PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

April 19, 2014

West column: Lamar probation does have silver lining

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR —  



    No big surprise that Lamar’s basketball program has landed on a form of NCAA probation for coming up short on its Academic Progress Rate (APR). This is the same kind of penalty that made NCAA champ UConn ineligible to participate in the 2013 tourney. Blame for LU’s situation falls on both recently fired Pat Knight and his predecessor, Steve Roccaforte, with a higher percentage on the latter. Roc brought in a lot of players who were marginal grade wise, but did a terrific job staying on top of them academically. Knight, from what I can gather, was as indifferent on pushing the players he inherited in the classroom, as he was in scheduling, recruiting in Texas and working long hours. Ultimately, it’s just one more mess for Tic Price to clean up. And one more reason it’s absolutely ridiculous for him to be on a two-year contract  . . . For those who aren’t clear on what Lamar’s APR probation means, the short term is that the Cardinals are ineligible for next year’s Southland Conference tournament. They could also wind up being docked a scholarship and one day of practice each week. The probation also opens the door for current players to transfer without having to sit out a year, and the team’s best returning player — senior Nimrod Hilliard — is headed out the door. Others will follow, with sophomore  Rhon Mitchell almost certain to leave. There is a silver lining, however. The more of Knight’s recruiting mistakes who depart, provided they have a 2.6 grade average, the more opportunities it creates for Price to bring in players who give Lamar a chance to win down the road. Make no mistake about it, Lamar is in a total rebuild mode and Tic is facing the greatest challenge of any coach in program history.

    The start of the NBA playoffs is a Godsend for long suffering Houston Rockets fans who, due to the ongoing TV mess surrounding the Astros and Rockets, have only gotten rare glimpses of a team that’s both good and fun to watch. With TNT, ESPN and ABC taking over in the post season, the only way we won’t see a Rockets playoff game is if it winds up on NBA TV and gets blacked out. With two legitimate stars in James Harden and Dwight Howard, and an interesting supporting cast, the Rockets can be dangerous if they manage to avoid injuries to key players . . . So how good, really, are these Rockets? Former coach Jeff Van Gundy, who does a terrific job in his role as an analyst for ESPN and ABC, thinks they have all the necessary ingredients to win the NBA championship. Van Gundy told the Houston Chronicle he thinks Kevin McHale’s team will deliver the city’s first championship since the Hakeem Olajuwon outfits of the mid ‘90s. For that to happen, the Rockets would have to beat a tough Portland team in the first round, then prevail without the homecourt advantage against San Antonio, Oklahoma City or the LA Clippers and the Eastern Conference survivor. It says here that’s really a little too much to expect of a roster which is basically in the first year of its development . . . For the many who don’t seem to like LeBron James, and appreciate that his place is at the very top of the NBA’s all-time greats, there are many more who buy in. Literally buy in. James, for the sixth consecutive year, proved to be the league’s most popular player in terms of jerseys sold. Kevin Durant was No. 2 and Kobe Bryant, despite being out of sight nearly the entire season, was No. 3.

    Replacing Johnny Manziel was going to be daunting at Texas A&M under the best of circumstances. What’s happened during the spring hasn’t exactly been the best of circumstances for the Aggies. First, sophomore Kenny Hill, who probably had the inside track to being the starter, managed to get himself suspended from spring drills after being arrested for public intoxication. Second, senior Luke Joeckel, Manziel’s backup last season and the 2014 security blanket, announced he’ll transfer. The only other scholarship quarterback is heralded true freshman Kyle Allen, who was attending high school in Arizona this time last year. It’s a situation that’s not exactly what you’d call a blueprint for success in the Southeastern Conference . . . A&M won’t get any sympathy from Texas, not that it ever would. UT’s outlook at QB in Charlie Strong’s first season is just as murky as A&M’s. The Longhorns best option, in fact, may be a player not even enrolled. Max Wittek, who is about to graduate at USC, plans to transfer and will be eligible wherever he plays next fall, has sent out strong signals that Texas is atop his list. Though he’s been a backup at USC, Wittek, who will have two years of eligibility, might be the best Texas can do. Oft-injured senior David Ash is hurt again and has missed most of the spring. All Strong has behind him are inexperienced sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, incoming freshman Jerrod Heard and two walk-ons. Big 12 coaches have to be licking their lips . . . Remember when Orangebloods were slobbering over then defensive coordinator Will Muschamp being the heir-apparent to Mack Brown. Chances are Florida wishes UT would have taken him off their hands. Coming off a 4-8 season, Muschamp is 22-16 in three years at what Athlon Sports rates as the second best job in college football to Texas. Athlon rated Muschamp No. 52 in its rankings of Division 1 coaches.

    The Kevin Costner movie Draft Day was basically a box office flop during its opening weekend in theaters, a fact which no doubt stunned the NFL. Numerous theories were advanced by critics, who labeled the movie “a bit of a fumble” and “relatively sad.” Too bad none of those critics hit on the fact Draft Day was probably brought down from bad karma, due to kissing up to a football loser like Jerry Jones. There’s a scene when Denis Leary, the coach of the Cleveland Browns, is having a heated discussion with Costner and displays the Super Bowl ring he won as coach of the Cowboys to drive home a point. “They do it different in Dallas?”, remarked Costner. “Yeah, they win a lot,” responded Leary. For advancing that lie, director Ivan Reitman, who was befriended by Jethro after once attending Dallas’ training camp in California, deserved for the film to get sacked . . . Nice touch on the part of Jamaal Charles after hosting a Flag Football tournament in Port Arthur last week. Jamaal, who is truly one of the city’s greatest assets, announced that his Jamaal Charles Family Foundation will be underwriting five $500 scholarships — four of them to kids with learning disabilities — to students at Memorial High School. The fifth scholarship with go to an athlete, though not necessarily a football player. Members of Charles’ foundation will select the winners, after applications are completed . . . When is some producer going to swoop down and turn the Beaumont Independent School District’s ongoing fiasco into a reality TV series? How about the latest plot twist on throwing away taxpayer money? In case you missed it, the BISD voted 5-2 to honor a Feb. 20 agreement with former football coach Keeath Magee that he be paid up to four months salary after his resignation, provided he not file a grievance, take legal action or speak bad of BISD. What script writer could come up with that one?

    Bubba Watson made more than his ever-growing fan base happy after winning his second Masters green jacket last week. Bubba, who is a little bit different from your average professional golfer, celebrated with his wife, infant son and a couple of close friends at an Augusta Waffle House. After consuming a double grilled cheese with a side of hash browns, he left a tip of $148. Then, at the Stake ‘N Shake down the road, his tip was $24 for six milkshakes. While generous, the tips didn’t put much of a dent in his $1.6 million winner’s check . . . Jon Gruden isn’t making it easy on the Houston Texans. After having worked with all of this year’s top quarterback draft prospects on his Gruden’s QB Camp Series on ESPN, the guy who won a Super Bowl as coach of Tampa Bay made it clear he leans toward Manziel. He told USA Today he thinks Manziel is a dynamic playmaker who would be a good fit with new Texans’ coach Bill O’Brien. “This kid could have two years left in the NCAA,” said Gruden. “If you get him with a quarterback coach and spend the time teaching him NFL defenses and your system, I can’t imagine Johnny not being successful.” . . . Amazing, wasn’t it, how quickly the NCAA acted to approve an expanded meal allowance for athletes. The action came less than two weeks after Shabazz Napier, the star guard on UConn’s NCAA champs, got considerable national publicity after complaining about sometimes going to bed starving. Napier’s comment, and the union ruling surrounding Northwestern, has really forced the hand of the fat cats who rake in billions from the efforts of athletes in big time college sports.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net.