Archive for January, 2011

Credit to Richt: A big recruiting yield at a big moment for UGA

Coming off its first losing season since 1996, Georgia is poised to sign the most illustrious recruiting class Mark Richt has assembled, which is saying something when you consider two 2006 signees were among the top dozen taken in the 2009 NFL draft. Obvious question: Who saw this coming?

Said Chad Simmons, the Southeast recruiting analyst for Scout.com/FoxSports: “I am a little surprised … but I’m not that surprised.”

If we’ve learned anything this past month, it’s that the Georgia program might be in a weakened state but that the Georgia name remains a powerful thing. Four different SEC programs have accounted for the past five BCS titles, and yet Georgia, at least on Signing Day 2011, seems positioned to stand with any of them.

Said Simmons: “I don’t think wins and losses make a difference. There’s a chance Georgia, which was 6-7, will outrecruit Auburn, which won the national championship.”

Said Jeff Dantzler, the astute Athens radio man: “This is the most important …

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Paul Johnson on Tech’s recruiting: ‘Ask again in three years’

A-back Orwin Smith: A good player, but an impact player? (AP photo)

Tech A-back Orwin Smith: A good player, yes, but is he an impact player? (AP photo)

Some folks live to follow recruiting. Paul Johnson, who makes his living in a business tied to recruiting, isn’t among them. Here’s the Georgia Tech coach on the sport-within-a-sport:

“It’s kind of been blown out of proportion a little. Certainly [recruiting] is important, but you’ve got people hanging on every word. I think crowning a guy before he’s played a [collegiate] down is a little premature.”

I know what some of you are saying: Easy for Johnson to claim  recruiting isn’t a big deal, but would he feel the same if the Rivals.com rankings were reversed? If Tech’s class were rated the nation’s seventh-best and Georgia’s the 40th-best?

Being Paul Johnson, he would. He’s a  pragmatist of the first rank, and a bit of a contrarian. When asked a question, he often begins his response with, “Oh, I don’t know …” or “Not really.” He’s a football lifer who has seen pretty much everything, and one …

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ESPN’s Law: High on the Braves, less so on Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman: Is the new first sacker a first-tier prospect? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Freddie Freeman: Is the rookie first sacker a first-tier prospect? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

It’s fair to say Keith Law of ESPN Insider has become the Mel Kiper of baseball: Law is knowledgeable and, owing to his affiliation with the Worldwide Leader, eminently visible. When Law speaks, you might not agree — but you do pay attention.

In his annual preseason prospect rankings (all these links requires registration), Law has four Braves in his top 50. He also ranks the Braves’ minor-league organization as baseball’s third-best, trailing only Kansas City, which is overseen by Braves alum Dayton Moore, and Tampa Bay. These are, you’d have to say, glad tidings. Except …

Law isn’t quite as high on Freddie Freeman as the Braves seem to be. He rates Freeman the 43rd-best prospect in baseball, which sounds a bit low given that a 91-win playoff qualifier has made him its everyday first baseman. Writes Law:

Freeman keeps performing even though he is young for his levels and doesn’t …

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Will Super Bowl XLV be the last NFL game we ever see?

OK, so the headline is a bit of hyperbole. (Me? Hyperbolic? Say it ain’t so!) But Steelers-Packers looks more and more like the last NFL game before the owners lock out their players, and there’s a chance a lockout could last a while.

My default position has been that the NFL is too smart to fall into a long-term work stoppage. (Yes, I was around in 1982, when half the season was lost to a players’ strike, and again in 1987, when the workers again walked out and three regrettable games using replacements were staged.) Baseball has since lost a World Series and the NBA half a season and the NHL a whole season, and pro football has sailed blissfully onward. But the bliss is about to end.

I’m not sure this NFL commissioner and these owners are as smart as those we’d come to know. History lesson: The NFL got huge because Pete Rozelle convinced his owners they were partners first and competitors second and that any TV contracts must be league contracts. (This as opposed to …

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In the grand scheme, can Tech afford NOT to fire Paul Hewitt?

Is Paul Hewitt pointing to the NCAA tournament -- or the exit? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Is Paul Hewitt pointing to the NCAA tournament — or the exit? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

My longstanding belief has been that Georgia Tech cannot afford to fire Paul Hewitt because it doesn’t have $7 million in ready cash. But recent events have subjected that belief to recalibration, and now the issue, at least in this feeble mind, has become: Can Tech afford not to fire him?

Dan Radakovich has been supportive of the coach whose oppressive contract this athletic director inherited. (Quick recap: Hewitt’s contract has an automatic six-year rollover that calls for a full buyout if he’s fired at any time.) But D-Rad isn’t stupid, nor is he blind. He has to see that interest in Tech basketball is at a low not seen since the few folks who deigned to grace Alexander Memorial Coliseum in the final days of Dwane Morrison wore bags on their heads.

Bobby Cremins arrived from Appalachian State in 1981, and soon Tech was winning the ACC tournament and even reaching the Final Four. It …

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Tech’s Iman Shumpert: Domination on a level I’d never seen

Iman Shumpert flees after a theft from Malcolm Delaney (right). (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Iman Shumpert flees after a theft from Malcolm Delaney. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

I’ve seen all the famous Georgia Tech point guards: Mark Price, Craig Neal, Kenny Anderson, Travis Best, Stephon Marbury and Jarrett Jack. I’ve seen all of those worthies have fabulous games. I’ve never seen any of them play better at both ends than Iman Shumpert did against Virginia Tech.

Much is being made of Shumpert’s triple double — only the fourth in recorded Tech annals and the first since Anderson against Pitt in December 1989 (I covered that game, incidentally) — but stats didn’t offer the full measure Tuesday night. Even more impressive was this: Shumpert took a very good opponent and destroyed him.

Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney entered the game averaging 18.9 points. When last he played against the Jackets here, he’d scored 32 points in a game that nearly knocked Georgia Tech out of the 2010 NCAA tournament. On this night Delaney managed eight points — two  on a goaltending call — …

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Am I the only one who’s surprised Green Bay is favored?

The AFC champ has won nine of the past 13 Super Bowls. Pittsburgh was the No. 2 seed in the AFC, going 12-4. Pittsburgh has won two of the past five Super Bowls, and now, facing a wild-card qualifier that won two fewer games this season, Pittsburgh is …

A 2 1/2-point underdog.

Not much surprises me anymore, but this did. Not that I don’t think the Packers are good — Arthur Blank and I witnessed firsthand just how good they can be — but because I think the Steelers are powerful and proven and a Brand Name to boot, and that’s the type of team that tends to be given the benefit of most doubts. (Not that I have doubts about the Steelers. Saw them beat the Falcons, too — without their starting quarterback.)

I know Green Bay is the flavor of the month. I know it has beaten the Nos. 3, 1 and 2 seeds in the NFC en route to Super Bowl XLV. But still: Favored over Pittsburgh?

I also know that there’s precedent for a No. 6 seed being favored in the Super Bowl: The Steelers were against …

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A big week for Tech hoops: First the Hokies, then the Terps

Paul Hewitt ponders: Is there room near the top for Tech? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Paul Hewitt ponders: Is there room near the top for Tech? (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

Georgia Tech has two key games these next six days, neither against a ranked opponent. And that’s kind of the point: The ACC is thinner at the top than it has been since … well, since ever. The latest Associated Press poll includes only two representatives from the Tiffany League, and Florida State slipped in at No. 22. (And the Seminoles aren’t ranked in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll, leaving the ACC stuck on one.)

It has become a Tobacco Road Talking Point: Apart from Duke, is anybody any good? North Carolina was ranked in the Top 10 in preseason but has played its way downward. (The nadir for the Tar Heels was losing by 20 here.) N.C. State was thought to be promising but hasn’t done a thing. Maryland began ACC play by losing to Boston College and hasn’t quite recovered. Even Florida State, which beat Duke, suffered one of the season’s worst losses by losing to Auburn, which carries an …

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It’s a big week for UGA hoops: First the Gators, then Kentucky

The big Dawg Trey Thompkins is hungry for more. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

The big Dawg Trey Thompkins would appear hungry for more. (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

There are two people I know who believe Georgia will win the SEC East. One is esteemed former colleague Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and he’s in the Basketball Writers’ Hall of Fame. The other is yours truly, who on occasion walks down the hall of his house in unfashionable South Cobb while humming the theme song from the movie, “Fame.”

As we know, I’m often wrong. But Jerry isn’t.  Listen to him if not to me.

This is the week we’ll all learn if such a notion has weight. The Bulldogs play Florida on Tuesday in the Stegasaurus — I’ve been asked politely to stop referring to Stegeman Coliseum that way, and this is my polite way of saying, “Uh, no” — and then Kentucky on Saturday in Rupp Arena.

Win once and Georgia is in good shape. Win twice and it’s in what the Brits call the driving seat. (Not to be confused with the driving range. Or a driving rain. Or driving the lane.) …

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Hide the Cutlery! QB skewered in the court of public opinion

Surely it was the first time a professional athlete has submitted to an MRI thinking, “Please let it show something bad.” But that had to be Jay Cutler’s thought Monday, the day after he’d been branded a quitter on what we like to call social media.

Cutler is the Bears’ quarterback. He left Sunday’s NFC championship game one series into the second half and stood — as opposed to sitting; this would, believe it or not, become a major Talking Point — on the sideline as his team lost to Green Bay. All the while he was being lambasted in that strange corner of our new world known as the Twitterverse.

Twitter is the realm where the unexpressed thought need not apply. What you had for breakfast: Grist for the mill. What you thought of that contestant on “Idol”: Have at it (but keep it under 140 characters). On Sunday afternoon Twitter was awash with NFL players — some current, some retired, none with anything better to do — taking turns opining that Jay Cutler had flunked his …

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