They said it: Indiana coach Tom Crean and player Yogi Ferrell

Indiana coach Tom Crean and player Yogi Ferrell after beating Kentucky 73-67:

Tom Crean’s opening comments:
“We’re obviously elated to win a game of this magnitude, not just because it’s the NCAA Tournament and the round of 32 but because it’s against such a great program. We got a lot of respect for Kentucky, obviously got a lot of respect for John and admiration for how he coaches and what he does. That team was every bit as good as what we thought they were from watching them on film. Saw just a little bit of it the other night, but really the film didn’t lie.
“Our guys did a great job in a short period of time of getting ready for what we knew would be a tremendous physical and mental battle and they really stayed locked into the concentration. I think the fact that we rebounded so well and kept them from getting second chance points. We didn’t have a lot of costly turnovers, for the most part, and this group of guys right here along with guys like Troy and Nick Zeisloft has gotten so much better, and I hope somebody asks me about his defense in a bit. I don’t want to talk for too long, but it is an absolute honor for me to coach these guys, to work with this staff, and I love it.
“The bottom line for me is what drives me right now is that I want to just keep coachin’ ‘em, and I want to keep game planning and preparing and going to meeting with them and going to practice with them and getting on the bus with ‘em and I just want to be around them because they inspire me so much with their resiliency and the way they want to be coached and the way they care and love each other and it’s fantastic.”

Q. Does this rank as the most satisfying victory of your tenure at IU?
TOM CREAN: “I don’t know about that. I haven’t had time to think that way. It’s obviously up there, especially the way we won today. With losing Robert and then losing Juwan. The fortunate thing is Juwan wasn’t hurt as badly as he’s been a few other times, but he couldn’t go back into the game. But there was not a way for Rob to go back in.
“But I think the satisfying thing for me is as concerned and even sad when I knew Rob wasn’t going back in for him because I know who he’s done to come back in this. It never — I never overreacted to it. I have a lot of belief in these guys. As a coach, when you are around people that you believe in them and the biggest reason you have confidence in them is because of the confidence they have in each other and the fact that they can continue to get better. I thought we got better inside of the game.
“So satisfying wins for me are when we make improvements, when we learn, all right, when we are really concentrating and when you get into an environment like this and with everything on the line that’s on it and the time of year, it’s obviously a great feeling when you walk out of there with a win knowing that they put everything into it, under adverse situations and the adversity being the injuries that we dealt with in the game.”

Q. Yogi, you guys got it tied at 50 late in the second half, you guys hit a couple of quick threes. Did you feel a momentum shift? Take us through the rest of the game from there.
YOGI FERRELL: We knew it was going to be tough having to defend Kentucky, so we just tried to stick to our keys on defense, take away what they wanted, and I felt like when we got those multiple stops in a row, that’s when our break happens and good things happen with that.

FERRELL: “I feel like we shared the ball really well in the second half, and, you know, Nick hit a three and we were just driving to the rim playing inside out. We’re unstoppable.”

The love-hate relationship between readers and writers

I’ve been doing this sports writing thing professionally since 1976, which is the year I was named the Sigma Delta Chi South Carolina Rookie Journalist of the Year while working as a one-man sports staff, backup photographer and backup news reporter for the Beaufort Gazette.
I’ve won state press association honors in three states — South Carolina, Florida and Indiana. I’ve been named a top 10 columnist by the Associated Press Sports Editors Association. I’ve served as a vice president of APSE and overseen the small newspaper caucus. And, as I like to brag, I’ve spent time sitting in a golf cart with Jan Stephenson. And it was the 1986 Jan Stephenson, too. So yeah, there have been days where it has been good to be me.
Alas, there have been a lot more days when it hasn’t been good to be me.
Having been a sports editor at three newspapers in three states for a total of 23 years, I’ve been accused of being a grad of at least 50 high schools and 15 colleges.
And at the moment there is a group of Evansville IceMen fans who are convinced I hate hockey.
Seriously, that’s not true. When I was the sports editor in Tallahassee, there was an ECHL team, the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, that my staff covered. I even had a dedicated writer for the team.
But three years after I arrived in town, the Tiger Sharks moved and Tallahassee was no longer a hockey town.
Keep that in mind as IceMen owner Ron Geary makes his threats about moving the team if he doesn’t get a better deal with the city over Ford Center rent.
Guess what, folks? UE isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the USI. Neither are any of the SIAC high school athletic programs.
But the IceMen? Who knows if Geary’s threats are real or if he’s just crying wolf again.
There’s one other factor that sometimes forces us to chase the IceMen when they are at home. It’s simple, really. We only have a five-person sports staff compared to the 11 I had in Tallahassee, so we have to prioritize what we staff at times.
I wish that wasn’t the case, but its the reality of newspaper economics these days. The number of newsroom staff in Tallahassee isn’t what it used to be, either.
But I want to make it clear that I don’t root against any of the teams in Evansville. I also don’t cheer for any of them like a fan. I’m a journalist, and we aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box.
But I would prefer that the Aces, Eagles, IceMen and Otters won. Ditto, for the best area high school teams in each sport.
Losing coaches and players make for grumpy coaches and players, which makes it much more difficult to write entertaining stories anyone will read on the web or in print.
So please don’t hate. And I’ll try to be a little less snarky on my Tweets.

The test of friendship

I’ve got a former college teammate, now Facebook friend, who has much different political views than me.
He’s also way less tolerant than me, posting things from political blogs and other websites that he can’t possibly believe are true but commenting as though he has drank the Kool-Aid. And one of his confounding and absolute views is that all journalists are commie scum who should have their hands and tongues cut off.
And don’t get him started on sports writers who criticize our beloved Gamecocks (and there’s been plenty of that this season).
Anyway, this is the comment he left on my Facebook page after we had a recent political sparring session over my belief that there should be tighter gun control laws nationwide. He essentially called me an idiot to which I had responded that I was disappointed; that I never thought it would get personal between us.
“Your are one of my friends and a teammate but you already know how I feel about journalists in general and sports journalists in particular. Mostly you are all left and I never have claimed to be tolerant.”
I’ve been called worse by readers through the years, and lately by Evansville IceMen fans. But hey, I’ve got thick skin (maybe too thick in the middle).
I still love you Bourne. Next beer is on me at the next reunion.

Don Mattingly wants to build an R.B.I. program that lasts in Evansville


No one was more disappointed that Don Mattingly when his plans to launch an R.B.I. – Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities — league fell apart a year ago.
He had connected with a former Babe Ruth All-Star teammate, Dean Hall, and felt that Hall would be an ideal point person to roll out the R.B.I. program because of his connections in the Center City. But somewhere along the line Mattingly said the program “got off track” and he and the board of Mattingly Charities chose to pull the plug and cut ties with Hall.
Even Hall admitted that he didn’t clearly communicate his vision to Mattingly when the two talked about starting a league. Hall wanted to involve as many churches and community organizations as he could, possibly lining up more than two dozen teams in various age groups for baseball and softball. He also made late requests to the Mattingly Charities board for stipends he could offer coaches. He reportedly also sought a salary for himself.
Other R.B.I. leagues have done that, so Hall wasn’t completely out of line with his requests. But he also made the wrong assumption that Mattingly would be willing to write a check to cover all the league expenses, no matter how much they piled up.
“That’s kind of the philosophical problem of it,” said Mattingly, now manager of the Miami Marlins.
Consider it the curse of being both rich and a part-time resident of your hometown. There’s always someone coming out of the woodwork who believes the know how to spend your money better than you.
Mattingly has been dealing with sketchy business proposals in Evansville since his Donnie Baseball playing days with the New York Yankees.
He’s disappointed the R.B.I. league took that sour turn shortly after holding a launch party at the Blush Ultralounge that attracted a lot of community support.
From his standpoint, Mattingly envisioned that the league would start out as a program for younger age groups, involve no more than 50 to 75 players and rely on volunteer coaches.
When he learned that Hall was trying to throw together a much larger program, involving hundreds of players in five or six age groups, Mattingly and his Mattingly Charities board were concerned that their charitable resources would be spread too thin. They had planned to operate on a much smaller budget that would pay umpires. cover field maintenance expenses and give every player a ball, bat and glove.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the direction it was going,” said Mattingly. “It never changed what I wanted to do, it just had to reorganize a little bit. The goals are still the same, it’s just a little different leadership in place now.”
He’s now aligned himself primarily with the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville.
He and wife Lori are also hosting a fund-raising event at the USI Theatre on Thursday night with country singer Toby Keith and former St. Louis Cardinals player Albert Pujols. Sorry, it’s sold out.
Additionally, he has arranged for Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter to speak to a business group on Friday with the money raised from that event going to Mattingly Charities to fund programs in Evansville.
He said the Mattingly R.B.I. league definitely will be launched in the spring.
As for how he managed to line up Toby Keith for the event: Mattingly said he and Keith became friends after the country icon performed at Roberts Stadium in 2009 and he learned that Keith was a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m a bit of an all music fan, but if I’m turning the radio on, I usually end up on country,” said Mattingly. “Whatever city I’m in, I usually end up on country.”
He’ll be relieved to learn that even Miami, with its airwaves jammed with hispanic, hip-hop and rock stations, does have one country station, WKIS-FM – Kiss Country.

Big ‘birthday’ coming up for me

Next Tuesday I’ll be celebrating one of those “best-days-of-the-rest-of-your-life” moments.
I’ve even come to look upon Oct. 27 as my second birthday. That’s the day I had my aortic valve replaced after I had grown concerned about some angina issues and learned I had a birth defect.
At the age of 60, mind you.
Being married to a nurse had made me promise her I would never ignore chest pains, even something as insignificant as indigestion. It explains how I ended up having my gall bladder removed nearly 14 years ago (at least I think it was that long ago).
Anyway, I had never had a problem with stamina until last summer while cutting grass on a hot day, and even then it was only as I was nearly done. But then it hit me when I was walking to the stadium in Bloomington for a Maryland football game at the end of September, lugging a 30-35 pound bag packed with a laptop, media guide, digital recorders, notebooks and assorted accessories.
Since sports writers don’t qualify as big-spending boosters, I had been parked in the back of the lot, but the walk still was only about a half mile. Yet there I was stopping to catch my breath.
The last time that had happened was having to walk up the steep hill from press parking to the stadium at Clemson. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of as dozens of my sports writing comrades will attest.
Understand, I had played college soccer, coached soccer for 25 years while frequently scrimmaging with my teenage players, and had spent the past couple of decades working 50-60 hours a week while still getting in workouts at the gym. OK, maybe not as often as I should have.
Still, I’ve always handled work-related stress as well as anyone. And trust me, this job comes loaded with it.
But I didn’t know what stress was until Drs. Starrett and Wagmeister double-teamed me with the bad news after I had a heart catheterization procedure the week before I was scheduled to fly by to Columbia, S.C. for a University of South Carolina soccer reunion.
I believe it was Dr. Wags who gave me the answer I didn’t want to hear by saying that it was my decision when to have surgery, that I could go to the soccer reunion if I wanted, but I could also have a heart attack while away.
I skipped the trip and had surgery the following Monday, Oct. 27, 2014.
Best decision I ever made, by the way.
The Heart Hospital and its staff of nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and nursing aides are all top-notch. One nurse in particular, Elsie, was there when I woke up and managed to ease my fears that I could survive the trauma Wagmeister had put my body through.
My wife has had some abdominal surgeries (six in 13 months) that have had me skipping more gym sessions than I’d like over the past year, but I’m still better off physically than I had been before the surgery.
So on Tuesday, I plan to celebrate the day, maybe even with one candle on a cupcake. I’ll be 61 plus 1, after all.

I’m back, and now I really do have heart

When I was playing soccer (humor me) at the University of South Carolina in the 1970s, my redeeming quality was an overabundance of perseverance. I managed to score an occasional goal and make a nuisance of myself, mostly to opponents.
At least that’s the way I remember it.

Flash forward to last October when I discovered just how amazing my college soccer career had been. I started having episodes of angina in the summer, which became progressively worse. The one that got my attention, and told me I was more than just a little out of shape, came on Sept. 27 while I was walking from the back of the parking lot at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington for the Maryland-Indiana football game. Married to a nurse, that proved to be the last warning shot.

I mentioned it during my physical a week later and a murmur was detected by nurse practitioner Kelly Traylor. That set off the chain reaction of an echocardiogram, a heart catheterization and then open-heart surgery.

Not only did I need two bypasses, but I learned at the age of 60 that I had a bicuspid aortic valve. In other words, my valve only had two flaps to manage the blood flow instead of the normal three.

Before having to be replaced by pig tissue, those two overworked valve flaps had done quite well in allowing me to play and coach soccer for more than half my life. And I know I wasn’t exactly easy on them, either.

I was given a choice of booking surgery within days of my cath or putting it off for a couple of weeks. Because I had planned to attend a reunion of my teammates that weekend, I was tempted to put it off.

But Dr. Lee Wagmeister has a way of bringing his patients back to reality. He said it was my choice, but “you could have a heart attack and end up getting surgery in South Carolina.”

I skipped the reunion and had my chest split open on Oct. 27 – exactly a month after I finally suspected something wasn’t right.

I’m forever indebted to Dr. Wagmeister, Dr. Scott Starrett and the nursing and rehab staffs of The Heart Hospital at Deaconess Gateway. And yes, I had the loving support of family, friends and former teammates.

I received encouragement from about a dozen former teammates, but there was one in particular that took me back in time and had me slipping on a Carolina soccer T-shirt the morning of my surgery.

It came a few weeks before my surgery from another “doctor.” Bob “Dr. Dirt” Heath was the no-nonsense captain my first two years with the Gamecocks.

“You know the thing that ALWAYS impressed me about you was that you NEVER gave up.”

Anyone who saw me play might question that characterization, but it was nice of Bob to say it. It motivated me going into surgery and again entering cardiac rehab, and now I’m within 15 to 20 pounds of reaching my college playing weight again.

I’m going to get there. I’m not giving up now.

This week in Big Ten football

Clearing my mind and notebook heading into another weekend of college football in the Big Ten:

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson was disappointed in the body language he saw on the sidelines of last Saturday’s back-and-forth game with Bowling Green that the Falcons won 45-42 with a touchdown in the final seconds.

He recalled that back in his college days at N.C. State when he was a walk-on lineman, and despite filling in admirably when the starting center was hurt in a game against Wake Forest, it wasn’t good enough to win him the job. The coaching staff moved a defensive tackle to center the next day because they didn’t think Wilson could do the job in a few weeks when the Wolfpack played Clemson and William Perry.

“I loved my role. That was my role. I would take my role today,” said Wilson. “That’s what we’re talking to our guys about. Embrace your role, understand your role, because what we need for this thing to really take off …”

One reason it apparently hasn’t taken off in his mind is some players being too focused on how many snaps they are or are not getting compared to teammates.

“I thought we were just a little sulky. We didn’t need that right right,” said Wilson. “We need our mind on our job, what we could control.”

— Indiana running back Tevin Coleman enters Saturday’s game at No. 18 Missouri leading the nation in all-purpose yards (237.5) and rushing yards per game (218.5). The Hoosiers have the nation’s third-best rushing attack with an average of 345.0 yards per contest.

— Coleman has set an IU record over a three-game span with 652 yards. He has scored a rushing touchdown for the Hoosiers in 11 straight games. If he does it again Saturday, he will tie Anthony Thompson for the school record of 12.

— Ohio State freshman quarterback J.T. Barre became the 13th QB in Big Ten history to pass for six touchdowns in a game in last week’s 66-0 blowout of Kent State.

— Encouraging sign? Indiana is 6-3-2 all-time against Missouri, including a 2-1-2 record in Columbia.

— Another encouraging sign? Since 1997, Purdue is 5-0 in games when facing a non-conference opponent after playing Notre Dame.

He said it: Evansville coach Marty Simmons after 68-59 loss to Butler

Marty Simmons after 68-59 loss to Butler Saturday at Ford Center:
“It’s a tough loss. I’m really proud of our guys for bouncing back from last week. Practices were spirited, much better and I thought it carried over into today’s game. I thought our guys competed and fought hard for 40 minutes. We had that one stretch, probably more than one stretch, but one critical stretch in the second half when they made an 8-0 run.
Give Butler the credit. They’ve got some veteran guys and hung in there and they deserved to win.”

“We missed some shots that we’ve got to knock in, that we’re going to knock in, that we have knocked in. (Kameron) Woods makes it a little different in there. That guy’s like (John) Henson from Carolina a couple of years ago. He’s 6-9, got long arms and he made a couple of great blocks.
“I’m really proud of our guys. I thought they stayed with it. We had a few possessions out there where we probably got a little helter-skelter out there, but I thought for the most part we stayed together better maybe than we have all year.

“They got us on the glass. I saw guys looking to block out. I saw guys working to block out, but Khyle Marshall is a heckuva a player. He’s been doing this a long time.
“We’ve got to get better at it. We’ve got to get physicaly and mentally tougher. We’ve got to be able to block guys like him and (Andrew Chrabascz).
“We spent a lot of time on it. We’re going to keep working at it, and eventually we’ll get to where we need to be.
“I didn’t think it was because we weren’t trying to block out. I saw guys looking, I saw guys going (to the glass). We didn’t finish it. They were a little bit tougher, a little bit more aggressive.”

“We came out of the locker room and didn’t get off to the best of starys. We wanted to play four-minute segments. We won four out of the five in the first half. We rea;ly put a high price tag of winning that first four (of second half) but they just did a better job of coming out and setting the tone.
NOTE: It was actually the third four-minute stretch of second half where Butler built a 40-39 lead into a 48-41 advantage.)

“I’m just proud of the way they bounced back. We went to Xavier and played our best 20 minutes of the year, fought pretty hard to the finish. Then we kind of lost it.
“I liked the way the guys regrouped. They came back with good attitudes, they practiced spirited and competitively. They worked really hard
“We’ve got a lot way to go. I know we’ve played 12 games but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement. This group will buy into that. They will continue to do do that as we head into league play.”

Winston has been great on the field, but he still won’t get my Heisman vote

NOTE: This entry is a revised (i.e., slightly longer) version of the column I wrote for the Dec. 8 newspaper:

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will win the Heisman Trophy, likely by a landslide of votes.

Entering Saturday night’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against Duke in Charlotte, N.C., the redshirt freshman already had passed for 3,490 yards and 35 touchdowns with only eight interceptions this season. He had completed 68.8 percent of his passes.

By the time he gets done dissecting the Blue Devils, Winston’s statistical argument could be nearing 4,000 yards and 40 touchdown passes. And, of course, it helps his case that the Seminoles still will be unbeaten and will have secured their spot in the BCS national championship game next month.

In comparison, 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M passed for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns with nine interceptions in becoming the first redshirt freshman to win the trophy.

Yes, I voted for Johnny Football last season.

No, I’m not voting for Famous Jameis.

Why? It’s complicated.

Winners of the Heisman Trophy are supposed to have outstanding character in addition to being a great football player. Winston has measured up on the field — he’s a great college quarterback — but off the field he’s had to deal with allegations over the past few weeks that he raped another FSU student last December.

Criminally, that matter was resolved Thursday when state attorney Willie Meggs announced his office would not bring charges against him because of the woman’s sketchy memory from that night of drinking at a popular college bar.

What she does remember is having sex, and insists it was against her will.

As is his constitutional right, Winston hasn’t said anything about that night. He did, however, issue a statement Thursday after learning he wouldn’t be charged, saying he “never lost faith in the truth and in who I am.”

From the outset, this was going to be a “he said, she said” case. DNA evidence proved Winston and the woman had sex, but his attorney argued that it was between consenting adults.

Affidavits from two of Winston’s friends also alleged the sexual acts were consensual. It seems they were standing outside Winston’s bedroom door watching. According to their statements, one of them even used his cellphone to take video, though it had been conveniently deleted by the time Tallahassee police fully investigated the case.

The TPD complicated the case from the get-go. DNA wasn’t collected from Winston until a few weeks ago after the rape allegations had gained traction in the national media. And the woman’s attorney said at least one investigating officer warned her client that pressing charges against Winston would make her life miserable because Tallahassee is a “big football town.”

Since the story went public, the alleged victim has left school and returned to the Tampa area. Her life did become miserable. Her photo was distributed on social media sites.

She certainly no longer could have felt welcome on campus — not with all the high fives and hugs after Thursday’s announcement.

FSU senior Katie Gibbs told The Associated Press, “We always knew that he’s innocent because we know Jameis and we trust our quarterback,”

So, yeah, Tallahassee is a big football town. And, no, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I was the sports editor in Tallahassee for eight years, beginning in 1999 when FSU had it’s last unbeaten team and won a national title. There was also good and bad news to report that season, though nothing as serious as the Winston allegations.

In 1999, Peter Warrick lost his shot at the Heisman because of a felony shoplifting charge that was later reduced to a misdemeanor. He had to settle for hoisting the crystal football and an NFL career.

Winston likely won’t have to miss out on the Heisman experience.

However, Winston’s character has been tainted, and not only because of the sexual assault allegations. Reading the reports released by Meggs’ office, a statement from one of Winston’s friends suggests that lots of sexual shenanigans have taken place at his apartment.

Viewed as a character reference, its all fairly damning. And let’s not forget that Winston could still face a civil lawsuit. The alleged victim has three years to consider going that route.

On the field, he’s been the last one standing in a competition that once included Manziel, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois and South Carolina’s Jadaveon Clowney (remember him?).

Off the field, Winston has left me with reasonable doubt about his maturity, his decision-making and his character. And, yes, his lack of respect for women.

Thus, when I cast my Heisman ballot ranking the three most deserving candidates, his name won’t be included — not this year.

Penn State coach Bill O’Brien after the Nittany Lions lost 44-24 to Indiana

Penn State football coach Bill O’Brien:
Is the “Us against the world mentality” gone from last year?
“I don’t think it’s gone. I think when you look at this football team, we have 61 kids on scholarship and 40 walk-ons, can’t go to a bowl, can’t play for championships. Not an excuse, but we have a lot of resilient kids here. They show up to practice every day, they practice hard. I think that reserve is still there.
“We lost to a team that played very well today. We didn’t coach well. Our kids, because of that, didn’t play very well. I think there’s a lot of resilient kids on this team. There’s still a hard-working attitude here at Penn State. I don’t think in any stretch of anybody’s imagination that this is a normal Penn State team.
“Sixty-one kids on scholarship and 40 walk-ons. But you know what? These kids are practicing hard. We have to coach them better. We have to put them in better positions. We have good players. And that’s what we’re going to try to do starting tomorrow.”