For me, this is the best time on the sports calendar. NFL going strong, NBA in full swing, and most importantly, college hoops kicking off in earnest this weekend! Woo-Hoo! Let's get it on!
First, the pros. Well, it was a tough loss for the Washington Wizards last night, falling to Kevin Garnett and the Minnestoa Timberwolves 109-98 in Minneapolis. I still think the Bullets, er, Wizards (typing that makes me gag) are a good team, but the T-Wolves exposed their weaknesses. Namely, no bangers in the lane (if you don't count Michael Ruffin, who I love but would classify as more of a hustle guy than a banger just because he's simply not tall enough to hang with guys like KG) and no really good on-the-ball defenders. That Richie Frahm(??) guy was draining wide open shots, and his only purpose in the league is clearly to make wide open shots. I had never even heard of him before last night, and that was obvious the second he stepped on the floor. Hey Wizards? Maybe you want to guard the guy that just camps out behind the three-point line! I love Gilbert Arenas and think he's now an All-Star lock until further notice (if fans vote the right way, of which there is obviously no guarantee), but he doesn't give his all on defense. They've got guys who can steal one every now and then, and block a shot coming over from the weak side. But they don't have anyone who just knuckles down and wills the other guy - big or small - into bad shots or a bad game.
You know who the Wizards could use, to grab rebounds and intimidate and be a really great stopper? Ben Wallace, the two-time NBA defensive player of the year and member of the 2003-2004 NBA champion Detroit Pistons. Oh, wait! The Wizards DID have him! Get this: they traded him to Orlando in 1999 along with Terry Davis, Jeff McInnis, and ESPN analyst extraordinaire Tim Legler for Ike Austin. Really? IKE FREAKING AUSTIN!?!?!?!?? I know it's easy to criticize in hindsight, and the Wizards had a totally different general manager when they made that trade, and I am now reasonably confident that the Wizards are in good hands front office-wise, but come on. Ike Austin? I remember sitting around with my pals in 1996-97, watching a raw but clearly gifted Ben Wallace and saying "we have to hold on to that guy." And we were a bunch of drunken college kids! But hey, no worries. At least Ike Austin played one season for the Wizards, averaging 6.7 points and 4.9 rebounds in 19.9 minutes per game before we traded him to Vancouver for Dennis Scott, Cherokee Parks, Obinna Ekezie and Felipe Lopez. Remember those guys in Wizards uniforms? They really formed the nucleus of a lot of those memorable Wizards teams of the early 00s. You member? They won like 30 games a season? That was a good run. I'll never forget those guys.
But anyway, I'm done ripping. Hey, lesson learned, right? And last night, the Wizards simply ran into a buzzsaw in Kevin Garnett, who finished one assist short of a triple-double. I think KG must be discussed along with Wade, LeBron, Kobe, Duncan, McGrady and whoever else you want to throw in there as the NBA's best player. He won that game by himself last night - talk about putting a team on your back. I shudder to think what the T-Wolves would be without KG. But anyway, the Wizards will have more chances, and I still think and hope they're on the ups. Let's hope they right the ship against the hur-ting Nets Saturday night.
Now, on to the college game, and my tied-for-favorite sports team, the mighty Terrapins of the University of Maryland. Their first game is tonight! Can you feel it? Fear the turtle, baby! Duuh-da-da-da-da-dah-HEEEEY-YOU SUCK!
Here's the Terps' Official Media Guide for perusal and consideration. They had a down year last year, missing the tournament for the first time in as long as I can remember. But now, they've got some seniors who are hungry for redemption, with a chip on their shoulder and a "we're-not-goin-out-like-that" attitude. Plus, key hustle guy D.J. "Dad, quit calling me for bail money" Strawberry is back and fully recovered from injury. Basically, they seem ready.
But perhaps most importantly, the Terrapins have committed a little addition by subtraction, with the welcome departure of their somewhat talented but big-headedly delusional and troublesome point guard John Gilchrist. Gilchrist and his posse seemed to think the college game was a waste of his time, that head coach Gary Williams wasn't maximizing his skills (yeah, I've heard that about Williams and not getting the most out of his players' talent - just ask Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Steve Blake, Walt Williams, Keith Booth...), and that he was a lock for an NBA Lottery pick. So he mailed in most of the season. When he wasn't mailing it in, he could usually be found throwing a temper tantrum. After the season, Gilchrist left college and declared for the draft. The Terps told him not to let the door hit him in the ass on the way out. Gilchrist went undrafted and now plays in Israel, for the mediocre Maccabi Rishon LetZion. Have fun, John. Hope the pros are everything you ever dreamed they would be. And I hope you're fitting in real well in Israel. Mazel Tov!
Anyway, good luck to the Terps in their first game tonight against Farleigh Dickinson. Have a great season, fellas. GO TERPS!
(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Grant Halverson)