Savor it now, Tim Tebow. Each challenge is different, and paychecks truly mean a whole new ballgame. One day you’re on top of the world, winning the last game of the year with your talented teammates and great coach. Then you make the leap, and the way college announcers confuse scrunching your nose for true leadership gives way to a different kind of challenge that few can muster. It’s not your fault if the expectations become too great or the praise heaped too high. But it just makes your climb more difficult. There is no shame in greatness at any level. Just remember (and this goes for you as well, Chicago sports franchise with a draft pick): not everything translates.
Archive for the ‘basketball’Category
Some cravings are so odd that even a pregnant woman will give pause, scrunch her nose and say “That’s gross.” I’m talking pop culture cravings, though, and lately I’ve been renting old Kurt Russell movies with my free in-store rentals through Blockbuster Online. Escape From New York – rented in honor of Isaac Hayes’ untimely passing – was much older than I thought, and gave off a vibe similar to that of The Warriors with its apocalyptic sets and fleeting glimpses of sunlight.
So, I had to see how things turned out in Escape From L.A., and … well, that was something. The movie epitomizes the “many years later, make a sequel for the fans and follow the template of the first movie.” Any time you invite the star to produce and write the movie, however, you’re liable to see a few more outrageous superhuman feats. Even Sylvester Stallone would walk out of L.A. and say it was a bit much. Many people talk about the (now laughably bad-effects-laden) tsunami surfing scene, but I appreciate the random appearance of a basketball court amid the morally corrupt. Enjoy:
Editor’s note: This story originally was published Jan. 27, 2006. Because not as many people covered/watched women’s basketball, it was easier to get access to one of the campus’s best athletes. She went on to be drafted by the Chicago Skye of the WNBA, but was cut before the 2008 season began.
NIU’s Stephanie Raymond talks about the season, tattoos and what you learn from a loss
The coaches tell Stephanie Raymond that her teammates should be sick of hearing her talk if she’s a true team leader. With 10 conference games left before the MAC tournament, her words are tinged with encouragement. The team already has matched its win total from a disappointing 2004-05 campaign, and looks to keep building on its early-season lessons as the buzzing sounds of March madness approach. Raymond, a junior point guard and the NIU women’s basketball team’s leading scorer, sat down with Take ONE during a rare breather amid the basketball schedule.
Take ONE: How do you feel the season has gone so far? Does it feel different this year than it did last year?
Stephanie Raymond: We’ve come together a lot better this year than we did last year. Our chemistry has grown and I think we’ve become one whole team instead of certain individuals.
How do you measure that?
We get together a lot more this year, off the court. I think that shows on the court. We’re gelling well together … Just by playing with them outside, like at the Rec or somewhere else, I’m learning each individual’s style of play, so I know when to pass the ball, I know what kind of pass I can give them, I know what position they can score in.
How do you define being the leader of a team?
Telling people where to be at the right time. Being very vocal on defense, especially … If something goes wrong, I have to be the one to get in their butts about it. If we miss a box out, I have to be the one to say, “You’re not going to miss any more box outs, you should’ve had that one.” Make them more pumped up to make the next play. Coaches call me the head of the team, so if my head is down, then the rest of the team’s heads are going to be down and we won’t play as well.
So how do you keep your head from going down?
Coaches. Coaches always encourage me to keep shooting, it’s going to fall. They pick me up when I’m not playing as well as I think I should. That and my teammates. When I miss a box out they’re on me about it.
Do you feel, as a first year coach, [head coach Carol Owens] immediately commanded the respect of the team?
Definitely. Especially her style of play. Uptempo. She’s a post player, so a lot of her emphasis is on the post. She knows what the post players can do, because she was there. Plus, her past experience. She got to the NCAA tournament. That’s where everyone on this team wants to be.
When I called to set up the interview, one of the things you had to do was weight lifting. What is the weight lifting program like during the season?
We don’t do as much as we do in the offseason, but it’s still twice a week. We do squats, but maybe not as heavy … We do hang cleans, bench, curls, triceps. One day we’ll work on the lower body and the other the upper body.
By this time of the season, does it wear down on you?
No. There are times the day after where we’re like, “Dang, are your shoulders sore? My hamstrings hurt!” But we push each other in practice so we don’t even think about it.
Have you ever Google-d yourself?
(laughs) Yeah, I did in high school a lot, and my freshman year people were like, “You know you have a lot of stuff on there.” Actually, I did it recently and quite a bit showed up.
One of the things I found (about you through Google) was that you were in the triple jump in high school (Rockford Lutheran). Did you take anything out of that experience?
In seventh grade, I was trying to find a school to go to in eighth grade. And a couple of my friends went to St. Paul Lutheran. And [a friend] was doing triple jump … so when I went to St. Paul and we kind of competed with each other. My junior year is when I actually learned how to do the jump, like you take longer strides instead of quick-quick-long.
One of the things fans notice about you non-game related is the tattoo on your right shoulder. What does that tattoo represent and why’d you get it?
It’s about my grandma. She passed away last July. And me and her were really close, so it kind of broke my heart when she passed away. So I just wanted to get something that was in remembrance of her. And the only thing I could think of was [the tattoo].
What did she teach you?
She was hard-headed (laughs). She smoked a lot and it hurt her in the end. But she never stopped … I think that kind of shows on the court with me. No matter what anyone says to me, whatever, “I’m better than you.” I always have that mentality, that nobody can stop me.
Do you hear more trash talk in the game, or at the Rec?
Oh, at the Rec. No one’s around. I talk a lot of trash at the Rec.
What do you think the team learned from the DePaul game (an 89-46 defeat to the nationally ranked Blue Demons)?
Ranking-wise, it doesn’t really matter. We will never get embarrassed like that, ever again. We won’t. We will not let it happen. The practice after that day? It was hell. It was bad. We ran so much. We will never look that bad again.
Do you think, looking back on the season, you can say you will learn more from that game than you would a win?
Oh yeah, definitely. Because we had so many mistakes in that game and we learned from every one of them. All the missed opportunities … We don’t like to look back at that game. It definitely was a learning experience.
Is there something you wish you knew then coming into the program that you know now, as a junior?
I never realized how much talking a point guard has to do. Coach [Melissa] Parker and Coach [E.C.] Hill are constantly on my butt about it. “You know what, your teammates should be tired of hearing your voice, that’s how much you have to talk.”
What do you do to wind down to get away from basketball?
I don’t have any morning classes. I lie in my bed and just relax, and try not to think of anything. I just put my headphones on and don’t think about basketball, don’t think about school.
What do you listen to when you do that?
A mixture of stuff. Carrie Underwood. There are a couple of my teammates who love her – she’s really good. Then, on my mp3 player I have Jamie Foxx, Donell Jones, Tyrece … Goo Goo Dolls.
Goo Goo Dolls? Hmm. What do you think it will take to get people to come to the Convocation Center?
We have to win. If we win strictly at home, I don’t know if that’s going to do it. But we have to win on a consistent basis.
How will you measure whether this was a good season or not?
If I look back and say I gave everything I gave. If we put our heart and soul into every single game, it was a good season, no matter how far we go. If we make it to the MAC tournament, then it’s already been a better season than it’s ever been, because we haven’t made it since I’ve been here.
Editor’s note: This story originally was published Dec. 26, 2005. The program hasn’t had many highlights in recent years, but this was one of the biggest home victories of the decade against a pre-Huggins, pre-Beasley Kansas State.
Classes might not be in session, but a Huskie basketball observer learned at least three things in NIU’s men’s basketball contest against Kansas State Dec. 20:
- When fans pack the place to the tune of 5,389 in attendance, a last-minute three can set the place rocking.
- Kids still love dancing to “Whoomp! There It Is.”
- The Huskies can beat big conference competition.
The clutch free-throw shooting kicked in just in time for NIU as it survived a 75-70 overtime affair with the Big 12’s Wildcats, a game that saw eight ties and two big-time shots in the waning seconds of the game.
“We could have made it easier if we hit a few free throws down the stretch, but we found a way to win,” said NIU head coach Rob Judson, whose team moved to 5-2 on the young season and gave Kansas State its second loss of the year.
With NIU down two with 24.5 seconds left in regulation, NIU stole a wild inbounds pass and managed to save the ball to forward Todd Peterson on the fast break. Peterson head-faked his defender and launched a swishing three. A K-State travel and a foul allowed Anthony Maestranzi — who struggled to find a rhythm all game after getting into early foul trouble — to extend NIU’s lead to 64-61 with 8.3 seconds left. With no timeouts remaining, the Wildcats’ Clent Stewart freed himself at the top of the key and drained a game-tying three with 1.5 seconds remaining.
After the drama of regulation, NIU never trailed in overtime. Corey Sims continued his game-long assault on the lane, finding the angle on a tough lay-in that helped the Huskies outscore the Wildcats 11-6 in the overtime period.
“We feed off what Corey can do, because he’s a playmaker,” said Peterson on Sims.
With multiple Huskies manning the point, Sims used his own ballhandling skills to finish with 15 points, eight assists, a steal in the truest sense of the word with the game still close in overtime and took multiple charges against the slashing guards of Kansas State for good measure.
“I was just taking what they were giving,” said Sims, who added that even with his filled statline, he was most proud of the charges he drew.
The Huskies used a combination of easy points and tough Sims dribble drives to get out to a five-point halftime lead. Motion on offense opened up multiple chances for Mike McKinney alley-oop dunks, and those types of shots freed forward Todd Peterson to let loose from behind the arc. Peterson finished with 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
Against a team that sometimes features five guards on the court at the same time, NIU drew five fouls in the first 6:30 of the first half. Junior guard Cartier Martin spent much of the game in foul trouble, giving him limited looks despite shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
“There was a lot of fouls called in that game,” said Kansas State Coach Jim Wooldridge said. “I’m not sure why so many were called. It was like watching foul-fest going on. We couldn’t figure out how to adjust to that.”
The coach followed his opening postgame with terse answers repeatedly invoking the the theme of “making plays,” reminiscent of the NBA’s Rasheed Wallace’s infamous “play hard” interview while with the Portland Trail Blazers.
A combination of tough perimeter defense by Kansas State and poor foul shooting early in the second half allowed for the chance at a comeback. Ben Rand used his increased playing time to score 14 points, but he was just 4-for-8 from the free throw line, including missed shots on the front ends of two one-and-one’s. But the unseized chances seldom quieted the crowd, energized by a high-octane game. Fist pumps dotted the action, including on key loose-ball foul drawn by Craig Reitchel. And a foul on a made three-pointer by Peterson sent the senior sharpshooter to the ground with a smile on his face and his arms outstretched in celebration.
“I love playing this game … it’s just fun for me and I know it’s fun for my teammates,” said Peterson.
Editor’s note: This story originally was published Oct. 21, 2005.
Adaptive sports open the playing field for Sycamore’s Brandon Mendel
There’s a certain moment on the basketball court when the defense can be so tight, so frustrating, that the endlines start creeping in and a strange sense of claustrophobia develops. At the top of the key, his two teammates covered, Karega Harris’ increasingly flustered motions with the basketball give props to the defense that no pat on the back could provide.
It’s amazing what the skinny arms of a sixth grader can do to a DeKalb city councilman.
OK, so Brandon Mendel isn’t exactly playing fair. He’s used to playing ball in a wheelchair, and Harris still was still acclimating himself to his wheels during the Corn Fest exhibition this past August. But the point of the game (other than seeing the councilmen struggle in a tough spot, in front of appreciative fans) was that such a game could exist.
Mendel, a student at Sycamore Middle School, participated in the event as part of the Rockford Chariots, a wheelchair basketball team with both youth and adult squads. Since the fourth grade, he’s traversed the hardwood and other playing fields as a sports-loving kid emulating many of his professional athlete favorites.
“If he didn’t have this, it would break his heart,” said his mother, Stacie Mendel.
Brandon was born with neurofibromatosis, or nf. The genetic disorder, which affects about one in 3,000 births, can cause tumors on any never ending in the body, according to the Children’s Tumor Foundation. At the age of 10 months, he had surgery to remove some of those tumors, which can vary in size. This past summer, he had a smaller tumor removed from behind his knee.
Brandon talks about these things matter-of-factly, consistent with a thought process his mother has known from an early age. He used a walker in his formative years, a time when he first developed a love for hockey. Even with his walker, he told his mom he could still be a goalie.
“And he didn’t see a problem,” said Stacie.
Now, he uses crutches to get around, a slight twist on the otherwise normal things going on in his sixth-grade life. He campaigned for student council with a Napoleon Dynamite-inspired “Vote for Pedro” T-shirt, with Pedro’s name crossed off and “Brandon” written below it.
“I told people I would represent them well,” said Brandon.
On the court, the Mendels first heard about the Rockford Chariots program through a facilitator at school. From there, they found out about other sports programs offered by the Rockford Park District, including sled hockey (sitting in a sled with blades, spiked gloves help propel the players), golfing, swimming and other adaptive sports.
If not for these chances?
“I’d probably be at home, mostly, not really being active and not knowing as many people,” said Brandon.
Like conventional sports, the games can get physical. Even in the Corn Fest exhibition, the sound of wheel-on-wheel contact filled the blocked-off section of Lincoln Highway. In practice, players practice being knocked over to make sure they know how to get back into their wheelchairs safely. And tournaments feature teams from throughout the Midwest region.
“Everyone we’ve met at the park district and with the team has been phenomenal,” said Stacie.
As Brandon gets older, his mom hopes that consciousness about adaptive sports continues to grow. While Brandon might still be working on getting the ball all the way up to the hoop from his seated position now, Stacie thinks of the possibilities seven years from now when he might be able to earn a college scholarship for a university’s adaptive sports teams. But for now, they focus on holistic treatments for his nf, with mom making sure to put an iron pill in his juice. Some things never stray too far from normal.
Editor’s note: This story was written March 16, 2005.
Former NIU standout takes over as women’s basketball coach
The past, present and future of NIU women’s basketball intersected at the Convocation Center last Tuesday, and at the center of it all, Carol Owens smiled.
“Some things never change,” said Owens.
Though the building the press conference took place in didn’t exist during her time on campus, there were familiar sights for the former District Four All-American and three-time Huskie captain. Teammates from Owens’ years (1985-1990) on campus joined her for a hug at the podium as highlights from her basketball career played on televisions in the lobby, showcasing a dominating low-post presence who scored, ran the floor and swatted away shots with an inevitable force.< style="font-weight: bold;">A past success
Owens’ 10-year tenure at Notre Dame under head coach Muffet McGraw has included six Sweet 16 appearances a national championship in 2001. During that time, Owens gained recognition as a teacher of power forwards and centers. Her prized pupil, Ruth Riley, went on to earn the WNBA’s Finals MVP award for the Detroit Shock and a gold medal for the USA women’s basketball team at the 2004 Olympics.
NIU Athletic Director Jim Phillips, who worked with Owens during his tenure at Notre Dame, said the first-time head coach brings a sense of high morals, past success and professional experience in serving as the perfect “institutional fit” for NIU.
“I was absolutely haunted by our next coach … but in a good way,” Phillips joked, in reference to the pictures that hang in the Convocation Center and even the nameplate in the facility’s locker room that signifies a donation to the program.
Despite focusing on post players, Owens bucks the stereotype when it comes to game tempo. She said building a solid defense leads to better transition opportunities — a philosophy that had the NIU women scoring 90-plus points a game in 1989-90 — and more chances for players like point guard Stephanie Raymond to push the ball up the court on offense.
“We had a hard time defending Stephanie Raymond,” said Owens of Notre Dame’s otherwise easy 73-49 victory against NIU Dec. 30 in DeKalb.
Raymond, who attended Owens’ introduction despite it being spring break on campus, recently sat down to watch film from that game. Looking back, Raymond said she appreciated Notre Dame’s up-tempo attack.
“I feel she’s the best person to turn the program around,” said Raymond.
Some things haven’t changed for Owens. She still warmly greets such important figures in her undergrad days as Sports Information Director Mike Korcek and communication department stalwarts Art and Sue Doederlein. And she still believes the best way to promote continued positive changes for a program lies in recruiting, specifically in the Chicago area.
The DeKalb introduction actually was the second first-impression for Owens, as she also appeared at Mike Ditka’s restaurant in Chicago earlier in the day. In the city, the coach hopes to find the next Carol Owens, someone who dominates high school games like she did at Notre Dame High School for Girls.
“Recruiting is at the top of my list,” said Owens.
If all goes well, players new to the program might not experience the type of halfcourt sets that bogged down the Huskies’ offense, Raymond said. In compiling a 7-21 record this year, the team — one that loses two seniors — broke 70 points just twice.
“If anything, I want us to be pushed more than we’ve been in the past,” said Raymond.
To that end, as supporters slowly left the Convocation Center and media members pocketed their last carrot sticks, Owens’ proud family waited while the future coach exchanged phone numbers. It was with incoming freshman Kacia Gillette, currently of Rockton Hononegah High School. Both new additions will have plenty to discuss in changing the things that need changing.