Tiger Circus Coming to Town



Tiger Woods watched the Masters on television for the first time since 1994. Woods was incapacitated for the PGA’s first major of the season because of a surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back. Yet even from a hospital bed, he found a way display his dominance of the sport through one simple fact: The Masters had the lowest television ratings since 1993. At least Tiger was watching.

Valhalla Golf Course in Louisville will host the 2014 PGA Championship from August 7-10. It’s the fourth and final major of the PGA season. Unlike the Masters, Valhalla has a couple of Tiger-related story lines working in its favor

Tiger’s long-time friend and former Stanford teammate, Notah Begay, recently told reporters not to expect Woods to play in the U.S. Open, the second of four majors. He said back injuries typically need at least 90 days of rehabilitation. The third major of the season, the British Open, starts in exactly 90 days from today. In all likelihood that would be cutting it too close. Which potentially leaves the PGA Championship as Tiger’s first and only major of the season.

Valhalla last held the PGA Championship in 2000. The winner? Tiger Woods, of course. Tiger knows he can win at Valhalla, adding another incentive to get back to Louisville come August.

Lastly, Tiger hasn’t won a major since 2008. That’s not to say he’s been irrelevant though. On the contrary, Tiger was amidst a career renaissance prior to his back injury. In 2013, he won 5 events, earned the PGA Player of the Year Award, and reclaimed his throne of number 1 player in the world. He failed to land a major but proved he was more than capable of doing so.

Love him or hate him, when Tiger steps onto the golf course he demands your attention. He creates an aura of electricity. Like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, he’s become an international symbol of greatness. He’s polarizing but undeniably captivating. Go ahead and get your tickets now, just in case…

Shoni Schimmel to the Atlanta Dream


Louisville might have a new favorite WNBA team: the Atlanta Dream. In 2009, U of L legend Angel McCoughtry was the No. 1 overall pick by Atlanta. Last night, they added another Cardinal legend to their roster when they selected Shoni Schimmel as the eighth pick in the WNBA draft.Shoni-Schimmel-2-e1323809408936

The thought of the only two women in Cardinal history to score over 2,000 points playing on the same team should be reason enough to consider a trip to Atlanta.

Schimmel finished her Louisville career with 2,174 points, 600 assists, and 552 rebounds.  She was a 2014 AP All-American, and holds the school record for career three-pointers, as well as the record for three-pointers made in a single game. Even though her career came to a disappointing end when the Cards lost to Maryland in the Elite Eight, she finished the season averaging 17.1 points, and is leaving the University with legendary status.

Fellow Cardinals Antonita Slaughter and Asia Taylor were drafted in the third round, going 35th and 36th, respectively. Louisville boasts three players who were taken in this year’s draft, which is more than any other school this year. Connecticut, Duke, Stanford, and Notre Dame all had two players get drafted.

Major congratulations to Shoni, Antonita, and Asia, who were all dynamic athletes, as well as stand-up people whose characters perfectly embodied the “Louisville First” mentality.

How Much Money is Shabazz Napier Worth to UConn?

Final Four



Senior Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier became the face of 2014 NCAA Tournament after he carried his 7th seeded Huskies to their 4th championship. The confetti had barely landed before Shabazz gave his two-cents, because apparently any more would have bankrupted him, on the NCAA’s pay for play problem. He told reporters that “he goes to bed hungry.” He didn’t mean it as a metaphor either, he said “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.”

As it turned out, Napier wasn’t the only Connecticut native who held this opinion. Connecticut Representative Matthew Lesser immediately chimed in too and his words were direct: “He says he’s going to bed hungry at a time when millions of dollars are being made off of him. It’s obscene.” The diminutive guard does look like he could have skipped a few meals, but the NCAA’s problem is much bigger and more complex than student-athlete meal plans.

How much is Shabazz Napier worth to UConn? The answer is hard to quantify because the NCAA isn’t a free market. Studies have estimated what average players are worth. For example, Businessinsider.com estimated each University of Louisville basketball player was worth around 1.6 million to the University in 2012. Businessinsider.com also estimated each University of Texas football player to be worth around 600,000 in 2012. If an average player is worth this much, what astronomical figure would the Russ Smith’s and Shabazz Napier’s of the world be making in a free market?

One study tried to quantify what Texas A &M quarterback Johnny Manziel was worth to his University and the results were staggering. Texas A & M’s donations rose from 440 million to 740 million the year after Manziel took home the Heisman Trophy. The study valued Manziels’ personal contributions to the increased exposure and donations at 37 million dollars. What if a Texas A&M student designed an iPhone App that was worth 37 million dollars? Then imagine the School saying we own 100 % of the rights to that app and if you attempt to make a dime off it we will suspend you. There would be outrage.

Manziel’s 37 million dollar valuation is easy to scoff at until one takes a glance at Major League Baseball, the league that most closely resembles a free market. The MLB doesn’t employ a salary cap for free agents, only restrictions on when a player can become a free agent. MLB stars get handed 200 million dollar deals regularly these days. In fact, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera nearly eclipsed the 300 million dollar threshold just like month. Cabrera will have to find a way to live on his new 10 year, 292 million dollar deal. Fangraphs.com estimates that Mike Trout, super-human outfielder for the Anaheim Angels, was worth a meager 50 million to his team last year. There is enough money for everyone when a sports franchise is booming.

It’s time for a more realistic approach to big time college athletics. NCAA President Mark Emmert called unionization “grossly inappropriate.” Unionization may not be the answer but it’s the NCAA’s responsibility to get this right. Disregarding big time Division 1 athletes as “amateurs” will only fly for so long.




Props to Kevin Ollie


On Jan. 18, when Louisville played Connecticut for the first time in what would end up being a series of thrashings, I watched Huskies’ head coach Kevin Ollie throw a temper tantrum over a controversial call. After Ollie was ejected and gave the refs a stare-down that could turn someone to stone, I know for a fact that one thought that did not go through my head was “I bet that guy’s team wins the national championship this year.” I also didn’t think that when Louisville humiliated UConn 81-48 on senior day, or when the Cardinals defeated the Huskies by double digits a third time to win the AAC tournament championship.UCONN1

But alas, the Connecticut Huskies, a team that was a 7-seed in the NCAA tournament, are your 2014 national champions. UConn’s improbable post-season run was quarterbacked by Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, who make up the dynamic backcourt that Kentucky couldn’t figure out. Also deserving of a large amount of praise is Kevin Ollie, who is a 41-year-old in his second year as a head coach. When Ollie took over his alma mater’s program in 2012, he inherited a team that was assembled by Jim Calhoun, so the talent was there. However, controversy plagued the Huskies in the form of conference realignment, transfers, and a postseason ban due to lack of academic progress.

Ollie joins the likes of other young, but successful coaches who defied the odds by making their presence unexpectedly known. Guys like Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart, Josh Pastner, and Richard Pitino have seen huge success as head coaches by embracing a “big brother” mentality. They demand respect, but don’t have the angry grandpa thing going on. Instead, they’re approachable. They talk to their players and have fun with them. They’re respected, not feared, and that’s wherein lies the difference. Several of UConn’s players said after the game on Monday that Ollie was their main motivation for winning the championship. Guard Tor Watts said that Ollie practices and conditions with the team, and Boatright talked about his relaxed and approachable nature.

As more and more young coaches start to dominate basketball, a new way of coaching may soon take over, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. Just don’t cause a scene on the sidelines.

Two and Done: Kentucky Two Wins from Title




The story had been all but written. The 2013-2014 Kentucky Wildcats season was going to be a knock against the one and done game. The young Wildcats had a disappointing regular season, even if that disappointment was inevitable. When perfection is expected, it’s impossible to exceed expectations. The Cats were far from perfect, though.

They lost 10 games. Improvements and growth materialized slowly, if at all. Initially, the team questioned calls with more vigor than any other part of the game.

In the beginning of the year, Coach Calipari noticed his team had trouble communicating. They were too quiet on and off the floor. To amend this, he actually had his team practice huddling up. He then mandated it as a rule: His team will huddle in lull periods during games. It was awkward and forced but he was working with eighteen-year-olds, they know how to be awkward.

The losses kept coming. On February 27th, Kentucky lost to a mediocre Arkansas team at home and then provided an encore by inexplicably losing to the abysmal South Carolina Gamecocks. At this point, the nation was ready to officially anoint U.K.’s season as a disappointment.

The young Cats had been pushed and pulled in so many directions by this point, it’s hard to imagine what was going their heads. Imagine having this kind of weight on your shoulders as a freshman in college. They have fans, family, coaches, scouts, and writers to please. They have to improve their body language, communication skills, and navigate their first year of college. They have to learn team-first basketball for the first time and re-learn the fundamentals of the game. But, most importantly they have to win.

Onlookers questioned everything about these freshmen, from their attitudes to their abilities. After sledging through a whirlwind of a year, they became a scapegoat. A bruised ego and in the case of the Harrison twins, a plunging NBA draft stock was all they had to show for it. But as enticing as it may have been, these freshmen refused to give up.

Eventually, after hitting rock bottom, the team’s attitude seemed to shift from “we have everything to lose” to “what do we have to lose?”

It appeared the Cats transformation happened over night. Some will credit Calipari’s “tweak,” but the transformation was happening behind the scenes all season long. The Kentucky players were learning to play together, to communicate, to take accountability, and act professionally. Basketball comes easy for these youngsters; it doesn’t mean everything else does. Once the young Cats learned how to act off the court, their game on the court soared to new levels.

By seasons end, Kentucky started to look like a team, as opposed to a collection of misplaced superstars. Their newfound confidence was palpable. In the regular season the Wildcats were boys in men’s bodies. Now they are acting like men and the basketball is following suit.

The new “one and done” story is this: Kansas State, Wichita State, Louisville, and Michigan were one and done.

Aaron Harrison was mobbed by his teammates after his game winning shot on Sunday. That was a huddle the team had not practiced.

Thanking Russ


It all started with Preston Knowles. He’s the first player that I remember becoming attached to like no one else before him. Once I got old enough to truly appreciate what it takes to endure the wrath that is being a college athlete, I loved and respected guys like Luke Whitehead, Taquan Dean, and David Padgett. But Preston was the first player that I remember thinking I would never be ableMichigan v Louisville to get over, and that no other player could possibly fill the emotional void he left. In later seasons, I found myself saying the same thing about Kyle Kuric, Peyton Siva, and Gorgui Dieng, but now that the 2013-2014 men’s basketball season is over, I can say this with complete confidence: I will never get over Russ Smith, and no one else will ever compare to him.

In my opinion, Preston ushered in the whole “Louisville First” mentality. He was the undersized kid that overachieved by not caring at all about his personal stats, as long as his squad was victorious. His attitude and leadership rubbed off on Kyle, Peyton, and all the other stand-up young men that Cards fans have been lucky enough to cheer for, but everything Preston stood for has fully evolved into Russ.

The only lackluster season Russ had was his freshman year, which was Preston’s senior year. He battled injuries and saw less playing time than walk-on Elisha Justice. He was a two-star recruit with no other scholarship offers, and transfer rumors started floating around. Nobody had high expectations for sophomore Russ, who entered his second season with the Cardinals averaging only 2.2 points per game. Then, something happened that exactly no one saw coming (except for maybe Russ and his dad). Russdiculous was born, and he would eventually score more points in a single game than he did in the entirety of his freshman year.

There have been numerous accounts of Russ’ attitude shining over his years at U of L. He’s the only player in college basketball that could get away with saying “give me a hug” to his head coach after he had just finished reaming him. He escorted a high school freshman onto the homecoming court after her date blew her off. His Instagram alter-ego, the BasedKing, is all about emitting positivity and carrying yourself in a respectful manner. Last night, he further showed his class by visiting Kentucky’s locker room to congratulate them on the win. Then he said the following about the loss:

“…If my career had to end, I’m okay with it ending to Kentucky. Those boys play hard. They deserve everything that’s coming to them. I respect everything about their program and their coaching staff. For me, I just want people to remember me as a great competitor, a great sportsman, someone who respects the game a lot, and whatever it is, I just want it to be a positive legacy.

Yeah… that’s way better than how I handled the loss.

Russ, along with teammates Stephan Van Treese, Tim Henderson, and Luke Hancock, will leave the University of Louisville as the winningest class in Cardinal history. They’ve given us a national championship, two Final Fours, two regular season conference championships, three conference tournament championships, and an overall record of 121-31 from 2010-2014. He’s a two-star recruit turned All-American and Louisville legend. It’s a shame that Russ’ college career had to end in the manner that it did, but we should all channel our inner-Russ and focus on the many joyful memories he has left us with.

Thanks for everything, Russ.

A Little Game Day Wisdom


When Louisville and Kentucky played each other in the 2012 Final Four, the game tipped off at 2am in the country where I was living at that time.  After fueling myself with a magical elixir that both made time go by quicker and calmed my nerves (beer), I found a poor-quality stream of the game somewhere in the depths of the Internet. I could hardly even make out who the players were because everyone just looked like blue and infrared blobs, but it was better than nothing.Louisville-vs.-Kentucky-Ian-klarer

I don’t remember details of the game, but I do remember nearly flipping a table out of excitement when Peyton Siva made that shot that pulled the Cardinals ahead. I was in a room full of Hoosiers who didn’t understand that to Kentuckians, the fate of mankind is hinged on the outcome of the UofL vs. UK game, so needless to say, they had no idea how to react when Louisville lost and I face-planted on the floor.

“It’s only a game. And at least they made it as far as they did,” my roommate said to try to console me with no success. I don’t know how long I laid there, but I am pretty sure that someone dragged me to my room by my ankles.

But guess what? The sun still rose the next morning.

That’s the attitude I’m trying to have about the Sweet 16 game between Louisville and Kentucky that is due to tip off in a mere seven hours. Sure, I’m nervous, and I hope Louisville wins, but I’m trying very hard to not let the rivalry ruin my enjoyment of the NCAA Tournament. To the players, this game isn’t about the sports-based cultural divide that exists in the state. It’s about surviving and advancing to the Elite 8. Someone is going to lose tonight, and while it is perfectly understandable to be upset if your team is not victorious, it’s not worth spiraling into a mind-numbing depression. Spring is here (sort of), Derby is just around the corner, and both teams are still among the most elite in college basketball. Everything will be just fine.

Go Cards.

Brotherly Love: What if UL and UK took on UNC and Duke?



The birds are chirping, the Kentucky Derby Festival is on our doorstep, and the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals will face off in the Sweet Sixteen. Life is good in the Bluegrass state.

Louisville and Kentucky’s Friday night collision will pack more drama than an episode of Real Housewives. While fans of both sides will surely spend the next few days engaged in banter, there is something both parties should agree on: Kentucky and Louisville own the best rivalry in college basketball.

Great rivalries are born in animosity. The Yankees despise the Red Sox. Ohio State despises Michigan. Mutual hatred and smack-talk is part of any healthy rivalry. But hatred is far from the only ingredient to a great rivalry.

The less acknowledged ingredient is respect and admiration for your opponent. The Yankees don’t hate the Marlins after all. Rivalries are not dictated and Louisville and Kentucky have each earned their position in the greatest rivalry in college basketball. Having said that, it would be wrong to throw around the term “greatest rivalry in college basketball” without discussing UNC/Duke.

So imagine the unimaginable: Kentucky and Louisville team up to take on Duke and UNC. Which rivalry has the stronger programs? Hopefully, the thought of the Cards and Cats teaming up seems less reprehensible if it means taking down the Tar Heels and Blue Devils. Tale of the Tape:

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According to the arbitrarily created/highly unscientific chart, Kentucky and Louisville topple Duke and UNC to win greatest rivalry in college basketball. Now we can all go back to hating each other.

The Madness is Upon Us


Ah yes, March Madness. It’s like the third Christmas of the year behind only Christmas itself and Derby. It’s the source of some of the greatest joys, but also the greatest sorrows, and only one team gets to bask in that blissful glory that comes with winning the national championship. One of the best things about this time of year is the uncertainty. Even one seeds need to fear sixteen seeds, because the next game is never guaranteed. Teams like Syracuse, Wichita State, Duke, and Kansas all had legitimate national title hopes, and all four of those teams saw their seasons go up in smoke at the hands of lower seeds. But that’s the beauty of March.7_1200023

Another potential upset that is a life-or-death situation to those in the Bluegrass State could happen on Friday, as No. 8 Kentucky will face No. 4 Louisville in a battle for a spot in the Midwest Regional Final. The Wildcats won a thrilling game over Wichita State on Sunday, and the Cardinals defeated a strong Saint Louis team on Saturday. Kentucky beat Louisville 73-66 on Dec. 28 inside Rupp Arena, but the Cards are playing their best basketball of the season, and could easily beat the Wildcats if they play as well as they did in the AAC Tournament.

It’s going to be a hell of a week in Louisville. This city is obsessed with college basketball enough as it is, and this rivalry match-up is just going to add fuel to the fire. Nothing productive is going to get done this week, except for unreasonable smack-talking and overanalyzing past events that have absolutely nothing to do with the final outcome of the game. For example, ever since it became a fact that Louisville and Kentucky will face each other on Friday, I’ve been convinced that my tournament predictions that were published in LEO Weekly last week angered the basketball gods, and it’s all my fault. I said that the Cards will make it to a third straight Final Four, but the Cats wouldn’t make it past the Sweet 16. When I wrote that, seedings and regions hadn’t been announced yet, so I had no clue that the team Kentucky could be facing to make it past the Sweet 16 might possibly be Louisville. Card Nation, I apologize in advance if the unspeakable happens. I’m just glad I have a full five days to mentally prepare for this.

Life in the Midwest Region



The Midwest is top-heavy. The Cards (4th seed) and Cats (8th seed) both join 1-seed Wichita State, 2-seed Michigan, and 3-seed Duke in the toughest region in the bracket. Selection Committee Chair, John Wellman, acknowledged this himself when ESPN’s Andy Katz asked him “Is this the toughest region?” He smirked and replied, “Probably.”

Louisville’s Outlook in the Midwest Region:

Fortunately for Louisville, the Cards will not have to play all of these powerhouse teams to emerge victorious. The matchups in the first two rounds are even favorable. Louisville will overmatch Manhattan in the first round before playing one of NC State (12 seed), Xavier (12 seed), or St Louis (5 seed). St. Louis is the weakest 5 seed in the field. NC State and Xavier both snuck into the dance as one of the last few at large selections. The Cards experience and swarming defense will prove too much for their early round opposition. However, with Wichita State or Kentucky looming as a likely Sweet Sixteen matchup, the competition will get healthier quickly for the Cards.

Kentucky’s Outlook in the Midwest Region:

The Cats were outstanding in the SEC tournament. They played hard, passed well, and nearly took down Florida in the SEC Championship because of it. Florida was selected as the overall number 1 seed on Selection Sunday. Kentucky has the size, athleticism, and now chemistry to make a deep run. If Kentucky takes care of business against Kansas State in the first round, the Cats present an absolute nightmare of a matchup for Wichita State in a potential 1 vs. 8 game in the round of 32. Kentucky has more pro prospects on their bench than Wichita State has in their conference. Wichita State’s motto is to “play angry.” That shouldn’t be a problem for the Shockers after the Selection Committee handed them one of the hardest roads to the Final Four in recent memory.

If the Cats and Cards both advance to the Sweet Sixteen? Indianapolis will host the rivals in a heavy-weight matchup that I’m sure will draw more than a little interest around the state. Both teams have a long way to go before another dream game is realized. Coach Pitino and Coach Calipari will both say something along the lines of “We are only worried about “Manhattan” or “Kansas State.” And there will be some truth to that.