Berry Tramel

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Tramel emails: Thunder lineup changes & benefits of Kendal Thompson leaving

by Berry Tramel Modified: January 22, 2014 at 4:05 pm •  Published: January 22, 2014
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Do we realize what we're watching in Kevin Durant, or have we taken it for granted? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Do we realize what we're watching in Kevin Durant, or have we taken it for granted? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The emails are in, and lots to talk about. The Thunder riding high (this week) and the Thunder struggling (last week). Sugar Bowl leftovers. Mike Gundy. Lots on the table. Let’s get to it.

OU FOOTBALL

Tom: “Frankly, I am glad for both the kid and the university (Kendal) Thompson is leaving OU.  I had season tickets during the era that his dad (and others) was caught up in all of the drugs, shootings and alleged rape.  It never made sense to me that this was a good fit to bring back the spectacle of that era.  I realize that is not fair to the son, but the reality is that what would have been portrayed would have brought back the disgrace of the OU program of a past era. If there was any doubt at all, the comments of Charles Thompson in the middle of the season solidified my opinion.”

You’re probably right. It’s probably best for all concerns. I thought Kendal, from all reports, handled everything great. And Charles handled it as well as anyone could. He’s a father first. So that was going to have some sticky points. But it’s probably best that Kendal is moving on.

Dan: “Please, could we get a few more stories about the Sugar Bowl, 23 is not quite enough!”

OU fans would read 123.

Jim: “If I recall, you were the only sports writer to pick OU over Alabama.  Congratulations.”

I picked Bama 27-17. But on game day, I did write a column about how many double-digit underdogs in BCS games manage to pull the upset.

 

THUNDER UP

Chris: “Durant is crazy. Couple of years ago, he used to be a scorer. Has turned into a shooter, too.”

I don’t know. I always thought Durant was a primo shooter. I know he’s gotten better, but I think he’s gotten better at degree of difficulty. Just straight shooting, I think Durant was a phenom shooter even at Texas.

Steve: “While I know this is what you do, it must be very special to witness what KD is currently doing from up close. After last night’s performance, he is bringing back memories of MJ in his prime. As for the defense, I, too get frustrated with Perk and Thabo’s inability to make offensive contributions with any form of consistency. However, without their defense last night the Thunder are down a game to Portland in the division AND the season series is lost.”

It’s an amazing run, no doubt about it. And it’s a very good question. Do we appreciate what we are seeing? Do we appreciate what fell in our lap six years ago? I hope so. I think so. Not to sadden the mood, but it won’t last forever.

Jim: “I have watched basketball since I was 12 years old (now 75). Watched the Rochester Royals, at the Edgerton Park arena in Rochester, because we were in a PAL league and we could stay and watch the games after playing. Well, we were just kids with no coaches, etc. Anyway, I have seen some great scorers, Cousy, Wanzer, Wilt, McAdoo and later Kareem (on TV) and others, but Durant tops them all! I am not a big fan of present day pro basketball. I usually only watch the last quarter if any, but the last quarter of this (Warriors) game was something else.”

I have no idea who Wanzer is. But I know the Rochester Royals, who moved to Cincinnati, and then to Kansas City, and now are in Sacramento. I had never even thought about the Buffalo/Rochester connection. Upstate New York has had three NBA franchises, all three have scooted out of the region. The Buffalo Braves went to San Diego and became the Clippers. The Syracuse Nationals went to Philadelphia and became the 76ers, after the Warriors from Philly to San Francisco.

Kevin: “Why do Rocket fans boo D-Fish when he touches the ball?”

The Lakers traded Fisher to Houston two years ago and he declined to report, instead negotiating a buyout of his contract, which allowed him to sign with the Thunder. Fisher wanted no part of the then-rebuilding Rockets.

Kent: “The curse of Kelvin Sampson returns. Rockets score 19 points in a half.

Looked like OU-Mizzou in the 2003 Big 12 finals in Dallas. No one much remembers that game, but it was wild. The Sooners led 37-18 at halftime and eventually led 46-24 with 15:05 left in the game. And then OU won 49-47. The Sooners scored three points those final 15 minutes, all on foul shots. Missouri’s Rickey Paulding missed a driving shot with four seconds left that would have tied the game. That’s the only game that came to mind when I watched the Rockets’ 19-point second half.

Joel: “On the discussion about the starting lineup, there were a couple of comments you made I thought were interesting: 1) Perkins should keep starting, even for minimum minutes, due to team chemistry; and 2) You like Thabo but wish he’d play better.  So here’s my question:
Why is Brooks so rigid about how he starts the game and the second half?  I can understand chemistry (I guess), although it can’t be lost on the players that the Thunder have issues with how they start games and second halves and that can’t help team chemistry. In my opinion, Brooks is a very loyal person, and truly values his players.  That’s why they like him.  But I’m afraid this is going to wear thin if they don’t win it all. I’m just hoping, for his sake, that he’s not playing the Doug Collins role vs. Phil Jackson and that he’s never able to get them over the top.”

The starting lineup has worked. That’s why Brooks sticks with it. It combines offense and defense. It allows some solid offensive players to come off the bench and give the B team a boost. This lineup will wear thin when it doesn’t work. Otherwise, it would be nuts to switch.

Mike: “Things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem. Notice the Heat have quietly lost three straight. It’s good to remember that what happens in January stays in January. It’s all practice until April.”

Great points. When the Thunder struggles, losing at Salt Lake and Denver and Memphis, or when the Thunder wins four straight and Durant goes crazy, it’s still January.

Mike: “If the Thunder don’t get Perkins and Sefolosha off the floor, they are going nowhere. Sefolosha can’t hit the broadside of a barn and Perkins is very consistent in committing fouls. The Thunder will never win a championship if these issues are not corrected. Get rid of those two and try to get Gasol from the Lakers. If the Thunder had a scoring center and would make their offensive game plan to score in the paint when possible, they would be unbeatable. Most good championship caliber teams have a scoring center.”

Leading the NBA right now in paint points are 1. Detroit, and 2. Philadelphia. Minnesota is fifth. Memphis is sixth. Sacramento is eighth. New Orleans is 10th. The Thunder is 11th. Miami gets no scoring from the center position. Bosh doesn’t play center and gets most of his points outside. Ibaka scores more inside than does Bosh. In fact, most of the recent NBA champions did NOT have scoring centers. Miami, Dallas, Boston. Only the Lakers.

Mitch: “Truth must be told here and that is both Thabo and Perkins are liabilities. Their so-called defensive prowess is overwhelmed by extremely limited offense. With Westbrook out, it shows.  Forty percent of the lineup is an offensive backwater.  Yes, there is no need to have four or five go-to guys with KD and Westbrook, but that does not mean you want extremely bad offensive players at all times. Perkins’ value is declining faster than the Nellie Johnstone Well #1 at Caney Creek. I’m not saying the solution is easy. But the first step is to identify the problem. I really cannot articulate a great reason for starting Sefolosha. Defense is often hard to measure but results are evident.  These two deadwoods are part of the problem and not the solution.”

This was written last week, when the Thunder was coming off that loss to the Grizzlies. And it’s been obviously renounced with the Thunder’s recent play. But you know what this kind of thinking represents? Football mentality. The idea that every loss is cataclysmic and is a sign that something is very wrong. It’s not even true in football, with 12 games a year. It’s absolutely nonsense in the NBA, which plays 82 regular-season games. You know what a five-game losing streak in the NBA represents (not that the Thunder ever has a five-game losing streak)? One NFL game. One. The Thunder has plenty of scoring with Durant and Westbrook. Heck, in recent games, the Thunder has had plenty of scoring with just Durant. The Thunder needs Thabo and Perk — or someone like them — for defense, and that’s shown in recent games.

Jim: The Thunder are built to win track meets.  Without Westbrook, that option is gone.  They have the talent but are not coached to run disciplined plays.  Reggie does better when running the second unit because much of that time Durant is out of the lineup.  When he plays with Durant, he defers to the detriment of his own skills to score.  As much as I like the coach, he will not win with them without all the pieces in place for every game.  Too much risk, if I owned the team.  San Antonio has less talent but they do what they are coached to do and that solid coaching has them in contention every year.  Presti comes out of that franchise.  He needs to make a change if he wants to get the most out of what he has.”

Let me get this straight. You say OKC won’t win the NBA without Westbrook. I agree. You say the Thunder should can Scotty Brooks so it can hire a coach as good as Gregg Popovich. I agree. The only coach as good as Gregg Popovich that I know of is Gregg Popovich. So if you can talk Pop into coming into OKC, sign me up.

 

MIKE GUNDY

Bob: “I read your article on Gundy and Wickline very carefully.  How interesting!   I am wondering, if on the larger scene at OSU, Gundy has issues with Holder and then that just sifts down?  I will be very interested to see how the Cowboys do at football next season. They will lose in Norman for sure.  I wish Gundy would admit that the OU game is not just another game for the fan base.”

You might be onto something about Gundy/Holder, but I think they have mended fences to some degree. I don’t know that for sure.

Frank: “I have read and enjoyed your articles for years and rarely disagree and even then it was just opinion. I have to say, though, lately you have become focused on bashing Gundy from saying things like you don’t fit the profile of someone he would come after to this latest article.  He was jealous of Wickline and wanted to fire him.  BS, Berry. Fire the best line coach in the country? Don’t buy it. How bout a story on Bob, Mikey and Brent?”

I wrote about Mike Stoops and Venables when it happened. Two years ago. Is that the best you’ve got? And by the way, I didn’t bash Gundy this time. I just said he wanted to fire Wickline. Maybe he had good reason. But I know he wanted to fire him.

Jerry: “If you do a history on the quarterback selections made by Gundy, you will find that every excellent quarterback, from  the beginning of Gundy’s head coaching career, was an afterthought, NOT the initial selection.  Everyone one! Can he really pick a winner from the beginning?   Many of his initial picks were not just bad, they were awful.”

Well, I wouldn’t say they were an afterthought. But it’s often been a circus. The Donovan Woods/Bobby Reid waltz, the Reid/Zac Robinson waltz, the decision to start Alex Cate against Colorado in 2009. The switches of the last two seasons. It hasn’t been smooth.

Mike: “Ouch! The article on Wickline hurt my OSU Orange Pride. I hope there is nothing to it.  I will be devastated if there are problems with Mike Gundy, his coaching staff and Mike Holder.  I want to believe we have turned the corner and there are brighter days ahead. OSU is dear to my heart.  In other words, I bleed orange.  I am a 1978 alum, therefore I have been through a lot.  As they used to say in the Civil War, ‘I have seen the Elephant.’ Maybe, just maybe, OSU can gain some respect for where we have come from and where we want to go.”

What are you talking about? Of course OSU has gained some respect. The Cowboys’ national brand is soaring. OSU had a rough end to the 2013 season, but these are not the times that try men’s souls. 0-10-1 tries your soul much more than losing Bedlam or a tight Cotton Bowl.

 

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Tommy: “You are so correct there are few venues like The Phog in collegiate basketball.  Many of the old homes had been replaced except for Kansas and Duke.  However, I would say both programs thrive in their unique old stadiums. I think it is safe to say as long as Bill Self is coaching, The Phog will remain.  I think the appreciation that is so mutual of Bill Self for the history of, and the current status of, KU basketball is just so prevalent.  I really think as much as any coach, he has embraced the university in total although he graduated from a rival university in the same league.   He has really bought into KU and the fans, alumni, and administration have responded in kind. It is so refreshing even for someone like Cindy Self to be so involved in the community, charitable foundations along with her husband.  It is quite a change from the image of the Roy Williams family that really never thought Kansas, Lawrence or KU was quite up to the class of North Carolina.  The down home attitude and total class of Bill Self just fits.  I hope he never goes pro.  It would be such a loss not only to KU but to the game.”

Well, there’s a lot there. I never detected that Roy Williams didn’t fit at KU. In fact, I think Jayhawk fans were mortified when he left. I remember what the Kansas City Star’s Joe Posnanski wrote when Williams departed. Something along the lines of, we thought he was more than a basketball coach. But no doubt, Self has embraced the Jayhawk tradition.

Stang: “OSU women’s coach Jim Littell has moved the program into national prominence, but I see no support. Why is there no radio coverage for the program?   You can’t get 105 FM in either OKC or Tulsa.  Surely this adversely affects recruiting. And very limited TV coverage as well.”

It’s a great point. You would think with all the sports radio options in OKC and Tulsa now, OSU could sign a contract with someone that would include women’s hoops. And the television situation is abysmal, too. I thought OSU signed a deal with Fox Sports? It appears to have had little effect.

John: “Enjoyed your article on Allen Fieldhouse. I agree it’s a classic venue, however fan support did take a dive when the team was down many years ago.  My brother is a KU graduate and I remember going to OSU game at Allen in 1980 on Saturday afternoon when he was a student and I was in high school at John Marshall — it was maybe half filled and OSU won easily behind Leroy Combs and Lorenza Andrews (Self was a year away). KU had Darnell Valentine.  Flip side is I also saw OU play there in ‘93 or ‘94 (Jeff Webster was top OU player) and it was filled to capacity and was rocking. Needless to say, KU won easily. It’s a great place.  Might sound crazy but I wish OU would retrofit McCasland to about 8,500 capacity.  If they did, it wouldn’t be far off from Allen.”

Well, OU can’t retrofit the Fieldhouse. It only seated 4,100 in its heyday. So that’s a non-starter. But you’re right. KU had its dips back in the day. Even then, though, Allen Fieldhouse was a great place.

Timothy: Call it the Kansas roll.You are scrapping with them and all of a sudden in a few minutes of time you are down 17. Then they tend to let up in the middle and you can get within eight or nine and then they finish you off. It would have been a leg up on the rest of the conference if we could’ve hit the 3. We have lost two conference games on the road by a total of five points. Kansas usually hits a skid of mediocrity in or about mid-conference season. That doesn’t always mean they lose them, but they can be had.”

I don’t know. As far as OSU is concerned, the Cowboys trail KU by two full games, and KU has played the tougher schedule. The Jayhawks already have been to Ames and Norman. If the Cowboys win out, they still need KU to lose somewhere else, just to have a tie. And winning out is very difficult, since OSU plays at Ames, Austin, Norman and Waco.

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Ed: “Really enjoyed what you wrote about the flip flops in college football, dating back to the heydays of Harvard and Yale.  Right down my alley.  I well remember when Santa Clara was a power.  Saw us (OU) play them here in 1949.  Yep, times and fortunes change.  I’m not quite old enough to remember it, but if you dig deep enough, you can see that the University of Chicago once put quite a whipping’ on Texas. Nobody stays on top of the mountain forever.  Thanks for a trip down memory lane.”

Minnesota is my favorite example. And Kansas State, too. Heck, nobody remembers this, but Florida State didn’t even play football until 1948, and Florida was an afterthought until the ‘80s and not even a national power until Spurrier in the ‘90s.

Blake: “Is there anyway OU considers leaving the Big 12 at this point?  It sure seems to me the Big 12 needs to be proactive to expand at least two more schools soon if they are to thrive competitively long term.”

No. Contracts are much more iron-clad than they used to be. The Big 12 is going to have to pull itself up.

Chris: “Bobby Petrino, with his track record and issues, he stills gets another chance.  Both at Western Kentucky and Louisville.  Why wouldn’t someone, somewhere take a chance on Mark Mangino? Based upon my understanding, while Mangino was not a joy to work with, the allegations were grossly overstated and not established by the majority of players.  I also know that he had a horrible relationship with the AD (who is now gone).  All of his negatives don’t seem to be worse or as bad as Petrino.  They were not NCAA allegations and the man won a ton of games at KANSAS!  They won an Orange Bowl for goodness sakes, and yet he seems to be outcast as a leper, yet others with issues similar continue to get opportunities because they win. I’m not a Mangino fan or a Mangino detractor, just curious as to why it seems no one at any level will touch him.”

Chris: I just think at that time there was a wave of alleged mistreatment of players. With all the talk about exploitation of players, scandal of player abuse was a hot-button issue. Meanwhile, coaches lying or cheating and screwing around is nothing new. I do think things are relaxing on Mangino. Becoming offensive coordinator at Iowa State is a great step.

Steve: “I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans this year for the OU game.  I felt we had a good chance to win but probably still less than 50-50.  I have been around OU a long time and it seems when even their fans become doubters is when OU will show us who OU football really is. But speaking of history, I would put Alabama, Notre Dame and OU in the all-time top five programs.  I was wondering how many times a college football team has beaten both Alabama and Notre Dame in the same year.  And for OU this year, neither game was at home.”

I know Southern Cal beat both Bama and Notre Dame in 1970 and 1978. Tennessee beat both in 1999 and 2001.

 

PRO FOOTBALL

Billy: “Am I the only human being who realizes that (Richard) Sherman was beaten on that play, (Michael) Crabtree got behind him and if Kap (Colin Kaepernick) makes a back corner pass instead of the short underneath pass, the whole scenario changes.”

I don’t know. Sherman is so good, he goads QBs into those throws. And if a play requires a perfect pass for completion, better throw it somewhere else.

Tiki: The NFL is rigged. You and I both know holding could be called on half the plays in football, or a nit-picky foul in basketball. There has rarely been a level playing field where big money is involved.”

Big money is the very reason games AREN’T rigged. The risk is too great. If it is found that sports organizers have rigged games, the sport goes poof. Maybe an isolated official (Tim Donaghy) or upset ballplayer (Black Sox) rigs a game, but nothing orchestrated. There’s too much money in it already.

Ben: “How in the world did OU not sign Wes Welker out of high school? Ranks up there with letting Barry Sanders go. Really, Wes was all-state everything?? No offer from OU?”

Sometimes you miss. Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft pick.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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