Friday, January 27, 2006

Pop Goes the Weasel

You might glean from the title that I'm the "weasel" and that in this column I'll be "popping off". If that's the way you want to look at it, then fine. You suck. Or you could interpret it as my lame attempt to find a pun associated with pop culture. If you find yourself in this camp, please read on...

Wikipedia defines pop culture like this:

"Popular culture, or pop culture, is the vernacular (people's) culture that prevails in any given society. The content of popular culture is determined by the daily interactions, needs and desires, and cultural 'moments' that make up the everyday lives of the mainstream. It can include any number of practices, including those pertaining to cooking, clothing, mass media and the many facets of entertainment such as sports and literature."

Using that definition, one can lump any number of topics under the heading "Pop Culture": "Brokeback Mountain", bird flu, "Survivor", the Super Bowl, Brad & Angelina. Basically, anything that gets discussed around the water cooler (or coffee machine or internet message board or whatever constitutes today's "water cooler").

Pop culture in so ingrained in us that we don't even notice it. For instance, take a normal day in my life. I wake up to local news and "The Today Show" on the TV where they're talking about everything from Hamas gaining control of Palestine to Oprah calling out a disingenuous author on her talk show. On my way to work, I listen to music. Once I log onto my computer, one of the first things I do is check the previous night's sports headlines. Next, I check the status of my fantasy sports team; baseball, basketball or football, depending on what season is in session. I might find an email in my inbox imploring me to take note of upcoming concert events in my area. Walking past a co-worker, I'll join in on a conversation about who was more ridiculous on "American Idol". Lunchtime finds me either listening to local sports talk on the radio or reading a book. After work, I usually catch "Fear Factor" and "Seinfeld" on TV while I'm eating dinner. And most nights end with me listening to more music or falling asleep while watching a DVD.

That's a lot of attention directed to "cultural 'moments' that make up the everyday lives of the mainstream." And for me and many others that's just the tip of the iceberg. It's nearly impossible to go anywhere without being deluged by pop culture.

Yet many regard pop culture with disdain, as evidenced in this quote, also from the Wikipedia:

"Popular culture, being so widely available, has been opened to much criticism. One charge is that popular culture tends to be superficial. Cultural items that require extensive experience, training, or reflection to be appreciated seldom become items of popular culture."

My guess is that this sort of attitude comes from people who get sick and tired of hearing phrases like "Git 'er done!" and watching B-list celebrities snipe at each other on shows like "The Surreal Life". No argument here.

But for every "Elimidate", you can often find an alternative with more redeeming qualities like "Beauty and the Geek." Billed as "Ashton Kutcher's social experiment", this show strays from the typical dating show formula and actually tries to find some social significance. While "Elimidate" groups three loud and overbearing breast-implant recipients with a guy just looking to get laid, "Geek" brings together a group of attractive, sorority-type girls with a bunch of dudes who look to "Revenge of the Nerds" for role models. If you expect the girls to be repulsed by the guys and the guys to be condescending toward the girls, you'd be right. But only for a while. Each "Beauty" is paired up with a "Geek" to compete against the other pairs in a series of challenges. The challenges generally involve the girl trying to do something "brainy" and the guys trying to do something hip or romantic. Where the real beauty lies in the show is that the teammates have to help each other prepare for the challenges and in so doing find that the stereotypes they have of each other start to melt away. Each group ends up feeling empowered when trying to instruct their partners and receives respect for sharing their perspectives. All in all, it's a very interesting and entertaining show (unless you're more into watching chicks hurl nonsensical insults at each other in order to win the key to a guys pants.)

The point is, pop culture gives people an opportunity to connect with each other, a common bond to discuss when there may not be any other reason to interact with someone. Sometimes, pop culture lends itself to opening up avenues for more important topics of discussion, as "Beauty and the Geek" does. Sometimes, it just gives a person the ability to be comfortable talking to someone they don't really know.

This is one reason why sports is so important to men. A guy can walk up to almost any other guy and start a conversation with, "So, how about those (insert name of local team) last night?" Instantly, conversation is started and discomfort avoided. It's an easy way to start a quick, superficial discussion or one that evolves into more important issues. Either way, it gives an arena for guys to express themselves without delving directly into their "feelings" or some other seemingly uncomfortable topic.

And while it seems women have an intuitively easier time generating conversation, they aren't immune to using pop culture as a stepping stone. It's not surprising to hear one woman say to another, "Did you hear about the sale at The Gap," or, "Isn't the new 'Bachelor' kind of creepy?"

Additionally, pop culture provides topics for girls to talk to guys about and vice versa. I miss the weekly conversations I used to engage in with a female co-worker after I stopped watching "Lost". We had little else in common to talk about, so we just avoided saying anything at all. (At least I had a couple of weeks to complain to her about how annoying it was to wait all week for a new episode only to find out that the writers decided to repeat last week's show, told from a different character's perspective.)

In a world that has become so fractured and specialized, often it's the pop culture that pulls us back together. Everyone likes to find their own niches and interests and the community that encompasses them. But it can be difficult to interact with someone who has altogether different interests that "...require extensive experience, training, or reflection..." Pop culture gives us common ground.

So, the next time someone asks you whether you know who got "fired" from "The Apprentice" or if "King Kong" was worth spending eight bucks on, you can look at it as an opportunity to connect with a fellow human being and not feel as if you're pandering to the lowest common denominator. Unless, of course, that's of interest to you.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Distraction? What Distraction?

"We were focusing on the game, and I didn’t want it to
become a distraction...We were close. He was probably closer to me than anyone
on the team because we were roommates."

This was a quote from Russell Robinson in today's Kansas City Star in regards to his recently defected teammate, Micah Downs. I was worried going into this game that Downs' departure would knock the Jayhawks temporarily off-kilter. And for the first 20 minutes, my fears
appeared to have been realized.

Julian Wright made his first start, but with the extremely physical play in the post, Bill Self decided to sit him (6 minutes) and let his big guys take the abuse. Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson fought hard, with Jackson standing out on a 12-point, 9-rebound effort. But the offense was very inconsistent. Robinson and Mario Chalmers each had 3 points in the first half. Only the other-worldly ability of Brandon Rush kept Kansas within 2-points at halftime. Rush unleashed his vast array of offensive moves, hitting a three, floaters in the lane, pull-up jumpers and a fade-away. Nobody else on this team has half the offensive arsenal of Rush; fortunately, he brought all his weapons.

The halftime commentary of Dave Armstrong and Chris Piper was insightful and somewhat prophetic: Even though the Jayhawks offense was hit-and-miss and the defense was being exploited on numerous instances of KU players overplaying their man, they were only down 31-33 and they had the potential to be much better in the second half. Well, this has been the predominant theme all year: They've got loads of potential, but can they close out a game?

A 16-0 KU run to start the second half answered that.

Robinson and Chalmers had spoken during the intermission and decided that they need to be more involved. How about combining for 33 points, 10 assists and 20-21 free throw shooting? They played without fear, constantly challenging the A&M defense with drives to the basket and pushing the ball up the court on missed shots. And their relentless defensive pressure continued to force turnovers.

But the Jekyll-hawks (or would it be Jay-Hydes?) showed up and allowed a 14-point lead to dwindle to 4. My stomach was turning flips, but my mind was telling me to hang in there, that maybe this will be the night that these guys figure out how to tough-out a close win.

And that they did.

The combination of KU's guard play and a crew of whistle-happy officials resulted in A&M having 8 players with 3 or more fouls. And unlike recent weeks, the Hawks took advantage at the foul line, hitting 73% and refusing to allow the Aggies to claw their way back into the game.

Kansas was able to get another road win despite playing in a tough arena. They managed to learn from the missed opportunities of the K-State and Missouri losses. They didn't let the Nebraska blow-out inflate their egos. And they avoided a let-down in focus following the Micah Downs transfer. As A&M head coach Billy Gillespie said after the game:

"They did what they had to do. I can see why they’re
getting better in a hurry."

Me too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Three Quickies

A number of items to comment on since last time:

KU plastered Nebraska on Saturday. Big thanks to Ryan for giving up his ticket. I went with Chad and his little (or, should I say "younger" as he's 14 and playing football now) brother, John. It was John's first game at Allen Fieldhouse and it turned out to be a good way to start out: KU 96 - NU 54. KU shot lights-out from the beginning and Nebraska had no chance. Jeff Hawkins was 5-5 from 3-point range while Brandon Rush and Russell Robinson shot extremely well from the outside, too. The inside play was rough and each team's physical play neutralized the other's. As ususal, our guards shut down the opponents guards, with Robinson doing a fine job on an out-of-shape Joe McCray.


Yesterday, we found out that heralded freshman Micah Downs decided to quit the team to attend to "personal issues". While it's disappointing to lose a player with so much potential, I don't think it really hurts our team that much. He's been unable to crack the rotation on a team where every spot was up for grabs to the guys who worked the hardest. Considering we have one of the top prep guards in the country coming to Lawrence next year, opportunities for playing time weren't getting any easier. I wish him luck, personally, as he seems to have had a history of conflicts that are going to dog him in his basketball career and life until he figures out a way to resolve them.


The Royals and Chiefs continued their quest to blackmail Jackson County residents by signing the newly proposed leases to appear on the April 11 ballot. You can view the leases here.

After reading some materials and listening to talk radio, this plan is not in the best interests of the fans and residents of the Kansas City area. Figures posted at lend credence to the fact that for the amount of tax money generated by this proposal, a new ballpark can be built downtown for the Royals, while renovating Arrowhead. The best example I heard was this: It would be like fixing up your 1984 Honda Accord to original factory condition, adding a CD-player but paying the same amount it would cost to purchase a new Cadillac. Doesn't seem to make much sense. Hopefully, the voters will reject this proposal and the right people can get a plan in place that benefits everyone, not just Lamar Hunt and David Glass.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Dose of Reality (TV Stars)

Some buddies and I went to Columbia for the KU-MU basketball game yesterday. We got some pizza and beer at this popular Mizzou hangout, Shakespeare's. While we were there, my friend Ryan is getting another pitcher and this couple walks in behind him. The guy was a big dude, wearing a KU shirt and hat and the girl was wearing a KU shirt also. So Ryan says "Rock chalk" to the guy and he just kind of looks at him like he's from another planet. They end up sitting at a table next to our booth and we start to discuss the fact that this big guy looks like Casey Wiegmann, the center for the Chiefs. Someone also mentions that the girls sort of looks like Danni from "Survivor".

We finished eating and headed to the arena. Lo and behold, across the aisle in our row are Wiegmann and this girl. We start arguing about whether that is Danni or not until a couple of girls go up to her and ask for her autograph. At that point, we knew it was her.

Apparently, she knew some other KU fans that were sitting a few seats down from us on the other side and she came over and talked to them briefly. There were a couple of open seats in front of us, so they stayed there for a while until the rightful owners of those seats arrived, and they retreated back to their seats across the aisle from us.

So at halftime, she comes back and is trying to get some mints from the folks she was talking to earlier in our row. She's standing right next to my friend Doug who says "So, do you still talk to Lydia?" She laughed and said that, actually, she does. So then we started talking about how the game was going and Doug asks her what she's up to now. She says she's working for the new Kansas City Arena League Football team, the Brigade and that CBS hired her to do some human interest-type stories for the NCAA tournament. She ended up going back to her seat, but whenever anything would happen during the game, she would look over at us and occasionally mouth a comment about what was going on during the game.

All in all, she was pretty cool and MUCH more attractive in person, though still a pretty thin chick. Unfortunately, she didn't bring much luck to the ol' Jayhawks and neither did we.

Now, in anticipation of potential questions and rebuttals, I've prepared a FAQ sheet:

Q: Did meeting Danni, the winner of "Survivor: Guatemala", ease the torture of a painful loss to Mizzou?

A: Nearly, but not quite. My first thought was, "I can't believe we just blew this game." My second thought was, "Get the hell out of this place before someone chucks something at me." My third thought was, "Isn't that cool? She waved at me as we were leaving." So, while it certainly softened the blow, it still bites to lose to Missouri.

Q: Did you get her digits?

A: No. Common sense says you don't try to hit on someone who's accompanied by a 285-lb. football player. At least, that's what MY common sense tells me and I'm still alive to this day.

Q: Did you drool and stutter when attempting to talk to her?

A: Contrary to what Doug will tell you, the answer is no. While Doug deserves some credit for opening the conversation with his lame Lydia question, I did manage to steer the conversation to basketball with an eloquence few have ever been witness to.

Q: Should Christian Moody be hung by his thumbs for missing two free throws with .4 seconds left that would have won the game?

A: No, his index fingers would be fine. Actually, the team shot 21-35 on free throws, so there's plenty of blame to pass around.

Q: Was anyone freaking guarding Thomas Gardner?

A: Yes. In the first half, Brandon Rush drew the assignment and allowed him to score 20 points. Coach Self adjusted by switching to Russell Robinson who, while an improvement, still allowed him to score an additional 20 points in the second half/overtime.

Q: Were there any positives for KU in this game?

A: Yes. The offense, particularly in the last 10 minutes of the game, scored or managed to draw a foul nearly every time down the court, matching Missouri's effort. Given the lows we've seen from this offense, that was amazing. Also, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson are quickly becoming All-Conference-caliber guards. If you had told me last year that Russell Robinson would give me great confidence at the end of a game like this, I would have laughed in your face.

Q: Any specific negatives?

A: Yes. Sasha Kaun and C.J. Giles continue to play below their abilities. On the other hand, Darnell Jackson has proved solid in picking up for these two. Julian Wright only saw 9 minutes of action, further perplexing the KU faithful. And Brandon Rush needs to continue to improve mentally, realizing that it's okay for him to take the big shot. If he had taken the ball to the rim in overtime rather than dump it off to an unsuspecting Darnell Jackson, we might still be playing.

Q: Were Missouri fans obnoxious and violent?

A: No more so than normal. Actually, we only had one guy really heckling us, screaming at us to sit down until he was blue in the face. Naturally, we continued to stand. Also, there was a mixed bag of comments as we waited for Nate (a Mizzou guy) and Ryan (who were sitting on the opposite side of the arena) to meet us after the game. If KU had won, things might have been different, but the MU fans were generally tolerable. Special thanks to Nate for hanging us out to dry in enemy territory.

Q: Will Kansas win it's next game against Nebraska?

A: If they don't, I may never write another word ever again.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Ups and Downs (Not Micah Downs)

When you have a team with four freshman and five sophomores, you're going to have ups and downs. The early part of the season proved that theory to be accurate. But recently, the 7-game winning streak and the games versus Kentucky and Colorado have provided an inordinate number of ups. Today's game against Kansas State brought the Jayhawks back to the ugly side of the Up/Down ledger and was essentially a microcosm of the season so far.

Really, it was a tale of two halves. There was little to criticize in Kansas' performance the first half. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson were dominating both ends of the floor, with Chalmers having his best game to date. Eleven points, three assists and three steals indicated that Chalmers was the best player on the floor in the early going. Both Chalmers and Robinson were hitting shots from the outside and penetrating the Wildcat defense with drives to the hoop. The officials continued a recent trend in KU games of allowing a more physical game, which certainly gave the defensive-minded Hawks an advantage. KSU could not make a pass without a KU player getting a hand on or foot on the ball. Eight KU steals in the first half led to numerous easy buckets on the offensive end. And KU's defensive intensity wore down K-State to the point that they lost focus on their own defensive end, allowing KU to run their offense with little resistance.

Then came the second half. After leading by as many as 12 points in the first half and going into the locker room up by eight, the young Jayhawks rejected the techniques that had allowed them to grasp the game by the throat. Early in the second half, the issue was not challenging 3-point shots. But the KU guards were doing a better job of feeding Sasha Kaun in the post and managed to revisit a 12-point lead.

But K-State adjusted. And Kansas did not.

KSU coach Jim Woolridge employed a zone defense and the Jayhawk offense soon became non-existent. Maddeningly, Julian Wright, arguably our best weapon against the zone with his ability to find the holes in the defense and make crisp passes both to the post and the wings, was not inserted into the game initially against the zone. The offense stagnated and the Wildcats started to fight their way back into the game. Equally frustrating was the lack of effort and any ability to adjust on the defensive end. KSU ran the same play over and over, setting screens and getting open 17-footers time and time again. The Jayhawks refused to recognize the defense that was being played against them and, disappointingly, showed little effort in trying to get around the screens to challenge the shots. The Wildcats regained the lead with around 4:00 remaining in the game and the momentum completely shifted. K-State continued to run their offense and their zone defense continued to befuddle the Hawks. Our young guards could not find the big men in the post and were repeatedly turned back when they tried to drive to the basket. Three-pointers were not falling and Brandon Rush had been pretty well bottled up all afternoon.

So what should have been a coming out party for Mario Chalmers turned into KU's first loss to K-State in 31 games. And while terribly dissapointing, this doesn't come as a huge surprise. KU had been flying high and K-State had just been humiliated by Nebraska in Manhattan. You knew KSU would come out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. And the potential for a letdown from the inexeperienced Jayhawks was clearly a possibility. Unfortunately, this will probably be an ongoing theme throughout the season. Hopefully, the Hawks will flip back to the Up side for Monday's matchup with Missouri in Columbia.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Rocky Mountain High

This is what we've been waiting for.

The genius of all of the seemingly hare-brained decisions that Bill Self has made over the past year and a half is starting to show. The constant lineup shifting, the benching of players, the extreme emphasis on defense; the investment in his own system paid off in spades last night in Boulder.

You knew Colorado would be ready to play. They were off to their best start in over 20 years. They could smell blood with a young and inexperienced KU team coming into their environment. They have a lot of athletes and an aggressive defense. But the beauty of Bill Self's coaching shined through. The Jayhawks held their ground in the opening minutes against Colorado's attacking style of play. The young players seemed rattled at first, but stuck to playing the tough defense that Self has been preaching. And that defense is what kept them in this game and will keep them in every game this season. If your opponent is missing two-thirds of their shots, you almost always have a chance to win.

Additionally, Christian Moody provided a settling influence with what might have been his best game. Moody reverted to what made him such an effective player last year, picking his spots and, save for his 3-pointer, not trying to do too much. He provided some much-needed stability until Brandon Rush could find his game.

And, boy did he. After looking lost and intimidated in the first half, Rush flipped on the same switch that he triggered during the Kentucky game, scoring all of his 17 points in the second half. Offensively, this team will go as Rush goes. And luckily for KU, Rush was feeling it in the second half. His highlight dunk sent the message that you won't be able to hold him down for very long.

And Self's insistence that defense and protecting the basketball come first justifies his haphazard substitution patterns. If those messages had not been emphasized early on to Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers, we would not have beat Colorado. The young guards combined for 20 points, 11 assists and only 3 turnovers in addition to their relentless pressure on the opposing guards. And their numerous forays into the lane kept the Colorado defense honest, regardless of the fact that many of the shots were blocked and no one could knock down a 3-pointer.

One of the unsung heroes was Darnell Jackson. Jackson provided high levels of energy and picked up the slumping Sasha Kaun and C.J. Giles. Neither Kaun nor Giles could seem to get anything going, but it didn't matter as Jackson stepped up with 10 points and 7 rebounds in 17 minutes. He and with Moody provided the Jayhawks with an inside presence that was desperately needed.

To be fair to Kaun, though, Moody's inspired play kept Julian Wright on the bench. How does that affect Kaun? Wright opens up the offense more than anyone besides Rush. He seems to be the only person who can consistently get the ball inside to Kaun. Of all Self's lineup machinations, Wright and Kaun together is a combination that he hasn't taken full advantage of yet.

Amazingly, though Giles and Kaun only played a total of 25 minutes, the Jayhawks annihilated the Buffaloes on the boards, 50-28. Colorado had ranked second in the conference in rebounding, yet Kansas managed to beat them on the offensive glass as well by a margin of 13-8.

Really, the only blemish was the poor performance of Jeff Hawkins. And it looked like we might have been spared as he got into early foul trouble. Unfortunately, so did Robinson and Chalmers, forcing Hawkins back in the game. Hawkins was clearly overmatched handling the ball and chimed in with a team-high 4 turnovers. But Self managed to steal a few minutes with Stephen Vinson and Jeremy Case until the time was right to get Chalmers and Robinson back in the game.

Any road win in the Big XII is significant, but this one was particularly special. After suffering through the ups and downs of the non-conference season, the lessons that Self has been teaching have begun to reap some benefits. And if the Jayhawks continue to stay tough and execute like they have the last two games, this could be a very dangerous team come March.

Monday, January 09, 2006

It's All Over, Part Two

Finally, a promise kept! If you hadn't noticed during the previous year, I've done a poor job of following up with articles that I promised to post. Well, maybe this will be the beginning of a more responsible New Year. Anyway, the 2005 Year in Review is now at your fingertips:

January -

* The Junior Blakeleys and I ring in the New Year by eating a lot of chips and watching Regis Philbin fill in for Dick Clark. The excitement can hardly be contained by my two-bedroom apartment.

February -

* I set a personal record by receiving three separate birthday lunches from people at work.

* Samantha celebrates birthday #9 by generously allowing the family to congregate somewhere other than KFC.

* The Junior Blakeleys and I visit the Colorado Blakeleys, complete with new member Ella. I manage to hold Ella for 6 consecutive seconds without her crying. Coincidentally, Seth sets a new personal record by spending 6 consecutive seconds NOT bouncing on his exercise ball.

March -

* For the first time, I remember to take vacation days during the NCAA basketball tournament. Nirvana is achieved.

* Nirvana is cruelly stripped away when the Bucknell Bison defeat the Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of the tournament.

* Royals Spring Training begins. Royals fall 10 games back of the White Sox.

April -

* All existing Blakeleys (minus the Junior Blakeleys) converge on West Palm Beach, Florida for Seth and Kira's wedding ceremony and Ella's baby naming ceremony. The Pinskys graciously host the ceremonies and the Passover feast. Vicki is so caught up in the Jewish customs that she actually utters the phrase "Oy vey."

* Royals begin regular season, fall 78 games back of the White Sox.

May -

* Jeremy Mai gets married, cutting the population of single folk among my friends by one. Apparently for those of us who are left, "Mrs. Right" is harder to find than Saddam Hussein at the bottom of a spider hole.

* Tony Pena resigns as manager of the Royals. The change affects the standings only minimally. Royals 262 games back of the White Sox.

* I catch a foul ball at the Royals game while skipping out on an afternoon of work. This may be the only Royals highlight of the season.

* I attend the Atkinson's annual "Norway or the Highway" party, celebrating Norway's 100th year of independence from Sweden. The corresponding "100 years Swede-free" t-shirt elicits immediate embarrassment as I meet a family of Swedish descent soon after.

June -

* I returned to the hallowed fields of All-American Indoor Soccer Complex after a 20-year hiatus, helping our team claim the divisional crown. The stench of sweat-soaked goalie gloves has never smelled so sweet.

* Royals fall an even 400 games back of the White Sox.

July -

* Buddy Bell is hired as new Royals manager. Royals sweep Yankees. Seriously. You can look it up.

August -

* Royals lose 19 straight games, fall 612 games back of the White Sox. The Chiefs training camp somehow manages to elicit my interest.

September -

* Royals finish season 832 games back of the White Sox.

* Chiefs help Jake Plummer patent "The Bootleg" in embarrassing Monday Night loss. Plummer instantly makes $3 million in royalties.

October -

* David turns 12, making me feel old. David wears bigger shoes than I do, making me feel small. Both events, ironically, make me feel proud.

* The Colorado Blakeleys come to town for a splendid visit. Vicki manages to stay off her cell phone long enough to say "Hey!". Foreshadowing of her new relationship is lost on the rest of us.

*Inspired by my filming her, Samantha turns in the best performance of her soccer career. Maybe I should film her cleaning her room...

November -

* KU beats Nebraska in football. Lincoln freezes over.

* KU basketball season begins. Bill Self still retains respect of KU faithful. Until Thanksgiving.

* The Junior Blakeleys and I visit the Hawaii Blakeleys over Thanksgiving. Everyone is thankful for the visit. No one is thankful for the departure.

* Bill Snyder announces his retirement from coaching the K-State football team, effective at the end of the season. University of Kansas head football coach Mark Mangino announces that he'll gladly finish what Bill Snyder didn't eat.

December -

* The Royals complete their off-season by signing Ed Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

* "Survivor" is won by someone from the Kansas City area. Unfortunately, it's not me.

* The Jayhawks win the Fort Worth Bowl. Fort Worth freezes over.

* The Junior Blakeleys and I celebrate Christmas Eve with a traditional burrito bol from Chipotle. I celebrate Christmas with a traditional half dozen buffalo wings from The Peanut.

Here's hoping 2006 is as quirky and entertaining as 2005!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

It's All Over, Part One

It's all over. The year Twenty-Oh-Five. The Holiday Season. The College Bowl season. And because of this, I now have adequate time to comment on the world around me (and KU basketball). (For those of you who find unending analysis of sports unappetizing, hang in there; the more interesting stuff is toward the end of this post.)


Last night's KU-Yale game was nothing original. The Jayhawks looked like total crap for the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game. Then they cranked up the defense against a totally overmatched team and put the game out of reach. As usual, there were things to like and things to dislike about the game.


* The starting lineup. C.J. Giles, Christian Moody, Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson. Gone were Jeff Hawkins and Sasha Kaun. Which proved to be beneficial in a number of ways. Chalmers looked a lot better to me at the off-guard position, where he was less responsible for distributing and was able to look for his own shot. Robinson seemed more comfortable looking to set people up rather than score. Hawkins seemed to have a fire lit beneath him as he had his best game in a Kansas uniform. Sasha Kaun got more minutes alongside Julian Wright.

* The relentless defensive intensity from the guards. Hawkins brought a lot of energy when he came in and combined with Robinson and Chalmers to rack up 8 steals. If the guards can consistently play with that much fervor, we will have a chance in every game. In addition, their combined 14-5 assist-to-turnover ratio was much improved and much needed.
* Julian Wright. This guy needs to get as many minutes as possible. One of the things the commentators mentioned was the fact that Wright always looks inside, whether the big guys are open or not. This is crucial in keeping our offense flowing, rather than spinning the ball around the perimeter for 25 seconds at a time. His play elevates Kaun's as Wright looks for him every time down the floor. I think Kaun works harder to get position when Wright is in the game because he knows the ball will be coming his direction. I hope Bill Self realizes this and gets these guys in the game together more often.


* Our opponent. All these good things happened against Yale. This is a school that has won exactly one postseason game in their entire history as a basketball program. Yet we played the first 10 minutes as if we were trying to grind out a win against Oklahoma. I have a feeling that once the conference season starts, it will be like starting the season all over again. It will take a handful of games for these youngsters to acclimate to the physical and intense basketball that defines the Big XII.

* The continued tentativeness of Brandon Rush. Brandon Rush has enough talent to take over any game he plays. Unfortunately, he's always been the bright, shining star throughout his career and now he wants to be a part of the team and learn the more subtle aspects of the game. Which is fine, except that this team will lose many more games if he doesn't assert himself immediately and completely every time he steps on the floor. I'm tired of seeing him swing the ball from the wing over to Hawkins or Robinson when he could clearly blow past the inferior athlete that is trying to guard him. Our team will live and die during the Big XII season depending on what Rush brings to each game.

Our final tune-up for the conference season come against Kentucky in Allen Fieldhouse this Saturday. We can win this game and gain much-needed confidence if three things happen: A)the guards put unending pressure on Rajon Rondo, B) Julian Wright gets a healthy dose of minutes and feeds the inside guys who should have an advantage with Randolph Morris being out, and C) Brandon Rush comes out of his shell and puts up 20 points. All of these things are well within reason and could propel the Jayhawks into the conference season with the proper attitude.


The college football season ended with one of the best championship games I've ever seen. The 1991 Orange Bowl when Colorado beat Notre Dame 10-9 is the only other championship game that comes close, in my book. This year's game had the two best teams and the four best offensive players. And the game was decided by those players. Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush gave away a scoring opportunity when he foolishly tried to lateral to a teammate after a 35-yard run. Matt Leinart methodically picked apart the Texas defense. LenDale White gave his best Larry Johnson impression. But Vince Young stood out among the rest. He threw for 267 yards and ran for 200(!) yards. He gave the impression that he could run for a touchdown on every play. And he played his best game against the best competition on the biggest stage and came out on top. You couldn't really ask for anything more.


Dick Vermeil ended his five-year run as head coach of the Chiefs. Let's recap, Vermeil-style, what was accomplished during his rein:

-- 0 Super Bowl wins, in five seasons
-- 0 playoff wins, in five seasons
-- 1 playoff berth, in five seasons
-- 1 divisional title, in five seasons
-- 2 winning seasons, in five seasons

Don't get me wrong; I think Dick Vermeil is a great guy and a very good football coach. Unfortunately, winning the Super Bowl is the only goal in the NFL and Vermeil came up short. Part of that is on him and part of that is on Carl Peterson. The bottom line is that this city has gone over 30 years without sniffing a Super Bowl and we don't seem to be any nearer to that goal. At this point, I'm waiting for Lamar Hunt and his profit-oriented ownership style and his toady Carl Peterson to leave our fair city and let us take a new path to the ultimate goal. Because we're just not going to get there with these fellas at the helm, no matter who the next head coach may be.


I had a splendid Christmas and a thoroughly enjoyable New Year's Eve. I had the Junior Blakeleys on Christmas Eve. Blakeley tradition normally constitutes the family sitting around and biding their time until dinner. Once dinner is wolfed down, the kids pester the adults for the opportunity to open some gifts. The adults, traditionally, make playful excuses such as "Hold on, kids; I'm waiting for my food to settle," and "Let me smoke one more cigarette." This year, though, had none of the traditional trappings.

All family (smoking members and non-) were out of town and it came down to just myself and the youngsters. Dave and Sam arrived at 10:00 am and immediately upon bursting through the front door pleaded to open presents right away. Since the kids were being picked up at 6:00 that evening to go to Christmas Eve Service, dinner was going to be thrown together, and I don't smoke, I decided that it would be fine to open presents right then and there. The kids were not expecting this answer but quickly adjusted from being shocked to ripping open wrapping paper.

After the carnage was complete, we decided to take the numerous Target gift cards we had received and go shopping. First, we had lunch at Chipotle. We were going to need some energy to brave Christmas Eve crowds at the most popular store in town. Surprisingly, though, the crowds were not terrible and seemed to be well-distributed around the store. After some initial hesitation, Samantha turned on the after-burners and came within $1.90 of her spending limit. David blew past his limit and into his own pocket for about 18 bucks and I managed to find a handful of worthy gifts while saving a little for later.

Once home, we enjoyed Phase II of Christmas Eve, unwrapping the cellophane from our new purchases and trying out our new toys. We played some Sorry! and watched the Chiefs until it was time for them to go. All-in-all, it was one of the better Christmases we've had.

New Year's Eve found me at Tuttle's mom's lake house with eight other good buddies. Much food and alcohol were packed for the 2-hour drive and 24-hour stay. After avoiding near death at the hands of an over-zealous trucker on the back-roads of Missouri (and a "stopping short" episode that won't soon be forgotten), we arrived. We unpacked said nourishments and other unnecessary articles like clothes and blankets and explored the lake front. I can't say that I would want to retire to a lake-front community, but it sure is fun to visit.

We opened some snacks and hung out until we were made aware of an enormous bonfire across the street. I've been around a number of bonfires/campfires in my life, but this was the hottest fire of them all. We were ten feet away and you still had to turn your face away from the flames to avoid looking like George Hamilton.

Following the bonfire activity, we retired to our quarters for some food and a rousing game of Apples to Apples. If you haven't played it, you need to. It's best played with a large group of people. Each person gets 5 cards with different nouns on them (pigs, Helen Keller, clowns). Each round, one person throws out a card with an adjective on it (exciting, sanguine, masculine) for everyone to play against. Everyone but the person who threw out the adjective decides which of the cards in their hands would best fit the description and throws it in the middle, face-down. The adjective person gathers the noun cards and judges which one he or she finds most appropriate. Since a new person is the judge each round, the key is to play based on how that person judges. Some judges may play it straight. For example, the adjective might be "mischievous" and the judge might select the card labeled "kids". The person who threw out the "kids" card would win that point. You play until someone has come acquired the pre-determined number of points. What was most fun, though, were the folks who took a less-traditional slant in their judgments. It opened up the group to throw out wholly inappropriate material and still win. My favorite was the winner for the adjective "melodramatic": Anne Frank. You might find it funny, cruel or unusual, but I found it to be absolutely hysterical. Anyway, we played that game well into the evening, straining abdominal and facial muscles along the way from all the laughing.

Eventually, midnight came around and we all got the disappointment and displeasure of seeing a less-than-perfect Dick Clark ring in the New Year. Champagne was imbibed, friends were hugged and the less-rugged headed for bed. Our hearty foursome decided to stay up and play some pool and discuss the issues of the day until 3:30 or so. It was a delightful way to ring in the New Year.


Wow. Well, that's a lot to digest. I'll come back with Part Two and recall the highlights of the past year.