There is so much negativity in today's world that this blog tries to accentuate the positive. Fun Galore In 24 is my new motto (while being aware that there is an election in November in the USA that we should participate in.)
As I await the arrival of pitchers and catchers to spring training in just a little over a month, I can report that my two favorite college basketball teams, Columbia women's basketball and Wisconsin's men's basketball, are on winning streaks. They offer genuine hope that league championships and post-season appearances are absolutely achievable goals.
Both teams played tough non-league schedules which is always a good idea. "To be the best you have to beat the best" and Christy Mathewson's adage, "I've learned nothing from winning and everything from losing," may be cliches, but they are truer than most.
In the fascinating landscape of rapidly growing women's basketball, Columbia is starting five guards, led by nationally acclaimed senior Abby Hsu from Parkland, Florida. In high school, she was in an adjoining building when the horrible Feb 2018 school massacre occurred. The following year her father was the first medical professional in the state of Florida to die from covid.
The resilient Hsu has overcome these tragedies to become a co-captain and all-around contributor to Columbia's hard-driving, good-passing team. Her rebounding, assist-making, and all-around court awareness make her a complete player.
Youthful Lions coach Megan Griffith, a 1000-point scorer in her years at Columbia, has recruited far and wide in building the program. Joining Hsu in the starting lineup are two athletic Australians, junior co-captain Kitty Henderson and her first-year sister Fliss Henderson. With Kitty and Abby, Cece Collins, a junior transfer from Bucknell, has become another consistent scoring threat.
And let's not forget senior Nicole Stephens, finally healthy who is often playing key moments at the end of the game. Only 5' 7", the Pickering, Ohio (near Columbus) sparkplug always seems to get key rebounds and even blocks at crunch time.
As a lifelong sports fan, there is a special joy in watching players develop over their college careers. l know that the stubborness of the NCAA - it stood for Never Compromise Anything Anytime - has led to NIL opportunities (Name, Image, Likeness) for the most promising players. There is also the transfer portal available for every player after every season, but there is something to be said for players and teams growing patiently.
"The grass is not always greener on the other side" is another old cliche that still should be considered.
Whether Columbia can finally beat Megan Griffith's former employer Princeton and win the outright title and automatic NCAA bid remains to be seen, of course. As long as the Lions don't look too far ahead to the matchups with the Tigers - Sa Jan 20 at 4P at Princeton, Sa Feb 24 at 2P last regular season home game - there should be exciting times at Morningside Heights gym on Broadway and 120th Street.
The Columbia men are showing improvement too and may have an outside chance of making the four-team post-season tournament that Columbia will host this year, over the Mar 15 thru Mar 17 weekend. For more info on both teams, go to gocolumbialions.com
The Wisconsin Badgers and The Big Ten - becoming the Big 18 next season with the addition of four West Coast teams - are another story, of course. That is big time college sports these days and it is not likely you will watch teams grow patiently. Gotta enjoy every season moment by moment because players can leave quickly. And not necessarily wisely.
See under Davis, Johnny, who had one breakout 2021-22 season in Madison and left after his sophomore year. The #10 first round pick of Washington Wizards has not established himself as a pro and may even be back in the G league. The money obviously was too good to turn down, but there is something to be said for more experience in college ball before you enter the NBA which stands for No Boys Allowed.
This year's Badgers are exuding hope. Veteran coach Greg Gard has brought back the entire starting lineup from last season's disappointing team that failed to make the Big Dance for first time in 20 years. They did show improvement in the NIT losing in the semis to eventual champion North Texas State.
Seven foot center Steven Crowl and versatile forward Tyler Wahl are providing good front court work and even making more foul shots than last year. Point guard Chucky Hepburn has improved his all around play and backup Kamari McGee has really stepped up his game. And AJ Storr, a transfer from St. Johns, has done it all and is coach Gard's dream because he accepts the challenge to improve each day.
The Big Ten is a 20-game mosh pit + a league tournament before the Big Dance. This is the part of college basketball I've grown to loathe. The extra games just for TV money. To me, league titles should mean something. No need to bay into the wind. I must remember Fun Galore in 24.
More next time about the arrival of the true hot stove season with the 57th Annual New York Pro Scouts Association banquet on F Jan 19 at Leonard's of Great Neck. Tickets available through F Jan 12 via Billy Blitzer at BBSCOUT1@aol.com
Can't resist this Memo to owners of LA Dodgers and their superficial supporters. You can have too many All-Stars and you still have to win on the field.
Staying positive, here's a tip of the cap to the classy retirement statement of Astros outfielder Mickey Brantley, 36, who applauded Larry Pardo, the area scout who originally signed him for Cleveland.
Kudos also to Adam Jones, now a podcaster in Baltimore, for his longtime tribute to area scout Tim Reynolds who signed him for Mariners with the
wise counsel, "You're only a number one draft choice for one day."
Before I leave, here are some TCM tips for January. The sports themed films are few in January but here are a few:
Tu Jan 9 215P "Three Little Words" (1950) the story of the musical and personal friendship of Bert Kalmar and baseball-loving Harry Ruby
with Fred Astaire and Red Skelton as Kalmar and Ruby and Keenan Wynn in a rare benign (and boring) role as their manager.
Sa Jan 13 415P "Knute Rockne, All-American" (1940) with Pat O'Brien in title role and Ronald Reagan as the Gipper -
dir. by workmanlike pro Lloyd Bacon
Tu Jan 23 1130A "You Said A Mouthful" (1932) Joe E Brown as a swimmer with young Ginger Rogers/Preston Foster
Every Tuesday and sometimes spilling into Wednesday is Robert Mitchum Night. Check tcm.com/schedule although there are sometimes
annoying gaps in the schedule and at times two films listed for virtually same time slot.
Two classics are back to back on Tu Jan 23: 8P "Night of the Hunter" (1955) dir. by Charles Laughton
945p "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1957) dir by John Huston with Deborah Kerr
Eddie Muller's Noir Alley is back Sa midnight or sometimes a little later and repeated at 10A Sundays.
Jan 14 "I Died A Thousand Times" (1955) remake of "High Sierra with the interesting duo of Jack Palance and Shelley Winters
Jan 21 Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" (1950) with Jane Wyman/Marlene Dietrich/Michael Wilding
Jan 28 "Woman in Hiding" (1950) with Ida Lupino/Howard Duff (soon to be Ida's husband)/Stephen McNally who epitomized evil in "Johnny
That's all for now. Remember to take it easy but take it, and stay positive and test negative.