Scandal turns fan’s Louisville basketball world upside down

When I was a child, we played a silly game called fruit basket turnover.   These last few weeks, I have felt as if I have been in a fruit basket,  turning topsy turvy.  My emotions about “SkankGate” are all jumbled.

At first, I was stunned with the news reports.  Shocked.   Thrown back against the wall.

Mystified.  How could this have happened?

Barbara Springer wonders what hit the program.
Barbara Springer among many UofL fans reeling.

Angry.  How could this be truthful?

Disgusted.  Wall-to-wall media coverage, conclusions reached prematurely.   Guilty until proven innocent.

Betrayed.   By her.   By Andre McGee, maybe.  By players we cared about.

Aggravated.  By media attention spotlighting a brazen, money hungry  prostitute.

Outraged.  By a mother who puts her children in harm’s way.  And brags about it.

Sad.  That a whole student body, a fandom,  and a city itself are smeared by her outrageous  story.

Skeptical.  If the scenarios in the book are true,  is  UofL  the only school where this happens?

Curious.  How could this go on for several years with not one “leak” on any social media?

Embarrassed.  By some fans calling for Coach Pitino to resign or be fired; some  threatening to no longer wear their red and black.

Ashamed.   Of those “fans”  for rushing to judgment.

Frustrated.  The investigation process will drag on a long, long time.

Impatient.   For answers.  For rebuttals.  For explanations.

Encouraged.  That there is at least one local sportswriter (Eric Crawford) in the mainstream media who tries to be objective and thorough.

Charmed.  By two teammates who brave a media storm to answer questions about a scandal of which they had no part.  And their honesty and good humor.

Hopeful. The season still can be a success.  And fun.  And even laudatory.

But  mostly  tired.   Of the whole mess.

Wayne Blackshear passed on opportunities

Whatever, Wayne.

Wayne Blackshear telling the Chicago Tribune, “I sacrificed my game a lot at Louisville for team success. I tried to fit in too much. I really couldn’t show what I could do.”

Blackshear averaged 31.4 minutes per game for the University of Louisville, plenty of time to show what he could do.

Wayne Blackshear
Wayne Blackshear

Coach Rick Pitino made him a captain before the season began, indicating that Blackshear had finally put in the work over the summer to move to the next level, become a team leader, more assertive on the court. Pitino taking issue with fans at times when Blackshear failed to live up to their expectations.

But Pitino also was among Blackshear’s most severe critics, saying after 2013-14 season: “The only player I’ve had in the past four years that hasn’t had substantial improvement is Wayne Blackshear. We’ve got to turn over a whole new leaf. For his own sake, he’s got to wake up and understand that the world will pass him by if he doesn’t live in that gym.”

Blackshear finally got the message, showing up at the gym during the summer months, Pitino proclaiming, “He’s been working twice a day, every single day, since school ended. He’s the biggest surprise and the biggest change.” Before the 2014-15 season began, Pitino named the soft-spoken Blackshear one of the team’s co-captains, hoping that would further motivate him.

But halfway through the season, Blackshear was as inconsistent as ever, hit and miss, a player with an NBA body and NBA skills playing with a passion that seemed to come and go. He would seem to make a breakthrough, only to regress the next game, disappearing for long periods at a time.

The low point came during a 69-59 loss to Syracuse in February when Blackshear fouled out in 19 minutes, with zero points, zero assists, one rebound, zero steals and two turnovers. The high point may have been his final game, a 76-70 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Regional final.  He scored 28 points, playing through sickness at half time and a bloody nose during much of the second half.

Probably the best game of his career, saving his best for the end. Had Blackshear played with the same passion throughout his career, he may have played himself into a high draft pick. Pitino gave him every opportunity to do that, encouraging him to be more aggressive, wanting him to take advantage of his abilities.

When push came to shove, however, the burden was usually on Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier or Chris Jones (before he left the team). Wayne, maybe. Some of the time.

As Eric Crawford observed about Blackshear’s comments, “They don’t jibe at all with the way things here, and they don’t serve any useful purpose for Blackshear.”

Sadly, Wayne, for whatever reason, was slow to take advantage of his opportunities at Louisville. If he didn’t show what he could do, that’s on him.

Adidas remains right choice for Louisville basketball

The latest recruiting fiasco in which a basketball recruit chooses the University of Louisville only to quickly change his mind may have some administrators and fans wondering if UofL made a mistake in renewing their apparel and shoe contract with Adidas.

Antonio Blakeney so excited and committed when he announced, only to turn a cold shoulder 11 days later.3nikevsadidas

Back in April, UofL and Adidas agreed to a five-year deal valued at almost $40 million, placing Louisville among the top five athletic departments nationally in footwear and apparel rights among all brands. Tom Jurich said Adidas was the only company he had considered. Whether Nike would have wanted to be the provider will probably never be known, but the deal did not go unnoticed by Nike.

Nike is to tennis shoes what Marlboro is to cigarettes, the dominant market leader, with the inherent ability to set the rules and control the marketplace.  Only in this case, Nike apparently is able to exert its control even further, imposing its will on players, coaches, schools, amateur leagues and fans. Without any repercussions from the NCAA.

WDRB analyst Eric Crawford writes: “If you’re looking to fight the war of shoe company involvement in college sports, you missed it. It’s over. The shoe companies won.”  Then he goes on to suggest that it’s a good thing for players since coaches and schools receive millions of dollars from shoe companies.

While one may respect Crawford, he’s off base on this one, considering that college players aren’t supposed to be receiving extra benefits from anyone. Why not just go ahead and let the boosters fill the players’ pockets because they also donate millions to schools and athletic programs? Open it up for everybody.

While it may require a major sea change and considerable time, Nike’s pervasive influence in collegiate athletics can’t be allowed to go unchallenged. It makes a mockery of the amateur system, rewarding only those who perpetuate the deception.

If the ultimate objective is to preserve the integrity of college athletics, Louisville made the right decision in going with Adidas. If it’s anything else, everybody loses.

Crawford on Petrino and the fear factor

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Some long-awaited insight may have finally been provided into the dramatic shift that occurred in the University of Louisville’s football fortunes after Steve Kragthorpe succeeded Bobby Petrino as head coach. 

Eric Crawford, former Courier-Journal columnist and current WDRB analyst, interviewed several former UofL players off the record for an in-depth analysis. Petrino apparently instilled such fear in players that, even now, they need assurance their identities will be concealed. 

The piece also sheds some light on possible reasons why players under Kragthorpe were mysteriously being benched for games or later dismissed from the team without any explanations.

The logical conclusion is that Petrino and Kragthorpe had different approaches for dealing with substance issues. Doing it the right way may have been the wrong way for one and the wrong way the right way for another … with strikingly different results in the wins and losses columns.

Link to must reading for U of L football fans.

Courier-Journal suffers major blow with losses of Eric Crawford and Rick Bozich

I’ve often wondered whether the publication would survive without them. Now we’re about to find out.

During all the recent personnel cutbacks at the Courier-Journal in recent years, the management always recognized the value of sports columnists Eric Crawford and Rich Bozich, with their years of experience and insight into the local sports scene. They were close to being indispensable.

The C-J announced Monday that Crawford and Bozich are both leaving to accept positions at WDRB TV. Huge blow, a double whammy for the company, losses from which the newspaper won’t soon recover.

Sports fans will lose, too. TV coverage, because of time constraints, will never ever provide the depth and breadth of print media. The two will probably enhance WDRB’s Internet presence but who wants to turn on a computer before consuming the sports news with their bacon and eggs.

Crawford, in particular, is among the best ever at C-J, which has had some exceptional writers. Like Dave Kindred, one of his noted predecessors, he is blessed with an intellect to examine highly complex issues, ably sharing his knowledge. As a result, his readers are better informed than the average sports fan. I’ve never sensed any bias when it comes to issues involving either the universities of Louisville or Kentucky. He seems to care deeply for both of them, wanting them to succeed.

Bozich is as much a reporter as a columnist, more of an analyst than a provider of solutions. I’ve never sensed any special affection for either university, covering them equally and objectively, depending on the issue, as any journalism professional would approach the task. This is the approach in a recent column that enabled him to deal effectively with the back and forth pettiness between John Calipari and Rick Pitino.

For me, most of the stories in the sports section get a glimpse and a quick turn of the page, unless they are U of L related. But the columns of Eric Crawford and Rick Bozich were must reading. They have always been responsive to readers as well, open and generous with their feedback, especially Crawford.

Their leaving says much about the state of Louisville’s daily newspaper.

Eric Crawford blog