instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

In Praise of Wisconsin Badger Basketball + No-Baseball Blues, Part II

Saturday April 4th would have been the start of the Final Four.  It is also the 27th birthday of the great Wisconsin Badger center Frank Kaminsky who five years ago on that night led my team to a stirring semi-final victory over previously undefeated Kentucky.  

 
It was sweet revenge for a loss to the Wildcats in the 2014 Final Four semi-final. 

It is too bad that Wisconsin couldn't hold a lead in the final against Duke - cunning Coach Mike Kryzewski successfully worked the refs in the second half and the Badgers didn't respond well enough. 

 

Yet the 2014-15 Badgers remain close to most of us alums' hearts. Frank Kaminsky was the poster boy for the Badger way of patient player development.

 

After needing the first two seasons to get used to the relentless toughness of Big Ten competition, Kaminsky exploded on the scene as a junior and in his senior year was named National Player of the Year, a first-of-its-kind honor for a Badger.

 

Kaminsky is currently recovering from knee surgery and hopes to resume his journeyman's pro career with the Phoenix Suns next season (whenever next season starts).  He's been the most successful pro from a team that included forwards Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes and point guard Bronson Koenig - all have played more in Europe than in either the NBA or its developmental league.

 

The line from Kaminsky went first to Ethan Happ who gave Kaminsky fits in practice when red-shirting. If only Happ, whose first cousin BTW is Yankees southpaw J. Happ, could shoot fouls and anything outside the paint.  (Last I heard Happ was playing in Europe before the pandemic ended his season.) 

 

It's a shame that this year's Badgers never got a chance to play in the post-season tournament.  The surprise #1 seed in the never-played Big Ten Tournament roared down the stretch with a eight-game winning streak.  

 

Big men Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter showed they were worthy successors to Kaminsky, Dekker, and Happ; gritty guards Brad Davison and D'Mitrik Trice brought back memories of the Ben Brust-Josh Gasser-Traevon Jackson trio; and swing men Aleem Ford and Brevin Pritzl, the only senior on the team, had great moments as well.   

 
The pain of losing basketball at a crucial time was bad enough even if an ESPN simulation predicted the Badgers would have gone all the way. Since coach Greg Gard, a worthy successor to his former boss Bo Ryan, gave crucial minutes to only six men makes me wonder if these Badgers would have gone all the way. Alas, they never had a chance so we'll never know.

 
No March Madness, and now we are dealing with the ongoing no-baseball blues. There are so many movies one can watch on TCM before one lusts for outdoor activity and seeing live sports again.  

 

I did catch a lot of TCM's late March baseball films.  Never had seen "Pride of the Yankees" straight through and Gary Cooper and Teresa Wright as Lou and Eleanor Gehrig made for a very endearing couple.  

 

I hadn't realized that Yankee catcher Bill Dickey plays a role in the 1942 film as a defender of Gehrig, slugging a teammate who criticizes the Iron Horse as his career tragically declines.  Babe Ruth also plays himself in the film and brings a lot of Ruthian energy to the role. 

 

Alex Mankiewicz, the daughter of co-screenwriter Joe Mankiewicz, made the pertinent observation in pre-film commentary that her father did love baseball and had been a pretty decent player.

 

MLBTV, of course, is another baseball outlet for me these days. I caught on April Fool's Day the replay of Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with the Twins beating the Braves in a 1-0 10 inning thriller.   

 
I remembered it as the Jack Morris Show with the Series-winning pinch hit delivered by Columbia's Gene Larkin.  I had forgotten that it was Dan Gladden's hustle leading off the bottom of the 10th inning that set up the winning run. 

 

Gladden never stopped running on a bloop single to left center and just got into second in the nick of time. Then Chuck Knoblauch did when the analytic geniuses of today pooh-pooh, gave himself up with a 4-3 grounder that sent Gladden to third base with the winning run. 

 

After intentional walks to Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek, pinch-hitter Gene Larkin ended the drama with a first pitch single over the head of left fielder Lonnie Smith

for the World Series-winning RBI. I felt bad for reliever Alejandro Pena who had pitched two innings in Game 6 and had worked this game since the 8th. 

 

I had forgotten that the Twins had great chances to score in the 6th, 8th, and 9th innings before Gladden and Larkin delivered in the 10th.  Of course, Game 7 is most remembered for Lonnie Smith's inexplicable stopping at second base on Terry Pendleton's drive over Gladden's head in left field.

 

On a play in front of him, Smith somehow got deked by the Twins' adroit DP combo of future Yankee Knoblauch and former Yankee farmhand Greg Gagne.

Of course, Jack Morris deserves full credit for pitching out of the second and third and no out situation on his way to a stirring complete game victory.

 

I had forgotten that Sid Bream, whose slide into home on Francisco Cabrera's single beat the Pirates in the NLCS to get Braves into the Series, hit into a 3-2-3 DP that got Morris out of the 8th inning jam.  How like capricious baseball to turn a hero into a goat in a matter of days.  

 
Announcer Jack Buck annoyingly wouldn't let Smith forget the booboo for the rest of the broadcast. But to Buck's credit, he did realize that the scoreless battle was a classic in the making.  After one half-inning, he invited viewers to return after a commercial break for more "torture and pleasure". 

 
I'm sure MLB will fill the void with more great games from the past.   It is a pale substitute for the real thing, but I do believe that patience is a virtue.  It looks like we'll have a chance to be very virtuous in the weeks ahead because I cannot see a baseball season starting before summer if then. 

 
Nonetheless, as always take it easy but take it!

 

2 Comments
Post a comment

Wisconsin and Columbia Cagers Provide Joy While Orioles Sputter in Spring Training

There is nothing like having one's team in contention for a title. Much was expected of the Columbia basketball team this season. Its four seniors brought a lot to the table and two were coming back from year-long injuries: forward Alex Rosenberg and guard Grant Mullins.

Combined with perennial All-Ivy shooting marvel Maado Lo and the versatile Isaac Cohen - who can impact a game positively without take a shot - an end to the Ivy League championship drought since 1967-68 seemed within reach. Unfortunately for fans of the Light Blue and White Lions, Yale and Princeton were just a little bit better this season.

Yet Columbia under six=year head coach Kyle Smith has done very well in the post-season College Insiders Tournament (a tourney so "inside" that very few people know about it). Blessed with two home games, Columbia trounced Norfolk State and came from behind to nip Ball State 69-67.

On Easter Sunday March 27 at 6p they will face NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology) for the right to meet in the championship game on Tuesday March 29. Both games will be televised on the CBS Sports Network cable channel. NJIT's coach is a former Columbia assistant Jim Engles, something that adds a little flavor to the matchup. The Lions beat NJIT by 9 points in December.

Meanwhile out in Big Ten land my graduate alma mater University of Wisconsin Badgers has surprised all the pundits by making the Sweet Sixteen. Not once all season did they crack the Top 25 in the weekly polls. (Among superfluous ridiculous aspects in today's sports, those basketball-football polls rank very high IMHO).

Lots of heart-warming stories with this year's Badger team. High among them is coach Greg Gard earning the full-time job for his great work after taking over in mid-December after Bo Ryan's retirement.

Unlike Ryan who rarely used his bench, Gard has developed youngsters Jordan Hill and Ethan Iverson and Charlie Thomas into players who can provide key minutes while the impressive starters need a rest.

A third straight Final Four appearance seemed the unlikeliest of dreams a few weeks ago. It is still a long shot but how lovely it is to dream of it. Even to the point of writing about it just a few hours before the Badgers take on Notre Dame for the right to play either North Carolina or Indiana on Sunday.

All this basketball love has enabled me not to worry too much (yet) about how the Orioles will fare in 2016. If I were a pundit predicting the season, I would be hard-pressed not to pick them 5th in the 5=team AL East. Their starting pitching looks mediocre at best.

But fortunately no games count until Monday April 4 when they begin the season against the Minnesota Twins who swept them out of the pennant race last year with seven straight victories. Certainly the Birds are due for a win. So I will say with a wan smile channeling the late pitcher-pundit Joaquin Andujar, "Youneverknow, youneverknow."

That's all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.  Read More 
Be the first to comment