BOZICH | Monday Muse: LeBron's Louisville connection; The $11.5 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

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BOZICH | Monday Muse: LeBron's Louisville connection; The $11.5 Million Cards

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Jerry Eaves won his first game as an NBA coach because of LeBron James. Jerry Eaves won his first game as an NBA coach because of LeBron James.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – You can find a Louisville connection to every sports story if you keep making calls.

LeBron James and Cleveland's first professional sports championship since Fred Flinstone insulted Barney Rubble? Yes.

The major league baseball draft and signing pool? Check.

The upcoming college football season? You bet.

That's job one at the Monday Muse, putting the national sports scene under a local lens. There is only one place to begin this week -- with LeBron James.

1. The LeBron Chronicles

I remember the first two people who told me about LeBron James: The first was Jerry Eaves. The second was Bret Bearup.

In 2001, Bearup, the former Kentucky player, was active on the fringe of the best high school players in America. He knew who they were and he knew where they were going to school.

He knew James -- and told me he was going to be The Next Great Thing after his sophomore year of high school. He also knew he was going straight to the NBA, although Louisville and Kentucky are still listed in the database as possible college destinations for James. Louisville assistant coach David Padgett was listed as the seventh best player nationally in that 2003 class.

Another guy who knew was Eaves, the former Louisville guard and assistant coach. He worked in Cleveland for two seasons as an assistant coach for John Lucas from 2001-03, LeBron's junior and senior years in high school in nearby Akron. (Link.)

He saw James play during the summer and knew that the Cavaliers were ready to do whatever it took to make certain they could select him with the first pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.

What the Cavaliers did during that 2002-03 season was lose, lose, lose -- and then lose even more.

"For his age, he was just the biggest, strongest, fastest kid I'd ever seen," Eaves said. "He could handle the ball really well with either hand and just do anything he wanted to do."

That hasn't changed. Ask the Golden State Warriors, who watched James ensure that the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the finals Sunday.

Eaves, for the record, won his only game as an NBA head coach because of LeBron James. The NBA suspended Lucas for the first two games of the 2002-03 season because he invited James to workout with Cleveland free agents during the off-season.

The Cavs opened the season with a loss at Sacramento and then traveled to Los Angeles to beat the Clippers. As the top assistant, Eaves ran the show in Sacramento and the Staples Center.

"At the time, all everybody in Cleveland kept saying was, 'We've got to get LeBron,'" Eaves said.

They got him -- and their NBA Title.

2. NBA Top Five

Magic Johnson didn't wait to get this discussion started. The Cavaliers had not left the floor at Oracle Arena when Johnson sent this congratulatory tweet to James, confirming his status as one of the five greatest players of all time.

Two questions:

Who are the other four?

Do James' three rings secure his place on the list?

I've narrowed my list to the Top 10. I'll try to cut it to five by next week. Here goes:

Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Boston; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Lakers; Michael Jordan, Bulls; Oscar Robertson, Royals, Bucks; Tim Duncan, Spurs; LeBron James, Cavaliers.

3. Who's Got Next?

Credit to the ESPN stats and information department for this nugget: The last three major pro sports titles in this country have been won by coaches during their first seasons on the job.

That would be Gary Kubiak (Broncos), Mike Sullivan (Penguins) and Tyronn Lue (Cavaliers).

Credit to Dr. Bo's stats and information department for this nugget:

If the trend holds, that means one of these four teams is most likely to win the 2016 World Series -- Nationals (Dusty Baker); Mariners (Scott Servais); Dodgers (Dave Roberts) or Marlins (Don Mattingly).

4. Please Watch This

I checked the playing and coaching roster for the Cavaliers. No direct Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana or Western Kentucky connections that I could uncover.

But this one is worth noting: Cavaliers' star shooter J.R. Smith is the older brother of former Louisville guard Chris Smith.

J.R. attended several Louisville games when his brother played here. He was a regular presence during summer pick-up games.

There's your local connection. But this is the reason you should pay attention to J.R. Smith. Although he's been known as an occasional knucklehead during his NBA career, Smith delivered one of the most inspiring post-game speeches at the podium after the Cavs won the title. (The link.)

He credited his parents for their non-stop support of his career and gave a special shout-out to his father, who was watching the press conference from the back of the room. Then Smith walked over and hugged his dad.

The media room erupted in applause.

5. The $11.5 Million Cardinals

Only three of the seven University of Louisville baseball players taken in the first four rounds of the First-Year Player Draft have agreed to deals. All seven are expected to sign and leave the program -- and when they do their collective investment accounts will be enhanced by roughly $11.5 million in bonus money.

Here is the latest breakdown on the super seven.


Zack Burdi, White Sox -- The Cards' closer signed for full signing slot bonus of $2,128,500. If Burdi follows the developmental plan of other Sox pitchers drafted in the first round in recent years, he should begin his pro career soon at Winston-Salem in the High Class A Carolina League.

Will Smith, Dodgers -- The former U of L catcher agreed to a bonus of $1,940,700, which is $165,700 less than the suggested bonus for the No. 32 pick.

Drew Harrington -- The Cards' left-handed ace agreed to a bonus of $900,00 from the Braves, who selected him No. 90. Harrington earned $111,200 over slot.


Corey Ray, Brewers -- His signing slot is valued by $4,382,200, although it should be noted that the two players drafted ahead of Ray who have already signed have agreed to bonuses of at least $450,000 under the maximum.

Nick Solak, Yankees -- The Chicago Tribune reported last week that Solak would sign with the New York Yankees and report to their team in Staten Island in the short-season Class A Pennsylvania League. But an official signing has not been announced. His bonus slot is $1,040,800.

Blake Tiberi, Mets -- With David Wright sidelined for the season after surgery, the Mets need third-base help, but they have yet to agree to terms with Tiberi. Drafted No. 100, Tiberi's bonus slot is $596,600.

Kyle Funkhouser, Tigers -- Taken No. 115 by Detroit, Funkhouser has to negotiate from a slot bonus of $516,200. He'll join former Card Jeff Thompson in the Tigers' farm system.

6. Bad Week for Stoops

Nobody knows Kentucky football better than John Clay, the columnist for the Herald-Leader in Lexington. He has not missed many games in three decades, covering the team through Jerry Claiborne, Bill Curry, Hal Mumme, Guy Morris, Rich Brooks, Joker Phillips and Mark Stoops eras for the Lexington paper.

Clay isn't quick to put coaches on the hot seat or nominate them for contract extensions.

But Clay recognized that last week was not a good week for UK coach Mark Stoops. (The link.)

Never mind the quarterback prospect that Kentucky lost to Alabama. Other than an occasional coin toss and Matt Elam, Kentucky is not going to win much against Nick Saban, even if the kid had orally committed to UK.

But last week's Kentucky de-commitment stung because it came from Russ Yeast, son of former UK ace receiver Craig Yeast, who caught passes for Tim Couch.

The recruiting gurus say Yeast is a 3-star prospect, who also has offers from Louisville, Indiana, Cincinnati and Ole Miss.

But the point isn't which school has the edge with Yeast (unless it is Bobby Petrino and U of L). The point is that Yeast rescinded his commitment to his father's alma mater.

As Clay wrote in his column: "Mark Stoops needs to win games."

7. Opportunity Lost for Kentucky

Most of the pre-season magazines forecast a sixth-place finish for Kentucky in the East Division of the Southeastern Conference.

After several blah seasons, the East is starting to regain some of its national mojo as it lives in the shadow of the thunderous West.

Kirby Smart has the Georgia fan base crackling. Jim McElwain has fixed some of the mess than Will Muschamp created at Florida.

Then there is Tennessee. The Vols are the trendy pick to win the East -- and coach Butch Jones just finished a weekend to remember.

According to, Tennessee secured eight oral commitments over the weekend -- five in the Class of 2017 and three others in the 2018 class.

The fine print says these guys are only ranked 3-star prospects by one recruiting service. But eight commitments in one weekend isn’t bad work -- unless they de-commit.

8. Indiana's All-American

You expect players from Alabama to make the all-American list on every pre-season magazine. Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida State and Oklahoma also regularly produce those guys.

Not Indiana.

Indiana has produced one of those guys.

Dan Feeney, a senior offensive guard, is listed as a first-team all-American in ESPN's college football yearbook. And Athlon's. And Lindy's. The Sporting News, too.

Feeney is a fifth-year guy who has started since his freshman season, allowing one sack over his entire career. IU coach Kevin Wilson has often described Feeney as the best offensive lineman he has coached -- at Indiana, Northwestern or Oklahoma.

The pre-season magazines agree.

9. Poll Results I

Where will the Louisville football team be ranked in the AP poll at the start of the 2016 season?

No. 16-20   46.8 percent

No. 21-25   26.5 percent

Top 15         20.1 percent

Outside Top 25 6.6 percent

10. Poll Results II

What's your pick for the most painful defeat in Louisville sports history?

2006 football loss to Rutgers – 32.4 percent

1975 Final Four loss to UCLA  -- 29.8 percent

1981 NCAA loss to Arkansas – 17.2 percent

2016 Baseball loss to UCSB – 15.2 percent

Other – 4.8 percent

1967 NCAA loss to SMU – 0.5 percent

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