Posts Tagged ‘basketball’

wade and tarkanianBy W.G. Ramirez

This April will mark the 28th anniversary of my first published article after high school.

Less than a year after graduating from Clark High School, my exclusive interview with then-UNLV point guard Mark Wade was splashed across the front page of the Las Vegas Sentinel-Voice, the state’s only African-American newspaper.

That was 1987. Little did I know the next time we’d do another exclusive 1-on-1 interview, it would be under somber circumstances.

But sure enough, less than 30 seconds after texting my ol’ buddy Mark, he replied with one simple word: “Yes.”

The question: “Mark, you available for an interview about Tark?”

Mark Wade 2Just as he was UNLV’s loyal floor general who helped lead the Runnin’ Rebels into the 1987 Final Four, and was an extension of the coaching staff on the court, he was loyal to his former coach on Wednesday, roughly three hours after we were all saddened by the news that Jerry Tarkanian had joined his friend and former North Carolina coach Dean Smith in the afterlife.

Mark, understandably shaken, spoke about a number of things with me, talking about how much Tarkanian meant to not only him, but the program, university and city of Las Vegas. Much of what he said, I knew. The broad strokes, of course I knew. I’ve been here since 1972, and used to watch the Runnin’ Rebels play inside the Las Vegas Convention Center’s famed Rotunda, which resembled a spaceship.

From Sweet Lew Brown, Eddie Owens, Sudden Sam Smith, Robert Smith, Reggie Theus and that high-flying bunch from the 70s, to Wade’s crew that included Armen Gilliam, Freddie Banks, Eldridge Hudson and Gary Graham, I had seen them all. Yep, long before the 1990 National Championship – with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony, Anderson Hunt and George Ackles – we were all bleeding Rebel Red.

Including Mark.

Which is why his phone began blowing up shortly after the 84-year-old legend died at Valley Hospital, just minutes from his home. So many people knew what Tarkanian meant to Mark, who might have been diminutive in size, but who had as big a heart as any other Runnin’ Rebel in the history of the program.

Which is why, to this day, he defends UNLV to the core.

“There was always this misperception that we were this undisciplined, crazy, helter-skelter uncontrollable basketball program,” Wade said. “But as chaotic as it looked, it was unbelievably disciplined basketball. To us, we had a plan and it was directed toward what we were supposed to do. Even on the championship team, they all had roles on the floor en route to winning the championship. Us, that 1987 Final Four team, we had a plan and we knew what we were doing and what we had to do to get as far as we did. We had a plan that was set forth in practice.”

And boy did the Runnin’ Rebels execute it.

They finished 37-2, averaged 92.5 points per game, allowed 75.5 points per contest and lost in the National Semifinal, 97-93, to eventual champion Indiana.

But it was the game before that, against Iowa in the West Regional Final that Mark wanted to talk about. It’s the one game he remembers absolutely everything about, and the one game he believes epitomized the life and soul of Tark the Shark.

“The eternal fight of telling one another we weren’t going to lose that game, that’s what I remember,” Wade said. “We were getting out butt whipped out there, I got my fourth foul and Gary (Graham) came in the game. And no matter how far down we got, we just always had the mentality it was us against the world and we were going to fight ’til the clock said zero.”

Just like Tarkanian. In real life.

“The Iowa game epitomized what Coach Tark was all about; it epitomized what college basketball was all about,” he said.

Wade_MarkWade remembers one intangible being the culprit allowing Iowa to open a 16-point halftime lead on the Runnin’ Rebels. That culprit, in a sense, was Tarkanian, who had Gilliam throwing the ball in each time Iowa scored.

“Our best finisher was taking the ball out of bounds, and that wasn’t working,” Wade said. “So at halftime, rather than him telling us what we were doing wrong, a couple players went to coach and we told him to switch Jarvis Basnight with Gilliam, putting the team’s best scorer into frontcourt, rather than the backcourt.

“And that is what essentially changed the flow of the game.”

UNLV outscored the Hawkeyes 42-23 in the second half and advanced to its second-ever Final Four.

“Coach and I never had any serious battles, what we had was a meeting of the minds on the basketball court,” Wade said. “We found a happy medium and that’s what made me enjoy being a point guard for that team.”

It was that kind of relationship that taught Wade to trust a coach, taught Tarkanian a lot more about the point guard on his team and displayed the type of coach who wasn’t afraid to learn from his players while teaching them how to win.

“He taught his players to fight through practice ’til they had nothing left, and in games, the model was to play ’til the game was over,” Wade said. “In life, his journey was the same as what we stood for on the basketball court. You fight until you have nothing left, to the very end.”

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Leon Doss: “I don’t know how long I have to be here, but I have friends that have given me the will to keep fighting.”

By W.G. Ramirez

Considering how long I’ve been in Las Vegas, I thought I’d met everyone there was to meet from the local prep scene since the 1970s.

Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting yet another legend.

I only wish I had more time to get to know him.

Leon Doss has cancer.

And given how fast things have spread, and that it’s attacking his organs and legs like the Seattle Seahawks attacked the Denver Broncos in last year’s Super Bowl, well, yeah…

Ken Henderson's Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village was the site for a fund-raiser for longtime coach and educator Leon Doss.

Ken Henderson’s Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village was the site for a fund-raiser for longtime coach and educator Leon Doss.

Yet while most everyone inside the Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village approached the fragile Clark County School District veteran with care during a five-hour fund-raiser that included a $50 ice-bucket challenge, their looks of concern and somberness quickly turned to smiles when Leon greeted them.

I know my tentativeness was eased when he looked at me, smiled and shook my hand and thanked me for being there.

His smile – though faded slightly in color, assumedly because of treatment for his cancer – was vibrant because of the width it stretched from ear to ear. Here is a man with one of the most feared infirmities known to man, and it was Leon who was making us feel secure in his presence. It was Leon asserting his jovial and loving personality that allowed us to be unbothered by his situation.

“I know it’s going to be a tough fight,” he said. “With all the love and support there’s nothing you can’t beat. I was talking to my wife, and I said ‘you know what, we’re going to fight this to the end.’

“God only has a plan for everybody, so he’s gonna lead me down the path he wants me to go, so I’m gonna fight physically and let nature take its course.”

That sounds like something he’d say; well, at least I think it does.

#DossStrong

Again, this was my first encounter with Leon, a man who reached great heights in his heyday at Western High School. Of course, while he was starring for the Warriors’ football, basketball and baseball programs, I was wreaking havoc at Robert E. Lake Elementary and Kit Carson Sixth Grade Center.

So how would I remember him snagging a state championship in football, being named both first-team all-Southern Conference and all-state for his exploits as a running back and outfielder during his junior and senior seasons, or that he was named to the Bob Lilly all-American team for football and baseball.

I wouldn’t. But several others remembered, and they all had their own stories to tell. Stories that, as they told them, lit up their faces and took them back to Western’s glory days.

#DossStrong t-shirts were sold during Sunday's fund-raiser.

Friends bought and donned #DossStrong t-shirts, sold during Sunday’s fund-raiser.

“When I think of Leon Doss, I think of somebody who was loved across the board by the masses,” said Mike Gomez, who played baseball with Leon at Western. “He was a friend to everybody. It didn’t matter what group, or what social group everybody was, everybody knew Leon. Everybody loved Leon.”

Gomez, who has been a teacher in the district for nearly 30 years, said he’s always been amazed by the lives Leon has influenced, just by his presence, and how he could change someone’s outlook with a word of encouragement.

“Even in his adult life, he’s touched so many people, whether it be coaching, whether it be playing sports, his martial arts instructing, he’s had so many avenues to touch people’s lives, and that he’s just a caring, giving person,” Gomez said.

Greg Wolfram, athletic administrator at Arbor View, remembered his time with Leon, who joined the staff as a teacher and coach when the school opened in 2005.

“Leon is just a personable guy,” Wolfram said. “He’s more than a coach; for people, he’s a friend, a mentor and he’s just there for people who have needed him. The one thing about Leon, he was very loyal to people.”

Ken Henderson, the owner of the Pizza Bar and also a former Western classmate, said there was never a second thought in his head about shutting down his restaurant for five hours so fellow Western-alum Gina Jackson and Dawn Hayden could organize the fund-raiser.

“He’s such a great energy, I was pretty surprised when I heard about it,” Henderson said. “I said whatever day works, let’s just do it. From my understanding, when Gina first did a cash drive, Leon was leveled. He couldn’t believe that people would just out of the blue, get a call, and write a check.”

#DossStrong

Jackson has remained close with the Doss’ since Leon was diagnosed last November. One of the first things she did was buy a book for his wife Faye, on how to handle her role for Leon, and for her ol’ buddy from Western, she gave him a journal. The first entry: a bucket list.

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Brothers Herman Newson and Leon Doss pose for a picture while enjoying Sunday’s fundraiser at the Pizza Bar at Tivoli Village.

“He wanted to have a get together with all the special people who had crossed paths with him before… you know…” she said, and struggled to finish.

Yeah, I know. I couldn’t say it either, as you could tell earlier in this blog.

“Rather than everyone getting together at his funeral, he wanted everyone to get together so he could be there, so he could see everyone and spend time with everyone,” Jackson said.

While we were chatting, one gentleman came up to thank her for everything she was doing for Leon and the Doss family. To which she replied: “We were all raised to treat other people the way we want to be treated.”

It made me smile. It’s very similar to my thought process toward this piece.

Again, I didn’t know Leon. And our paths probably would have never crossed if his daughter, Hayley, and my son would haven’t been a part of Arbor View’s Class of 2014. But there was something about wanting to do this, about spreading some awareness to anyone who may read this about a wonderful family who has endured so much, and still has a long road to travel.

Besides, whenever someone brought up Hayley, a member of Arbor View’s women’s soccer program, including the past two years the Aggies won the state title, you can’t help but think about her smile. It’s as radiating as her father’s, and can brighten a room as well as any 100-watt light bulb. Hayley is now in Washington, getting ready to start her first season for Highline Community College. In fact, the Thunderbirds open their campaign Monday with a scrimmage.

Leon won’t be there.

#DossStrong

Leon didn’t get to see Hayley step on the field for the last few minutes of the state championship game last season. Hayley overcame an injury and saw limited time during the season, but she got to play near the end of the title game, and looked as if she had never been injured. I remember tweeting about it, and even feeling a little melancholy – in a good way – that she could say she participated in her final game for Arbor View.

Sunday, as everyone was able to see Leon, talk to him and extend their well wishes, my heart tugged a bit, the same melancholy way it did back on Nov. 16 for Hayley, but this time not so much in a great way. Maybe that’s why I was tweeting play-by-play from the Pizza Bar, so she could feel as if she were alongside her father.

See, if it weren’t for Leon, his eldest daughter probably wouldn’t be the athlete she is today. It’s as close a bond as I’ve ever seen between parent and child, as the two rely upon one another. He’s her motivation; she’s his hero.

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Hayley Doss, now a freshman at Highline Community College, works in front of a defender during a club-soccer game last year.

“I was a hard worker, but she makes me look like I’m standing still,” Leon Doss said. “She loves to play the sport, she’s always had to fight for what she wanted. She was never the most talented, but she works hard enough to become one of the best.”

Perhaps that’s why when I interviewed Highline coach Thomas Moore he told me had no clue about Leon. Apparently, Hayley arrived on July 17 and has done exactly as she was instructed by the man who will always be her No. 1 coach and mentor. It’s been strictly business for the T-Birds, and not a peep about her ailing father.

“He made her promise that whatever happens, she continues playing strong and doing the best she can on the field and in school,” said her mother, Faye.

Prior to telling me she’s been nothing short of a blessing to the program, spreading positive vibes to everyone on the team, Moore shared with me a personal note as to why it took him an extra few minutes to return my call. My voice mail struck a personal chord with him, as he lost his mother to cancer about a year ago.

“One of the best things anyone ever said to me was ‘you’re not going to be able to predict what’s going to happen,'” Moore recollected, Saturday during a phone interview. “There is no guaranteed way to handle this. It’s going to be one day at a time. This probably is a benefit for (Hayley) because she’s doesn’t have a ton of down time and in my experience, having something to focus on, it allowed me to keep my mind off things.

“She’s performing at a very high level and we’re very demanding; she’s responded well. That’s why I’m very excited with some of the things she’ll be able to do this year. Not only is she a great player, she’s a great kid. I’ve really enjoyed having her up here so far.”

Of course, it wasn’t an easy move. Hayley admitted it was difficult to leave her father.

“It’s been pretty hard not seeing him every day,” she told me Saturday. “I can’t do anything for him, it’s just my mom and sister, and I can’t be there to support him. He’s taught me everything when it comes to sports, so it’s pretty hard on me. Now that season is here, it’s hard not seeing him here for my games. He was one of my first coaches for soccer, he’s been there from the beginning.

“He’s mostly the reason I’m pushing myself to be a good athlete.”

Leon Doss and Hayley Doss pose after her high-school graduation.

Leon Doss and Hayley Doss pose after her high-school graduation, from Arbor View HS, in June.

And that’s how Leon wanted it. He didn’t want his little star to stay home and worry about him. She earned her way to Des Moines, Washington, and he wants her there, doing what she loves.

Said Leon: “My whole goal was for her to fulfill her dream that she’s wanted for a long time. I told her whatever she does, whatever happens, you play or not, just go out there and give the best effort you can. She’s my oldest, but she’s setting the foundation for my youngest.”

#DossStrong

Both Leon and Hayley are to be commended, as they’re living up to the “hashtag” you’ve seen me use as dividers for each part to this touching story. I now know why the t-shirts they were selling said #DossStrong. After talking with Hayley on Saturday, and sitting with Leon and Faye for a bit you’d understand.

The Doss’ have been married for 20 years and have a younger daughter, Laycey, who is 13. And they’re stronger than ever. Their bond can’t be broken, and has been strengthened by an illness that is crippling, and generally weakens a soul.

But Leon was very candid about his remaining time – no matter how long it may be – now that he’s accepted the fact he’s in for the fight of his life. And he told me he refuses to accept anyone say that he is dying. On the contrary, he is living.

“This is something that you never expect in life,” Leon said. “When you have this many people care about you. This is just the greatest feeling ever. I don’t know how long I have to be here, but I have friends that have given me the will to keep fighting. And I’m going to stay strong.”

Yeah, #DossStrong.

2014 adidas Nations

Bishop Gorman’s Chase Jeter Chase Jeter poses for a photo during adidas Nations at Next Level Sports Complex. The 7-footer announced he will play at Duke in college.
Photo courtesy adidas.

W.G. Ramirez

Bishop Gorman’s senior-to-be Chase Jeter announced Monday night he’s headed across the country to play for one of UNLV’s most hated rivals.

After posting a double-double (14 points and 16 rebounds) and being named Most Valuable Player in the adidas Nations third place game on ESPNU, the 7-footer told a nationwide audience he was becoming a Duke Blue Devil.

The Runnin’ Rebels defeated Duke 103-73 to win the National Championship, and the Blue Devils returned the favor one year later in the Final Four, 79-77, derailing UNLV’s undefeated run and quest for back-to-back titles. Jeter’s father, Chris, played for the Rebels during the championship season.

“I took a lot of time to evaluate my decision and I took visits to all the schools on my list, and I felt I was really comfortable with my decision,” Jeter said during the televised announcement. “I just love the feel of the environment, Cameron Indoor is a great place, a great basketball environment and I just felt like it was a great place for me.”

Jeter visited Durham earlier this year, in March, during one of Duke’s annual ACC meetings with rival-North Carolina, which is reportedly listed high on Jeter’s high-school teammate Stephen Zimmerman’s list.

Jeter, an all-state selection last year, averaged more than 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior for the Gaels playing alongside Zimmerman, also considered one of the nation’s top recruits in next year’s class.

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Chase Jeter averaged more than 14 points and 10 rebounds as a junior for Gorman last season. Photo: W.G. Ramirez

Jeter chose the Blue Devils over UNLV, UCLA and Arizona.

As one of the most sought after recruits in class of 2015, Jeter is ranked among the top 15 in different polls, including No. 8 by Rivals, No. 9 by Scout, No. 10 by 247Sports and No. 13 by ESPN.

Of Duke, Jeter told cbssports.com college basketball writer Jeff Borzello: “I have a great relationship with all the coaches. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski). Coach (Jeff) Capel. They have great guys, great history. Overall, just a great program.”

Krzyzewski was on hand last weekend to see Jeter compete in the adidas Super 64 event at Cashman Center, and attended the championship game, where Jeter’s Dream Vision lost to Indiana Elite.

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Doctors and trainers tend to Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George last Friday night
during the U.S. men’s national team’s scrimmage at the Thomas and Mack Center.
Photo courtesy of Cassy Athena/www.cassyathena.com

W.G. Ramirez

So I purposely took my time in penning my final thoughts on last week, specifically the Paul George situation, so I could listen to everyone speak on it Monday morning.

I’m done listening, and I think part of my ear drums hurt. They may be bleeding.

I’ve heard enough.

The one person who made the most sense was Freddie Coleman, on ESPN’s First Take, and I lend credence to the worldwide leader’s Brian Windhorst since he was here all week, saw what happened first hand and was at the hospital reporting overnight and first thing Saturday morning.

But those with remarks like: “Someone has some questions to answer” about the Thomas and Mack Center and how the court was laid out, or “NBA players should not be competing internationally” need to give it a rest.

Freak. Accident.

Rare. Occurrence.

The last time we saw something like this was when Louisville’s Kevin Ware broke his leg on national television during the  NCAA Tournament. But prior to that, can anyone remember such a thing taking place? This is not something that is unavoidable, or something you think about when constructing a court, or practicing for a game.

You get taped up to avoid sprained ankles. You don’t necessarily think about avoiding compound fractures.

The relationship between the NBA and USA Basketball would not be in question if George didn’t break his leg. Instead, we’d be talking about how well Derrick Rose played, and the fact he looked fantastic in the first quarter and how he was the crowd favorite.

Fact is, Jerry Colangelo, Mike Krzyzewski, George’s family and the rest of the national team were saddened, the one person who was upbeat throughout the weekend and had the most positive attitude, was the person with a rod and screws in his leg. George, though he reportedly couldn’t believe it happened, told visitors and social media he would be fine and would bounce back stronger than ever.

That won’t be until the 2015-16 season. But he will be back.

Joe Rainone, co-owner of Tim Soder Physical Therapy, said George should have no problem returning to the court, it’s just going to take some time.

“You don’t see that many injuries like this,” Rainone said. “I’ve seen more than 1,000 or 1,500 football games – I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like this. Look at all the basketball injuries you see, I’ve never seen an injury like that. I’ve seen plenty of ACLs, I’ve seen a ton of ankle injuries, but I’ve never seen something like this.”

He added that George was extremely lucky to have no damage to his ankle or knee, which will make the healing process much easier.

“With the way his leg went, you just don’t know,” Rainone said. “Whether it’s the ankle or knee, you’d think he had to have more damage than that. But everybody heals at a different rate. They say four to six weeks, but some don’t heal as well as others – some heal sooner.”

Rainone, who has treated many professional athletes from Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and PGA Tour, said with as clean a break as George’s appears to be, and because doctors can use x-rays it makes it easier to determine when you the NBA All-Star can begin physical therapy, as opposed to an ACL tear in the knee.

“The nice thing with the bone is you can see the healing process,” he said. “Not only looking at the bone, but you’re looking at the hardware too, to make sure the progress is coming along.”

Rainone said it’s very rare that screws will loosen, but that can happen. And the only time they go in to fix the hardware or take it out is if it’s shiftmatic and there is metal rubbing against anything, it’s not sitting right or causing irritation.

“This is one of those injuries that if you have money and the right people around you, it’s going to expedite things for sure,” Rainone said. “The most likely thing is if everything goes extremely well – and they just need to go well – I say he is back.”

In fact, Rainone said George’s right leg will likely be stronger than before, due to over calcification of the bone. George’s leg will have more density, and will be thicker than it was before. Rainone believes with the proper attention, George should start physical therapy in no more than three months, will be walking on his own anywhere from four to six months and will be back on the court anywhere from eight to 12 months.

Until then, the pundits will continue to weigh in, alerting everyone how dangerous and unnecessary it is to have NBA All-Stars playing for Team USA – the same people who will be cheering for the men’s national team in about a month in Spain.

*shoulder shrug*

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.