The Grind of Starting an AAU Program

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co Creator

Audio Version of this Story

Queens Pythons Executive Director Monserrate Olivera with his undefeated 11U blue team

Queens Pythons Executive Director Monserrate Olivera with his undefeated 11U blue team

On Saturday, March 4th, at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Queens, Santo Cottone looked on as his son Gabrielle hustled up the court during an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball game. Cottone, a Long Island railroad worker from Glendale, has two sons playing for the Queens Pythons, an AAU program in its second year. Gabrielle plays on the 11-and-under (11U) team, while Damiano stars for 12U. His sons are both talented players who could likely earn spots on an established AAU team. But Cottone chose the Queens Pythons.

“When a glove fits, you just wear it,” he said at halftime of the game between the Pythons and 845 Elite.

Just moments into the second half, 845 Elite scored a basket to trim the Queens Pythons lead to 15-12. Pythons founder and coach Monserrate Olivera, known as Junior, took his glasses off and rubbed his forehead in frustration. At 6-foot-4, wearing a navy blue sweater with a bear embroidered into its center, black slacks and brown loafers, he towered over his players.

His 11U team was undefeated, and Olivera was not ready to cede their perfect record. He called a timeout and instructed his team to run their bread and butter play, “Tiger.” It worked. They scored, and immediately set up their relentless full court press. The Pythons held 845 Elite scoreless the rest of the game, and won 36-12, ending on a 19-0 run. An hour later, in their following game, they won 52-3 to remain undefeated.

The Queens Pythons 11U blue team celebrates their tournament victory

The Queens Pythons 11U blue team celebrates their tournament victory

It was then time for a Pythons team photo, and each boy clutched his gold trophy, enjoying the victory. Olivera stood behind them, smiling for the camera.

But moments like this are only a minuscule part of Olivera’s job.

Helming a new AAU program from the bottom up requires a lot more than just a mild interest in coaching basketball. Olivera founded the Queens Pythons in October of 2015 with the vision of one day joining the ranks of New York City AAU powerhouses like the Rens and the Gauchos. By February 2016, Olivera’s 501-3C application was approved, and the Pythons began their first full spring through summer AAU season. Now, gearing up for their second full season, Queens Pythons has eight teams from 8U through 17U, with over 100 players participating.

Rather than coach the 17U team, a more glamorous role that includes trips to nationals and lots of schmoozing with college coaches and recruiters, Olivera elected to coach 11U with the hope of developing them into great players by the time they’re upperclassmen in high school. He plans to move up with this class each season until they graduate. Additionally, part of his plan is to help them earn scholarships to private high schools. To Olivera, a private or Catholic school would give his players their best chance of being recruited by colleges.

“You get better coaches, better leadership, and you have the funding behind you,” said Olivera.

A quick look at the New York basketball landscape suggests Olivera is recognizing real trends. Of the last 32 top-100 recruits to come out of New York, boys or girls, 28 attended a private school.

“It’s a death sentence,” Olivera said of trying to get recruited from a public high school. “At a private, you have the village behind you. You get sneakers and gear.”

Olivera, a Latino and Italian 32-year old who grew up in Queens, takes this view from his personal experience. He attended Christ the King, a private, Catholic school his freshmen year before transferring to his local public school Grover Cleveland High School due to financial issues. Olivera was raised by his grandmother and didn’t have the resources to sustain his private education. Although he played three years of varsity basketball at Grover Cleveland and secured financial aid play basketball at SUNY Delhi, Olivera feels the transfer limited his exposure in the recruiting process.

“If I would have stayed at private school I would have had a lot of different options,” he said.

After finishing his two-year program at SUNY-Delhi, Olivera transferred to Columbia University where he got his degree in finance. Although he didn’t play basketball for Columbia, he got an education that led him to a private sector job. Now, during the day, he works as a paralegal at Casin & Casin LLP, a law firm specializing in real estate finance.

***

Two days after the Pythons victory over at 845 Elite, Olivera was far away from his world of basketball at his office, a lush building at the corner of 44th street and 3rd avenue in Manhattan. At 32, he’s at his fourth law firm with the same job title. He could’ve gotten his law degree in order to move up. But that’s not Olivera’s vision.

“I could never be able to do basketball and go to law school,” he said.

Olivera hopes Queens Pythons can grow into a full time enterprise and he can fully focus on his passion.

“If I could make what I make here in the basketball world, I’d be gone,” said Olivera.

To do so, he knows he needs to focus on developing his young players now so he can compete with established AAU powerhouses at the high school level. The Queens Pythons have a loaded 11U team that hasn’t lost a game since falling to the Rens by eight points last season. The potential is there. But focusing on basketball is only a sliver of the job in AAU, and Olivera has to log 40 to 50 hours a week to keep the Queens Pythons operating.

More established AAU teams often have a board of directors as well as volunteers in charge of various functions of the organization. Olivera said he has to do everything himself and doesn’t collect a salary. His responsibilities include marketing, social media, bookkeeping, booking hotels, booking travel, registering for tournaments, ordering gear, coaching two of the teams, finding new coaches, recruiting players, running practices and talking to college coaches. All of this on top of his nine-to-five paralegal job which he leaves each day to go immediately to AAU events. Training is on Monday. Practices for different age groups are Tuesday through Friday. Games are all day Saturday and Sunday.

***

After speaking with Olivera at his office, he rushed out of his work and onto the 7 line to Queens. Arriving in Jersey City after just one stop, he ran off the train to his car, parked two blocks from the station. He drove to Maspeth High School to pick up Niko Anders, a 22-year old student at LaGuardia Community College. Anders was a manager for the college team and fell in love with coaching. Now, he juggles a transfer application to Brooklyn College, coaching the 12U, 13U and 14U teams for Queens Pythons, while also serving as an assistant coach for the Maspeth High School basketball team.

“You have to be a little bit crazy to do what we do,” said Anders.

After picking up Anders, Olivera drove towards PS207 in Howard Beach for training. He picked up a player on the way. Upon arrival, a youth baseball team was already in the gym that Olivera has permits for every Monday. After a ninety-minute drive and two stops, with no time for dinner, Olivera then had to speak with the school administrator about the gym. Thirty parents would be arriving with their children shortly, expecting a workout. Although the baseball team has been using the school for fifteen years, they told Olivera he could have the gym and they would run their tryouts in the school cafeteria.

Players of all ages came for intensive workouts: calisthenics, weights, jump rope, shooting and conditioning. There were three sessions that ran till 9:30 pm. After, Olivera stopped at Wendy’s, his first meal of the day. Next he dropped off a player and then Niko. Just past midnight he sent me a message that he got home.

***

The Saturday before, hours before his 11U team won back-to-back games, Olivera arrived at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Queens at 10am. The center is in the Richmond Hill neighborhood of Queens, next to a gas station at Atlantic Avenue and 111th street, 30 minutes from Olivera’s place in Jersey City. It’s wasn’t his first stop of the day, he already dropped off his eight-year-old son in Long Island for a basketball game.

By 11am, his teams were decked out in their light blue camouflage uniforms, yellow socks and basketball shoes. About thirty parents looked on, seated in plastic chairs. A camera crew lined the players up in two rows. The photos were to be sent to Under Armour, the Queens Pythons gear sponsor. In exchange for gear, the Pythons must send proof of players wearing Under Armour in games and tournaments. To do so, Olivera must hire a photographer and constantly film and photograph events.

“I have to oversee everyone constantly,” he said.

The Queens Pythons 10U yellow team is photographed for Under Armour.

The Queens Pythons 10U yellow team is photographed for Under Armour.

As Olivera kept the photoshoot moving, collected entry fees from parents, and made announcements about the schedule of games, he took a brief moment to interact with his players.

“If Jayden makes that I’ll give him 20 bucks,” he joked, as the 11-year old lined up a half-court shot.

Jayden Brickhouse, the leading scorer for the undefeated 11U blue team, smiled and continued to hoist shots from the midline. His team wouldn’t play till 6pm, but Brickhouse was having fun with his teammates.

“Don’t you have a paper?” asked his mother Kiki Brickhouse.

“I’ll do it tomorrow,” responded Jayden, as he lobbed another shot at the basket.

Only a 6th grader, Brickhouse had the confidence and poise of someone much older, and attributed part of that to Olivera’s coaching style.

“When you mess up he tells you what you did wrong, but also what you did good,” he said.

With the photos wrapping up, Olivera beelined to the Next Generation gym for a game with his 10U yellow team. They were also undefeated and had a league matchup against a winless opponent. Minutes before the game, the other team was nowhere to be found.

Greg Lowe, the father of Jaylen Lowe, another promising player on 11U, sat in the stands watching his son practice shooting. Lowe said his son played Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball, but he wanted him on a more competitive team, so he sought out AAU. Seeing the Queens Pythons and Olivera as a good fit, Lowe brings Jaylen all the way from Hempstead, Long Island to participate.

“He’s a passionate coach. Passionate for teaching and learning,” said Lowe of Olivera.

After fifteen more minutes of waiting, the other team didn’t arrive and the game was a forfeit. Olivera approached the parents who had been patiently waiting to watch their kids play.

“We get the win, but we’re not learning anything by beating these teams by forfeit,” he told the parents. He continued explaining that they’re a young program still figuring out how to balance playing the most competitive teams but also playing as many games as possible. Inside, his frustration was clearly brewing from the lost opportunity to play a game. He couldn’t help himself as he finished his speech.

“I’m not scared of any team, the Rens, the Gauchos.”

There’s was no time for further explication, as Olivera had to get back to the Boys and Girls Club for a full slate of games. His 11U team wouldn’t play till six, but other age groups were playing all day. Hopping back into his car, he raced out of the parking lot. Olivera hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and his gas tank was dangerously close to empty. He didn’t seem concerned. Olivera said since starting AAU, which is essentially a second full time job, he barely eats on these jam-packed weekends. He stopped working out, and routinely gets home at 11pm. Even in the one-hour break from games, he was calling parents at the Boys and Girls Club to make sure people were working the scorer’s table, collecting referee fees and coaches were present.

On the highway back to the gym, as the coach got animated explaining all the logistics of running a tournament, the car ran out of gas. Luckily, Olivera was in the right lane and able to pull over onto the shoulder. Olivera called five highway patrol numbers to no avail. While on hold, he furiously texted parents to help run the games while until he returned. An hour later, a parent came with a gallon of gas and he was on his way.

Penn Spoils Columbia’s Senior Night with 21-20 Win

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creator

NEW YORK – At Columbia University’s Dodge Fitness Center, a wrestling mat is set up in the middle of the student basketball court. Scattered bleachers surround the mat as undergraduates watch through glass panels while they workout in the adjacent weight room. Above, students run on a rubber track overlooking the court as Penn’s wrestling team warms up.

Penn wrestled just hours earlier in a matinee win at Binghamton, but you could hardly tell. The Quakers started strong with a tech-fall, regular decision and a pin in the first three matches, and held off a Columbia comeback to win 21-20.

“It was a long weekend for us, but it will definitely make us better going into the postseason,” said Penn captain May Bethea. “I was proud of the teams’ effort.”

After a rough 32-6 home loss to Princeton Friday, Columbia had extra motivation Saturday as it was Senior Night. The Lions honored seniors Austin Coniker, 174 lbs., and Johnson Mai, 125 lbs. Although Coniker fell by tech-fall to Penn captain Casey Kent in the opening match, Mai was able to win by decision in front of his sister and cousin to cut Penn’s lead to 14-8.

“It means a lot,” said Mai after the match. “It’s the culmination of my career and all the hard work I put in these four years.”

Mai led 4-3 with 20 seconds left in the match and simply had to avoid giving up a point. With his family looking on, the senior stayed on his feet to win.

“I used to have trouble closing out matches with the lead,” said Mai. “I’d give up those last second takedowns. I just tried to stay focused; controlling ties, making sure his lead hand wasn’t able to attack my leg, making sure I was moving him around and my feet weren’t in one place at one time. Just making him guess. You’ve got to stay focused and mentally tough, even when you’re exhausted.”

After Mai cut the deficit to six, Columbia’s Alec Kelly, 133 lbs., made quick work of Penn’s Carl Antrassian, pinning him in the first period to tie the dual at 14. For the freshman Kelly, it was his second pin in three matches.

“I knew right away I was going to have to get some bonus points for the team,” said Kelly. “I’m starting to hit my stride. I’m feeling more and more comfortable every time I step on the mat.”

With the dual tied at 14, Columbia’s Jacob Macalolooy, 141 lbs., beat A.J. Vindici 8-1 to earn a decision and a 17-14 team lead, but fell a point shy of a major decision, which proved costly as the Lions would lose by one. Columbia coach Zach Tanelli was visibly furious that Vindici was not called for a stall, which would have awarded Columbia the needed point.

“What is going on with this match,” he yelled at the referee.

Tied at 17, the penultimate match featured Penn captain Bethea, 157 lbs., who led 10-4 and needed one takedown to go up by eight and earn a major decision. He continued to ride Columbia’s Lawrence Kosoy towards the edge of the mat, trying to bring him down. During a stoppage, Tanelli again got heated with the referee.

“He cannot ride him out,” he said face-to-face with the referee as the Columbia fans booed. Then, with 20 seconds left, Bethea finally got the takedown for the major decision.

“I knew one takedown to get the major, so just going all out for 10 seconds,” said Bethea, still panting after the match. “I came to a body lock and just finished.”

The major decision gave Penn a 21-17 lead, setting up the final match between Columbia captain Tyrel White, 157 lbs., and Penn’s Joe Veliquette. While favored, White needed a major decision to force overtime, or a tech-fall or pin to win outright. After Veliquette got a surprising takedown to go up 2-0, White controlled the rest of the match and won 8-4, but the decision gave Columbia just three points, one shy of forcing overtime.

“We were down by four, that’s not Ty’s [Tyrel White] problem,” said Tanelli. “We had nine other matches to put ourselves in a position to be ahead. Ty did a great job, that’s as good as I’ve seen Ty in a long time.”

After the match, Penn coach Alex Tirapelle praised Columbia for fighting back after falling behind 14-0.

“They showed a lot of heart,” he said. “We fully anticipated them to continue to wrestle.”

After three duals in less than 24 hours, Tirapelle was pleased with the focus his team showed as they prepare for the postseason.

“We’re getting effort from 10 guys, we’re getting seven minutes of matches,” he said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction at the right time of year.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pacers Survive Three Point Barrage, Beat Nets 106-97

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creator

NEW YORK -- The Indiana Pacers finally look like a team that could make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs. After meddling in mediocrity through the first 44 games, the Pacers won their fifth game in a row Friday with a win over Brooklyn 106-97.

Indiana (27-22) was led by 24 points apiece from All-Star small forward Paul George and point guard Jeff Teague. The pair teamed up on multiple pick and rolls late in the fourth quarter to put away a game that got closer than expected due to an inspired effort from the Nets bench.

“I think there’s a sense of urgency in this group right now,” said Teague, who hit a layup with 1:21 left that gave the Pacers a 100-95 lead that sealed the game.

The Pacers starters built a 67-48 lead halfway through the third quarter with crisp ball movement and stingy defense, deafening and already quiet Brooklyn crowd, save for a modest Pacers fan section. But the Nets (9-41) got strong production from their second unit and stormed back against the Pacers reserves, ripping off a dramatic 37-16 run to take an 85-83 lead on a Quincy Acy 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter. It was a shocking turnaround that injected life into the arena.

“They made a run,” said Teague. “They made some subs and guys came off the bench and gave them a spark.”

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson said before the game that he wanted his team to take more three pointers, and his bench responded. The Nets reserves were 10-of-18 on 3-pointers and scored 63 of the team’s 97 points. Although starting center Brook Lopez led Brooklyn with 23 points, it was the second unit that made this a game.

“We played with a lot of energy,” said Nets shooting guard Joe Harris, who scored 15 points and shot 3-of-4 from long range off the bench. “Everyone was really aggressive when they came in on both ends.”

Many of the Nets’ 3-pointers were wide open, a combination of effective ball movement by Brooklyn and over-aggressive help defense from the Pacers.

“We do a great job when it comes to screening for one another and getting each other open,” said Nets backup point guard Sean Kilpatrick, who had four assists and five rebounds to go along with 18 points.

The 37-16 run left an ugly mark on an otherwise strong performance from the Pacers starters.

“We knew Brooklyn wasn’t going to stop playing,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan. “No road game is easy.”

As well as Brooklyn’s bench played, the Nets starters were overmatched, as 2016 first-round pick Caris LeVert got his first NBA start in place of shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic, who sat for rest. LeVert struggled offensively, finishing with just four points on 1-of-9 shooting from the field, but had some nice moments on the defensive end.

“I know he struggled offensively, but I feel comfortable with him out there defensively,” said Atkinson, applauding his efforts defending Paul George in crunch time. “Offensively, they’re young guys, sometimes they try to do too much. It’s our job to reign them in a little bit.”

Although Atkinson said the Nets are building a positive culture, he acknowledged the difficulty of sustained losing.  

"It's frustrating," said Atkinson. "Those guys are frustrated in there. But I know tomorrow we’ll go in that practice facility, the sun will come up, they'll have smiles on their face, and they’ll work their tails off."

The Nets, who have now lost eight in a row and 19 of 20 games, won’t have it any easier when they host the Raptors (30-21) this Sunday at the Barclays Center. Brooklyn should have guard Isaiah Whitehead available after he hurt his shoulder Friday night; he told the media he felt good after the game.

The Pacers had high expectations coming into this season, and were mentioned along with the Celtics and Raptors as teams that could earn a top four seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. After a slow start, the Pacers have climbed to 6th place in the Eastern Conference, just 4.5 games back of the second-place Celtics. McMillan, in his first year as head coach with Indiana, said the Pacers are beginning to gel after adjusting to three new starters in Teague, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner.

“We’re starting to get more comfortable with each other,” he said. “It takes some time for you to get a feel for a player and their tendencies.”

The Pacers return home to host the Pistons Saturday night but may be without Thaddeus Young, who took a fall late in the game.

“I think it’s a sprain,” said McMillan. “We’ll get an MRI tomorrow to look at it a little more clearly.”

Indiana has now won 12 out of their last 16 games.

“We know coming into the All Star Break we want to be playing well,” said Teague, who played seven seasons in Atlanta. “So we’re just going to keep working, keep trying to get wins.”

No. 24 Xavier Beats St. John’s but Loses Sumner to Knee Injury

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creator

            NEW YORK -- With six minutes left in the game, Xavier point guard Edmond Sumner again drove past St. John’s point guard Marcus Lovett for a basket and the foul, but landed awkwardly and had to be helped off the floor. Xavier held on for the 82-77 win, but may lose Sumner as his knee appeared to buckle on the nasty spill.

Xavier head coach Chris Mack said Sumner would be evaluated Monday and there was no information on his injury. “My first concern is for our point guard Edmond Sumner,” said Mack. “Obviously, it didn’t look good. But I have no information.”

 Following the injury, Xavier backup point guard Quentin Goodin made the free throw in place of Sumner to give Xavier a 68-56 lead, but the loss of Sumner gave life to St. John’s. Xavier, without their primary ball handler, began to succumb to St. John’s full court pressure. The Red Storm, led by 23 points from freshman guard Shamorie Ponds, went on a 10-0 run, taking advantage of Xavier turnovers and missed shots to pull within two at 68-66 with just over four minutes left. “I thought the game flipped to St. John’s favor when Edmond went out,” said Mack. “We were searching.” But two points was the closest St. John’s would get, as the Musketeers got just enough from leading scorer Trevon Bluiett (21 points) and Goodin (16 points) to escape with the win.

Goodin, who came in averaging just 2.9 points per game, went 7 of 9 from the free throw line and helped Xavier close the game in an unfamiliar role. “I don’t know how many freshman point guards could have taken the pressure and flipped it,” said Mack. “I’m really, really happy for Quentin to be able to step up.”

Speaking to the media after the game, Goodin said he’s grown more comfortable with each game and has watched a lot of film in order to be ready. “It’s my job as a point guard to come in and run the team,” he said.

Before getting hurt, Sumner, a projected late first-round pick according to NBA Draft Net and Draft Express, showed his full arsenal with a reverse slam, an emphatic rejection of a St. John’s layup, and numerous drives to the basket on his way to 17 points, seven assists and four rebounds.  It took less than 12 seconds for the 6-foot-6 guard to make his presence felt as he scored the games’ first basket by posting up St. John’s Marcus LoVett, taking advantage of a six-inch height advantage.

St. John’s got most of their scoring from their backcourt of Shamorie Ponds (23 points), LoVett (11 points) and Bashir Ahmed (11 points), but the team was just 5-of-23 on 3-pointers after entering the game third in the Big East in 3-point shooting at 38.6 percent. “We just started out slow, it kind of put us in a hole,” said LoVett. “That was a winnable game.”

In a sloppy game in which both teams shot poorly and combined for 32 turnovers and 56 fouls, rebounding was critical. Xavier took advantage on the boards with 17 offensive rebounds and a 45-26 rebounding edge overall. St. John’s, dead last in the Big East in defensive rebounding, gave Xavier too many extra opportunities despite holding the Musketeers to 5-of-18 on 3-pointers and just 32 points in the first half. “Pretty much every game we get outrebounded,” said Ponds. “One through five we need to do a better job.”

St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin echoed his players on the rebounding woes, especially given how poorly they shot from distance. “We shoot 5-for-23 and give up 17 offensive rebounds, that’s probably the difference in the game,” said Mullin. Still, Mullin chose to look at the game as a step in the right direction. “We got it back to three. That's progress,” he said, comparing the effort to when the teams met on Jan. 7th in Cincinnati, a 97-82 victory for Xavier. St John’s (10-13, 4-6), who entered Sunday’s game coming off a 91-86 road win against Providence, will host Marquette Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

No. 24 Xavier was coming off a crushing 86-78 loss against crosstown rival No. 19 Cincinnati, a game in which they led by eight at the half and spoiled a career night of 40 points from leading scorer Trevon Bluiett (18.5 ppg). The Musketeers were abused by Cincinnati on the glass, something they tried to correct Sunday. “Last game we didn’t dominate at all. We kind of took that personally,” said Bluiett, who finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds after a quiet first half. Xavier (14-6, 5-4) hosts Seton Hall on Wednesday, but will likely be without Sumner pending MRI results.  “Keep him in your prayers. Hopefully he’ll be back on the court sooner than later,” said Mack.

The Women’s March and What Comes Next

Ari Schwartz | @arischwartz | Medium Talk Contributor 

When more than 1 in 100 Americans engage in coordinated protest, it’s a milestone event. Last weekend’s women’s marches drew millions into the streets across the country, in what some estimate to be the largest demonstration in American history.

Voter turnout in midterm elections hovers around 40 percent; having one percent of Americans actively engaged in resistance to Donald Trump’s agenda could shape our politics throughout his term and for years to come. So we should ask: what do the women’s marches signify for our country’s politics and for resistance to the Trump administration? What do they mean for the future of the American left and the Democratic Party? 

The incredible size of the marches suggests that a large segment of America is not willing to accept the agenda of our new President. The marches quickly became a social phenomenon, with many people gathering to support the values of equality and women’s rights, and others simply to vent or taunt the President. But mass rallies can achieve more than providing a venue for signs, speeches and selfies. Mass rallies can alter our politics if they are channeled into an organized constituency.

More than the Clinton coalition?

I spent Saturday at the women’s march in DC. The sheer size and scope of the crowds, both downtown and uptown and pouring out of the metro stations, was incredible. But as I wandered through the mostly white crowd holding witty signs, I wondered if this wasn’t just the activist core of the Hillary Clinton coalition. To build a real opposition to the Republican Party, that will not be enough.

Let me be clear: the Clinton-led Democratic Party is in shambles. It lost the Presidency to the most unpopular candidate since the creation of polling. It lost the Senate and the House. Conservatives will soon control the Supreme Court and many lower courts as Trump nominates hundreds of judges. Democrats control only 16 governors’ mansions, and only six states with a trifecta of governor and both legislative chambers. Republicans, in contrast, control state legislatures in 32 states, up from 14 in 2010. Democrats have lost more than 900 state legislature seats since 2009. The first step is admitting Democrats have failed at every level to prevent right-wing takeover of our representative government. 

So how does the Democratic Party expand the Clinton coalition and become relevant once again? The women’s march gave us part of the blueprint, and the Clinton campaign showed us what to leave behind. Clinton’s campaign made a strategic decision to center its general election campaign around Trump being unfit for the Presidency. At times, she seemed to dispense with drawing contrasts on the issues entirely. I saw a similar focus on the villainy of Trump at the women’s march. Yet I also saw the encouraging outlines of a defined constituency with issue-based grievances against Trump. Lots of people marched explicitly because Trump and the Republican Party have pledged to strip health insurance from millions, to de-fund women’s healthcare, and to overturn Roe v. Wade. That is a horrifying agenda around which you can build an organized base and a platform of demands. Issues and how they affect people cut across various identities and political loyalties. To get from the women’s march to an organized movement— one that is larger and more coherent than Clinton’s campaign—will require organizing around clear and bold demands. 

Building organized groups of people relies on moments that turn bystanders into activists. The women’s march was one such moment. Yes, it was disproportionately white and upper middle-class. True, it did not have a sharp enough set of political demands. Those critiques need to be addressed. But as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor notes, not many people start as radicals and politically mature activists. For a fledgling movement to become a mass movement, it must welcome people new to politics and organizing, and train them to take further action.

The Koch and DeVos-funded FreedomWorks capitalized on Tea Party demonstrations back in 2009 to build a grassroots base and an agenda against Obama. So what organized constituencies and political demands will emerge from the women’s march? That is the central question as we plunge into an era of unified Republican government.

Demands will determine the aftermath of the women’s march

David Brooks, who inexplicably still gets paid to write opinions, wrote that the women’s march “focuses on the wrong issues,” like reproductive rights, equal pay, and affordable health care. He dismisses these as “voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities.” Of course he cannot see past his multi-million dollar house to begin to understand how voters think. And he is misguided to think that those are the wrong issues. Both upper-middle class and poor people care about healthcare. They care about access to contraception and abortion. They care about wages. The issues are clear, but what are the moments that galvanize millions of people around those demands?

If the women’s march is the beginning of a movement for single payer healthcare that includes reproductive rights and the government ensuring that all Americans — men and women — can get good, equal paying jobs, then we will remember it as a turning point in history. If it does not produce any bold, clear demands, it becomes yet another one-off mass march. 

The Problem with the College Football Playoff

As I watched Ohio State get a controversial first down and saw my girlfriend, a Michigan alum, chuck a pillow across the room, I knew Michigan’s chances at a playoff berth were crumbling before my eyes. The Buckeyes would win the game on the next play, secure their own bid to the College Football Playoff, and dash Michigan’s hopes.

Eight days later, the College Football Playoff committee, comprised of 12 athletic directors, former coaches and Condoleezza Rice, took the easy way out when they announced their four schools for this year’s playoff: zero-loss Alabama, and one-loss Clemson, Ohio State and Washington. Runners-up Penn State and Michigan had each lost twice and were subsequently left out.

If getting into the playoff was solely based on record, then the committee got it right. But according to the committee chairman Kirby Holcutt, their job was to select the four “best” teams.

“Fundamentally we kept in mind that our job is to determine who are the best teams," he told ESPN. "That is what we did."

Actually, it seems like what they did was select the teams with the best records (we’ll get to undefeated Western Michigan later). Comparing records is misleading because teams don’t play the same opponents. A team with two losses can be better than a team with one.

Penn State’s argument was that they won the Big Ten Conference Championship and beat Ohio State head to head. They beat a team in the playoff and won the title of the highest ranked conference! Their two losses came against Michigan and a Pittsburgh team that also beat number-two Clemson. But alas, two losses became a convenient disqualifier for the committee.

For Michigan, a controversial defeat on the road against Ohio State in double overtime surely proved they were at least on the same level as the Buckeyes. And for most of the season they looked like the second-best team in the country based on the eye test. But they fell by one point to Iowa to total two losses on the season, so they’re out, even though they may be the only team that could hang with Alabama.

One-loss Washington, on the other hand, played the second weakest non-conference schedule in the country, getting cupcake wins over Rutgers, Idaho, and Division IAA opponent Portland State. Should Penn State have played a weaker non-conference schedule to avoid a second loss? Is Washington being rewarded for evading potential losses early in the season?

The committee is sending a mixed message here. They tolerated Washington’s scared scheduling, but then credited Ohio State for playing at Oklahoma and winning. Any program wondering whether or not it should play a difficult non-conference schedule is left without a clear answer.

Then to the conference championship games. Ohio State didn’t even qualify for the Big Ten title game, and is the first team to make the four-team playoff without a conference title. Penn State beat Wisconsin in the championship game and beat Ohio State in the regular season but is left out. What again is the point of the conference championship game?

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby wants answers to that question. The Big 12 recently voted to add a conference championship game starting in 2017 to make their league more competitive for bids to the national playoff.

“We've always heard that conference championships matter and division championships matter, and now it's confusing," he said.

If you’re confused, that’s OK. There was a clear top six, but deciphering which four of those six teams are the best is ultimately subjective.

What’s comical is that there’s no need for all the handwringing. The NCAA could easily go to an eight-team system. There are five power conferences in the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12. Give each conference an automatic bid. Not necessarily the conference champion, though typically that will be one and the same. Then have three at-large bids. This year you’d have the four who got in: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington. You add Penn State and Michigan to get to six teams. Then you add Big 12 champion Oklahoma to get to seven and satisfy the rule that all five power conferences get at least one bid.

At this point all two-loss teams are in. Give the final spot to 13-0 mid-major Western Michigan. Remember when undefeated Boise State got their shot against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and won?

With eight bids, all the contenders are in, and no serious doubt is left as to whether or not the best teams are competing for a national championship.

The only potential wrench in this plan is the added round to the playoffs. That means one more game and a higher toll on the players’ bodies. But the current semifinals aren’t until New Year’s Eve. Teams’ last games will have been December 3rd, giving players almost four full weeks of rest. They are used to playing every week. Can’t the NCAA find one weekend in a month for an extra round?

And don’t give me the argument that players need time off for final exams. It’s a convenient narrative to suddenly act as if the NCAA is prioritizing academics. Even if you buy that, then play the quarterfinals on December 24th, well after the semester is over.

I enjoyed debating which four teams deserved to get in as much as the next analyst. But that’s selfish. There are players from Penn State, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Western Michigan who don’t get an opportunity to play for a title. Let’s fix that.

Two Teachers Face Their Students the Morning After Trump Wins Election

In my years of teaching I dealt with brawls, harassment, lockdowns, teen suicide, communities plagued with few resources, and children enduring systemic disadvantages. But I never had to answer the questions that high school teacher Cara Arcuni and middle school teacher Nadiene Jacques fielded the morning after the 2016 presidential election.

“Can he bring back slavery?” asked one of Arcuni’s students.

“What are they going to do with the immigrants?” asked one of Jacques’ students.

While these questions are distressing, they’re not surprising. President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and used offensive rhetoric towards people of color. The fear his words triggered ring loudly in school communities like those of Arcuni and Jacques.

Arcuni, a 29-year-old English teacher at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, said she knew the likely results of the election around 11pm. She didn’t get to bed until nearly 2 in the morning, spending hours sifting through social media, searching for answers on how to face a classroom of 34 teenagers, many of whom are immigrants, almost all of them students of color. Arcuni has students from Nepal, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan. She has Asian students, Latino students and black students.

“The New York City school system is full of legal and illegal immigrants,” Arcuni said. “How do I legitimize their fears without overwhelming them?”

Talking about politics is often frowned upon in schools for fear of teacher bias coming through in the classroom.

“The goal is for teachers to present the facts and for students to think for themselves,” Arcuni said.

Since John Dewey had no school-wide programming leading up to the election, the burden fell on individual teachers to address the vitriolic campaign that targeted many of the racial and ethnic groups of their students. Although Arcuni’s principal advised teachers to tell their students how much they are loved in the days following the election, Arcuni knew that sentiment alone would not be enough to help students process the reality of a Trump presidency.

“There’s no training for how a teacher should treat an explosive event like this,” she said.

Nadiene Jacques, 32, was grappling with the same dilemma as Arcuni the night of the election: how to face her students the next morning.

"Especially as a white woman, I wanted to make sure I was coming from a place where I was understanding and empathic,” she said.

Like Arcuni, Jacques, an eighth grade English teacher at Theatre Arts Production Company School in the Bronx, spent election night in her apartment. Unlike Arcuni, she didn’t get any sleep. Jacques said that as soon as Trump won Florida, she knew he would win.

“My heart was pounding, it was devastating,” she said. “The first thing I thought about was my kids.”

She stayed glued to the news until she had to go to school the next morning, unsure how she would be able to teach.

“The kids are going to be too amped up,” she recalled thinking.

Jacques isn’t a veteran teacher. After getting an undergraduate theater degree, she became the assistant to the CEO of an asset management company on Wall Street. After over five years on the job, she needed a change. However, just three years into her teaching career, she would be called upon to comfort her students in the Bronx.

Jacques said her co-teacher texted her that night suggesting they scrap the lesson and discuss the election in class.

“They’re behind on their essay, let’s just get to the lesson,” Jacques texted back, trying to stick to the plan and evade the emotional topic.

That was wishful thinking. Once class began, it was a matter of minutes before the lesson was interrupted with questions about the election.

In Arcuni’s classroom, she told the student who asked about slavery, who she described as bubbling with energy despite a long commute and literacy struggles as a Caribbean immigrant, that President-elect Donald Trump didn’t have the power to bring back slavery.

But the question alone was heartbreaking.

About 30 miles north in the Bronx, Jacques started crying after listening to her students concerns about racism and deportation.

“I can’t make any promises,” she said, responding to her students’ questions in tears.

She stressed to her students the role they can play just by getting their education and being informed, taking solace in the fact that many of them are 14 and will be eligible to vote in 2020.

“It’s your turn next,” she told them.

Cubs Put 108 Years of History into the Hands of Aroldis Chapman

Cubs fans outside Wrigley Field hours before Game 5 on Sunday, October 30th.

Chicago—The red neon sign outside Wrigley Field read “World Series Game 5,” but Sunday night felt more like a Game 7. Hours before the game, thousands of fans gathered at the stadium on Clark Street, the crowd stretching as far as Ashland Avenue a mile away. Strangers high-fived and speakers blared from skinny Chicago brownstones playing “Go Cubs Go.” 

After suffering losses in Games 3 and 4 and facing a 3-1 series hole, the atmosphere could have been one of desperation, but fans were not ready to surrender.

“We have Lester, Arrieta, and Hendricks, we’re good,” said a fan passing by on his way to the park. This attitude mimicked the cool, calm and collected aura of manager Joe Maddon and the young Cubs players. And while the Cubs strong rotation made the possibility of a historic comeback feasible, it would be the controversial Aroldis Chapman called upon to extend both the season and the hopes of millions of Cubs fans.

Starter Jon Lester didn’t disappoint, pitching six innings and giving up just two earned runs. Although Jose Ramirez’s second inning solo homerun off Lester quieted an eager Cubs crowd, the Cubs answered with three runs of their own in the fourth inning, initiating a sea of Cubs fans dancing and hugging each other as the beers kicked in. Even the older man with white hair in Section 216 meticulously filling out his scorecard got in on the action.

But after an RBI single from Francisco Lindor in the sixth inning cut the Cubs lead to one run, the weight of a 108-year drought returned. With just one out in the seventh inning, Joe Maddon walked out, pointed to the bullpen, and “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine blasted out of the Wrigley Field speakers as Aroldis Chapman trotted to the mound. The fans in section 216 shook their heads in disbelief. The Cuban closer may have been the most talented arm in the league, but fans didn’t fully trust him, much less to get an eight-out save with the season on the line.

“I guess he’s going with Chapman,” said a nervous fan capturing the anxiety of the 41,711 in attendance.

The nerves were justified. Chapman had been openly vocal about preferring to pitch in the ninth inning, and if called earlier, without inheriting any runners on base. In these playoffs alone, he gave up runs against the Giants in the NLDS and the Dodgers in the NLCS in similar scenarios. And yet, here he was.

Chapman is not the life of the party. The steely-eyed, 105 mph flame-thrower who calls himself the #CubanMissile on Twitter doesn’t embody the laid-back, cheerful vibe of the Cubs youth. The Cubs traded for him in late July; he’s not a part of their core or long-term plans. He’s a rental by baseball standards, brought in to close key games and sit far away from the dugout.

Reservations about Chapman go beyond his struggles before the ninth inning. On October 30th, 2015, Chapman was accused of assaulting his girlfriend and firing gunshots into a wall. No criminal charges were filed, but the MLB suspended him for 30 games.

Fans have grappled with how to simultaneously root for the Cubs and Chapman. At one end is a fan like Caitlin Swieca, who started donating $10 to the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic every time Chapman recorded a save. The initiative went viral on Twitter with the hashtag #pitchin4dv, and by the start of the World Series she had raised over $20,000. That’s no small feat; but like a carbon offset, the campaign reeked of rationalizing support for Chapman, however generous.  

But Chapman’s alleged transgressions are in the past, and on this Sunday evening there was no talk of Chapman’s history in the stadium. Moral debates would have to wait until after the season; one man’s checkered story was not going to get in the way of a 108-year dry spell. With every swing and miss the #Cuban Missile induced, fans got louder and more confident. Chapman was near perfect, facing 10 batters and retiring eight of them.

Chapman even had to bat in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out, but it was an epic moment, especially given that Kyle Schwarber was available to bat and a runner was in scoring position.

Maddon’s plan all along was to bring Chapman in and let him finish the game. In one move, the manager placed the fate of Cubs history into the hands of the infamous closer. A guy who started his season watching at home as he served his suspension was just months later pitching in October in front of the most deprived fan base in all professional sports. He delivered. When he struck out Jose Ramirez to end the game in the top of the ninth, the weekend-long party at Wrigley hit full crescendo.

The Cubs line up to congratulate themselves on the Game 5 win. The crowd is belting “Go Cubs Go.”

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Aroldis Chapman tweets hours after getting the eight-out save in Game 5.

NBA Opening Night Teaser: A Quick Preview of the Wolves, Bulls, and Warriors

 

Wolves Narrative:

The Tom Thibodeau hire was universally praised. And while questions remain about player usage and offensive efficiency, his year off was utilized to study the game and spend time with successful coaches and organizations. With the best young core in the league, there is league-wide optimism about the Timberwolves future. With the most coveted big man in the league since Anthony Davis and high-ceiling wings in Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, the big question going into year one of the Thibs era is surrounding the point guard position. Is Ricky Rubio the long-term point guard, or is he a holdover until Kris Dunn is ready? Kris Dunn impressed at Summer League, showing an ability to get into the lane at will, and knocked down more perimeter jumpers than anticipated.

Rubio led the Wolves to 11th in offensive efficiency and 5th in assists last season. By almost every metric, the Wolves were much better with him on the court. He’s a great defender, generates steals, and has vision in the pick and roll game. Statistically, players around him shoot better from three with him on the floor.

At the same time, Rubio was top 10 in time of possession with the ball in his hands. He’s a ball-stopping point guard who probes and probes until he finds a good look. While you can run a top 10 offense like this, can you run a title-winning offense this way? Given his limitations scoring, can the Wolves be married to an offense where Rubio is dominating the ball? Would they be better served running a triangular, motion offense through Karl Anthony Towns?

It is hard to know given that Rubio has been effective when healthy. But his ceiling may not be as high as a position-less offense with Dunn, LaVine, Wiggins, and Towns as the featured players. More touches for young, developing players may not lead to more efficiency at the onset, but could pay off in two to three years.

The Rubio versus Dunn problem is a good one to have. For now, Thibs has three point guards (Tyus Jones as well) and can try different types of offenses. Dunn and Jones can also play minutes alongside Rubio as scoring threats. And because Rubio defends, he can certainly help build a defensive-minded culture in Minnesota. But if Dunn looks to be starting caliber, as many think he will be, a Rubio trade could be in the works.

 

 

 Bulls X's O's:

 How do you solve the lack of shooting conundrum?

 To state the obvious, the Bulls lack shooting, at least amongst their presumed starting five. The projected lineup of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez have career three point percentages of 28.9, 28.4, 32.8, 35.5, and 0 respectively. While second unit players Doug McDermott, Denzel Valentine, and even Bobby Portis possess stronger potential for shooting, their crunch time players just don’t have that skill set.

 So how do you score when the spacing is simply not there, and teams can pack it in with help defenders? Well for one, there has to be a ton of ball movement and player movement. These are cliche terms, but a lot of teams simply stand around. There’s a reason the Spurs have five championships, the Warriors became historically good, and even the Hawks put together a 60-win season in 2014. If you relentlessly cut, screen, and move, then defenses will eventually make mistakes. And when you have finishers like Wade and Butler to go along with the court vision of Rondo, seams will be found. Not to mention that Butler and Wade can simply take over games on their own at times. McDermott and Mirotic provide enough shooting to complement this.

 And yet, with ball-stoppers like Rondo, Wade, and Butler, the thought of a true motion offense, triangle offense, or even pace and space are unlikely. Rondo wants to play on the ball, prodding off of pick and rolls for an assist. But rather than fight that, it’s about figuring out what to do off the ball.

 To start, the PNR needs to be initiated with Rondo and Wade or Rondo and Butler. The lack of shooting is mitigated by the dual down-hill threat. Wade and Butler are so strong that most opposing point guards cannot simply switch onto them. If you hedge and go under, the screener will beat you backdoor. While this action occurs, Robin Lopez or Taj Gibson should initiate off ball screens, whether it be for backdoor cuts to Wade or Butler (whoever is not involved in the pick and roll), or for Mirotic searching for a three. This is a grueling, methodical way to score, but it can work with the combined IQ of these veterans.

 Expect opposing styles from the Bulls. The starters will devolve into one-on-one play at times as running the aforementioned sets are hard to do play after play. The second unit will be able to run Hoiberg’s Pace and Space. A unit of Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine, Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis, and Cris Felicio will play extremely hard (we saw this sans Doug at Summer League). They are active, and can push the ball. The starters will have to be creative, but Wade, Rondo, and Butler have too much pride for it to completely flop.

 

Warriors X's and O’s: Split Cuts

 In 2009, the Magic trotted out four three-point shooters to surround Dwight Howard. The concept was simple: make the defense pay for any type of help. This philosophy has evolved considerably since, maximized by the Golden State Warriors organization. The Warriors use 5 perimeter-capable players at the same time to make it nearly impossible to overload with help defense. Choosing to do so would be to concede a wide open three.

 And yet, the Warriors still started Andrew Bogut. This is because a five-out, perimeter heavy Death Lineup has weaknesses in rim-protection, rebounding, and defensive rotation. Andrew Bogut, a stabilizing, reliable big man, mitigated that early in the game. With the loss of Bogut, Zaza Pachulia steps in as a cost-effective replacement, but not one with the passing savvy of Andrew Bogut. Offensively, Bogut possessed a unique ability to pass out of the mid-post which opened up the Warriors split cut game.

 The split cut game typically would be a feed from Curry on the wing into Bogut at the mid-post. This would initiate a series of options: flare screens, backdoor cuts, laker cuts, down screens, and much more. Regardless of the action, you’d end up with the post split, meaning that Bogut would have cutters or options on both sides of him. This is difficult to guard as these cuts are reads and reactions and cannot be memorized by the defense.

 If there was a weakness however, it is that Bogut’s offensive game did not pose a threat. Locked in and disciplined teams could strategize to switch everything or stay glued to their man and not worry about Bogut going one-on-one. Even with Draymond Green receiving, defenses knew that the post-up was being utilized to move the ball.

 With Kevin Durant in the fold, the Warriors now have a player that can command all five defenders into excessive weak side help. The thought of Durant initiating the split cut action is scary. His length and ability to score in so many ways only makes it harder to follow the off-ball screening. He can face up and shoot, back a smaller defender down, and try to bait help to get Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, and Green open looks. Draymond receiving the entry pass is another option as well. Now you have even better shooting with Curry, Thompson, and Durant surrounding the post action. Add Livingston to the mix and there are so many possibilities and variations.

Kevin Durant has not used the post as much as anticipated earlier in his career. With his ability to shoot over perimeter players and use his length to get to the basket, he hasn’t had a need to. At the same time, Durant got in trouble in Oklahoma City at times putting the ball on the floor in the middle of the lane with a packed paint. Operating out of the mid-post with off-ball action is a secure way to both use Durant in isolation and to open up backdoor cuts and open threes. 

Bachelorette Recap: Hometowns

Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator

Ah, it’s that time of year, ya’ll.

Spray tans have been replenished, highlights have been artfully balayaged, the man-testant bouffants have been buttressed with fresh hair spray, and dormant Texan accents have been strategically redeployed. It’s mothereffing HOMETOWNS.

Personally, I have a soft spot for the hometowns episode of the Bachelor. We’re finally out of the woods with the middle episodes of the show—you know, the boring ones when there are clear frontrunners and clear losers, but the producers have to keep around the losers to make the episode quota. Goodbye, Alex and James Taylor. Now on to some real shit!

What incredible TV alchemy: four boyfriends, four families, four cities, and one JoJo. This is what great entertainment is all about.

Chase

Our first stop is Colorado, which gives JoJo a chance to debut her weather-appropriate heeled booties and for Chase to look like a Patagonia ad come to life. But I like Chase. He seems like a real dude who has sadly been at a disadvantage because he’s been uncomfortable in front of the cameras all season. He is also held back from Frontrunner Status because he seems to have a real respect for the phrase “I love you.” That is NOT how they play it in Society Bachelorette.

When we get to Colorado, it is revealed that Chase’s parents went through a nasty divorce rife with law-suits and years-long feuds. He confides in JoJo that he hasn’t always had the closest relationship with his father, and that his parents haven’t spoken in years. You could see JoJo practically melt with relief: so there’s a REASON he hasn’t said “I love you” to her yet! Because professing your love to someone in fewer weeks than it takes to complete a menstrual cycle is totally normal.

We get two scenes here: one in which Chase and JoJo meet his father. Apparently Chase thinks now is the time to ask him why he left mom. Welp. Talk about heavy. Luckily, this deep conversation is edited to about 90 seconds, and we are soon at Chase’s mom’s house with his step-dad and siblings. Finally, real love! JoJo hits it off with his mom because they both like white wine. At the end, Chase whispers into JoJo’s ear that he’s falling in love with her. He still may be too normal to win, and his unfortch monotone isn’t doing him any favors. TBC.

Jordan

Jordan takes JoJo to a field with some deer to test just exactly how many octaves JoJo can reach in electromagnetic spectrum. Let’s just say she should bring that talent to a lab somewhere.

Then they go to Jordan’s eerily named Pleasant Valley High School, where they fulfill his adolescent make out fantasies in the library. It is doubtful that in this 2007 fantasy his future self is wearing painted-on skinny jeans (borderline leggings, people), but who cares because we are about to meet Jordan’s JV football coach who never started him. Chip, meet shoulder. 

And now we’re at the house, where we learn that Jordan was “the spicy child,” not because he was interesting or vivacious, but because he used to threaten to run away from home. Okay…

Jordan’s brother—who will henceforth be known as Not Aaron Rodgers—brought a silent girlfriend with a backcombed halo of bottled blonde hair that was so cartoonish I first thought she was an anime character brought to life. Not Aaron Rodgers also spoke in a low, mush-mouthed mumble that sounded like a cross of Lou Holz and Darth Vader. Not sure if I can confidently claim to have understood the words he was saying, but I’m pretty sure he gave his little bro the thumbs up re: JoJo.

Takeaways: JoJo is hot for Jordan. Jordan’s family seems all bent out of shape about MIA brother Aaron, but won’t discuss. Chico has shriek-worthy deer. Jordan still frontrunner. The end.

Robby

JoJo then arrives in St. Augustine Florida, wearing a romper crafted from West Elm’s Fall curtain line. Who knows in what order these hometown visits were actually shot, but I’m doubling down that St. Augustine was first, because DAMN JoJo’s spray tan is vibrant. Her skin cast a sheen of such potency that it radiated off my high-def TV like she was a walking, talking Instagram filter.

Is it wrong to say that Robby offends me? Something about his slicked, Bump-It hair pouf, his shiny Chiclet teeth, his affinity for pink shirts all ring as…less than natural. This is a guy who is very likely “here for the wrong reasons.” He told JoJo he loved her after like three weeks, right? It’s not a stretch to say that this guy is possibly, maybe, perhaps, not-so-sincere. But JoJo eats that shit up! This girl wouldn’t know a good guy if he did a naked interpretive dance right in front of the mirror that she uses to apply her fake lashes.

The real burning question about this hometown is this: Have JoJo and Robbie ever talked about anything other than their feelings for each other? I know this show isn’t known for fostering enduring connections, but come on. These two barely know each other even in Society Bachelorette standards.

First JoJo and Robby ride a horse-drawn carriage through what looks like a tchotchke town from Disneyworld. They sip cocktails by the water while Robby reassures JoJo for the fourteenth-thousandth time that he’s over his ex, despite breaking up merely three months prior to MEETING JoJo.

Robby’s mother then tells Robby some rumors that his ex-girlfriend’s roommate is spreading about him, saying that he ended his last relationship to go on the show. This sounds about as reliable as InTouch’s reporting on Jennifer Anniston’s “baby bump.” $100 bucks the producers put his mama up to this. Already, this shit is too complicated. JoJo should obviously bolt, but what does she do instead? She once again confronts Robby, who once again reassures her, this time by telling her that his last relationship ended in a blow-up fight where his ex slapped him in the face. Literally. Because that explains everything. Get out of this one while you can, JoJo!

Luke

I have nothing to say about Luke’s hometown visit other than that it seemed fucking awesome. Luke threw JoJo a huge barbecue with all the members of his small town and family, all of whom are the personification of the quaint, tight-knit Texan town. There was a meat smoker the size of a small locomotive affixed with a longhorn in the backyard. Luke’s father sat on a rocking chair and dished sage advice. JoJo wore cowboy boots and cutoffs and pretended not to be just some city girl from Dallas by adapting an as-of-yet-unheard Texas twang.

Luke then led JoJo to a field with a large heart made out of roses. What he DIDN’T DO, however, is tell her that he loves her. So despite everything, this hometown was a huge fail.

Now What?

At this juncture, the biggest question is: Who will be next season’s Bachelor? My money is on Luke or Chase. Both are blandly attractive and inoffensive enough to do the job, and neither have embarrassed themselves to the point of unmarketable no return.

(I hope it’s Chase. He seems more like a real person than this show is accustomed to, and I could use someone who doesn’t buy into the bullshit as much as a Ben Higgins or a famewhore like Jordan. I fear with Luke it will be more of the same “small hometown, workin’ on the farm” noise, just like Chris’ season.)

And so we’re left hanging in the hangar, waiting to see which man-testant JoJo is going to pick. And then she looks at the camera and says she’s going to send Luke—Luke!—home. Luke before Robby?

Like a Jedi sensing a disturbance in the Force, Luke susses this shit out immediately and pulls JoJo aside before the Rose Ceremony can start and tells her he’s in love with her. Commence meltdown.

JoJo needs a moment to pop a squat on the airport tarmac a la Maya Rudolph in Bridesmaids in that flame blue dress (was anyone else worried it was going to rip?) and has a full-blown freakout. At this point I checked my microwave clock. 9:59!? You mean we’re not getting the Rose Ceremony?? See you next week, Bach nation

 

Bachelorette Week 6

Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator

And we’re back! In Buenos! Rather than clubbing into the wee hours of the morning and snorting cheap coke like most Americans who visit South America for one semester, the bachelors and Bachelorette are here to nobly manufacture find love!

We’re in season 3,540 (that’s a guestimation, but probably a good one). We’ve been here before, Bachelor Nation. The contestants are abroad in an exotic location other than Pennsylvania. Love in the air. Foreign cultures will be appropriated and bastardized on TV by some of America’s finest citizens. Like Chris Harrison always says, it’s all part of The Magical Journey to Everlasting Love™.

General Notes About These Guys (before we launch into the dates)

Jordan: His teeth are WHITE. Has anyone else noticed this? Obvio, all of these dudes go to the dentist for some cursory whitening before their big debuts, but Jordan is next level. His teeth are so white they’re practically blue. Did you know teeth-whitening can be an addiction?

Luke: Ever since his Olympic-qualifying ass-grab on the “too-hot hot tub” date, it’s no secret JoJo wants in this guys’ pants. Luke is the type of Southern guy that could record a generic country song that could be a small Spotify hit. The album art would be him, his furrowed brow, and a vintage truck. All JoJo ever says about Luke is his passion. I think we know the real word for their connection: horny.

The Universal Hair-Do: I had a disturbing revelation last night when I realized that 90% of these guys are using blow dryers every morning. Their getting-ready routines are likely more laborious than mine. How many products are these tall-haired men using to tease their manes every day, and how do I buy some?

Wells’ Date (in which he probably wishes he could sit in the bottom of a well, a la Murakami)

Poor Wells. JoJo shows up for their first one-on-one in a white, bulbous sweater so shapeless that the only apt comparison is to the Michelin Man. Really, it is a feat of fashion physics that this sweater can exist on the body of someone as hot as JoJo. No one wears that sweater on a date with a guy they’re not planning on dumping.

Funnily enough, Wells is probably the most normal contestant on the show right now. His vocabulary is decent, he has a real job (well, he’s a radio DJ).  Wells, unfortch for him, is the only guy that hasn’t kissed her (a revelation which brings much shock and braggadocio to the other man-testants, all of whom have already smothered their faces on JoJo’s. Nice guys finish last, etc.).

Which brings us…the Token Awkward Bachelor Date! We know this date is awkward for several reasons. A) Wells and JoJo have not kissed, B) All the men in the house declare how *awkward* it is that Wells and JoJo have not, in fact, kissed, C) *Awkward* (omg, so awkward!), plodding music is playing, reminiscent of those latter LC and Speidi The Hills episodes, and D) In practice, Wells has less game than Squints from The Sandlot.

Of course, Wells only receives subtle support from his bros in the house:

Alex: “What if you kiss her, and like, there are just like, no sparks?”

Luke: “Are y’all gonna kiss today?”

Robbie (to the interview camera, with bravado): “Hell, I can hardly keep my hands off her!”

JoJo takes her un-kissed potential lover to a show where scantily clad dancers writhe around in shallow water above the viewers while smiling underwater like Argentine Esther Williams. Brilliant idea, JoJo.

Pretty sure that the show (called Fuerza Bruta, which translates to ‘brute force’), was an “America’s Next Top Model” photoshoot where the models had to wriggle around in the water while smizing™ and making sure their tops didn’t come off. Didn’t one of the ANTM contestants get mildly concussed from this challenge? Never mind. It is now JoJo and Wells’ turn to thrash around in the water.

And it works—they kiss! After a second or two of perfunctory lip-smacking, JoJo breaks the embrace and announces, “This was it, Wells! This was the moment!” Ouch. Getting props from the girl you finally got the balls to kiss? No Bueno.

In his moment of triumph, Wells celebrates a bit too early: “Neurotic Wells is finally rotting away, and confident Wells is here!”  Aw.  He reminds me of 80% of the shy Jewish boys I used to know at summer camp. He also tells JoJo about his last breakup, where he ended up just being BFFs with no sexual chemistry with his girlfriend. This semi-normal and healthy break-up reason sets alarms off for JoJo, who wants an inimitable snowflake of a passionate romance where the fire never dies and living together civilly in a faithful relationship is seen as a the wet-blanket to the unicorn fuego her love is sure to be.

So, goodbye, Wells. JoJo returns without a (real) tear to her nine douches-in-waiting back at the hotel.

 

The 2nd Two on One Date!

Derek vs. Chase, or, the Battle of the Vanilla Bros. In quick summation:

Derek = Dark-haired version of Chase with baritone bro voice.

Chase = Lighter-haired version of Derek with monotone bro voice.  [Side note: Chase is more expressionless than an over-botoxed Real Housewife. Does he have emotions?]

First, the two lucky men are forced to do a two-on-one tango with JoJo. They dance about as passionately as two walkers from the Walking Dead. Safe to say this activity did nothing to tip the scales for either Cherek or Dase. Wait, what?

At this point, my viewing partner points out something egregious: the man-testants haven’t taken a single bite of their Argentine steak. For shame! What are they gonna do, eat it after they’re eliminated. At this point, I’m rooting for both of their demises.

For reasons unknown or perhaps in honor of their former sexii yoga date, Chase gets the rose. Derek gets driven away in what looks like a diplomat’s minivan. In a rather heartbreaking scene, JoJo and Chase slow dance as a barely bilingual opera singer belts “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from a precariously high balcony, as Derek chokes back tears in his Uber XL. “Don’t’ cry,” he mutters to himself, echoing the lyrics of the song his former lover now dances to in the arms of his lighter-haired counterpart. Well done, producers.

After this spectacle, we get a special rose ceremony where…no one goes home because Wells got the boot on the one-on-one! See you next week, Bachelor nation.

 

 

 

Any Given Wednesday Review: Please, Give Us Something Else

Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator

Bill Simmons, former Boston Sports Guy and antagonistic ESPN employee, has finally struck out on his own. On cable, no less. Essentially, this means he can now use the word “fuck” while wearing a Brooklyn-Dad-Approved outfit and allowing Ben Affleck to further alienate himself from the American people.

I must come clean and admit my pre-existing bias: I have never been a fan of Bill Simmons on television. But I was willing to give him a chance. I loved Grantland for years, and I still miss the perfect combo of think-piecey sports writing and pop culture coverage that the Ringer just can’t seem to make pop like it’s creator’s beta version. (Granted, it’s young. I haven’t completely given up on the Ringer) That said, now I just go to Vulture, where I already spend 88% of my online time, to get my Rembert Browne fix.

I watched the premiere of Any Given Wednesday so you don’t have to. It’s clear within minutes that this is not the same kind of Simmons product as Grantland—it should be so lucky. Here are some takeaways.

 

The Good

Barkley: The best (or most marketable) part of Simmons is his access to the sportscasters with star power like Charles Barkley. Barkley always has some good jokes, and he’s likable in that shake-your-head-at-your-crazy-uncle kind of way. This appeared to be the most natural segment of the show, and by natural, I mean Barkley seemed at ease. Simmons, on the other hand, sat rigidly and spoke shrilly, his artfully cuffed indigo wash jeans and unbuttoned flannel portraying a more casual lack of effort than he could ever pull off as a host.

The Steph Curry advertising call: Legit. Simmons pointed out that any charisma Splash Brother #1 has on the court is completely obliterated when he reads something from a script in his endorsement ads. And it’s true. Every time I see a Steph Curry commercial, I am reminded of the athletes who sat in the back row of my Intro to Poetry class in college. When it was their turn to read aloud, their voices deadened, making the poems of Ezra Pound and Hart Crane sound about as lyrical as Time Warner’s hold music.

Curry should aspire to achieve that level of feeling. We must all thank Simmons for pointing out to the world one of the best throwback commercials of all time, Scottie Pippen’s Mr. Submarine spot, where the player enjoys a six-foot sandwich party with two Bulls cheerleaders in the middle of the court. More of that, please.

 

The Whatever

The Set: When I first saw the set of Any Given Wednesday, I suppressed an eye-roll impulse so strong that I had a flashback to my teen years. This set was a cliché brought to life. First and foremost, it’s fucking massive. So massive, in fact, that it made Charles Barkley look like a reasonably sized human being. The ceilings were cavernous, the windows floor-to-ceiling, the furniture sparsely placed in random corners. There was mahogany wood quite literally on every surface: the walls, the floors, the tables. There were dark brown, expensive-looking leather couches. (In case you didn’t put this together, brown=manliness). In the corner sat a globe, a few weathered trunks stacked on top of each other, all to prove your testosterone counts are high enough to enable you to talk about the World of Sports with authority. Thank god the producers didn’t forget to throw in some exposed brick, because otherwise we wouldn’t have truly gotten that urban-loft-man-cave vibe. Phew.

 

The Horrendous

The Ben Affleck Rant: Watching Hollywood Douche Dujour and resident Nanny-fucker Ben Affleck’s rant on this show had to be one of the most painful moments I’ve experienced on HBO, right up in the ranks with the Battle of the Bastards last week. I can’t imagine something the good people of HBO Now (and the HBOGo password poachers of the world) could possibly want less than a 10-minute rant about Deflategate with Ben Affleck. Not only is the guy responsible for cheating on goddess Jennifer Garner, but his Boston stan attitude is exactly the kind of shrill fan-boying that he should avoid with a ten-foot pole. How many times did Ben Affleck say “fuck” on Any Given Wednesday to emphasize his points? More times than actual interesting points were made in the entire 30 minutes of the premiere of Any Given Wednesday.

I could see Affleck’s makeup sweating off him in rivulets, and in minute four, when I could no longer hold it in, I turned to my viewing partner and blurted the only question rocketing around my head: “What the fuck is this?” He had no reply—nothing could explain this away. I nearly turned the TV off. Two shrill white guys from Boston ranting about the Pats? In June? It was almost enough to make me log out of my borrowed HBOGo account forever.

Bill Simmons’ & His Voice: Something about Simmons voice just…sets me off? Upsets me? Makes me want to change the channel? TBH, I’d rather hear Kim Kardashian’s read the yellow pages in her most grating vocal fry than listen to Simmons nasally voice tell me what he believes* one more time. Clearly, Simmons is a smart guy. Clearly, I’m letting my own biases get in the way of objectively analyzing his new show. But as the world now knows for sure, there is only one conclusion to be drawn after the premiere of this show: Simmons should not be on TV. He was a stilted, nervous host. Whatever authenticity and bad-boy rep he once cultivated was obliterated by the meticulous and phony curated set, his unintelligible monologue about LeBron James, the Affleck Disaster, the wannabe John Oliver segments.

If this is what Simmons is offering on Wednesdays, I’m not interested.

 

*Will these commercials finally cease now that the show is actually on? Please?

Bachelorette Week 3

Bachelorette Week 3

By Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator 

Other than the idiotic misogyny that was Juan “Will You ‘Cept dis Rose?” Pablo’s trainwreck of a Bachelor season, JoJo Fletcher’s season of the Bachelorette is hands-down, absolutely, 100%, the best season of the Bachelorette this veteran has witnessed.

Why is this show so good? Why am I not only not embarrassed at the glee I take in watching it, but am so earnestly invested that I’m taking the time to write about it? Because I can’t not. It’s just too good. The Bachelorette is artificially, scientifically engineered for our entertainment, the contestants assembled for maximum drama, hilarity, and chemistry according to a top-secret formula kept on lock-down in the CDC by the producers. Want an inside look into the genius it takes to make this show successful? See “Unreal.” Till then, let us bask in the glorious, chaotic orgy of drama that is the Bachelorette’s 12th season.

Instead of lambasting Chad** like every other blog in the country, or providing a boilerplate recap of the many scintillating, tense, and often hilarious events of last night’s episode, let’s take a brief look at some of the guys who deserve your attention before night #2 of this beauteous two-night event.

Dark Horse Who is DTM: Chase

Chase didn’t get a date last week, but no matter. The producers are making it up to him by giving the hot yoga date: JoJo in booty shorts and a sports bra, straddling him in some yoga position neither can pronounce, while the instructor makes her timely exit so they can both make out before they’ve ever even eaten a meal together. It’s clear both of these kids are Down to Mount one another, and it doesn’t take long for them to Kama Sutra themselves straight into a Real Connection™.

Chase could be a real frontrunner here: he’s got the requisite Bach haircut (buzzed on the side, swooped in the front) and the requisite Bach physique (tall and disturbingly fit). Disregarding his unsightly tattoo that takes up 40% of his torso and resembles a watercolor painting dunked in the sink, he seems positively normal compared to the freak show back at the mansion, and you better believe JoJo’s takes notice. *

“This date was perfect for me,” said Chase as he wiped sweat off his brow and pretended he wasn’t suffering from excruciating blue balls. Later, as he and JoJo discussed their feelings during the vulnerability portion of their date, he sealed the deal with perhaps the Bach-iest line of all time: “Like, why not get engaged [after six weeks], you know?” That’s Forever Love©.

James Taylor, A.K.A. Long Neck

Poor James Taylor. I know how it feels to be the only curly-haired person in a room of hot, straight-haired people, James. It’s not easy. And to add insult to frizz, the self-admitted flabby-stomached lad is surrounded by the Abs McGees of the world. But all is well, for dear Jimmy T can overcompensate for his lack of whey protein intake with some uber-sensitive guitar playing less like his namesake and more like Matt Nathanson.

But still, I question if that’s enough. Is it wrong that James T reminds me of a younger, more attractive version of John C. Reilly? I was really quite shocked that JoJo bestowed upon him the one-on-one rose. I mean, the guy admitted to JoJo that all the bullies called him “long-neck” when he was young. LONG. NECK. But let’s back up for a second.

At the beginning of their one-on-one, James T, with his po-dunk worship of JoJo and his courtly drawl, seemed locked in for the Friend Zone. JoJo even admitted her concerns DURING their date that she was worried they wouldn’t find any physical chemistry. Instead, his terrible swing dancing and humiliating teen admittances got him the rose. Maybe JoJo is one of those girls that falls for the underdogs? TBD, Bach nation.

MVP of the Night: Daniel

I never would have predicted it, but Daniel is swiftly winning my favor, if not just for this Bachelorette-hall-of-fame zinger he directed to Chad: “Be less like Hitler, man. Be Mussolini.”

Yes, this would seem ridiculous, absurd, 100% disregardable advice in most real-life scenarios. But we are in Society Bachelorette, and in context, this is sane, sage advice! Chad is indeed acting like a bigheaded dictator during the appeasement phase of his rule, and Daniel is rightly attempting to extricate himself from the wreckage that is sure to come once Chad implodes. He even adjusts his advice after Chad flat-out refuses to be (aptly) compared to Hitler: “Ok, you’re like Donald Trump, man. Maybe be Bush?” Yes. More. Way to scale it back, bro.

For a man whose profession on the show is listed as merely “Canadian,” Daniel redeemed himself last night by being the only guy brave enough to attempt rational reasoning with Chad.

I actually feel bad for the guy. Daniel was put in an awkward position, probably foisted together with Chad by the producers to be the BFF workout buddy that Chad can talk to for the cameras. Has Daniel even spoken to JoJo yet? Unless the producers are editing out their budding romance, then I believe the answer is no.

The best part is that Daniel seems chill just to be there and hang. No skin off his back.

*My viewing partner makes a good point, however: it seems like JoJo’s into every single guy on the show at this point! Not to sound like Chad, but she gave a rose to mothereffing Evan. Evan. Maybe she really is just into all 20-bazillion of them. Or maybe she’s just nice? Idk.

** Though his full-on Regina George transformation was uncanny. “Evan, stop talking,” never sounded more like Regina’s infamous takedown of Gretchen Weiner’s “fetch.” Well done. 

A Farewell to Kevin Stallings

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creator

On Sunday morning, Jeff Goodman of ESPN announced that ex-Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings accepted a six-year deal to become the new Head Coach at Pittsburgh. As an active participant in the “Fire Kevin Stallings” Facebook group and someone who wrote multiple pieces slamming the team this year, the news came as a sigh of relief. While fans are certainly excited to start a new era, a straight-up firing would have been ugly. While Stallings was a flawed and disappointing coach, there is no doubt he was the most successful coach in Vanderbilt history.

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher for Pitt to go from Jamie Dixon to Kevin Stallings. Not only does this seem like a downgrade from a resume standpoint, but Pitt senior Sheldon Jeter transferred from Vanderbilt his freshmen year in dramatic fashion. But as in any industry, nepotism and connections trump logic and merit. Pitt Athletic Director Scott Barnes employed the consultants from Collegiate Sports Associates to help with their search. Todd Turner, the former Vanderbilt AD who hired Stallings in 1999, is the President of that firm. What is Pitt paying Athletic Director Scott Barnes for again?

For Vanderbilt, they lose a coach with a 332-220 record, seven NCAA appearances, and a couple of Sweet Sixteen campaigns. These are notable accomplishments for a private school in the SEC. But when you factor in that it was a 17-year stint and that the Commodores had a losing record in SEC play over that span, the legacy is muddled.

When you look back at recruitment, it’s difficult to evaluate Stallings’ success. One on hand, Stallings got players like Shan Foster, Derrick Byars, A.J. Ogilvy, Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli, John Jenkins, Damian Jones, Wade Baldwin IV, and Luke Kornet to the Nashville campus. But he also gave SEC DI scholarships to Josh Henderson and Shelby Moats. He also banked on players like Rod Odom and Riley LaChance who regressed. I think recruitment had two main problems: (1) Stallings couldn’t fill out an entire roster. The years he had NBA talent such as this season and the Ezeli/Taylor/Jenkins years, he also relied heavily on subpar complementary players; (2) Talented players didn’t develop under Stallings.

What hurts Stallings’ legacy the most are the NCAA tournament losses to #13 Siena (2008), #13 Murray State (2010), and #12 Richmond (2011). To lose three times in four years to double-digit seeds is a trend. While the nature of a single elimination tournament isn’t fair to head coaches in many ways, Stallings couldn’t get players mentally prepared for these big games. The same types of issues plagued these early-upset teams: giving up offensive rebounds, turnovers, and a lack of timely play-making from the so-called stars. Overall, Vanderbilt teams under Kevin Stallings lacked toughness.

NCAA analysts laud Kevin Stallings X’s and O’s ability. They might be right. But I don’t find that impressive. Learning X’s and O’s is like learning a language: while it is certainly not easy, anyone willing to put in the time and practice can figure it out. You can read books, watch videos, talk to coaches, and pick up all the tricks of the trade. I think what separates decent coaches from the best is the ability to develop relationships with players and motivate guys to play like every game is game 7 of the NBA finals. You see that with any team Shaka Smart coaches. You see that with any team Brad Stevens or Greg Marshall coaches. The list goes on.

There also appeared to be a disconnect between coaches and players. Players didn’t dap up the coach when subbing out of the game. Players were yelled at constantly. Emotion only came out in the form of negativity. Players were blamed for losses. Excuses were made in interviews. Overall, Kevin Stallings wasn’t able to establish a positive culture that could transcend the highs and lows of one great game or one bad loss.

This changing of the guard is probably three to five years too late, but nevertheless, it’s here. Everything you’ll read online will suggest replacements such as Will Wade (VCU), King Rice (Monmouth), Tommy Amaker (Harvard), James Jones (Yale), and Rick Byrd (Belmont). What Vanderbilt needs is someone who emphasizes and preaches mental toughness. A coach who demands rebounding, defense, and ball security more than offensive flow, shooting, or pace. To win in March, when one bad shooting night can derail your entire season, you have to be tough. That starts with the Head Coach. Will Wade seems like the right choice based on the eye-test of his teams. He also seems like someone who would simply use Vanderbilt to get a better job. Either way, Vanderbilt Athletic Director David Williams must be able to understand the shortcomings of Kevin Stallings and find a coach who represents the exact opposite.

I’ll end with this:

Best Win: 2012, Vanderbilt beat Kentucky in the SEC tournament championship. I was driving back from my senior cruise and stopped at a Buffalo Wild Wings in rural ________ (some state between Louisiana and Tennessee…I honestly don’t remember). The generic Southern fans at the bar were rooting for Kentucky. It was epic. A fitting note is that the hero of the game, Kedren Johnson, showed the type of mental toughness lacking on Vanderbilt teams. He transferred.

Worst Loss: 2012, Vanderbilt loses in the second-round to Wisconsin. Vanderbilt has three NBA players on the roster. Wisconsin has…well… a culture of winning.

 

 

The Most Disappointing Season of the 21st Century

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creator

The nation’s most disappointing team, now known as the Vanderbilt Commodores, blew a 17-point lead last night at Mississippi State to fall to 15-11 overall and 7-6 in the SEC. To add insult to injury, the game was lost at the buzzer. With Vanderbilt leading 74-72 with 20 seconds left, they failed to corral a rebound which led to a second-chance opportunity for MSU and a wide-open corner three. Quinndary Weatherspoon calmly knocked down the game-winning three, effectively ending Vandy’s hopes for March Madness.

Going into the game, Vandy had to finish at least 4-2 to be considered for the Big Dance. But with upcoming games against Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, and Texas A&M, the 'Dores could ill afford to have one of those two losses come against Mississippi State or Tennessee. The loss marks their second “bad loss” by resume standards (Arkansas and Mississippi State), and leaves them with the task of either winning out or going 4-1 against superior competition. Given the trajectory of this season, a rallying finish is all but a pipe dream.

While last night’s loss was utterly infuriating, it came as no surprise. In this season alone, Vanderbilt blew a 13-point second-half lead at Baylor, a 10-point lead on a neutral site against Kansas, a 16-point lead at home against Dayton, and numerous halftime leads against the likes of South Carolina, LSU, and Purdue. This team has squandered countless opportunities to build a tournament resume, and they have played their worst basketball during crunch time. The team looked laughably incompetent during the last eight minutes of last night's game, turning the ball over regularly, failing to run succinct plays, and allowing easy baskets to an SEC bottom-feeder.  

While college basketball analysts have already dubbed Vanderbilt the Nation’s Most Disappointing Team, that title hardly does the disappointment justice. Since 2000, only four teams with two first-round draft picks have failed to make the NCAA tournament. This year, Vanderbilt has two likely first-round picks in Damian Jones and Wade Baldwin IV. If they fail to make a late-season surge to qualify for the tournament, Vanderbilt will effectively be one of the five most disappointing college basketball teams in over 15 years.

Moreover, Vandy’s Luke Kornet is now on 2017 NBA draft boards, making him a third potential draft prospect. The four teams that missed the tournament prior were plagued by season-ending injuries--a justifiable demise. With that in mind, it's not a stretch to call the 2015-2016 Vanderbilt Commodores the biggest disappointment of the 21st Century.

If that’s not a case against Head Coach Kevin Stallings, I don’t know what is. Season-ticket-holders need to tell the University they are not renewing until changes are made. The fans, students, and players deserve better.

One thing's for sure: Stallings' 17th season in Nashville should be his last. 

Pace and Space: The Right System for Chicago?

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co Creator

 

Let’s face it, the Bulls have had a decidedly mediocre first half of the year under new head coach Fred Hoiberg.  And this isn’t due to a lack of talent or depth. Fred Hoiberg was brought in to make the Bulls’ offense better by running the “Pace and Space,” the offensive system he ran successfully at Iowa State.  And while Derrick Rose’s game has improved and Butler has been elite this season, the Bulls’ offense ranks 23rd in offensive efficiency. This is unacceptable.

The “Pace and Space” offense cannot work with two ball-dominant players a la Rose and Butler. That is, unless both players can shoot the three pointer. At 26.7% and 31% respectively, that’s simply not the case. This isn’t a new scenario. Take the Mavericks: before acquiring Rajon Rondo, the 2014-2015 Mavs were setting historical records for offensive efficiency running the pace and space offense. Let’s take a look at why their personnel allowed this scheme to flourish:

1.      A big man that can set screens and finish at the rim (Tyson Chandler)

2.      A lethal scorer who can command the defenses’ attention at all times (Dirk Nowitzki)

3.      Guys that can shoot the three, drive, and kick (Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Devin Harris,Jameer Nelson, and JJ Barea)

In this system, a playmaker (Dirk, Ellis, Barea) will run a pick and roll with the big (Chandler) and attack the basket looking to score or lob it to Chandler for a dunk.  If defenses help off their man, the ball handler will kick it out for an open three. Everyone on the court besides Chandler can drain that shot and make defenses pay for gambling.  But last year, once the Mavs added Rondo, defenses could now cheat off of him due to his inept shooting ability, and their efficiency dropped from historically good to fairly average.  The Bulls, attempting to run this offense with Derrick Rose, look more like the Rondo version.

Look at the Bulls starting lineup and their three point shooting percentages:

Derrick Rose: 26.7%

Jimmy Butler: 31%

Tony Snell or Niko Mirotic: 37.4%, 34.7%

Taj Gibson: (has not attempted a three point shot this season)

 Pau Gasol: 33.3%

The Bulls have one starter above the league average (35% this season) in Tony Snell.  When they start Mirotic they have none.

You can’t run the pace and space offense when none of your players are threats to shoot the three. For example, Derrick Rose gets a high screen from Gasol, and the people open are Gibson, Butler, and Snell.  That’s not championship level shooting in a system predicated on baiting defenses into leaving shooters open. Likewise, when Butler runs the pick and roll, Rose doesn’t add value since he cannot spot up and shoot. They can’t be on the floor together in this system. 

Statistically speaking, in order to run Fred Hoiberg’s offense, the Bulls should be starting the following lineup (three point percentages included):

Kirk Hinrich: 42.2%

E’Twaun Moore: 41.9%

Jimmy Butler: 31%

Doug McDermott: 43.2%

Pau Gasol or Bobby Portis: 33.3%, 31.6%.

In this setup, Jimmy Butler receives a screen from either Gasol, a savvy scorer who commands attention, or Portis, an athletic rookie who will make you pay if you leave him.  When Butler drives, his kicking options become three guys who all shoot over 40% from three. While the above lineup may not look that sexy, statistically speaking it’s the best shot at running Hoiberg’s system.

The Bulls face some tough decisions as the trade deadline looms.  Everyone but Jimmy Butler is on the trading block as the team realizes they have little to no chance to win a ring this year. As they sort through how to best configure this roster, it’s time the front office recognize that they brought in a coach to run the pace and space. And it won’t work with guys that can’t shoot.  

Going to Market (at the Market) in NYC

Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator

 

The bananas are almost in your reach. Just one more inch and you’ll have the semi-ripe-but-not-too-ripe bunch in your hand, and then you’ll be free to continue meandering down the produce aisle. Suddenly you stumble to the side. A figure has bumped into you, knocking you into a large display of seasonal fruit. Persimmons clatter to the dusty linoleum, and you avoid stepping on an errant ginger root. You consider cursing at the figure that so rudely bashed into you without so much as a backward glance, but if you’ve been here before, you know the futility of such retaliation. Such is grocery shopping in New York City.

Before I moved to New York, going to the grocery store was my most beloved chore. I’d peruse the produce section at my leisure, taking my time debating between leafy greens and citruses. I would mosey through the upstairs liquor department that housed a wealth of reasonably priced craft beer and decent Malbecs. I could use a big grocery cart, and leave it on one end of the aisle while I reeled back to check if they were out of the chipotle Frontera salsa, and expect the cart to remain in its original place upon my return. I would load my groceries into the trunk of my car, and drive back to my apartment, replenished with food and the satisfaction of a chore well done.

And then I moved to New York. I’ve quickly learned going to the grocery store in New York requires acrobatic skill in navigating the crowded, infinitesimal aisles, the frenzied New Yorkers that push your cart out of their way, naturally, and not to mention the exorbitant prices and low quality of the food itself. It’s a battleground out there. I’ve been insulted, pushed around, and abused more in my neighborhood supermarket than any other setting in the city. Should grocery shopping require thick skin?

The joy-sucking experience of grocery shopping in NYC begins in the design of the store. Consider the Unnamed Market on the Upper West Side (this is a good and representative template for most other supermarkets in Manhattan).  The 1.75 feet-wide aisles hardly accommodate one cart, let alone two people attempting to pass each other in the opposite directions. You would think—at the very least—the organization in this tiny excuse for a grocery store must be superior, else how would they do decent business? A space this small surely has an intuitive set-up. Dream on, silly shopper.

Looking for half and half? It will likely be located on a different shelf each time you visit, as the dairy section shifts around like the moving staircases at Hogwarts. Planning a stir-fry dinner? You’d be better off paying $12 at your local Korean place for a mediocre bi bimp bop bowl, because finding the tofu in this store is about as likely as locating finding a seat on the subway during rush hour. The sesame oil doesn’t live with its fellow oil cousins of the olive, grapeseed or canola varieties, but is inexplicably excommunicated to a remote, inward facing shelf near the fish counter, just above the sad display of in-store sushi. How does this compute?

Of course, there are tricks you can try to jimmy the system and avoid the crowds. But this too comes with consequences. If you happen to enter the grocery store before 8am, get ready to jump over a battalion of supply guys with earbuds in loading parsley and ginger in the section and tossing platanos between them like footballs. They will refuse to acknowledge you, the shopper, as a presence as you attempt to somehow navigate through the aisles that are strewn with industrial size boxes of oatmeal and cases of agave nectar. You will soon switch to carrying a basket, as the cart proves only to be a liability. An attractive bruise will soon develop in the crook of your arm as you painfully lug your almond milk around in search of the elusive berry section.  

Finally, you reach the checkout counter. If your cart is filled with 78% of what you came there for, it’s a good day. Still, the worst part is ahead. As you unload the food onto the conveyor belt, you brace yourself. “Debit, please,” you tell the bored, gum-chewing high-schooler when she asks. “$58.94” she tells you as she picks on a chipped fake nail.  You attempt to do the mental math that could explain how one reusable grocery bag of food could possibly amount to almost $60*. You then remember that the simple business of breathing air in New York City will cost you at least a third more than anywhere else in the country. Except maybe San Francisco.

 

 

*I can’t even write about Trader Joes, a place in New York that has been so bastardized from its original form that one is forced to actually shop while waiting in line from the moment they enter the store. It may be the one place in this city to get a full bag of edible food at a reasonable price, but when you factor in train time to the store, the waiting, the crowds befitting a music festival headliner, and the prospect of schlepping all your bags back on the train and up the four flights of stairs to your apartment, going to a halal cart for dinner almost sounds marginally appealing. 

Déjà Vu for Vandy Basketball

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creator

At a Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky game in Nashville my buddy from college asked former Vandy player Shan Foster if Stallings is a good coach. Shan, a storied player from Stallings’ best teams, paused, and then said something like “he draws up great plays.”  Having watched Vanderbilt for eight years now I can’t argue with Shan. Stallings draws up some of the best sideline out of bounds plays I’ve ever seen.  And yet, isn’t that something that an assistant can do?  If one of the best basketball players in Vanderbilt history only has out of bounds plays to credit to his coach (not motivational tactics, not adjustments, not recruiting), then that’s saying something.  But above the disappointing tournament performances and lack of consistent recruitment lies the pervasive lack of hustle and heart from Vanderbilt teams. And so as I sit here watching the waning moments of Vanderbilt’s defeat to South Carolina, I wonder, why do I keep putting myself through this?

Vanderbilt’s 69-65 loss to South Carolina incited a particularly unpleasant version of déjà vu for me. For those who haven’t watched the Commodores this year, I’ll save you the trouble: Vanderbilt gets off to a nice lead against a good team, they start turning the ball over, they stop hustling and rebounding, Damion Jones fouls out, Wade Baldwin turns the ball over, Riley LaChance tries to be a hero, and they end up losing by 2 to 10 points.  This has happened seven times. They’ve squandered seven opportunities for resume building wins. And each time I tell myself it’s going to be different.

This particular loss drops Vanderbilt to 8-7 overall and 0-3 in SEC play.  This is the same Vanderbilt team that returned everyone and started the year ranked 18th in the nation.  The season is halfway over, and barring an impressive winning streak with wins over top SEC foes like Kentucky, Texas A&M, and Florida, the NCAA tournament is likely a hope of the past. 

As I try to process how this team keeps losing in the same manner over and over, I have to question the coaching.  And no, not the out of bounds plays or the schemes.  But the inability to motivate and inspire young men to play hard. Admittedly, I am not at practice, in the huddles, or the locker room. Having said that, every single game (against relevant opponents) the other teams are playing visibly harder.  This year, Kansas, Baylor, Dayton, Purdue, LSU, Arkansas, and now South Carolina all wanted to win more than Vanderbilt did.  You shouldn’t be able to tell that just from watching on television. You shouldn’t be able to tell that from the body language of the coaches and players.  You shouldn’t be able to say, NO, they didn’t leave it all on the court.  And while I could sit here blaming this inexcusable lack of effort on the current players, I think back to the disappointing efforts of teams of the past.  I think about always wanting more from Jeff Taylor and Festus Ezeli.  I think about losing in the second round with three NBA players to a Wisconsin team with none.  I question the heart of Vanderbilt teams.  I question the desire to win.  And that comes from the top. 

Kevin Stallings is a respected basketball mind, and there is a place for him in the coaching ranks of the NCAA.  But as Vanderbilt reaches the midway point of his 17th season as head coach, it’s time to see something different.  If Vanderbilt wants a whining, bald, X’s and O’s guy, I hear Tom Thibodeau is available.

5 Things We've Learned So Far From the 2015-2016 NBA Season

Eli Horowitz | Medium Talk Co-Creater 

1. The Warriors, barring injuries, will break the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls record for regular-season wins.

The 1995-1996 Bulls team went 72-10 and had a nearly perfect season. The Warriors are already 12-0 with an average margin of victory of 15.3 points per game. To finish at 73-9 and break the record they’ll need to go 61-9 in their final 70 games (an 87% winning percentage-last year they were 67-15, winning 81.7% of their games). Barring a long-term injury to Steph Curry or Draymond Green, I don’t see this team finishing below that mark.  While the organization could decide to rest people for the playoffs, the players will likely have other ideas.

 2. Coaching Matters

 While ultimately it is a players league, coaching is the difference-maker when it comes to elevating a team from mediocre to competitive. The Pistons are surprising people because of their coaching.  The Spurs continue to win because of their coaching. Even on the margins, the difference between the Hawks and the Wizards is coaching.  And thus, I’m not surprised that at 4-7, the Rockets fired Kevin McHale today.  The most disappointing part of McHale’s tenure was Dwight Howard, who didn’t seem to improve his post-up game despite McHale being one of the greatest big men of all time.

 

Below are the early season records of teams with Championship coaches:

Warriors- 12-0 (Kerr sidelined)

Mavericks- 7-4 (Carlisle)

Spurs- 8-2 (Popovich)

Clippers- 6-4 (Rivers)

Heat – 6-4 (Spoelstra)

3. Stan Van Gundy Knows What He’s Doing

 See above. Though Stan doesn’t have a ring, he dragged Dwight Howard and a bunch of shooters to the championship against the Lakers in 2009. In many ways Van Gundy was ahead of the curve playing with just one big man before the entire league followed that model. Dwight Howard’s best basketball was in Orlando under Stan Van Gundy. Thus, it’s no surprise that Andre Drummond has exploded under Stan’s tutelage in Detroit. With already two marquee wins against Cleveland and Chicago, it will be interesting to see if Detroit is able to add one more piece before the trade deadline.

 4. The East MIGHT be Deeper than the West

 Yeah I said it. Who really scares you in the West outside of Golden State and San Antonio? In the East you have Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto, Atlanta, Washington, and Miami—all of whom are potentially dangerous teams.  Even after those, you have teams like Boston, Detroit, and Milwaukee who are young and seem to be really well coached.  While the Rockets, Thunder, and Clippers at their best are far more talented than the aforementioned East teams, there is something really intriguing about the depth in the East. 

5. Three Teams Have a Chance to Win it All

For all the articles, podcasts, and analysis, there’s really only three teams left in the field. The Warriors will likely repeat, but only the Spurs, with their superior coaching and veteran play, and the Cavs, who have the best player in the league, could seriously contend with Golden State in a seven-game series.  The other teams worth mentioning are the Clippers, Thunder, and Bulls, but a lot would have to go their way.

The Modern Login Labryinth

Emma Gase | Medium Talk Co-Creator

It’s Sunday afternoon. You and your friends are sitting in formation on the couch. There are ten minutes until kickoff/ tip off/ the first pitch. Popcorn has been made, chips and salsa purchased and displayed on the coffee table.  

“I have Chromecast,” you told your friends, all of whom--like yourself--do not pay for cable. “Let’s watch at my place.”  You’ve already congratulated yourself on the clever Millennial loopholes you’ve poked in the cable business. I don’t need Time Warner/Cox/ Comcast/ DIRECTV, you said. I have logins for everything I could ever need. HBOGo, Showtime Anytime, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix, NBA League Pass, NFL Sunday Ticket, MLB Extra Innings. What more is there? I can just stream anything wherever, whenever!

It’s time. You whip out your phone, pull up the corresponding app, ready to Chromecast. You enter your login, which you know to be valid. A small circle appears on your screen and begins to rotate. It’s loading. And then it happens.

ERROR: Pass Interference! Another user is logged into this account.

Shit.

You call your brother. Are you watching Sunday Ticket? You ask him. He is. Of course he is. Well, is there a possibility you can find a way to watch the game locally? He doesn’t have a TV, so the computer is the only way. Well what about a bar, you ask. Why don’t you go to a bar, he says. Because I have people over at my place! You are dangerously close to involving your parents to settle the dispute, though you and your brother are technically adults. Adults who feed off the spoils of the mothership’s cable package, but adults nonetheless.

Defeated, you try again later that afternoon. Your brother’s restaurant shift has started, leaving the login free. Another iteration of the error message lights up your TV screen.

ERROR: Pass Interference! DIRECTV is experiencing an error and is unable to cast your game at this time. Please try again later.  

But it is later! With some tinkering, the game is streaming, finally, but only on your cell phone. Your dreams of Sunday couch-lock watching Redzone with your friends are shattered, and have been replaced with the Kafkaesque nightmare of logins and toggling between apps and browsers and screens. Such is the life of a Chromecasting sports watcher.

 

Chromecast and its apps don’t discriminate in their dysfunction. Maybe the Internet is shoddy, so you’re watching blurred, herky-jerky figures that give you a migraine. Or perhaps the picture is great, everything is hooked up and streaming, but there is no sound. Or maybe your login is only good for one outside device, and the other person got there first (see aforementioned sibling conflict).

If you miss an episode of Homeland, you can watch tomorrow. But games don’t have a shelf life. And TBS/ TNT, Fox Sports, ESPN, etc., don’t have incentives to give subscribers reliable mobile watching experiences. But they also know there are sports maniacs out there (hi, Dad) who will shell out for the most extravagant bundle DIRECTV offers. Why should these companies let others (me) enjoy the same access on Chromecast free of cost?

Case in point: On Saturday, my Very Important Chromecasted Football Game cut out for the fourth time in ten minutes. I pounded on my coffee table in lame futility. I wanted answers, solutions. Was it BTN2Go’s fault? Chromecast’s? Or was it my own, for soldiering forward with a plan to watch an Important Game via a system I knew would inevitably crap out on me?

As I massaged my stinging hand, I was forced to ask myself: Is the money I would spend on cable equivalent to the units of exasperation, fury, and desperation that I expend each time the Chromecast cut out, failed, or kicked me off my login?

I’m still answering that question. In the meantime, I’ve included a small guide to those afflicted with Chromecast Dysfunction. There are no real solutions other than cable, but if one is intent on mooching off the cable subscriptions of others, then workarounds must be put in place.

 

Options:

 

1)   Pay for Cable: For $50 a month you can watch your games and shows in peace. Downsides: $$$, cable company customer service, and the inevitable 40 minutes of Cialis commercials.

2)   Go to a Bar: You may have been drunk for 48 hours by the time Sunday night rolls around, but the bar offers no-fail viewing access. Get a lite beer and deal with it.

3)   Go to a Friend’s Place: If you have a friend who has cable, that is. Bring food, be grateful, and shoot for someone less than three train stops from your place.

4)   Game-cast: There’s always mobile LTE.