Archive for July, 2014

DRose

Derrick Rose during an interview after Monday’s practice with the U.S. Men’s National Team. (Photo: W.G. Ramirez)

W.G. Ramirez

I had never met Derrick Rose before this past week, during the U.S. men’s national team opened training camp here in Las Vegas.

In previous years, he’s been dealing with knee injuries, so he hasn’t accompanied Team USA here.

Turns out, the Chicago Bulls point guard and I have something in common.

Forget for a moment I have plenty in common with any other father who loves his son, that’s not the point. While interviewing the 25-year-old professional basketball player, what I realized when speaking to him, is the genuineness he spoke of when relating to his toddler son PJ, who will turn two in October.

On Monday after practice Rose said “I take the game serious, basketball is my life.” But what I’ve come to learn even further, is the one driving force behind Rose wanting to be back on the court – more than winning an NBA title or Gold medal – is PJ. It’s an undying, parental love I fully understand.

I get it.

As a single father of 18 years, I comprehend what it means to dedicate your existence so someone who depends on you can live their life easier. It’s how I’ve been since before my son was born. I had outfits and Nikes picked out before my son came into this world. I knew things he’d be doing, how I’d provide for him and that he’d be my rib once he entered the world.

For Derrick Rose, that’s how it is with PJ.

“Most people in my profession really don’t get the chance to be around their kids,” said Rose, who is one of 10 pure guards competing for a spot on the 12-man roster Team USA will take to Spain for the 2014 FIBA World Cup. “It’s fun to be around him because it takes my mind off of everything. Him playing around, he’s fun to be around.”

That’s why, Rose said, for him to be around PJ as much as he has been, he’s looked at these injuries as more of a blessing in disguise. They’ve allowed him to be a part of PJ’s life at the most crucial time in a baby’s life, the beginning of it. Rose isn’t just a daddy – he’s a father. He’s been able to see PJ’s first steps, enjoy his first words, laugh along with his first giggle and quite possibly, tear up among PJ’s many first-shed tears.

So rather than dwell on the injuries that limited him to just 10 games last season, and clipped him from the 2013 playoffs, Rose has made sure he’s been around his son every other day – if not daily – while rehabbing his knee. He’s called being a father the “perfect distraction” to stay sane and grounded, while the world around him has been in a frenzy about his knee. When he’s not with his son, Rose said he’s most likely been either working out with weights, conditioning his knee or on the court perfecting his game.

“I can’t give up, I have a son that’s looking up to me,” Rose said. “When he gets older and realizes what’s going on, he’s going to look back, and hopefully that’ll give him some motivation, knowing I had to go through so much. I hope that pushes him to be a great individual.”

I know what he means, trust me.

I’ve been through my own trials and tribulations. And though D-Rose and I live two entirely different lives, I can appreciate knowing every thought, during every waking moment, he is thinking about PJ.

PJ Rose

PJ Rose (Photo courtesy: Derrick Rose Twitter/@DRose)

It’s how I think about my son, Jordin.

“Derrick has the highest standards, just like the elite players – (Kevin) Durant, LeBron (James),” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He was an MVP of the league and one of the great players of the league. He’s been out, so Derrick’s going to be on a mission to get back to, not just playing and being good, but he wants to get back to being elite.”

Rose told me he knows this is only the beginning of a long journey – “a long grind,” as he puts it – but he’s ready to put the injury behind him and move forward by continuing to learn daily to become a better leader for not only the men’s national team and Chicago Bulls, but that little boy back in Chicago.

“Like I said, when he gets older, he’s going to look at this and hopefully it’ll make him better,” he said. “He drives me every day, to tell you the truth. I ask about him even while I’m here. I ask about him (and his mother) sends me pictures and videos every day, and that kind of gives me that extra boost when I don’t feel like doing the things I (need) to do like the maintenance on my body, the massages, and getting iced and stuff – I think about him.”

I feel you D. I get it.

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By Jesse Granger

Shabazz Muhammad has played the best basketball of his life in Las Vegas.

The second year NBA player lit up the Cox Pavilion scoreboard Thursday for the Minnesota Timberwolves, scoring a game-high 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting, while adding 3 rebounds and a pair of steals.

Shabazz Muhammad battles for a rebound along with teammate Glen Robinson III.

Shabazz Muhammad battles for a rebound along with teammate Glen Robinson III.

Muhammad has carried his team throughout the 2014 NBA Summer League, averaging 16.2 points per game and is one of the vocal leaders on the court. It’s a giant leap forward for him after a thoroughly disappointing rookie season in Minnesota.

During his rookie campaign, Muhammad averaged a mere 3.9 points per game. He only appeared in 37 games and never started. When he did see the floor, it was brief – 7.8 minutes per game to be exact.

Midway through the year, he was relegated to the NBA D-League for a week. He shined in four games and returned to the Association with a new energy, but still rarely produced on the court.

So Muhammad’s dominant performance in this week’s summer league tournament may shock NBA fans across the country, but it comes as no surprise to Las Vegas locals who watched him rise to stardom just a quick 20-minute drive up the Interstate 215 to Bishop Gorman High School.

In his time at Bishop Gorman, Muhammad led the Gaels to three Nevada State Championships in four years, while the team’s collective record during his tenure was an unbelievable 111-17. His senior season, Muhammad averaged 29 points per game, including his final performance – a 36 point offensive clinic in the state championship game, 30 of which came in the first half.

His play drew national attention and by the time Muhammad graduated he was the No. 2 player in the nation on ESPN’s top-100 rankings, behind only Nerlens Noel.

From there, Muhammad took a one-year trip to UCLA, and landed in the NBA where his career has yet to get off the ground. Maybe a trip to Las Vegas is exactly what he needed to propel his game in the right direction.

“It’s great,” Muhammad said. “It’s obviously a great opportunity for me and my teammates to come out here to Las Vegas and represent.”

In the first game back in his home city, Muhammad produced a double-double with 27 points and 11 rebounds, but the experience of returning to Las Vegas has been much more than on-court success.

“My parents live here, and everybody, all of my old friends from high school and middle school,” he said. “It’s always fun to get to see them, and it’s a great opportunity for me.”

While the summer league is often a proving ground where roster spots are won and lost, Muhammad is in no danger of being left off the Timberwolves roster. He currently sits behind only Corey Brewer on the depth chart, and after a year of experience could be posed to earn more playing time.

“I think I gained a lot of experience from last year, even though I was on the bench,” he said. “I learned how to slow the game down.”

Muhammad is listed as a small forward, but standing only 6-foot-6 he is a bit undersized for the position. He feels that his biggest area for improvement in order to become more of a guard is his dribbling and passing.

“I’ve just been working on my ball skills, and just becoming a better guard,” he said. “(Improving on) my shooting can always help, and overall there’s something I can always get better at.”

If he can find a way to keep his Las Vegas form going into the games that actually count, Muhammad could develop into a national star as well.

imageBy Jesse Granger

One of the bright spots of the Runnin’ Rebels disappointing 2013-14 season was an energetic transfer from the University of Connecticut.

Roscoe Smith brought intensity and heart every night he took to the floor, and breathed energy into a team that suffered through a season full of missed expectations. Smith’s theatrics and leadership made him a fan favorite, particularly screaming in opponents’ faces as he jumped up and down while guarding the inbound pass.

What better place for UNLV’s theatrical leader to continue his basketball career than Hollywood, California – with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Smith made his professional debut last Friday in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas in front of a sold out crowd.

“I played in front of a lot of UNLV fans, and to represent the UNLV program, it was definitely very interesting,” Smith said. “I was very anxious, but I slowed down and let the game come to me.”

He started the game on the bench, but checked in at the 4:36 mark of the first quarter. He was held scoreless in the first half, missing both of his shots, and looked uncomfortable on the floor.

“The biggest difference is the talent level,” he said. “There are a lot of great guys out here that can play basketball. Some guys are more physical than others, some are quicker than others and some jump higher than others.”

His scoring drought ended in the third quarter when he slammed home a two-handed dunk, and his game opened up from there.

“After I got that dunk everything just started feeling like it was back to normal,” Smith said. “Once you get that first bucket you’re like ok, it’s just basketball. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”

He ended the game with 8 points on 3-of-5 shooting, and added 2 rebounds and a block in 14 minutes of playing time. A solid outing for his first game in the NBA, especially after the criticism he received when choosing to forgo his senior season at UNLV to enter the NBA draft.

“I feel good about (the decision),” said Smith, who is averaging 4.0 points in 11.3 minutes per game after the first three games of the Summer League. “I think I had an impressive year at UNLV. Coach Rice and all of the other UNLV staff members definitely had a lot of confidence in me. They definitely helped me improve, not just as a basketball player but as a person. Today for the first time as a professional athlete I think I did pretty well. I don’t have any complaints at all.”

Making his debut in Las Vegas could have put added pressure on Smith, but he felt it only helped him.

“Coming to Las Vegas, I feel like this is still my first family, so they just support me. I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m just trying to improve as a player every day.”

His trip back home even allowed Smith to catch up with some old teammates.

“I saw a few guys from the team that came and supported me.” Smith said. “I talked to a few guys yesterday. I’m going to watch Kevin Olekaibe and cheer for him. I’m his biggest fan, and I wish him the biggest luck right now.”

Similarly to Smith, teammate Khem Birch also chose to leave school early and went undrafted. The two remain close, and are trying to help each other as they make the next step in their careers.

“I actually talked to Khem all of last night. I experienced it first, so I’m going to give him a pep talk about it and what to do. Just be aggressive all day and everything will work out.”

Today marks one week of one of the most hectic seven days I’ve ever experienced in 27 years of sports journalism. It also marks the beginning of another one.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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Bishop Gorman-graduate Shabazz Muhammad and Glenn Robinson III power under the basket for the Timberwolves.

Between providing analytical content for sports-betting websites, covering the NBA and high school summer baseball, I honestly am not sure how I was able to fit gym time in – or be motivated to even go – but I supposed I have my fitness-physique competing son to thank for that.

Thank God for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, otherwise I’d never get any time off. The day before and two days after the Midsummer Classic are the only days of the calendar year you won’t find anything intriguing to bet on, thus I don’t have to provide analysis for ChrisJordanSports.com. Granted, you can bet on the WNBA, and even Summer League hoops, but it’s not of any interest for the people I deal with.

That’s fine by me, cause then I can enjoy my annual three days off.

That’s no typo – I get three days off a year. No vacations. I work New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Toss in everyone’s birthday we celebrate – you name it. Sure, I’ve taken trips, but I worked every one of ’em.

The day I got married, I was sippin’ Patron and writing sports-betting analysis. Honeymoon, sippin’ wine and writing sports-betting analysis. Trips to New York, Toronto, Ottawa, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, Jamaica… I was sippin’ something and writing sports betting analysis.

Could be a good reason I’m separated, but that’s a whole other blog.

But this past week was pretty damn hectic, given the nature and urgency of the subjects I was covering.

Last Wednesday I was summoned to the LeBron James Skills Academy, with hopes Cleveland’s reborn hero would show up for a moment or two. He did. Hopping around four different courts to play alongside some of the top high school basketball players in the nation. On Thursday, raced out to Clark High School to interview New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, as he finally spoke on the Carmelo Anthony situation. At the time, ‘Melo was unsigned.

Backtrack for a moment with me, to Monday, when I took a one-day assignment to cover the Cavaliers for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer and Cleveland.com. I was to cover the showdown between last month’s top two picks in the NBA Draft: Cleveland’s No. 1 Andrew Wiggins and Milwaukee’s No. 2 Jabari Parker. The game was on Friday.

Friday morning, the LeBron bomb dropped. That’s when thing intensified.

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Cleveland Cavaliers No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins works on his spot-up drills during a practice session at Desert Oasis High School.

Getting reaction quotes, and trying to interview the one person every member of the media wanted to interview was wild. Cavaliers coach David Blatt went from first-year coach with the No. 1 pick (Wiggins), to LeBron’s next coach. Need I go on? I was retained for the next three days, covering the Cavaliers, and also had to do a follow-up with Jackson, for The Associated Press, once Anthony agreed to terms with the Knicks. I also contacted Glenn Robinson III’s hometown paper and agreed to a deal for a feature story on him, now that he was with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Monday rolled around and I was making phone calls and messaging with parents for results from the final Connie Mack games of the regular season, so I could write my preview for the Las Vegas Review Journal, which ran in Tuesday’s paper and online at NevadaPreps.com

Here we are seven days later, and I’m gearing up for another run, chock full of diversity: Connie Mack State Tournament through Saturday, the NBA Summer League is still going through Monday, the sports-betting analysis starts back up on Friday and when it’s all said and done, I will get ready to cover Team USA’s basketball team, as it preps for the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

So even over my prized three days off from the sports-betting gig I’ve done for 14 years, you better believe I’m doing something – sippin’ on something, writing about sports.

– W.G. Ramirez