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The Strike Zone, Slam Dunk edition

Gay rights? How good would THIS guy look in a Denver Nuggets uni?
Gay rights? How good would THIS guy look in a Denver Nuggets uni?
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It’s the Slam Dunk edition of The Strike Zone. Asking what if the Manimal played in the eastern time zone instead of Denver? He’d be in the real All-Star game, not the kiddy exhibition, that’s for sure. As for the Dunk contest, I was at the first one in Denver back in the mid 1970’s, and it was incredible. But now, everything’s been done. Something new is needed – like moving the rims up to 11 or 12 feet, something like that. Something to make it less like the same old thing every year.

Meanwhile, we’re wondering when the student sections at CSU and CU had time to rehearse the Harlem Shake in time for their prime time performances this past week. What was more impressive, the teams - who each got a big win – or the respective student sections? And btw, don’t you wish CSU and CU could play each other again this season…perhaps on a neutral court in the NCAA tourney? Whoa! And a Strike Zone Salute to Michael “Jimmer” Lyons of Air Force. When he wakes up and watches the replay of his game against CSU, he’s going to be really impressed.

If ever there was a perfect match – at least from our perspective – it’s Dan Hawkins, new Head Coach of the Montreal Alouettes and future CFL quarterback Tim Tebow. Chances are pretty decent that Timmy won’t land another NFL gig with a team that will let him play QB, so Canada looks like his best option (pun intended) at this point (though some disagree…).

Ironically, he would need to throw the ball MORE (and much better) in Canada that he’s had to in the NFL. That would be VERY interesting to watch. First, we have to see if Team Tebow will allow Timmy to actually work on his quarterbacking skills this offseason or if his most of his time will continue to be devoted to enhancing his celebrity status (and his future career as a televangelist…)

Meanwhile, Alouette ticket sales would be sure to get a big boost, and a Hawkins/Tebow combination would give football fans back in our region a perfect team to love/hate at the same time. Keep your fingers crossed!

Strike One: It was probably not his original idea, so maybe we shouldn’t give him full credit OR blame, but if memory serves, Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing was the first notable college basketball player to wear a T-shirt under his game jersey back when he played for Georgetown in the early 1980’s. Several hundred players have done so in the years that have passed since.

Am I the only one who can’t stand the T-shirts under basketball jerseys? To me, it looks ridiculous for most of the team to be wearing the standard “vest” jerseys (they aren’t even the more narrow “spaghetti” straps like they used to be back in Ewing’s day) while one or two guys wear a T-shirt underneath it. Two questions here: First, why are they ALLOWED to do it (we sometimes bash the NFL for how strict they are about adherence to the idea of “uniform,” which means, literally, “exactly the same” but at least the league doesn’t have these sorts of eye sore situations) in the first place – come on, NCAA, don’t you guys know what “uniform” means – and second, more to the point, why do players want to do it? Don’t they know it looks horrible?

There doesn’t seem to be any answers other than the obvious: It’s a comfort thing. Or they are uncomfortable with their build, or they want to absorb more sweat (even though a sweat soaked T-shirt would be more of a hindrance than a help.) They have backne. Is there a reason we’ve left out, or haven’t heard of yet?

San Diego State’s phenomenal Jamaal Franklin, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year who will probably win the award for a second time this season, is the most grievous offender. Franklin wears a long sleeve T-shirt under his game jersey. It’s not even tight fitting, like a brace or something for support. It’s baggy…which looks, well, really sloppy. I’ve checked around but no one seems to know why Franklin wears the long sleeved T. Since he grew up in Arizona, perhaps he’s just cold all the time traveling around chilly Mountain West country. He did have to get special permission to wear the long sleeves – which begs the question why he was granted that permission. Franklin is a fantastic player - but the sleeves look awful.

Then again, maybe a few more guys should thumb their nose at people like me and go with the long, baggy sleeves. Franklin leads the nationally ranked Aztecs in scoring, rebounding, assists and blocked shots this season. Only guy in major college basketball to do so. And he will undoubtedly win the unofficial “dunk of the year” for this beauty earlier in the season. The sleeves still look like crap, however.

And here’s a new twist on the topic: The Golden State Warriors are taking this in a different direction. They will wear “alternate” uniforms for three home games in the coming weeks that will not be vests at all, but instead will be tight fitting spandex-type short sleeved shirt uniforms. Hmmm. I guess I’ll give those a chance since the entire team – not just a couple of guys who have the chills – will be wearing them.

Strike Two: Everyone knows you can’t have it both ways. The Denver Nuggets went from being a team with a superstar scorer in Carmelo Anthony, where everything revolved around him, to a team devoid of that star – focusing on sharing the ball and embracing the “team first” concept after Anthony was traded. Problem is, neither method is the exact right way to win big in the NBA.

With ‘Melo, Denver reached the Western Conference Finals, but only once. Otherwise, they made very little noise in the play-offs. In the post season, if teams double or triple teamed Anthony, and he didn’t get the ball to someone who could consistently score (which he didn’t very often) then the Nuggets offense was stymied. Melo, who took up a lot of space in the offense and under the salary cap, needed help in the form of a more productive supporting cast.

After trading Melo, the supporting cast was been greatly improved and the regular season records remains almost the seam. The current production lacks a leading man. So it’s been pretty much the same story. Good team, very good regular season record, not much to show for the post season efforts. My colleague James Merilatt of Mile High Sports described the Nuggets situation almost perfectly.

So what’s a General Manager to do? How exactly do you build a true title contender? The answer is to find that extremely rare perfect combination of the two. For Denver, that means hoping that someone on the current roster develops into that “Gimme the ball and get out of my way” late game superstar, or if that doesn’t happen, getting lucky and finding a way to score big in the trade market.

On their recently concluded four-game eastern road trip, the Nuggets quandary was illustrated perfectly. Their good players did a lot of good things – point guard Ty Lawson scored big, and had a big last-second shot at the end of regulation that sent the Boston game into the first overtime. Then he missed what would have been a game winning shot at the end of that first overtime as the Celtics eventually prevailed.

Danilo Gallinari, the centerpiece of what Denver got back from the New York Knicks in exchange for Anthony, also had a huge shot in OT, but also missed two potential game winners in that same contest. Then it was off to Toronto, where the Nuggets fought back from a large deficit to take the lead late. Then the Raptor’s resident superstar, Rudy Gay, hit a clutch shot with four seconds left to give Toronto the lead, and Lawson missed again at the horn to seal Denver’s second loss in a row.

Hey, even the very best – like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant – miss more last second shots than they make. It’s the scenario that we all practiced in the back yard as kids, but those last second game winning shots remains extremely difficult to pull off in live action. That being said, how great would it be for the Nuggets to have a player like Gay, who appears to be the kind of fit - with the “team first” approach - who can be counted on to hit the game winner in the waning seconds? Just a thought.

In a perfect world, Head Coach George Karl would have that superstar that fits his system. Gay has three years remaining on his contract and Toronto just traded to acquire him, so he’s not going to be available. The Nuggets brass is hoping that both Gallinari and Lawson will develop into the late game clutch players the team needs, but there’s no reason to believe that will happen. Who could the Nuggets possibly lure to town via free agency or a sign and trade? Denver GM Masai Ujiri has done some great things during his short tenure here. He’s got one more big step to take before the Nuggets are truly a contender.

Strike Three: Alabama Getaway? Maybe not. It’s almost inevitable that when a college football team as a much success as Alabama has had over the past four seasons, off field trouble will follow. Sure enough, first there was the scrutiny that came with accusations that several Tide players had used “Deer Antler Spray.” Then the trouble for four ‘Bama freshman who allegedly beat and robbed a man, including the use of a gun. They’ve been kicked off campus.

Yet none of that will seem like a big deal anymore if new reports – okay, new rumors - about serious recruiting violations are true. If this rumor is true, and keep in mind that the “Friday” mentioned in the story already came and went, then the US Forest Service better send out the troops to protect every oak tree south of the Mason-Dixon line. Things could get ugly down there.

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