Sunday, July 01, 2007

There Is Good News in Sports Again!

Good News In Sports is back. I’ve consolidated Good News In College Sports and Good News in Pro Sports into one blog covering stories from all over the sports world that you can truly enjoy reading. No steroids, police blotters, or contract holdouts here. Only people who are making a positive difference by their actions or example. Check it out at

Saturday, May 05, 2007

On Hiatus

If you've been keeping up with this blog at all, I'm sure you've noticed a lack up updates. A while back I decided to devote my time to my other sports blogs, Good News in College Sports and Good News in Pro Sports. Recently, I made the difficult decision to concentrate on a non-sports related project and have put all my sportswriting up on the shelf for a while. Check back in August for an update.

Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Book Review: "Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball"

They say timing is everything, and Michael Litos’ timing couldn’t have been better when he embarked on a project to chronicle a season in mid-major D1 college men’s basketball. The inspiration came to Litos while he was sailing on a 42-foot catamaran in the Caribbean, which is where I usually get most of my good ideas.

Following one of the cardinal rules of writing, Litos stuck to what he knew; the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in his book “Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball” (Sourcebooks, Inc; 2007, 275 pp.). Based in Richmond, Virginia, he followed one of the local colleges, Virginia Commonwealth University, a CAA member, very closely.

It was while Litos was sailing during the 2004 CAA conference tournament and cut off from any news sources where he could learn the results that it became clear to him how important that event was. Unlike BCS conference post-season tournaments, mid-major conference teams almost always have their NCAA or NIT tournament fates decided during these three or four-day events.

In-depth coverage of a competitive mid-major conference had the potential to be an interesting story, but Litos’ timing removed any doubt. He picked the 2005-06 season to travel around the CAA, which just happened to be the year conference member George Mason became the first mid-major school to reach the Final Four since 1979 (Larry Bird’s Indiana State team and the Ivy League’s Penn Quakers made it that season).

If you are seeking a book focused on how the Patriots hopelessly shattered NCAA brackets (including mine), you’ll need to go elsewhere; there is only a single chapter in “Cinderella” devoted to their run. What you will find, however, is akin to a prequel, showing how George Mason became the first CAA school to receive an “at-large” bid to the NCAA tournament since David Robinson’s Navy team was selected in 1986.

This book focuses on the various pressures that teams competing at the mid-major level must deal with every season, from scheduling top opponents to avoiding those RPI killing losses that keep schools at that level out of the NCAA tournament. The best source of insight into this is Tom Yeager, the only main character in this story without a vested interest in one particular school.

As Litos reports, Yeager is torn between wanting all of the teams in the CAA to be competitive, but not enough so they knock each outer out of contention for a coveted NCAA bid, which is how the previous season had played out.

Throughout most of the 2005-06 season, the “it” mid major conference was the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), and throughout the book Yeager and CAA coaches often measured themselves against their MVC counterparts. Those comparisons are supplemented by discussions of what exactly is a “mid-major” school or conference, starting with the forward by ESPN college hoops analyst Jay Bilas and ending with Litos’ epilogue.

If there is one conclusion you can draw after reading “Cinderella” it’s that the definition of mid-major is almost purely in the eye of the beholder. The primary measuring stick is that of financial resources available to a school’s basketball program. Other important factors are a team’s success on the court, the conference they belong to, and the number of television appearances they make, but there is no clear formula for sorting out which schools are at that level. That phrase also implies that there are “low-major,” which would likely be even more of a subjective judgment than determining mid-majors.

The primary reason I enjoy reading books like this is the opportunity to be introduced to people I otherwise wouldn’t learn about. Michael Litos crossed paths with a number of interesting people during his tour through the CAA and, like any good writer, he provided readers with some insight into who they are beyond sound bytes and quotes in press releases. Litos shows people at their best and their unvarnished worst.

After reading “Cinderella,” I sympathized with the pain, both physical and emotional, that Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor endured through a solid yet frustrating season. I felt that I’d like to have George Mason coach Jim Larranaga as a next-door neighbor; one would likely take a break from mowing the grass on Saturday mornings to lean over the fence and ask how your family was doing. Hofstra’s coach Tom Pecora impressed me as someone who is a trustworthy and grounded as he is focused and meticulous in preparing his team for their games.

There are also glimpses of some key players, like George Mason’s Tony Skinn (he of the low-blow in the CAA tournament and subsequent suspension for the NCAA opener), Antoine Agudio and Loren Stokes, Hofstra’s best players, and Old Dominion star Alex Loughton, among others.

Although the pace was a bit uneven at times, Litos does the best thing a writer can do with material as interesting as this is; he doesn’t get in the way of or insert himself too deeply into the story. He allows the participants to provide much of the narrative and concentrates on weaving the pieces together in a way that holds the readers’ interest.

I enjoyed reading, “Cinderella: Inside the Rise of Mid-Major College Basketball” and, if you are a hoops fan or just like rooting for an underdog, I suspect you’ll enjoy it too.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

More Good News

I'm excited to let you know that I've expanded my work in bringing people the good news in sports. About two months ago, I started Good News In College Sports and have received some very positive feedback from folks who have visited it.

That has inspired me to expand into the world of pro sports for the first time in my writing career. Yesterday, I began Good News In Pro Sports, searching out the positive, uplifting stories in the world of professional sports. You're won't find stories there about Terrell Owens, hockey fights, athletes holding out for extra millions of dollars, failed drug tests, or any of the negative events that so often fill up the front page of the sports section and saturate the airwaves of ESPN or sports talk radio.

There are still people involved with professional sports who ARE role models and have achieved success the old fashioned way, by hard work, perseverence, and overcoming obstacles. Others have gone beyond their accomplishments to influence and encourage others to maximize their God-given abilities and reach levels they may not have on their own.

Those are the stories I'll be telling on Good News In Pro Sports and will continue to bring you on Good News in College Sports. If you run across an item that would be appropriate for either blog, please forward it to me at and I'll make sure you receive credit for it if I use it.

This does mean, however, that I won't be publishing much if any new content for The CourtMaster Rules on College Sports. This blog has been transitioning into more of a home-page, clearinghouse for my other work. Keep checking here, though, because that could change down the road. I never know what opportunity might present itself and when it does, I'll share it with everyone here.

With March Madness upon us, I'll be continuing regular appearances with Bob Haynie on WNST radio in Baltimore (usually between 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM EST during the week) and Thom Abraham on WUMP in Huntsville, AL. (almost always at 6:05 PM EST Wednesdays). If I see where I'll be popping up on another station, I'll let you know. Since it appears my Terps will be back in the NCAA Tournament after a two-season hiatus, at least I'll be in a better mood.

I also want to take a moment to get personal and thank my wonderful, amazing wife Brenda (The CourtMrs.) for her support as I continue to develop into what I want to be when I grow up. Not only has she not complained at all the time I spend on these ventures, she strongly encourages me to do so.

I couldn't have a better teammate than my beloved Brenda. She's my Good News story.

Friday, February 16, 2007

NCAA's "Three-Minute Drill"

Do you want to catch up on NCAA news? Do you have three minutes to spare? Then check out the newest multi-media feature from the NCAA, the "Three-Minute Drill." Hosted on both the NCAA's official website and its official blog, Double-A Zone, this bi-weekly video will give you three fast-paced minutes on NCAA sports news. The first installment, hosted by Double-A Zone blogger Josh Cantor, is online here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

ACC Nation Heading For Florida for the ACC Tournament

Here's a plug for my buddies Patrick and Chris at ACC Nation, where I appear when they can't find anyone else (kidding, I hope). These guys aren't just two clowns with a podcast. They are both award-winning journalists and appear on several radio stations throughout Virginia:

The web portal covering Atlantic Coast Conference sports features an over-the-air radio broadcast, weekly podcasts, and stories, columns and blogs on the ACC. And cohosts and editors Chris Graham and Patrick Hite are taking their show and coverage on the road - bringing you the latest from the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament in Tampa March 8-11.

Graham and Hite will be blogging live from press row at the St. Pete Times Forum - and providing detailed wrapups of all 11 games. They will also offer up eight podcasts throughout the tournament - with interviews, postgame press conferences, commentaries and more.

The 2007 tournament will mark the first appearance of "ACC Nation" and courtside at the premier college-basketball postseason conference event.

"We are looking forward to being able to provide in-depth coverage and analysis of this year's tournament to our readers and listeners," said Hite, who will be making his first trip to an ACC Tournament with this year's event.

"It promises to be exciting - as wide-open as this year's regular-season race is shaping up to be, the tournament should be even more so," said Graham, who has covered two ACC Tournaments in the past, in 1996 and 1998.

"ACC Nation" - a production of the Waynesboro, Va.,-based Q-Munications of Virginia LLC - broadcasts on the Internet (podcasts of the show can be accessed at and over-the-air on four radio stations in Virginia.

The show debuted in 2006 and recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. just went through a website redesign - and features news and commentaries updated daily. also features live game blogs that allow readers to join Graham and Hite to share their views on games as they unfold.

Graham and Hite are both members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association - and are both multiple-time winners of excellence-in-journalism awards from the Virginia Press Association.

The two also collaborated on their first sports book - Mad About U: Four Decades of Basketball at University Hall, a chronicle of the history of basketball played at University Hall at the University of Virginia, which closed in 2006.

The book - a publication of the Waynesboro, Va.,-based Augusta Free Press Publishing - was released in September 2006, and is available at

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

NCAA Tournament Without Duke? Could It Happen?

Probably not, but the fact that columns like this one on Fox Sports are popping up and asking that question is newsworthy.

I have been frustrated watching Coach K get a free pass from the national media while his team has floundered on its way to a 5-6 ACC record. Yoni Cohen comes the closest I've found so far to calling him out:

If the Blue Devils aren't able to quickly turn their season around, Duke fans .....will ask if Coach K has lost some of his luster.

That question may be premature, given that Duke is still a good bet to make the NCAA tournament. It may also be callous, because even in the past five seasons, few coaches have had as much success as Krzyzewski. But it won't be entirely without cause. After several years of disappointing in March, Coach K's club is underperforming in February.

As I watched the Blue Devils' last two losses vs. North Carolina and Maryland (where the struggling Terps dropped a 29-4 run on them in the first half), I heard a lot of sympathy for K and the struggles he is having with an unusually young team.

Whose fault is that? Are any key players injured--no. Did any players from last year's team leave early for the NBA--no. What's up with all of these studs he's recruited? Let's take a look:

This year's key freshmen:

Lance Thomas, ranked #15 nationally by 4.4 points and 2.9 rebounds in 15 minutes per game, he has not been a major factor.

Gerald Henderson, ranked #20 by asthmatic condition has limited his playing time. He has shown flashes of pure athleticism and averages 6.1 points per game.

Jon Scheyer, #28 by has made the biggest impact by far of any Duke freshman this season. He averages 12.2 points and at times has been the Devils' only consistent outside threat. I haven't seen him do anything else particularly well but shoot so far.

Brian Zoubek, #44 by has taken some of Josh McRoberts minutes in recent games (all losses) and just seems to be a big body to take up room near the basket.


Josh McRoberts, ranked #1 by Sporting News coming out of high school--I think McRoberts is a gifted player. He can shoot, pass, dribble, rebound, and block shots. McRoberts has become a puzzling player however, and one who has also puzzled his coach if his recent one-game demotion is any indication. During the second half against Maryland, he aggressively exploited mismatches inside and kept Duke in the game. I don't know why he doesn't do that more often. He should have better numbers than North Carolina'sTyler Hansbrough because he has better talent, but he doesn't have Pshcyo T's fire.

Greg Paulis, ranked #14 by Sporting News--Paulis is perhaps more of an enigma this season than McRoberts. He has played better of late, but still not as consistently as he did last season. The issue with his pre-season injury is past its shelf life, so like McRoberts it seems to me his real issue lies between his ears.

Jamal Boynkin and Marty Pocius--Non factors.

Eric Boateng--Transfered.

This is either a talented team that is underachieving or a group that isn't as talented as the experts figured based on those high recruiting rankings.

Either way, it reflects on the coach.

Mike Krzyzewski is not having a good year, and he didn't have a great one last year, getting knocked out in the Sweet 16 with two of the best players in the nation (Redick and Williams) on his roster.

Coach K's place in history as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball is secure, but he's not one of the best in the ACC this season. I submit that Boston College's Al Skinner, Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, and NC State's Sidney Lowe (to my astonishment) are all getting more out of their team this year than Coach K.

The Duke dynasty is not crumbling, but it is slipping. If they don't rally to an 8-8 record in the ACC, they won't deserve an NCAA bid (although I suspect their name will get the Devils in at 7-9). Duke needs the on-court leadership and intensity that their fans have for so long taken for granted. Without it, the program will continue to drift back into the pack of good but not great teams.