Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pistons Progressively Plugging Away

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING

When I attended the Detroit Pistons road game against the Milwaukee Bucks on December 4, 2013, it was neat talking to Rick Mahorn and Greg Kelser. I was asking them if Detroit's coaching change from Lawrence Frank to Maurice Cheeks was an upgrade.

They both seemed pleased with the early returns.

There appears to be a sense of calmness under the new coaching staff which includes former Piston Rasheed Wallace, who works with Detroit's big men and Henry Bibby who has always been a great basketball mind.

One thing that looked obvious especially in the locker room after the game is there seems to be a tremendous amount of respect towards Cheeks.

But then again, we're talking about a guy like Cheeks, who on April 25, 2003, aided 13-year old Natalie Gilbert in Portland when she forgot the words of the Star Spangled Banner and he Rescued her from major humiliation and total embarrassment by sharing the microphone to get her through the ordeal. The Trail Blazers fans, who sang along at The Rose Garden, gave both a standing ovation in a game against the Dallas Mavericks.

If the Tigers had a closer like Cheeks in the bullpen then perhaps they would have won this years World Series.

During this two day stretch, Detroit defeated the Miami Heat 107-97 on December 3 in South Florida then took care of the Bucks 105-98 in Wisconsin in guard Brandon Jennings return to Milwaukee. Jennings had 17 points and 11 assists to haunt his old team at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Back-to-back road wins starting in the South and ending in the North.

The Pistons win over the Bucks gave them a 5-1 record in their last six meetings.

Milwaukee's record as of today is 6-23.

Are the Pistons (14-17) a playoff team? It's too early to tell.

But as of today, they would be seeded seventh in the weak Eastern Conference.

As of today, here are the standings in the Atlantic Division.
1. Toronto 12-15
2. Boston 12-17
3. Brooklyn 10-19
4. New York 9-20
5. Philadelphia 8-20.

Toronto and Boston would actually make the playoffs as the fourth and eighth seeds respectively. A great accomplishment for new Celtics Coach Brad Stevens, who was hired away from Butler University.

Amazingly, 4 1/2 games separate the first and last place teams, Toronto and Philadelphia.

The Brooklyn Nets had high expectations going into the season hiring Jason Kidd as their new head coach then trading for Celtics championship veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Kidd hired Frank as his top assistant. By the end of November Kidd demoted Frank to the video room and banned him from practices and games. Frank's lack of communication skills got him banished from Detroit in two years and he wasted no time alienating his new boss.

As the Pistons approach the 2014 portion of their schedule, they definitely have a good core of young players with Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Singler to compliment Jennings and free agent Josh Smith.

I'll be curious to see how Chauncey Billups fits into the equation, but his veteran presence with the younger players especially the guards as a mentor is priceless.

As I look at the Nets situation and their Billionaire Owner Mikhail Prokhorov and Detroit's Billionaire Owner Tom Gores, it will be interesting to see which one wins an NBA Title first.

I wonder if Prokhorov regrets firing Nets interim Coach P. J. Carlesimo, who replaced Avery Johnson on December 27, 2012. All Carlesimo did was compile a 34-19 record in 54 games with a .648 winning percentage. Although Carlesimo's Nets lost a first round 4-3 series in last years playoffs, he still has a chance to see them often enough as a road analyst for the Boston Celtics this season.

For Joe Dumars sake, if he wants to save his job, Detroit needs significant improvement and that post-season appearance.

After the game, Smith said he was impressed with Dumars championship pedigree and that was his major reason for coming to Detroit.

"So far it's been a great experience being here," Smith said. We're getting better each and every day, coming together as a team each and every day. It's great coming to a traditional winning organization whose main focus is to win championships, which is a big eye opener as a free agent."

Jennings said there is one major difference between the Pistons and the Bucks.

"They're both great organizations, but Joe Dumars told me from the beginning that the Pistons strive to win championships," Jennings said. "We don't care about who makes All-Star Games."

How did Jennings feel about his return to Milwaukee?

"I was real nervous," he added. "I mean to be honest, I was real nervous in the beginning because I'm not used to being on this side. It was a lot of emotions going on, but once the second half started, I was able to settle down and play basketball."

Cheeks said he was impressed with the character his team showed winning these back-to-back road games.

"It feels really good," he said. I think we are playing good basketball. We are getting a lot of good performances out of a lot of people. The first half was a little sluggish. Actually, it seemed like both teams were a little bit sluggish and a little slow from the travel and the whole day. The second half we picked up and our defense got going. We got out on the court and made plays."

The front-line trio of Smith, Monroe and Drummond remind me of another young trio that plays for the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah, who are beasts on the Lions defense. Unfortunately for these three guys, they were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday in a 23-20 OT loss to the New York Giants.

I'll be curious to see how Smith, Monroe and Drummond turn out on both the offensive and defensive boards, monitoring their rebounding totals every night.

It remains to be seen what the Pistons identity will be as the season progresses.

But one thing is for certain. If the players do their research on their coach, Cheeks doesn't lack credibility.

The 15-year point guard was a four-time NBA All-Star, made three NBA Finals Appearances in four years, 1980, 1982 and 1983. His one championship occurred in 1983.

Cheeks has been a head and assistant coach since 1994.

When the Pistons were winning there three titles, they did it with defense.

Cheeks built his game around excellent defensive skills. He was named to four straight NBA All Defensive Squads from 1983-86 and one second team in 1987.

This should give Pistons fans some indication as to what they should see more of for the remainder of the 2014 campaign.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Penn State's VS Wisconsin---Michigan Connections

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTOS BY CANDICE EBLING
MADISON, WI

There were a lot of interesting story lines during the Penn State Nittany Lions recent visit to Camp Randall Stadium on November 30, 2013, which is the fifth oldest stadium in the country.

There were two members from the Orange Bowl Committee scouting the Wisconsin Badgers because it appeared to be quite possible that there would be three Big Ten teams heading to BCS Bowls.

Normally, the Atlantic Coast Conference Champions would get an automatic Orange Bowl bid. As it turned out, two Big Ten teams made it to BCS Bowl games.

No.2 Florida State (13-0) jumped to No.1 thanks to No.4 Auburn's 34-28 win over No.1 Alabama (11-1, 7-1) in the Iron Bowl on 11-30-2013.

The Seminoles 45-7 pounding of Duke (10-3, 6-3) in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday earned FSU the right to play in the National Championship Game in Pasadena, CA on January 6, 2014.

The Orange Bowl will now feature No.12 Clemson (10-2) against No.7 Ohio State (12-1) on January 3, 2014 in Miami.

Auburn (12-1, 8-1) will face Florida State (13-0, 9-0) in the National Championship Game after their 59-42 win over the Missouri Tigers Saturday in the SEC Championship Game.

Ohio State was defeated by a hot Michigan State squad 34-24 (12-1, 8-1) in the Big Ten Title Game Saturday and the Buckeyes are heading to South Florida.

The Big Ten is always a Big Draw in Florida.

Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa (Outback Bowl) and Nebraska (Gator Bowl) are playing in the post-season in The Sunshine State.

The Badgers took a seven-game winning streak into their contest against Penn State.

That was until the Nittany Lions figured this game was their bowl game and stunned the Badgers 31-24 in front of 78,064 fans. Any chance of a BCS Bowl ended with an inspired Penn State effort which allowed the Nittany Lions to improve to 7-5 and 4-4 in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin lost at Camp Randall Stadium for just the third time in the last four years and is now 61-7 at home since the start of the 2004 season. UW entered the game with the third-best home record in the nation since 2004.

Penn State entered the game as 24-point underdogs.

Head Coach Bill O'Brien said his players felt disrespected about the odds makers prediction.

"Our guys practice hard, they love to play and you know I can tell you flat out that they took offense to the fact that they were 24-point underdogs and that nobody even in State College thought they could win that game, except for the kids in that locker room and the coaches in that locker room.

"So I think that those kids took it personally. You know, you take those things personally. It's just the way it is, that's football. I really feel good about the seniors that they were able to go out on a winning note."

Because of the Jerry Sandusky Child Abuse Sex Scandal, Penn State is ineligible for the post-season.

Penn State ended the season on a winning note thanks to the play of freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who went 21-30, for 339 yards, four touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

The No. 19  Badgers dropped to (9-3, 6-2) and will play No. 9 South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Orlando.

Wisconsin needed just 34 rushing yards to break the school record of 3,309 set last season in 14 games. The Badgers added 120 and set a new school record with 3,396 yards in 12 games. These numbers will increase in Wisconsin's upcoming bowl game. The previous 12-game mark was 3,305 set in 1999.

There are two Metro Detroit Players that are performing well for Penn State.

Junior Wide Receiver Allen Robinson is from Southfield, MI and played High School Ball at Orchard Lake St. Mary's.

Entering the final week of the regular season, Robinson is third in the NCAA with 1,310 receiving yards and fifth in the nation with 119.1 yards a game. His 89 catches are seventh in the NCAA and his 8.1 yards are eighth nationally. He's also has six touchdowns.

Against the Badgers, Robinson had eight catches, for 122 yards. He finished the season with 1,432 yards which is a school record, and also added another school record for receptions in a single season compiling 97 receptions.

Despite one year left of eligibility, it is likely that he'll declare for the 2014 NFL Draft.

O'Brien wasn't thinking about whether Robinson would be back and said, "He made a lot of plays again tonight. I think even the plays that he didn't make it helped because there was the threat of him making a play and I think that always helps in the running game, which it was very hard to run the football tonight.

"You can't say enough about Allen Robinson. He's an excellent football player, a great guy to coach and a great guy to be around."

Red-shirt Junior C.J. Olaniyan has started 12 career games including every game in 2013 at defensive end. He ranks second in the conference with three forced fumbles, is tied for 10th in tackles for a loss (11) and is tied for ninth in the Big Ten in sacks (5.0).

Olaniyan, who is from Warren, MI and played for Warren Mott High School, Earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors with eight total tackles, four assisted and four unassisted, had 2.5 sacks and forced his first career fumble in the second quarter of Penn State's 43-40 (4OT) home win over No.18 Michigan on October 12.

Going into the Badgers game, Olaniyan had 25 unassisted tackles.

Against Wisconsin, Olaniyan had a 33-yard interception return that led to a Penn State 28-yard field goal which gave the Nittany Lions a 24-14 lead. He also had three QB Hurries.

Coach O'Brien said he's very pleased with Olaniyan's improvement this season.

"He's had a good year for us," O'Brien said. "He's made a lot of plays, is an instinctive player, has played much better this year than last year. C.J. has another year for us and we're excited about that. He's made key plays for us all year in the games we've won."

Olaniyan knew that there were plenty of Michigan Schools he could have attended and said Penn State was simply a better fit.

"It was all about the visit and I walked around the facilities and they were fine," Olaniyan said. "When I talked to coach J (late-Joe Paterno), I knew this was the place I wanted to be. When I came to Penn State, it had to do with the people and the fans. By them (NCAA) taking away the bowl games, it didn't effect me much because I had the opportunity to play in front of our great fans. That's all that mattered to me."

When the NCAA hammered Penn State with major sanctions in the Jerry Sandusky Child Abuse Sex Scandal, this would have been a perfect opportunity for Olaniyan to leave.

But he knew that the hiring of former New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator O'Brien's NFL connections would be helpful in his pursuit of a professional career.

"He's going to tell you straight up what you need to do to improve," Olaniyan said. "He won't tell you want you want to hear, but what you have to hear. He will tell it like it is. He won't lie to you. He's been in the business a long time."

There are two players on Wisconsin's roster that are from Michigan.

Senior Tight-End Jacob Pedersen is from Menominee and Senior Offensive Lineman Zac Matthias (No. 75 in photo above) is from Hemlock. Matthias is 6-5, 318 pounds.

Pedersen had four receptions for 64 yards against Penn State. He finished with 501 yards this season. In his four years with Wisconsin, he amassed 1,344 yards and 17 touchdowns. Pedersen was a captain for his final home game in red.

Interesting Note: Thanksgiving Weekend wasn't a good one for Wisconsin based teams facing Lions nicknames. Wisconsin lost to the Nittany Lions while the Green Bay Packers went to Detroit and were thrashed by the Lions 40-10 at Ford Field.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.




Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Detroit's Daniel McKinney's Road To FAU

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
PHOTO BY CANDICE EBLING

He may not get the recognition as Washington Redskins Running Back Alfred Morris, Arizona Cardinals Tight-End Rob Housler, Houston Texans Wide Receiver Lester Jean or Tennessee Titans Quarterback Rusty Smith, but Daniel McKinney could be a player to watch in the 2014 NFL Draft.

McKinney was a linebacker at Melvindale High School and as a senior, he recorded 115 tackles, 16 sacks, three forced fumbles and four interceptions.

From Melvindale, McKinney attended City College of San Francisco, a Junior College in California, where he would help lead the Rams to a State Championship, which caught the eye of the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Due to a mix up, he wasn't able to attend West Virginia.

McKinney was recruited by FAU's Associate Head Coach and Recruiter Jeff Sims, who needed a slot receiver for the Owls new Spread Offense.

Unless FAU (6-6) qualifies for a bowl game, in what appears to be his last college contest, McKinney caught four passes for 75 yards in FAU's 21-6 win over FIU Friday in the Shula Bowl.

In 2012, McKinney played in 12 games, had 48 receptions, 492 yards and two touchdowns.

In 2013, he played in 10 games, had 45 receptions, 540 yards and one touchdown.

His progress has drawn tremendous praise from Interim Head Coach Brian Wright, who has guided the Owls to a 4-0 record after the departure of Carl Pelini.

"Dan is a durable guy and I mean he keeps playing. The thing I'm most proud about Daniel is some of these football games there were a lot of plays scripted for him within the game plan and really the last two weeks, he has not touched the ball as much as we would like him too offensively," Wright said. "And he has not said a word; all he asked is what else can he do and what he can do on special teams to help?

"Daniel McKinney is a winner. He wants to win and I am very proud of him. He just keeps playing and he keeps holding the rope and when you keep holding the rope and enduring as a football player and as a man, good things happen for you."

McKinney took the time in this Question and Answer Interview to describe his Unique Road to the FAU Owls from Detroit.

Q: How are things working out for you here in Boca Raton?

A:Thing are working out real fine. I met with the coaching staff, I really liked it and they welcomed me as one of theirs and treated me like family.

Q: There were a lot of Michigan schools that you could have attended, how did you make it to Florida Atlantic University?

A: The only time I knew about FAU was when they played in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit in 2008 at Ford Field. That was the last time I heard of them until I was getting recruited by Coach Sims. I didn't have the grades coming out of high school, so I made the best of the situation to go to Junior College. This helped me grow up, deal with certain things and gets me ready for the next level of football. I was actually doing stock and merchandising for shirts for the Motor City Bowl and watched the game.

Q: Lets talk about the 2013 season, starting with the mid-season coaching change. What has it been like?

A: There has been no difference between the two coaches. Same staff. We've instilled more of the "Us Factor" and we run the practices the same, a couple tweaks here and there. It's about Us and not about the Coaches we have.

Q: What type of progression have you made from the beginning of the season until now?

A: Our quarterbacks have learned to take what the defense gives them, and if we can run the ball for 500 yards we'll run it. If we can pass for 700 yards we'll pass it. If we can utilize a balanced attack, then we'll just use a balanced attack. I just get in where I fit in and make plays when I need to. I also need to be a leader. When I don't get the ball, I have to be mature and handle the situation.

Q: What's your overall experience been like at FAU?

A: It's been great. We've had to go through a couple things, but we're trying to turn the program around and laying the foundation for the new players coming in. This program is going to be on the rise. This should be one of the top programs since there are a lot of great athletes in South Florida. Who wouldn't want to come to Florida and play football?

Q: What does the future hold for Daniel McKinney?

A: I will be pursuing a professional career after this and plan to take full advantage of the School's Pro Day Next Spring.

We'll know whether the Owls move to Conference USA pays dividends now that FAU could play in a bowl. where there is a small payday.

For McKinney, 6-0, 205, there is one more last impression to make for scouts to see if he gets invited to an All-Star Game or the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

About Me

My photo
My Super Passion: In 40-years in the Sports Media Business, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience some Great Moments with Championship People. I look forward to any feedback you readers have. I encourage you to look at the MOTOR CITY MAD MOUTH HALL OF FAME ON August 8, 2012 because these people have made the Journey in Sports Media as fun as it's been.

Blog Archive