King’s decision to swim at Indiana was right move

The AT&T Winter Swim Nationals is a U.S. championship, but that doesn’t mean all of the best swimmers in the country were in Federal Way, Washington. And not all the swimmers who competed had U.S. citizenship.
The meet was an open-ended competition that included unattached swimmers, club teams and college teams.
It’s why Lilly King, who won the 200-meter breaststroke and finished second in the 100-breaststroke to a Russian champion, was cautiously excited by her performance while representing Indiana University.
She knows some of the swimmers who are ranked ahead of her in those events were at the meet.
Still, King, a former Reitz High standout who is now a freshman at IU, gained confidence from her performance.
With the U.S. Olympic Trials in late June and early July, King now knows that if she continues her dramatic improvement since arriving in Bloomington, she will have a strong chance to qualify foru the U.S. team in the 100 and 200 breaststroke.
“Now that I actually have a shot at two events it’s kind of nice because I don’t have to put all my eggs in one basket,” said King. “It definitely takes a little bit of the pressure off.
“It’s kind of crazy (that she won the 200 breaststroke) because I was 16th at nationals this summer and now I win it. I went from being 16th to first.”
She swam 2:24.47 in the 200 to break an age-group record for swimmers 17-18 that had been held by former Olympian Amanda Beard. The time was five seconds faster than her previous personal record.
In the 100, which she had hoped to win, she swam another PR (and setting another IU school record) with a time of 1:06.43.
But she was beaten by Russian Yulia Efimova, 23, who won the bronze medal in the 200 breast at the 2012 Olympics in London. Efimova was 7th in the 100 in London. And four years earlier she was 4th in the 100 and 5th in the 200 in Beijing.
The weekend validated King’s decision to swim at Indiana under head coach Ray Looze, who has a program that strives for team success in the Big Ten and NCAA but also wants his swimmers to aspire for greater things.
The Big Ten was well represented in the meet with four of the top eight women’s teams in the standings, including Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State finished 2nd through 4th behind California-Berkeley. In the combined standings for men and women, Michigan was first followed by Indiana and Ohio State.
“There are some programs that have a more collegiate approach and at Indiana we have an international approach,” said Looze. “NCAA and Big Ten is important to us but we also want to produce Olympians and help people thrive at the international level.”

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.

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.

Looking for feedback on new Major League Baseball page

Once upon a time, a sports editor wouldn’t rush to get in line for pats on the back.
Indeed, we’re usually suspicious whenever folks start lining up, figuring they’re just organizing another gauntlet of abuse. But you may have noticed earlier this week — Tuesday, to be precise — your Courier & Press sports section began including a full baseball page each day again.
In doing so, we’re pretty much bucking the trend. For instance, McClatchy newspapers, another chain, made the announcement this week that they wouldn’t run MLB boxes this season.
Newspapers across the country have been striving to make the best use of an ever shrinking news hole. That typically means more local content and less wire service stories.
And less and less national agate.
A few years ago, we quit running all MLB boxes ourselves. However, we have continued to provide our readers with the boxes from the Cardinals, Cubs, Reds and White Sox games. And that’s not bad.
Most newspapers focus on one team, or maybe two, at most.
But this season, timed with our switch from Scripps to the Journal Media Group, I decided to take advantage of the MLB page that a sister newspaper is producing each day.
If what I suspect is right — that readers in the Evansville area have been wanting us to get back to covering all the teams — then the page should be a popular addition to our section.
I’d like to hear your thoughts through comments you can leave on this blog.
I also can be reached at or 812-464-7613.

Joey Elliott’s up and down CFL life continues


To keep it simple, Joey Elliott’s days as a quarterback in the Canadian Football League appear numbered.

He’s now been waived by two different teams, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the B.C. Lions, but he caught a break when the Lions brought him back last Wednesday two weeks after cutting him.

Elliott already had shipped some of his belongings back home to Evansville, but since he had paid his month’s rent he took agent Dan Vertlieb’s advice and stuck around to see if any other CFL team might be interested.

When the Lions had starter Travis Lulay go down with a shoulder injury, Elliott was added back to the roster as a backup QB. He was off the roster for 11 days.

He’s now third on the depth chart behind second-year pro Thomas DeMarco, who is now the starter, and veteran Buck Pierce and rookie Chris Hart. Elliott also battled Pierce for playing time in Winnipeg.

“You’ve gotta have a thick skin at the quarterback position,” Elliott told the Vancouver Sun. “Getting released, my buddies back home asked me, ‘What are you going to do?’ Well, I was a free agent the week before the start of training camp. I did what a free agent does. I worked out and tried to refine my skills.”

Elliott’s next career move could be to turn to coaching. While has said in the past that he would love to coach in the NFL or college (and had a grad assistant opportunity at LSU), don’t be surprised to see him join his dad, John, at Ballard Memorial High School in Barlow, Ky. Those Bombers are off to a 5-0 start.

They said it: The Kentucky Derby Edition

Comments from winning trainer Shug McGaughey III, jockey Joel Rosario and owners Dinny Phipps and Stuart Janney after favored Orb won Saturday’s 139th Kentucky Derby:

SHUG McGAUGHEY: Obviously it’s a huge, huge thrill for me. It’s a race I’ve always wanted to win, a race I’ve always wanted to compete in if I thought I had the right horse, and finally today we had the right horse.
I don’t know what it will be like tomorrow morning when I pinch myself and figure all this out, but there’s a lot of people to thank and I’m just the guy that pushed the button, but with Stuart and Dinny and the people in my barn, put so much time and pride into Orb as well as all the rest of them, they’re the real key, and like I say, I’m the lucky one that gets the accolades and the trophy.
I was excited today a lot more than being nervous, and I did think I had the right horse. He’d done everything well. He did everything well all winter. We shipped him up here, all that went well. He seemed to get over the track. Every day we trained him, he got over the track good.
He had a great workout here on Monday and he was terrific in the paddock today and post parade and going in the gate, and so when they swung the latch, I thought to myself, just enjoy the race. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Luckily it did work today.

JOEL ROSARIO: This race is really special. You can see all these people, I mean, it’s something really unbelievable to see. Like right now I feel like I win the Kentucky Derby, it’s like a dream. I feel so good right now, I can’t explain to you how I feel.

DINNY PHIPPS: I think it’s terrific, absolutely wonderful. It’s really the culmination of horse racing, and I am thrilled to be here today.

STUART JANNEY: I remember when Shug was inducted into the Hall of Fame that he said at the end of his speech, I really would like to win a Kentucky Derby for Stuart or Dinny, and I thought, well, that’s a good sign because we don’t want him laying down after he gets in the Hall of Fame..
So we like thinking forwardly. But I think he’s been very smart to pick one of the horses in the barn that the two of us own together so he doesn’t have to worry about that particular promise with one disappointed owner and one very happy owner.

Praying for Boston victims, remembering Atlanta Olympics bombing

Today’s bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon brought back memories of the bombing at Centennial Park during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Centennial Park was located across the street from the media center and as I was leaving that night, I ran into a fellow journalist and friend who almost convinced me to head over to the park for a few beers and the free concert that was taking place.

Frankly, if I had been staying in a downtown hotel, I would have gone. But it was after midnight, I was tired, and mornings come quickly when you are covering an Olympics for a small newspaper. Plus, the fleabag hotel I was staying in was located just outside Decatur, which meant taking the train to an end of the line station. And then still driving another eight minutes or so to the hotel.

So I reluctantly passed up the free concert and headed to the Roach Motel with its shower with the metallic smell. I was pretty exhausted when I got to the room, but I turned on the TV out of habit and the stations were all covering the park bombing.

I remember debating myself over whether I should drive downtown to cover it, but after about a 13-hour day my dedication wavered.

Instead, I set the alarm for 6 a.m. so I could get back to the media center as early as possible.

The Olympics weren’t all fun and games after that, but it was one of those events I wanted to check off my bucket list as a sports writer.

Covering a senseless bombing that injures hundreds of folks, not so much.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Boston victims, most of them spectators who were downtown to watch the runners and celebrate Patriot’s Day in Boston. It was a horrific act of terrorism that exacted a particular heavy price on one family.

After watching all the video from Boston, I also had a moment of silence for the hundreds of victims in Atlanta, including the two who died there. If I had gone to the concert, I doubt I would have been anywhere near the pipe bombs that exploded on July 27, 1996 in downtown Atlanta.

But I would have heard the blast and seen the panic first hand, and I thank God I don’t have those memories to haunt me.

Kromm replaced as Evansville IceMen coach

Rich Kromm has been replaced as the Evansville IceMen’s head coach and general manager after the team finished in the North Division cellar in its first season in the ECHL.

Effective July 1, veteran ECHL coach Jeff Pyle will begin his duties as the team’s head coach and director of hockey operations.

Pyle, 54, has coached six other teams since he retired from his pro playing career in 1990-91. His coaching career began in Germany, where he posted a record of 142-81-31 from 1993 to 1998 with four teams. He has coached in the ECHL for 12 seasons, mostly recently the 2010-11 season with Gwinnett. He led Gwinnett to the 2006 Kelly Cup finals.

He has an overall ECHL record of 446-323-91 and was appointed as an ECHL All-Star Game coach three consecutive seasons.

He coached the Texas Stars of the AHL in 2011-12, but was dismissed after the team finished in the cellar of the Western Conference with a 31-40-5 record.

The Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. played college hockey at Northern Michigan before competing professionally in the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League. He was the MVP of the IHL in 1986-87.

In his three seasons leading the team, including one year playing home games at tiny Swonder Ice Arena, Kromm posted an 86-94-24 regular-season record with the franchise. Two of the seasons were in the Central Hockey League, where the team also was 0-4 in the 2011-12 playoffs after a promising regular season. The IceMen finished second in the CHL’s Turner Conference that season with a 40-22-4 record <-> three points behind division leader and rival Fort Wayne (40-19-7).

This season, however, the transition to the ECHL wasn’t a smooth one despite affiliation agreements with NHL teams Columbus and St. Louis and their AHL affiliates in Springfield, Mass., and Peoria, Ill.

The team didn’t post a win until its eighth game and finished with a 25-40-7 record. With a prolonged NHL lockout leading to non-stop roster movement between the IceMen and the AHL teams, a total of 59 players suited up for Evansville. Some of that player turnover also was due to injuries.

The 25 wins tied San Francisco for second fewest in the CHL this season, ahead of only Bakersfield’s 22 wins. Evansville’s 57 points were second worse to Bakersfield’s 50.

But it also was just 13 points behind Fort Wayne, which also made the difficult transition from the CHL to the ECHL.

With Kromm’s dismissal and the departure of team captain Todd Robinson, the IceMen have lost the two people who have done the most for the franchise in terms of making Evansville a viable hockey market. Besides their work on the ice, both Kromm and Robinson were always accessible to my staff and I — even after difficult losses when the last thing they probably wanted to do is talk to a reporter.

I appreciated that and only wish Kromm the best. I thought he at least deserved one more season to make the transition to the ECHL in a more normal year of roster building. He even admitted that the uncertainty of the lockout led him to sign fewer players to IceMen contracts than he wanted because he was concerned about having too many players sent down at once from the AHL teams.

But in the world of professional sports — even at the AA hockey level — it all comes down to wins and losses.

What do the IceMen Maniacs think about the move? Some have already weighed in and I’d be interested to hear more.

Cody Zeller can’t wait to work in family business

Cody Zeller announced he was leaving Indiana University after just two seasons of playing basketball to work in the family business.
And to play in the NBA, of course.
Playing professional basketball has been Zeller’s dream, of course. Now it becomes his priority since that’s how he will be earning his future pizza money.
But during the off-season, the 7-foot Washington, Ind. resident will be back home as often as he can to help out with DistinXion, the family’s nonprofit organization.
Founded by older brother Luke, DistinXion operates summer camps that until now Zeller has had to keep at arm’s length because of inane NCAA rules.
“Over the past few years I haven’t been able to be part of it, even though it was my family’s company and it’s a non-profit organization.,” said Zeller of DistinXion. “Now I’ll be able to help out with that. They do Christian basketball camps. They also teach family values, a lot of things that I was raised on. It’s a unique opportunity for Luke, Tyler and I to give back to kids.”
Luke Zeller, who played at Notre Dame, was recently waived by the Phoenix Suns and isn’t currently listed on the roster of any NBA Development League teams.
Tyler Zeller, who starred at North Carolina, had been in the same hand’s-off situation as Cody until last summer. Now playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tyler will be back helping Luke conduct camps with their parents.
Steve and Lorri Zeller also use the business to mentor adults and promote family values.
There are also plans for a book, apparently.

He said it: IU’s Cody Zeller talks about going pro, his time as a Hoosier

“The past two years here have been probably the best two years of my life. Being able to play basketball for these coaches and with the guys in that locker room and in front of the fans of Indiana has been great. At this part in my life I think it’s best for me to pursue my dream of playing in the NBA.”

“Playing at Assembly Hall brings so many memories to mind, even the things that the public didn’t see as far as the practices and the fun times we had in the locker room. We were a very close group both years that I was here with the coaches and the players, and I will carry those relationships with me through the rest of my life. This is a great place.”

“There was a sense of closure with playing my last game at Assembly Hall and playing in my last tournament. I definitely left everything out there that I had.”

“The fans were always so great, largest student section in the country. It was never tough to play hard (at Assembly Hall) because you had so much adrenaline because you fed off the crowd so much. That’s a special thing you don’t see a whole lot of in the NBA, so that’s one of the main things I’m going to miss.”

“My family was a very big part of it as was the coaching staff. It was great for me to have the people I’m closest to help me make my decision. At the end of the day I knew I needed to do what was best for myself and I feel like this is what is best.”

“Obviously my education is important to me, but I’m only 35 credits shy of graduation, which will take me two summers to complete. The first summer will be 14 credits completing ICORE for the Business School, which will leave me with 21. The second summer I’ll take 15 credits and then I’ll finish the remainder six credits online. Right now I plan on coming back and finishing that.”

“A big part of it was that the leaders on this team that I came into the program looking up to and copying their work ethic – Victor (Oladipo), Christian (Watford), Jordan (Hulls), and Derek (Elston) – were leaving. Obviously IU will have a great year next season but the guys that I was closest to are graduating. It will be fun to go through the workouts with Victor and being in the same situation. We’ve already been working out together and it will be fun to have someone go through the same things as me and compare notes with.”

“(Injuries) can happen at any time. That’s such a scary thing, seeing someone you competed against get injured. But that’s part of the game and that’s something that goes into this decision. It’s part of what went into the decision (to stay) last year. That was one of the risks of me coming back this year. But it’s just one of the factors.
“After a while you just kind of know. I kind of knew, barring injury or something, that this might be my last year so I was enjoying every last minute of it.”

“There’s a lot of things. It’s a whole different game in the NBA. A lot of things change with every jump you make, going from high school to college and college to the NBA. It’s a big jump. The game is so much faster, everyone is so much stronger, so there are a lot of unknowns that are coming but that’s what makes it exciting.