Captain’s Blog Stardate 312730.7688990361
You all know I live and breathe silicon, terabytes, microwaves and throughput. I feel blessed to be in this age of rapidly improving cutting edge technology. I can walk around with my entire music collection in my shirt pocket, make a video phone call to my cousin in Miami for free, and a simple idea like google can help bring the world together (China excluded). But if there is one thing that kills my futuristic high, it’s lame ass technology. Tech designed from the ground up by imbeciles with the sole purpose of irking the crap out of me. Geeks, I give you my personal list of…
Parking meters are not designed to take your quarters, they’re designed to take
your dollars. When you miss dropping that quarter into the meter by a few mins,
you can get a ticket of up to $50. That’s 200x the value of the quarter! Why doesn’t
the city just ticket and bill you for the 25 cents? And why is it a federal offense to
assault a traffic cop?
25 Foot Retractable Dog Leashes
Letting your dog run loose without a leash is illegal in many cities. So some bastard
invents a 25 foot leash so dogs can run around great distances from their owners.
The cord on these things is so thin, you can’t see it at night. I’ve tripped over them
a few times during my late night walks in the park, but I was comforted by the fact
that the little furry guy was choked by his collar for a brief second.
ATMs that keep your card
Seriously, WTF? Is this a patent issue? Why do some ATM machines eat your card
while others just let you swipe it? How many times have you left your card in the
machine after you get your cash out? You’re there to get cash, and once cash is in
your hands you’re thinking about the cash and how you’re going to spend it, not
thinking about the card at all, and you just walk away…
Grabbing Machines aka “The Claw”
A great way to get kids into gambling at an early age is “The Claw”. Pay some money
to play a very loosely based skill game, in the hopes you will win a much bigger
value prize, such as a pack of cigarettes. The claw mechanism is designed to screw
you, as it has the grip of my grandma’s arthritis ridden toes lathered in Vaseline.
If you ever do win, it’s because you played it about a hundred times in a row and
eventually got lucky. In the end, you spent way more gambling with this reject
NASA technology than the damn prize is worth. “Smoke up Johnny!”
The Spork. It’s a fork and a spoon rolled into one right? Wrong!
It’s a crappy fork, and a crappy spoon rolled into one crappy utensil.
It doesn’t do either job well. It doesn’t spear your food well like a fork does.
And unlike a spoon, it doesn’t scoop things up like cereal or soup very well.
The liquid just spills right through the fork portion!
What does it do well? It teaches our children about mediocrity every day
in grammar school cafeterias.
iTunes Sync Feature
Way to take a great piece of hardware (iPod/iPhone) and cripple it with software.
I speak of iTunes, the single worst piece of software ever designed.
If you’ve ever seen this message you’ll instantly know why I’m an angry person.
“The iPod is synced with another iTunes library.
Do you want to erase this iPod and sync with this iTunes library?”
In what Bizzaro world universe would anyone want to do this to their iPod?
Here are some typical scenarios familiar to millions of iPod/iPhone users that just
make my bowels churn.
You’re at home. You want to add just 12 new photos to your iPhone, which already
has 4,500 photos on it. iTunes Sync begins to backup ALL the files on your iPhone.
Did you ask it to backup your files? Of course not. Then iTunes Sync proceeds to
erase ALL 4,500 photos off your device, then RE-COPIES 4,500 photos, plus the
12 new photos, which takes about 15mins to do! Why didn’t it just copy the 12 new
photos onto my iPhone?
You’re at work developing a shiny new porn app for the App Store. You copy the
app onto your iPod to test it. iTunes Sync proceeds to copy every single app off
your iPod, all 163 of them, before it copies your single app, killing precious porn
app testing time.
You’re at your buddy’s house with your brand new iPad that you spent your rent
money on. You want to download some new Apps using iTunes on his computer
because he’s on welfare and can’t afford WiFi. So you connect your iPad to his P.O.S.
computer and it says “this computer is not authorized to install apps on iPad”
Seriously, WTF !? Am I renting this device? I thought I paid cash for it.
I thought I owned it. Why are you trying to control me Steven? Why ?!!
Get out of my life!
Next week I’ll continue my series of Technology That Sucks!
Until then…Live Briefly and Fail.
I don’t care who you are, at some point in your life, you’ve hit the thrift shop, stopped at a garage sale, or taken a hand-me-down from a friend or family member. It’s the beauty of getting something useful, that you didn’t have before, at a ridiculously low tag price. If you even get moderate usage out of that item, it’s a steal. If you don’t, there’s no crying over spilt milk because of the minimal investment. You still have the cash in the bank to replace it with the sure thing. It’s not that you couldn’t afford the best available “whatever” at retail or market prices, it’s the “gem” factor – finding the value and worth in something that another was willing to part with. Similar mindset is a part of professional sports, and especially the case in the NFL. When organizations hit the jackpot on second-hand players, it provides the ability to develop a balanced roster capable of winning a championship, at a reasonable price.
It’s no secret I’m a fan of the Redskins organization and follow them closely; after all, I was treated well there. At the same time, I’m like any other Skins fan – full of disgust over more than a decade full of half-ass performances and piss poor management. To be fair, sometimes it’s the coaching (uh, Zorn), yet always poor build of the roster.
Year after year, geek owner Dan Snyder has taken the fantasy football approach to his baby. “If I change the coach…”, “If I am the first to get the biggest name free agent…”, and the list goes on in ways that have transcended into what is now their sixth head coach in the last decade, and at least an eight figure dollar amount worth of bad deals – maybe even nine figures depending how you grade them. Think Adam Archuleta, an elderly Bruce Smith, Brandon Lloyd, David Patten, and the $56M Deion Sanders, and now possibly Haynesworth, the Hundred Million Dollar Man, just to name a few.
Snyder’s the epitome of buy high, then cut, trade or sell low. He’s the king of how to spend money on what will not work. It’s not all his fault though. You’ve got to blame his former right-hand man, Vinny Cerrato for a lot of it. He was like the friend that never has any money, but is always convincing you to dole out by saying something like “Dude, wouldn’t that be so cool if, like, you like, got [insert anything ridiculous here], because…” and he’s actually so convincing, that you do it. Marty Schottenheimer saw through him and fired him in 2001, but unfortunately Dan Snyder brought him back with even more power in 2002. This was the guy with brains behind the post-mortem Irving Fryar and Jeff George deals, as well hiring a head coach that had never even served as an offensive or defensive coordinator with Jim Zorn.
The most irking of all, aside from complete eradication of draft picks year after year via trades, was the more recent Albert Haynesworth deal alluded to earlier worth over $100,000,000. Now, regardless of the who and how much, no human being is worth that much money. In the terms of whether a deal of that magnitude will win you the Superbowl, maybe – if it’s Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. But for a guy who doesn’t play every down, nor in every game in a season due to injury, Haynesworth’s price tag wasn’t even logical.
To describe the decision making of Redskins’ executive management in a nutshell, they:
- are careless with the value of draft picks;
- therefore they do not build from within;
- rather, seeking the highest profile players;
- after their prime;
- above market prices;
- therefore limiting depth;
- locking themselves in investments to grand to let go (See. 4 total draft picks for Jason Campbell);
- creating holes in various aspects of their offensive and defensive lines;
- and failing to give their key players the resources necessary to be successful (See. No offensive line allowed Jason Campbell to be sacked 81 times in the last 2 seasons).
Sidenote: What’s incredible about Jason Campbell, is that, in the midst of all of this irrational organizational change, he has statistically increased every single year in attempts, completions, completion percentage, passing yards, passing average, touchdown passes, passer rating, rushing attempts, and almost in rushing yards as well. That’s with highly unproductive #2 and #3 wide receivers. Somebody is going to get a steal when they trade for this guy and his stat line next year will look something like 3800 yards passing, 27 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 350 rushing yards, 3 rushing touchdowns, and 5 lost fumbles.
Anyway, back to poor decision making, or dare I say better?
This year has been different, and quite impressive; their first major acquisition being the replacement of Zorn with Mike Shanahan, a guy that’s won five conference championships and three Superbowls as either a head coach or offensive coordinator. That last part is important, as it notes his specialty – he’s offensive minded, something the Redskins have lacked for years. Their defense has been relatively strong; they are just a year removed from ranking #4 in total defense. Shanahan’s not just the coach, nor a puppet of Snyder’s either. He signed on as Head Coach and the Vice President of Football Operations – he controls all aspects of player personnel. Therefore, every transaction since he joined is a figment of his power within the organization to rebuild as he sees put. This includes the releases of RB’s Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, QB Todd Collins, WR Antwaan Randle-El, CB Fred Smoot, G Randy Thomas and DT Cornelius Griffin. The former running backs have been replaced by former all-stars Willie Parker and Larry Johnson. Oddly enough, these top-dogs from a few years ago were not signed for much, unless they prove themselves. At worst, they motivate Portis to perform at his max and relieve a portion of his weekly beating; at best, they become the league’s first three headed rushing beast. Todd Collins, who’s just plain old, was replaced by an NFL starting quarterback caliber Rex Grossman, who has actually taken a team to the Superbowl. Smoot, Thomas and Griffin were replaced by Phillip Buchanon, Artis Hicks and Maake Kemoeatu. Kemoeatu, with a heavily incentive laden two year deal just shy of $7M may be the steal if his Achilles tendon is fully healed. They did just sign Roydell Williams and Marques Hagans, but I still consider WR to be one position with a removal, yet no real replacement as of now is a wide receiver. Hmmm. More on that later…
McNabb. Quite possibly the most transformational transaction of this year’s off-season, the NFC East has been turned upside down. This year’s draft will inevitably change, not just for the Redskins, but for the entire league. With McNabb on the roster, the addition of Sam Bradford (will be gone) or Jimmy Clausen is possible, but not likely, and their most pressing need is now a left tackle. The Eagles gave up their leader that never could quite win them a Superbowl in favor of rebuilding with youth – not exactly Brotherly Love. The Redskins take in a six-time pro-bowler that’s been to the conference championship five times, one of those years also included a trip to the Superbowl. And then there’s the change of scenery; the opportunity to remove yourself from the stress and baggage of the past and start something new. It’s the opportunity to play for fans with new hope as opposed to falling short year after year to the highest expectations. Personally, I think the advantage of this trade goes to Washington, especially considering they should be able to get at least recoup a late round draft pick for Campbell. Deion Sanders echoes similar regard calling the Eagles move the “dumbest thing ever”.
For a number of years, the Redskins rushing attack consisted of Clinton Portis running through walls until he was temporarily broken, with an occasional touch of Ladell Betts or Rock Cartwright here and there. With Larry Johnson and Willie Parker both challenging and relieving Portis, the spirit of competition, and the pursuit of performance bonuses, should enhance the ground game while providing incredible depth. No gigantic paydays here – play for pay – otherwise the contracts are just blips for the Redskins now valued at more than $1.6 billion.
So, can the Redskins really go from one of the four worst teams in the NFL, to winning a championship from one season to the next? I think they can, but not yet, however I don’t think they’re finished quite yet. I’m yet to be sold on receivers Malcolm Kelly (#51 in 2008) or Devin Thomas (#34 in 2008). Two second rounders, two years, and a combined/cumulative stat line of 68 receptions, 820 yards and 3 touchdowns. The air attack is dominated by Chris Cooley and Santana Moss, but dominant teams need a relevant No. 3. To really make a push and to balance out the offense, the Redskins need to add a veteran capable of being a week-in, week-out threat. I’ve got one off-the-wall suggestion.
Reunite McNabb with the talent that he’s already used to. Dare I say it? Bring back Terrell Owens. He’s sure to sign on for the last few years he has left, at way less than $5M a year. The duo aided McNabb’s highest passer rating, completion rating, and touchdowns – he was also shy of his season high in passing yardage by 41 yards. Besides, regardless of their past, the now have a common bond; they’re outcasts of Philly and professionalism aside, they have at least two shots this season to enact revenge.
Yes, I do believe that the Redskins will stage the greatest turn-around since last season, and McNabb will live to play another NFC Championship. But at the moment, they’re one receiver shy of it. TO is not as empty as last year’s stats would suggest. He simply had the worst quarterbacks of his career throwing the ball to where he wasn’t. He’s the unbelievable find at the Thrift Shop. If Dan Snyder is Goodwill hunting, he may just land a trophy.
Leslie “L.A.” Banks is an unstoppable literary force.
The New York Times bestselling author has written over thirty-five novels and twelve novellas in the genres of paranormal thriller, romance, crime, non-fiction, and women’s fiction. Her books have been published by Simon and Schuster, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Publishing, BET/Arabesque, Genesis Press (MS), Parker Publishing, Harper, and Tor Books.
Leslie’s twelve-novel series, The Vampire Huntress Legends, garnered her worldwide recognition and a devoted legion of fans. In 2008, she won the Essence Literary Award for Storyteller of The Year, and launched her second series of paranormal thrillers, The Crimson Moon Novels.
On March 8th, Leslie had the honor of introducing President Barack Obama at Philadelphia’s nationally-recognized Arcadia University, shortly before the passing of the new Health Care Bill.
A beloved daughter of her native town, Philadelphia, PA, Leslie continues to produce works that profile heroes and heroines of color, and has just sold a new series of novels to Pocket Books.
EXPO Editor-in-chief Keisha Parks travelled to The City of Brotherly Love to interview the gracious L.A. Banks, and opted to avoid all cheesesteak joints by any means necessary.
You graduated from The University of Pennsylvania Wharton, and your first career was in corporate marketing and as a marketing consultant.
Why did you choose that field right out of college?
L.A.: My parents were typical of many, many working/middle class African-American families of that era. They told me to go into a job after graduating that would have medical and dental, and that would allow me to pay off my monstrous student loans, LOL… and ya know what, it was good advice!
How did your marketing expertise prepare you for a career as a novelist?
L.A.: Who knew that writing the book was the easiest part of the whole “job” of being a novelist? Seriously. A lot of people think they can just write the book and then the publisher is going to do all of this sexy marketing. Neva happen.
You’ve gotta go guerrilla marketing, hustle, really develop a following on your own, otherwise you’ll just be a one or two book wonder. So, my advice to all new authors is, learn how to promote your work.
Tell me about your first writing job. Was it a pleasant or daunting experience?
L.A.: My first writing job wasn’t daunting at all. It was a lark—something I did on the spur of the moment.
There was an essay contest for 10 pages/$2,500 in Essence Magazine. I was like… “Drama? They want mad-drama? Oh… hell yeah, I got drama!” LOL! I was broke, going through a divorce, all sorts of madness happening in my life, so I sat down to pen the short story—which bloomed into a novel. That was the first book I sold.
When I got picked up by Kensington/Arabesque I was giddy. Then they wanted a second book? OMG! I knocked that one out and I don’t think it occurred to me till maybe the third book that maybe I should ask them for some money (ha ha ha!) I was just so happy to get published that I didn’t haggle, didn’t negotiate, didn’t have an agent, didn’t know SQUAT… just wrote, breathlessly, loving every second of doing it.
Early in your career as a novelist, you wrote books based on the popular Showtime series Soul Food. What’s it like writing fiction based on a property from film and television? Did you have any contact with Soul Food creator George Tillman, Jr?
L.A.: Oh… I wish… maaaan. No. You’re pretty isolated when you write for existing properties. Basically they sent me a show bible, about 40 show tapes—which I had to sign for and return, and then all the contact was solely with the editor, alas. But the task is daunting—and that was a tough project, because you already have characters that have been established. Those characters have a following already… and you cannot presume to deviate from their established on-screen behaviors or 1. You’ll catch flak, and 2. Will really infringe on the originator’s vision.
So, like I said, there’s a LOT of responsibility there. Still, it was thrilling to have the honor of doing that work and it felt good that they trusted me enough to allow me to tackle the job. I threw everything I could at it to try to get it right.
Over six years and twelve novels ago, you began the saga of The Vampire Huntress Legends, with heroine Damali Richards.
For the uninitiated, what’s the basic story behind the popular series?
L.A.: That series, of everything I’ve written to date, is my baby. This is the classic story of good against evil—where the Light prevails. Essentially it’s about a young woman called to a destiny she never asked for, and who is surrounded by a rag-tag family of Guardians she never wanted in her life. But these people come together, grow together, and finally gel into a vampire hunting lethal weapon. Meanwhile, the one thing that can trip her up, her old boyfriend, accidentally gets bitten… then it’s a race against time to save him from the dark side while also keeping the dark side from getting its claws into her.
What inspired the creation of Damali, and why take on the heavily-mined genre of vampires?
L.A.: The series began before Twilight and the plethora of vampire tales you see out now—early on the highway wasn’t so crowded. But the one thing that still hasn’t changed is the fact that we rarely see kick-ass heroines of color in the equations. Nor do we see black vampires, werewolves, or sexy male slayers in leading roles. I wanted to add some diversity to the landscape. But the story also features Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, Europeans, Caucasians… people of all ethnic backgrounds and faiths.
I really wanted to showcase the human family on the side of good as well as evil, to try to eradicate some of the intolerance we see in the world. At the end of the day, we’re all just people, and these fun tales should include all of us.
Now that you’ve reached the end of the Vampire Huntress Legends journey with The Thirteenth, and congratulations on that, what was the most important thing or two you learned about being a writer along the way?
L.A.: Trust your gut and research is king. The research powered the story to epic levels and trusting that I was on the right path kept my vision focused while pulling this story through twelve books and roughly 4,800 pages.
Going off-topic for a minute, you recently got a chance to introduce the President. I can’t imagine how that must have felt. What did you take away from the experience?
L.A.: Oh… My… God! LOL! I took away from the experience that the White House really does read its mail in this administration (Could’ve bowled me over with a feather!) But I got a chance backstage to briefly chat with him and look him in the eyes—the man is the genuine article as far as I’m concerned. He’s authentic, charismatic, and the man “gets it.” I really believe he understands the plight of the common man and woman… he grew up with the same challenges as many of us, and there is a sincerity about him that makes you want to jump in and do your part.
How important was the passing of this health bill to you?
L.A.: It was CRITICAL… a matter of principle. I fall into that category of people who won’t be helped until 2014, but that doesn’t matter. To me, it is a Christian value to be your brother and sister’s keeper… that we have to care what happens to the least among us. I am blessed that I don’t have a child with a pre-existing condition—but I know there is someone out there who does. I am not old enough to fall into the Medicare donut hole… but someone’s Momma, Daddy, grandmother or grandfather is. So, yeah, it matters to me that we are the wealthiest nation on the planet, but rank like 18th in infant mortality and a bunch of other measures that make NO SENSE. See… I could write an entire essay on this, so let me get off my soapbox here by simply saying… it’s not ok to have 45,000 people die annually that didn’t have to. That’s passive genocide.
Now that we’ve spoken about a real hero, let’s discuss an iconic fictional villain. You wrote the novel Scarface: The Beginning based on the fictional Cuban crimelord Tony Montana, immortalized in film by director Brain DePalma and actor Al Pacino.
Did you feel a lot of pressure, considering the popularity of the film? How much creative freedom did you have, or did your editor hit you with a lot of guidelines?
L.A.: THIS was a labor of love because the editor let me run free. He only said that I had to make it circa 1978, just before the immigration of Tony, but that I could figure out his life and why he was the way he was by any means necessary. I even got to explain how he got his scar! It was an awesome project!
But, sadly, this one never got marketed as heavily as it should have. They sorta’ dropped it in a couple of suburban big chain stores—nowhere near where the hip-hop urban community could find it, and the project never took off. I’m hoping that one day it’ll have an afterlife. The reasoning I was given still sticks in my craw… they told me that market doesn’t read—but then how do you explain street fiction’s explosion? (Shaking my head. They did lousy marketing, then blamed the reader for not knowing where to find the book. What can I tell ya?)
Tell us about the Crimson Moon series, and why you decided to start another multi-novel saga after wrapping up The Vampire Huntress Legends. Also, in writing about werewolves and vampires, did you build on popular mythic rules or create your own rules?
L.A.: Ah… for this, just like in the Vampire Huntress Legends series, I used a combination. I had to stick with the old myths, just my own personal preference, because readers have a frame of reference from the werewolf flicks. Therefore I have really huge, scary werewolves—but in my story, they’re crazy like that because they’re demon-infected. The cool, suave, sexy ones are Shadow Wolves, and based on Native American lore about the noble wolf. Those are the ones that are the protectors of humans. So there’s a war going on in the underworld between good and bad wolves, along with vampires and the Fae.
I did it because after wrapping up an epic saga, it was too much fun not to be had. After you’ve literally been “bitten” by the paranormal genre, it’s hard to put it down.
What are some significant differences between Damali Richards from The VHL and Sasha Trudeau from Crimson Moon?
L.A.: They are really different women. Sasha is military trained (and genetically engineered to be a Shadow Wolf.) When we first meet Sasha, she’s disciplined, is a Lieutenant, and has experience in love and life. Damali’s entry on the scene is a “sister from the streets with attitude.” She’s in-training, doesn’t want the job of being the Millennium Neteru, and fights with her destiny, whereas Sasha embraces it, once she learns what she is. But make no mistake, both heroines are kick-ass in their own way and were extremely fun to write.
Looking at the popularity of vampires with the Twilight films and HBO’s True Blood, I have to ask if you’re getting offers to adapt The Vampire Huntress Legends into film or television.
L.A.: Yes But all I can tell you is it’s been optioned. Keep your fingers crossed!
You are one of the most prolific authors I’ve ever come across. It’s dizzying to look at your body of work in romance, horror, action, and so on. What disciplines make it possible for you to have such a consistent output of material?
L.A.: I guess this is gonna sound corny but, I really, really, really love what I do. I’m a geek at heart—I love to research things and figure stuff out, and read all kinds of obscure research facts… I love science and political world news, and thrive on that stuff. So, once I have a story in my head, I run with it.
I think my past life, which was deadline-driven corporate America, made it very easy for me to sit down and focus. I had to do that before for things I really didn’t “feel like” dealing with. Now, to do it for a career I love… whew… doesn’t seem too much like work, honestly.
Most of your work has the presence of a strong Black woman as the lead. Is that you coming from the school of “write what you know”, or do you feel that as a Black woman, if you don’t get those characters out there few other writers will?
L.A.: I think it’s a combination of both issues, really. I definitely believe in “write what you know” so that the authenticity of the character rings through him/her. But I also feel like there hasn’t been enough attention to our beautiful Sisters of all hues, from the fairest almond-hued ones to the most gorgeous ebony-hued. They have a story, too. If no one deems to tell it, their voices will go unheard, and that would be tragic.
I read on Publishers Lunch about the upcoming Fallen Angels series. Congrats again! Don’t imagine you can go into detail, but how about a few enticing tidbits?
L.A.: I CANNOT WAIT to start this book series… think sexy, hunky male angels here on earth and tempted to their wits end. If they stray, it’s all over. Any more than that, if I tell ya, I’ve gotta kill ya, LOL!
If you could cast a movie based on The Vampire Huntress Legends, what actresses and actors do you feel would do Damali, Carlos, Big Mike, Marlene, and Fallon Nuit justice?
L.A.: PLEASE don’t ask me that one, LOL… because that has been a RAGING debate on my website forum for the last 4 years, ha ha ha! If you go to www.vampire-huntress.com, click on the free forum and sign up, LAWDY B, you will see PAGES and PAGES of posts and pics that defy comprehension. For Damali and Carlos it may have to be some fresh new faces… but I can see Angela Bassett as Marlene – BIG SMILE!
You’re a Philadelphia native, and still living there. How does Philly manage to maintain an allure for you? And is the music scene as good as I’ve heard?
L.A.: LOL, Philly is home. I have family in walking distance from my house. That’s how Philly is—people nestle in one section of the city and spread out by a matter of blocks. And, yes, the music and the food is off the chain J Actually, I love Philly, too, because of location. It sits between NYC and DC, the beach is an hour away and so are the mountains.
There’s a huge cultural draw, plays, concerts, nightlife, but it’s not so congested… Philly is neighborly and warm, like a big down South to me – but without losing that east coast urban sensibility.
In closing, do you plan on maintaining the four names under which you write forever, or is the time coming in which you’ll do all work under one name? Tell the truth, you’re trying to shatter the Amazon database, aren’t you?
L.A.: (Laughing!) I’m slowly evolving to just going under LA Banks for everything. I think my romance readers know by now that Leslie Esdaile (romance writer) is also LA Banks… and many of them have come to read my paranormal fiction, and can trust that within it they are destined to get a very strong (and HOT) love story that won’t disappoint. We had a bunch of names early on so that my readers who knew me under the romance moniker didn’t accidentally pick up a paranormal tale and get disappointed. But I think its time now (smile)… everything is consolidating and the market is much more savvy now.
My thanks to Leslie for taking the time to give EXPO some love.
You can follow her latest news and personal blog at www.leslieesdailebanks.com
Some of the most enjoyable aspects of the NCAA Tournament, for me, are the upsets, the underdogs, the Cinderella stories, the last second shots, the come-from-behind victories and the like. To be honest, I don’t really favor a team so much as the unexpected moments and seeing the lesser of the two rise to victory. The UNI’s, the St. Mary’s and the still alive Butler’s of the tourney are what make March one of the best months of sports, period.
The dust of sudden death has settled and the Final Four have risen: West Virginia, Michigan State, Butler and Duke. Not what I expected, but to me, the highlight thus far is a little different – the story of Madness and March Magic. It’s the glory of Butler’s seven year transformation from a program decimated by murder, an FBI probe, NCAA violations and probation, a coach’s cover-up, and the transfer of numerous starters; to now, and their rebuild to bracket prominence. True, divisional upsets favored their tournament path, and by no means were they knocking off teams of the caliber of Kansas and Villanova, but they respectfully beat Old Dominion, Sam Houston State, and St. Mary’s before losing a competitive match with Duke to move on. Baylor’s stars shined: Ekpe Udoh was named All-American; and Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn have combined to average more than 35 points a game. Regardless of competition, the Elite Eight is top ten – and that’s the beauty of college basketball. After all the regular season games and the tournament, where you finish the tournament is where you finish. It’s how you end the season that counts. Even Duke went 17-4 before going 33-5 up to this point.
What’s crazy about this rebound is it’s the second time the team has dealt with deadly dismantlement of their team and then going on to tournament greatness. In 1927, the bus carrying the Baylor men’s basketball team en route to play the University of Texas was hit by a train, killing 10 of the 21 players, coaches and fans on the bus. Amazingly, the team was rebuilt, and starting just five years later, either won or shared the Southwest Conference Title five times over the next 18 years including two Final Four appearances! The 1927 horror has also been memorialized in bronze on the Baylor campus in Traditions Plaza.
Fast forward to 2002, and long time coaching vet Dave Bliss was struggling to stay above .500 and he could barely win a game on the road. Anytime a coach is in that situation – where job security is in the hands of [basically] kids – he’ll look for ways, or advantages, to rectify both situations. There’s the hard way and that’s coaching the players into better performer and athletes, or one can simply recruit those already at a higher level. And then there’s the dark road, supplementing the recruiting and coaching with various “perks”. These goodies come in a million different shapes, sizes, types, denominations, methods, even names, what-have-you; it’s a violation, but they’re made available and many players take simply because they want, need or do not care. The average starting line-ups of a top-50 NCAA Division I school haven’t been living the economic dream of upper-middle class life; basketball has provided the opportunities to advance in life that they may not have had otherwise, including campus stardom. I remember an online chat with Dave Bliss on October 9, 2002. Responding to their poor performance he said “Any time you inherit a down program, it takes awhile, especially in a conference as competitive as the Big 12, to become a competitive road team. While our road record is not what we would desire, we think that this year with our return to a more defensive and physical style, should improve. In this league, only the top 25 schools have played well on the road. It’s my experience that as you get better, you first of all will protect your home court, and then steal some on the road. We are still working toward that stage.”
“We are still working toward that stage”. It was the perfect line for the fan full of hope on the horizon of a new season. Eight months later, however, one player’s actions would set events in motion that would expose the real Dave Bliss, the one later stripped of his right to coach by the NCAA.
Bliss left the University of New Mexico on a high with a 28-5 record before darting to Baylor at a salary doubled. His records never met expectations and his pinnacle there may have been the Bears NIT bid in 2001. Ironically, the Bliss-coached team was defeated by his former team UNM, led by a freshman by the name of Patrick Dennehy. Dennehy would then transfer to Baylor and redshirt for the 2002-2003 season and became chummy with fellow transfer Carlton Dotson, a junior power forward averaging about 4 points and 2 rebounds in his 15 minutes played per game. Apparently, these BFF’s were threatened by other teammates and feared for their safety. As a result, they each decided to arm themselves and purchased guns in the spring of 2003.
The last time anyone saw Dennehy alive was on June 12, 2003. Dotson’s ex-wife, Melissa Kethley, told Waco police that Dotson visited her in Denehy’s SUV that day. The SUV later turned up stripped of its tags in Virginia Beach one week after his mother and stepfather reported him missing on June 19. Dotson was questioned and later arrested in late July. Dennehy’s “badly decomposed” body with multiple gunshots to the head was found in a field near a rock quarry a few miles from the university. Almost two years later, Dotson pleaded guilty to murder just five days before his trial and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
This high profile investigation and the inclusion of the FBI’s probe led to even more grave news: Bliss knew of rampant drug and alcohol abuse by team members, he covered up failed drug tests, engaged in blatant recruiting violations and provided thousands of dollars to two students’ tuition payments (one of them being Dennehy). The most shameful of Bliss’ actions was his attempt to cover up his own financial wrong doings by telling players to lie to investigators and paint a new portrait of the slain Dennehy – a drug dealer hustling his way through school in order to make his tuition payments. Assistant Coach Abar Rouse recorded Coach Bliss on a separate occasion and made his words known. ”Our whole thing right now, we can get out of this. Reasonable doubt is there’s nobody right now that can say we paid Pat Dennehy because he’s dead. So what we need to do is create reasonable doubt.”
Sidenote: Abar Rouse. I commend you. Few men have the moral fiber to do what you did. You brought down a program that – needed to be brought down. You’ve been blackballed from coaching. Even Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski condemns you and claims you’ve crossed the line. To quote Maryland and UNC fans everywhere, F#@K Duke…and Coach K who dropped a Father-Son-Holy Spirit after halftime of their matchup with Baylor for a win, BUT talked trash publicly on a coach with the moral fiber to put his career on the line to protect the reputation of a slain member of his team and give justice a chance. I get Coach K – keep the locker room soap operas private and confidential – but when it comes to murder, drugs and tampering with an investigation – seriously Coach K? Seriously? This is the same Dave Bliss that, while at SMU, made payments to star player and future NBA draft pick Jon Koncak without receiving any punishment. Okay, back to the story.
Bliss and their Athletic Director, Tom Stanton, were force to resign; in other words, fired. Top players transferred and were not mandated to redshirt for one season before play due to the scandal. Baylor was punished in short and long term. During the 2005-2006 season, they were banned from non-conference play, were limited in recruiting visits, and lost scholarship ability. In fact, Baylor is still on probation with the NCAA until later this summer. In the aftermath, a young Scott Drew was brought in to rebuild the program. With only one year of head coaching experience, Drew struggled his first three seasons totaling 21 wins versus 53 losses. Since then, he has recruited hard to bring in classes ranked by many as Top-20 talent. In 2008, he led the Bears to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988. And this year they fall within the top eight teams in the country.
I find this turnaround unbelievable, especially for a coach still in his mid-30s. Baylor twice faces tragedy and twice revives their program. Professional and collegiate sports tend to be cyclical. As the producers age, move on and the like, a younger generation inherits opportunity and a chance to rebuild and fill bigger shoes. Just watch – Baylor will find its ranks at the top quite a few more times over the next decade. Maybe a trip to the Final Four or a National Championship.
I can’t close this out without giving praise to the women of Baylor who have done even greater things this year. Knocking out Fresno State, Georgetown and even Tennessee, they find themselves in the Final Four facing possibly the greatest challenge ever in the history of NCAA athletics. To reach the final they must beat the undefeated women of UCONN who have won 76 games in a row.
Good luck Lady Bears. I’m pulling for you.