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The 2K11 WNBA Draft from a Former GM’s Perspective (Part 3 of 3)

Posted by ataylorblog on April 10, 2011

BEHIND THE SCENES IN THE WAR ROOM

WNBA Fans….Draft Day has finally arrived.  This is one of my favorite parts of the WNBA season.  Watching the look of sheer excitement on the faces of the draft picks & their families is heartwarming!

As fans, players, and coaching staffs know…the off-season in the WNBA can move at an excruciatingly slow pace.  Coach Brian Agler and the Seattle Storm raising the WNBA Championship trophy last fall seems like a distant memory at this point.  The beauty of the long off-season is that it gives the staffs an incredible amount of time to prepare for this important day.  Today is the culmination of all of their hard work.

As you drink some Starbucks and check your Twitter account this morning in anticipation of the WNBA Draft, I thought I’d paint a picture about what happens behind the scenes leading up to the draft and on draft day.

Before I officially sat in a war room and was part of the draft preparations during my stint in Minnesota with the Lynx, I always wondered what it would be like and what goes on behind the scenes.  So, after revealing my quick mock draft analysis earlier, I thought I’d share some of the behind the scenes action that may be happening in the war room of your favorite WNBA team as staff get set to turn in their picks for Renee Brown to read off at the podium.

Behind the scenes & in the war rooms:

  • There is more time between the Final Four and the Draft this year, so coaching staffs are undoubtedly on the phone with agents, college coaches, and the draft prospects they are interested in selecting.  When the pre-draft camp was eliminated, it eliminated the opportunity to meet in person with many of the prospects you were considering.  Therefore, the last few weeks, teams have been doing their due diligence by talking with as many individuals they can to gain greater insight into the prospects’ character, potential, work ethic, health, and abilities.  These calls can be with high school coaches, athletic directors, opposing college coaches, USA Basketball coaches, former teammates, trainers/team doctors, academic advisors as well as with the college coach and player herself.  Any ounce of information that can help paint a picture is invaluable.  While I didn’t make it a habit, it was even important to glance at her Twitter account or to peruse her quotes in articles just to give us an edge in getting a clearer picture about the type of person & player we were considering adding to our team.
  • Sometimes these calls were as much about gaining further insight into which teams may have a strong interest in that particular player as they were to get to know if she fit into your culture.  College coaches and agents are generally very candid with information about who has been following & inquiring about that player all year.  Some even offer their opinion on where she’ll end up in the draft.  All of which, helps you to hone in on how the draft will go down and who may be off the board when you are on the clock.
  • During the last few weeks, there undoubtedly has been an inordinate amount of video and video edits reviewed by staffs in order to further break down a player’s tendencies or strengths.  You video staff is so important for the draft and throughout the season.  At this time, there are some players who may not have received a lot of exposure who all of a sudden are on your radar (maybe from an NAIA school or an international prospect) that may fit the profile.  Similar to preparing for the GMAT or LSAT, a general manager never feels as if he/she has seen enough.  They will use every last second to make sure they have done their homework and are prepared to have a successful draft.
  • In the weeks leading up to the draft, we would establish a ranking of the Top 50 prospects overall, the top prospects by position, and the top prospects for our system based on needs.  This rankings would constantly be tweaked in the days and weeks leading up to the draft until we knew exactly what order we would select a player if she was on the board on the morning of the draft.  So much happens in the moment when you are on the clock, so we didn’t want to be scrambling for answers.  Surprises or not, we would be prepared to take the best person for our team based on how we had them ranked and depending on if we needed a certain position or the best player available.
  • In order to hone in on the prospects we truly would have to consider at our picks, we constantly revised the pool of players who we believed would be available “in our box”.  For example, if we were picking at 8, we would project who consistently would be top 5 picks and eliminate them from our scope of possibility.  Then we would identify the next best 5-6 players most likely to come off the board.  That allowed us to pinpoint the 1-2 players we would actually consider with the pick.  Oftentimes, there may be a surprise pick who ends up falling down into your box.  This happened in Minny when Anosike fell into our box at #16 and Houston fell into play at #30.  Both pleasant surprises whom, in addition to Wiggins, made up a great rookie class.
  • We also would conduct daily mock drafts (one version depicting where we thought other teams would select players & one based on how we would make selections).  For fun, we would conduct a draft that outlined how we needed the draft to go in order to get the player we coveted based on projected trades or movement.
  • Equally as important as how talented the players are or what they are like as a person is how healthy they are.  In the absence of the league-wide physicals that usually took place during pre-draft camp, the league provides teams with electronic data on the health of each player considered for the draft.  In conjunction with our discussion with college trainers/doctors, we would have our team doctors and trainers assess the information for all prospects with extra care to those who were high on our list for each pick we held in the draft.  We would meet with our medical staff in advance of the draft to discuss any health concerns they may have & if necessary, to devise a plan of action in the event that was a player we drafted.
  • As you can imagine, with about 24 hours remaining until the draft, the phones are ringing off the hook.  Coaches and/or general managers are trying to get a line on who is going where in the draft and if any deals are on the table.  Other general managers are trying to make deals happen, trying to trade up in the draft, or looking to trade back to get the player they want at the value spot.  This will continue up until the picks are made on draft day.  On several occasions, I would receive a series of phone calls when we were “on the clock” from other teams who saw someone on the board that they wanted at our pick and who may be gone before they get to their pick.  It is critical that you entertain these conversations while making sure you get your pick to the league within the allotted time (3 or 5 minutes).  The phones don’t slow down until a solid hour after the draft in the event any additional trades take place.
  • This year will be the exception as the top two picks seem to be solid, but in years past, agents of the Top 3-4 players would call on a regular basis to get a feel for where their player was going (especially if you had the #1 or #2 pick) because they want to have their client ready.  Agents were also a great source of information on where certain players were going as they often were provided with accurate information from other war rooms.
  • One of the worst things that can happen on draft day is if you miss a phone call that you were expecting, so rest assured that there will be a plethora of phones (land lines and cellular lines) sitting around the table.  In addition to cell phones where GM’s & coaches can be reached for trade conversations, each team will have a conference line to listen to the conference call, a direct line to communicate with a league representative when making picks, and a land line for other teams to call.  Trust me when I say that I had our IT contact on speed dial on draft day because you just can’t afford to lose a connection.
  • During the draft, things happen pretty fast & furious (at least for the 1st Round and most of the 2nd Round), so while we loved to have the ESPN/NBATV feeds on in the room, you rarely found yourself being able to watch what was happening in the studio.  We always did make a point of pausing & “turning up the volume” when our pick was coming up.  Hearing Donna mention Candice, Marissa and Jacinta’s name on television was like Christmas morning.  I got goosebumps all three times.  Special memories!
  • One of the most important things for me was the set-up for the draft.  I tend to be a bit anal about the little details, so it was imperative for me to make sure that every detail from the positioning of the chairs, staff assignments, prospect board, conference phones, etc…were positioned properly so that we could focus on the task at hand on draft day.  We also had to make sure we had plenty of food and beverages in the room.  I’m a bit of a choc-a-holic, so the menu included a plethora of sugary snacks, lol.
  • General Managers, the community relations staff, and the public relations staff are trying to figure out how soon they can fly their draft pick(s) in to “meet the fans” and speak to the local media.  The great thing about the timing of this year’s draft is that the league is conducting their Rookie Orientation session this weekend prior to the draft, which will allow some players to head to their new markets immediately following the draft or soon thereafter.
  • One of my favorite parts of draft day was when we were able to call the players immediately after we drafted them.  We usually put them on speaker phone for the entire room to listen.  You could hear the excitement in their voice.  After they are drafted, there is a lot of logistical information to provide as they prepare to pursue their dream of playing in the WNBA.

There wasn’t much sleep going on in the days surrounding the draft.  In my case, there wasn’t much healthy eating going on either.  But what I can tell you is that as you are preparing for the upcoming season, draft day is truly one of the most energizing days for the entire organization.  The staff is excited about their hard work in the off-season coming to fruition, the current players on your roster (especially those completing their rookie season) are excited about bringing in a fresh who will be tasked with picking up breakfast in the morning, and you are looking forward to seeing how the talent you have assembled will mesh on the court once practice starts.

It’s the beginning of another exciting season and all twelve teams are ready to begin their journey towards the historic 15th WNBA Championship!  I hope you all enjoy watching the draft!

Minnesota is officially on the clock…

Stay tuned later for my WNBA Draft Winners & Losers

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The 2K11 WNBA Draft from a Former GM’s Perspective (Part 2 of 3)

Posted by ataylorblog on April 9, 2011

AT’S MOCK 2K11 WNBA DRAFT

As a fan this year, I too am reading all of the great articles and mock drafts that have been published recently like this one from Stephen Litel or this compilation from the experts at SwishAppeal.  There is a lot of great insight on the draft available to us all, and for those of us anxiously awaiting the draft I thought I’d play armchair quarterback (or general manager in this case) by sharing my thoughts on what I think the teams will do during Monday’s WNBA Draft (note that this isn’t necessarily what I would do if selecting for each team instead what I think the coaches & GM’s will do with their picks).

*Before I get to the mock draft, here’s a mini-analysis on Saturday’s trade between Minnesota and Washington sending Nicky Anosike to the Mystics for their 2012 1st Round pick.  I think we can all agree that this was a WIN-WIN for both teams!

Minnesota: Sometimes addition by subtraction can have a very positive & profound affect on your team.  In this case, I believe that it was probably in the best interest of both parties to part ways.  Anosike has developed into a very talented player on both ends during her 3 years in Minnesota, but it was simply time to move on.  Signing McWilliams-Franklin and having a couple of viable post options at the #4 pick in the draft probably made this trade a bit easier for GM Roger Griffith.  Sometimes you can have too much talent (can’t believe I’m saying that), and I think it would have been difficult to keep all of these talented players happy (especially at the offensive end).  Hedging their bets that they get another lottery pick in the 2012 draft makes sense for these reasons 1) other teams knew they didn’t have to over bid for the trade to work, 2) Minny’s roster is overloaded and they can’t take bodies back, and 3) even in drafts that aren’t very deep, first round picks (i.e. talented players on rookie salaries) can be invaluable as key pieces in trades.  Similar to Bill Belichick and the Patriots, the Lynx have managed to multiply the number of #1 picks they have for 2012 without destroying their roster.  As Charlie Sheen would say #Winning

Washington: This was a fantastic trade for the Mystics as the worst kept secret in recent years was that they needed to add another legitimate interior threat to balance out their team.  We tried desperately to trade for Anosike before the trade deadline last season to no avail, so this is a great move to get it done by Trudi.  When healthy (and as the roster currently stands), the Mystics undoubtedly have one of the best & deepest perimeter rotations in the WNBA and Crystal Langhorne has had to do yeoman’s work in the post as she elevated her game to be legitimately considered one of the top posts in the league. The addition of Anosike will make the Mystics one of the most balanced teams in the league with a variety of scoring options on offense and potentially one of the most potent defensive teams around (Atlanta would be in the conversation). She will make it difficult for teams to double (and triple) team Langhorne, freeing her up for more scoring opportunities, is a great passer out of the post, runs the floor, and will add another rebounding force to compliment Langhorne.  It will be fun watching the team develop with another inside presence. #Winning

Based on conversations I’ve had throughout the college season & during the Final Four, watching the seniors play, and putting together a comprehensive analysis of team needs at the end of last season, here is how I think Monday’s draft goes.

1.   MINNESOTA LYNX – Maya Moore (Connecticut)

Comments:  Roger Griffith has assembled one of the deepest and most talented rosters in WNBA history.  They legitimately go 10 players deep.  This is a no-brainer, so I won’t waste too much of your time telling you what you already know.  Maya Moore is the best player in the draft and will soon be one of the best players in the WNBA.

2.   TULSA SHOCK – Liz Cambage (Australia)

Comments:  After a year where Coach Richardson made roster move after roster move up until the trade deadline last summer, they now have an opportunity to select a player who will be a cornerstone for their franchise for years to come.  A player like Cambage does not come around too often (well until Griner graduates from Baylor), and the consensus is that she will soon be one of the most talented players on the international stage.  Therefore, she is someone you can’t pass up in the draft when you are in the building (or rebuilding for Detroit Shock loyalists) phase as is Tulsa.  Despite the uncertainty as to her availability during Olympic & World Championship years, the Shock can quickly turn their franchise around with Cambage owning the paint on both ends of the floor.  The more success they have early & the better players he surrounds her with, the more likely she (as does LJ) will make a point to bring her talents to Tulsa each summer.

3.   CHICAGO SKY – Amber Harris (Xavier)

Comments: The Sky really need a true point guard to take over the reins from Canty in the future, but I think a PG at #3 is a bit too high considering that they are extremely interested in trading for Harding.  With that in mind, they go with the best player on the board, which is Amber Harris.  Her perimeter & face up skills are nice compliments to Fowles’ low-block dominance and differ from what Kraayeveld brings to the table.  Coach Chatman is probably the perfect coach to get Harris to play to her talents on a regular basis.  However, if the right deal becomes available (involving a veteran PG), don’t be surprised if this pick is moved.

4.   MINNESOTA LYNX- Jantel Lavender (Ohio State)

Comments: Lavender’s versatility is the perfect pick at #4 if Harris is already off the board.  Her ability to run the floor, score in the high post, and pass post-to-post will be nice compliments to the arsenal of weapons Coach Reeve has to work with.  The Anosike trades frees up some minutes for a rookie post like Lavender to get valuable minutes.

5.   LOS ANGELES SPARKS – Ta’Shia Phillips (Xavier)

Comments: Since Lisa Leslie’s departure, the Sparks have been in need of a true Center to command doubles on the low block & to free up space for some of the games most versatile Power Forwards in Thompson, Hoffman, Parker, and Milton.  Phillips is a heady & physical player who could provide that presence for the Sparks.  Signing Loree Moore in the off-season has given Toler options at #5.  She also could consider a PG at this point, but needs more depth at center.

6.   SAN ANTONIO SILVER STARS – Danielle Robinson (Oklahoma)

Comments:  With the retirement of V. Johnson, the Silver Stars have been in need of a player capable of creating off the dribble to free up Hammon for some open perimeter looks.  Hammon has had to have the ball in her hands too much since Johnson’s departure, and Robinson is a good fit for their culture.  She will need to work on her perimeter jumper but can give them someone to help push the tempo for what has become a half-court team.  Vandersloot is another legitimate option here as well.

7.   TULSA SHOCK – Courtney Vandersloot (Gonzaga)

Comments:  The cornerstone of a winning franchise is a point guard and a center.  Coach Richardson has the opportunity to grab those two pillars in the Top 7 picks in the 2011 Draft.  At #7, they can draft a point guard who will benefit from the tutelage of Naismith Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards…one of the best to ever play.  Look for Tulsa to take the guard that San Antonio passes on, either Vandersloot or Robinson.  Heading into the draft, there are some very likely trade scenarios (involving a PG) that affect picks 3-6, which could cause Vandersloot to slide a bit.  In this event, I think Vandersloot, who helped the Zags to lead the nation in scoring, is the perfect addition to play in the “Forty Minutes of HE_ _” system.

8.   ATLANTA DREAM – Kayla Pederson (Stanford)

Comments: When Sancho Lyttle was out with a concussion around the All-Star break last year, the Dream struggled a bit.  When they moved Michelle Snow, their solid 3-player post rotation took a hit.  Look for them to add to their post depth with a player who will be able to bring something new to their post rotation.  Bales seemed to be the player they hoped to be a perimeter threat from the post last year, so I look for Kayla Pederson to be a strong consideration here.  Her poise & her ability to stretch the defense with so many Dream players who can attack the rim around her would be an added bonus.

9.   INDIANA FEVER - Jasmine Thomas (Duke)

Comments: The Fever can either go post or guard at this position, but with the loss of Tully this off-season, Thomas would be an interesting addition to a defensive minded team.  With the other two guards off the board at this point, Krauskopf and Dunn look to Thomas to fill that gap.

10. NEW YORK LIBERTY – Victoria Dunlap (Kentucky)

Comments: As Coach Whiz looks to bring his White Line Defense to the Big Apple (or Newark), look for him to select the best player available on the board.  With the departure of McWilliams-Franklin, Dunlap would be a nice replacement.  Dunlap will be able to quickly adjust to the pro game on the defensive end, therefore adding another solid interior defender alongside Pierson.  Another player that Whisenant likes in his system and will take into strong consideration is Jeanette Pohlen.

11. WASHINGTON MYSTICS – Jessica Breland (North Carolina)

Comments: It’s no secret that the Mystics have been in need of another solid inside player to compliment Langhorne and now Anosike.  With Phillips off the board at this point, look for Breland’s name to be called.  Breland gives them a different skill-set in the post.  Her health is certainly a concern, but her length, shot-blocking ability, and ability to defend could help the Mystics’ post depth.

12. SEATTLE STORM –  Jeanette Pohlen (Stanford)

Comments: Coach Agler has a solid starting 5, so he will be in the ideal position of being able to take the best available at the #12 spot.  With many of the role players from last year’s Championship team not returning, Pohlen will be a steady back-up for both guard positions.

Early Second Round Selections: Italee Lucas, Dawn Evans, Angel Robinson, Porsha Phillips, Amy Jaeschke, Carolyn Swords, Danielle Adams, Ify Ibekwe

Note:  I actually think that Vandersloot is a Top 5 pick based on her body of work (not just the tournament run where the nation witnessed what she’s been doing quietly in the northwest for a couple of years), but (because I anticipate a draft day trade) I figured it would be more interesting to talk (and debate) about Tulsa replicating the Bird/Jackson tandem with their own of Vandersloot/Cambage.

Roger Griffith, Coach Reeve, and the Minnesota Lynx….you’re now on the clock.

Oh wait, really…Michael Alter & Pokey Chatman…you’re on the clock since we already know who’s going #1 and #2!

Good Luck with the Draft!!

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series – Behind the Scenes in the War Rooms

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The 2K11 WNBA Draft from a Former GM’s Perspective (Part 1 of 3)

Posted by ataylorblog on April 9, 2011

Following one of the most competitive Women’s National Championship games in recent history between Notre Dame and Texas A&M, the next few days are some of the most exciting times for those of us who follow & enjoy women’s basketball and the WNBA.  We’re mere hours away from WNBA Draft Day.

This particular blog (a 3 part series) will focus on various aspects of the upcoming 2011 WNBA Draft (aka Maya’s official coronation as the next WNBA star to wear a Lynx uniform).  As someone who has been on hand for 13 of the 14 previous WNBA Drafts (I was fulfilling my final responsibilities with the Stanford women’s basketball team prior to the 1997 draft), I can verify that these are some of the of the most exciting days for WNBA coaches, general mangers, and executives as the move ahead with building their teams.

As we approach the WNBA Draft this Monday, I thought I’d share some of the questions I have in the back of my mind and look forward to  having the answers as General Managers, Head Coaches, and team Owners make their final preparations with approximately 60 hours on the clock!

Things to watch for on Draft Day:

1. Minnesota has 4 picks in the top 15 and already has one of the deepest rosters in the league, look for them to trade a pick or two for a veteran or to trade a player for future considerations.

2. The #13 and #15 picks in the draft could make the final rosters of a couple of teams in desperate need of added depth and young prospects. Look for a team like Tulsa or San Antonio to look to move up in the 2nd round in the hopes of acquiring one of those picks.

3.  There are always one or two surprises that take place in the 1st Round to throw off the rest of the draft.  A team will covet a particular player who may be gone when they pick in the 2nd Round or they are unable to make a worthy trade back to get that player and are faced with the dilemma of having to “over” draft that player.  I see a few scenarios where that happens this year when a team who needs a point guard or a post has to select a player higher than the player is projected to fill a desperate need on their roster.

4.  There will be some players who may be off the radar who (mid to late second rounders) who end up making the roster, if they are lucky enough to be selected by the right team.  Porsha Phillips from Georgia is a player that I have in mind here.  I think she is a nice player with good upside who is somewhat off the radar.  Look for her to go in the first half of the second round.  There are a couple of teams who pick late in the 2nd Round who could really use her services and who could keep her on the final roster after a solid training camp.

5.  It sounds like Washington’s Lindsey Harding and Minnesota’s Nicky Anosike may be All-Star quality players that their respective teams are willing to part with.  As a result, look for either or both of those players to be involved in a draft day trade.  Both players are worth 1st Round picks (either this year or a 2012 pick), so if a team covets their services, they will have to ante up to make this deal.  It’s tough to find a PG with Harding’s abilities and a F/C with Anosike’s versatility and rebounding & defensive ability, so I am very interested in seeing what happens here.  If a sufficient offer is not made by another team, don’t be surprised to see one or both stars staying put for the 2011 season.

6.  Cheryl Ford is another All-Star who is unsigned.  She may be waiting to see what players teams draft and teams may be waiting to see who they draft before settling on a deal for Cheryl.  New York & Washington are two teams with legitimate needs in the post, so watch for who comes off the board at their picks as an indication as to what happens with Ford.

7.  How valuable is a great NCAA Tournament run?  I have always felt that Vandersloot is the best prototypical point guard in this draft and her tournament performance didn’t disappoint.  This is a draft deep with sold guards, so teams have several options to fit their style, but we’ll all see how important it is for one to have a great tournament based on where Vandersloot comes off the board.  Previous mock drafts have had Thomas and Robinson ahead of her, but don’t be surprised if her stock has risen higher than anyone else’s.  I personally think Vandersloot is a Top 5 pick, but am not sure she will be selected that early.  Also, watch for Marquette’s Angel Robinson to catch a point guard needy team’s eye.

8.  Does Chicago go guard or post?  Chicago’s selection at #3 will have a huge impact on the next 6-8 picks in the draft.  If they select a guard such as Vandersloot, there will be a few post-needy teams later in the first round who are extremely happy knowing that one of the posts will fall to them.  If they select a post (most likely Harris), where will Phillips and Lavender land?  Similar to the 2010 WNBA Draft, the Sky hold the key for many teams’ draft fate.

Good news is that many of these questions will be answered soon.  Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series – AT’s Mock Draft

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Better “Luck” Next Time!!

Posted by ataylorblog on November 7, 2010

This Fall, I have had the true pleasure & privilege of watching one of the best college quarterbacks of the last decade in action.  His name is Andrew Luck and he has brought a lot of luck and fortune to a Stanford Football program which had been absent of even a morsel of serendipitous success in recent years.

The Cardinal had gone a lowly 15-32 in the four years prior to Luck taking the reigns.  Mind you…most of that misfortune took place before Jim Harbaugh brought his hard-nosed style and winning attitude to campus (the players are often quoted as saying, “…Stanford Football is about winning with class AND cruelty”).  No one will argue with the fact that the transformation from the perennial basement of the Pac-10 to the doorstep of national relevance can certainly be attributed to the arrival of Harbaugh and his NFL trained staff.  While that is true, a great coach/coaching staff with poor talent is a combination that doesn’t garner a lot of wins, so much of the credit can also be traced to the arrival of elite talent most namely in the form of Andrew Luck.

From all accounts, Luck (who grew up playing on the soccer fields in Europe) would hesitate to acknowledge that he has had a huge imprint on the turnaround of this Stanford program.  As the national audience saw last night during his post-game interview, he isn’t one to sing his own praises.  In fact, most of the interviews I’ve read or heard have him lauding praise on his offensive line or the running game or the defense or the coaching staff…..or just about anyone except himself.

While he would deflect the credit if you were to ask him about his impact on the program, what can’t be denied is that the Cardinal has gone 16-5 since Luck has been in the starting line-up (thru only 9 games this season and not including the 2009 Sun Bowl game because he sat out that game due to injury) and is in the midst of their best season since the early 70′s.  Ironically, the last Rose Bowl Champions from Stanford were honored at halftime of last night’s game on the 30th anniversary of their win over Ohio State behind the leadership of another great Stanford quarterback and Heisman winner (hint…hint) Jim Plunkett.  Could this be the year that history repeats itself?

Luck has been on the radar for media all season (especially after joining other Pac-10 quarterbacks this summer on a tour of Bristol), and it seems that each time someone has the chance to see him in-person, their appreciation for his talents grow immensely.  This was the case in late September when Mike Golic from ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning show watched Luck while visiting his sons who play for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  Upon returning to the show on Monday, Golic acknowledged that he was very impressed with Luck.

One of the most respected college analysts, Kirk Herbstreit, has continued to reiterate how impressed he has been with Andrew Luck all season.  Herbstreit called the Oregon vs. Stanford game a month ago and was on hand last night for this big Pac-10 match-up.

I didn’t have the opportunity to ask Herbstreit his thoughts on Andrew Luck when I conversed with him on the sideline before yesterday’s game, but heard Herbstreit state that Luck “…is the closest thing to Peyton Manning at the college level when looking at his complete command of the offense” during the replay of last night’s game on ESPN3.  High praise indeed, and in my eyes a very accurate observation.

Luck is quite impressive on TV, his abilities are even more astounding from a seat in the stands, and his game is simply spectacular when you have a chance to witness his proficient aptitude from the sideline.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to witness three games (Wake Forest, Washington State, and Arizona) this season from the 20 yard line on the field.  From that vantage point, you are able to see his pinpoint accuracy, deceptive speed, and exceptional decision-making.  During the Arizona game, I was standing next to Stanford Hall of Famer (just inducted into the HOF this weekend) and NFL great John Lynch (aka Lynch Mob) and Stanford/NFL QB Steve Stenstrom.  Both were quite impressed with Luck’s size, poise, and prototypical quarterback skills.  They compared him to Sam Bradford.  They both felt Bradford will be a tremendous NFL quarterback and after only having previously watched Luck on television…they both were utterly convinced that he is “the real deal”.

He is the real deal and I don’t know if we’ll be able to watch him in a Cardinal uniform beyond this season, but I hope we will…if for just one more year!

His statistics may not pop off the page, but he’s completing the ball at an amazing 67.6% clip (ranked 9th nationally) and averages 247 yards passing per game this season.  He also is a threat from the ground as the 2nd leading rusher on Stanford’s team while averaging 8.6 yards per carry.  He is ranked 7th nationally in passing efficiency at 163.6.  And (as you can see in one of the highlights from this season) he can put a hit on an unsuspecting cornerback as well.  Check out this clip of him rattling a defender from USC.

As we head into the last month of the regular season, we will all start to speculate as to whether or not Luck will leave the comfort of a classroom on Stanford’s campus for the comfort of a multi-million dollar guaranteed contract in the NFL.

Sam Bradford faced a similar decision in 2008 when he decided to return to Norman for another season and Jake Locker was in the same boat last winter when he decided to return to the Northwest and compete for another year with the Washington Huskies.  Both took a huge risk.  Both suffered injuries during that extra season on campus. Bradford was the #1 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and is enjoying early success in St. Louis.  Who knows what Locker’s fate will be.  He may not fare as well, especially if Luck decides to enter the draft.

While I completely understand why a player would choose to forego another year of eligibility to chase his dream of playing at the next level, I selfishly am hoping that Luck will return to The Farm so Cardinal Nation can continue to walk with great pride on Saturday afternoons in the fall.  I seem to be in the minority because most seem to think that he most certainly will opt to forego his senior year at Stanford and will (quoting LeBron) “take his talents to xxxx”.

As we see in all of college & pro sports, players are motivated by different things.  For some, the opportunity to make crazy money is too hard to pass up.  For others, they have nothing left to achieve at the collegiate level.  What ultimately factors into a projected #1 draft pick choosing to stay in college one more season or to go on to the NFL is unknown to me, but here are some things that may factor into Luck’s decision (in no particular order):

  • The opportunity to leave Stanford with a diploma in hand. Luck is majoring in Architectural Design and is on track to graduate from one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world.  How far is he from his degree?  Another season on campus should allow him to accomplish this.
  • The opportunity to continue learning from a great coach. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s name seems to be on every short list for major DI colleges as well as NFL teams (a strong rumor is circulating that he has caught the eye of Jerry Jones in Dallas).  Whether or not Coach Harbough is on the sideline in Palo Alto in 2011 will most definitely have an impact on his decision.  There’s no doubt that Harbaugh’s 10+ seasons in the NFL & pro-style offense have assisted in Luck’s development into a pro quarterback.  There are always things to work on to ensure success at the next level.  If Harbaugh moves on, so does Luck! (Please stay Jim)
  • Family ties and friendships. Luck’s little sister is a freshman on the Stanford volleyball team, and as a fellow younger sister, I definitely know that big brothers would love nothing more than to spend more time around their younger sibling if given the chance.  Regardless of where you go to college, it is evident that you forge many lifelong friendships while on campus because you interact with others you have a lot in common with.  After you leave, it’s just not the same.  No offense meant, but I just don’t see Luck having the same intellectual discussions with teammates at the next level as he may be enjoying currently.
  • Someone to protect his blind side. The Stanford offensive line is comprised of 2 seniors, 1 RS senior, and 2 sophomores.  He also loses a couple of his targets at wide receiver in Baldwin & Whalen while many starters on the defensive side also graduate.  How many of the starters on the O-line are returning has to be a big concern for a quarterback who must stay healthy to take his rightful place atop any draft board.  Although Sam Bradford gambled, returned to school for 2009 season, suffered a serious injury, still was selected #1 by the St. Louis Rams, and actually seems to be thriving in St. Louis.  How much talent returns in 2011 will most certainly be an important factor in Luck’s decision.
  • A future home that is attractive. Which NFL team will end up with the #1 pick?  If I’m Luck, I keep a close eye on who may win the right to draft me in 2011.   As of now, teams likely in the hunt for the #1 pick are Buffalo, Carolina (drafted Claussen last year), Dallas (how long is Romo the man in Dallas), Denver (Tebow?), San Francisco, Detroit (Stafford’s their guy), and Cincinnati (Palmer’s still the guy).  If it’s an organization (aka Buffalo) that doesn’t have a winning tradition in recent years, a solid leadership structure, or an attractive market…I forego the risk of being sentenced to that fate.  If it’s San Francisco or Dallas (maybe with Harbaugh making personnel decisions there)…I may have to consider it.
  • Is an invite to the Downtown Athletic Club in his future. In 2009 Luck caught the eye of Heisman voters who were tuning in to see Toby Gerhart.  At the beginning of 2010, voters were watching to see if he would take over the reins as the leader of the Cardinal offense.  Three-quarters of the way into the 2010 season, Luck seems to be on the periphery in the discussion for the Heisman although Harbaugh is doing his best to change that.  In 2011, will the evidence of his greatness and pro-readiness earn him the votes from members of the Heisman voting team?  Will an opportunity to win this prestigious award lure him back?
  • What are NFL scouts like Gil Brandt saying about Luck. Between Harbaugh & Luck’s father (Oliver), he will have great access to information directly from the NFL on his prospects and projections for the next level.  This data will be used to help determine his final decision.  There’s no doubt that scouts like his talent but do they think he needs another year to continue to develop?
  • Can NFL teams show Luck the money. As was witnessed with NFL free agents this past off-season, owners are somewhat reluctant to spend money in advance of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement.  Luck is lucky that his father has been an executive at the professional level, which will undoubtedly give him must better clarity into the impact any labor strife may have on his contractual status.  Will the rookie pay scale change as the NFLPA is hoping it will in efforts to reward veterans and retired players?  If it does, that will surely take money out of Luck’s pocket.

Why should he return to The Farm for the 2011 season?  Time for proud Stanford alum to start saying our prayers.  In addition to the games I witnessed from the sideline, I have been blessed to catch Luck in person on a couple of other occasions including the Notre Dame and USC victories and caught the Oregon & UW games on TV.  He has made football Saturdays something to look forward to!

If the Cardinal continue their strong play on both sides of the ball and are able to run the table the rest of the regular season, they undoubtedly will finish the season ranked in the Top 5 and have a legitimate chance at a high paying BCS Bowl bid (hopefully the Rose Bowl depending on how Oregon, TCU, and/or Boise State end up).  A Top 5 finish in 2010, with many starters returning in 2011, should equal a high ranking for the Cardinal at the outset of 2011.  Will the opportunity to led his Stanford team to a National Championship bid in 2011 motivate Luck to stay one more year?

A chance to continue being the big man on campus, lead your team to a National Championship, and win the Heisman Trophy is something that Luck should take into serious consideration.  In my mind, he will be the #1 pick regardless of when he comes out of school.  There are risks for sure, as Bradford witnessed, but I personally think that Luck is more pro-ready than Bradford and will only benefit from another year of growth at the college level.

Since arriving on Stanford’s campus during the summer of 2008 for summer school prior to fall ball and his freshman campaign, Luck has seemed to truly enjoy being a student-athlete at Stanford and is widely regarded as an amazing teammate/classmate.  He can be seen jovially riding his bike to/from Arrillaga Family Sports Center during the week leading up to Saturday competitions.

From a distance, Luck seems like someone who is able to truly enjoy his college experience because he is confident that he will be playing on Sundays for a long time to come.  He is not consumed with the uncertainty that fuels some but instead is engaged in the here and now.  Last winter Jake Locker was told by his father, “…make the decision that you won’t regret for the rest of your life.”  Locker took those words of wisdom and went on to return for another year in Seattle.  His final year in the Pac-10 hasn’t been one we all expected due to injuries and a lackluster performance by the Huskies, but I am pretty sure that Locker will never regret returning to campus to spend time enjoying life as a college student.

Like many, we would go back to my college days in a minute.  To a certain extent, those were the best four years of our life where we made many lifelong friends.  While Andrew can always return to campus, he won’t get these years back.

On the other hand, athletes must make the most of their time and ability to generate income while their bodies allow.  The average playing career for a NFL player is less than 5 years, so it is imperative that you take advantage of the years in your prime.  Unless you are Brett Favre who continues to defy odds, lengthy playing careers (especially for those who want to live healthy lives in retirement) are few and far between.  The good thing for Andrew is that the quarterback position is the most protected position on the roster and great quarterbacks seem to have lengthy careers.

Stanford fans…NFL general managers….this guy is the real deal.  Cardinal Nation, we all have been lucky to watch his development.  NFL owners, one of you will be lucky to have his services in the future.  Regardless of the outcome, Andrew Luck is a tremendous player and an even better person.  I know that I look forward to watching him player whether it’s on Saturday’s on The Farm or Sunday’s somewhere in the NFL.

What I know for sure is that each week this kid continues to improve and there is no doubt that we will continue to see a “Better Luck Next Time!”

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Bashing the BCS

Posted by ataylorblog on October 17, 2010

Today marks the day that college football fans around the country will begin to cross their fingers in the hopes that the voters and some top-secret computer will grant their beloved team the chance to play for the championship in January.  Yep, the first BCS Poll was announced during a show that rivaled Lebron James’ hourlong The Decision on ESPN.  Luckily, this time the network didn’t wait until 27 minutes into the show to share the rankings (if you haven’t seen them, click here).

Over the course of the last few years, I have stood in the background & mumbled under my breath when (inevitably) arguments bust out whenever the BCS was mentioned.  Maybe I thought the powers that be would eventually get it right.  Maybe I was too busy to really care.  Maybe I just didn’t have time to express my opinion.  Maybe…it’s time for me to go in on the BCS!

I grew up attending Boise State games (see my blog “Growing up a BSU Fan”) when they played Division I-AA football & had the opportunity to compete for a championship every year as was determined by a real play-off system that requires the team that will eventually hoist the championship trophy to do it the old fashioned way battling for 60 minutes on the field.  Yes, that’s right.  In I-AA football, they EARN IT!!

Maybe that’s why I struggle with many of those Olympic sports where a judge with a paddle with a number on it determine which athlete(s) wins a gold medal.  You know what I mean, the Russian judge giving the German skater low marks in figure skating, the gymnast receiving a low score because he was the first one on the rings & was setting the bar, or the judges scoring a snowboarder on the half-pipe not on his run but instead on the cool outfit the USA snowboarders were wearing.

Anyway, I digress…back to my first public attempt at bashing the BCS.  Yes, I have done plenty of bashing of the BCS behind closed doors to those near & dear to me.  Well, by the looks on their faces, I would offer a guess that now they are tired of listening to my complaining, so I must take my case public.  My apologies in advance to those of you who would prefer not to hear another rant about the BCS (Big Conference Scandal)!

I like to think that I’m pretty laid back & even-keeled.  In fact, few things irritate me to the point where I get annoyed or upset, but (no matter the situation) when I believe that people are being disparaged, my ire kicks in!  Especially when those people or groups are unable to defend themselves or affect change to that situation.

That’s what I suspect is happening with the BCS system.  This ridiculous system is simply disrespecting what most of us expect from competitive sports.  It’s discounting the value & the essence of the hard-work many 17-21 years olds are putting in every day on fields, courts, and courses around the country in collegiate athletics.  It’s undermining the commitment that coaches (who don’t have household names or $3 Million salaries) & their staffs have in ensuring that these student-athletes embrace excellence in the classroom & on the playing fields (well, not every coach cares about the work in the classroom…but that’s a topic for another blog).

In all honesty, the current BCS system is blatantly disrupting the fairness that we expect in college sports to the point of discriminatory practices.

Why is there a need to discriminate?  MONEY & POWER as usual!  The BCS and major conferences have no desire to change the system for fear of losing control over the money and the power in collegiate athletics.  All of which, taints the spirit of what collegiate athletics used to stand for.  Now, I’m the first to admit that college athletics is now big business and those of us in the sports industry certainly benefit for this model.  Unfortunately, the distinct gap that used to exist between collegiate & professional sports is now just a fine line.

I won’t bother to bore you with facts, figures, and data analysis about the BCS.  I’m sure you’ve heard it all before and will hear more about it over the course of the next several weeks.  But I will share my criticism of the BCS with you.  I will preface this by saying I “absolutely” am biased towards the Boise State Broncos, but in this blog am just using them as the subject to emphasize my points.  Let the bashing begin (I’m not really bashing…not my style!  Just pointing out some concerns)…

Here you go…a truncated version of my counterarguments to things that have been articulated by those defending the BCS (in no particular order):

The argument that Non-Automatic Qualifier Conferences don’t deserve a spot in a Championship Game because they play a weaker schedule in sub-par conferences.

  • I will admit that this year, based on the parity that exists around the country, is a bit of an aberration.  But there are so many holes in this argument.  I realize that the SEC, Big XII, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and Pac-10 are traditionally the power conferences with some really great teams.  You are only as strong as your weakest link and, top to bottom, it is evident that there are some very weak links in each of these conferences.  I can almost guarantee you that teams like Utah, BSU, and TCU would be most definitely be able to compete with Vanderbilt, Minnesota, Washington State, Clemson, UCONN, Ole Miss, etc.  Why is it ok for teams like these to have a fair chance every year to compete for the championship while a TCU must prove their “body of work”.  I will even venture to say that, this year in particular, the Alabama’s & Ohio State’s aren’t necessarily playing a tough in-conference game week in & week out.  While the WAC & MWC may not be the glamour conferences, let’s not just arrogantly suggest that they play no-one during their conference schedules.
  • I won’t dwell on this point, but why should a sub-par program from a major conference have a better chance to make it to the championship game simply because they reside in the basement of that conference & may on a rare occasion experience on-field success?
  • Try scheduling a non-confernce game if you are a BSU or TCU.  I mean, who wants to risk playing them & losing?  There’s no way you go to a Boise & play because that would be a devastating loss on your schedule.  A home loss to these teams would be even worse.  So, maybe you agree to a game at a neutral site, but that’s highly unlikely.  So what are these schools to do?  No one will play them and they can’t control their conference schedule (because the power conferences certainly aren’t adding them to their super-conference wish list just yet).
  • In basketball, teams schedule aggressively in the pre-season (especially those in smaller conferences) so that they improve their strength of schedule & prepare for the dance.  They aren’t as afraid of losing to the little guy because it doesn’t weigh as heavily on the outcome AND they know that when/if they make it to the big dance, everyone has a chance to cut down the nets.  On the other hand, big time football programs schedule games with multiple directional signs in front of their name (i.e. Northwest Southern XXXX State).  Ummm….enough said.
  • Ultimately, I think the stronger conference argument is just a weak attempt to demean programs like Boise State.  We all love the front-runners (I was a Bulls fan in MJ’s prime, am a Cowboys fan, and am currently rooting for the Yankees…case in point).  That makes it tough to accept that an unheralded program like BSU from an unknown state like Idaho could actually be good enough to challenge the big boys.

The argument that “sure these teams can beat a power school with a month’s preparation” or on any given Saturday, but…

  • Well, in a bowl situation, BOTH teams typically have the same amount of prep time for that one game.  It’s a neutral site for BOTH teams.  Maybe the power school isn’t as motivated to come out & compete as the teams who are trying to prove they belong, but isn’t that on the players & coaches for that particular school.  They are responsible for competing every night, no matter the competition.  Anything less is not championship worthy.

The ESPN GameDay argument that Boise State has only had two First Round Draft Picks in their history (Kyle Wilson to the Jets this year & Ryan Clady to the Broncos in 2008).

  • I can’t go into great detail about TCU & Utah, but I know that while Boise State hasn’t had many 1st Round selections, there are an awful lot of BSU alums playing on Sunday’s around the NFL.  On top of that, they may not have been selected in the first round, but many of them have found their way into the starting line-ups for their squads (or are playing significant minutes).  Off the top of my head, here are a few names…Clady, Mikell, Carr, Hall, Colledge, Naanee, and Scandrick (with my Cowboys). Oh, and by the way, wasn’t the celebrity quarterback Tom Brady selected in the sixth round?  But he went to Michigan, my bad!
  • When folks offer the argument that the Broncos would be destroyed if they played in the SEC, I think they forget that…if they play in the SEC, than they would also have the benefit of recruiting more SEC-caliber players.  They already have a national footprint on the recruiting trail & obviously develop their players.  Imagine what they could do if kids knew they could play in Coach Pete’s system & lace it up against the football elite every weekend!!

My counterarguments go on & on, but I won’t bore you with more of them for the time being.  Hopefully, you get my point.  I have to preface all of this by saying that, yes perhaps I am a little more incensed by the BCS idiocy because I would love nothing more than for my beloved Boise State Broncos to play in the championship game.  But, deep down, I am simply a fan of college football who feels that the opportunity to compete for a championship should be determined in a fair manner.

Ahem, so you may be wondering, “now that you’ve bashed the system Angela, what’s your solution?” Well, what had happened was that I have spent more time talking about the problem than coming up with the answer.

If we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, we can do what they do in youth leagues.  You know, at the end of the playing season, they simply give out trophies to EVERYBODY for participating!!  Now what kind of life lessons are we really teaching our kids in that system? (More on this in a later blog).  I mean, we have kids getting trophies for showing up on Saturdays, bad teachers with tenure keeping their jobs…what a shame!!  Something has to give.

The truth is, I not really “bashing” per se.  I am criticizing the system and don’t have any particular solution in mind.  But as my brother Gary says, “we’ll debate this polarizing issue until the National Champion is truly determined on the field of play.”  Until that point, the “haves” will always feel entitled to what they get & those who are left out will always feel wronged because they never have a chance to prove their merit.  Players want to find out how good they really are by competing for the honor of being named champion.  Administrators want to pad their pockets!  Seems like a huge conflict.

While I don’t have all of the answers (don’t act like you’re so surprised), I do genuinely feel that we should keep the bowl system (because we all love watching these games during the holidays) in place and figure out a way to implement a championship game after the bowls have been played & have determined the two most worthy opponents for the championship game.

Not to twist the knife, but we have it right in basketball.  A lot of money & excitement is generated during March Madness and all 64 teams in the tournament have a chance to EARN IT!  You can’t replicate March Madness, but you can implement a system that generates it’s own excitement and validation.

The debate will go on because we all have a stake in it.  At least those of us invested in college athletics whether as a career or as entertainment are determined to see it done right.  In the end, it’s quite simple.  I thought the great thing about sport was that winners were determined on the field.  Isn’t that why we play the game!

Do you think we should have a play-off system in college football?  Let your voice be heard!  

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Saving Voicemails

Posted by ataylorblog on October 15, 2010

If you are like me, you probably have found yourself having to go through old emails & voicemails that, when you opened/listened to them for the first time, you felt the need to keep them instead of immediately pressing the delete button.  On too many occasions, I’ve found my “mail file” limit to have been exceeded & my voicemail box “full”.  When I have some spare time, I usually find it pretty easy to go through emails & delete useless messages and responses at warp speed, but for some reason…I just can’t let go of some voicemails that bring a smile to my face when I listen to them.

For the last several months, my voicemail box has been dangerously close to being full.  If you’ve called me during this time, you inevitably have encountered that dreaded message denying you the opportunity to leave me what probably was a very important message.  I guess you could say I’d been “hoarding” messages.  (I haven’t watched the show Hoarders yet, but seems like an appropriate analogy).

Well, no worries.  I am not a hoarder & have no problem giving away things I don’t use, but when it comes to voicemails, I’ve found deleting prized voicemails an unexpected challenge.  Nearly every time I check my voicemail messages, I hear the threatening tone of the automated voice suggesting (strongly suggesting I might add) that I erase some messages to make room for new messages.

And from time to time, I have to spend an extra five minutes checking my new messages because before I can actually listen to the new ones, I must go through the 15 old messages I have saved…but saved for good reason.  Which definitely wears on my patience on many occasions.

I’ve even gone through periods where I have consciously forced myself to simply hit the “7″ button on the phone to erase that 15 second message forever while saving space for more messages.  I mean, sometimes there are legitimate reasons why we have no alternative but to save a message, right?

Typically, we save messages because we are driving & can’t write down the numbers or want to replay the message later for more clarification.  Am I alone in this or do you guys agree with me on this?

Well, while I definitely have saved messages for that reason, it’s easy to come back & delete them at the first opportunity I get.  No need to save them.  However, there are some messages that I can’t bring myself to erase.

Yes, I am guilty of hoarding these messages.  Which messages you ask (play along with me here folks…just humor me even if you don’t care about my need to tell the world I have a problem with saving voicemails).  Which messages?  I have found myself saving those messages that make me smile.  Most of which are from my mother or some of my closest friends.  I have a feeling you do the same thing too.

For me, nothing warms my heart more than hearing my mother’s excited voice telling me about a college senior that we need to add to our watch list, about her plans for the weekend, or about something that she bought for herself at the store (it was only recently when I finally convinced my mom that she didn’t need to buy me stuff anymore…well, not every time).

Now you should know that my mother calls me every day.  Multiple times every day.  At least first thing in the morning when she arrives at work and in the evening when she gets home.  Depending on what’s going on during the day, there may be various calls throughout the day as well.  That’s when her calls may be met by my voicemail and that’s when she does her best work, LOL!!

I’d been planning to somehow record her messages so that I could keep them forever, and it is definitely time for me to clear my inbox.  Tonight, I finally downloaded some software that allowed me to save the audio files.  Now I can listen to them whenever I want AND keep my mailbox empty.  Hallelujah!!!

Before I saved them, I took a moment today to go back & listen to all of the messages.  Here’s a sampling of the 15 saved messages from my mom:

1.  A message from my mom who, upon arriving at school early one cold December morning to a dark & icy parking lot, was greeted by another teacher who helped her walk to the building so that she wouldn’t slip & fall.  She was so touched by this gesture that she had to let me know how much it meant to her.

2.  A message from my mom asking me to call the league office & let them know that the officials are letting other teams be too rough on Tamika Catchings (one of her favorite players).  Note: She reserved her complaints about the officiating of Mystics/Lynx games for our live conversations.

3.  A message this winter in which my mom asked me to thank Katie Smith for signing with the Mystics!

4.  A message about upcoming must-see TV programming.  One of the many messages she leaves informing me what’s on Oprah.  In this particular message (which you can listen to here), mom comments on the fact that the FLOTUS, Michelle Obama, doesn’t wear pantyhose (which is something that I do that incessantly frustrates her).

5.  And finally, one of many messages my mother leaves after a Mystics game once she found the score on NBATV or on the ESPN ticker.  Check this one out!

Despite the inconvenience it may have caused.  I am so glad that I saved these messages & wish I would have taken the time to record many of the other messages she has left me over the years.

Sometimes in this fast moving world we live in, we don’t take a moment to stop & smell the roses (or in this case listen to those we love).  But, we will all be better off if we take the time to actually talk & listen to one another as opposed to communicating via 140 characters in a text or tweet.  Treasure these gifts that you have.

With that, I will leave you with one last message from my mom (hope she is ok with me broadcasting her voicemails to the world, uh oh)….as you can tell from this message, she is always teaching! Enjoy this one too! I definitely wouldn’t have known it was Dr. Seuss Day…good thing for moms!!

Many Blessings “From A to T”,

Angela

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To iPad or not to iPad…that is the question!

Posted by ataylorblog on September 27, 2010

iPad, iPhone, MacBook Pro

Image via Wikipedia

With RIM announcing it’s new Playbook Tablet for Blackberry’s today.  I was reminded of a little dilemma I had a few weeks ago.  What was the dilemma you ask?  Well, I had an iPhone & a MacBook, but was intrigued about the new gadget that hit the market called the iPad.

While the promotions and hype surrounding this new device were enticing, I simply didn’t see where another gadget fit into my daily life.  I actually had to chuckle at the mock-ups of the life-size iPad (ala the keyboard in the movie Big) that people could use as a giant electronic Twister game.  I mean, the iPhone & my Blackberry more than fulfill all of my mobile needs & my MacBook serves its purpose at home, at work, and while traveling.  Where exactly does one use the iPad?  Especially since there is no phone and no camera currently available (unless you buy an app and an app for that app).

Steve Jobs has coined the tagline, “iPad our most advanced technology in a magical & revolutionary device at an unbelievable price.”  All very true, but still what benefits does the iPad provide (this was pre-obsession with Words with Friends obviously).

I’d love to tell you that I put a lot of thought into the positives and negatives of purchasing an iPad.  Basically, I walked into a Best Buy a few weeks ago looking for a camera case & left the store with the iPad.  I couldn’t resist any longer.  Plus, the only way for me to truly find out if I needed an iPad was simply to purchase one & try it out for a minute.  Right?  There’s no better form of analysis than trial and error!!

Well, after dibbling & dabbling with the iPad and iPad apps for the last few weeks, I feel that I can finally respond to my friends when they ask “To iPad or not to iPad,” because that is still the question on everyone’s mind.

While I’m still formulating my genuine response to that question, I will offer you a closer look into my life with a briefcase full of gadgets.

From time to time, when I actually take time during my often hectic & over-scheduled days, I find a moment (usually a very brief moment) to step back & put my overconsumption of tech gadgets into perspective.  What I find on most occasions is that many of us spend more time tinkering & tampering with the gadgets that were meant to help us manage our days more efficiently, communicate more frequently, and simplify our lives than living life fully.  Instead, many of these same “amazing” & “cool” gadgets actually make our lives more complicated, reduce productivity, and hinder true/authentic communication between human-beings.

Feel free to disagree with me wholeheartedly, but as an admitted recovering tech addict I am almost positive that we all are going through this same dilemma.  College friends found me an easy target when chiding folks about having to have the newest “things” that came on the market (at least as far as electronics were concerned).  In business school, we called these folks the “early adopters”.  You know ‘em, the nerdy folks who know the release dates for gadgets as soon as Bill Gates & his counterparts pitch them at a tech show.  Well, I’m not that crazy, but I used to find myself always having to have the latest & greatest item out there.

Fortunately, my mere possession of these gadgets has now made it almost impossible for me to keep up with the folks in my life on a regular basis.  In fact, I’m sitting here on the couch writing this blog & if I look to my right or to my left, I am surrounded by my iPad, MacBook, iPhone, and Blackberry.  Another Powerbook is hooked up to the TV so that I could watch yesterday’s Cowboys vs. Texans game and my iPod is in a docking station nearby.  White power chords can be found in every nook & cranny in my house and strange ringtones & alerts seem to be going off at all times of the day and night.

All in all, I try not to complain about the fact that we can literally find the world at our fingertips with these amazing inventions.  I also am grateful that I have access to this technology.  I have signed on for this chaos and to a certain extent probably am motivated by being busy.  However, eventually, I will have to decide between instant access and peace & quiet.

Sadly, I don’t think this dilemma will end in the near future.

So should you get an iPad?  Well, I can’t answer that for you.  It’s a great device, so if you’re interested in adding another “great” resource to your toolbox….definitely get yourself one.  If you’re trying to simplify your life…stick with your phone & computer.

In the end, I do truly love the iPad.  My iPhone & MacBook feel like the older children when a newborn comes home from the hospital because they certainly haven’t received as much attention since the iPad’s arrival.  Figuring out how to maximize the use of all of these gadgets is still a work in progress.  Trying to carve out a moment of peace & quiet away from all of the gadgets is a challenge, and I don’t think a resolution is near.  Maybe I’ll find an app that will show me the way.  If you know of an app for this, please share it with me!!

Until then, I guess I’ll just have to keep challenging folks to a game of Words with Friends.

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A Saturday Afternoon in South Bend

Posted by ataylorblog on September 27, 2010

After nearly four years, I finally returned to South Bend, IN Saturday to watch my Stanford Cardinal take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on a chilly fall afternoon.  During the late 1990′s and early 2000′s, this journey had become a regular fall voyage for my brother Gary & I (until work got in the way).

This has always been a trip that I looked forward to.  Great football taking place with an amazing backdrop on the Notre Dame Campus.  Reconnecting with classmates.  Pit stops on Michigan Avenue for shopping (and Garrett’s Popcorn).  Dreams of a chance encounter with Oprah while in town.  Hope of ending the Cardinal losing streak in South Bend (previously a 1992 team that my brother played on).  AND most importantly, an opportunity to spend the weekend with my big brother.

One trip that stands out in my mind was in October of 2004.  The Connecticut Sun were playing the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Finals that year while I was still working at the WNBA League Office.  I remember attending Game #1 of that series in CT on October 8th then flying to South Bend on Saturday, October 9th.  I was able to find a flight that would get me to Indiana about 2 hours before the game and was met at the airport by my brother Gary who had driven down from Chicago.  As I threw my luggage in the backseat, I noticed an enormous bag of Garrett’s Popcorn that he surprised me with (I guess he knows me pretty well).  We went to the game (a 15-23 defeat to the Irish) and quickly rushed back to the airport, so that I could catch an evening flight out to Seattle where I would catch Game #2 & Game #3.  Seattle would go on to win the championship that year.  This sports junkie will never forget that amazing weekend.

Another year, I packed sandals and capris for a game that would end up taking place in the snow.  Luckily, we were able to hit Michigan Avenue to purchase boots, gloves, stocking cap, and a jacket the night before.  The Stanford equipment manager hooked me up with a team sweatshirt before the game (I must have looked pretty pathetic standing there in the snow).  Gary has never let me hear the end of that one!  Needless to say, he now packs two extra sweatshirts & gloves for every game (home & away) just in case little sister loses her mind & fails to check the weather channel.

After years of making this trip every other year, our streak ended in 2006 when life’s conflicts stood in the way.  I didn’t realize how much I missed this annual rite of passage until we started driving down I-90 towards South Bend yesterday morning.  Not much to see during that 2 hour drive except the authentic scenery you’d expect to see in rural Indiana.  Gary pointed out the plethora of corn stalks lining the highway and I counted the “red barns” hiding behind trees along the way.

As we passed other vehicles on the road, we all looked at one another & quietly acknowledged that we had a common destination.  It was South Bend or bust for the hundreds of cars on the road with us.  It’s amazing how much changes over time.  During our initial drives a decade ago, we would frantically turn the knob on the radio to find a Chicago station that would receive decent reception in the midst of the cornfields.  In later years, we would simply connect our iPod to the car’s stereo system & enjoy the route listening to our own theme songs.  This year, we listened to downloads from iTunes while I clicked away on the computer on the way there & watched the Boise State versus Oregon State game on the return trip.  The simple wonders of modern technology.

While I will have to keep dreaming of running into Oprah, our wish for a Stanford victory did come true yesterday!  Behind an impressive effort from Andrew Luck, Owen Marecic (who made the writer of this Sports Illustrated article look like a prognosticator), and the Stanford Defense…Cardinal fans outlasted the Irish fans hanging around the stadium well after the game until the players ran over to celebrate in the corner of the endzone with us.

It was great to run into some classmates and former teammates before & after the game as we all walked around campus and took in the site of Touchdown Jesus.  As we have all ventured out to separate parts of the world, it is always refreshing to renew friendships with old pals as well as some new ones with others donning the Cardinal & White (and big smiles at the conclusion of yesterday’s game) when you run into them.

These days, college athletics seems to be the subject of much scrutiny, but it is simple Saturday afternoons like I just experienced that reminds us how very special college sports are to the fabric of America.  For those 3-4 hours, we could forget about all that weighs on our mind while watching these young men play the sport that they love for no other reason than for the love of the game (and maybe for the expensive tuition that both of these institutions charge)!

Sounds like this home & home series may end in the near future when both schools look to find alternative opponents that fit into their non-conference schedules, so I will certainly hold on to the lasting moments of another Saturday afternoon in South Bend because it may be my last!

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Facebook Makes Some New “Friends” in Newark, NJ!

Posted by ataylorblog on September 25, 2010

Yesterday, in front of a worldwide audience, Facebook co-founder & CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a magnanimous donation of $100 million to Newark’s school system.  The gift is the first donation  (hopefully of many) granted from a foundation he formed to support education programs.

Sadly, I was traveling (to Chicago nonetheless) and missed the show since Oprah airs in the morning here Chicago-land.   I DVR’d the episode, so I’ll have to reserve final judgement on the announcement until later.  A simple stroll through the channels last night produced a pretty good synopsis of the entire show or at least the relevant parts of the show.  From what I can gather, it was another great “AHA” moment during Oprah’s 25th and final season.  Lots of smiles.  Lots of hugs.  Lots of applauding.  And, during the evening talk show circuit…lots of skepticism.

While I admittedly haven’t followed Zuckerberg’s story (or the story of Facebook) that much up to this point, it seems like naysayers are questioning the motives and timing behind this enormous philanthropic gesture. Sounds like these pundits feel that with the movie The Social Network coming out in the New York Film Festival on Friday, Zuckerberg was trying to sway public opinion about his self-esteem (or lack thereof).

I for one don’t really care if the guy is insecure or not. What I do care about is that this twenty-something has, in an instant, potentially changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of children & families in the Newark area for generations to come.

Yes, it is crucial that they allocate the funds strategically while formulating a long-term plan, but I have no doubt that the current leadership in Newark (Cory Booker) will develop an appropriate strategy that ultimately generates the results we are hoping for.

The truth is, though, that the education system in this great nation of ours is far from adequate, especially in our inner cities.  I personally find this unacceptable.  How can the most powerful country in the world continue to witness such an enormous education gap?  We can’t all write a check with 8 zeros on it, but there are a multitude of ways that we can make a huge difference in the lives of the future leaders of the world.  Selfish intentions or not, I believe that Zuckerberg has inspired a new generation of philanthropist.  I know I am inspired by his gesture.

Why did he choose Newark?  That was the first question that popped into my head when the rumor started circulating earlier this week.

Well aside from the fact that Newark is a very attractive market just on the west side of the Hudson River from the mecca of the world known as New York City, I think his decision to select Newark had a great deal to do with the mayor of Newark, Cory Booker.

I’m definitely on “Team Cory” and here’s why I think teaming up with Mayor Booker (& the Governor of NJ) makes sense:

1. Cory Booker is undoubtedly one of the rising superstars in politics & has garnered a significant amount of attention and acclaim for his commitment to Newark & his political savvy.
2. Cory & Oprah seem to have a strong relationship built on respect and admiration for one another. Not that the Zuckerberg team couldn’t pull this off on their own, but there’s no doubt that if you want to get to Oprah, I’m sure Cory can help with that. Once you’re on the Oprah show, the rest is history. I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t love to come up with a product or book & get on Oprah to promote it. That 60 minutes of answering questions, would change ones life forever.
3. Cory is definitively one of the mayors in this country who is genuinely committed to affecting change in their communities. He has done an amazing job in Newark in a short amount of time & while there is a long way to go, I don’t doubt that we will see a dynamic change in Newark in the next decade as a result of his leadership.
4. Cory has taken to social networking & leveraged Facebook and Twitter very effectively as a way to communicate with his constituents. Who better to partner with then someone engaged in using your product?

Many refer to the premiere of The Social Network to illustrate why Zuckerberg chose Friday to unveil his plan. I point to the premiere of “Waiting for Superman” to reinforce why we are lucky that this young man used his resources to do good in a city that desperately needs someone to stand up for it.  Superman doesn’t exist, but for the children in Newark, maybe some superhero dressed as a teacher will show up in their classroom in the near future.

Last night, we caught a few minutes of a panel discussion on this exact topic on Fox News (a station I don’t typically frequent). Panelists questioned whether Oprah’s involvement was good or bad and if “we” were asking tough questions about “how” the money would be used. But when one panelist (I didn’t recognize him) inferred that the problem with Newark’s school system & the children in it was not about the lack of resources but instead about the lack of discipline, I realized that this country has a long way to go before we will truly be ready to tackle the education crisis & to close the gap between those of who are fortunate enough to have access and those who face several challenges (self-imposed and otherwise).

There is no quick fix, but I applaud the young billionaire (regardless of his motives) for using his wealth & stature to address our concerns.  Newark is one of many markets that is in desperate need of the resources that will allow them to educate our children.  There will be many mistakes along the way, but if one more life is changed as a result…I say bravo!

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