Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ali in area to see son and baseball

The Big East Conference Tournament at Bright House Field in Clearwater this week was the site of one of the world’s most famous athletes (if not the most famous).

In attendance was former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who came to watch the game between Louisville and West Virginia.

Known as the Louisville Lip in his early days, the now 68 year-old boxing legend was there to watch his hometown team and visit with his adopted son, Asaad Ali , a freshman with the Cardinals who is sitting out the season as a redshirt, but has been working as the bullpen catcher.

The 5-10, 250 pound Asaad was mainly a catcher at Niles High School in Michigan where he made first team All-Conference was selected in the 40th round of the MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

In his senior year in high school, the younger Ali hit .367 with two homers and 18 RBIs. Born in Louisville, he loves his dad of course but says his favorite athletes are Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Grant Hill and his favorites teams are the Phoenix Suns and Notre Dame football.

Asaad is the youngest of Muhammad Ali’s nine children. He and his wife Lonnie adopted Asaad as a baby when Lonnie’s sister was asked by a friend to watch the child until he could be placed through adoption, according to published reports. However, after seeing Asaad on a visit and Ali and Lonnie decided to adopt him.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Could USF-UCF resume football series?

Could the USF-UCF game be back on the docket?

With former USF coach Jim Leavitt no longer in the picture, it seems like that might be a possibility. Leavitt, who was fired after last season, was staunchly opposed to playing UCF again.

He was always vague about the reason for wanting to discontinue the series, though you got the feeling he felt any loss to UCF would hurt recruiting and he didn’t want to give the Knights any unnecessary publicity.

Leavitt is gone and Skip Holtz, his successor at USF, doesn’t share the same sentiment. He seems open to the idea and though nothing officially has been set down it appears the series might resume someday, which didn’t seem likely under Leavitt.

The Bulls and Knights met four times with USF winning each game, including the 64-12 blowout in 2007. However, Leavitt said those games were never easy and the following year in ’08, his team had to go into overtime to beat UCF 31-24.

This all might be a moot point if some of the talk about expansion comes to fruition. There are rumors the Big 10 made expand and raid the Big East. If that happens and the Bulls are left in a depleted conference, UCF could get an invitation to join and they would be playing each other regularly anyway.

But all that is speculation now and the main hope for USF is to remain in a BCS conference. Some talk has the Big 10 taking one Big East team, maybe Rutgers, which might put the UCF Knights on the cusp of replacing the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vitale's Army on the move

Boosted by its Gala on Friday night, Dick Vitale’s Army will be back on the battlegrounds this week as its fight against cancer continues.

The unofficial count for his fighting force is in the upwards of millions if you include the 12 million cancer survivors and thousands of others who have donated money to battle this dreaded disease.

This is the largest fighting force ever assembled in the United States and it is needed because cancer has claimed more lives than all of our wars put together.

Vitale’s Army spreads passion and love along with monies he can gather from any available source. It is winning the battle against cancer, but there is still a long way to go. Those willing to join in the fight can contact Vitale through the V Foundation.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mike & Mike coming to town

If you’re a local sports fan wanting to vent or get some national attention then get over to the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton Hotel Friday morning.

ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning radio show will be broadcasting from the hotel and it’s a perfect chance for Tampa Bay Rays fans to give their team some love. It might be particularly pleasing to do it in front of co-host Mike Greenberg, who is a native New Yorker.

But you better get up early. The show comes on the air at 6 am and goes for four hours. Dick Vitale is supposed to be there around 8 am. Other expected guests are Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of The Year who sat out last season while he was battling cancer.

He has since been cured and hopes to play in 2010. All are here for the Dick Vitale Gala, which will be Friday night at the Ritz-Carlton to raise money to fight cancer through the Jimmy V Foundation.

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USF backfield is almost empty

With the recent departure of Jamar Taylor followed by previous loss of Mike Ford the USF running back situation has gone from one of the best in the Big East to the worse.

Several football websites, including ESPN, now rate the Bulls have having the worse stable of running backs in the Big East Conference.

When Ford and Taylor came to USF four years ago they were two of the most highly touted running backs in the country. Ford was a record setting running back from Sarasota High, who received high price from Manatee head coach Joe Kinnan, who said he was the best RB he had ever seen in high school.

Taylor played on some of the great Lakeland High teams that were nationally ranked and went to Alabama before transferring to USF. Unfortunately, neither lived up to expectations at USF due in part to injuries and other circumstances.

The only experienced returning running back for USF is sixth year senior Mo Plancher. He will go into the season as number one, but might get some competition from junior college transfer Mike Hayes and perhaps incoming freshman Marcus Shaw from DeSoto County High and Tiger Powell from Lake City Columbia. There is also Demetris Murray, who had 14 carries last season, but is second on the depth chart behind Plancher.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Southeast will go the limit

It’s not over until it’s over.

That is the approach Southeast High head football coach Paul Maechle is taking as he prepares for his spring football game next Friday (May 21st) against Cardinal Mooney.

The Seminoles will have one more practice day available after the game and the veteran coach plans to use it. He says the kids who don’t get to play much in the spring game will practice again and he might set up a scrimmage.

Maecthle will end spring practice without anyone cementing down the tailback job. He plans to run the ball by committee against Cardinal Mooney and that could continue into next season.

While no one has emerged as the guy who deserves to get the rock on almost every carry, the most pleasant surprise of spring football has been defensive end Bobby Wooten. Maechtle said he has stood out and solidified a spot in the ‘Noles starting lineup.

Listed at 5-8, 175 pounds, the rising senior might not have the size you would want in a defensive end, but he has shown a toughness that more than makes up for what might be perceived as a negative.

He is one of many talented players who have been attracting college scouts to practices at Southeast.

Maechtle said he has had assistant coaches from Florida, Miami and Ohio State, among others, attend his practices. Receiver Bo Brand has gotten most of the attention, but there are others who could land a scholarship to a Division I school, including quarterback Dyron Speight.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tresey finds job in UFL

Football sometimes makes for unlikely connections. Such is the case for former USF defensive coordinator Joe Tresey and Joe Jagodzinski, who was briefly the Tampa Bucs offensive coordinator until he was fired before the 2009 season.

Jagodzinski is head coach for the new expansion Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. He recently hired Tresey to be his defensive backs coach. Tresey spent one season with USF after he was fired as the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati when Brian Kelly was the head coach.

Tresey is the third member of Jim Leavitt’s old staff at USF to find a job. Former Bulls offensive coordinator Mike Canales took the same job at North Texas and former USF offensive line coach Mike Simmonds has taken a job at Indiana State.

Omaha becomes the fifth UFL franchise joining Orlando, Las Vegas, Sacramento (CA) and Hartford (CT).The regular season will consist of eight games with each team facing each other twice. The season kickoffs in September.

The Las Vegas Locos won the inaugural league championship last year defeating the Florida Tuskers, which are based in Orlando.

The Tuskers announced last March that Jay Gruden would be their new head coach for the 2010 season. Julius Wilson, who played at Southeast High, was an offensive lineman for the Tuskers.

The Hartford Colonials is the new name and home of the former New York Sentinels franchise while Sacramento becomes the permanent home of the former California Redwoods, which played its 2009 home games in San Jose and San Francisco.

Spring fooball games set

The spring football classics get underway next Friday (May 21st) with three games. Southeast will play host to Cardinal Mooney while Bradenton Christian will visit St. Petersburg Shorecrest Prep and Saint Stephens will be at Keswick Christian, also in St. Petersburg. All games start at 7:30 p.m.

The following Thursday (May 27th) Braden River visits Sarasota Riverview and Palmetto will be at home against St. Petersburg Northeast. Things wind up Friday May 28th with Bayside at Manatee, Lakewood Ranch at Cape Coral Island Coast and Palm Harbor University visiting Bayshore. Out-Of-Door-Academy will not play a spring game.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bulls will represent USA this summer

Fate has smiled on the USF basketball program and with its entire backcourt almost wiped out by graduation it couldn’t have happened at a better time.

The Bulls recently learned they will represent the United States in the inaugural Pan American University Championships slated for August 8 through 15th in Brazil.

USF will be allowed to dress 12 players for the five games for the five games it will play in Salvador, Brazil. The tournament will be comprised of teams from Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, U.S. Virgin Islands, Netherlands Atillies and Uruguay.

USF will uniforms that say USA in the event, which will play under FIBA rules and will be hosted by the Pan American University Sport Federation. Along with their five games, the Bulls will be allowed to practice for 10 days before the games.

The Bulls have only one experienced guard returning in Anthony Crater and will have four newcomers in junior college transfers Shedrick Haynes (Palmetto), Hugh Robertson, Jawaza Poland and freshman LaVonte Dority. Also returning are two freshmen who saw little playing time last year, Shaun Noriega from North Port High and Mike Burwell.

"It's an honor for our basketball program to represent the United States in this international event," said USF head coach Stan Heath. "This also is a great opportunity for our team to compete against some of the best players in the world and prepare our team for the upcoming season.

"I want to thank Doug Woolard [USF Director of Athletics] and Nels Hawkinson [Executive Director of BTI Events] for working diligently to make this happen for USF basketball.”

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Jones will stay in NBA Draft

USF standout Dominique Jones ended all the speculation about his status on Friday when he announced he was going to keep his name in the NBA Draft.

The deadline to withdraw your name from the draft and still be eligible to play NCAA college basketball next season is 5 pm Saturday. But Jones ended all suspense after a workout he had with the Boston Celtics and said he was staying in the draft.

A first team All-Big East Conference selection, Jones had wavered on coming back to school, especially after more than a few draft websites had him going in the second round. Only first round picks get guaranteed contract, but the 6-4 combo guard said he was excited about his chances and welcomed the challenge.

He has signed with an agent and has workouts scheduled next week with San Antonio and Washington. The Lake Wales resident said he was encouraged by what he heard after his workout with the Celtics.

Jones averaged 21.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists last season with a career high 46 points against Providence and had 37 against Pittsburgh.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jones could return to USF

The deadline to withdraw your name from the NBA draft is 5 p.m. Saturday and there are reports that USF’s top player Dominique Jones may have a change of heart and return to school.

The 6-4, 215 pound combo guard was adamant that he was coming out a few months ago. He was projected to be a first round pick, which means a guaranteed contract and that was the key motivation.

Since that time, it is no longer considered a guarantee that Jones would be a first round selection and his father was quoted earlier this week as saying his son was reconsidering.

USF head coach Stan Heath has one scholarship available that could be given to Jones. If the guard decides to return he could break the school career scoring record held by Charles Bradley and the Bulls have a strong nucleus of returning talent in the front court to make his job easier.

Jones reportedly has a workout with the Boston Celtics on Friday that could convince him to enter the draft. The Celtics don’t have a lot of depth in the backcourt, but whether they would use it on Jones in the first round is uncertain. has Jones projected as the 24th pick overall going to the Atlanta Hawks. The biggest criticism of Jones is inconsistency with his outside shot, but otherwise he has a strong offensive game and his ability to penetrate is one of his best attributes.

In his most recent draft projection released May 6th, ESPN’s Chad Ford does not have Jones in the first round or among the first five in the second round, which is a step down. DraftExpress has Jones going in the fourth pick of the second round to the Washington Wizards.

A lot could happen between now and Saturday at 5 pm to change things with players withdrawing from the draft.

Running backs in demand this spring

Running backs seem to be in demand this spring. At least that’s the way things are going at Southeast and Braden River High during the first week of spring football practice.

New Braden River head coach Don Purvis will be busy this spring trying to find a replacement for Tevin Bryant, who was basically the Pirates entire running game last year.

Headed to Western Kentucky, Bryant finished second in the area and first among public school running backs in ’09 with 1,604 yards on 288 carries for 133.7 yard per game. The team rushed for a total of 2,210 yards.

Bryant also accounted for 16 of the Pirates 26 rushing touchdowns and caught 8 passes for 89 yards, which tied for third most receptions on the team.

Southeast is looking at defensive stalwarts Desmond Blue and Brian Poole to perhaps the carry the load and the ‘Noles head coach Paul Maechtle also has some speedsters with little to no experience, who could wind up being the main ball carrier.

Things might be a little easier for Maechtle because he has a solid, experienced passing game led by quarterback Dyron Speight and receiver Bo Brand, both entering their third year as starters.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Zarrella looks strong for state meet

Lakewood Ranch freshman Kristen Zarrella appears to have the best chance of getting the highest finish among the Manatee County athletes, who will be participating in the Class 3A State Track Meet on Friday.

Zarrella finished second in the 1600 and 3200 meter runs at last week’s region 3 meet, but her times in both are among the best that have been reported so far in Class 3A.

Katie Russo of Fort Myers High beat her out in the 1600 in a photo finish. The Green Wave senior was clocked in at 5:02.80 while Zarrella crossed the finish line in 5:02.95.

Those times were much better than the winners in in the 3A Region 2 and 4 meets. The winner in region 2 came in at 5:11.94 and region 4 in 5:24.94. Region 1 has not reported in because of weather conditions.

In the 3200 meter run, Sarah Spann of Fort Myers won with a time of 11:20.87 and Zarrella was second (11:29.26). The best time in region 2 was 11:27.92 and 11:48.03 in region 4.

Zarrella got caught up in a very fast pace in the 1600 meter run, which might have affected her time in the 3200. If she paces herself a little different at states, it could propel to even better times.

Palmetto High’s Dasha Grooms won the 100 meter hurdles with a time of 14.76 seconds in region 3. The region 2 champ came in at 14:20 and region 4 in 14.69.

Bayshore's Cody Blackwell won the discus with a throw of 142-06 while four people threw better than 150 in the region 2 with the winner throwing it 171-10. The region 4 winner threw 157-03.

McNeal has big spring at WKU

Former Braden River High standout Willie McNeal was named the spring game’s Most Valuable Player at Western Kentucky and finished spring ball as one of the most pleasant surprises in camp.

In the spring game, he ran the ball three times for 83 yards, including a 53 touchdown and caught a 30-yard pass, drawing much praise from new head coach Willie Taggart and former Palmetto High coach Ray Woodie, now an assistant at WKU.

The receiver is considered the biggest surprise for the Hilltoppers and figures to be a big play threat when the season starts. He showed his outstanding talent almost from the beginning.

In the Hilltoppers first full scrimmage back in the beginning of April, McNeal scored on a 25-yard end-around. He then caught back to back 15 yard touchdown passes.

McNeal showed good speed and hands along with the ability to pick up yardage after the catch. The 5-10, 160 pounder has earned his way into the starting lineup.

Woodie, who was in town last weekend on a recruiting trip, said they are expecting big things from McNeal and see him as a game breaker. The coaches are impressed with his talent and work ethic.