Monday, December 19, 2016
Open-An Autobiography by Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi is a tennis player. One of the very best of all time. Andre Agassi hates tennis. In the preface to the book, he writes that he has always hated tennis. He will admit, however, that tennis has been pretty good to him.
There is a positive note to his tortured life. His foundation has raised more than $ 85 million for a school for underprivileged children in Las Vegas. Naturally, the school is named “The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy”. The road he took to establish the school had its twists and turns. This autobiography will take you down that road, warts and all.
His father moved the family to Las Vegas, so that he could build a court to teach his son the game. When Agassi was four, he was hitting balls with tennis greats as they passed through Las Vegas, beginning with Jimmy Connors. Agassi's father strung rackets for the great players.
Mike Agassi was born in Iran, and had represented that country at the Olympic Games, as a boxer. He worked in Vegas as a casino captain, seating people at the shows. When he is not at the casino, he is obsessed with the notion that his son must become the best tennis player in the world. He arranges tennis matches against celebrities passing through Vegas for Andre, when Andre was nine. A match against Jim Brown, one of the greatest running backs of all time in the NFL, as an example. For ten thousand dollars. They settled for $ 500, and Andre won easily, 6-2.
Andre remembers harrowing rides with his father. If someone bumped his fender, Mike Agassi would fly out of the vehicle and fight the other driver. If there was an incident of road rage, his father would open the glove box, remove his pistol and aim it at the head of the other driver.
Agassi moved to Florida in his early teens to improve his game, attending the Bollettieri Academy. There is constant pressure, and the competition is intense against the best young players from around the world. He hates the place, but realizes it is the best place to improve his game.
Then begins a series of adventures through the tennis world, with the end result that Agassi becomes the number one player in the world. He is pitted against Boris Becker, Patrick Rafter, and his arch rival, Pete Sampras. He is paired with some very impressive ladies: Barbara Streisand, Brooke Shields etc. In fact, he was married for two years to Shields. He dabbled in illicit drugs, and was suspended for a time.
It is easy to group him with many of the other spoiled tennis brats that have taken the courts over the years: Connors, McEnroe, Ille Nastasse. During his career, tennis became entertainment, moving from the dignified days of Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, Cliff Drysdale, Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, and Lew Hoad.
To conclude, it appears as if Agassi and his family are now on the right track. He and his wife, also a former number one player, Steffi Graf, are in the process of raising two children. (Agassi says that he does not care if they play tennis.) They are busy with the administration and fund-raising for the school.
A phoenix from the ashes.
This book is now in the Wellington Public Library. Enjoy.
December 19, 2016.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
The Enforcers-A Dying Breed
We will always remember that, without intending to do so, he endeared himself at the 61st All Star game in Nashville to the entire hockey world. Prior to the game, he was tossed around like a small rag doll, figuratively. At 6'8”, and 260 pounds, there are few who could move him very far. He was waived by the Coyotes, signed by Montreal, then quickly demoted to the American Hockey League. It was all too obvious to most sports fans that the league tried to shove him aside.
Scott had been an NHL player since 2008. In 286 games, he had amassed 544 minutes in penalties. He also scored 5 times, and added 6 assists. He was an enforcer.
One of the last, according to Rob Del Mundo, author of “Hockey's Enforcers-A Dying Breed”. In the book, he presents us with 48 tiny chapters, bits and pieces of information about most of the toughest guys ever to play in the NHL. He begins with Eddie Shore, infamous for ending Ace Bailey's career.
I recently asked him why he chose this particular subject. “A while ago I noticed this trend moving away from fighting in the game. There did not seem to be as many 'policemen' as there were previously, like John Ferguson.”
In the Introduction to the book, Del Mundo tells the reader that in 2008-2009 there were 734 fights in 509 of the 1230 games played that season. Last year, there were 344 fights in 288 of the 1230 games games played. That's a drop of more than 50 %.
One rule change that took place in 1987 curtailed hockey brawls. “Any player leaving the bench or the penalty box for the purpose of starting an altercation automatically received a ten game suspension,” quotes Del Mundo. The instigator rule has also dramatically affected the number of fights in the game. No player wants to leave his team a man short when evening up a score, in a pugilistic sense.
Another factor diminishing the role of the enforcer relates to increased awareness of the long term ramifications of blows to the head. The concept has been considered for years related to prize fighting. Football players are likely suspect in this regard. More than a few of hockey's tough guys have had their careers shortened because of blows to the head, although not always from fights. And there are some who have passed away at a young age, perhaps due to their hockey activities: Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Bob Probert.
Bobby Orr writes that there is a need for fighting in the game: “I would say this about the place of fighting in the game. I believe that especially at the pro level you need to be held accountable for your actions, and the threat of a fight can accomplish that.”
The main difference between hockey and all of the other pro sports is that hockey players carry a stick. And use it, sometimes illegally.
Many of the old-time enforcers in the game were actually protectors. Marty McSorley was assigned to keep the idiots away from Wayne Gretzky. Rob Ray sat patiently on the Sabres bench, biding his time until the opposition took liberties with the better players on his team. I sat in the stands at a Buffalo game, and heard the mob scream, “We want Ray! We want Ray!” Robbie confided in me that he did not always want to fight, especially when he was nursing badly-bruised hands and fingers. “It was a matter of grabbing the opponent, to see who would go down first.”
Del Mundo has covered the Maple Leafs for 16 seasons for the Fischler Report. His Leafs articles appear at: “TMLFans.ca”. Copies of this book are available at Chapters and Indigo Books, and also on line at Chapters and Indigo. My copy of the book will be available tomorrow at the Wellington Public Library. Enjoy.
“Wanna Go?” Just kidding!
December 13, 2016
Thursday, December 01, 2016
Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles Men's Basketball 2016
Last night the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles scored the first 16 points in their game against Ave Maria. The finished the game with 120 points, registering their third straight victory. The margin of victory was sixty points, one of those games that you appreciate every now and then. A cakewalk.
Two nights previously, the result was anything but a “slam dunk”. The lead changed hands several times approaching the final buzzer. Christian Terrell made the front end of a “one and one” foul shoot, but missed the second shot to send the game into overtime. The Eagles and their opponents from Long Beach, California, were tied at 60 after the buzzer sounded.
Christian Terrell, and the winning score!
In the overtime, with 15 seconds remaining, the Eagles trailed by one point. They pushed the ball into the Long Beach court, and Zach Johnson fired a pass into the left corner to Terrell. Terrell put the ball on the floor, evaded a 49er defender, and dropped a nifty layup over two defenders. Game. Set. Match. 68-67 Eagles.
Full credit goes to the Long Beach squad, in the middle of a horrendous travel schedule. They had just traveled 5 000 miles in the first leg of their road stand: Wichita, North Carolina and Louisville, then UCLA and Washington. They will travel over 23 000 miles in the course of the “non-conference slate of games”.
One of their key players, Evan Payne, from Akron Ohio, is the second leading scorer on the team. He collapsed in the offensive zone in the first half, and spent the rest of the game nursing a sore ankle.
The Eagles evened their season at 3 and 3, and are preparing for a busy schedule in December with 9 games. They had one significant loss in November against 13th ranked Michigan State, losing by one point 78-77. They have a full schedule until the end of February when the contest the ASUN Championship. From there, the ultimate goal would be to get into the national championships, the round of 64 teams, and move up from there.
The Eagles did not play particularly well against Long Beach. Caoch Joe Dooley put it this way: It seemed like we were on our heels all night. We weren't sharp, and part of that was due to their aggressiveness. We had bad shot selection, and coupled with 18 turnovers, that's a recipe for disaster, and it almost cost us.”
The Eagles shot a dismal 43.6% in the game, with 6 out of 20 shots hit from beyond the arc. They shot 70% from the foul line.
The 49ers shot well in the overtime, converting 3 of 5 attempts. But it wasn't enough, and they ended up shooting 38.5% for the entire game. They turned the ball over fewer times, but failed to convert in key situations.
Alico Arena was not jumping as loudly as it usually is with most of the students away on their Thanksgiving Break. The cheerleaders were there to fire up the crowd, tossing tee shirts, and firing a few to the cheap seats in the grandstands. Once this season unfolds a little more, all games will be sold out, and it will rock from start to finish. Put the head sets on the babies, Ethel, she's gonna be a loud one!
The Eagles play their first January game on the 19th against USC Upstate. See you there!
December 1, 2016.