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The Curse is Over!

October 11, 2019

I hadn’t attended a CSU Volleyball match in 5 years.

Until tonight.

I have nothing against the sport. In fact, I think its a fantastic spectator sport that highlights some really incredible skills and athleticism in a very confined court.

I stopped attending because I believed I was a jinx to the home team. I went several losing matches in a row, some against vastly inferior teams. It had to be me.

I attended tonight because an old high school friend of mine happened to be passing through. Lee Feinswog is the founder and publisher of VolleyballMag.com, the top volleyball web-site in the nation. And with the help of the CSU Athletic Department and some fantastic local support, he was going to do more than just attend a match. He was going to get to watch the match with former national championship coach Terry Pettit, who build Nebraska into a powerhouse. And spend time with coaches from both programs and key players.

But I was worried about the jinx.

So worried that I prepared CSU’s TV play-by-play announcer Matt Wozniak just in case the Rams lost. I told him that if they did lose that he was to say nothing but nice things about the Rams and blame it on the Ivy Curse.

And I am pleased to report that this 2019 Ram Volleyball squad has ended the curse as they rolled to a 3-0 victory over the visitors from Fresno State. The Bulldogs played a solid match but in the end, CSU had a little too much defensive skill and attacking firepower.

What really excited me is that I finally got to see CSU setter Katie Oleksak live. Two-time MWC Player of the Year and well on her way to a third. She is extraordinary. I have watched a ton of CSU Volleyball broadcasts so I am more than aware of her prowess but she is even better in person. She serves, she sets, she digs, she blocks, she kills. She does it with the control and smoothness of a basketball point guard.

Alone Katie is worth the price of admission but she is joined by a group of fantastic players such as Breana Runnels, Kirstie Hillyer, and Pauline Hogaard-Jensen. The team chemistry is fantastic. The balance on the court is unmatched in the MWC. This Ram team is skilled and they are relentless.

And of course they are coached by the amazing Tom Hilbert.

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Impressions from CSU’s Intrasquad Basketball Scrimmage

October 6, 2019

I’m going to keep this simple.

Seven practices into the season and it was time to showcase the team on Fall Homecoming Weekend. Coach Niko Medved has tried to schedule these types of events at previous stops and hopes to make it a staple for Ram fans. It’s a great opportunity for the players to play, the fans to see the newcomers, and especially for the fans to connect with the players and coaches post-game.

The scrimmage was a series of three 10-minute games. Players switched between green and gold practice jerseys so that the coaches could see different combinations of players together.

One of the issues with these intra-squad affairs is that the defenders know all of the offensive sets and calls and therefore can sort of cheat their way through on the defensive side. Sometimes it can lead to some great defensive plays. Other times it can lead to unnecessary gaps in the defense and lend itself to some easy buckets.

Enough of that.

The first highlight of the scrimmage came in the first segment. Nico Carvacho dribbled toward freshman John Tonje in the corner. Tonje caught his defender Kris Martin cheating toward Carvacho who looked to be setting a screen. Tonje drove baseline, rose high and dunked hard. It was the play of a seasoned veteran, not a freshman newcomer.

https://twitter.com/kevin_lytle/status/1180591884093181953?s=21

The 10-minute segment that stood out was the second one. Green team was the 5 returning players from last season – Carvacho, Adam Thistlewood, Kris Martin, Hyron Edwards, and Kendle Moore. The Gold Team consisted of the newcomers – freshmen Tonje, David Roddy, Isaiah Stevens, Dischon Thomas, and soph transfer PJ Byrd.

The newcomers ran out to a big early lead as Roddy scored from the perimeter and Tonje scored at will at the rim. Gradually the veterans began reeling their opponents in and when an unforced turnover gave them the ball inside of 20 seconds, they went to work. An Edwards miss, a rebound followed by a Thistlewood miss, followed by a Carvacho rebound, a pass to Martin who drained a perimeter three-ball to tie the game with 0.6 seconds remaining.

The mini-game went to a 1-minute overtime. Byrd drained a mid-range jumper on the first possession and when the Green team missed, they were forced to foul and the Golds put the game away at the free throw line.

The newcomers won!

Thats a big deal in and of itself because it showed they could play within the offensive and defensive structures that they are still learning. Byrd and Stevens looked confident initiating the offensive sets. Roddy and Tonje used their physical and athletic attributes well, and the freshmen bigs Thomas and Moors reasonably held their own against all-MWC big Carvacho. Thomas showed soft hands and finishing skills at the rim.

And don’t kid yourself. These freshmen knew what they were up against and played as if they expected to win. That bodes well for the future of the program.

Some other thoughts

There were a few players who I thought really helped themselves.

The first was Hyron Edwards. Uber talented but underachieving in his time at CSU, Hyron’s athleticism was on display but more importantly, his ball distribution and shooting from the guard position was on point. He has the skills to be an impact player in the MWC. I saw them yesterday.

Then there was John Tonje. I mentioned the dunk, I mentioned his ability to finish at the rim, but Tonje is also showing physicality and tenacity on the defensive end. Ive heard he didn’t have much of a reputation as a defender as a prep in Omaha, but that certainly is changing.

Then there is Isaiah Stevens. This Ram team is loaded at the point guard position with Edwards, returning starter Kendle Moore, and PJ Byrd. Frosh Stevens looked very comfortable on both ends of the floor.

There’s a month to figure out lineups and rotations.

I would love to see a lineup of Carvacho, Thistlewood, Roddy, Martin, and Edwards.

Glitterati Attendance

RamNation.com regulars in attendance included Cams Chorizo, Ram Master, Good Shepherd, and El Diablo.

There was also a visitor from Cheyenne. 6’11” big Lawson Lovering, a highly recruited big from the Class of 2021. Offers from all of the top schools in the MWC, CU, and Baylor and I’m sure there are more to come. He was in Moby watching the scrimmage with his family. I wandered over to say hello to Assistant Dave Thorson who was talking to the Lovering family at the time. I mentioned to Dave that as a booster I knew that I wasnt allowed to talk to the Loverings but I did thank them for coming to the scrimmage. He would be another nice piece to fill in the roster puzzle of the future.

I once got into trouble with the CSU Athletic Department for having a picture taken of me and potential Louisville transfer Chane Behanan and posting it on Twitter. That was a violation. I mind my P’s and Q’s these days.

CSU Mens’ Basketball Scrimmage – What I’m Looking For

October 4, 2019

So the first public appearance of the 2019-20 CSU Mens’ Basketball Team is Saturday, October 5th at Moby Arena from 3-5PM.

This year’s team features an interesting blend of experience and youth. Three seniors led by Nico Carvacho, All-MWC big and 2018-19 leading rebounder in the nation and a pair of guards in Kris Martin and Hyron Edwards. A pair of sophomores, Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore, who played lots as freshmen. A very talented group of freshmen – David Roddy, Isaiah Stevens, John Tonje, Dischon Thomas, and James Moors. And transfers PJ Byrd, Teyvion Kirk, Ignas Sargiunas, and Kyle Lukasiewicz.

So what am I looking at tomorrow?

Defense!

First and foremost, its the effort and the quality on the defensive end of the floor. The 2018-19 was arguably one of the worst defensive teams in recent CSU memory, ranking 261 in the nation in Defensive Efficiency(kenpom.com). They could steal the ball but were very weak at staying in front of players and keeping them out of the paint; that led to an extremely high 2pt FG%. Coach Medved insists that the 2019-20 team will be much improved defensively.

Leadership

It’s easy to say that Carvacho is the straw that stirs the drink but that wont be enough from a leadership perspective. Seniors Kris Martin and Hyron Edwards will be just as important in helping this young team navigate its way through the rigors of a season. Both Martin and Edwards have shown spurts of leadership quality in practice. Can they bring it to the floor in a game-like situation?

I’m also looking toward Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore who bring a lot to the table having spent most of the 2018-19 season playing starter’s minutes.

Point Guard Play

At one point at the end of last season, this looked like it might be an area of concern with only returning soph Moore and freshman Stevens on board. But when Hyron Edwards decided to return to CSU and Soph PJ Byrd transferred from VCU and was granted immediate eligibility, the position gained much needed depth. Each player brings something unique to the game – Moore with incredible speed and smarts, Edwards with great athleticism, Byrd with tenacity and a competitive edge, and Stevens with maturity that belies his freshman status. I don’t think we’ll see 4 guys splitting the minutes during the season. I don’t know if there will be any separation in a scrimmage but its something I’ll be watching.

Freshmen

There is no doubt that freshmen will be needed to contribute this season. I’ll be watching to see how much they have been able to integrate within the team concepts on both offense and defense.

Coach Medved’s teams are usually good offensively with looks at early transition offense and then smooth conversion to half court patterns if early offense isn’t there. It requires precise movement and spacing. I especially like to watch the big men. Carvacho has a great feel for the offense. Thomas and Moors are learning; they both have gotten much better and I’ll be looking for continued progress. One of CSU’s weaknesses last season was the lack of a reliable backup for Carvacho. Either Thomas or Moors or both will be integral to CSU taking the next step. I’ll be closely watching Roddy and Tonje, both who possess great physical attributes.

On the defensive side, I’ll be looking to see how well they handle simple situations like ball screens, pick and rolls, help defense and close outs. Not just from the physical side of things but in how well they’re communicating with their teammates.

The Transfers Who Can’t Play in 2019-20

Sargiunas is a Lithuanian who transferred from Georgia. I’ve seen him practice once. My first impression was very Euro. That means precise and technical. I saw him beat Kendle Moore to the basket with a classic Euro Step. I also saw a perfectly executed behind-the-back pass for an easy layup. A bit of Lithuanian Mustard if you will

Kirk is a transfer from Ohio University. He’s a very physical guard who is not much of a perimeter player but can get into the paint and score and defends like crazy.

Truly a Team Together

The team slogan is Team Together. One of the characteristics is unselfish play. Players under the previous regime were well known to go off on individual tangents that were well outside the scope or flow of team concepts. I want to see less dribbling and more passing. I want to see hard cuts and solid screens set for others. I want to see everyone running the floor in both directions. And I want to see players that acknowledge the contributions of their teammates. Whether its lauding a teammate who draws an offensive foul or dives for a loose ball or a player pointing to a teammate for a great assist. I want to see players that aren’t afraid to attribute their personal successes to their teammates.

The season starts in a month…

Still a long ways to go for the opener. The team is obviously not anywhere near a finished product. So I’ll have a lot of fun no matter what.

Hope to see you there.

I Guess I’m An Old Fuddy Duddy

October 2, 2019

I love college basketball. I have since the very first game I attended, a match-up in The Palestra between Penn and Villanova (technically that’s not correct – we went for that game but the first game I ever saw was the first half of the double-header between Lasalle and Connecticut)

I love the energy, the passion, the flaws of the college game. I love watching a collection of young individuals players learn how to mature into a team. I love watching the whole become greater than the sum of the parts.

I also love the amateurism.

If I wanted to watch the NBA I’d be all over it on TV. I’d make the hour drive to Denver. I don’t enjoy the professional game like I do the college game. Yes the NBA players are unbelievably talented. It’s just not for me.

And so when California passes a law that allows players to be paid in much the same way as an NBA player, I think to myself “Why would I want the game I love to become a watered down version of the NBA?”.

The G-League already serves that purpose.

Folks from my generation probably remember these lyrics from the great Joni Mitchell:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

I’m open to change when its for the better. I just don’t see how this makes the game of college basketball better.

Three Simple Words

September 23, 2019
“Winning Breeds Winning” – John Wooden 

While we can have fun with the hashtag #BoboBall, it has become obvious that in the end #BoboBall is losing football, not winning football. The more the losses pile up, the more we can expect future losses to pile up. Because if winning breeds winning, there can be no doubt that losing breeds losing. 

It has become obvious that Mike Bobo is not going to displace Boise State and lead CSU to Mountain West Championships. He was given the chance with a brand new contract two years ago to make changes to his program and the results have gotten even worse. Too many shoulda, coulda, woulda’s and not enough wins. 

Remember Utah back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s under Ron McBride? They were regularly a .500 team that seemed to be underachieving. Decent talent not not a winning culture. Their AD went out and hired a new up-and-comer named Urban Meyer and he immediately turned Utah onto a Top 20 program. He left after two years but the culture and an assistant named Kyle Whittingham has sustained Utah for nearly 20 years. 

It is incumbent on Joe Parker to begin the process of identifying a new coach and to replace Mike Bobo at the end of the season. The rest of the Athletic Department is relatively healthy with programs winning conference championships. If he chooses to do nothing, then he becomes part of the problem, not the solution, and it will be time for President McConnell to begin the search for a new Athletic Director. 

The infrastructure for football success is present at CSU. The culture is not. Strong leadership from both the President and the Athletic Director is required. Today. Not tomorrow. 

Winning breeds winning. 

Rors!

August 26, 2019

If you know me at all, you’d know that I am a passionate golfer. Ive had a modicum of success as a tournament player in my later years, winning club championships, senior club championships, and senior tournaments at the local level. Ive had a few decent finishes in state level events as well.

It hasn’t been a good year for me on the course as a hip injury has affected both my physical ability to play and my mental state. Having retired from full-time work at the end of winter, I had all kinds of plans to increase my tournament load and play better than ever. It didn’t work out for me as my game regressed.

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy watching the success of others,

In January of this year, my work took me to Orlando for a conference and training event. On the first night, we had the pleasure of listening to Rory McIlroy. I have always been a big fan of his but became a bigger fan that evening as I listened to him talk about his life as a golfer. After he talked for a bit, he took questions from the audience.

One of the early questions asked him to talk about his goals for 2019.

Rory answered the question in great detail.

He talked some about individual areas of play and where he needed to improve. The stat he talked about was Strokes Gained Putting and he believed that if he improved his Strokes Gained Putting by .3 shots overall that would allow for him to increase his ability to win.

He talked about putting himself into contention to win more often. His path towards winning would be defined by how many times he would be able to play in the final group of Sunday or even in the final three groups. That would mean he had done what it took the first three rounds to put himself into contention.

And finally he talked about the Fed Ex Cup playoffs.

He had a disappointing finish in 2018 as he was paired with Tiger Woods in the final group. His Sunday of being up close watching Tiger make history by winning was overshadowed by his own failure. He behaved like a gentleman but his disappointment was strong.

And so he talked on that January commitment to the season-long Fed Ex Cup. His normal schedule of playing would take him around the world for tournaments in January and February while skipping PGA Tour events in California and Arizona. His PGA Tour season wouldn’t start until the tour headed to Florida which put him in catch-up mode in the Fed Ex points.

His 2019 schedule was significantly different from anything he had ever done. He would no longer participate on the European Tour, he would no longer serve as host of the Irish Open. He would commit fully to the PGA Tour and the Fed Ex Cup and play events on the West Coast.

So how did Rory do relative to his goals for 2019?

First, he improved his Strokes Gained Putting by .365 strokes. He had switched putters to a new one which TaylorMade had designed for him and his hard work had manifested itself on the course.

Second, he regularly played in the final three groups of tournaments and had put himself in contention to win repeatedly. He finished the year with three wins (including the Players) and led the tour in Top 10 finishes with a final tally of 14 out of 20 tournaments.

And finally, there was the Fed Ex Cup. There he was down the stretch playing alongside world #1 Brooks Koepka and there was no way Rory would be stopped. I was thrilled for him as he hoisted the trophy and you could feel how proud his sense of accomplishment was. He had made major changes in his life and they had led to him achieving the highest of goals. I’m sure the $15M was a big deal but so I was that complete sense of fulfillment.

Today I applaud him.

Who Ya Got in the CSU Cafeteria 3v3 Classic?

August 7, 2019

So there was a Tweet earlier today that asked CSU fans what table they would sit at and it featured this picture:

Of course I responded with “Every one of them” with so many former CSU greats and current players present.

But the whole concept got me thinking about which table I would take in a 3v3 tournament.

I immediately eliminated Tables 4,5,6, and 7. How in the hell could I pick a team with Miles, Grant, Medved and Thorson. Heck they’d be playing 2v3.

I know that current CSU assistants JR Blount and Ali Faroukmanesh can still play a little but I’m not sure either of them have enough given the strength of some of the other teams. I do think that Tables 8 and 9 would be a step above 4,5,6, and 7. So I’ll discuss them more in a little bit.

So it comes down to Tables 1, 2, and 3.

Table 1 features 12-year NBA veteran Jason Smith but has a nice balance with PG Hyron Edwards, and SG John Tonje. Jason would be a tough matchup for anyone not named Carvacho or Iverson. And Edwards add a nice blend of speed and power.

Table 2 features all-time CSU glue Pierce Hornung to go with a versatile Kris Martin, and sharpshooter Kyle Lukasiewicz. Pierce in his heyday would never lose but I’m not sure he’s at that level anymore. I don’t think Kris and Kyle could make up for that.

Table 3 is a really nice blend with Andy Ogide on the inside, Adam Thistlewood to provide the perimeter shooting, and Teyvion Kirk to provide the physical guard play, especially in the paint.

So I’m going with Tables 1 and 3 in my finals.

And the winner?

I gotta go with Table 3. While I think Andy would struggle to stay with Jason, I think the combo of Thistlewood and Kirk would do enough to overcome that mismatch. On top of that, my dog Ogie is named after Andy Ogide and he’s be pissed if I didn’t go with Table 3.

Back to the Table 8 vs Table 9 matchup.

A combination of Emmanuel Omogbo and David Roddy would be crazy physical in the paint and create a lot of space for a shooter like Ali. But then I look at Table 8 and realize that the smarts of JR and the effort of Dischon Thomas might be enough to allow for Gian Clavell to abuse anyone trying to guard him.

I’m going with Table 9 because of this guy: