Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lawlessness running amuck

A man sees a suspected robbery taking place at a neighbor's house. He calls 9-1-1, who warns him not to get further involved and wait for the proper authorities. But despite the warnings, the man tells the emergency operator that he's taking his shotgun, and the law, into his hands. Moments later, two men are dead.

Three men break into a home, supposedly to buy drugs. The supposedly drug dealer didn't meet their expectations, and in turn, they seriously beat the man's son. Moments later, two men are shot dead by the alleged dealer, and because of a crazy California law, the one survivor is being charged with the murder of his partners.

A pro football player gets shot in the leg during a supposedly robbery of his home. Nothing was taken, but the player's life, who died a couple of days later due to lost of blood. The late player's girlfriend nor their infant child was injured, and nothing was taken.

In the season of giving, people are instead taking lives.

Do we need Robocop?

In the first instance, rather than throw the man a ticker tape parade for supposedly being a good neighbor, which he was in the first place by calling in the robbery, should he be charged with something. Perhaps, premeditated murder, since the man was told by the 9-1-1 operator not to do anything, and the man responded that he's ready for hunting, and did just that -- he shot two persons in the back as they fled. Taking the law in his own hands, when it is not his home in the first place, smells more like Dirty Harry than good neighbor.

In the second instance, how can a person who pull the trigger be charged with murdering two others? Maybe there's some justification if indeed the father was protecting his son, but shouldn't the third survivor be charged with breaking and entering and assaulting the man's son. But murder?

And the third, and most bizarre instance, reportedly Sean Taylor's home was previously broken in, and a knife was left on the bed. Then a few weeks later, Taylor is shot. Also, it has been learned that Taylor's girlfriend tried to call for help, but the phone lines were cut. Doesn't this seem Soprano-like in how this is all playing out? Will the Miami police really investigate this or try to play this off as something that Taylor put himself in?

This was suggested earlier this year when Howard Porter, a former college and pro basketball player, now a probation officer, was found this summer in a Minneapolis alley so badly beaten that it took a hospital worker to identify him. Porter, who was reported missing from his St. Paul home a few days earlier, and his car was found a mile from his home, with blood stains in the trunk and interior, later died without ever gaining consciousness.

The investigation dragged for a while, with speculation that Porter was out buying drugs or sex, giving the suggestion that he put this onto himself. Two persons eventually was arrested and charged with Porter's murder, but those earlier suggestions didn't go away.

It was like, because Porter might have been doing wrong -- something we have yet to determined it was true, that his death was justified.

I am getting the same sense about what has happened to Taylor. We don't know if he was involved in anything bad, but that shouldn't matter now. And even if Taylor was up to no good, is this any consolation to the mother of his child, and Taylor's family, friends and loved ones, not to mention the child as they grow older.

Someone took Taylor's life, and the police must put this first and foremost.

If a person was warned not to get involved, and they still any way, does that person escape some sort of punishment? The man went far and beyond his neighboring obligation by playing Dog and hunting down the suspects himself. Is this the return to Wild West justice?

Robocop was created in that movie because America had become the land of rampant lawlessness. Have fiction become reality in 21st Century America.

Monday, November 19, 2007

High crime

"They stole that game," a male fan grumbled as he left Williams Arena after he witnessed host Minnesota outscored Louisville 26-9 over the last eight minutes, which erased a 12-point Cardinal lead, for a 74-69 victory.

He was right in some respects: Gopher forward Korienne Campbell's steal with 31 seconds left helped seal the win, Minnesota's fourth of the young season. She finished with 14 points, nine rebounds, four blocks, including one on Louisville star Angel McCoughtry (more on her later), and her late-game steal.

"Korienne played amazing," added guard Emily Fox, who led Minnesota with 23 points -- three of them came at the three-minute mark, which tied the game at 66 apiece. "She (Campbell) is a beast down there (on the low block)."

"I was prepared to do my role," admits Campbell, whose nine rebounds included three offensive caroms -- the sophomore averages four offensive rebounds a game -- eight total.

If U-M are to be successful this season, Campbell must be in the mix. Although her shooting is a lot to desire (she shot 6-of-13 on Sunday), the young woman hustles her behind off.

"She is a presence on the floor, on offense (and) defense," notes Gopher Coach Pam Borton on Campbell.

The almost 6,000 who attended the Minnesota-Louisville game, including Minnesota Lynx players Seimone Augustus and Noelle Quinn, saw a monster performance from the 6-1 McCoughtry, a junior who was Big East preseason player of the year, and also is listed on two national award watch lists. She led all scorers with 39 points and 12 rebounds.

"Everybody can see how quick she is with the basketball," says first-year Louisville Coach Jeff Walz. On several occasions, McCoughtry left Gopher defenders looking like their feet were stuck in quick-drying cement, as she blew past them to the basket.

However, despite her heroics, including hitting a big three to pull her Cardinals to within a basket with 12 seconds left, Walz warns that his players must step up and help their star, who's now a marked woman.

"She will not sneak up on anybody," Walz says of McCoughtry. "The thing that is a challenge for her is that she is a marquee player now."

Louisville, despite out-rebounded (43-32), out-shot (43 percent to 42 percent) and often got to the basket with their speed, couldn't closed the deal. "We get to the basket but we don't finish," bemoaned Walz of his team's missed layups down the stretch.

Despite her game heroics, Fox again found herself in foul trouble for the second straight game. She drew two offensive fouls because the junior guard's inability to pull up on a dime in the lane. Thus far this season, Minnesota has been called for at least 20 offensive fouls -- eight alone in their win at Northern Iowa November 13.

Borton says her team's over-aggressiveness does not concern her much right now. The coach loves an aggressive, physical style, which according to Borton, you can't teach it. I agree, but offensive fouls are turnovers, something that should be a concern (Minnesota committed 17 on Sunday).

The Gophers won their round-robin tournament, defeating Western Carolina on Friday by three points, and Sunday's five-point win over Louisville, who also lost to Western Carolina on Saturday -- the Cardinals dropped to 1-2. The hosts trailed their much quicker opponent in both games but eventually their brawn emerged. Unlike last year, Minnesota is putting their heads down and getting busy, rather than getting down on themselves and ultimately leave the floor in defeat.

"We came together as a team and everybody did what they are supposed to do," says U-M center Ashley Ellis-Milan, who scored 10 of her 15 points in the second half.

"They are a hard working, blue collar kids," Walz says of Minnesota.

They also know how to steal a win from almost certain defeat.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Trent talks

I have known Trent Tucker for many years. I always was curious to ask him about the shot he made against the Chicago Bulls, the infamous tenth-of-a-second game winner, that later prompted the NBA to change its rule about last-second shots -- the 'Trent Tucker rule.' During a recent one-on-one interview, Tucker proudly talked about it.

Then Knicks coach Stu Jackson drew a play that made him a decoy to draw Michael Jordan away and open up a lane for Patrick Ewing to receive a lob pass, recalls Tucker. "But Michael read the play, which took away our No. 1 option. We really didn't have a No. 2 option because we were (only) one-tenth of a second, and we didn't have a lot of time."

When Ewing couldn't get open, Tucker then broke up to help get the inbounds pass from guard Mark Jackson. "Mark gave me a flip, and I shot the ball as quickly as I could," explains Tucker. "Scottie Pippen's hand met my hand as the ball left."

Tucker, his teammates, the Bulls and the entire Madison Square Garden crowd on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; January 15, 1991, held a collective breath as all watched the ball's flight, which seemingly took hours to reach its destination.

"When it went in, the Garden went crazy and we took off of the court," remembers Tucker. "Phil Jackson (the Bulls' coach) was waving, 'No way, no basket.' We ran to the locker room, undressed as quickly as we could and got into the shower to make sure that they (the officials) wouldn't call us back on the floor. In our minds, the game is over."

Despite Chicago's protestations, and a later meeting with NBA Commissioner David Stern, Tucker's shot counted.

"Throughout any career that lasts a long time, you are going to have some special moments," says Tucker, who played 11 NBA seasons and retired in 1993, "You are going to have some special moments."

Tucker's shot is one of the league's greatest moments.

Tucker, the Knicks' top pick in 1982, also talked about his first NBA game. "My first regular season game, we are playing the Philadelphia 76ers," he notes. "I got into the jump ball circle, and I look over my right shoulder and there was Dr. J. (Julius Erving). I knew right there that I had made it. I didn't know whether to act like I belonged or ask for his autograph. Then you look around and there is Moses Malone, Anthony Toney, Maurice Cheeks and Bobby Jones -- guys you have seen years before while you are in high school and in college. Now here I was, in the mecca of basketball, against the Doctor."

He also played on a championship team: Tucker joined the Bulls in his final pro season, 1992-93. Chicago was defending champs and knocked off his former club, the Knicks, to reach that year's finals.

"When we beat the Knicks in 1993, I was elated because we were going to the NBA Finals," Tucker says of his first and only title appearance. "But there also was a sense of sadness because Patrick Ewing was not going to go."

Ewing and Tucker were longtime New York teammates. "He was a guy who had done so much, and played so hard," says Tucker. "He called me at four in the morning and says, "I'm upset but I am happy for you. Congratulations.' I said, 'Thank you. If the shoe was on the other foot, I would have made the same phone call. I knew right then that he and I were boys.

"To know that I have friends such as Patrick Ewing means a lot to me," says Tucker, who also count Jordan, Pippen, B.J. Armstrong, Bill Cartwright, John Paxton -- his Bulls teammates, as friends as well. "We are still great friends today," he adds.

I have known Tucker for years, but I think the hour-long interview on his new job at the University of Minnesota, where he played his college ball, was the longest time I ever spent with him. He was introspected and personal, a side I hadn't seen before.

It was great.

(The entire interview can be read in this week's Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

It's now for real

After both teams finishing up their two-game exhibition schedule, the Minnesota Golden Gopher basketball teams opened their respective regular seasons with victories.

The Gopher women overcame a six-point halftime deficit and wore down visiting UC-Riverside to win 57-49.

"We got tired, " UCR coach John Margaritis admitted afterwards, "and Minnesota had something to do with it."

Four Gophers finished in double figures, led by Emily Fox's 13 points. Leslie Knight added 12, Brittany McCoy had 11, and Zoe Harper posted 10 in a reserve role.

Even though the winners held a 27-rebound edge, including 28 offensive rebounds, Minnesota (1-0) didn't dominate the Highlanders (0-1) -- they just wore them down. UC-Riverside came out shooting and at one point led by 10 points.

"They hit big shots," says Fox. McCoy added that the team's confidence was deflated as a result.

However, after halftime, UCR's shots fell short and Minnesota's overall strength finally took over. "Minnesota did a great job on what they do well," says Margaritis.

Korienne Campbell grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, with Ashley Ellis-Milan and Leslie Knight added nine rebounds each. Zoe Harper snatched down six caroms.

"We were very aggressive going to the boards," adds U-M coach Pam Borton.

Defense and rebounding are the two most important keys for her team's winning games this season, Borton points out.

The following day, the Army-Minnesota men's basketball contest posted similar results but in a different way. The Gophers (1-0) were the quicker of the two in their 84-52 win, a contest that had both teams scoring exactly half their points in each half (Minnesota scored 42 points in each half, and Army, now 0-1, scored exactly 26 points in their respective halves).

U-M coach Tubby Smith was pleased with his first official win at the Barn. He especially liked his defense: "We are doing a good job on on-ball pressure," he says. However, Smith still want his players do better in defending away from the ball, and rotating better in switching and fighting off picks.

Although Minnesota held a seven-rebound edge over Army (43-36), the Gophers' glass work must get better, according to Smith. "We still need to improve in some areas," he simply says.

Senior forward Dan Coleman led U-M with 16 points. "My teammates did a good job in putting me in a position to get a good shot," he says. Damian Johnson came off the bench and added 12 points. Deflecting a reporter's praise for his performance, Johnson says, "There's not much to say -- we came out and played hard."

Some suspected senior guard Lawrence McKenzie's 0-for-5 performance, including misfiring on his three three-point attempts, to possibly still hampered by a sore groin, which kept him out of the team's final exhibition game and most of the week's practices.

"The groin is fine," McKenzie admits. Only scoring two free throws didn't faze him at the least. "It takes a team to win," he points out.

Neither victory by the two Minnesota clubs answer any lingering questions.

Despite their overwhelming rebounding advantage, the Gopher women didn't dominate their season-opening opponent: UC-Riverside early on went after Minnesota with their quickness, the Gophers' oft-questioned and long-standing weakness. On the other side, does the Minnesota men hoopsters have the type of backcourt that can match up with their opponents' -- dribble by dribble, shot by shot.

"Playmakers or not," says Coleman, who has confidence in his guards, "we have to focus on us."
The Gophers can't worry about others, adds McKenzie: "We need to worry about doing what we do."

Still, a win is a win: when basketball's dog days (February) rolls around, these wins for each U-M team will be one less they'll need to get.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A long, winding losing road

Barely winning one game this season undoubtedly isn't what Tim Brewster envisioned in his wildest dreams upon taking the Minnesota Gophers football job earlier this year.

"It hurts. It really hurts," the first-year coach recently bemoaned.

I like the guy. He is a personable as the late Jim Wacker. Unfortunately, he is traveling that same long, winding losing road as Glen Mason's predecessor.

The media openly ridiculed Wacker because he would say some outlandish things, which overshadowed the fact that he was a decent coach who was over his head. He consistently made halftime adjustments, especially on offense. But too often than not, the Gophers were too far down on the scoreboard to mount any form of meaningful comeback.

It is way too soon to judge whether Brewster can coach or not. A 1-and-9 overall mark doesn't positively stand up to the unrealistic expectations of most observers-slash-coaching critics.

After all, this is Minnesota, who have been among the Big Ten's overrans for decades now.

His defense is totally over matched. After having felt that they had to score each time on the field, Brewster's offense has peaked to non-existent status.

A fellow columnist asked me last evening would Mason have done any better. Certainly -- these are his players. Maybe a couple more wins here and there. The road would not be as long but it still would be a losing one.

Perhaps Brewster should have not came on so strong, boldly proclaiming "Gopher Nation" like Columbus supposedly discovered America, in the months leading up to this season. Given the fact that I was just coming out of kindergarten the last time Minnesota played in the Rose Bowl, might have given the new coach pause before he went out and planted Pasadena sod on the practice field as motivation fodder.

More coaching and less gardening certainly is in order here. Brewster's field of dreams has become a Freddy Krueger special.

He and his staff has its work cut out for them. With Iowa and Wisconsin still remaining on the schedule, any improvement in the win column is extremely doubtful at best, and downright impossible at its worst. He can ill afford another listless effort as displayed by his team during last Saturday's homecoming loss to Illinois. When you allow 34 points and 597 total yards in the first half alone, the Gophers gave a new meaning for the word 'sorry.'

Is Brewster getting through to his players? Have they tuned his evangelistic-like pre-game talks to another channel in their minds? Do the players need less fire-and-brimstone and more Tackling 101? No, yes and yes.

"It is a painful process," says Brewster, speaking on rebuilding, not offering a coherent answer to the aforementioned questions.

Minnesota may have 10,000 lakes but the state don't have speed, something the Gophers must find and bring on board. Such states as Texas, Louisiana and Florida does, and U-M must get a strong recruiting foothold in those speed hot spots.

Although I believe he needs at least three years, with the school building a new stadium, set to open in a couple of years, Brewster's "Gopher Nation" might be short lived.

"We are very confident in our ability to recruit and get the players we need to have," the U-M head coach says confidently. "We will see our better day. The U of M will be great again."

If not, I'm afraid Brewster soon will find himself exiled from his nation to a land far, far away: 'Fired Coaches Island.'

Monday, November 5, 2007

Support Troy Davis

Troy Davis came within 24 hours of execution by the state of Georgia last July. He was granted a 90-day stay. The Georgia Supreme Court this month will decide if Davis gets a new trial.

I interviewed Davis last May (you can read the interview on www. He was found guilty in 1991 of murdering two persons, including a police officer, and sentenced to death. There was no physical evidence or a weapon found -- the prosecution's case entirely depended on witness testimony.

After his conviction, seven of the nine witnesses later recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of them said they were pressured or coerced by the police. One of the witnesses, however, who has not recanted, is an individual many believe, including several witnesses who heard him admitted to the crime. Furthermore, nine individuals have signed affidavits, implicating this suspect as the actual shooter.

All along, Davis has maintained his position: He was not the shooter. In my interview, the young man reiterated this over and over again.

All his appeals have been exhausted, mainly because a federal death penalty appeal law that President Bill Clinton signed, which states that an appeal must be based on procedural issues that took place during the trial, not afterwards.

Amnesty International USA are among many organizations who have championed Davis' case. They have a petition on their web site, urging the Georgia's high court to seriously consider the case and rule in favor of a new trial for Davis.

That state's supreme court recently ruled that the young man who was sentenced to prison for having oral sex with a fellow high school student -- both individuals were underage at the time, be released. If they saw a miscarriage of justice in that case, surely the justices will see the same in Davis' verdict.

Troy Davis' life was temporary spared but if he isn't granted a new hearing or trial, his life again will be at the executioner's door.

Amnesty International urges all to sign the petition today. "Together we'll send a strong message to the Georgia authorities that when it comes to the death penalty, fairness matters," concludes executive director Larry Cox.

Friday, November 2, 2007

First impresions, part 2

It was Orlando "Tubby" Smith's first game on the sidelines of Williams Arena Thursday.

His thoughts on the Barn's raised floor, a true relic from college hoops' formative days: "It is a good environment. I can see why the Barn is so feared (by opponents)."

At times during Thursday's contest, Smith seemed uncomfortable, not knowing exactly how to handle himself. Should he stand, which he began the game? Should he sit on the bench, which is at least a foot below the floor, which he also did? Or should he find a seat and plant himself on the sidelines in front of the Gophers' bench, which Smith eventually settled upon. This revived a tradition first started with Clem Haskins, who used a maroon stool during games.

"I didn't know what to do," Smith admitted afterwards.

Prior to the game, in an unheard of move, Smith went over to the other side of the court, where the handicapped section is located, and personally greeted the fans. He also shook hands with Dave, a longtime event worker, and waved at his wife sitting some rows away.

I have known Dave for several years -- he is one of the few event workers who go out of their way to speak to me. He was thoroughly impressed with Smith.

"It was a wonderful way to start," says Dave, who long after the game started and ended, still was in awe. "It was marvelous."

Yes, Minnesota defeated M State by 26 points in a game that won't count in their season results. It was good that Smith began his first Gopher season on a positive note. But more importantly, he did so much more.

He won over folks like Dave, which can bode him well during the rough times, which there will be some in Gopherland.

"That was class," says Dave. I agree.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

First impressions

I spent part of the first of two nights Wednesday in the Barn, otherwise known as Williams Arena -- the other part was next door at the Sports Pavilion where I watched Minnesota ended its seven-match losing skid, knocking off Iowa in three games.

Before the skid, Minnesota was in second place in the Big Ten, and among the top ten in the weekly volleyball rankings. Seven matches later, the Gophers are out of the Top 25 for the first time in a year and trying to get back to .500.

It didn't matter that the Gopher volleyballers defeated an Iowa squad with only one conference win this fall. At this point of the season, with NCAA tournament hopes hanging in the balance, you take any victory any way, and against anyone, any way you can.

As some of the hideous Halloween costumes some fans wore, Wednesday's win wasn't pretty. The Hawkeyes uses an offspeed game, which Minnesota Head Coach Mike Hebert explained, "caught us napping. It took us a while to get used to."

The keys to victory came down to three B's: better passing, better trust among teammates and better communications. It was the lack of these keys which occurred during the seven-match skid, the Minnesota coach pointed out.

"The team seemed to trust each other more," adds Hebert. "The communication was better as we got into the match."

There also was a fourth B -- better talent: Other than a momentary letdown in Game 2, and a slow start in the third game, Minnesota never was in trouble against the spunky Hawks. The winners' better talent eventually wore the visitors down in the first Wednesday home match on the season.

After the win, the Gophers players huddled and jumped around for extended minutes in jubilation. It's been seven long matches since U-M have been able to leave the court victorious.

"It is great to win a match," admits Hebert. "We were confident coming into this match."

"We finally came out and proved ourselves," Brook Dieter concurred.

Meanwhile next door, the U-M women hoopsters had no problems getting past Minnesota State-Mankato in their exhibition game opener. I don't report scores and stats because they are all for nought -- they do not carry over into the regular season, which will begin next week.

For 18 minutes or so, Head Coach Pam Borton was pleased with her squad, especially defensively. After that, the team's ball pressure was so-so, as well as the Gophers' post play.

Sophomore centers Ashley Ellis-Milan and Zoe Harper are the primary post players, and neither player imposed their will on the smaller Mavericks on a consistent basis during the game.

"We are going to get better," pledges Ellis-Milan, who should start because her offensive game is a tad better than Harper. Supposedly the two are engaged in a battle for the starting center job. "We need to be more aggressive and tough, and learn how to work inside."

Although it was only an exhibition, Gopher fans saw what most teams plan to do to Emily Fox -- go at her hard. Which is what the Mavericks did early on. Put pressure on her full court. Make her work. Take her out of the game.

The junior point guard, who people -- including her coach -- wants to make into the second coming of Lindsay Whalen, will have to deal with pressure "and have to get used to that," notes Borton.

Korriene Campbell also debuted as a starter at small forward. "I feel really comfortable shooting and passing," the sophomore says. Maybe but I didn't see it in her shot, which is often painful to watch. Still her rebounding and aggressiveness still is in top form, which Minnesota will need more from her than a lot of scoring.

My first impression -- too early to judge. Even the players agree.

"We are getting ready for the season," concludes Campbell.