Friday, August 31, 2012

5 thoughts on Panther loss to Steelers

Some quick thoughts on the Panthers' final exhibition, a 17-16 loss to the Steelers Thursday night:

1) Carolina did the right thing keeping basically every starter out of the game. What's the sense in getting someone hurt in a game that never should be played in the first place? Four preseason games is two too many, as I've said for years.

2) Watching from home on TV, I thought several of the most interesting moments came with Panther GM Marty Hurney in the TV booth in the third quarter, joining Mike Morgan and Mike Rucker for an in-game interview.

Hurney watched live when Armanti Edwards got his hands on a ball in the end zone in close coverage but was not be able to come up with it and said Edwards really needed to catch "contested balls" like that.
Hurney also mentioned that Justin Medlock should and would be able to make field goals of "55 yards plus" -- although Medlock missed from 56 and 50 Thursday night, with the 50-yarder a potential game winner.
And the GM said he thought that the Panthers put more money into the running back position than any other NFL team.

One other note on the TV broadcast: Kudos to all involved in the Sam Mills feature that was shown at halftime on the late Panther linebacker and assistant coach. It was excellent.

3) If I'm the Panthers, I find a way to keep RB Armond Smith around -- practice squad, something. I know the position is crowded, but that guy can play.

4) Incidentally, with Edwards, I saw nothing to change my mind from this blog post where I advocated releasing him. There are a number of new comments on both sides of that issue if you want to check it out(remember, I now moderate all comments for this blog since a very few users kept posting R-rated rants -- you never have to agree with me to have your comment published, but severe profanity is the one thing that rules it out.)

5) I thought this was the best I've seen Jimmy Clausen look in a long time. Yes, it was against scrubs, but normally against scrubs Clausen still can't get the offense in the end zone. This time he threw two TD passes and had the team in position for a possible game-winning field goal (which Medlock missed).

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Time for Panthers to cut cord with Armanti Edwards

I really like Armanti Edwards -- as a person, as a college legend at Appalachian State and as a role model.

I don't like him, however, as an NFL player, and I think it's time for the Panthers to give up the ghost on the Edwards experiment.

Our Joseph Person has a fine story on Edwards in today's newspaper, one that previews what could be Edwards' final snaps for Carolina in tonight's exhibition against Pittsburgh.

Edwards, in his third year, has worked hard. Unfortunately, I don't think he is ever going to be an NFL-caliber receiver. He might make the Panther team again this season -- a spot has opened up for at least the first six weeks since David Gettis has been slow to come back from injury -- but if so, he will be inactive every game unless Joe Adams gets hurt.

Rookie Joe Adams is a better punt returner than Edwards, and the Panthers have at least three players who are far better receivers (Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Louis Murphy).

Edwards was a risk when the Panthers drafted him in the third round in 2010 (giving up a second-round 2011 pick to do so), and it hasn't turned out well. He was one of GM Marty Hurney's second- and third-round misfires, like Everette Brown, Corvey Irvin, Dwayne Jarrett and Jimmy Clausen.

To give Hurney credit, his first-round picks have been remarkably good and now form the nucleus of the team (Newton, Stewart, Beason, Kuechly, D. Williams, Thomas Davis and Jordan Gross among them). He has not done as well in the rounds after that (although Ryan Kalil and Charles Johnson were second- and third-round picks in the Panthers' 2007 draft -- one of the best in club history).

Edwards was a noble attempt. But his incredible elusiveness in college just hasn't translated to the pros. He looks small on the field and just not that fast anymore.

Edwards ultimately reminds me of Nick Maddox, who was the best high school running back I ever saw, but also somewhat slight of stature compared to NFL players. Maddox's phenomenal career at Kannapolis's A.L. Brown High never quite translated at Florida State, when the linebackers on the other team suddenly could keep up with him.

Edwards was better than most anyone he played in college -- including the Michigan defense in that famous App State upset -- but the speed caught up to him in the pros and he just hasn't found his niche.

I'm sorry he hasn't. Armanti is a great guy. I've known numerous fans who have had personal contact with him and come away better for the experience.

But let's be honest -- he's not going to help the Panthers if he stays on the roster this season. Better to give that roster spot to someone who can.

Monday, August 27, 2012

10 quick Panther thoughts following win over Jets

Like many of you, I wasn't in New Jersey but watched the Panthers edge the N.Y. Jets 17-12 in an exhibition Sunday night on television. Ten quick thoughts:

1) I love watching Luke Kuechly. For a couple of Jets series, I ignored the ball entirely and just focused on No.59. It was remarkable. He and the ball ended up intersecting at almost every play.

I don't care how many linebackers the Panthers have and even if they all return, miraculously, to become completely healthy all season. Kuechly still needs to start and play every snap he possibly can. Cris Collinsworth said Kuechly was "already one of the best players on this team," and I completely agree.

2) If I'm the Panthers, I sit every starter on both sides of the ball for exhibition game No.4 Thursday at Pittsburgh. The fourth exhibition is a farce anyway for everyone except the players trying to fill the last 10 spots on the roster -- why pretend otherwise?

3) Thomas Davis's speed has returned, which is great. I still worry about his durability after three ACL surgeries, but at least the linebacker has not come back as a below-average player who can't run.

4) Unless the question involves great religious role models in sports, there's no way Tim Tebow is the answer. Someone has to teach Tebow to stop rolling right as a lefty quarterback. His one interception couldn't have been a worse throw. The Jets have now failed to score a touchdown in their first three preseason games -- the first NFL team in 35 years to do that.

5) DeAngelo Williams just couldn't hold onto the ball Sunday. He had two fumbles in seven carries and also dropped a short pass (which was high) from Newton.

Before you start worrying about DeAngelo's ball security, however, remember that he has only fumbled six times in six years as a pro -- a phenomenal average of just one per season.

6) Sure would like to see the video that Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil apparently made with a Charles "Big Money" Johnson impersonator. Al Michaels and Collinsworth referenced it on NBC Sunday night, saying Cam had told them about it and laughing so hard he could barely finish the story.

7) I am really not impressed with Panther wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu. Louis Murphy should be the third receiver behind Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell.

8) I was impressed with two Panther backups named Smith -- running back Armond Smith and safety Reggie Smith.

9) Thomas Keiser was rushing against the Jets' backups, yes, but he again was more effective than Johnson crashing in from the defensive end position. Keiser is tied for first in the NFL in the preseason stats with 3.5 sacks through three games.

10) Jets head coach Rex Ryan said after the game that former North Carolina defensive lineman Quinton Coples was getting winded and had a "woe is me" look on his face when the rest of the starters came out of the game but he had to stay in there. Coples did have a nice play on Cam Newton to force a lost fumble, but Ryan obviously doesn't like Coples' "motor" -- which was one of the raps on him coming out of Chapel Hill.

On the fumble Newton lost, I at first thought Cam made the wrong play not to go after the ball there. He simply walked away once it was batted out of his hand.

Then I realized two things: a) Newton acted as if he had heard a whistle, which Gross said afterward indeed was blown during the play, and b) Newton doesn't need to be in a pileup going for a loose ball in an exhibition anyway. If you watched the telecast, you saw the (unflagged) cheap shot he took earlier in the game while on the ground courtesy of the Jets' Muhammad Wilkerson.

Monday, August 20, 2012

5 types of Panther fans -- a study from the stands

I didn't have to work Friday night for the Panthers' home exhibition game since I'm on a post-Olympics vacation. So I did something really rare for me. I bought four tickets to the game and sat in the stands with two of my kids and one of their friends for Carolina's 23-17 win over Miami.

It was a lot of fun -- and also enlightening.

In the glassed-in press box where I usually work, you simply don't get the full fan experience. You only hear roars or boos if they are really loud. You don't catch any of the subtleties. You don't understand how many fans actually still love doing the wave after all these decades, or how much goodwill Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert banked by doing the "wobble" dance for the video cameras.

So while spending close to four hours in the stands, I identified five distinct types of Panther fan behavior. Many fans would fall into several of these groups simultaneously -- see which categories you fall into. Or identify others I've missed in the comments section below -- I'm sure I didn't get them all.

In alphabetical order, the five I saw were:

THE ADAMS ANTICIPATORS: There is this low buzz that rises steadily when rookie Joe Adams jogs back to field a punt. It sounds a lot like the way it used to when Steve Smith, a rookie in 2001, used to do the same thing. Fans want badly to love Adams, whose "Moves Like Jagger" spins are going to end with him in the end zone one of these days.

THE CAM CRAZIES: Obvious, yes, but no one is watched as closely from the stands as quarterback Cam Newton. There was one lady sitting near us who held a young boy of about three years old and screamed "Cam! Cam" for literally about 45 minutes straight. Newton was too far away to hear them, but this didn't quench their enthusiasm. Newton also can play to the crowd like no one else -- I love the fact he is continuing the "give the touchdown balls away" tradition this season. He danced in the pregame to the loudspeakers. He shared something that looked like M&Ms or gum with a couple of random people on the sideline.

Seeing all of the unceasing attention he gets up close also made me understand a little better why Newton will occasionally hide part of his face in that Gatorade towel.

THE CLAUSEN CRINGERS: When Jimmy Clausen jogs onto the field, the effect is Pavlovian throughout the stands. Fans have been so conditioned to expect bad things that the blood pressure in the stadium shoots up simultaneously. Clausen received a good number of boos when he first entered the huddle -- and this was before he did anything bad. Clausen wasn't truly horrible Friday -- he was just sort of there -- but everyone in the stands simply waits for something bad to happen when he's in the game.

THE MARE MOANERS: There is a definite undercurrent of Anti-Olindo in the stands. Mare had the misfortune to follow one of the most popular players in Panther history -- kicker John Kasay -- and then to miss two critical late-game field goals last season.

Still, Mare is ridiculously good as a kickoff specialist, often booting the ball completely out of the end zone. And he's not bad at all in general as a field-goal kicker.

But the two misses last year -- and the fact he's not Kasay, and a lot of fans still wish Kasay were around -- work against him. There is far more support in the stands for Justin Medlock in the current kicking competition, even though Medlock's kickoffs are far more returnable.

THE REPLACEMENT REF RABBLE ROUSERS: Is there anything easier to do at an NFL game than to criticize the refs?

Yes, there is one thing.
Criticize the replacement refs.

No fan will admit to liking NFL officials anyway, even though they are in the top one percent of their profession to have ever reached that level. But now... replacement refs (due to the current contract dispute) are officiating exhibition games.

They have to throw flags. By and large, they are calling games full of second- and third-string players who are inexperienced and trying to gain an edge any way they can. So it's hardly any wonder that both teams had more than 130 yards of penalties Friday night.

As for the refs, they got ripped constantly -- for flags, for slowing up the game with too many conferences (that one was justified), for the fact it rained earlier in the day and left some of the seats wet... whatever. Talk about a thankless job.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

USA wins over Spain for gold medal

LONDON -- Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the U.S. basketball team has done it again, beating Spain, 107-100, in the gold-medal men's basketball final Sunday.

Spain put up a great fight and the U.S. only led by one, 83-82, entering the fourth quarter. But LeBron James had a big fourth quarter and the U.S. clamped down on defense.

The game was a rematch of the 2008 gold-medal game, also close and also won by the U.S.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski, 65, has said he will stop coaching the U.S. team after this gold medal -- he engaged in some fierce hugs with his top players as the game ended. He of course will continue to coach Duke. The U.S. was an amazing 62-1 under Krzyzewski since he accepted the U.S. job in 2005.

Coach K reiterated after the game that he was finished with coaching the U.S. team. But Jerry Colangelo, who runs USA Basketball, sounded like he would try to talk Coach K out of that decision -- at least in a gentle way.

"He’s stated he’s done," Colangelo said. "And I accept that if that’s final. If it’s not, we’ll have another pizza and a glass of wine and see what happens."

The U.S. was led by Kevin Durant with 30 points. James had 19, Kobe Bryant 17 and Chris Paul 11. Pau Gasol had 24 for Spain. LeBron doused Coach K with water as the game ended.

NOTE TO READERS FROM SCOTT: I am taking some time off after the Olympics, so will be posting to this blog only sporadically until Aug.27th, when "Scott Says" will be back on an everyday basis. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Coach K tells a joke and a foreign reporter takes it seriously

LONDON – When you make a joke to an international audience – even a pretty good one – you run the risk of being misinterpreted.

That happened to U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski Friday night following his team’s 26-point win over Argentina to push the U.S. into Sunday's gold-medal game against Spain. In the U.S. press conference a TV reporter from America asked given this team of superstars: “How much coaching is really involved?”

You could tell Coach K was irritated a little by the question, but he defused it with humor.

“None,” he said. “You got it. Absolutely none. I’m out every night with my family, drunk as a skunk. Wait until you see me tonight. I’ll get in at 6 a.m., and you all are invited to come out with me. We just roll out the damn ball and that’s it. You got it. I don’t know how you figured that out.”

Most of the room laughed. Then, five minutes later, a foreign reporter started a question to Kevin Durant like this: “Kevin, Coach K says he has been going out drinking a lot. What have you….”

Krzyzewski interrupted him then, telling the reporter he had been joking. “Oh, sorry,” the reporter said. “I didn’t catch the irony.”

I thought that was funny, too. The guy knows the word “irony” but didn’t get the joke about “drunk as a skunk”?

USA blasts Argentina by 26 to earn berth in gold medal game vs Spain

LONDON -- The United States once again had two much firepower for Argentina, winning 109-83 in the Olympic semifinals Friday night to set up a Sunday gold-medal game against Spain (10 a.m. Eastern).

The U.S. led only 47-40 at halftime, but turned on the jets in the second half. No player scored 20 points but five were in double figures -- led by Kevin Durant with 19 points and leBron James and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom had 18.

The big trade in the NBA today that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers has been very much a topic of discussion in London, but the U.S. played what coach Mike Krzyzewski described as a "very mature" game to win going away.

Spain should be tougher. The Spaniards will present a tough matchup for the U.S. inside, with the Gasol brothers clogging up the paint. Spain beat Russia in the other semifinal Friday.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

USA edges Japan for gold medal in soccer

I know my photos aren't the best, but this will give you some idea what it was like in Wembley Stadium on an electric night. The top one shows the U.S. celebrating with some flags after their 2-1 victory. At the bottom -- and I loved this -- the Japanese players, many of them crying, went to both sides of the stadium and bowed together after the loss. They drew huge applause.

LONDON -- The U.S. women’s soccer team won the gold medal over Japan Thursday in a 2-1 thriller, avenging its lost to the same team in last year’s Women’s World Cup before 80,203 rowdy fans in Wembley Stadium.

Both U.S. goals were scored by Carli Lloyd, who scored on a header just eight minutes into the game off a perfect left-footed cross from Alex Morgan and then again off a powerful kick midway through the second half following at least a 30-yard run.

Lloyd’s second goal made it 2-0 for the U.S. But Japan had been unlucky not to score until then, with goalkeeper Hope Solo making a couple of great saves for the U.S. and another shot fading just wide. The luck changed shortly thereafter, as Japan’s Yuki Ogimi scored by chipping in a loose ball in front of the goal to halve the margin to 2-1.

The Japanese then tried one furious thrust after another to tie the game in the last 20 minutes. On the closest, Japan’s Maria Iwabuchi stole the ball and had an open shot from 10 yards, but Solo dove to knock it away. That incredible save was good timing for Solo in a variety of ways – her autobiography comes out Tuesday.

Ultimately, the U.S. defense held up and America claimed its fourth gold medal in the five Olympic Games that have featured women’s soccer. The chant “USA, USA” rained down from the stadium in the closing minutes.

Laettner says 2012 Olympic team needs a sense of urgency like Dream Team had

LONDON -- Former Duke All-American Christian Laettner has been in London this week, and he weighed in with the Olympic News Service on a couple of topics – including his opinion that the 2012 men’s basketball team needed “a little more sense of urgency.”

Laettner played a similar role on the 1992 “Dream Team” as Anthony Davis does on this year’s version, going from the best player in all of college basketball to a rarely-used substitute in the Olympics.

When asked which team would win in a hypothetical game, Laettner said: “Of course I am going to say that they would never beat the ’92 team. The good thing about the ’92 team is that we never played cool because all those guys wanted to go out there and show the world how good we were. So we weren’t playing the other team. We were playing [for] our identity and for our whole country to show the world we were the best.

“Michael Jordan didn’t play cool," Laettner continued. "Magic Johnson didn’t play cool. We wanted to kill everybody and I wish these guys [the 2012 team] would get that little more sense of urgency.”

I wasn’t present at Laettner’s interview. But I do think this team has a sense of urgency (although not as many hall of famers as the 1992 team, and I ultimately agree that the '92 Dream Team would beat this version).

The U.S. plays Argentina in one semifinal Friday, with Spain and Russia playing in the other. The U.S. (6-0 in these Olympics) is averaging 118 points per game, which is at least 30 points higher than every other team in the tournament.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Do not mess with Usain Bolt

Leford Green of Jamaica, a J.C. Smith star, goes over a hurdle just ahead of Michael Tinsley of the United States.
LONDON -- Leford Green, the Jamaican hurdler who has turned into a Charlottean, knows Usain Bolt better than most athletes do at these Olympics.

Green, who has lived in Charlotte the past five years and starred at J.C. Smith, has become friends with Bolt over the years since they are about the same age and used to compete with each other before Green became a hurdler and Bolt a short-distance sprinter. The two have been playing video games and hanging out every day in the Olympic Village, Green said.

So Green considers Bolt a friend. But he remains in awe of Bolt’s performance in the 100 meters Sunday night. “Usain Bolt is a different class of human being,” Green said.

Bolt runs again Thursday in the 200 final. Green said the best way to try and beat Bolt if you are in the next lane is to kill him with pre-race kindness.

“If you talk bad about him, he just goes faster,” Green said. “He’s not a person you want to trash talk. I think the best thing you do is say, ‘You’re really fast.’ Compliment him. That’s not going to slow him down, but if you talk bad about him and doubt his ability, he’s just going to try and prove you wrong.”

Bolt said as much after the 100, when he said that "doubters" had made him want to prove himself again. He lost in both the 100 and the 200 in Jamaica's Olympic Trials to training partner Yohan Blake.

A couple of other Olympic notes from Wednesday's competition:

-- Former South Carolina stars Lashinda Demus (400 hurdles) and Jason Richardson (110 hurdles) both won silver medals.

-- The U.S. won both gold and silver in women's beach volleyball (with Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor winning their third straight title). China looked like it was going to win bronze, but lost a lead and ended up fourth in the third-place match. That one event could be important if you keep up with total medal counts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Did you see that low blow Carmelo Anthony took?

A few notes from the Olympics:

LONDON -- Did you see that low blow that Carmelo Anthony took in the Argentina game? If those two teams play again – and they could Friday – it will be well-remembered. Anthony made a three-pointer while taking a cheap shot to the groin from Argentinian Facundo Campazzo.

Assuming the U.S. beats Australia in its men’s basketball quarterfinal Wednesday – and it shouldn’t be close – it will play the Brazil-Argentina winner. In which case Campazzo better watch out.

I have watched Brazil for a few quarters during this tournament, though, and believe Brazil will actually end up being the U.S. semifinal opponent Friday. I think the Brazilians are the second-best team in the tournament behind the Americans.

-- Johnson C. Smith University alum Shermaine Williams barely missed out on qualifying for the finals of the women's 100-meter hurdles. In her heat, in which the top two were guaranteed spots in the final, she lost a photo finish for second and finished third in her semifinal heat with a time of 12.83 seconds. Officially, she was 12th overall.

Williams, who competed for Jamaica, said she lost time by clipping a hurdle. “It was still an honor to represent my country,” she said.

-- Did you know betting on the Olympics – and other sporting events -- is legal in London? I walk past a couple of betting parlors on my way to work every day, and they lay odds on everything from basketball to beach volleyball.

-- The U.S. swimmers, women’s gymnasts and women’s beach volleyball players have all had superb Olympics. The U.S. boxers, wrestlers and whitewater canoe and kayaking teams have not.

American track and field right now is somewhere in the middle – that is the sport U.S. officials are counting on to lead a surge past China in the final medal count. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Raleigh product Jesse Williams has disappointing high jump performance in Olympics

LONDON -- Raleigh’s Jesse Williams had a disappointing performance in the men’s high jump final at Olympic Stadium Tuesday, tying for ninth in a competition he had thought he had a great chance to win.

Williams made his first two jumps but then missed three times in a row at a height of slightly over 7 feet, six inches (2.29 meters). He had made that same height in the qualifying round Sunday.

After missing on his third try and knocking off the high-jump bar, Williams lay face down and spread-eagled on the mat. Then he got up, walked a few steps and fell down on his back on the mat – obviously upset.

“That is a height that I should never go out on,” Williams said later. “But it happened. It happened really fast. When I didn’t make the third bar, I just didn’t believe it was done. Still can’t. It hurts.”

When Williams finally arose from the mat, he started talking to himself but didn’t remember later exactly what he said.

“There was a lot going through my head,” said Williams, who was a star prep jumper and wrestler at Raleigh Broughton. “I just started thinking of everybody who helped get me here -- family and friends and everybody. And I know that they still love me… This was God’s plan for me. I can’t get down on myself too much. It just hurts.”

In drizzly, chilly conditions at the stadium, Russia’s Ivan Ukhov won the gold medal and the U.S.’s Erik Kynard won silver. There was a three-way tie for third between athletes from Qatar, Canada and Great Britain.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kings Mtn wrestler Dremiel Byers loses in Olympic quarterfinals

Dremiel Byers, the Kings Mountain Greco-Roman wrestler, leaves the mat after losing in the Olympic quarterfinals Monday to a Turkish wrestler.

Kings Mountani wrestler Dremiel Byers, the subject of a long feature story I wrote for today's Charlotte Observer, lost in the quarterfinals of the Olympics Monday to the 2011 world champion from Turkey.

Byers had a brutal draw in the 20-person wrestling tournament. He won his first-round match relatively easily, but then had to face the Turkish wrestler, Riza Kayaalp who was the most recent world champion.

If Byers had won that one (he lost it, but it was close), he would have had to face Cuba's Mijain Lopez, who was the Olympic 2008 champion. Lopez instead beat the Turkish wrestler in the semifinals -- the gold medal has yet to be contested, where Lopez will face a wrestler from Estonia.

Byers, 37, did not retire after the match and will strongly consider making a bid for the 2016 Olympics, at age 41. He did not seem as upset after this match as he was in 2008 when he lost in the same quarterfinal round, because that time he lost to a wrestler he had deemed an inferior opponent and this time he didn't feel the same way.

Still, it was a very disappointing day for Byers, who had hoped to pull a string of upsets and win a medal in London.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bolt on his way to becoming a legend and he is not afraid to say it

I watched Usain Bolt bring down the house tonight at Olympic Stadium in London as he repeated as the Olympic 100-meter champion. Here is a sneak preview of the first part of tomorrow's column about the event:

LONDON – He is the Muhammad Ali of his sport – full of gesticulations, prognostications and downright silliness.

Besides being the fastest man to ever run, Usain Bolt is just plain fun.

Bolt won 100-meter race in an Olympic-record 9.63 seconds Sunday night, gobbling up the track with his 10-foot strides in what turned out to be the fastest 100-meter field in history.

The Jamaican sprinter then turned those 10 seconds into 20 minutes of playful celebration. His victory lap included his signature point-to-the-sky move, as well as camera-mugging, neck-hugging and even a somersault.

There were 80,000 people in Olympic Stadium, and they ate it up. They shouted until they were hoarse. They clapped until their hands hurt.

They were the lucky ones. A couple of million who had unsuccessfully applied for tickets for this particular night.

Bolt, 25, is trying to become the first man to win the 100 and 200 at consecutive Olympics. But those are just numbers.

What Bolt wants – and what he is rapidly achieving – is more ethereal. He wants to become a legend, and he’s not afraid to say it.

“That’s a first step for me,” Bolt said after the race. “I think I have to defend my 200-meter title also, and then I will consider myself a legend.”

Also, former Raleigh Broughton high school star Jesse Williams qualified for the final of the high jump. That will be held Tuesday.

Former UNC runner Shalane Flanagan finishes 10th in Olympic marathon

LONDON -- Shalane Flanagan, who was one of the best runners the ACC has ever had when she went to North Carolina, finished 10th in the women's marathon today.

Flanagan's teammate, Kara Goucher, was 11th. No U.S. runner medaled in the event, which was run through the streets of central London.

Flanagan finished in a time of 2:25:51, 2:44 behind the Olympic-record time of gold medalist Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia. The silver medal went to Kenya's Priscah Jeptoo and the bronze to Russia's Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova.

Flanagan had won a bronze in the 10,000 meters in the 2008 Olympics and had moved up in distance for this year's Olympics.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

US survives upset bid by Lithuania, wins 99-94

LONDON -- The U.S. men got their first real test in Olympic basketball today, surviving a determined Lithuanian bid at an upset with a 99-94 win.

Lithuania shot the ball beautifully -- 58.5 percent -- and dissected the American defense repeatedly for layups. Former Duke player Martynas Pocius was one of the stars.

LeBron James took the game into his own hands late, however, scoring almost all of the American points in a critical late stretch, including a three-pointer, a dunk and a spinning left-handed layup.

U.S. Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski said he thought his team could play better both offensively and defensively, but that a close game and a positive result could pay dividents.

Said Coach K: "We can be more ready to play than we were. But overall it was a really good game for us. Winning like we did was terrific… Every one of my guys wanted the ball and then they produced when they got it. So that was a cool thing, a good thing."

The surprising thing, besides the score, is that Lithuania hasn't been that good in the tournament. The team had already been beaten by both France and Argentina and now is 1-3. This will make the U.S. game against Argentina more interesting Monday. Following that game, win or lose, the U.S. moves to the knockout round starting Wednesday.

This game did show that what Mike Krzyzewski said before the tournament began is true. The U.S. can be beaten.

The Americans shot poorly from three-point range and their pick-and-roll defense was suspect, and that is the sort of thing that can almost get you beaten even when you're playing a team that doesn't come close to you in sheer athleticism.

James had 20 points for the U.S., shooting 9-for-14 and "refusing to give the ball up" at the end, as Coach K noted. "He took the game over," Krzyzewski said.

Carmelo Anthony also had 20 for the U.S. and Kevin Durant had 16. Linas Kleiza was very effective inside for Lithuania, scoring 25.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cullen Jones wins Olympic silver in 50 freestyle

LONDON -- Cullen Jones won his first Olympic individual medal – a silver – in the men’s 50 freestyle Friday.

But while the former N.C. State star and current Charlotte resident appreciated finishing in second, he was a bit disappointed he didn’t get the gold.

“I gave 100 percent, so I’m happy,” Jones said. “The time wasn’t too bad and I’m thankful that I got second. I was dreaming of gold and I really wanted to get first, but it wasn’t in the cards this time. I’ll have to work with silver. And that’s enough motivation for another four years, I think.”

France’s Florent Manadou pulled the upset from lane seven for the gold medal after qualifying only sixth-fastest. The pre-race favorite, Brazil’s Cesar Cielo, hadn’t lost a major international meet at that distance since winning the gold in 2008.
But Jones beat Cielo, and since they were next to each other in the middle of the pool, he knew that he did while it was happening. He didn't know Manadou had sneaked into the lead on the outside of the pool.

“I thought I was up in front,” Jones said. “I had a really great start. The whole race -- I really can’t say anything bad about it.”

Jones’ time in the final of 21.54 matched his semifinal qualifying time, which was a personal best when you don’t count times from the old high-tech bodysuits.

But Manadou swam a shocking 21.34 – nearly a half-second faster than he qualified – to win. Cielo was third in 21.59.

Jones, who plans to try for his third Olympics in 2016, said after the race the only thing he could improve was to get stronger.

“I think that’s just going to be another level of strength to get me there and I’m willing to do that,” Jones said.

Did Krzyzewski and USA run up score against Nigeria?

LONDON -- The U.S. has been cruising through round-robin play in men’s basketball, but the score from Thursday night against Nigeria raised eyebrows.

The U.S. won by an astonishing 156-73 margin – and that was in a 40-minute game. Team USA made 29 three-pointers and Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points in a little more than 14 minutes. After the game in his news conference, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked whether his squad had taken steps to avoid humiliating the Nigerian team.

Coach K got his back up on that one. I wasn’t at the game – I was covering swimming at the same time – but here’s the transcription of Coach K’s response, provided by USA basketball.

Said Coach K: “Obviously the first thing we did was not play LeBron and Kobe in the second half. The second thing was, even with Carmelo shooting like that [10-of-12 from three-point range], we benched him. We didn’t play [Kevin Durant]. We didn’t take any fast breaks in the fourth quarter, and we played all zone. You have to take a shot every 24 seconds, and the shots we took happened to be hit. I take offense to his question, because there’s no way in the world that our program in the United States is ever out to humiliate anyone.”

Nigeria’s team did have 10 players who had played college basketball in the U.S. But Nigeria camped out in the lane for much of the game, giving the U.S. wide-open three-pointers.

“We shot the ball better than any team in a game I have ever coached,” Krzyzewski said. “Our guys just couldn’t miss tonight. When you hit 29 threes, it’s very difficult to lose.”

I would say this: Krzyzewski’s explanation makes sense. When you’ve got a team with so much talent, it’s hard to keep them from scoring.

And when the other team plays defense by allowing open three-pointers, that makes it worse. I don’t think Krzyzewski would ever purposely run up the score against an overmatched team like Nigeria – what’s the fun in that?

The U.S. has two more games before advancing to the knockout round. Coach K gave the players Friday off from practice and a number of them are expected to watch the Olympic swim meet tonight, where they will see Cullen Jones compete in the men’s 50 freestyle final.

The agony of swimming defeat

The final SwimMAC swimmer to dive into the pool was Kara Lynn Joyce, a three-time Olympian who moved to Charlotte in April in a last-minute attempt to resurrect her stroke and career.

And it worked -- for awhile. But not on Friday, when Joyce dissolved into tears and was unable to continue our interview when she got knocked out of the 50 freestyle, her lone Olympic event.

Joyce had made the U.S. Olympic team a month ago with a great 50 freestyle -- the third time she has done so. She is the most experienced Olympian among the eight swimmers with N.C. ties.

But Friday morning was not kind to Joyce. First, in her preliminary swim, she finished tied for 16th among all swimmers.

That forced a three-woman swim-off, because the top 16 women advance to tonight's semifinals.

Joyce, a British swimmer and an Israeli swimmer had to line up again two hours later, with only the winner advancing to the semifinals.

You can imagine who the crowd was for, and it went home happy. The British swimmer won. Joyce was second by a hair and the Israeli was third.

Joyce came to the "mix zone," where most Olympic interviews are conducted over a makeshift fence, a few minutes later. I asked her to talk about both her races that morning.

She took a deep breath. "It was hard sitting around [between the races]," she said. "I'm glad I got another opportunity to do it. It would have been nice to make it back [to the semifinals]."

And then she started to cry, and couldn't say anything else. I told her that was fine, that was enough, and we ended the interview.

David Marsh, Joyce's coach at SwimMAC, said later that Joyce was "probably pondering retirement." He also said it was weighing heavily on her mind that a number of her family members had come to London to see her swim and she had wanted to do well for them.

Meanwhile, Cullen Jones and Nick Thoman swam Friday morning in the 4x100 medley relay preliminary and both did well as the U.S. won the heat. The U.S. should also win that event tonight -- Jones and Thoman won't be in the final, but by virtue of this morning swim will almost certainly add another medal apiece to their haul.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Even John Isner following Jeff Otah saga from Wimbledon

John Isner signing autographs for fans earlier this week during the Olympic tournament at Wimbledon.

WIMBLEDON, England -- I’ve written before about how big a Panther fan John Isner is – his Sundays truly revolve around the team in the fall.

Isner has been to more than 20 Panther games in person and he sometimes watches their games on his laptop at 3 a.m. at tournaments in Asia or Europe. He and Steve Smith are close friends.

But this may give you the best idea of how closely he follows the team. I watched Isner lose a close Olympic quarterfinal match to Roger Federer Thursday in preparation for a column I am writing for Friday's newspaper. Great match, well-played -- but Isner lost, 6-4, 7-6, and he got a terrible break at the end when a net-cord winner from Federer dribbled over on match point.

So Isner remembers me from this column since we once talked Panthers for a long time at a tennis tournament in Winston-Salem. And the first question Isner asks me when I see him after this match is: “What’s the deal with Jeff Otah?”

“I think they’re going to have to cut him,” I replied.

“No doubt,” Isner said. “They have to after all that.”

And then a few hours later, the Panthers did.

That was definitely the first time I’ve heard Otah’s name uttered at the Olympics. But Isner knew the entire story about the Otah trade that suddenly wasn’t. He said he has been religiously following the team’s training camp in Spartanburg from England, mostly through Twitter.

Now that is a true Panthers fan.

Thursday morning Olympic swimming update from London

I wrote my column today on the eight N.C. swimmers -- six of whom have already won either a gold or silver medal.

This morning in London, Cullen Jones advanced as expected from the first round of the preliminarie into the semifinals (top 16). Jones had the sixth-fastest time in the prelim. Tonight in London he will swim again and need to finish among the top eight times to make Friday night's final.

Two of Jones' key competitors: Brazil's Cesar Cielo, who is likely the favorite, and U.S. teammate Anthony Ervin. Jones edged Ervin in the Olympic Trials, but Ervin has looked great in the U.S. team practices and had a better time than Jones in the prelims.

In tonight's finals, SwimMAC's Micah Lawrence has a shot at a medal in the 200 breaststroke, although she's likely swimming for silver or bronze at best. U.S. teammate Rebecca Soni set a world record in the event in the semifinals.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The real story on LeBron asking NC swimmer to dinner

Lauren Perdue, in an image provided by the University of Virginia.

Lauren Perdue, who is from Greenville, N.C., set herself up for an Olympic medal Wednesday morning by swimming the first leg of the 4x200 women's freestyle relay. The U.S. won the heat and Perdue will win whatever medal the U.S. gets -- it's expected to be a gold -- no matter whether she is picked for tonight's relay or not.

The biggest news Perdue has made at the Olympics, though, was when she sent out a tweet one night saying LeBron James had asked her to dinner and a picture of the two of them posed together.

I asked Perdue about it Wednesday. "The basketball players were nice enough to kind of come out and meet the swimmers and take pictures," Perdue said, speaking of a recent evening when the basketball players toured the Olympic Village (they aren't staying there -- the swimmers are).

LeBron did take a liking to Perdue, though, who is a star swimmer at the University of Virginia. So did he really ask her to dinner?

"He did," Perdue said. "He was kind of joking but he was basically like, 'Would you like to come eat with me at the dining hall?' And I said, 'Um, I'm sorry, I have a curfew. So I turned that one down, yeah."

One more note: Perdue said LeBron was "gracious" and certainly didn't imply that he was asking her to anything other than a meal at the Olympic Village dining hall.

Also on Wednesday, SwimMAC Carolina's Micah Lawrence advanced to tonight's semifinals in the 200 breaststroke with an impressive swim. U.S. teammate Rebecca Soni, the gold-medal favorite, was first in the prelims. Lawrence was fourth. The top 16 advanced to tonight's semis. Lawrence said she was "very nervous" before her first Olympic swimming experience, but she handled it well. She is definitely in contention for a medal.