bit of stability at a spot where the team desperately needs it. The Bobcats are already on their fourth head coach in seven years, which speaks to the franchise's lack of continuity.

This sort of thing has happened to Silas before. He took over the Charlotte Hornets in midseason once, replacing Dave Cowens, and then did well enough to get the head job there, too.

Silas is a tough coach and also not as good an "X and O" man as Brown, but he's better than Brown at instilling confidence in players. He smiles more. Under Silas, D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson in particular have looked like different players.

And while Charlotte (24-32) still wouldn't make the playoffs if the NBA season ended today, at least the Bobcats now have a chance to do so. While Brown got them there in 2009-10 with a superb coaching job, the team stopped listening to him this season.

They are listening to Silas, and this was a good move for owner Michael Jordan to make. The timing is a bit curious -- couldn't this just as easily have been done at the end of the season? -- but Silas is a good man and a good coach, and I'm happy for him.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Talk about some sore Laker losers

NBA players -- and coaches -- have to get somewhat used to losing. Even the best NBA teams usually lose in the neighborhood of 15-20 times a season (while a great NFL team might lose only 3-4 times, or less). And an average NBA team loses at least 40 times.

So you get beat. You talk about it with the media. You move on.

That's not how it went with the Lakers' two biggest names Monday night, though, after Charlotte's 109-89 whipping of the Lakers. (Here's my column about the game).

Total time allocated by Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant to the media Monday after the loss: Ten seconds.

Those 10 seconds all came courtesy of Jackson, who took no questions at his "press conference." He walked out of the Lakers' locker room, looked at the assembled media (which included me) and said: “I just have one thing to say: I am very disappointed in our performance tonight. We are embarrassed about what we did and that’s it.” Then he walked off.

As I noted in my column about the game, Jackson's entire statement could have fit inside a standard, 140-character "tweet." It was apparently one of the shortest -- if not the shortest -- postgame press conference Jackson has ever held as Laker coach.

But that was 10 seconds more than Kobe, who ducked the media entirely, leaving the locker room before it officially opened to reporters and never reappearing.

Ah, well. The Lakers are a proud and talented bunch, and losing eight of their last 10 to the Bobcats must gnaw at them. And the way they lost was surprising, I'm sure -- the 2-time NBA defending champs hardly ever play that badly. (And the Bobcats rarely play that well).

But still, it struck me as a "sore loser" sort of thing. Doesn't Jackson owe the general NBA fan a better explanation for his team's performance than those 10 seconds? Shouldn't Kobe say something?

It happens. It's not a huge deal, I know. I also know I've lost some games in my own small-time sporting career in which I didn't want to talk to anybody afterward. I just wanted to sulk, or think, or something.

And it should be fairly noted that there were many Lakers -- Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher among them -- who addressed the media at length after the game.

But still... I thought Jackson and Kobe -- and I respect both of them greatly for all they've done in the NBA -- should have behaved better Monday.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

3 thoughts on Duke-UNC

I wasn't at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday night, but watched Duke-UNC on TV like a whole lot of other folks. A few postgame thoughts:

1) It's a pleasure listening to Mike Gminski as the color analyst. Gminski has such a history with this rivalry, but also stays neutral and incisive -- always. The G-man can also pull up arcane basketball knowledge, like the time he noted that Seth Curry looked like he was committing an "up-and-down violation" on his pump fake, but that in reality he always kept his toes on the ground. Dell Curry made that pump-fake move the exact same way, as Gminski noted. Raycom's telecast in general was very solid -- when you have Rob Reichley as the director, as this game did, you can count on that.

2) Can we please stop underrating anyone in the Curry family at this point? Surely Seth's 22 points in this rivalry game means that he won't go overlooked anymore. He is way past that now, just like Steph was about 4 years ago. I'm sorry Dell missed seeing this one in person -- his TV duties with the Bobcats keep getting in the way.

3) When the Tar Heels play Duke again in March at Chapel Hill, they have got to find someone who can stay in front of Nolan Smith (who was sensational with 34 points). That's where UNC missed Larry Drew II -- not on offense, where he's limited, but because of his defensive quickness. But Drew II quit on his team, so he wasn't available.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Coaching in 1 place, family in another

There has been an outcry in New Orleans the last 24 hours with the news that Saints coach Sean Payton's family is going to move back to the Dallas area while he stays in New Orleans with his job.

Payton has had to explain it -- he says he's not having marital problems, nor does he want to coach anywhere but New Orleans, nor will he be commuting in from Dallas. The Saints have had to present a united front, saying it's OK with them (although originally they made Payton's family move to New Orleans when he took the job).

Many Saints fans, however, have felt betrayed. There's a unique bond between the city and the team, particularly after Hurricane Katrina. What, is New Orleans not good enough for your family anymore? That's what many are asking. Or they're wondering if Payton is positioning himself to one day be the coach of the Cowboys, which he swears he's not.

So does all this matter? Would it matter if, say, Ron Rivera decided to leave his family in San Diego and move to Charlotte alone to coach the Panthers? (Not that he plans to do that; this is a hypothetical).

Perception-wise, sure it would matter. It doesn't feel quite like you are "all in" for a job if your family is somewhere else. But the reality? I don't think it matters one bit on the field.

It's even happened before in Charlotte. At least twice. Few folks probably remember that Sam Vincent didn't buy a house here, instead leaving his family in Dallas while he completed a short, unsuccessful one-year stay as head coach of the Bobcats. And Larry Brown did it, too, leaving his wife and two young children in Philadelphia while coaching here.

Was there a public outcry? No.
Did it change the Bobcats' win-loss record? No.
Of course, the Bobcats aren't the Saints, who are interwoven in the fabric of New Orleans. The Bobcats are more like a throw rug in one corner of Charlotte.

Tony Dungy has done this, too (leaving his family in Florida during the later part of his tenure in Indianapolis). Tony LaRussa. Avery Johnson -- the list goes on. The bottom line is that these guys are such workaholics that many times they barely see their family, anyway. That's sad, but it's true.

So this is a tempest in a teapot in New Orleans. Saints fans need to get over it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jackson's anger issues hurt Bobcats (again)

It turned out to be only a footnote in the Charlotte Bobcats' thoroughly amazing 94-89 win over Boston Monday night, but Stephen Jackson got tossed from the game in the second quarter for two straight technical fouls.

That gave Jackson 13 T's on the season and three in the past two games -- he's once again among the league leaders (along with Dwight Howard and Amare Stoudemire). Jack is only three techs away from an automatic one-game suspension, and he's already lost close to $180,000 this season for various offenses. He's averaging about one technical every four games, which means he will end the season with 20 if he stays at this pace. (Here's my column about this issue).

I'm tired of watching Jackson act out against the officials. Aren't you? Jackson wrote an open letter to Bobcat fans two months ago. It was contrite and in it he promised to change his behavior (after getting tossed out of a game in Milwaukee).

And it worked -- for about a month.

Now Jackson is back to his old ways. He wouldn't talk about his ejection against the Celtics Monday. As part of Jackson's interview with a group of reporters, I asked him several questions about his behavior. Here's a partial transcript:

Me: What is your explanation for last night's ejection?
Jackson: I don’t have one. It happened. I ain’t got nothing to say about it.

Me: With 13 technical fouls so far this season, are you confident you can avoid getting No.16 and an automatic one-game suspension?
Jackson: I’m just playing basketball. I don’t know. We’ll see.

Me: Is it time for another open letter to the fans?
Jackson: I think you’re being sarcastic.

Me: No, I'm not. I'm asking you realistically if it's time.
Jackson: I’m not answering that question.

OK, so you get the idea. Jackson doesn't want to talk about it. Which is his prerogative. If Jackson was silent the rest of the season in fact, that'd be fine. He's Charlotte's best pure scorer, an invaluable part of the team and a player who truly loves what he does.

But, as coach Paul Silas told me Tuesday about Jackson on-court: "He kind of loses it sometimes."

And the Bobcats just can't have that. As Silas went on to say about Jackson: "He does have to change. And I think he recognizes that now. He just can’t go after those guys [the officials].... Even though you might not swear at them, if you continue to talk to them in kind of a disrespectful manner, then they’re going to have to do something about it. That’s what happened last night."

Can Jackson really change, though? He did for awhile, but now he seems to be back where he started. He seems to think the officials are always out to get him. He makes it personal, over and over.

This shouldn't take away from Charlotte's win over Boston, which was pretty stunning (I was there, but in the stand as a fan). Because Jackson was out, some reserves got to play key roles in a huge win, and that will help the Bobcats down the line. I couldn't believe how good Shaun Livingston was, in particular.

So Jackson's ejection, ultimately, did not hurt Charlotte Monday in the win column. Might even have helped -- who knows? But it did show once again the path Jackson is on -- a path he must change if the Bobcats are going to be better long-term.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

7 Super Bowl thoughts

A quick run through an entertaining Super Bowl XLV, won by Green Bay over Pittsburgh, 31-25:

1) I'm happiest for former Panther coach Dom Capers, who finally got a Super Bowl ring as Green Bay's defensive coordinator. Capers' defense wasn't perfect, but it intercepted Big Ben a couple of times and didn't allow him to get his final two-minute drive even to midfield before giving up the ball on downs.

2) Aaron Rodgers is something, isn't he? The Green Bay QB had 300 yards passing even though receiver Jordy Nelson dropped at least three passes Rodgers threw him (and, to be fair, caught a bunch of them, too). Rodgers had to carry the offense and he did.

3) Weird to see Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy basically abandon the run even though his team never trailed, calling close to four times as many pass plays as run plays. It's the sort of thing that Bill Belichick does occasionally with Tom Brady, and makes all the sense in the world when you have an elite QB and your running game is sporadic.

4) My favorite Super Bowl commercials? The one for Doritos when the slacker guy brings both a fish and a grandfather back to life with sprinklings of the chips, and the one for the VW Passat in which the kid with the Darth Vader costume tries to use his "powers" on the car.

5) Could Steelers safety Troy Polamalu have been worse? The only big hit I remember him making was after Green Bay scored a TD. And he got beat late by Greg Jennings for another TD. Too bad we can't have a re-vote on NFL Defensive Player of the Year, because after seeing that, Green Bay's Clay Matthews should have gotten that honor.

6) Did you see Roger Staubach (my childhood sports hero, incidentally) have to run that gantlet of Packers with the Vince Lombardi trophy in his hands postgame on the way to the presentation? Good thing his nickname was the "Dodger" -- some of those Packers were pretty aggressive.

7) All in all, that was a fun Super Bowl, although it won't be remembered as an incredible one since there wasn't a single lead change.
Still, it reminds us all how good the NFL is as a spectator sport -- and how much it will be missed if the stubborn players and stubborn owners can't divvy up the billions of dollars available here and get a season played in 2011. I don't want this Super Bowl to be the last NFL game you or I see for two years -- and there's no way it should be.

Friday, February 4, 2011

5 notes about Heat-Bobcats

5 quick notes about Charlotte's 109-97 home loss to the Heat Friday night, which I attended along with an announced sellout crowd of 19,592 (here's my column on it):

1) Dwyane Wade's triple-double was the first one he had in five years (since Jan.13, 2006, to be exact). He and LeBron James have never had dual triple-doubles in their time together in Miami, but came close (LeBron had 19 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists).
LeBron, who piles up triple-doubles routinely, thinks they are a great stat. Wade, who never gets them "because he shoots too much," as LeBron joshed, thinks they are very overrated.

2) Charlotte really played pretty darn well for 3 quarters. Gerald Wallace's play was particularly heartening -- he has disappeared far too often over the past month.

3) The "Poetry Corner" bit on the big monitors with Derrick Brown is hilarious. With a fake pipe and smoking jacket, Brown seriously reads the lyrics to a rap song and then lets fans try to guess which one it is. May not sound that funny, but Brown really pulls it off.

4) The Bobcats were really trying to move some tickets for tonight's Dallas game and Monday night's Boston game. They must have run a "two tickets for $30" promo at least 5 times on the scoreboard.

5) Gerald Henderson is really getting better (he was 6-for-10 and scored 14 Friday and played some good defense). But you don't want him shooting three-pointers.

Strange timing for Larry Drew

The news that UNC point guard Larry Drew is leaving the team and planning on transferring to another school comes as quite a shock. The No.23 Tar Heels are playing their best sustained basketball in the past two years -- their 32-point win over Boston College this week was the sort of whipping UNC really hasn't laid on people since the Hansbrough-Ellington-Lawson-Green quartet left with a national title in 2009.

The timing for this seems very strange to me. Yes, Drew had finally lost his starting job -- and rightfully so -- to Kendall Marshall. But he was still playing a lot as a reserve, and seemingly playing better without the pressure of starting (he had won the Tar Heels' "Defensive Player of the Game" award in two of the past four games). Drew was becoming a fine relief pitcher for the Tar Heels and still was a valuable part of the team.

Was Drew that upset? Does he -- and his NBA alum father -- have an inflated sense of his own skills (I'd vote yes on this one)? Did he not see the film from the Tar Heels' 17-loss season of 2009-10, when they so frequently struggled as he led the offense? Reading the official press release doesn't really answer those questions.

And why not stick around with the Tar Heels until this season ends? This really sticks it to his teammates, for Drew will get to another program no faster if he went ahead and played these last 6-8 weeks with UNC than if he simply left now. He could transfer in the summer of 2010 or now and he's still not playing at any Division I-A school until the fall of 2012.

I was talking to a couple of pretty well-known former UNC basketball players not long ago whose names I won't mention. They thought that the Tar Heels' biggest problem for most of the past year-and-a-half was Drew -- that he was such a big step down from point guards Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton. They blamed both Drew for his play and also coach Roy Williams for wanting Drew that much in the recruiting process and entrusting him with such a big role (rather than finding a point guard who could run his system better).

Drew has his limitations and Williams stuck with him too long as a starter. He was no Felton or Lawson. Then again, he was no Adam Boone, either. The guy can pass and he can drive -- he just wasn't much of a finisher or a shooter. The Tar Heels will miss him the rest of this season -- Marshall will now have to shoulder a huge load. (The media will miss him, too -- Drew was known as one of the best "quotes" in the UNC locker room).

-- One unrelated note: for those of you who have asked about my Super Bowl pick, I made it the day after the NFC and AFC title games and won't change it now... Pittsburgh, 20-16.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No.1 Clowney down to USC, Clemson, Alabama

Jadeveon Clowney came into ESPNU's studios in Charlotte this afternoon, where I'm camped out for the day. Clowney -- the No.1 overall prospect in America and a defensive end from Rock Hill South Pointe -- did an interview with ESPNU and then with me later in which he said he had narrowed his choices to Clemson, South Carolina and Alabama.

That means North Carolina is out. Clowney said it was "too late" for the Tar Heels to get back into his recruitment, although he doesn't plan to announce his decision until his 18th birthday on Feb.14th.

Clowney said his visit to Clemson went very well last weekend, which is why the Tigers made the final three. Most people think he will end up at USC or Alabama, but he says he still doesn't know. In the meantime, he says he might take a visit to Florida State this weekend (the Seminoles have the No.1 recruiting class of 2011 according to ESPNU rankings).

Clowney is on the cover of ESPN The Magazine and his cell phone bill has reached $400-$500 per month because of all the recruiting-based calls. "My mom is pretty upset about that," he said, smiling. "But she paid it."

Clemson having quite a day

I'm at ESPNU studios in Charlotte, where recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill just moved the Clemson Tigers into his Top 10 nationally. Clemson just got another big-time commitment on National Signing Day, as Anson Senior linebacker Stephone Anthony just picked Clemson over North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Anthony's commitment pushed Clemson past LSU to No.10 in Luginbill's rankings. The only other ACC school in the Top 10? Florida State, which is No.1 overall. Texas is No.2.

Anthony is projected as an outside linebacker. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney now has had two big-time commitments on Signing Day on ESPNU. Inside linebacker Tony Steward (the No.9 prospect overall; Anthony is 32) was the first.

Clemson gets No.1 ILB Steward

I'm at ESPNU studios in Charlotte today, monitoring 10 straight hours of "National Signing Day" for a behind-the-scenes column for Thursday's newspaper. We're about 90 minutes in and one of the first surprises has gone in Clemson's favor.

Tony Steward, ranked by ESPNU as the No.9 overall player in America and the No.1 inside linebacker, picked Clemson over Florida State and UCLA. Steward announced his decision at his high school on live TV, and ESPNU's announcers have been calling it a "shocker" ever since. It prompted Urban Meyer -- the former Florida coach who's here today working for ESPNU -- to tell a story about a time he once thought he had another talented Florida player lined up only to lose him to Clemson.

That player? C.J. Spiller. Meyer still seemed a little sad about it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Bowl for recruiting junkies

If you’re a college football recruiting junkie, the Super Bowl comes four days early this week. Wednesday is signing day, meaning that the best high-school football talent in America is going to be divvied up.

Monitoring the pulse of this strange and newsy day will be ESPNU. The cable channel concentrates on college sports, is based in Charlotte and beams out to 73 million homes.

“This is truly our Super Bowl,” said Shawn Murphy, who will be the coordinating producer for 10 straight hours of ESPNU coverage of signing day Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. “In terms of what we do in Charlotte at ESPNU, it doesn’t get any bigger.”

Sounds pretty cool, right? I’ll know for sure by Wednesday night, as I’ll be following ESPNU’s coverage from its studio for a behind-the-scenes column that will appear in Thursday’s Charlotte Observer and online. I will also be blogging regularly today as signing news breaks, so check out this same blog for that.

ESPNU’s coverage will include former head coaches Urban Meyer (Florida) and Randy Shannon (Miami) in the studio. Eight of the top 100 players in America who have yet to make their college decision are scheduled to announce their choices live on the show.

The biggest prize of all – Rock Hill South Pointe defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the No.1 prospect in the country – is also scheduled to appear on ESPNU at around 4 p.m. but not to announce his decision. Clowney has indicated he will make up his mind later this month.

ESPNU also plans to interview more than 20 major-college coaches live during its coverage – some live on camera and some by phone. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier is tentatively scheduled for 3:10 p.m. and North Carolina’s Butch Davis at 4:18 p.m.

Things always change on live television, of course – especially when you’re planning a 10-hour TV show. So watch for my blogs Wednesday and my column Thursday to see how, exactly, ESPNU tries to pull off this mammoth undertaking.

P.S. -- On another note, my column for Wednesday's newspaper is on the state of Charlotte 49ers basketball, based in part on interviews with coach Alan Major and athletic director Judy Rose. Watch for that.