PORT ARTHUR —
Can’t think of a coach who has ever been more deserving of a two-year contract extension than Lamar State College-Port Arthur’s Lance Madison. Though he was the school’s second choice to replace Matt Cross after first-choice Chris Beard backed out, the job Madison did in an extremely challenging situation was remarkable. To go 20-10 and gain a berth in the NJCAA Region XIV tournament when basically starting from scratch, and having to overcome not being hired until early May, says a lot about Madison as both a coach and a recruiter. By the end of the season, I’m not so sure the Seahawks weren’t better than Pat Knight’s Lamar University team. With the return of 7-1 Anthony Allen and 6-6 Jamaal Shabazz, the nation’s leading shot blocker and the conference’s leading rebounder, respectively, the immediate future looks bright . . . As most basketball fans are probably aware, the NCAA Final Four will be played at JerryWorld next April. For those who don’t mind being ripped off, the application process for tickets is open until May 31. Go to www.NCAA.com/mbbtickets, follow the prompts and have your credit card in hand. A book of tickets for the Saturday, April 5 semifinals and Monday, April 7 finals is priced at $190 and a $20 application fee is tacked on. Applicants are allowed to request up to four ticket books, then a random selection process determines who gets the tickets. Those who are selected will be advised no later than September. Those whose names aren’t pulled out will get their ticket money refunded, but not the $20 application fee.
Grumbling from the masses about cable providers not being able to make a deal to show Astros, Rockets and Dynamo telecasts has reached the point where Houston mayor Annise Parker is trying to act as mediator. Parker has written letters requesting a meeting between Comcast Houston and several cable providers not willing to accept Comcast’s asking price. It’s a good political move on Parker’s part, especially her public stance about taxpayers paying for stadiums the teams play in, but the bottom line is that nothing’s going to happen until Astros owner Jim Crane is guaranteed a dollar figure that will keep him in the same TV revenue ballpark with the Angels and Texas Rangers . . . For Southeast Texans, not being able to watch the Astros this year isn’t as big a loss as missing out on a remarkable turnaround for the Rockets. A month before the season, Kevin McHale’s team was regarded as a threat to the Charlotte Bobcats as the NBA’s worst. Instead, thanks to deals that brought in scoring machine James Harden (25.9 ppg), the league’s No. 3 rebounder Omer Asik (11.7) and point guard Jeremy Lin (13.2 ppg, 6.1 apg), the Rockets are headed to the playoffs for the first time in three years. They are not only the NBA’s youngest team, but among its most fun teams to watch for those who actually get to see them. Among other things, they are No. 1 in scoring average at 105.9. GM Daryl Morey would seem to be a lock as NBA Executive of the Year.
You never say never with Lincoln ex Stephen Jackson but, after the way he was cut by the San Antonio Spurs Friday, it will be surprising if he gets another shot in the NBA. When you’re 34, carry the baggage Jackson does, are being paid $10 million in the final year of a contract and get released a week before the start of the playoffs, it’s going to raise red flags. Especially since Jackson gave San Antonio a versatile, talented weapon off the bench and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich appeared to be somebody who really understood him for who he is . . . For those who may have missed it, former Astro manager Grady Hatton, who grew up in Beaumont, passed away Thursday at age 90. I got to know Grady very well because I landed my first sportswriting job in Beaumont the same year (1966) he was named manager of the Astros. For a young sports writer a little intimidated by dealing with big leaguers, he went out of his way to help me and I’ve never forgotten him for it. I always told him there was great irony in us crossing paths because as a kid growing up in Missouri my first really good baseball glove was a Grady Hatton model. Rest in piece, my friend . . . With talks continuing about what Harris County is going to do with the decaying Astrodome, one of the studies on eliminating it led to this mind-boggling fact. If the Dome is demolished, the end result would be a massive 30-foot deep hole in the ground that would take nine months and $11. 7 million to fill.
Tiger Woods should have no doubt about how certain players and media members feel about him in the wake of Saturday’s mushrooming flap over whether he needed to withdraw from the Masters. Woods accepted a two-stroke penalty imposed by the tournament committee for an improper drop and prepared for the third round, as he should have. Anyone who bothered to read everything that went into the decision, including application of a new rule handed down in 2011, would have been satisfied. But because Woods is an easy and inviting target, the likes of the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, CBS’ Nick Faldo and former world No. 1 David Duval couldn’t resist taking shots. Chamblee was practically foaming at the mouth, ranting that Woods was diminishing the game of golf and his own legacy by not withdrawing. Thankfully, there were voices of reason like Fred Couples, Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan, who applauded how things were handled . . . Much will continue to be made during the 2013 season about the Astros lack of talent, and their bottom-of-the barrel payroll. But, as was proven with Bud Norris’ masterpiece in a 5-0 shutout victory against the Angels Friday night, quality pitching often nullifies big bucks. The Angels two highest-paid hitters — Josh Hamilton ($17.4 million) and Albert Pujols ($16 million) — combine to make $10 million more than the Astros’ entire 25-man roster. The Angels team payroll, meanwhile, is $141.9 million. Against Norris, however, all the dollar signs literally meant nothing. The Astros are going to continue to have more downs than ups for at least a couple of years, but as we’ve seen during a three-game winning streak there are going to be bursts of competitiveness.
Had Michigan defeated Louisville in the NCAA championship game, something pretty remarkable would have happened. Out of 8.15 million brackets filed in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, the sole winner would have been 10-year-old Brayden Schager from the Dallas suburb of Highland Park. If this makes anybody whose bracket was demolished feel better, Schager did admit to the Dallas Morning News he was just guessing on some of his picks. After Michigan lost, Schager fell into the 99.5 percentile. Among the millions he beat was President Obama, who finished in the 74.5 percentile . . . With all the hype that goes on about blue chip recruits and the impact they make on elite programs, it was interesting to note that only one member in the top 10 of the Rivals.com Class of 2012 — Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski — played for a team that won a game in the NCAA tournament. Three of the top 10 — Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Alex Pythress and Baylor’s Isaiah Austin — couldn’t even help their teams reach the NCAA . . . Think NFL management isn’t worried big time about the concussion lawsuits and other litigation it faces? In addition to paying $42 million recently to a group of retired players over improper use of their images for commercial gain, the league stepped up the amount it pays in federal lobbying some 500 percent 2012 to $1.14 million.
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at usa.net.