Mandel’s Musings

Duke’s Krzyzewski, 73, Did Not Coach His Team Like a Hall of Famer

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 44-year career is legendary in every conceivable way. He took a moribund Duke program in 1980 and firmly entrenched it among the all-time elite basketball schools in the history of the sport.

But, this year, 2019, Coach K dropped the ball.

Despite five NCAA Championships, 12 Final Fours, 12 ACC regular season titles, and 15 ACC Tournament championships, the questions about Duke’s icon are beginning to creep into the whispers among people who cover the sport and, take part in it.

It’s likely that no team Krzyzewski has had in his career contained the high-end talent of this edition of Duke, with three likely top-five picks and four projected first-rounders. Which is why No. 2 Michigan State outslugging No. 1 Duke, 68-67, in the Elite Eight on Saturday will haunt Krzyzewski.

In the one-and-done era, the best and biggest practitioners of the policy have been Krzyzewski and John Calipari, from Kentucky. These two have not run away from the concept of recruiting the very best players in America, most of whom have zero concern with academics or education.

Their sales pitch has essentially felt like, “come to our campus, to our program, to me, the shaper not of men but of NBA basketball players and leave nine months later. You’ll make more money in your first NBA contract at age 19 than 99% of the world earns in a lifetime.”

When asked about the missed opportunity this roster will come to represent, Krzyzewski didn’t flinch.

“To me it’s disappointing,” he said. “It’s not a [disappointing] year. Like, there’s a big difference. Like, this team put themselves in a position to go for it and had a chance for it. And, so, it’s disappointing that they didn’t get there. But I’m proud of them.”

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski pauses while answering questions at a news conference after losing to Michigan State in a NCAA men's East Regional final collage basketball game in Washington, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Michigan State won 68-67. (AP Mark Tenally}
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski pauses while answering questions at a news conference after losing to Michigan State on Sunday. (AP)

Williamson could well go down as the last truly transcendent college basketball star.

Williamson all but said he’s leaving for the NBA after the game, which is about as obvious as the color of the White House. The same is expected for Barrett and Reddish, who’ll both be gone in the NBA’s top five.

The caliber of Duke’s young talent failed to overcome the roster’s lack of depth and the inconsistency bred from injuries. And on Sunday, after 16 lead changes and seven ties, Duke couldn’t overcome a Herculean effort from Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston and a clutch 3-pointer from Kenny Goins to win the game with 34 seconds left.

Fittingly, it was Winston dribbling out the game’s final seconds as Duke failed to foul trailing by a point. Winston sprinted away from Williamson, the final snapshot of a day where they just couldn’t keep up with his 20 points, 10 assists, four steals and just one turnover.

Krzyzewski kept going back to Winston – the MSU star junior’s experience, his decisions, his resolve. Krzyzewski heaped infinite praise on Winston, calling him, “the best guard we’ve played against.” He doubled down on nearly a half-century of coaching to say Winston had “as good a performance as any player has had against us.”

When Duke won the national title in 2015, it highlighted Krzyzewski’s coaching paradigm shift. That team featured Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones, all of whom skipped through Durham for a year before ending up being picked in the top 25 of the NBA draft.

At that Final Four, Krzyzewski bristled at the notion of Duke mimicking the blueprint of Kentucky’s program. But in reality, they stole Kentucky’s gameplan and got better at it, with this team’s 32 victories and No. 1 overall seed the supposed culmination of an evolution.

“This season has been a movie, honestly,” Williamson said amid the last cluster of cameras he’ll face in a college locker room. “Lights, camera, action, basically. Like ever since we arrived here on campus.”

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the locker room after his teams 68-67 loss to the Michigan State Spartans in the East Regional game of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Capital One Arena on March 31, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson (1) of the Duke Blue Devils reacts in the locker room after his team’s 68-67 loss to the Michigan State Spartans on Sunday. (Getty)

The one-and-done era essentially began after the NBA stopped allowing high schoolers to enter the league following the 2005 draft. In that time, Villanova’s model of building through veterans, defense and a culture of player development has proven more successful.

To decree this season a failure would be too bold. But it was clearly a missed opportunity, and perhaps Coach K’s last chance to coach a juggernaut to the national title. There will never be another Duke team under Krzyzewski with as much high-end talent as this one, which will fill Krzyzewski with as much regret as any loss in his career.

Cano, deGrom Pay Early Dividends Leading Mets to Opening Day Win

by Scott Mandel

Now is when the true bosses of major league baseball teams, the general managers, get to see if their off-season brilliance of player signings and acquisitions turn out, on the field, as well as they seemed to be in the planning stages, on paper.

Welcome to the 2019 baseball season. For the Mets, after one game, so far, so good.

If Brodie Van Wagenen is keeping score after today’s opening day game for his New York Mets, he’s accepting high-fives from the Wilpon family tonight after the Mets defeated the Washington Nationals in Washington, 2-0, behind his key acquisition.

Robinson Cano, acquired by Van Wagenen from the Seattle Mariners to be the number three hitter in the Mets lineup, supplied the offensive firepower, such as it was, to bring the Mets home to a 2-0 win this afternoon over the second best pitcher in baseball, Max Scherzer of the Nationals. Cano led the way with a first inning home run and a clutch single to the opposite field in the sixth inning, driving in both Mets runs to pave the way for the first win of the season for the best pitcher in baseball, Mets ace, Jacob deGrom.

Watch Cano’s home run today:
https://www.mlb.com/video/robinson-cano-homers-1-on-a-fly-ball-to-center-field

Cano’s production led to the first win of the season for deGrom, he of the two-day old, ink not quite dried $137.5 million, five-year contract extension. After his Cy Young season in 2018, in which the Mets averaged 1.7 runs per game for him, the two runs Cano drove in must have felt like a deluge.

But, deGrom made those runs stand up, shutting down a solid Nationals lineup in front of a full house in D.C.

DeGrom finished his day, throwing six innings, allowing five hits, zero runs, zero walks, and 10 strikeouts. A dominating performance even if his command early in the game wasn’t at its peak.

“I made some good pitches when I needed to,” deGrom said. “I threw some sliders and changeups, especially later in the game. I didn’t have great command of my breaking pitches early on but I was able to battle.”

Last season, deGrom, finished only one game over .500, with a 10-9 record, as astounding a set of numbers for a Cy Young winner as has ever existed. He almost needed to shut out opposing teams to have a chance at getting a win. Even though his support today wasn’t much better, the presence of Cano, the former Yankee who is on a Hall of Fame track as one of the best hitting second basemen the game has seen. adds star power to a Mets lineup that can only look better because of his presence.

“Scherzer is one of the best out there,” said Cano after the game in discussing his home run in the first. “I was looking for a pitch over the plate. I was able to make contact with one right over the middle.”

DeGrom was thankful for his two runs but just as happy to get good defensive support from his mates.

“We had good plays in the field, behind me,” deGrom added. “I was nervous today. Once I get out there, I’m okay. But, I felt the pressure today with it being Opening Day.”

This was the first time Cano had played behind deGrom.

Jacob deGrom
DeGrom gets his first win of 2019 against the Nationals

“DeGrom is so special,” Cano said. “It’s unbelievable how he can pitch out of tough situations. He’s fun to play behind.”

To top off the Brodie ratings of player acquisitions, the Mets new closer, the 6’3″, 165 lb. beanpole, Edwin Diaz, pitched a tidy and high-powered (hitting 99mph on the radar gun) last inning to close the matter out.

Brodie Van Wagenen was smiling at the end of the game.

Notes: Today’s outing by deGrom was his 30th straight start allowing 3 runs or less, a major league baseball record. Cano was the 10th player in Mets history to hit a home run in his first at bat with the team. Mets rookie first baseman, Pete (“don’t call me, Peter”) Alonzo got his first major league hit, a single in the eighth inning.

Attorney Avenatti of Stormy Daniels “Fame” In Massive Hot Water With SDNY – Extortion of $20 Million from Nike

From the Associated Press and ESPN

Feds: Avenatti tried to extort $20M from Nike

Federal prosecutors in New York and California have charged celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti with extortion and bank and wire fraud.

In the New York case, Avenatti was charged with attempting to extort more than $20 million in payments from Nike by threatening to use his ability to garner publicity to inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company if his demands were not met.ADVERTISEMENT

Avenatti, 48, had previously represented adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen.

Nicholas Biase, spokesman for the Southern District of New York, told ESPN in a statement Monday that “the defendant was arrested earlier today and is in custody. He is expected to be presented in Manhattan federal court [Monday] afternoon.” The Southern District tweeted that it would hold a news conference at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the matter.

According to the New York complaint, Avenatti last week threatened to hold a news conference on the eve of Nike’s quarterly earnings call and the start of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at which he would announce allegations of misconduct by Nike employees.

“Avenatti stated that he would refrain from holding the press conference and harming Nike only if Nike made a payment of $1.5 million to a client of Avenatti’s in possession of information damaging to Nike … and agreed to ‘retain’ Avenatti and [an unidentified co-conspirator] to conduct an ‘internal investigation’ — an investigation that Nike did not request, for which Avenatti and [the co-conspirator] demanded to be paid, at a minimum, between $15 [million] and $25 million,” the complaint said.

Federal prosecutors identified the co-conspirator as “an attorney licensed to practice in the state of California, and similarly known for representation of celebrity and public figure clients.”

The complaint says Avenatti’s client is a “coach of an amateur athletic union (‘AAU’) men’s basketball program based in California.”

“For a number of years, the AAU program coached by Client-1 had a sponsorship agreement with Nike pursuant to which Nike paid the AAU program approximately $72,000 annually,” the complaint says.

In the California case, Avenatti was accused of embezzling a client’s money to pay his own expenses and debts — as well as those of his coffee business and law firm. The U.S. attorney’s office also said he defrauded a bank by using phony tax returns to obtain millions of dollars in loans.

Federal prosecutors announced the charges against Avenatti on Monday less than an hour after he tweeted that he was holding a news conference on Tuesday morning.

Tmrw at 11 am ET, we will be holding a press conference to disclose a major high school/college basketball scandal perpetrated by @Nike that we have uncovered. This criminal conduct reaches the highest levels of Nike and involves some of the biggest names in college basketball.7,95012:16 PM – Mar 25, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy13.7K people are talking about this

According to the complaint, the co-conspirator contacted Nike and stated that he wished to speak to representatives of the company and that the discussion should occur in person, not over the phone, as it pertained to a sensitive matter. During a meeting with Nike’s lawyers in New York on March 19, Avenatti stated that the AAU coach, whose contract Nike had recently decided not to renew, had evidence that “one or more Nike employees had authorized and funded payments to the families of top high school basketball players and/or their families and attempted to conceal those payments, similar to conduct involving a rival company [Adidas] that had recently been the subject of a criminal prosecution in this District. Avenatti identified three former high school players in particular, and indicated that his client was aware of payments to others as well.”

According to prosecutors, Avenatti demanded that Nike pay his client $1.5 million for any claims the coach might have regarding Nike’s decision not to renew his team’s contract, and that Nike must hire Avenatti and the co-conspirator to conduct an internal investigation, with the stipulation that if the company hired another firm to conduct the inquiry, it would still have to pay Avenatti and the co-conspirator “at least twice the fees of any other firm hired.”

“At the end of the meeting, Avenatti and [the co-conspirator] indicated that Nike would have to agree to accept those demands immediately or Avenatti would hold his press conference,” the complaint says.

Later that day, Nike’s attorneys contacted the co-conspirator to tell him that the company needed more time. Avenatti and the co-conspirator agreed to give Nike two days to consider the offer. Nike’s attorneys contacted the Southern District of New York and made prosecutors aware of Avenatti’s threats and extortion demands.

On March 20, one of Nike’s attorneys sent the co-conspirator a text message to schedule a telephone call later that day. The call was recorded and monitored by law enforcement. During a three-way call later that day, Avenatti reiterated that he expected to “get a million five for our guy” and be “hired to handle the internal investigation.”

“If you don’t wanna do that, we’re done here,” Avenatti told Nike’s attorneys.

“I’m not f—— around with this, and I’m not continuing to play games,” Avenatti said during the call, according to the complaint. “You guys know enough now to know you’ve got a serious problem. And it’s worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing. A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me. I’m just being really frank with you. So if that’s what, if that’s what’s being contemplated, then let’s just say it was good to meet you, and we’re done. And I’ll proceed with my press conference tomorrow.

“I’m not f—— around with this thing anymore. So if you guys think that you know, we’re gonna negotiate a million five, and you’re gonna hire us to do an internal investigation, but it’s gonna be capped at 3 or 5 or 7 million dollars, like let’s just be done. … And I’ll go and I’ll go take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap. But I’m not f—— around.”

During a meeting with Nike’s attorneys the next day, Avenatti said that he and his co-conspirator would require a $12 million retainer to be paid immediately and to be “deemed earned when paid,” with a minimum guarantee of $15 million in billing hours and a maximum of $25 million.

When one of Nike’s attorneys asked Avenatti if the sneaker company could pay one lump sum and not hire them to conduct the internal investigation, Avenatti said, “If [Nike] wants to have one confidential settlement and we’re done, they can buy that for twenty-two and a half million dollars and we’re done. … Full confidentiality, we ride off into the sunset.”

Avenatti told Nike’s attorneys: “I just wanna share with you what’s going to happen if we don’t reach a resolution. … As soon as this becomes public, I am going to receive calls from all over the country from parents and coaches and friends and all kinds of people. This is always what happens. And they are all going to say, ‘I’ve got an email or a text message.’ Now, 90 percent of that is going to be bullshit because it’s always bullshit 90 percent of the time, always, whether it’s R. Kelly or Trump. The list goes on and on. But 10 percent of it is actually going to be true, and then what’s going to happen is that this is going to snowball. That’s going to be the Washington Post, the New York Times, ESPN, a press conference, and the company will die — not die, but they are going to incur cut after cut after cut after cut, and that’s what’s going to happen as soon as this thing becomes public.

Image result for Michael Avenatti NIke

On March 21, Avenatti tweeted a link to a story about an Adidas employee being sentenced to nine months in prison for his role in a pay-for-play scheme to send high-profile recruits to Adidas-sponsored programs. Avenatti included the remark: “Something tells me that we have not reached the end of this scandal. It is likely far far broader than imagined …”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mandel’s Musings: Richard Pitino Beats School that Fired His Father, Rick Pitino

University of Minnesota head basketball coach, Richard Pitino, the 35-year old son of legendary coach, Rick Pitino, will never admit to getting a little more satisfaction than usual from today’s surprise win over the heavily-favored Louisville Cardinals, but you know he is dancing the two-step inside his head and his heart.

The satisfaction he is undoubtedly feeling comes from his 10th seeded underdog Gophers winning a huge opening round NCAA tournament game over the seventh-seed Cardinals, truly a landmark victory for Minnesota, never known as a basketball school, let alone a power in the sport.

But, the other reason Richard Pitino is doing his little dance is because of who he and his kids defeated this afternoon. The same school that fired young Pitino’s father two years ago after scandals in the athletic department and within the basketball program were, in part, blamed on his father’s malfeasance. To this day, senior Pitino denies any knowledge of what was transpiring around him but, school administrators had to blame somebody. Pitino, a Hall of Fame coach who has won two NCAA titles with Kentucky in 1996 and Louisville in 2013, along with head football coach, Bobby Petrino, were the scapegoats.

Younger Pitino’s Minnesota team defeated the Cardinals, 86-76, thereby busting everyone’s brackets on Day One. But the real storyline of this game remained the Pitino story, as much as the Minnesota coach tried to deflect interest in it.

And, now, Minnesota awaits the winner of the Michigan State-Bradley game, to decide which team will advance to the sweet 16. Nothing could be as sweet for the Pitino family than today’s victory over Louisville.

Richard Pitino, Minnesota head basketball coach, won’t admit extra satisfaction in beating Louisville, today

Mandel’s Musings: The Older LeBron May Not Be the Wiser LeBron

The kid from Akron, Ohio, LeBron James, is a generational talent and courageous athlete who has been an interesting guy to interview and be around. Nobody in sports has been more focused on success and championship missions than LeBron, unless your name is Michael Jordan or Bill Russell.

But, the more exposed the public persona of LeBron James becomes through his broadcasting projects, urban works, and his game time demeanor, such as his not participating in team huddles at timeouts, the less I’m appreciating him. Now 34 years old, he’s projecting a “get off my effing lawn” kind of approach around his teammates and the kids who make up the majority of the NBA, these days.

LeBron sees himself, and rightfully so, on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA, in fact, of sports history. But, as an increasing number of NBA free agent stars are publicly pronouncing no interest in playing on the same team as the ball dominant James, a little of his monument gets chipped away, in my view.

LeBron James, the athlete and civic leader, particularly in his hometown of Akron, does belong on Rushmore. It’s the other James, the aging, evolving, teammate/curmudgeon version of LBJ, that needs to become more aware of how he’s projecting to a society which looks to bring down idolatry.

Dwyane Wade Was/Is One Classy Dude and Great Player

Dwyane Wade made what was probably his final appearance as an active player at MSG on January 27th.

Back in Feb., 2005, after his Miami Heat, led by the 22-year old Wade’s 30 points, defeated the Knicks in overtime, an exhausted (and aging) Shaquille O’Neal literally walked me from his visitor’s team locker over to a kid, standing in the center of the room, and said, “This is the guy you should be interviewing, not me. This is his team.” It was Shaquille’s way of passing the torch to the youngster, Wade, a developing new star of the NBA.

Wade was a painfully shy and stiff interviewee, answering every question in a clipped, brief fashion. Tonight, at 37, at MSG, he was a much different, more relaxed man who is enjoying his final ride through the NBA. He received an ovation from the NY crowd when he entered the game. Classy fans, here in NY cheering for a classy guy, Dwyane Wade.


Will Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant Team Up for Broadway Opening?

There’s a strongly held insider’s theory Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who are good friends, intend to join up with the Knicks. After Kyrie finally publicly pledged to stay in Boston a few months ago, an NBA general manager said, with some skepticism, “We’ll see.”

Both players are mercurial, which is to say their flights of fancy often take off from the wrong airports and head to the wrong towns. For Durant, Oakland wasn’t exactly what he thought it would be. They didn’t need a savior as much as they needed another piece to fit in with Klay and Steph.

Despite Durant now fashioning not one, but two new rings as a member of the Dubs, his legacy still doesn’t make him the key player in bring a city an unexpected world championship.

Irving is in the same boat. He won in Cleveland, but, as great as he played there, particularly so during the championship series, most of the props (okay, all of the props) went to homeboy, LeBron. So, like KD, KI is searching for that legacy-building franchise.

Enter your poor, awful NY Knicks, who haven’t won a championship since 1973, only 46 years ago. The hometown is getting restless.

It’s a good setup for the two stars to join the ragtag Knicks, who will be getting one of the top five picks in the upcoming draft. Let’s face it. though, the only pick they want is Zion Williamson, of Duke. He is surely the best player in the NBA minor league, aka, the american university system. He may even be a top 10 player in the NBA, right now, his talent being so enormous at age 19.

So, hold tight. We shall see.

Image result for zion williamson

Kyler Murray In The Mix For #1

Pro Football Focus, a highly respected chronicler of all things football, now has the NY Giants, with the sixth pick in the 2019 draft, choosing Kyler Murray, the Doug Flutie-sized QB from Oklahoma.

Murray just announced today he is declaring for the upcoming NFL draft instead of taking a standing $5 million offer from the Oakland Athletics baseball team to scratch his way up the minor leagues, albeit, as a rich man.

This kid is small, even for major league middle-infielder standards. He’s smaller and shorter than either Seattle’s QB, Russell Wilson, or Flutie, but is an athletic freak who also has excellent football instincts. The kid is a play maker with a strong arm and touch on his throws. But, he’s a freaking dwarf at 5’8 1/2″, 190 lbs. He’s listed at 5’11”. Yeah, right.

If PFF is correct in its assessment, the Giants, who in no particular order of importance need edge-rushers, linebackers, D-backs, and O-Linemen will set their franchise back several years if this quarterback is chosen, and he doesn’t make it. Since the NFL doesn’t have a whole lot of pint-sized QBs these days, it’s hard to project how Murray can operate behind behemoth offensive linemen or how quickly he’ll get up when he’s hit squarely in the chest by a 260 lb. human missile, aka, NFL linebacker who is just as fast as he is.

Image may contain: one or more people, people playing sports and football

Teams with 4-12 records must acquire game-changing, generational players in that first round, like Saquan Barkley, or Eli Manning.

I’m hoping, for the Giants’ sake, PFF is off the mark. Mistakes, particularly at the QB position, the most important position on the field, cannot be fixed in short order. Get it right the first time or, you won’t get another opportunity to go through the QB crap shoot in the draft unless you go 4-12 again. How fun that would be?

PFF also has Jacksonville, the team choosing behind the Giants with the seventh pick, going for the 6’4″, 240 lb. QB from Ohio State, Dwayne Haskins, a more traditional pocket passer with a gun for an arm.

I’m hoping the Giants take one of the safe and boring picks, if they drop down to them. Guys like the offensive lineman from the University of Alabama, Jonah Williams, or the shutdown cornerback from Georgia, Deandre Baker won’t excite the masses like a quarterback might but they will be boringly efficient or, maybe great, for the next 10 years.

This upcoming draft now has more than a little intrigue, with the teeny Oklahoma Kid now in the mix. The last short (in stature) QB to come out of Oklahoma was Baker Mayfield, who reignited Cleveland’s football heritage as a rookie this season. We will soon find out if it’s the system being coached in OK or if that school is having a run of extreme luck in producing small QBs with big talent.