Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Saying No to the Blue Chippers?

Mercer celebrates after beating Duke.

  Not long after Duke lost to Mercer last Friday, a question popped into my head:

  How long until longtime winning coaches (Coach K, in this case) forego recruiting players who are destined to depart their programs after one measly season?

  How long until they decide they want to invest in a player for three to four years again, instead of eight short months?

  The next day, Syracuse lost to Dayton. Followed by Kansas losing to a junior/senior-led Stanford team.

  All longtime winners. All top-tier seeds, loaded with young stars destined for NBA stardom. All losing (early) in the NCAA Tournament on an increasingly regular basis, to teams with more-experienced, older (gasp!) players.

Cinderella No More
  Conversations of March Madness past always centered on the Cinderella story. A mid-major or small school upsetting the top dog, and going on a small run in the tournament. One or two Cinderella stories were destined to happened every couple of years.

  The conversation, then, shifted to this: would Cinderella ever win it all? When the question was first posed, I didn't think it could ever happen. There was no way a no name program would ever string together six wins in a row against the competition that the NCAA Tournament boasted.

Cinderella came up short in the Final two straight years.
  Then Butler University made two consecutive trips to the NCAA Final in 2010 and 2011. And seemingly, every year after, 'small' senior-led teams were making a considerable amount of noise come tournament time.

  It's becoming more common with each passing year for the highly touted, legendary programs to lose to small(er) programs with less-touted players on a regular basis in the NCAA Tournament.

  Whether it's Cinderella or a lesser-touted, senior-laden team, those schools have one thing in common: experience.

Experience Wins Out
  From the jump this March Madness 'season', it was clear -- to me -- that the more experienced teams (Virginia, Florida, Michigan State) were the ones to beat. For the record, Michigan State is my pick to win it all.

  Experienced teams hold several advantages over young, star-studded teams: team cohesiveness, maturity, understanding of each other and their offensive/defensive systems, trust in one another... I could go on and on.

On to the Sweet 16 -- second Round win at Colorado.
Buffalo Example
  It was no different with my Colorado teams in college. My freshman year, we had a sophomore and freshman filled roster. We took our lumps, and lost more games than we won that season.

  Fast forward two years, and that same roster advanced to the Elite Eight.

  Nothing changed over the course of those two years. Not our players, not our plays, not our coaches. What did change was us.

  We grew up, we learned how to compete on the collegiate level, we learned how to play with each other, we knew how to prepare for big games, and we knew how to beat teams that appeared to be better than us on paper.

  Nothing prepares a player like previous experience.

Who Are You Recruiting?
  My attention, then, turns to those who make the decisions, the coaches: who do you want on your team? Who are you recruiting?

  At the end of the day, what is the point of college basketball? To win games? To make money? To recruit the top players? To recruit the best players for your program?

  Money, over time, has become the ruler. For the college programs, and for the players. The lure of huge NBA contracts have driven the players to leave college early on a regular basis. And attracting top-tier talent brings prestige, media coverage, and with that, money, to the program and university.

  In my opinion, both the college and the NBA game have suffered since the 'one and done' rule came into effect in 2006.

Recruiting the Blue Chippers
  Drawing the top name recruits each and every season is always beneficial to a college program. You can't deny that.

  Top recruits attract other top talent, they draw fans, it's glamorous, and you would think it would result in a lot of championships. But at an alarming rate, those top ranked recruits are becoming 'one and doners'; playing the NBA-required one season post-high school, and then leaving college early for the NBA.

  So in reality, recruiting those highly touted prospects is resulting in a lot of roster turn-over, freshman and sophomore filled rosters, and inconsistent performances in the Big Dance.

  It's grown to be beneficial in every way but the one department that really matters: winning in March.

  How long until coaches start to take note?


Friday, February 21, 2014

Maui -- This Time With Mom

Sunset from our cool little condo. 
  It wasn't exactly what I'd had in mind.

  What I had in mind was this: take an almost-week-long vacation to Hawaii with my mom, and, enjoy beautifully warm and sunny weather, sit by the pool, play in the ocean, see some whales, get away from rainy Portland, and re-charge the batteries.

  Here's how our six days on Maui played out...

  After nervously checking the weather report for weeks leading up to our trip, my mom and I arrived to a sunny and warm island. I breathed a sigh of relief. By the time we drove the 20-plus miles across Maui to Lahaina (which is known to be dry and protected from very much rain), however, the sun was gone and the rain had started.

  And so began our week-long trip as sun chasers.

  I had never been on a warm-weather winter vacation (winter, of course, always coincides with basketball season -- which has kept me occupied since I was a youngster, until this year), so I was looking forward to a change from the gray and damp winters.

Hanging out at Kaanapali Beach.
Whale Watching
  One of the draws to Maui in the winter months, is that it's the middle of whale season in the warm waters of Hawaii. I had hoped, if we were lucky, that my mom and I would catch a few glimpses of some humpback whales.

  It turns out, that whale watching was something we didn't have to try very hard to do.

  On our first morning, we took a walk/run a couple miles up the coastline to Kaanapali Beach and Black Rock. When the sun unexpectedly made an appearance, my mom and I decided we'd set up camp for a while and take in the sights in front of us. There were lots of snorkelers in the water, and plenty of action along the beach.

  Several minutes passed, and I heard my mom 'wow' in amazement. There was a whale breaching just off the beach, within a couple hundred feet. A crowd quickly gathered, and we all watched this particular whale put on quite a show: slapping its tail, poking its nose out of the water, and breaching a few more times.

  Throughout the rest of our trip, just a glance out into the water was an almost guaranteed whale sighting. And each time was just as cool as the first one.

A sea turtle out for a swim.
  When I think of sea turtles, I initially think of Finding Nemo. Who doesn't? The surfer dude, Crush, is one of the many-memorable characters from the Disney movie.

  On a stormy morning walk on the Kapalua Coastal Trail, my mom and I happened upon one of Crush's long lost relatives. We poked our head over the edge of a cliff, just to check out what was going on in the water below, and there 'he' was.

  It was pretty cool to watch him operate for a while -- swimming around. Just as a big wave approached, he dove deep to avoid being washed into the rocky shore.

  Amazing how nature works.

Out on the water. 
The Perfect Day
   There was one day where it all paid off: our last full day on Maui.

  One thing that both my mom and I really wanted to do on this trip was go snorkeling. Neither of us had been. And here was our opportunity -- to do it together.

  Rainy and stormy weather had cancelled the tours all week. Lucky for us, the day we planned to go, there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

  After reading up on who would offer the best snorkeling tour, we decided on Pacific Whale Foundation.

Almost time to snorkel!
  We boarded the ship at Lahaina Harbor early in the morning, and set out for Lana'i. The trip to Lana'i took about 90 minutes (while the entire tour lasted about five hours). Along the way, there was nothing blue sky and blue water. Absolutely beautiful.

  Humpback whales made frequent appearances off in the distance. Many times in groups of three -- a mother, a calf, and a looming male (more often than not, not the father). Naturalists on board explained what we were seeing and why.

  There was one calf, about the size of a Volkswagen bus (as explained by the naturalists), who was learning how to breach. Clumsily lurching its body out of the water, and falling back in. While the mother, about the size of a school bus, stayed close by.

Humpback whale calf breaching -- amateur cameraman at the helm. 

  Snorkeling wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Essentially, you just had to stick your face in the water, and there it all was. You didn't have to search for fish, reefs, or much of anything. Under the water, it was a whole different world.

  It took a few minutes to get used to breathing with the mask on, but it was a fairly smooth transition.

Time With Mom
  My mom and I have had some memorable adventures together. Whether it's been climbing Mount. St. Helens, trudging through muddy trails on the Oregon Coast's Neahkahnie Mountain Loop, walking on the ice roads in Sweden, exploring the cobblestone streets in Prague, or just having coffee together in Lake Oswego, she's always a special companion to have.

  Vacationing together on Maui was just the same.

  Sure, we would have loved a few more sunny days. But you know what, how can you complain? I was in Hawaii, spending time with my mom. And you can't beat that.

  While we were chasing the sun, maybe we thought that it wasn't what we'd had in mind. But it turned out, that it was still exactly what we were looking for.

  My mom and I were able to enjoy beautifully warm and sunny weather (for a couple days). We sat by the pool (though sometimes through rain-bursts). We got to play in the ocean (a little). We saw our fair share of whales (and a sea turtle!). We recharged the batteries (until we hit the horrendous traffic jam on the way back to the airport). And we got to spend some more memorable time together.

  It doesn't get much better than that.

More sights from our trip...

Watching surfers and whales.
Kapalua Coastal Trail.

Kapalua Coastal Trail.

Morning run into Lahaina.
Looking for the sun down at Big Beach. Molokai in the distance.
Sad faces: rained out again!
Enjoying a beautiful sunset. 
Hanging by the pool, watching the waves. Doesn't get much better!
Sunset time at Kapalua Coastal Trail.

Whale watching in Kaanapali.
Another look from our lanai.
Back on Kapalua Coastal Trail.
Perfect setting. 
Looking for whales off in the distance. 
On board, headed to Lana'i!
Fun day on the boat, headed back to Maui. 
Another gorgeous sunset.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Subway Food Fight

Click to sign the petition!

  I always try to find the right balance between sharing my own thoughts and things that are going on in my life, with things I come across that I think are worth sharing.

  You can go ahead and put today's entry into the 'things I think are worth sharing' category.

  Previously, I've written about the US Food Supply in comparison to the European food system.

  There are particular American companies that have made it a practice to alter their products' recipes for the European market (because of their usage of banned ingredients), meanwhile leaving the potentially harmful ingredients in the same foods distributed in the US.

Why the altered recipes?
  Many times, recipes are changed because a banned (in the European Union, that is) ingredient is used. For example, the US version of Betty Crocker Red Velvet cake has artificial colors, which are banned in the United Kingdom because they are linked to hyperactivity in children, food cravings, and obesity. In order for that product to be sold on European shelves, the recipe needs to be reformulated to match stricter foods laws.

  In the US, there are no such bans, so Betty Crocker leaves the questionable ingredient in, more-often-than-not because it is the cheapest way to produce the food.

  Other times, they alter the recipe in Europe simply to avoid a genetically modified organism label being slapped on their product. In the EU, GMOs are required to be labeled. To avoid that stigma, recipes are altered, and genetically modified ingredients are removed.

  So they can adjust their recipes for overseas distribution, but refuse to do the same for their American consumers.

  This happens across the board with processed foods -- from cereals, to candy, to chips. The recipes are altered to provide safer products for European consumers. While in the US, companies continue to produce their foods in the least expensive way, with little regard to public health (hello, FDA?).

Consumer action in action. It works!
  There's a woman who goes by the name Food Babe leading the charge against these companies. Don't let the cutesy nickname fool you, the Food Babe is one tough cookie. She takes these huge corporations head-on, and doesn't back down.

  In the last year alone, consumer interest, participation, and outrage has lead to Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Kraft, General Mills (Cheerios), Gatorade, and even Johnson & Johnson to change their ways.

  They've become more transparent, and they've listened to the consumers. That's an incredible starting point.

The Food Babe versus Kraft Mac & Cheese
  Almost one year ago, the Food Babe set her sights on Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. In the US, the recipe contained the artificial food dyes Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. In the EU and UK, these dyes are not in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese because they are considered harmful and were removed due to consumer outcry.

  The Food Babe started a petition, over 300-thousand people signed it, and soon enough, Kraft listened to its challengers, and removed the artificial dyes from some of their products.

New Challenge
  Now, just last week, the Food Babe has re-focused on Subway and their breads.

Even Jimmy Fallon is in on the fight against yoga mat breads.

  She discovered that Subway makes bread with an ingredient called azodicarbonamide. This ingredient can be found in almost all the breads at Subway in the US, but not in Europe, Australia or other parts of the world.

  Azodicarbonamide is the same chemical used to make yoga mats, shoe soles, and other rubbery objects. Given those uses, it probably isn't meant for human consumption.

  Subway uses this ingredient as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner which allows them to produce bread faster and cheaper without considering the following health consequences and facts:
  • The World Health Organization has linked it to respiratory issues, allergies and asthma. 
  • When a truck carrying azodicarbonamide overturned on a Chicago highway in 2001, it prompted city officials to issue the highest hazardous materials alert and evacuate people within a half mile radius. Many of the people on the scene complained of burning eyes and skin irritation as a result.
  • The U.K. Health And Safety Executive has recognized azodicarbonamide as a potential cause of asthma.
  • When azodicarbonamide is heated, there are studies that show it is linked to tumor development and cancer.
  • Not only is this ingredient banned in Europe and Australia, but you also get fined 450,000 dollars if you get caught using it in Singapore and can serve 15 years in prison.
  Go here to join over 90,000 others, and ask Subway to remove azodicarbonamide, because we deserve the same safer ingredients Subway serves in other countries.

  Subway has responded to the Food Babe, saying that they they would be removing azodicarbonamide from their breads 'soon'. However, they did not respond when asked for a timeline, or a new ingredient list.

Healthy versus Safe
  While none of these foods scream healthy, sometimes convenience takes precedence. And that's why many of these foods are consumed, because they are convenient.

  We all want to be able to make a nice home cooked meal for our families all the time. But sometimes, we're in a time crunch, or we're tired. It's in the those times, we might call on these products. So we might as well make sure they're safe, right?

  All anyone is looking for is a safe food supply. Why a recipe is deemed harmful in one country, yet allowed in another, is beyond me. That's a blog for another day.

  The foundation is there, the recipes have been altered around the world. Now, all we need is the execution in the US.

Ingredients Banned in Other Countries, Remain in US Food Supply
Subway Petition Update
Subway Petition

M&M Analysis: Altered Recipes in Europe Remove GMOs
Do You Know What GMOs Are?
Banned Foods We Eat Every Day

Friday, February 7, 2014

Would You Say That to Your Daughter?

Playing days in Sweden (2010-2011).

  This week, a guy I don't know all-that-well, but respect a great deal -- for his work promoting women's athletics, and women's basketball more specifically -- made an important post on his Facebook page. He'd had enough -- of the constant snide remarks disparaging women's hoops and its athletes, and the lack of acknowledgement.

  I 'liked' his post, and commented on it. A few days passed, and I found myself thinking more about what he had said while I was running on the treadmill.

  I felt I needed to add something.

  But before we get to my thoughts, here's the post, in full, from Ben York:
WARNING: I’m getting on my soapbox…I don’t know where else to post this, so here we go.
I’m a women’s basketball guy. Always have been.
Some people like women’s basketball; others don’t.
I get it. And – trust me – I’ve heard every reason why. (I could get on an entirely new soapbox here, but that’s for another day. Maybe.)
The WNBA announced today that Magic Johnson (and other investors) purchased the Los Angeles Sparks to keep them in LA. Obviously, this is huge news for the league and women’s basketball fans in general (at least, it should be). Not only will this generate substantial awareness for the league, the business acumen of the ownership group has every intention of increasing profitability and long term staying power. Having a successful and thriving franchise in a major market like LA makes the WNBA better.
To be frank, though, what pisses me off are the people who continue to enthusiastically and consciously dismiss the WNBA as second-rate or “less than” while subsequently ignoring centuries of stereotypes and dogmas that promote women as inferior.
We aren’t asking you to love the WNBA. We don’t even need a ton of recognition. At this point, whether it is fair or not, a simple mention of scores or highlights (no matter the outlet) makes us giddy.
Acknowledgement, however, is another story.
This was most recently evidenced by the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl. Nearly every major media reported that it was the city’s first major championship since 1979, ignoring the Seattle Storm’s championships in 2004 and 2010.
Maddening, but if I’m honest, nothing new.
Yet, perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the so-called “debate” has been the response by detractors to completely disregard the league. As the brilliant Mechelle Voepel stated recently, the WNBA isn’t pretending (or even trying) to be one of the four major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL).
Nevertheless, it DOES feature the absolute best women’s basketball players in the world. It DOES set a tremendously empowering example for young women. It still can be improved, but it DOES represent the fundamental equality and opportunity that we ALL deserve. And in spite of the misdirected venom that is routinely spewed, it DOES continue to grow in attendance, ratings and sustainability.
To me, that’s pretty amazing.
Ultimately, I don’t know if things will change. I don’t know if the misogyny (don’t kid yourselves; it absolutely exists) will improve. I hope it does.
I’ll close with this: many players don’t have to play in the WNBA from a financial basis. That is to say, they do it because they care about what the league – in its truest form – stands for.
I respect the hell out of that.
Twenty years from now, I hope an eight-year-old young woman still sees one of her favorite WNBA players on ESPN and sets a tangible goal to make a living playing basketball professionally.
She deserves it.
/gets off soapbox
My nieces, Stella & Sadie, playing earlier this year.
Add R-E-S-P-E-C-T
  I'll see Ben's 'acknowledgement', and add respect.

  If you've ever read a comment section of a women's basketball article online, you know it can be an ugly place. It seems the comment 'who cares' never fails to appear. Many times, however, it goes much further than that.

  Or we've all been in a room, where women's basketball (or any women's sport for that matter) is brought up, and similar sentiment is repeated.

  I've done my best over the years to ignore those comments, but I've always found them disheartening. I've never really understood people who take the time out of their day to specifically diss women's basketball, or female athletes in general.

  And why is it acceptable?

Imagine You're Talking to Your Daughter
  Like Ben, I understand, women's athletics is not for everyone. You're either a fan, or you're not. I've found the only time someone converts to women's basketball fandom, after never having cared for the sport, is after they have a daughter.

  To those who have ever said, 'it doesn't matter, it's *just* women's basketball' (or something equally disrespectful), I have this to say to you: imagine you're talking to your daughter, or your niece, or your sister, or your girlfriend. Would you ever discredit, disrespect, disparage, or take away from what she is doing then?

  Girls playing sports is hugely beneficial --  to her psyche, her confidence, and I think, to our society in general. Strong, confident women; that's a good thing, isn't it?

  And equally important is girls having female role models to look up to. Why would we tear them down?

I looked up to Tamika Catchings in HS, & was thrilled to meet her. ('99)
Stopping the Disrespect
  Growing up, I was lucky enough to train on a daily basis with the best players in the Portland area, both boys and girls. We trained together, we played with each other, we competed against each other, and we worked our tails off together. But we respected each other as well.

  On a regular basis, pros or NCAA stars would come in to train alongside us. Our new training partners probably came in thinking 'who are these high school kids, and why am I training with them?'  Some of them most-definitely thought, 'why am I working out with girls?'

  Their first training sessions with us always went the same: our trainer would have us do the drills/competitions he knew we (the high school kids), and maybe specifically, us girls, would succeed in. And more often than not, the visiting stars would come up short against us in those competitions and drills.

  Immediately, that changed the perspective of our visitors. Those drills alone, gave us the respect we desired.

  In turn, it made our training sessions that much better. And probably made us all -- boys, girls, and visiting stars alike -- better players in the long run.

  We, the girls, found a way to earn respect on the court.

  Off the court, the respect isn't going to magically appear. But I don't know how we've allowed the constant disrespect to continue for so long. And we shouldn't allow it to go on.

  Here's your challenge, the next time your hear someone say 'who cares, it's just women's basketball', call them out on it. Ask them if they'd ever say that to their daughter. Or if they want their daughters to grow up having athletes as role models.

  It matters.

  Because like Ben, I too hope that in 20 years, that eight-year-old young lady sees her favorite player on TV and wants to grow up and be just like her.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Triumph Through the Run

Something that keeps me going as I run up those hills -- physical and otherwise

Keep pushing,                                      

Thursday, January 2, 2014

At Last, a Holiday Season at Home

Christmas day with my nieces -- 2013.

  Over the years, my family's Christmas Day tradition has become hopping in the car late Christmas morning, driving a couple hours to my brother's house, and spending the rest of the day enjoying each other's company.

  It was always a great way to see everyone before I had to get on a plane back to Europe.

  Even though I had no flight to rush back to this time around, this year was no different.

  As I sat in the back seat of my dad's squeaky truck on the road to my brother's, my knees jammed into the back of my mom's seat, my toes cold, I suddenly flashed to being in the back of an airplane instead.

  And here, I had just been thinking, that it hadn't really felt like Christmas yet, because I hadn't been on an airplane.

  For the first time since I was a senior in high school, I wasn't traveling to get home for Christmas. And the first time in just as many years, that I didn't have to hurry off immediately following the holiday.

Portland during the holiday season.
  I was already home.

  As I sat in the truck, I flashed back to a few of my more-memorable holiday travel experiences over the past 15 years.
  • My freshman year in college, saying goodbye to my family Christmas morning at the Portland airport; to head back to Boulder -- for practice Christmas evening. Ever try to find a place to eat Christmas dinner in a college town during Winter Break? Good thing for my teammates, as we were all in the same boat.

  • Flying home to Portland from Florida after a horrific loss to the Gators my junior year. My teammates and I raced to the airport, and through security just in time to make our respective flights home to our families. Then, returning to Boulder several days later to a not-so welcoming practice back will always be in my memory bank. There are a handful of college practices that vividly stick out in my mind, and forever will. And that is one of them. We ran off our holiday turkey, pies, and other goodies in that practice alone.

  • As a pro, the anxious feeling as the holiday break approached, mostly to learn when we'd be going home (and how many days we'd be able to spend in the States). You never wanted to ask too soon (as to not appear too anxious to leave), and it was always to helpful to inquire after a game won. Somehow, I never got quite enough days Stateside. I was always wanting a few more -- even the year I got three weeks home.

  • Having to scramble the year I played in Poland (2006) to get my visa, while at home, to return for the second half of the season. Mis-communications, holiday madness, and poor planning, didn't allow me to return to Jelenia Gora in time to play in my team's opener after the break. An unforeseen extended holiday break. But as I remember, my team lost the game I missed. 

  • 2010 in Sweden, I thought I wasn't going to be able to make it home -- because the break in between games was so short. Thankfully, my team and management were incredibly understanding, and went out of their way to work with me. Five days at home was a quick turn around, but it was well worth it. I got back to Luleå the day before our game. I was jet-legged, to say the least. My coach wouldn't let me play because I looked so bad during pre-game. Good thing my team was plenty-capable that season -- they took care of our opponent with ease as I cheered from the bench.

  • And finally, 2008, I thought I'd be spending Christmas in Amsterdam, and then maybe Vancouver BC (then possibly Seattle). That year, it seemed the whole northern hemisphere had been slammed with snow storms. Lucky for me, the Portland airport was closed down -- no flights in or out. With my flight cancelled, and hundreds of people trying to get to the northwest, I thought I'd be stuck in Amsterdam til after the holiday. I must have been living right, because I somehow made it home. I ended up on a flight (as a standby traveler) to Vancouver BC (after failing to get on the flight to Seattle from Amsterdam earlier that day). But still, with the Pacific Northwest covered in ice and snow, the airline was unsure if flights would be continuing on to Seattle (where my parents were loyally driving from Portland to pick me up). I made the connection to Seattle, and there my parents were, waiting for me, as I exited the terminal. 
Snow storm I returned home to in 2008.
  While it may not have felt like Christmas for me leading up to it this year, it certainly felt like Christmas on the 25th. With family and wonderful food, lights and decoration, and of course presents; I can definitely say the holiday was just as great as ever.

  And I didn't even have to get on an airplane to get that feeling. But I sure was happy to be sitting the cold, uncomfortable seat in my Dad's truck.

  Hope you had a wonderful holiday, and happy 2014!