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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!

 

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Proud To Be A Badger And A Lion

Wisconsin had a difficult weekend on the hard court and the gridiron but some respectability was salvaged by winning a 74-73 thriller over Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday afternoon November 22. It was part of the Madison Square Garden early season tournament that Duke won over Georgetown.

We all knew that Wisconsin would have growing pains this season after losing to the NBA 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky (who graduated and is logging effective minutes with the Charlotte Hornets) and forward Sam Dekker who left after his junior year. (Unfortunately Dekker recently underwent a back operation that will keep him out of the Houston Rockets lineup, or more likely their developmental team, for at least three months.)

Georgetown led the entire game on Friday night in a convincing conquering of the Badgers but Wisconsin responded nicely with its thrilling one-point victory over the VCU Rams. Charismatic Shaka Smart now coaches the Texas Longhorns but he left a squad for former assistant Will Wade that should be competitive.

And it looks like that in perhaps Bo Ryan’s last year the Badgers will also be a force to be reckoned with in a very loaded Big Ten. Junior guard Bronson Koenig and junior forward Nigel Hayes are learning what it is like to be marked men with all of last year’s final four team mainstays gone from Madison.

I shouldn’t fail to mention that the experience of guards Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson is also being missed.

Wisconsin’s football team lost its chance for a New Year’s Day bowl game on Saturday by falling in Madison on senior day to Northwestern’s Wildcats, 13-7.
It will long be remembered as a comedy of errors by the Badgers who committed five costly turnovers, most deep in their own territory.

It was a tribute to the stout defense that Wisconsin still had a chance to win the game in the last seconds. But video replay disallowed what would have been wide receiver Jazz Peavy’s first career touchdown. Though he caught the ball with one foot clearly in bounds in the end zone, replays revealed that he slightly juggled the ball falling out of bounds and thus “did not complete the process of the catch.”

What does that mean? The ball never hit the ground!

The nit-picking call was reminiscent of the replays in baseball where multiple viewings can show that a base runner left a base by a millimeter after successfully stealing it.

I don’t know how to stop replay once it gets entrenched. Maybe there should be a time limit on how long a replay can take. And the wording of the rules of replay be made more common sensical and less legalistic.

I was proud of how the Badgers reacted to the defeat in which a punt return for a touchdown was also called back because the official claimed receiver Alex Erickson had signaled for a fair catch. He had signaled with arms outstretched but not in the air that he didn’t want teammates to touch the ball. But when he didn’t hear a whistle he kept running and made a beautiful scamper to the end zone to no avail.

Erickson admitted that he thought the play would be called back. And his teammates generally felt that they hadn’t played well enough to win.

Consider the contrast in Columbus, Ohio when undermanned Michigan State, playing without their star quarterback Connor Cook, outplayed the Ohio State Buckeyes and ended their 23-game winning streak in a convincing 17-14 win.

Buckeye running back Ezekiel Elliott whined that he had only 12 carries and hinted he would turn pro after the season. So did backup quarterback Cardale Jones. Poor sports all. We will see how coach Urban Meyer, author of a recent book on leadership, responds to these comments.

Meanwhile my other alma mater on Sunday afternoon, the Columbia Lions evened its basketball record at 2-2 by trouncing Lehigh. Columbia lost an overtime heartbreaker at Northwestern on Friday night. They led the whole game but were held without a field goal for the last seven and a half minutes.

On Monday they didn’t seriously threaten Kansas State though played respectably and kept the game close. It is good that the pre-league season is providing some tough challenges for the Lions. Only false confidence can be bred by beating up on East Cupcake State, as the late great commentator Al McGuire used to call patsies.

Columbia is expected to do well in the Ivy League this year and with two seniors back from injuries, forward Alex Rosenberg and guard Grant Mullins, hopes are high on the Morningside campus. Senior guard Maado Lo is another force counted on.

It says here that the emergence of junior center-forward Luke Petresek will be a key to this year’s team. He has bulked up and has both a delicate outside touch and an improved rebounding presence.

So basketball has me hopeful and football is showing promise under new coach Al Bagnoli, the former Penn coach who led the Quakers to multiple Ivy League titles.
Though Columbia finished 2-8, four of their losses were by a combined 22 points.

Let me close with an old saying – I first heard credited to the late great Kansas City Royals manager Dick Howser: “Show me a team that plays close games and I’ll show you a winner one day.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and always remember: Take It Easy But Take It!  Read More 
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