Wildcats Almost Perfect in Bahamas

BY RACHEL SHULHAFER

Six exhibition games in eight days proved to be grueling even for a University of Kentucky basketball team that boasts nine McDonald’s All-Americans, and seasoned veterans such as the Harrison twins and Alex Poythress. The Wildcats were 5-0 going into the final game of their Big Blue Bahamas trip on Sunday. They lost 63-62 on a last-second shot to the Dominican Republic National Team, whom they defeated on Friday 84-71.

Despite the disappointing ending, the Cats won their first five games by an average of 20.4 points, with their narrowest win coming on Saturday when they beat French professional team Chalons-Reims 77-72.

Like any team of normal humans that had just played a full week of an intense sport, the Cats seemed to be exhausted and out of gas on Sunday. They led by double digits with under 10 minutes left in the game, but watched that lead fizzle as the minutes wound down. Dominican player Jack Michael Martinez hit a jumper over Andrew Harrison with 2.6 seconds left to give his team a one-point lead, which was ironic given the fact that Andrew’s twin brother, Aaron, hit a last-second game-winner in last year’s Final Four. The only thing that could have been worse for Kentucky is if Dominican guard and former Louisville player Edgar Sosa had made that shot, reminding everyone of the dagger he shoved into the hearts of Big Blue Nation in 2009.

Coach John Calipari watched from the top row of the bleachers, and let his assistant coaches take over for the fifth time in the Bahamas. He seemed pleased despite the loss, and acknowledged that fatigue was a huge factor.

“This trip probably should have been six days,” Calipari said. “This was a great run of games and experiences for these young people. We kind of died. We didn’t have it physically.”

The Cats have a couple more months to get into shape before the regular season starts in October, but they already look like a team that’s going to be dominant.


Valhalla in Review

BY CHRIS HAAS

Course Conditions:

Valhalla golf course was in impeccable shape for the 2014 PGA Championship. The fairways and greens were as lush as they have ever been, thanks to countless man-hours from the grounds crew and mild summer weather in Louisville.  The rainy weather during the tournament was less than optimal but Valhalla was prepared. During Valhalla’s 2012 renovation, additional drainage areas were installed in all fairways and greens. The new drainage systems kept the course playable and kept suspensions of play due to weather at a minimum.

Fan Enthusiasm:

Louisville contributed to its reputation as a great sports town last week. Spectators didn’t even wait until the tournament started to ramp up the energy. When Tiger Woods’ arrived on Wednesday, after days of speculation if he would show up at all, he was greeted with pandemonium. The crowd that enveloped Tiger was awe-inspiring, especially for a practice round. The veteran Golf Channel announcers called the scene surreal and unprecedented.

The crowds never let up, much like the rain. The rain and mud did not deter the fans from showing up and cheering loudly and the players took notice. On Sunday, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy were throwing fist punches into the air after crucial made putts to the background of a deafening crowd roar. The adrenaline was soaring.

Fan favorite Phil Mickelson spoke about the course after his 2nd place finish, he said “This is a great place to play golf, it really is. The Crowds here in 2008 at the Ryder Cup were something I’ll always remember. They were the same at the three PGAs we’ve played here.”

Play from the Pros:

The PGA had to be tickled to see many of the behemoths of the game atop the leader board heading into Sunday. It is often said that the best golf courses bring the best players to the top.  Valhalla certainly did that. Fittingly, the world’s number 1 ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy, played in the final group. Fan favorites Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson formed a dream team duo in the second to last pairing. The third to last pairing featured the world’s number 3 ranked player, ball-striking machine Henrick Stenson. The best players played their best golf and the result was a competitive, heart-pumping race to the finish.

Louisvillians were able to witness McIlroy etch his name in stone as the new face of the game, while the golf world witnessed Valhalla etch its name in stone as one of the premier championship venues in the world.


Landon Donovan Announces Retirement

BY RACHEL SHULHAFER

Landon Donovan has been in the news a lot in recent months, most notably for the slap in the face from Jurgen Klinsmann when he excluded him from the 2014 World Cup. Donovan’s name is all over sports headlines once again after he announced on Thursday that he will retire at the end of the MLS season.Landon Donovan

His announcement came just one day after Donovan’s record-setting 14th appearance in the MLS All-Star Game vs. German powerhouse Bayern Munich, a team that Donovan once played for. He posted a heartfelt five-paragraph status on Facebook explaining his decision, and calling U.S. soccer fans the “lifeblood of the sport.” He also told his fans not to worry, because he’s not really going anywhere:

“I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have played a role in the remarkable growth of MLS and U.S. Soccer during my playing career. And while my career as a player will soon be over, rest assured I will stay connected on many levels to the beautiful game. As we enter a transformative time for the sport, I will do everything I can to help the continued growth of soccer in the United States. I look forward to making a difference, pursuing my passions and meeting all of you along the way in this next phase of my life.”

I could sit here and reiterate numbers that statistically prove Donovan is the best American soccer player ever in terms of personal success, but he’s a legend for bigger reasons. Sure, he has broken a slew of records, but he was the driving force behind giving U.S. soccer some international respect. He also garnered the interest of a country that would rather watch sports played on a court, gridiron, or diamond by giving Americans a personality to love.

He was a renegade. He did things his own way without worrying about how others would react. He made unpopular decisions, spoke candidly, and he even failed a few times, but that’s why people loved him. He went pro at age 17, signing a six-year contract with German club team Bayer Leverkusen. He hated it. So he came home, and started playing for MLS team, the San Jose Earthquakes. He was widely criticized for this decision, because people thought the U.S. finally had a player that would represent American soccer among the elite European clubs. He ignored the negativity, and just went on happily doing his thing.

During his first World Cup appearance in 2002, the 20-year-old Donovan’s debut included a goal in the Round of 16 to lift the U.S. over rival Mexico. In 2008, he would become the national team’s all-time leading scorer on an easy penalty kick against Sweden. Two years later, he would score his famous game-winner against Algeria in the 91st minute to advance the U.S. out of the group stage, securing his role as the heartbeat of the sport in his country.

Despite his international success, he stayed loyal to MLS, spending the majority of his career with the Los Angeles Galaxy. He did play brief stints on loan with English Premier League team Everton, and Bundesliga power Bayern Munich, but he always returned home. Instead of putting himself on the map, he put MLS on the map. He wouldn’t go to Europe, so he brought Europe to him. Famous international superstars such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Tim Cahill signed with MLS teams, thus attracting larger crowds and more followers. American stars such as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley are even opting out of playing for European clubs to come home and play in the States—something that would have seemed insane a decade ago.

Donovan’s retirement marks the end of an era. His international career may have ended on a sour note, but he still badly wants to bring the Galaxy another championship come October. Though he may not be running out on to the pitch for much longer, Donovan will still remain active in the growth of the sport, and like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, he’ll be an icon for years to come. The official MLS Facebook page summed up Landon Donovan in a comment left on his retirement announcement: “Legend.”


Players to Watch at Valhalla: Rory McIlroy

BY CHRIS HAAS

Rory McIlroy has a pristine golf swing that creates a majestically high ball flight. He can seemingly hit a 9-iron to the moon.  His sound technique permits his 5’9 frame to generate as much power as anyone in golf, evidenced by his number 3 ranking in driving distance on the PGA.   Which is why watching a Rory McIlroy practice session at Valhalla’s driving range is a must-see this week. I imagine it’s akin to watching Barry Bonds take batting practice. Rory has been putting on a show in more places than the driving range though.

Two weeks ago, Rory treated spectators at Royal Liverpool Golf Club to a ball striking clinic on his way to capturing his first British Open championship. One week ago, he won the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. He has played his last two tournaments a combined 32 under. For comparison, Adam Scott was a combined 19 under and he finished in the top 10 of both tournaments. Adam Scott has played well but not well enough to hold onto his number 1 ranking. Rory snatched that away from him and ran off to the Bluegrass State with it. Scott was not shy about his aspirations to reclaim the throne atop the world rankings though. When asked if the rankings mattered to Scott, “As far as going into tournaments, no, but it does matter who is No. 1 and who is No. 2,” he answered with a grin.  Scott will have his work cut out for him.

Rory has shown in the past that he can run away with a tournament. He won the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional by 8 strokes. He was 22 at the time and the sports world was prepared to crown him the “next Tiger Woods.” Rory wasn’t able to perform on consistent basis though and his status as a phenom of the game started to fade. Fast forward to age 25 and he’s looking to make the PGA Championship his 3rd win in a row. He’s older, wiser, and reminding us that he’s still a talent to reckon with. So much so that Vegas recently gave Rory 6/1 odds to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record for wining 18 majors. If he can balance his potential with some consistency, it might not be a bad bet to wager on.


Pacers Forward Suffers Horrible Leg Break

BY RACHEL SHULHAFER

The situation was eerily reminiscent to March 31, 2013. The arena fell silent. Players and coaches alike fell to their knees or covered their faces in shock. Coach K watched from the sidelines. And a player laid on his back with his leg broken in two as the medical staff rushed to his side with a stretcher.

The whole country, and especially Louisville fans, remember when Kevin Ware suffered a terrible compound fracture of his tibia in an NCAA regional final against Duke, so when Indiana Pacers forward Paul George went down in a Team USA scrimmage on Friday, basketball fans were shaken once again.

George suffered a compound fracture of his tibia and fibula when he jumped to block James Harden. He landed awkwardly against the stanchion, and his leg split like a toothpick.  He’s now resting comfortably after surgery, and is experiencing the same wave of support that Ware did. People have been sending him their best wishes on Twitter (Ware included), and he even got a hospital visit from boxer Floyd Mayweather.

However, many difficult questions have risen since the injury. Could this injury have been preventable? Many people are saying that the stanchion that caused the break was too close to the court. How are the NBA franchises going to react to this? George is probably going to miss most or all of the Pacers’ 2014-15 season due to an injury that was caused playing for the national team, and he was just about to start a five-year deal worth $90 million. Other franchises may not want to risk something similar happening to one of their players.

George’s break has definitely caused a lot of debate on issues that it may affect, but it has also shined the light on the fact that a 24-year-old suffered an unthinkable injury, and he has a long road of recovery ahead of him. His career and his franchise just took a blow, but Ware sent George some words of encouragement via Twitter that he personally knows to be true: “Minor setback to a major comeback.”


Peyton Siva Headed to Magic Camp

BY RACHEL SHULHAFER

Just a couple of weeks after being dismissed from the Detroit Pistons, ex-Louisville guard Peyton Siva has a new home with the Orlando Magic. Reports stated on Tuesday that Siva had agreed to terms on a contract with the Magic.images

However, the contract is pretty confusing, and doesn’t necessarily guarantee Siva a spot on their roster. He’ll participate in their training camp and preseason, but then will be waived and sent to the Erie Bayhawks before the NBA season starts. Orlando already has the maximum of 15 players on their roster, but they’re allowed to send as many as three training camp players to their D-League affiliate. However, NBA rules state that those players must sign a standard D-League contract, and have to be waived before the annual D-League draft.

After waiving Jameer Nelson, the Magic don’t have much depth in the point guard position, which is why they gave Siva the nod. Injuries are unpredictable, so Siva will be a reliable backup option in case something of that nature happens. Louisville fans know what he’s capable of when given a chance to prove himself, so hopefully he can make the most of this situation.

Former Kentucky standout, Josh Harrellson, was also released from the Pistons at the same time as Siva, but there’s no word on what his next move will be.


Players to Watch at Valhalla: Rickie Fowler

rickie-fowler-feature

BY CHRIS HAAS

Rickie Fowler rides dirt bikes. He’s not interested in taking the bike for a leisurely spin around the pond either. No, Fowler is more inclined to find a 50-foot jump to soar off of. In fact, those close to Fowler said he was good enough to ride dirt bikes professionally had he not changed his focus to golf. He quit riding seriously when he broke his leg in three places when he was fourteen. Can you imagine Phil Mickleson or Tiger Woods on a dirt bike 50 feet off the ground?

The 26-year-old Fowler is silky smooth on the golf course and in the interview room. Youngsters look up to him and women want to date him. Simply put, he makes golf look cool. When you take Fowler’s flashy attire and magnetic swagger and pair it with a polite demeanor and respect for the game, you have the equation for an ideal face of the game. Even the most traditionalist golfer can shrug off Fowler’s bright orange gear and say, “He’s good for the game.”

Advertisers have taken note of Fowler’s mass appeal. His face is plastered on nearly every other commercial during PGA telecasts. Puma, Titleist, Crowne Plaza, and Farmer’s Insurance, just to name a few, have lined up to pay Fowler to endorse their product. Here’s Fowler during a Sportscenter commercial:

 

While Fowler has certainly dominated the ad space in golf, he hasn’t quite dominated on the course in the same way- until recently. Fowler came into the 2014 season with one career win. For comparison’s sake, the similarly aged Rory McIlroy has 7 PGA wins and another 7 on the European Tour. Fowler decided he needed to make a change, so he hired swing guru Butch Harmon to work with him in the offseason. The results have been magnificent so far. After a shaky start to the season, Fowler recovered to finish 2nd in the US Open and the British Open, the past two majors.

It appears Fowler’s game is finally catching up with his marketability. He will arrive in Louisville as both a crowd-favorite and a favorite to win the PGA Championship next week at Valhalla.


Say Goodbye to the U of L Silos

BY RACHEL SHULHAFER

After being an iconic eyesore for the better part of a century, the 22 silos along I-65 will be torn down on Monday. The University of Louisville bought the 15-acre piece of land in January for over $3 million, something they have been wanting to do for decades. Before they were able to purchase the property, they did what any other Louisvillian would have done: hung huge banners on each silo that spell out “University of Louisville,” and a giant poster of T-Will and other notable ex-Louisville athletes. These banners are what turned them into a landmark, but no matter what was hung on them, they were still giant concrete cylinders that weren’t very pretty.6300320025_f6c6b647ab_z

The demolition should be done by October, but no long-term plans for the property have been made yet. As of now, it will be turned into a gravel parking lot to be used for games at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. However, there’s talk of it eventually being turned into another athletic palace, student housing, or academic buildings.

Once the silos are gone, the thousands of drivers that travel on that span of the highway each day will have a better view of the ever-expanding Belknap Campus, instead of a concrete structure that often made the entire area smell like old peanut butter and dog food.


Players to Watch at Valhalla: Tiger Woods

BY CHRIS HAAS

Tiger’s return from back surgery has not been a triumphant one. After a four-month absence, Woods returned to competitive golf a month ago at the Quicken Loan National. His game was rusty as, Tiger himself, warned it would be. He missed the cut for only the 10th time in his career. He was given a free pass for the poor performance but the missed cut remained noteworthy on account of how rare it is. He has played in 300 career events and finished in the top half after two rounds in 290 of them. He makes the cut 97% of the time. A missed cut for Tiger is the equivalent of Larry Bird clanking two free throws. It just doesn’t happen very often. Which is why some are concerned after he followed up a missed cut with another dud at the British Open last week. Tiger needed a birdie on his 36th hole to squeeze into the cut line and ended up 23 shots off of the winner, Rory McIlroy.

If there’s one reason Tiger has been so successful over the years, it’s his competitive nature. No one hates to lose more than Woods. He plays a game of etiquette and “Quiet pleases” with an internal ferocity that is unmatched in sports. Which is why it would be wrong to tab him as an underdog for the PGA Championship in Louisville next month. The disappointment from the British Open will stew into motivation for 14-time Major champion.

Tiger created some of the most iconic moments in golf when Valhalla last held the PGA Championship in 2000. He playfully chased and pointed putts into the hole on his way to capturing a third major of the season.

00pga_299x392_0

Woods’ PGA Championship trophy was an exclamation point on one of the greatest seasons in golf history. Tiger won’t have the same youthful exuberance this year. A lot has happened between 2000 and 2014. In those 14 years he’s been broken down and built back up again. Mentally, he survived and recovered from a very public fall from grace. Now his battle is as much physical as it is mental.

He may not be the same player or person he was in 2000 but one fact remains: he’s the greatest show in the world on a golf course. Fifteen years ago, Tiger became a rock star for a sport that desperately needed one. He’s returning to Louisville weathered and subdued but a limping Tiger is still a Tiger.


A Good Start for Shoni

BY RACHEL SHULHAFER

It was like 2013 all over again. Former Louisville guard Shoni Schimmel was dominating the court by scoring a lot of points, making insane shots, and breaking records. Only this time it was for the WNBA All-Star Game.image

Shoni’s East squad beat the West 125-124 in the first All-Star game to ever go into overtime. She broke the scoring record for the All-Star Game with 29 points, which was previously held by Candace Parker with 23 points. She added eight assists and became the first rookie to be named MVP.

And, of course, being Shoni, she had several highlight reel moments, including a reverse layup over the 6’8” Brittany Griner, whom she made an almost identical shot over when Louisville upset Baylor in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

Shoni is poised to have a monumental professional career, but she isn’t even a regular starter for the Atlanta Dream yet. Imagine what will happen when she peaks.