BOZICH | Monday Muse: Can Brendan McKay keep doing it all? Crean's next move
Brendan McKay is serious about changing professional baseball's thoughts on two-way players. Is another baseball power eyeing U of L coach Dan McDonnell? Here comes the NBA Draft.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- These are supposed to be the quiet times on the sports calendar. The University of Louisville baseball team, golfer Justin Thomas and the National Basketball Association missed the memo.
Dan McDonnell's baseball team is off to its best start in Omaha. Thomas made a nice run at the U.S. Open over the weekend. At least five players with local ties will be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft Thursday night in Brooklyn.
No wonder I had no trouble stuffing all 10 line items in the Monday Muse.
1. BRENDAN McKAY: Pitcher? Hitter? First Baseman? Player!
The official scorebook shows that Major League Baseball erred when Brendan McKay was announced as strictly a first baseman when McKay was selected as the fourth overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays a week ago.
McKay will play first base as a professional. But he is not prepared to stop delivering his 93 mph to each quadrant of the strike zone.
That was apparent last week when some of McKay's people said MLB was supposed to be introduced as a first baseman and left-handed pitcher.
It was confirmed Sunday in Omaha when McKay told Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com that he wants to play both spots on a regular basis, not just for a few games early in his minor-league career. (the link).
"I think it can open up a new experience for baseball, having two guys in one," McKay said Sunday after earning the victory for his five innings of work at TD Ameritrade Park.
"You can carry a reliever or starter on the mound and then you also have a bat in the lineup -- where if you can figure out how to handle your body and not get worn down and stay healthy and everything -- it could help baseball in a great way."
Good for McKay. Good for the Rays if they're truly all in on this. (And they should be because at 14,408 fans per game, the Rays rank 30th and last by miles in MLB attendance, one of two teams averaging less than 20,000.)
Baseball needs more players and teams willing to think about the game in different ways than Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre.
Over the last two decades baseball has become more specialized, especially pitching staffs. Teams routinely carry 12 or 13 pitchers, asking several to do nothing more than retire one hitter or perhaps, too.
Several generations ago the split was 10 pitchers, 15 position players. If you entered a game, you'd better be ready to go at least an inning. Closers pitched the eighth and ninth -- and sometimes part of the seventh. Ask Goose Gossage about that.
Credit McKay for being primed to stir a new dialogue. Critics have chirped that nobody has done the two-way player thing successfully since Babe Ruth. Maybe McKay can change that.
I'm glad he's prepared to try it.
2. ANOTHER RUN AT MCDONNELL?
There are several indicators that a coach is doing excellent work. One is the won-loss record. Here is another:
Are other programs trying to hire the coach for a competing job?
Dan McDonnell has done remarkable work at the University of Louisville, taking the Cardinals to their fourth College World Series in 11 seasons. Texas, Tennessee, Arizona State and other programs have inquired about McDonnell.
Louisville remains his home, where McDonnell earns a highly competitive salary whose team plays in front of appreciative and consistent crowds.
Is another prime-time program waiting until the end of the College World Series to make a run at McDonnell?
It's been nearly two weeks since Chad Holbook resigned as the coach at South Carolina, a school that won back-to-back national titles in 2010-11.
The two-week gap has led to speculation that USC AD Ray Tanner, the coach who won those titles, would like to talk to McDonnell, who played college baseball in the state at The Citadel.
In fact, McDonnell led the list of potential candidates at The State newspaper in Columbia, although some have wondered if the Gamecocks would be willing to pay any baseball coach more than $1 million.
Is the South Carolina job better than the Louisville job?
Not any more. With a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference, McDonnell has made the U of L job one of the best in the country.
3. GOING SMALLER TO GET BETTER
Over the last 20 seasons, 17 players taken with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft played center or forward in college.
The three exceptions were Derrick Rose, John Wall and Kyrie Irving.
That's an MVP, a four-time All-Star and an NBA champion.
The front court players?
Plenty of hits -- Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns, LeBron James, Blake Griffin.
But plenty of names that make you wonder who you have to know to be an NBA scouting director:
Michael Olowokandi from Pacific to the Clippers in 1998.
Kwame Brown from a high school in Brunswick, Ga., to the Wizards in 2001.
Andrea Bargnani from Italy to Toronto in 2006.
Anthony Bennett from UNLV to Cleveland in 2013.
There are more names I could have put on the list.
That explains this: Three of the top five and seven of the top dozen projected picks for the 2017 NBA Draft are backcourt players. Four are point guards:
Markelle Fultz of Washington; Lonzo Ball of UCLA; De'Aaron Fox of Kentucky and Dennis Smith of North Carolina State. A fifth, Louisville's Donovan Mitchell, will likely make the move to more of a ball-handling role.
The game has changed. Tighten your handle. Improve your range. Sharpen your passing. The backcourt is where the action is in basketball today.
4. CREAN'S NEXT STEP
Two interesting nuggets emerged from the column Teddy Greenstein wrote about former Indiana basketball Tom Crean last weekend:
Crean's son, Riley, will not play baseball for Chris Lemonis at IU next season. He also likely will not play for the Chicago White Sox, who drafted him out of Bloomington North High School last week. Crean will invest a year at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Greenstein noted that the Crean family will move to nearby Sarasota. That section of Florida's Gulf Coast is also home to ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. Crean will analyze the NBA Draft with Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical Thursday night.
If ESPN is looking for an analyst to plug into games this winter, Crean should be their first call.
5. KA-REEMED BY KAREEM
As I've written several times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most thoughtful and analytical guys to play basketball. He's a student of history, politics, sociology, jazz and other topics other than the sky hook.
When Kareem speaks, you'd be wise to listen.
Abdul-Jabbar spoke on a topic that inspires an opinion from everybody: Lavar Ball the obnoxious stage father of former UCLA point guard Lavar Ball.
He's not impressed.
Abdul-Jabbar said the overbearing presence of parents like Ball are turning college basketball into a "huckster show." (The link.)
Abdul-Jabbar played freshman basketball at UCLA because freshmen were not permitted to play with the varsity by NCAA rules. After a year of adjusting to campus life, he led the Bruins to three consecutive NCAA titles -- and then proceeded to a two-decade career in the NBA, exiting as the game's all-time leading scorer.
No, he is not a fan of the one-and-done.
"One-and-dones doesn't make any sense to me," he told TMZ Sports. "To have somebody come and be on campus for six months and play a basketball season, what is that? It's strange and it's not good for the college game, and it hasn’t been good for the pro game. I think they better find a different way of dealing with those issues."
6. STILL FIGHTING FOR LOVE IN THE SEC
The college football magazines have shown more love for the University of Kentucky football team this spring. The Wildcats are picked as high as fourth in the seven-team SEC East by at least one publication.
Apparently, sports information directors at the 14 SEC schools need more evidence that Mark Stoops has the Wildcats ready to contend in the East Division.
According to this story at FanSided.com, the league's media relations people voted Kentucky 11th overall and fifth in the East in a recent vote.
That would be ahead of Missouri and Vanderbilt, but behind a South Carolina program that Kentucky has beaten three straight.
Fourth seems more reasonable. Perhaps third if you believe UK can overtake Tennessee, where many insist Butch Jones is on the hottest seat in the league.
7. WELCOME TO THE BIG TEN
Conventional wisdom says that if you're taking a second-tier Big Ten job, better to accept the challenge in the West, not East, division.
Better to scramble to overtake Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa than Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Jeff Brohm left Western Kentucky for the job at Purdue, which finished last in the West in 2016.
Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports makes note of that, but still ranks Purdue's overall schedule as the second toughest Power Five job next season, trailing only Michigan State.
A non-conference opener against Louisville is part of the problem. So is a division crossover game with Michigan. Getting Iowa, Wisconsin and Northwestern on the road make it official for Fornelli.
8. REFLECTIONS BY JUSTIN THOMAS
Former St. Xavier star Justin Thomas did not win his first major title Sunday at the U.S. Open. After roaring into one stroke of the lead with a nine-under 63 on Saturday, Thomas wobbled to three bogeys on his first five holes Sunday, on his way to 3-over 75 to finish eight strokes off the lead.
Thomas finished tied for ninth, his best performance in his six major championship appearances. He won more than $275,000, bumping his 2017 earnings over $5.1 million, fourth on the PGA Tour.
Thomas shared his thoughts on disappointing closing round in this story by George Willis of the New York Post.
He'll get his major.
9. POLL RESULTS I
Which team is the biggest obstacle to Louisville making it to the finals of the College World Series?
Florida 41.5 percent
Texas A&M 27.2 percent
TCU 26.5 percent
Wake Forest 4.8 percent
10. POLL RESULTS II
Which local college football team is least likely to meet its projected 2017 season win total?
Kentucky 7 wins 34.9 percent
Louisville 9.5 wins 34.5 percent
WKU 9.5 18.7 percent
Indiana 6.5 11.9 percent
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