Saturday, July 12, 2008

Angry is good

Sometimes in sports, a team has to get good and angry. The Minnesota Lynx played Saturday night like they were very good and angry.

According to Lynx center Vanessa Hayden-Johnson, they have been like this way for the last few days since the team's 73-67 loss to Atlanta July 9th.

"We've been beating the hell out of each other in practice," she admits. "We were hungry for a win."

Their hungriness paid off as Minnesota defeated Houston 85-71 Saturday at home. The victory snapped both an overall two-game losing streak, and a two-game slide at home as well, and brought the Lynx back to .500 (10-10).

"We needed to get back to .500," says Hayden-Johnson. "I think we all were under that pressure and were feeling it."

Seimone Augustus played hungry against Houston.

"I know that I haven't been aggressive since the Los Angeles game (a 88-70 road win on July 3)," she admitted. "I think my teammates feed off me being aggressive. I am going to try to do this more often on a consistent basis."

Augustus scored only six first-quarter points but they came off aggressive moves to the basket, which set the tone for her teammates to follow the rest of the night.

"Seimone was aggressive from the start," notes Coach Don Zierden, "and that what your best player and leader needs to do."

"She was focused," marveled Hayden-Johnson on the Lynx's top scorer. "She said, 'Let's play for us,' and that what we did."

Also, Augustus played mad all night as well. She led all scorers with 27 points. Perhaps she needs to get angry more often.

"My teammates says that when I get angry at practice, it's over with," she says proudly. "There were some calls that were made (Saturday), and some things happened in the game that really teed me off. It was a good thing that it happened."

Minnesota also got solid play from guard Anna DeForge, who finally looked like the player everyone previously hoped that she is -- a flat out outside scorer, scoring 17 points in the win.

"You tell shooters to keep shooting the basketball," Zierden says. This is what he has been telling DeForge to do all season -- when she shoots it, the team succeeds.

"We were executing both outside and inside tonight," says DeForge.

More importantly, the Lynx played with urgency. They took control midway through the opening quarter, after trailing early, and kept it up the rest of the way.

"We're (the coaching staff) serious about this, and they should be serious about this as well," says Minnesota Assistant Coach Jennifer Gillom. "We blew one of our chances against Atlanta -- home court advantage is very important at this point if we are going to make the playoffs. I think they understood that tonight."

The players were beginning to play like robots, says Augustus.

"We just wanted to play basketball (tonight)," claims Coach Z. "There wasn't any game plan."

Hayden-Johnson concurs, "We didn't have a set game plan, but he (Zierden) just told us to go out there and do our best.

"We played streetball," she continues, noting that the team successfully carried their practice intensity to the main court Saturday night.

"We were physically and mentally prepared," notes Lynx forward LaToya Thomas.

The Lynx showed this Saturday as they battled Houston, one of the WNBA's tallest teams, all night. They didn't win the rebounding battle (the Comets out rebounded the hosts 36-33) but Minnesota forced the visitors into 17 turnovers, and ultimately won where it counts -- the final score.

Rookie Nicky Anosike showed her might Saturday as she posted her fourth double-double of the season (12 points, 10 rebounds). Next to Augustus, Anosike perhaps was the Lynx's second aggressive player against the Comets.

"She is a fierce competitor," says Zierden of the 6-3 Anosike. "She's not 6-4, 6-5 but she works hard. It doesn't matter about how many points (she scores) but how (well) she defends and rebounds."

It was more Uptown Saturday Night against Houston than it was a few nights before, when it was "Down and Out in (Lynxland)" in the Atlanta loss.

"When teams make shots, they have energy on the other end of the floor as well," concludes the Lynx coach. "Tonight we made some shots that we haven't been able to make in other games."

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dream hand Lynx nighmarish loss

What bring a team crashing to a defeat faster than anything is missed free throws and missed layups.

These two things were exactly what happened to the Minnesota Lynx Wednesday in their 73-67 loss to Atlanta.

Allowing the first-year expansion team leave town with only its second win of their inugaral season wasn't embassing, but Minnesota's inablity to knock down free throws, especially in the game's deciding minutes was a shame.

The hosts missed eight free throws in the final quarter, including three of four in the final 1:37 of the contest, and the score tied at 66 apiece.

When a StarTribune summer intern asked Minnesota Coach Don Zierden was confidence the culpuit, "If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn't be coaching. I bottled it up and sell it to everybody," the coach deadpanned.

Then seriously speaking, Zierden responded, "You got to knock down (free throws) at crunch time, and tonight we didn't."

You also have to hit more than three shots, which the Lynx couldn't do in the final 10 minutes, going

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

All quiet . . . for now

It has been over a week and the Minnesota Twins clubhouse has been eerily quiet.

After the June 20th Minnesota-Arizona game, a rap song with endlessly rhyming "n***er" with bigger, blasted through the team's sound system. The room was full of reporters, mostly White, and two Black reporters. Only I got upset about it and argued against it with the team's only two Black players: Delmon Young and Craig Monroe.

You can read my entire column on this later today on

Ever since the incident, Twins officials has been worried about what I would write. I don't know if I was more disturbed about hearing the N-word (I was), the causal attitude by the two players, especially Young, who played me off, or the team's vain attempt to squash my column by someone who barely speak to me.

The day after the incident, I get an E-mail from Molly Gallatin, Twins publications and media services. She was not in the clubhouse that night, but Monroe obviously went to her, complaining:

"Charles, I just spoke to Craig Monroe about his concerns over an interview you tried (for the record, I did more than try -- we talked for almost 20 minutes) with him the other night in the clubhouse regarding the music selection of the team. I would like to speak with you . . . and was wondering if you can stop by the office next time you're here or call me at work. Thanks. Molly."

I chose the latter, but I took my sweet loving time getting back to the same person whom I left a voice mail message last summer to request a one-on-one player interview, and have yet to get a phone call back from her. I later had to sent a formal complaint to Gallatin, and copied it to others in the organization, including Twins president Dave St. Peter, upon which I got a weak explanation for the obvious snub.

When I finally called Gallatin, whom I addressed as "Ms. Gallatin" -- I don't think someone who don't speak to me, suddenly think we are on first name basis -- she expressed Monroe's concerns about being "embarrassed" and when I was going to run the story.

I gave her no commitment, upon which Gallatin asked if I could give her a preview copy of my column. I quickly referred her to my editor and ended the conversation.

If Monroe had any concerns, he easily could have talked to me, instead of running to some White woman. If the veteran player was worried about being embarrassed, especially since he was trying to convince me that there is a difference on how the N-word is used:

"If you are saying "nigger," that's the word that is very offensive toward African-Americans. But if you're saying, 'What's up, my nigga' (it's OK)," Monroe argued. "I don't let it bother me with music because it is the expression of my people. I feel that we own that (word) and if we use it, I really don't see it as offensive."

It's funny that people like Gallatin can get to me right away on something like this, but can't speak to me when I am in the Twins press box. That entire media relations staff treat me like I am invisible. They'll speak to total strangers and talk around, over, and if they could, through me.

The only Twins employees, besides the players, who regularly speak to me are Peggy, the woman who fixes the press box hot dogs and Polish sausages; Art, the press box attendant, and Ray Cook, who guards the team clubhouse.

The Twins' press box is old-school, country club: I can only recall one time when there were maybe five Black media there. Most of the time, it is just me -- maybe another person of color.

I don't fit in the club. Oh, a couple of local Blacks are in the club because they laugh at the corny jokes, and easily engage in idle chat-chat. But they are only honorary members (these two don't realize it, perhaps) because the baseball media only hand out White privileges to full-time members, not wannabees.

I don't, and don't want to, qualify for membership because if I did, then Gallatin's failed mission to get me to not write something that might be negative toward her employers would have succeeded.

I don't want to be in a club that looks up and down at a fully credential press individual like they are intruding on some party. Or be a member of a club who thinks they know everything about sports.

Or, further yet, be in a club who didn't express the same outrage that I did about hearing the N-word that night. Remember that I said there was one other Black in the room besides me, and the two players -- he was standing in the group with me, when I was asking Monroe about it -- the honorary club member never uttered a word.

But WCCO Radio's Eric Nelson was upset.

"I knew I couldn't put this stuff on the air," he told me. Later on his show, he criticized the double standard some Blacks apply when the N-word is involved.

"I might be one of three or four White guys playing (pickup basketball)," Nelson says. "The African-American players -- not all of them but some of them would use the N-bomb toward each other and it was part of the dialogue of the game. But we (Whites) knew that we better not drop it.

"If you are going to be consistent, it shouldn't matter what color you are, should it?"

Ever since it's been quiet in the Twins clubhouse, musically speaking. Nelson praised me for my stand against offensive music played during open media access periods. It shouldn't be played at any time, I might add. He believes that the music was cut out after my concerns were expressed.

If this is the reason, then I am pleased.

For the record, it was Justin Morneau, a White Canadian who finally turned the music off. He switched it to a country song.

We don't know who put the N-word song on that night, but it's sad that the Twins' only two Black players couldn't see that it was wrong and acted like Spike Lee.

And did the right thing --- turned it off.