This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.
On Tuesday morning, Ray Allen retired from the NBA by writing an article on the Player’s Tribune. For those in Boston, Allen will forever be a crucial member of the big three with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce that helped deliver banner #17 to the TD Garden in 2008. For others, Allen was a nice complementary player on the 2013 Miami Heat Championship. And even for others, Allen is Jesus Shuttlesworth from He Got Game. For me, Allen is the star of the most important sports moment in my life.
March 10th, 1996. Madison Square Garden. Big East Championship game. Allen vs Allen, Ray vs Iverson. I was sitting in the living room at my childhood home in Manchester, CT, just 20 minutes from the Storrs, CT campus watching the game with my dad on our 19 inch TV. The game began and UConn looked like there were going to get blown out by the Hoyas. They were down 18 in the middle of the 1st half and had committed 20 turnovers. Then UConn started to make a push, closing the gap to just 4 at half time, 46-42. Jim Calhoun had rallied the team and was not going to go quietly (as he never did).
As the 2nd half wore on, UConn was still trying to play catch-up. At the 4:46 mark, UConn was down 74-63 and things were looking bleak. Then the run started. Freshman Ricky Moore and junior Kirk King stepped it into high gear and cut the deficit one basket at a time. All of a sudden, it was a 1-point with under a minute left on the clock, 74-73. After a timeout, Doron Sheffer fouled Victor Page, the tournament MVP, and sent him to the foul line in a 1-and-1 situation. Page missed the first shot and UConn got the rebound and called a timeout with 33 secs left. This was their chance. The ball was in-bounded to Ricky Moore who brought the ball up the court, dribble penetrated, handed the ball off to Ray Allen who hit a ridiculous off-balance, feet kicking, body contorting, twisting jumper.
AlIen Iverson had a jump shot to win it, but missed and the put back with just a few seconds left rolled off the rim. The UConn Huskies were Big East Champions for the first time in the program’s history. Ray Allen had exactly 1 basket in the 2nd half, but it was the greatest shot of my lifetime. Huddled around our TV, we went nuts and my life was changed. My passion for sports grew from that moment and into the crazy, obsessed fan I am today 20+ years later. From then on, I followed Allen, as best as I could, for the remainder of his basketball career until today, when he officially decided to hang up his shoes.
In general, I have a terrible memory, but that moment is emblazoned in my mind. No matter what you think about Ray Allen, he has had one hell of a career. After 3 years at UConn, Allen logged 18 seasons in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks, the Seattle SuperSonics, the Boston Celtics, and the Miami Heat. Allen holds the record for 3-pointers made in a career with 2,973 (413 more than Reggie Miller) and is ranked 22nd on the all-time scoring list with 24,505 points.
Thank you Ray, for helping me find my sports passion.
This was a busy weekend for New England sports teams, especially those I am particularly interested in following. Let’s take a look at each game from this weekend.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots overcame some early mistakes to beat Pittsburgh on the road. The Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger, so resorted to starting Landry Jones. Jones wasn’t terrible for the Steelers and took another step in his development, but didn’t have enough in the 4th quarter to hang with New England and even make an attempt at a comeback. The Steelers defense looked good at times, but Brady found ways to use his plethora of weapons throughout the evening. LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards and 2 TDs (74 yards after halftime) against his former team and Tom Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for Gronk’s 68th TD. It was all smiles after the game for Gronk who pointed out to those assembled that his next TD will be his 69th. “One more and I got 69 touchdowns. You know what I mean.”
After a 3-1 start for the Bruins and a 3-0-1 start for the Canadiens, the two bitter rivals matched up for the first time this season. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the Canadiens looked like the better team throughout. The Bruins again allowed the first goal and found themselves playing from behind the entire night, down 2-0 and 3-1 in the 2nd and 3rd periods. The Bruins made a lot of mistakes and had some sloppy play throughout the game, which tends to happen when teams have younger talent developing under the bright lights. It’s early, but the Canadiens look strong after a blockbuster off-season trade sending PK Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. The Canadiens have now won 9 straight in Boston against the Bruins.
It was homecoming for UConn on Saturday as they hosted the UCF Knights. The Huskies came into the game at 3-4 and needed a W against the Knights, but looked flat and couldn’t muster anything in the 2nd half leading to their 5th loss of the season. UCF moves above .500 to 4-3 with the win, rebounding from a 1-pt loss to Temple a week prior. UConn travels to Greenville, NC for a matchup with East Carolina next week desperately needing a W to keep bowl hopes alive. The 2-5 East Carolina Pirates are coming off a 12-pt loss to Cincinnati on the road this past weekend.
New England Revolution
Despite a disappointing season overall (11-14-9), the New England Revolution finished it off with a strong 3-0 win over the Impact at Gillette Stadium. The Revs made a late push for the playoffs, but knew prior to Sunday’s match that their season would be over finishing in 7th place, 1 spot out of the playoffs. With nothing to lose, the Revs played a strong match and got goals from Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, and Kei Kamara. Coach Jay Heaps summed up the season after the game. “It’s disappointing that we waited too long to really find ourselves and express ourselves throughout the last part of the season. Five (wins) out of seven is really good, but we just didn’t do enough.”
Today’s UConn Football game vs USF is important for many reasons. Here are three quick reasons to watch today’s game:
1. It’s UConn’s homecoming, which is an enjoyable time for the UConn community to come and celebrate. Alumni will travel from around the country (CT) to tailgate and drink away some of the bad losses earlier this year. In all seriousness, homecoming adds an extra layer of energy in the stadium and hopefully will help UConn put up a big W.
2. At 3-4, this is a must win game against a beatable conference opponent. UCF is 3-3 on the season and the Huskies need to win 3 of their last 5 games to be bowl eligible. If they lose today, that task gets much harder and more improbable.
3. It’s another installment of the UConn created conFLiCT rivalry between the two schools. Nothing better than a 1-sided rivalry artificially created to get your juices flowing!
Last Friday was First Night (formerly midnight madness) on the UConn campus in Storrs, CT. It’s the first day college basketball teams can practice together and begins a month-long stretch of preparation leading to the home opener at Gampel Pavilion on November 11th against Wagner. The Huskies are without Daniel Hamilton (left early for NBA), Shonn Miller, and Sterling Gibbs from last year’s AAC Tournament Championship team, but are poised for great success once again. By my estimation, Kevin Ollie has the best team in the AAC going into this 2016-2017 season.
With Gibbs gone, sophomore Jalen Adams (Roxbury, MA native) will be the starting point guard for the Huskies. He is a smart player who looked more mature than a freshman last season (he also had his share of freshman mistakes). He made some big shots throughout the year (beyond half-court shot in the AAC tourney against Cincinnati to send the game into a 4th OT and eventually to a UConn W) and has shown leadership abilities. He has a much higher ceiling than Gibbs last season and is more of a true point guard who can distribute the ball. If there is one thing UConn is known for (besides championships), it’s producing great guards.
Alongside Adams in the backcourt is freshman Alterique Gilbert. Gilbert is a point guard, but will likely play some shooting guard in this year’s squad with time spent at the point when Adams gets a breather. Having two 6’+ ball handlers playing at the same time, both with quickness to spare, will prove difficult for opponents on both ends of the floor. Both can create their own shots in the lane and will create mismatches on smaller guards defensively. Gilbert was given an ESPN scouting grade of 89 (4-star rating) and was ranked as the 30th best prospect in the class of 2016.
UConn returns senior shot-blocker extraordinaire C Amida Brimah to lock down the paint and can now move senior Rodney Purvis to the small forward slot where his skill set fits the best. The biggest question mark is at the power forward spot. Kentan Facey was solid last year when he could stay out of foul trouble and is returning for his senior season. It will likely be his spot to lose, but with several young, athletic big men sitting on the bench, he will certainly be pushed. The main competition will likely be a pair of freshman Juwan Durham and Mamadou Diarra. They both likely see solid playing time, especially if Facey continues to hack everyone in sight.
Another major roster piece is VCU transfer big man Terry Larrier. At 6’8″ and 192 lbs, he is athletic and can stretch the floor, opening up the lane for Adams and Gilbert. As a sophomore transfer, Larrier has a little more experience than Durham and Diarra, which could prove to be useful in late game situations or if foul trouble becomes an issue. He played in 36 games for VCU his freshman year, sat out last year because of the transfer, but was able to practice with the team. He should have a knowledge advantage on the others and could be a critical piece down the stretch.
Overall, this UConn team appears to be as talented, if not more talented, than last year’s squad. There is a higher ceiling, but more uncertainty given the reliance on young players in the guard spots. If Adams can effectively run the offense and Gilbert is as good as advertised, a deep run in the NCAA tournament is not out of the question. I predict that UConn wins the AAC title this year and makes some noise in the tournament come March.
As a Red Sox fan who’s peak watching years have coincided with David Ortiz‘ tenure in Boston, last night was tough. It wasn’t tough because the Red Sox lost, realistically their fate was sealed in Cleveland, but rather to see Big Papi walk off the Fenway Park grass for the final time as a player was more emotional for me than I care to admit. Hell, I’m getting emotional just thinking and writing about it today. The words ‘thank you’ aren’t enough, but they’re the best I can muster: Thank you David, you will be missed more than you could ever know.
When Ortiz emerged on the Red Sox scene in 2003, my first instinct was that he was Mo Vaughn 2.0. Mo was one of my favorite players growing up. At 6’1″ and 225lb, he could put a baseball into orbit and that entertained me to no end. At the time, I thought no one could hit the ball harder or further…until I saw David Ortiz in a Red Sox uniform. During the first few games of Ortiz’ career, I was in awe that someone could be even bigger and stronger than the great Mo. Standing at 6’3″ and 230lbs (although at times I think that number was a little light), Big Papi filled the entire batters box with ease.
It took a while in that first season for Ortiz to get going, but one of the most telling moments of future success was his first HR in a Red Sox uniform. It came against the Anaheim Angels (or whatever they were called then) in the top of the 14th inning. He pinch-hit for Jeremy Giambi to lead off the inning and hit an opposite field bomb on a pitch on the outer-half of the plate to give the Red Sox the 1-run lead. It was followed by a Jason Varitek HR and the game ended 6-4. It was just a late April regular season contest, but it was the first of dozens of late-inning clutch heroics for Big Papi in Boston.
As much as I would like to re-hash every great moment in Big Papi’s career, I only have space and time for my favorites. At the absolute top of the list, and frankly should be at the top of every Red Sox fans list, is his performance in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees. We know the story: down 0-3 after getting pummeled 19-3 in game 3, the Red Sox went on to win 4 straight and get to the World Series in which they swept the St Louis Cardinals and broke the 86-year curse. The script that was written in 2004 is arguably the greatest story in baseball history given the intense rivalry and unreal individual and team effort. At the center of it all was Ortiz.
Because today is a day for nostalgia, let me take you back. Game 4, bottom 9, down 4-3 with the season on the line and the greatest closer of all time (Mariano Rivera) is toeing the rubber. The situation does not look good from a Red Sox perspective. Kevin Millar leads off the inning with a walk and is immediately lifted for Dave Roberts (Rivera had just 20 walks all season in 2004 in 78.2 innings). Even though every single person at Fenway Park and every single person watching at home on television knew Dave Roberts was going to try and steal 2nd base, he slid in safely by the thinnest hair on my chinny chin chin to give the Red Sox a runner in scoring position. Still to this day when watching the replay of Derek Jeter applying the tag to Roberts, I honestly can’t tell if he was safe or out. After the steal, Bill Mueller hit the 3rd pitch of the at-bat into center field for a game-tying single. Hope was alive.
Fast forward to the bottom of the 12th inning. Manny Ramirez singles to lead off the inning and David Ortiz steps into the box against Paul Quantrill. On the 4th pitch of the at-bat, Ortiz crushed one over the 380 sign in right field for a walk-off win that will never be forgotten. By my estimation, that one swing is the most important hit in Red Sox franchise history. It propelled the Red Sox to a 7-game series victory and led to the most important moment in Red Sox history, the final out of game 4 of the 2004 World Series. Ortiz went on to hit 2 more HRs in the series as well as a walk-off single in the bottom of the 14th inning in game 5. His legacy truly began being written in that Yankees series and the story grew longer and more impressive as each passing year and clutch hit occurred.
All of this unfolded during my sophomore year at UConn. Being uniquely situated between Boston and New York, the UConn campus was rife with trash talk and bad blood between Yankees and Red Sox fans. I heard it from every single Yankees fan, real and bandwagon, after the 19-3 game 3 drubbing and I just had to grin and take it. There was no response and very little hope for a comeback. Just 4 days later, I was watching game 7 with my girlfriend, now wife, who is an avid Red Sox fan from the Boston area. Even though the Red Sox had a 7-run lead entering the 9th inning of game 7, our hearts were pounding out of our chest and our nerves were fried. Once the final out was recorded, tears of joy (and relief) began to flow and outside you could hear hundreds upon hundreds of cheers and screams across campus.
As any college students would do, we all ran outside and began running around campus like complete idiots. Hoards of students ran past Gampel Pavilion (basketball arena) and to the old football stadium on campus, Memorial Stadium. Dozens of students (mostly drunk) decided to take down the goal posts in celebration and after several minutes of trying, were successful. Even though I watched from a safe distance, that moment sticks with me to this day. It was finally time for Red Sox fans to celebrate.
All of this is just to say, in the most heartfelt way possible, Thank you Big Papi. You have single-handedly changed everything about being a Red Sox fan. You created expectations that are just unrealistic and nearly impossible to reach, yet somehow, you reached them over and over again. We now expect wins and championships on a yearly basis and anything else is a failure. In the 8th and 9th inning last night, most of Red Sox nation was expecting a big late-game comeback because you have set bar so damn high. It was a honor to witness your career unfold in Boston; the void that is left behind with your retirement is to large to fill.
As my brother-in-law Jonathan said on Facebook last night after the game, “Thank you 34 for the memories. See you in Cooperstown in 5 years with Brian Phair!”
When Daniel Hamilton declared for the draft on March 24th, it appeared as though he was going to test the waters before hiring an agent. About a week later, Hamilton set the record straight:
I’m not testing the waters or anything like that. I’m all in.
Although Hamilton had been on the NBA radar for awhile prior to declaring for the draft, many thought he would dip his toes in the water before returning to UConn for another year. That extra year would help him develop his game and perhaps become a high-1st round selection in 2017. When he signed an agent and officially declared for the draft, there was some uncertainty about where and when he would be drafted.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder selected Hamilton with the 56th pick*, his decision to leave UConn after his sophomore year was validated. He will not have an instant impact on the Thunder and will likely need some time in the D-league to mature and muscle-up, but will be earning a paycheck and be able to help support his family.
I had a great experience at UConn. It was a great ride. I’m glad we won the AAC tournament and played in the NCAA Tournament. But after talking it over with my family, I just feel this is the best thing, to provide for my family, help my family out.
Although it is the right decision for Hamilton and I do not begrudge him for leaving, selfishly I would have much rather seen him develop under Kevin Ollie at UConn for 1 more year and come out as a lottery pick in 2017. I wish Hamilton the best of luck in his next adventure!
*The Denver Nuggets technically drafted Hamilton and traded his rights to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Our UConn football family is very fortunate to call The Burton Family Football Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center our home. These facilities are among the finest in the nation and fully serve the needs of our football student-athletes. I want all Husky student-athletes and my fellow coaches to be able to enjoy the same caliber of facilities, which they richly deserve.
UConn Football Coach Bob Diaco on his $250,000 gift to help with the construction of facilities for UConn’s men’s and women’s soccer program, baseball program and softball program.
Georgia Tech starter Zac Ryan’s day started off well with a quick first inning (line out, single, pop out, caught stealing). It looked like he was on his way to a solid outing against the UConn Huskies, then the 2nd inning happened. It started with a Joe DeRoche-Duffin single and opened up from there until the Huskies had knocked Ryan out of the game after just 1.2 innings and hung a 7-spot on the scoreboard.
The Huskies looked strong behind freshman starter Tim Cate and held the 7-run lead until the 6th inning, then things tightened up inning by inning. Georgia Tech scored 1 run in the 6th and 7th and then 2 in the 8th to shrink the UConn lead to 3 runs. Thankfully, UConn’s closer Patrick Ruotolo finally closed the door after allowing 2 more runs to shrink the lead to just 1 run. The Huskies and Coach Jim Penders walked away with the program’s first NCAA Regional win since 2013 and 7th overall.
With Georgia Tech in the rear-view mirror, UConn moves on to the winner’s bracket and a Saturday evening (6pm) matchup with #1 Florida, the regional host. On the mound for Florida will likely be junior lefty AJ Puk. Puk is projected as a top 5 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft (potentially #1 to the Phillies) and his 6-7, 230 lb frame and 95+ mph fastball (touching 99 at times) are intimidating. Puk had a very good year for Florida with 90 Ks and a 2.88 era.
UConn will counter with their lefty ace, junior Anthony Kay. Kay has had a nice year for the Huskies finishing with a 9-2 record, 2.46 era and 108 Ks. He pitched well in the AAC Tournament, winning MVP after a nice outing in the final against Houston on short rest. Kay didn’t pitch in game one of the NCAA Regional to get an extra day rest, so he should be rearing to go on Saturday night.
This is an incredibly tough game for the Huskies, but they have their best pitcher on the mound. Anything can happen.
Friday is a special day for Coach Jim Penders and his UConn baseball
squad. After tearing through the AAC Tournament, the Huskies find themselves making their 4th NCAA appearance since 2010 when they face-off against #2 Georgia Tech at 1pm in the first game of the Gainsville, FL regional. UConn is the #3 seed in the region along with host #1 Florida and #4 Bethune-Cookman.
The tournament will be an extremely difficult test for the Huskies who finished the season with a 35-25 record. The double-elimination format will guarantee at least two games, but it’s hard to see a real path for UConn to
win the regional, especially with Florida looming. Florida finished the season
with a 47-13 record and have one of the best pitchers in the country in Logan Shore. Shore finished the season with an amazing stat line in 15 starts: 10-0, 2.41 era, 76 Ks and 13 BBs. He won SEC Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, the national player of the year.
UConn has a strong #1 starter in Anthony Kay, who won the AAC Tournament MVP after winning his two starts, including the championship
game on short rest. He is expected to be a fairly high draft pick this year, but will not pitch in the opening game in order to give him an extra day’s rest.
If nothing else, it will be fun to watch UConn play against top-level competition.